Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hungry kya? Take a walk! (Article in Times of India today)

The Times of India featured our Matunga Food Walk in this article today in the Wine and Dine section of Crest. OK, so they got the prices wrong, but all publicity is good, right? :)

There's also a photo of me in a red saree, looking like a little blimp. I swear I am not this fat! It's the *others* who were tall and slim, dammit!

Hungry Kya? Take a Walk!
by Mahafreed Irani
Sep 25, 2010
Times of India

For tourists who want to skip the clichêd tours of Mumbai, culinary walks are an interesting alternative. "Food is one of the most interesting ways of understanding a culture, " says Deepa Krishnan of Mumbai Magic, a tour company that organises food walks in the city. "Tourists are increasingly looking for more insightful and interesting experiences than merely visiting monuments.

Bazaar walks and cuisine trails help to showcase some very rich aspects of Indian society. " The Mumbai Magic food walk starts with a guided tour around Matunga market and ends with a cooking demo and tasting of traditional food at an Indian home. While at the market, a culinary expert guides tourists around various food-speciality shops. Even though Matunga isn't a tourist area, Krishnan chose the market as it has a number of eateries and stores that sell regional ingredients. "Most foreigners have limited knowledge about Indian cuisine and may have only tasted Punjabi fare like butter chicken, " she says pointing out how they are surprised that Indian food is not as spicy as they have been led to believe. "Regional food is a pleasant discovery for them."

The package which costs Rs 1, 000 per person for a guided tour for six includes a visit to a Gujarati, Parsi, Goan or South Indian home. During the visit, tourists can choose to participate in the cooking process of a traditional meal or sip on some Indian wine and observe the cooking. The demonstrators have been flooded with queries like, "Can we peep into your fridge?" and "Please explain the use of these unfamiliar cooking gadgets", says Krishnan referring to tourists who were curious about metal tongs.

Krishnan also organises food trails in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Chennai and Kottayam. In Kerala, the walk includes visits to a private spice plantation, paddy fields and toddy shops and in Jaipur, tourists learn how Rajasthani cuisine has been influenced by the hot climate and scarcity of water.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lifffftttttttt !

I live in a tall building, with 18 floors. We are on the 14th floor. This means that everyday, we go up and down the lift at least a couple of times.

Like all other tall buildings in Bombay, the lifts in our apartment complex are operated by liftmen.
They sit inside the lift on a little stool, but stand to attention when any of us enter the lift. We tell them what floor we want to go to, and they press the right button. That's their job. To stand at attention, and press buttons.
There are several liftmen, all nameless. They go by the generic name of "Liffffffftttt!" because that's what we yell whenever we want to grab their attention. The residents of our apartment don't really 'see' liftmen as individuals or address them by name.
This is not true of all buildings in the city. I have seen, in some buildings in Napeansea Road and Cuffe Parade, greying liftmen who have been there for ages. Everyone knows them, and their names are heard often. "Ganpaaattthhhhh....jara lift roko !!!".
One of my friends lives in a Parsi colony where the lifts are ancient. The liftman is a critical part of their life, because the lift must have manual supervision, and it responds only to his magic touch. ("Oh God I'm getting late for office, where's Kadam, the lift is not working"). As a consequence, there is, in this colony, a "tring-tring" bell to summon the elusive Kadam. Kadam is also an errand-man ("Dina darling, I forgot my car keys, can you send it down with Kadam?"). Like the lift, Kadam is also a fixture, grey and creaking.
But in our building, the liftmen change every other week, using some sort of complex roster system that I haven't figured out. Our building, like most tall buildings these days, has sub-contracted the maintenance and security to an agency. So we have armies of smartly uniformed staff, but we don't know their names. By the time we find out who they are, and exchange the first pleasantries, they're gone.
In addition to the liftmen, we also have a guy who sits at a desk on the ground floor, just opposite the lift. I'm not quite sure what he does. He goes by the name of 'Security', although I'm can't see what security this skinny kid provides (there is a another bunch of older, somewhat tougher looking Security guys at the gates). The 'Security' desk is a promotion from the lift, I think, because you only get to sit at that desk once you've done the lift assignment and you know all the residents of the building.
Today there was a new guy in the lift, even younger than the previous one. This one looked like a new migrant. He was uncomfortable with his navy-blue uniform, he kept fiddling with the big fancy belt buckle, and didn't know numbers in English. So the Security guy helped him, by telling him my floor number in Hindi. He still messed up and pressed the wrong button, and stood there dejected when I quickly pressed the right one. "It's ok", I smiled at him, remembering my first job and how terrified I had been. "You'll learn soon". He was too raw to even nod or acknowledge what I said, let alone smile.
Hmm, I said to myself when I got off the lift. One more new migrant. One more guy here to see if the city will work its magic on him. They keep coming, these young hopeful men, barely out of their teens. Maybe his uncle is here in the city; and is providing the initial support. Or maybe it's someone else from his village, who has brought him here, introduced him to the contracting firm that manages our lifts, and stood guarantee for him. I hope he will learn the lift numbers quickly, before some resident complains.
I recently had an overseas visitor who laughed and said "God, why do you guys need a guy to push lift buttons? Can't you do it yourselves?" On the face of it, this looks like a logical statement. But I was recently in a lift with a precocious kid, who pushed the emergency button, because the lift was unsupervised for 10 minutes. My new maid doesn't know how to summon a lift, let alone operate the number keys. My mother doesn't like being alone in the lift. Almost no one knows what to do in case of an emergency or a lift stopping midway. So I say, until the state of affairs changes, until everyone gets an education, Let There Be Liftmen !

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The dosa gets my vote

Four hungry people. One Giant Paper Dosa. Lots of coconut chutney, and lots of sambar.

Paper Dosa at Sunder's, Kabutarkhana, King's Circle

Have you tried sharing a paper dosa? That first crumbling of the perfect cylinder shape, the vain attempts to preserve some semblance of orderly eating...until chaos descends and everyone is just eating whatever crumbs they can find? What fun :)

Ordering four separate dosas just isn't the same, is it?

Sunders is a regular stop on my forays to King's Circle market. Apart from the paper dosa, they serve a wacky menu with several different dosa varieties (including a schezwan dosa).

They do a decent masala-dosa as well. I'm not a big fan of the masala-dosa. But it does seem to have found its place under the sun. Food writer Nilanjana Roy gave the masala dosa her vote for "national dish of India" in an article in Outlook earlier this year. She says: The dosa has crept into our lives in a quiet revolution, a stealthy and entirely bloodless coup. It can be found in dhabas in the Himalayas, stuffed with exotic ingredients in five-star restaurants...It can be stuffed with paneer, or with chicken and keema fillings for the unregenerate carnivore, but it’s the masala dosa that flies its flag across India. You can even, experimenting with spinach and carrot fillings, create a suitably tricolour masala dosa, while retaining the potato stuffing that is the trademark of the true Udupi stalwart. We can continue to argue over the rest of the menu for a genuinely nationalist Indian banquet, but for the moment, the dosa gets my vote."

So what say? The masala-dosa as a national dish? Sacrilege? :)

If I were to think about Bombay, instead of the whole country, then here's my list of the top three popular eats in the city:
- Vada pav
- Bhelpuri
- Dosa

(Yep, the dosa, gets *my* vote too)