Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Eating out at BKC

- by Deepa Krishnan

After many years of being a totally boring office complex, BKC is slowly becoming a nice place to dine out.  I am referring of course, to Yauatcha and Otto Infinito, both of which have added some zing to the area in the past year or so.

For me, the nicest thing about dining at these two places (they are in the same building) is that there are wide roads leading up to the restaurant. You can actually pull up at a decent-looking open driveway, see some open spaces, and feel the breeze in your hair as you walk up to the restaurant. 
Path leading up to Yauatcha and Otto Infinito
There is lots of space for parking nearby. Unlike South Mumbai's restaurants, you don't have to go through ridiculous manouevres to reverse, turn, slide and somehow squeeze the car into tiny spaces. Or worry about whether or not there is valet parking. Otto Infinito even offers open air dining minus the crazy din of car horns.
Outdoor seating at Otto Infinito
The restaurants themselves are large, with lots of seating, and views through wall-length glass windows.
There's a yellow theme going on at Otto Infinito
And a blue one at Yauatcha
The food at Yauatcha is tasty and attractively presented, but I cannot figure out why the portions are stingy (our fried rice was a small portion stuck at the bottom of a mostly empty bowl). There were 3 of us, and after 3 soups, 3 starters, the main course and lots of tea, we were still feeling like hungry little Hobbits.
Main course - rice, noodles, chicken. 
Maybe it was because the food didn't flow smoothly to the table in a nicely orchestrated sequence. The service was outstandingly bad, with long periods of being ignored by waiters, orders written wrongly, and multiple waiters totally clueless about what was happening at our table. In fact, it was so amateur that I wondered if some rookie training session was going on. But even with the snafus, Yauatcha is a nice place to catch up with friends for Sunday brunch. There are big tables where a large group can be comfortably seated, the food tastes good, and there's a casual buzz. You can do some people-watching as well! 

With Otto Infinito, we had some hits and misses with the food. Some stuff was very good, and some was mediocre, but the service was superlative and made up for everything. The outdoor tables are really attractive, and right now in Mumbai's short-lived winter, I'd say it makes for a perfect evening out with wine and a Mediterranean salad. 

Apart from these two stand-alone restaurants, BKC has some other casual dining options as well: 
California Pizza Kitchen, BKC
Le Pain Quotidien, BKC
California Pizza Kitchen, Pizza Hut, Le Pain Quotidien - and maybe a couple of more places that I don't know - offer casually trendy places to catch up with friends. Of these LPQ is more boutique, if cafes can be called boutique! There are also expensive restaurants at the Trident and the Sofitel. The only inexpensive thing I have seen so far in BKC is a "canteen" at the Family Court. I'm hoping more  places will open up soon, making BKC a great dining option in the city.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jehangir Art Galllery - a Kala Ghoda icon

- By Deepa Krishnan

I was perhaps 12 years old when I saw Jehangir Art Gallery for the first time. We were on a BEST bus ride to the Gateway of India, and we drove past the gallery. 

I remember wondering what it was like inside. 
Jehangir Art Gallery, established 1952. 
They are celebrating their 60th year now.
It was only ten years later, when I started working at the Army Navy Building across the road, that I finally found myself going to Jehangir Art gallery often.
The Army and Navy Building, as viewed from the terrace of Jehangir Art Gallery. After my MBA, I worked for 6 months in this building.
It was Samovar Cafe, actually, that originally drew me to the Jehangir Art Gallery building. It was the perfect little place for an inexpensive lunch or a late afternoon snack. I loved the laid-back atmosphere, and the mixed crowd of office-goers, artists and college students.  
Samovar Cafe
Photo source: Their facebook page
Everytime I went to Samovar, I'd pop in and out of the art galleries. Over time, it became a pleasurable thing, and I started enjoying the feeling of being surrounded by art.

