FOOD / Gastropod

MAKING a flying visit to the Indian sub- continent last week, the Gastropod was munching a curried mutton paratha in a Dhaka bazaar when his attention was drawn to a report in a local paper of the previous day's play in the Madras Test match. The Daily Star of Bangladesh reported: 'England, shorn by food poisoning of captain Graham Gooch and with two senior batsmen sick in bed, toiled gamely but lamely throughout a harrowing day.'

Although the Gastropod is barely conversant with the rules of cricket (aren't batsmen supposed to get the runs?), he is no stranger to exploding bowel syndrome and at first found it easy to empathise with Mr Gooch. When confronted by exotic delicacies, it is sometimes hard for even the most safety-conscious gastronaut to say no.

The Star had little sympathy, recalling the New Zealand team's troubles on their tour of 1989-90 and remarking: 'Although England are unlikely to have to follow the Kiwis' example and use journalists as substitute fielders, they are paying dearly for taking one gastronomic risk too many . . .

'On the eve of the game, Gooch and several other players ate prawns in their hotel's Chinese restaurant,' the report went on, reprovingly. 'Shellfish is generally regarded as a risky proposition in India for people accustomed to Western diets. Less than an hour before the start Gooch, ravaged by stomach pains, gave in to the inevitable and pulled out.'

Put that way, one does wonder what Mr Gooch was playing at. Madras boasts a diverse and sophisticated restaurant culture that ranges from simple snack bars, such as Dasa, serving masala dosas in myriad permutations, to ultra-posh restaurants, such as the Raintree, which specialises in rich and meaty Chetinaad dishes. The vegetarian Brahmins of Madras regard eating as a sacred activity, 'a sacrifice to the gastric juices', and are obsessed with cleanliness. In the circumstances, only a fool or a philistine would fall for dodgy prawns.

THE Gastropod was not in India for the cricket, but for the culinary experience. There he met the chefs who are coming to London to cook at the Red Fort restaurant in Soho, which is commemorating its 10th anniversary in March with a food festival. Even with the chefs, the talk was of cricket.

From Dhaka we went to Delhi to meet chef Gurjit Singh Kochar and to eat with him at the superb Pakwan restaurant at Le Meridien Hotel. Chef Kochar, aka the Kebab King, will be taking over the tandoor at the Red Fort for the first fortnight of March to demonstrate Punjabi cookery. Over dinner, the Gastropod sampled murgh zafrani (chicken marinated with saffron), noorani seekh kebabs (a combination of chicken and lamb) and maas ke sholay (marinated leg of baby lamb), while the kindly Sikh went on at some length about the deficiency of the England team's dietary strategy.

WHILE in Delhi, the Gastropod was delighted to meet one of India's foremost food personalities, Manjit Gill, who presents a television cookery programme and who was asked by the Maharani of Jaipur to cater for the Prince and Princess of Wales during their visit last year. Apparently, the Princess was keen to know how he makes his kulfi so creamy. 'Patience,' the wise Sikh told her, 'and Temper.'

Mr Gill escorted the Gastropod to the spice market at Khari Baoli to visit the Pickle Prince, Tavinder Kumar, and stock up on his Mango Chatney and Ginger Gilroy. We found the prince in his customary position, sitting cross-legged at the entrance to his tiny shop. Like everyone else, however, he was preoccupied by the postcard-sized pictures of the Test match he was watching on a tiny television set.

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