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Waffles and Holige

When Richard Gilmore instructs Lorelai to start her day with half a grape fruit in Gilmore Girls, I was disturbed. I thought a grape fruit was grape and couldn’t understand why somebody sensible would tell people to begin their day with some peanut sized fruit. Months later somebody told me that grape fruits are what we call mosambis. I couldn’t tell if I felt more amused or stupid. I had had a Secret Seven flashback. In one of their adventures, The Secret Seven come across a cave that they decide, will be their meeting place. They start decorating the cave with all manner of food and drinks. There are cookies and marmalade and ginger buns and croissants and lemonade. The closest I came to tasting a cousin of the lemonade was Rasna. I was not happy. When I sent mother out to bring me cookies, she got me Good day biscuits and said that all the shops that she went to gave her biscuits when she asked for cookies.

I came across the word waffles in an american TV show. I tasted a domestic version of it years ago and disliked it immediately. The waiter brought to my table what looked like holige/obattu with maple syrup. A month ago, I saw a packet of giant cookies smiling at me from the table. Dad’s friends from Belgium had paid us a visit. I smiled and felt great affection for my dad because he socializes and everything. I took a bite and cried. Call me crazy, I have never tasted waffles, but deep in my mouth, I knew that this is what waffles taste like. I am not a big fan of sharing food, especially when I love what I am eating. I gobbled my way to 30 waffles in 2 straight days and looked like the constipated cow in Tom & Jerry for the rest of the week.

Sushi, like the far away cousin one has always been curious about came to me only recently. But all the wait seems to have been worth it because my best days have sushi in them, or the kimbabs that I am especially fond of. I seem to enjoy eating Korean food now. I like that I can eat most of it with sticky rice, I like that the kimbabs aren’t hot, I like that the food is mostly dry, I like that I can eat it real slow and nothing is going to get colder.

I need to come out of my Spaghetti- fiasco and start trying to cook again. I miss it.

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Food

When I was 23 and a seemingly pesky girlfriend, I discovered Zomato and all the various voyeuristic delights it offered. In much the naïve way, I had also introduced my unadventurous boyfriend to ‘Chungh Wah’, after which he married the restaurant and took me there 4 times a week for lunch. I mournfully lost my appetite for Chinese food but soon started looking elsewhere to raid all the other cuisines I had been dreaming of. Somewhere around this time, I discovered steak and dragged my boyfriend to ‘The Only Place’.

Midway when I was struggling to eat what I had ordered, which, on the menu sounded European and true to its name, turned out to be a gooey mess of cream cheese and meat, my boyfriend led me to an unkind revelation about myself. He said ‘You only like food, but you can’t eat it. You don’t have the appetite’. My nose puckered and I was mad at him for several weeks but I couldn’t run away from what he had said. Maybe it was true; maybe I just was/am a fake foodie.

As a young girl, I always found food to be more interesting in other people’s homes and plates. Even if I would be eating the same food on my plate, it would look dull, dry even. The earliest memory I have to prove this is when I was around 8 in Mangalore; Mouma made page (conjee) and Channa gashi for dinner. We sat in the hall, all the tube lights were off and only the colours from the TV fell on our faces as we cringed to look up.

Bubbly got her dinner and started eating it with wild interest. I looked into her plate. It smelled great, like good food. I hollered at Mouma to give me the same food that was on Bubbly’s plate. She looked at me suspiciously because she knew I had absolutely no appetite for page. When my plate arrived, it looked nothing like the food on Bubbly’s plate. It was, like all my food nightmares, gooey and messy. My nose puckered.

In school, my friends had far more interesting lunch boxes than I. They brought sandwiches and other unembarrassing food. My lunch box would open up only to see my curled up face at the sight of uppitu or chitranna. I had forbidden my mother from packing egg or chicken in the box because it seemed to have offended a lot of my Brahmin friends who would assemble physical distance between them and my lunch box. Some would cover their ears in horror at the mention of chicken/mutton. Some of them are my Facebook friends, still. When I feel pathetic about myself, I go and see their marriage laden – babies infested profiles and feel immensely pleased.

Anyway, so I started to hungrily eye my friend Deepika’s lunch box in school. Deepika was a Jain girl which meant that her lunch box had the standard Roti, Raita, Dal and on some special occasions, Sabzi. I was thrilled when she opened her lunch box. We would stand by the parapet overlooking the school playground and eat. She would politely offer me some of her food and I would reluctantly refuse it, hoping she would insist and I could finally sigh and eat her food.

