Tag-Archive for » North Indian «

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 | Author:

Allow me to take you to a picturesque village in Kerala, among the Western Ghats, where I was born and spent some beautiful years of my life. The beauty of the village lay in its ponds, streams, temples, lush green scenery, simple village folks, and last but not the least, the majestic mountains.

For me, the word “mountains” conjures up countless images of romance, beauty, mystery, grandeur, tranquility and pure bliss. As children, my cousins and I were perpetually intrigued by what lay beyond and over these mighty structures. Thus, to douse our curiosity, we once planned an expedition to explore them, on foot. However, despite the resoluteness, we could only muster the courage to explore the smaller ‘rocks.’

Thus, on a cheerful, bright afternoon, during the summer vacations, we set out on our ‘daring’ mission. With great laughter and excitement, we climbed the rocky terrain. Once we reached the summit, we were totally delighted by the beauty around us. Also, the exuberance of having reached the ‘top’ was evident in every tired soul. We sat there for hours, sinking in the feeling and enjoying the bonuses, like the cool breeze against our faces, the swaying paddy fields below, the people in their colorful clothing working on the fields, and so on. Most important, we got a totally new perspective; one that was very interesting and exciting! We longed to go there everyday.

Soon, as the monsoons arrived, we would watch the sight of clouds hovering over the mountains. We would spend hours, doing nothing but witnessing the clouds change shape, color, and eventually come down as rain drops. Those were the moments of true revelation; the moment of a lifetime!

As I grew up, my love for the mountains also grew; and so did the intrigue factor. The Ruskin Bond stories that I read with great interest further enhanced my belief in the mystery of the mountains. When I read these stories, I could see the entire story unfold in front of my eyes and I felt being a part of it. Then, to add fuel to fire, my friend who belonged to the Garhwal region, would relate unending tales of first-hand supernatural experiences with such conviction that I was seriously sure about the mountains’ mystique factor. The mountains continued to elicit special emotions in me.

Most recently, a wonderful rendezvous with the mountains happened during our visit to Nainital, Uttaranchal. This journey once again flamed my eternal love for the mountains. While at the hotel, we could sink in beautiful sights of the placid Naini Lake, surrounded by the rising mountain ranges. During the evening, while taking a stroll along the Naini Lake, I felt a sudden sense of nostalgia. It was probably a result of the cool weather and the beautiful scenery. I was inundated by the soothing memory of my wonderful childhood days, along with my long-cherished perceptions about the mountains and an unexplainable happiness on visiting the place. The entire experience was so humbling, it reiterated the insignificance of ‘me’ in the entire scheme of things. Unknowingly, my mind wished to be a part of it, forever, to know and love them more.

When I look back, I feel extremely fortunate to have obtained such invaluable moments of beauty and pleasure, which every man truly deserves. I also believe that it is our responsibility to preserve this beauty, so that the generations to come can cherish such wonderful moments of revelation and self-discovery, and in the process, remember their forefathers for the good things they left behind.

Wednesday, February 04th, 2009 | Author:

The smells of food always enticed me. You know how you can smell spices being fried in ghee, their soft, hissing sounds in the non-stick pan. It just lets you soak up the mingling smells, letting you know that its time to tip in the onions. When you have sugar bubbling ever so gently in a pan, just watch it turn into the color of caramel and the scent of slightly burnt sugar seeps into your senses. That’s when you know its time to do something fast so that you don’t bake the pan itself in burnt sugar. Well, I thought, why not share my thoughts about food? I mean, let’s face it, we all love good food and dining.

Malayalis and Food
Like most Indians, the Malayalis (people from Kerala, not Maldives!) are known for their love for food, especially non-vegetarian food. Just the thought of fried fish and chicken fry can send Malayalis into rapture. I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that in nearly every Malayali’s home, food is the most talked about topic, next to politics and religion. The usual greeting when you step into a Malayali home begins with what food can be served to the guest right away. Even the success of marriage celebrations in Kerala is assessed on the quality of the three course traditional feast or sadhya. Of course, if the food wasn’t tasty enough, the brickbats fall on the girl’s family for years to come. You see, how marriage-life-threatening food can be in Kerala?

But these days, Malayalis are obsessed about eating mainly North Indian dishes whenever they visit any restaurant or hotel in Kerala. Paneer dishes, tandoori food  and Chinese dishes are a huge craze in every part of Kerala. Any restaurant worth its name has to have at least one Paneer dish and a Chinese dish in its menu. Pizzas, burghers and noodles are not very popular in families and tend to be dumped by the majority as ‘junk food.’

So, you see, that’s why I decided to go ahead and talk on and on about food. After all, it’s one of those essential things about life that we can talk about even with our enemies!

