Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A few random thoughts to end this year

1. When I try my hardest not to wince, I always do. I don't know if this happens to others too.
2. There are some things I could have done differently in 2008, but if I had, would I really be better off?
3. I rediscovered my love for games - Lego, Battleships etc. Does that mean I am regressing?
4. On hearing a plan, a friend commented that I am just running away. How do you know if you are running away from something known or running towards something unknown?
5. 2008 was not that great for me, but I still loved it for I learnt so much about myself. So if 2009 is great, will I not learn anything at all?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ten Things to Eat Before I Leave Cal

Now that I am back home, I have thought of lots of things I have to do (EAT), but keep forgetting some, and keep adding others. Some here’s my Checklist.

Bhindi Fry – Just plain fried ladyfingers, because all you get in Mumbai is horrible Bhindi Masala that has more tomatoes and onions than ladyfingers!

Dal – all types other than Kaali Dal will do – especially Chholar Dal and Matar Dal.

Fish Fry – from the Bekti fillets one can only get in Calcutta!

Mutton Chop – less potatoes on the outside, more meat on the inside.

Shaakher Jhhol & Shukto – Classic Bengali veggie fare – delicious & nutritious.

Hot Phulkas – Have it served hot and fluffy, and burn my fingers while having them… Worth it!

Gajar ka Halwa – What is winter without having hot Halwa?

Chicken Stew – Ill man’s fare one may say, but the only chicken dish I’m prepared to eat at home. Overdose of chicken in Mumbai.

Veggies – lots and lots of vegetables – preferably boiled/steamed – weird for a very non-vegetarian person like me to complete my Top 10 like this, but not many veggies in my Mumbai diet, and this realization stems from seeing that there were more veggies on my plate of Steak than I have in a week!

Hopefully will have to post another checklist soon!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

What am I font of?

Every time I want to post something, I get confused about what font to use. A preview generally helps about what may look good and readable. (This is Lucida Grande normal.)

But then, I publish it and see that the previous post is of a completely different font and probably looks better than what I just published. (This is Verdana normal.)

So, what better way to put this to rest than to actually writing something in different fonts. And this way I can use this post for future reference. (This is G
eorgia normal.)

I think I am inclined towards Georgia. There are two fonts I know I don't want to use - Times New Roman and Arial. Too normal and reminds me of office.

Even in office, I try and rebel and use Garamond, but there is no Garamond in the font drop-down menu here! (This is Trebuchet normal.)

Why am I so concerned about the fonts and their sizes? Shouldn't I concentrate on the content of this blog? Anyway, I don't know how many people read this, and I should actually try and improve my articles. (This is Courier normal - definitely not using this - reminds me of old typewriters!)

But sometimes I go to other blogs, and though the posts are really good, the readability is somewhat lacking. Nothing more irking than a font that is too small or just does not "do it for me". I know that sounds weird, but aesthetics do matter. (This must be irritating to whoever is reading this, but this is Webdings normal.)

I think I have my winner. So, the last but one thing I have to do is check what size to use - smallest, small, normal, large, largest.

So what is the last thing I have to do? Check how Georgia looks in Bold and Italics!

Now all I have to do is publish this and change my mind...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Why do sweets taste better during festivals?

The festive season in most countries is Christmas or Easter; in some, it is Ramzan; in India, something is on all the year around. But for a Bengali, there is nothing to beat Durga Puja. And somehow, the same street food tastes so much better in these 4-5 days.
Id just got over, and the main days of the Durga Puja are just around the corner. It'll be interesting to see what Mumbai has to offer in terms of the festivities, the idols, the decorations, and most importantly, the food!

What I tried out recently is the Md.Ali Road area (Menara Masjid) during Ramzan - it was awesome! A colleague took me there on the first evening of Ramzan, and we had to go there again - and so we did on the last day (at least that's what we hoped at that point of time, but unfortunately, we landed up in office the next day).
It seemed a bit empty the first time we went there. There were very few food stalls and we actually had space to walk through the streets. We started with some excellent Phirni (both the plain and the Kesar) and some very fresh Kalakand, moved on to the non-veg and then finished the evening with the Phirni again. The best part of that evening for me was the Kalakand, freshly made and milky, just melting in the mouth!
The second time we went there, the place was definitely more crowded, but we loved it as there were more food stalls now and more options. Obviously we had to start with the Phirni again. Tasted some Kalakand, but because they were probably prepared much earlier and in more quantity, it just didn't taste the same. Tried some Tandoori Chicken which was good, but the Bhuna Gosht (we had that on the first evening too) was delicious! An interesting thing we tried and enjoyed was Halwa-Puri, but the Puris were made with Maida (refined white flour), and Bengalis don't really mind that!
What I didn't like - the standard sweets like Jalebis and Ras Malai. What I didn't try though I wanted to - Malpuas the size of 16" pizzas, and Chiku Phirni!
What I'd recommend - Go to the Menara Masjid area next year during Ramzan in the evening and try out the food (especially Phirni and Bhuna Gosht)!

