Curry, Paneer, and some guy named Rogan Josh

Posted: January 16, 2013 in Beer & Food, Life As I Know It, Travel
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m not shy about trying new food, even if I’m not quite as brave as I like to think I am. When I traveled to the Philippines last year it was hard to find authentic Filipino dishes, but we found a few and I definitely tried most of them. I got more adventurous in Vietnam and tried a lot of Pho at restaurants and roadside stands, and other random food items at roadside stands and carts. Sometimes just a rice flour dumpling kind of deal, sometimes a former animal on a stick. So when I travel, I like to try the food. I knew going into this work trip to India that I wasn’t a big fan of Indian food. I’d had it a few times in Denver and it always seemed weirdly bland, and wholly undifferentiated from itself. Ordering lamb or chicken or beef with varying degrees of spice always yielded a plate that looked exactly like all the others.Obviously that’s just as much my fault in ordering as anything else, but it doesn’t change my experience. It was mediocre at best. It had some good spice and flavor, but was wholly unremarkable. I was expecting more of the same in India. On top of that I was warned by several coworkers before traveling that I’d hate the food here, or that I’d miss the flavors from home to a ridiculous degree and get sick and tired of the things they have here.

Part of that stemmed from the fact that many of those that preceded me here had to work the night shift. While it matched up with US time, it trimmed the dining options a touch. It meant that getting up for breakfast was dinner time — and while there were plenty of options for dinner, it’s hard to have that satisfy you while you’re in a breakfast mindset. Likewise, when you get out of work and you’re coming back to the hotel thinking about dinner at the end of the workday but you’re faced with Indian breakfast options, it can be slightly jarring. I think I speak for most Americans when I say that if we could have breakfast for every meal, it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing — but Indian Breakfast < American Breakfast (at least in my opinion.) Bacon, for instance, is weird here. It’s all thick but unsubstantial. Hard to explain.

But I’ve been able to try a few different things, and branch out a touch. I knew that Kebabs would be something I’d like, and I knew that rice is always good (rice every day, though, is a bit much. So says my waistline.) So here’s a poorly guided culinary tour through some of the foodstuffs I’ve vacuumed up in the past week or so.

Breakfast of Randoms: Asian fried Noodles chicken sausage, lentil donut, potstickers, chicken sausage, fried rice, curried potatoes.

Breakfast of Randoms: Asian fried Noodles chicken sausage, lentil donut, potstickers, chicken sausage, fried rice, curried potatoes.

Here we have a sampling of a random breakfast from the breakfast buffet. Our breakfast is included in our stay, which is very nice, and makes me feel less guilty about loading up on a little something from every damn tray. As you can see, carbs are big here. It’s an asian themed breakfast (don’t worry, I had some fruit too) with fried rice and noodles and some potstickers. The sausage here is not pork, in fact I’ve seen painfully little by way of menu items that include pork, but chicken. It manages to actually still be pretty tasty. Breakfasts look like this a lot (for me) as I’ve yet to try and Indian themed breakfasts — though I surely will soon.  A lot of mornings before work I’ll refrain from hitting the hotel restaurant for breakfast and will instead nosh (shoot me, I can’t believe I just said “nosh”) on a Clifbar to maximize on “ugh I have to get up already? just 10 more minutes” time.

The Zafrani Murgh Malai Kebab -- "Succulent morsels of chicken, marinated in cream cheese and saffron, cooked in tandoor." With a Kingfisher lager and some delicious naan.

The Zafrani Murgh Malai Kebab — “Succulent morsels of chicken, marinated in cream cheese and saffron, cooked in tandoor.” With a Kingfisher lager and some delicious naan.

After partaking in breakfasts there have been various Indian dinners I’ve tried, but one of the ones that has found its way into my heart so far has been the Zafrani Kebab. It’s marinated in a wealth of spices and cooked in tandoor until it’s just north of delicious, but just south of orgasmic.

I’ve relied on this dish 3-4 times, not only because it’s quite unoffensive to the palate that’s relatively uninterested in Indian food, but because it’s quite good. It has a very rich flavor, while still having some good Indian spice. Plus it’s all protein, so it’s an awesome excuse (and complement) to garlic naan. I could eat 13 plates of garlic naan. Ugh. Carbs. Brb gotta purge.

