Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Baked v/s fried wafers. Is either healthier?

Everybody loves potato chips or potato crisps or wafers [as we call them in India]. Not many people know how they came to be invented. It’s an interesting story.

In the summer of 1853, Native American George Crum was employed as a chef at an elegant resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. One dinner guest found Crum's French fries too thick for his liking and rejected the order. Crum decided to rile the guest by producing fries too thin and crisp to skewer with a fork. The plan backfired. The guest was ecstatic over the browned, paper-thin potatoes, and other diners began requesting Crum's potato chips.

Thus, was born the wafer as we know it today. It’s a great snack, kids love it, adults love it, eating a bowl of wafers with a cold beer is one of life’s simpler pleasures for me.

The fact that wafers are delicious, addictive and universally loved and eaten is borne out by the announcement by PepsiCo just a few days ago. PepsiCo’s global potato chip portfolio has grown to more than $10 billion in annual retail sales in 2011. This was anchored by Lay's, the world's largest food brand and the No. 1 potato chip brand globally. Wafers are sold by PepsiCo in a variety of local flavours. The current best-sellers included Lay's Magic Masala in India, Lay's Red Caviar in Russia, Lay's Numb & Spicy Hot Pot in China. This, as I have said, is just PepsiCo’s market. There are countless other manufacturers. Suffice to say, it’s a huge market for simple fried potato. 

Lays Classic - Fried wafers

According to many, wafers make you fat. In fact, they say everything fried is bad as it makes you fat and clogs your arteries. How truly horrible that is. Who wants to be fat, we all want to be slim and sexy. So, to meet this demand, our wafer manufacturers developed a brand new product, “baked wafers”. Now you can eat to your heart’s content and not get fat. Life is wonderful again.

Needless to say, PepsiCo has launched baked wafers in India. To help sell these baked wafers they have an advertising campaign. It has good looking slim 20 something models literally devouring, as in stuffing their faces,  these delicious baked wafers. Have a look at the commercial if you have not seen it. The new wafers have 50% less fat. Interesting, I thought, and went out to buy a packet of both Lays Classic [the horrible fried stuff] in `American Style Cream & Onion’ flavour and the new Lays Baked in `Cream, Herb & Onion’ flavour with 50% less fat than fried wafers, which, apparently, I could eat to gay abandon.

The new baked wafers

Here is what I found.

The packet of Lays Classic has a miserly 60 grams of wafers and costs Rs 20/-. If my mathematics is correct this means that a kilo of wafers should cost you a staggering Rs. 333/-. Be that as it may. That is not the point I wish to make. A quick glance of the ingredients reveals basically 3 ingredients, potato, oil and flavours such as salt sugar and condiments. As you know, ingredients have to be listed in descending order of quantity so the biggest quantity is listed first and the smallest quantity last. So Lays Classic primarily has potato and oil. Nothing wrong with this. What more could you expect from a potato wafer?

Ingredients in fried wafers

Price of fried wafers

The packet of Lays baked weighs in at a slightly more substantial 67 grams and costs Rs. 30/- . Once again, if my mathematics is correct this means that a kilo of wafers should cost you an eye popping Rs. 447/-. The ingredients are indeed strange. Baked potato wafers contain, from highest to lowest, 47% potato flakes, then wheat flour, then starch then oil and lastly all the flavourings and condiments. Potato wafers and wheat flour? Are you eating a wafer or a chapatti? Is this really what you wanted to buy? No fresh potato in baked potato wafers, no sir, just some choice dry potato flakes mixed with wheat flour, sounds delicious? Not to me!

Ingredients of baked wafers

Price of baked wafers

Now the most interesting part. How much healthier is a baked wafer than a fried wafer.  To determine this you need to understand a couple of concepts. Calories are what give us energy. Therefore, if you eat more calories than you expend, you put on weight. Calories are found in fat, in protein and in carbohydrates. They may be many more calories in a given quantity of fat as opposed to a comparable quantity of carbohydrates. So, if you want to lose weight you need to expend more calories than you ingest. However, saying that baked wafers have 50% less fat than fried wafers and thereby implying or suggesting that eating baked wafers is somehow at least twice as healthy is less unhealthy or is a huge leap of faith. This kind of statement, though technically correct, is, according to me, grossly misleading.

