If you have an adventurous palate, join Vikram Doctor every fortnight as he indulges in his appetite for the stories of food. Taste the origins, legends and practical magic of ingredients and recipes that range from the everyday to the extraordinary.
Through ancestral kitchens, gourmet restaurants, exotic vegetable farms, modern agriculturists, heirloom aficionados... One of India’s most respected food writers has been there, eaten that and knows that there is no love more sincere than the love of food.
Chicken is easy to cook, cheap, widely available and forbidden by no major religious belief system. So its popularity across India is unsurprising. However, the reality is often distasteful, as battery farmed chickens are raised in terrible conditions, and pumped with hormones and antibiotics. In this episode of The Real Food Podcast, Vikram Doctor finds out how we can access better chicken and speaks to legendary chef Ananda Solomon on a successful experiment he ran to get superior quality chickens.
The winter holiday season is upon us. More Indians are travelling abroad with great regularity. As a lot of these people are vegetarians and it is difficult for them to find food that is suitable for them. Many travellers come up with ingenious ways to deal with the situation and a whole industry is developing to cater to their needs. In this episode Vikram Doctor sheds light on how vegetarians manage in places that are not particularly vegetarian friendly.
In some regions of India, bread is an important part of the local cuisine. Mumbai’s most iconic street foods are vada pao and pao bhaji. In both Goa and Kashmir, locally baked fresh bread is a daily staple. When Chef Floyd Cardoz from Mumbai, a partner at the fantastic Bombay Canteen, set up a new restaurant in New York, he called it Paowalla. But often, the bread in our homes is not traditional bread but factory-made and pumped with preservatives to make it last longer and look whiter. In this episode of The Real Food Podcast, Vikram Doctor talks about the need to return to traditional forms of baking, which produce much healthier and tastier bread.
Seen as old fashioned and rustic, jaggery is fast becoming a forgotten product. It survives mostly as a health food recommended by Ayurveda experts or as a nostalgic throwback to the yesteryears in middle class homes. In this episode, Vikram Doctor tells us about India’s long connection with jaggery in an attempt to revive our love for it. But the problem is not just the falling demand; even the production of jaggery has become increasingly difficult due to a lack of water and skilled labour.
From giant customised cakes for politicians’ birthdays to wedding cakes for not just Christian weddings, logo shaped cakes to celebrate a team’s win to heart shaped cupcakes on Valentine’s Day, cakes once seen as ‘western’ have now become a norm at Indian celebrations. With eggless cakes, cakes that don’t need an oven and even cakes made using idli batter, adapting to local conditions has played a major role in this change.
Creating something new out of what is in your fridge from previous days can be a fine art. With a little creativity in the kitchen, leftovers from last night’s dinner can be magically transformed into something delicious and unrecognisable the next day. In this episode Vikram Doctor speaks to chefs who have been creating iconic dishes from leftovers and argues that neither our prejudices nor our ability to afford not to should get in the way of recycling food, a delicate art that we might lose in our hurry to throw away what we believe we don’t need any more.
Parle G is not only the largest selling biscuit in the world but is also synonymous with the category it represents. It is an affordable snack for the poorest, a weaning food for small babies and a dessert base for those looking for a nostalgia fix. Parle G was the unchallenged hero of the biscuit business and Britannia had to enlist the help of a super-villain to take on its might. In this episode of The Real Food Podcast, Vikram Doctor tells us the story of India’s most iconic biscuit brand.
Gin is one of the smoothest of all alcoholic drinks and supposedly the easiest to make. In India we have a history with gin since it was a favourite of the British Raj (which also led to the quinine infused tonic water, to help them fight malaria). However gin has never quite caught on in contemporary India, either because of its perception as a ‘ladies drink’ or due to a sheer lack of options. In this episode, Vikram Doctor traces the history of gin and looks at its possible renaissance as a ‘hipster drink’.
Many of us would have seen old copper or brass vessels packed away at home and wondered why we don't use them anymore. While they have authenticity, most of these vessels were difficult to use as well as maintain. When an option came along that was easy to use, and even easier to clean, it's no surprise that everyone switched to using stainless steel. But is newer and simpler always better?
