Monthly Archives: March 2010

Bread Tales from India

Update for Month ended 31 March 2010
An Indian meal is mostly incomplete without its staple bread. Although most of you would recognise the humble chapati, the flat wheat griddle bread, which is now served in homes across the country, sometimes dabbed in ghee and sometimes dry; it is not the national bread, if there was such a tag. Let us start in the north where wheat rules the roost and the humble chapati is joined by its robust country cousin from Punjab, the paratha. Parathas are made of the same dough as chapati, but handled rather roughly which results in a stronger and more fullish version; always cooked in ghee and served with dollops of white butter. This robustness is also tempered at times by stuffing soft, mashed vegetables into it, like the potato, radish, cauliflower or even paneer, Indian cottage cheese. For doubting Thomases from non-North India – paneer is considered the ultimate “vegetable” in Punjabi homes; at times the only vegetable, when served on a table with butter chicken. The Indian fasts are always observed with Es. (no spelling mistake here). The fasts almost always become feasts; as the chapati gets smaller and rounder and is deep-fried, preferably in ghee; and served to the devouts as puris. These little puffy rounds sometimes get a whiter tinge in Eastern India as wholewheat flour is replaced with the whiter refined flour, and also gets a luscious name – Luchi. In the gusty “wild” west where coarse grain is cultivated, the wheat is replaced with sorghum or other millets to make the evening bread – bhakri. These are often darker in colour, at times greyish, and till recently considered slightly uncouth to serve to guests; but ask any visitor to Rajasthan, and she or he will want to taste these delicacies served with desert beans, ker – sangri. The desert folks of Rajasthan at times make hardier bread for their caravan trips across the dry landscape where everyday cooking may just not be possible – so they roll up the dough into little balls and bake them in pot ovens, usually buried under the ground, to ensure that the ovens burn in the windy climes. The rolls are hard and normally softened after soaking them in cups of ghee and crumbled gently with their fingers – the baati is at times eaten with savoury dal or mixed with a sweet jaggery flour crumble pastry, choorma. Travel with the Gujaratis, and you won’t miss the theplas or khakhras. These all time, all weather travel companions are fenugreek leaf laden, spiced chapatis, sometimes cooked soft (theplas) or sometimes crack dry (khakhras) giving eaters a choice. At times, the humble bread also attains center-stage position in Marathi households – when it is stuffed with a mixture of jaggery, split gram flour, cardamom and served on auspicious occasions. This puran poli, also finds its way into Telugu, Tamil, and Kannada homes with different names and at times slightly different cooking procedures – but with essentially the same sweetness at its heart. The South Indian palate prefers rice to wheat and at times, the humble chapati or roti becomes rice white and eaten with chicken in coastal Karnataka – kori roti; or aided with onions and some spices and served up as akki roti in other parts of Karnataka. Purists may bah at my contention that the world famous dosai, griddle rice and lentil pancake, is also another bread served up in Tamil, Telugu, Malayali and Kannada homes – read on as I explain why it is a kind of a bread. Akin to the bakery loaf that we generically call bread, the dosai is most often fermented or proofed before being griddled. The Malayalis add toddy, the fermenting agent to their version of the dosai – the paalappam or appam, just like the Punjabis add curd to their wheat dough – to make their bhaturas, fried wheat bread. 
Talking of flat breads, largely – I could not resist comparing it to the antics of the D Boyz on D Street. It has been days, weeks, since I met with them and was quite surprised to note that they have mixed and kneaded their favourite staple – the SENSEX, but finally ended flat after 2 weeks of action – quite like the humble Chapati. So if I last noticed that it was 17578 on March 19, it was 17527 at end of business day today! And for those who want to know what the Boyz did in the past two weeks – then there was a lot of spice and all things nice, at times, to serve up the robust paratha style, thick bread on heady days – like the 134 point jump on 25 March – the F&O expiry date. Or it was the crispy flat khakhra type crunch – the 180 odd point drop on 20 March. 
If mouths are watering with these delicacies, I am not surprised. It is getting close to dinner time and many of you would have some breads to break. So enjoy it and do share your bread tales with me, if possible.
Have a nice time – Cheers….

Lying on the Couch – Ouch!

Update for fortnight ended 19 March 2010

Suresh was lying on his couch watching the interesting cricket match on TV when he moved a little to grab the remote control. The contraption was wedged in between the seat cushions and when he reached into the crevice to pull it out, he felt a sharp sting – almost like a sharp nail poke into his index finger. Suresh winced, pulled out his hand and shook it to ease the pain. The match was interesting and the action was getting lively and Suresh postponed his trip to the wash-basin to wash his now bleeding finger. But soon, the finger started stinging and the pain got worse. Suresh had to leave the TV action to attend to his bleeding finger. He used the first aid kit in the bathroom closet to sanitise and bandaged it and returned to the exciting match on TV. That night, Suresh could not sleep well, not only because of his aching finger, but also a fever that developed later. He decided to see a doctor first thing in the morning. He showed his bruised and swollen finger to the doctor who gave him the anti-tetanus shot and a few pills for the fever and advised rest for the day, the doctor surmised that it was an infection from a rusty nail or pin used by a careless carpenter on the old sofa. Suresh returned home, rested and spent much of the day on the couch watching inane TV soaps that he had missed last night. The next day, Suresh’s finger pain did not subside, and he noticed that not only the finger, but his palm was getting heavier and bluer. He felt something amiss and decided to head to a hospital nearby. The OPD docs took a good look at the hand, the finger and the wound. They noticed 2 sharp bite-marks and questioned Suresh on the incident. The symptoms seemed to suggest poisoning and not an infection from a rusty nail or pin. But Suresh was adamant that it was not a bite, yet he was in two minds here and surmised that maybe it was a pesky pest, a rat! The docs didn’t want to take a chance and so administered him an anti-venom serum and asked him to report for checkups every 6 hours. Suresh looked skeptically at the doctor and went home. That evening, his hand felt lighter, the pain seemed to have subsided and he had no fever. The next morning, there was no pain at all and barring the bruise scab; he was fit as a fiddle. Of-course, he still went to the hospital for checkups – and the docs were pleased with his progress. Suresh went back home to catch the exciting matches on TV – sprawled on his favourite couch.

