In the mood for Eggs Kejriwal? Indulge yourselves as club


My old barman at the Calcutta Football & Cricket Club always boasts to new visitors that his Bloody Mary is “international (sic) famous”. Similarly, most old clubs in India have something or the other on their menu for which they claim intellectual property rights — some genuine and the others stretched. For example, it is true that the mulligatawny soup – a derivative of South Indian rasam or pepper water – was indeed discovered at the Madras Club. Likewise, the origins of Eggs Kejriwal can be traced to the Willingdon Sports Club in Mumbai and has no relation, real or imagined, to the leader of a recently founded political party.

For long, the clubs, a legacy of the colonial days, were associated with Indo-Anglian cuisine — cutlets, roasts, pies and puddings — commonly referred to as “continental” food. Though almost all of them try to maintain the old tradition and do have their own signature dishes, barring a few exceptions, the standards have degenerated over time. This is a function of two factors. The first reason being, the old cooks — the Chittagong Baruah ‘Mogs’ in the East, the Goan and Tamil Christians trained in the tea gardens of the Nilgiris — have disappeared. The second, more important to my mind, tastes have changed.

The original club menus were imported by the colonial masters and their wives trained the Khansamas and Bawarchis who handed it down to several generations. The repertoire was largely limited to what was served in the restaurants of London either as English or Continental (read European food). There were not many exotic ingredients available. Barring some imported items like Worcester Sauce and Coleman’s Mustard, cooks had to make do with local spices like pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaf. The culinary tradition was extended to the officer’s dining rooms of box-wallah companies, managing agencies creating a new gentry of “Brown Sahibs” or Macaulay Putras.

But since the older generation of British left, two trends have emerged. First, the new lot of expatriates are far more amenable to experimenting with ethnic cuisine. Even for Western food, their tastes have evolved as it indeed has all over the world. So, modern European cuisine is very different from the ‘continental food’ of yore. Posh French and Italian restaurants have popped up in every city serving gourmet fare. Besides, with travel, tastes have become more international. Oriental dining options are no longer restricted to Chinese. Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese are now par for the course.  With WTO compulsions forcing open Indian markets for imported food products — raw meats, fish, poultry, cheeses, herbs, vegetables and sauces — the food scene has truly exploded.

But not all clubs have climbed up the food chain – literally or metaphorically. Instead, they have gone the indigenisation route. I did not use ethnic advisedly, because that is a more recent trend. The first to make a tip-toed entry into the clubs was Indi-Chinese. Then slowly the ubiquitous tandoori chicken, chicken tikka and paneer made their way followed by the butter masalas and curries. It is only of late that true local food is being served unapologetically at the snootiest of snooty clubs. And, I am all for it.

Thus clubs in Kolkata hold hilsa festivals, have special lunches on Durga Puja and Bengali New Year in addition to the traditional Christmas and New Year celebrations. The weekly Bengali Bhuribhoj and Biryani Lunch at the Bengal Club is more popular than their legendary Steak and Kidney Pie Friday Buffet. The Parsi food at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club is outstanding as is their Goan fish curry. The Cricket Club of India in Mumbai serves the most delectable Gujarati thali. Though not exactly a club, the India International Centre in Delhi has “Ghar Ka Khana” on their menu which is popular with the older gentry like me. The Meen Kuzhambu at the Madras Club is my favourite on a rainy day. Every club I know of in South India now also has an Onam Sadhya, all trying to outdo the others in the city.

Certainly, the changing profile of members has been the major driver of the culinary churn at the clubs. But another issue most clubs are grappling with is the young generation losing interest in them. With increased spending power and so many food and entertainment options, they find clubs staid and boring. One club that took this challenge head-on is the Willingdon Sports Club in Mumbai. Its Golf View Bar can give competition to any top 5-Star restaurant and it is run as such with qualified chefs. On a recent visit thanks to my Twitter friend Monal Jhaveri, I found the place throbbing and packed with youngsters — obviously achievers in their own rights — and it blew me off my feet. Certainly, the best I have had at a club and better than most fine dining restaurants I have been to either in India or abroad. The starters — mushroom pate and lemon-scented prawns — were delightful, followed by the delicately poached pomfret and the succulent medium-rare medallion steak as the delectable finale were all a class apart. However, running such a restaurant is neither easy nor cheap. Not too many clubs have a discerning clientele who will appreciate and be willing to pay for such gourmet food. As a result, some clubs have handed over their restaurants to food catering companies. But that takes away the charm of club food.

Coming back to Eggs Kejriwal, as per the Willingdon Club’s history — chronicled in a voluminous tome ‘At Home’, curated and co-authored by Monal — it was invented for one of its members Devi Prasad Kejriwal. Coming from a conservative Marwari home where eggs were never cooked, he added a spicy twist to his daily eggs on toast at the club. Two double-fried eggs were put over a buttered toast, spiked with mustard and a slice of Amul cheese in between and garnished with chopped green chillies before being cut into six pieces. Now, many versions of the Kejriwal are found at clubs (some outside India too) each with a unique variation. Coonoor Club has a vegetarian equivalent of the Kejriwal called Madhvani Sandwich – named after Raj Madhvani, the patriarch of the family into which the film star of our youth, Mumtaz, was married. That is the stuff legends are made of.

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Read all food columns by Sandip Ghose here

(Sandip Ghose is an author and current affairs commentator. He tweets @SandipGhose.)

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