Notes on gifts and gifting

Yesterday one of the posts from the column – guestspeak popped up on facebook timeline and P enquired if I have decided to abondon the blog. I replied I have been lazy. As I was strolling into the kitchen I spotted two momo steamers. It is no secret that I am a momo and dumpling fanatic and of late I have lost my craving for momos thanks to mayonaisation. Over the past few years momos have emerged as a street food across Delhi and there is a make shift momo stall near many a metro stations and bus stops across the capital. Nutri nuggets has infiltrated the chicken momos, we even have tandoori momos and we have started dipping momos in mayonnaise. If you think is it going to be another nostalgic trip? Yes, you are right. As I wrapped and stacked away one of the momo steamers I remembered that ten to eleven years ago I was so enamoured by momos that I gifted one of my dearest friends a momo steamer for her wedding, without removing the price sticker. To my defense, I had never bought wedding gifts and since I thought we loved momos so the most logical thing was to gift her a steamer for her new kitchen. Many years later when I recounted this incident to one of my friends he said that it speaks of a special bond.
True. A decade has passed by and today as my old fridge stopped working I received a whatsapp image of the beautiful kitchen garden she has been working on for months. She told me of the saplings that she is nurturing in egg shells to gift me. I told her that I will keep aside a planter to plant the saplings as soon as he gifts me. Over the years, I have come across people who are passionate about food and take a keen interest in my work on food. Two of the most exciting gifts I have received are two art works. One is titled Dey’s special Dilli Dekho Trips and the other a Delhi food map which has a very pointed instruction – Map to point, not to scale  I would be ashamed to list down the books which I have acquired through coercion, coaxing and reciprocity. Next comes cutlery sets and kitchen utensils which friends have gifted me over the years. Finally, spice box sets and tea collections. I might be missing out few things related to food and kitchen that have not made its way into the list. Over the years I have started gifting friends interesting, quirky items and however my penchant for utilitarian items has not fizzled. Latest entry into that long list of gifts exchange is a pressure cooker bought for a friend to celebrate her 30th birthday.
Gifts come with a pressure of parting and it would be worthwhile reflecting on gifts we have found it difficult to part with. I will keep aside such confessions and turn your attention to my mother and her sister’s gift exchanges of tiffin box and a dear friend’s possession of gifts bought for her friends. My mother and her sister shared a common fondness and anxiety of possessing tiffin boxes. My mom and aunt had an eye for tiffin box of all makes and sizes to keep left over foods. They fondly gifted each other tiffin boxes and as years went by their collection increased. During one such gift exchanges my mother gifted her a tiffin box to realise that she had exactly gifted her the same tiffin box three years ago. On other hand, my aunt gifted a tiffin box to my mother. She started using it and it so happened that she ended up returning one of the same tiffin box thinking that my aunt had sent homemade goodies. I have never seen my mother buy a tiffin box ever since my aunt passed away. She has decreased her visit to the utensil market but her incessant complaints about lack of tiffin boxes has not ceased but to this date she regrets for mistaking a gift.
On the other hand, a friend of mine has a particular tendency of not being able to part with gifts she buys for others. She bought a beautiful book, wrote a sweet note for me and kept it in her bookshelf. When she realized that she was not able to part with it she decided to gift me another one. She thought its best to buy and gift a thing immediately before she develops any attachment. As I had some engagement she hung around in my neighbourhood for hours and landed up in my place mid-night so that it won’t find its way into her kitchen.
Hence it’s best to say that there are several emotions attached to gifts and gifting. Each culture has its own rules associated with gifts. As we step into the festive season and work on our checklists to buy gifts it would be worthwhile to step aside and think of moments of joy, reluctance and anger we have experienced in gift-exchange.

©itiriti

Iftari feast @ Jamma Masjid

Following the aroma of neatly arranged skewers gearing up to serve seekh kebabs and fluffy rotis for an iftari feast we headed towards the food lane near Gate No 1, Jamma Masjid. The beautifully lit Jamma Masjid stands tall amidst the bylanes that turn into a feast(y) place during iftari. As a dear friend later tells me that families break their ramzan in Jamma Masjid premises and the place is quite a sight. Keeping Jamma Masjid towards our left, we took an iftari trail. As soon as we reached near our favourite and usual haunts (Al- Jawahar and Karims), we asked if Haleem was available and to our surprise we were told that Haleem is available around noon. It was suggested that we could walk down to Meena Bazaar where we could find some carts selling Haleem. We were suggested instead to try Nihari and Roti at Shabraati by an old gentleman managing his garments shop.

