Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pritha Sen's Railway Mutton Curry -- Bengali style

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My first train journey, or rather the one that I can recall, because there must have been many before that, is of an over crowded Darjeeling Express or maybe Tinshukia Mail. I think it was the Darjeeling Express because if I remember correct only my Mother and I were traveling, to Dida' house in Kolkata during a winter vacation.

Ma's friend from the neighborhood P-pishi was also traveling the same day on the same train. The train was packed as I remember and faint conversations of something about a natok er dol--a drama company troupe occupying our seats in a second class compartment bubbles through memory. Those were polite times and I think my Ma and P-pishi agreed to share their reserved seats with the folks from the troupe who had last minute bookings and not enough reservations. I was all of five or maybe six and went off to sleep curled up in whatever little space we had.

And then my memory gets stronger and there is a loud voice that says "Malda eshe geche. Malda. Seddho dim khabi na ?" (We have reached Malda Station. Malda. Don't you want a boiled egg?)
I am sure there was a past history of my eating and loving the warm to touch boiled egg at Malda Station for my Mother to have woken me from a slumber in a crowded train to offer those. Those freshly boiled eggs, sliced along the length and sprinkled with coarse white salt and crushed black pepper were proffered through the iron grills of the train window by the Dimwala on the platform. I scarfed down two of them and went back to sleep. And yet again the very mention of the everyday boiled eggs brings to my mind Malda Station and I have a strong belief that no egg ever tasted that good.

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Just like an omelet brings to mind the double dim er omelet or double egg omelet at the Railway canteen in Patna Junction. Once you pushed aside those swing doors, the Railway Canteen was a place with white napkins and waiters in stiff starched uniform very unlike the crowded and loud station just outside. Every year on our annual journey it was a ritual to have a plate of  kadak toast with Amul butter and double dim er omelet at the canteen. I still remember that how I would be disappointed by the omelet every year, because though it was made with two eggs, it wasn't a thick omelet but a large thin one which filled the entire size of a dinner plate.And yet every year without fail I would order the same at the Railway canteen.


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Next was an older me, maybe a 10 year old, a first class coupe with sliding doors and a corridor outside. I loved the first class coupe, way more than the A/C coaches we traveled in later. The coupe gave you the privacy and the wind blowing on your face through the wide open windows, one of the main reasons I loved train journeys.

The evening we boarded the train, a three stack high stainless steel tiffin carrier carried our dinner. Soon after the train had pulled out, Ma would spread newspapers on the rexine covered berths and open the latches of the tiffin carrier to reveal steel containers filled with luchi, sada alu chorchori and sondesh. But more than that I looked forward to the next day's lunch, the one we could not carry from home and had to order from the railway catering service. I would always order a chicken curry and rice, Baba would do the same and Ma would order a Veg meal. Dining cars were phased out by then and the catering service loaded trays of cooked food from designated stations. Lunch would arrive in those steel rectangular plates with compartments-- rice, pickle, a watery dal and a chicken curry with a thin layer of oil floating on a scarlet colored gravy which would inevitably have spilled onto the dal with the motion of the train. It was not an extraordinary curry and I clearly don't recall its taste.

But the experience of food in a train with the wind rustling through the open windows, the green paddy fields stretched towards the horizon, the little village boys standing by the railway lines waving their scrawny limbs to the marching beat of the iron wheels is something that makes it exemplary merely by situation.

Like the dim-seddho and the chicken curry, I am sure for many of my generation growing up in India, Food and railway journeys are closely intertwined. JhaalMuri at Kharagpur, Guavas with pink insides at Allahabad, Medu Vadas on the southern line, Puri Sabzi at Moghalsarai, Mihidana at Bardhaman -- we all have our train food favorites.

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So when I first saw this recipe of Railway Mutton Curry shared by Pritha Sen at Atul Sikand's page Sikandulous Cuisne, I knew I had to try it, if only because of its name. Pritha Sen, from Gurgaon has immense knowledge about history of Indian food and her narrative on  this curry made it all the more interesting. Her story about origin of this dish dates further back, when South eastern railway was called BNR and trains came with salons and dining cars.