While leaving, we passed the sweet shop and stopped for another round of Phirni, knowing that we would have to wait for next year for it to taste the same.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bhelcome Bandra

No, this post is not about having Bhel in Bandra, but the two new places in Bandra (not counting the home deliveries) that have not disappointed at all. But apart from my liking the food, there is very little the two places have in common.

Bembo’s is a Burger place on S.V.Road, more towards Khar, which is a South American chain apparently. Now I don’t know how South Americans make their burgers, but these guys are pretty good. Though I have a lot of McBurgers of various kinds, I stopped liking the place after they discontinued their mutton burgers and the Maharaja Mac became a Chicken Maharaja Mac! Wimpy’s is one place that does have a lamb burger, but the one that opened at Churchgate is very disappointing. The buns are drier than the Pav used in Vada-Pav, and unlike the one at CP in Delhi, these guys don’t put gherkins in their burgers!
Back to Bembo’s. What I have had and what I also recommend is the Argentinean Mutton Burger. The mutton patty is properly grilled and there is a greenish sauce that makes this burger very different. The sauce dispensers also have a Mayo option (I don’t understand why McD doesn’t do that as well). Though the food takes more time than the usual fast food joint, the mutton patties being freshly grilled are juicier and tastier than the standard fast-food fare. The outside seating area is a problem – when it’s not raining, there are lots of flies, and when it’s raining, the employees are more concerned about the fancy retractable tarpaulin type cover than the customers.

The second place is not so fancy, slightly shady according to some, but having an excellent location – I don’t know what the crossing is called, as Lucky is a famous landmark by itself – immediately when one enters Bandra (W) from Mahim on S.V.Road, the first major crossing with the station towards the right and Hill Road towards the left, there is a white building on the left – that’s Lucky Hotel, and beside it is the Restaurant.
The best biryani I have had in Mumbai till now. Most of the places, especially the home delivery options, keep the layers of the biryani intact, and if one has to mix the rice and the curry-ish bit on their own, why not serve it separately?!
At Lucky, they mix it up, at least before serving. Also, the curry-ish bit in biryani is not meant to be a curry, and by mixing it up, one can’t really make that out. The best bit about the biryani here, and perhaps the most neglected by most small eateries, is the quality of the rice and the mutton – I can’t emphasise how much of a difference it makes!
Try the Mutton Dum Biryani and the Phirni. (I’ll suggest the best Phirni I have had in Mumbai later because this post is about Bandra, and that place is not in Bandra.)

(Note to self: 1. There should be some sort of a signature sign-off line, so that I don’t have to write notes to self anymore. 2. I should concentrate on the food bit – the location description sucks!)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Alvida Andheri(e)

Shifted from one Mumbai suburb (Andheri) to another (Bandra).
Andheri (East) wasn't exactly a foodie heaven. The daily fare was generally restricted to two places close to home - Sai Krishna for vegetarian and Sai Punjab for non-vegetarian. There was a Chindian (Chinese food Indian style) shack that I did try with Bhonpu, but not really thanking him for that.
Pepperoni pizzas from Domino's were something we could always fall back upon; a Kebab Corner that was thankfully much better than the Sai restaurants; Pop Tate's for a drink and a steak; a Subway sandwich once in the entire year; and an occasional "family restaurant & bar" - all put together did not go a long way in helping me achieving my target of 150 eateries by June (as I had written here in April)!

Now that I am in Bandra, and armed with the new food guide, I have more places to explore, albeit very expensive ones! But how can I leave Andheri (East) without mentioning my recommendation - Maharaja!
Maharaja is located at the crossing of the Western-Express Highway and Andheri-Kurla Road, and looks like one of the shady restaurant-bars that serve a very different sort of exotic fare after nightfall. But the food is fantastic! Coastal cuisine with appams, neer dosas and lightly spiced curries, and good service, make up for the location, decor and everything else that goes into a restaurant's rating.
Looks are really deceiving, and I would suggest that you try it out before the Mumbai Metro construction blocks it from not-so-observant eyes.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sex 'n Chocolate

Saw an ad for the new Kit Kat Chunky. Won’t comment on the quality of the ad, impact etc. but writing just to make this comment: this ad brings sex back to chocolate.
The ad shows a guy and a girl sitting on a railway station bench. The guy opens a Kit Kat Chunky explaining how these “beauties” mix the cocoa and the hazelnuts (with the accompanying visuals, of course!). The girl dismisses this claim and takes the chocolate from him, and while biting it, tells him that it is the cowboys who do all the work!
I am just happy that Kit Kat is trying to appeal to its customers through such visuals. Try as we Indians may, there is a limit to which one can associate chocolate with family, festivals and kuchh meetha ho jaaye!

