I had bumped into him once at a wedding. Didn't really know him. Then we connected over the blog as he called me up from KL when a post that I wrote about my father struck home. He told me he was upset that I had referred to Singapore as 'the food capital of the world'. "Come to KL", said this Bengali from Calcutta and Mumbai. "I will show you that it much better than Singapore when it comes to food".
An office conference at Singapore, Air Asia and suddenly I made plans to spend the weekend with this couple whom I didn't know. Well technically, he had worked with my wife at Mumbai. But still. His wife sent me a friendship request on facebook just before I landed at their place. "It's about time," she said. (Check out her wonderful travel blog, Sasha in Wonderland, which she started later).
He called a number of times in the run up to my visit. Have you printed the map to our house? Do you drink Single Malt? Would you like to try frogs? Day one would be butter pork. Have you reached Singapore? Have you left Singapore?
Soon I landed at their door. I would have rung the bell. But there he was, door open, welcoming me to their home. Later he told my wife, "I never thought he would be so tall".
A shower and I settled down with them at their huge drawing room looking onto the hills. The promised Single Malt, Satays, incredibly spicy Bangladeshi Tandoori chicken and I was completely at home in roughly seven minutes.
Many hours later, when it seemed that we had caught up where we had left off, dinner was laid. By then I had heard stories of the butter pork and Thai styled Chinese fish curry from a restaurant at Lucky Garden KL, that awaited me.
The first dish came out. Eggplants!!!!! "This is one of our favourite dishes he said". I have this with steamed rice.My jaw fell open. I looked at them as if they were Satun worshippers. Eggplants? Their favourite dish? These are the people I have entrusted a weekend of my life with. I remembered what my mother always said. "No good comes from talking to strangers". Eggplant lovers were as 'strange' as they get in my book. I mean 'like' is fine. But 'love'? When pork was promised?
I took my first bite. I fell in love too. For this was no ordinary eggplant dish. It was cooked in shrimp paste! Apparently called 'balchow'. No connection with the Goan dish with the same name. I begun to feel at home as I finished my portion of eggplant balchow. Felt, enough at home, to come back and visit them six months later.
Close to eight months after I first had balchow at KL, I made it at home at Mumbai. I went completely by my taste memory. I added my own touch, shitake mushrooms. I took my first bite after this dish was ready and was transported back to the lovely house of my friends Arindam and Sasha at KL.
Here's my interpretation for a dish which I think is called 'Balchow'. A dish belonging to the Chinese of KL.
- Buy 250 g small, purple brinjals/ eggplants and cube them
- Warm water for about two minutes in the micro. Add in the dessicated shitake (Lalu the vegetable guy at Pali Naka calls this 'Fungus' mushroom). This will bloom in a few minutes. Take them out and wring out the water gently
- Take about 8-10 bird's eye chillies and slightly split the top
- Buy shrimp paste. I got it at Godrej Nature's Basket
- Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. I use olive oil as it makes me feel less guilty
- Once the oil is warm add about 2.5 tablespoons of shrimp paste. This has its own salt and you don't need to add anymore
- Once the paste spreads out, add the eggplants and toss them gently. Cover with a lid and let this cook for a while
- Open the lid and stir for a while till the eggplants begin to soften
- Add in the mushrooms and stir for 3-4 minutes
- Add in the bird's eye chillies. Stir for two minutes and you are done
- We ate this with noodles but I believe that plain, steamed rice is de rigeur
- We had the leftovers for lunch today. The shrimp flavour was stronger as the eggplants sucked them in all night. Those who had it on both days felt that it tasted even better the next day. The hero of the dish were the mushrooms though (!)