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Taste and disdain...

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A tour of the country's interesting eating habits with a roving journalist.

FLAVOUR REPORT: A still from Vir Sanghvi's food series on Discovery Travel & Living.
FLAVOUR REPORT: A still from Vir Sanghvi's food series on Discovery Travel & Living.

Rasheeda Bhagat

When the topic is food and drink and the byline that of Vir Sanghvi, there are many foodies who would pick up the stuff and read it. So when Discovery Travel & Living premiers its new food series titled

A Matter of Taste with Vir Sanghvi

beginning May 6, it is bound to draw attention. Each of the episodes begins with an interesting prologue, where Sanghvi tells the viewer how during his 30 years in journalism as he travelled through the country, the stories were only of "secondary" importance to him. No reporter worth his/her salt would dare admit this to the editor; but now that he himself is the editorial boss, obviously there is little danger in the proclamation: "What we eat and what we drink and how we live, that's the real story"!

Every episode of this series delves deep into the immensely interesting eating habits of Indians; the first one titled Sino-Ludhianvi Cuisine reiterates the oft-proclaimed statement that the Chinese food we eat in India has been designed to suit the Indian palate. But what is not so well known, and is unveiled by Sanghvi in this episode, is that the Chicken Manchurian is a gift to Indians from Nelson Wang, a Chinese restaurant owner in Kolkata.

Wang explains how in 1975, while at Mumbai's CCI (Cricket Club of India), one fine day he tossed some chopped garlic, ginger and green chillies basic ingredients of an Indian dish but mostly in a paste form into a pan, and instead of

garam masala

added soya sauce, threw in some cornflower to thicken the gravy, and completed the Indian touch by garnishing it with coriander leaves!

Thus was chicken Manchurian born; "It tasted good and made people happy", says a delighted Wang.

Sanghvi's next port of call is Mumbai, where he moves on from the father of Indian Chinese to its mother Camillia Punjabi. In 1973, as a Vice-President at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, she imported a Schezwan cook from China, started the Golden Dragon restaurant and pepped up with spices the "bland Cantonese food" that had been served till then. Indians loved the transformation and Camillia tells the anchor: "In my heart I knew that

teekha

Chinese food is the answer" for Indian food.

Tracing the evolution of Chinese food from restaurants to the streets of Kolkata or Delhi, Sanghvi takes us to a Lajpatnagar street food stall where there is an interesting

mish-mash

of Chinese, Punjabi and even Mexican food and shows us patrons tucking into the stuff with great gusto.

The episode `Two leaves and a Bud' takes Sanghvi to the tea growing estates of Darjeeling, but not before he has rubbished the brew that is dear to millions of Indians the

masala chai

made with CTC (cut, twist and curl) tea, and pepped up with ginger, mint, etc. Those of us who have refreshed ourselves with a hot cuppa

masala chai

from roadside

chai

shops all over the country, particularly after driving long distances, will not forgive Sanghvi for the disdain with which he treats this tea, while comparing it with the finest of Darjeeling tea. Let the English have their delicately brewed fancy leaf teas with cucumber sandwiches, give me, any day, a hot cup of

masala chai

with

pakoras

, or

bhajjis

, or

samosas

... depending on which part of India you're travelling in.

The other episodes are on his old school in Rajasthan, migration of the

tandoori

chicken "from its dubious origin in the North West Frontier, to inspiring England's national dish of chicken

Tikka Masala

"; on the best of world wines wooing India and South Indian cuisine.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 4, 2007)
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