Sunday, February 24, 2013

Culinary Dispatches from the Subcontinent: Dining with Ford McKenzie in Mumbai

It’s been quite a while since we’ve heard from my college roommate, “Ford McKenzie.”  He’s the guy who introduced me to White Dog whiskey and the pleasures of the protein overdose at the annual Brooklyn Beefsteak.   Ford’s been a radical underground journalist, a world traveler, a high-flier on Wall Street, and has even dabbled in the theater.  Now in his first guest post for Culinary Types, Ford adds successor-to-Anthony Bourdain to his list of creds with this culinary dispatch from Mumbai, India:  

Sunday 1AM:  In the back of a car on my way to the Grand Hyatt. Just landed in Mumbai from Hong Kong. The airport looks like an old bus station. There are people everywhere. Everyone is in motion.  It is like a rugby scrum – I feel like the ball. Every 10 feet someone asks if they can carry my bags for a tip. Warm out and kind of swampy. Thank God the hotel sent me a driver. I am going to sleep dreaming of a week full of real live Indian food.

Sunday 12PM:  In the back of a car headed across town.  On the plane, read an article in the Wall St Journal about Viya in the Oberoi Hotel. It's run by one of the only Michelin-starred Indian chefs in the world. Feel compelled to go. There is something like 25 million people here and no traffic lights. Driving right now is like being on the bumper cars ride in Coney Island.

Sunday 1PM: Viya, first Indian meal. Modern take on chaat, Indian street food. Array of appetizers-too hard to describe. One is a vegetable croquette topped with cardamom ice cream/sorbet in a martini glass-savory, cold, sweet, tastes like perfume, unexpected.  Second course: pot braised chicken with biriyani rice, crispy fried bread strips, potato naan, side of stewed lentils.  Two glasses of Barbaresco.  How can I ever go back to that gloppy stuff  in New York?
Wednesday 5PM: Office brought in a crew of Indians to make real chaat on the balcony after work. Table of bags and plates of raw ingredients, some kind of home-made grill contraption. Made to order: Grilled smashed Indian potato, chick peas, spicy chutney, chopped red onion, and crushed puri (crispy stuff on top).
Thursday 8PM:  At dinner. Don't know where we are, but took  two hours to drive here. Streets were chaos. Indian buffet with open bar. Am drinking a margarita with crushed strawberries.  I tipped one of the waiters 500 rupiahs (about US$10) to guide me through the buffet to the best dishes. Turns out that more than 900 million people in India make less than $10 a day-so now he's treating me like I'm the King of India. I didn't catch his name. I've been calling him Sanjeev. He doesn't seem to mind.

Thursday 9PM:  Sanjeev keeps putting fresh drinks in my hand.  Knee deep into my fourth margarita. He just brought me a bowl of Burmese coconut cream curry soup with long, thin rice noodles, potatoes, vegetables and Burmese spices. Oh my.
Thursday 10PM: I've got a sixth maragarita in front of me. Sanjeev is insisting I try dessert. He's already made me have two incredible chicken dishes, cubed cottage cheese in murgh (paneer) and some tasty vegetable rice. Another bite is going to kill me, but he is relentless.

Thursday 10:15: Jelabis with Rabdi: Flour dough stretched, cut, and fried in rings then dipped in sugar honey glaze topped with lightly sweet, thickened reduced milk with a side of sweet almond ice cream (tastes a little like crispy zepolli) OMG-this is like the best thing I have ever had. Sanjeev is getting me seconds.
Friday 8:30AM: Indian breakfast on the office balcony: Coconut chutney, red chutney, pounded steamed rice cakes and vegetable/tomato sauce. Was a little scared. Didn't think I could eat again after last night, but had to dive in.
Masala dhosas: Indian crepes with spicy potato for the second part of breakfast
The full plate:

Friday 12PM:  Last Indian lunch: Biriyani food: chicken tikka with green chutney, chicken biriyani with spiced curds and spinach kabob. One of the wallas brought me a coca-cola. 
© 2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Tracy's Living Cookbook said...

Great read and great photos too! I love all the colors.... and I like the idea of asking a local guy to help navigate through the buffet filled with unfamiliar tastes.

Barbara said...

That's amazing! Practically a food orgy. Wonderful experience, fabulous dishes, but oh so much in such a short time.
And one wonders after all the drinks Sanjeev shoved in his hands, that he was able to walk away at all! :)
Fun post, T.W.

Anonymous said...

Waw! What a food dishes display of colours & taextures & flavours too!
A lovely post that I enjoyed reading!! MMMMM!

Excellent pics too!

Anonymous said...


Gloria Baker said...

All look amazing ans delicious T.W. I love this post! yummy!!

Velva said...

These type of food and culture experiences leave me in awe. What an amazing journey to Mumbai- your friend has some great stories to tell-


~~louise~~ said...

I'm just curious, did Ford make it back on the plane okay. In reality did he still fit in the seat after all that goodness??? I'm suddenly starving for Mumbai.

Thanks for sharing, T.W.

Ford McKenzie said...

Louise--after a 90 minute steeplechase ride to the airport on Friday night, I arrived to find my flight cancelled due to the east coast snowstorm. The airport was just short of bedlam. After much strenuous negotiation, I managed to get myself on the first flight out the next morning and a room at a nearby Hyatt Regency. I got to the hotel, dropped my bags, and went to lobby restaurant and calmed myself with a healthy serving of chicken murgh tikka and two Kingfisher beers.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Great story and I enjoyed every word. I learned I know zip about Indian food though. I would be totally lost without a guide.

Mary Bergfeld said...

After reading Ford's descriptions of his Indian feasts, Miss Scarlet's famous words "...I'll never be hungry again" immediately came to mind. It all sounds delicious. He effortlessly navigated strange territory and lived to tell the tale. Thanks for sharing it with us. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Deana Sidney said...

I am starving to death after those descriptions and pictures. What a heavenly time was had. Food is great and LOVE the $10 helper... amazing what a tip can do!

Michele W. said...

I'm practically drooling on my laptop keys now! This looks sooo delicious. It's amazing how simple and fresh it all looks compared to what I've eaten (in large quantity at the buffets, I'm ashamed to admit) here in the States.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Great post. Such interesting and colorful food...a true feast.

laura said...

Would love to go to Mumbai. Thank you for taking me there. The Jelabis with Rabdi looks Delicious.

Catherine said...

Dear T.W., Thank certainly was a delicious and interesting guest post. There are so many interesting and delicious foods I have yet to try. I am sure I would love this feast.
Thank you for visiting and your kind comments after the storm. I am still getting back together but things are much better each day. Blessings, Catherine