A delicious marriage of opposites
Delhi's first Anglo-Indian restaurant celebrates dishes popularised by army messes and clubs, inspiring us to find the connection between Nargisi kofta and deviled eggs
I love dinner table conversations with Dilliwalas. Ask them for a recommendation and they will parrot a list. Unlike Mumbaikars, they will not only tell you where to go, but what to eat too. Chef Ritu Dalmia once told me, "Mumbai is more about hanging out. Delhi is about what to eat."
One weekend, I picked Khan Market to get introduced to sweet sorcery by Cakery (of Big Chill Café fame), sip on sangrias at The Perch, and attempt an after-drinking North Indian binge of chicken roll and paneer handi at Khan Chacha. As I strolled the bylanes, stopping to listen to a singer croon Sufi notes, a restaurant signboard read, Anglow. I added the name in my drafts.
Kidney and liver toast
The following week, over a chat with the owner of a new whiskey bar in Khan Market that serves an all-Anglo Indian menu, I was told that most dishes from the community continue to live outside of homes across army canteens and messes. Anglow's co-owner Ajit Singh, confessed that when he started researching dishes of this fast-diminishing community, he realised that he had tried most of them thanks to his father who was in the services.
"The cuisine first made its presence felt in army messes, colonial clubs and gymkhanas where the British seniors would ask for scrambled or scotch eggs, marmalade, crème brule and tipsy puddings. The British introduced rainbow trouts in the rivers of Manali and Uttarakhand, which also became a delicacy," says Singh, who roped in Mumbai-based chef Michael Swamy as consultant on the project.
Railway lamb curry
Anglo-Indian dishes are prepared differently across the country. A classic example is the railway lamb curry, which was originally served on the train, so that the cooks didn't have to stop to restock along the way. "Invented by Britishers who wanted to carry a protein eat and not restock on the way, the variations of the dish have but only one thing in common—vinegar. It's what allows it to last for up to three days. And coconut milk helps tone down the spice," explains Swamy.
Ajit Singh, owner, Anglow
Similarly, the dak bungalow curry changes depending on where it is made and what produce is available. "The boiled eggs and halved potatoes are indispensable, though," he adds, listing the chicken ding (sundried meat), puddings and stews as specialties of the cuisine.
The author of eight books on Anglo-Indian food, Bangalore-based Bridget White has consulted on the winter menu for Anglow. White has access to recipes dating to the 18th century, passed down generations through her family. "The recipes were handwritten and the measures were a challenge [to decipher]. For example, the railway lamb ingredients list was written as if a house help was going to buy it from the market. Six anas [worth] of jeera, nine anas of chillies, and so on," White recalls.
Bridget White cooks a typical chicken curry at Bengaluru home
According to her, Anglo-Indian food has seen many experiments during the British rule. The British did not like the smell of spices, and considered native food unpalatable. The khansamas tweaked the dishes accordingly. The Portuguese taught Indians the judicious use of vinegar, which is evident in the vindalho (vindaloo), for instance, while the British gave us roasts, stews and sandwiches. "For the winter menu of Anglow, I have added a winter chicken soup with lemon and thyme. It's a simple broth with garlic, lamb and veggies," says White.
She says a typical meal at her home comprises rice, curry with meat, an additional vegetable—usually okra, cauliflower, beans or potatoes—and fugat or stir fried dish with vegetables.
Chef Michael Swamy
Singh leaves us with an interesting nugget: During the World War, a lot of marmalade cans were shipped from the ally countries and that's how marmalade became a common ingredient in the bread pudding. "The National Defence Academy in Pune still serves pudding this way. Every day, messes would serve a different pudding, but the most preferred one was the tipsy pudding spiked with Old Monk. It's the one that every officer looked forward to," Singh says.
If you're visiting the capital, I have a recommendation: Nargisi kofta at United Coffee House in Connaught Place. A teahouse from the colonial era, the setting transports you to a time when large chandeliers, Art Deco interiors and tufted sofas were the norm. This dish is an egg wrapped in mutton keema and served in a gravy. It's this dish that inspired the British to create the deviled egg, a hardboiled egg wrapped in meat, coated with breadcrumbs and fried.
Chicken pan roast with braised vegetables
This simple and delicious chicken roast makes a perfect lunch or dinner meal on Christmas Day. The leftovers can be used for delish sandwiches the next day
- 4 whole chicken thighs and legs or one small whole chicken
- Salt to taste
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 2 tbsp oil or ghee
- 2 or 3 dry red chillies
- A few whole peppercorns
- 3 carrots peeled and cut lengthwise
- 8 or 10 runner beans broken into halves
Marinate the chicken with the salt, pepper and chilli powder for about half an hour.
Heat oil or ghee in a thick -bottomed pan and add the chicken thighs together with the broken red chillies and peppercorns. Turn the chicken from side to side and fry on medium heat for about 5 minutes or till the pieces becomes firm. Add about half cup of water and mix well.
Cover the pan with a tight lid and cook first on high heat, then over low heat, turning the chicken occasionally till the chicken is cooked and all the water/soup is absorbed.
Add the carrots and beans and cook till tender. Continue to cook till the chicken isroasted to a lovely golden brown. Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes and bread.
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