Slightly reluctant to try out this breakfast dish in the evening we thought we should give it a try since we had never been to Shabrati. As we made our way through the jostling street lined with vendors selling dry fruit, sewaiyan, phirni, lassi, kulfi – faluda we reached Haveli Azam Khan Chowk from where we took a left turn. Finally we reached the famed Haji Shabrati Nihariwala where you will find Nihari from 7am to 11pm. When we reached Shabrati the cooks and helpers were breaking their fast and we waited for another 20 min for them to offer Namaz so that we could have hot rotis.

As we waited there, people lined up at their favourite place for takeaways in their tiffin carriers. As we were guided to the two sitter bench nestled in the fag end of the shop, I peeped into the hot pot of Nihari sitting pretty on the clay oven. The buffalo shanks were neatly arranged on top of the lid of the nihari stew. The person responsible for serving used a long aluminium ladle to scoop a nice serving of the stew and finished it off with a handsome helping of  the soft meat which was ready to glide into the plate/s from the shanks. We settled for a quarter helping of nihari with 3 rotis which costs us Rs 45.

 As Vandana Verma in her article Nihari in Time out Magazine1 points that Nihari is the slow cooked meat (beef or lamb) porridge and originated in the Mughal kitchens of Delhi. According to Vanadana, you can find a mutton version of this dish in Al- Jawahar and Karims. She also lists some of the places where you will find this breakfast dish and they are Al- Jawahar, Karims, Kallu Nihari, Saeed Nihari Baradari and Haji Qader Nihariwala.

As we headed out from Shabrati we settled for a helping of freshly prepared sheekh kebabs before hitting a sweet trail in a sweet shop bank opposite to Al Jawahar Restaurant. We ordered a generous helping of Shahi tukra ( a sweet dish prepared from bread deep fried and then coated with generous helpings of cream and lots and lots of dry fruits). For those who want to try out making this dish you can try out the following blogger’s link.2 We finished off our iftari food trail with phirni ( a sweet dish prepared from rice and milk) and kulfi- faluda.

That’s a little glimpse of iftari feast from Delhi? What did you have this iftar? Do keep me posted about your iftari trails and hoping you had a lovely feast (y) Eid celebration.

Notes

1.Verma, Vandana http://www.timeoutdelhi.net/client_coverstory/client_coverstory_details.asp?code=744; Accessed on 21 August 2012.

2 See   http://spicingyourlife.blogspot.in/2011/10/shahi-tukra-recipe-how-to-make-shahi.html; Accessed on 21 August 2012.

©itiriti

The forbidden fruit

While I was forced to gulp down some vegetables floating in an oily gravy and rice in a never ending train journey from Delhi to Kolkata, my travel companions and I craved for a taste of forbidden fruit – Kul (Indian Variety of Jujube) that is served in the lunch platter as part of Saraswati Puja. Saraswati Puja is celebrated in honour of Goddess of Learning.

In Bengal, children are initiated into learning and students across age groups and faith celebrate this festival as this is a day of ritually sanctioned abstinence from books. Reason: books are offered to Goddess so that she can bless. As a kid, I used to place my Maths Book hoping for a highest mark which never happened. Besides, that since the festival happens in February- March, when we bid adieu to our “winter” wardrobe, we also embrace the new season in new colour. Doing complete justice to the name “Basanta”(Spring), there is a tradition across Bengal to wear clothes of yellow colour. So, you would find shops across the streets selling yellow sarees with bright red border, blouses and petticoats for even 3 year olds. Considering it is a state holiday, and most of the schools celebrate Saraswati Puja, children get a chance to be in full fare. It is equivalent to the celebration of Valentine’s day across Bengal. In fact, to this date I remember how love letters exchanged hands on this day. While I have stopped wearing yellow sarees, or gearing up for this special day one ritual I have obediently followed and never questioned is staying away from the forbidden fruit till Saraswati Puja – Kul.

Kul is the Indian variety of Jujube commonly found in this season. Pickled Kul is one of the food items sold by pickle vendors outside schools. This is one fruit I can eat without being reminded. This takes me back to an incident when I had given into the temptation of forbidden fruit and savoured a good amount of pickled kul. I was in Standard V. While eating, I stained my white skirt. When I reached home, I neatly folded the skirt and kept in the laundry bag. Nevertheless, this was not enough to save from my mother’s prying eyes who found out that I had eaten Kul. While serving me dinner she told me that she is confident I might not score well in my Unit test as I eaten the fruit before offering it to Goddess Saraswati.