With her permission, I am reproducing part of her article in her own words:

"Many a classic dish has been born out of necessity, culture, lifestyle, ethnicity and the ingredients available locally. Many of them are a testimony of the times. There are certain tastes that linger and many years later surface in our urban kitchens as a salute to those chefs whose ingenuity created them in the first place. So we got our seekh kebabs from the marauding Mongols who fanned out from Central Asia across the world, spreading their seed as well as their cuisine. Their spears served as the seekhs to roast pieces of meat over the campfire in the evenings. Then there are the now famous stories about Dum Pukht cuisine or the Mongolian hot pot and in more recent times, Tandoori Chicken and Chicken Butter Masala or American Chopsuey and Chicken/Gobi Manchurian!

One such form of cuisine was that which was developed by the entourage of cooks and bearers who travelled with officers serving in the administrative, forest and railway services in India in colonial times. They cooked with whatever they carried with them or was locally available at their place of halt, flavouring the dishes with a blend of sleight of hand, what the Memsahib had taught them and dollops of ethnicity. And thus was born dishes like the Railway Mutton or Chicken Curry, the Railway Aloo curry with triangular Atta Parathas, Dak Bungalow Mutton Curry, Madras Club Qorma, Dak Bungalow Roast Chicken, the Rose Custard and of course Bread Puddings and Caramel Custard.

I was fortunate enough to have grown up in this legacy of the Raj, as a child of the Railways, when there were dining cars on trains, complete with tables for four covered with white damask and set with proper crockery and silver. Think back to that scene in Satyajit Ray's 'Nayak' where Sharmila Tagore starts her interview with Uttam Kumar. Liveried waiters padded about silently, serving known railway delicacies of those times – fish fry with tartar sauce, mutton breast cutlets on the bone, perfectly fried finger chips with tomato sauce, finely cut chicken sandwiches, chicken and tomato soups, mulligatawny soups and side dishes of roast chicken and boiled vegetables or mutton stew with bread, or chicken/mutton curry rice. The menu was limited but delicious.

When my father went on tour, which was referred to as ‘going on Line’ the phrase originating from ‘line inspection’, Naresh, our old peon, a relic of the Raj himself, packed his Line Box or Line Peti as he called it. A Line Box was a 2ft by 3ft rectangular wooden box, which had a tray with partitions on top of the main unit. The bottom was packed with rice, flour, dal, spices etc. The top tray held potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger in neat compartments. Naresh then loaded it onto Baba’s saloon, an entire railway coach converted to house a sitting-cum-dining room, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, pantry and staff quarters. Naresh travelled with him along with an assistant, cooking Baba fresh meals as he travelled for days from one railway junction to another.

We, as a family, also travelled with him at times living in the saloon and eating and sleeping as the steam engine chugged across India, spewing vicious black fumes. No worries. We children were well ensconced in our fairy tale moving home, revelling in wondrous delight at the shining stainless steel hand showers in the bathrooms which we had never seen before and kitchens fitted with tall coal ovens to roast the chicken to a turn and bake the perfect dessert.

The railway cuisine as I realise today was generously tempered with a South Indian flavour. The reason being that during my childhood or perhaps before that much of the Class IV railway staff were South Indians, mainly Telugus from Andhra Pradesh. The engine drivers and ticket collectors or station masters were Anglo-Indians, the last of the community left in Railway service before they all emigrated to Australia. So the dishes we were served were a blend of Anglo-Indian, Bengali and South Indian, cooked to perfection.

I leave you with one such dish which today rightly occupies pride of place on many restaurant menus that serve Anglo-Indian or Raj cuisine. I promise to come back with more.
"


 

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Pritha Di shared two recipes of this mutton curry. The first one was courtesy Jennifer Brennan and apparently the more authentic one and had Curry leaves and Coconut Milk. I selected the second one which was more Bengali than South Indian.This was from Bengal in later times: Courtesy Basav Mukherjee. I adapted the recipe making small changes but sticking to the core of the wonderful masala paste that lends the curry its special flavor. Don't get intimidated by the length of the post or ingredient list. All of them can be found in your kitchen pantry and if you follow the steps, it takes no longer than a regular mutton curry.




