The Shocking Red Soup

The other evening, I took home a Chicken Hot and Sour Soup. I have been suffering from a bad cold and cough lately, and Chicken Soup is extremely comforting. Mom would make it for me once, along with all the other hot foods in her collection – khichdi and kadha. I was thinking about her as I unpacked the soup and got ready to slurp. The soup was hot – and I don’t just mean the temperature – and it was delicious. But when I went to rinse my mouth later, a shock awaited me. My lips and tongue looked bloodshot.

I inspected the packet the soup had come in and also checked my soup spoon. Yes, both red. The restaurant had added so much red food colouring into the soup that the colour was actually bleeding!

I have grown up in Delhi, the haunt of the “Indian-Chinese” street stalls. I know for a fact that the Chinese food we eat is a far cry from what they actually eat in China. But who’s complaining? I love the spices and the flavours of these scintillating dishes. And I never had problems with colour.

When I came to Pune, I spent some time hunting for Delhi-ish tastes here. In vain. There is no dearth of Chinese street-food stalls – there’s noodles, manchurian, momos, fried rice, chicken lollipops, you name it. But they are usually red. There seems to be an obsession with adding red colour to make these dishes look even spicier. One guy told me, “It’s just schezwan sauce, Madam. How can a Chinese dish be without that?”

Now, I have resigned to these facts of life. On days when I feel like eating authentic oriental cuisine, I go all fancy and visit Mainland China or Malaka Spice. The latter is this lovely restaurant in Koregaon Park that serves excellent South East Asian cuisine. My tongue has a feast and doesn’t emerge bloodshot from the experience.

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The Gawkers

Koregaon Park, Pune

I wonder he didn’t fall off his bike. He had stopped it an abrupt motion, and his pillion rider was also falling over in excitement. It didn’t matter that the two of them had on civil clothes and were riding an expensive-looking bike. It was not beneath them to gawk at the foreign girl walking on the pavement – shamelessly, if you please.

The two guys ran their eyes all over her, and, as she hurried past them, burst into guffaws and would-be cool jokes. They had met a foreigner that morning, thank you very much. A foreigner wearing jeans and a tee and carrying a bag of vegetables was naturally a bizarre sight, because, hey, Indian girls don’t do that! Continue reading

A Spitting Image

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Spitting habit in India

I love my country, they say. Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan. I will beat up anyone who criticises this country. And then, they spit. They make the streets of this country they love one big, dirty spittoon.

They spit while walking on the pavement; they spit while driving their car. They spit near the neighbour’s gate, never mind how they completed all their ablutions two minutes back at home. The roads are littered with disgusting, gooey spit, right outside a flashy shopping mall or a fine dining restaurant. There is spit lining the walls of a public monument – some of it is even paan-coloured. You walk two minutes in any direction, and your shoes are sure to encounter someone’s spit. Actually, forget the walking, you can be showered by spit even if you are peacefully riding your bike. The spitters don’t see who’s ahead of/behind them. Continue reading

Of Snow and Doggy Wisdom

Snow from the window

It is snowing outside.

I remember when I was small and used to think snow was thermocol – that lightweight thing D and her mom used for school projects. But now I am older and wiser, and know that snow is that cold but beautiful thing that paints the world white. It also makes people want to stay indoors, cover their feet in fleece blankets, and drink hot cocoa. Continue reading

The Wind in the Willows

Oberlaa Park

I always loved secret little places as a child. An alleyway going down to somewhere I had never been before. The dark cupboard in the terrace room that anyone hardly opened. The makeshift tent I made in my playroom with umbrellas and dupattas.

Part of my fascination with secret little places was Enid Blyton, in whose stories the kids always found some sort of secret passage in the most unexpected ways. I stayed on the alert whenever we went out, hoping to tap some floorboards or panels or walls and find a secret passageway emerge. Continue reading

Let’s Order Indian Today

The eight years or so that R and I have been together, trying out new foods has been a thing. Both of us enjoy trying out new cuisines, new ways of preparing traditional dishes, and cooking with spices we haven’t tried before. Before we got married, exotic restaurants – European, Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese – would be our date-night idea. And we spent as much time analysing the menu, or maybe more, as we did looking into each other’s eyes. We ate out at a lot of Indian-food restaurants too – from Bengali to Gujarati to Maharashtrian and others. Ever since, though we don’t eat out as often, we keep experimenting on our travels.

Indian food here in Vienna is very curious. Continue reading

Little Red Chillies

Red chilly plants in Vienna

I recently saw these adorable little fruits hanging in a bunch from their mother plant, their colour a brighter red than my new winter cap. From a distance – chillies or berries or cranberries. They fluttered a bit in the wind and felt soft to touch. I stood and stared at the plant for several minutes, my thoughts going back to a restaurant called ‘Cheetal’ on the Delhi-Haridwar highway. Continue reading

The Clocks Just Changed

Daylight savings

They went an hour backwards yesterday, on Oct 29. Who says time can never go back, or that we can never reclaim what’s once lost?

Daylight savings has ended for the year in Europe, which means we are now 4.5 hours behind India. This is a big situation for the families back home. Many members of R and my families can still never remember how it’s the wee hours of the morning for us when its noon for them.

Continue reading

A Little Girl & Her Mom At The Anondo Mela

Durga Puja C.R. ParkSomewhere, in a parallel world, a little girl dressed in Durga Pujo finery is walking hand-in-hand with her mom. The two are going to the Anondo Mela in the Mela Ground Pandal, one of the biggest puja pandals in C.R. Park, Delhi.

“What all will we eat there, Mummum?” The little girl jangles her purse. It is full of new notes and coins that her family has given her to spend at the Anondo Mela. Continue reading

The One Threat That Lurks Unnoticed Inside Our Homes

“Oh, you’re from Delhi! How on earth do you manage to BREATHE in that city?!”

This was an acquaintance, sipping coffee while sitting in the chair opposite me, airing her views on everything about the world around her. She had lived all her life as “an international citizen of India” and really wanted nothing to do with the “filth that lurked everywhere” back in the country where she was born.

She displeased me – oh, a lot – but somehow, I couldn’t think of an appropriate response. What she said wasn’t untrue. Over time, Delhi had become this potboiler of dust, chemicals and grime; it had achieved notoriety as the home of all things evil – from air pollution to crime. And yet, it didn’t seem all that long ago when the air in Delhi had been fragrant with shiuli flowers on Durga Puja, chicken cooking deliciously in the neighbourhood, fresh leaves sprouting in spring.

I came back home that evening and looked around my home. My conversation with that irritating acquaintance had made me feel unsettled. But now I was home. And home is where nothing can get at you, right? Not the monsters who lurked in drains, not the smoke that lurked in Delhi’s air and triggered hateful diseases. Home is safe…

And yet, every other day, I hear of someone suffering from a disease triggered by pollution, when many of these people spend most of their time in the safety of their homes. Women, little children, senior citizens. Scores of people coming down with an eye irritation or a nose congestion every now and then. Nursing an allergy or a flu. Getting hospitalised for bronchitis, pneumonia and even heart problems. People who don’t walk around in traffic and on crowded streets, or inhale the smoke from factories. Continue reading