Saturday, May 25, 2013

My experiments with Amitabh Bachchan's endorsements

Everyone knows who Amitabh Bachchan is, unless they live under stones. Wikipedia describes him as “ Indian film actor. He first gained popularity in the early 1970s as the "angry young man" of Hindi Cinema, and has since appeared in over 180 Indian films in a career spanning more than four decades. Bachchan is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential actors in the history of Indian Cinema.”

Amitji is very highly respected and held in high esteem – I have to refer to him as Amitji out of respect. Everyone respects him, whatever the terms respect may mean. His persona has changed from being the angry young man to almost god-fatherly, one who is looked on with much reverence. He has great gravitas and his anchoring the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire lent him even more dignity and presence. Amitji became a darling of advertisers who used his personality to promote and endorse several products.

I am not a fan of Bollywood, the industry Amitji belongs to. Therefore the chances of being influenced by his endorsements are remote. This, I realised, was not typical. I thought to myself that if a product is good enough or Amitji to endorse and presumably put in his mouth, it must be fantastic. So I decided to try two of the products he endorses. One is a new cookie called Gold Star made by Parle biscuits and the other is a ready noodle called Maggi Hungrooo made by Nestle. Both products have really nice advertisements.

First up was Gold Star. Have a look at the advertisement by clicking here. Now does that advertisement not make you want to buy the cookie right now? So I did, I bought a packet of Gold Star Chocolate and Nut cookies. I opened the packet and disappointment started to mount. The cookies were a most dull, depressing unappetising brown. They looked horrible. They were not golden which is what a good bakery product should be. These epitomised brown. Steeling myself, I took a bite. Crashing disappointment. I have not eaten sawdust. Earlier I could only imagine what sawdust would have tasted like. After eating the biscuit, I am convinced that the biscuit was sawdust. Dry, crumbly, powdery, un-luscious, with a sour medicinal aftertaste, the cookies were horrible. The cookies tasted of nothing, no chocolate no nuts, just an underlying medicinal aftertaste. I was very disappointed.

Front and back of the cookie. Pebble like chocolate chips. Horrid.

Product 1 on 10

Television commercial 6 on 10

Don't buy these biscuits. Amitji is a liar.

Next up was Maggi Hungrooo. Most delightful advertisment. Maggi Hungrooo is a larger pack of noodles with, would you believe it, 50% more masala. I had not eaten Maggi noodles in years, several years. The last time, I can recall eating a packet of Maggi noodles was circa 1979-1980 when Maggi noodles were the staple of any picnic we went for. One friend had discovered that adding lashings of butter to the noodles considerably improved the taste. I recall with fondness that memory.

Anyway, I decided to follow the instructions on the packet to a `T’ to ensure that I got the best possible result. Making a packet of Maggi noodles did require some cooking, this was not a ready to eat food like a cookie. So first I separately blanched some Carrots and French Beans in salted water. Then I plunged them into iced water to stop cooking and lock in the vibrant colour. It would be a snitch to simply add these delicious healthy vegetables to the noodles. And remember, no oil. No sir, this was a preparation without any oil.

Lots of ingredients. A lot of spices.

The `Tastemaker'

The noodle cake before I broke it into four

Once the vegetables were done, I set about making the noodles. I broke the noodles into 4 as directed only to find a lot of crushed noodles on my kitchen counter. I collected every morsel. Then I carefully measured out the 300 ml of water required, brought it to a boil, put in the Tastemaker only to find clumps of Tastemaker. Arrrrgh. Problem!!! All `golas’ of masala. Not good. So I brought out the whisk broke the clumps and was ready to go. I added the Noodles cooked on an open pan stirring gently and added my blanched vegetable. Two minutes later, the noodles were raw `katcha’ as we say. A minute more and they seemed ok.

The whole lot was poured into a bowl; I took a photograph and started to eat. Frankly, not bad. Not bad at all. I used one packet of Hungrooo and added some vegetables and I found the resultant quantity quite large. I guess if I was 25 or 30 years younger and at a picnic this would have been inadequate, but at lunch this was just fine.

The finished dish. The vegetables are not in the packet. I cooked them separately. Looks nice, does it not?

All in all, I agree with Amitji. I too would eat Hungrooo. Honestly, you could really eat this and you do not have to be on a picnic or an adolescent.

Product 6 on 10

Television commercial 6 on 10

So, dear readers, that was my experiment with Amitabh Bachchanjis endorsement. My conclusion, don’t believe the hype. The disturbing question for me is that Amitji also endorses Binani Cement. Wonder if that is as good as Amitji says it is. If not we are going to have a lot of buildings falling.

