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Tag Archives: Food

A Thai Break – Part 1

Beach, Food, Outdoor Sports, Night Clubs and Culture? Thailand, it is. Phuket’s pristine sea and the adventurous islands are a great get-away from the routine of life. It has snorkeling, scuba diving, island hopping, para sailing, sky diving, jet ski and many more. You can get to try out all the different Thai dishes and immerse in the culture by mingling with people and visiting the Cultural Theme park, Fanta-Sea and learn the Thai story from the elephants. And how did I even miss out the blaring and glaring Bangla Walking Street?

You can get a bigger dose of culture and art in Bangkok, the Venice of the Orient. With its numerous Wats (temples), lively day / night markets, boat rides (The Long-Tail Boat is the counterpart of the Gondola of Venice) , floating markets, tuk-tuks, fish farms and night clubs, the list is endless. It has the world-renowned Reclining Buddha and the Emerald Buddha. The stunning of all, I think, is the Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn, standing tall and high on the banks of River Chao Praya and gets even more beautiful when it is bedecked with lights after sunset.

 

Phuket-Bangkok

L to R: Fanta-Sea Palace of the Elephants; Wat Arun on Chao Prayo River; Para-sailing; With Post-op Beauties; Reclining Buddha

 

The human element in the country, above these touristic things, Thai’s inclusive and tolerant attitude towards the LGBT community is what I liked and respect the most. Prostitution is legal and I guess, so are the sex and ping-pong shows. Transgenders are treated equal; they don’t have to resort to dancing on trains or to tapping your windows at traffic signals to earn a living. And there are these transsexuals, known as Lady Boys, a plenty of them, who undergo a voluntary sex change and make their living in the numerous night clubs and go-go bars. Many run shops in the markets, a famous one being the Patpong Night market. I heard that many such people who are shunned in their country seek shelter in Thailand. A very broad mindset for an Asian country, a good example that other countries need to follow.

The most important place that we did NOT visit was the Tiger Temple / Tiger Park where, I heard, they tranquilize the animals all day through so that we can fill their pockets for a picture next to the tamed wild animal. Tiger,my most favorite animal! I was tempted to strike poses with it, put my arm around the huge beast and feed a tiger cub (it was my childhood fantasy to raise a tiger cub as a pet!! 😛 ). The pamphlet had amazing pictures (Search for Tiger Kingdom, Phuket). But no, you don’t ill-treat something you love. No, Thanks.

So, there goes, a gist of a super awesome trip. The story of how we returned to KL will be lengthier than this! That’s for the next post!

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The Asian Vegetarian Meal – A Six Sigma Case Study

A squint-eyed, disheveled haired species with a pukish look, dangling spectacles, wearing a baggy t-shirt looked at me from the mirror in the tiny loo of an aircraft. But I didn’t go there to look at it; I had far more important calls of nature to attend to.

The Asian Vegetarian Meal (AVM) is something I can vouch for, after having had the privilege to sample it in quite a few flight carriers. I really applaud the consistency, texture, quality, taste and smell that these boxes come packed with. You can never put in a rank on which airline serves better meal plates; they all compete fiercely with one another. It’s a matter of pride, I believe, and it rises above petty things such as carrier, destination, flying class etc.

Have you heard of the Saravana Bhavan chain of restaurants? This restaurant stands testimony to the factors I mentioned above. They say, a dosa or a coffee or a biriyani will taste exactly the same and as delicious no matter in which branch you devour it – be it Chennai, Paris, the USA or any part of the world.

The world’s premier and even the not-so-premier airlines have taken a page or two from this secret story for their AVM, only in the other extreme.

Consistency – Rock solid, pity can’t carry hammers in hand baggage to break the naan breads

Texture – Uncooked, breaking through the rice and chewing is a privileged teeth exercise

Quality – Benchmark. On par with all the flight kitchens.

Taste – Am a bland food lover and imagine me complaining about the taste

Smell – Hey my socks are fresh out of the laundry

High time Business Schools did a case study on this topic. High time it is given Six Sigma recognition. Maintaining the standard across destinations by just one flight carrier is by itself a tough and a meticulous task for an organization, enforcing strict Quality Inspections and processes, and here we are speaking about multiple airlines maintaining exactly the same standard! And of course, with similar results due to its intake.

