Its been an interesting set of books that I read thru in last several months. They have given me a new perspective of the world that we live in. Do take out time to read these gems.image image image image image image

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The exploitive Indian Middle class:looking through the prism of ethics- Social commentary Part 1

middleclass_full_600At every family reunion, marriage functions, one finds a motley group of friends or relatives huddled together, reminiscencing days gone by, baulking at the current political class, attendant corruption issues and fast vanishing moral and ethical values. Its the same story everywhere and suddenly you start wondering- are all educated middle class indians so morally and ethically correct?, if that is so , then who is everybody pointing fingers at !. In the midst of all Mr Nandy gets hauled up for some of his outlandish statements at a literary festival which are lapped up by his literary cousins, “long live freedom of expression”; criticized by all and sundry and one is ethics 4again left with the question – Who is at fault?. If for a moment, we move away from corruption but see all issues from a fundamental ethical or moral values prism, you will be confronted with so many real dark facts that you will wish fervently to throw the prism in the deep waters of Bay of Bengal. Seriously……. Who is at fault?

pyramidThe trouble is everybody! Our educated class has devised its own survival philosophy and has some outlandish justification for all the ills that it continually perpetrates on the less fortunate in the name of helping them, making them move up the ladder. Truth be told, they are no less or more ethically deviant than their upper or lower class cousins. Its just that they have convinced themselves of  their righteous behaviour and try to offer justifications that suit them. In the process, they get more alienated from the other classes and the divide only goes bigger and there is no bridge in sight. Little do they realise that just as they look down upon certain strata in society andethics 2 are horrified of their way of thinking, there are others who look onto them with same suspicions. I will try to enumerate all issues through a series of viewpoints.

You may baulk at me, see me with seething anger, but for a minute,look yourself in a mirror and think of actions that you take and you will realise that its great to preach, laud ethics but very difficult to emulate. exploitation 2Take for instance, this huge issue of underpaid, over-stressed,   thoroughly exploited housemaid system which every household in India has devised. Yes, one can speak about labour exploitation at glitzy five star conferences while sipping 1981 great harvest chavignon and biting into large morsels of jumbo prawns grilled to perfection and express displeasure and seething anger at the planning bureaucrat who completely messed it, of how because of  sheer political shenanigans the money waterfall never reaches the bottom and exploitation begins. Well said, charity begins at home one may say. One can hear the inequalityaunties laden with De Beers diamonds with latest Berkins bags in tow pouring out as to how their heart bleeds out when they see moving images on television of underpaid, exploited workforce and lo behold further horrors of minors toiling away at factories with wages far lower that minimum prescribed.

Allow me to walk you through any household in India, from New Delhi to Mumbai, from Rajouri Garden to Shantinekatan, from Borivili to Colaba, to the beeming megapolis that Gurgaon is turning into. Make no mistake, level of education makes no difference, from a graduate to a MBA (foreign or Indian), from thoroughbred in India to just returned NRI, all are in this cesspool. At the end of the day, its maid 2no different than the concept of Raja & Praja ( his subjects), Zamindar and his lowly patrons, the rule of the game has always remained, currently is, and will continue to thrive in near foreseeable future that the upper level in awrong or right ethical question strata will exploit the lower strata, upper one will be condescending in his attitude, shows his greatness by throwing crumbs lower down, expects the lower strata to be obligated to his magnificence and expects the one level below person to be happy that he is being uplifted.

There is virtually no law, yes absolutely no law that governs the lowly housemaids, they toil for horrendous hours to eke their living, get paid pittance, have no holidays whatsoever, cannot demand any. Yes, yes, the aunties will say that their maids hold them to ransom, never come back from their villages if they go for a brief vacation, always haggle over their pay, and that they are taking good care of them, if not for them, the maids would be on the roads ( condescending attitude!!). Little that they realise that the poor maid is uneducated, for her, vethics 5everything is transactional and existential but the aunties are educated and what good is the education if one has not realised ” human values” and “fairness”. The auntie is supposed to be flag bearer of fairness and she fails terribly. In the offices, everybody would fight harder for the annual leave but where does these concepts vanish when they reach home.

Visit any mega towers of Gurgaon or Joggers park,Bandra or any other park in megapolis around 6 pm and you will see babalogs of the rich and famous being prammed around by maids who are distinctly minor or underage. Get a bone test done to ascertain their age exploitation 1and 70% would turn out to be minor. And the story doesn’t end here, the minor more often than not is paid lower than the pittance dished out for the right age maid. After all the minor is a child and cannot do much, so less pay. Even the foreign returned Indians also fall in the same cesspool, forgetting how difficult was it for them to have a maid back at overseas, or was it, it was just that the rules of the game are different overseas and workers rights are protected. TheChild exploitation justification is the same (“condescending”), if not for us, the child would be languishing on the road, underfed and we are atleast giving them a shelter. The exploiting Raja also said that, so did the Zamindar, so do a despot ruler in a african country, so do a dictator in south america -its the same. Justifications are parroted for the convenience.

If we need to get out of the cesspool, firstly we all have to see ourselves thru the prism of ethical values and learn to be Humans first. What good is this education if that does make us Great Human Beings. Thats the ill which effects us all.ethics

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Street foods / comfort foods/ fast foods / take aways in Delhi

street food 2Street foods and “hole in the wall” eateries define a city character; its idiosyncrasies, trends and above all they provide the necessary “inclusive eating” wherein the class barrier breaks down. Delhi is overflowing with such joints. For some, you need cast iron lined stomachs, others require you to have your triglycerides checked soon after you have slurped the last remnant of “once upon a time I was a little lamb” and for others, better keep your glucometer ready to check your post meal sugar spikes. Or is it! you would be surprised how your up market eatery nutritional values are all messed up equally or more. Just because the lovely hostess shows you your usual seating near the French window on the 15th floor which gives you a panoramic city view or the soothing mellifluous melodies flowing thru the ergonomically located Bose speakers or the wonderfully crafted Burmese teak beams overhead, it does not mean that purest carbs and proteins are doing a tango with the best artery unclogging oil that the money can buy. These up market eateries also dunk their dishes in copious amount of oil or butter ( if its French, its worse, the clarified butter is the innocuous term used for lowly butter from which last remnants of water have been taken out, so it’s pure fat in its ugly form, the hollandaise sauce only uses egg yolks and nothing else!, so it’s a calorie time bomb, not to speak of its effects on your lipid profile!), humungous amount of salt and even after you have insisted with utmost snootiness “ no aginomoto please”, you will be surprised what all magic your favorite up market eatery does which makes all the dishes that you swear by so delicious. You will be surprised that at least the friendly hole in the wall eatery has such a terrific turnover that bacteria or salmonella hardly get any time to sneak in, the dishes keep going in and out with ferocious speed, its piping hot and slurpy delicious.

Many a times, just because a eatery has been around for decades, it becomes famous, not because it offers a terrific taste but a sort of aura builds around them. It’s a proven fact that whatever we eat during our childhood, the smells and taste gets embedded and you keep liking those tastes as you grow older and always have a street food 1sense of comfort eating those, a sense of “good ole days” as you say. Nirulas, UPSC Chaat, D Pauls at IOC building, Egg paranthas near Vikram Hotel,Nizams Kathi rolls near Plaza, Madhuban Chinese van at Yusuf Sarai, Dosas in INA market, Bengali sweets at Bengali market and many others fall in this category. The flavors and tastes aren’t extraordinary, but they remind of our childhood days and that hook is forever. So let’s move on.

Culinaire: The best Chinese take away or home delivery is Culinaire at Chandan market in GK 2 market. We never get tired of ordering from Culinaire and its taste remains consistently same and great. Its great comfort food. Nothing gourmet it’s yummy. Their Lamb in oyster sauce with black mushrooms and Shanghai chickeculinaire2n share the honors’ at the peak. Dim sums, honey chicken and Man chow Soup come a close second. The delivery times are usually maintained and the packing is fine. So if you’re shivering in cold, don’t want to get out the comfy blanket, taste buds are still tingling, grab your phone and give this place a call. You will not be disappointed.

futomaki-2futomaki 1Futomaki: This is really a hole in the wall Japanese take away at Hauz Khas Village. Trust me, even with the address, it’s very hard to locate. Its 13A Haus Village. Tucked away in a sleepy village, it’s a gem. Futomaki (fat rolls-they are larger and more filling than your regular sushi rolls) has a limited menu of 9 different types of sushis and is being run by a Japanese guy. He prepares the salmon and tuna rolls on order and other stuff is displayed in a tiny see me thru cabinet. The tempura prawn roll, salmon roll, teriyaki chicken roll and vegetarian Granny roll is superb. Every pack has six sushi and they are big and filling. A normal pack comes for 280/- and Salmon/Tuna comes for 340/-. They also have a tiny sitting. But the taste nearly is perfect. Many a times, this shop runs out of sushi, so the owner just closes the shop-period. It’s cute, comfy and homely. Do give it a try. You will reach out for more.

city of joy2City of Joy: This small eatery at Alaknanda delivers lip smacking, wonderful comfy Bengali food. You pick up the phone and the guy at the other of the line is ever eager to talk to you, explain the nuances of various dishes. The jumbo prawn malai curry, Illish Paturi, Bhetki Paturi and crab masala are to die for. city of joy3The jumbo prawns come inside a real coconut, the gravy is delicious, in paturi, you open the banana leaf and the mustard smell wafts thru your nasal senses, as you bite into huge sizes of mustard coated fish- the pungency hits you and its sheer divine.  Try their papda Jhol or pona kalia. They are equally good. You don’t need to worry about the small bones getting stuck up your mouth, but please get your lipid profile done if you turn out to be their regular eaters.

ahad sons 1Ahad Sons: This smallish looking joint in a sleepy dusty lane by the side of Uday Park DDA market is a gem for Kashmiri dishes. One can visit the place, order, get it packed and eat at home. Home delivery is limited. Consistency and quality of food is top notch. As is with the Kashmiri cuisines, it is biased towards ghee and isn’t exactly cholesterol friendly. But once in a while, it’s worth a try and one can compensate it by running for 45 minutes extra at your favorite gymnasium at a top speed of 11Kms/hr! For non-veg, you will have yourahad sons2 usual suspects of Rista, Ghushtaba, Seekh Kabab and the lovely Tabakh Maaz (it gives chor bizarre at Hotel Broadway a run for their money any day) and for Veg option, stick to the lush Haakh (Kashmiri Spinach) & Nadur Yakkni (Lotus Stems in curd). It’s heavy on the stomach, but tastes divine.

carnatic cafe 2Carnatic Café at New Friends Colony market is the new kid in town for all dishes south of India. So give your Sagar or Sarvanna Bhawan a miss for a change and head towardscarnatic cafe 4 this place. Its small, homely and the only place in New Delhi (yes, the only place!!) which serves Raagi Dosa. If you can have multigrain bread, multigrain atta, why not Raagi Dosa.

