Monthly Archives: October 2011

Blast from the Past – How (not) to name a restaurant

Update for 12 October 2009


I sometimes wonder what logic is used to name specialty restaurants. Some conventions use an obscure spice name to add to the exotica so names like cinnamon, tamarind give a sense of what to expect in the restaurants, but at times can lead to disappointment if you find the cinnamon sticks only as mere coffee stirrers or the only tamarind you can sample is the shade of the tree under which the restaurant sprawls. To give an even more exotic feel to the eating house, some foreign and not so easily available ingredients find their names on the name board – like blue ginger, olive – although these places will also serve you other spices and condiments. Of course I know some such places where the only blue ginger is actually a red flower arrangement at the reception desk while regular ginger is used in the food; and the olives are the bottled ones that you get at corner grocery stores! The slightly adventurous try their hand at getting more exotic like naming their restaurants after games people play in exotic nations – like mahjong representing perhaps Chinese food; or dominoes representing maybe Italian food (though I don’t see the connection between the cuisine and the game!); or shatranj with Mughlai food. Whether these food conjurers live upto the ingredients or culinary traditions of the country – at least there is an attempt to “connect” the name with the cuisine. But the ones that I find extremely odd are when these places are named after odd colours conjugated with even odder animals. Like have you eaten at a place called Blue Fox (try and tell me what they will serve here – small rodents and birds which one would have to chase to catch before being eaten raw!!); Peter Cat – now I have heard of a tomcat – but I would never go to this place if it were serving mice or rats or bandicoots; blue frog – now is this some drinking hole pond where people croak before sticking their tongues out to catch the flies? Or take this place where I ate at on the weekend – Green Grasshopper (GG)– now would I have to chirp – hide in the grass and feed on the weed leaves and then all of a sudden, just jump up into the air in search of better greens?


I am not sure if our D Boyz did some restaurant hopping on the weekend, but I think I spotted some at the place I visited – the GG place! They must have enjoyed their outing with their near and dear ones because they chirped quite well in the morning atD Streetand nibbled at all the greens they could find. The SENSEX had to be green for them to chirp, right? Then all of a sudden, they got so much energy that they just jumped up into the air and pulled the SENSEX with them to dizzying heights. So if the morning hovered at 80 – 100 points above previous close, the sudden jump at 1:30 pm took it to the 380-400 levels before ending the day at 17026 points – 384 points up! I am not sure if it was the dry days’ status nearD Street, or the purported olive branch status of the warring Mumbai South Brothers; or the likely change in state government after tomorrow’s polls, or the Diwali goodies being cooked at home.


Now imagine going out to eat to a place called Machan – a Hindi speaking person would expect to be seated atop a tree and wait for a tiger’s roar, while a Tamilian would think that he was being treated by his Brother in Law! Bad names for eating houses; right?




p.s. For those inMaharashtra– don’t forget to vote tomorrow!


Blast from the past – Imports from the Yore

 Update for Week 6 October 2009 

Many centuries ago, the sea-faring inhabitants of southern Indiatook voyages to kingdoms across the seas to nurture trade, religion and at times for conquest. These voyagers were quite enterprising and at times traded Indian spices for oriental silk, opium and other goods that were then unavailable on the subcontinent. In these business transactions, they also brought in quite a few culinary delights from these regions. Like the art of fermenting food before cooking it from the Indonesian archipelago that has now produced a full bodied south Indian Fermented & steamed Rice dumplings – the humble Idli; or the date palms whose seedlings were carefully brought aboard dhows that traversed from Arabia and planted in the drier parts of present day Tamil Nadu; or the china porcelain pickle jars that came from, yes! China; or the most commonly used “kadhai” or iron wok that actually came into India from China via the palm fringed Kerala coast in the avatar of the Cheena Chatti (Chinese pot) Imagine Indian cooking without the kadhai – we would not know how to temper our veggies or fry our puris  or make our sweet dishes – gulab jamuns, jilebis, rossogolas –  or our savoury treats – bhujia, chaklis, chivda, mixture.  And thereby not be able to stir up the goodies for our favourite eats festival – Diwali!!


D Boyz today looked at India’s trading partners and after seeing the falling exports of India Inc. decided to pull out their history texts to see how we fared in the days of yore. They munched on their idlis from a local café, while some chewed on sweet dates as dessert, as they read about the amazing roots of the humble Indian kadhai. As they traced the path of this metal wok from one “ear” to the other, they subliminally drew out the SENSEX graph for the day; and all this without using their telephones!! So if the SENSEX opened about 90 points up at start of day, it soon descended to depths of 300 below previous close to once again chart the upward move and finally close 92 points above – at 16958. and since kadhais are mostly made of metal – you guessed it right – the metals Index was the key performer today pulling up a 2.2% show; and since lots of food get cooked in kadhais, and lots of detergent is used to clean up after that, it is no surprise that the FMCG index performed well too pulling up 3.27%. and since few D Boyz used their phones; 2 prominent SENSEX telcos registered whopping 10% declined. So if the SENSEX pulled up 0.55% today; the Rupee gained a whopping 1.5% and pierced the Rs 47 level to close at around 46.90 to a dollar.