Do have a careful look at the nutrition information. 100 grams of fried wafers contain 549 calories and 34 grams of fat. 100 grams of baked wafers contain marginally less calories i.e. 459 and, yes, half the fat at just 15.4 grams. Here lies the rub. Even though you have half the fat, you do not have half the calories. You have just 16% less calories, so, you are just fooling yourself by eating baked wafers and thinking that by eating them you are consuming have the calories, thus they are not fattening. It must be said that yes, you do consume half the fat but by no stretch of imagination is the calorific value 50% less.

Fried wafers 34 grams fat 549 calories

Baked wafers 15.4 grams fat 459 calories

If you ask me, PepsiCo are technically correct, the baked wafers do have 50% less fat. Where there is a lot of stuff left unsaid is that (i) just because baked wafers have 50% less fat it does not automatically follow that baked wafers do not have 50% less calories, though PepsiCo would like you to believe that, and (ii) baked wafers are not fresh potato but some hybrid product conceived in a lab which is a mix of potato flakes and wheat.

Stick with real fried potato wafers. Just eat a few less.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Saayba Hotel

Saayba Hotel at Bandra is a little delight. We have been eating here for several years. It’s located at the start of S V Road at Bandra. It’s very easy to locate, impossible to park at and its name has a most peculiar spelling. Whether the name has been numerically corrected I do not know, but it’s very awkwardly spelt. Lastly, I am unsure if Saayba has been correctly named at all. My Pocket Oxford Dictionary says a `hotel’ is `a place providing accommodation and meals for travellers and tourists’. Saayba Hotel has no rooms. Saayba is actually a restaurant. Be that as it may, Saayba Hotel serves great Gomantak food.

Pretty flowers - A touch of `upmarket'

I must confess that despite my best efforts I could not find out what Gomantak Food is. Yes I know its coconut based, I know it’s got a lot of fish and meat, I know it’s from the West coast of India focussed around Maharashtra, Goa and parts of Karnataka, but what are the specific spices or characteristics I have no clue. It’s extremely spicy both in the chilly as well as in the `Garam Masala’ department.  I do know that not much dairy [milk, mawa khoa paneer] is used. But beyond that I know nothing. I have no clue as to what Malwani food is or Konkani food is either. Many of these terms are used interchangeably. This adds to the confusion. If any of you do have an idea of what this is do let me know. We did have a great non vegetarian Gomantak/Malwani meal at the restaurant at the MCA Club a few weeks ago. I do not know how long that restaurant will last.

Our evening started with a few intoxicants at Totos. We were joined by the Delhi Belle who is an ex Bombayite. We had gone with her to Arsalan a few weeks ago. Anyway, she was in town and wanted to meet. The last time she said she had to eat Chicken in Wire Mesh a signature dish at Toto. We obviously obliged. This time she wanted to have Brain Masala at Lucky’s. Of course we obliged. The waiter was a bit perplexed and thought we were real cheapies with the three of us ordering one Brain Masala and two Rotis. For the record, the Brain in the Brain Masala is very good. The Masala in the Brain Masala was outstanding. There was unfortunately a lot of Masala and less Brain. But it was happily devoured. Next stop Saayba Hotel.

Brain Masala Fry at Lucky's
Saayba has recently had a dose of `upmarket’. Mrs Mythali Sawant has run the place with her brother Sanjay for several years. The grapevine has it that Mrs Sawant’s son has just returned from Canada and he is flexing his muscles. Saayba is in a state of change. Earlier you had stainless steel Thaalis or `Taats’ [pronounced like `Tarts’ with a silent `R’] in which you ate and the food was served in stainless steel bowls. Reminded me of eating at my maternal grandmother’s house as a child. But alas, all that has gone. It’s now white Melamine plates and bowls and the `Indian breads’ are served in a stainless steel serving bowl. Prices have increased and quantities have, I believe, reduced, but I may be wrong on the portions. Oh yes, they now have a dedicated order taker who is dressed in a white shirt and apron. Here are a couple of photos from the `old' Saayba.

Mutton Fry Masala Sagoti served in Stainless Steel 

Usal served in Stainless Steel

The Taat or Thaali

Let’s get two things clear. Being an Indian restaurant, all food photographs very badly and looks similar. Secondly, all fish is cooked within an inch of its life. It’s always fried to the proverbial crisp, totally dried out and a complete waste of time. This is a problem at Trishna, Apoorva and any other fish restaurant.

Now, onto the food. Once Delhi Belle had got her Sol Kadi, we got down to ordering.