One of the nights a coworker and I went to a restaurant on-site called Durbari, billed as the Indian specialty restaurant at the hotel. Fun ambiance, cool presentation — and pretty good food! My coworker and I attempted to each order a dish, but when I tried to order the server (semi) politely told me no, and that one dish was enough for two. It was funnier than it was rude or uncomfortable, so we laughed it off and waited for our food. Thankfully we were looking to order pretty much the same thing, so that worked out well.

Before the meal came they brought us some “chips” and a series of dips/chutneys/things-I-would-consider-bathing-in.

Various Chutneys and dips. Or something.

Various Chutneys and dips. Or something.

You can see on the right the basket of rice chips and some baked stuff. I can’t remember the name. In the plate on top there’s a nice mint dip, some garlic on the left, yogurt towards the right — I think the far right is tomato. Then the really dark one was very sweet. In the bottom dish there’s a sweet pickle relish-type thing in the middle, spicy peppers on the left (yum!) and then a sweet lord-knows-what-fruit chutney on the right. That’s the one I’d consider bathing in. They don’t have tubs in the rooms here, though, just showers. Pity that.

After we scarfed 2 things of chips and 99% of the liquid-awesomeness, dinner came.

I think it was a chicken tikka of sorts with something lentil, and some garlic naan.

I think it was a chicken tikka of sorts with something lentil, and some garlic naan.

Dinner was absolutely wonderful. I don’t remember entirely what it was (for shame) but I think we’re dealing with a chicken tikka of sorts, which was amazing. Delightful light spice, very moist, very wonderful. A lentil “soup” kind of thing — maybe like a loose ratatouille (I don’t even know what that is, it just sounds right) and of course some garlic naan. Very good, tremendously satisfying. Plus a glass of local whiskey on the rocks (okay, 2) and 35 minutes on the treadmill the next morning. I don’t think they put the charge for the treadmill on the bill, but I definitely considered that part of dinner.

Over the weekend we went and did some sightseeing (additional blog that’ll be way too long is forthcoming) and went to a place downtown that is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in town. Now, while I must admit that the qualities of “best restaurant in town” really aren’t transferable between Kolkata and Denver, it was quite delicious.

The place was called “Peter Cat” and every time the name was mentioned, the Indian intonation and inflection on the name made it sound like something totally different. Regardless: Here!

Peter Cat! His name is Peter!

Peter Cat! His name is Peter!

It was located on Park Street in downtown Kolkata, which is reportedly the oldest and most well-known street in town. We ordered several dishes, the non-spicy-tolerant crew members going for decidedly American items like a grilled cheese and fries (Which they call finger chips, here) and the rest of us diving into thinks more overtly Indian.

Maximum Deliciosity.

Maximum Deliciosity.

This embarrassment of culinary riches includes paneer rice (rice with CHEESE. FUCKIN CHEESE!!!) and a phenomenal chicken tikka kebab, with some onion salad, and then a piece of another kebab on there. There was also some garlic naan at the table. (OF COURSE THERE WAS.)

Lunches at work have been a little less than desired, but it’s more because it’s a lot of the “same thing” that’s very “different from what I’m used to” — not because it’s poorly cooked or anything like that. They take us upstairs to an executive dining area, have great service, and provide a little buffet for us. There’s always a selection of chicken, fish, rice, veggies — quite balanced. And they always give us soup before, and dessert after. Apparently Kolkata is known for its sweets, so next time we’re downtown (this coming Saturday I do believe) I’ll have to make sure I visit a streetside sweet shop. All I know is that the dessert buffet with the dinner buffet is un-fucking-believable. Cakes. Pies. This awesome little donut-hole type contraption that just simmers in honey and sugar called gulab jamun will make you punch your own child just to get another. Edit: I just read online that it’s cheese-based. Which…I mean….perfection. The only thing it’s missing is bacon and some form of whiskey.

Anyway, further blogs regarding work lunches, the buffet, and the dessert table will be coming. With additional pictures. I’ll leave you with one final photo of a section of the menu from Peter Cat. Remember, it’s not the food. It’s the section that gets you. And no, it didn’t help me with the ladies at all.

When you see it....

When you see it….

 

 

 

 

 

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