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Chapter three: A Delicious Journey of Discovery
We asked Nirvaan, our culinary genius as we like to call him, to explain us broadly the dishes from different parts of India. His answer was Indian cuisine is so diverse that it is almost impossible to describe it by categorizing one dish for one region, let alone the whole of Indian cuisine in one dish (as we typically do it in the WEST – by stereotyping Indian cuisine as just curries). Do you know that in India every 100 kms – the food, language/ dialect and culture changes completely? Every region has at least 40-50 varieties of different dishes which is indigenous to that particular region. On our insistence, Nirvaan tried to name and describe one star dish from North, South, East and West of India.
In the West (especially Bombay/ Mumbai) you can find an abundance of “vada pao” (vada pav). It is a street food recipe, which is mostly a grab and go kind of food, consisting of fried ball of spiced potatoes marinated in chickpea batter which is squished into a bun lathered with a red garlic and peanut chutney, and served with salted fried green chillies. The best part of this dish is that it is a society equalizer which is enjoyed by the richest of business tycoons and Bollywood stars, common working-class people and also by the poorest of poor who lives in the slums and streets of Mumbai.
In South of India, people enjoy “dosas” and hot steamed “idlis” which can be enjoyed as breakfast, lunch, or dinner, basically at any time of the day. The dosas as described by Nirvaan are made from fermented rice and lentil batter and made into crispy brown crepes. On the other hand, idlis are also made from the same batter of fermented rice and lentils, but these are steamed into fluffy rice cakes. Both idlis and dosas are savoured with piping hot sambar – which is a spiced lentil curry and different types of chutneys which can vary from coconut, to tomato, to peanut, to coriander to many other varieties.
In a part of East India, from a state called Bihar, you will find something called as “Litti Chokha”, litti and chokha are two separate components of the same dish. Litti is made from a dough ball made up of whole wheat flour and stuffed with gram flour mixed with herbs and spices. It is baked over coal or wood and in villages it is baked using the age-old method of cooking i.e. cooked over burning dung cakes (sun-dried cow dung /poop of cow) and finished off by tossing large amounts of ghee on these balls. Chokha is made of roasted eggplant, roasted potato and roasted tomato cooked with a blend of spices in mustard oil. These two components (litti and chokha) are eaten together and every grandma has their special secret recipe of how to make this dish.
If you go to the North, you will find street vendors in almost every street and neighbourhood standing with a handcart and selling “chole kulcha”. Again, like litti chokha, this dish also has two components – chole and kulcha, which are eaten together. Chole is a chickpea stew, made by soaking chickpeas overnight and then making a stew out of it using a combination of spices. And, kulcha is a type of stuffed flatbread which is baked using herbs. Chole kulcha is served with a side of pickled onion, carrots and green and red chillies.
The idea behind Miri Mary's menu
At Miri Mary you can find a personified version of some of these dishes and many more. Our menu is based on the concept that we take dishes which are more regional and are mostly cooked at home or sold on the streets. The best part about these dishes is that these are made by grandma’s and the recipes are passed from one generation to the next, and also, every household and every street vendor has their own version of the dishes which are in our menu. Most of the regional dishes which are on our menu are not commercialized at all and you cannot find these dishes even in restaurants in India. We took inspiration from these dishes and gave it our own contemporary take on these recipes, thus, making it in our own true style.
To give you an example, we have “Tandoori mushrooms” – here the idea was to make something from Kashmir, so we chose the most popular ingredient from Kashmir – saffron (kesar/ zaffran) and made a savoury sauce out of it and used it as a base for oyster mushroom and shallots which are roasted in the tandoor oven. In Kashmir, most of the dishes are tandoor oven based and they roast meats and vegetables in the tandoor. We used the same Kashmiri cooking style and made a sauce out of saffron and instead of using meat, we swapped it with oyster mushrooms which are freshly grown in the Netherlands. We used the oyster mushrooms as they are more hearty, giving it a texture similar to meat.
Thus, the overall idea behind the menu is to use cooking techniques, spices and recipes which are indigenous to India and then swapping the vegetables and meats with what is freshly available in the Netherlands which also makes it more sustainable. As sustainability is something which we strongly believe in and is reflected in all parts of making of Miri Mary – from the menu to art pieces to furniture to packaging etc.