carnatic cafe 3

Al Kauser near Malai Mandir, R K Puram: If I have a tossup between Al Kauser, Col Kabab and Khan Chacha- I will give the heads up to Al Kauser for its melting Kakori Kebabs. Very difficult to construct and make, Al kauser is miles ahead on this and alsoal kauser1 it’s Dum Biryani. Col Kebab takes the honors’ for its succulent and very smooth mutton seekh Kababs.ahad sons3They are real fatty and if you don’t eat them quickly, in winters, one can actually see the ghee/oil solidifying alongside the rims!!. Babbu Khan at Matka Peer dargah next to gate 6 of Pragati Maidan delivers the best oil laden but delicious biryani in town..well, a dargah by this name is located next to gate number 6 of Pragati Maidan. There is no takeaway unless you have booked in advance.The best part is that you can specify the proportion of mutton:rice and it will be made accordingly. babu khan1So pickup the phone and dial 011-23371454 for Babbu khan, order your bespoke biryani and drive to Purana Quila, pickup your biryani and pray that your triglycerides romp back home in fine fettle.

albake2Al Bake : Delhi has seen mushrooming of doner kabab, shishtouk joints and generally they all serve the same fare. There is nothing that distinguishes two such joints. You have a guy grilling a huge lob of chicken meat in front of a vertical grill, chicken fat dripping down, he deftly slices shavings of the chicken lob, toasts the pita bread, lays down the shavings neatly, pours some hung curd, some spicy chutney, oinions and all and you have your doner kabab ready. But truth be told, doner really goes well with lamb/beef that is generally served in bylanes of European cities.I have had lovely doners at Helsinki, Mannheim in Germany and Mulhouse in France. But lets come back to saddi Dilli and head for New Friends Colony market. Its virtually teaming with innumerable non descript mughlai joints whose clientele are either college kids always short on money during daytime and drunken uncouth tribesmen late evening. Amongst all this is a shining jewel Al Bake. Doner Kabab is decidedly different from the rest of Delhi. The filling has several spices, its dripping with fat and flavours. Within 5 minutes, your order arrives, you slurp, comment on the flavor, slurp and feel satiated. This is the best Doner that Delhi has to offer.

One of the best safed matar & kulcha combination is near the park in the central market lajpatnagar. The guy sits on the road, has a huge vessel storing boiled safed matar. With deft hands, he swishes out the matar, puts them in a biodegradable cup made of dry leaves, puts in salt & chillis to taste, some ginger and coriander; and voila a rustic delicious concoction is ready. Most of the times it is singularly consistent and only oddlymatar-chat he messes it up by putting in too much baking soda in the matar. Otherwise, the taste is great, its great comfort food, nutritious, very light on calories and high in proteins. You may choose to take the maida kulcha or avoid it and take the “matar only” package. Everybody comes there, from your rickshawallah, to your next door jewellery laden auntie, to your school/college going kids, the medical reps, door to door salesman, corporate honchos; its what “inclusive eating” is all about.

puchka 1Who doesn’t like the good old “gol gappas”. How much do we hate them, complain of lack of hygiene, we all come back to bite into their crisp exterior, savoring the sweet red chutney, going down to the boiled channas & aloo bits and gulp down the pungent, throat hitting jal jeera paani. We never fail to ask the hawker if the jal jeera water is made from “bisleri”, he also nods his head in agreement, and we all happily believe in the lie that he tells day in and day out. Actually, we just wanted to hear that lie, to convince ourselves that all is well and get down to the business of slurping the gappas by the dozens. The hygiene is generally in the pits, but who cares, the smell is so intoxicating that one just gets washed away!!.Delhi ispuchka 2 generally swamped by these vendors and they are always available at the corner of every market without fail. The tastes are generally alike but it’s the jal jeera paani that the “bhaiya” dunks the gappas in that make all the difference. My personal favorites remain the gappas made of “suji” (they are thicker), lots of sweet chutney, generous helping of channas and loads of childhood memories. My favorite is the friendly chaat wallah in South Ext II next to cake palace. Its not even a hole in wall as it is free standing hawker. Superb place to have your chaat. Incidentally you also get vodka spiked gol gappas in Delhi but the jal jeera ones are miles ahead.puchka 3

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Bengaluru food trails and walking thru bygone times!

We spent the Good Friday weekend at my nieces places in Bengaluru…. and went on a food trail. We counted the no: of dinner & lunch slots that we had to spare and decided to allocate them as per choices available.Bengaluru just as any other metro in India has an amazing erray of eateries….. and with a steady influx of NRIs fleeing melting USA, their influence on the type of eateries is also increasingly becoming starkly visible.

Many many seasons back, when everybody & everybody either worked at HMT or HAL or BEML, Bengaluru was a sleepy garden city occupied by PSU employees, frugal spending, simple eating joints and everybody’s kids racing to get thru IIT or medicine. Life was simple, needs were less,food was great and yes, Bengaluru boasted of maximum number of movie theaters then. Seeing movies was a favourite past time as pub culture was still far into future. One languidly walked into MTR, sat on the wooden bench patiently waiting for his turn, dunked into heavenly idly’s with great chutney or ghee lathered dosa or upma or pongal and digested the heavy breakfast thru the day. Or you just stopped by around the corner at Darshinis and had idly, dosa or vada with hot piping filter coffee while standing and looking aimlessly at the traffic which mostly consisted of lamberetta or Bajaj scooter. If you had a ocassion, one marched to Koshys to celebrate. Nothing can beat a idly dosa combo with a filter coffee to match or a big banana leaf with an array of chutneys, spinach dal, cabbage with coconut, a mound of rice, couple of puris, dahi, poppadams. That to me is simple, heavenly food. But world marches on and a little, sleepy, garden town becomes a vibrating, cosmopolitan city trying to anchor itself in the glitzy, neon dreams of IT whizkids and new age IT enabled Czars.

Spaghettis arrive in Bengaluru ( both on the plate and in the dresses), Steak houses emerge, noodle joints sprout, people started raving about peri peri sauce in the same jest as coconut chutney, Bruschetta, feta and its likes became commonplace, and Bengaluru suddenly transformed.If the  idly, vada, dosas & banana leaf lunch still gives competition to the Shiros Dimsum / Sushi lunch, thats a great tribute to Indian culinary masterpieces and our embedded tongue tastes. So both the world are jostling for space and interestingly in Bengaluru, both are standing tall and retaining their places.

Shiros is Delhi Shiros branch or vice versa, but at Bengaluru, it lives upto its name. Located at the upscale UB City, the whole ambience surrounding the place is vibrant and eclectic. On weekdays, one can dunk into their superlative dimsum and Sushi lunch and as told to me, the whole uppity Bangaluru descends for a sunday brunch with their C class & 7 series in tow. Well inside Shiro, ambience is classy and professional, you have high ceilings with huge statues of Buddha and I suspect important figures from mythical oriental. Overall, a top class, top of the line joint. Dimsums are great with the Hargow as usual taking their place of pride. The rice flour was thin & translucent, you could see the dainty luscious prawn inside and the texture, flavour were brilliant. Sushi were great as with california rolls. However the Sashimi was a big let down. I suspect that the knife skills at Shiros is a tad suspect. Instead of finely thin cut raw fish slices, one gets blob of thick slicing. Definitely unappealing and unappetizing to the palate. The Sashimi salad was undoubtedly a big let down. Unfortunately, the same mistake was done with pickled ginger. The pickled ginger needs to thinly sliced and should appear as pink shavings and not your usual ginger slices. So instead of shavings, you got slices. Rest was I must admit of top class. So if they could fix their knife, Shiros will come with top honors. Needless to say, its a pricey tony place.

Nandos is your perky, bustling, gregarious, pulsating fast food joint off Brigade Road where the waiters are always rushing back and forth in frenzy. It reminds me of a typical joint in Philippines where after every couple of hours, the waiters, hostess, chef do a impromptu jig. Only the jig is missing, the rest of ambience remains the same. Peri-Peri, the delicious, pungent, fiery Portuguese sauce defines this place. If you want to see chicken legs so big and juicy, Nandos is the place to visit. You must try 3 things here although you will not be able to finish even one! Flame grilled corn on cob is to die for. Delicious. You get 2 cobs, wonderfully done, basted with lemon herb, put a dollop of peri-peri and just nibble away. Espetada is a big dish of marinated chicken pieces hanging from a skewer with lots of assorted stuff. Its juicy, tender and murderously delicious. Also try Half Chicken meal. The chicken is nearly like a turkey but retains all the juice. A great lively place to be when you are monstrously hungry. Not a place to take your girlfriend along as the food, sauces are pungent and the smells don’t inspire romanticism.

Eden Park at Shivajinagar is your andhra joint like Nagarjuna at Residency road. Its a leafy corner,  your typical unpretentious eating joint. The food comes on a banana leaf and is great. You can order non veg side dishes. The lemon chicken is worth trying. Otherwise, a nice eating place, no great dishes but immensely satisfying home food like feeling. But their service is not upto mark. So bear with it if you can. If you cant, then run to Nagarjuna where service standards are by far notches above Eden Park.

Spiga at St Marks Road is the place to be on saturday night. Its Mediterranean feel & look,strikingly resembles Olive bar & kitchen at Mehrauli, Delhi albeit on the 4th floor instead of ground at Delhi, the open space, the honeycomb structure behind the bar which  gives you a glimpse of Bengaluru tony locality skyline with UB city neons flashing. Its cosy, very cosy, place to be with friends and can spend hours together sipping on the Long Island. The oriental salad and Beef Tenderloin steak are the Pièce de résistance of this place alongwith watermelon salad with feta cheese. You can’t ask life to give you anymore. Its white decor mesmerizes you.Oreo cheesecake is a wonton celebration of sinful delights bordering on erotica and conjures up multiple utilities of this utterly delicious dessert with eating as just one of them!. Spiga is a signature restaurant for me. Cool, vibrant, young, cosmopolitan, neat, friendly. A place to be.

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4 great cities; discovered four great eating places.Bhojohori Manna, Teppan @ Benjorang, Konkan Cafe and Yeti

My work takes me to all sort of places. Places which you could find on the map or places which have fallen off from the map and are back of beyond. As one travels, one is inundated with variety of cuisines, flavours and smells. Before we reach out to back of beyond, where most of the readers would never go, yours truly visited Kolkata, Chennai , Mumbai and offcourse spent the only day left in the busy week in Delhi.

