Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thoughts: On Food Blogging

At first, the question seems simple. How do you rate and judge food? Well, for the average person it could be as simple as "Does it taste good?", "Would I eat it again?", "Did I lick my plate clean?".
Is it as simple for a blogger? Not to tout the horns of myself and my com-padres, but it is not easy being a food blogger. Tastes are varied. Tongues grow accustomed to flavours. Palates are biased. Culture, history, family, society, geography, religion, experiences, economics, even education are all factors that influence what you like to eat. We are what we eat. But with 6 billion people on the planet, how does a food blogger justify his/her existence? How do you convey that feeling of satiated delight to a reader? How do you convey disgust? How do you justify that your palate is one that should be followed and can be a trustworthy metric?
No palate exceeds that of another. No palate is more "evolved" than another. There are critics that would like to believe otherwise, but I am not one of those. I do not claim to know everything about food. I am a weekend chef. But yet I come here and post reviews on the food that other people have made. I judge them and score them. I judge the creation of others with my own fallible mind. I take that wisp which is taste and capture it on paper. 
Many times I have been called elitist. Many times has my judgement been questioned. Many times have people looked at me and said "Are you insane? You actually liked/disliked that?". It is made to sound hateful, but I have to admit, more often than not, I am elitist.
I am elitist because just like you, I like the food I eat and I am proud of my opinions. My palate has been made by my culture, history, family, society, geography, experiences, religion, economic situation and education. If you are what you eat, then my tastes represent me.I stand by my palate because I stand by myself.

Review: The Great Shawarma Shootout 2, Lokhandwala Edition

The quest continues. Where do you get the best Shawarma in Bombay? In the first Great Shawarma Shootout we tried a number of places in Bandra. This time, we visited the suburb and vicinity of Lokhandwala to see if we could find Bombay's Best Shawarma.

Accompanying me on this review is the venerable Mr. Joydas Mukherjee. For safety reasons we brought along Dr. Shardul, just in case the food really turned out wrong.

As you know, we are straight shooters on this blog. We say it like we taste it. Thus for security purposes His Lordship accompanied us.

(I lie, we brought him along because he looks so damn cute.)

As with the last Shawarma Shootout the rules stay the same. What makes a good Shawarma? The Shawarma is ultimately a cousin to that most versatile of dishes , the sandwich. It is impossible to narrow down to what is an absolutely bare-bones traditional recipe. The standard in Bombay is to have the slices of chicken over pita bread, with sour cream, hummus, potato, beetroot and any additional spices. This varies slightly with the traditional Shawarma that might also have extra Tahini (though the hummus should contain that), Olives, even cucumber and tomato at times.
To narrow down the parameters we decided that most basic rule should be "No Indian Spicy Taste!". It is too easy to compromise, throw in a host of spices to appease the local palate and lose touch with the roots. It is for this reason we did not try any of the "Spicy Shawarmas". 

1) Zus Sizzlers, Lokhandwala

We began this shootout at the rather popular Zu's eatery. It looks like a nice vibrant place. Technically it makes Sizzlers, and only sources its Shawarmas from the next door Fanoos. However since someone said they have common ownership, we decided to treat them as the same. 

(Joydas with our first Shawarma of the evening)

The first thing we noticed about this Shawarma was the overuse of garlic. This particular theme seemed constant throughout all the joints in Lokhandwala which was quite intriguing. The chicken was a bit dry, but the bread was alright. It was a bland Shawarma, nothing to write home about. No outstanding textures, no flavourful tastes. 

Joydas: 2/10
Overall: 3/10

2) Toss & Grill, Lokhandwala

This is a tiny little place near the entrance to Lokhandwala market. They have an extensive range of Shawarmas, which is not necessarily a good thing. There was something called a "Prawn Shawarma" on the menu which I honestly shudder to even think about tasting. Well, maybe one day I will get the strength of will to give it a try. 

First things first, the chicken was delicious. It was perfectly cooked. It was juicy. It was absolutely mouth wateringly delicious. I don't know if they got lucky, or they served the food bloggers the best piece of chicken they have managed all day, or if they are consistently that good. But I cannot say it enough, the chicken was delicious. 
The rest of the shawarma sadly did not match the same standards. The fries were not crispy and were a little bland, there was a hint of too much garlic (just a hint), and it needed some more crisp lettuce in the roll. However the chicken was the reason we scored this place pretty highly. 

Joydas: 5
Me: 5
Overall Score: 5

3) Lebanese Point, Lokhandwala

This is in the middle of Lokhandwala market. We went there with much trepidation. It is part of a chain, and the one in Khar had left us quite unimpressed. But, as dedicated bloggers, we decided it was our duty to give them a second shot. Maybe this outlet can manage what Khar couldnt?.

They fared worse. The lesser I say about this shawarma the better. Way too much garlic, the chicken tasted dry, old, overcooked, and the bread was raw. 
As you can see, the cream is more like curdled milk.We could not finish the roll, and Joydas refuses to even rate it. I have decided to be very very generous and give it a 1. 

Joydas: Refused to acknowledge its existance. 
Me: 1
Overall: 1 (only because I am being very very generous). 

4) Dhuan, Versova.

This place looks interesting. Thanks to the odd font in the name, it took me a while to read what was written. It has an extensive menu of lebanese dishes, and it definitely should merit a review someday. However, their Shawarma section has two different items. One is a regular Shawarma, and the other is a Hummus Shawarma. This posed a bit of a quandry as to which one to order since a traditional Shawarma should contain hummus. We finally decided to go with the normal Chicken Shawarma and see how the restaurant has interpreted this roll. 

