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It’s a very desi Christmas



The idea that most people have of a traditional Christmas spread is exemplified by a roast turkey taking centrestage on the table, surrounded by veggies like honey-glazed carrots, mushrooms, brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes. In the West, a family will typically sit for lunch wearing Christmas hats and pull crackers that contain pieces of paper with riddles in them, before loading their plates with the afore-mentioned dishes.

Then, they will sit under the tree in the living room and open the presents lying underneath, and end the afternoon playing board games, watching Christmas specials on the telly or taking part in some other such bonding exercise, since the essence of December 25 abroad lies in spending time with relatives.

But all that goes for a toss in India. Here, Christmas translates into party time. And though we have partly appropriated the roast turkey-cum-veggies model for Christmas lunches, many Christian communities in the country have their own distinctive menus that reflect the cuisine they have grown up with across generations (the festival is incomplete for Goans without vindaloo, for instance). This year, some city restaurants have decided to doff their hats to these Indian menus, bucking the trend of a western Christmas spread. Here’s what their feasts entail.

A Goan extravaganza
I think a lot of restaurants try to ape the West, but a turkey roast is really alien to, for example, a Goan home,” says Hussain Shahzad, head chef at Mumbai’s celebrated Goan restaurant, O Pedro, that is rooted in authenticity. Shahzad is helming a tantalising Christmas spread which will be available at the space through this season and which is inspired by a gamut of catalysts.

Hussain Shahzad

This includes meals he has had inside Goan homes, his travels through Portugal, and Indian-American chef and restaurant partner Floyd Cardoz’s duck curry recipe that Shahzad has re-imagined as a duck roast marinated in the same spices Cardoz’s mom used many moons ago. On offer are classics like smoked pork sorpotel, Mama Beryll’s Christmas pulao (a spicy seafood and tomato rice), mackerel reshado, and a luscious Christmas cake. “It’s that time of the year when you cook celebratory meals that might be cumbersome to carry out through the year or to feature in the regular menu. This gives us the opportunity to go all out,” Shahzad shares, giving us a peek into what one can expect at the feast.

God’s own Christmas
Sarah and Vinod Nair are a husband-wife chef duo looking to spread awareness about Kerala’s culinary spectrum. And it was the shared love for mallu food that the couple and popular eatery Thangabali’s owners Amit Jambotkar and Dharmesh Karmokar bonded over when they met during an event this month.

Syrian chilli beef. Pics/Bipin Kokate

This, in turn, spurred the idea of a unique Christmas feast that is “reflective of the Syrian Christian style of cooking that has been conceptualised around the Suriani kitchen, where masalas are hand-pounded and ingredients are fresh,” Vinod explains.

Vinod G Nair

The spread, which took two weeks of cooking, sampling, and tasting represents the spirit of Yuletide in Kerala, and features authentic dishes like Syrian chilli beef fry, tomato kappa puzhingiathu with coconut and pulichammanthi, and chicken ularthiyathu. “These traditional dishes are rarely seen in restaurants and evoke memories of childhood and abandon,” the chef says, speaking of what to look forward to.

A winning vindaloo
The inspiration for the spread at this Worli restaurant and bar comes from Chef Rakesh Talwar’s childhood.

Lamb vindaloo. Pics/Sneha Kharabe
Lamb vindaloo. Pics/Sneha Kharabe

“Years ago, my dad had a Goan colleague whose house we would go to for Christmas, and the festival for me meant only vindaloo. In fact, the dish was so important to me that I would take some of it home as my Christmas gift. I was less bothered about what was wrapped under the tree,” he reminisces. And with that memory in mind, the Christmas spread he has prepared is a tribute to pre-1962 Goa, when the Portuguese influence in the state was at its peak.

Chef Rakesh Talwar

“That’s when all these recipes actually came into being,” Talwar says, adding that the meal at the restaurant will include chicken cafreal, Goan fish curry and aloo gobi with mustard, “to keep the vegetarians happy, because you have to take care of them as well”. But lamb vindaloo will remain as the standout item because it’s a dish without which Christmas loses its appeal in Goan households, and which serves as a fragment of chef Talwar’s early years.

Eat like an East Indian
Chef Michael Swamy is the author of the award-winning book, The East Indian Kitchen. He tells us that the community, which he is a part of, borrows heavily from Goans for their own Christmas spread.

Michael Swamy

“We have a vindaloo, meatball curry and sorpotel as well,” he says, adding that nothing has changed since his own childhood. And when asked why the spread is so different from what’s served in the West, he replies, “It’s because we have all our indigenous dishes here that are spicy, and over the years, people have stuck to the food they like, rather than having roast chicken and all that.”

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