Reached Kolkata late at night and most of the places were in the process of shutting down, but we discovered a gem, hidden on Hindusthan Road called Bhojohori Manna. I have never had such a lip smacking, wonderful bengali dinner ever in my life till that date. Need I say, complete satisfaction reaching nirvana. Don’t go by the decor, it looks like a fast food joint, the tables and cutlery is nothing to write about but we have come here for only food and nothing else. The food is so yummy that you will loose sense of time and I literally had tears in my eyes. Such wonderful food that we all slurped our plates and not a morsel was left. We started with a wonderful jumbo Betki Paturi;these are small portions of betki liberally pasted with pungent mustard, with a dash of green chilly and steamed in a banana leaf. You dig into a portion, put it in your mouth, wow, a strong aroma and taste plays on your tongue. Its a treat. Next order a big hilsa peti ( stomach portion) with light mustard curry, super jumbo chingri malai curry and Kosha Mangsho ( a mutton preparation in its own oil) with simple plain rice and mango chutney. Beware;the hilsa would have many bones, small and big but the flavour is divine. Keep digging. The prawns come in a coconut shell and the garvy is slightly sweet. I have never ever tasted such a tasty gravy in my life. Just keep crunching the prawns and the flavours of the seas would enthrall you no end. Kosha Mangsho is slightly heavy and I saw natives eating this with luchi. It was a great evening, great food, great people and a satisfying eating experience. There are many Bhojohori Manna’s in Kolkata at various places ( I think 8 or 9). Try them when you visit Kolkata next. They also have a branch at Bangalore.

In Chennai, as you reach Park Sheraton, turn left into a lane and while you go down 400 m, on your left is lovely Benjorang. This is an old place and started as and still continues to be a great Thai eating place. Sophisticated with charming hostess, this place takes your senses away. Each and every dish is delicious. But this time, we had other criterions and desires. So we climbed upstairs to Teppan, their Teppanyaki counters. Again, a live counter no longer excites us, so we sat down on a normal seating and ordered a wonderful Japanese lunch. The Sushi was great and so was Soba noodles and rice. The prawn tempura was exactly done as it should be with just the very right crispiness. I love the omelet squares. So the next time you are in Chennai, pay this joint a visit.

Konkan Cafe at the Taj President, Mumbai is a great eating place for dinner. To avoid confusion, stick to the Thali and order a chaas or a kokum drink. The seafood thali in particular is very delicious and brings all key Konkan ingredients together. It has fried fish, a great fish in coconut curry, sour prawns alongwith dal and a vegeterian dish. They serve those little fries alongwith chutneys and they are yummy to the core. Pick up the fryums or the popadams and dig them into sweet green chutney and place them on your tongue: Instant Nirvana is the word which describes the experience. The appams and neer dosa just takes the thali to the next level. I personally abhor the parottas, they are lathered with butter or ghee and unnecessarily make the whole experience heavier. The appams are light and you could order as much as you want and keep digging in. The fish curry needs a special mention.It is so smooth and rich and light at the same time, it mesmerizes you with the softness of fish and the flavours of embedded curry.

Yeti at Hauz Khaz Village, New Delhi is a unpretentious small joint that is jovial, lively and full of life. You walk down the dusty central lane flanked by designer shops on either side and reach the end of the road. A small staircase on the left hand side takes you to Yeti. As the name suggests, the cuisines is from Himalayas and has treats from Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. The crowd inside jostles for space. More than the food, its the ambience that is eclectic to say the least. The menu is extensive and you might get confused and finally lost. But if you want to try newer cuisines, be adventurous, this place is for you. If you don’t want to experiment and want to stick to basics, try the momos specially the mutton momos. They have an unusually strong flavor, if strong doesn’t appeal to you, stick with chicken or veg momos. Thukpa is wonderful although no patch on the real stuff that you get at Mcleodganj, but in Delhi, its a treat. The Waiwai noodle soup was wonderful. Its a sort of fast food feel ( i have a suspicion that its the same waiwai that you get at the grocery stores). It was really piping steaming hot-the way a soup should be. So if you want a hearty mountainous meal, give a try to Yeti once in a while. You will not regret it.

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Freedom of expression : when the line is crossed : Counter point

A lot of hue and cry is raised now a days on freedom of expression. I must admit that most of time it is right and that without this freedom, humankind would not have progressed as far as it has done now. But at times, the logic is twisted out of shape, stretched to an extent that it breaks.

It is quite strange that without reading the Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, people start taking sides. People in favour of Salman get eulogised as liberated, keeper of civilisations, erudite and generally all the platitudes that one can heap. On the other hand, people opposed to him get branded immediately as fundamentalist, regressive and medieval. isn’t  it amusing that without even reading a bit, camps get created, position harden and the society in turn suffers. Truth be damned. As starters, Satanic Verses is banned in India, so one cannot get hold of it unless one enjoys stepping on other side of law, but the net is full of relevant excerpts from the book and the reader is free to make his opinion. As you would read the excerpts, it becomes abundantly clear that under the shelter of freedom of expression, a lot of liberties have been taken which should not have been. Over the ages, its is proved beyond doubt that mankind has always leaned on religious teachings, texts as anchorage and there is no reason why something is written which is clearly mischievous in a way and unnecessarily creates divisions . It clearly hurts sentiments, no doubt. I am not going into a treatise as why it hurts, but reader is free to surf the net, read the relevant excerpts, also read the holy religious book, read about the revered personalities and it is abundantly clear that it is mischievous.

Offcourse, fatwa is not a solution.But don’t eulogize the  author, fete him with all the awards, call him to literary festivals and praise him for his work. That work is mischievous to say the least and definately approaches blasphemy. If he is so stubborn on his freedom of expression, keep it in confines of his home.

Well same for late M F Hussain. He had painted some canvasses which in true sense were again mischievous and should be abhorred. There is simply no logic for the paint brush to go so much wayward that you paint a naked goddess holding on to the tail of a monkey and you assume that people will not connect the dots. This is clearly no freedom of expression. These paintings again should be confines to home and not a gallery. How can somebody do like this?.

So this treatise is religion neutral, freedom of expression gets into mainstream whenever one tries to play with religious sentiments.

Freedom of expression has led to great discoveries, inventions, new thought processes, new way of thinking and looking at things in perspective. Lets not abuse it so much that it becomes a dirty word.

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The art of haggling aka negotiation at high places!

Well, whenever you passed that showroom that displayed all the wonderful watches from around the globe or gleaming porcelain figurines, weren’t you afraid to step in the showroom as you either felt that you didn’t have enough money or that the sales person would look down on you as you saw around.You found these places high and mighty with prices unnecessarily touching stratosphere. This is waste of money, you said. But deep inside you, a small cell always shriveled that wish i could also lay my hands on. Even if you gathered the courage to enter the showroom, the hoi poi at the shop ensured that you felt very small turning around the tag to see the price. How do I ask the sales person at the shop if there is a discount? Noway, your heart said, nobody haggles at luxury shops. Its not done. This is high priestess shops, don’t try, you will unnecessary make a fool of yourself, you curled and meekly went out of the shop. At least you conquered one battle, of going inside the shop!!

Worry not. The next time around, just don’t even have a shred of apprehension and just walk through the door, look at the watches and demand a price cut. Did I say price cut!. Yes , I did and allow me to take you to the underbelly of luxury shopping. All the luxury shops selling your Tissots, Longines……Rado etc offer a discount if asked for. Minimum is 15% and it could go upto 22% and sometimes dangerously touch 30% as well. Try this next time you go and ask for a discount, 12% is a given and rest is on your skill. Same with LLadro and all the other luxury stuff. You need to try.

If you are a group of friends going for a dinner at a fancy restaurant, no harm in checking on phone before hand if he can shave off some price. Chances are that the manager gives a 10-20% shave off. But you need to ask.

The trick is be bold and try. Nobody is watching you and you will not make yourself silly. You were ignorant before!!

The rich have become richer by spending less you see. The less richer thinks that by paying more, he becomes richer. What an irony!!

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Korean Food: Going beyond Khimchii

Korean food is yet to find a place of pride amongst Indian repertoire of mixed cuisines. It is far below the usual suspects like Chinese cuisine and lower in rung than a Japanese joint. It maybe a notch above Burmese or Vietnamese. It still conjures up a queasy sort of feeling amongst Indians, as we find it completely alien; the aroma, texture, visuals also confuse us. Is it worth a try? Off course; can it take over Chinese and Japanese cuisine in India, definitely not. It would remain a niche, but as more Korean companies and the expats come in droves, Korean restaurants have propped up in Chennai and Delhi in particular.

It really takes an adventurous streak to enter a Korean joint in India. Till a couple of years back, most of Korean joints were setup more with a “home away from home” feel or a small club feel where expats came in droves, so it never looked like a restaurant; you come in, the server at times didn’t even knew broken English and didn’t have the time and inclination to explain about nuances of various dishes. Most of guests were in any case Koreans, so it didn’t matter as they knew what they were eating. They drank, smoked, laughed boisterously, thumped the tables, talked of how it was great back home, looked blankly at city dwellers like me struggling with my hot pot.

I had the good opportunity to travel to Seoul and was amazed to find that unlike in India, Korean cuisine boasts of great variety of vegetarian dishes. One gets an array of fermented drinks, one of those was very similar to our own “Kanji”; you remember Kanji? a dark purplish drink made at Punjabi homes. It requires fermenting carrot with mustard, salt & chilli and letting in ferment in glass jars under direct sunlight. It got prepared in a week’s time and I can still remember its taste, it was sour, wasabi like with a pungent kick. If it was too much fermented, it burnt your nostrils. Additionally you bite into those tiny carrot pieces and enjoy their softness and crispness at the same time.

Sauteed Spinach

Generally Korean food is oil-free and healthy. Almost all Korean restaurants offer a complimentary range of 8-10 side-dishes e.g. Bean sprout salad, Scallion salad, steamed seaweed, radish cube kimchi, sautéed spinach with roasted sesame seeds, peanuts laced with honey and dunked in soya sauce, dried small fish and shrimps, crunchy anchovy, beef or squid cooked in a spicy curry, braised tofu, squared blocks of omelets, and different kinds of fermented cabbage or radish (“Kimchee”). I for one love the sautéed spinach, omelets and anchovies but don’t eat too much as you still have to eat the main course. All the starters are in small plates (gratis) and unlimited. The starter portions are small but as soon they are over, another one would appear. They are steamed and extremely nutritious. Some would be sweet; others sour, salty, pungent. One finds all tastes. You really feel like a king as all the side dishes are brought to your table one by one. Generally in a Korean restaurant, you would be offered metallic chopsticks unlike the delicate lacquered wooden or bamboo ones at Japanese or melamine ones at Chinese joints. You take tiny morsels of various side dishes and enjoy.

The real fun starts now. Generally there is a burner in the centre of the table for making a hot pot or putting up a grill for grilling beef and other meats. But it also depends on the type of dish that you order. For first timers, apart from the fun of preparing your own dish and getting fascinated by the contraption, it is of not much use as it is advisable to order simpler dishes and be less adventurous. After all, you don’t want this first visit of yours to be your last visit. You need to allow yourself to become comfortable with the aroma, taste, feel and texture first before you jump straight in.

