Saturday, February 27, 2010

In the Name of Chaats, Masalas and Holy Cravings....

Many warned me about the abject lack of imaginativeness in British cuisine...I thought they were exaggerating...I still do, because the cakes and other bakes in Britain are to die for... And I have had some reasonably good stuff at pubs here...But well, when it comes to the meat...they rather leave things a little less flavoured or seasoned...the salt has been drastically reduced from the national cuisine, I think, rather consciously...I remember one of the first outdoor campaigns that I saw, while on route to London from Brighton on many buses was the exhortation to make the already bland food blander still....Cut down on the Salt and Save your Life or something to similar effect was the slogan on the buses and just about everywhere else... Everytime I raise a fine point on cuisine, the problem is I try to drive it in with all the subtlety of a battering ram. But then I'm never allowed an easy point for, I have friends who love rubbing it in my face, that as an Indian I have no voice to complain. For isn't Indian food all about 'over-cooking, masking the flavour of meat or vegetables totally with about a million masalas and then deep frying the rest of the stuff'....And even as I protest vehemently, I think to myself....pooris and pakodas we fry...the meat is always 'cooked till tender' in our careful lexicon...which means there is no concept of lightly tossing the meat on a skillet with the bare minimum flavours or seasoning...and we can put just about anything in about 5litres of oil and chilli powder and pickle it for posterity...if that's not all, we can kill just about anyone with diabetes with the amount of sugar and condensed milk we empty into our desserts... Hmmm...that as it is...the reason why I'm willing to eat 'humble pie' is as follows...the friend, who I feel would gloat till he chokes, used to begin any conversation he ever had with me by asking me what I ate/ was having for breakfast/lunch/dinner. When I was in India, surrounded by everything that I gastronomically consider heavenly, I was of the opinion that food is merely for subsistence - ie, to give me enough energy to pull through a hard demanding day as a TV professional. Barring the occasional craving for something exotic, I would be hard pressed to remember wanting something specific for any meal... So asking me about what I ate, was like the most irrelevant, out of my interest area beginning to any conversation...and something I remember telling him quite pointedly too... These days, he often smirks at my status updates on facebook or my tagline on google messenger...It's either about craving chai or wanting pakodas or missing something else specific in the wintry loneliness of Brighton...And while I would have protested till I turned blue before admitting it, for once I feel the 'devil needs to be given its due'... For the past two days, I have been in a state of urgent want....for chaat...In fact, I was so sure I'd miss chaat so much that for nearly a week during my last month in Mumbai, all I had for dinner was assorted chaat.... If you haven't heard of panipuris and aloo chaats and ragda pattice and bhel puris...then there is a big chunk missing from the education your tastebuds deserve... For those unfamiliar with Indian street food, chaat is as unhealthy as it comes...well, atleast most of it is....but the speed with which it can be slurped and the immense satisfaction it leaves the eater with, is unparalleled...most of the ingredients are deep fried, dunked in sweet and sour sauces and garnished with starchy yummy potatoes and sprinkled liberally with salt and spices...and if potatoes are not the garnish, then they are the shallow-fried base for masala-infused lentils called chhole...Just writing about chaat makes me drool.... And then there is the pani's the simplest of them all....but in my book, the king of all chaat routine begins almost always with it...they are deep fried dough balls, the crust is lightly broken and filled with potatoes and other fillings, then dunked first in sweet date sauce and then dunked in tangy tamarind water before it is plopped into a bowl you hold...and as soon as the first one plops into your bowl, you gulp it down in one go and then drain the water that has escaped out of the dough ball into your bowl..... There you go....I am having foodgasms....I empathise with my friend I considered loony...In fact, I think I have gone three degrees loonier than him....I dream food, I crave food and when I manage to overcome the fierce pulls of laziness and inertia, I actually try to make some of it that I miss sorely in England... But the water is different....the ingredients lack the smell of India...and then there is the sterile prettiness to England, that leaves me feeling a little cheated when I try to recreate the food orgy that India alone provides.... And now after writing this post, I have just managed to increase my craving for chaat by about ten notches....Talk about therapy boomeranging!!! Hmppppphhhhh......

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Laid in Sussex!

