30 November 2016

Mixing Indian flavors with American tastes

I've had a parade of visitors since we moved to India almost 2 1/2 years ago. Most of my guests are expats who have/are living abroad or friends of friends who are frequent travelers, but recently my parents ventured over as well as one of my besties from the US. This is when I realized that not everyone loves Indian food as much as I do (I do miss my weekly sushi and the variety of different cuisines in my diet, but I also happily eat Indian for the majority of my meals daily). While many expats and frequent travelers love to immerse themselves in the food and culture of a new place, many Americans can't handle all of the richness and flavors. (I have a test case of a Polish-American expat (aka Buffet Queen for long-time readers!) coming to visit this week to compare - she grew up on barely any black pepper and can't handle spicy, but she has lived abroad for many years - we'll see how much Indian cooking she can endure.) 


I think the reason that I love Indian food so much is because it's made from so many familiar flavors. I grew up in Texas eating a healthy amount of Tex-Mex and Mexican food for as long as I can remember, and those flavors of cayenne, onion, chili peppers, cumin, bell peppers, garlic, and coriander/cilantro, amongst others made Indian cuisine feel a little bit more like home. That said, there was an article on WaPo last year discussing the science behind what makes Indian delicious, and it was mostly because they combine flavors completely differently than we do in American food. Another aspect of it is the fact that Indian food isn't just a few dishes, it's literally thousands of different meals (not that our cook realizes this ... I need Curry Delight back in the kitchen). 

So all of this led me to think more about how India "Indianizes" American foods and how the US "Americanizes" Indian foods to meet individual taste expectations. Sometimes this is done successfully resulting in deliciousness (visit The California Boulevard in Gurgaon to experience a delightful fusion of flavors) and sometimes it ends poorly with an over-masala-ed mishmash of seasonings or a weird, wannabe bbq sauce/Ranch dressing. So my plan is to take my favorite American dishes and "Indianize" them. While I'm no expert on flavors, I'm hoping I can't screw up this experiment too badly since Indian food is supposedly all about combining things with nothing in common. First up is baked potato. Check back for how I changed the traditional bland American version into a more flavorful dish using Indian spices!

03 November 2016

Giruz Bakery and Cafe

I recently had the opportunity to visit Giruz Bakery at Baani Square (Sector 50) for lunch and bread tasting during their soft opening. I have been eagerly awaiting their opening as there is a dearth of unique bread shops here in Gurgaon. I can easily find white or whole grain sliced breads, but few groceries offer speciality breads more than just a baguette or croissants, choosing to focus more on pastries than the wide array of tasty bread options. I previously tried L'Opera (at Galleria Market in DLF Phase 4 of Gurgaon and Hauz Khas Village in South Delhi) and the DLF Phase 5 Club bakery (on the ground floor of the main building near the central sitting area). L'Opera was hailed by my French friend (living in Bangalore with even less options than here) as fantastic and a much needed reminder of home. They have an excellent selection of pastries, specialty jams, and an array of teas, if you're into that kind of thing. The baguette and croissants are both quite good - their website boasts of several additional options that I have never seen fresh in the shops, but that could just because I don't make it over early enough to indulge. My parents loved their chocolate pastry.
Post-sightseeing snack at L'Opera Hauz Khas
I've only bought baguettes from the Phase 5 Club, and they were fine. However, their website also lists a number of bread options, most of which are gone by the time I stop in. I clearly need to prioritize my bread shopping! My problem is that I don't eat baguettes nearly fast enough and by nature they go stale and hard almost immediately. However, I learned from Giruz that in order to avoid wastage you should immediately freeze whatever you won't eat within the day. You can then later defrost piece by piece and they're just as fresh. 

What I didn't realize when I dropped into Giruz's bakery was that they also have a small cafe. I visited during their taste testing phase so they did not yet have a set menu and I was treated to a wide array of dishes they were testing on customers. Full disclosure: I did not pay for this meal (I did purchase my breads and cakes though); the owner is a friend who invited me for taste testing. I did not receive any compensation for this review and she did not ask me to write this - she just knows I love fresh bread and hopes I'll become a loyal customer.

Baani Square, while most consider it "out of the way" since it's not on Golf Course Road and is closer to Sohna Road, it's actually quite conveniently located next to the Hilton Garden hotel on Vikas Marg near Hibiscus and Nirvana Country. I live in Phase 5 and it's a short 10 minute drive most times of the day. There is a vast array of restaurants in this small shopping arcade. Other than Giruz, I've visited their fast food version of Lebanese food, Lub Lub (also quite good). I've also heard good things about The Spice Lab and Big Wong, but can't personally vouch for them. Giruz is located on the ground floor central section opposite Big Wong. They are a small and cozy cafe, with smart French country decor. If you still find it daunting to venture over yonder, Giruz also offers delivery options.

I started with vada pav, the pav, of course, was made fresh in house. It differs slightly from the traditional version in that the pakora, while still made from fried mashed potato batter, seasoning, and curry leaves, was not drenched in oil like most fried foods here. The sauces add another twist, with a topping of red chili sauce and a green coriander, ginger, garlic, and onion masala chutney. 
Fresh vada pao
Bruschetta on a French garlic bread baguette

Next up was some bruschetta on a toasted French garlic bread baguette. As this was their time to experiment with tastes and recipes, the chef added a twist of some chopped up olives to the traditional tomato and basil drizzled with olive oil which didn't strike my fancy since I despise olives (weird since I adore olive oil), but was good overall. Both crunchy and savoury with not too much oil or topping that the bread becomes soggy. My friend was not thrilled with the addition either, so I imagine if you order this dish today you'll get a more traditional version.