Chocolates seemingly have a simple connection with romance – they make wonderful gifts. But there is enough literature on chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities starting from the Aztecs or Mayans to modern day surveys on how eating more chocolate improves sex life.
There are quite a few jokes on this as well – “Top 10 reasons why chocolate is better than sex?” One of the best and probably the most common reason in any top ten would be “you can get chocolate”. There are numerous others, and I’m sure Kit Kat is asking for its own share of innuendos with their brand Chunky!

Whatever it is about chocolate that attracts so much attention, we will probably never know; but there is one thing I must say: a good chocolate can definitely be described in one word – Orgasmic!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Two Porky!

El Cerdo (October 2007)
Spanish for “The Pig”, this restaurant is a pork-lover’s dream come true. KL does not have too many places that serve pork; so El Cerdo is truly the oasis in this desert.
The moment you enter you are greeted with a sound that is not often associated with the dining area of a good eatery – breaking plates! The focus of the restaurant also comes out in its décor – pictures of pigs dotting the walls, which we then proceeded to name after famous pigs like Babe, Porky et al.
We had ordered for a proper meal, and everything that came in had a porky touch. The starters were very good, and though it’s been almost a year since I ate there, I can still taste the thin slices of pork salami with honey melon. I quite like the idea of different types of tastes mingling together. It can be disastrous if not done properly, but some combinations of sweet and savoury just gel very well, and this was probably the best I have had.
Among the other dishes, there was Paella, a Spanish rice dish, that a Phillippino friend said was just the way her grandmom made it. There was considerable Spanish influence in the Philippines and so we took her word for its authenticity. Even if it wasn’t authentic paella, it was still delicious!
The highlight of the evening was the small roast pig. Now some might find the thought of a whole animal from head to tail a bit revolting, and even I must admit that it is not my favourite food sight in the world, but if one can be comfortable eating an animal by just removing the head and the tail, that is surely a case of conflicting standards.
Anyway, the roast pig was unlike the ones I had seen in photographs. It was not stuffed and resembling a pig in anyway. It was small and flat and
missing its head from what I remember of it. Then the proprietor came in and explained the philosophy of the restaurant and that they believe that the pork they cook is so soft that we can cut it with a plate. We were then handed plates, and given the owner’s confidence about their quality, it wasn’t surprising when we could actually chop through the flesh. Before we proceeded to reduce the pig into smaller pieces, the waiters took it away so that they could cut it properly and serve us.
The mystery of the sound of the breaking plates was solved when we were asked to break the plates with which we cut the pig because it is considered good luck. Obviously we did not smash it against the walls, but just threw it in a wooden tub. Though it had nothing to do with the food, it was a big contributor to my fantastic El Cerdo experience.

My Food Rating: 8.5/10

Ka Ka Bakut Teh (July 2008)
Given my love for pork, my friends decided that I should definitely sample one of the Chinese specialties available in Malaysia. El Cerdo is excellent but a bit expensive; and my earlier street food experience had convinced them that I was ready for Bakut Teh. The place we went to was Ka Ka Bakut Teh in Kepong, about 45 minutes from downtown KL by road. It started off as a small shack, but acquired a larger area in the past year. It is one of those eateries that opens in the evening and continues through the night.
Bakut Teh means Pork Tea Soup, and is pork pieces cooked in a herbal tea infusion with vegetables added later. The end result is this very tasty soup that should replace chicken soup as the ultimate flu remedy.
The first thing we were served was fried pieces of dough that we could dip in oil, and then the soup. It can also be had with rice, and adding duck soy sauce to the soup makes it a killer combination!
We also had some fried tofu that one of us thankfully dumped into the soup.
The other thing that we ordered was yellow chicken. It was chicken cooked with alcohol, and something like the drunken chicken we can get in some of the better Chinese restaurants in India.
The two enormous bowls took us a lot of time. We even took a break so that we could take another serving of rice, and yet 5 people could not finish everything.
A truly satisfying experience that I would recommend every foodie should experience when in Malaysia.

My Food Rating: 9.5/10

My almost perfect breakfast

A bowl of Museli with fresh milk
Warm croissants
Ham & cheese omlette
Fresh Watermelon juice

What could make it better?
Bacon & fried eggs!

