I am, by no stretch of imagination, a 'foodie'. Being an Iyengar by birth, and a Kannadiga by upbringing, I dont yearn for anything more than my fix of rasam, an occasional bisibelebaath and of course, curd rice with pickle. Having said that, I do enjoy all kinds of vegetarian food - be it Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai ...well you name it. But I do get bugged when reckless chefs kill a staple classic.
My (ex) firm has a sprawling campus in Bengalooru's Electronic city (where else); which also houses a couple of food courts. Well, the campus was abuzz when we came to know a 'proper' restaurant would open up shortly (with waiters, cutlery et al). The name of the restaurant sounded chic and cool too! Needless to say, reservation was required - such was the crowd. A group of us managed to get our reservation, a month after this restaurant opened up.
The decor was ...well...boring. The same old white linen on table and same old white china, and brownish (if my memory serves right) table cloths. The music was the 'elevator' type music...with a sax or a sitar throbbing like a headache in the background. The 'head waiter' as I call him was a surly bloke who generally loomed around like Dracula.
Anyway, the group of us bought the 'token'; picked up the soup and settled down. There was only one kind of soup - sweetcorn. I slurped and shuddered. The soup was scalding; it was lumpy and bland. I like my soup at the right temperature, with the right thickness, and of course, it must have some flavor! It took a good twenty minutes for me to mash the lumps and huff and puff into the soup before i could consume it.
Main course - long queue. By the time i got to the appetisers, there were no plates. I looked hungrily at the 'starters' section. Some kind of pakoras were piled up as starters, looking dangerously golden brown. Some blokes who were sitting nearby had started working on the pakoras. Each bite sounded like the crunch of shoes on breaking ice. I decided to give the pakoras a miss. Ah! The plates arrived. The rotis and naans were gone. I did not want to wait for another 20 minutes: my stomach was behaving like a washing machine. I moved on to the rice section. There was the most basic version of pulav - to me it looked like basmati rice stirred about in a buttered seasoning of cumin and cardamom. And of course, a few strands of deep fried onion and ginger were strewn about in the guise of garnishing. I took a helping. For the sides, there was the mandatory raitha, and some paneer dish. The reason i say 'some' paneer dish is because it was just a bunch of paneer cubes floating in an orange colored gravy. Dejected, i spooned in some of the stuff on my plate and walked ahead. Then, I saw the label that electrified me - aaaah! 'Morekulambu' - heaven sent for us Tamilians and Kannadigas. Oh! If i had seen this earlier, I would have just taken some plain rice and Morekolambu. But that was the mystery! There was no plain rice. Morekolambu stood there alone; amidst the pulavs and paneer gloops; like an item number in a serious Schindlers List-type movie. No matter, no matter! I can still take the morekolambu in a small katori and slurp it up. But I was electrified again...this time with anger. The Morekolambu was adulterated with ONIONS.
I stormed back to my table. Which idiot of a chef puts onions in a morekolambu? Morekolambu is a subtle dish; with a very different, unique taste. The essence of the dish is in channa daal. The channa daal is soaked for 30 minutes to one hour in water. It is then ground to paste; along with green chillies and coriander leaves. Meanwhile, you chop cucumbers into large cubes, and boil them in water. When the cucumbers are cooked just right, add the channa daal paste; and bring the whole gravy into a boil again, with constant stirring. The gravy becomes nice and thick. Just before turning off the heat, you now add thick yoghurt. If the yoghurt is not sour enough, you can add a dash of tamarind juice. Add salt to taste. And your thick, creamy morekolambu is done. The channa daal gives the unique, subtle flavor and thickness to the dish; while the curd gives a tangy, cool twist. The cucumbers give a soft bite. Now, as with all delicate dishes; if you add too much of channa daal - the taste is spoilt, and not to say your tummy too. And boiling the gravy after you add curds is not a great idea either. But this chef...well went right ahead and added onions. Mayhem if you ask me.
Well, the nightmare did not end there. For dessert, there was some pista dish. At first I thought it was pudina chutney. Or coriander chutney. But the surly waiter snarled and told me it was 'Kesaribaath' with a pista flavor. One more traditional South Indian dish had been murdered. I am always excited about a creative twist on a traditional dish, but lord! This looked like bile. I took a small bowl of the swill and tentatively tasted it. I wanted to storm inside the kitchen like Big B in Zanjeer. The essence of our Kesaribaath is in the semolina. The semolina has to be mildly roasted in a tsp of ghee, so that it releases it flavor and aroma and loses its moisture content too. Then, the roasted semolina is cooked in milk, till it thickens. Of course, there are several variations, but the fundamental method is the same. This dangerous cook, had, no doubt, directly cooked the semolina in water; and it had become this sticky porridge. He had probably added some pista essence and colorant to then make it look like bile. As it cooled, it became stickier. One could probably wax one's limbs with this i thought.
On second thoughts, perhaps I should have tried waxing the chef's limbs with his pista bile.