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Bao Wow!- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

HYDERABAD:  Around the third century AD, a great military strategist by the name Zhuge Liang was on his way back from battle in the Sichuan province in China when he came across an enormous logistical challenge for him and his army. He had successfully quashed a rebellion and defeated the rebel army threatening his kingdom but now faced the prospect of defeat by the elements.

He was stuck on the banks of a river which seemed impossible to cross. The river, a local barbarian said, was guarded by a deity who would not allow safe passage to him and his army until he threw the heads of fifty of his soldiers into the river as an offering. Stuck in a conundrum and wanting to satisfy the deity without losing his soldiers, Zhuge ordered his men to make 50 buns that looked like human heads and stuffed with meat to be thrown into the river. The deity seemingly loved this more than actual human heads and allowed the army to continue their journey home.

The resulting dish of buns was called “Mantou”. As time went by, Mantou referred to steamed bread buns without a filling but was usurped in popularity by its counterpart with fillings called “Bao” or “Baozi” as it is traditionally known.

Originating in Northern China, where the staple grain is wheat instead of rice, baos slowly spread throughout China and parts of Southern Asia including Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines and even Malaysia & Thailand.

Each region of China has its own version of baos, favourite fillings and their own regional twist to the ubiquitous bread-based dish where each region is fiercely proud of their version, much akin to the great biryani debate in India.

At the heart of it, the bao wrapper itself is made from a leavened dough consisting of wheat flour, water, milk and yeast, and stuffed with a filling of deliciously cooked spicy meat and vegetable and steamed till the wrapper is light and fluffy, almost like a bread consistency.

Traditional baos include the Char Siu Bao stuffed with delicious char siu or Chinese barbeque pork made in the Guangdong province and Hong Kong, The Gua Bao is a Taiwanese bao with a crispy pork filling, roasted peanuts and pickled mustard greens usually eaten for breakfast.

The Xiaolong bao is a broth filled dumpling native to Shanghai where the fluffy wheat wrapper is exchanged for a thin rice wrapper lending itself more to a Jiaozi or dim sum like consistency.

The Tausepau is a sweet version of the bao from the Hokkien speaking region in China where the bao is filled with a sweet bean paste.

The past decade has taken this humble snack from rural China and has placed it right in the centre of a culinary revolution. Being a versatile dish lending to experimentation and innovation, the bao is at home both at fine dining establishments across the world and at street side vendors alike.

Bao fillings from braised beef short rib and fried chicken in the UK, curry fillings in Malaysia and Singapore, to our very own butter chicken and ghee roast in India and some crazy dessert baos in the shape of animals and fruits, the soft & fluffy exterior makes every filling its own and tickles the taste buds of food lovers across the world.

Haiku, A Bao Time & Shoyu are some of the places where you can relish the best baos in town!

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Food

List of ten must-have Durga puja eats when pandal-hopping- The

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Express News Service

A sensory overload that no foodie worth their salt can miss, the pandal-hopping experience during Durga Pujo offers a melange of flavours, aromas and textures.

For a practice marinated in Bengali culture, identity and nostalgia, three Bengali masterchefs—Joyadrita Chatterjee of Food of Joy: Flavours of Bengal in Chennai; Anirban Dasgupta, Executive Chef of JW Marriott Pune; and Ananya Banerjee, who has authored Bangla Gastronomy: The Journey of Bengali food—share a list of 10 pandal classics that must be savoured.

Raddhaballabi Alu Dum
It’s a puri made with a filling of urad dal, paste of salt, ginger, chilli and turmeric, and hing (asafoetida). “The name was given by a zamindar family of Kolkata, who offered the kachoris to Lord Krishna and Radha, along with niramish alu dum, according to legend” says Banerjee.

Ghoogni
This spicy, slurpy curry made of boiled yellow peasis paired best with lucchis,  but can also hold fort solo as a snack. Variants of the dish are made using black gram, green peas or white peas. Ghoogni is Kolkata’s proteinous version of the Dilli chat, but with the addition of coconut and ginger-garlic paste.

Ghoti Gorom
Warm chanachur (savouries such as rice or corn flakes, puffed rice, sev etc.) mixed with peanuts, chopped onions and cucumber, bits of aamada (mango ginger) with spices and lime, is the stuff Bengali nostalgia is made of. The snack is so popular that Bengalis have no qualms naming the Ghoto Gorom vendor the ‘Pied Pier of Bengal.’

