Sunday, March 27, 2016

First aamras of the season!

So every year summer comes around, and I wait for aamras.

This year, I got lucky. I went to Kalbadevi, so I made sure I went to Surti to taste it!
There were three of us. Between us we had 4 big cups of aamras, and a plate of puris, and some bottled water to drink. The bill came to Rs 300. Perfect joy. They serve it chilled but not cold; and it is just divine. Thick and rich, and I felt that they have absolutely not compromised on quality. I liked it so much that I got a parcel for home. They parcel it beautifully so it is easy to take home without any spillage.

Crawford Market is full of ripe mangoes, by the way. But prices are quite high right now. I thought about buying some mangoes and making my own aamras. Different people make it differently; some add saffron, some add cardamom, but I think this is a beautiful dish just plain. A little sugar is all it needs. Cut up bits of excellent alfonso or kesar mangoes, add a little sugar, blend. Voila.

How to get to Surti:
You can take a taxi right up to the restaurant because it is on the main road.
P. S. Their thali is pretty good too. And their undhiyo in winter is excellent.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mumbadevi Jalebiwala: utterly drool-worthy jalebis

When a restaurant has only one item on the menu, you know it's got to be something pretty special. Especially if that restaurant was set up in 1897 and has been serving just one item since then!

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you the 120 year old Mumbadevi Jalebiwala. Makers of the city's most drool-worthy jalebis!

Have you been there yet? Small little blink-and-miss-it place, near the Mumbadevi temple. Can you see the Jalebiwala board in red text in Hindi? Big signboard, but tiny shop underneath. It was a bit of a battle to get there on a busy Saturday evening; but it was worth it!
I got piping hot jalebis. Served with their papdi and papaya chutney. I asked if they would serve us bottled water, they said no. Thums up? Coke? Nope. Only jalebis and papdi. The jalebi still comes on a leaf; the papdi has moved to a recycled paper plate. Go. Eat. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A day to remember

- by Deepa Krishnan

It's not often that you get to spend the day with the governor of the Reserve Bank! So here's a quick look at my day, with Radhika Puri and Raghuram Rajan. What a totally fabulous couple. And such lovely, old-fashioned good manners. I really should learn from them. I met them at 8:45 am, and we talked non-stop until 2:00 p.m. Quite a feat, even for a super-talkative person like me! 
We started with a visit to Castella de Aguada, the old Portuguese fort, where I explained about all the kingdoms who fought for control of trade on the western coast. There are multiple forts around the bay (Mahim Fort, Bandra Fort, Worli Fort). Clear evidence of the strategic importance of this area.
We saw lovely views of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.
Driving past Mount Mary, we stopped to see the prayer candles. They are so uniquely Bandra! If you want to have your wishes fulfilled, all you need to do is pray to the Mother of the mount and light a candle. There are wax figurines which you can offer to become a television star, or a movie star, and there was even one for becoming a Hollywood star :) The homes of some big Bollywood badshahs and ranis are nearby, and we saw them as we drove past Bandstand.
At St Andrews Church, we were joined by Father Caesar D'Mello, who showed us around and told us some interesting stories. The church is celebrating its 400th year. "When the Taj Mahal was built, we were already 50 years old", they say proudly.
After the church visit, we started our village walk. We went to Chimbai Village, Ranwar Village and Chapel Road; where we enjoyed the old wooden architecture, the numerous small crosses and the quirky wall art. We went to a designer studio, to see how a old heritage house can be repurposed.
We ended the Bandra tour with chaat at Elco Arcade, where we ordered their seasonal strawberry kulfi, as well as some old favourites of mine (I like the pani puri and the gulab jamun!). 

And then because we wanted to get more out of the day, we went to Dharavi, to see what makes the slum economy tick. What a great visit, even though it was completely unplanned. We went to Dharavi Art Room, to meet Himanushu and see the great work he is doing with children and women. We saw the papad-making (cooperative model) and how that worked. We walked into a "multiplex" to watch the migrant population enjoying a Nagarjuna movie. We saw the recylcing industry, garments industry, and all the units busily at work. We met Fahim, who I have been mentoring now for several years. Fahim told the story of how he set up and grew his slum tour company 'Be the Local'.  We walked through narrow alleyways, seeing how people lived. All in all, it was quite a day!

