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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Kunal Vijayakar picks apart the complex world of cocktail snacks

Today’s parties are incomplete without sushi, satay and lobster tails. Even the kids have to have at least three cuisines. Me? I’d be happy if someone just passed me a plate of kababs.

mumbai Updated: Jun 21, 2019 21:23 IST
Kunal Vijayakar
Kunal Vijayakar
Hindustan Times
Canapes used to mean boiled egg or cheese on Monaco biscuits, topped with a drop of ketchup. Not any more.
Canapes used to mean boiled egg or cheese on Monaco biscuits, topped with a drop of ketchup. Not any more. (iStock)
         

I have this week attended three birthday parties. The ages of the hosts were between 5 and 8. Please do not ask me why I was at these kiddy parties. Sometimes family does matter.

If it wasn’t enough to have frightening-looking clowns, a loud and shrieky emcee, and a magician who tried his level best to get the kids attention, the party had as many nannies as there were children. Since most parents drop the kids off and reappear only to pick them up, nannies make up at least 60% of any kiddie party today.

The nannies come alive when the food comes out, and they all rush to the buffet to pile up numnum for the baba or baby. However the Baba or Baby is too engrossed in catching balloons, pulling at the magician’s cape or jamming their fingers into the birthday cake, making the birthday boy wail and the birthday boy’s mother fight to suppress tears. I apologise for that tirade. This is supposed to be about food, so let’s talk food.

If I dig deep into memory and think of all the parties that I attended as a little bloke in the city of Bombay (it was Bombay then), I have these swimming visions of wafers and sandwiches. Chicken sandwiches, cheese sandwiches and chutney sandwiches. The chicken sandwiches were made of fresh white bread (no multigrain crap), with peppered boiled chicken and butter. Sometimes they had mayonnaise and mustard, and they were gently preserved in a damp cloth so they retained all their mellowness and moisture. The chutney in the sandwiches was bright green, made with fresh coriander, mint, chillies, coconut and a little sugar. The cheese sandwiches were made with thick slices of Kraft. Simple and tasty. 

The wafers came from iconic wafer shops which made them fresh three times a day, in a bhatti, a huge cauldron of Vanaspati, in which thin, large slices of potato were deep-fried till crisp. If you lived near a wafer shop, every morning you woke up to the delicious aroma of frying and potatoes all around the neighbourhood.

Golden Wafers in Grant Road, once owned and run by my friend Boman Irani, Victory Wafers in Colaba, B-Wafers at Forjett Hill, Ideal Wafers in Kotachiwadi and A-1 Wafers at Tardeo were iconic. (Nowadays it’s all dehydrated, compressed, potato; fried, salted, flavoured, preserved and cut in standardised slices, then sealed in air-tight aluminium packaging with colourful images and names that suggest sex.)

So those were the normal birthday party snacks. Today of course the average kiddy birthday party needs an event manager to spearhead it and a chef to manage the menu. At the last one I attended, there were mini-pizzas, mini-burgers, mini-hotdogs, French fries, a chaat counter, tuna sandwiches, a live pasta counter, a taco counter and sponsorship from McDonald’s and Domino’s. All that was missing was a Page 3 photographer.  

As we grew older and attended more grown-up parties, cocktails meant Amul cheese and pineapple slices on a toothpick, with half a maraschino cherry; masala fried peanuts; and maybe corn or slices of boiled egg on Monaco biscuits, topped with a drop of ketchup.

Today you can start with shrimp satay, beef and marmalade bruschetta, mushroom and olive tapenade, a cheese platter from Foodhall, then grilled lobster tails in blue cheese dipping sauce, sushi, sashimi and agedashi tofu.

It is a failure if your party does not have a cold cuts counter, baba ganoush and hummus with toasted pita, and a menu that at least hints at South America, Morocco and Turkey.

I have to confess that cocktail party food today is far more imaginative, but I do sometimes miss the simplicity of the days when a plate of shammi kababs was a treat. At least we knew what we were eating. Today, when the glitzy step out for a party at a penthouse, few know the difference between a tempura and a tarama or between a chermoula and a chorizo.

So I sometimes feel, enough of the hoity-toity, snobby-wobby, snooty, haughty, supercilious, pretentious, white-sauce-herby, braised-demi-glazed, tarragon-sprinkled, bland, insipid, minuscule-portioned, daintily decorated, filo pastry excuse of a party. Let’s get back to the basics. Could I have a plate of kababs and some fried prawns, please!