For the first timers, although you could gaze through the menu, order two most popular dishes i.e. Bulgogi & Bibimpap.

In Korean, “bibim” means “mixed” and “bap” means rice. All of the ingredients except the meat (which is optional) are prepared in advance so you can add them at room temperature to the top of hot steamed rice. You then quickly fry and add the meat and a sunny-side up egg to the top. Bibimbap is usually served with a spicy sauce made from gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) which you can add to your liking – allowing you to control how hot it is. You then use your spoon (Korean food is always served with metal chopsticks and a spoon) to “bibim” it all until it is completely mixed together.

Bulgogi is very thinly sliced beef which is marinated along with mushrooms in a sauce made from pear juice, garlic, soy sauce, sesame seeds and then grilled or stir fried. If you don’t eat beef, don’t try this as you don’t have a chicken or lamb Bulgogi!. Incidentally I tried lamb Bulgogi at home and it turned out to be awesome. The end result is a delicious sweet, savory, and soft slice of meat. Generally, you would also be given large sized leafy lettuce leaf and some dippings. You will wonder; what is the lettuce for. Don’t worry, you could either eat the Bulgogi straight off the plate or you could wrap it with a small amount of rice and dipping sauce in a lettuce leaf. It is also incredibly low fat and very healthy.

Gung- The palace at Green Park, New Delhi is great place to eat authentic Korean fare. It has also recently opened a branch at Gurgaon. At Green Park, it has a non descript façade and chances are that you will miss the place. Inside it’s a two storey restaurant having table sittings and also traditional sittings wherein you sit and eat. In a Korean joint, unlike a Japanese joint, one needs to sit cross legs. The aromas are particularly strong and you need to get used to them.

If you are first timer, then stick to the above dishes. If you are visiting this place second or third time, dive right in. Order a sea food hot pot. Now this hot pot is a tricky concoction and definitely not for guys who feel squeezy. Don’t bring along your vegetarian friends.

A hotpot would be placed over the burner and a broth thrown in. After that an assortment of full seafood goes in. So far so good. Then the waitress would bring an octopus and start cutting it with scissors right in front of you. Off course the octopus is dead. Incidentally, back in Korea, eating a live octopus is considered a delicacy and there is a specific process of rolling the octopus on to your chopsticks and gulping down quickly before its suckers stick to your throat and choke you. Yes, many instances have happened, wherein in a moment of frenzy, the live octopus was not gulped down properly and it stuck to the throat and choked the eater. The waitress would do the same butchery with the squid. The broth would then boil and all the juices of simmering seafood start doing their magic. You can drink the broth as a soup or mix some condiments and eat with rice. It’s a heavenly experience. No oil, healthy; this dish is great.

Kumgang Gonie – at The Ashok is another Korean joint. Serves similar fare but is expensive. Worth a try.

At Yum Yum Tree: although they don’t have a full fledged Korean menu, but they do offer a beef Bulgogi.Worth a try.

Kungbyong (a Korean joint) behind Chola Sheraton, Chennai is a good eating Joint.You can never find this place as it looks more like a residential place than a restaurant.You could find a steady stream of Hyundai executives moving in and out. In earlier times, there used to be a mini-mini golf station, a tennis court.At times you could curse yourself for walking into someone’s house. Incidentally, there are many Korean joints in Chennai and generally serve decent fare.

In Mumbai, there is no single stand alone Korean joint but some dishes are available as part of larger menu at Busaba, Colaba and Pan Asia, ITC Maratha. Dishes are decent but the complete Korean effect is missing.

So go forward and give Gung a visit in New Delhi and have a great evening.

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“First come first serve” : A Perspective

A lot of hue and cry has been raised on Indian telecom first come first serve policy regarding spectrum allocation and as to why the scarce spectrum was not auctioned. Well, it has a lot to do with the India Psyche.

All the telecom policy makers were on the wrong side of fifty years of age and their earlier childhood experiences (1960s & 1970s) may have been stubbornly ingrained in their approach. The sixties and seventies and good part of eighties were years of scarcity. Everything was scarce from wheat, water, rice to oil, steel and cement. Everything was rationed and one had to travel long distances and stand in a line to buy day to day needs. It wasn’t due to health reasons that everybody used to wake up early in the morning, no!, they had chores to be done. Water was scarce and normally was available 2 hrs in the morning and 2 hrs in the evening with the pressure always fluctuating. Nobody had an individual water tank that you see nowadays. So it was a rush, to make sure that every bucket and every utensil that can hold water is utilized fully. Chances were that this 4 hrs a day government doled out generosity was not always available, so you had big water tankers coming to government colonies and a mad rush with buckets in both hands used to happen. The faster you run and put that damn bucket under the tap of the tanker, the best you were. It was always first come serve, you see!!. Imagine what would have happened if the government said that well, we will send the tanker, but we will auction the water!!. No way, we would have said. Fine, then you run and be the first in queue because that only mattered. Same with wheat and all the other stuff that everybody got at the ration shop. You had to be friends with the Ration guy as he will give you advance information as to when the stuff arrives in exchange for getting his son admitted to a school or some relative transferred from a remote village, so that you could be first in the line. Same for other necessities.

What did we call the traders who were early day auctioneers (they will hoard the grains, oils and sell them to higher bidders)?, they were called black marketers, hoarders, and their acts were punishable by law. How the clocks have turned now? We don’t want first come first serve; we want auctions. This concept is alien to our policy makers. They feel it’s not proper. They still feel that they are the proprietor of the ration kirana shop and they will dole out spectrum as per queue. Off course to some friends of theirs, as use to happen in good old times,they will give advance information so that they can keep their “buckets” ready in time for the water tanker. Transparency was never our hall mark. All activities were done in shadows.

Is it a surprise that we all find ourselves in a bucket now!!

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Give me back my Paratha and a goodness of life and “Have we forgotten how to eat a Mango- Signs of changing times?”

 

Anyone who has grown up or merely received hospitality in northern India knows the high gastronomical esteem in which the Paratha is held !!. Paratha belongs to the family of breads which consists of amongst others eatables like chapatti, puris, bhature, kulcha, naan, rumali, missi roti etc. Paratha is considered superior to the chapatti in every way, from the taste to the culinary talent required to make it – not to mention the calories it adds to your midlife baggage – the Paratha is a food for all seasons and temperaments. Some pan-fry it, other deep-fry or you could have tandoori parantahas as well!!. As if the oil required during frying was not enough, dollops of yellow/white butter is liberally pasted while eating or you could eat it by dipping the morsels thru malai or thick curd. Your fingers should be dripping you see!!A pickle adds the zest and tang to the whole affair.

Actually, a Paratha is a meal in itself and generally should be eaten alone as otherwise; you could miss out on its heavenly flavors. It should be crisp yet soft, it should have the right amount of fillings and should not be over stuffed and neither should it be lean; it should have a character, a body, an aroma and a divine after taste. Some people break the Paratha to let the steam out, some eat while shifting the morsel from one finger to another lest it burns their skin- a Paratha is to be eaten hot with all the latent heat packed amidst the many layers it is made of!!

Switch off the “Exhaust Fan”, let the smell of Paratha waft thru the household, maybe the whole street!!. A touch of pure desi ghee nearly makes it a nirvana experience.

There are many ways to prepare the base of Paratha.Some shove the fillings in the dough (big picture!!), some make small dumplings and then fill them- roll them- and fry them. Some actually make 2 layers, place the fillings carefully and close the layers. The fillings range from humble potato, onion, cauliflower,paneer, radish to Pudina, keema, chicken ,egg & cheese. Whichever way, a Paratha is “not” a Paratha if its calorie count is less than 380!!-yes a normal Indian Paratha packs that much calories alone-without counting those dollops of butter, malai or full cream dahi which goes along. A dieter’s waterloo, this culinary piece stands way ahead.

Laccha Paratha is an art. Its similar to a croissant run over by a passing truck?. It has layers and layers of dough interspersed with good helping of butter ( just as in a croissant) and then shoved in a tandoor. Before it is served, it is generally twisted and crushed by hand. It is not generally eaten with Dahi, it requires a proper stew in which one dips big morsels of flaky Paratha.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, teatime, picnics, school and office tiffins, food parcels for the train traveler… it is hard to think of a traditional food situation in which Parathas, whether plain or stuffed, accompanied by vegetables or condiments or nothing at all, would not or could not prominently figure.

Paratha means childhood. It is “deja Vu”. Its that nostalgic moments when cholesterol was unknown, triglycerides were still to be discovered and as long as you sweat out the goodness of Paratha, everything else was fine. It reminds me of standing next to my mother, smelling the goody and eating it just off the “Tawa” or the griddle as they call them now. Give me back my Paratha.

 

1. If Parathas are your weakness, the place to indulge is Gali Parathewali, a Paratha lover’s paradise in Old Delhi. Even if you feel nothing compares with home cooking, a trip here is still worthwhile – if only to breathe in the aroma of shallow frying ingredients and revel in the sight of a line of shops dedicated to this edible attraction in all its mind-boggling variety. Most of the shops here claim an antiquity dating to the 1800s. With the Delhi Metro, reaching this place is a breeze. Just catch the Metro at CP, get down at Chandni Chowk and walk straight or ask somebody around. They would be too glad to give directions.

Everyone is familiar with the homely aloo Paratha, with mashed potato filling. Parathas stuffed with dal are common in the hills. Parathas sweetened with sugar are a common children’s treat. But the menus here are replete with a bewildering array of stuffing. Matar paneer, dal-tamatar (lentils cooked with tomato), “gobhi mix aloo” (cauliflower with potatoes), rabri (sweet thickened milk), khurchan malai (cream) and even papad – this is not a list of savory dishes or desserts, but a sample of the diverse ingredients that find themselves within the crisp confines of the Parathas being rolled out, fried on giant sized griddles and served to you smoking hot.and the guy keeps rolling on and on…, this is “ITIHAS” my dear-History for the uninitiated.

  1. Posh restaurants have display kitchens as a fashionable gimmick to lure customers.But here in Gali Paranthewali the kitchens have always been open, not only to the public but to the elements as well. However, whether due to the heat gradient or some other scientific phenomenon, the flies swarming the streets stop short of the restaurants!!Along with your choice of Paratha comes a trayful of side dishes like chutneys of  banana and tamarind, mint and pumpkin, watermelon pickle and vegetables. If you prefer  not to eat in the midst of the commercial bustle of Chandni Chowk, the Parathas along with their accompanying delicacies can be packed up at no extra cost.Go there, once in a while. The past catches up with present and future. Drown yourself in the aromas and laid back “Esh-tyle” of yesteryears and just enjoy. Maybe you may like to walk down right to the domestic airport and say goodbye to taxi-wallah-that way you could ( maybe) digest a couple of Parathas!!.
  1. Step out of Delhi in the direction of Nainital and 2 hrs from Delhi on your left near town of Gujraula you would find the “Pahalwan Nos 1 Dhaba”.Try the Paratha there with curd, its Divine, marvelous. Don’t try the deep fried varieties. The pan fried or tandoori are equally good!!.
  2. In South you get “Parotta” or is it “Barotta” in Madurai.As was told to me (I am not too sure of its authenticity), there is no P in Tamil script and hence Barotta instead of Parotta!! is used ( somebody should testify this).Parotta is good at Karaikudi and Coastline ( all a part of same complex) opp Nilgris Nest.