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Winter specials at Soam - ponk na bhel and lots more!

- by Deepa Krishnan

Have you tried the winter specials at Soam? Here's a look at what I ate yesterday:
Ponk Bhel, made from fresh jowar. Only available in this season. Made delicious by a peppery shev, peanuts, a tamarind chutney, and a sprinkling of pomegranates. The dash of lime brings in a freshness.
Their yummy farsan platter (this is available all through the year). The cheese and palak samosas are to die for. The chutneys are fabulous too, especially the mango chunda. It has cashewnuts!
The basil lemon juice is really very nice. I've never seen it on any menu elsewhere in the city. Normally I always have their sugarcane juice, but I'm glad I decided to try this one instead.
Roasted mashed brinjal (odho), with fresh white butter and bajra rotla. You feel like you are in some rustic Kutchi heaven.
Undhiyo, with puri and raita. The taste comes from the fresh green winter beans and yams, with a 'hara' masala of green garlic, green coriander and green chilli.
Every single dish was absolutely yummy. There's still a lot more of the winter menu to try, so I'm going back again soon. Maybe next week!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Co-optex - A sleeping giant awakens

- By Deepa Krishnan
If you're a Tamilian living in Mumbai, there's a pretty good chance your cupboards contain something from Co-optex. Probably a bunch of hand-spun cotton towels. Or a nice cotton veshti. Or a handloom saree. My family has been buying all of these from Co-optex for many years now.

Co-optex is the brand name of the Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society. Last month I was invited to attend their lecture-demonstration on the handloom weaves of Tamil Nadu. Although I am Tamilian, there are many small weaving clusters of Tamil Nadu about which I know nothing. So this was the perfect opportunity to meet friends and learn new things.
The lec-dem was very informative. Knowledgeable and experienced staff from Co-optex showed us samples of the weaves, and told us about the diverse weaving traditions of Tamil Nadu. I learnt many new terms and developed a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the weaves.
I was also very impressed by all the changes happening at Co-optex. I have always thought of Co-optex as a slow behemoth. It looks like the behemoth is now alive and kicking and doing exciting stuff. 

For example, they are recreating a range of "MS" sarees. "MS" is the legendary Carnatic singer, M. S. Subbalakshmi, who is a household name among South Indians. Everyone was very excited to see a saree in "MS Blue", the famous shade of blue that M. S. Subbulakshmi wore. "When are you launching these in Mumbai, Sir?", was the clamour in the room!

I bought 4 sarees that day. Two of them were organic sarees, part of a new initiative by Co-optex. For weaving these sarees, they use cotton which is grown without the use of pesticides. The yarn is coloured using only natural dyes / plant extracts. I'm posting a photo of the organic saree which I wore earlier this week. The saree felt light and cool, and it worked really well with my dabu mud-resist blouse.
Here's the third saree, this one is also a lovely saree with green checks. It is from a weaving cluster called Paramakudi, near Madurai. Weavers from Saurashtra migrated to Paramakudi 600 years ago. They wove cotton and silk, and were originally patronised by royal families of Ramanathapuram and Sivaganga. I teamed this Paramakudi saree with a block-printed blouse and silver choker. Lovely combination, no?
Not many people know about the Paramakudi weaving cluster, or about the people who produce such beautiful sarees. Co-optex is trying to bridge the gap, by creating saree labels that show the origin of the weave. 

I learnt, for example, that my saree was woven by a woman named Geetha, and that she is 38 years old. It took Geetha two full days to produce my saree, because each thread was woven by hand. This sort of immense effort is not possible without a certain mental attitude. In fact, handloom weaving is a form of sadhana, meditation, because you need an almost meditative state of mind to achieve the rhythm and become one with the loom. This is why handlooms are a precious part of India's textile heritage.