I need to head back to the species in the mirror now, Mr. Neighbour, please excuse me.

P.S: I found this brilliant brilliant piece by Krish Ashok, hammered the AVM on its face (and in the process broke the hammer) – Asian Vegetarian Hell !

 

My Heart is in my Tummy!

I went to a party recently. A party by a bunch of expats ecstatic about leaving the country, for good. (Now that’s something to throw a party for given that you are in Malaysia.) But the reason doesn’t matter actually, as long as you get free food cooked with ghee (read as fat), booze(more fat) and unending supply of kachoris, pakodas and samosas (Did I tell you oil is great for protecting your stomach, pancreas and the intestines from punches and blows? It magically transforms into layers of flesh and withstands sibling rivalry very well).

Ask people for a treat of a mere popsicle any time during their stay, the answer would be a list of all possible excuses which none of the listeners can ever buy into. But they do this free fat-spreading service with great interest as the last good deed before leaving the country.

Doesn’t bother me much though because the reverence I give to the food wins hands down as the reason for attending a farewell – for the dead or alive. As a kid there were many aftermath-funeral prayers I attended without even knowing the deceased which boasts of sumptuous food believed to send off the soul happily – I don’t know if the departed soul was happy or not but mine sure was.

No, I definitely ain’t the starve-the-whole-day-for-the-evening’s-party-invite or the party barging kind or the buffet line breaker  who follows the scent of burgers, bhel puris and basundhis right to the kitchen unless it is a birthday party of my friend’s uncles’ (mother’s brother’s) son’s daughter ,all of whom I have never met; or spoken with; or even heard of.

Neither am I binge-like-you-haven’t-eaten-for-days and eat-all-you-can kind except in the monthly get-togethers thrown by people leaving the project/account (mmm yummy vada pavs) or the occasional eat-outs/treats – paid by others or celebrating birthdays – of friends and strangers at workplace (ooo that death by chocolate cake and the fruit tart). Ask my ABN friends – at least Richard and Sailesh will vouch for this.

My experiments have taught me that – Food is a great ice-breaker, a conversation starter but the aftermath bill that the host receives ends their acquaintance with me then and there. But Hey, people like me don’t let the food go waste, thank us!

Ah, the Weddings- I can withstand any number of pesky relatives, the Oh-child-you-have-grown-so-big-in-2-days aunties, the do-you-remember-me-we-met-when-you-were-6-months-old uncles, the high-time-you-got-married (when you are single) and the high-time-you-give-your-parents-toys-to-play-with i.e. grandchildren (when you are married) grannies, and the my-grandson-is-also-in-a-IT-company-earns-50k grandpas  : just for and only for the food.

And I love India for this. We celebrate every occasion with 50 different types of food. As with the Tulu community, Annadaan is the greatest form of charity. Am one of the countless beneficiaries of the mouth-watering Saaru (Toamato or Lemon and Lentil soup), the tangy  Kusumbri (pulses salad), the undefinable Meneskaai (Sweet+Sour+Spicy+Bitter – all in 1 gravy), the healthy tumbili (ground spicy greens – like spinach, mint in yoghurt), at least 5 different varieties of sweetmeats (like Jamun, Halwa, Coconut Burfi, Sugar Cashews, Jalebi, Mysorepa, etc.), the smooth and soft Holige (kinda sweet stuffed chapathi) , the out of the world payasa (kheer – Sago/ vermicelli/ legumes in milk) and my all time favourite the divine Cuckoo Rasayana (Mango Milk shake made from ripe mangoes, jaggery and coconut milk – all healthy you see). Not to miss the usual – dosas, sambhars, chutneys, parathas, pickles, pooris, et al.

But this doesn’t mean am only an Indian food fanatic. I am totally against food racism! When it comes to eating out I absolutely love Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and any cuisine that offers me a tasty vegetarian option. My tummy adores all the cheese burst pizzas, the veggie delights, the tofu chowmeins, the burritos, the risottos, the ricottas, the fetas, the Tapas’, the Dim-Sums, the lasagnes, the Malaysian Paos – you name it, I will eat it.