This year, with the 60th celebration, I popped in again to take a quick look.                     
60 Years of Being Jehangir
The history of the gallery
The Founding Family - the "Readymoneys"
Key events in the gallery's history
Artists and writers reminiscence on what Jehangir means to them
Photos of "regular Mumbaikars" who are often seen in Jehangir Art gallery. It is the gallery's location and accessibility to the common man that makes it unique.
I also climbed upstairs to see the Terrace Gallery which has been renovated recently through a donation by renowned photographer Kakubhai Kothari.  
One straight and one curved wall, a long gallery, 650 square feet.This new gallery is primarily for photography exhibitions.
I am looking forward to seeing some!
The air-conditioning was nice and cold, perfect for a sunny afternoon, although I have to say, I didn't much like the paintings on show. I hope they start putting up more photography exhibitions soon. I saw the Event Calendar and looks like the earliest photography show is from Dec 31 onwards.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Spice Market at Lalbaug - a photo-walk

- By Deepa Krishnan

Some months ago I went exploring the spice and pickle market at Lalbaug.
Lalbaug Market, as seen from the flyover
(click on photo for super-duper large view!)
Apart from spices, there is a bustling vegetable market, a farsan market called Chivda Galli, and a busy fish market in this area. Wedding and religious paraphranelia, shops selling daily needs items, kitchen utensils and provisions, all make for an interesting introduction to to Maharashtrian cuisine and culture.

Here are some photos from my walk. I really haven't been able to do justice to everything I saw, so I've focused mostly on spices in this set. But I hope this will give you some flavour of the area.
Gunny-sacks of coriander, still greenish, being cleaned and dried
Coriander powder is an essential element of Marathi cooking, and is used in a wide assortment of curries and vegetables. It is often combined with cumin and other spices to make masalas. 

The most conspicuous thing in the market are stacks and stacks of red chillies. Several varieties are on sale. 
Kashmiri Mirchi, the non-spicy variety, great for adding red colour to dishes
An extra-spicy variety - packs quite a wallop!
There were women sitting behind the chilli sacks, sorting the chillies by size. None of them had any sort of gloves or protection for the skin. It is not really crazily expensive to get a pair of gloves - so this sort of carelessness is mostly a result of ignorance. It's not just in the spice market - I see this lackadaisical attitude towards safety in many small industries.

Another popular item sold in this market is dried copra. Coconut trees are plentiful in the coastal areas of Maharashtra, so it is used in both fresh as well as dried forms. Copra is ground along with garlic and red chillies to make lasun chutney, a local favourite.
Edible Copra. India is the world's third largest grower of coconuts, after Indonesia and the Philippines
For those who wish to make their own masalas, the stalls offer a range of spices. I've named them in Marathi  below in sequence, starting with the lower row, and I hope you can click on it to see a larger photo. Bottom Row (starting from closest one): kalajira (nigella), methi (fenugreek), dhania (coriander), jeera (cumin), rai of two types (mustard), saunf (fennel), safed til (white sesame), and ajwain (carom).  Top Row (starting from closest one): (anasphal) star anise, two more jeera boxes (cumin), jaiphal (nutmeg), kalimiri (pepper), lavang (clove), dalchini (cinnamon), tirphal (Sichuan pepper) and dagadphool (stone-flower, a lichen) and tamaalpatra (bayleaf).
Spices for sale on the main road, near the Lalbaug flyover.
Above the spices are a set of cans containing lonche (pickles) for sale.
While most of the spices above are familiar to all Indians, tirphal (Sichuan pepper) is not. It is something you see only in Konkani cooking. Tirphal grows in the area around Goa. You can see a recipe here for coconut chutney flavoured with tirphal.