The first dark clouds and a drizzle sends us into raptures about chai and pakodas every monsoon. But is fried besan just a substitute for the lack of fresh vegetables? Have we forgotten the other foods that are also a part of the seasonal cuisine? One way of dealing with the monsoon is to stock up on the non – perishable food or is there another option. Vikram Doctor suggests we cook with what is naturally available nearby and save the pakodas for the occasional treat.
Does it seems too hard to get a perfect brew right at home? Is there too much technology and process involved in grinding and brewing? Matt Chitharanjan from Blue Tokai Brewing Company says, “The thing about coffee is that you can make it as simple or as complex as you want”. Join The Real Food Podcast as it talks about coffee trends and demystifies the intricate details of the perfect cup of coffee.
The British phone-hacking scandal that rocked the UK a few years back uncovered an unlikely (and highly delicious) detail — that Queen Elizabeth II was furious about the police on duty at her palace polishing off her favourite snack — the Bombay mix! Whether the ‘Bombay mix’ in the UK or ‘Slangetjies’ in South Africa or ‘Bhuja Mix’ in Australia —the modest chivda is truly global. In this episode Vikram Doctor on the chivda, which is a tea-time nibble for some and a source of sustenance on foreign trips for others, but with its varieties and regional improvisations, it is truly a national and increasingly international favourite.
No one cares about dal, unless it makes the news for the wrong reasons. As the prices of tur, moong and urad see a shocking price increase, the governments of Maharashtra and Punjab are raiding traders for hoarding dal. But parochialism may be partly to blame – we’re so accustomed to a specific type of dal we’re willing to pay higher prices for imported dal rather than consider cheaper, local alternatives. In this episode, we explore dal and its colonial history, regional-emotional connect and the man-made substitute ‘dal analogue’.
Named after the East India Company, the Catholic community of East Indians are native to Mumbai and have guarded their recipes of bottle-masala for decades. These spice-mixes are a blend of a long list of ingredients, pounded and packed into old beer bottles and can conveniently create complex flavours with minimum fuss. Bottle Masala is also a way the East Indians created a distinction between their cuisine and those of other Christian communities across India. Real Food takes us into the heart of this feisty community that loves to eat but doesn’t like sharing its recipes.
Summers in India are synonymous with spontaneous trips to the nearest hill station— a much-needed respite when the temperature of the plains and coastal regions crosses a sweltering 40º celcius. And those trips have etched long walks, energizing treks and watching the sunset in the Indian consciousness— along with a constant craving for the signature desserts of those regions. Vikram Doctor takes us on a trip this summer, not only telling us about the rich history of Mussoorie, Ooty and Lonavala—and the delicious delights their small bylanes and crowded streets offer; but we also go back in time, to our own childhoods.
When it comes to a simple home-cooked meal, nothing competes with dal and rice paired with the crunchy contrast of papad. Vikram Doctor traces the role this humble item plays in the meals of various Indian communities. He talks to writer Saaz Aggarwal about why it is the perfect food for cooking in the arid dessert of the Sindh. Radio personality Ashish Jagtiani (Jaggu) tells us why any Sindhi who doesn’t like papad will probabaly be excommunicated from the community. We then take a trip to the South and learn the difference between the North Indian papads and South Indian papadums and appalams. You might be only slightly addicted to papads, but you can’t compete with the great teacher Raman Maharshi who wrote a bhajan using appalams to make a philosophical point!
Pepsi and Coke have the big billboards, but Thums Up is still one of India’s most popular brands. Vikram Doctor takes us back to 1916, when the Sodawaterwallas actually sold soda, talks to Bachi Karkaria about the soda-staples of the Parsi household, Abbas Hajoori about the fizzy Indian beverages his family has been concocting since 1923. An episode full of nostalgia via brands like Sosyo, Vimto, Ice-Cream soda and looking at a thriving ‘Indian flavoured’ soda trend that brings us everything from the grape-flavoured Bovonto of Tamil Nadu to the black-salt loaded Kashmira.