Sol Kadi in a plastic `glass'

Mutton Fry  Masala Sagoti [which is also spelt Mutton Xacuti in Goa], Usal, Teesriya (Clam) Masala, Crab Masala, Vade and Rice Bhakri, Konkani Daal and Egg Pulao. All the curries looked similar but I assure you they tasted different. Each one was really unapologetically spicy in every way. Each of the dishes was also fire hot which is really so important. I really recommend that you have as many of their curries as you can and stay away from the fried fish and fried prawns. If you do like your fish murdered go ahead, as the cliché goes, make your day.

Usal - note the white melamine crockery

Mutton Fry Masala Sagoti 

Teesrya Masala

Crab Masala
The Mutton Fry Masala Sagoti which I order almost every time we eat here is truly exceptional and there is a generous amount of mutton in each dish. All the gravies have ground coconut as a base and the mix of spices differs so dramatically so each dish tastes distinctly different. The Prawns and Potato is another great dish and you can never go wrong with their crab and teesrya. The so called Shell [Clam] with Drumsticks is also rather good.

Unfortunately Amboli is not available on a Friday. But if you visit Saayba on any day when they amboli do not miss it. It is a fermented rice flour pancake with a soft cushiony texture. It is a distant cousin of the Uttapam but way more flavourful.

The Vade &Rice Bhakri - Note the Stainless Steel designer serving bowl!

The Pulaos that Saayba serves are all exceptional. They come in many `flavours’ mutton, chicken, prawn, vegetable and egg. Do get one, it’s not a large portion. The Pulao is served with a searingly hot `Rassa’ or gravy.

The Egg Pulao

Konkani Daal

The food is really really good, robust and delicious. The temperature at which it is served makes it a pleasure to eat, the spices sing, the salt is alive and the balance perfect. The place was as cheap as chips, clean, bright and air conditioned. Drink elsewhere as they serve no booze. Ensure you have a Digene or four when you finish.

Things have changed a lot since I wrote this review. Do have a look at this updated review.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Thank God or Oh God?

I have just spent the better part of the day on a chair in a passage outside the Operation Theatre Suites and the Perioperative/Day-care Room at the Lilavati Hospital. No, nothing serious, HRH the Queen of Kutch had to undergo a very minor surgery. Everything is fine, I survived, she survived. I did however observe a lot during these hours spent on the bench.

The bench is located just outside the Shanti Sthal. This is a Jain Temple. Leelavati is owned by Jains, so, theoretically, nothing wrong in having a Temple with a statue of Mahavir. However, Leelavati admits patients of all religions, quite unlike Bombay builders and many Bombay Housing Societies who do not allow Muslims into the buildings.The Dalai Lama is treated at Lilavati and, if memory serves me correctly, so is Yusuf Khan aka Dilip Kumar. I am sure lots of Christians, Sardars, and Parsees also get treated at this Hospital. Assuming of course that you believe in God, where do these other communities get to pray if their kith and kin are in Lilavati? The Christians have lots of Churches in the vicinity of the Hospital, Maharashtrians will perhaps find a Sai Baba Mandir illegally constructed under a tree on the pavement close by, but Gurudwara and Fire Temple? None nearby, unfortunately. Would not a multi-faith prayer room or meditation room have been a better way of going about it?   

The behaviour of people passing the Shanti Sthal was amusing and surprising. Many who walked past wearing their shoes/footwear and speaking on their mobile phones, paused mid conversation and mid stride and acknowledged/bowed/`gave respect’ to the statue of Mahavir inside. Whether these people were Jains I do not know. Is not wearing shoes/footwear when praying somehow bad or unholy or disrespectful?

Another category of people were a bit more serious in their devotion. This came in two sub categories. Category `A’ stopped outside the  Shanti Sthal, stepped out of their footwear, joined hands and, I guess, prayed. 10 seconds later they went on with life, I presume having been appropriately blessed. Category `B’ did all this without removing their footwear. Did they get a blessing as well as a minor reprimand? I don’t know, but I think they certainly deserved one for not taking their shoes off.

Doctors were a class apart. Doctors strut about in Hospitals with huge power, they can open doors that none of us can. The power to do so does not flow from the barrel of a gun as famously quoted by Mao Tse Tung, but from the stethoscope that is so casually draped around the neck. Doctors clearly fell into category `B’ as I have described in the preceding paragraph. No time to take off footwear.