I don’t remember what had happened in my Unit Test but as I recounted this story years later to my fellow co-passengers they remembered how they were warned not to have this fruit before offering it to Goddess Saraswati. Three of us in our different side of 20’s laughed that how we have continued to abstain from consuming this forbidden fruit before Saraswati Puja? While lamenting over the delay in train timings and missing out on the fun of “local” Valentine’s day we watched with pleasure the sight of a shy school girl and boy holding hands and sitting in the railway station. They were not spared from the three pairs of inquisitive eyes as who were ready to attack the pickled kul that the boy lovingly held in his hand while the girl nibbled daintily on one of the forbidden fruits. I decided to draw the curtains so that they could enjoy their possibly first date over forbidden fruit from our childhood days.

 ©itiriti

The Cold War- Galda Chingri or Hilsa?

Today a friend of mine called me and reminded me that since I usually cook dishes which are famous in East Bengal I should let go of my inhibitions and accept the hegemony of the Bangals ( People from East Bengal) over the Ghotis (people from West Bengal are called Ghotis). The foodscape ( a term borrowed from Manpreet Janeja’s work) of Bengal has witnessed an age old cold war between Ghotis and Bangals and as Chitrita Banerji (2001) in her work argues, “people take refuge behind these terms to justify all kinds of closemindedness” (Banerji 2001: 39).

To the extent, Ghotis by birth are fans of the football club – Mohun Bagan and Bangals usually support East Bengal Club. Any local football match to this date is described as a cultural war for pride and superiority of one against the other. And of course food- is the final stop for the difference. So when Mohun Bagan players win a match against East Bengal they are felicitated with garlands made of specially ordered Galda Chingri (King Prawns) – symbolic of Ghoti food.  When East Bengal wins a match against Mohun Bagan they feast on Hilsa- symbolic of Bangal food.

In other words these two football clubs are beyond Bengali pride – they are rooted in Bangal-Ghoti divide as evident in a fan’s comments on a website created by Mohun Bagan’s fans. The fan writes, “I still remember that in my childhood, in the middle and late seventies and the early eighties, whenever Mohun Bagan would win a tournament or a match against East Bengal, there would be sweets and “abir” in our house and a general feast will follow. I still remember that day in 1978 when in the league match against East Bengal, Shyam Thapa scored a brilliant goal with his bicycle volley and my father and uncles came home from the field with roshogolla and chingri machh and we burst crackers and put abir on each other. If we lost to East Bengal, there would be no dinner in our house”. (http://www.mohunbaganclub.com/fspeak.html).  

The cold war continues to this date that matrimonial advertisements in newspapers often indicate a reference for EB (East Bengali groom/ bride) or WB (West Bengali groom/ bride). So the closemindedness that Banerji talks about marks every sphere of life.

When it comes to food, Ghotis are known to add sugar in everything. A pinch of sugar according to my mother (an ardent Ghoti) would make all difference to the dish else it will start tasting like a Bangal dish. Bangals, again are known to eat hot, spicy food. While Ghotis would refrain from eating stem or peels of vegetables, the most innovative vegetarian Bengali dishes I must admit are the Khosha Chchoris which are usually cooked from the leftover peels of vegetables. For instance, a brilliant way of re-using the peels of lau is to chop them finely and fry them in mustard oil with green chillies and onion seeds. Add salt according to your taste. Similarly some of the stuffed vegetables with mustard paste are actually home medicinal remedies when you have a running nose. For instance today I made stuffed Kankrol with mustard paste which I picked from one of my Bangal friend’s grandaunt. Coming to my people, we are famous for vegetables we make with poppy seed paste. Nobody can make Aloo posto, Potol Posto or even Cauliflower Posto the way we do. We even add posto to our fish and chicken curry and of course we call everything Jhol. The signature dish of Ghotis remain Chingri Malaikari made of King prawns and coconut milk while those of Bangals remain Hilsa.  Though secretly we have incorporated and exchange notes on Ghoti- Bangal recipes the divide remains as my aunt ( who is  a Bangal) has abstained from indulging in cooking shutki machch( dried fish) in a Ghoti household. Similarly my cousin who is married in Bangal household is not allowed to experiment with Bangal dishes. Often people also organise polls on Ghoti vs Bangal on social networking sites and it is actually interesting to see the way collectives try to exercise their monopolies on certain foods to mark their identity. This cold war probably will continue because we will not bow down and say your food is better than mine. So instead of accepting the hegemony of one over the other it’s time we reap the benefits of the richness we have in these two cuisines.

