Category Archives: Food & Foodies

New Beginnings this Mahalaya

Posted on

A whole month has gone by and P&P has been deserted. The dust of negligence has settled on the menu; the archives have developed strain with being shifted to the backburner so very often. This morning, however, marks a change. And no wonder, it’s Mahalaya.

In my mind, the last set-of-weeks is clubbed into one big, unpalatable blob. A lot has gone into its making – sleepless nights, piles of work, irritable moods and a constant crunch for time. Not a recipe I would ever like to re-experience. There is something, however, that tells me I will have this dish shoved down my throat again. But until the time comes, I am all set for delicious Durga Puja fare, beginning very soon.

Mahalaya marks the end of Pitripaksha and the beginning of Devipaksha. Simply put, it squeals –“Durga Puja is here in less than a week!” When I was younger, I would wake up at the strike of dawn and tune in to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s awe-inspiring recitation of Mahalaya. I would hum “Bajlo Je Tomar…” when the song came and spend the rest of the day jumping around in glee. Today, back home after that blob of a time, I couldn’t manage the dawn thingy. But, I was delighted to discover that the charm of the day lingers on still…resplendent with the glory of former days and warm with the promise of delight.

Today, the air is fragrant with hope (not to forget, err, the whiff of gastronomic wonders). Understandably so, considering the Goddess is visiting her home, complete with her family. For a few days that pass by quicker than sand off the fingers, we will deck up in our finest finery. We will lick our fingers as we dig into cutlets, momos and biryani. We will click pictures of the fairy lights and tap our feet to the music in the winds. And before we know it, winter will wrap her snow-white hands around Delhi.

Here’s wishing everyone a Shubho Mahalaya. Please lend me a hand in warding the evil of neglect off my darling P&P.

The Sign-Board

Posted on

*Prize Winning Entry in Apollo Hospitals and Indiblogger’s “How Does Modern Healthcare touch Lives?” Contest*

He walked past the board every morning. It was on the way to work, standing in all its freshly-painted, large-visual glory. He would stare at it through the corner of his eye, as his car halted at the traffic light, and then proceed to indulge in a breakfast of vegetable patties in the cafeteria. The food-vendor ensured he made them with extra oil and potato, just as he liked them best.

It had been several years since he had joined his current company as a software engineer. He wasn’t keen on jumping onto the management bandwagon; the truck seemed way too full anyway. Coding still enthralled him and he beamed when he solved even seemingly mundane problems in innovative ways. Back at home, his parents would sigh. How do you manage to sit at your desk job every day and not grow plump? He would laugh about his amazing metabolism. The truth – his ever growing err, tyres, and slightly protruding belly – remained hidden under well fitted clothing.

“I think I will skip the gulab jamun, tempting though it looks.” His brother-in-law made a rather sorrowful face as he pushed the tray aside.

He had always been a funny man – too uptight with his dietary regulations. “Really, calling you to meals is pretty useless.” He sighed, picking up the rejected gulab jamun happily.

“Diabetes, no less. Add to that a serious cholesterol problem. I cannot afford to play around with these credentials.”

His wife nodded furiously, glaring at him. “It wouldn’t do you harm to adopt that kind of policy. Anyway,” she shook her head, “you don’t get any exercise.”

Really, when the two got together, he almost felt as if he was back in school.

Come to think of it, he used to live a ‘healthier’ life. Every evening after school, he would rush to the cricket ground. The green grass would get tremendous thrashing until one day they disallowed playing in the park. In college days, he had even joined a gym. But those muscles never shaped and his enthusiasm waned after a fortnight. But it was primarily after starting work that exercise was erased from his schedule.  Packed hours and insane deadlines, after all, don’t go well with fancy buzzwords such as work-life balance.

These days he had heard, there was a solution for every ailment. Even for the dreary cancers and tumours which had destroyed several households over the ages. Modern healthcare brought to people cure and care, and packaged with insurance and sensible savings, in a manner affordable for the masses. Amidst such advancement, the problems his sedentary life posed seemed too trivial to acknowledge.

*

The brother-in-law was ill. He lay prostrate in a hospital ward, a tiny potted-plant lying beside him on the mantlepiece.

