I had brunch in Madras a few Sundays ago at the brand new Westin. As you may have noticed, Madras is now the centre of India’s hotel industry: a new place seems to open every month. But I went to the Westin – a bright, cheery hotel with a young staff and a great vibe – because the general manager Shrikant Wakharkar has been a friend of mine for 20 years.
Shrikant plans to open an Oriental restaurant soon, but for now the property has only one restaurant, a relaxed, sun-filled cafe-type all-day dining restaurant, which does a vast Sunday brunch with nearly every kind of food you can think of, from pizza to appams and stew to sushi to north Indian curries to Middle Eastern rice dishes to teppan-yaki ice cream. (They are big on ice cream at the Westin: the chef showed me a prototype for making instant ice cream on the table with liquid nitrogen, in the style of Ferran Adrià, Heston Blumenthal and the other molecularists.)
Though the food was fine, we got to discussing possible innovations. In the West, a Sunday brunch is usually a bakwas meal at top restaurants, served on the head chef’s day off, when assorted kitchen minions make eggs to order, add a couple of basic dishes (minute steak, French toast, waffles etc.) and charge you a fixed price. Coffee and orange juice are always included in the rate.
In the Far East, however, the Sunday brunch is a big deal: a sort of bigger and better version of the normal lunch buffet, with free champagne thrown in and lots of luxury ingredients (foie gras, caviar, lobster, oysters etc.) laid out on the tables. If you wake up hungry on Sundays, then a brunch can be the best deal you’ll get at any restaurant.
In India, we’ve tended to follow the Far Eastern model largely because the foreign chains that brought the concept to our hotels used expatriate chefs who had worked in East Asia. The La Piazza Sunday brunch at Delhi’s Hyatt Regency was the pioneer, but nearly every restaurant and hotel now offers some kind of variation on the theme.
The one thing that remains constant at all brunches – whether in the West or the East – is the idea that Sunday brunch is, at heart, a delayed breakfast. In the Indian context that should mean that restaurants serve parathas, theplas, idlis, vadas, dosais and the like. And indeed, some places do offer Indian breakfast specialties, but the majority of restaurants stick with the global idea that as long as you have a live egg counter, with a chef churning out omelettes, fried eggs etc. you are sticking with the spirit of breakfast.
Personally, I’m getting a little tired of brunches where the junior-most chef in the kitchen is sent into the restaurant to fry eggs because his top bosses are too high and mighty to make omelettes. Why can’t Indian restaurants try and do something fresh and innovative with eggs at their Sunday brunches? God knows, there are enough egg dishes in the world for the chefs not to have to rely on the same tired old mushroom omelette or fried eggs sunny-side up formula.
Over brunch that Sunday, Shrikant and I sat down and made out a list of things we would like to see on Sunday brunch menus – the kind of dishes that would make imaginative use of eggs. We decided that you could find enough good ideas within South Asia not to have to bother with elaborate soufflés or other European dishes. Here are some of the things we thought of.
Egg Roast and Appam: I’m sure they will hate me in Kerala for saying this but as much as I love appams, I loathe the boring white stew that is traditionally served with them. (And while we are on the subject, I’m not keen on idi-appams either. They taste like the sort of messed up noodle dish, an inexperienced cook in a bad Chinese restaurant in Ernakulam turned out by mistake… Okay Malayalis: you can shoot me now!) But the egg roast (the recipe for which has appeared on these pages some months ago) is one of the world’s great egg dishes. It is not difficult to make and it goes perfectly with appams. So why can’t we get egg roast and appams at Sunday brunches rather than boring ham-and-cheese omelettes?
Shrikant spent three years in Colombo at the Taj Samudra so he is familiar with Sri Lankan cuisine. The Lankan version of the appam is called a ‘hopper’, a name that apparently originates from an English mis-pronunciation of the world ‘appam’. (How can anyone, even a Brit, make appam sound like hopper? No idea. I find the story mystifying myself, but there it is…)
The Lankans fry an egg, sunny-side up on their appams and call them egg-hoppers. They can be delicious and they are easy to find all over Sri Lanka. So why don’t we serve them here at our brunches?