The D Boyz are enjoying the cricket matches these days and bringing the stadium enthusiasm onto D Street. So the SENSEX is getting spiffy and perky. Except for a little set-back when it fell on 10 March; perhaps some bites on fingers caused them to pause their excitement. Overall – the past fortnight has been perky for the SENSEX taking it to 17578 – a good 600 points up! There have been some flattish days – maybe like Suresh’s homestay after the doc and hospital visit. The inflow of foreign funds has also perked up the Rupee; notwithstanding the dollars that we have to pay for the international cricketers in the country as well as the cheerful cheerleaders.

Suresh did not have to sit too long on the couch, as he felt something move under the cushion. Sensing that it was perhaps the rat, he jumped up and shrieked. And out wriggled – not a rat, but a ratsnake!! “Ouch”, thought Suresh, “the hospital docs were indeed right. The bitemarks on my finger was that of a snake, albeit a non-poisonous one.” Not knowing what to do, he grabbed the TV remote and aimed it at the snake, hitting it with one blow. He quickly brought in a stick and thrashed the lifeless reptile, before bagging it and walking to the hospital. He met the doctor who treated him and showed him the evidence. And who says that people living in Mumbai don’t live in a jungle. Perhaps the snake had lived in the comfy couch cushion for a long time.

After a fortnight of silence, it is nice to share some stories from Mumbai and D Street. Do let me know if you enjoy them. Have a nice weekend and maybe, clean your couch, rearrange your bookshelf; you don’t want unusual surprises or unexpected visits to the docs, do you?


It’s Party Time

Update for week ended 5 March 2010

Parties are occasions to flaunt and fete. Success is the most oft used reason to celebrate and throw lavish parties. So film folk in the country get together at grand ballrooms of 5 star hotels to flaunt their new found successes. They always arrive late, and get out of the car wearing their trademark sunglasses (never mind if the hotel lobby does not have floodlights or it is close to midnight) and with their mobile phone stuck to one ear. They are always searching – not for their partners or friends, but the cameramen with their flashbulbs – note that some of these cameramen may not even be photographers, but actors paid to appear at these venues to “play” their roles. They then sashay into the party hall and make their loud entry so that people notice them, and air kiss and wave out to their rivals (whom they secretly wish to murder or destroy), and pretend to be happy and boisterous. The other parties that sometimes resemble movie star bashes are thrown by social butterflies. They are similar to movie parties, except that the butterflies flit and float about the party room wearing something “fashionable” and always ensure the presswallas are close by to write about them. And frankly, no-one knows what each butterfly does for a living and who invited them to the party; sometimes the butterflies don’t even know the hosts – they turn up almost like a habit. The corporate “corpo” parties can be drab or fun filled depending on whether there is an “item” at the party or not. So loud music, dancing girls and boys, imported drinks and good freebies will ensure success at these dos; else tight collars and stiff upper lips will rule and ruin the party. Family functions like weddings and other such occasions have their rituals and associated colour and sound. Noisy, colourful and at times chaotic. And kiddie parties these days have started getting a little more organized and losing some of its innocence and charm. But then there are some sombre parties, which are not really parties, but more like memorial services where people gather and feast in remembrance of a soul that passed away. But the melancholy notwithstanding, people still leave these parties thanking the host for the good food!! So they still celebrate something.

It was party time after the successful release of a blockbuster last weekend – at D Street. So if the “Budget Blooms” was a hit among the D Boyz who returned to the box-office last week to buy more tickets – this week they spent much of the first half partying. They pulled the SENSEX with them to dizzying heights of 17000. And then some of the Boyz had to attend some sombre memorial parties on Thursday which dropped the SENSEX a bit, but at the end of it, they really enjoyed the sumptuous meals, and so gave the party host a thank-you and nod on Friday – closing at 16994. Pigging out on good food, drinks and general bonhomie helped the D Boyz gain about 3.5% more weight around their SENSEX. But like they say, weight around the middle is a sign of prosperity!

Much of the partying in India is preferred in large spaces, so that people can move around and socialize and meet and greet. The only time they want to sit is to eat! Quite unlike the westerners or even the Chinese, who prefer sit-down parties and hate buffet meals and Indians will be shocked to know that cocktails in New York start at 6 pm and end at 6:30 pm – yes that is not a typo error! A new Indian in Manhattan will surely miss those cocktails … imagine having to reach early and not have enough time to even have a couple of drinks!!!   

So which party are you attending this weekend! Be safe and enjoy!