Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Activities", children and holidays

Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

Our local Nanny, the Government of Maharashtra had declared 19th February 2014 to be a public holiday. This was to commemorate the birth of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This declaration was done at the start of the year. Suddenly, out of the blue, the Education Department diktaat made it clear that 19th February 2014 would not be a school holiday. Instead, children would have to go to school and the schools would have to conduct appropriate classes/events to commemorate the birth of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This threw a real spanner in the works for all concerned. Parents were left confused and holiday plans were messed up. Schools had to remain open. Some school buses were available and many others were not. Basically, this flip flop caused mass confusion.

Today, 27th February 2014 is Mahashivratri. It is the day Shiv the God was born. It has been declared a holiday. Banks are shut, schools are shut but many offices are open and the High Court is open. So again another confused day, albeit confused in a different manner. If daddy is a lawyer he will be at work while mummy who is an investment banker will be chilling at home, getting her hair done. Daddy will have taken the car and presumably driver thus leaving mummy alone at home to look after Bittu and Dimple. You get the picture?

This morning, a friend messaged that Dimple had a holiday and mummy had not got any “activities” planned for Dimple!!! This apparently was a big problem. What does mummy do with Dimple on a holiday?

This got me thinking, and obviously blogging. I am unaware what “activities” means.

Dimple is about 6 years old. I was six some forty four years ago. When I was six and I had a holiday, regardless of whether my mummy and daddy worked or not, I went down to play. Whoever else in the building had a holiday also went down to play. My building had a big compound. So my pals from the next door buildings that had smaller compounds came across and we played. What did we play? Cricket, football, Robbers and Cops [Chor Police], 7 tiles and we rode our bicycles. We invented games to play when riding our bicycles. I cannot recall being supervised, I cannot recall an ayah looking after us. Yes there were ayahs but they looked after real infants, our younger siblings. And these infants came down in the evening. We were down playing since the morning. Then it was lunch time and often we ate at each others house. We had really no veg and non veg restrictions or inability to eat `tikha’ or food being cut up into bite size portions before we were fed. We just ate what was served. Then if it was hot, our mummys made us play board games at home during the afternoon. Then, once it was about 4 pm, we all went back down.

We had nothing planned for us. We had no “activities” planned for us. We simply went down and played. Surely there are children in most buildings today. Surely they can go down and play. But this need to have “activities” planned for Dimple is something I find bizarre.

Looking at it differently, assuming that with the passage of 44 years since I was 6, times have changed, and it is now necessary to have ‘activities’ planned for Dimple, because that’s the new normal, surely you knew it was a holiday for Mahashivratri right at the start of the year. Why did you not have something planned? If constant monitored activity must be planned for every moment when Dimple is not at school, then why wasn’t Mahashivratri activity planned? And, how much time does it take to plan say, a trip to the museum? Do kids do that? A visit to the sabzi market? Why not? A pizza cooking session at home? Great fun for kids and lunch will be a treat. Building a lego truck at home? Do kids still pay with lego?

What is the world coming to? 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Red Channel - Baggage Rules

The newspapers dated 17th February 2014 had an item that caught the attention of HRH the Queen of Kutch. If you are a traveller, or, if you like the completely cockeyed way our system works, you should read this.

This concerns a modification to the Customs Baggage Declarations Regulations 2013. I bet you did not even know of their existence. Well, you can start thanking me for bringing them to your attention. You can also answer some hard questions from your family when you get back home empty handed after that lovely visit to some exotic foreign land.

These regulations are framed under the Customs Act, 1962. In a fascinating show of what the left hand giveth, the right hand taketh away, our Nanny – Bharat Sarkar has claimed to make our life much simpler.

Earlier, when leaving India, every person had to fill in a Departure Card and give it to the immigration officer. This gent would look at it, stare into his computer terminal, swipe your passport, punch in a few keys and lapse into a coma. He would suddenly awake and use the several rubber stamps at his command by smashing them on an ink pad and on your passport and on your form. Then you could leave India, not before showing these stamped papers to yet another CISF/Peon/Lackey at the gate.