Mothers, aunts, grannies and maids are busy sorting out the ingredients that will finally find their ways on colourfully displayed food trays at the festival of lights. The daughters, daughters in law, nieces and grand-daughters are just fussing around the kitchen not being particularly helpful, since they know not some of the fine culinary arts; but at times are enterprising enough to engage “master chefs” or maharajs to stir up some of these delights at home. So in this nuclear family age, maybe I do have some moonlighting opportunity after all!!



Contest – complete the story

Since I don’t have a quiz ready this week, I am opening up another challenge (contest) to all of you. I got requests from a couple of readers that they wanted to know what happened to the star-crossed lovers in the story – Kanta and Chandrakant in On a Chrysanthemum Carpet (click the title to read it again).  Although I have a fairly clear idea on what happens next – I would like to hear from you on what you think happens next in this story. So this week, why don’t you pen down your version of how this story progresses in about 200 to 250 words in English please, and send in your entries by 5 pm this Friday – 22 October.


I look forward to your entries and I will publish the best entry and there are prizes to be won.


Have a nice week ahead …. Cheers…..

On a Chrysanthemum Carpet

 Update for week ended 14 October 2011

As Kanta stood on the terrace of her house in Dhapewada, her mind wandered. It wandered to thoughts of the college excursion that her friends and she had earlier in the year. Having lived all her life in and around this little village town along the Chandrabhaga River, she longed to see the big cities and towns; and savour the life of the slick city-folk. She had visited nearby Nagpur quite often with her parents and her younger sister, Shanta and had enjoyed the leisurely walk along the dam wall of the Ambajhari Lake. Once she had also visited it when the dam overflowed during the monsoon. She did not venture into the gushing stream from the dam, but stood by the garden opposite the local Science College. But this summer’s college excursion was across the western Maharashtra cities of Mumbai, Nasik and Pune. She savoured the train ride through the multiple tunnels that dotted the Western Ghats along the Igatpuri Ghats as well as the Khandala Ghats. And thoroughly enjoyed the lapping waves of the warm sea at Chowpatty. She tried tasting the saline waters off the Gateway of India while on the joyride on the country boat. And along this trip, she also met someone, Chandrakant, the rich, spoilt brat son of the largest orange farmer in Vidarbha. Chandrakant was loud, while Kanta was demure; Chandrakant believed in living life king-size (he could afford to), while Kanta was practical and frugal to an extent. They were like the proverbial opposite sides of a magnet – immediate attraction!

But today, she looked over the terrace at the steeple flag of the local Vitthal Temple. The local priest was walking down the steps on the banks of the river to offer his mid-day prayer at the shrine on the river bank. Later that evening, he would come over to her house to read from his almanac and officially announce an auspicious wedding date. Kanta would soon be betrothed and married to Suryavanshi, the son of the orange and cotton farmer from nearby Saoner. Before her train excursion, Kanta would have submitted to the family wishes, but something had changed within her after the trip. She could only think of Chandrakant and his boyish pranks. And he was a gentleman, as he did not even suggest an elopement. He was determined to win over her father’s confidence, but how? He had driven his father’s jeep through Kanta’s father’s cotton field, and his friends had also once spent a night drinking country liquor behind the local school on a new moon night, caught by Kanta’s father (Chandrakant was thankful that the absent moon had saved them since they could not be identified in the dark, and they all fled leaving the bottles behind). They had also chased a frightened cow for over a kilometer honking and hooting all along, driving zigzag across fields and almost runnig over cyclists heading to work at the goevrnement run textile mill.  So Chandrakant used this opportunity to spend time with the family in helping them out on local domestic chores. And on a hot second Summer afternoon, he strolled out into the chrysanthemum field, flute in hand and softly blew a soulful tune. It worked like a magnet for Kanta as she ran down the steps from the terrace and towards the fields just beyond the house. She ran along the curved, potholed country road towards the Chandrakant family farm. And just before the orange orchards was the little hill that rose to the right, and on the foothills of it was the chrysanthemum patch – carpeted with the herbaceous fragrant green leafy plant dotted with buds and just flowering yellowish cream chrysanthemum. She stopped as soon as she spotted Chandrakant. He was not facing her but almost magically heard her gentle footsteps as she ran onto the soft chrysanthemum patch. He stopped playing the flute and turned back. They looked at each other, and Chandrakant tucked the flute into the waistcloth that he had loosely tied over his shirt. He raised his arms inviting Kanta to him. She looked back at her house in the distance and then at Chandrakant.

The chrysanthemum scent was heavy in the air as October was heralded in. The D Boyz were in a mood for some romance. And their muse, The SENSEX, was more than eager to play on with them. The romantic scent of the chrysanthemum blooms was overpowering, as the D Boyz dreamily shut their eyes and waltzed with their SENSEX zooming to dizzying heights. But given the narrow bounds of the street and the distractions from foreign suitors for SENSEX and some of her friends, the Boyz had to stop and manage the situation. But finally one of the Boyz took out the flute he lovingly played and let the waltz continue. (Waltzing days saw the SENSEX zoom up 2% each day, and when the Boyz stopped to check the foreign suitors, it fell a little). This romance took the SENSEX up about 880 points (almost like a popular movie that is still running in a Mumbai movie-hall – running in its 880th odd week, continuously)……. To end this week at 17082.

