Thursday, December 9, 2010

Karachi Food Diaries Day 1-3 (Fish curry, Machli ka Salan)

December 7, 2010 Tuesday- Day 1
I got here at the godly hour of noon after an hour delay from Dubai; in the ungodly state of not having slept for the past 24 hours. I had left New York with the intention of writing a food diary to see where I find myself with this passion and the added incentive of mindful eating. I am currently reading Beard on Food which is a fitting muse. Airline food sitting discontent in my stomach, eyes dry and itchy with sleep, I breathed in the smoky winter air of Karachi and let it settle in; nothing like coming back to this mercurial, volatile, dusty, beloved city!
My first meal was in the evening; alu gosht (meat and potato curry), kaali daal (black lentils) and karela (sauteed bitter gourd). It was deliciously home cooked and hit the spot. I asked for some sliced onions, lemon and green chillies to round out the taste. I had the velvety curry with roti (flatbread) and the the lentils and karela with rice. Yum!

December 8, 2010 Wednesday- Day 2
The next day jet lag got the better of me. Got up much after 11am. Broke my fast with tea and 2 whole wheat toasts with cream cheese. Lunch was velvetier chicken curry, smoky baingan ka bharta and masoor ki daal (red lentils). I consumed a total of 2 rotis and of course lots of lemon, chopped lettuce leaves and tomatoes and yogurt.
Since it was the first day of Muharram, in the evening, I went to a majlis (religious gathering) at an aunt's place who maintains a small imambarah at home. The month of Muharram is dedicated to the memory of Imam Hussein and his band of loyal followers who ran afoul of the ruling caliph of the day and were mercilessly ambushed and massacred. It is a period of deep mourning and galvanizing spirituality for Shias. A home imambarah is a symbolic representation of the rozas or places of burials of the saints. My aunt has inherited hers from her mother who in turn had inherited it from hers and from here onwards it is her responsibility to commemorate it every year at this time. This imambarah is set up in a large almirah. It comprises of miniature, intricately carved silver replicas of the rozas, black plush velvet alams (flags) resplendent with the names of the prophet, saints and verses in zardozi (thick embroidery with silver and gold thread). The interior of the almirah is brightly lit and garlanded with leis of fresh red roses and jasmine. The delicate fragrance wafts down and around and heightens the fragile beauty of the scene. The rest of the living room is cleared out, the seating pushed against the walls and the floors covered in crisp chandinis (white sheets) where the more agile mourners, all in black or muted colors, sit cross-legged or legs folded demurely beneath them. The effect is dazzling and heartbreaking. After the laments have been soulfully rendered, tears unabashedly shed and the salaam (obeisance) offered, the attendee disperse and mingle. One of the highlight at the end is the 'hisas' or food offerings that each participant is given. These can range from plain dried peas to sheermal (saffron-scented sweet naan) with reshmy kebab (literally, silky kebab), one of the richest, most succulent foods I have ever tasted. This evening the hisa was barfi (a condensed milk and sugar delicacy) and namak para (small, oblong pastry puffs with cumin seeds fried in oil). I had a handful of the latter with evening tea.
Dinner was simple as I was eating alone; torai (sauteed zucchini), leftover baingan and daal with roti and salad.

December 9, 2010 Thursday- Day 3
Today, I decided to taper off my self-indulgence and try and move toward more restrained and healthful eating. Also, I was starting to feel the rumblings of Karachi tummy, very similar to Delhi belly. Hmm.. mixed results. Breakfast was good. Oatmeal cooked in water topped with flaxseed meal, walnuts, dried raisins and drizzled with honey.. a treat actually. I followed this by an invigorating yoga session. As a side note, I am soo happy with  It has the best classes and is a great investment for the small price, especially if you are in a place without access to other yoga outlets. Lunch took care of my good intentions. It was bhindi gosht (okra and meat curry- yes, curries are very popular), and leftover torai, daal and roti. I was still feeling the effects of jetlag and completely overate. Immediately, took a long nap and then went to my other aunt's place where i had a chicken sandwich and dahi barah (fritters in yogurt) with tea. Dinner again was... correct, fish curry! I am a little over-indulged and curried out, Karachi tummy in full swing but tomorrow is a new day. Reset button pressed.
Fish Curry
Salt and pepper 4-5 filleted portions of a firm, white fish; halibut, haddock or cod all work well, and set aside. Add oil to a preheated pan and fry 1 white onion slivered till it turns a nice golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon and lay on a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Preheat another heavy pan and add oil. Immediately add 6-7 curry leaves, 1 tsp. mustard seeds and 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds. These will sputter and brown very quickly. To avoid this, add 1 tbsp. water. Let sizzle for 30 seconds or so. Then add, 1 tsp. minced ginger and garlic. Again, if needed, add another splash of water to the mix. It is important to prevent the ingredients from acquiring the bitter, burnt taste. Stir for 60 seconds and then add the spice mix; 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp. turmeric, 2 tsp. coriander powder, 1 tsp. roasted cumin powder and 1 tsp. salt- last can be adjusted while cooking to individual taste, and fry the mixture till the raw spice aroma mellows and becomes more cohesive, about 3-5 minutes. Chop the earlier browned onions and also add to the dish. Separately, whip 2 cups yogurt to a smooth consistency. Slowly add this to the spices and keep stirring to mix smoothly and avoid curdling.  Now add water to create the desired curry consistency and bring the ingredients to a boil. Important to keep stirring throughout. Carefully lay fish fillets in the curry dish, reduce heat and cover to cook. Once the fish has been added, don't use the spoon to move it around. The dish now can be stirred only by being grasped by the handles and swiveled. Cook for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and garnish with chopped green chillies, chopped dill. Serve with naan or roti.

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