While watching all this I could not help think, how much of a waste of time this is. If your Doctor is going to pray, presumably that he does his job correctly, then why does the patients kith and kin need to pray too? Don't two positives make a negative? I think that you should have a KYC or rather KYD [Know Your Doctor] process when you select a Doctor so as to ensure the best possible Divine Interventions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Our irrelevant Budget

I was watching CNBC TV18 i.e. Moneycontrol channel when the FM’s Budget speech ended.  Udayan Mukherjee kicked of the programme saying that the Budget was a complete waste of time, directionless, containing absolutely no `big ticket’ items, just a mere tinkering of existing rates. Personally, I thought he had accurately summed up the Budget. It was exactly that. The sentiment expressed by Udayan Mukherjee was echoed in almost the same words by Mr J J Irani. The Budget is nothing but tinkering, and tinkering with matters that are so infinitesimal that it boggles my mind.

But, unfortunately, after that speaker after speaker, many of whom are what I am not, went on to say it was a good and 'realistic' Budget. The fact, according to our leading figures, that Finance Minister had said that he would control the fiscal deficit, mind you, merely said, not spelt out how, was a great thing. This is something we should be eternally grateful for, something that will take us out of the mess we are in. This was our Captains of Industry speaking. Cowards is what I call them. They are as cowardly in this politically correct world we live in, as each and every member of the Congress Party.

The reason that each of these industry figures is a coward is not difficult to understand. They have to deal with the Finance Minister and his colleagues everyday to have favours doled out or discretion exercised, obviously in their favour. I was sickened.

You know what I am not. Therefore, I should deeply respect the analysis and opinions of the Captains of Industry, i.e. those who are what I am not. Really? What do these Captains have to say about the retrospective amendment to get over the Vodaphone judgement? In a word, nothing. Where are the voices of India Inc? Why are Deepak Parekh, Narayana Murthy and Mukesh Ambani not expressing their outrage at this amendment? It's been three days since the Budget was delivered in Parliament and there has been a deafening silence on this absurd idea. Will these Captains not want to sell out to an MNC in future? That is what every Indian Captain of Industry does anyway. How do these Captains now manoeuvre past the retrospective amendment? The amendment is in effect from 1962, well before I was born!! Astounding. And it’s a good Budget?

Let me tell you about the irrelevant tinkering. Do you know, for instance, that the duty free baggage allowance has been increased by a staggering 40%? Now you can import goods worth USD 700 or approximately Rs 35,000/- as baggage allowance. Brilliant is it not? The previous limit was only USD 500. Now you can import one more pair of Diesel jeans. Does this really matter? What is the point of this amendment?

Another aspect of this tinkering is introducing TDS [withholding tax] on director’s fees. Director’s fees are paid to individuals who are non executive directors on the board of limited companies. Now they will not be able to escape the tax net. No sir!! Their fees are subject to withholding tax. I marvel at the sheer brilliance of this move. I would never have thought of it.

What about these two fantastic benefits that we can now enjoy. Matches, yes matches manufactured by semi mechanised units will be cheaper as excise duty has been slashed. And processed food manufactured with, hold your breath, soya, will be cheaper. Wow I am breathless with excitement.

You want more? Refills and ink used in pens costing less than Rs 200 have been exempted from excise duty. Children in schools can now have ink fights and it will be far cheaper to buy a new pen. How about this one, excise duty on LED lamps is cut. Wow.

India has had some great thinkers and visionaries. Mr. M K Gandhi, Mr. Vallabhbhai J Patel and so many more. Mr Pranab Mukherjee has been a Finance Minister for several years. India is at crossroads. Inflation is a monkey on our back, global crises rage and yet we have absolutely no direction in our Budget. Mr. Kaushik Basu is the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India. He gave up a lucrative career at Cornell University to take up this post. Is this hopeless Budget something he should be proud of? Is this what his inputs are to our Finance Minister?

I will not burden you much more with the other prophetic moves. It’s just more and more of the myopic, irrelevant, tiny tinkering vision. There is no roadmap for the control of the fiscal deficit. So the Government will have to simply print money. We have rampant inflation that the RBI is trying to correct. Here is our Nanny doing just the opposite. Have fun guys, the good times are not going to last.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate is a remarkable food. It is derived from a tropical tree and is transformed from a bland seed to an exceptional product. Its consistency can range from hard, brittle, crisp to melting, creamy, dense and smooth. It can be sculpted into almost any shape with any texture.