The people who shop in this area are typically Marathi-speaking communities (erstwhile mill-worker families). Although most of the mills are no more, the area continues to remain home to the workers, who have now moved to other occupations. There are also Gujarati-speaking women, but fewer in number.
Maharashtrian women buying chilllies and copra
Gujarati lady entering utensil shop
Once you buy the spices, you can bring them to the grinding mill if you want your own customised spices. This photo shows the inside of a masala shop in Chivda Galli. On the right is a lady who is waiting for her ground chilli powder.
Woman waiting for her turn at the masala shop.
The shop also offers a menu of spices, powders, pickles and papads.
The shop offers Malvani Masala, Sunday Masala, Mix Masala,
Garam Masala,  Goda Masala, Banarsi Masala,
and Ghati Masala. They also sell pickles.
In Chiwda Galli, there are several shops selling different types of farsan. You can also see the workshops where the farsan is made and packed.
Chiwda Galli, Lalbaug
I found a shop that sells the syrupy concoctions that all the gola-stands in Mumbai use. I always wondered where they got their stuff from, and now I know :)
Sai Krupa Sherbet and Cold Drink offers wholesale cans of sherbet in several flavours:  orange, lemon, pineapple, kala-khatta, mango, raw mango, rose, kokum, ginger-lemon, gooseberry, pista, butter-scotch, kesar, elaichi, and strawberry
There are two interesting buildings in Chivda Galli. The first is Hanuman Theatre, which is now a party hall. Hanuman Theater is where, when the mills first started, the mill workers would gather for tamasha shows, bringing the rural culture of Maharashtra into the city of Mumbai. Inside there is a shrine to a lavni artiste, a lady who was said to be possessed by the "devi". Adjacent to it is the dargah of Chand Shah Vali, where a Hindu Gaikwad family have for multiple generations been the caretakers. The dargah was destroyed by Hindu rioters in 92-93, but has been built again. The Gaikwad family continues to officiate here. 
New Hanuman Theatre Mangal Karyalay and Dargah of Chand Shah Vali. The tall building behind is Hilla Towers, built in the compound of a Parsi fire temple. 
I didn't photograph the fish market, the meat market and the pickles and spice market on the main road. Or the shops with tea and groceries and vegetables. Or the interesting chawls. I did of course, photograph the most popular "madka" shop in Lalbaug Industrial Estate :) 
Where there are spices, can the pickle jars be far  behind?
I'm going back there soon for another photo-walk. Anyone who wants to join me is very welcome! :)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Snapshot of a Mumbai taxi-wallah

- By Deepa Krishnan

The Fiat was battered and old. But it was his sinhasan, and he sat relaxed and easy in it. He was tall and lanky. One arm was wrapped around the window and with the other hand he managed the steering wheel and the gear. I could tell at once that he was an old hand at this.
Many old taxi-wallahs in Mumbai have this relaxed if they the car is a living breathing thing, an extension of their own bodies. When I looked down at the clutch, I noticed he was driving barefoot. 

The Fiat itself was - well - how do I say it - it was the survivor of many surgeries. The long single front seat had been converted to bucket seats. A crazy blue-and-orange-flowery velvet design was plastered all over the car, including the roof. The steering wheel had been grafted on from a Chor Bazaar relic, the horn in the centre of the wheel was a set of exposed wires. The door-handles were barely functional and whole contraption rattled. 

But the taxi-wallah was the rajah of his domain. He drove without any stress, no matter what happened. A group of school-girls popped up suddenly in front of us. He braked, and after they passed giggling, he said something philosophical to me about aaj-kal-ke-bacchhe. At the Sion Hospital roundabout as he manouevered the car, I sneaked another photo of him on my mobile phone (OK, I'm sorry, but I did!!!). 
I wanted to talk to him, to ask him more about himself. But the ride was too frustratingly short to attempt conversation. Besides, my cellphone kept ringing with something or the other. And so my taxi-ride remained just another big city interaction, just another lost opportunity.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Shaleychya Dabyaala Kaai Baai Deu?

- By Deepa Krishnan

Sometimes you spot something in a bazaar and an entire culture comes alive in a tiny little flash of insight.

I was walking along Ranade Road last week; and as usual the market was full of Marathi-speaking women, shopping for vegetables, spices, fruits and other daily needs items. 

In the middle of the market was a tiny wooden stall, selling recipe books in Marathi. I stopped to read the titles and found myself immediately charmed. It was like a little glimpse into the hearts and minds of the women who come to this market. 
Bookstall on Ranade Road, with recipe books in Marathi
The first thing that caught my eye was Shaleychya Dabyaala Kaai Bai Deu? (Oh what shall I send for a school-break snack?). The eternal question of all mothers - what to feed picky school going kids! I can't tell you how wonderfully sing-song and melodious the title of the book sounds in Marathi, in fact it reminds me of a popular movie song. And also, in Marathi this question is addressed to another woman (the Baai in the title), creating a sort of sisterhood of dabba-senders. Sweet!

The next book I saw was Kaanda vuh Bataateychey Ruchkar Padaarth (Tasty dishes using onions and potatoes). Ha! Only in Maharashtra would you find a book with onions and potatoes as the heroes! You see, Maharashtra single-handedly produces more than 30% of India's entire onion crop. Naturally it is liberally used in the cuisine. Potatoes are also grown in Maharashtra, although it is not the star producer. 