In Britain, the need to inform the consumer about everything is so high up on priorities, that very often you end up with details you aren't sure you really wanted in the first place...;) Notice anything funny? Maybe, it's not what's written, but it's me... Look at where my eyes went, and I was chuckling so hard that I couldn't bring myself to have these eggs for breakfast... I mean I knew them too well to want to eat them...Know what I mean??? Where the Hen/s chose to lay the choicest 6 large eggs packed into my cardboard carton was an important bit of information that I, the consumer had to be made aware of... Isn't that what this means? Or that the Hens got laid in Sussex? Both the options are 'chuckle raisers'... What a cheery thought!!! Three cheers for Local Sussex Egg Farmers' Proactive Procreation Club!!!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

German Bakery....Another memory sullied...

On Feb13, as I lay in bed on a lazy Saturday afternoon in Brighton, unwilling to read yet another paper on Counter-Insurgency that Im writing a research brief on... A short text message from my friend got me out of the lethargy: 'Deeps, need help, blast in Pune, can you come online?' My inertia and sleep forgotten, I was online in 30 seconds...and soon enough I saw another memory of my two wonderful years in Pune sullied... 

The German Bakery in Koregaon Park - the place where a country bumpkin who had lived a life so sheltered that when asked to cuss in her language she looked blankly and said 'I don't know how to swear' in proper English - got one of her first classes in growing up....

I learnt there, while trying out their sinful pastries, how to distinguish the sweet smell of weed mixed with tobacco from normal nicotine cigarettes...The first time I realised I was among weed smoking foreigners and students, I wondered if that was crime enough to have me arrested...Little guilt pangs of a straitjacketed life, I tell you! But then the crazy student life that Pune offers gives you a masters degree in life too along with the subject you landed up in the city to pursue... The Osho Ashram that is like a stone's throw away remained a mystery behind gates that were almost always tightly shut....But the maroon robed inmates who frequented the bakery seemed a lot of fun...more approachable..Not that I was curious enough to walk up and strike a conversation...

It took me about a year in journalism to be desperately curious enough to start attempting that.. I wonder how Koregaon park will be without the German Bakery to be pointed out to as a landmark...I wonder where I can now sit watching the Osho chappal vendors sell those little light chappals that I see young girls still stuck in the psychedelic 60s era still spot in chilly Brighton winter..My friends have been posting on facebook how it was just a couple of months back that they too sat on a balmy morning in the Bakery digging in to burgers and fries and their ohh-so-awesome apple crumbles.... 

Some wonderful photographs of the time spent there are I think gathering dust in albums in my cupboard at home in Kochi...Its no great shake...I remember one of my friends, who had heard so much about the German Bakery before landing up there, exclaiming 'were you talking about this hole in the wall???' That's what it is...a Little Hole...Talking of which the Blast, I heard as I compulsively listened to live streaming of news from India, blew a 6x4 feet crater in German Bakery...The little kitschy 'hole in the wall' is scarred forever...marked by terror..

But this time around when I sat watching the Home Minister's press conference, for once i wasn't bothering about whether the graphics were firing right or the spellings were correct on the jackets running over Chidambaram's visuals.. I was watching it like any other viewer...feeling the sense of violation of a lovely memory left sullied by terror....that's irreparable, isn't it??

It's Bizzarre...But So Much Fun!!

I just opened my Facebook account and realised that nearly eighty percent of the status updates are soppy/mushy/cheeky/sneaky and some very irritating application-induced Valentine Day messages... I'm no Farmville addict, nor do I believe in gifting fishes or throwing virtual love pillows at my assorted friends list. But then again, not honouring the spirit of Valentines Day also does not feel right... So here are some fun things I discovered on the Net the other day,while I was indulging my trivia curiosity 'WEAR YOUR HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE, WILL YOU?'

Valentine’s Day in Scotland was the festival time when they let unmarried men and women write the names of those they desired on chits of paper and tossed it into a hat. If all went as per plan, the woman got to choose the man she cared for. Once the choices were made, women declared their love by wearing the name of their suitor over their heart while the men wore it on their sleeve – this is said to be how the phrase ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ originated.


In Italy, there was a belief in the sixteenth century that if you rise before sunrise on Valentine's Day and perch by the window, the man you first spot walking by before you, could be the one who would end up becoming your husband within the year.


