Makhan Malai at INDIAN ACCENT; a Matter of Time

Indian Accent serves up this magical dish of makhan malhai, a golden dome of cream bedecked in all manner of opulent finery.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Time. Goodness me, how on earth do I go about talking about Time? On a food blog!

A science blog perhaps – yes, that’d be more fitting. Perhaps a post written by that amiable if ubiquitous Brian Cox chap who pops up on the radio now and again, and who looks way too young be a professor. And a physics professor at that.

(And am I really now at that age when everyone starts to “look too young to be.. a doctor? A teacher? A leader of a nation state?” But I guess that’s time for you – as Einstein said, it’s all relative.)

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I can see the effect of time on me all too clearly. The tell-tale signs are all there. It’s all pretty relentless.

Glimpses of grey hair that stealthily wind their way across my scalp, my hair follicles literally running out of pigment. Wrinkles furrowing into my forehead, the mark of repeated expressions marked out like crevasses carved by incessant wind and rain.

And dare I say it, there’s even the modest signs of middle-aged spread which, because I’m in utter denial, get conveniently shunted away into the deepest recesses of my mind, or at least dismissed as the occupational hazard of being a food-blogger.

And sleep? Don’t even get me started on sleep! What used to be an old friend, a reliable companion, now seems ever more mercurial, waving a wistful farewell at increasingly early hours of the morning.

And when our bodies’ ways and rhythms start to stray outside their usual parameters, and we worry about whether such and such is a symptom of this or that, there’s a palpable sense of mortality lying there in waiting. Such is the nature of time.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

But I’m also finding that age has changed my perception of time in quite a profound, albeit unexpected, way. Suddenly, my own lifespan can be used to measure out history, as though it were a 40-ish long ruler that quantifies years rather than centimetres.

And as I carefully unfurl history before me, as if rolling out a tablecloth over the dining-room table, gently smoothing its unruly kinks and creases, I can place my ruler beside 1975, the year of my birth, and measure back, backwards through time.

Tracing my finger over this fanciful ruler, my finger tickled by the ripples of history, I suddenly draw up to something quite startling. For there, even before I get to the ruler’s end, lies the Second World War. And, particularly unnerving for me, the Holocaust. Suddenly I’m confronted with the realisation that, in the scheme of things, I’m barely a hair’s breadth away. It could easily have been me.

Going further back in time, and it’s just 8 of my current lifespans to The Great Fire of London. Whilst, further back, there were even Romans – actual Romans! – knocking around just 35 lifespans ago.

Suddenly history feels more immediate, more tangible. It makes me acutely aware that our way of life is actually much more vulnerable to the precarious tides of history than I’d ever assumed when I was growing up. Things can change so suddenly, so dramatically.

This sense of fragility is deeply unsettling, but it also makes me truly thankful that the stork landed me in a relatively liberal, prosperous, and stable place like late 20th-Century Britain, as opposed to just about anywhere, or anytime, else. And I just hope that events never cause me to regret just saying that.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

But as well as looking back, I’m looking forward too. Simultaneously. As if channeling the duality of the two-faced god Janus. Indeed, being in one’s forties feels like straddling two very different worlds. Just over my shoulder, my childhood and teenage years seem barely a flicker away. Whilst looming in front of me, somewhat ominously, lies the shadow (and wisdom?) of older age. And both worlds feel so close, so present.

And further along the journey, I see time’s impression on my own parents, including the illness and ailments that are starting to come their way. And how recent years have taken both my grandmothers, who have left me with such beautiful and inspiring memories of their lives, and some profoundly sad and yet humbling memories of their deaths.

And I know this is what’s also in store for me some day. And everyone I know and love.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

But that just makes me think how precious every single moment is. Carpe diem, and all that. And so, bringing the conversation round to food, some people may well just wonder: why waste even a second of our lives on cooking? After all, fast food and TV dinners are so accessible, so convenient, so pervasive – why did God give us the microwave if he meant us to spend our mortal minutes actually preparing food, right?

I guess it depends if you are of the ilk that eats to live, or as I am, lives to eat. And cook. For both cooking and eating imbue me such deep unbridled joy. And meaning. After all, eating is not just about flavour, but culture, identity and memory. Whilst cooking is about connecting. And giving. And love.

