As a marathon World Cup drew to an end, it was only good food and a soft bed that could lift the spirits after the day-long slogging that goes into the reporting of a cricket match. England is a good host that way, offering an expansive range of food that allows everyone to stay in a happy space. Till the next time.
Cheers to Edgbaston, Lord’s
I take back my words. Press box food doesn’t suck all the time. Not only is the media luncheon at Edgbaston one of the best I have ever had, they also border on fine dining at times, especially the dessert section. That smoked bacon in brioche rolls made my morning every day. But the pick has to be the fare served during the match between New Zealand and Pakistan. At the carvery section was a braised shoulder of lamb with pan gravy, summer veggies and garlic cocotte potatoes.
The meat and fish platter included two types of salmon (cured and pickled), mackerel, trout, mussels, shell on garlic prawns and cold cuts of tandoori chicken, which frankly was the only item I disliked. For those inclined towards Indian food, there was chicken bhuna and lamb biryani.
But top of the line again was the dessert section that had Eton Mess, honeycomb, marshmallows, double-layered chocolate domes, sponge cakes and a selection of cheese and crackers. Can you beat that? Oh yes! With evening snacks like potpies, quiches, icing topped cupcakes and strawberry jelly filled muffins with toppings of cream and a slice of strawberry, writing match reports had got bloody difficult. Lord’s was memorable too. Strawberries (and berries) and cream, served Wimbledon style, was the perfect way to cap the summer evenings.
The ever wonderful Chinese quarters
If foodgasm is a proper word, it must have been coined while eating crispy duck. It’s what is there just under the skin that matters, that thin layer of fat that floods your mouth with juices once you start chewing. Now, when it comes to roasting meat, the Chinese are the undisputed champions.
And for good three weeks, I was one of the biggest benefactors of Cantonese-style roasting, staying opposite to the Chinese quarters in Birmingham. Located strategically close to the Birmingham New Street Station was ‘Look In’—a small place managed by a family of two sisters, their parents and a grumpy waitress— that lured cricket fans every match-day evening with their window display of roasted pork, duck and chicken, in front of the meat chopping section. Mother and sisters took orders while the father chopped meat the whole day. That has been his routine for over 20 years now. Three-meat rice was my staple. That’s boiled rice with a slight drizzle of soy, some bokchoy and topped with rows of crispy pork, crispy duck and crispy chicken. If only every afternoon was like this.
Home is where the heart is
There will however come a day when you get tired of cheeseburgers, full English breakfasts, cold cuts, fish and chips and—as sacrilegious as it might sound—even the chicken tikka masala and naan. The Bengali in me had started yearning for simple yellow dal, rice and aloo bhaja. I was utterly miserable. Till one day a Bangladeshi journalist told me about Ponchokhana, a Birmingham restaurant that specialises in bhuna and fish. I thanked him profusely, took the next available bus and reached the small restaurant on Coventry Road. Owner Mukaddem Ahmed Chowdhury—cashier and floor manager as well—was over the moon when he heard I was from Kolkata. Mashrafe Mortaza was a regular customer when Bangladesh were based in Birmingham. He suggested hilsa for me. I ordered sorshe ilish (mustard hilsa), dal and aloo bhaja. The first few mouthfuls was pure bliss.
But I was woken out of my trance by the jolt of mustard. Unlike in Bangladesh where they prefer whole mustard, Bengalis grind it before steaming the hilsa in its sauce. I still cleaned out my plate before I was told about the dinner specials: meat bhuna and curried duck. I hurried back, took a nap and returned for a scrumptious dinner of bhuna and crispy paratha. Didn’t feel too good waking up next morning, but it was worth it.