Posts Tagged ‘India’

Matt Haley: A final look at India

January 27, 2010

Matt Haley and a crew of friends near the northern Indian city of Jaipur.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley recently concluded a winter food and culture tour through Nepal and northern India.  This is the third and final installment of his observations and photos gleaned from the trip.  Many who dine in Matt’s restaurants will look forward to seeing whether the trip influences any of his offerings and approaches to business in a world growing rapidly more international.

19 January 2010

In the middle of a dried lake bed, we stopped our motorcycles so Guarav Jani could ask directions to Sambhar.

“I am stuck in the fog in a small town about an hour outside Agra. We are headed to Agra to take a break after a long but very rewarding motorcycle ride through the small towns and villages throughout the state of Rahjastan. The fog has actually created time for the group to sit and rehash the trip and has opened up a multi-cultural discussion between us. Here there is no right or wrong, just appreciated thought with the exception of whether or not our stuffed roti (flatbread) should have more onion and whether the condiment, being fresh curd (yoghurt), should be eaten with or without chili. I opted for chili and sugar.

“It’s been a week without hot water or a shower and I don’t think I have missed a beat. I am glad for that as I am amazed at how much I can take for granted sometimes.

“In Agra we will be riding towards our first offical tourist attraction: the Taj Mahal. I am told it was built out of love for the wife of an obviously very wealthy man who then upon its completion had the hands of all the skilled workers cut off  so the monument could not be replicated. That raised the question from me to a village tribal leader: ‘where’s the love in that?’ I did not understand the response but I believe it was moot.

Salt train with salt lake in background.

“We have just spent a few days in the village of Sambhar. Sambhar is a lake town famous for its salt. Since our restaurants are very proud of the natural sea salts we use, I thought I would investigate. I had heard of Sambhar sea salt and wanted to know more so Guarav, Nicky and I hopped the salt train one day to see the operation. Sea salt is farmed almost like rice in a way where the shallow lake has beds built up to control the water flow. Once the water flows into these large beds and the sun dries it out, you are left with the salt. Then the salt is raked into piles that go to the filtering facility to be cleaned, then loaded in the open cars of a half-sized transport train that hauls the salt to packing plants. Later we will show the finished salt in Kadiah Paneer, a wonderful homemade spicy tomato cheese dish.

“On the way to Agra in the fog, which made it 30 degrees cooler and  a chilly ride, we passed 100 kilometers of mustard fields. Of course this meant stopping for a much-awaited visit. Mustard seed is an essential ingredient of Indian cooking. Chutneys, pickles and oils made with mustard are very common here. I believe mustard was being used here way before it was packaged in Dijon or by a company called French’s.

“It’s interesting, the tall flowering mustard plants throw off long seed pods that look like baby green beans. They must be very mature before harvesting. Right now the pods contain white and sweet seeds.  In a month the seeds will turn yellow or brown and be ready for toasting.

The author in a 100-kilometer-long field of mustard, one of the essential ingredients in Indian cooking.

While stopped for the mustard visit, I came across – not to mention the herd of wild peacocks that just walked in front of me – a very unusual truck. The farmers here are way ahead of the curve on multi-tasking. These stake-bed truck engines are not only used for trucking but also power water pumps to irrigate farms and then serve as generators for farmhouse electricity.

“After our mustard field break, we wheeled back onto the road to Agra. It was a great ride, and when we arrived and checked in the hotel I headed straight for the Taj Mahal. It is beautiful. What an amazing building. A must at some point on anyone’s travel plan.

This is our chef friend Dinesh making Kahdai Paneer. I love the outdoor exhaust fan.

“I am sad to say this will be my last blog on this trip. I am headed to Delhi tomorrow, then back to Delaware. I have had a blast with Guarav and Nicky and look forward to covering Southern India next year. I have done more than I can imagine on this trip. I can’t wait to get home and share the stories with my friends in Delaware and carry what I have learned here back into my community. As much as I love to travel, I also love coming home. Don’t be surprised if there is a new Indian restaurant in Coastal Delaware in the near future.

“I would repeat what has been said about India: “It is as majestic as it is mystifying; it is a humble country that is mis-interpreted; and it has opened my eyes to even more of life’s possibilities.”

A standard Indian roadside chai stand where samosas are also often served.