Skimmer’ Woes
Hey, when it comes to food, I am a skimmer which means I look at a meal and decide what is delectable and what is gross. Cantonese Chinese Fried Rice, for example, needs to really look light and fluffy or else it will taste like rubber. But culinary experts know the trick. They scramble the eggs first before cooking the rice itself. Then they go ahead with the usual stir fry.”

I know what you are thinking. What does it matter, really, if the eggs are scrambled last for fried rice? It’s just Chinese fried rice, just like chow mein, yes, I know what you are trying to say but the beauty of cooking is that you can’t simply toss in all the leftover veggies and scraps to create something truly delectable, can you?

That reminds me. I had a friend called Hiran, whose lunchbox was the envy of an entire organization. Even when she fasted, her lunchbox would be so artistically packed with cut fruits arranged in layers. She just had to open her lunch box and everyone is begging to taste the delicious food her mom makes.

Over wait
If you have visited  United Coffee House, (Connaught Place, Delhi), you would understand what waiting means. I’ve gone there with friends and waited like ages, because the table was not ready and the queues outside the restaurant make me feel like a refugee than a guest.

Seriously, I am not a hotel managing wizard but couldn’t waiting guests be provided seating arrangement in a waiting area inside the restaurant? It lets guests like me spend time by reading the menu, learning new spellings of new dishes, things like that, you know what I mean.

That reminds me of the service at The Chinese (Connaught Place, Delhi) where within moments of arrival, an elegant Chinese hostess steps in to make sure that guests who have to wait have a tiny area right near her desk to remain seated. The seating overlooks the outdoors which makes it relaxing too.

Once customers are shown inside, the hostess comes over to make sure they are comfortably seated, served with water and have the menus and cutlery ready. This probably takes about five minutes of engaging the customer and creating a wonderfully cared-for experience. That’s what a good manager does. Then, guests are treated to a miniscule teaspoon ‘ice cream dot’ treat. The thing is the dot is tinier than a mole but the visual experience and rich feel spells oomph, especially when served by a very pretty looking Chinese belle dressed in a silk kimono. What a way to wait! But you know, the Chinese and Japanese always come up with great ideas when it comes to optimizing management related processes.

Take the example of the famous Japanese restaurant Nobu which has branches in New York, Dallas and Miami Beach. No matter how many guests are waiting, the Nobu staff are famous for transforming the waiting phase into a relaxing experience. They manage the waiting period effectively by keeping guest engaged in other services. In hospitality sector, it’s even termed as the ‘Nobu experience.’

In contrast, the popular South Indian chain of restaurants, Saravana Bhavan (Connaught Place, Delhi) hurries you not only by forcing you to race through the maze of tables and grab your seat but you are forced to practice your karate skills and knock off the rival racing guest to grab your seat.

It’s the same in Andhra Bhavan’s canteen. Maybe this is with the view to improve guests’ fitness and stamina, but I find that my appetite disappears. Orders are taken in such a lightning rush that you can’t even ask a query about a dish without being given looks. You should try your karate and racing skills there, believe me, I’ve nearly done it! Once when we hated our firangi boss, we took him to Andhra Bhavan for farewell lunch and ordered the Hyderabadi chicken fry and while the rest of us were licking it off our plates, the poor Australian guy was having tears coming out of his eyes. He had never eaten anything so spicy in his life! Before you think I was mean, please remember it was ‘team work’, no pun intended.

How can you eat when you feel so rushed?

There’s a fine balance that needs to be drawn in the context of serving fine food and managing table flow dynamics because we don’t merely visit restaurants to eat. We visit these places to unwind, talk, soak in the ambience, feel pampered and relieved from external pressures. It’s so many things rolled into one, you know.

At  Saravana Bhavan, there are countless occasions when couples can’t even linger over their ‘filter coffee’ because the bill is literally slammed noisily onto their table. Again, a serious sign of bad food service.

There’s always a debate as to whether it’s classy to bring back leftovers from a hotel. Different people feel differently about it. What would you do if you went to a restaurant, ordered food that you thought you could finish but end up eating just half of it?

Well, let me confess that I bring it back home to eat. After all, if it is tasty and I paid for it, why shouldn’t I do that? Why should i waste the food? Of course, in places like KFC, I can finish the whole thing in minutes because as their ad says, ‘its finger-lickin’ good.’ In places like Saravana Bhavan, I have many friends who get the coconut chutney and sambar packed additionally because they find it so tasty and irresistible.

Well, every one has experienced a sweet and sour memory or feeling about food. Some food brings happy memories, others make you nostalgic. It’s not just about eating tasty food but about experience yourself, the others around you and building new bonds through food. Sometimes you find yourself able to talk peacefully with people you don’t know over food, at other times, you just feel peaceful eating by yourself and watching others do the same.

Let me finally end my thoughts on food with the wise words of La Rochefoucauld (don’t ask me who he is but his name sounds intelligent though I can assure you I don’t have a clue!), “To eat is a necessity but to eat intelligently is an art.”