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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Around the World with Rice gourmand

During my last trip to Bangkok, on my back to Mumbai, I sat down to eat at the restaurant for the last meal at the Bangkok airport and even packed some more dishes for my cousin back home in Mumbai. Although it was quite tasty and authentic Thai style cooking but nothing compares the taste of khao phat like the one you get at the Bangkok street lanes. There is a different kind of pleasure in sitting on those hard rickety chairs and watching those Thai ladies hit the pan hard (making noise or music perhaps) while stirring in the ingredients into the rice dish with the fumes rising up in the air filling the air with aroma so strong that you can’t wait to take a mouthful.

Khao phat is the fried rice that is made on Bangkok streets and contains basil leaves, pork, shrimps, chicken, eggs and lots of chilies. I drool while I write this but this is one dish which is best enjoyed steaming hot, straight from pan to plate.

Back during the time when I lived in Suriname, my home was next to Indonesian restaurant and all I had to do was to holler from my balcony and the lady would send me a great quantity of Nasi Goreng which would last me all day.(She always gave me extra portion with a smile). Nasi Goreng is bit sweetish in taste since kecap manis (a thick sweet soya sauce) is added and they normally make it from left-over (or cold ) rice, stir frying it with garlic, shrimp paste, shallots and red chilies. It is topped with fried eggs(sunny side fried both sides), shredded cabbage and chopped cucumber, served with fried prawn crackers.

Each country has its own way of making the rice dish. In India, every city has their own style, even from region to region the taste differs, we have nawab style Biryani from Hyderabad to coconut, mustard seeds flavored rice in the south, from pulav to Kanji to methi rice to saffron rice, there is unlimited variation for creating a new dish each time.

During my short stay in Kuwait, (this was before that Iran-Iraq war)I was invited for a dinner to an Afghani’s friend’s house and was too delighted to taste Qabali rice which, besides containing cooked chicken it also had carrots, raisins and pine nuts and made a colorful presentation at the dining tables as she served in a large glass bowl. It has been a long time ago but I can still remember its’ taste.

On my recent trip to Lagos, I ate Jellof rice, an African rice dish at a private club of which my cousin is the member. We went late evening and it was raining quite heavily. We sat facing the rain, with a drizzle splashing our face. The Jellof rice was spicy (maybe he added extra chilies for me). They normally brown the chicken on both the sides before transferring into the large pot to simmer till it is tender. The rice is fried separately with onions, bell pepper, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Chicken and the stock is added and then cooked with vegetables like carrots, green beans, cabbage and spices to make it a colorful dish. It is served with salad and boiled eggs.

And those were the days, when I had overstayed in Hongkong, five months at a stretch, extending visas several times to stay some more time. The stay was so long that I was beginning to feel at home. There were days when I would have sleepless nights and I remember one such night when I was awake all night. At 4am I was hungry but when I went into the kitchen I couldn’t find anything interesting to eat (I am very selective about what I eat, even though I am hungry, I still won’t eat what I don’t like). Everybody was asleep at home, I quickly got dressed up and at 5am went down stairs, took a bus-ride to reach a place where they served the most delicious breakfast- rice congee- a improbable ratio of one cup of rice to 15 cups of water. They would serve in soup bowl topped with finely chopped vegetables and shredded chicken, it was steaming hot which I would garnish with chopped shallots and chilies soaked in vinegar.

But most interesting rice preparation that I have ever witness is in Tenerife, Spain where there is a special festival when a rice-dish called Paella is made in huge fry-pan in the open space and served to the whole community. Although bland in taste (truthfully speaking, because they don’t use chilies at all), it is a very healthy rice dish that contains chicken, fish, prawns, shells and vegetables.

My family is mostly vegetarian and so it becomes mandatory for me to learn the vegetarian version of every dish. My niece, who is also a good chef, cooked the vegetarian paella which was equally good. I had blogged about it while I was in Tenerife.

When I am not travelling I am cooking and many people relish my Chinese fried rice. It’s simple but tasty. The trick is cut all the ingredients that you wish to use in the dish before hand, because my dish takes just five minutes to cook. I used the white boiled rice. I chop all the veggies finely in the size of rice (okay a little bit bigger) the vegetables like carrots, beans, onions, mushrooms, green chilies, garlic and cut the strips of fried egg omelets and long strips of cabbage. On a very high flame, add garlic, chilies and then the veggies, stirring all the time and finally add the boiled rice, mix and garnish with egg strips and strips of cabbage.

Having the different cuisine from different countries is nice but nothing can beat my mom’s cuisine. Mom made soft rice with dhal and would churn it well to make it into porridge and tempered it with mustard seeds, it made a delicious breakfast which we ate regularly with curd and papad.

Oh! BTW have you tried eating just Rice with butter and sugar crystals sprinkled over it?

Source for pics of  Jellof rice, Qabali, Nasi Goreng, Khao Phat

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