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A memorable meal cooked over dung

January 14, 2010

From left to right, Sanjay, Matt Haley and Guarav Jani (brother of Rehoboth Beach resident Dr. Uday Jani) on the outskirts of Pushkar.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley continued his trip this past week through south Asia and filed this following report:

“After leaving Katmandu I headed for Delhi, the capital of India, where I stayed two days before heading to Pushkar. I must say that I have not seen anything quite like Delhi. I have traveled many a place but nothing compares to Delhi’s number of people or nonstop movement. Imagine New York City on a busy day times 10 and you may be close.

“The cuisine choices there were simple for me: I wanted to eat in old-school, traditional, well-known locals restaurants. My favorite (all were great) was Hindi near the CP section of town. I had garlic nan with chutneys and pickle. Nan is a flat bread slathered with garlic oil and the chutney was the classic mint, chili and yoghurt and the pickle was lime. In India, pickle isn’t like our way. Instead of a vinegar base it is usually fermented and very spicy with an incredibly bold flavor.

Sugar cane ground to order by this Indian device is mixed with lime water to produce a concoction known as ghana.

“I followed the starters with mutton tika and pineapple raita. Tika is a spicy tomato-spiced, reduced stew and this was with lamb. Mutton is an older lamb with a gamier taste and it was accented well with the pineapple raita.

“Dessert was ‘Pan.’ I had it at a roadside stand. It consists of lime salt and some hard-core Indian spices which include tamarind and fennel seed. It is served on a leaf that reminded me of a thick basil leaf. The tastes combined to make one of the more power-flavor tastes I have had. Pan is also used for the help of digestion.

“After Delhi I took the train to Pushkar, a religious town on a lake in southern Rajastan. While waiting for Guarav Jani to show up with friends Nicky and Sanjay to start our motorcycle ride, I decided to relax and stroll around town. I found the street food of Pushkar a delicacy . Samosa chat, kabobs and a funny combination of fried rice (like rice crispies), chilis, onion, cilantro and a wild, spicy ketchup tossed together and put in a newspaper cone were all great. The rice-cone stand, I believe, is the Pushkar version of the American hot dog cart.

“After the Gang arrived we took our first ride into the desert of Rajastan, to a farmhouse owned by a friend of Sanjay’s. This was the meal I had been waiting for! But first let me describe the Rajastan countryside. The best way to put it would be like this:  Take beautiful, rock-lined dirt roads that swirl through amazing, small, stone and hillside villages that are praying for water, but being patient knowing the monsoon is just around the corner. Throw the desert beginning into the mix and there you have it. (I can’t call the hillsides mountains after just coming out of the Himalayas!)

Matt Haley and an Indian friend sit alongside a rural cooking stove known as a chula which is fired with compressed cattle dung. Haley said the dung produces a very uniform heat ideal for cooking.

“We were all circled in a small hut around a chula, a clay oven fired by compressed cow dung. Believe me, it burns perfectly for cooking. Guarav’s buddy Sanjay, who fancies himself the chef for the 60 KPH Motorcycle Club and avid rider, was making stewed chicken in a clay pot with roti, papadon and kanda nimbu. In the middle of this we went to the market to grab some extras. This is not like driving to Safeway. It takes a while and is an adventure. While there we ate Pani Poonie, which sounded a little R-rated. It was a hollow ball of thin crust that the vendor punched a hole in with his thumb and then stuffed with potato and mashed chic peas and then dunked in a cool water broth made with salt, chilis and spices. Great! Refreshing and energizing with a spice that also numbed the tongue. It was similar to the peppercorns from Katmandu.

“When we arrived back we started back up in the outdoor kitchen. The stove was running smoothly and the fires were lit around the outdoor lounge. What caught my attention most was the way Sanjay treated each element of the dish. Perfectly oil-braised onion and garlic perfumed the area as he added the spices of turmeric, cumin and chilis to the oil and continued to cook down for at least 20 minutes. Then tomatoes were added and all was simmered down to a paste. The chicken was added with a little water and was stirred carefully for an hour. The dish was served with the flat bread and kanda nimbu: shaved red onion marinated in chilis and lemon.

“As we sat in an outdoor dining room under the stars in a desert in Rajastan, eating a simple authentic Rajastani dinner, I realized how a great dinner can taste even better with good friends and a little adventure added to it.”

This is a bangra tree, growing in the Indian countryside, which has branches that grow down. It's derived from poppy. The leaves are ground into paste and steeped in water before being offered to the gods and finished by the villagers. It looked like one heck of a party. The liquid has a mood altering effect that really makes people energized and happy.