Have you noticed that the chrysanthemum leaves are also as fragrant as the flowers, unlike other pretty fragrant blooms (rose, jasmine). And the combination of these carpet flowers and the white blossoms of the acidic orange trees is quite a fascinating combination. Perhaps the reason why the oranges are interspersed with the annual seasonal chrysanthemum. The flowers also find their way to local agricultural markets. I hear that these flowers are also blended in with other acidic products like tea to get a light by fragrantly heady brew for a hot afternoon. So what do you think Kanta would have done on that balmy afternoon at the chrysanthemum carpet – near the orange orchard. Would Chandrakant have proposed to her? Would Kanta submit to him? Or would she step back owing her allegiance to her family and traditions?

Have a nice weekend… Cheers…… and amuse the romantic in you! And for those planning on celebrating Karwa Chauth – all the best….

Isaac’s Dream

 Update for week ended 7 October 2011

Young Isaac went on a stroll in his estate. It was a sprawling one bordering a mead pit at one end and the fox woods to the east. As he climbed up the hill behind the mansion, the unusually warm weather for autumn made him stop for a rest. He rested under the apple tree and went into a daydream – where he dreamt of an old Greek man slink into his Roman bath – and just as he slunk in – plonk fell an apple on his head and he shouted out – “Eureka! Eureka!” – (“I found it! I found it!”). Isaac was confused because he associated the Greek word “eureka” with the Archimedes Principle – not an apple. So he continued to look for more clues in his dream. And just beyond, he saw a herd of elephants (now elephants in Greece was not a dream, but closer to a nightmare of Hannibalish proportions) and he continued to pursue the dream further. The elephants were feasting on the fallen over-ripe fruits and having passed their market edible status, these were left to ferment/rot which must have attracted the elephants. Isaac knew from his readings of Indian Natural history that elephants are known to feast on the intoxicating flowers of the Mahuwa tree in the forests of Chhota Nagpore in Central India. So he was not surprised to see these dream elephants feasting on the sweet and “cidery” apples; and they had started to enjoy the fruit and its nectar so much that they were almost dancing with a shaking head routine, trumpeting in intervals as well. But Isaac was intrigued at how Greece slowly melded into what was perhaps Southern Africa (as he knew his geography quite well and that apples were not known to grow in Tropical jungles, but milder temperate lands further north or further south – and he surmised that the elephants were perhaps better placed in the South African highlands rather than the Himalayas). But, as if to tease him, he saw what looked like Indian women dressed in long robes, with colourful head scarves and loads of chunky silver jewellery head towards the apple trees nearby  and routinely go about picking some fruit and tossing them into the baskets they carried, strapped to their heads. Their wages at the end of the day would include some of these juicy  rose fruits, which they would take home to cook into a sweetish curry with some ginger and fennel powder. And just as he was about to follow them into their kitchens and try and relish the evening repast, a phone rang. It was a musical note commonly heard in mobile phones. He was awakened. He looked around to see an apple by his side, slightly bruised by its fall, but his head felt more bruised or hurt than the apple. He did not remember how or when the bump on his head occurred. Perhaps it was the apple, but what made it fall on his head right below the apple tree? And how did the apple get a bit on its right side?

The D Boyz were in a daze after the rocky and topsy turvy ride along D Street the previous week. And not knowing what happened to the Chinese Firecracker Factory owner, they took to roaming their Street for some rest. They rested under a tree on the street, and did not realise when the SENSEX above their head fell and left a bump on their heads. They reeled under the weight of a fallen fruit, and many other falling ratings of banks in India and other countries. But fortunately for a gap in between, when the Street stopped to celebrate an Indian festival, they recovered from the fall, and helped walk back to their offices on the last working day. However, the fall of an Apple this week, left them dented by 1% overall – down from 16454 to 16232. The boys picked up the fallen apple and looked heavenward for an answer. They even tried to use the apps on their smart phones for clues – but they still didn’t have an answer. Perhaps they will after they rested this weekend.

The Granny Smith apple did not get pride of place in many kitchens until some English Boys recorded some songs and put them onto a record and used this apple as its logo. And a couple of years later, the apple found more acceptability around the globe its is electronic form. And just like the fallen and fermenting fruit that the dream elephants fed on, people also fall off and move on. But that does not stop the world, which goes on.

The grated apple induced thickened milk dessert was the Prasad, offering to the deity, for the day. It was also the day when Durga, the all powerful goddess would bid adieu to her worshippers after vanquishing the megalomaniac, Mahisha, and return to her Himalayan abode. It is also the day, when the northern parts of the country start getting their cool wintry air from the mountains, and days get shorter. And five days later will be the full moon, when milk and beaten rice sweetened with sugar will be kept in the open skies to absorb the moonshine. This is believed to have magical lunar goodness and so with that hearty note, I wish you all a safe weekend ahead.