When it came to just food and me, I think I felt repelled by it. I didn’t like meal times. I detested the business of eating with the family, under everybody’s watch. I hated even more that I couldn’t waste food in front of strangers and relatives. I owed them an explanation, an excuse – not feeling well, too spicy, heat boils in my mouth and fever were the top contenders. Most meal times were therefore self inflicted rounds of guilt and desperation.

It must be why it took me by surprise to see myself noticing food, a lot later in life. Around 4 years ago I ate the best prawn curry and rice in Pondicherry. I think that is a kind of moment worth going back to because a) I don’t have many and b) that is the one earliest memory I have of discovering food and c) it has prawns.

We were sitting at a table by the beach, and were both starved. It is indeed quite the tale because up until that point, I had only made bad food decisions, I never could order wisely. I would order all manner of exotic sounding things and waste it. I think I must have really followed my intuition that day because I did want to eat prawn. The only other item on the menu, competing with the prawn was the fish; butter fried in lemon sauce. Eventually I picked the prawn and when it arrived, I had no idea it would be that good. I mixed a bit of rice with the prawn curry and put it in my mouth. It had a warm coconut-y flavour which kindly held back all the spices that usually make prawn curry spicy. I don’t know if it was the wind or the sea breeze or the salt on my face or in the air or the fact that we were sitting by the beach but that was some spectacular food. The prawn just sank into the coconut flavour and the spices whirled about in my mouth without stinging it in rude burns. My eyes closed in agreement to this and the whispering breeze around my ears and the crashing waves beyond it.

A lot of my food connection since then has been largely restricted to coastal cuisine. I fondly remember that evening when I ate Idiyappam and Kerala chicken curry at a modest hotel in Trivandrum. After that, I seem to have developed a delight for food even though my appetite is embarrassingly the same. Even so, I have my moments. One morning, for instance, I decided to give Dosa and Avrekai Palya (Val bean curry) an overdue chance. That is the Sunday staple breakfast at home; Dosa, Avrekai palya and batata bhaji. As a child, I had very little patience and taste for spicy food. Anything my tongue found remotely stinging would be instantly dismissed or sweetened by five spoons of sugar.

It took me a while before I realised that the right kind of spice can be just as pleasing as sweet itself. I am trying not to sound too Gordonsy here but there is a kind of meditative throbbing in the left overness of spicy food on your tongue. Like the kind only a partially cooked plain dosa can rescue. Or like the explosion of heat in your ears from eating spicy lemony chitranna (lemon rice) that only the crunchy groundnuts in it can save. Or like harassing your tongue with Vali Ambat (Malabar spinach Sambar) that even the graceful red rice cannot salvage. On a bad day, I immediately cheer up at the sight of Dal, batata upkari and seeth (Lentil curry, potato fry and rice)

But I wasn’t always here. It took me a long time to learn how to like home food. I think the preamble to this journey was that one day when I was on some sort of food ennui and everything I thought of eating filled me with disgust and nausea. The only thing that brought me out of this misery was a plate full of page, gosalla upkari (Ridge Gourd Stir Fry) and mango pickle. Although to be fair, Ash had the same items on her plate and something about the way she was humming with every bite she took made me eat it. I must have really liked it because my ennui disappeared and has never once come back.

I think I’m no foodie but I am just happy that I started to enjoy home food and that my appetite seems to have developed some meek taste for food beyond my preferences.

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Thiruvananthapuram

Traveling with the family has always been a messy affair for me. Dad has unhindered access to me and what I wear and what I eat and how I live; the comments ensue, the match begins. But this happens only now, although oddly enough it seems like there’s a history that’s older than me when I think of all the disagreements we have had. Our travel sprees were a lot different when I was younger. And so were the disagreements.

Back then, I must have been crouching in the back seat, playing referee to the two voices in my head – one his, one mine; making them disagree. In short, waiting to grow up so I didn’t have to travel with them to temples and other violent places children should never be taken to. 

Traveling all of South India with a joint family in a matador will therefore only remain a blur that I accidentally found while groping in the dark, looking for something else. Somebody mentions a beach, a temple or a hotel and I find myself donning my best cat behavior trying to locate the blur in my memory, now whizzing like a housefly to be caught, an answer to be found, a page to be filled up.

