We started the first day of the year with an early morning walk, and warm Pain au Raisins and steaming mugs of coffee at our favourite cafe. On the pavements were signs of a long night. Broken bottles and lost shoes. Remnants of a New Year’s Eve, now out of place in the clean morning light.
But every now and then, we would walk past something, a bit of nothing, which would make me stop. Odd little things with an accidental beauty.
A house with fluffy clouds above.
Mountains in the summertime?
Maybe a superhero clinging on to a rock face?
Pavements can take you places. Sometimes, even to a different continent.
On winter walks, when I burrow into my coat and walk with my head bent low, all I can see is many minutes of black, tarred ground. It’s easy to imagine, then, that I’m back in India. If I said ‘footpath’ instead of ‘pavement’, the black, tarred ground could well be Calcutta.
I could be walking down Ballygunge Circular Road. Past the tiny Post Office with just enough room for three employees, one old wooden table, a pot of lumpy homemade glue and two pens tied to the table’s unsteady leg. Past the loud, lanky students smoking their cigarettes in front of Science College. Past the stray dog, and the lamppost that stands at the narrowest part of the footpath. Straight down to the busy main road, which is divided down the middle by a tram line, and a temple. From here, and depending on the year I’ve been transported to, I could take the trundling tram to my school in Park Circus, hop on to Bus 206 to Jadavpur University, or walk across to Bondel Road to the ad agency where I worked.
I could be anywhere. The pavement under my shoes today looks no different from the one in Calcutta. But the biting cold, and the wisps of conversation of people passing by, remind me that I am still where I am.
So, I came back home from my walk, and I cooked something out of my Calcutta repertoire. I didn’t realise I had a repertoire, but there seems to be a handful of recipes that I repeat. Strangely, almost all of them smell of nostalgia. Doi Chicken is one of them.
It is such a simple dish to cook, but so gloriously good. The white gravy has the tanginess of the yogurt, and the rich smell of cinnamon, peppercorns and green chillies. And unlike most Indian dishes, the chicken is cooked in unfried minced onion and garlic.
1 kg chicken (de-skinned, on the bone)
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
4-5 cloves garlic
A 3-inch stick of cinnamon
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 tbs oil
1/2 tsp sugar
5 green chillies (this is essential for its smell, not heat)
In a blender, blitz onion, garlic and one green chilli together till pulped. (Leave out the chilli if you can’t stand heat.) Mix the pulp with the yogurt, then smother the chicken with this mix. Add salt and sugar.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the black peppercorns and cinnamon. When the peppercorns start spluttering, add the chicken. Give it a good stir, then lower heat to medium, and cover. After about 10 minutes, give it another stir, so that the chicken are turned over to a different side, then cover again and let it cook till done.
Remove from heat, add the whole chillies, and cover. Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving. This gives the dish a lovely smell from the green chillies.
Serve with steamed rice.