Meat Tasting

Nearly 2 decades ago, 2nd Oct meant an early morning parade, some sweets and freedom for the rest of the day. Of course, the price of that freedom was a short speech about “Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation” that most of us snoozed through. 

Gandhi is a familiar figure for every Indian. You cannot miss him even if you are a visitor in India. His photographs are hanging in every single government office. His face plastered on all of our money. He was the guy, you will be told, who won us our freedom.

Well, you cannot deny that he was one of the freedom fighters, at least.  

For most part, I’m ambivalent towards Gandhi. He did what he had to during his time and I’m glad that his reign ended when it did, because I’ve a sneaking suspicion that we wouldn’t have progressed as much if he were around today. He had rather regimented views about things like globalization, or the concept that existed then. 

Of course, he was also the person, we are told, who fought for the rights of the oppressed. The Dalits. Or the Harijans, as he liked to call them. He told the rest of India aka the upper class India who followed this caste system, that these ‘others’ shouldn’t be treated as ‘untouchables’ and they were the same as everyone else. The term ‘Harijan’ is perhaps one of the most loathed words in the Dalit community. 

Though the term stands for ‘People of God’, the implication of the word is more patronizing rather than accepting. 

But Gandhi did fight for equality in his own way. He tried, in his way, to tell people to clean their own toilets, do their own work and stop discriminating against people based on what they did. 

However, 60 years after his death, we honor him by banning the sale of meat and booze on his birthday. This is supposed to be a homage to the man who tried to support equality. But we concede that Gandhi was an ‘upper-class’ Hindu. He was a vegetarian and stayed so through his life… not because of religion. Because he believed that meat polluted his body. He abstained from alcohol for the same reason. 

This edict has been irritating me for a while now. True, this perhaps is in line with Gandhi’s idealogy that we should lead a ‘pure’ life. Which means we should ask every Indian to eat the simplest of the simplest food on this day. We should ask them to clean their own toilets, do their own laundry and much more. Well, that isn’t going work to so we are gonna close every single meat shop, because that is the one way in which we can show that we are doing something.

I’ve a lot of vegetarian friends, and some of them have stayed vegetarian because they claim that Hinduism demands it. According to them Hindus are supposed to be vegetarian. And those rare occasions when they were convinced to eat meat, they felt miserable and sick about it the next day. 

My thought about this is simple – if we weren’t meant to eat meat, our digestive systems wouldn’t be able to take it. We are the most evolved creature on earth. So we are able to digest pretty much anything. Otherwise, our digestive systems would be suited to a particular kind of food.

Anyway, it seems to be that banning sale of particular things on Gandhi’s birthday is hypocritical and perhaps even goes against what he taught – acceptance of everyone. That was the first rule of his teachings, not vegetarianism. 

Majority of the country today is a meat-eating population. And the statement that Hindus are vegetarians is sheer nonsense. Even if you do want to believe in the caste system, apart from the Bramhins, everyone else ate meat. And Brahmins were a select few and sacred, which makes the rest of the population – the majority.

Of course, eating meat or not is a personal choice… but if you tell me you are vegetarian because your religion tells you to be and that I should be one too cuz I’m from the same religion, you are just asking for trouble.

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Delhi – For the Food

It takes a while to digest the city of Delhi. Two weeks after I returned, I am struck with a sense of nostalgia for the city – sometimes. For its clean, wide roads. For the metro and its easy method of transport. For the cheap shopping. For the great food.

Living in a different city means adapting to its daily rhythm and after years of living in this laidback city, I don’t think I’d ever want to live in Delhi.

Regardless, here’s a list of places to see / visit / shop / eat

For The Stomach:

1. Kake Da Hotel:
    Location: Connaught Place
    Cuisine: North Indian
    This came highly recommended and was our first stop for food in Delhi. We landed there after a heavy, true Punjabi breakfast of aloo parathas and I had very little space to fit in more food. But the mere taste of their chicken curry and rotis would make you want to lick more of the gravy. Seeped in ghee, this isn’t a fun trip for your heart, but sure a good trip for the taste buds. 
Of course, a little more Delhi visiting and comments later, we did realise that this place was slightly overpriced and overrated… but if it is your first time in Delhi, this is a must-visit.

2. National Hotel:
Location: Connaught Place
A short walk from Kake Da Hotel, the food is quite similar… nothing much to add to that.

