Shisha Cafe

I grew up a very protected child – not being allowed out at night while all my friends hung out and/or
partied. I never complained because it didn’t matter. Besides, I was too scared to ask for money to have
fun all the time. Anyway, this isn’t a sob story. You can continue reading.

I’m grown up now. I work in the city I grew up in. And my parents have grown far cooler in the three years I’ve been away. Or may be they’ve come to realize that I’m not as irresponsible and unaware of the world as they might have imagined I was. It’s a nice feeling. Empowering, in a way. To be spending your own money.

The point, here, is that everybody always raved about Shisha Cafe and the hookah and the gigs that happened there. And I’d visited only one time, for about thirty minutes. I will not lie. It hurt a little.

I’m not a hookah person because it fucks with my throat completely, so that was out. The first time (or so to say) I went there was a few weeks ago with @NikxTwits, for a few beers and life-altering decisions. Heh. No, just the beers.

And I went there again the following week because I had promised a friend I would take him to dinner.

I like the seating upstairs better than that downstairs because it’s cozier. It has prettier artifacts to
look at. It’s warmer, even, in some ways. The setting (both, upstairs and downstairs) is very middle
Eastern – diwans with pretty Persian (esque) rugs, low tables, hookahs and candles in what used to once be kerosene lamps. It’s all very pretty and romantic. Sometimes that just makes all the difference. Not to say there was any romance involved, I picked the place only because I was craving Iranian food.

The food didn’t disappoint. Not one bit. To begin with, the portions are ginormous. If you’re looking to
order starters AND a main course, you’re better of being called an ogre. We made that mistake. We ordered
for a vegetarian platter (the friend, he’s vegetarian for most part). There were corn kebabs and paneer
tikkas and mushroom kebabs – all of which were good. There were also baked (baby) potatoes drizzled with
cheese and to me, they just seemed a little out of place.

For the main course, we ordered Sabzi Polo and Zereshk Polo.

The former was the most delectable herb rice served with kukuh, which is an omlette stuffed green leafy
vegetables, as was stated on the menu. The plate, as you see, was stacked a whole lot of lightly flavoured rice and four quarters of a deep green omlette.

A little bit of web reading (it’s something I love doing, when it comes to food) tells me that the kukuh, in several ways, in similar to a frittata – a yummy, whoelsome omlette. While there are a number of kukuh (also spelled kookoo) recipes, the kukuh sabzi is most popular – the greens used being Scallion, Parsley, Chives, Coriander, Dill, Spinach, Lettuce, Fenugreek leaves.

Herbs are sauteed. Eggs are mixed into the herbs, along with salt, pepper and turmeric (or something they call an Advieh spice mixture). This is then poured into a preheated oiled pan, covered and cooked over low heat until set, sometimes flipped or finished in a hot oven. The amount of herb ingredients usually greatly exceeds the amount of eggs, which merely serve to hold the kukuh together, making the predominant flavor that of the herbs rather than that of a typical ‘egg omlette’. My brain tells me it’s a recipe worth giving a shot at, at home. May be a Sunday brunch. Let’s see.

So, Polo in Persian, is rice. And chelo is par-boiled rice which is then put back in a pot for further steaming, thus making it exceptionally fluffy and non-sticky. I know I love chelo kebabs. I’d eaten them at a Meditteranean joint in Raleigh. I guess I just forgot to blog about it. Or forgot to do my food-reading, when I did. That brings me to the difference between Polo and Chelo. The difference is not the way the rice is cooked but rather the fact that Chelo is usually just plain rice which is served with a stew or kebab while Polo is rice mixed with something such as berries, in the Zereshk Polo.

The Zereshk Polo was cranberry rice served with chicken. They also serve it with beef, but I assumed my
friend might have liked to taste it (he didn’t), and chicken seemed like a religiously less-offensive
option.

Zereshk (Scientific Name: Berberis vulgaris, Common Name: Barberry) is a dried fruit widely cultivated in
Iran. Iran is the largest producer of zereshk and saffron (which, interestingly, are produced on the same
land and the harvest is at the same time) in the world. A garden of zereshk is called zereshk-istan. Gulistan. Pakistan. Hindustan. Sigh. The plant has thorns and from this fact, zereshk has evolved into a
not-so-polite way to express disagreement in colloquial Persian. (blowing a raspberry, much?)

Turns out they used cranberry, instead of berberis, which is ok by me. I’ll just assume they taste similar.
The pilaf had a distinct sweetness from the berries, blended with a tanginess (which I’m assuming came from
the berries too). It was a pinkish brown rice, owing to the fruit mixed in with shredded, herbed chicken.

I would’ve liked the rice (both dishes) to be served with some sort of gravy. May be just yoghurt. While I
thoroughly enjoyed both dishes, it did get a tad dry. Or may be we should’ve ordered a gravy to go with, if
only we had been told.

I paid a little over Rs 1500/- for two pitchers of beer and food for three (yeah, we were just two for
dinner, but remember the huge portions I talked about?).

I need to go to Shisha again. Soon. Chelo Kebabs. Or just some awesome lamb dish. Or just for the beers and
some good conversation, sprawled out on a diwan.

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