Railway Mutton Curry

What you Need

Mutton ~ 4lb with bone, usually shoulder or back leg. After washing, mutton was marinated overnight
Onion -- 2 large chopped in slices= 4 cups of sliced onion
Tomatoes -- 1 cup pureed
Potatoes ~ 2 large potatoes chopped in quarters

Whole Garam Masala -- 2 Black cardamom, 6 green cardamom, 2" stick of cinnamon, 8 clove, 4 bay leaves, 3 strands of javetri, 8 dry red chilli

Special Masala Paste

Coriander seeds ~ 2 tsp
Cumin Seeds ~ 2 tsp
Fennel seeds or Saunf ~ 2 tsp
Whole black Peppercorns -- 15
Dry Red Chilli -- 8
Garlic -- 8 fat cloves
Ginger -- 2" piece finely chopped
Kashmiri Mirch -- 2 tsp
Sugar -- 1/2 tsp

For Gravy

Garlic paste -- 1 tbsp
Ginger paste -- 1 tbsp

Water ~ 1.5 cups

Garam Masala ~ 1 tsp
Green Chillies -- 3-4

Mustard Oil -- 4 tbsp

How I Did It

Preparation :

Marinate mutton overnight with
2 tsp ginger paste, 
2tsp garlic paste, 
2 tsp mustard oil, 
1 tsp vinegar, 
salt 
2 tsp Kashmiri Mirch
and Turmeric powder
 

Make the Special Masala paste:
Heat a small pan or kadhai.

Add the
coriander seeds, 
cumin seeds, 
fennel seeds, 
dried red chillies, 
peppercorns and roast till fragrant.

Once roasted, add the above spices to a blender along with
8 big cloves of garlic 
2 inch of ginger, roughly chopped
2 tsp of Kashmiri red chilli powder
1 tbsp Mustard Oil

Make a fine paste adding splash of water if necessary. Add 1/2 tsp sugar to the paste. The paste is where the magic lies.


Start Cooking :
In a pressure cooker or a fry pan, add 3 tablespoons of mustard oil.

Heat the oil till its smoking. Fry the potatoes in the oil. Once the potatoes turn golden yellow with brown spots, remove and keep aside

Now, reduce the flame and  add the whole garam masala
2 Black cardamom, 
6 green cardamom, 
2" stick of cinnamon, 
8 clove, 
4 bay leaves, 
3 strands of javetri, 
8 dry red chilli

Once you get the fragrance of the whole spices add
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste. 
Fry them for about a minute.

Now add the sliced onion and fry with a sprinkle of salt. Fry the onion, stirring constantly, till they get browned and caramelized.

Next goes in the pureed tomatoes which needs to be fried for 3-4 minutes till raw smell is gone.

Next add the mutton pieces to this.Increase the flame to high and fry the mutton pieces in high heat till mutton loses its raw color. The mutton will sear and turn a light brown

Reduce the flame a bit and let the mutton release its juices.
At medium heat, continue to saute or kashao  the mutton till you see a layer of oil floating. Stir continuously. This takes a good 20-25 minutes

Now add the Special Masala that you have prepared and mix it with the meat. Fry everything together for next 5-7 minutes.

Add back the potatoes to the mix and reduce flame to low.

Add about 1.5 cups of water. Add salt to taste. I added water though the original recipe did not ask for it.

Bring the gravy to a boil and then close the pressure cooker lid.Reduce the flame to the lowest and pressure cook the curry for 15 minutes. Towards the end of 15 mins, increase the heat and cook for 8  minutes at full pressure

Once you can open the cooker lid, break 3-4 green chillies and add to the curry for an awesome flavor
Also add one tsp of garam masala powder and stir.

Close the cooker lid again  and let this rest for about an hour. Serve with steaming white rice.

55 comments:

  1. I would hug your article if I could, coz it takes me right back to my childhood and some beautiful memories that just became very strong now. I could almost reach out and touch them again.
    Beautifully written, thank you. And now I have to try the railway mutton curry too.

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    1. I fully agree with this....same feengs

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    2. Not the curry that you can find in trains today though. I think these are vastly different

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  2. Quite a nostalgic piece . Congratulations !

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    1. Thank you. What was your favorite Railway food ?