(Alternative title: Last meal at The Imperial, KL.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Indian food in a foreign land

Indian food outside India was probably never a rarity, even lesser so today. Indian restaurants have sprung up all around the world, firstly catering to the expatriate population, and also to other nationalities who want a taste of Indian cuisine. A friend mentioned over dinner today that there are no Indian restaurants in Sweden but there are quite a few Indians there. Struck me as weird and prompted me to google it up. Found an interesting site that lets you search for Indian restaurants in other parts of the world –

Now, for most foreigners, there are some ground rules about Indian food
1. It is hot, spicy and oily.
2. Most of the fare is vegetarian, since most Indians are vegetarian.
3. Anything with a sense of gravy is a curry.
4. The only non-vegetarian food is Chicken Tikka Masala.
It is probably hard to appreciate the fact that India is a big country with many different languages, cultures and ergo, cuisines. Surprisingly, there are many misconceptions about different Indian cuisines among Indians themselves. Some of my favourites – 1. Punjabi food is all about garam masala (sometimes I tend to be convinced it’s true!)
2.South Indian food consists of 6 items - idli, vada, sambar, dosa, utappam, upma. There is no non-vegetarian food in South India.
3. Bengalis eat only fish. (I am a Bengali, so this disturbs me the most. There is a fantastic range of vegetarian dishes like shukto, shaakher jhol, mocha (not to be confused with the mocha in café mocha, alu posto…you know I could go on, but just sufficing with listing a few I like.)

In spite of so many Indian restaurants, most of us have problems eating abroad. I know of friends who have survived Europe tours on Fish’n’Chips. Colleagues who are here with me in Malaysia are mostly vegetarian, and find a hard time getting good food. The hotel fortunately provides some Indian fare including a very interesting capati. There are quite a few Indian restaurants in KL and that is obviously their refuge.
I, on the other hand, am a NON-vegetarian, and have no trouble with the wide assortment of meats available. Hence, I do not have to necessarily frequent the Srirekhas of KL. In fact, I have had Indian food just 3 times in the 11 weeks I have been here!

The other, and probably the major reason, that I do not eat Indian food here is that I find too oily and not tasty at all. What’s the point of stuffing myself with something that will probably make me crave for Indian food more instead of satisfying me?

The third time was today at Bombay Palace. It was the standard dal makhani, chicken makhani type something, tandoori gobi, paneer… The starters were good, but nothing exceptional that will make me go back there again. And it wasn’t cheap! Not my usual VFM place (there was one I went to a few days ago, but it was Chinese, and deserves a special mention separately).

Not much time left here in KL, and I think I’d better use it to sample some other cuisines before returning to my food in my land.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happiness in small pieces of pineapple

One of the highlights this time in Kuala Lumpur has been a Chinese dinner on the streets. Jalan Alor is the place in downtown KL where there are street hawkers and small food outlets that serve food literally on the street. Small tables and chairs spread on the pavement and covering parts of the road make me a bit homesick; they remind me of my birthplace Kolkata and my campus life in Delhi.

I will not talk about hygiene as I have rarely taken ill after eating street-food. Street vendors seem to have an uncanny ability to assess demand and manage inventory; a skill that cannot be taught at Business Schools!

Went with a Malaysian friend, so it helped with the ordering of the food. When the food started arriving, we realized only God could help us. The servings were excellent and we had everything from oysters to pork.

Pork is one of my favourite meats, and the one I miss the most in Malaysia (the hotel serves Beef Bacon, but that deserves a post on its own!). The street vendors however cater to different populations, including the Chinese, and hence have no qualms about serving pork. So I had to go eat here.

What was on the menu? Shredded beef. Oyster omlettes. Pork sweet and sour. Calamari. Clams. Noodles, rice and vegetables.
The shredded beef was good, not great. The oyster omlettes were very good and very unique (for me).
But my favourite dish was the Pork Sweet & Sour. The taste surprisingly was just like the sweet and sour my Mom makes at home. At least what I remember of it. The most surprising bit, rather bits, were the pineapple pieces because I don't know of many people except my family who add pineapple to this dish; and I was very happy that this vendor did.

Reminiscent of childhood days now and amazed at how small pieces of pineapple can make me so happy.

Trigger Happy Me

Shooting someone in the head can be exhilarating. Hiding behind sandbags and popping a few shots, trying to draw out the enemy, providing cover to mates so that they can advance – everything builds up a fantastic rush that is hard to describe. Of course, the feeling would be very different had I been carrying real guns and facing real bullets.