We covered the temple cities in less than 4 days, stopping very briefly at Trivandrum, which until last year I firmly believed I had never seen. Last November, I discovered the blur in my memory that was Trivandrum and everything did not come rushing back as I had hoped it would. It took me a while to realise that I was seeing 2 versions of a city. One of which is imposed on you by temple going freak shows in the family who turn a blind eye to everything else the city offers. The other is when you catch a passing glimpse of yourself, in a moving vehicle, a showroom, a granite wall, and you smile in whispers and curse your family, when you are out exploring the city all by yourself.

I saw myself, away from home, away from temple people, away from the prying eyes of my father, wearing shorts, carrying nothing but a little bag and waiting to be lost. I walked around the hotel, smiled at all the slopes, coconut trees and little brick homes that gave me all kinds of Mangalore flashbacks. I took random turns, and found out that it is not easy to get lost in this city. Either that or I was too scared to go all the way out and be lost. 

At the turn of every corner, I smelled fish curry and coconut oil, a smell that I shamelessly associate Trivandrum with even today. The city made me see and feed the small foodie I was beginning to take note of in me. It outperformed the beach person that I was throughout my life.

I gorged on idiyappams and Kerala chicken curry in Statue hotel, downed jars of Pankaj Island Ice Tea, scooped chemmen fry with mounds of red rice and fish curry at Mubarak, judged soggy bits of meen pollichathu and forced its taste to match with the taste I thought it ought to have had, wolfed down puttu and prawn curry at Black pepper, all the while trying hard to drown the voices and faces of my part mallu-part mangy mother and her relatives. I could hear them echo loudly behind me. ‘Ti amgel vari khaoche’ – ‘She eats like us’.

Trivandrum’s streets are a marvel in themselves. An India coffee house, that looks like the leaning tower of pisa parked hazily around buses and bikes comes zooming back when I try to retrace my tour around the city. The buses looked easy to climb into unlike the whistling, red ones in Bangalore that are hostile bloody dynamites. At the far end of the street that I call Trivandrum is a little place that serves Biryani chaya – butter beer if I may. At the risk of getting kicked, I am going to say, drink it to know it. 

So when I go to Trivandrum, it is also to devour the best rice and kerala fish curry in the name of all that is fancy at Hotel Villa Maya, which, true to its name stands tall and quiet; unknowing of the city bustling all around it. I am no food expert but the food there is both sleep-inducing and exploding with taste.

This is how I remember Trivandrum, in its streets and food, in its friendly looking buses and pankaj island ice tea, but surprisingly very little in its beaches. However, nothing screams more Trivandrum than that familiar smell of fish curry and coconut oil when I check into its hotel. 

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Sonal and some menstruating women

Sonal had to cook rotis for all of them today because she was the only woman at home who wasn’t menstruating. She cursed when the roti landed on the far end of the tava, leaving a thick, black line of coal on her wrist. The hob wasn’t being used today. A choola is normally used this time of the month.

Lunch is a grand affair in the Jain household. Menus are prepared in advance, telephone calls are made to husbands and fathers and brothers at the shop, to check what they wanted for dessert. The choice was between Elaichi Kheer and Shrikhand today. I sat on the slab and watched her as she rolled out more dough for a family of 13 people. 

‘Kai boliyo’ – ‘What did he say?’ asked a grandmother from a passageway that appeared to lead to the bedrooms on the first floor. ‘Kheer’, said Sonal, in a voice that wasn’t too different from her outside voice.

I had stopped wondering why North Indians call chapattis ‘rotis’ when I was distracted by colourful little vials that looked like they had all manner of Rajasthani spices in them. The Jains’ had a very interesting looking kitchen. They had an island slab in the middle of the kitchen, which was where I was sitting, dividing it from the dining area and the rest of the house. The wall was decorated with Mahogany shelves that held sets of white crockery. Above the hob was a red chimney separating lines of cupboards. The cupboards had all manner of interesting things in them. I was tempted to take a peek. I kept looking at a yellow box with a picture of a baby on it. Next to it stood a porcelain bowl, to which Sonal kept going every now and then, to retrieve chunks of rock salt.

Sonal stood next to me chopping beans now.  I looked at her standing all delicately in her white kurta – not her main clothing really. She was donned in a sleeveless white vest and jeans at the movies this morning. She had many white Kurtas that she wore outside of the clothes she wasn’t allowed to wear. It made me proud to be the only one to know what she wore inside.