But they cannot go beyond plain parotta.But it is crisp and smells fresh. Down south, it’s difficult to find stuffed Parathas. Its thinner than the Laccha Paratha that one gets up north and has more oil as well. It stretches also unlike the Laccha. Eaten with mutton stew, it’s a treat.

 

Lastly, how can one forget the egg Parathas available outside Vikram Hotel in New Delhi. This Cart wallah starts the business at 2100 and closes shop at 0200.Speciality-egg Parathas.The taste is pedestrian, but the effusive, ebullient surroundings makes it a good experience.

Only suitable for cast iron lined stomachs, this Paratha really delivers a volley of calories. The way he packs 2 eggs during the Paratha making process is a delight. Close your eyes and eat. Just don’t go for a medical checkup after eating.

 

How to eat a Mango ” Is it signs of changing times”

Mangoes are not to be eaten with fork or spoon. Mangoes are supposed to be eaten as per following Process:

  1. Caress the mango. Wipe them with soft muslin cloth. Smell them.
  2. Repeat step 1.
  3. Take a bucket (actually it should be a wrought iron tub) of water. Buy blocks of ice from friendly ice maker. Put the blocks in the bucket.
  4. Put all the mangoes in the chilled water.
  5. The steps 1-4 should be done in the morning.
  6. Wait till the afternoon.

    Best mango eating sequence in Hindi films : Border (1997)

  7. Look into the bucket and take a deep breath. Put your head down till the tip of your nose touches the chilled water!! And smell.

    Mangoes in ice cold water in a "Patila" ( or a Pan)

  8. Pick up a mango and make a hole at the tip.Squeeze.As per the folklore sourness gets out from the hole.
  9. Hold the mango in one palm. Just squeeze the pulp out and devour it. Some pulp may spill on to the shirt, but carry on.

    See the enjoyment on the face of Akshye Khanna as he sucks in the mango

  10. Eat all the mangoes.
  11. Take a bath and sleep the afternoon!!

This is best described in a sequence in the film “Border” by JP Dutta. There is this scene when Pooja Bhatt & Akshye Khanna families meet for finalizing their engagement. Best Mango scene ever.

Mango celebration

 

And what do they do now days?

  1. Buy the mangoes and put in biofresh refrigerator.
  2. The chillness is uneven. Worse, it maybe half frozen.
  3. Then cut the mangoes or worse, peel them off (peel a mango off! you must be joking my dear-peel a mango you said!! My god!!-mango is not a cucumber or a carrot).
  4. Scoop the pulp with a spoon. or sprinkle chat masala on cubes of mango and eat with a fork. Disaster! or mix it with cucumber and tomato for a fruit Chat.
  5. And they work afterwards!! You must be joking. Nobody works after eating a mango (you never eat a mango, you eat mangoes).Eating mangoes is “Work” and an art. You need to have a well earned rest afterwards.

The earlier way of eating mangoes was exploratory, used all the senses and in a way was playful and childish. It was celebration of life. Today, its just done to satisfy a craving. Its more like a 2 minute noodle experience. We have forgotten to savour life, its small precious moments and are reveling in instant gratification. We have lost our childhood. 

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MFI’s, credit cards : Modern day greedy moneylenders a.k.a kanhyalal in old Indian films!!

Aaj Ka Kanhyalal ( modern day greedy moneylenders)

Remember Kanhyalal- a permanent fixture in bollywood films of 60s & 70s era  based on rural settings.The rogue moneylender who had a roving eye and used to hoodwink the poor villagers by making them sign all sort of horror deals on stamp-paper.Then one day he will appear outside the poor man’s hutment and demand the monies. As a good measure, he will also call the goons and announce to the neighbors what a cheat the poor man is as he has’nt paid back the money which he had lent to him two seasons back and which mysteriously has become two times. The poor man grovels at his feet, begs forgiveness, looks sheepishly around, his honor in tatters, he cries for mercy. No way, says Kanhyalal as his goons take away his goat and cow and he laughs out loud, insults the poor man, exhorts his neighbors to shun him, throw him out of the community and hundred such solutions to get back his money. The story always had a sad ending, either the poor man gets sick, his family disintegrates or he commits suicide.

Now, cut to modern era and enter a 5 star hotel conference hall holding a conference on micro finance and how it has changed the under developed nations. The pin striped, armani or seville row  bespoke suit wearing banker is espousing the cause of micro finance on the podium, how his heart bleeds at the plight of the poor people who find it hard to make it to two meals a day, how his life’s mission is to make them rise above their misery; and then he pauses, takes a sip from his evian bottle, adjusts his harrod’s special collection tie, looks down to his bally shoes and rants on. The lady on the first seat is bleary eyed from the long transcontinental flight, upset that the conference timings did’nt give her an opportunity to undergo early morning spa treatment to treat her jet lag!. She also couldn’t eat her croissants and muesli properly at the breakfast as she was rushed. But her heart is also silently weeping as she sees a micro finance company parading a group of poor women who have brought prosperity to their community. What a big sham is being perpetrated? The delegates bite into jumbo prawns at the evening cultural show sipping the best wines of the cellar…… and the charade continues to uplift the poor and downtrodden.

Microfinance shot into prominance when Muhummad Yunus got the Nobel Prize for his efforts related to the Grameen Banks in Bangladesh. After that there was a deluge. In India also, the poster company was SKS Microfinance which has been in news in recent times for all the wrong reasons.

Micro finance companies profess to uplift women and claim that they are the biggest beneficiaries, well the facts shows otherwise, they actually are its chief victims as well. Just read through the horror stories of  women in Andhra Pradesh which was the first full scale micro finance laboratory in India. They charge interest rates of upwards of 24% per annum, sometimes touching 36%, hold back payments but calculate interest on the whole amount, using the pretext that its risky, no banks are willing to lend and that distribution  cost for such scattered and diverse group is large. In good measures the repayments are on fortnightly basis, tightly ensured with no flexibility, and use community pressure to recover their monies to the hilt. They profess that the monies they provide is like micro credit and help impoverished to create businesses and secure their future. This a big ball of lies. All the FMCG companies use the micro finance distributors to sell off their goods and the monies which was supposed to create livelyhood is used for consumption of shampoos, soaps. The lender is least bothered about the end use of money, at times the monies received from one MFI was used to repay to another MFI.

The moneylenders were better. They offered the same interest, were flexible and were willing to take back in kind. No way, says the MFI co., and create a pressure cooker scenario around the borrower that lead to high suicide rate in Andhra Pradesh. Unfortunately they target women who pay a huge price by getting embroiled in shenanigans played by the lenders. In an already bleak scenario where women were oppressed, more levers are pressed to create peer pressure and gender inequality gets skewed further. The poor women situation does not improve, it worsens.

But damn the women, our banker is happy, his wife is happy, his friends are happy. The venture capitalist or the vulture capitalist ( VC), whichever way you look at it is ever eager to put in money in an enterprise that is charging interest rates upwards of 24% p.a. The Micro finance party was a big hit and finally the biggest charade happened. A microfinance company came out with a big bang IPO, general wide eyed public went berserk. Mouth watering returns and everybody wanted to lend to the poor.

Credit Card :

Well, the credit card companies are just like Kanhyalal.They are the only companies who get a “high” on receivables!! Unlike poor guys like us who get the “lows” when receivables go up.They simply love “roll-over” guys- people who roll their outstandings by paying the minimum payable.The receivables are their money generators!! Phew-the devil is in the fine print.That is the power of marketing.All costs considered, the outstanding amount comes at a shocking 46% p.a. interest tag. Infact once the roll over starts, your credit limit ends so interest gets calculated on all your current purchases as well.Infact in USA, Indians are a pariah for the credit card companies as they never roll-over and always pay on time!! The credit card companies hate people who pay on time!!. Such are ways of business.Well the credit card companies say that these outstandings are unsecuritised and hence such a high interest rate-46% p.a. A lot of bull-but well that’s the way a business which generates hundreds of billion of dollars per annum globally and which essentially triggered the current IT boom and continues to give impetus to the boom is based on-sheer muck!!.Actually credit card companies give us a lot insights to human mind working.

In Delhi, there are moneylenders who give 1000 Rs to the vegetable vendor in the morning to buy vegetables, and return them 1010 Rs in the evening. Simple maths. They charge 1% working capital interest per day. It adds to 365% returns p.a. No corporate has yet looked at corporatising this business model. The lender is happy and the borrower is also happy even after paying 365% p.a return.

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Lip smacking Pizza : Where do I get one ?

What’s a great Pizza. It should have a thin crust, should be light, the base should be visible in parts, the toppings should be lazily thrown all over, the toppings should not be heavy and neither should they be in large quantities, should definitely have some basil leaves peppered over, great mozzarella leisurely melting over the base and a good helping of fine olive oil. This is my vision of a great Pizza, sitting beside a small cottage on a private beach with waves hitting the rocks and a pied-piper blowing sweet melodies as the sun goes down. I had an opportunity of enjoying this ethereal setting couple of times. Seagulls flapping their wings just makes it better. A lighthouse on a faraway horizon completes the pictures. A glass of wine would compliment the situation.

Ahem!, you would cry, but the pizza available all around us, does not even remotely looks like that; isn’t it, well blame it on home delivery, fast food joints and great America in equal measure. As a result, the base started getting thicker (“Pan Pizza”), the base is smothered with all sorts of toppings and finally it is weighed down by  humungous and copious quantities of cheeses of questionable origin and quality. The net effect is that its heavy on the stomach, full of undesired calories.

The Pizza in its purest form is simple and minimalistic. It has a great thin crust coated with freshly made tomato sauce, topped with meat, or seafood helpings, small vegetables, mushrooms, basil leaves, fresh oregano, best mozzarella and a good drizzle of olive oil and freshly baked in wood fired oven ( wood fired aroma can never ever replace electric or charcoal oven).

Where the heck you get these sort of Pizza in India? Well, the answer is quite simple and straightforward. There are only 2 great places to have the authentic Italian Pizza with the 3rd place at a kissing distance. Yes, thats it; only 3 places. No room for discussion even.

Celini, at Grand Hyatt, Kalina, Mumbai offers the best Pizza that one can get in India. They are thin, light and made just the right way. Try a veggy Pizza, its great or the one with thin shavings of Parma Ham and porcini mushrooms or the one with shrimps thrown all over. All are great, just great. So if you stay in Mumbai or planning to visit Mumbai, love Pizza, Celini is the place to go. Its expensive, but well, the visit would be well worth. Its so light that even after eating a whole pizza ( yes, i whole pizza), you will not feel heavy and might find an excuse for an extra slice.