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  3. Sandipa Aunty, this is one of your best written pieces till date. And recipes too

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  4. Sandeepa, WONDERFUL!
    took me back to my regular train journeys from Durgapur to Varanasi!!
    Just like your "Malda eshe geche..deem khabi na?"
    it reminded me of the early morning arrival of the train at Mughalsarai..where the tea guys woke me up with "CHAY-O..CHAY-O..."
    ;-)
    d

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    1. Even in recent years, ami Bidhan bole ekta train ache DGP theke Kol oitate giyechilam, shudhu Jhaalmuri khabo bole !!!

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  5. WIll the same recipe work for chicken?

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    1. Tray na. That masala paste is very good, should work fine but obviously mutton has its own taste which you won't get

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  6. Where can I read more of Prita Sen's writing? The recipe looks wonderful, can't wait to try it.

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    1. I don't think she writes publicly. I have reproduced all of her writing on this particular recipe in italics

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  7. Sandeepadi,
    Your post took me back to the many many train journeys that I undertook from college (in Delhi) to home (Asansol). Like you, we had our regular foods at every station. I can still taste the bread-omelette at MughalSarai, the chat at Tundla, the "Rampiyari Chai" somewhere in Bihar and so on... Later it was the bread-doublefried egg the VT station in Bombay and peda at Allahabad (not sure about this). I have such wonderful memories of these train rides that not even a first class air travel could stand up in comparison. On the way back from home I always had the packed "porota-mangsho" and sandwiches. Oh! did you ever try the Continental dinner on Rajdhani? That was a great creation too. Ekbar train-e kore shiggiri Delhi jete hocche, just to relive that journey. Sigh!
    A lovely post as always. Keep writing forever,
    Sutapa :)

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    1. Loved reading about your experinece. "Rampiyari Cha" sounds so good.

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  8. awesome curry, gorgeous clicks as always, made us remember our college days too
    miss them even more after viewing this post :-)

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    1. Do share your favorite food on train journeys

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  9. I didn't do such long journeys by train, only short overnight ones, nor did I eat the stuff that was sold on the way. Now there is a day train, and they sell biscuits and other packed snacks. I have the omelette for breakfast once in a while but that's it. Scared to eat anything mostly because the sight of the dirty pantry car puts me off.

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    1. On the overnight ones we mostly had "JhaalMuri" which is really awesome when had in trains and boiled eggs and tea. Rest was packed home food. But I have had idli from stations, lovely guavas, but rarely any fried stuff like puri.
      The Railway canteen in the late 70's would be really good with waiters in starched uniform

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  10. Pritha di has simply created what we bengalis call oshadharon dish. Mutton curry falls under that category and poses a challenge for foodies. Also loved your reminiscence of your 1st train journey to Siliguri.
    Deepa

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    1. I loved the spice paste in this dish, very good. Pritha Di no doubt shared an awesome recipe

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  11. I've never cried reading a food post before!! This one takes me back to my childhood. Being a "daughter of the Railways" as an uncle calls my sister and me, your post makes me relive all those memories- from being shunted around in a meter gauge train in the dead of the night where bulbs didn't work (they'd been stolen, we found out in the morning!) due to a missed connection to the "transfer" journey when we shifted from Benaras to Lucknow and our dog barked herself hoarse and had to be given cough syrup, and oh! so many more trips- not one that didn't have some weirdness to it! Then I envied people who traveled by air. Now I envy my parents who can still undertake train journeys courtesy Indian Railways whereas I can't due to lack of time. Our bungalow peon in Benaras used to cook Railway Mutton Curry- a closely guarded secret recipe... And I'm tempted to try out yours even if its to see if I can recreate those flavours of childhood.

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    1. Please do cook and see if it is same. Pritha Sen who shared the recipe too calls herself from a "railway family". It is so good to see how Indian Railways have opened our floodgate. Though these days I don't want to travel in their trains in fear of the bathrooms!!!

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    2. I finally made it!!!

      The Hubby got lamb instead of goat. But it worked! :) Aside from the addition of potato and literally very little floating oil which would've been quite a sacrilege to the North Indian in me before my high cholesterol days, it tasted pretty similar to what I've eaten... :) Tried tagging you in my FB pic but it doesn't work for some reason.