When you returned to India, you were handed Landing Cards by the air hostesses. These Landing Cards had two portions. The upper portion was larger and asked almost exactly the same questions that were contained in the Departure Card. The lower portion was a perforated tear off which required you to make declarations of how many bags you were carrying, the dutiable goods you had and so on and so forth. Once again, when you landed you took your Landing Card and gave it to the gent at Immigration. The process would be repeated.  

Apparently, this was not satisfactory. So, in dramatic, game changing ways, we have never seen before [to use Rahul Gandhi’s oft repeated phrase] when travelling out and back to the country our paperwork is reduced. We have to fill in the Departure Card when leaving the country. And, hold your breath, when we return do not have to fill in the Landing Card. No, we are now freed of this terrible task. We can all save a few moments and concentrate on enjoying our return flights. What we now have to do is fill in an Indian Customs Declaration Form. This is what the Customs Baggage Declarations Regulations 2013 make you do. This will happen from 1st March 2014.

HRH the Queen of Kutch was deeply perturbed by the news report. So on her prompting, I researched the matter further. I found the new Indian Customs Declaration Form and read it. I was staggered. I must be fair and point out that parts of item 10 were contained in the old Landing Card. What this Form says, in essence, is that if you bring back any of the items listed in serial number 10 you have to go to the Red Channel.

If you cannot read it you could click on this link.

Please do have a careful look at the Indian Customs Declaration Form. Do look at item 10 (iv). The next time you get some lovely chocolate for your loving son Raju or daughter Pinky, be sure to go thru the Red Channel. Or else you will have to answer some hard questions from them, and probably tears. How about some lovely cheese? Kraft Cheese? Red Channel! Some bacon, sausage or that lovely Chicken Salami that you love with your drinks? Red Channel! I ask why? All this stuff is available in India. It is sold in the Indian Duty Free shop but, even if you buy a box of chocolate at the Indian Duty Free shop in the Indian airport you have to go to the Red Channel. Could you or anybody you know please give me an explanation?

Now have a look at item 10(v). No flowers, no fruit? If you get an apple which you nicked from the fruit basket at the hotel you have to go to the Red Channel. If you picked up a fruit on the aircraft and did not eat it – Red Channel. Why why why why?

If that is not enough, look at item 10 (vii). Rs. 7,500/- I mean how really draconian is that? You may need the money to pay your Mumbai Pune Taxi; you may want the money to go out and for God’s sake go to a bar and have a drink. By a subsequent Notification this amount has been increased to Rs 10,000/- But that is not the point. By the same token you can bring in US Dollars 5000 in cash which is Rs 3,00,000/-. That is fine but more than Rs 10,000/- is not? Why why why why?

I often despair at where we are going in India. The problem is that I am despairing more and more and more often. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Goa - Mum's Kitchen & Chulha at the Grand Hyatt Bambolim Beach

Getting local food anywhere in India is difficult at the best of times. I admit I have not travelled very much in India, but except for Amritsar and Calcutta and Delhi to some extent, getting local food has been a challenge. In Chennai you do get Chetinad food. Bangalore is a few stray local restaurants, but these are more likely to be aberrations. Mumbai for that matter probably has none. No, Malwani and Manglorean food does not count. Neither does Pao Bhaji, Wada Pao and Bhel. Pune is difficult too. Kerala is an exception.

We had two meals in Goa. I looked at Trip Advisor. The top 10 restaurants recommended on Trip Advisor did not have a single Goan restaurant. You can find all manner of food in Goa, but not local Goan food. Thalassa is a Greek restaurant! A Reverie is an International restaurant. Sad is it not? All of us were sure we wanted to eat local food.

For dinner the first night our friend Leena had made a reservation at Mum’s Kitchen, a very nice Goan restaurant right in the centre of Panjim. This restaurant prides itself on keeping alive traditional Goan recipes cooked in the traditional way. The restaurant seeks to keep this food alive in the face of a strong assault by Fusion/Multicuisine and International restaurants which have now come to define Goan food. I could not agree with them more.