Puchchkas and Churmur
An unwritten rule of pandal-hopping is to begin the feast with the jol puchchka—the sweet, sour and tangy snack. Churmur is the deconstructed pani puri chaat, a mixture of crushed puchka shells, boiled potatoes, chickpeas and crumbled lentil vadas with chutney and spices.

Kosha Mangsho
Navami sees non-vegetarian dishes sneaking into the menu. Kosha mangsho (Bengali mutton curry) is succulent meat chunks, drenched in a spicy curry, accompanied by lucchis or pulao.

Aloo Kabli
A curry in salad’s clothing, it’s a street snack made of boiled potatoes tossed with tamarind pulp, chillies, coriander, spice powder and a dash of lime, the addition of sev adds an extra crunch
to the dish.

Photographs by: Joyadrita Chatterjee

Khichuri and Labra
A combination of runny khichuri, labra (mixed-veg with Bengali spices), bhajas (fried vegetables), tomato chutney, cholar dal and mishti (curd), it is the Ashtomi bhog.

Chop-Cutlet
This signature has many avatars—crispy chicken cutlet, fish fry, kabiraji cutlet (fillet of fish or meat in an egg mesh), to name a few. “The fish kabiraji is also called a ‘coverage fish’ as the Betki fish fillet is covered with egg layers and rolled in bread crumbs. British dak bungalow officers loved this snack,” says Banerjee.

Narkel Diye Cholar Dal                            

This sweet and savoury traditional Bengali lentil relish is made of Bengal gram lentil, ghee, coconut and a few spices, and is best paired with lucchi or steamed rice. The secret of its goodness lies in Bengali ghee, also called Jharna ghee, made of thick cow milk.

Sondesh
A 16th-century dessert, originally made of milk and sugar, transformed into one made of chenna (cottage cheese) during the British era. It’s a Bengali’s favourite ritualistic offering. Sondesh marks a sweet ending to a great culinary journey. 

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Navaratri special: From butterfly pea flower rice to rose

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By Express News Service

CHENNAI:  Through the nine nights of revering Goddess Durga and her triumph over evil, Navaratri celebrates the idea of spreading victory and love around us. What can spread warmth and affection better than food? While some observe fast during the festival, indulging in indigenous wholesome and light cuisine, some go all out to serve a feast to the goddess.

Chennai-based home chefs share eight colourful additions that can elevate the richness of the festivities.

1. Butterfly Pea Flower Rice
By Rajeswari Vijayanand

(@rakskitchen on Instagram)

Ingredients
Butterfly pea flower (dry) sangu poo/ Aparajita flower: 12 
Crushed lemon grass: 2 stalks (optional)
Basmati rice: 1/2 cup 
Lemon: 1 
Oil: 2 tsp
Mustard: 1/2 tsp
Urad dal: 1 tsp
Chana dal: 1 tsp
Ginger: 1 tsp
Green chilli: 2 
Curry leaves: 1 sprig 
Salt as needed

Method
In a saucepan, boil one cup of water. Add the butterfly pea flower. Add some crushed lemongrass.
Switch off the stove and close it with a lid. Let it steep for 15 minutes. Stir in between.
Wash rice until the washed water drains clear. Soak in hot water for 15 minutes. Fish out the flowers and lemongrass. Start heating and bring to a boil.
Drain water from the rice. Add it to the boiling blue water. Sprinkle salt. Bring to boil.
On low flame, cook covered for 12-14 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
Check the bottom of the pan for water. Switch off the stove and fluff gently. Keep covered.
Do not worry even if some rice is stuck to the pan. The standing time will loosen up the rice making it soft. After 10 minutes, the rice will be softer and fluffier.
Heat a small pan with oil. Splutter mustard, then add urad dal, chana dal, ginger, green chillies, and curry leaves. Transfer to the rice. Drizzle lemon juice and quickly give it a mix.
The colour will change to purple as the lemon reacts with rice. Yet the blue hue will be there. 