Yesterday, I went to play paintball with paintball guns that are not called guns, but markers, as they are not weapons, and the bullets are actually paint pellets. Though I had seen paintball earlier in Gurgaon, this was the first time I was playing full games with a large group.

The Mudtrekker camp is in Sungai Boloh, an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur. The place had different courses, and we started off with a game in a bigger forested course. There were some sandbags that provided good cover, but the trees were obviously no good. Survived the first game easily and we won, but the next game turned out to be tougher. The only cover I had was a corrugated metal sheet that did not let me see the enemy easily. After some random shots, I saw one of the other team diagonally towards my left. He was engaged with two of my team members on the left flank, and I had a reasonable sight of him. I fired a couple of shots, missed, and unfortunately gave my position away. I had no cover on the left, and though I crouched and hid as much as possible, I got hit on my leg.

The problem with paintballs compared to conventional gunfire is that the pellets are fired with the help of compressed CO2. The pressure is enough to take the pellet in a straight line till some distance, but then the trajectory changes and the pellet swings and dips. The wind can also play spoilsport, and there is always a faulty barrel one can blame. But after a while, one gets used to the marker, and can adjust their aim accordingly.

We played the third game again in the forest. This time I again had the cover of the sandbags. I took cover, moved up a bit to fire properly, and splat! Someone got me on my mask near the mouth. So the paint splattered in and all I could think of is how bitter it tasted. Got to see the first casualty of friendly fire from the sidelines.

Anyway, this was my shortest game of the day, as we changed courses, and went to play on an urban obstacle course with a car thrown in for show. The game this time was “capture the flag”; more like plant the flag and hope it stays there. Each time had to move toward the centre of the course and plant their flag and make its stay there for one minute. Obviously there was no cover there. A shorter course and given that we were only 13, this was much better, and the games were more fun.

I got shot only one more time out of the four games we played – that too on the chin by a dipping paintball – and ran out of ammo once.
The best part of the day for me was when I saw an Indian friend on the other team trying to advance and changing position. He took cover behind some drums that was a good position. I kept some pressure on him by firing a few shots and stopped. He popped out his head to take a look, and bang! Headshot! Game over! (for him at least)

The paintballs really sting on impact, and leave some very nice war-marks on the players. However, I have only one bruise to show for my four hours of fun. Had a very good experience and hope to play more of it when I get back to India.
Caution for other people wanting to try out paintball: You’ll have to get your clothes dirty if you want to play well, and the enemy in the forest is much friendlier than the mosquitoes there!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Philosophy and physics

I keep wondering what Einstein was really talking about when he came up with the theory of Relativity. Something very deep about the concept.
Now I have started wondering whether Newton was being a bit of a philosopher too when he compiled the Laws of Motion.
Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus a viribus impressis cogitur statum illum mutare. (Translation: Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.)
Simply put, a body at rest tends to be at rest. The famous first law or the law of inertia.
Here in Malaysia, I feel exactly the same way. With nothing much to do, I tend to do pretty much nothing.
The problem is who or what will compel me to change this state of rest?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Malt may be Single, but can easily flirt with many Kababs

The last time I tried to get inside, I was with MSMG and another friend known for his brilliant puns, so I’ll call him Punny. Punny, MSMG and I decided to try a new place, and landed up at Barbeque Nation. We tried calling up and reserving a table, but were told over the phone that they do not take reservations between 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm. On reaching there, we were asked if we have a reservation! We obviously did not, and were then told that there would be a waiting of 30 minutes. By the time we decided that we might stick around (less than 30 seconds), the waiting time increased to 45 minutes minimum! That is when we decided to have Kabab Rolls outside Shoppers’ Stop.

In my last post, I was cribbing about the rate of experimentation going down, and attributed some of it to Blackbird. Blackbird returned from Pune on Sunday evening, and fortunately did not come home. He called to ask if we were eating out, and actually suggested that we go to Barbeque Nation! (It was easier for him to reach Bandra than come home to Andheri, and I think he was hungry.) Well, he reached Bandra early, and waited at the restaurant (he was told to wait for half an hour). When MSMG and I reached, the table was ready, and I did not have to wait at all (Yay!).

Now that everyone has been subjected to a really long introduction, I’ll get down to the real thing – the food, the drinks, and the review.

There was no a la carte menu for the food. A buffet spread and a list of kababs (I don’t know why they spell it as kebabs; must find that out) lay before us. The waiters handed us the drinks’ menu, and asked us whether we are vegetarian or not, before proceeding to remove a wooden cover from the centre of the table. A live grill was placed in this hollow, and while we waited for the kababs, another waiter took our order for the drinks.

