By some coincidence I had lunch and dinner on the same day at two Delhi restaurants that are cousins of each other: Zorawar Kalra’s wonderful new Farzi Café (which deserves a fuller piece – but you’ll have to wait for that one) and Indian Accent, run by Manish Mehrotra, for my money, India’s greatest chef.
The two chefs at Farzi worked in Manish’s kitchen and though they have now found the confidence to express their own styles (plus, of course, Zorawar’s inventive touches), it is clear that they perfected their craft under Manish’s tutelage.
At Farzi Café they served a dish of Maggi noodles drenched in truffle oil and topped with a slice of seared foie gras. I loathe truffle oil (see below) but the dish was clever and the foie gras was inventively used. That night, at dinner, I had Manish’s full tasting menu, which changes every time you go but which features some of his classics. One of these classics was his galouti kebab topped with seared foie gras.At both places, the chefs told me with some regret that they would have to tweak their menus. The government of India has now banned the import of foie gras. The reasons are the usual ones, familiar to anyone who has ever worn a PETA T-shirt: foie gras is made by force-feeding geese and ducks till their livers engorge and that this is cruel. I have no desire to enter yet again into the foie gras debate which is now a huge global bore, so I won’t waste your time with the arguments for and against foie gras.
But I will point out that foie gras, which is consumed by less than 0.0001 per cent of India’s population, seems like a soft target. If people really care about animals then perhaps they should do something about the appalling conditions in Indian abattoirs – nobody who sees how goats are killed in some of our slaughterhouses will ever want to eat Indian mutton. But then I guess it is far easier and trendier to protect geese in faraway Strasbourg than it is to do something for Indian animals.Never mind. My point is this: do I oppose the ban? No, not all. Frankly, I couldn’t give a monkey’s.
But that got me thinking. Are there really any luxury ingredients I would miss if they were banned? The short answer – I discovered to my surprise – is no. They can ban the whole damn lot for all I care. Here are some ingredients I will not miss.
Of course, I love fresh white truffles. I’m crazy about black truffles too. But you hardly ever get either of them in India. What you do get is truffle oil, which usually consists of ordinary oil to which they add a chemical (extracted from petroleum) that mimics the aroma of the truffle.
But now the farmed oysters that are air-lifted all over India from Cochin are uniformly inedible: tough, little pellets of snot that no real oyster lover can possibly enjoy. Perhaps industrial farming techniques have destroyed the Indian oyster. Whatever the reason, I will not shed a tear if oysters vanish from our menus.
There is a point to all this. Most restaurants that rely on caviar, foie gras, truffle products, oysters, lobsters, scallops and the like are places where the owners believe that you and I have no taste and will be impressed by the very sight of luxury ingredients no matter how horrible they taste.
It is time to put an end to all the pretension and snobbery. India has many wonderful treasures from the soil and sea, nurtured carefully by our ancestors. It is our duty to make the most of those ingredients. And all those who think that cuisine is not about taste but about expensive snobby ingredients really know nothing at all about good food.
From HT Brunch, August 24
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