So I’m actually quite prepared to devote a whole chunk of my life to cooking; in fact I relish it, as many others do. And I deeply appreciate eating food where time – actual hours of someone’s life – has been invested in its preparation.

So when I first came across ‘makhan malai’, a sweet dish that harks from the North Indian city of Lucknow, and learned that its traditional method of preparation involves boiling and whipping up milk and cream for the best part of a day, before it’s then decanted into buckets, which are then hung underneath a starry night sky, so that the early-morning dew of winter which eventually settles over its surface is whipped into the cream, before the whole concoction is then slowly infused with strands of sweet earthy saffron, and then churned again for a few more hours, up until the point when dawn finally breaks and the sun embraces the earth with its deep crimson rays.. well that got me intrigued..

About time. About food. About how the two go together.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those who wait. And all those other sayings we have in the English language that reflect that life isn’t just about rushing around, ticking lots of boxes, forever immersing our heads in luminous screenlight whilst we process as much fleeting information as we can possibly cram into our minds. Well, all such sayings apply to this dessert.

I first discovered makhan malai at Indian Accent, the London outpost of the esteemed Delhi restaurant. To be honest, I’m not quite sure exactly how Indian Accent prepare their version; I suspect it might not involve hanging out buckets of cream over Piccadilly’s heaving tarmac waiting for the morning dew (or bus fumes) to settle. But still, it’s a dish that’s clearly prepared with craft, patience and love. And what a dessert it is.

The cream is fashioned into a light golden dome, like a temple basking in the early-morning sunshine, all resplendent, sacred and sublime. Decorating its voluptuous curves are an assortment of opulent finery – luxurious flakes of gold-leaf, roasted slivers of almonds, and caramelised shards of jaggery, before a final flourish of rose petals like a bride who’s been liberally showered in cherry-pink confetti.

Visually, the whole effect is arresting. Dazzling even. My heart skips a beat.

And when you sweep your spoon through it, it’s like gliding through a weightless cloud, for there is no discernible resistance against your hand. And in your mouth, the ethereal cream is so light and silky, like an angel’s kiss that’s laced with the exotic fragrance of saffron and rose, the flavour lingering long in the mouth afterwards like a fine wine.

I swoon. I sigh.

It’s not a dessert for everyone. For some, the flavoured foam may seem more like Angel Delight than an angel’s kiss. But for me, it’s love at first sight, and a world away from those instant packets of dehydrated dessert. In fact, it’s the very antithesis, a monument instead to the merits of slow food and an exemplary portrayal of food’s relationship with place and people.

For in this bowl lies not just a sumptuous sweetened cream, but whisked into its very fabric is, in a manner of speaking, a whole matter of time.

*

Halfway through writing this review of Indian Accent, I discovered Jenny Linford’s ‘The Missing Ingredient, a homage to the role of time in the preparation of food. Patiently putting the book aside until I’d finished this article, I’ve since devoured it avidly. What a total joy it is – I can’t recommend it enough! The makhan malai at Indian Accent is undoubtedly stunning, and if you’d like to know more about it, here’s an article which evocatively details its preparation. Finally, for more on Indian food, feel free to check out my post on “thoran” around India..

Indian Accent, London

Indian Accent services up a dish of beetroot vadai, crispy fritters of sweet beetroot, served up with goats cheese.

Indian Accent has a signature starter of blue cheese naan, served up with a creamy sweet pumpkin and coconut shorba

Indian Accent knows how to pull off a winning vegetarian starter - soy keema with quail egg.

Indian Accent serves up some astoundingly good breads, including this butter chicken kulcha

Indian Accent does vegetarian superbly, including this seasonal vegetable tart

Indian Accent's take on a traditional English pud - treacle tart.