So, do not miss my funeral by any chance, I will pre-set the menu in my will!

Getting back to the parties where we first started, apart from the food I find everything else about it boring – music : usually too loud, dance : which am pathetic at, gossips : yawn, girly talks on handbags and footwear – wake me up when you are done, guys version of tragedies of a marriage – Bitch please, am snoring already. Though it is called bitching, feminine gender, I see guys doing this more than girls. Girls never get to finish talking about jewellery and apparel to get to the bitching part.

So until food is served I just have one thing to do – check out on girls and try to hook the best one up, with my husband.

The Bombay Halwa

This post was long due, probably should have been the first post. An incident that leaves us, the school buddies, in splits every time we talk about it. An incident that’s 12 years old and yet fresh and vivid in our memories. A post dedicated to the girls involved –

Unlike now(I’m sounding like a granny!) where eating out is more of a norm than a luxury, it wasn’t so in 2002.  And we did not have as much pocket money to eat out every other day too. But this was a special moment that was approaching. 10th standard Board Exams. So along with the exam preparations a bunch of us, class mates, started putting aside our pocket money of Re.1 and Rs.2 for the ‘Treat Yourself’ Day.

After the last exam we jubilantly threw our books and bags (you imagined the picture of students throwing their graduation hats, dint ye?) and merrily walked to the the eatery of our choice. Before we entered we counted how much each of us had so that we order within the amount. We were 8 of us with around Rs.25 each.

Woohoo Parrrty Time!

We occupied the best table and my pal Shrinidhi and I started scanning the tattered, antique menu card. We went to the rate side of the page first and then matched it with the menu item. We had to be within our budget you see, can’t indulge in something exotic with 25 bucks. The one item that caught both our eyes was this –

Pav Bhaji          Rs. 5

Woah, that’s what we should order first. That’s damn cheap for a restaurant of this range – echoed our expressions and we announced to the girls , “Let’s start with Pav Bhaji”.

“8 plates Pav Bhaji, please”.

We then resumed scanning the card for the next item to be ordered.

Bhel Puri        Rs. 10

Sev Puri          Rs. 10

Dahi Papdi      Rs. 18

We settled on 4 plates Bhel, 4 plates Sev and 4 plates Dahi Papdi. We could all share and eat, that’s the whole point.

We brought the roof down with our yells and laughter,  licked clean the plates,burped loudly, and finally called for the bill.

’Twas Shrinidhi and I again to receive the bill and our eyes popped out looking at the amount – Rs.272. How in the world? It had to be Rs.192. We found the culprit right away –

Item             Price           Quantity       Amount

Pav Bhaji      Rs.15               8               Rs.120

We called the waiter and told him, “There seems to be a mistake in the bill. It says the first item is Rs.15 but the menu card said it’s Rs.5”

The waiter was taken aback and he returned with a menu card, this time a new one, with clean pages and no rate revisions and pointed it on the Menu. The Menu ,now, clearly said

Extra Pav         Rs.5

Pav Bhaji          Rs.15

You’re bad at Match the Following said the waiter’s looks while his mouth uttered, “Ma’am looks like you saw it wrong”.

“Oh Okay, Thanks”, said we and turned to the table and continued chatting. He waited for a minute and left. The moment he was out of the earshot I said, “People we are 80 bucks short. Quickly devise a plan or we need to get ready to work in the hotel today”. The girls frantically searched their wallets for more money but how will it appear when we had counted each rupee before entering the restaurant? We settled on the escape route of calling up a parent to bail us out. Next question was who would that be? Shrinidhi’s dad said Sandhya as his office was a few blocks from the restaurant and he could get there in the shortest time.

And again unlike now, (granny talk) where even 4 year olds have mobile phones we were in an era where 1 land-line was shared between 4 households. None of us had a cellular phone. So Sandhya and Shrinidhi immediately jumped off the chairs and rushed to find a PCO. After reaching the place they realized that all the money was with me and they were penniless. Miraculously Sandhya’s pocket had 3 coins – 50 paise each. 1 call was Re.1, so they could make only 1 call and it had to get through. They dialed Shrinidhi’s dad’s mobile number. No answer. It could be that he is driving and hence couldn’t answer, they thought. What’s the point in calling up or walking to his office now? So they called her mom.

