Some of you, my dear readers, might be able to translate that title with ease (education is a marvellous thing). The Gateway to the Indies is my stab at it; but why is it a French title for a book of Indian food? The subtitle is The legacy of France in Indian regional cuisine and, yes, there is indeed a region of India that was a little piece of France …till 1954.
I had already some idea about Pondicherry as my father had spent time there in the 1940s (his friend, Taffy, being “deported” to India for having a liaison with the daughter of a civil servant) but I had no idea that the French food connection had lasted so long. It’s subtle but unmistakable.
There are in fact deux Portes des Indes restaurants, one in London and the other in Brussels, where it originated. Not probably the city with the closest of Indian connections but evidently one which was open to new culinary trends. La Porte des Indes is part of the Blue Elephant empire and has the same sumptuous decor, that has become the trademark of both restaurants.
The vibrant driving forces behind both the restaurant and the cookbook are Mehernosh and Sherin Mody. The book has also benefited from the skills of food and travel writer John Hellon and we have the gorgeous results of their collaboration. It’s contemporary, bright and full of amazing close-up shots by celebrated photographer Tony le Duc.
But the food is the star. There are familiar dishes but even these have been given the La Porte twist. I hadn’t expected to see Chicken Tikka Masala, which has become a cliché of Anglicised Indianish food. This dish, however, is something a bit smart and has a sauce of turmeric yellow. A cut above the original.
A signature dish of La Porte des Indes is Poulet Rouge (Chicken in a Creamy Red Sauce) but it is easy for a home cook to make this dish. It’s rich and stunning and just what you’ll cook if you want to impress on a budget. Chicken thighs are economic and the other ingredients are readily available in your local supermarket.
The marinade and sauce are all Indian
Duck is one of those archetypical French ingredients so here we have Magret de Canard Pulivaar (Roasted Duck Breasts in a Spicy Tamarind Sauce). The meat might make you think of romantic bistro meals in Paris but the marinade and sauce are all Indian. Madame Lourdes Swamy of Pondicherry is the originator of this recipe.
This is a restaurant cookbook so it has a chapter devoted to cocktails, and just the names will transport you to the subcontinent. Monsoon (Midori, melon vodka and champagne), Tamarind Martini (gin, limoncello and tamarind puree) are just a couple and there are also some lovely desserts.
Indian restaurant desserts are often a disappointing bunch but La Porte des Indes Cookbook has some unique and classy ones. Payasam (green lentils and tender coconut pudding) is a stunner but it would demand a visit to an Asian supermarket. Chocolate and Chikki Kulfi is Belgian Chocolate and Praline Ice Cream and a true liaison of two of the world’s classic culinary cultures.
La Porte des Indes Cookbook is something a bit special. It’s modern and full of innovation but it cherishes its French/Indian roots which have combined to create a cuisine with touches of both. A joy to read and to cook from.
Cookbook review: La Porte des Indes Cookbook
Authors: Mehernosh Mody, Sherin Mody and John Hellon
Published by: Pavilion
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018