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    3. Well finally made it!
      Aside from the fact that the Hubby got lamb instead of goat (or rather was duped into it!) and potatoes, the addition of which would've probably killed our bungalow peon- its not the done thing with us North Indians to "increase the quantity of meat curry with potatoes"!!!- everything else tasted the same! I tried tagging you in my FB pic, but I'm probably not so tech-friendly, so wasn't able to figure it out...

      Went down a dream with Hubby and 2 SILs, so I guess I must've done it right... :)

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  12. Took me to my early childhood memory (I was 5 yrs old then) of traveling to Hardwar in Doon express with my family. I remember water at that time was served in glass bottles along with the food in compartmentalized steel plates.

    Sandeepadi, tomar boita kinlaam. Tomar amake mon-e thakbe na..ami Radiophysics e tomar ek bochhorer junior. Deborshi-da chinleo chinte pare

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    1. Do mail me at sandeepa(dot)blog(at)gmail(dot)com

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  13. Ami student thakte train e jawa asha korechi tobey agekar moton eto bhalo khabar bodh hoye ar aajkal hoye na. Mutton er rong ta ki bhalo dekhacche. Javitri barite thake na .. tobey onno jinishgulo diye besh hobe mone hocche. :-)

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    1. Khabar to chere dao amar khub ichhe kore BS ar LS ke niye India gele train e kacha kachi kothao jabo. Oi bathroom er bhoy ar kothao jai na.

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  14. great article fully enjoyable thanks for sharing with me.
    Elevator Pune

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  15. What a lovely post, Sandeepa.

    Like you, my memories of train journeys are filled with memories of food stops and vendors. I particularly remember the guy who boarded the train near Jhargram (on the Howrah-Jamshedpur/Rourkela segment) and sold kheer kodombo. These were the best kheer kodombos I have eaten in my life: soft, fresh, and utterly sublime with their melt-in-your-mouth-and-go-to-dessert-heaven kind of feel. I also remember looking forward to eating luchi and alur chokha in a sal thonga at Kharagpur. And who can forget the vegetable chop, jhal muri, ghugni, chana, moshambi, peyara and sosha walas on our local trains. Thank you for bringing these memories back to life.

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    1. Wow Kheer Kodombo ? I loved it so much more than rosgolla. Don't get kheer kodombo here :( My Mother did not allow the puri or ghugni but I did eat the other stuff. Jhaal Muri on train is something different. Shosha too right ?

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  16. I grew up in a vegetarian household and most of our train journeys included the ubiquitous puri subzi which mom would pack in large steel tiffin carriers like yours. If we had friends or relations living near any stations, they were requested to pack a meal for us. Clearly my parents didn't trust railway food at all! I have great memories of a boxed dinner packed in cardboard that a friend of the family gave us in Benares/Agra (don't remember which station) with the softest paneer I'd ever had! I traveled by Indian trains last year after a long time. The food on the rajdhani and shatabdi was decent. Edible, but not great. Had to eat vegetarian again as my inlaws, who were my only traveling companions, are veg. I'd love to try this curry. When you say mutton, do you mean goat meat? Or I could just make it with chicken!

    I loved your picnicker murgi by the way. It was beyond delicious.

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    1. Goat meat. I have not tried this recipe with chicken. Should be good
      Vegetarina co-passengers had amazing paratha and achaars that smelled divine. I can still recall those mirchi achaars, stuffed fat red ones. Delish.
      I never liked the breakfast in Satabdi and have not had food in Rajdhani. Don't like A/c coaches because of the grimy windows. Why don't they clean them and the bathromms , oh the bathrooms :( I fear to travel in train with the girls for that sole reason, else what a lovely experience it would have been

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    2. Also don't you think buying food from stations is increasingly difficult in A/c coaches ? What is a guava that has not been passed through a window grill :-D

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    3. Well, as a child we rarely traveled by AC coaches, so yes, a lot of fruits and snacks (jhal muri, anyone?) were passed in and out of windows. Without fail, every time we took a train to Bombay, we'd be woken up by chants of 'Lonavala chikki' at an obscenely early hour.

      I was actually pleasantly surprised by the train systems this time around. The loos were very clean! I was not looking forward to taking the train for that very reason but the loos were actually reasonably clean and usable. Actually better than some public restrooms in New Jersey. There's hope yet for the Indian railway!

