Dishoom: From Bombay with Love is a cookbook that will feed you the soul of Mumbai and a whole lot of its recipes, too
Bun maska chai
Dishooom— the word itself is packed with power and punch. And that is exactly what Dishoom, the Bombay Café, in the UK, has been doing since 2010. It has filled the lives of Londoners and people in the UK with some of the most lip-smacking and delectable dishes that are inspired from the iconic Irani cafés and heritage restaurants and bakeries in Mumbai. The brainchild of Kavi and Shamil Thakrar, Dishoom literally makes you live and breathe the Bombay air, even while you're far, far away from the actual city.
And, executive chef, Naved Nasir, brings all that gorgeousness alive on a plate. The beauty of Dishoom is that on the one hand it strives to stay as close to the authenticity of traditional dishes, such as the paya, nihari, haleem, vada pav, pav bhaji, biryanis, and lamb raan, on the other, it has given British food a Bombay twist. Think, the very British Eton Mess, which has been given a tribute with Memsahib's Mess, with all the gulkand and rose petals, or the bacon naan roll, which is a dedication to the sandwich that people buy on the London Street every morning.
Fire toast and masala beans
After having worked with the ITC chain of hotels for about nine years, Nasir began his journey with Dishoom in 2010, with its flagship restaurant at Covent Garden. All these years have come together to create innumerable memories, rich experiences, and, the launch of six more outlets across the UK. Today, there are five Dishoom sites in London, one in Edinburgh, and one in Birmingham. And, now, the team is all set for a new chapter—the release of their book, titled Dishoom: From Bombay with Love(published by Bloomsbury).
Labour of love
Speaking about the inspiration behind the book, Nasir says, "Shamil, Kavi and I have been with Dishoom for practically 10 years now. The idea of writing a book had been on our minds for quite some time. We wanted to pen down the recipes of the dishes served at our restaurant and collate it into a book. And, there's so much to talk about Mumbai, or as we call it, 'Bombay'. We, anyway, share stories at our cafés. The book, thus, became the best way to put forth our thoughts, views and stories together in one single piece of work. It took us about two years to put it all together."
Lamb seekh kebab
Dishoom is a handy guide for pro as well as amateur cooks. However, Nasir does note that it may take one-two attempts to perfect some of the recipes, such as paya or nihari. In fact, he admits that it even took him a bit to master these, in spite of being a pro chef. On the other hand, there are some easy ones, too, such as the vada pav and bhel, where it's all about the prep, and then just a few minutes to assemble or cook the final dish.
Elaborating on the user-friendliness of the book, he says, "We have tried to make the book as user-friendly as possible. We even got someone, who didn't know much about Indian food, to try these recipes to ensure that international audiences are looked after. As Indians, we may overlook certain steps for recipes that we are used to preparing. For instance, while the onion-tomato masala is a key part of a lot of Indian recipes, people from the West may not get it right. In this masala, the caramelising of the onions is important. We would have actually ignored such steps had we not involved someone who knew less about Indian food. "While you can get pretty much any and every ingredient in London, outside, elsewhere in the UK, it is difficult to find some ingredients, so we have suggested some alternate ingredients."
In love with the city
To put it a nutshell, Dishoom is literally like a day-long boot camp in Mumbai, filled with food and flavours, where you begin your journey at the iconic Kyani & Co. bakery and end it by sipping a cocktail at The Taj, with all the tales from Mohammad Ali Road and Paris Bakery and lots more in-between.
Nasir confesses that the biggest challenge they faced while putting this book together was whether or not they should share all of Dishoom's secrets. Things, such as their black daal (prepared for an unbelievable 24 hours) or tomato chilli jam (used in the bacon naan roll) are such an integral part of their recipes and menu. But they managed to overcome this anxiety and have shared their hearts out in the book, with complete honesty.
Today, the Internet is replete with recipes. So, why would someone buy a copy of Dishoom instead of simply downloading a recipe for free? Pat comes Nasir's reply, "We have poured our hearts out into this book. It's the true interpretation of our Dishoom food. Having this in your hand would be a great way to recreate some of the magic that we create in our kitchens.
"More importantly, Dishoom is a really beautiful piece of art. When I read the book, I felt like going back to Mumbai one more time and doing the tour, which is mentioned in the book. It has a nice map that tells you about all the places to visit. For me, the story is captured here. These stories are not available on the Internet because these are our experiences of the city and how we have seen it. We have spoken about jazz in Bombay, the Art Deco in the city. In fact, before Dishoom, I didn't know that Mumbai had the biggest concentration of Art Deco buildings after Miami. There are many more stories like that, which are filled with romance and nostalgia. The photography in the book is stunning. When I held the book, I felt like I'm holding a chunky piece of art, not just a cookbook."
Immortalising Indian food
Nasir feels strongly about the fact that Indian food is not really being documented. He notes, "Nobody tells you the standard way of cooking a dal makhani. We have a hundred versions of the dish, and that may be a good thing. But somewhere down the line, we need to ensure that we document our cuisine in a more systematic way. Maybe this book is a small effort in that direction. Of course, it's our version of it, and I don't know if people will perceive it to be authentic or not, but I've made sure that there is a very specific way of making a ginger-garlic or onion-tomato masala. Anyway, I hope someday someone writes the classic recipe of perhaps a dal makhani, everyone could refer to or reflect back on or rely upon."
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