No matter what you call it, an anda paratha or a baida roti, the combination of paratha/roti and egg is a marriage made in heaven. It is the secret of a satisfying Nizam’s Roll (or a kathi, if you want to call it that). Every second roadside vendor in parts of Bombay turns out the most delicious baida roti. So, why in God’s name are our hotels still serving us disgusting pale, battery-chicken scrambled eggs on pheeka toast? Why can’t we get anda parathas or baida rotis at our brunches?
The only Parsi dish that most Indians have heard of is dhansak but no community uses eggs as imaginatively as the Parsis. They are so willing to fry an egg on top of anything (even bhindi) that I sometimes wonder if their ancestors escaped from Persia with all of that country’s chickens. One great thing about the Parsi love of eggs (Rusi Modi used to brag about his 14-egg omelettes) is that they all live to be a hundred or so. Remember that the next time a doctor tells you that eggs are bad for your heart.
The other great thing is that they have at least two wonderful egg dishes that make perfect brunch specialties. The first is reasonably well-known in Bombay: their akuri, which is a classier version of the North Indian ande ki bhurji and tastes more delicious than any scrambled egg you will ever eat. (You can even buy an akuri powder in Bombay, or so I am told, which is the secret ingredient in many home-style akuris.) The other wonderful Parsi egg dish – and my personal favourite – consists of perfectly fried eggs on top of a bed of sautéed potatoes and onions. You’ll hardly ever see this on restaurant menus. But try it. I find it can be addictive.
We sometimes come across the Scotch egg, though the dish has generally fallen out of favour even in the West. In essence, this is a boiled egg encased in sausage meat, battered or breaded and then fried. I have too many unhappy memories of Scotch eggs from school to be nostalgic for them. But we have our own Indian equivalent, which is much tastier: the Nargisi Kofta.
This is a little like a Scotch egg but instead of the sausage meat, you use delicious, delicately-spiced keema of the kind you would use for a kabab. Made properly, the dish adds a new dimension to the flavour of egg by surrounding it with moist, juicy keema. And yet, I don’t know of anybody who serves it for Sunday brunch at a restaurant in India.
These are just some of the ideas Shrikant and I came up with over brunch that Sunday. I’m sure you can think of even more interesting things to do with eggs. Mail me your suggestions and I’ll do another column on the subject.
After all, this magazine is called Brunch!
Egg Akuri A La Cecile
2 onions (chop)
1 tbsp ghee
Salt to taste
3 cloves garlic
Grind for masala
½ inch piece ginger
2 tsp chopped coriander leaves
1 green chilli
1 tsp tamarind or a slice of green mango
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp dhania jeera powder
Heat ghee, add the onions and masala, and fry well till ghee separates. Remove from fire and cool. Mix eggs lightly, add salt. Add to the fried masala. Mix well. Put on fire and cook on medium heat, stir constantly till cooked like scrambled eggs.
Eggs Akuri (Serves 6)
Salt to taste
¼ cup milk
6 medium onions (slice)
2 tbsp ghee
5 green chillies – chop fine
1 small bunch coriander leaves – chop fine
1 tsp cumin seeds – fry for garnishing
1 green chilli (chop) – fry for garnishing
Break eggs in a pan. Add salt and milk and mix lightly. Fry the onions and when golden, add the chillies and coriander and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the egg mixture and stir constantly till cooked like scrambled eggs. Pour into a hot dish, garnish with the fried cumin seeds and chilli and serve immediately.
Eggs On Potatoes And Onions (Serves 6)
1 lb potatoes
2 tbsp ghee
½ lb onions (sliced thinly)
2 green chillies (chopped)
¾ tbsp salt
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
Cut potatoes into small cubes. Heat ghee and fry onions for 2 minutes. Add potatoes and cook both vegetables till almost done. Add salt, chillies and coriander leaves. Remove from fire and spread in a flat greased baking dish. Break 6 eggs on the potato mixture, sprinkle with salt, cover and keep on a low fire or in a slow oven till eggs are set. Serve hot.
Recipes courtesy: The Time and talents club cook book
The egg roast is one of the world’s great egg dishes. It is not difficult to make and it goes perfectly with appams
From HT Brunch, May 12
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