This was my second visit to the Jains’ house. My first had been interrupted abruptly by Sonal who took one look at my knee length skirt and hurried me out of the door even before her mother could open her mouth properly. As we rode to college, she didn’t offer me either an explanation or a distraction. We usually rode in silence and apparently nothing had happened to change it that morning, three weeks ago.

I don’t know much about her. Except that she doesn’t laugh very much or talk very much and smokes a lot. I grew more and more curious of her with every unanswered question and every distant shrug. That’s why I had planned the day with great delight and I think I could have broken this sea of a woman if it weren’t for half her family who had to menstruate all at once today.

I yawned miserably hoping she would see that I was sleepy and would send me to her room to nap for some time and I could finally see her bedroom and where she slept and where she sat and how her mirror looked.  I yawned again. I may have overdone it this time. She looked at me with her usual bare expression and then went back to cooking. I sighed and thought of other nice Rajasthani things like the smell of her home and the paintings of Rajasthani women that adorned the walls in the dining hall.

‘Who paints?’ I asked.

‘I’, she said and coughed.

It seemed stupid and pointless to say ‘Wow, I didn’t know you painted’ but I wanted to. Something told me she knew I was withholding the urge to shake her and ask her who she was. When we ate, her shadows on the walls of Chinese restaurants looked more animated then her. Soon, it was lunchtime and one by one, all the men arrived. She looked like a carousel balancing hot rotis, easing her way from one male to another at the dining table.  I was still sitting on the slab and watching her, and them. I wasn’t unhappy or uncomfortable about the fact that none of her family members had noticed me, much less asked me to sit for lunch. I was as invisible as her in this house.

After an hour, I was watching Sonal carousel around the ladies sitting on a special white cushion arranged next to the sofa in the hall. The cushion was pulled out more than once every month for menstruating women to sit on during lunch and dinner. All breakfasts on all 5 days were served in bed, perhaps the only luxury that was offered to them all their lives. We ate on the divan and watched reruns of Comedy nights with Kapil. It was funny. Sonal snorted her way through all the moments that I wanted to laugh my ass off on so I paused and reconsidered the jokes.

Clearly, whatever it was that we shared did not last. She stopped coming to college and nobody knew why, nobody cared, actually. It was as though the last couple of months had never happened, as though all that remained were memories of a woman I wish I could have held and touched and knew. Her house was locked up when I went looking for her. The watchman said that they had gone off to Rajasthan. I didn’t miss her but it bothered me that she never thought of me as somebody who could have saved her.

I moved to another city after my graduation and forgot all about Sonal, until one evening 2 years later I saw her for the last time. She was in what seemed to be her wedding saree, a bright red. Face decked up like homes on Diwali; her hair, a giant turban of beads and silk.  If I didn’t know her, I probably would have laughed at her. She was sitting at the bus stop and smoking. She looked the same – distant and rueful. I didn’t stop to say hello or maybe I would have if she hadn’t climbed into the next bus that stopped in front of her, and just like that, in seconds, she was gone.

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Fatty Bao

After an hour of closely watching wise, and smiling bartenders mix drinks, I have decided that I want to be a barmaid. It looks like a fun thing to do. Or maybe I was too much in love with the world and its people and myself this afternoon when I dined at Fatty Bao. I had been stalking their menu for weeks now, eyeing with savage desire, pictures of their ‘Grilled sea food ramen soup with a hundred odd things in it’ and prawn tempura and sushi like objects. So we got there around 1:45 and were seated by the bar with its tall bar stools. I have never had real food by the bar but have always wanted to. Maggi didn’t care much for these tall stools and spent most of the time sulking, but now and then he would see food and cheer up. 

So after discussing my professional prospects as a barmaid with an unimpressed and hungry Maggi, I began the whole business of fine dining with a glass of ‘Fatty sour’ which is whiskey, raspberry, egg whites and a slice of orange. I watched with delight and mild horror as I saw the bartender break the egg, collect the yolk in the shell and discard it effortlessly after having procured the whites. The drink was sweet and that’s all I can really remember now. 

Next up in line were the California crab meat rolls, the shrimp and pork Hargaos and the beef bao. I loved the first two, not just because I’m a lousy seafood fan, but also because they were easy to eat. We repeated another round of each of these things, except with various other dead animals this time. Two Fatty Sours and three life changing decisions later I was attacking the Via Malaysian sea food Ramen which had its moments but only now and then. It wasn’t as exciting as its preamble of starters. What remains on my palate now after 6 hours is the faint memory of the sushi’s cousin – The Spicy Tuna Tartare and traces of Fatty sour. 