In days long before online dating came into vogue, young men in nineteenth century Australia found courting maidens an uphill task. So every year, they saved up to buy some really fancy present for the lady they fancied. And the gift that could sometime run into hundreds of pounds often consisted of a perfumed satin cushion intricately decorated with a stuffed hummingbird in it. And the lady receiving such a fancy decorated box was indeed the toast of the outback!


Imagine how life would have been in Victorian times - In those days, when unmarried women were strictly taught to hide their emotions in their tightly laced corsets, Valentines Day was anxiously awaited. For young men pining for their Victorian lady love, could subtly send them a secret love message through anonymous cards covered in velvet, lace and satin with a secret panel to scribble their message.


The French thought they had hit upon an ingenious idea to pair off unmarried people. On Valentines Day, young men and women could go into houses facing each other and call out for the Valentine they fancied. If young women were spurned, they were given the freedom to light a bonfire and burn the images of the man and vent her ire at him. But it didn’t take long for the French government to realise that it wasn’t wise to encourage such bad blood and allow for public displays of such nastiness, as a result f which a government decree was passed banning such ‘calling out of Valentines’.

Monday, February 01, 2010


Its been a while since I posted. My studies are proving to be a steeper uphill climb than I'd bargained for.. But this post must begin with a confession.. My title is misleading..its mischievously misleading to suggest time travel...But that's not what this is about...It's about lazy Sundays in the UK and spending it the way many before me have done for nearly 500 years!!! After years of never having a weekend to take for granted, must I reinforce how much I enjoy milking every weekend that this one year of academic pursuit offers me? So after a Saturday evening spent extremely fruitfully mastering knack and patience playing Jenga in the college pub..and ending up with an extremely respectable and thoroughly unpredicted result of losing just one game in three...we revelers decided that Sunday had to be spent discovering the delights of a traditional English brunch.. Sunday brunch became a late lunch by British standards...At about 2PM, five of us headed towards Lewes..(yes, the same place that hosts the bonfire every year)...That, one person in the group had a car proved extremely handy, for we would never have discovered this little place tucked away in a little nook towards Lewes.. The Juggs...that's what the place is called...with a proud little post script to the title suggesting that it's been operational since the fifteenth century....Over 600 years of dishing out roasts and ale.... I wonder how it might have appeared to the fair ladies with their parasols passing by in carriages and buggies, with handsome well turned out men in their top coats stopping by for a quick bite. I'm now assuming that it was just passersby who frequented the Juggs and not the locals.. In fact, I wonder when the tradition of eating out on Sunday began...Was it late in the 19th century or was it early 20th century... From the decor...the cosy fireplace and the log-hewn tables to the menu....It was oh-so-British... I have been on a vegetarian spree for some time be honest, red meat never appealed much to was too that left me with the option of eating chicken alone...That being so, I try to experiment with vegetarian cuisine whenever I can... Imagine going to a pub famous for its roasts and checking on the menu for something with leaves and berries on it...Even probably what the meat would have been fed before it ended up as roast on the tables...Not a cheery thought, is it now? But Juggs didn't disappoint me...Some very good Garlic Mushrooms that are actually breaded mushrooms with a garlicky dip..and a Ploughman's Platter...Thats what it was assortment of cheese, breads, chutneys and dips... That's where a debate began...Why hasn't anyone tried to have a British style pub in India? We have lounges and bars and theme restaurants...We came up with three possible answers.. There are few heritage buildings that have the British pub character and flavour - and without the fireplace, what's a pub ambience? And then there are some Irish namesakes in Bangalore and Mumbai...but none to actually bring some bits of Ireland to India..But then more mischievously, is the notoriety of bland British food responsible for the lack of imaginative application of a British pub into the Indian melting pot of hot flavours and pungent spices? I feel all have played its own role..But there's something to be said of homely British's wholesome - without frills and portions that the petite-French would gasp at...and without the Italian flamboyance or the Greek flavours... Hmmmmm...I can still taste the flavour of the Sunday brunch...When great food mixes with good ambience, the value for money factor shoots up..And when it's virtually a time machine that transports you centuries back, well, that's when I call it a steal....