3. The Beer Cafe
Location: Connaught Place / Janpat
The first true blue beer place we visited and on a good, hot day. It was recommended by someone on Twitter, and we pretty much fell upon it at the right time. The cafe is supposed to have beer from all countries and at first glance, their menu looks extremely promising. But then you go down the list and realise that they do not have much of the beer mentioned on the menu, which can get disappointing. Still, we managed to try a few kinds of beer. The food is quite delicious, the music is old school and lovely. Of course, being a beer place, the TV gets tuned to the cricket match in the evening. 
The manager said that the beers need to be imported and so they stock up according to need and season. Would perhaps be better if they had a revolving menu, rather than a fixed one with everything mentioned on it. A little more on the pricey side, but that’s the price you pay to drink beer from all over the world.

4. Afghan Darbar Restaurant
Location: Lajpat Nagar Market
Such an awesome discovery! A small place, tucked away between a medic and something else, this is the real deal. And you know it the minute you step in, with most of the clientele being Afghanis. The food is the most Authentic Afghani food I’ve ever eaten, with the tenderest lamb and the yummiest quabuli uzbeki! Their service is quite slow and erratic, and you do get the feeling that they’d rather you weren’t there, but ignore it and feast on the best food you have this side of the border.

5. Roshan’s Kulfi
Location: Karol Bagh
The perfect treat for a hot day!

6. Bikanerwala:
Location: Karol Bagh
Now, they do have several outlets around the city… but the chaat here is a must try, especially if you do not have the stomach to try the street chaat

7. Cafe Turtle:
Location: Khan Market
Located over a cozy little bookstore (The Full Circle) in Khan Market, this is the place for the intellectuals to hobnob and exchange ideas. It is a small place and can get quite crowded sometimes, but the food is delicious, the milkshakes thick and frothy. They’ve a small outdoor section, which can be appealing in the evenings, particularly since you can smoke there. One of the few places in Delhi that I found a woman could smoke without being harassed

8. The Colony Bistro:
Location: Lajpat Nagar
Ugh. That’s the word. Their photographs on Zomato and all the other sites are beautifully deceptive. You expect to see a plush, nice Italian restaurant and what you get is a fly-ridden porch and well, decent interiors restaurant. The interiors are done up nice and the music is quite different, but that’s where the good things about the restaurant end. They don’t particularly care if you walk in and seat yourself and wait. They don’t particularly care if you ordered veg food or not. Their iced tea is so bitter that you can almost taste the plastic bag it came out of. The pastas are halfway decent, if you manage to stick around till then. Better try for the street food around.

9. Imperfecto:
Location: Haus Khaz Village
Quaint, at the top and eccentric. The restaurant is located three floors up, and they’ve definitely made the climb interesting with all sorts of installations, including an old scooter hung up with wooden monkeys trying to get to it. The interiors are bold and eccentric. The service is warm and efficient, the food average and they allow you to hang around for hours without any questions.

Of course there are tons of other street food places and it would be impossible for us to list it all, much less give you accurate directions. Best thing to do – arm yourself with a bottle of water, Norflox tablets, electrol and explore the city 🙂

(More soon…)

Dilli – Part 1

I’ve been trying to put into words the entire Delhi experience. A city as old, huge and vibrant as that deserves to be written about.

But I get overwhelmed every time I begin to write about the trip. Where does one start? The size of the city, the weather, the people, the food, the shopping, the hotels… and the culture, of course.

Delhi was a vague old memory of wide roads. I had been there as a child, for a couple of days or less, when we whizzed past all the monuments. Our brief encounter with the Delhi summer was enough to make us wish never to be out in the sun. The air is hot and dry, and often, oppressing. Your skin keeps looking for that one whiff of cool breeze and you gladly enter any airconditioned building, even if an ATM, just to get away from the heat for a few minutes.

The first few days in Delhi were pleasant, though. Pleasant enough to appreciate the wide, tree-laned roads and feel that the Delhi people and their driving did not deserve these kind of roads. This is a city where nobody stops for anything, least of all a small bump on your vehicle in traffic. Most often, taxis and autorickshaws do not even bother acknowledging such a bump. With over 7.2 million vehicles on the road, it is cumbersome to acknowledge every single bump.

Bullying is the way to drive. You get in, strap your seat belt on (Courtesy the Supreme Court Order) and step on the accelerator. It is like a drag race with a train where you brake at the last minute to avoid a collision. Needless to say, I spent much of my time in autos closing my eyes, one hand holding onto my bag and the other to the railing.