“A sudden cardiac arrest,” his wife sobbed, “while he was peacefully watching television.”

“How is he now?” he asked hesitantly, unwilling to look her in the eye. If the brother-in-law with his school-boyish dietary regime and impossible restrictions could fall prey to trouble, he was a prey asking to be hunted. He saw his wife continue to sob and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. The nurses were busy, so were the hands of the large clock on the wall. Much of the world continued to swipe in and out of offices, cognizant of only the evening and the weekend to come. He, however, was on leave today.

The next morning, his car stopped by the board again. The road was abuzz with rush-hour traffic, cars honking away to glory. He took out his appointment diary and a pen from the bag.

“Billion Hearts Beating” he wrote. This morning, instead of using the quiet morning hour to delve into an oily breakfast, he would call for an Apollo Health Check Up.

*written for “How does Modern Healthcare touch lives?” contest by Apollo Hospitals and Indiblogger

To read more about modern lifestyles and healthcare, go here.

 Apollo Hospitals

Over Some Chocolate

Posted on

Kalyani Bakery

Isn’t chocolate an aphrodisiac? Mansi distinctly remembered several people on the television screen who swooned at the sight of it. Some licked it off their fingers; others went weak-kneed when offered chocolate ice-cream. She was sure he would adore the éclair and the brownie. Layered choc on top, vanilla cream within. Ah! With every bite, he would delve deeper into her.

It had been quite a while since she had been eyeing him. “So you eye guys?” a girlfriend had sniggered. “Like randomly?” “Of course not.” She had made a prim face. “Only if they are very cute.”

The deal with this guy was – he was far too quiet. The only time she saw him was when they shopped for supplies at the local mart. It was a coincidence – a bloody good one – that he chose Fridays to shop for potatoes and tomatoes. Now, she would hop out on Fridays mostly to avail of the pre-weekend deals. One kilo meat, one lump of onions free. You get the picture. She wondered what made a cute guy like him spoil Friday evenings making small talk with the acne-cheeked counter-girl.

“Look, if this has to go somewhere, better ask him straight.” Her cousin had advised. She was the family’s relationship expert, having gone through a substantial number in her prime. “Just ask him out for coffee. You are way too laidback. Why don’t you try the outfit I got last anniversary?” Mansi smiled politely. Remembering her cousin’s anniversary outfits wasn’t a pain. What was a pain was labelling the greeting card she would have to send out on those occasions. What on earth was the latest guy called? Mansi now went with ‘Happy Anniversary to you and your partner’. Safe and sweet.

Anyway, following up on expert advice, Mansi had trudged along to Camp and was now at Kalyani Bakery. She did not wear the recommended outfit as it showed more than it hid but personally, she thought she looked fine. One look across the street and there was no sign of him yet.

“Could you come to  Kalyani Bakery today?” she had asked around the same time the previous week. “I actually need advice on …ordering a cake for my cousin. I wouldn’t know how it was for I stay away from fats.” “Fats?” was his first word to her. Queer. Considering she wasn’t even fat anymore. “Yeah. I am a no-sweet person. And new to this place.” Small fibs couldn’t matter much could they? He had nodded (or had he?) and with a half-smile, picked up his bag of tomatoes. Come to think of it, she had been impulsive enough to invite an anonymous mart-man for a cake-advice date.

A one hour was up. Couples had come in and they had gone. With pastries, desserts and passionate smooches in mind. Kids had jumped in and parents had followed. A German Shepherd had also had his fun playing with a rum ball. Mansi felt enraged. If refusal it had to be, why hadn’t he said as much the last time? She could have put the week in something other than futile anticipation. It was a different story that she still was ‘fat’. And probably more acne-infested than the girl at the counter of the mart. But, hey, wasn’t chocolate an aphrodisiac?

Five minutes later, Mansi sat with a black forest cake, a chocolate éclair and a dark brownie. Six minutes later, she turned to someone tapping her back. “Looks like the cousin was famished.” laughed her mart-man, even as Mansi made hurried facial corrections with a tissue.

Saying Hello to Food

Food, I have found, is an enormous help when it comes to combating mood swings. And falling in love with food is one of my newly acquired gifts.