I have been Fatty Bao-ed and cannot wait to go there again. The whole place has a modern sea deck-y look which I liked very much. Plus really cute bartenders. They will take your orders nicely and politely pretend to not notice if they catch you drooling or staring at them. 

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Unquiet meditations and Zingron

I wake up to a woman fake-orgasming the crap out of her lungs on my sister’s laptop these mornings. If it was porn, I would have complained less. It’s some incessant chant to god, which is what makes this whole thing unbearably irritating. Wouldn’t prayers and meditation be a lot more worthwhile if they were done in peace, without disturbing other people’s peace?

Seems like only prayers and by that extension, religion have won this unquestioned, unchallenged privilege to obstruct other people’s peace. Everything is OK because you are calling out to fucking God. Even noise is OK, making ambulances wait because some people celebrate god on some inane day, dancing with idols on top of their heads is OK because you are calling out to God. Nobody cares that you could be dying.

Everything that religion and places of worship stand for seem adamant on destructing peace.

Anyway, what started out as a pathetic day became less pathetic after I stepped out of the house. I am becoming more and more confident about my riding. It’s beginning to get mechanical now and this scares the shit out of me. I don’t want to be thinking about almonds someday only to realise that I have crashed into a truck.

Also, the fact that my days seem to run magically smooth when I wake up early is starting to make sense to me now. My classes were fun today. Nothing was hurried or delayed, except for a work thing that managed to piss me off in ways that I haven’t been pissed off in, in a really long time.

But all was forgotten and all was well with the world again after I dined at the craziest restaurant – Zingron. Everything from the seafood noodle soup to the beef chilly to the pork spare ribs to the rice and chicken curry was delectable. I should shut the fuck up. ‘Delectable’ sounds too wrong a word to describe Zingron. It doesn’t do justice to the crazy that is zingron because it is too mild and polite a word to describe food that violated my tongue with its insane spice. It was killing me but I just wasn’t stopping. And, I do not know why.

The food was just unbelievably cruel. After a point, I couldn’t say why my head was feeling light- because of the rice wine or the food. I had menstrual cramps in my mouth when I was done.

I have never been a spicy food lover really, but Zingron has made my tongue and other parts go so numb with its overload of feeling that I don’t think they remember sweet anymore. I am not complaining. I do need a food makeover!

 

 

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B – Bangalore

Most of my childhood was spent travelling between cities- big and small, dusty and clean, with and without AC restaurants, with and without Hotel Kamat, and all in white ambassador cars, those guilt and nausea producing automobiles – from Gulbarga to Mangalore to Belgaum. In all that time, Bangalore was quite the strange city for me. Its narrative among faltering cousins always included descriptions of imported cars, never to be seen elsewhere in the country. Buildings so tall, ‘olle america tara ide’. Roads so wide, that you won’t even notice the time it takes to get to places. But I was a beach person at heart (still am) and that’s why nothing anybody ever said made a difference to me. I was a Mangalore girl through and through and the fact that Bangalore has no beaches made me happy because it couldn’t compete with Mangalore.

My first visit to Bangalore confirmed the America connection because dad took us to Kemp Fort. That and the fact that they had ‘custard caramel’ in the hotel that we stayed in – Sanman Deluxe. The only other restaurant I knew that served custard caramel was a modest ‘New Khyber’ in Belgaum.

I grew lesser and lesser curious about the other part of the city which always remained a mystery to me. It didn’t really matter to me because I didn’t want to know what lay beyond the white washed walls of the Shiva temple next to Kemp fort or where the road from Sapna Book house went to. I didn’t want to know if a better America lived there and if it did what they ate. The only places I can recollect having been familiar with are Fishland and Sapna at Majestic because dad took us there every evening that we were in the city. I remember having walked on the road that goes down from Fishland, eating corn, and competing with my sister to show her that I was not shorter than her.

The remainder of the time was spent in Sanman deluxe where my sister and I would continue our struggle to have quiet fights, away from mother’s ears. We fought over books so my mother bought two of everything. We had Two Snow white and the seven dwarves, two Sleeping beauties and two Secret sevens. I flinch with regret when I think of those painful twos now. Stupid bitch wanted everything that I bought. That’s all of the Bangalore that remained with me when I was away from the city. Eight years into living in Bangalore and I still hadn’t discovered the city and its food, its lanes and its theatres.

