International Cooking Resources
If you’re a foodie who like to cook international cuisines, living in Bangalore can be a bit of a challenge. Finding purveyors for ingredients, spices, condiments, cooking tools, or cooking equipment can be tough. I’ve found a few resources for cooking “continental” especially Italian, “asian” including Chinese and Thai, and “american” style meat and potatoes. Details after the jump.
Cooking many western style dishes can be challenging because you can’t always find the ingredients you’re used to. There are lots of great substitutes, and a creative chef can have a great time coming up with dishes made with local ingredients inspired by other cuisines. But what do you do if you want a “real” home cooked spaghetti alla carbonara, or pork in hot garlic sauce?
Good pastas have become pretty widely available. The hand made pasta at Herbs-and-Spice in Indiranagar is consistently excellent, but I think it’s only available in the restaurant. You’ll have to settle for dried pasta – I’ve found the excellent De Cecco pasta in a number of stores including MK Retail, Food Bazaar at Bangalore Central Mall, and Spencer’s on MG Road. Barilla is very good and even more widely available.
Olive oil is also widely available, but check the label carefully. Make sure you’re getting Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and check to see that it’s first pressing and cold extracted (Extra Virgin usually is) from a reputable source. Avoid things calling themselves “Virgin Olive Oil” or “Pure Olive Oil” and run away from anything calling itself “Pomace Olive Oil.” They are extracted from the same olives as “Extra Virgin” after the good olive oil has been extracted, using heat, pressure, and chemicals. I like Italian and Spanish extra virgin, but I really wish we could get a good fresh local olive oil. Fresh local olive oil with it’s green flavors and fruitiness can’t be beat, and this climate would be perfect for it. Ah well someday.
You can buy jarred or tinned pasta ragu at most of the same places you can buy pasta – but why bother? Unless you’re homesick for some specific brand’s flavor, you can do a lot better with fresh local tomatoes, garlic, and onion. Blanch, peel and seed the tomatoes, sautée chopped garlic and onions in your extra virgin olive oil, toss in the chopped tomatoes and cook until barely soft… much better than anything you can get out of a jar!
Italian cheeses, meats, and spices on the other hand, can be a little harder. While French cheeses can be nearly impossible to find, there are a few sources for decent Italian cheeses. Fiorano in Koramangala is making some fresh cheeses. Mascarpone and some variations of mozzarella that are quite good. Sunny’s carries a fair variety and you can get cheeses from Olive Beach, especially during the Sunday food bazaar. Parmesan and Pecorino Romano are available via the deli counter at the back of Spencer’s on MG Road as is a very small selection of deli meats. Spices like dried oregano, rosemary, and basil are relatively easy to find – try FabIndia (!) or again Spencer’s or MK Retail. MK Retail has a slightly wider variety, but the spices at Fabindia are produced in India and not imported – I prefer local when I can get it. For fresh local italian herbs and spices, some pastas, and olive oil, and a nice selection of organic foods you can also try Namdhari’s Fresh (Koramangala, others, previously reviewed.)
Asian ingredients on the other hand, are a little more problematic. Need some Shao Xing rice wine, rice wine vinegar, light soy, fish sauce, or fermented black beans? Prepare to do a little more searching. You can find bad versions of many popular sauces in the major groceries, but I can’t recommend them. They’re usually over sweet, often don’t have the right flavor, and sometimes contain a brew of scary sounding chemicals. For higher quality versions you can try one of the stores named above, but even there you’ll most likely get the bad popular version instead. MK Retail is an exception, where if you know what to look for you can find some gems hidden in the dross. Recently though I had a real find – there’s a place called simply enough “Super Market” on the ground floor of the 5th Avenue building on Brigade road that carries a wide variety of “foreign” foods and ingredients including a couple good brands of Chinese light and dark soy sauces, the only Shao Xing rice wine or black bean sauce I’ve seen in Bangalore, as well as good rice wine vinegar and oyster sauce. The prices are somewhat high, especially if you know what the same thing sells for where it’s produced, but you can’t get too choosy when sources are so limited. Now if only I could find a local source for Chinese Black Vinegar I’d be truly happy. I know Baba Ling at Nanking can get it because he will serve it with shredded ginger as a condiment with his dumplings, but he says he brings it in himself. (Which is what I’ve had to do as well.)
The biggest problem though with cooking proper Chinese, is the fact that typical household hobs just don’t produce the high heat necessary to generate good “wok hay” – the authentic flavor you get from real wok cooking, sometimes translated as “breath of the wok” or more poetically as “soul of the wok.” To be fair, you can’t really get that heat in a typical home kitchen anywhere in the world, it requires special equipment. Fortunately that kind of commercial style equipment is actually relatively easy to find in Bangalore. I found the burner I ‘m using in Russell Market, but be careful – they sound like a jet engine, they produce a jet of flame three feet high, and they use fuel like a jet fighter taking off. Still, if you want wok cooking it’s worth it.
[Next time - where to find ingredients.]