“Mom, Hello. Dad’s not answering the call. Could you ask him to come over to the chat shop in Mylapore right away and bail us out? The bill amount is more than what we have. Please Mom.”

“Are you crazy? Where do I find him now? He might be out to meet clients.”

“Then you come over, please”

“I am no way getting into your foolishness”

“Mom,”

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Line got cut.

The guy at the counter was fast asleep. The shook him and woke him up.
“Anna, we need to make just 1 more call. Would you please let us call? We are just 50 paise short. 1 quick call, Anna, please”

“Out, both of you. Out of my shop”

Not knowing what else to do, they loitered around the shop.

Meanwhile in our parallel universe, we were trying to somehow prolong the payment. 2 girls suggested that they would go out and see what the first two were up to. When the 3 of us still sitting inside could not pretend of being in deep conversation anymore we asked for the Menu card once again.

“I feel hungry again, how about a Roti?”, said Neeraja indicating that 1 roti was only Rs.8.

“What subzi would you like to order with the Roti, Ma’am?”, ridiculed the waiter. “Wait my dear boy”, I thought, “I ain’t leaving you any tip”. But that’s only when we leave.

For now, back to the menu. Not a single curry was less than 25 bucks. So I tried to save our skin by saying, “No I ain’t that hungry. Let’s order a dessert”.

Bombay Halwa – In House Speciality         Rs.15

“1 Bombay Halwa, please”

“Just 1”

“Yes, that will be it”

He immediately served us a small halwa with 3 spoons. We started eating the sweet minuscule amount by minuscule amount. We were competing as to who could cut the smallest possible bite. After what seemed like ages and after the halwa became half its size, I saw the much awaited Blue Bajaj Scooter materializing near the window. Uncle Sundar! The sight of him filled me with so much joy and in a reflex i popped in the remaining sweet into my mouth.

We breathed a sigh of relief when he paid the bill and thanked him profusely. I gave him the money that I had and told him that we will pay him the remaining amount soon to which he said, “Don’t bother about that. Enjoy your vacation and next time you go out to eat make sure all of you visit an ophthalmologist first“

After he left, I got a sound thrashing on the road. No, not for the menu fiasco but for this –

“Bitch, you gobbled up half of the halwa in an instant without giving it to us!”

Majhya Maitrinichi Mumbai! (My Friend’s Bombay)

If you ask Mumbaikars about Amchi Mumbai, you would get different views. A youngster would tell you about Hanging out at Marine Drive, Shopping at Colaba and Bandra, Sharukh Khan’s house at Bandstand, the Gorai Creek, the newly built Bandra-Worli Sea Link, numerous malls and would also boast of the 1st Starbucks Outlet in India!

A middle-aged or a senior person would talk about Siddhi Vinayak, Mahalaxmi, Haji Ali, the new Buddhist Pagoda or Mumbai being the Financial Capital of India, NSE, Nifty etc.

But when I told my friend that I want to visit Bombay, her version took me by surprise! She said, “There are so many places to eat, do come over!”

Vada Pav at Borivali , Pav Bhaji at Tardeo Sardar Hotel, Roadside Chat – Paani Puri & Sev Puri, Bhel Puri at Sonawala Building, Mongolian Pot Rice, Tapan Yakee sizzler & Chicken Wings at 5 Spice, Almost all dishes at Mainland China, Mom’s special – Kanda Poha, Prawns Masala, Fish Fry, Shrikhand Puri, and the list goes on!

Did I miss out the desserts? Joshi Budhakaka’s Halwa and Kaju Katli, Mom’s Carrot Halwa and the amazing Til ka Laddu, Chikku and Tender Coconut ice creams from Tender Fresh; phew I need a heavy dose of Digene after all these!

Turns out that each one of the items she recommended were utterly delicious; I can vouch for the ghaas-phoos(vegetarian, in her terms) and she would for the all the meat.