Chocolate is a luxurious and indulgent product. If you are a Polar explorer or a mountaineer on the way to conquering Mt. Everest you may need to eat chocolate as a source of energy. How many of us are explorers and mountaineers, but despite not being explorers we can, and do, enjoy our chocolate. This may be in the form of a mass produced factory made simple bar or stick like a Kit Kat or 5 Star or Toblerone or a much more fancy, though as delightful, handmade chocolate or chocolate desert. Either way it’s an indulgence, its an aspirational product. Every mithai wants to grow up and become a chocolate.

One of the nicer indulgences is a Chocolate Cake. Everybody loves a good Chocolate Cake. What is a good Chocolate Cake? I believe it’s one that is made with decent chocolate, real eggs, real butter and cream. None of the eggless, Soda Bi Carb or Eno Fruit Salt or, horror of horrors, Coca Cola, versions please. Those are best enjoyed by the Jains, Shahs and Khandelwals. When I say decent chocolate, I meant two things. One is that it should real chocolate and not what is known as Compound Chocolate. Compound Chocolate is a less-expensive non-chocolate product replacement made from a combination of cocoa, vegetable fat, and sweeteners. This is often used in lower cost chocolate products. It costs less than chocolate, as it uses less expensive hard vegetable fats i.e. Dalda type fats and tropical fats such as Coconut and Palm oil in place of the more expensive cocoa butter as its fat source. This is quite a disgusting product, but most people in Mumbai use compound chocolate and not real chocolate. To make matters worse, they dilute this with water. The second is that as far as chocolate goes, the real chocolate, you should use a good tasting brand. In Mumbai the thoroughly decent  brand Morde which costs Rs 160/- for a ½ kg pack is an excellent choice. If you like, you could go as upmarket as you want and use the gold standard of cooking chocolate – Valrohna. This costs Rs. 1,800/- a Kg in the UK. I have no idea how much it costs here or even if it’s at all available. A decadent icing [or frosting as the Americans say] made with lashings of Rum or Brandy or even a Liqueur, say, Grand Marnier or Crème De Menthe makes the cake a bigger delight. I prefer to not use artificial flavours which are far cheaper. A layer of fruit sandwiched between two slices of cake will do nicely.

The un -adorned cake 

HRH the Queen, is a qualified patissier from Le Cordon Blue in London. We often bake the Chocolate Mousse Cake from Michel Roux’s book `Desserts’. It is a truly delightful cake, simple to make and delightful to eat. Moist, rich, intensely chocolaty and wonderfully aromatic. Being midweek, we were both a bit bored and thought why not spend a couple of hours baking a couple of cakes and give them away to some of our regular `victims’. Strawberries are in season and literally sold by the basket load, so we thought we should make two layered Chocolate Sponge Cake with a Strawberry compote in between, all covered with a rich Chocolate Mousse. I thought it would be a good idea to sit down and cost the ingredients so we used to try and figure out just how much it costs and how much profit the cake shops are making.

Armed with a pen and paper, to make a note of prices, we set out to Pali Market to buy the ingredients. It was a short list, eggs, strawberry, Morde Chocolate, cream, milk, flour [maida], sugar and cocoa powder.

The cake itself consists of 3 elements. A chocolate sponge, Chocolate Mousse and Strawberry compote. You could use oranges instead of the strawberries.

The trick with the sponge is to ensure that the cake is moist. To do this you should spread flavoured sugar syrup on the sponge while it is still warm and before the cake is assembled. We used the juices from the strawberry compote as explained in the next paragraph.

The Strawberry Compote is dead simple to make. It is basically a jam that is not fully cooked. Simply wash and hull the strawberries, half them and put them in a pan. Add some sugar and heat. Once the sugar has melted and the strawberries have released some juice you could taste the juices and adjust the sugar. If you like at this stage add some cornstarch slurry and thicken the whole thing. Or, you could drain the strawberry and use the juices to moisten the chocolate sponge. We used this strawberry syrup in addition to simple syrup of equal quantities of sugar and water to make the sponge really moist and flavourful.

The Mousse used in the cake is quite unique. It’s used a lot by the French patisseries and is intensely chocolaty. It’s a combination of equal quantities of Crème Anglais [which we call custard made with milk, sugar and eggs] whipped cream and chocolate.