I showed this post to HRH the Queen of Kutch who worked for several years in the advertising industry. Her candid opinion is that I need to get my head examined for believing that Amitji or for that matter Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan et al believe in anything they endorse. I am confused. I thought that was the whole point of endorsements.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Yauatcha - Mumbai

A few days ago, quite by chance, we met Mr. AA at Toto’s. As is typical, we made promises that we should meet the following Friday, have a drink at the MCA bar and have dinner at Yauatcha. Both the MCA and Yauatcha are close to each other in Bandra Kurla Complex.

This time the promises were kept and Mr & Mrs AA, HRH the Queen of Kutch and I landed at the MCA bar only to find that there was no space. I tried my best at some spot fixing but was unsuccessful. Then we got some stools at the bar where we perched. Drinks were ordered, glasses raised, toasts made and we proceeded to drink. The MCA bar, by which I mean the actual bar, is not a particularly nice place to sit so we were keen to be shifted. Soon, my efforts at spot fixing worked and we were given a table. I asked for a plate of wafers [crisps] to have with my beer and was told that the MCA was out of wafers. Reason? The LBT strike was the answer. I do not really believe this. I could protest as much as I wanted, I would still not get wafers.

After a few drinks we trooped into Mr. AA’s car and drove the short distance to Yauatcha.

The restaurant is on the first floor. You climb a flight of stairs and enter a large cold sterile bar which leads into an equally cold and sterile dining room. All the surfaces reflect sound; glass windows, marble floors and marble topped tables. The room is a large rectangle with tables placed in a most unimaginative way. The prime tables are along the windows and are placed so close to each other that the man on the next table was closer to me than my dining companion seated across me on my table. The restaurant was quite full and the noise levels high, and with no soft surfaces nothing absorbed the sound.

Once again drinks were ordered. Mr. AA and HRH the Queen of Kutch both wanted a single malt with water. There was much hesitation and reluctance on part of the wait staff in leaving the carafe of water on our table. It kept getting removed. Finally, one of the wait staff said, `we are not allowed to leave water on the table.” Folks, this is India. Such things have no rational explanation. The only thing I can think of is the fear of the management or owners that if other people see tap water in a carafe on a table they will not order the rip off `mineral’ water or Bisleri as we call it. Nut cases.

Menus were handed out. The menu contained a line which could be regarded as part arrogant, part politically correct, part sanctimonious part officious but wholly insane. This is what it says –

Although all due care is taken, dishes may still contain ingredients that are not set out on the menu and these ingredients may cause an allergic reaction.

Guests with allergies need to be aware of this risk and should ask a member of the team for information on the allergen content of our food.

What do the first few words mean – although all due care is taken dishes may contain ingredients that cause an allergic reaction? Does any restaurant list every ingredient on a menu? Would not just the second sentence be enough? Anyway...

We ordered a selection of Dim Sum. First up was Mrs. AA choice, a steamed Prawn and Chinese Chive Dumpling. Nice. Mr. AA asked for Shanghai Siew Long Bun with Chicken, and, Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf with Chicken Prawn and Shiitake. Both very good. The Sticky rice was good. HRH the Queen of Kutch chose the Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun. Mr. AA really liked the Cheung Fun. The Dim Sum I chose was Fried Chilli Squid with Oatmeal and Pandan Leaf. This was the most disappointing dish of the lot. It was totally different from what I had imagined. I should have followed the directions on the menu and asked a `member of the team’ what the dish was. I expected a sort of stir fried squid but what we got was a Squid Pakoda with lots of deep fried Oats. Not particularly good.

The obligatory spicy sauces

Prawn and Chinese Chive Dumpling

Shanghai Siew Long Bun with Chicken

Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf with Chicken Prawn and Shiitake

Crispy Prawn Cheung Fun

Fried Chilli Squid with Oatmeal and Pandan Leaf

As part of the main course, so to speak, HRH asked for the Singapore Stir-Fry Vermicelli with Prawn and Squid. This was really quite nice. Of course we just had to order the most famous of dishes, Braised Pork Belly with Chinese Pickle Vegetable. This dish was outstanding. The only complaint I had was that the portion was very small for the money charged i.e. Rs. 1,750 ++. Granted that this dish is very rich but I maintain the portion was small. This dish is really outstanding and a must have.

Singapore Stir-Fry Vermicelli with Prawn and Squid

Braised Pork Belly with Chinese Pickle Vegetable

In fairness I must say that the food was good. We had just one dud dish. This is unusual in Mumbai restaurants, so Yauatcha take a bow. It was good food.