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  17. Very nostalgic.......brought back the memories of the eventful train journeys

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  18. Sandeepa, since you have made me famous by so kindly featuring me, thought I'd copy paste the first recipe too and it share it with everyone. Also clarify that there was a version made without coconut milk and curry patta and was nice and fiery. It's mentioned at the end of my recipe. Try it. It's very good. Here it is:

    Make a stock with chicken or mutton bones, whatever you are using, with about a litre of water, a piece of ginger and keep boiling till it reduces to about half. Should be nice and rich.

    Put about one tsp whole jeera, 2 tbsp whole coriander seeds, dry red chillies to taste, some garlic and ginger in a blender and make a paste. Add some turmeric powder.

    Lightly fry potatoes and keep aside.

    Slice onions fine. Heat oil. (This dish can be made with very little oil – one and a half tbsp.). Add onions and kari patta and fry till soft. Add the masala paste and fry quickly on high heat and add the meat, potatoes and strained reduced stock and half a cup of coconut milk and salt to taste. Let it cook on slow fire. If you using mutton then put on low pressure.
    When meat and potatoes are done, add about 2-3 tsps of tamarind pulp, a little ghee and take off fire.

    This recipe was originally made in ghee. A variation is without coconut milk. You can do without the curry patta as well. Both taste very good.

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    1. You know this recipe with coconut milk is almost like a Kerala Stew. I will do this version, soon though might use store bought stock. What do you think ?

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  19. And thank you everyone and especially the very special Bong Mom for all the appreciation and kind words. :-)

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    1. Thank you for sharing this delicious recipe and your memories with us.

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  20. I would do it without the coconut milk and curry patta but keep the tamarind. That's how I like it and perhaps that's how I had it. It's a lovely, fiery thin curry.

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  21. Hi Sandeepa,

    When I was a kid I read the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder (of Little House On the Prairie fame). Her family traveled by covered wagon back in the day, and her mom packed hard boiled eggs which were served "on a paper with pepper and salt to dip them in" as I recall. That always appealed to me and your egg memory reminded me of that :) Anyway, I love the railway stories -- I imagine the various meals at various stops in India are not unlike the various bento boxes at various stations in Japan. I wish I could sample them all! :)

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  22. I tried it out today and it was super tasty.... my husband was licking his fingers and told me that this was the best mutton that ive cooked.. the only place i had an issue was that the special masala was course and not smooth as in the picture...
    nevertheless .... the next thing im going to try out are the stuffed tomatoes with keema and also buy your lovely book.....

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    1. Thanks Devinaa. Masala not smooth might be a blender issue, try in a sammel wet spice grinder.
      The stuffed tomatoes are lovely, add cheese only towards the end else it burns a bit. I learned the hard way

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  23. I had a small get together for a few friends and my menu included your sis in law's methi chiken and the stuffed tomatoes and it was an instant hit.... you are truely amazing.. buying your book now.....

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  24. i tried this.....and believe it came out really well..........my hubby loved it...we even tried mutton curry...wt the same....tttthnx...aapnar dhannobad!
    http://makeupreviewandbeautyblog.blogspot.in/

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  25. Very lucid narration... reminded me of my childhood.. and fond memories of travelling to mamabari at Madhupur by train. Loved both the recipes. the one in the comment section even more.

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  26. excellent recipe. i tried it with chicken drumsticks though. i don't know why but it reminded me of dhaba style chicken. one quick thing, i did not have time to marinate the chicken overnight. so, i put ginger garlic paste on it and then baked it without lid till it becomes brown. and then follow the rest of your recipe. this trick is useful especially if your recipe asks for frying the meat.

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  27. More than the recipe, it's the accompanying story by Pritha Sen that I enjoyed the most( well the recipe is also good). As a person born in the 80s I have never experienced any train journey like this, I wonder this story belongs to which period of Indian railways.

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  28. Really enjoy reading your blog... I tried out this recipe last week, and it turned out to be finger-licking good... Thanks for sharing! I happened to mention to my Bong friend whose wife introduced me to Bong food about how much I loved this curry, and he mentioned that there is a Dak Bungalow Mutton Curry... Have you ever heard of it?

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  29. Can I make this curry with Chicken?

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