If Bangalore is a laidback, posh metropolitan city, Delhi is the loud, brash, pompous yet lovable metro. As someone put it, the bullying attitude perhaps springs from centuries of being raided by several parties. The city preserves its history, even if grudgingly, seen through the tombs of various kings gone past. Then there are the smaller backyard of the tombs that nobody knows the names of but still contain a curious sense of history. Stepping into these ruins make you think that the history past was only a couple of days ago. Perhaps it is the immaculate way they have been preserved, or the faint signs of ruin before the authorities took interest… there is a sense of timelessness about the place that is rarely seen.

The points of interest for the locals, however, are different. One auto driver or auto wallah as they say pointed to the airport where Sanjay Gandhi crashed his plane. The driver was a staunch BJP supporter but he felt compelled to slow down and point out the place and even suggested we might want to take some photographs with our big ass cameras. That is the history that he has seen. He does not care much about the kings and queens gone by and their stories. The present day is what matters to him, not so much ancient irrelevant history.

The raids, however, have had a beautiful effect on the food culture. “You cannot go wrong with food in Delhi” they said. 

Delhi’s street food is famous… and a little risky. However, if you willing to risk the vague chance of a bad stomach, it is worth a shot. Chandini Chowk remains my Yarrow Unvisited, plans shelved due to various reasons. I still cannot believe that I could not make it that little universe of street food, chaats, parathas and the fabled stuffed lamb at Karims. 

Nevertheless, plenty of other places were tried and loved, including a surprise Beer Cafe in the center of Delhi. (More about food later!)

Each part of Delhi has a pulse of its own… and given the size of the city, it seems like each is a little city. The way the residents talk about the other parts of Delhi, it almost be another part of the city.

The news that we decided to stay at Paharganj, near the Central Railway Station was met with dismay and disgust by most people. The reactions varied from ‘that’s dirty’ to ‘not safe’ to ‘you are out of your mind’.

In hindsight, this was the best decision we took. The row of hotels in a street adjacent to the station reminded me of the tourist hotel lane in other Asian regions. You look past the narrow, shabby lane, and the hotels are large and glowing in the night light. Catering to a slightly better off firang backpacker and some corporates, these hotels are the lifeblood of the tourist industry. The cut throat competition makes them keep things up to par and hospitable, for most part. Moral policing and Delhi ego do enter the picture occasionally, but if you walk out of one hotel, there are 50 more right outside.

The hotels can cater to all your needs, from water to medicines to a nail cutter to what nots. Of course, you need to tip them everytime… every single time. The person hangs around quietly till you give in and pull out some change and thrust it into their hands. And in a city like Delhi, it is better to tip or you will be ignored for the rest of your stay.

The railway station is always a hub of activity, no matter what time of the day or night it is. Day times have cars full of families, lugging enough luggage for two families making their way into the station. Numerous little food joints wake up early, and the smell of frying samosas or something better constantly colours the air, along with the ripe stench of garbage. 

Nights are a little more colourful. Even through the traffic, a drunk weaves his way, shouting and singing. Or he lashes out at a passing car, caught in the throes of emotions known only to him. A little away from the madness, people prepare for the night. Small card games are put on, with 4-5 people crowded around a little handkerchief which serves as the board. A young man lies on his stomach, reading something, like one would on their bed in the comfort of their room. He has earphones plugged into his ear and wears a jaunty hat, a little frayed. It would be the perfect ‘chilling at home’ scene if it wasn’t on a sidewalk beside the railway station. Winter will be a bitch, with its biting wind. But it is summer and cool enough in the night for make sleeping under the stars a little more acceptable. Each one have their spot and they settle in, going about their routine and building walls around them, invisible to the rest of us.

It is always a fascinating picture to watch, seated in the security of your car.

**

And then there is Haus Khaz… the arty place, or the hippie place. IIT Delhi and a few other colleges around the area keep the place young. The Haus Khaz Village, a little block of winding, narrow streets and a hundred shops cater to the hippies, the richer students. That is the place to set up a shop if you are a budding designer. It is a sign that you’ve taken your first step by setting up here.

Shops and restaurants here have a short shelf life, I’m told. Too much competition perhaps or a seasonal thing. Little designer boutiques with vintage gowns, earrings and other jewelry, old posters of movies, books and much more are crammed into the two lane area that leads into the reservoir. 

Restaurants are dime a dozen and each done up eclectically. The prices of goods are three times higher than the street markets of Janpat, Sarojini Nagar Market or Lajpat Nagar Market. But then, they have their fans.

Perhaps the size of Delhi contributes much to the various markets springing up around the city. A little market like Lajpat Nagar has everything from clothes, shoes, furniture and more. Karol Bagh is bigger and that’s where you head from everything from the nicest kulfi to the latest sari designs. 