References

Banerji, C.2001.The Hour of the Goddess. Memories of Women, Food and Ritual in Bengal. Seagull Books: Calcutta

Janeja, M.K.2010. Transactions in Taste. The Collaborative Lives of Everyday Bengali Food. Routledge :New Delhi

©itiriti

Food through Labouring Lives

The sociality of food becomes implicit and explicit in the way it contains and reproduces differences and sameness. It is in the production and consumption of food  that social relations are reproduced  across social structures. The social relations of food and labouring subjects go a long way.  

The social relation between the labouring subject and food is brilliantly captured in a film that I watched today in a film workshop called “The Lunch Box” by Floridne Devigne. The film maker embarks on a journey of Belgium’s social relations and revisits various tensions and contradictions through the prism of the lunch box and brilliantly weaves in the story of production- reproduction- and waste in the everyday life of Belgium.

What struck me is the way in my work on labouring lives in industrial zones the army of workers entered with the three tier steel containers popularly known as “Tiffins”/ “Dabbas” (In Hindi). Growing up in an industrial township when the clock struck one, an uncle rang our bell to collect “Tiffin” which was neatly packed with Rice, Dal and Fish Curry to be ferried to my father’s workplace. Browsing through my field notes from Falta SEZ if one asked me to visually capture the army of workers entering the zone; the first image would be an army of workers either on foot or on bicycle with their three tier Tiffin Box entering the factory gates.

Mostly women carried their tiffins as they felt shy to sit in canteens or walk back to the factory gate to have tea and snacks in the series of shops lined along the zone. The women workers usually carried their leftover lunch for the evening shift. In fact majority of the women preferred the evening shift from 2pm-10pm as they could cook lunch and carry food with them. Some of them carried their lunch to the workshops as they often got late doing household chores. Mostly women gathered in groups and shared their respective tiffins. While on one hand, mostly the unstructured interviews with women used to begin with what food they had cooked on the respective day it was not so for the men. Infact, for men, when they wanted to wind an interview particularly after morning shift they excused themselves by saying “Have to go… take a shower. I am hungry.” For women it was “ Need to go and cook both lunch and dinner. I hate morning shifts”.

Men not only had the choice to sit for a meal which was already prepared they often ate in the roadside tea stalls lined along  the factory gates. In my field work of three months I had never spotted a woman barring me and the respective owner’s wives who helped their male folk in cutting of vegetables in the shop. Even the women who helped in the shop had to cook in their respective homes before they reached the shop. While women managing tea shops and lunch stalls are a common sight, the customers remain mostly male. For instance, one of the shopkeeper owners through some arrangement with the security used to send his wife with a bag of 30-40 packets of Puffed Rice and Vegetable Fritters to the zone to capture the female clientele.

During this field work, even my social relation with the workers came to be determined by food that I ate and consumed. For instance the very fact that I rested in a shop close to Falta Special Economic Zone where they prepared vegetable fritters to be sold to Zone workers; made me acceptable to a section of workers who were the patrons of this shop. Infact one of the contractors who had misbehaved with me in front of a factory gate actually apologised when he found me eating Dhakai Paratha with ghugni ( Dhakai Paratha is a layered paratha which is made of flour, and water. What is interesting is that it is shredded, and sold according to the weight). Ghugni is a popular Bengali breakfast of roadside tea stalls. The basic ingredient is Dried White Peas.  We sat with our respective kanshi ( Bengal word for an steel / aluminium utensil with a shallow base usually used to have puffed rice) and discussed various issues relating to the zone and beyond.  So Tiffins- not only represent a “break” of the routinised schedule of the labouring subject it is also a space where through the tiffin the labouring subject is able to gaze/ engage with the product of his/ her labour.

Coming back to capturing everyday life through the prism of “lunch box” presents a materiality of political economic life which is both productive and reproductive. While on one hand the food that is inside your tiffin is the product of  “labour” ; the labour also “consumes” the tiffin. It is almost as if the image of army of workers walking with tiffins point to the banality of work. It is this banality of social relations that we as labouring subjects produce and consume through food.

