Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Stupid Prayer

The figs in the yard are ripe and forever falling,
the moon has waxed many times and now it is waning,
the cigarettes are stale with a stench of an ogre’s tale
And I can hear my blog feebly calling.

Time is torn and is twisted around the clock,
a thinking head is shut shop lock, barrel and stock,
my mind is mostly idle or it bolts without a bridle,
Oh Lord deliver me from this proverbial block.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Found Objects

Look what I found in YouTube - a young and insane video of a promo.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On killing fish…

Indian cooks have this bad habit of overcooking seafood. They kill the fish. Kill it till the flavor is lost and the fish looses identity. I like my seafood coaxed into the pan, gently cooked and identifiably served – pretty and palatable.

I like Japanese food. But I am not a great fan of sushi and it has nothing to do with the food. Once long back as I was traipsing out of a tube station in London a Korean kid in a sushi brand t-shirt offered me a free (promotional) sushi from a blister pack and I took it. Yes I know. I should have thought twice about raw salmon on the roadside. That mouth size packet of the fashionable global delicacy slammed me to my bed in an attic in North London and kept me there for two days. It was a foul case of food poisoning. So no raw fish for me, thank you.

However I took to lightly cooked seafood from other Southeast Asian cuisine – Korean, Vietnamese and Thai. There are two Indian instances where I know my seafood order.

The masala-fried prawns in a local restaurant in Panjim called Anushka are to die for. Anushka is a restaurant in the car park of a house right after Miramar beach. This is a place where locals land up for Kingfisher stubbies and seafood munchies after a hard day at work. (How does one work hard in Goa?) The family that owns Anushka is from Salcette and Salcette cooking is imaginative – a bold mix of spices, vinegar and jaggery. The prawns in Recheado masala are large enough to hold by their unshelled tail and crunch into the juicy meat with vinegar packing the punch and jaggery soothing you all at once. The prawns are cooked right always. They are crunchy and not rubbery.

There is friend of mine in Mumbai who loves her seafood. We love going to a Gomantak (Goan non-christian) cuisine restaurant called Gazalee (means conversation in Konkini). Of course, we end up eating a significant part of the ocean food chain. But we never miss the steamed white Pomfret. Elsewhere, I am not a great fan of white Pomfret as a fish. It is a fish designed for the uninitiated. I prefer black. However, the steamed Pomfret here cannot be disregarded. This is filleted fish with a spicy paste of coriander leaves, mint leaves, green chillies and coconut generously applied across the de-boned split. Without much ado the fish is steamed. I guess it is very difficult to overcook when steaming (unless the chef has passed out or is watching a 70s candy floss love comedy on the tube).
When it comes to the table the fish is intact in little bit of soupy sauce all ready with a squeeze of lemon on top. The fork (always) flakes the fish into pristine white bites of heaven.

Next time you cook fish, coax it and cook light. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Indian Chinese – The invasion of a hybrid cuisine

Long back when I went to visit my brother in Dallas he took me to a restaurant called Bombay Chinese – Bangladeshis serving horrendous food. Till then I did not believe that there was cuisine that the non-residents yearned for called Indian Chinese. This is what we Indians living in India know as Chinese food – the peppery, fiery, double schezwan style cooking with powdered coriander and sometimes garam masala. Indian Chinese is the cheaper version of the Chinese cuisine available at mid range hotels in downtown India.

Gobi Manchurian, as the name suggests, is an epitome and a cherub offspring of such a cultural culinary merger. I know places in hinterland Karnataka where Gobi Manchurian is a form of entertainment than a food. Ask a guy from Mysore what he does in the evenings, he will proudly proclaim ‘I go to Ashoka Road and eat Gobi Manchurian’. For an Indian this cuisine is as easy as understanding ‘cauliflower pakodas in sauce’.

The geographical variations of Indian Chinese are astounding with additions of ajwain and mustard oil in the north, vegetarian fervor with sweet and chaat masala in the west, more sweet and poppy seeds in the east and coriander powder garnished with hair oil in the south. The penetration of this cuisine is deep and wide – weaker only to the behemoth Punjabi cuisine (that is another story). I know restaurants in Belgaum and Chingelput where the menu is generously sprinkled with haka, hunan and schezwan along with traditional local food. The best (?) such dish that I have come across in schezwan chilli idlis. Let me explain this here.