I've got another beauty from Co-optex to wear in the coming weeks. It is a stunning purple "koorai podavai" from Koorainadu. In Tamil weddings, the main wedding saree is called a "koorai podavai", and traditionally these were made in the weaving cluster of Koorainadu in Nagapattinam. Co-optex is reviving this cluster by bringing new interesting colours to improve the appeal of the sarees. There are just 10 weavers in this society, so there are only a limited number of these Koorainadu-revival sarees. The saree has silk in the warp and cotton in the weft. I'm not posting a photo because I still haven't worn it! It's brand new.

I'm super thrilled that Co-optex is becoming a dynamic and enterprising co-operative. Their facebook page is active, they are reviving and breathing fresh life into handlooms, and they are creating new markets for the weavers. I wish them success in their efforts to popularise Tamil Nadu's beautiful handlooms.

Cooptex showrooms in Mumbai:
Please note, the Matunga one is closed. The showrooms are in Mahalakshmi, Chembur, Fort and Dadar.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

In which my dad cuts a ribbon

- by Deepa Krishnan

My brother-in-law Satish has set up a new factory near Pune. On Vijayadashami, we all went for the inauguration. It was such a happy day. Satish's parents came from Chennai for the event. My parents also came. We drove to the venue in two SUVs because there were several of us. The factory is very big, so we drove right in.
One section of the shop floor, with our cars parked.
There was lots of lamp lighting and ribbon cutting and tree planting :) Satish's dad cut the first ribbon, announcing a series of inaugurations of various sections of the factory.

My parents inaugurated the machining section. Appa has a lot of experience cutting ribbons at various events, so he did it like a pro!
Dad and mom inaugurating machining section
Here is Satish's dad, checking out one of the steel rings that the factory produces.
We all got a basic understanding of the products, the markets, prices, etc. It was very interesting.
On the outside of the factory, a series of Ashoka trees were planted. I hope they all grow beautifully. I pray for the success of the business. It is such a big venture. We are first-generation entrepreuners!
Lunch was festive, with puri-shrikhand, jeera rice, dal, matki, paneer, various types of deep-fried bajjis/pakodas, koshimbir, chutney, and dahi-rice. I forgot to photograph my plate :) So this is the only photo I have. This is also the only photo I have of Satish's mother. You can see her sitting (behind the handbag), talking to my mom.
We returned to Mumbai by 5:30 pm, a little tired, but very happy. We all missed Aishwarya, who is currently in Lucknow. She would have loved the food :)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Inside-Out Vada Pav at Marine Lines (2)

- By Deepa Krishnan

I had written earlier about "Inside-Out" Vada-Pav in Dadar. Yesterday near Saifee Hospital, I saw yet another version of it. This one is flat in shape. The pav is sliced in half, like how you slice a burger bun. Then the two open tops are layered with potatoes (with the usual spices, green chillies, etc). The whole thing is dipped in besan batter and deep fried. 
Ready to be dipped in batter and fried
The flattened shape of the end product.

I'm always happy when I see street-food inventions :) :) Obviously, this version of the vada pav also makes good economic sense for the vendor! An entire "ladi" of pav, which can make 24 such vadas, only costs the vendor ten rupees. Way better than making large potato vadas. Have you seen the vegetable prices these days!

I've only begun to see these vadas in Mumbai in the last 2-3 years. Have you seen them earlier? Where? 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

How my lane has changed

- By Deepa Krishnan

When I was growing up, this lane behind my mother's house used to be empty.
The neighbourhood boys would play gully cricket here. We used to have sports events in this street. We made friends with all the children from other buildings on the street. We celebrated Ganpati. We hosted movie showings by rigging up cloth screens, and everyone came to watch.

Nowadays there are cars parked on both sides and the road has become narrow. We don't see any street games these days in this part of the road. People don't talk much to others in the street, because everyone is busy watching TV. Kids from all the buildings in this street don't know each other.