The restaurant itself is not very large. It is bang on the main road in an old house, brightly lit spacious and clean. We settled down and ordered drinks, beers, a Breezer and Vodka. Then we looked at the menu and set about ordering. As luck would have it, our waiter was from Orissa!! Anyway, we ploughed on. Let me tell you the menu was impressive. You had a vast selection of Goan dishes on offer, this included Hindu/Saraswat elements and Christian/Portuguese food. This was going to be interesting, and the meal seemed most promising.

First we ordered Mussels in Shell. This was Mussels that were cooked in a red spicy sauce and placed back in recycled Mussel shells. The Mussel shells were aesthetic and the actual Mussels were cooked separately. Quite nice. Two more starters were some delightful Beef Croquettes or what we in Mumbai would call Beef Chops - Minced Beef, spiced, mixed with vegetable, shaped, crumbed and fried. The last starter was Whitebait or Mandeli as it is locally know, simply crumbed and fried. Fresh fish, freshly fried, crisp and delicious. Well begun.

Mussel in Shell

Beef Croquettes

Fried Mandeli

Main courses were even better. I could not resist ordering Goa Sausage Fry, after all we were in Goa! Being our first meal, a Pork Vindaloo was essential. Mother Stonethrower ordered Pork Sorpotel and to round of the order we got Saambarachi Koddi, a Hindu preparation with toasted Coconut, dried shrimp and some fresh prawns. The food was really good with the Saambarachi Koddi being an absolute stunner. It was so good that we ordered another portion of it. Luckily, while all the food was laden with spice, the Vindaloo, Sorpotel and Saambarachi Koddi each had distinct flavours. We were all extremely pleased with the food.

Goa Sausage Fry

Pork Vindaloo

Saambarachi Koddi

Along with the food, we were served local Goan bread called Poie. This is made with wheat husk. These were delicious. We also were given Sannas which are made with rice flour that is left to ferment with Toddy. These, unfortunately were a bit disappointing as they were too sweet. Local Red Rice was also dished up to have with the Saambarachi Koddi. This really combined well.



We had no room for dessert. Mum’s Kitchen is good.

The next day we were told that Souza Lobo is a place that also has good Goan food. The problem was that Souza Lobo is located at Calangute which was a 45 minute drive from where we were. This also means that it will take 45 minutes to get back. We were not inclined to do this. So we decided to eat at the Indian restaurant called Chulha at the Grand Hyatt where we were staying. This served Goan food.

To drink I ordered King’s Beer a local Goan beer. It is a mild beer, slightly darker in colour than normal larger. Pleasant, thought nothing to get too excited about.

The restaurant was rather empty and, alarmingly, there were a fair number of `Pahadi’ chefs. I was worried about the authenticity of Goan food cooked by the Tandoori experts `Pahadi’ chefs and their kitchen with gleaming Tandoors.. Once the food arrived on the table though, we were all delighted. The restaurant had an open kitchen and looked quite nice.

Chicken Cafreal to start. Totally delicious. A wonderful Pork Vindaloo, gentler and more refined than the one at Mum’s Kitchen. Chicken Xacuti and Pomfret Recheado. Each dish was stunning. We were surprised.

Chicken Cafreal

Pork Vindaloo

Chicken Xacuti

Pomfret Rechado

Of course, I must caution you that this was about the entire Goan repertoire that Chulha had. The rest of the food was bog standard Punjabi/Mughlai food.

If you are young and enthusiastic, I suggest that you make the trek to Souza Lobo. Chulha was good and authentic, but it is a Punjabi restaurant in a five star hotel serving Goan food. What you really want is a Goan restaurant serving you Goan food. But we had no complaints.