As a child, I was the model kid in the block. You know, the one who never badgers you for a chocolate or a lollypop. Or a samosa or a panipuri. Or a burger or a pizza. It’s another story that we lived in an age when Pizza and Facebook hadn’t conquered minds. But anyway, you get the point. So whenever a mama or chacha would drop by with goodies for the baby, the baby wouldn’t be too happy. Those were the occasions when you’d be required to sample the food so that the guest could be sure you’d liked it. And I had very proper notions about eating. The quintessential no chaat-no fried-no sadak-ka-khaana school.

Even in my growing up days, food remained a very mundane chore. Meal times were something you had to get done with. Yes, they gave some scope for family conversations but in a small family like ours, that has never been a point at contention. Granny would be ready with my lunch when I returned from school and I would eat and do my homework simultaneously, often forgetting what I had eaten the moment I finished. Granny of course, loved the arrangement, considering she could overload the plate with karela and palak and I wouldn’t lift an eyebrow. So basically, the taste or the fulfillment factor of food is something that has always eluded me. I never knew it existed.

In the past two years however, I have discovered new territories. Thanks to Pune’s novel scenarios that forced me to meet the ‘taste’ in food – or the lack of it – I have now realized what I had been missing. It helps that the man is an out-and-out foodie who can stand anything but tasteless khaana. I am now well versed with the delights that lie in freshly cooked kababs, in good, hot soup and in the roadside dhaba that sells sponge dosas. I adore panipuri and like them spicy and soft and no longer do I turn up my nose at the pakoras that the perspiring bhaiya diligently fries.

Now, whenever I feel blue and nothing seems to change that colour, I try my best to reminisce and capture the whiff of good-old Pune and get Granny to cook me a nice new recipe. She obliges, only to groan when I drag her to a rigorous work-out session.

I am a Pizza Connoisseur, claims Flu-Stricken Delhi Dude

Dominos

I have a Pizza Lover colleague at work. Oh you have one too?  I guess there are plenty of them roaming around the floors of air conditioned malls and independent outlets that serve baked bread with onions and mushrooms. At work, I have a Chicken Fanatic (who’s taken to cashing in on my Bengali eating habits like a fish takes to water), a Vegetarian Snob who is okay with egg for it is the new pure-grass thing and even a Cad-M Cad-B freak. (they are sinful chocolate drinks which are proprietary to Maharashtra, I think) So one fine day the originally from Delhi dude had a birthday and as luck would have it, he was struck with a dose of seasonal illness.

We did toy with the he-played-hookey-to-avoid-treat idea. It isn’t financially nice paying for a dozen starving stomachs especially when you are not exactly on till-death-do-us-apart terms. To confirm/un-confirm our fears and to give him some birthday evening company, I went along with a friend to say Happy Birthday.

As the evening shaped out, we ended up having pizzas at Dominos (Close to the all new Pantaloons outlet on Senapati Bapat Road, I am sure they are enjoying the new found strategic advantage).

Initial Arguments We Made For/Against the Plan:

“So much cheese goes into them… it will coagulate my throat!”

“But hey, I can’t do a mess ki tasteless thali night tonight of all nights.”

“Pasta is an absolute no-no much as I adore the little white strands.”

“Garlic bread could do the trick. Say what?”

“I have to stay off Coke. And ketchup. And even the delicious oregano. Poor me!”

“Some spice and some things nice go a long way in curing a sore throat.”

Dominos Pizzas

 

All convinced and prepared, we feasted on a good number of pizzas, a box of garlic bread and a bottle of free Coke. The Chicken Barbeque in the order satiated my chicken fanatic friend and as for the birthday boy, he has never failed to admire the finesse of a well made pizza.

 

 

“Pizza Hut is better though,” he said seriously, “they have a more subtle technique of mish mashing the ingredients.”

“I am sure.” I replied, sipping some of the free Coke. “I am a little low on pizza gyan though.”

“In Delhi,” he went on, “they make the pizzas more rounded and crispier. Even without the double burst of cheese, you feel all fuzzy inside.”

The two of us nodded furiously, having a go at the cheesy dip the Domino’s people had thoughtfully (and not without extra charges) added to our order.