Indian Accent has a great non-alcohol beverage menu, including this rose-flavoured mudra punch

Indian Accent serves up an array of sumptuous puddings, including these cannoli

34 Comments

  1. 21st October 2018 / 12:53 pm

    Time is inescapable! He will be there lurking around all the time. I turned 36 last month, by the way! I am loving the wisdom that comes with it! Anyway, back to the food! That looks so good! I am a big foodie! So I won’t pass this up! There’s a tiny Indian restaurant just 90 miles away from where we live and we keep coming back to it! When I was still pregnant with both my kids, I used to drive myself every after prenatal check to that very restaurant! Just awesomely delectable!

    • aaron
      Author
      21st October 2018 / 2:16 pm

      If that places is 90 miles away, it must be worth the schlep! Sounds great! Thanks so much for your kind words too.. 🙂

  2. jessi394
    21st October 2018 / 3:12 pm

    This food looks amazing! London is a bit far for me to travel right now, but it’s in my list.

    • aaron
      Author
      21st October 2018 / 3:40 pm

      Thanks, Jessi.Yes, London is buzzing right now. Do come!..

  3. 21st October 2018 / 4:49 pm

    Time is most definitely very precious and waits for no one! Growing up in an Indian household meant we had this kind of thing quite frequently but I have always wanted to try out India Accent! I shall just keep adding it on my ever increasing London list each time I come! Fantastic read as always Aaron! You’re a fantastic storyteller!

    • aaron
      Author
      21st October 2018 / 7:40 pm

      Did your family make makhan malai? Or something similar? Did it need much investment of time?.. Yes, do try Indian Accent. The dishes are really top-notch, as is the service. It’s a pretty smart venue too, whilst the lunch menu is excellent value.

  4. 23rd October 2018 / 4:19 pm

    I never really reflected much on time when I was younger, but the older I get, the more I realise that it whizzes by increasingly faster, just when there are more things to do and achieve. Loved your musings on time and how it relates not only to our bodies, but also to food. Like you, I live to eat, although I don’t share the same joy for cooking. Hopefully it’ll come over time! Also, I’ve had this dessert at Indian Accent and it’s just as you described it – unbelievably light and dreamy.

    • aaron
      Author
      26th October 2018 / 10:05 am

      Thanks so much, Seetal! I’m sure the love for cooking will come, in some form or another – that said, if your Facebook photos are anything to go by, you’re pretty well sorted having a Chef Savla in the house! 🙂

  5. 25th October 2018 / 8:38 am

    Tried Indian food and it is really fantastic. Now you are making me crave for them again.

    • aaron
      Author
      26th October 2018 / 10:10 am

      I’m a big fan too! We’re so lucky in London to have such a fantastic variety of exceptional and authentic Indian places to eat or buy produce – from corner cafés to smart restaurants.

  6. incalexandra
    25th October 2018 / 12:17 pm

    Your photos are just lovely! Oh, I am hungry just reading this post and looking at your photos! Makes me want to pack my bags and hop on a plane right now!

    • aaron
      Author
      26th October 2018 / 10:11 am

      Thanks so much, Alexandra!

  7. 25th October 2018 / 8:36 pm

    This sounds lovely! We are big lovers of Indian food so would love to try it when we’re in London next! 😊

    • aaron
      Author
      26th October 2018 / 10:13 am

      Yes, do! And if you’re interested, I’ve also reviewed some other top-notch Indian restaurants on the blog too – Hoppers, Apollo Banana Leaf, Kricket and Gunpowder. Feel free to check them out!..

  8. Shikha (whywasteannualleave)
    25th October 2018 / 11:07 pm

    I actually have family from Lucknow Aaron & I had no clue that’s how it’s made! And that’s after I’ve eaten that very dessert at Indian accent & been to both the Delhi & London branches! Isn’t it the most dainty, fairy like dessert? Possibly a touch foamy for me but I adored the food here & am going back in a few weeks! It was funny whatyou said about why we don’t just use microwaves. For a long time, I did just that & it’s only in the last few years that I’ve come to learn the joys of cooking & discovering new recipes & the sense of reward when they work & put smiles on faces & bring everyone around a table together .