750 grams of Morde Chocolate


We ended up baking 2 cakes each weighing 2.1kgs. One of these cakes was delivered to my former office. We received many ecstatic messages from my colleagues that evening while they ate the cake. The photos of the cut cake are taken on a mobile phone by one of the boys.

I am not going to burden you with the recipe. If you want it do let me know. I will happily give it to you.

No, I have not forgotten. Do you want to know how much the 4.2kgs of cake cost to make? The costs of the ingredients are below. How much do you pay per kilo when you buy a Chocolate cake? A lot, lot more isn’t it? No wonder there is so much money in Mumbai; you are giving it to a cake maker!!! And this is the costing for a cake made with the best possible ingredients. No margarine instead of butter and no compound chocolate instead of the real thing. I do not know if you can get the same assurance from most cake shops. The cost should surprise you.

Cost for 4.2 kgs of Chocolate Mousse Cake with a Strawberry Compote

Cost in Rs

Crème Anglais

500 ml
125 gm
Egg yolks


70 gm
250 gm
250 gm

Compote and Mousse

1 kg
350 gm
600 gm
Cocoa Powder
100 gm
600 gm


Cake box

Electricity Gas  


Total cost for 4.2 kgs

Rs. 950.50
Cost per kg

Rs. 227.00

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Markets and the Bandra Farmers Market

Markets are a joy to visit. By markets I mean the produce markets not stock markets or bullion markets. You often get the best vegetables, meat and fish at markets. Wherever we are travelling, we make it a point to visit the local market, preferably the main one in a city. In Mumbai, we have our very own Crawford Market. Unfortunately, today it has a small vegetable section as most of the vegetable vendors have either sold their shops to smuggled goods guys or simply moved away and live off the income on the rent they receive for their tiny stalls.

We have been to the legendary Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona and the Viktualienmarkt in Munich is equally attractive. Les Halles de Lyon is fascinating; Billingsgate the London fish market is exciting. Lille has a decent farmers market. In Bangkok we have been to the floating market with senior Mrs. Stonethrower as well as the flower market. Redding Market in Philadelphia and the market cum entertainment centre Faneuil Hall in Boston are nice in their own, very American way. One day, we will visit the big daddy of them all the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo and the Pike Market in Seattle. Markets are fascinating, exciting, vibrant and a real treat. We visit not only the large markets, but ferret out local farmers markets and try and visit them.

Asparagus at the Viktualienmarkt in Munich
Heirloom Tomato at the Viktualienmarkt in Munich

Various mushrooms at the Viktualienmarkt in Munich

Romanesco at the Viktualienmarkt in Munich
Borough Market in London is one we go to regularly. This is one of Londons oldest markets and is open on Thursdays Fridays and Saturdays. Its a facinating place.


More tomato



The famous Melton Mowbray Pork Pie

A Green Grocer
As opposed to actual markets you have farmers markets. These are slightly different from regular markets. Here the markets are set up on fixed days and have generally smaller individual producers, mostly farmers and not traders, who set up tables and stalls to sell their produce. This may be either vegetables, fruits, meat products and sometime prepared foods and beverages. Farmers sell directly to consumers circumventing middlemen. Often, the produce sold is organic, seasonal and produced within driveable distance. The west has several farmers markets.  This concept is rare or nonexistent in India.

Our absolute all time favourite Farmers’ Market is the Marylebone Farmer’s Market held in a parking lot just off Marylebone High Street in London. It is held every Sunday from 10am to 2 pm and whenever we are in London we absolutely make it a point to visit it. HRH the Queen’s idea of a champions breakfast is to stand there and have ½ dozen fresh oysters shucked right before us by a craggy fisherman. At a pound an oyster they are an absolute steal. We have often seen staff from restaurants like J Sheekey and Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill, a famous fish restaurant in London, pick up a sackful of oysters from the fish stall and later sell them in their upmarket restaurant at a staggering 13 to 20 pounds for a ½ dozen (+ service charge of course). At this delightful market, we have seen the produce change with the season from Asparagus in spring to Pumpkins and Butternut Squash in Autumn.

The Farmers Market at Marylebone

The Asparagus stall

Organic Eggs
A beginning has been made in Mumbai with the Farmers’ Market which assembles every Sunday at Bhalla House at the top of Hill Road. The market opens at 10 am so we decided to visit it, armed with our trusty camera and see what this was all about.