Bargaining remains the way of life in all these markets. It is expected of you to bargain and honor the transaction. A laborious process and exhausting if you hate bargaining. But then bargaining or jugaad is the Delhi way of life… right from groceries, clothes, shoes, furniture, taxi and whatever else – you negotiate. 

Delhi expects the best and a lot for the least price. Yet, in weddings and functions, they love to flash the price tags and put on a big show. The combination of thriftiness and flash is a curious one. They are not ants saving for a rainy day. They like their things nice and good… and even as they boast about how much they paid for that necklace, they also brag about their bargaining skills. The original price if often quoted, and then the bargained price. It is an acknowledgement of their skills as a negotiator.

Cultural Differences Between India and other Countries: A Dinner Invitation

This was an article I wrote eons ago for Chillibreeze. I had even forgotten that I had written this article till I came across it today.

Food forms an important part of any culture. The Indian culture prides itself on its various cuisines and flavors. Exporting these varieties to Australia, a young land where people love their food fast and mild, it provides an interesting view to what role food plays in culture.

I was invited to a dinner party my second week in Australia. And the note said it was a ‘Bring a Plate’. The ‘Australian slang book’ gives us the explanation of these phrases. Perhaps because it starts with ‘b’ or it relates to food, they are important words you should be wary of. BYO – ‘Bring your own’ could refer to drinks, food or dessert. And ‘Bring your plate’… your hosts will definitely give you the plates, mostly paper plates… saving hours of cleaning and washing. But you carry a dish for the others to eat. But nowhere did it specify that you should cook this delicacy. I got take-away from the nearest Indian restaurant, hoping it would make up for my ineptitude in the kitchen. It was a choice between that or the instant masalas available for exorbitant prices. As I drove to the party I wondered how people would react in India if I invited them to a party and said ‘oh could you also bring something to eat?’

India prides itself on its motto ‘Athithi Devobhava’ meaning ‘The guest is a God’. As a host, you ensure that your guest’s every wish, whim and need is fulfilled. We are known for our hospitality across the world. I do not remember a single occasion when my grandmother ever asked the guest to bring anything to a party. They had to bring themselves and the more they ate AND the more they drank, the hosts were happier. My mother, though, carried a bottle of wine or a basket of fruits as a gift to her host. But when she threw a party, she cooked for every man, woman and child invited, irrespective of the number.

But I rather liked the ‘bring a plate’ concept. It saved me from hours of shopping and cooking. It helped add variety. And it also stopped the hosts from stressing out over their guest’s food habits. Nobody had to sacrifice their diet, religious beliefs or other quirks. And people constantly discovered new flavors. But it had been ingrained into me that it was shameful to ask your guest to aid you in treating them right.

I wondered between the concepts of an ‘easy culture’ that allowed me to socialize and maintain my friendships and relationships and the concept of a ‘traditional culture’ I had grown up in, which stressed on the importance of being a good host and serving the right food, making the guest feel valued and welcomed and treasured. But would asking your guest to bring a dish make them feel unwelcome? It is food. We need to experiment, diversify and discover new flavors.

The parties in Australia were as warm and as beautiful as the ones I attended in India. The food I got from the restaurant were rather appreciated, even as some people teared up over the spices. Perhaps we need to try something new, a mix of cultures that would heighten the cultural difference between India and another country, and blend our food, creating a new culture of food.

A Weekend

A saturday that did not start past noon. A saturday that was not spent sleeping away.

How rare is that! And how much fun is that!

As much as I love late nights and say that I am productive in the wee hours of the night, I have to accept that I get a lot of the more practical stuff done during day time. I had an early meeting (past noon but hey!) which meant I woke up early. The sun was already burning up all those people on the street… I prayed for rain and wished there was something I could wear on my face to keep that sticky dirt off it. Or maybe attach a little fan to my head that will keep blowing cool breeze onto my face. In the end I was just glad that there were no mirrors around me to see how tanned and yucky my face got. And this was just the beginning of the day.

I had to visit an old friend who works for a local magazine. I had been there during college days – more than 5 years ago – and honestly, not much has changed. I guess that is what “long-standing” means sometimes. The walls were still faded and finding the new wing was still as confusing. But once you get past the confusing door, the office had been upgraded into the 21st century. It isn’t as chic as my office is… nor was there as much a bustle. Contrary to popular belief, a lot of the news paper offices I’ve visited recently are quiet. Is it because all the reporters have been laid off or is it because they are all just out, I don’t know. But those days when I did my internships (here and in Australia) where the office was cramped and you’d be huddled away typing out your story, is history.