© itiriti

 

Comfort food for a “Bengali” soul

Once upon a time a friend of mine had decided to abandon amish (non- vegetarian food) and become a vegetarian.  It is a difficult task especially when you have friends who are carnivores and who will test your will power by ordering the chicken meal. In such trying times of transition this friend allowed himself occasionally to dig into the curry/ jhol of chicken dish. Whenever he held his spoon for a helping of chicken curry we grinned at our success. While garnishing my Alu Phulkopir Jhol ( A curry made of Potato and Cauliflower) with coriander I was irritated by the fact that I had run out of fish. Bengalis are self proclaimed Jhol (milder curry is called Jhol ) fanatics. We have jhols for every occasion. Jhol is part of our everyday cuisine.

 What is a Jhol? It is exactly opposite to “Indian” curry. It is a slow method of cooking where each Jhol has specifications for the ways in which we chop our vegetables, to the spices we add ( usually a combination of not more than two wholesome spices are added to Jhol). For instance for my favourite comfort food Alu Phulkopir Jhol you need to chop medium sized potatoes into not more than six pieces ( in cube shapes). While cutting the floret of the cauliflower you  need to be careful while dicing so that you leave  half an inch stem to each floret . After chopping them rinse the cauliflower thoroughly in hot water, boil them and keep it aside. Add mustard oil to the wok. When the oil bubbles, temper the oil with cumin seeds and dry chilli ( not more than 2 for 300 gm cauliflower). Lightly sauté boiled cauliflower florets and boiled potato cubes with a pinch of salt and turmeric and keep it aside. Add tomatoes, ginger paste and a generous dose of cumin powder ( my mother adds fresh paste of cumin seeds) to the oil and let it cook till the smell of masala blends with the oil. After this add the florets and potato to the masala; add water and let it cook for 15 min. Stir well, add a pinch of sugar and garnish it with coriander. If you want to add Fish (preferably add Rohu or Bhetki). Fry the fish and add it before finishing off with chopped coriander.

We make similar Jhol out of Parwal ( Alu potoler Jhol).  Instead of fishes like Bheki / Rohu Alu Potoler Jhol tastes best with fried de-veined shrimps. But the garnishing has to be of dollops of ghee and garam masala. Most of these gravies are light but the best one is which my mother makes after every grand feast. For her “Jhol” is a cooling agent. She cuts vegetables like Potato, Raw Banana, Green Papaya, Beans and Parwal into long pieces. She tempers the oil with Panchphoron (five spice mixture used in Bengali cuisine available in any supermarket) and then adds four green chillies, sliced ginger. To this she adds freshly made coriander and cumin seed paste (one table spoon each for 200 gms vegetable) She fries the paste for two to three minutes adds one and a half cup water , salt and adds the vegetables to this paste and cooks it for 20 min. She finishes the dish with roasted cinnamon and crushed peppers. This heavenly dish is a total comfort food and can be customised with the change of seasons. In summer you could add raw mangoes/ finish off with a generous helping of lime juice to add to the tangy flavour. In winter you could add some fried onions and ginger garlic to bring that hot zest.

Jhols taste best with steamed rice. So what are you thinking? Dawn your chef’s hat and perfect the art of making a Jhol– comfort food for a “Bengali” soul.

© itiriti

How do you like your tea?

Last year when I got to know that India has won against Pakistan in the World Cup my cousin and I exchanged a series of messages on what our Buroda must have done. Buroda is the guardian angel of our area. Unlike our TV channels which has designated slots for news and debate shows; Buroda in his tea shop has a series of debates ranging from politics, sports and of course the Para-gossip (para is the Bengali word for neighbourhood). He is a storehouse of information. Buroda is all of 50 years old and my father called him Buro, my uncles buroda (da is the word for elder brother) and my cousins and yours truly call him Buroda.

The universal Buroda is known for his butterly toast and milky tea.  Buroda is a diehard fan of Argentina. He will take the pain to organise and hoist Argentina flags and make sure if a local club has displayed Brazil’s flag; he will spend that extra cash from his profits to buy a bigger Argentina flag. Buroda is a football fanatic, and he sells Tea. His speciality like any other tea shop in Kolkata is Crisp Butter Toast with dozens of sugar. In Bengali bread loaves are known as Paunroti ( at some point there was a believe that people used their legs to knead flour; hence paunroti). There are various shops lined in college street that sells crisp butter toast and tea on marble table tops. Apparently these shops used to be frequented by politico-ideologues of 70’s and 80’s . Coming to Buroda he also sells Ghugni, one of the most favourite snack and breakfast item for hundreds of migrant workers who work in the tanneries, and other industrial units in this industrial part of Kolkata.

