The Black-Eyed Susan is hardly as elegant as the Kentucky Derby’s Mint Julep. But, it sounds tasty enough.
The weird thing about the Black-Eyed Susan is that there are so many variations on how to make it. Sometimes it’s made with vodka, sometimes with whiskey. This recipe calls for both vodka and whiskey and Baltimore Business Journal lists five different recipes for the cocktail, all with shots of two different liquors, usually rum and vodka. It’s confusing, but you probably won’t care after a few sips.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of writing a FOB (front of the book) “feature” on the legendary Parsi eatery Britannia & Co. for Saveur magazine. At the time, I was living in Bombay, India, and had frequented Britannia enough to know that it deserved to be written about – if not by me, then by someone. Well, lucky for me, Saveur agreed.
And actually, this is kind of a meta moment, because I practically started this very blog when I moved there.
At any rate, I wrote the piece. It was published. Yadda yadda yadda…I didn’t really think too much about the piece again, though I did keep a PDF of the tearsheets. Fast forward to a few months ago, when I “overheard” @wildjunket on Twitter talking about Britannia’s chicken berry pulao – Britannia’s signature dish. I replied to Nellie saying that I once wrote a piece about the place and she said, “Uncle just showed me the article!” I was floored.
Well, that prompted me to do some more digging, to see if other people had commented on Britannia & Co. and/or my article. Lo and behold, Mumbaikar Aarti Badamikar of the blog Aarti & Design wrote her own review of Britannia, which included an entire verbatim excerpt of my article. Normally I wouldn’t take a shine to such things, but I was happy to find a Bombay-ite had liked my article enough to reprint it. And, well, I am using one of Aarti’s photos from Britannia in exchange. Okay, Aarti? 🙂
So, without further ado, here is a reprint of my Saveur article. Hope you enjoy it and hope it inspires you to travel to Mumbai to sample all of its wonderful culture and food.
Rule Britannia! Iran Meets India in the heart of Mumbai
by Melanie Mize Renzulli
Saveur June/July 2006
Office workers enter Mumbai’s Britannia and Co. in packs as if they were tigers converging on a fresh kill. Plates of food arrive in heaps within “ten minutes”- a span of time that is both part of a mission statement and a feat of efficiency matched only by the efforts of the city’s roadside snack vendors. One of a dying breed of eateries called Irani cafes- for the homeland from which the Zoroastrians of India fled- Britannia has been a fixture in Mumbai’s Ballard Estate district since 1923, when, after signing a 99 year old lease, Rashid Kohinoor opened his doors to British officers who were stationed in what was then called Bombay.
It is doubtful that the décor has changed much since. Open only for lunch, Britannia is lit mostly by the tree-filtered afternoon sun and cooled by a battalion of fans mounted high above the customers, who sit in imported Polish chairs and dine at tables swathed in red-checkered cloths. Kohinoor’s son and the current Boman, is the place’s most prominent fixture, usually stationed near the entrance manning the diner’s hulking, old cash counter or eating with his brother or son at one of the back tables.
The junior Kohinoor admits that, in colonial times, Britannia served “bland food” in order to appeal to unadventurous taste buds. During World War II, the Brits even occupied the restaurant, turning it into a military headquarters before returning it to the elder Kohinoor’s brother in 1947. When the Kohinoor family decided to return to Iran in 1970s, they sublet the space to another restaurateur, but they came back to India after the fall of Shah in 1979. They reopened the establishment in 1982, and since then the Britannia menu has been a showcase of such Parsi fare as dhansak, a mutton and dal stew; sali boti (mutton) or sali chicken cooked in sweet gravy and topped with crisp sticks of potatoes; and the beloved berry pulav, Britannia’s signature dish. Introduced to the restaurant by Boman Kohinoor’s late wife, Bachan (Boman and Bachan’s son Romin now mans the stove), after they returned from Iran, it is an adaptation of the Persian zereshk polow; her version consists of rice pilaf piled on saucy stewed chicken, mutton or vegetables and garnished with fried cashews, crisp onions and zereshk, a dried currantlike berry, which the Kohinoor’s still import from Iran. The exact recipe for the pulav remains a highly guarded family secret.