The variety of alcohol on offer was outstanding. The best of everything - Single Malt Whisky, blended Scotch (including Blue Label), a wide range of flavoured Vodkas (both Absolut and Smirnoff), the premium Vodkas (all three that I would personally stock – Ciroc, Grey Goose, Belvedere) – I could go on, but that would be akin to pasting their menu here. I am not much of a wine guy, so I didn’t notice it, but they did have a good Cognac or two as well.
I tried a Single Malt that I had heard a lot about, but never seen in even the best shops, never been able to procure one from a bootlegger, not seen it in numerous duty-free shops of two International airports, and definitely not in the Mumbai bars and pubs I’ve been to. At 350 Rupees for 30 ml, Talisker is not cheap, but it was “as smooth as a baby’s bottom” (Sidhu, Navjot S., circa sometime in the early 2000s).
Blackbird stuck to a conventional blended Scotch, but a very good one – Chivas Regal 12 y.o. MSMG was a bit confused, and at my suggestion, tried an Absolut Peppar. He called up another friend famous for his alcoholic sprees (call him 9T), and 9T suggested a fantastic combination of Absolut Pepper, tomato juice, and fresh lime.

Meanwhile, the kababs had started coming. The first one to make an entrance was a Vegetarian skewer with Capsicum, tomatoes,… wait! Did we say we were Vegetarian? No! We promptly asked them to bring on the real stuff, and they did – chicken, mutton, fish and prawns. They kept on bringing the kababs till we realized we were full, and hadn’t even seen the buffet spread!
The kababs were quite outstanding; not chewy like some pre-cooked stuff tends to get if they are lying around for a long time. They even had a variety of sauces kept on the side with basting brushes to apply them to the kababs on the grill. But the kababs were succulent, well-marinated and did not need any add-on. (MSMG did remind us, albeit after we had left, that we could have ordered for some roomali rotis, as they also offered a choice of Indian breads.)
I was amazed that they were bringing kababs whenever they saw some empty skewers, without us having to ask for repeats. The fish was excellent – I don’t particularly like the fish in Mumbai; being a Bong from Calcutta, I’m a bit partial to Calcutta Beckty (it’s pronounced bhetki in Bengali). And MSMG and I must have had 25 prawns between us! There was also a Mutton Malai Kabab, very similar to my favourite Kakori Kabab that was so soft that it just melted in my mouth.

The buffet spread is something I really cannot comment about much. I tried only three items – Mutton Biryani, Chicken in a butter and tomato-onion-based gravy (not the usual Butter Masala), and the Raita – and all three very above par.

Blackbird did not even attempt the main courses and directly attacked the desserts, and Blackbird being Blackbird took a liking to, yes that’s right, the chocolateiest (I wrote “most chocolatey” to which Spell-check suggested “chocolateiest”, and while I add this comment, it shows the red curly line underneath!) thing available. I must admit that the chocolate cake, or whatever it was, was really good. Blackbird also later admitted to have liked the Fruit Custard (I think he’s going a bit soft around the edges)!
I don’t remember the names of the other desserts, but I did not try the Gulab Jamuns. I did go for the Phirni (I love the one at Kareem’s Delhi), and it did not disappoint at all.

The ambience is good, and the ACs have to work really hard because of the grills on each table. The place is surprisingly not stuffy or hot. The décor is simple and pleasant, but with the live grill in front, one is really not looking at much else.

Is it VFM (Value For Money)? At 500 plus taxes and unlimited kababs, you bet it is! This obviously does not include the Talisker, but even the alcohol isn’t that expensive compared to a pub like Sports Bar.

Ultimate test for a Restaurant from a Reviewer’s perspective: "Will I go there again?" – MOST DEFINTELY YES!

All-in-all Rating: 8.5 / 10

Restaurant details
Barbeque Nation
Dr. Ambedkar Road Junction
Pali Hill, Khar West, Mumbai

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Death of a Community, the Revival of a Passion

I am one of those self-proclaimed foodies who think they know everything about food and drink. I won’t say I know everything because that is when one stops experimenting and that is the death of a foodie.

During the 2 months of internship (April – June ’06), I visited more than 50 different eating places, expensive, 4D (dark, dingy dirt-cheap and delicious), the usual (McDonalds, Barista etc.) and the unique (Laddoos and Sabudana Vada near Dadar Station, Pav Bhaji on Juhu Beach,…).
A few fellow foodies on campus decided that we should continue trying new places when we start working in Mumbai, and that started me on the idea of “The Sunday Brunch Club”, or TSBC. TSBC would be a forum for us to explore new places every weekend, and even if we were not able to meet up, keep everyone in the group posted on which new place we have tried and what is recommended. I even designed a poster and started a community on Orkut.
Unfortunately, the community, like many others on such social networking sites, did not get going. The last post by a flat-mate (call him MSMG), one of the 5 community members, reads – “Wakey wakey Junta! The club is sleeping!!! A Rip Van Winkle nap now!!! Kuch karon saalon!!” By the way, this is the only post! (Note to self: Ask MSMG what prompted him to visit this page 15 days ago?)