The entire trip turned out to be a walk through Dream Land –
With people coming to the airport at 4 a.m. for a flight that’s gonna land at 6.a.m, for you;
Spending an entire day in search of an out-of-market cheap phone’s battery,for you;
Making sure they mention ‘non-spicy’ to the waiter even when you forget, for you;
Taking the best efforts to make the stay comfortable, for you;
Parceling a box of yummy home-made Laddus, for you;
Keep you entertained in family functions so that you don’t get bored;
Each member of the family giving you a separate farewell gift (Apart from the Laddus!)!

One of the most memorable vacations ever, how I wish it’d been for longer; Oh, ye lovely folks, Thanks a bunch!

The Chettinad Adventures

Food, Ritual, Food, Sleep, Food, Outing, Food, Sleep – this was our routine for the past 2 days in Kulipirai, Karaikudi District where we went to attend our college professor’s Authentic Chettinad Marriage!!

Chettinad is famous for Delicious Cuisine and so are the Chettiars for their huge bellies and bigger hearts. We got to know the reason why! The cuisine is so rich and varied that it is really hard to resist eating the food and your protests of not able to eat more would go in vain in front of their love and affection. They keep you serving and always comment on how less you eat (You would have eaten 3 times more than your regular meal when this comment comes along and you would go on to eat 2 more servings!). During functions such as marriages those take place in their palace like homes (yes most of them cover up to 8 grounds in size, that is enormous indeed!) preparing for the culinary fest is a tedious task. You would get something or the other to eat round the clock. You would not pity the cooks at all as the taste, flavour and variety of food that you get to eat will override your senses and you would get lost in it. Every two hours the dining hall would be bustling with activity, a new À la carte would be in store! Kandharppam, Masala Paniyaaram, Vellai Paniyaaram, Pal Paniyaaram, Idly, Vada, Idiyaappam, Thengai Pal Aappam, Podi Bhajji, Adai, Athirasam plus a Non-Veg Platter too on which my knowledge is negligible! Phew – Tired of reading?? Imagine how tired you would be of eating????

The Food Fest was scheduled for the 22nd and 23rd of May. College group, I guess around 20 odd people, reached the serene, pious village of Kulipirai in the early hours of 22nd May. I call it pious because the villagers are all God-Fearing and simple. It is sure that you will find at least one temple with huge, clean pond for every mile you travel. I call it serene because the houses are huge and far apart. Less noise, less clutter. Only a handful of them are left in the vast houses; the younger generations have migrated to bigger cities and countries.

Visit to Pillaiyarpatti and Kunnakudi temples was the agenda for the day. Seeing the main deity of Pillaiyarpatti– Lord Ganesha was totally an enriching and fulfilling experience. He was simply magnificent! I was in ecstasy!! Kunnakudi had a temple on the hills dedicated to the younger brother of Ganesha, Lord Subramanya. It was called the Shanmuganathan Temple and that temple was equally good too. The day was hot and humid and our hunger was allayed by a Coke, Maaza, Mineral Water, Nannari Juice, etc. We reached home for lunch and had our afternoon nap. Then it was time for snacks and a small ritual in the evening. We pulled each others’ legs and chit-chatted until night after which we had sumptuous dinner. And who said you shouldn’t eat more at night??? Sleep follows food and we lay in a line in the extra long hallway under an intrinsically painted high roof. We were under a colourful Sky!

23rd May had an early morning muhurat for the marriage. We were all up by 4 a.m and were all dressed up (beautifully ;)) by 5:30 a.m. The bride’s house was similar in structure and design as that of the groom, in fact all houses were symmetrically, structurally, aesthetically, geometrically (All had Geometric designs, they weren’t modern art I say!) same. It was a quiet and a simple wedding in terms of rituals and a loud one in terms of jewels and accessories and of course food! We couldn’t spot a single lady without Diamonds! Bevy of Beautiful Ladies!

It was soon time for us to leave and we headed for dinner and packing the bags. Our bus to Chennai was scheduled at 9:30 p.m from Pudukottai (Town). So, the hurry-burry and last-minute rush to the Bus Stop to catch the Bus to the town was normal. Now where’s the fun? Adventure? A boring anecdote with an ultra-boring climax??? Naah.. That’s where I pop into picture!

