I grew up in Prabhadevi in Mumbai. The area had many people from East India. For Christmas mass, we would all go to Portuguese Church, which was a short walk away. In our house, I remember, the days leading up to Christmas would see the preparation of a new sweet every day. My sister and I would return from school, and we would find our grandmother and our helps sitting around the table and preparing these delicacies. One day it would be milk cream, the next day it would be fudge, the day after kalkals and so on, until Christmas. We all had duties, including the children, and we used to love setting up the tree, the crib and lighting up the whole house.
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Preparations for the long-awaited Christmas day meal would begin one or two days in advance and my grandmother would supervise all preparations. There was a lot of baking to do and the base pastes of the curries would be made in advance as they tasted better when matured for a couple of days.
The way East Indians celebrate Christmas is not really very different from other communities, and the only real difference is the food. Many people confuse Goan and East Indian dishes, but they’re quite different. Like Goans, East Indians also use vinegar in food, but we don’t use as much fresh coconut as they do. Goans actually use a lot of fresh spices and masalas while preparing their food. But East Indian food has a lot of Marathi influence, so we usually use dry masalas. The East Indian bottle masala, in fact, is a spice mixture that is used in almost every East Indian dish and it gives a distinct flavour to the food.
When I recall the Christmas meals of my childhood, the aroma of pilaf, vindaloo and sorpotel and the warmth of fresh bread and fugias come back to me. During Christmas, many times duck moile used to be made for lunch but whenever we had guests over for lunch, lobster moile would feature on the menu. I always liked this better than duck or chicken because I love seafood.
Lobster Moile Ingredients
Lobsters 4 large
Ghee/oil 4-6 tbsp
Onions, sliced into rings 2 medium
Garlic cloves, sliced into 12
Ginger, sliced into fine 1 inch
Green chillies, sliced into
6 fine julienne
East Indian bottle masala 2 tbsp
Fish stock 750 ml
Brown palm vinegar 60 ml
Salt 1 tsp
Black pepper powder 1 tsp
- Clean lobster, remove intestines and cut into large chunks. Set aside.
- In a pan, heat oil and saute onions over moderate heat, till golden brown.
- Add garlic, then ginger and chillies and sauté till fragrant.
- Mix in bottle masala and fry well, till ghee/oil separates from it. Sprinkle in a little water if required, to prevent burning.
- Add lobster and fry on high heat to seal the pieces. Stir for five minutes before adding the stock.
- Bring to a boil, lower heat and allow to simmer for 15 minutes, taking care not to overcook the lobster.
- Add vinegar, salt and pepper in the last five minutes of cooking.
- Serve hot with steamed rice.
As told to Pooja Pillai
While growing up in Pohkseh, Shillong, in the ’70s, the most exciting bit about Christmas would be the new clothes we would get. On Christmas eve, I would go carolling from house to house with my cousins and friends. At these homes, we’d get cake and tea, and by midnight we’d be back.
In the morning, under the Christmas tree would be a present for each of us. We’d wear new clothes, go out and see what gifts our friends got. Since we follow the Presbyterian church, we wouldn’t go to the church on Christmas day. My mother would prepare Christmas lunch, which was a simple but delicious meal comprising rice and beef or chicken. It was a big deal to cook chicken, it was almost a delicacy.
After lunch, all of us would head to our neighbour’s house. They would make delicious homemade potato chips, a cheese dip, and cake, which would have dry fruits matured over a month. It was an open house, and over tea, we would sing carols.
Those were simpler times. Now our Christmas meals are quite lavish. I prepare turkey, salmon, roast pork, baked potatoes, gravy and veggies for family and close friends. After lunch, people come home — friends and neighbours — and we serve cake,
tea and egg sandwiches.
As told to Somya Lakhani
Zachariah Jacob, Partner, Mahabelly, Delhi; shares his food experience:
My earliest memory of Christmas is this particular year when we had a lot of relatives at home for the holidays and my father had hired a local cook in Kerala named Vasu Chettan, who was a duck specialist, to assist in the kitchen. While most of my cousins were busy singing carols and bursting crackers, I cherished spending time in the kitchen in his company – listening to his local anecdotes and watching him at work.
My grandmother had a significant role in bringing in the season by soaking dry fruits in rum and giving it enough time to mature for the perfect plum cake, which marked the beginning of the Christmas season. I remember even when she was in her early 70s, she would churn out jams, squash, pickles and my favourite wine. These homemade goodies were distributed among neighbours and members of the local church and we, the grandchildren, were her carriers.
Traditionally, the Christmas feast marks the end of the 25-day fast that starts from December 1. During the fast, we usually refrain from having meat and alcohol, which is the reason why the spread is rich in meat dishes. There are the duck mappas (duck in thick coconut milk gravy), pork varattiyathu (pork sautéed with onions), chicken roast (chicken in luscious onion and tomato gravy) and fish molee (fish in mildly spiced coconut gravy), accompanied with kallu appams (flat breads made with toddy). In our house, fish pie has also entered the menu. Wine, plum cakes and Christmas puddings are also some of the must-haves. My personal favourite would to be Kuttanadan duck roast. I am sharing a recipe by my aunt Anila Jacob Abraham, who lives in Kuttanad, Kerala. This dish, in its original form, will be served at Mahabelly as part of the special buffet lunch on December 25.
Kuttanadan Duck Roast Ingredients
Ginger 2 pieces
Garlic 50 gm
Green Chilli 6
Oil 1 cup
Salt to taste
Turmeric powder 1 tbsp
Coriander powder 2 tbsp
Pepper powder 1 tbsp
Red chilli powder 1 tbsp
Curry leaves 4 stems
Vinegar 1 tbsp
Shallot 200 gms
Fennel seeds 1tbsp
Cinnamon, crushed 4 sticks
(Clove, fennel seeds and cinnamon can be
substituted with I tbsp of garam masala powder)
- Heat oil in a kadhai, add shallots and onion slices and saute till the onions turn pink.
- Add ginger, garlic (crushed) and saute again. After sometime, add turmeric, coriander, pepper and red chilli powder along with crushed spices/garam masala and saute till the raw smell disappears.
- Add duck slices and saute for about 10 minutes. Add vinegar, salt, sufficient lukewarm water and curry leaves.
- Close the lid and cook over slow fire, till the water dries. Once the duck meat is cooked and tender, remove the dish from fire.
- Fry the potatoes and onion slices and use it as garnish. Served best with hot appams.
As told to Catherine Rhea Roy