Like all industrial corners even Kolkata’s industrial sweatshops are falling prey to real estate developers and I was woken to a heated debate on how Buroda has also been victim of real estate players. Initially Buroda’s shop was housed under a thatched roof and a cemented slab which functioned as table and chair simultaneously. Buroda takes extreme care that his “female” customers like us does not have to enter his shop. He will insist getting our orders home delivered. Everyday Buroda looks at the highrise that stands tall and wonders at the by-gone era of 80s when his shop was thriving on the migrant Bihari workers and other workers who worked in the textile mills. He says those were the days. He never could make enough tea and there was never enough space. When somebody asks Buroda what led to his misfortune. He keeps silent. While I miss sneaking away to Buroda’s shop for my ghugni and paunroti for my breakfast I wonder who will be Buroda’s customers. Buroda himself laments that his customer profile has changed. Initially he was forced to keep Anandabazaar and Bartaman ( two leading Bengali Newspaper daily) now he could do with borrowing one. The customer profile of shops owned by Buroda’s across the city of Kolkata is mixed. People across classes and masses over the crisp toast and tea will lament on the souring inflation, debate on the political crisis that rocks the country. While shops like Buroda’s symbolise the pulse of the city of Kolkata; with the emergence of landscaped neighbourhoods it is a matter of time when Burodas will become a matter of memory.

The only surviving grace is that Burodas never grow old in college canteens. One of the legendary college canteen in Kolkata is owned by Pramod da. Pramod da is equivalent to Baba Loknath to most of the Presidency students. Last time when I visited the college with a friend of mine, a former student of Presidency he treated us to his chowmein and tea. This special treat was in honour of a friend who had secured admission for her Ph.D abroad.

Similarly even after years of staying away from Delhi School of  Economics , whenever one visited the campus  Dipu from J.P. Tea stall greets every alumni with a smile and prepares Tea with fondness. The sense of ownership and the relationship that consumers have with petty producers has been documented in various social science texts.  There is an innumerable peripheral workforce in the food industry that serves us and cares for us despite our age and class. Each college or university has their own  Pramod da s, Milonda s , J.P s and Buroda s and it is time we ponder for a while when they ask us “How do you like your tea?”

© itiriti

Utterly Butterly Oly

My first tryst with “pub” dates back to one of the many book fairs in Maidan Calcutta .Now the venue of the book fair has shifted to a concrete park opposite to Science City. Kolkata was then known as Calcutta and Book Fairs happened in Maidan, the sprawling greenscape of city of joy where people go for picnics, walk, horse rides and of course romance.  During one such Book fairs in Maidan, a group of friends were disgusted with the thought that I had not visited Oly. According to one of them, “If you are eighteen and you have not visited Oly you have committed a blasphemy”. Well I was eighteen; and more than that and had not visited Oly. So, they decided on a special day to take me to Oly.

There I was waiting in Parkstreet “Fulurys” bus- stop ( most of the bus conductors call out Fulury’s Parkstreet once it hits the main junction of Parkstreet with Asiatic Society on one side and a Big Bazaar on the other. Alternatively you can take a cab to reach Parkstreet  but considering this is the breathing, eating and drinking place of the city the city police have decided to do a little bit of traffic policing by making the street one- way at various times. Please check with Kolkata Police traffic before you venture out with your vehicle or you can brave a walk in the winters down Park street.

Once you cross the Park hotel you have to walk down a little further and you will find the famous Oly Pub. A man sits at a desk and smiles at the regular customers guarding the groundfloor which is not meant for “Ladies”. You have to walk upstairs and hit the floor which at first sight will look like a class room with tables and benches. Once you turn behind you will see bottles of various shapes and sizes guarding the person who manages it and the waiters dressed in ceremonial white with red head gears greeting you and throwing the menu card at your face. People love it that way I suppose. Well so five of sat like school boys and girls waiting for our teacher to come and guide us through the food and menu. Without looking at the menu the waiter all in his mid-40s placed a small steel plate of Kolkata chanachur( savouries found in Kolkata) and rattled all that is available. From my friend’s cacophony I could hear two things Beef steak and Chicken Ala Kiev. Assuming that I was God fearing and abstained from beef a plate of Chicken Ala Kiev was placed in front of my eyes with a tumbler of 30 ml Vodka and a small tumbler almost equivalent to what we get in tea shops in Kolkata full of lime cordial. My friends I gathered were regulars as they exchanged pleasantries with the waiter. Those were the days when smoking was not banned.