Equally, I must say that besides the food, the rest of the dining experience fell way short of not only my expectations, but, in my view, way short of the hype created by this restaurant abetted by the media in incorrectly alluding to the fact that Yauatcha has a Michelin star and is therefore a great restaurant. This is not correct. Only the original Yauatcha in London has a Michelin star. The service here in Mumbai was unexceptional to poor. The wait-staff had the annoying habit of talking to the back of your head and with the tables so close to each other they leaned over you to serve your fellow diners. The restaurant had no decor to speak about and it is located in an office block and honestly looks like an office cafeteria. The food was good and one waitress, I believe her name was Surekha, was the only bright light in the otherwise distracted and somewhat supercilious or arrogant staff.

The question remains, would you pay all this money for above average to good food and not have the attendant service and atmosphere? I am not so sure myself. But I must say, drinks at the MCA bar followed by dinner at Yauatcha turned out to be an inspired choice by Mr AA.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Moveable Feast - Take a bow.

This is a bit of a busy time of year for me. Lots of meetings, which chew up loads of time. Also some travelling to attend the meetings so have been unable to blog. One of the nicer fall outs of these meetings is that sometimes there are corporate dinners tagged along. These are often fun. You get to meet company guys in less formal surroundings and that can be quite revelatory.

At times these dinners can be quite a drag. If there are presentations or ceremonies attached then that gets boring. Sometimes the food is a let down. But I must tell you about the excellent, really top class food, that I have had the pleasure of eating at a few of these corporate functions.

The caterer is Moveable Feast. This is the outdoor catering division of Indigo. I am not writing this to in any way promote them or because they have paid me. Perish the thought. I just have been so impressed by them on the several times that they have catered that I thought this is something that I should write about.

If you read my previous blog you will know I have strong prejudices, ideas or notions about what is, in my jaundiced eye a good party. I can understand serving vegetarian food, people are vegetarian, I am willing to grant that. But there are some basic concepts that many people just do not seem to understand. They simply do not understand what a normal adult wants when he goes for a party. So here goes. 

These are, according to me, what is essential to have a good party.

1.  A party has to have snack and dinner. These are two separate things. A normal adult, like me, for instance, knows that Bhel Puri, Pani Puri, Chaat, Pao Bhaji and the like are not dinner. Similarly, Dosas with a multitude of fillings, Uttapams again with a multitude of toppings and a variety of Idlis are just not dinner. They are a snack. Many Jains, Khendelwas and Shahs just don’t get this. Kebabs, similarly, are not dinner, they are finger food, or appetizers that should be served with drinks. You absolutely have to serve a full meal, none of this nonsense of snacks masquerading as a meal. You may choose your cuisine, be it regular North Indian or Mexican or what have you.

2.  Parties should have alcohol. This should consist of a variety of spirits [Whiskey, Gin Vodka Rum et al] a variety of the fashionable drinks like Bacardi Breezers for the women and false drinkers, a few cocktails, the usual mixers and fruit juices. Beer is a must. Wine is increasing trendy to serve. The only compromise can be on price of drinks: for instance you may serve Indian wine or Johnny Walker Red Label or Smirnoff Vodka on the lower end of the scale. At the higher end it could be Single Malts, Belvedere Vodka, Bombay Sapphire Gin and imported wines and beers. It really is necessary to serve all these and not just a whisky or a gin or worse, just wine. Please do not think you can dictate peoples drinking choices just because you have invited them to a party.

3.  Music, ideally western pop is desirable, at a pinch, Bollywood at a low volume will do. No Ghazals, no K L Saigal no Bhajans and certainly no trance or as it’s called EDM (Electronic Dance Music). That is fine for 18 year olds. In fact EDM is so bad that after some time they upgrade to Bollywood.

4.  To have a fine party you should also try and have eye candy, both male and female. This is becoming more and more difficult but not yet impossible. 

5.  Clothes. You cannot, absolutely cannot have a party where men dress in Kurta Pajamas, or National Dress as it is euphemistically referred to. This may be alright for a visit to a temple or a Sangeet Sammelan but not a party. You may wear this at a political rally or at a meeting of NGO's. Not a party. 

Get these basics wrong and you have an Uthamna/Skok Sabha or prayer meeting in progress. I have stopped attending anything I don’t consider a real party.