2. Kosha Mangsho 
By Joyadrita Ragavendran Chatterjee  

(@ foodofjoyflavoursofbengal on Instagram)

Ingredients
Mutton: 500 g
Potato: 2 to 3 (big ones cut into halves), Curd: 100 g
Onion: 2 medium-sized chopped finely
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Turmeric powder: 2 tsp
Red chilli powder: 2 tsp
Kashmiri red chilli powder: 2.5 tsp, Cumin powder: 1 tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tsp
Whole green chillies: 5-6
Ghee: 2 tbsp
Garam masala powder: 1 tsp
Hot water: 2-2.5 cups
Salt and sugar as per taste
Mustard oil for cooking
Whole garam masala (clove, green cardamom, cinnamon) for tempering

Method 
Marinate mutton pieces overnight with all the dry spices (except garam masala powder), ginger-garlic paste and curd. 
Heat an iron wok, add mustard oil, deep fry the halved potatoes, and keep them aside. 
Add some more mustard oil if needed and temper it with whole crushed garam masala. Once fragrant, add chopped onion. Fry until translucent. 
Add the marinated mutton and fry on high heat for 4-5 minutes. Once the oil is separated, add hot water and cook. 
Add the fried potatoes in the last 30 minutes of the process. 
The mutton is cooked when the pieces are intact yet the texture is soft. The cooking time depends on the quality of the meat. Finish off with ghee, garam masala powder and whole green chillies.

3. Sabudana Kichadi Curd
By Yogita Uchil

(@yogitauchil on Instagram)

Ingredients
Sabudana: 1 cup (washed 2-3 times and soaked in 3/4 cup of water for 2-3 hours or overnight)
Oil: 1-2 tbsp 
Cumin powder: 1 tsp 
Potato: 1/2 cup (boiled and diced)
Ground nuts: 1/4 cup (roasted and roughly chopped or pounded)
Green chillies: 1-2 (finely chopped)
Curry leaves: 3-4 (shredded)
Coriander leaves: Handful (finely chopped)
Red chilli: 1 for seasoning (optional)
Salt & sugar to taste

Method
Heat oil in a pan and add cumin seeds. When they crackle, add green chillies and curry leaves and saute for a minute.
Add potatoes. Sauté for a few minutes till they turn soft brown. Add sabudana, peanuts, salt and sugar and cook on medium-low flame for 4-5 minutes.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
Add fresh curd to the sabudana kichadi to have it as a complete meal.

4. Sweet Potato Halwa
By Parul Bhatt

(@parulsmagic on Instagram)

Ingredients
Sweet potato: 200 g (Steamed and grated)
Plain khoa/mawa: 50 g (grated)
Sugar: 100 g  
Ghee: 40 g 
Cardamom powder: 1/4 tsp 
A pinch of nutmeg powder
Few strands of saffron

Method
Heat ghee in a heavy bottom pan.
Add grated sweet potato.
Cook on a slow flame and keep stirring. Cook till moisture evaporates from sweet potato.
Add grated khoa or mawa, cook for five minutes.
Add sugar and cook till it releases ghee. Add cardamom, nutmeg and saffron. Mix well.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Note: You can pressure cook sweet potato but they tend to get soggy. Adjust sugar to your taste.

5. Basonti Polao or Bengali Style Yellow Sweet Pulao
By Joyadrita Ragavendran Chatterjee  

(@foodofjoyflavoursofbengal on Instagram)

Ingredients      
Gobindobhog rice: 1 kg
Sugar: 100 to 150 g 
Raisins: 100 g
Cashew nuts (halved or broken): 100 g
Turmeric powder: 1 tbsp
Red chilli powder: 1 tsp
Cumin powder: 2 tsp
Ginger paste: 2 tsp
Hot water for cooking 
Whole garam masala (clove, green cardamom, cinnamon) for tempering
Salt as per taste
Ghee for cooking 

Method
Marinate the rice with the salt, sugar, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, cumin powder, ginger paste and 1/4 cup ghee. Keep it aside for 30-45 minutes. 
Heat a deep bottom pan, add the remaining ghee, fry the raisins and cashews. Drain and keep them aside. 
Add the whole garam masala. Once fragrant, add the rice and the fried dry fruits. 
Keep frying this on medium heat until the rice grains become opaque. Add water and let it cook on a slow flame for 15-20 minutes. 
Once finished, give it a standing time of another 10 minutes. Open the lid and fluff up the rice. 
Garnish it with some slit green chillies. Serve it with Kosha Mangsho or Bengali mutton curry. 

