This dinner was hosted by Salt Water Cafe. Something we had no idea of till we whipped out our wallets to pay at the end.
Way back in the mid seventies, Hindi cinema’s most famous villainous character, Gabbar Singh, strode across the screens of cinema halls for the first time. Till date this sequence where Gabbar makes his entry into the movie Sholay is considered iconic. People still flinch as he yells out “suar ke bachhon” to chastise his band of dacoits.
‘Suar ke bachhon’ or ‘son of pigs’ is probably one of the most commonly used invectives across North India.
For the group of us assembled at Bandra’s Salt Water Cafe last Thursday, however, ‘suckling pig’, technically a ‘suar ke bachha’ (a pig’s kid), was a term of endearment.
We were at the Swine Dining Dinner which is held at Salt Water Cafe. About once a month.A dinner meant for pork lovers.
They have a group of about twelve for these dinners. The composition of the group that night was rather interesting.
I had gone with Soumik who has often featured on the blog. Going to this dinner was his idea. Turned out that four others there were our friends and eating buddies. We had no idea of this while planning the dinner. And yet there we were. A coincidence? I wouldn’t say so.
I often say that you should choose whom you dine with with care. The fact that six of us who often eat together, landed up at the same place to eat without planning to do so, was rather reassuring.
I figured out from our hosts for the evening, Shobita and Nisha, that Salt Water Cafe organises these community dinners for pork lovers to meet and eat together. Well six of us knew each other and amongst the rest were included a Bengali ad man who showed us the picture that he took of a whole cow on a spit at Cambodia, a German who didn’t know about cricket till he came to India and was now looking forward to the Oktoberfest here, a Singaporean who was probably missing the porcine delights from home and a couple of others.
Yes, the conversation flowed easily across the table that night.
Interestingly six of the twelve at the table were Bengalis. And another a non-Bengali married to a Bengali. Six point five Bengalis then.
Pigs don’t form a part of the Bengali staple but there is a significant chunk of Bengalis who have a soft corner for things porcine. Probably the love for pork amongst Bengalis is strongest amongst all the India communities who normally do not eat pork. Some of us Bengalis could give the pork eating Goon and Mangaloreans, the Coorgis and those of the North East of India stiff competition when it comes to our love for pork.
At least the six of us at the table that evening.
Check out this video clip which shows the introduction of the endearing bumbling Jatayu of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda series from the movie Sonar Kella. He was the antitheses of the swarthy Gabbar. At the end of this sequence Jatayu asks ‘aapni ki shuor (are you a pig)’ in jovial bafflement at Feluda’s body specs.
I had got an email from the organisers earlier confirming our booking. The mail talked about the menu which was in store. This was serious stuff and we had to do justice to it. There were more than five to six dishes of pork promised. At Rs 1500 (35 USD) plus taxes each we had to eat our money’s worth too.
In the best traditions of Balboa and Creed, Soumik and I went into training for the meal. Soumik opted for a vegetarian diet for the previous two days with paneer and all. I had steamed idlis after work the previous evening, home made chicken curry the previous night, Banu’s vegetarian stodgy dishes for lunch at work which I can never finish.
Who said training for a pig fest is an easy thing?
Soumik came to my place before we headed to the dinner. A last green tea each to prime our appetite and we were ready to step into the ring.
What followed that evening was an endless array of great meat shrouded in a haze of sangria, beer and conversation. There were three dishes that were outstanding. The meat loaf, the parma ham mash and the queen of the night, the pork belly.
The meatloaf which started the evening had a fantastic texture. Though Franz, who was ‘not from France’, said it should have been served warm and not cold. The rest of us were quite enthralled by the meat loaf and Soumik even had it for dessert! I liked the way it paired with the pickled gherkins and onions that were served on the side.
There was a pork, ginger, shitake ‘patty’ which wasn’t really a burger patty as I thought it would be. It was actually a patties or ‘pattice’ as they call it at Mumbai. The promise of the great ingredients overshadowed in the lovely sunny flour crust of the patties. The rocket leaves gave a nice counterpoint to the mellow baked bites of the patties.
What I remember the patties for was the crust. Not the filling.
The next dish was scary. Salads. There was the ‘essence of chorizo’, as our friend Jit put it, but the mass of greens and tomatoes and leaves were a bit intimidating for us.
There was a pork belly dish in the mains which was spectacular. The texture was sensuous and the flavours sinfully Oriental redolent of the opium houses of the East. A dish with a ‘bedroom voice’. Luscious. Lustrous. The consistency of the meat just right. Flavours and tastes which teased your every sense. Just looking at the dish was enough to make one swoon with its promise of endless fleshy pleasures.
The dish of the evening for me.
There were pork loins which were cooked just right. It had the ‘inner thigh wobble’ which Nigella Lawson promised that the cheesecake she was baking on TV would have.
What the dish lacked was salt. There were seconds for each dish and I did try to see if some of the glitches, less salt in this case, would get fixed in round two but that didn’t happen. The second round was under salted too.
But the meat was too good to waste. We found our ways to cope. I complemented it with the fantastic parma ham mash which individually was heady and was just what was needed to er, ‘stir’ the loins. As I found out later, Soumik complemented his (plate of) loins with the sauce from the braised pork which was the third of the mains.
The braised pork was rather tough and dry though and didn’t live up the cooking perfection of the belly and loins.
Apart from the mash there was mixed beans with chopped smoked sausages on the side.
Then there was chocolate cake. Chilled, tight, sweet … just the way I like it. Some of the purists on the table said that they would have preferred a slightly less sweet version. But my tastes in chocolate are quite simple and this worked for me.
And no, there was no bacon flavour to the cake.
Then the evening took an unexpected turn. I was about to take out my wallet to pay when one of the hosts came and said, “There won’t be a bill by the way. This time it is on us”
We had no idea that we had this surprise dessert coming our way but turned out that good folks at Salt Water Cafe had decided to treat us all to the entire dinner. Christmas came early I guess for us Swine Diners that night.
Yes, it was quite an admirable line up that evening. We did ourselves proud.
Barring the salad there was no dish that I left untouched. At the end of it all I felt bruised and battered and yet victorious in the true traditions of a Rocky fight.
We were sitting on the terrace as that is the only place where a large community table can be set up in the restaurant apparently. The flip side of being social was that we had to eat in the muggy Mumbai heat and the pork sweat wasn’t a pretty sight.
I am at a stage in life where I like to spend me evenings with just one or two dishes and savour them properly. Abundance overwhelms me. And there was a bit too much of pork for me that evening. I think the meal works better if we have the option of ticking what I want from the menu or we have small plates like in a tasting menu.
The dinner was contrast from two Fridays back when Soumik, me and the rest of our core Finely Chopped Knights gang ended up at the very same Salt Water Cafe. That evening too was filled boisterous laughter and mindless chatter. My order that night a superb chorizo in braised onion sauce which the others at the table kept dunking bread in.
I am not sure which of the two evenings made me smile more.
Yes, just choose whom you dine with with care and you will do good.