A short walk from home led us to the Market by about 10.30am. I was pleasantly surprised to see loads of people there. I had thought that being a Sunday, neither would the market be fully open at 10 am in as much as all the vendors may not have set up and, punters would be few and far between. I was wrong on both counts. At 10.30 the market was fully operational. It seems to me that the eco friendly, organic brigade does not have heavy Saturday nights. Maybe I am being cynical again; these guys assemble here at 10 am on a Sunday as it’s their livelihood.

The Market is held in a playschool, so there is an open central yard where vegetable vendors had set out plastic bins containing various produce. Lady Fingers, Aubergine, Onions, Potato, Beetroot, Tomato, Capsicum, Spinach, Corn, Carrots, French Beans, Drumsticks, Asparagus, Dill, Methi and Pak Choy were all on sale. There was also an abundance of grapes, oranges and strawberries. Lots of housewives were busy picking out the best pieces and stuffing them into their bags. This resulted in lots of damage to the produce, but clearly the early bird theory was in operation.

The open courtyard 

Various vegetables in plastic bins

Coloured peppers well damaged by grabbing housewives
Also in this yard were stalls selling organic apricot, various types of flour and even T shirts made of organic cotton.

To one side, there is a largish roofed room, which is presumably the classroom, where a sort of cafe had been set up. As we entered Mr. A A, a close friend, frantically waved to attract out attention. He had just eaten a Dosa made with organic red rice which he said was absolutely delicious and suggested we order one. Being a god fearing Tamilian he knows his Dosas, but neither of us were tempted.

In the room was a stall with many Papayas. The man smiled genially and offered me a bottle of Mango Wine to smell, I did. Why he had Papayas on his table and sold Mango Wine I do not know. However the whiff I had was positively horrid. A fruity, sour smell holding promise of an excessively sweet liquid the colour of urine is not exactly my idea of a drink. I smiled as beatifically as one can in the circumstances and politely declined.   

The most intriguing presence was that of blind masseuse. Yes you read correct, blind masseuse. I have no clue as to what role they had to play in a Farmers Market where, I believe, one of the main objects is to give farmers a better price and the consumers a better product. But, I leave you to draw your own conclusions on this.

That was basically it. I think that once the produce is sold or destroyed by heavy handed housewives, the Market will morph into a largely bohemian cafe.

I am not a devotee of the organic movement at all. I have doubts as to how something is classified as organic and, I have doubts on whether something organic tastes better. Be that as it may, I conclude with our thoughts on the visit.

Stonethrower’s thoughts.

1.  I was pleasantly surprised at the relatively large numbers of people present at 10.30 am on a Sunday morning. The popularity of the market was surprising.

2.  The amount of produce available is very small.

3.  The housewives present were successfully managing to destroy at least ¼ of the produce by sheer heavy-handedness.

4.  There was one stall selling baked goods – quiches, cakes etc. Thankfully none of the horrible eggless cakes, eggless brownies, chocolates, Mukhvas and pickles stalls that dominate most food exhibitions, fairs call it what you like, were present.

This is a good beginning. Lots of scope.

HRH The Queen’s thoughts [in her own words]

1.  Contrary to Stonethrower, I did not think the market was overly full. Because of the extremely restricted space, the courtyard looked crowded when there were just 20 odd people and an equal number of farmers/vendors.

2.  Some of the produce looked extremely fresh, especially the more neglected counter with the dill, spinach and fenugreek, but it did not tempt me enough to queue up between two rows of tables behind 7 fashionable ladies who were busy squeezing the living daylights out of every decent vegetable and placing their selection in conveniently provided oh-so-cute wicker baskets. Having said that, I must admit the produce looked a cut above the stuff we get at Crawford Market and substantially fresher than our local Pali Market.

3.  The hygiene levels were appalling and that is especially galling considering the market had been open just half an hour. The area where the red rice dosa was being cooked/served was near a side doorway which led into a small alley kind of space with trash piling outside and no running water or cleaning ability in sight. Right outside the side door was a large open waste bin.

4.  Why are we so damn obsessed by hot chai? Why do we need a chai station in every possible space? Can we not last a 10 minute shopping trip without knocking back a stainless steel glass of masala chai?

5.  What’s the point of wasting space with things like organic cotton T Shirts? I cannot believe it helps any farmer and is really a complete waste of time.

In balance, the fresh produce was excellent; the rest of the space however was really overrun by jola-carrying opportunists.