I apologise for the photos. This is `Indian' food so it looks red/brown and indistinguishable. Whether it is Butter Chicken or Prawn Curry or Pork Vindaloo or Paneer Tika and so many other dishes, they all look the same and photograph badly. That is the nature of the beast.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cooking in Goa

As I have written earlier, we had been gifted a cooking class in Goa.

The class is conducted by Judy Cardozo. She is part cooking instructor, part food consultant and part caterer. She conducts these classes professionally for visiting foreigners who want to learn to cook `Indian’ food. Typically, the course runs for 3 or 5 days. These have one day visiting the fish market/local market and one day at a spice village. Three days are spent teaching them cooking. Of course `Indian’ food is a term that has no real meaning. Judy told us that `Indian’ food that she teaches invariably has as its dishes – Chicken Tikka, Tadka Daal, Gajar Ka Halwa, Sofiana Biryani and South Indian Pepper Chicken. A sort of top 10 of India’s favourite dishes. We had absolutely no intention of learning any of this. So, we asked that we should be taught:

These dishes are not part of Hindu Goan food [except the Prawn Curry] but have their origins and influences in the Portuguese and Catholic history that Goa has. This food uses Vinegar as a souring agent, which no good Hindu would use. The Vinegar, and the liberal use of chilli both green and the dried red chilli, characterise this food. To this is added a blend of Garam Masala – Clove, Cardamom, Pepper and Cinnamon resulting in a unique taste. The Prawn Curry is recognisable. It tastes somewhat like the Manglorean Ghassi and the Malwani fish curries in as much as coconut is the main ingredient and the sour element is Tamarind. Of course, in the Hindu fish curry whether Goan, Manglorean or Malwani, the souring agent could also be Raw Mango, Kokum or Bimbli

Judy told us that Chicken Cafreal is a dish that has its origins in Africa, the Portuguese colonies Angola and Mozambique. The Peri Peri Chilli with which Cafreal was made came from Africa. Cafreal masala or paste is now made with non spicy green chilli, lime juice, Cardamom, Pepper and Cumin. The paste is not really green, however nowadays the Coriander and Mint which is often added when making the Cafreal paste is an aberration. The Portuguese did not know Coriander and Mint, they did not use it. She dismissed Sanjeev Kapoors version of Cafreal with Coriander and Mint. The chicken was coated with the paste, cooked on charcoal and basted with coconut milk. This was a dish that was created by the slaves that the Portuguese brought to Goa from the colonies.

Vindaloo is a localised Portuguese dish with Pork – never ever Chicken or Mutton – always pork, lashings of Vinegar typically local Toddy Vinegar and Garlic all cooked in a Red Chilli and Garam Masala paste. This dish has now a reputation of being extremely spicy and has potato added. All this is incorrect. The dish is spicy, but, is a balance between the hot and the sour. Potato is not added, the `aloo’ in Vindaloo is not potato but garlic.

Recheado is also a Red Chilli based paste, however, this is quite different to the Vindaloo paste. Recheado masala is also used when making fish. It is smeared on fish which is then pan fried.

The Roast Beef was quite unlike what Western or English Roast beef is. The beef was marinated and then cooked in a pressure cooker. The result was surprisingly good. It reminded me of school, when my classmates used to get Roast Beef sandwiches for `dry lunch’.

The classes were conducted in a beautiful old bungalow on the banks of the Mandovi River. Boats went by and you looked out onto a garden. The session started at 9.30. The plan was to cook all 5 things and then have them for lunch. Judy handed out recipes and generally hovered and supervised. We set about making the pastes or masala. The Recheado, the Cafreal and the Vindaloo. The Pork was put to cook, the Cafreal applied on the chicken and left to marinade. Likewise for the Roast beef.

Then it was time to make the Prawn Curry. So we set about extracting the Coconut Milk, first thick milk then the second thinner milk. I remembered when I was little I used to extract coconut milk at home. Grate the coconut, add hot water, blitz it in the Mixie, and, with my small hands and miniscule strength try and squeeze out the milk. After playing about for a bit, I used to get tired and bored at which point the servant took charge and with his mighty hands squeezed out the milk.     