Olive Bar and Kitchen at Mehrauli, Delhi comes a close second. Its right next to Qutub Minar, the setting is leisurely white, great ambience; has indoors and outdoors and the Pizza is a “smasher”. Try the Parma Ham, rocket and Parmesan Pizza or the the spinach, sun dried tomatoes, corn, Parmesan.One can easily polish off a Pizza alone.Drizzle olive oil liberally, and mama mia, this is the place to be.

Diva, N Block ,Greater Kailash, New Delhi is the 3rd one trying to close the gap with the Olive. Thats it.

Simple, yes only 3 places in India to relish a great Pizza.

To test how the world tour of Pizza has horribly gone bad, look around at Milan airport, Italy. At its domestic departure terminal, you will get thin crusty Pizza with great toppings and olive oil drizzlings and at International departure, a horrendous Pan Pizza with obscenely high quantity of cheese and meaty toppings.

Need I say more!!

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Japanese Cuisine : Sushi and more

Most of us get overwhelmed and confused whenever we visit a Japanese restaurant as the first image that hits us is that of “Sushi” and “ raw fish”. For most of us, Japanese cuisine starts and ends with Sushi with an occasional Tempura or Yakitori thrown in.

Sashimi : raw seafood

Relax, help is at hand. I will take you thru some excellent Japanese dishes in a simple manner and try to correlate them with Indian flavours so that you are at ease. Walk confidently, order with ease and enjoy. We will also run thru average, good and great Japanese joints in India. Please see that I will write about only the ones that I have visited and there could be many more which maybe better. Atleast you will have a list to start with!

Sushi :

Lets start with Sushi first. As starters, not all Sushi dishes have raw fish. One common ingredient is off course rice. Japanese rice is short grain rice as opposed to our long grain basmati that we love so much. So Sushi rice cannot be basmati or long grain.

Sushi’s are basically of 2 types ( with nori sheets or without nori sheets; nori sheets are green in color and made of seaweed, pressed and gently roasted). I love nori sheets flavour. They are available at all high end general stores and can be put in soups or mixed with your usual rice as well. Be warned, Nori Sheet flavour and taste is an “acquired taste” i.e. you may start liking it if you use it frequently. Also chances are that if you like umami tastes ( prawn, crab, shellfish, shitake mushroom), you will have a natural liking towards Nori sheets. Its a strong flavour.

Nigiri

Sushi without the nori sheets ( Nigri) consists of a flattened mound of rice covered with raw fish or a pickled vegetable or a slice of omelette.  There are several types of raw seafood options available ( yellowtail, prawn, cod, salmon etc). So Nigri means without nori sheet Sushi. I personally don’t like Nigri’s except for the one with an omelette.

Futomaki

Makisushi

Sushi with Nori Sheets are of several kinds. The nori can be outside and rice inside ( Maki or Uramaki rolls) or nori can be inside and rice outside ( Futomaki). Preparing Futomaki is an art as rice is outside with nori sheet and assortment of fish, vegetables inside. It needs dextrous hands to prepare. Maki rolls are easier to make. Futomaki rolls were first created in US as Americans initially weren’t amused with the color, texture of Maki rolls with nori sheets outside. I don’t have a bias either for Maki or Futomaki. Both have a great taste and I love them.

Then there is great “Temaki rolls”. Here, nori sheet is rolled like a ice cream cone and instead of ice cream, an assortment of rice, crabstick, carrot, avocado, salmon, various dressings are put. You take big bites of it and all the flavours burst into your mouth. Sometimes, they put Salmon roe ( small orange balls which actually are Salmon eggs) are put on top. It has to be eaten fresh as the nori cone becomes soggy if not eaten quickly. Temaki rolls comes with various name; California rolls is my favourite with crab stick and avocado ; Philadelphia roll comes with a Salmon stuffing ( I don’t prefer Salmon stuffing, so I give it a go by!).

Place to eat great Sushi:

Wasabi

Sakura, Nikko Metropolitan, Bangla Sahib Road, Connaught Place, New Delhi : Till now, there has been only one and only place in India to eat Great Sushi i.e. Sakura at Nikko Metropolitan Hotel, New Delhi. It was closed for a year due to renovation but open now. Don’t visit Sakura on Sunday afternoon as their unlimited brunch is nothing to talk about. The Sushi platter is however completely divine. If you are eating first time or generally are non-adventurous kind, don’t order Nigri. Order some Temaki rolls and Futomaki rolls. You can request them to have fillings of your choice ( I don’t like tuna and Salmon). If you know how to use chopsticks, use them or otherwise use your hands to pickup the Sushi. You are also provided with a small shallow plate to pour in your soya sauce, a mound of wasabi ( pungent horseradish paste) and sweet pickled thin slices of pink colored ginger. Pickup your Sushi, gently glide it over the soya sauce ( don’t dunk the whole Sushi as otherwise the rice will drink up the sauce) and put the whole thing or half of it in your mouth. You can also mix some wasabi with your soya although this is not recommended while eating Sushi ( the mixing of soya and wasabi is recommended when eating Sashimi) as the Sushi already has wasabi inside. If you are using chopsticks, you are suppose to gently poke your chopsticks into wasabi mount so that tiny wasabi specs stick on to the chopstick and then pickup the Sushi and eat (Presto!). In between morsels of different types of Sushi, you can eat those lovely ginger shavings. They are supposed to clean your palate ( just like you smell coffee after smelling many parfums) i.e. it erases earlier flavours and makes your tongue ready for a new flavour. The Sushi platter is good as it has a wide assortment of flavours. Sakura is an expensive place, but if you have a Citibank card, generally you get a 20% discount. It’s expensive but the ingredients used are top class, regularly flown in; cutlery is magnificent; minimalistic decor, service is top class; Top Honours.

Oriental Avenue at Shangri-La, Connaught Place, New Delhi : The Sushi sizes are big, flavourful and generally more expensive. But it comes a close second.

360 at Oberoi, Delhi and 361 at Oberoi, Gurgaon serves excellent Sushi. But a notch lower than Sakura and Shangri-La.

Yum Yum Tree, Friends Colony Market, New Delhi : Only place in New Delhi where Sushi is served on a conveyer belt. You have a thin  U shaped slow moving conveyer belt and you are seated outside the U shaped belt which keeps moving. The Sushi Chef stands at one end, keeps preparing Sushi, puts them in a bowl or a plate and places them on the moving belt. You pickup whichever plate you like. Generally, its an unlimited platter and you keep picking the stuff. At times, it becomes very annoying as the guests seated at the early end of conveyor keep gobbling your favourite flavours and you get their discards. However, once they are satiated, you can have your pick. The Sushi are good and its value for money. They have Sushi brunches on Sundays and some other days and they are well worth the money spend. But is it gourmet, definitely no!. Its cheaper than Sakura, Sushi’s are small but you can frequent this place many times unlike Sakura.Value for money.

Zest or now called as Setz at DLF Promenade Mall, Vasant Kunj also serves great varieties of Sushi. Its middle of the road between Sakura and Yum Yum Tree. However it is too busy, crowded and serves many other cuisines other than only Sushi.

Indian Jones at The Oberoi, Mumbai, Pan Asia at Grand Maratha in Mumbai are also great places to have your Sushi full. Great ingredients, but are generally very busy restaurants.

Sushiya in Delhi is your take away Sushi counter. Its decent, millions of notches below Sakura and Yum Yum but for a fast joint, serves average fare. Tamura doesn’t add up at either Friends colony or Basant Lok Branch. Its a big no.

I haven’t been to Wasabi at Taj or the new place at Leela, Chanakya Puri. But have read rave reviews and hopefully would visit them one day.

Noodles & Broth:

As you flip thru the menu, Soba, Udon and Ramen noodles would catch your attention. What are they? Simply said they mean:

Buckwheat Soba

Soba means thin noodles made of buckwheat : Guess what is buckwheat. For starters it is not wheat and its not a cereal. In India Buckwheat is known by a popular name “Kuttu ka Atta”!!. Yes, the same atta which is used for making puris and kachoris during fasting days ( during fasting , no cereals are are allowed). See, we are closer to Japanese than we think. These noodles are at times served cold? Yes cold!, Don’t try it. You maynot like them. Try them warm in a scalding broth.

Udon slurpy noodles

Udon means thick wheat noodles ( unlike buckwheat). They are really thick, more like spaghetti but have a lustrous feel to them. They are generally dunked into a piping hot scalding broth alongwith vegetables, prawn tempura and a whole egg. Its really a treat. If you like your soup in a large bowl, very hot (piping), then this is for you. I love this broth. The noodles actually have no taste. They just slip thru. Don’t mistake these for your Hakka noodles or the Pad Thai. They are different.

Ramen broth

Ramen are Chinese type noodles in Japanese cuisine. If you don’t eat Pork, stay away from Ramen noodles or Ramen noodles broth. Chances are 100% that these noodles are served in pork broth with pork meat shavings. They are similar to our maggi noodles.

Tempura, Yakitori and Teriyaki:

Well Tempura is your “pakora’!, yes it is like your pakora, but made with fine flour, crispy and crunchy. The batter is very thin and vegetables are visible. Don’t even try vegetarian Tempura’s, our pakora’s are much better. But Prawn Tempura is the king, its awesome, delicious and one has to have couple of them. Paste them with wasabi and add a touch of soya and they are magic.

Yakitori

Yakitori are chicken skewers ( Japanese version of Kebabs minus the garam masala). They smoother soft chicken pieces in variety of sauces and grill them. Awesome. Soft, delicious chunky chicken pieces melt in your mouth. My favourite.

Teriyaki

Teriyaki is a sweet Soya marinade used in chicken and fish dishes. Excellent taste.Kids just love it.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki ( Japanese utthapam) : Seriously its Japanese answer to American pancakes or Indian Uthapam. You can different meats put on top along with Mayonnaise. Great indulgent stuff. But please don’t eat before eating Sushi as you will be already full.

Japanese Starters:

I like spinach Gomae. Its a wonderful melange of spinach, sesame, soya and  slightly sweet. Great to start the meal with.

So, although the Japanese Menu would list many dishes, the above would keep you happy.

Gyoza are similar to chinese Kothey’s. They are wontons and then shallow fried.

Gyoza

Happy “Sushiying”!!!

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In search of great Dimsums

This time, we go on a journey in search of perfect Dimsums ( also mistakenly called as wontons, Suimie, kotheys, dumplings).These steamed delicacies served in a bamboo basket  are on menu of good chinese restaurants and are an epicurean delight.These are not meant for filling the stomach but for appreciating the skills of the chef.In lucknow you may call it a “Khayaal- an urdu word closely meaning thinking or a way of life or a thought process” !! In Hongkong, a dimsum chef is the highest paid and it takes years of internship to turn out the delicacies.For years, he perfects the art of rolling the flour and making wrappers.I myself visited many restaurants in Hongkong and have feasted on such delicacies.