Fortunately, we have been quite active. Some of the original members meet regularly (3 share one flat!), and with the addition of a few more friends, we have eaten out at quite a few new places in Mumbai. The Orkut community is dead, but the club is still alive.

What stands in our way of really exploring places all around Mumbai –
1. Lethargy on weekends – I travel from Andheri to Churchgate everyday for work, and am not in the mood for much travel on weekends. So, south Mumbai is sort of out-of-bounds.
2. An hour long wait at a popular restaurant might be a signal for how good it is, but it just does not suit me. It could also mean that the service is inefficient that day, and that would mean more waiting time. I walked away from a supposedly good restaurant in Bandra last weekend, and satiated myself with Kabab Rolls on the roadside outside the Bandra Shoppers’ Stop.
3. Connected to Point 2 – the places we frequent now know us, and will make place for us very quickly. By “places”, I mean Toto’s Garage Pub at Pali Naka, Bandra (W)! We are the definition of “regulars”, and now the waiters don’t even have to ask for our orders – they just get the drinks!
4. My other flat-mate (let’s call him Blackbird) appreciates food, but I won’t call him a foodie. He does not like any cake or ice-cream that is not all-chocolate. I don’t see a reason for his lethargy since he works a kilometre away, and yet he is too lazy to move beyond Sai Krishna (the Veggie place next door), and he will order the same thing everytime – Medu Wada! (Medu Wada is a South Indian fried snack that looks like a Do(ugh)nut.) If people were to start resembling the food they like, Blackbird would look like one big Chocolate covered Medu Wada, and that would be a big improvement!

My current count is past 110 now. The rate of trying new stuff has gone down, but I intend to reach 150 by mid-June.
I tried out a new restaurant today with MSMG (Blackbird is in Pune!) on Andheri-Kurla Road near the Western Express Highway. It is one of those shady places that says “Family Restaurant & Bar” outside, but rarely visited by families. Tried Boneless chicken with spinach stuffed in an omlette in a tomato gravy. Sounds complicated, but was pretty good. The name of the place is L.P. (Laxmi Palace) Family Restaurant & Bar, and though the chicken was good, I wouldn’t really recommend it on the basis of one “pretty good” dish. (2 stars out of 5)

Now I know how to increase my count quickly – try all these supposedly shady restaurants around Andheri-Kurla Road and MIDC. As for TSBC, we shall continue, but like all Orkut communities, all social networking sites, and all internet and tech-fads, the TSBC community will also fade away.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A train in the rain

My second tryst was during my Summer Internship in 2006. I was staying with some friends in Ghatkopar, and we all were working in Fort. So everyday we went on the Central Lines from Ghatkopar to V.T. (Ok yaar, C.S.T.!!!)
In the interval of 6 years, I had experienced 3 years of public buses, Mini Buses and the Metro in Calcutta, and 3 years of DTC in Delhi. So, I was quite cocky about this new experience – what can Mumbai locals do to a DTC-survived Dilliwallah? Well, it was an experience, but still not as bad as the horror stories I had heard.

Then one day it started raining… people still had 26th July 2005 (the day Mumbai received a record 942 mm of rain) fresh in their minds and started panicking. This was the first few days of June and the Monsoons were still a couple of days away. At worst, it would be a heavier than usual pre-monsoon shower. But everyone panicked and started leaving early. To complicate issues, some official came on TV and asked people not to panic and leave for their homes asap! That was sure to settle our nerves!
On the insistence of a fellow intern who was from Mumbai, we left early. There were three of us – two going to Ghatkopar (S and me), and one to Dombivali (B). It looked like someone had left a great big shower on, and the water kept pouring. We tried getting a Taxi from near the Fountain to VT, but to no avail. Anyway, by this time we were soaked, so it didn’t really matter. B, the Mumbaikar was prepared and had his umbrella, but even that didn’t help much. S and I decided to get to a cigarette, and we tried smoking on the way. It felt good to smoke while getting drenched, but such pleasures are short-lived. The cigarette also gave in to the unrelenting rain, and though it was still lit, it was impossible to smoke because it was so soaked.