Squeezing out the Coconut Milk

With Judy our Guruji

Then we set about cooking things. First the Prawn Curry was put on a low flame with continuous stirring. This was to prevent the milk from splitting. By this time the Vindaloo was almost done. The Chicken Cafreal was put on one pan. The Recheado masala was cooked separately from the prawns. After that, the prawns were lightly cooked they were added to the Recheado. The Beef was browned in a pressure cooker and then pressure cooked. A little rice was made and all was plated.

Pork Vindaloo

Chicken Cafreal with some Roast Potato, Peas and Carrots

The Roast Beef. Sliced and then mixed into the cooking juices

Prawn Curry

We served ourselves and had a most pleasurable meal out in the balcony.

In all honesty I was most pleasantly surprised as to how good the food turned out. Mind you we were eating everything just off the flame. Things like Vindaloo and Prawn Curry have to mature and are normally eaten a day or two after making them. This would make them taste much better with deeper mellower flavours.

Unfortunately, I do not have too many photos. Two of Judy’s students, a delightful older English couple popped in to absorb the cooking session. Barry took some photos with his camera and he has promised to send them to me. I will upload them no sooner I get them.

We came away most satisfied. It was a morning very well spent. We learnt, we had fun learning and what we learnt will stand us in good stead. Lots of good meals coming up.

If any of you want to learn Goan food, I recommend Judy very strongly. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Goa, Tejpal and poisoning.


We are here for 3 nights. A dear friend, our Amritsar guide Leena, gifted us a cooking class in Goa. We are to learn to cook 5 dishes. More on that in a later post, have not done the class as on writing this. So we thought why not take a short break and spend some time in Goa. After all ½ of me is from Goa, as faithful readers may know. In all this excitement Mother Stonethrower joined us and so the three of us are in Goa.

I was last in Goa some 12 years ago. HRH the Queen of Kutch was last here 6 odd years ago. We do have memories of Goa but frankly the memories are of places, temples, homes and hotels. Cannot remember roads or landmarks.

To stay, we thought there could be no better place than the Grand Hyatt at Bambolim. This is a very famous hotel and for that I have to thank Tarun Tejpal. This is the place where in his own words he “violated that long-standing relationship of trust and respect” and thereafter he “apologised unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement” that led him “to attempt a sexual liaison” “on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013”. I had to see for myself the infamous lift [elevator] where this happened. The elevator where Tepal pressed all the buttons to prolong the ride [no puns intended]. Folks, I asked, but I got no answers. All I can say is that all this happened in Bungalow 7 where we are staying. Bungalow 7 has two lifts. I have taken a photo of both, one inside one outside. One must be the scene of “the shameful lapse of judgement”.

Could this be the infamous lift?

The control panel inside the lift.  Just two floors!!

I also took photos of the beautiful flowers in the garden. Tejpal is not going to see these flowers for some time. He will also not see the lovely beach and the beautiful hotel. The stupid bastard is still in jail as I write. Serves him right.

Folks, the Grand Hyatt is a new hotel, 2 years old. It is really a nice hotel. Large grounds well laid out and very luxurious. Nice pool and nice beach. The decor and ambience of the hotel is heavily inspirted by Balinese architecture and I like it. Yes I know we could be in any 5 star hotel anywhere in the world and would not realise where we are. Folks, I like it that way, and it is my money, so take a hike!  

I must point out that I have beach holidayed in India after years. In the past we used to go to the Fishermans Cove off Chennai. But that became so horribly expensive, a logistic nightmare, the food was rubbish that we stopped going there. It is after probably 7 years that we are in a resort in India. And you know what? While the Grand Hyatt is a top hotel and reasonably pricey, you still get disgusting Indians as your fellow guests. That is the biggest downside of a holiday in India – Indians. And do you know what else irks me? Do read this notice in the menus. Are you proud of this? After all this money you still do not know if you will literally be poisoned!

Notice in the room service menu. Shocking