Note: Be mindful of the water quantity as Gobindobhog rice becomes too mushy if the water is too much.

6. Sesame Laddu
By Shobha Satish

Ingredients
Black sesame seeds: 1 cup Jaggery: 1/2 cup, Cardamom powder: 1/2  tsp, Water: 1/4 cup

Method 
Dry roast the sesame seeds and allow them to cool down completely.
Grind the roasted sesame seeds in a mixer and add cardamom to it.
Dissolve jaggery in water and boil the syrup. 
Mix the sesame-cardamom mix with the jaggery syrup.
Allow it to cool down and make small balls out of the mixture.

7. Rose Jalebi
By Priya Shiva

(@priyakichenette on Instagram)

Ingredients
Maida: 1 cup 
Rose syrup: 4 tbsp
Eno/fruit salt: 1 tsp
Sugar: 1 cup
Cardamom powder: 1/2 tsp
Oil for deep frying

Method
Heat sugar in 3/4 cup of water in a saucepan. Keep stirring till you reach one string consistency. Switch off the flame. Add two tablespoons of rose syrup and cardamom powder. 
Mix flour, two tablespoons of rose syrup, and Eno. Add water to make a smooth batter. Make sure there are no lumps. Pour the batter in a ketchup squeezer.
Heat oil in a frying pan. Once oil is hot, lower the flame and squeeze the ketchup bottle in circular motion.  
Deep fry in low flame. Strain and dip in sugar syrup for 5-10 seconds. Hot jalebis are ready. You can even serve it with rabdi.

8. Pista Badam Burfi
By Priya Shiva

(@priyakichenette on Instagram)

Ingredients
Pistachio: 1/2 cup
Almonds: 1/2 cup
Sugar: 1/2 cup
Water: 1/4 cup
Dry milk powder: 2 tbsp
Green cardamom powder: 1 tsp
Ghee: 2 tsp

Method
Roast pistachios and almonds on low flame for 2 minutes. Let them cool down completely. Grease a square plate with 1 tsp ghee and keep it ready.
Add all the nuts in your grinder and powder it in one go. If you take too much time to grind, it will start oozing oil and become sticky.
Boil sugar and water in a pan and lower the flame when it comes to one-string consistency. To check one string consistency, take a drop of  the water and sugar mixture and try making a string with your index finger and thumb.
Add powdered nuts, milk powder, cardamom powder and one teaspoon of ghee and keep stirring. In a few minutes, it will automatically turn into a dough.
Remove from the gas stove, pour the mixture into a greased plate, and spread the stove and pour the mixture into a greased plate and spread evenly.
When it cools down, cut it into equal pieces and store it in a cool place. You can garnish with some chopped or powdered pistachios.

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Food

IRCTC offers Durga Puja special menu for passengers travelling

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By PTI

NEW DELHI: Passengers travelling in the country’s eastern region will have a chance to gorge on sumptuous Bengali cuisine, with the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) serving special Durga Puja menu on board trains, officials said.

The menu will be available in around 70 trains passing through Howrah, Sealdah and Asansol stations in West Bengal and Jasidih Junction in Jharkhand which have IRCTC’s e-catering facility, they said.

Passengers can call on 1323 to book their meals and get them delivered to their seats, officials said.

This is the latest offering from the Rail PSU, which started its ‘Vrat Navratri’ special thalis last year for passengers on fast during the festival.

The Pujo menu includes mutton thali — with typical bengali specialities like luchi (puri), pulao, alu posto (potato with poppy seeds), chicken and fish thalis.

Other items on the list include fish fry, Kolkata biriyani and rosogolla among others, officials said.

This year too, during Navratri, passengers will be offered meals without onion-garlic en route their journey, they said. To avail this offer, passengers will have to place an order by calling on 1323.

IRCTC will provide this facility at 400 stations, officials said, adding that the initial price of IRCTC’s food menu begins at Rs 99. The starters menu includes ‘aloo chaap and sabudana tikki’.

The main course includes Sabudana khichdi and paneer makhmali with parathas.

Other food items like Kofta Curry, and Sabudana khichri Navratri thali are also available, officials said.

The IRCTC has been offering occasion specific meals for passengers on board their trains since last year.

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