But hey - star producer or not - it is Maharashtra that invented the vada-pav, the most divine way to eat potatoes. And let's not forget bhaji-pav and kanda-bhaji (all three are in the photo below, with some palak bhaji thrown in for good measure!).
God bless the vada-pav vendors of Mumbai :)
May they live long and prosper!
Since we're on the subject of potatoes, I'll come right out and say it: the Maharashtrian poori-ani-batate-chi-bhaaji is wayyyyyyy better for breakfast than the garam-masalaed aloo-sabzis of North India. Who wants to eat complicated garam masalas for breakfast, for god's sake! 
Reaching for crisp puris at Prakash.
The batate-chi  bhaaji waits for a judicious squeeze of lime.
At the bookstall, I also saw what looked like a popular series of books, they all had "61" in the title. 61 Khas Marathmole Padarth (61 Special Marathi traditional dishes), and 61 Laadu Vadya aani Faraalachey Padarth (61 Ways to Make Ladu, Vada and Faraal). 

Faraal is a generic term which covers a whole bunch of snacks. With Diwali around the corner, I suspect this book will be in hot demand. In Maharashtra, faraal includes things like Pohyancha Chiwda (made with rice-flakes and peanuts), Shev, Kadboli (which is similar to the Karanataka kod-bale), Chakli, Shankarpali, Karanji and so on. Some other time, I will post an article on some of these. But Amarendra's blog has a great photo of a wide selection of typical Maharashtrian faraal and laadu, and I am sure this "61" book I saw had recipes for all of these. I'm not sure what the one in the centre is, so if someone knows, I hope you'll leave a comment for me.
For the thinking woman, the bookstall had Rojchya Vaprateel Khadyapadarthache Aushadhi Gunadharma v tyachya pak-kruti - The Medicinal properties of ingredients in daily food and how to prepare them. And Hirvegaar ruchak padarth - Green tasty dishes (for those who want to give their children some healthy options)!

Another set of books I saw was the Khushkhusheet Series:
Khuskhusheet Thaalipeeth -  Crispy Thalipeeth
Khuskhusheet Bhaji -  Crispy Bhaji (the deep-fried variety)
And I'm sure they probably had more of these. Now khushkhusheet is a word that's impossible to translate into English. Although what I have used is Crispy, really, it's part-soft-part-crispy. If you've eaten thalipeeth you'll know what I mean. 

I came away from the little stall, not knowing what to buy. Everything looked so interesting, offering me glimpses into a totally different world. I didn't have time to "stand and stare" and flip through all the books. But I'll head back sometime soon. I think that faraal book is calling out to me!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kolhapuri chappals

- By Deepa Krishnan

When I was in college, it was quite cool to wear kolhapuri chappals. In fact, every self-respecting college going kid with anti-establishment / Marxist / Commie leanings wore some variant of these :)
The female version came with a narrower frame. The male version was broader and rugged. But all of them were handmade, stitched and patterned in a way that was instantly recognizable. Many had attractive red tassels as well.
It was not just college kids with leftist ideas who wore them. They were the standard outfit for the "creative" ad agency types, as well as intellectuals and social workers. If you walked into the JJ School campus, you'd find tons of them. The standard combination was kolhapuri chappal +  khadi kurta + cloth jhola + a tattered pair of jeans. Reading glasses and frizzy hair helped further complete the look. Stubble or full-blown beards were also de rigueur.

I went to one of the liberal arts colleges in the city recently, and found that the kurta-jeans-jhola look was still in vogue, and the stubbles/beards were still in place - but the kolhapuri chappal had been replaced by blue Hawaii slippers or all-weather floaters or other non-descript sandals. What a pity :) 

The kolhapuri hasn't totally disappeared, though. Walking through Ranade Road, I spotted this shop with the giant chappal at the top:
Chandrakant Chappal Mart
Sellers of Kolhapuri Chappals
As I peered quickly at the stock, I saw that this shop had decided to hedge its bets by including not only kolhapuri chappals, but also several other designs and styles. So about 40% of the stock was kolhapuri.