The desks though are still the same cluttered. Clippings, magazines, coffee cups and photos lying in a uncomprehensible jumble. It feels like home – almost. But the curious lack of chaos was a little disturbing to me. I wondered if I were working there, would I last?

Lunch was at Oye Amritsar – a dhaba-like place, with 5-star restaurant prices. And Himmesh Reshamaiya music. Yep. But I had a craving for butter chicken since last night and since I hadn’t eaten anything, I figured this would be a good place. I mean if you can’t trust a dhaba (or a mock one at that) to come up with good butter chicken, who else can you trust.

Except, once we settled down, the waitress told us that there was no a la carte menu. Only buffet. Now, I’ve nothing against buffet. But for people like me, who don’t eat much to start with, it is a sheer waste. And I get confused with the whole range of food, end up wanting everything and just take a bite of it all and get quite full. And the buffet did NOT have butter chicken!! What kind of a self-respecting dhaba does not serve butter chicken? Or at least chicken tikka masala. Or some form of recognized, popular chicken curry. They had fish fry, panner, some weird named dish and that was that.

My friend was enjoying the restaurant though. She, who I shall call Kit (cuz I feel like it) has a sheer appreciation of any place that we go to. The last time when we went to this restaurant that is styled like a 40s luxury railway dining car, she was excited like a little kid. Enough to make the host appreciate us and give us an inner ac table. So Kit served herself as little food as me and we wished there was better music and better food but we were starved enough to eat quietly.

It was Kit’s day to treat herself – she wanted to a haircut, so after being refused at several salons because we didn’t have an appointment… (Side note: seriously, an appointment for a hair cut as well?! What is this city coming to. True, you are supposed to get better service if you make an appointment. But it is a saturday. there are emergencies – sometimes. Every place I know and like said they were booked till late evening. Surreal!) we found one place that was willing to chop off her hair.

She began to fidget 10 minutes after being seated in the chair. And the stylist had just washed her hair. There was still, cutting, setting and blow drying. And while he was doing all of that, he started their pitch about “you need to use this for hair and hey! look we have a bottle of it and it will cost you only so much!”

I hate it when parlors do that… you go there to relax and let someone pamper you and they start forcing unwanted products on you.  Which is why I like Bounce. Snobbish as they may be, they never mess up your hair and they never offer products to you unless you ask for a recommendation.

And then there was that impulse shopping – I wanted an iPhone. I have finally gotten over all my objections and figured I wanted one. I don’t need a new phone. My current one is fantastic and has all those things that an iPhone has. But I wanted an iPod, since I sort of washed my last one in the washing machine. And I figured why carry two things when I can combine that into the iphone. So that graduated from an ipod nano to an ipod touch (free wlan and radio and FB and all) to iPhone.

The iPhone is gorgeous! it is heavier than mine and apparently I need a data plan to browse the net. But it is gorgeous. And it is a lot more delicate than my phone which I have already dropped several times and it still works fabulously. But it is the iphone. And it is expensive. and I don’t really need it but oh! i do want it! And I don’t really have the money for it!

So debating with all of this stuff, I figured I better look into my financing options (and wavered on that bit a little too when I saw the little “EMI” option there. I’ve never really bought anything on EMI. Always hated owing someone anything but it was quite tempting) I headed to Mocha to think.

Mocha – the hang out for college kids, who get money from god-knows-where. When we were in college, our hang out was a little 5-rupee tea shack. We could sit there for hours, smoke, talk and the guy wouldn’t say a thing. And we’d be poorer by say 10 bucks or a little more. Which wasn’t much but was all we could afford. Now the kids have money to pay 150 bucks for a single coffee. Where do they get the money from? And how are they sitting there in the afternoon when the colleges insist on 90 percent attendance?

I feel old!

But hey the music was good. The sheesha was good. The company was good. Kit’s appreciation of things puts a completely different spin on the places I’ve gotten a little jaded about. It is new for her and she loves it. And it reminds me of those times when I was all so excited about these places. The times before my friends started calling me a snob because I wanted to try out these new places and not all of them were cheap. Before they started complaining about the “kind of crowd” in the place.

It is good to discover this city… showing someone the places that made Bangalore “Bangalore”. The city has changed… the little icecream shop where we used to buy cones in school no longer exists. Road sides are littered with vendors with the backdrop of bigger malls. And boring old factory-manufactured clothes!

But with new people to see it with, it is fun to discover the little signs of old Bangalore still alive like the rose bushes in Mary’s secret garden.

Song of the day: Lamb of God (cuz they are playing in the city tonight. If anyone went to the concert, lemme know how it went) –