The different varieties of steamed dumplings sounds similar but all of these are in different shapes, have different texture and tastes and are made differently and should be accompanied by different sauces.The Dimsums have to be eaten in tiny bits as there is lot of steam capsuled in a dumplings.My mouth got seared by the latent heat when once I ate the dimsum in a hurry.Further, a tiny drop of soya sauce needs to be dropped on top of a dumpling.Generally, the texture should be smooth so that the drop slides down and leaves a trace of sauce all over.A good dimsum always has an even distribution of fillings so that every morsel has a piece of wrapping and fillings.The fillings range from chicken, prawns, vegetables and other exotic varieties. Generally the fillings are minced but an expert dimsum chef could place individual prawns ( dead off course) in individual wrappings and make the wrappings so thin & translucent that one can see the entire prawn from outside. In Hongkong, you also get Soup Dimsums. This takes the dexterity of the chef to a new high. At times, the soup is frozen, Dimsums made and then steamed. This way the minute one bites into the luscious translucent dumpling, the searing hot soup falls out. Beware, its an art to eat such Dimsums.

The wrappings generally are paper thin, have lot of meat and should be properly cooked.If less cooked, you would have a floury taste and overcooked would be soggy & wet. At many eating joints, either these are filled beyond capacity and as a result they break apart or the filling is so less that you land up eating mostly steamed flour.Most of eateries, store cooked dumplings in fridge which they steam once again when it is ordered-sacrilege I would say and they taste yuck.The dimsums need time & care and should be freshly steamed.Fried variety of dimsum is like a samosa-immensly forgettable. Further they need be served in a bamboo box and they should be steamed with water having touch of sesame oil and tea leaves.When the aroma of sesame oil wafts thru the porus bamboo mat of the box, it carries with it the misty smell of sesame and bamboo.

  1. I have travelled far and wide in search of the perfect Dimsums. Some places are atrocious, some mediocre and some really great. One such place is “Royal China”. This place has a branch in Mumbai ( behind Sterling Cinema) and New Delhi ( 16th floor at Eros Corporate Centre, Nehru place). Between the two, my pick would be the Delhi branch. Its got a great panoramic view from the 16th floor for starters and its a huge place. They serve great unlimited Dimsums brunch- a treat to die for. Prawn Hargao, Spicy Chicken Dimsum are wonderfull. Must try is ” Prawn Chunfung”. Its a delicate elongated wrapper with prawn fillings.
  2. Yum Yum tree in Friends Colony is a great eatery. They also have a unlimited plan and one is always filled till throat after gulping Dimsums. You cant stop at one basket, one has to have atleast 4-5 baskets of 3 Dimsums each before you even start thinking about something else.
  3. Mainland China in Mumbai, Chennai , Hyderabad ,Kolkata or Delhi is another nice place to have your Dimsums..Try the prawns suimi ( these are dumplings open from top) or else order for a mixed platter at Mainland China.Worth a visit.Mainland China is value for money.
  4. Taipan in Oberoi , New Delhi has a serving trolley with an inbuilt steamer in which the bamboo boxes are kept.They offer Dimsums corporate lunches.Extremely good ( this is the only good thing at otherwise yuck Taipan).Best of all, you get six varieties of dimsums and you can have any amount you want ( although the hostess generally never informs this upfront).It is very expensive, but each dimsum is a piece of art, rightly steamed, rightly stuffed and never soggy. They also serve sticky rice in a banana leaf-perfectly done and sheer heavenly.
  5. Oriental Blossoms at Marine Plaza, Mumbai comes  close to great Dimsums.It atleast tries hard to compete with the above.Reasonable rates and good sauces.They also serve them in bamboo boxes.
  6. Tea House of August Moon at Taj , Delhi is an excellent place to have kotheys ( another form of steamed dimsums which are open from top).The accompanied black bean sauce is marvelous and the dimsums are paper thin.It takes 20-30 minutes to prepare dimsums- hence it can never be a fast food.The hostess at Taj would always inform you of the time and you just bow and let the gastric juices do a tango inside your stomach.Actually dimsums have a great respect for your stomach linings and they make sure not to upset them!.
  7. Lings Pavilion, Colaba and its cousin-Imperial Garden, Vasant Kunj and Yo China, serve dimsums which have a place in dust bin only.Thick sticking flour, laced with sauces- it is a nightmare. Highly avoidable.You should visit Lings Pavilion for crab claws & Buddha delight.

Delhi nowadays is also bitten by “Momo” craze. These are an import from Tibet.These are also steamed flour dumplings but are not a work of art. More of it later.

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Gilt Funds / Bonds investment time is now … this year ” 2012 “

2012 is an exciting investment year. Forget about investing in equities this year.There is another avenue which would give you far more returns.

In India, interest rate cycle has peaked.Its time as the interest rates would slowly start coming down after RBI has increased the rates 13 times since 2009. What does it mean? The yields would go up and up like crazy.

Have you seen how Gilt Funds and bonds have performed in Jan,2012. Kotak Gilt (Investment plan) has given a mind boggling return of 3.93% in Jan,2012 ( annualized it is 48%) . Think about it, its just the start of the lowering down of interest cycle. This is the time to rush in. Gilt Funds are ultra safe and pickup a long term Gilt plan from Birla mutual / Kotak or IDFC. Chances are that you will make returns in excess of 20% in 2012.

Would equity mutual fund give you this return. No way. It would wobble up and down. 10-12% would be more probable. Gold is good and can give upwards of 15% but Gilt Funds would rule. For Gold investing, always and always use an SIP ( Systematic Investment Plan) as its too volatile.

This year, sell your stocks, equity mutual funds and invest in Gilt Funds. You will not regret it.

Go back into history, In 2008, Gilt Funds on an average gave a 25% return. That was in a year where it was mayhem and everything crashed.Then the rates starting hardening from mid 2009 and returns started dropping.

So buy Gilt Funds now and keep buying. The earlier you buy, the better it is. Don’t forget to sell your Gilt Funds by 2013 Q3.  Hopefully by then, you would have made enough.

 

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Bilateral Trade Mechanism : Absolute Golmal

So much world trade business is transacted thru bilateral trade mechanisms that it may shock you.You only see the well heeled black armani suited guys sipping mineral water ( generally avian) at bilateral trade summits, but what goes behind is eye popping.The mechanism goes as follows:

Typically these agreements are common for big ticket items like aircraft purchases.Say Boeing wants to sell 20 aircrafts to China.China to start with ( you could replace China by India or any other country), would make unreasonable demands of sourcing airlines parts locally to extent of 60%.Boeing would go thru the motions of proving as to why it cannot locally source materials due to quality, delivery, reliability reasons ( China anyway knows that too well, but no harm in trying).

Stage 2- China demands that well atleast 30% has to sourced locally.No way, the Boeing executives would shout loudly-the planes would fall you see!!.

Stage 3-Crunch time- China asks Boeing to help sell Chinese goods worth 30% of aircraft costs.Well suddenly it starts making sense.

Stage 4-Boeing agrees.It creates an elaborate system of set-off points with Chinese government equivalent to 30% value spread over negotiable years.

Stage 5-Boeing spreads the word amongst countless middlemen to hawk these set-off points.People start approaching companies who buy Chinese goods anyway.The middlemen show these deals as deals supported by Boeing Co. to enable Boeing to gain valuable points.Boeing would not be averse to parting away 3-5% of points to various emissaries.Everybody makes money.

Actually there is an informal secondary market of set-offs in USA and is played surreptitiously thru various finance companies and omnipresent SPV ( Special Purpose Vehicles).

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In Search of best Dosas

Dosas are different things to different people. Do-Shah to the Malayali, Do-Sigh to the Tamil and, oddly enough, the phonetically-perfect Do-Sa to the Punjabi. Even language, as it were, seems to acknowledge their adaptability.

Dosas, however, are many things rolled into one (pun intended). They can be plain or stuffed. They can be laughably small (the splendid banana Dosas at Park Sheraton’s Dakshin are not much bigger than medallions) or formidably large (an honestly-sized family dosa should always extend over both sides of your table).

Most often, of course, Dosas are your regulated, standard-issue, newspaper-like roll-up. But they can also come in pretty much any shape you can imagine. There are ones which stands bolt upright and are shaped like a cone, rabbit or cat.

Dosas, come in a myriad of other forms. You can pack them with panner — as any good Punjabi will tell you. You can load them with kheema — ask any good old-fashioned carnivore. If you are unconcerned about cholesterol levels, you can mix them with egg. You can even drizzle cheese on them.

Viewed in an inter-personal context, Dosas are accommodating, amenable, responsive, hospitable. Located in a secular matrix, they are truly pluralist. And in literary terms, they are capable of weaving numerous complex narratives under a common theme.

Restaurants in Chennai and elsewhere have woken up to the versatility of the dosa. Until fairly recently, the `plain’ and the `masala’ constituted your restaurant staple with the odd rava or pesarattu thrown in for variety. Now, they come with the most surprising and unexpected of fillings. Lets just go and try the various types of Dosas on offer!!

