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'Tongue' for taste

Tongue-tied with pleasure

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Eating offal can sometimes feel vaguely cannibalistic. Especially items like tongue, that agile muscle that seems to have a life of its own. But once you set the thought aside, tongue is deeply rewarding. It has an intensely meaty flavour and, if cooked well, a wonderfully tender texture.

I've loved tongue since the first time I ate it - in primary school. An Iranian classmate had brought it for tiffin. It was a rather unusual item for school lunch and I was curious enough to have a bite. The tongue was cut into little bits that resembled small botis of mutton and was cooked in a thick, peppery gravy that was tasty enough to make me forget my multiplication tables.

In Mumbai, tongue is traditionally eaten by Parsis, Muslims, Goans and East Indians. But apart from the odd Goan joint serving roast beef tongue, it's hard to come by. Like other forms of offal, tongue is being eaten less. "Nowadays there's a great aversion to body parts, " says Kurush Dalal, a caterer of Parsi food. "People want meat that's boneless. They don't recognise the animal. "

The most prominent Parsi tongue recipe is masoor ma jeebh, tongue in masoor daal. There's also the sweet and sour tongue bafat, a recipe for which can be found in the eccentric Time and Talents Club cookbook. While Christian communities eat beef tongue, Muslims and Parsis are partial to goat or lamb tongue. This is rarely found in homes let alone the few Parsi restaurants in the city that sadly serve only standard items. Dalal, whose mother, the late Katy Dalal wrote a series of cookbooks chronicling Parsi foods that have now become obscure, says he gets the occasional order for masoor ma jeebh by Parsi NRIs visiting the country. The tongue, Dalal says, is slow-cooked in a spicy masoor and then served with gor-amli kachumbar, a salad of finely-chopped onions, cucumber, chilli and coriander dressed with a chutney of tamarind and jaggery.

For Muslim preparations of tongue, there's Mohammed Ali Road where meaty foods spill out of pushcarts, cubbyholes and restaurants. A tongue soup, that from all accounts tastes vile, is available here. But the best stuff is to be found in homes that still cook it. Bohras cook tongue the same way they cook mutton, in a simple gravy of onion, garlic and garam masala. Sometimes it's cooked along with the mundi, the goat's head.

Goans and East Indians are perhaps the most devoted to tongue. The item is largely found in restaurants and shops run by the community. Farm Products, an institution in Colaba, makes a superb dry roast tongue. It's made in the home of the shops owners, the Rocha family. The tongue is not a pretty sight when taken out of the freezer - it's dark and looks like a menacing phallus. But they cut it for you in innocuous oval slices.

The city's Catholic enclaves usually have a shop or caterer selling tongue. Chandanwadi, off Princess Street, has Perfect Confectioners and Caterers. The shop owner, a surly fellow who threatened to sell a patron's order if he showed up to collect it even a minute late, sells roast tongue on order. At Snowflake, an ancient Goan joint in Dhobi Talao, tongue is made according to a secret recipe that has been in owner Sebastiana Vaz's family for generations. Here you know you're eating tongue. The roasted meat is sliced longitudinally so it's tongue-shaped and sautêed in onions and French fries. The diminutive Vaz did not reveal even a single ingredient of her roast.

On the other hand, Anna Almeida, an East Indian home caterer in Mazagaon was more than happy to discuss the various ways she makes tongue. She makes a sorpatel of tongue, tongue moile with coconut gravy and a curry with bottle masala. I've had her stellar roast tongue, which she makes by marinating the meat, first in salt and lime and after a few hours, in ginger, garlic, saffron and powdered spices. She then caramelises sugar, fries Kashmiri chillies, adds a bit of vinegar and the tongue and pressure cooks the lot for 45 minutes.

And in Orlem in Malad, another enclave of Catholics and East Indians, is the eightmonth old Mangoes. Open to the road and run out of a garage, Mangoes is run by a family that's part Managalorean and part Goan (the name of the shop is an amalgam of Mangalorean and Goan). It serves a mean tongue that, thankfully, looked just like a mutton stew. Until my dinner companion fished out a lightly-curled tongue tip.

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