My day has gone quite horribly, if I may say so. Over a few cups of hot, steaming green tea, sweetened mildly by honey and endless bouts of sniffs and wheezes, not to mention the series of sneezes that seem to come 12 seconds apart, making me spew out whatever I was drinking (I swear… I hate January rain) which brought me down.
However, the sudden confinement inside the four walls of my house made me think of all the things I have eaten and all the things I crave at this moment. Apart from bars of good quality chocolates with caramel in it (damn you S for hooking me to that one!) and Thukpa (my one-stop-cure-all) and Conjee, I was wondering about the food I currently miss like crazy. And yes, last year’s last great meal stuck to me like glue. It was in this place called Tamarind, and I wish someone will parcel me some food from there. Like right now.
S and I went there in the middle of a busy shopping day in the middle of buying things for him to take back to USA and we were planning to go to Dakshinapan for some beautiful earrings which I’d spotted a day before; however, he was hungry and nagging, so we decided to go over to Tamarind for some great South Indian non-vegetarian food for which it is so famous. We left New Market around 2. 20 p.m., took an auto to Park Circus and then flagged down a taxi after eight standing at the stand refused to go to Deshapriya Park (Taxi drivers in Kolkata must be richer than Croesus to turn us down like that in the middle of the day).
We reached the place just shy of 3.00 p.m., entered, seated ourselves and looked around for service.
A waiter hovered in the background, seated another pair of people right after us. I was wearing an old sweatshirt and a pair of jeans that had seen better days. S wore his Puma jacket. None of us looked a day over 23. And in these restaurants, I have realized, you should at least look thirty to be taken seriously.
So after waiting patiently for service for about 10 minutes, I politely went and hailed a waiter, and insisted he gave us menu cards.
He immediately looked at me, assessed the situation quite fast and then brought me two menus. One he gave me, the other he gave S.
I was stumped when I looked at the menu.
Last time I’d come here, I have had amazing South Indian food here. However, none of the stuff here even remotely sounded South Indian. Why, they were all “Butter Chicken” and “Daal Fry” and other such boastfully Punjabi dishes.
Perplexed I looked up at S.
He said “We should have the Kori Gassi, you know. And some of the specials.”
Kori Gassi?? My menu had NOTHING like that! How come?
Then I realized that they had two SEPARATE menus for North and South Indian food. Relieved, I heaved out a little sigh of contentment, quickly exchanged and encouraged S to order what he wanted, and I took a brief look. The Kori Gassi indeed looked good, with the promise of chicken in coriander and all.
The specials menu (Christmas to New Year) also sounded amazing, with something called a Nattu Kozhi Biryani, which apparently was a rural Biryani of chicken served with a ring of Kheema. I was quite intrigued and taken by it and decided to try it.
And then we ordered, rattling off the things we wanted. The waiter looked slyly at me when I ordered only one Malabar Paratha (however, if he knew my appetite he wouldn’t have) and then said, “Sir. Please put down all your orders. This will be the last order before our kitchen closes at four.”
And then, while we were slightly dazed and staring at each other, he added: “You should add a started. We have great duck today.”
Sealed my fate when I ordered a half Tandoori Shikari Duck on top of it all.
We looked around. S wanted to pee. He ran off, and then a busy man came in and filled two glasses with this beautiful curd-and-coconut salty drink which is supposed to be an apertif. I thought it was similar to a “burhani” but I do not know what exactly it was (because I am horrible when it comes to the food of South India… and this tasted very South Indian with curry leaves and mustard, and touches of coconut in it).
S returned. Gulped some of the drink and went, “This is not water! What fabulousity is this?”
I looked at him, quite perplexed and not at all sure.
He grimaced at my extreme ignorance and decided to ask the waiter the next time he came.
Only he didn’t because the duck arrived by then. I learned later it was called Neer Mor, or Buttermilk South Indian Style.
|The Duck. The Duck.|
And angels came down on earth and birds sang and magpies did not steal.
Because this was the big Kahoona, and we both knew that after this everything would seem lifeless, because we just had a big slice of life right here.
The duck. Was. Poetry in motion. Pure. Perfect. And the softest meat you would have outside a duck confit.
Truly speaking, one of the challenges to any chef or cook (including me) is the Duck. The problem with Indian ducks are, they are temperamental and obnoxious, refusing to melt, refusing to obey the call of the fire.
In this case, they not just obeyed, they fell over themselves to do so. Or fell off the bone. And the sauce they were coated in was perfectly seasoned, and the hints of coriander, cinnamon and yogurt hit me up. Served with a simple chopped salad, it was the best start I could have had.
Once we had finished off the duck, the Biryani appeared, like second in command. A subtle but spicy, hot number, with a not-so-subtle bit of coconut milk in it, and with a lovely ring of spicy kheema, the Biryani was definitely not Kolkatan. It reminded me of a Biryani I have once had in Bangalore, but way, way better. A bowl of Raita came as we’d just began to dig in our food, and the soft whiteness of it went beautifully with the coconutty chicken which was not overpoweringly so, but the coconut left an aftertaste which went with the chicken to the tee.
|Nattu Kozhi Biryani|
Now, there must have been some miscommunication, because just after S had finished his food (he had wisely given me most of the chicken and I was manfully trying to eat it with fork) a bowl of water with a lemon floating in it was placed right in front of him, indicating he should wash his hands and call it a day. We looked up, and S protested, because we had ordered more food.
Suddenly a waiter came up right behind us, went to the manager, there was a little spat, and then the bowl was taken away (by that time S had washed his hand, like the good boy he is) and then he was given a fresh plate.
|Kori Gassi with Malabar Paratha|
The Kori Gassi arrived, a few fat pieces of chicken swimming in a sauce which was sweet, spicy, salty and red. In fact, I realized that such redness is generally impossible without the aid of some artificiality. The Malabar Paratha came with it, and S told me later that he was initially quite skeptical about me ordering just one of them, but now realized it was perfect.
The Kori Gassi was quite well cooked, though I could not taste the chicken much thanks to the incredibly spicy and flavorful sauce it was immersed in. Probably the least spectacular of the lot, however the Malabar Paratha was flaky and fresh, more than making up for it. We ate all of it, with just some gravy remaining in the bowl (which the waiter wanted to doggy-bag for us, but we politely refused).
As we asked for the bill, I calculated it would be around 800, with us ordering two dishes off the specials menu, and lo and behold, it came to 752 which made S raise his eyebrows at me.
Paan came in right in the end. Much needed, I daresay, or we would have burst. We literally rolled out of Tamarind and waddled over to Dakshinapan. We were replete, contemplating silently about the food, and still sniffing the faint smell of curry leaves and coriander left on our fingertips.
I leave you with a picture of a very happy and hungry S and his duck.
177 Sarat Bose Road
Kolkata – 700026