    • aaron
      Author
      26th October 2018 / 10:08 am

      I didn’t go into it much in the article, but I totally agree, the food is fabulous overall – I also loved the soy keema, beetroot vadai, treacle tart, kulchas.. well pretty much everything! Fantastic friendly service too. Enjoy the return trip, Shikha! x

  9. 27th October 2018 / 10:40 am

    Your voice is so vibrant and humorous! Thank you for the reminder to spend time on things that matter—I need to get out of my rut of cheesey pasta. Consider me inspired!

    • aaron
      Author
      27th October 2018 / 4:25 pm

      Thanks so much! And btw, nothing wrong with cheese pasta – Mac n’ Cheese is a classic!..

  10. 27th October 2018 / 10:59 am

    These dishes looks so delicious, I can almost smell how it’s made with love and passion. If I was in London I would go tonight for a lovely Indian dinner. But for now I am very inspired and may consider trying in my own kitchen.

    • aaron
      Author
      27th October 2018 / 4:27 pm

      Yes, there’s a lot of thought and craft going on with these dishes. And they taste absolutely delicious too!

  11. 28th October 2018 / 8:21 pm

    I loved this article. I love how you started out the humor was great and it really gets you thinking about life in general and how food plays a part in our lives. Your pictures are truly art and are a real asset to your website!

    • aaron
      Author
      28th October 2018 / 8:27 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Donna. Glad you liked it! 🙂

  12. tennismom miami
    29th October 2018 / 12:28 am

    Omg what a delightful dish!! London is in my bucket list. So if i ever go, I’ll definitely give this place a try.
    The stuff about time, that got me thinking. I didn’t think much about time until recently. I have 2 children and i see how fast they’re growing up and it just amazes me how time flies. It just is inevitable!! But i tell myself, use this time wisely. Think about yourself at an older age, will your memories make you happy or make you feel regret?

  13. A Simple Tweak
    1st November 2018 / 4:37 pm

    Hi AARON, This is a very interesting and so real article. I like your unique way of connecting time and food! I love love indian food and visiting London is one of my goals so I will definitely give this a try one day:)

    • aaron
      Author
      3rd November 2018 / 8:57 am

      Thank you so much for getting in touch. If you come to London, you’ll be utterly spoilt for choice for fabulous Indian food – from hole-in-the-wall authentic gems to high-end posh dining..

  14. 3rd November 2018 / 8:36 am

    Loved reading your post about this Indian eatery with such lovely dishes. Food is a national obsession in our country India, and you will be amazed by the sheer number of varieties available if you get the chance of travelling here….every region, every state, every city, every village has their own distinct tastes and recipes……:)

    • aaron
      Author
      3rd November 2018 / 8:51 am

      Thanks so much for getting in touch, Anindya, and your kinds words. I’m fortunate enough to have travelled round India – 6 weeks’ backpacking in my early twenties. It’s such an incredible country, and I agree that the sheer variety of food, cultures, people, well in fact everything, is just astounding. If you’re interested, I’ve written about my India travels in a couple of other posts – ‘Kricket’ and ‘Gunpowder’..

      • 3rd November 2018 / 8:57 am

        Great to know that Aaron…..sure you will consider visiting again and you are very much welcome……I will surely check the posts.

        • aaron
          Author
          3rd November 2018 / 8:59 am

          Thanks Anindya. Would love to come again, and surely will! In fact, my parents are coming over in February, so look forward to hearing about their travels around Rajasthan..

          • 3rd November 2018 / 9:47 am

            Great.

  15. Ashley
    4th November 2018 / 7:43 pm

    Oh my word! That looks amazing!! This is my first time here and I have to say I love your blog! Your writing has a way of captivating its audience like a great novel!❤️

    • aaron
      Author
      4th November 2018 / 7:59 pm

      Thank you so much, Ashley! That’s really kind of you. I’d love to have a go at a novel one day.. if I ever happen to get the time to devote to it! Much more feasible for me to write these shorter posts, but with the occasional dally into fiction territory (eg. in my ‘Plot’, ‘The Tale of Prince Sandalfoot’ and ‘Life & Times of a Shipping Container’ posts) when the spirit takes me! Thanks so much again! 🙂

  16. 6th November 2018 / 9:08 am

    That dessert is actual life!!!!

    • aaron
      Author
      6th November 2018 / 9:21 am

      Too true!!

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