Britannia’s slogan, printed on all the menus and napkins, is THERE IS NO LOVE GREATER THAN THE LOVE OF EATING. One can only hope that when the restaurant’s lease expires in 2022, the next generations of Kohinoors will keep that in mind and continue to give Mumbai a taste of Parsi goodness.
There are some travel destinations you visit for the sightseeing and some you visit simply for relaxation. Montreal falls into the latter category specifically as a city where you can relax, recharge, and tuck into some of the best food this side of the Atlantic.
I had always heard about Montreal’s culinary traditions: France-centric with a dose of new immigrant authenticity. But I had no idea just how serious the dining scene was there. As I walked or biked the Boulevard Saint-Laurent – the main north/south boulevard – or ducked down its side streets, I saw countless cafés, delis, bistros, bakeries, banh mi sandwich shops, and markets, all of them seemingly packed – even on a Wednesday. My unscientific assessment was that there were approximately 3 eateries per capita in Montreal, about 85% of which looked worth visiting.
My trip to Montreal was short – just two nights – but my husband and I made the most of the trip by making every meal count. Following is a recap of my fantastic food finds of Montreal. I recommend you visit this city immediately – especially before winter sets in! – and try a foodie tour of your own.
Before I start, let me say that Foursquare was an awesome way for me to keep up with the places I visited while in Montreal (not to mention a fine way of remembering where I went when I finally sat down to write this article). Throughout this piece, I am going to link to the venues I went to on Foursquare so readers can view the sites on a map, tips, and more. You can also click on the Add to My Foursquare Button after each listing so you can add it to your own Foursquare to-do list. Give it a try!
Café des Eclusiers
It’s important to whet your appetite before 48 hours of eating, so the first stop on our first evening was this slick, quayside outdoor bar just below the main streets of Vieux Montreal. An outdoor bar, you say? Indeed, it was the end of August and Montreal was just as hot and sticky as Washington, DC. Café des Eclusiers seemed to attract an equal amount of beautiful people and yipsters (yuppie hipsters – yep, I just made that up), but it didn’t seem to be particularly pretentious. Drinks were good, too. I ordered from the sangria menu.
One of the reasons you go to Montreal is to have that “I’m in France, but not really” experience. So, you have to go to a French bistro-style establishment. We chose L’Express, a busy, buzzy place in the Plateau district and it was everything I could hope for and more: tiled floor; cherry wood bar; knowledgeable, attentive waiters and barmen who could have been straight out of the Marais; a din of clinking plates and happy conversations; a perfectly edited menu of bistro classics and seasonal dishes; and a wine list a mile long (though wine is pricey in Canada, unfortunately). I had the celery remoulade, the onglet de boeuf with frites, and a glass of syrah. Perfection.
New Yorkers think they’re the only ones who can make good bagels, but I beg to differ. Our breakfast destination was Fairmount Bagels to pick up a fresh, hot, chewy Montreal-style bagel (see main photo above). Apparently the bagels are boiled in a honey water which lends them a slight sweetness. I found them to be an ideal hybrid between New York bagels and Turkish simits (which also have a sweetness, thanks to pekmez). Line up in the cramped store to get fresh bagels (of several varieties) or packaged bagels to take back home. There’s no eating inside, but the few cafés on the street were fine with us eating our bagels there – as long as we drank their coffee.
Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen
The lure of the smoked meat sandwich determined our lunch plans and the place to go was world-famous Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Deli, an institution right on Boulevard St. Laurent. We hit Schwartz’s around 2pm to avoid the lunch rush and still had to stand in line about 20 minutes. While waiting, we were able to check out dozens of slabs of smoked meat in the window, which was kind of like an overflow holding area for the kitchen.
The line moved pretty fast and we were shown two stools at the bar. We ordered. Then, about five minutes later, a guy plopped down two regular smoked meat sandwiches, fries (one plate is enough for two), and a fat pickle, which we also shared. In case you’re wondering what smoked meat is, it kind of reminded me of brisket crossed with corned beef. I’m not sure. But it was great smothered in mustard.