I was happy to see this girl cycling. It reminded me of my childhood, the old Bombay, in an era before cars multiplied.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Sharda Cinema, Dadar: Are single screen cinemas surviving in Mumbai?

- by Deepa Krishnan
I went to Parel with my mom and sister, and on the way back, I photographed this building with metal grille-work. This is Sharda Cinema, Dadar; and the grille-work represents Sharada, the goddess of writing, the arts and all creative efforts.
Sharda Cinema has been around for four decades now. This architectural style - do I call it Bombay Deco? - was popular in the 70's, and perhaps even the 80s. But I don't think it continued into the 90's. 

Sharda is a single-screen cinema. The arrival of multiplexes has seriously threatened the survival of single-screens in Mumbai. The multiplexes are more expensive, but they have a wider range of films on show, and they are co-located in malls, making them attractive leisure destinations.

Most single-screen cinemas are struggling. Many old city icons like Strand and Minerva, have closed down. Some like my neighbourhood Rupam Cinema in Sion have converted into multiplexes.

But some - like Sharda Cinema - have survived in the single-screen format by adopting digitization. Going digital means they can screen "first-day" releases without waiting for the old-fashioned analog movie prints to eventually arrive at their cinema (high costs of analog prints means that the distributor only produces a limited number of them, and they cannot reach all cinema venues, so smaller cinemas lose out on the attractive first-day or first-weekend business).

When I saw Sharda Cinema, the poster was showing "Brothers", a mixed martial arts Hindi movie with Akshay Kumar. The movie had been released that week, and was being screened for 3 shows each day of the week. Alongside this, for the 3:30 pm show, the theatre was also showing a Marathi film "Double Seat", another new release. Sharda also shows some hit Bhojpuri films. Clearly they understand the working class clientele of this neighbourhood in Dadar East. Sharda has 1150 seats and according to an article I read in Outlook, they're managing to keep their head above water with 50-60% occupancy. Good for them.

Will Sharda survive? Will the other single screens in the city survive? The jury's still out on this one. Many of them are still open only because they cannot be converted into an office complex, or a mall (the space was granted to them specifically for a cinema/arts venue). The only thing they can do is convert themselves into more vibrant theatre/arts venues and see if that will work.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Bazaar Treasures - Monsoon Special (3) - White corn

- by Deepa Krishnan

Among Mumbai's many monsoon delights is this - white corn. It has small, dense, white kernels, which are satisfactorily grainy and chewy. It is leagues bettter than the sweet yellow variety that has flooded the market these days. 
The masala-bhutta that is made with the white variety is a true delight. The starchy non-sweet white corn really works well with the lemon-chilli-salt rub and makes a big difference in taste. Once upon a time, the thela-walas only sold bhuttas of white corn. But now they've switched to yellow, and very few of them sell white corn bhuttas any more. I was lucky to find this guy near my house; he had both varieties on offer. No prizes for guessing which one I bought.
But really, a few exceptions aside - white corn has more or less disappeared from the market now.  There are only a few pockets in the city where they are available - I've seen them at Matunga Market, Bhaji Gully, and BB Dadar.

There are many reasons why the white variety has lost out to the yellow one. The sweeter taste of the yellow corn is popular with everyone. The yellow variety can be grown all through the year; the white one grows only in the monsoons. The white one has only 1 cob on a stalk; whereas the yellow ones, they have multiple cobs on a stalk (increasing the farmer's yield per hectare). The yellow ones are larger in size and heavier - and they also are more consistent in size and weight - so they offer better returns for the farmer. 
So what's wrong with the yellow one, you ask? It creates dependence on the seed companies, that's what. Seeds from one year cannot be saved and used for the next year. This yellow variety is "one time only". Means the farmer has to buy seeds each year.

Sigh. I think soon this white one will go extinct. Unless there is customer pull, to bring it back to the market. Join me, won't you? Every time I go to the market, I ask for white corn. So that the shop-keepers know that some people still want it!

Monsoon Treasures Series:
For those who want to see the two previous entries with more monsoon treasures: here are the two links:
Part 1 of the story -
Part 2 of the story -