And then, the ninth year I fell in love with a boy. That’s when I slowly started to notice the city. Bangalore is a lovely city to watch from the back seat of a boyfriend’s bike. Sometimes he shrugged with indifference when I asked him how he remembered lanes, sometimes he would frown at my naivety, and some other times he would laugh menacingly at my questions. Bastard doubled up with laughter and almost fell off his bike near Lalbagh when I asked him why we had been passing through the same Lalbagh for over 15 minutes. I didn’t know there was more than one entrance to Lalbagh.

It would be too haughty of me to say that I discovered the city then, on the back of a pulsar. Only a small fraction of my interest about the city was slowly beginning to peek around this time. Discovery was far away, still waiting for me in the lanes of Ulsoor and Richmond road and Kammanahalli and Banaswadi.

I must have been too much in love with him to notice when the big, flashy sari shops from above Majestic’s Mantap became small clusters of ‘Hotel Lucky inn’ and ‘Hotel Quickly’ on Cottonpet main road. I was amazed at the smart turns he took to avoid maniac cows around the corners of his house.

I have always been fascinated with driving/riding one’s way through the city and he seemed to know it really well. I only had to give him a landmark and he would take me there. I was bowled over by his riding in and out of any lanes that the city just threw on unsuspecting onlookers like myself.

It was a delight to discover the street food lanes by the cramped and moving streets of Chikpet. Here I found Papdi- that delightful yellow crunchiness with its green chilli companion – so subtle, you won’t know when your tongue is on fire. I feel indebted to the boyfriend’s mother for introducing me to Papdi.

Soon I was moving to different bikes and their backseats and different parts of the city and their histories. The old antique-y homes on Cockburn road and Shivajinagar. The shape shifting houses around cantonment, the office/temple/go-down homes near Ulsoor. I hate to exaggerate but my bond with the city is more romantic than much else. So much of it was uncovered in the backseats of bikes. And the conversations about the city that followed were no less romantic.

I started riding 3 weeks ago and it is with deep sorrow that I have to report that no amount of discovering/uncovering the damn city happens when you are riding your own bloody vehicle. People will honk mercilessly like their fucking life depends on it if you so much as slow down to look for parking. For all its romance, the city people are mean to L boards. I know this – I honked exasperatedly at three L board vehicles today.

Slowly, my curiosity to learn more about the city is growing. It was after a lifetime of multiplexes that I discovered the joy of watching Tamil movies in Lavanya theatre, which for a long time I had only looked at disapprovingly from outside. The boyfriend hated single screens – something about bugs under the seat and the pressure of having to protect the girlfriend and all.  Many moons later, I did go to Lavanya and ended up having fun. No bugs. Now I almost feel left out in multiplexes if nobody whistles when the hero makes his entry onscreen. It smells nice but feels empty in multiplexes.

Eating is yet another romance that I relate the city with. Once upon a boyfriend time, I used to be a sucker for Chinese food. I took my boyfriend to the newly opened Chung Wah Opus in Jayanagar and he loved it so much that he decided to eat there twice a week, making me hate Chinese food forever.

I started discovering taste and food around the time I fell in love with Lavanya, which isn’t too long ago. I tasted sushi for the first time – loved it. My taste buds started craving for seafood kimbabs every other week, I found out that I am attracted to crab in more ways than one and belted it at ‘Mangalore Pearl’ and ‘Carnival de Goa’, I fell in love multiple times with Hye Kum Gang and Benjarong and then Republic of noodles happened, that delicious,delicious bitch.

I don’t learn more about this city with every passing day because most of the time I don’t even notice the streets I am walking on. But suddenly something goes boink in my head and I have all these questions. It happens over time, getting to know this city and others. It’s slow but I don’t have anywhere else to be for now so I’ll take my time. On my two wheeler.

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E – Egg

Some things just snap me out of the lousiest possible moods. On days that I wake up early and write 500 words, for instance, nothing goes wrong. Even if things do go wrong, I don’t notice it. Even if I do notice it, I am rarely worried because I am happier on days that I can write. And then there are the occasional postmortem sessions that I conduct on my blog that leave me dry and suicidal.

