Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gotta love Linking Road

If you're on a budget and still want to shop, head for the street stalls on Linking Road.

Nothing fancy about them, but they sell everything you can think of: bags, shoes, skirts, hairclips, belts, sun glasses, bras, undies...and all of it for prices that are amazingly low.

Last week I went to Linking Road looking for a challa - an ornament for the waist (don't ask me why I wanted it!).

I had to hunt long and hard to find it - apparently challas don't have any takers on Linking Road these days - so I ended up clicking a lot of photos of other shops instead.

Skirts with fancy beadwork at the waist. The gypsy look is obviously in.

Salwar kameezes and ghagra-cholis in several colours.

The kameezes are elegant when sleeveless, but for more modest women, there are matching little sleeves that can be attached by a tailor. Indian women traditionally prefer cuts that are loose and straight, that don't hug the body and outline every curve. But the shopkeeper wants to make the mannequin look sexier, so he bunches up the fabric and clips it at the back, like in the pink kameez in the photo above.

Bags to go with whatever clothes you buy.

Some bags can pass off for expensive stuff, but you need a fine eye to figure out which ones. The guys who own bag shops are armed with two things - one is a long stick with a sort of nail at the end - that's for picking bags off the "shelves" and putting them back. The other is a duster. This is the roadside, remember? Dust settles constantly on the bags. If you ask the shopkeeper to show you a bag, he uses the long stick to bring the bag down, gives it a few whacks with the cloth duster, and only then hands it to you.

Bags are all very well, but everyone knows shoes are serious business. Even if they're dead cheap.

There are lots and lots of shoe shops here. The shoes are perfect for college kids - colourful, funky, affordable. You can also buy party shoes here, but don't expect them to hold out long if you're planning to dance the night away.

Hair-clips and bands for little kids.

The price ranges from 5 rupees to 50. In the UK, I've seen similar things sell for at least twice or thrice the price.

Lawn-je-ray for the grown-ups!

I really must find out where these underthings are made. I used to think they came to Bombay from somewhere Far East (because the bras are all padded, you know?). But now I'm not so sure. Maybe we're making them here to *send* to the Far East, and these are factory rejects.

Anyway, it was surprisingly difficult, clicking photos on Linking Road. No matter how patient or clever I was, someone or the other would walk into the frame and ruin the whole thing.

After about 30 minutes of clicking away, I found one shop that sold what I wanted - oranmental challas. An air-conditioned shop, that too. I looked at several designs that the counter salesman showed me (I tell you Bombay shopkeepers are a really patient lot) - and finally walked home triumphant with something in gold and maroon.

Total damages for the day: Rupees 700. Not bad, not bad at all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mystery Goddess

I found a poster of this goddess in Null Bazaar, right next to the vegetable section.

Anyone know who she is? I can't tell.

She was in a shop selling ceremonial stuff for weddings - incense sticks, little plastic coconuts, paper flowers and other tinselly stuff.

I think it is the Goddess Gauri, but I can't figure out what the parrots are all about.

The design on the forehead suggests she is Maharashtrian. So does the nose-ring. It is a strange poster, half drawing, half-tinsel, with a real nose-ring, and a real mangalsutra round the neck. Looks like something someone would place or gift during a wedding ceremony.

Null Bazaar has a big community of fisherwomen who have stalls in the fish-and-meat section. You think this is something to do with them?

Friday, November 02, 2007

I learn an old cooking technique

The walls of Mushtaq Bhai's kitchens are caked with soot, from years of cooking. Every time I go there, I get new lessons in cuisine.

This time was no different. I watched in fascination, as the mutton was first cooked with fried onions and masala, with a little water.

And then the cook showed me the crucial next step - Death by Onion! First, a thick layer of sliced onions was spread over the meat. Next, finely chopped green chillies were added. Then the handi was covered and the meat left to simmer in its juice for 30 minutes.

This of course, is the famous do-piyaza (literally, two-onion) technique, where onion is introduced into the dish at two stages.

The first stage is right at the beginning, when the meat is braised with onions, garlic, ginger and garam masala. Some yoghurt is added, to give the dish a little piquancy. When the meat is three-fourth cooked, then the second stage begins. The quantity of onion in the second stage is important - it is nearly twice as much as the meat.
I like this idea. The essence of the chilli and onion seeps into the mutton.

The do-piyaza was a favourite in the Mughal courts - Akbar's scribe Abul Fazl records that it was served as part of the royal repast, although Akbar himself preferred a simple diet of khichri-kadi (rice and yoghurt).

Akbar's son Jahangir, in the Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri, writes about a do-piyaza that he ate on a hunt:
"One day on the hunt, I shot a female nilgai, and two fully formed young ones were found inside. As I had heard that the flesh of the nilgai fawns is delicate and delicious, I ordered the royal cooks to prepare a do-piyaza."

And how did the do-piyaza taste?

"It was not without flavour", was Jahangir's royal pronouncement.