As we reached the bus stop my friend, Srikanth, gave me my mobile phone. He said, “You dropped it in the Marriage Hall”. I exclaimed, “Oh my! Thanks a lot; I never knew I missed it!” He said, “Oh man, I shouldn’t have given it to you, I should have made you go berserk!” Uneventful closure of Hungama 1. [Notes: Srikanth wanted me to add this piece – Srikanth, my friend pledged his life took great efforts and greater risks to get my mobile back. He was very quick dynamic and acted swiftly to retrieve my mobile back. It was a timely help lest I would have lost my very dear mobile. He is a great person yet is very simple after doing such a big help to me. I m thankful to such a great and a modest person. If I were the President I would nominate him for bravery award or Bharat Ratna (cha no smilies here in lotus notes!!!)…]

Getting water and medicines for Ashok who was down with fever, in a shop near the bus stop started Hungama 2! Bus came and we were still in the shop getting the change. In the excitement of getting into the bus before it starts, we rushed ahead and boarded the bus with vigour! We got window seats and settled comfortably for the next 45 min ride. Ashok was sitting next to me and pointing out how irresponsible I am to lose the mobile and not even know that I have lost it. He was on and on and on (One of the few occasions where he gets to speak more than I do) and I was gazing out of the window enjoying the cool breeze and the still night in our over speeding bus. I couldn’t retort as fault was on my side so I just said bluntly, “Hey, I haven’t lost anything big right? Mistakes happen, people tend to forget and there is always a first time. I am not foolish enough to lose big things and will be careful in future ok.” I returned my gaze to the pitch dark view when something dawned onto me and I suddenly screamed, “Guys, Did I take my suitcase from the Shop?” Ashok gave me a filthy look! Everyone searched frantically underneath their seats to see if I have kept the suitcase somewhere. No luck. I had left it behind. People of the bus were staring at us curious to know who missed what. I was wondering, “Now what do I do? If I get down, go back and pick it up I would definitely miss my bus back to Chennai as there are no Auto Rickshaws in that place I would have to wait for the next bus to and fro.” My friends were scolding me – Irresponsible Goose. Senseless Idiot. @#$%^!@#$$

Asha recovered immediately from this haze and she called up couple of other friends of ours, Karthi and Ganesh, who were to leave almost half hour after us and asked them to pick up the luggage. Karthi reached the stop immediately and the bag was intact. He took it back to the marriage hall as he was leaving by car late at night. But Ganesh thought that he could pass the bag onto me in Pudukottai itself as our busses were scheduled to depart in an interval of half hour. But by the time he reached the bus stop Karthi had taken the bag. Learning this he went in search of Karthi and got the bag from him and in the process he missed his bus to the town. After 10 minutes the next bus came. By that time we were almost in the town. Nevertheless we were all happy and relaxed that the bag was found is en route to our place. I was kidding (and trying to justify) saying that since Ashok was unwell, I was sad and depressed, I was praying that he gets well soon, I was unable to see him suffer so much (all this hype for a simple fever); with all these things running in my mind I forgot about my luggage. Filthy looks from everyone. By now it was time for the next enlightenment. Ashok blurted out, “Madam, where are the tickets?” I stopped mid-sentence, open-mouthed, eyes widened. Feebly I said, “In the suitcase” Filthier looks from everyone. It was Anil who reacted on reflex this time. No no, he dint give me a slap, he immediately rushed to the nearest Internet Café, struggled with an ancient, mouse-not-working, keys-faded, dust-settled system and got a print out. My mouth closed with relief!

Our bus driver started on dot, on time. I asked him to wait for 5 minutes for Ganesh but he said that would create a traffic jam and he wouldn’t be able to wait. We had no other go. Ganesh told us to proceed as the bag was light and a small one and he would transport it to Chennai. So I came free-handed to Chennai amidst everyone’s scolding and got more from my mother the next day. I rushed to office immediately after coming home in the morning shift as I had to collect the luggage from him in the evening. Friends in need are Friends indeed!!! All of them came to my rescue!

Eventful 2 days and a very tiring Monday! But Robert Frost said – Miles to Go Before I Sleep! I don’t have miles only Inches – I need to measure my waistline!!! After consuming cart loads of food I bet on a 2 inch increase, alarming isn’t it?!

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