We’ve got the hot, sunny weather for it, so why do commercial Indian beers leave you cold (and not in a good way)? Vikram Doctor rolls out the barrel and talks to pioneering microbrewers here in India about why ‘regular’ Indian beer is boring and tasteless and the ingredients that go into a truly great beer. Tracking the history of the India Pale Ale, he also talks to Pete Brown who recreated a typical pre-Indpendence journey of a barrel of beer from Southampton to Mumbai to Calcutta! But does the Indian palette prefer the mellow regular beer or is it up to the feistiness of a craft beer? Well, you’re thinking of cracking one open now… which will it be?
Poets (and a Prime Minister) have sung the praises of this ancient whole grain. Tune in as Vikram Doctor traces the path of ragi, the humble finger millet, from its roots as a traditional weaning food, rich in calcium and iron, to its promising comeback as a diabetic friendly, low-glycemic grain. With its hearty, earthy texture, Ragi may be the next superfood for health and taste-conscious modern India.
Despite our love for dairy products of all kinds, cheese wasn’t widely available or consumed in India. As our economy opened up in the 90s, we were able to get tins of processed cheese, though a majority of Indians continued to find the taste alienating. However with dishes like cheese dosas, cheese chilli toast, the ability to cook cheese is helping it achieve more mainstream acceptance. Vikram Doctor investigates how we are discovering a love for cheese in India.
The roti or chappati, something we are all familiar with, has very basic ingredients -- water, salt, and flour. But despite the utter simplicity of its components, a certain mastery is required to make the perfect roti -- A mastery that many machines have attempted to replicate but failed flamboyantly. Uninfluenced by the rapid developments in the field of food technology, rotis continue to be preferred to be made only and only by hand. Machine-made rotis fall far below the expectations that the average Indian has for his roti -- it must be soft, it must taste fresh, it must have risen to form a perfect halo of flour when placed on a fire, and it absolutely must be flawlessly round! In this podcast, Vikram Doctor delves deep into the science of the preparation and consumption of our national fixation.
Every family has recipes unique to their homes and often, with the passage of time, these recipes are lost. Some realise that documenting these recipes can create a rich inheritance. Vikram Doctor looks at the charming trend of family cookbooks and reminds us that they have a vital role to play in not just preserving ways of cooking, but also tradition, culture and memory.
A little over a decade ago, Nashik was known for one thing – the Kumbh Mela, which arrived at this Maharashtrian city once every 12 years, and for the sheer number of people who gathered during this Hindu pilgrimage festival. Today however, Nashik is also known for being at the heart of India’s wine industry. The story of how this came about to be is a tale of vision, persistence, and trial and error. Here’s Vikram Doctor on how Nashik became India’s wine capital.
Music: Josh Woodward & Chris Zabriskie
Picture: Ipshita Bhattacharya | CC
It gets boring to harp on how diverse our country is, but the fact is that India really is a land of many communities and sundry cultures. Even choosing one language to represent all regions is a demanding task. So, you’d think that determining the national dish of India would be a fool’s errand. But, is it really such an impossible job? There is one dish that can be found in almost all corners of our country. It has crossed geographical boundaries, bridged the vegetarian & non-vegetarian divide and even left a mark on the British during the Raj. Vikram Doctor argues for why Khichdi (a preparation of rice and lentils) can and should be India’s national dish.
Sesame (or til, in Hindi) is closely linked with Makar Sankranti (a popular winter festival in West India, during which sweets such as til ladoo, til papad and til chikki are prepared), but it is a far more versatile product – you can use it as a core ingredient, as a seasoning, to add texture, or to extract oil. And, its roots go far back in history. The earliest example of the use of sesame was found in the Indus Valley excavations, it was once an important trade commodity, and, closer home, it served many ritualistic purposes. Listen to Vikram Doctor trace the story of these tiny seeds and find out about the role sesame has played in commerce, Indian culture, and of course, cooking.