We stopped on the way at a roadside stall which gave temporary shelter under its tarpaulin. Ate some bhajia, and then reached the station. What we saw outside startled us – a traffic jam that made Calcutta jams look like smooth flowing jellies. Cars were not moving – some because they couldn’t (stuck behind another car) and some because they just wouldn’t (their engines giving up halfway just like my cigarette)!

We entered VT to find a huge mass of people just waiting. An announcement informed us that the line after Kurla is temporarily down due to a lightning strike. And we also waited! After some time, S said we should take a taxi to Ghatkopar. I reasoned that it will take ages and who knows where the car would break down, leaving us stranded in the middle of nowhere. We were definitely better off here. At least we could go back to office and stay there. We decided to venture outside again and go to some place where we could sit for some time. B had a long way to go, and he wanted to wait and take the first train going to Dombivili. S and I wished him luck, and walked back towards office. We stopped at Suvidha where we were joined by A (it was his place at Ghatkopar we were staying). After having our Masala Dosas, we went back to VT.
By this time, some of the services had resumed, and we got onto a jam-packed train (“Sardines in a tin-can” would be an understatement!). A weird coincidence was that B also got into the same compartment.
The train was finally on its way, stopping at every station, and though we thought there was no space, some people managed to get on without anyone getting off the train.

Near Dadar, one person wanted to get down, and was trying desperately to find his way through. He got stuck a few feet from the exit. On asking the guy standing at the exit to give way, the guy refused. He said, “You’ll have to punch me if you want me to give way”. On further coaxing, he explained, “if I have to give way, I’ll have to temporarily get down, and then with so many people wanting to get on, I may not be able to get on again”. A seemingly irrational statement backed by some very good reasoning.

S, A and I were having a tough time, but B was having a ball. Whenever the train stopped, and someone outside asked if there is space, he would shout, “Lots of space, buddy. 4-5 people can easily fit. Come on in”.

After Dadar passed, we tried to make our way to other side of the coach. We were standing near the exit on the right-hand side, but our platform would come on the left. A was near the middle, so he was able to make some progress, but S and I got stuck. At Kurla, we decided to get off one station before Ghatkopar (Vidyavihar), where the platform comes on the right. We shouted out to A that we’ll meet him back home, and got off quite easily. There were not many people trying to get in, so we didn’t have to punch the unreasonable guy at the exit.

Standing at the station, I looked back at the train. People everywhere like ants crawling over a dead insect – sitting on the top, between the gaps of two coaches, and even hanging on to the window grills outside!
I know I can never do that, and that should have put me off from traveling on Mumbai locals, but here I am back in Mumbai again and back to some more of such exciting and harrowing experiences!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

My first time

My first experience of traveling by a train in Mumbai was very pleasant. I had just finished taking my Class 10 Board Exams and was accompanying my father on a business trip. We were staying in a guest-house on Malabar Hill (Fantastic place and whattay view! The view deserves its own post here!) and we were going to visit a relative somewhere near Juhu. It was Ambedkar Jayanti; the reason why we were not visiting our clients on a business trip, and also the reason why the trains were empty!

We took tickets for First Class from Churchgate to Andheri, and easily got seats. Coming from Calcutta, I thought why do people make such a big deal of Mumbai locals? I had traveled in some really crowded buses in Cal, and I was yet to see something more crowded than that.

Another thing I noticed was a middle-aged couple sitting near us. They were both dressed in white, and the woman, apart from having very intricate chikan work on her kurta was wearing seemingly very expensive jewellery. The jewellery may have been imitation, but I had never seen such well dressed people take public transport in Cal!

Nothing very exciting, but that’s all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

This Blog gets CPR

And I make another attempt at reviving this blog. Like the previous times, this time too I may start off and vanish again. But now, it seems like I have a lot to write about.
The blog, though still suffering from the identity crisis, will have some specific topics that I’ll write about. I thought about starting separate blogs dedicated to these, but let me just get this one going!

The first thing I will write about is about my travails on the Mumbai local train. I take the Suburban train (local version: Local) from Andheri to Churchgate everyday. The next few weeks, I hope to pen down all my thoughts and some of the interesting experiences I have had on my daily trips up and down. After that, whenever I have something to write about, I’ll try and do it the same day.
I will also write about Mumbai, link up with previous experiences in other cities, blah blah…

Food is one of my few passions. I have eaten out at over a 100 places in Mumbai, and though I like to go to new places every now and then, I now have a few favourites. So, a few articles once in a while would be on food and drink.

I have also bought a lot of books over the past few months and now that I have some time, I have a lot of reading to do. Book reviews and my thoughts while reading will get their due in the future posts.

Work however will not figure in this. I don’t think my writing ability is going to attract a fan-base of any sorts, but I do not wish to shoo away the few readers with posts about work.

Now, breathe…