Anyway, getting back to the point of this blog. The last party I went for had the correct booze flowing, soft jazz playing and a very good selection of appetizers that you could nibble on while drinking. Of course credit must be given to the organiser who had the same sort of idea as me on what constitutes a party. The Moveable Feast guys produced a real feast once again. Mini Galouti Kebabs served on a mini Sheermal, what a good idea. An unusual chicken kebab, grilled with a Tamarind based sauce/marinade. Delicious Tempura Prawns tossed in a sort of Thai sweet Chilly sauce. The vegetarian selection had a Paneer with some sort of Green marinade. There was also a potato, sweet corn fritter and a Samosa made with Filo pastry.

Dinner was a rather more lavish affair. There were sections serving salads and Tapas, North Indian Chaat, a Chinese stir fry section, a continental section as well as a North Indian food section. I fought my way thru the milling hordes to the North Indian section. Pausing here for a moment. The Indigo group also has an Avadhi food restaurant called Neel which is the Hindustani word for Indigo. Clever chaps these guys, credit must be given for this crafty name. Anyway, the chefs at Neel are also used to supply food to the Moveabale Feast. The result is that the North Indian food served was very good. A great Chicken Masala, wonderful Okra [Bhindi] in a Green Sauce, top class Black Daal and an aromatic Biryani. What more could one want. All the food was hot and tasty.

I was really happy. So much so that I thought that I should write about it.

Bottom line, if you ever going to have a party, a real party, please get Moveable Feast to cater the do and ensure that you have the 5 points I have written about observed. I have no idea what it would cost but I can be reasonably certain that you will be very satisfied.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Our experiments with Mango Pickle

Our building is blessed with one lonely Mango tree. This tree remains unloved, neglected and forlorn for about 250 days a year. But, come April, it receives a lot of attention as it starts to fruit. The first sign of the approach of the mango season is the incessant coo-wee of the koels. Then, boys walking along the road throw stones to knock down the raw mango, some fruit fall on a neighbours car parked below the tree, screaming, allegations and chaos follows and soon it’s time to have the fruit picked. The fruit is then in the finest democratic traditions, distributed among the flat occupants. Our share was 40 raw mango this year.

The Mango washed and kept to dry

40 raw mango is a lot. It weighed in excess of 5 kilos. We wondered what to do with the fruit and after a short discussion we settled on a spicy mango pickle to be made from scratch by ourselves. No using readymade pickle masala. This was easier said than done. To make a pickle you need a recipe. We pored thru the several Indian food cookbooks we had and found nothing that came even close to being exciting. Then as a last resort I looked at the Time And Talents Club Recipe Book and found a pickle recipe that seemed very good. This was a recipe contributed by Mrs Bhicoo Manekshaw. Permit me to digress here. Unfortunately Mrs. Manekshaw passed away just a week or so before I saw her recipe. Mrs Manekshaw was the first Indian to have gone to Le Cordon Bleu all those years ago. She has authored several cookbooks which are reasonably good although very dated. But this recipe fit the bill. A good old recipe for Mango Pickle.

That done, the next task was to organise the ingredients. That was not difficult at all. A visit to Crawford Market and in one fell swoop all was bought. Next challenge getting the traditional pickle jars. You know the ones, made of clay with a white glaze on the bottom and a brown glazed top. We asked at Crawford Market, no one had them, finally Narayan of Narayan Stores - our cheese and foreign food provider - said he would ask his wife to get them for us. That was very sweet of him. Suddenly HRH the Queen of Kutch remembered that Senior Mrs Stonethrower had pickle jars. A phone call and job done. Now we were set.

That evening the great pickle session started. First up, washing the raw mango and drying them. Then the mangoes were cut. Laborious task but a good heavy sharp knife did the job effectively. Then we weighed out the various ingredients and started to process them as required. By the end we had made a huge amount of pickle. Two large jars were filled. Wax poured on the lids and the jars were put away for the pickle to mature.

The way we looked at it was that leaving cost of labour aside, how really cheap it was to make the pickle. The most expensive ingredients were the two liters of oil we used, which cost about Rs. 500/- The rest of the ingredients were no more than Rs. 200/-. So for a grand sum of Rs. 700/- we had about 7 kilos of pickle. Mind you we used good top quality oils and decent spices and we bought in retail. I cannot imagine how low costs must be for pickle manufacturers who buy lesser quality and buy in bulk therefore at even greater discounts. I must confess that making pickle necessarily means large quantities which in turn mean storage space. We all have space constraints so making such large quantities is a problem. The second problem is boredom. Imagine eating the same pickle for a year, I would be close to slitting my wrists. Lastly, pickle making involves complete attention at one time. Let me clarify. Raw mango remains raw for a short time. After that raw mango ripens and pickle goes all funny. Thus when the mango is raw you need to drop everything and make pickle.