The Egg is another thing that comes close to snapping me out my any lousy mood. I mean all kinds of egg here. Boiled, poached, scrambled, omelette, sunny side up. So long as the yellow is in the egg, I love consuming all manner of eggs. I am convinced that without the yellow,bulky, thick, gooey mixture of the yolk in my mouth, life would be very very dull. Also cruel.

These strong feelings that I have for the yolk don’t all have to do with the taste. I am sure that if the yolk was blue or orange, instead of yellow, it wouldn’t taste like the egg, much less look like it. The yolk and its yellowness are pleasures dipped with guilt. Well, guilt because, you know, cholesterol and all. But what pleasure is fun without a little bit of guilt here and there?

Picture a cold Sunday morning. And the faint smell of egg being cooked with coconut oil and curry leaves wafting into your nose and teasing your nostrils. I can only picture that one scene from Tom and Jerry when Jerry is magically being flown towards the cheese by a string of the cheese smell. I think Tom and Jerry and Popeye show are the only shows in the world that realise the importance of smells. No wonder they give ‘smell’ a whole new visible form. It has color, texture and is able to lift people off their existence. Even cookery shows don’t do that.

I am no food enthusiast but I am all up for adding coconut oil in everything that I eat, drink and rub. A cousin once taught me to fry eggs in coconut oil and a bunch of curry leaves and I feel indebted to her. It’s the best smell in the world. Also the best cure in the world.

Without the yolk, the egg can pretty much go to hell. What’s an egg without its yolk? The vegetarians should get some sex and relax. Don’t tell me the combination of white and yellow wasn’t meant to be eaten. Most of the time, I ignore the whites because too much reaction is already happening, what with the yolk bursting into buttery little balls in my mouth. But there are many things you could do with an egg before eating it. Like watching the little volcano of yellow explode when you poke the sunny side up with a spoon or a finger. Watch it as the liquid flows out of its cave and melts on the white. Collect a dollop on your finger and suck on it. The aftermath of the its taste will be strong enough to make you cook another egg.

 

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In Between

K – Kashmir

It looked like any other north Indian city when I arrived that summer morning in 2010. Except that Srinagar airport looked thin of people and structure and devoid of welcoming presences altogether.  I found out later that this was because of the curfew that the city was thrown under. I wondered how the airport looked on non curfew days. Was there more sunshine? Were there more women? More vendors? My parents looked worried so I didn’t bother them with questions.

Ashfaq, our taxi driver greeted us with a sombre yet an earnest face. And as is customary on all our family travel lore, I bargained with dad for a full 5 minutes for the seat next to the driver’s but he wouldn’t budge. He was adamant about the damn seat. He had eternal dibs on that seat. Mother later told me that he was worried that someone would throw a stone on my face, destroying forever therefore my chance at marriage and kids. Big loss and all.

I cribbed and occupied the back seat but my mood changed consistently after what I saw outside. Srinagar is in the middle of mountains, that much I was convinced about. After the great Matheran fiasco of 2007, I was careful in expecting vast differences between internet pictures and the actual place. According to the pictures that I gorged off the internet, Matheran was supposed to be dipped in greenery and Vanilla Mountains because of some godforsaken white mud, which turned out to be bullshit of course because there was mud alright but brown; brown mud, brown dust and brown air.

Srinagar, on the other hand didn’t need Google images to promote its hills and mountains and their greenery. It did need promotion, however, on the people front. Owing to curfew and its very many delights, the roads were empty, banks closed, schools and colleges closed. It did make for a splendid first visit. I had never seen so many trees up close before; either that or I haven’t noticed trees in other cities because of the people hovering around the city.

Anyway, Srinagar looks tired; like it cannot put up with having to balance between 2 extremes. One, that is its alluring ambience and then the disturbing – almost killing silence that it is surrounded by. It’s not a silence that one sighs and takes deep breaths in. It is a silence that one foretells danger in. Like a premonitory sign that something bad is about to happen. Scary, murderous silence.  And these silences were peculiarly more haunting when I was around the hills. 

Our first stop was at the Shikhara on Dal Lake. It was biting cold but the lake was ambushed by mountains from all sides so I couldn’t really focus much on the cold. The views were enough to keep me warm.