Working it Off
Our food jaunts around Montreal were made easier – and healthier – thanks to Bixi, a bike-share program. There are Bixi stands all around the city. Pay just $5 Canadian and you can have a bike for 24 hours. Swipe your credit card to get the code. The database remembers your information, so you can pick up and drop off a bike multiple times within a 24-hour period. We coasted down Boulevard Saint-Laurent on our bikes, all the way downtown to our hotel, where we could cool off and dress up before dinner.
Drinks before dinner on the rooftop bar of Hotel Nelligan, one of the most talked-about boutique hotels in town which was unfortunately a bit too pricey for our budget. But the drinks were strong and delicious, and we enjoyed a lovely view of the sun setting behind the high rises of downtown.
All that meat we had had in the previous 24 hours had been great, but our palates were craving something exotic and spicy. While I was advocating we go to Les Pyrenees, a good-looking Basque eatery (get it? We were in Quebec, another province with dreams of Independence), we ended up at Gandhi. Here was some of the best Indian food I had had since returning from there a few years ago. Sophisticated and bright flavors, not heavy like your typical Indian meal. Framed food section articles in the dining room signaled to us that this was a beloved alternative to Montreal’s typical carnivore menu.
Our final morning was spent in Little Italy, which is also the location of the wonderful Marché Jean-Talon (more about this below). We stopped for breakfast in the originally named Caffe Italia, which looked from the street like a mob hangout. In fact, it was open, friendly, and served a delicious cappuccino and brioche with nutella. What else do you need to start your day?
Our last stop before leaving Montreal was the great outdoor food market Marché Jean-Talon. There was a beautiful bounty of Quebec-grown produce as well as shops and stands lining the outside of the market that sold meat, fish, cheese, pastries. (See the slideshow below.) There was even a nice cookbook shop near the entrance. We may or may not have stocked up on contraband.
I am not a wine expert. I’ve never been a sommelier and I have a rather rudimentary understanding of wine grapes, varietals, bouquets, and all the other vocabulary that goes with being a connoisseur du vin.
So it was with great surprise when the PR company behind the Vinturi Wine Aerator contacted me about reviewing their product. Perhaps they were scouring my Facebook page, on which I list my favorite quote, “What I like to drink most is wine that belongs to others.” Or maybe they saw my #winewednesday (or, more obscure, #malbecmonday) tweets on Twitter. For sure, I’m a wine lover. But I’m hardly a high profile wine writer. Heck, I’m not even a high profile travel writer.
At any rate, I was skeptical about the Vinturi. My kitchen cabinets and drawers are full of random wine accessories that I’ve acquired via “Secret Santa” gift exchanges or ones I’ve purchased myself. And I’ve never found myself using any of them but the trusty wine key I bought at a roadside enoteca in Tuscany.
Not only do I have a lot of failed wine products in my house, but I also tend to have only cheap bottles of wine at home. I can’t say I’ve ever spent more than $15 on a bottle of wine at the store and I prefer bottles that are $10 or less. When you’re a freelance writer who enjoys drinking wine as much as I do, you kind of have to go with the cheap stuff. That’s not to say that there aren’t tons of delicious, drinkable wines at that price point. My favorite inexpensive bottles are Syrahs, Malbecs, and Vinho Verdes. But I’m definitely not and never will be Robert Parker. While I’d love to keep a cellar of wines rated “90” and above, that’s just not where I’m at financially. What’s more, it’s very common in my Italian-American household to have a bottle or two of homemade vino.
Nevertheless, I set about in earnest to use and review the Vinturi wine aerator. And here’s what I discovered:
The Vinturi is made of heavy-duty, clear plastic, with a rubberized neck and a rubber stand (for storage).
It also has a small filter that fits over the top. The filter is super handy when you’re drinking homemade wine – no more sediment!
You have to hold the aerator over your glass while you’re pouring the wine. I found this very awkward. Vinturi would do better to add some small flaps to the side that you can pop up and fit on your glass. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend using these if you’re using fine crystal because of potential breakage. (On a side note, there are bigger stand models that you can purchase for about twice the price as the compact model. Check out the Vinturi shop or Brookstone online or in your local mall.)
Vinturi makes wine aerators for red and white wines. The company gave me both models to try out, but I really couldn’t tell the difference.
