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?