Here's what top bosses of Mumbai's consul are bingeing on for Christmas
The Yuletide spread is as diverse as the countries they belong to. We peeped into a few consulate kitchens to sniff out what's cooking
Torbjorn Holthe with wife Sissel; (below) A bottle of the Linie Pic/Poonam bathija
Even as the bakeries smell their delicious best this time of the year, with the alluring aroma of cakes and pies wafting through the air, there's a lot to the Christmas plate that we don't know about. Around the world, the Yuletide season has myriad kitchen stories that go beyond cakes and cookies. Mumbai, being home to numerous consulates, we took a tour of a few consul kitchens.
The kransekake or almond ring cake
The Norwegian almond cake
As we step into the Bandra residence of Torbjorn Holthe, Consul General of Norway in Mumbai, we see the plush sea-facing duplex, still wearing prominent traces of the previous night's Christmas party. We spot the bottom half of the kransekake or the almond ring cake on the table with a few other dishes for us to try.
This is Holthe and his wife, Sissel's, first Christmas in Mumbai. Welcoming us along with them is vice-consul Yogi Shergill, who is also the India director of the Norwegian Seafood Council. The kransekake is the key Christmas signature in Norway, we are told. "Mostly because, it is too expensive to be afforded through the year," says Holthe with a laugh. "Almonds don't come cheap, you see." Holthe, who has made this cake several times in the past, elaborates on the process. "The almonds need to be soaked overnight, dried, powdered and then blended with sugar and put into moulds to get the concentric rings. They are placed in the shape of a pyramid, from the largest to the smallest. And then the icing made of egg white is poured from the top, which trickles down the rings and adds to the taste," he says. This particular cake was made by another member of the consulate, he says. The savoury notes in the spread are packed in the salmon and meat, especially lamb, pork and beef, that are integral to an Xmas meal.
Had your fill? Now, drown it with the Linie, a quintessential Christmas drink with a fascinating story. Holthe tells us, "The story dates back to 100-150 years. An Australian importer ordered the Norwegian aquavit (a fermented drink made of potatoes and herbs). The order was to reach him by a sailing ship that would take three months to reach Australia. By the time the ship arrived, he had gone bankrupt, so the order was brought back to Norway. When they opened it, they found that the drink had transformed and become better. Since then, they always send it to Australia and back in oak barrels and then they bottle it. The roll of the waves and the shifting weather conditions do all the processing that's needed. That's why we call it the Linie which means 'line' in Norwegian — the line here refers to the equator, as it goes around it."
it is sliced and eaten, just like bread Pic/Nimesh dave
Panettone from italy
Daniela Patel moved to Mumbai 36 years ago, after tying the knot with "one Mister Patel". The 59-year-old home-baker has been catering to the Italian consulate in Mumbai for over two years now. One of Patel's specialties includes Italy's Christmas signature, the panettone. She dishes them out in small batches from her kitchen at her Andheri home, where we catch up with her a week before Christmas.
Daniela Patel making the panettone Pic/Nimesh dave
Patel is in the last stages of finishing the panettone. "It is fermented sweet bread with addition of dry fruits, raisins and sometimes choco chips. The original Italian variety uses candied citrus fruits, especially candied orange peels," she says. The fermentation happens over three-four stages and the process takes two days. "The ingredients are added over the various stages, basically sugar, eggs, butter and flour. I also use grated lemon rind and vanilla beans — the vanilla variety is very popular here. You're supposed to slice it and eat it, just like bread," says Patel, who doesn't bake more than five at a time.
The dish originates in Milan, which is Patel's hometown. "The tradition of Christmas in Italy comes from the need of people wanting something special, because at one time they were poor. For example, after the war, people started having chicken on Sundays and then that became a specialty." Now, of course, the spread has gone lavish. "In Italy, it is the Christmas lunch that's most important. The tortellini in soup form is a major Holiday food for us, also struffoli that comes from Naples and Cassata from Sicily. We even make the zampone, or the last part of pork, stuffed with meat and spices, sealed and cooked for three hours,"
Swedish meatballs are an Xmas specialty; Pic/carolina romare
The Swedish smorgasbord
Swedes are known for their "smorgasbord" which is essentially multiple smaller dishes, hot and cold, eaten together, we are told by Jan Campbell Westlind, Consul at the Swedish consulate in Mumbai. "Specialties include Janssons frestelse (anchovies and potato gratin), ham, meatballs, beetroot salad, mini sausages, smoked salmon, kale and multiple kinds of spiced bread. The cold dishes are almost always pickled herring. And, for dessert, we eat a kind of rice pudding. These are all the main dishes. Additions to the smorgasbord depend on where you're from in Sweden. We also indulge in sweet saffron-flavoured buns, gingerbread cookies, nuts and a homemade fudge-like treat called 'knäck'," says Westlind, who joined the Swedish Consulate in Mumbai in 2014.
Swedish Consul Jan Campbell Westlind
Since the dishes are traditional, all the ingredients are sourced from Sweden, except for the rice and saffron. "The preparation begins days before, as for us the main day is Christmas Eve. The flavours are simple and stay close to typical Swedish produce," he adds. In India, especially in Mumbai, they don't need to improvise much, as pork, a key element, is readily available. "Else, it can be substituted by a turkey, meatballs and chicken sausages. So here, besides the pickled herring, the remaining dishes are simple to make. And the meatballs can of course be made a little spicier when in India," he says. It's a norm to start with the cold dishes such as the herring and the salmon, before moving on to the rest.
The tradition behind the food dates back to the Middle Ages — especially the pickled herring and the Christmas ham. The abundance of dishes makes it a Christmas treat as the combination is not consumed together for the rest of the year.
Cookies from America
The BKC home of US Consul General Tom Vajda and his wife Amy Sebes wore a festive look the night they hosted a Christmas party. Sebes herself donned the chef's hat for this one and rolled out her special Christmas cookies. "All ingredients can be found locally, like the egg, flour, butter, vanilla and so on, but I bring the red and green Christmas sprinkles from the US. In countries where we've lived, where butter is not easy to find or very expensive, we use vegetable oil and the cookies still taste great. In Mumbai, ingredients are not a problem," Sebes says, adding that preparation takes several hours.
Tom Vajda and wife Amy Sebes put up a lavish Christmas spread at their BKCâÂÂhome
For most Americans, she says, Christmas is synonymous with childhood memories of making cookies. "Kids love cutting the dough into shapes and then topping them with coloured sprinkles and icing. When our girls were younger, they just gobbled the toppings somewhat randomly, but now that they are older, their decorating is more careful and sophisticated."
The spread also includes turkey, cranberry sauce, honey carrots, rolls and chocolate crème pie for dessert. "Every family has its own variation. My husband's family serves Christmas duck, and when I am back home in Tennessee, we fry the Turkey instead of baking it. Some families like it barbecued. But my favourite rendition is a local US consulate family who made tandoori turkey!"
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