Of course we split the bill.

Picture Courtesy: Wikipedia and bareessence.blogspot.com

A Tete Tete with the Happy Luncher…

The sky is a deep, dark blue. There isn’t a cloud to be seen. On-the-run lunchers in ICC’s Level 9 cafeteria are trying their best to relish poorly cooked vegetable thalis and pau bhajis. (and some of them are regretting their decision of trying new-to-the-menu: Maggi Noodles) We are out in the sun, walking toward Art Beat.

“A regular walk in the sun oh my. You must hate the food up there!”

Since I am not paid to be polite, I have no qualms in admitting I d-e-t-e-s-t Level 9! They serve water and call it curd, mix up yesterday’s leftovers and decorate the menu with a hideously written aloo-chole-paneer. (ever heard of such a dish by-the-by?) Their parathas are long and ugly masses of a rubber like substance and I am never hungry enough to swallow that size. The place revamps itself at night though with lovey-dovey couples and sweet talk replacing harried software developers discussing their latest stroke of genius. It seems the quality of bhojan improves too. But then, evenings up there are more about unwinding to a nice panoramic city view than filling up empty stomachs.

“I wonder what’s so special about Art Beat…”

Is Kuku da Paratha more your kind? I’ll accept a ride there anytime if you please. Art Beat’s specialty lies in being walkable, serving fairly edible food and having an easy on the pocket billing system. There are days when dal chawal is all we order – a stark difference from the compulsory masala overdose up there. But then, I haven’t spoken about the best part of it all.

“I know there’s no escape until you are out with it.”

Escape, my darling. That’s where the nail loves a hitting. On our way back to office, we take this curvy and long about way that walks us through a canopied lane of quiet houses and silent shadows. The sun, forever in a playful mood these days, plays tricks that entice – warming you up just enough to let pleasant thoughts about school vacations  and summer evenings seep in. The walk makes me stare at fading stress and blues like an amnesic and I am transported to happier times.

“And how do we pack all that up in the one hour break?”

Oh we are just a good time managers. We don’t dawdle over our food and are out in less than a half hour from the closet. We then proceed to take in every bit of the sun and taste every strand of the (not so) luscious orange that is my customary fruit. And though I say it myself, we are back at our desks at just the right time. Ain’t we model employees?

I smile triumphantly at you and shiver just a bit in the post-sun coolness of the air conditioner. You give me one of your looks and press the elevator button to floor # 5.

Lunch Time

Picture Courtesy: http://lunchtimespecial.blogspot.com/

Pune’s Coffee Places: Coffee Shop & Stop

Coffee Shop & Stop

All it takes is a trip to Aundh or Camp to drive home the dullness of living in Pune’s Senapati Bapat Road. Packed with huge trade towers bumbling with the offices of umpteen software firms, it has very little to offer when you crave for an un-’official’ weekend out. Yeah, there’s Crossword whose bookish little alleys have several surprises perennially lined up…( and the sights and sounds of young bookworms coming in with their proud parents on Sunday mornings are quite delightful I admit ) Then you have an unassuming eatery (Art Beat) on the lane opposite Chaturshringi Temple and no the name doesn’t come from blotted letters H and E. It serves fairly decent food if you can learn to endure exhaust fumes and a mild heat wave. But you get the picture don’t you – there aren’t any malls or cinemas, no shopping streets buzzing with activity, no food plazas. So when you come across not one but two immensely crowded Coffee Shops, you can’t help but pay a visit. And that is quite obviously the USP of S.B. Road’s favourite hangouts: Coffee Shop and Coffee Stop.

I have set going some inside research on whether they have a tie-up, expansion plans and the like. But the current scenario hints at cut-throat competition and well formulated business strategies:

Origins: Can be traced back to a few years ago, around the time when Deep Bungalow Chowk started getting crowds of starving college students and weary software professionals.

Strategic Brand Name: A blink and you miss it difference (coincidentally, the only disparity being between two tall alphabets, it’s even harder to spot) has a multi-fold advantage. “I was at Coffee Shop yesterday…” you tell a pal, “you know the one near MKCL Finishing School”. Pal turns up at spot next day and by then has forgotten whether you said shop or stop and in all truth cannot be bothered to check. The same business principle applies for the written and print media or telephonic conversations if you go that far.