You dice a few idlis and throw them into a kadai (the Indian wok) along with generous portions of schezwan chilli sauce (yes, the one in conical bottle with fake Chinese fonts all over it), sautéed red chillies, a lot of tomato ketchup (preferably Kissan), sesame seeds and curry leaves. Let the edges of the idly crisp a little and it can be served on a square piece of plaintain leaf over a stainless steel plate along with a small cup of chutney. The locals think that this is departure and the visitors think that it is a local variant. It is a win-win.

Later when I was starved of spicy food I went to a vague Chinese restaurant in Charlotte and discovered the American version of Chinese – it was $8 buffet. All the dishes where cooked in fat, were heavy, bland, reeked of old fish, barbecue sauce and excess monosodium glutamate. I understand desis and their yearning now!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Freeing Willy

When you are out in cold weather for long there is a challenge that needs to be addressed. This is probably a design problem that is not solved yet.

When sleety wind stiffens your face the tips of your ears feel numb. They feel as if you can break them off like crackers to feed a carnivorous Polly. Given this circumstances you have to wear a lot of layers. I wore long johns, thermal vest that extended over the crotch, t-shirt, jeans, sweater, fleece and a windcheater. Now when you feel cold you also need to ‘drain your lizard’ as often as you can. And when it is cold your manhood is challenged and your willy shrinks.

Picture this. You run to the men’s room, find the urinal and frantically rummage through the layers to locate the diminishing appendage and ease yourself. This challenges motor coordination, accuracy, estimation of trajectory, performance in moments of stress and every possible skill that you have honed over the years to do a simple everyday task. Pee.

Mid West Mid Life

The room windows open out to the wrong side of downtown – open with a big sky. Small mounds of snow on terraces, a faraway belfry and the comfort of the room with outside temperature at 12 degrees below zero on the Celsius scale.

I was way too tired to keep awake in the United Airlines from Chicago to Minneapolis. I slept from Bangalore to Frankfurt and was unable to sleep on the spanking new A340-400 from Frankfurt to Chicago. I was pacing up and down, watched movies, read a book and was wondering about the dope that designed the toilets in that plane. (All the toilets are one flight of stairs down accessible through a narrow passage making it difficult for old people and parents with children to reach. What was Airbus thinking?)

Later I woke up for the landing at Minneapolis, had no mood to take the train and bought a shuttle ticket to the Hilton. The lobby was a typical Midwest overdone horror house of mirrors and the cat-threw-up marble. The rooms were good and I pass out. Woke up very early to see the brilliant view.

Breakfast at French Meadows – an organic breakfast bar little away from the downtown that serves Granola, yoghurt, organic farm eggs and good coffee. Pleased. I finished my morning meeting and met Brad at noon. Brad had been talking about this place called Bullwinkles and they serve the best Coney Island Hotdogs on this planet. And the place was a legacy, an institution that made people come back after years. A Coney Island Hotdog is a long sausage in warm fresh hot dog bun with Chili, hot sauce and onions. I loved it and washed it down with Bass Ale. We went straight into a meeting in a conference room at Pete’s office. This involved intense discussions. We were done late that evening and were due at Runyons.

Runyons is an old bar with dark woodwork, tall ceilings and walls full of framed pictures of the patrons wearing Runyons t-shirt all over the world. There were a few at the Taj, Agra. More Bass Ale and nuclear wings. We were supposed to meet Brad’s friend Jarvis there. Our parking time ran out. We went out to put some more coins into the parking meter and on our way back Jarvis is standing on the other side of the road. He locked his keys in the car with headlights on and the engine running. A small chaotic introduction, planning and Brad decides to wait at the car. Jarvis and I head out to his house to get the spare keys. Jarvis is a middle-aged friend of Brad who runs an energy management company in Minneapolis. In that short ride we talked about the similarities between Judaism and Hinduism. I already liked the man. Post reclaiming his car Jarvis takes us to The Yacht Club that is deep inland and has no indication of any water body around it. This is a seriously local bar with middle-aged regulars. A basic happy place with talkative dumpy bartender, lone neon sign on a white wall, a pinball machine at the far end, a pool table, wire mesh shutters on doors and plenty of bar stories. Very American and very warm.

One such story involved sumo wrestlers being invited to the bar by a regular and the whole place was filled with people wanting to see them perform. There was another guy called Big Frank – a massive native American who used to sit at a corner. Somebody decided that Big Frank would fight a sumo. There was an uncomfortable silence and somebody ordered a round for everybody. This made the air lighter and the tense mood slackened. Then there was party.

As I left Jarvis gave me a dollar bill and asked me to give that very bill to somebody who needs it back in India. I will carry that with me.

This was a good sample of a typical mid west local bar. I will remember this for long.