At the bustling market outside Vile Parle station, I found the modern avatar of the traditional kolhapuri chappal, with colourful variants for women. They seemed to be very popular:
In this new avatar, the kolhapuri has lost all its anti-establishment charm. College girls are wearing these to match their outfits, not to make Commie statements. Here's the colourful kolhapuri, having its moment in the (Bollywood) sun.
Quite the fall of an icon, eh? :) :) I'm never wearing these purple ones, I tell you.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Upvasache Bhagar - Jungle Rice at Prakash in Shivaji Park

- By Deepa Krishnan

One of the happy delights of the rainy season is that Prakash at Shivaji Park has their fasting menu in place. 
Prakash Upahar Kendra near Sena Bhavan
(this is the old location, new location is opposite this one).
There's usually a queue of people waiting for a table. So you'll have plenty of time to admire the beautiful art-deco grillework in the balcony above, while you join the queue! 

I went last week, mercifully before the crowd came in. And I ordered this wonderful thing called Upvasache Bhagar. 
My tiny portion of Bhagar. Everything at Prakash is super-tiny. Space at the blue formica tables is at a premium, so you are expected to share three to a bench. 
Have you tasted bhagar? It is light, nourishing and delicious. It is served with a slightly sweetned yoghurt, which sets off the green chilli spice in the bhagar quite nicely. Ideal for breakfast, especially if you don't like super-spicy things early in the morning. 

Bhagar (vari tandul) comes from the seed of a wild grass. It's often called jungle rice, although it is not really rice. It is a seed which grows widely in Asia. Since it is not a grain, by the complex rules of Hindu fasts, bhagar is among the list of permitted foods that you can eat in the fasting season. 
Photo of bhagar from Wikimedia Commons
To make upvasache bhagar, usually jungle rice is cooked along with rajgira (amaranth, yet another "permitted" seed). Boiled potatoes are also added to give it some mass. Crushed peanuts, green chillies, cumin, lemon, coriander and ghee - these are the things that make bhagar delicious. It is a simple recipe, and works very well.
Looks delicious already, doesn't it?
If you want to try making it at home, you can use this great recipe from The Cook's Cottage. At the risk of offending purists, I would suggest trying your own variations. If you are making it for 4 p.m. "tiffin", then increase the spice levels and serve with masala chai! I think it would taste great with peas and carrots added to it. Or even sauteed capsicum. I think saw a version online with bhopla in it, but I find the idea very yewww. 

For those who want the dish without the effort of cooking it, there's always Prakash. It's very close to my office, so please give me a shout and I'll gladly join you.

P.S. While you're there, try their thalipeeth as well. I'm addicted to it.
The thalipeeth at Prakash - spicy, fabulous, leaves your mouth tingling

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In which I watch trees being cut

- Deepa Krishnan

The area outside my office has dense green tree cover, keeping the entire street cool and shady, and protecting us from sun and rain.

Today when I drove up to work, I found a tree-felling operation in progress:
A big tree standing right opposite our office was dead, and the municipality guys had been called to fell it. I spoke to the guy in charge; he had a digital camera and a sheet with instructions on which trees to cut, and which to trim. He explained that the tree opposite our office was rotten, and needed to be cut. 

Our local istriwallah agreed, and gave me some rustic advice "Jhaad andar sey sad gaya hai madam", he said. "Bahut dino se baas aa raha hai". Apparently, you can smell a rotten tree in the rains. I do not know if this little piece of dehati wisdom is true, because I couldn't smell anything strange. 

But in any case, the cutting had begun. There was a man on top of a dead branch (can you see him in the photo below?), hacking away with a small axe. They had tied ropes to the branch. When it weakened, guys standing below would tug on the ropes and the branch would come crashing down.
Along with this dead tree, several other trees were being trimmed, based on requests made by residents of a nearby building. A couple of months ago, a branch from one of the trees fell down and dented a car. So that's why the municipality had been called in.

I stood and watched as big branches came crashing down all over the street. It felt terrible, really, even if one tree was supposedly dead, the rest were still alive and were being trimmed with gusto. Once a big branch had been brought down, it was then chopped into little bits. The tools used were basic: sickles to cut off small portions, and two-man saws for larger trunks. Every now and then, the saw would need to be sharpened.
And then they would get back to the job of breaking up the branches:
The cutting went on all through the morning, from 9 am to nearly noon. In between, they took a break for sweet milky tea, sponsored by the local chaiwalla.

Eventually around 1:00, I went outside to check on the status. The entire set of trees on our street had been decimated. There used to be a pretty green canopy on my street earlier, but now it looked grim and bare.
A sorry morning, really, all in all. So much beauty lost. I am wondering how to plant another tree. Do you know any organisations that can help?