Parallel Growth Location: The two stores are located within a bare inch of a separation distance. From afar, the crowd you see can pertain to either of the stores, thus camouflaging the Varying Crowd Syndrome and making no impact on your decision to choose one over the other. This way, they also make use of Load Balancing and you can shift to the adjacent store if the other is too occupied with customers.

Coffee Stop

Coffee Shop

Harmonious Interior Decor: With one all done up in yellow and the other in bright pink, quite a feast for the eye awaits a customer. A signboard put up by Coffee Shop with a cheery ‘Eat Drink Hangout’ announcement was followed by a similar one at Coffee Stop which came up with the bright idea of a traffic signal graphic and a notification about the ‘branches at Symbiosis’.  (see picture above) Not to be outdone, both vendors have been heard talking about menu decorations and uniforms for the staff among other things.

Food and Drink: Tawa pulao, breadcrumbs and cold coffee are the three most ordered for dishes on both menus. They cater well to the requirements of the target audience (for instance: college students looking for snacks that don’t leave pocket holes/office goers who are still unmarried and untended for) in being light, quick and snack-y. While Coffee Stop has recently been working on varying its Cold Coffee (containing glass and chocolate essence), Coffee Shop also has surprises lined up its sleeve.

Consumer Review:

#1: Giggling girl in green

On Coffee Shop:  “Saviour is the word… it satisfies our food cravings when we are too lazy to cook… my roommate and I have no idea what we would do without!”

On Coffee Stop:  “Err… didn’t I just talk about it?”

#2: Young bloke with chunky (silver?) chain

On Coffee Shop:  “I love the fried rice and the hot chocolate… and of course the crowd.” (chuckles)

On Coffee Stop: (can’t be bothered to comment for fresh gang of three girls has recently dropped in)

Next time you stop at S.B. Road or Deep Bungalow Chowk, don’t miss out on a quick bite at Pune’s classic examples of market competition.

Picture Courtesy: Rupesh Kumar

Khaayo aur Khilaayo… My Experience with Restaurants in Pune

The homebody that I am, eating out back in Delhi meant the once a year best friend’s birthday, the Daddy got promoted treat and the we-are-getting-married-come-eat dinners. Time’s been rushing past and I will soon complete a whole year in Pune. Time to take stock, sit back and reflect on major decisions that life has been bringing forth… time to finally cross fences and choose between paneer pasanda and paneer tikka masala.

September happens to be birthday season here in MKCL and that makes me want to give some gyan on my tryst with Pune’s restaurants. Here are five of them in no particular order of like or dislike:

1. Sukanta
Location: Deccan

We have been here umpteen number of times and like the first few delicious spoonfuls of dessert, the charm has jaded and faded. But for a first timer to this grand and bountiful food treasury, there can be no question of disappointment. Yes, you may have to wait for a while but the sights and sounds of decked up people in their best finery should keep you occupied. At 150 a thali and unlimited food – which by the way includes a number of sabjis, crispies, dhoklas, dahi vadas, orange drinks (Rasna?), rice, khichdi, papad, the works – Sukanta is your best option for a birthday or an impending wedding celebratory party.

PS: Much in the same league are Durvankur (Tilak Road) and Shreyas (Deccan).

2. Abhishek
Location: Karve Road

Typical contemporary restaurant with its name sprawled in bright big green letters, it has a fairly big sitting area spanning across two floors. A three course meal for twelve can easily fit in the up to 2000 bracket even when you are tagging along overworked and starved software developers. Their sizzlers are interesting and bring to steam point a good number of adjacent tables.

Anand (Kothrud) is a good option as well, even though it has a floor of rather cave like sitting.

3. Koyla
Location: FC Road

Nope, they didn’t shoot the ghumte me chanda hai song here but *no exaggeration* they can definitely fool you into believing you don’t live in the 21st century. What looks like a quaint and tiny little eatery from outside with a Charminar embossed door the only interesting sight, opens up to a world of exquisite Hyderabadi wonder. Right from tables set up in semi darkness with old worldly lamps for light to a whole wall of a realistic Golconda fort depiction, Koyla took me by delightful surprise. It has red and green bangles lined up in a corner… a stunning chandelier set amidst soft canopy curtains… melodious strands of ghazals by Jagjit Singh playing in the background at just the right volume… and oh my, you can’t not be enticed. Yes, dinner costs a loot but trust me, it’s worth it.