  1. Dosas at Sangeetha Lunch home on the way to airport is the best place visited by self till date for Dosas.The Dosas are just perfect.They have the right ghee ( as opposed to so called roasted Dosas for fitness freaks), and the potato stuffing is just right without chillies.The coconut chutney is just excellent.Do you know that the calories in a dosa and in the accompanying coconut chutney are the same!!.So next time, if you wish to control your weight, eat either of the two i.e. either the dosa or the chutney.Actually, coconut chutney is also a dish which goes bad pretty quickly.Hence, although delicious, it is best avoidable on official/personal trips as the chances of getting a stomach infection run very high with this chutney.Murugun Idly shop dosas come a close second to this place.
  2. Try  the Dosas at a restaurant opposite the Chennai railway station ( I forget the name of the restaurant).The Dosas are lovely, smooth and well done. For take-away, they roll them up in light green banana leaves and keep the chutney in folds.
  3. Sarvana Bhawan do not live upto the expectations. The Dosas are generally sloppy and at times have uncooked blind spots.The thickness also at times is uneven and they lack consistency.The chutney problem is the same.Highly avoidable.
  4. The bylanes of Meenakshi temple in Madurai are lined with small eateries serving excellent Dosas at real value for money.Simply prepared, the potato fillings is generally smoothered with ghee. The waiter would like blankly into your face if you order a dosa with no/less ghee. They have never seen a city bumpkin asking for ghee-less dosa.
  5. Sagar Ratna in Delhi is highly overrated. It is highly inconsistent with its potato fillings and quantity of ghee.Although the line of anxious customers standing outside never fails to amuse me.Naiyvedayam at Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi serves lovely Dosas with great chutneys.
  6. In Mumbai, there are plethora of eateries in Matunga serving dosas. But nothing is exceptional. All are good not great, can fill up your stomach but that’s it. Kamat at Fort does a reasonably good job. But overall, nothing to die for.
  7. Chutneys in Hyderabad is shaping out nicely. They have great variety of Dosas and I love their pessaratu ( funnily a Dosa with a Upma filling). This is a double treat for me as I love upma. They also serve lovely set Dosas.
  8. You would wonder that why did I leave out MTR in Bangalore. For starters, its way too heavy.The waiter never agrees or obeys my humble request for less oil or ghee or butter or whatever. The dosa comes soaked in ghee and if you have for breakfast, your lunch goes for a toss.
  9. I hate rawa dosa with liberal sprinklings of black pepper. I have time and again at many eateries requested them to avoid the solid black pepper, but for some unknown reason, they seem to be fascinated with that form.I have on many ocassions, removed diligently each and every black pepper corn and finally savoured the rawa dosa.
  10. The best egg dosa is available many feets above ground, literally. You need to go to mall road, Shimla for that. Go to Indian Coffee House and order the egg dosa. The old wobbly waiter would bring the dosa after ages, but its well worth the wait.
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In search of Great Kababs

Kakori Kabab

The search of kabab cannot start without the mention of Dastarkhwan. Dastarkhwan is a laid out table which is all encompassing.It is famous for its meat dishes based on finely ground and filtered condiments, and for the style with which the food is served.Certain dishes are common to all occassions.These are the pulao, a derivative of the international pilaf; the kabab, again with its international connections; the qorma ( a particular curry);the shorba (like a soup) and the naan ( a bread).It is the symphony of all these together which transcends all regional barriers and gives to the senses, a high.

 Amongst the range of kababas are kabab e sangh ( cooked on the heat of stone), pateeli ke kabab ( cooked in a vessel), kabab e gul ( shaped like a rose), kabab e warqi ( made with a fine layer of mince), shammi kabab ( with mince ground daal and filled with green masala), kabab e bayzavi (cooked in the shell of egg), seekh kabab ( roasted on skewers), nargisi kabab ( with an egg within), qeema pasanda ( another mince delicacy), galawat kabab ( mince marinated with raw papaya) and kakori kabab ( smoothen meat kabab which just melts in mouth).

Each and every variety of kabab is a piece of art and the chefs typically have their signature masalas which are guarded from generations.Although there are many ways to enjoy the kababs, these are best enjoyed while enjoying ghazal, khayal, daadra, thumri or kathak(These are various expressions of music and dance.Some maybe considered a measure of  nawabi decadence, but still are popular in their various avatars).A bit of liquor also comes in handy and acts as a multiplier effect!!

 Seekh Kabab      

The seekh kabab has long been considered a piece de resistance in the Awadhi dastarkhwan . The beautifully executed kabab is what every Lucknawi is proud of. The seekh kabab, introduced in this region by the Mughals, was originally prepared from beef mince on skewers and cooked on charcoal fire. But later influences and innovations led to the use of lamb mince, which was preferred for its soft texture. Besides, serving of it on the dastarkhwan did not offend the sensibilities of the Hindu guests. The immense popularity of this kabab led to further refinements and improvements and one bawarchi from Kakori found much acclaim for his efforts in this direction. ‘Kakori Kababs’ drive their lineage from there.(Kakori is a small hamlet on the outskirts of Lucknow, in the Lucknow – Malihabad mango – belt. During the freedom struggle, it became well known for the famous ‘Kakori Case’ when a band of freedom fighters looted the train carrying the British Government Treasury money at this obscure place).These kababs just melt into your mouth.Mere touching makes them crumble.Slide your fingers over these kababs and you can distinctly feel the smoothness of the wrappings.These are actually piece of art.

  1. It is difficult to find a place serving good seekh kababs and specially kakori kababs. Nevertheless, Al-kauser in Diplomatic Enclave and near Malai Mandir in R K Puram,  Delhi serves good kakori kababs.These are neither heavy on stomach or your wallet.The kababs needs to be handled carefully otherwise they just break apart. They are just too soft.Pudina Chutney generally goes well alongwith onion circles.Go late in the evening near malai mandir, grab a chair under open sky, shout out for the man friday, dont even look at the menu and just order the kakori.The hole in the wall eatery also offers the best handi biryani this side of New Delhi.The aroma wafts thru the air. Never mind the ocassional street dog sniffing up the party that you are having and without permission resting next to your leg and waiting for you to be generous. Dont worry, they have never bitten anybody and it would be in scheme of things to throw a small shaving of kabab to the mongrel.Dum Pukht at Maurya serves decent kakori, but the prices make you cringe.Certainly not advisable.
  2. For more succulent seekh kababs, blindly hit Colonel Kabab at Defence colony. The

    Seekh Kebab

    right way is to park your car as close as possible to the eatery, roll down your windows and shout. In no time a man would appear and in quick succession would read out all the dishes.You need not be confused.Order only and only mutton seekh kabab ( no chicken, no fish).Focus on mutton.The kababs are cooked on charcoal and melt in the mouth.They melt because they are made of the most fatty pieces the butcher could find on the goat!.So forget about your cholestrol count for a evening and dig.Vegeterians have no place here. Actually alongwith Seekh Kabab, 2 small pegs of whisky in a plastic cup would do harm.Maybe they will dissolve the cholestrol in kababs. For the snooty and the high heeled types who cant stand the sight of eating in the car and driving later with oily fingers on the steering wheel, dont fret. They have a cubby hole upstairs which is so claustrophobic and fire friendly, without any escape route, that you will freeze in horror.But what the heck!, you are just 10 feet above and in emergency, you may just jump down and survive with some fractured bones. The food is cooked down and transported upstairs. My suggestion: dont go upstairs.Give up your high heel attitude once in a while.Moets is nearby, but give it a go by.

  3. Bukhara at Sheraton, Delhi is a hyped up restaurant.For starters it is obscenely expensive, is not value for money and except for 1 speciality item ( The raan-leg of a young lamb, this dish needs special technique and is not available elsewhere), all the others are good but not worthy of such price, snob and hype.Additionally, sitting on wooden logs is a nightmarish back breaking experience.The daal bukhara is rich, fat laden daal which is prepared keeping the white men visitors rush.The foreigners love the ambience and the family naan ( this naan is carried by 4 waiters!!).The family naan unfortunately becomes rubbery by the time, you reach its middle.Strictly avoidable except if you suddenly get the same wish as Qusay ( son of Saddam who lit his cigars with 50USD bills) or you wish to devour the raan.
  4. Khan Chacha in its earlier avatar at Khan Market was a decent joint. You go in the alley, push your way through, try to attract the attention of Chachaji and place your order. The fare was decent but not exceptional.I have not been to the plusher version of Khan Chacha but presumably it will preserve its uniqueness.
  5. In Mumbai, Peshawari at Grand Maratha is great for kababs.The platter is awesome and mind blowing and well worth a try.If you thought that tandoori connotes less oil, lean meat, less rich-think again.Just peep thru the giant glass separating the chef from the carnivores and you would nearly faint as the chef dips a muslin cloth in a large bowl of yellow amul butter and then squeezes all the butter over a single skewer.They make the kababs soft by marinating them in butter !!.These are delicious but very heavy.It is advisable that you walk down to your residence or hotel after this nawabi feast.This way maybe the sin is less and additionally you may digest a fraction of feast!!.
  6. Khyber at Fort, churn out kababs delicacies by the dozen.The spread is good and the food is great.The kababs texture should never have course flesh, and neither should it have a lingering after taste.This place scores on both accounts.
  7. I dont know the fuss around Bade Miyan behind Taj. It attracts a mob at sunset and has many dishes. Are they special, many seems to vouch, for me, its Al-Kauzer and Colonel Kabab which wins hands down.
  8. Also try the “Great kabab Factory”. Only problem is that they nauseate you with the plethora of kababs and you would run away from the sight of kababs for weeks. If you want to get saturated with kababs, do visit, otherwise, just scoot.
  9. Galawati Kababs are difficult to find outside Luknow.If you happen to be there, visit Bada Imambara, and eat Tunde kababs.These are heavenly and very heavy and worth a try.
  10. If you dont want to go to a restaurant but still want to dig into great kababs, head for Modern Bazaar in Delhi and buy their chicken reshmi and rainbow kababs. They are great. Green Chick kababs are rubbery, tasteless. Dont waste your money.
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Chennai : Idly, Dosa, Sora Puttu, Prawn Veruval

I never eat breakfast on early morning red eyed flight to Chennai. This is for good reason. The meetings generally start at around 11am and I have enough time to savour my breakfast at “Murugan Idly”. I have been a fan of Murugan Idly ever since it operated at platform 3 at Madurai station. Then it was a hole in the wall sort of a eatery but always packed to the brim.

At Murugan Idly, it is free seating. This means that you would be sharing your space with strangers. But dont worry, you have not come to this place for a conversion. Before you even look around, a fresh banana leaf would be placed in front of you. You are supposed to sprinkle water from the glass tumbler and you should wash the leaf gently. Better still, sprinkle water around the leaf as well. While you do this, the waiter in a tearing hurry would place steaming hot idlys and some 3-4 different type of chutneys. You need to be a brave man to dig your fingers as the scalding steam burns your fingers. While you are doing this, hot sambhar would be poured over idly and the liquid would dance all over the leaf. Now you need to be a dextrous, but the softness of the idly would blow you away. You haven’t eaten such a masterpiece ever. You dig in more and its awesome.Order a masala dosa and enjoy the heavenly experience.

Lunch is usually reserved at “Karaikudi” opposite Niligiris Nest. They have a sumptuous south Indian thali. If you are a non vegetarian then you must order ” Sora Puttu” ( stir fried pounded shark meat) and “Prawn Veruval” ( prawn dish). The whole experience of mixing Sora Puttu, rice, prawn veruval and variety of daals is nirvana for me. The lunch satisfies the soul and generally the meetings afterwards are a breeze.

Evenings are reserved for “Annalakshmi” which is an upmarket joint where lots of otherwise working professionals do in their bit in cooking and serving and the profits are used for charity. Amazing place.

For something exotic, run for a Korean joint. Yes, there are plenty of Korean joints in Chennai courtesy Hyundia factory. You have a burner in the middle of the table and all the ingredients are carelessly thrown over bubbling broth. Benjorang, a Thai joint is another one of my favourite.

One can also run for Punnuswamy or military mess if you are in an adventurous mood. The food is hot, boiling and spicy. With steam coming out from your ears and nostrils, its a game for the iron stomach guys.

Pack namkeens from Grand Sweets for home and the family wouldn’t  mind you spending so much time in Chennai. Their banana chips and Murukku are mind blowing.

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