As I attacked the Chicken Ala Kiev with my knife the butter came oozing out and flowed over the beautifully done mashed potatoes with the exact amount of green peas and boiled carrots and created an aroma to die for. The scoop of butter inside the chicken breast neatly wrapped on a bone and deep fried was not only heavenly but visually refreshing after a long tiring day. The fact that you have to scream out to each other if you want to hear even your friend’s heart break makes Oly an adorable place. Another dish that Oly regulars die out for is their Beef steak. They always get it right. And it remains a miracle. The mystery and charm of Oly is that you are left to enjoy your drink and food as it is. And you will never have a bad day. Oly does not care about decor but their food touches your heart with the same affection that their ambience will create once you can appreciate the place. They don’t play music. People through their conversations, debates create new notations and you hear music. And if you become friends over Oly you are bound to stay friends. Oly reproduces a magic of food and drink full of raw emotions, love and pain. Next time when you are in Kolkata, stop by Oly, for that utterly butterly Oly experience with no frills attached.

© itiriti

A hearty meal

What is a hearty meal?  A low diet, cholesterol free food that keeps your heart beat in normal pace or a heartbeat racing recipe with everything in excess. While minimalism seems to dictate the terms and conditions of most of the silhouettes; we also have our frenzies for dollops of full cream on our hot chocolate fudge; fetish for picking up a full cream milk for that lavish payesh garnished with dry fruits or for that chocolate excess. Excess meals are globally acclaimed to curb and aid depressed patients. They are supposed to be instant tonics for bringing a smile across old age groups. “Excess” in meals has always been associated with eating out. And multinational food chains across the globe has managed to cash onto people’s fetish for “excess” to introduce a category of  customers always in constant search for excess through those “add on” options to our pizza, burger and even fried chicken. But are “add-on”s a way to define “hearty meal”?

Personally a hearty meal would be one where I enjoy the food in a social gathering. A social recluse for instance would call himself/ herself  a social animal when he/she goes dining out and enjoys a hearty meal with dollops of meaty conversations with that perfect punch of  pepper, salt and sugar to finish it off.  So a hearty meal has to be with likeminded people who share your appetite beyond the table that is laid out. The hearty meal is bonding and rebounding of lost souls, lost friends and unexpected encounters. The unexpected encounters with new cuisines in hearty meals can be excess. But excess of laughter can satiate the extra calories we gulp in every bite of the hearty meal.  Hearty meals are successful in small groups when you do not have to strain your ear to hear the person at the far end of the table.  While I have enjoyed hearty meals with friends in most of the metroes in India my favourite hearty meals of late has been in Bangalore thanks to my cousin, her husband and my friends. My top picks of hearty meals places in Bangalore are :-

Breakfast:  When you want to treat yourself to a hearty weekday breakfast away from home and hotel buffet try out the delicacies @ Koshy’s. If you are bored of breads and eggs and for all my vegetarian friends you can have a lazy breakfast of luchi, alur dam and cholar dal at K.C Das, St. Marks Road from 9.30 am onwards. On Sunday please ensure you reach early.

Lunch : Bheema’s on Church Street truly represents “excess”. Specialising in Andhra Cuisine this place offers carrier meals which can serve up to three people. A great place if you have a mix of vegetarian and non vegetarian friends.

Coffee : Indian Coffee Home, Church Street. Simple, great filter coffee to keep you awake in the pleasant weather of Bangalore

Dinner: Sorry this section is dedicated to all the meat eaters. My two picks are steak places tucked away in two busy parts of the town but you will love the ambience and food once you hit there. First and foremost, I would recommend The Only Place, tucked away in Museum Road. Please try out the section on fish and for all those who are brave enough and really hungry can head straight for the steak by the name “A hearty meal”.  One great thing about this place is that it is at a walking distance from St. Marks road and yet enjoys a quite ambience. The place is not pretentious and fancy. Even on a weekday you might have to wait but it is worth the wait. Love their steaks, and their desserts are worth a try.

My second pick under this section is Millers 46, near Cunningham Road. The restaurant is for the brave and prosperous souls who are willing to dig into steaks. It is a popular joint  and it is a beef lover’s paradise and when we say “well done” they do it really well. The beef is cooked to perfection and for the frail hearted please avoid this place. Please book a table in advance to avoid the rush and enjoy steak to the fullest.