We now have a whole lot of pickle. We bought 7 small glass jars and 1 big jar and filled the to the top. This resulted in just one pickle jar getting empty. We still have a whole pickle jar to go. These 7 jars get distributed to friends and well wishers.

All in all I must say it was great fun. Most importantly, the pickle turned out good, very good, as HRH the Queen pronounced, as good as `Bahar ka pickle’ and that is high praise.

Being fully enthused by the result, we scratched our heads thing of a label to put onto the jars. HRH the Queen of Kutch thought of a name and designed a label. Many hours were spent on this. Now the jars look good and ready to go.

The elevators in the building are now buzzing with people dashing up and down delivering their versions of mango condiments to each other. The Seafarer and his wife have sent us Mango Murabba [a sweet mango pickle] the Bankers wife has sent us some Avakkai [an Kerala style hot mango pickle] she has made. How utterly charming! How utterly madhyam vargi if you know what I mean!!! But, honestly, this whole exercise and the exchanging has been great fun.

I am giving you the recipe. I have tried to simplify the recipe by breaking it down in processes. Do give it a shot if you can get raw mango. Two words of warning. Firstly, the pickle is oily. You need the oil to keep the pickle from spoiling. Secondly, you need large vessels if are proposing to make this quantity so do ensure that you have them before embarking on the mission.

Lastly, thank you Mrs. Manekshaw. RIP.

Methianoo Mango Pickle


3 Kg firm fresh green raw mango. Washed, dried, deseeded and cut into pieces. You should have 3 kgs after removing the seed. So start with about 5 kgs.

315 grams normal table salt

125 grams dry hot red chilly broken into 1 inch pieces [after removing the stems, seeds can remain].

250 grams Fenugreek seeds [Methi dana]

2 heaped tablespoons Cumin Seeds [Jeera]

3 heaped teaspoons Turmeric Powder [Haldi]

15 grams Asafoetida [Hing powder]

125 grams Mustard Daal

1 liter Gingelly Oil [Til ka Tel or Sesame oil – not Chinese style]

1 Liter Mustard Oil [Rai ka Tel]

2 heaped tablespoons Mustard seeds [Rai]


Mixing the cool ingredients

In a really large vessel combine the salt and the cut mango. Add the Mustard Daal and mix everything well. The salt will act on the mango and a fair amount of water will be released. Do not worry, this is supposed to happen. Do not throw away the water. This will form the base of your pickle. Do this before you get onto the other processes so as to let the salt to act on the mango.

The cut mango in a large vessel

Mango with the salt

Mango salt and the Mustard Daal

Making the fried masala

Take a large Wok or Kadhai and heat a generous quantity of the Gingelly Oil. Add the Cumin Seeds first, then the Fenugreek, then the Asafoetida and then the Chilly. Stir this around and wait till the Chilly changes colour and becomes a shade or two darker. At this point switch off the flame and add the Turmeric powder. Stir and keep to cool.

Once cool, grind the fried ingredients to a coarse texture. You may have to do this in a couple of batches depending on your blender jar size. Use the oil to keep the blades turning. Do not add water!!

Frying the ingredients

Heating the Oils

Then, mix remaining Gingelly Oil and the Mustard Oil and heat them. They should heat to about 180 C or the temperature you would need to deep fry something. Once hot, add the 2 heaped tablespoons of Mustard Seeds and let them pop. Turn off the heat and leave to cool.

The Gingelly Oil and Mustard Oil

Final combination

In the vessel containing the mango, add the ground ingredients and the cooled oils and mix everything well. Now your pickle is ready for bottling.

The mixed pickle ready for bottling. Please see the colour of the oil and the mango. Its all pale


Place the pickle in wide mouth jars with reasonably secure lids. Ideally you should have pickle jars. If not the Yera glass jars with red lids are ideal. Fill each jar almost to the top. Please ensure that there is a layer of oil on top such that no fruit is exposed to the air. Keep jars away for 10 to 15 days. They should be kept away from light in a cupboard. No need to fridge them. Do not touch them, do not open them.

The pickle jars
After 10 – 15 days open one and you will see how the pickle has matured. The oil should have turned a lurid red and the mango will have softened. Have a bite of a mango piece. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done and have some Daal Rice or even Dahi Rice with lashing of pickle for lunch.

The pickle ready to eat. Out of the pickle jars into glass bottles. See the difference in colour

7 small and 1 large jar. This is the content of 1 big pickle jar. We have a whole jar to go.

Labeled and ready for distribution