July 25, 2001
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South Africans get a real taste of India

Fakir Hassen in Johannesburg

Indian cuisine, especially the fifty-odd dishes prepared by two chefs from Bombay, has created quite a stir in South Africa.

Chefs Jaspal Singh Arora and Mohamed Shamsoodeen Ansari of the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay, were in South Africa as part of a food festival at the four-day 'Made in India' show held at the Gallagher Estate in Johannesburg.

The duo laid out a sumptuous spread for thousands of visitors, including dishes like Maharashtrian aaloo mutthia tiki made with potato and sago; a Goan fish curry with coconut; and rajma with red kidney beans, from Punjab.

The chefs said the response to the food they prepared -- two daily three-course meals for vegetarians and non-vegetarians -- was exhilarating.

"Working with the staff here has been great," said Arora.

He also shared some anecdotes about working with South Africans who had never prepared Indian dishes in such large quantities before.

Preparations for shahi tukra, a Mughal dessert made of bread, was a fascinating experience for South Africans in the kitchen, as making rabri (milk pudding) for it caused consternation among local chefs who had not seen any dishes before that required milk to be condensed to a third of its original volume.

"They were upset for a whole day, as the burners here are quite slow, and for the rabri I put the milk on at 10 in the morning and it took till 8 in the night to reduce the 100 litres of milk to its required consistence," Arora said.

But that was not all that local chefs found strange. "When I ordered onions, ginger and garlic, they wanted to know whether I was sure I wanted so much."

Arora said he brought some ingredients from India as he was unsure whether they would be available in South Africa, but even then it was not smooth sailing for him.

Tandoori dishes required improvisation as a tandoor (Indian oven) was not available at Gallagher Estate. A traditional South African open fire barbecue, known as a braai, was used.

"The only thing we could not get here was whole-wheat flour. Therefore, we could not make puris and parathas of good standards," Arora said.

India's High Commissioner in South Africa Shiv Mukherjee said: "We wanted this to be not just an exercise in increasing trade and economic relations, but also an opportunity for cross-cultural exchange across a variety of areas, one of them being food. We are very pleased that it met with such a good response."

Arora said he was disappointed to leave South Africa so quickly as he was looking forward to sampling authentic South African cuisine. "I have not been able to learn much about South African cuisine here, because food prepared at this venue is more continental in nature, and not so much indigenous South African," he explained.

While Arora and Ansari take back South African breakfast menus, the South Africans too add a few more recipes to the Gallagher Estate kitchen's repast.

"It was the first time we have done Indian food so extensively here. It's actually been quite difficult for us initially because the ingredients are all so different, but we managed to get all of them, and everything worked out fine," said Gordon Fraser, who heads the team at the Gallagher Estate kitchens.

"Our staff actually enjoyed it because it's a totally different culture and totally different cuisine from what we normally work with. We can now actually incorporate some of what we learnt in our menus in future. The experience has given us more scope, especially in the preparation of curries."

"We learnt that we never put enough garlic, onions and coriander into our curries, and sometimes not enough chilli. Favourites that we have seen here are chicken tandoori and chicken tikka."

"Curries will never be the same here again," added a staff member who was busy cleaning some chickens.

Indo-Asian News Service

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