There’s an inadvertent connection that turkey has to India – in Turkey, the country, the bird is known as Hindi, as in the language that we speak. But, turkey, which has become associated with Christian festivals, was never really big here, even during Christmas festivities. Christmas in India was majorly about the one thing that is a constant at all our festivals – sweets. From traditional plum (or rum) cakes, kulkuls and marzipan to the recently popular, stollen, Indian Christian communities excel not only at making delicacies unique to India, but also at adapting western Christmas food traditions and giving them a typical Indian touch.
If you live, or have lived, in Gujarat (or in certain parts of Mumbai), you can’t not know about Undhiyu. A regional speciality, this dish of mixed fresh vegetables cooked with green garlic and other spices, has an almost rustic charm to it. Just like the north Indian sarso da saag or the Bengali nolen gur, Undhiyu celebrates the bountiful produce that’s on offer during the Indian winter. It may not have travelled well, but it invokes passion among those who have grown up eating it, and makes converts out of those who try it for the first time. Why is this dish, which is traditionally cooked upside down (hence “Undhiyu”), so special? The Real Food Podcast finds out.
Coffee in India is booming. Cafés are spouting all over, newer and more exotic blends are making their way into the market, and drinking coffee, on a larger level, has become a sign of modernity. This hip, trendy image of coffee isn’t new, though. Decades back, southern India saw the rise of a special kind of filter coffee, and it stood for everything that coffee is for India today. It was the hallmark of the contemporary, middle class, south Indian home. But, it’s not something you’d easily find at a café today. Can kaapi, as it is often termed, find a place in modern-day India’s coffee drinking culture? The Real Food Podcast finds out.
Music: Josh Woodward
Picture credit: Charles Haynes/Flickr
Understanding a large nation’s ancient culture is difficult, but a few habits, when traced to their origins, can help explain how we lived then. Food is one of them; from communal eating – the famed “thali” – to why we sometimes do not eat, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik throws light on the eating habits of ancient India. Taking us through the metaphors and recounting the myths, he decodes the philosophies that govern us, in some ways, till this day.
The talk was delivered at the 2015 edition of the Tata LitLive. We thank Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai International Litfest for allowing us to carry the talk on our podcast.
From weddings to festivals such as Diwali, Christmas and Pongal, the last few months of the year are a time for grand celebrations in India. And, food is an important component. What does the festive season say about how we cherish and celebrate food? We may be endeared to the idea of banquets serving multiple cuisines in resplendent avatars, but is it really a feast unless you have an Indian showstopper? From traditional festive delights and recipes unique to wedding banquets, to how food often becomes the entertainment, Vikram Doctor brings you the story of how India feasts.
Fasting is a big part of Indian culture, across religions. However for Hindus, fasting does not mean starving. Just as well, because according to the Bhavishya Purana, there are as many as 139 different fasts to be followed in a year. But, rather than not eating, it is actually a fertile ground for food innovation. This episode of The Real Food Podcast finds out how fasting has helped us rediscover ingredients such as rajgira (amaranth), lotus seeds and yam; foods that may have otherwise disappeared.
With the Farmer’s Market opening for another season in Mumbai, Vikram Doctor revisits the organic food argument. How does organic farming stack up against organised agriculture? Often discourse is limited to just health benefits, but from unique produce to rich, authentic flavours, there are several reasons to go organic. This episode examines the world of organic farming and discusses how nature is often the best creator of tastes and flavours.
An encounter with a swarm of honey bees in his kitchen gets Vikram Doctor thinking about a food that we don’t use often, but one that has a rich Indian legacy – honey. An ancient product, honey finds a mention in the Rig Veda and the Ramayana. And, from the nutty flavours of the til and bajra honey to the intoxicating edge of the mahua honey, India boasts of some of the most unique kinds of honey. In this episode, Vikram investigates how ignorance and access to alternatives has made us miss out on the versatility of this healthy food.
Idli is considered to be a simple food item. But, from choosing the right dal (lentil) and grinding it to the perfect consistency to ensuring that the batter ferments right, the process is complex and laborious. This is why you’d have been hard-pressed to find this versatile and healthy preparation outside south Indian kitchens during the ’60s or ’70s. So, what changed? Tune in, as Vikram Doctor finds out how a piece of technology helped idli cross geographical boundaries and become an everyday staple.