The aerator also comes with its own little velvet travel pouch that looks quite obscene if you carry it around with you…kind of like the kind of gift you’d get at a bachelorette party.
I sampled the Vinturi with a bottle of Farnese Montepulciano (a red), not my usual cheap bottle of wine – but even cheaper. I tasted the wine before Vinturi: not bad, drinkable, kind of a singular flavor. Then, I maneuvered the Vinturi over another glass and gave a pour. The wine went through with a gurgle, passing over the small air hole that is drilled through the aerator and into the glass. I gave the second glass of wine a try…and Vinturi really did make a difference. My cheap Montepulciano suddenly had a bit of complexity. It was rounder in the mouth and more of a pleasure to drink. I am a skeptic convinced.
While I have only used the wine aerator a couple of times since I first sampled it, I would recommend it to people who have an interest in wine. The Vinturi makes bad wine drinkable and good wine even better. In fact, the Vinturi is exactly the kind of accessory a wino like me needs.
My staple during this hot Turkish summer has been kisir, what some call Turkish Tabbouleh. It’s not really a salad, but it makes the perfect cold side for stuffed peppers or karniyarik (another Turkish dish I’m making a lot lately).
I learned this recipe from my maid, but you can also find a perfectly good version in Claudia Roden’s Arabesque. Her book shows kisir served in traditionally in lettuce leaves, but you can easily leave it in a bowl if you feel like skipping the presentation. Read more
Last weekend we went to Beypazar?, a small village an hour and a half by bus from Ankara. Located on the old “Istanbul to Baghdad route,” Beypazar? has been inhabitated by various tribes and peoples, including the Seljuks, who left behind a 12C mosque, and the Ottomans, whose “konak” houses dot the town’s hillside. Beypazar? is known for its silver, especially filigree work, and is responsible for 60% of Turkey’s carrot (havuç) production.
Beypazar?, whose name translates roughly as “gentleman’s market,” struck me as a typical Anatolian village. Off the hot, dusty (but tidy) cobbled streets, old men huddled, drank tea, and played backgammon. A majority of the native women covered their hair with broad, patterned silk scarves that fell to about waist-length. Meanwhile, during the festival, young men wearing finger cymbals danced two-by-two to music that was part Turkish flute (ney) and part techno drumbeat. Near the town’s Ottoman Müze, what appeared to be a high school woodwind quartet played the requisite “Rondo alla Turca” from Mozart’s Sonata No. 11.
While more cosmopolitan parts of Turkey, such as Istanbul, like to play up their historical and geographical connection to mainland Europe, Anatolia looks to its pan-Turkish heritage. And, Beypazar? being the Turkish heartland, it wasn’t a surprise to find a large mosaic map in one town square which highlighted the “Turkic” areas of the world: Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Bulgaristan (Bulgaria), Turkmenistan, Uighur Mongolia, etc. Groups of beautiful, dark-haired, light-eyed girls wore the traditional costumes from these regions.
But back to the food. Those famous carrots were a central theme at the Beypazar? Festival. Multiple vendors offered bottles of fresh carrot juice, while others sold carrot helva. Further along, there were stands overflowing with dried fruits (including incredibly sweet sun-dried tomatoes) and nuts, packages of grape leaf dolmas and walnut baklava, and ayran, a yogurt drink not unlike a lassi. We stopped at a döner kebap stand and later watched village women rolling out and cooking gözleme (a bit like a pancake) filled with a hard, white cheese (beyaz peynir) and parsley (maydonoz). Beypazar?’s classic dish, which we didn’t get a chance to taste, is a casserole of lamb, rice, eggplant and earthy, easily attainable ingredients. The village also makes good use of a copious amount of walnuts by preserving them in a “walnut sausage,” a confection that looks exactly like the meat product but is flavored with nuts and sweetened with grape jelly. In addition to ayran and carrot juice, Beypazar? residents wash down their meals with mineral waters from the Inözü Valley.
Only an hour and a half from Ankara, Beypazar? is probably a sleepy town for 364 days per year. But it still merits a visit for its lovely Ottoman houses, gorgeous silver, and honest food. And even though the village is not quite on the tourist route, it has a surprisingly sophisticated, English-language website, helpful for planning a daytrip.