Pulled and served with love from Mumbai's restaurant kitchens

When you order a plate of pasta or a portion of noodles at your favourite neighbourhood restaurant, you’re most likely to get it right out of a packet. No, we’re not saying they give you Maggi (although some do have that on the menu, too). But, the fact remains that most restaurants use store-bought pasta, noodles, ketchup and other condiments. There are merely a handful of eateries in the city that serve you a dish made from scratch.

Hand-pulled noodles, a rarity even in their native China, are available at ITC Maratha’s Pan Asian. Ask for a plate of Chef Wang’s stir-fried noodles and you’re in for a treat. For the specialty chef doesn’t just make the noodles on demand, he promises to entertain. You must watch him whirl the extremely elastic dough (maida and water) at the restaurant’s open kitchen. He doesn’t need a machine or a knife to create near-perfect strands of the noodles of your choice, just the measured movements of his arms and the perfect twist and loop of the dough. It is five minutes of pure magic.

Chef Wang has mastered the rhythmic pulling, stretching, folding and twirling of the dough involved in the centuries-old tradition of making hand-pulled noodles. He begins with pulling the dough to about an arm span’s length, then makes a loop with the dough, joining the two ends into one clump of dough, and inserts his fingers into the loop to keep the strands from sticking.  Pics/Nimesh Dave

Chef Wang, who hails from Xi’an, the capital of the Shaanxi province in central China, was trained in hand crafting noodles for six months under an exacting chef. “He took on a job as an apprentice at a restaurant there when he was only 18. The chef was so impressed by him that he took him under his wing and taught him the craft,” explains Chef Liang Xiao Qing, executive chef, Pan Asian. “This is a dying art, which can take years to master. Chef Wang is trying to train some of the other men at the restaurant, but it is difficult,” claims Qing. “I have tried my hand at it too, but I have not been successful,” he adds sheepishly.

As the Romans do
While hand-made noodles might be a bit too much to ask for even in a Chinese home, freshly made pasta is to an Italian what hot chapattis are to many Indians. And Italian restaurants in the city are warming up to the idea of putting in the extra effort to serve it fresh. “Unless you want to make penne, which obviously needs the precision of a machine, it isn’t particularly difficult to make your own pasta. I have no idea why more restaurants don’t serve it freshly made,” says Dharmesh Karmokar, chef and owner, Silver Beach Café in Juhu.

Karmokar, who makes pappardelle and lasagne in the restaurant kitchen, ensures enough dough is kneaded for two to three servings each morning and left to proof. He uses his little pasta roller (an Italian one costs about Rs 6,000) to flatten the dough to “the thickness of a typical Gujarati rotli” and cuts it into 2-3 cm strips for pappardelle. Ditching the eggs and maida that are typically used to make pasta, Karmokar uses whole wheat and butter. With no chemicals, no preservatives and no external protein, just like any other food, home-made pasta is far healthier than its store-bought counterpart. Several other restaurants including Aurus, Fratelli Fresh Italian at Renaissance Powai and Woodside Inn do offer home-made pasta such as ravioli and tortellini. So next time you visit, pay heed to which pasta you order.

This sauce is different, boss
A ketchup is a ketchup, right? Wrong! It is this fundamental understanding that pushed Café Pico’s Chef Nicole Gonsalves Pereira to ensure that they avoid serving bottled and mass-produced tomato ketchup. “We make our own ketchup every three days. This allows us to avoid preservatives, as well as control the taste of what we’re serving our patrons,” says the chef. The tomatoes are roasted, chopped and cooked down slowly with sugar and vinegar. “We get less yield than they might in a factory, but we get manage to get the purest flavour,” she says.

Although recipes are available dime a dozen on the Web, it took her several trials to adjust the ingredients and get it just right. “But most people can’t tell the difference. We could take it as a compliment to our high quality standards, or get offended by it. But it is important to us that we serve only the freshest food,”
smiles Pereira.  

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