What you are seeing in the picture is half the roll. As you can see, Mr. Joydas had greedily stolen his half before the picture could be taken. The other thing you are seeing is the abundance of vegetables. This wasnt merely on the plate, it was within the shawarma too. We have Carrots, Beet, Radish, Jalapenos. The second odd thing about the cream you can see, is that it is not sour cream. It was a garlic butter/paste. So the basic shawarma contained no hummus, no sour cream, no tahini, no olives, no lettuce. It is an interesting take on the roll, but we were hard pressed to call it a Shawarma on first sight.
As far as the taste goes, the first bite was quite good. As a "chicken roll" it would be rated quite highly. But if we go by the rules set at the start of the shootout, it has its weaknesses. The chicken was juicy, but the juice was olive oil. I have never eaten a Shawarma that was as oily as this one. It left a huge coat of oil on our fingers. The chicken was also spiced intensely with Indian spices. This was definitely something that had been made to appeal to the local palate. A couple of bites in, the flavour of the garlic butter started overpowering the rest. It missed the sour cream and hummus that could have really worked beautifully to even out the flavour. 
However, the vegetables added a nice touch. Mr. Joydas was particularly flummoxed by the radish which brought an angle to the roll that we had not experienced before. If we had to rate it as a chicken roll, it would have unanimously been rated at a 6 or better. However as a shawarma, we had to rate it as:

Joydas: 4

Overall score:4

Friday, April 8, 2011

Recipe: A Simple Marinara Sauce

There are few sauces as versatile as a classic Marinara. Eat it with anything, on anything, or just use it as a dip. You can play with the recipe and make it as rich as possible.
Throw in some mushrooms, some bell peppers, different chillis, some corn for texture, play with it how you like. It makes an excellent sauce for pizzas (just add some oregano) so you don't have to get that store-bought bottled crap. Add some Garam masala and Chaat masala and you have some very interesting Indian flavours. Make it with red wine and serve the same bottle with your food. Add some gound meat and mustard to it. Use cheeses within the sauce. I love adding minced Jalapeno peppers and mushrooms to this and serving it with toast in the morning with some grated cheese.
So hence for this post I am going to present a simple basic marinara. This can be the template from which you expand the taste to your liking. GO WILD!!!.


1/2 cup Tomato Purée
4 large tomatoes (say, 250 grams)
5 tablespoons cup of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic (minced)
1 large onion (finely diced)
1/4 cup of fresh Basil leaves
1/2 tablespoon of dried Thyme.
Salt, black pepper, red chilli to taste.
Lets COOK!!!

Lets get those lovely red tomatoes out and dice them up.

Time for Mis en Place. (Everything in place). Now here I am not using any onions since there were people I was cooking for who didnt like onions. I otherwise recommend you keep them when you make marinara.Look and drool at all those delicious ingredients.

Get a stove on. Put on a pot and heat up the olive oil.

When it just starts to bubble, add your garlic and onions and sauté them for a few minutes until translucent. Once those are done, add your purée and diced tomatos and let them cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add your basil, salt, pepper, chilli and let it simmer for about 10 minutes or it thickens to the consistency you want.

I served it with a yummy Ravioli (Spinach, ricotta cheese and mushrooms) and a side of creamy mashed potatoes. (will put up posts on those soon).

Index: Sauces

There is nothing like a good sauce to bring out the flavour in a food.

Recipe: Creamy Basil Pesto Sauce

I love Pasta. I love making it, I love eating it. But you cannot have a good pasta without a good sauce. I have decided to try making at least one new sauce every couple of weeks. First is a classic, The Basil Pesto.
Pesto comes from the Genoese word pestâ (from Genoa in Northern Italy) which basically means to crush or to pound. Originally this sauce was made using a mortar and pestle, however you can also make it using a food processor. (Once I get a mortar and pestle, I will give the traditional way a try too).


2 cups fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 cup of Pine Nuts
1/2 cup Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (freshly grated)
1 cup extra virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon of thyme. (Optional)
Salt, black pepper to taste. 

Lets COOK!!!.

Lets start with those lovely fresh basil leaves.

Wash and clean them, add them to a food processor along with your garlic and pine nuts. Add a little olive oil, just enough to get them minced.
Blend them for a bit and then add in your cheese. I also threw in a little bit of thyme just for taste. (this is optional).

Now you can add your remaining Olive oil and get it to the consistency you want. As you can see, we have gotten a very creamy consistency. If you want it to have a leafier, rougher consistency, cut down on the olive oil (use only 1/2 a cup) and the blending time.

Fettucini is my favourite pasta and it goes beautifully with pesto. So for this cook-off I boiled some as per the instructions on the case.

Toss it together with that yummy creamy pesto, garnish with basil (I ran out of basil so used coriander) , maybe grate some parmesan over and above and serve.

Printable Recipe:-


2 cups fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 cup of Pine Nuts
1/2 cup Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (freshly grated)
1 cup extra virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon of thyme. (Optional)

Salt, black pepper to taste. 


1) Wash and clean the basil leaves and add along with the garlic and pine nuts to a food processor.
2) Add a little olive oil (3-4 tablespoons) and start blending.
3) Once they are decently creamy, add the cheese, thyme, salt and pepper along with a bit more olive oil.
4) Keep blending and slowly adding the olive oil till you get it to the required consistency.
5) The more olive oil you add and the longer you blend it, the creamier will be the final consistency.
6) Toss with some pasta and enjoy!!!

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