PS: Koyla is perfect for that candlelight dinner you have been longing to go to with your sweetheart. Otherwise, go in as a tourist, pretend to take a look at the menu with the intention of a future booking and smoothly exit to dine at Shravan or Lalit Mahal. (Good food and light on the pocket restaurants in the same lane). Psst, that’s NOT what I usually do!

4. Yummy Treat
Location: Senapati Bapat Road

They serve you Lebanese chicken which you can see rotating in the grills all around. It’s pretty yum if you like that sort of thing. The vegetarian food here is quite edible as well but the quantities are minuscule. Nothing fancy to write home about, except perhaps the I-am-modern name compared to its neighbours – the pure desi Sai Dhaba and Akshay. We are frequent visitors here given its proximity to our place. For a casual lunch or dinner, its yum yum yum.

PS: Do try the chicken biryani.

* Update * : They just closed ! I need to find out asap if they have moved or gone for good.

5. VITS
Location: Balewadi

Oh yeah, you can look this way again… it’s a 3 star *luxury* restaurant. Far removed from civilization, err, downtown, it’s a rather gloomy dark brown building near the Chatrapati Shivaji Sports Complex. Driving in at night you can be fooled into thinking it has shut shop. But on a serious note, the food is worth the drive. We went in for a buffet on a joint birthday treat and found ourselves wishing we had eaten less at lunch. Soup – five kinds of salads – starters both vegetarian and fleshy – a main course on similar lines – jalebis, halwa, ice-cream and mousse for dessert – not to forget assorted Chinese – true blue delight. If you are willing to splurge, this is the place to be. Ensure you have transport.

I just took an elevator back to the ground floor and I can smell lunch tiffins. Back in dreary reality, a plate full of aloo methi and watana curry up in the Level 9 cafeteria is what I am going to get to eat.

Salads @ VITS

The sweetness of the sweet sabjis

What do you do when you can’t cook or don’t have a kitchen or don’t have the time or don’t have, oh well, you get the idea – so what do you do? Naturally, you eat out. But what do you do when you miss salt and spice and all things nice in all that you order? You then order paneer. Coming to you in delicious sounding varieties like paneer tikka masala, paneer butter masala and paneer pasanda, you soon find yourself trapped in the alluring paneer cycle, for lack of anything else worth risking.

If you  happen to be a Northern-er used to tadkewali daal that’s thick and syrupy and spicy sabjis that have more than a generous sprinkling of nature’s priciest spices, then your taste buds are bound to be in for major acclimatization when you arrive in Maharashtra. More so, obviously, if low-end restaurants are the ones you frequent. Everything tastes sweet, dull if you please and much too uniform. It’s a wonderful lesson in compromise when you find yourself settling for the panacea – paneer! What goes along of course is tawa pulao - served burnt and crisp and eaten standing or sitting on bikes parked around the dozens of crowded ‘Coffee Shops’. Among lots of ikre-tikre and bits of  roti-chapati conflicts, you learn to order masala buttermilk 1/2 and 1/3 and make a face if some place claims to be too fancy to obey.

Then comes a time when your pockets jingle not with coins but rustle with notes. You land up in the sorts of Shiv Sagar and Rajwada and amble through the entire JM Road chain. You now find yourself more comfortable ordering a Rs 60/- cheese cherry salad that comes to 10 a piece. Chinese is your best bet then as it has the advantage of not being easy to manipulate into sweetness. As a strictly maintained bank balance meant to pay off house rents and internet bills lures you now and then into believing you can blow some of it down the fountain, you walk up the overpriced E Square food court and pay 50 bucks for a soft fizzy drink that’s gone before you can blink. Naans and butter kulchas now complement your much adored tawa pulao. You order veg angaras and kohlapuris like an expert and sugary sweet gravies are no longer an issue.

It is then that you know you aren’t an outsider anymore.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 251 other followers