Sunday, January 24, 2010

My favourite food joints in India

Food brings back a lot of memories - of places I would frequent with my dear ones, where we would share our stories over chutneys and curries. Every place has a story and these are mine:

Park Street, Kolkata

The first time I had heard of Flurys was when it was mentioned in the film Parineeta. I found it mentioned in various literary works by expat Bengali writers. It seemed to me that Kolkata wouldn't be Kolkata without Flurys. I visited it for the first time in January 2008 for some rum balls and have since made it a mandatory on my Kolkata itinery.

The legendary tearoom on fashionable Park Street in Kolkata was founded in 1927 by Mr and Mrs J Flurys. Presenting fine European traditional confections, it had soon become a popular meeting place for all ages. It introduced the city and many generations to authentic Swiss and International delicacies.

Flurys is now open with a fresh design that recalls the 1930s, yet retaining a sense of timelessness.

Jorbagh, Delhi

I simply grew up on its butter chicken and kebabs. I haven't come across any place in India that can match the butter chicken you get there. My mom went back after 20 years to savour the food there. Maybe, now it's my turn.

Moledina Road, Pune

Another place I frequented as a child. I just loved the dosas there and the dwarfed manager, a certain Mr Shetty who would stand next to me to check if I had grown taller than him. For seven years, he suggested that I should try out the masala dosa there. Stubborn as I am, I stuck to the sada. He used to say, "There will always be a next time." I'd keep going back but only for sada dosas and idlis. Strangely, I've never had coffee at Coffee House. But there'll always be a next time!

Willingdon Island, Cochin

Hotel Casino’s Fort Cochin restaurant is the best bet for seafood in all of Kerala. The restaurant offers no menu. They brought us the catch of the day in a tray and ask us to pick the fish and the spices. We opted for the local delicacy karimeen (black fish from the backwaters), delicious squid masala and prawns (all without the overpowering taste of coconut) with appam. The cost: Rs 1,480, but who’s complaining?

Was located at Atria Mall, Worli Mumbai but was closed a couple of years ago

When Kenneth and I wanted to get together for a sushi lunch in December 2006, we'd drawn up a list of Japanese food joints in south Mumbai (of course!) Ken had insisted on sushi. I, on the place we'd go to. Ticking off Wasabi (too expensive), Japengo (expensive), Joss (a place I'd sweared never to go to), Seijo (too expensive for a lunch), we'd decided on Origami at Atria.

The date: December 31. On the last day of the year, we decided to give our palates the chance to taste something new. And boy! Wasn't it good? After the initial shot of wasabi (we'd unknowingly spread it on the sushi like chutney), we just couldn't have enough. The waitresses were kind enough to help us decide on our orders, giving us detailed explanations on how the sushi was made. Ken and I stopped only when we realised that we'd eaten worth Rs 2,000. We loved the experience and came back on the same date next year for our second lunch together in two years.

It's a pity Origami gave way to Don Giovanni (a Sicilian joint where I ate my first starfish in a seafood pasta). I still miss the experience.

Express Hotel, R C Dutt Road, Vadodara

A woman entering a restaurant on her own in Vadodara is a rare sight. I did get inquisitive looks when I first visited 24 Carats. It was 10.30 am and I thought I would drop in for a quick breakfast and coffee. The waiter ushered me in, pointed to the table, politely drew my chair and asked me if someone were to join me. When I said, "No," he looked confused. I asked him for a menu. He suggested, that I should wait out for the lunch buffet. I declined saying lunch was waiting for me at home. I ordered a grilled chicken masala sandwich and a glass of orange juice. The only other diner at a restaurant was a Taiwanese businessman. The waiter left me alone, chatting me up only when he brought food to the table. In a crowded city, I had finally found space. I felt liberated. As for the sandwich, it's the best I'd ever had.

Since then, I've been to the restaurant several times, with friends, with my husband and relatives. It's one of the few places in Baroda where you can just relax and not worry about time deadlines. I really like the hotel staff there, especially Derek who has been around for decades. And as a bonus, its chicken wanton noodle soup and chicken tangdi lazeez are simply awesome and have become my remedy for a cold.

Churchgate, Mumbai

A story on teas had first brought me to Tea Centre. Those who know me know that I don't like chai. I had never tasted tea till I had stepped into a Persian chai joint (Cafe Khushali) at Imambada in 2007. Persian tea is very different from Indian tea (at least in appearance) and I had liked it. The exotic tea trail had taken me to the Oxford Cha Bar, Churchgate where Elton and I had tried out Arabian and spiced teas. It was at Tea Centre where I had discovered Rose tea. It soon became my favourite and I would order it post-meals. It's a place where I could truly relax. I had once spent seven hours with a friend there without worrying about when the manager or waiter would come to throw us out. Space and time are luxuries in Mumbai. At Tea Centre, I found both.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

International Seminar on Buddhist Heritage, Gujarat

When I was asked if I would be able to do a book for the International Seminar on Buddhist Heritage, Gujarat hosted by the Government of Gujarat and The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, I really didn't have a good reason to say no. Even when they told me that I had just less than a fortnight to come up with the book, I thought it was pretty 'doable', especially because the coordinators thought the pages wouldn't exceed 40 at any cost. No 40 pages in 12 days is no big deal for a sub-editor.

Had I all the matter and a couple of designers to assist me, it would be done in a couple of days. But this was the university and the government I was dealing with. The matter on the university from the university took a week to come. I had just done three pages in that week's time when I got a mail on the morning of December 28 that the pages had increased to 75. Somehow, they didn't think it would require more hands and greater amount of hours. I had 72 pages to edit, design and compile by Jan 4.

The point is when you work in a newspaper office, you get used to the 'invisible assistants'. They come in the form of designers, people who extract and process images (jpg to tif), copy editors and a whole range of technicians. I wanted to use Quark because it's a great help for text-heavy magazine-style pages. What I did not know is that I would have to go through a whole range of processes to make pictures 'printable'. Processing images takes time. Unfortunately neither the government nor the university had much of a clue there. With help from a few friends, I got a few collages done only to get a mail from the university to 'replace just a couple of pics with others'. Damn! Replacing pics in a collage would mean doing the whole collage again.

Swearing and cribbing, I managed to get 69 pages done (sitting up in front of my 17-inch monitor from 9 am to 3 am everyday), hoping to leave some time for the cover design. The night before submission to the printer, I got a request to add two more pages. Damn again!

Luckily, we managed to put things together in the wake of 'incongruent circumstances' as the souvenir coordinator put it. This wouldn't have been possible without help from Karan, Deepanshu, Elton, Riddhi and Amisha, who put things together from different parts of the world. The souvenir coordinator was pleased and claimed he'd learned a lot about designing through this entire process (a good start!).

As for the book, it was released by Dalai Lama and Narendra Modi at the inauguration ceremony of the seminar. No, my name wasn't called out and I didn't rush to the stage. I was happy to watch Dalai Lama leaf through the pages of the book on stage, while I leafed through my own copy. This was my first attempt at editing and designing anything that resembles a magazine. Yes, there are loads of textual and design errors (the former because of the lack of time and the latter because of my ignorance) but am quite proud of the fact that I took this up as a challenge and went through with it. Go on, read it!

History of Buddhism in Gujarat