© itiriti

An ode to Julia/s: women who turned the tables around

Most of us must have watched Julia and Julia  and thought of buying the book The Art of French Cooking or have stacked the DVD copy of the movie for that Friday movie dinner at home. We must have found a meaning in the way Julia cooked and cooked for the family for the nation that survived on anything but home – made foods. What it is about food that bonds yet creates a difference between people? Julia to most of us is an inspiration to live life on our own terms. At this juncture I am reminded of a scene where Julia is practising to chop onions with precision after her male classmates give her a cold look as she slice her way through onions in Cordon Bleu.  Julia’s obsession with food and her husband’s keen interest in appreciating her taste, or search for her calling from making hats to going live on television for a food series shows the way relationships bond over food. Yet, when our blogger Julia becomes obsessed with her blog and her cooking deadlines  that she almost loses her husband.  

Julia/s represent the change in our times when we have taken resort to cooking as a hobby, passion or as a compulsion.  Today as we criticise Nigella for her erotica cooking style , or admire at the way Kylie Kwong, Ritu Dalmia cooks with precision those Chinese delicacies and Italian Delights I wonder was it an easy path for any these Julia/s?   For our blogger Julia we have thousands of bloggers blogging on foods they cook and encounter in their daily lives; each claiming to be unique, authentic and personal in their style and presentation. Recipes get shared with a click of a button. We admire and comment on food photographs that our friends put on social networking sites .  Each day a blogger wants to reach out through his or her culinary delights.   

While cooking on the domestic front has been socially accepted as a “feminine” routine;  the yearning among women to re-claim the public space/ the public eye and turn in the gaze of food and sexuality has to be re-thought. For a long time women enjoyed the smirk and coldness of professional kitchens because of the existing social divide between the “public” and “private” spaced that are to be carved intact.  Every time I watch Nigella cooking her chocolate sauce and licking her finger I wonder why it had to be telecasted. Why couldn’t it be edited? It’s almost like burping in public. 

Can Nigella’s licking her finger dripping with chocolate sauce be read as challenging a culture of exclusion where women are supposed to “behave” themselves. Is it supposed to mean that women can cook and eat like our Julia? Is it supposed to mean that women have the right to cook and eat for themselves? While Julia/s of our world have written many a recipe books, some recipe books are actually interesting in the way these recipe books become guiding tools to cook that “family” dinner. I was struck by the fact the other when I came across a book  titled  50 ways to get back your boyfriend.  Well we have come a long way from the days of Julia, the woman who made French cooking accessible for American households but are we not travelling back to our cocoons by creating recipes for that big family dinner where “women” should take that responsibility.  Every time somebody appreciates my cooking and comment that I will make it to a man’s heart through his stomach I gasp under my breath and mumble “Well, yeah… after all I am supposed to bring a smile to every foodie’s heart irrespective of his gender”.  

Why is it so difficult to tell and shout to the world as women, that we can cook for themselves like our Julia/s. Why does our protagonist in the Film Hour declines into depression at the sight of a burned cake thinking she has failed to be a good wife. Why are wives expected to know cooking? Why can’t we cook for  ourselves? Why are our table manners guided by the gendered norms of do’s and dont’s? Why can’t the waiter give the cheque book to us? As a single woman when I struggle to think of what should I make for breakfast I remember my mother who continues till date to lay out the breakfast table with the preferences of each of our family member I have never asked her if she likes any of the items that have been laid out. When I ask her if has ever cooked for herself she tells me with delight that she had once tried out a prawn cocktail with some left over prawns from lau chingri and some lettuce stored away from some dinner party.  She does not remember from where she got the prawn cocktail recipe. She did not use tobasco sauce. She churned up something for herself which can be prepared in 30 min.   Here goes Prawn cocktail in her style.

Steam 5-6 size medium size deveined prawns with a little bit of salt and keep it aside to cool while you make the sauce. Technically it should be made with mayonnaise and tobasco but in absence of both my mom used homemade sour cream with two table spoon hung curd, a little bit of tomato puree and red chilli flakes. To this she added a little bit of salt and sugar for taste. She remembers the tangy and fresh taste till date as she shares with me this recipe. She mixed the steamed prawns to this sauce; added some fresh cream and took out a glass bowl ( i would totally refrain from committing the sin of having prawn cocktail in a bowl) spread out a bed of lettuce and then the prawns and finished it off with a slice of lime and pudina leaf on a winter afternoon reading a magazine.

©itiriti