Indian pickles are a complicated lot. Made using oil, often with family (let alone region or community) specific recipes, our pickles are a stark contrast to the vinegar and brine-based Western ones. The variety is just mindboggling – from carrots to cauliflower, ginger to garlic and even potatoes and dates, besides the widely loved lemons and mangoes, everything can be pickled. They hold cultural as well as culinary significance. But as convenience is crucial and more pickles are mass-produced, is it a legacy that we’re in danger of forgetting?
From Prime Minister Modi’s various Chai pe Charchas to the ubiquitous tea stalls, India’s fixation with chai is well-known. But, our one-dimensional love for this milky, sweet and usually spiced concoction has overshadowed the finer offerings of the plantations in Darjeeling. Why do most of us ignore the fine teas that this region has to offer? Vikram Doctor investigates in this episode of The Real Food Podcast.
In a pre-liberalised India, Old Monk was a natural choice for 20-somethings looking for a familiar taste. Mohan Meakin, the makers of this sweet, hard-hitting rum, achieved cult status for Old Monk, and that has helped this drink occupy a prime spot in popular culture (and our glasses). Vikram Doctor brings you the fascinating history of Old Monk and explains why counting on nostalgia cannot be its sole strategy for the 21st century.
A versatile, cheap and nourishing fruit, the banana is essential to India. We are its largest producer and grow the maximum varieties, with variants such as rasthali from Tamil Nadu, nendran from Kerala and safedvelchi from Maharashta. However, Cavendish, a variant pushed by multinational behemoths, is using ‘scale’ to destroy the sales of other local varieties. Vikram Doctor investigates how the industrial production of bananas in the original Banana Republics may provide some answers.
For most Indians, Muslim food is synonymous with kebabs and biryani. And, while we love our Mughlai food, the sheer taste and variety of regional Muslim cuisine often remains unknown or underappreciated. Vikram Doctor takes us through a fascinating journey through Kutch, Konkan and further south to Tamil Nadu, with each stop revealing a rich new cuisine and culture.
Few items of food inspire the sort of strong reactions that the smell of drying Bombay duck does. This dried fish, a staple for some, is often rejected from menus because of its reputation as a poor-man’s fish. Does the dried Bombay duck really deserve the reputation that literally makes people turn their noses up (and away)? Vikram Doctor speaks to writer/editor and chronicler of Mumbai history, Naresh Fernandes and the legendary chef Ananda Solomon to investigate.
(Music - Josh Woodward and Mina Kava)
Eggs are cheap, versatile and easy to cook. They offer nutrition at a very low cost, which should ideally make them omnipresent in Indian food, but there is a wide-ranging debate about whether they are fit for vegetarians. As the argument around eggs moves from the kitchen to classrooms (as some state governments oppose their inclusion in Mid Day meals at government schools) Vikram Doctor looks at this versatile and, to some, delicious component in Indian cooking.
We Indians love our butter, we really do. It makes everything better. But does ‘our’ butter taste different from butter around the world? Join Vikram Doctor on an utterly butterly delicious journey as he uncovers the very surprising reason behind the unique flavor of the taste of Amul, which is the “Taste of India”.
*It has been brought to our attention by Amul that they do not add "diacetyl" to their butter (as mentioned in an earlier version of this podcast), it naturally occurs in cream. We have updated the podcast to reflect the same.
Vikram Doctor on our passion for the Marie, the simplest of biscuits, that have stood the test of time and changing tastes. The democratic dunk of choice whether rich and powerful or poor and hungry, if you have a cup of tea, you'll be wanting a Marie. Also featuring a recipe for 'serradurra', a sublime dessert made from crushed Marie.
Vikram Doctor knows our collective passion for the mighty Alphonso (Hapus) mango.Tracing its lineage back to colonial times, Vikram tells of how this beloved variety of mango has witnessed key historic moments, such as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s landmark meeting with US President John F. Kennedy and the Indo-US nuclear pact. But, he warns, our unrealistic demand for Alphonsos is pushing farmers to use excessive chemicals that could (literally) bring us only a season of bitter fruit.