My first lunch in Kashmir taught me that rice is to be avoided at all costs in and around Kashmir, the way you would avoid Ragi rotti in Chinese restaurants. Have at all the localised momos and other fresh veggies here. The special Kahwa tea is refreshing and slightly addictive especially on cold mornings. The roti-sabzi combination is probably the only other substitute for a diet that cannot digest fat rice. But that’s all about the food that I can remember about Kashmir.  I may regret saying this but what the hell, there is a chance I may wake up in a foul mood one morning, read the crap here and just delete the whole site. Here goes anyway, Food, just like anywhere else is the same everywhere, even in Kashmir.

But food is hardly what brings Kashmir closer to me. I found Kashmir in the sheep and cows. I have never developed long lasting bonds with animals so the fact that I remember the animals in Kashmir so vividly, is surprising.

The cows and sheep there are lovely. But what makes it lovely maybe is that Kashmir is just like anybody imagines it to be, or like they show in the movies. The cows are white or proportionately black and white, the grass, greener than your neighbor’s, the sky you can almost reach because your head is literally in the clouds. That’s how I thought Kashmir looked like and that’s how it actually does.

 

 

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In Between

Republic of Noodles

So while invigilating this morning on a stomach that had last seen or heard of food some 14 hours ago, I did the dumbest thing. I thought about the food I had had last week at Republic of Noodles. Put simply, Republic of noodles is the best restaurant in the history of the world. On a bad day, I think of the food I had there and make myself more miserable. I can now only make vague attempts at recalling the taste and try to produce it in writing, thereby scarring forever, my memory of the food that I had there.

So I went there on a warmish Tuesday afternoon. I had only just had a pleasant day but I am convinced that if I had had a terrible day and was waiting to die, the food at republic of noodles would have saved the day and me.

I am bad at ordering. I want all the things on the menu, even though my appetite sucks. I can’t choose what I want because if I order one, I keep dreaming about the other. Over the last few months I have been thinking about the tedious process that is ordering; having said that, it also requires practiced skill to be able to order like a champ. It seems like ordering food off the menu is just as serious business as eating. All of this could very well be pompous bullshit coming from some Victorian person’s ass but it makes sense to me now because I have only just begun to enjoy eating.

I started with the Roast Duck soup with pickled lime. Funny thing about restaurants like these is the suffix- like thingies that are added after the main item. Roast Duck soup with pickled lime. I mean all the while I was waiting for the food to arrive I had only imagined the roast duck; I hadn’t quite registered the pickled lime yet. I mean who thinks about lime in that way?

So the soup arrives in this ceramic black bowl and I can smell the meat struggling to waft through the thickness that I assumed was the soup. The soup was not thick though. It was thin and watery. Although I have my doubts about thin and watery soups, my first sip permanently changed my conception about the thick and thin nonsense. It was meaty and just that. While the meat itself was very soft, the soup was consistently getting sharper in taste. I think it was because I was beginning to taste the tiny strips of pickled lime. I got conned. I thought the pickled lime was just some flavour that may not even be physically present in the soup. I was so wrong. Just as I was finishing the soup, the lime bits became more and more playful. They were doing something to the texture of the soup.

Soon after I emerged from the duck soup, I saw a bunch of banana leaves being escorted to the table. The waiter put one on my plate and vanished. I looked at it with mild interest for sometime before unfolding the ‘Grilled fish in Banana leaves’. There were 5 pieces, each squarely cut.

I undressed my fish and looked. It promised me meat and because a faint trace of coconut was travelling around the vicinity, I took the promise very seriously. Turns out it was the best thing I had ever put in my mouth. The fish was perfectly cooked; the masala and the oil were sharp and allowed me many moments of oohing and aahing. I think I maybe partial to the fish because of its coconut friend. Even the orphaned slice of the sad looking tomato cheered me up because the coconut had befriended it too. I was only recovering from my food death when some interesting looking bamboo container was placed next to me. It had Jasmine rice in it to accompany my fish in coconut and tamarind gravy.

The Jasmine rice smelled great enough to fill my already bursting stomach and the curry looked inviting. At my first bite I died many times. I feel terrible about dying so many times and so badly at that but the curry simply felt like coconut goodness. I have never understood the expression food melting in the mouth until now. I think my mouth was favouring the coconut and the fish so much that it may have overshadowed the tamarind, bits of which I could only taste after I was full.

All of these earth-shattering orgasms were washed down with coconut milk and chestnut jelly for dessert, which I should write about at some point.

I have been to the republic of noodles twice now. The fish in banana leaves and in the coconut curry are taking too many liberties with my dreams even now. I am waiting to go there again and this time I am going to take lots of pictures and write again.