Ode To Abu

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Magic of Masalas

Opening on a 'cool' note, with Chaaassssssss (sounds cool, doesn't it?) :D

The recently opened ‘Indiska Magic’, where a lot of the ‘swish set’ of the city live, is a colourful new hotspot in the posh locality. Designed as a ‘grab-and-go’ eatery, there are tall tables where you just stand and eat - no chair or even a bar stool. Just like at Saravana Bhavan, but in a ‘nice’ area, not a congested one. Even the tables with seating have iron grills for seats, painted a bright red. Not very comfy to sit on for a length of time, but ‘cool’ in terms of novelty and design. They also have an ongoing tussle with power in the area and their customer service is improving, from consequent visits. However, once you get past all this and order your food, all is forgiven.

The ‘Sizzler Pav Bhaji’ successfully cools you off with its flavour and spice, even if you wish the ‘pavs’ were puffier. The ‘bhaji’ is served on a sizzler plate and stays piping hot throughout your meal. Rs. 160 a plate might not sound pocket-friendly, but it is worth it. ‘Stuffed Parathas’ served with ‘Dal’ and ‘Raitha’ are tasty and filling. The ‘Pani Poori’ stuffing and ‘paani’ are fresh and light on the palate. There is no ‘Bhel Puri’ on the menu and just when you start to look shocked, they assure you that it exists in a ‘Churmur Chaat’ avatar. This one wins you over completely. Peppered with lots of ‘paapdis’, potatoes and all the goodness of Bhel, although with lesser puffed rice, it is tangy, tasty and meets all your rantings of ‘missing Bombay chaat in Chennai’ tastebuds. Top off with ‘Lassi’ or ‘Masala Chaas’, and you are a satisfied soul stepping back out into the searing heat of Chennai.
The menu options are still growing, till then, you can try the current short and ‘sweet’ one.

The sweets at the counters are novel; a worthwhile indulgence and a ‘different’ gift option. The ‘namkeens’ are of a wide variety, crisp and the minimum take-away quantity is a whole jar of 200 gms! You can keep the jar, which would make our Mums happy (more kitchen storage is always welcome)!

With Bombay/Delhi-styled chaats and parathas, South/North Indian snacks, and Arabic sweets, Indiska Magic seems to have a winner on its hands.

Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., at No. 8, Harrington Road, Chetpet, Chennai – 31. Phone: 91766 80605.

(This article appeared in a city magazine a year ago. Have not updated the blog in a while and am yet to add in my other write ups. Then again, it's more fun maintaining an irregular blog!! :))

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Love you, Dad.

Navin. Memories of you are still new and fresh, just like the meaning of your name. 

Five years ago this day, I did not shed a tear. Some inner strength allowed me to be brave and let you go peacefully. Today, the flow of tears seems to roll freely. 

Time heals, they said. Promises, promises!

My dad was an exceptional man, and this is not the biased opinion of a daughter. 

Despite being his only child, he was very strict with me. He was protective, but very firm and clear in his views. As a child, I was silently fearful and responded with stubbornness. Through my growing years, I revelled in being rebellious towards what I perceived as his attempt to thwart my individuality. Wonder if he knew all I really wanted was his approval. Although I hankered after it, I never let it show, and somehow ended up doing just the opposite and annoyed him.

We bonded as individuals only in my twenties. Dad had turned entrepreneur after he quit his corporate career and we began working together. It was an amazing experience to watch him at work and I began to admire some of his many qualities - notably his politeness and ethics towards work and people, with growing regard and pride. He also began realising that I was finally an adult with a mind of my own (much to his chagrin, earlier!). 

Towards the last few years, we were as close as can be, and for that turnaround, I am deeply grateful to the Universe. 

Many say I am very lucky to have such a close bond with both my parents. For that, am again extremely grateful every day. Many I know do not have that blessed relationship. And many I know continue to have it or did and they know what this is all about. And that kind of support and the kind words means a lot to me. 

There were tons of arguments with my folks (still ongoing with Mum :)). But there is, was, and always will be a very deep love that exists between myself and each of my parents. 

Those who knew Dad admired him wholeheartedly. He was much loved and respected. He was academically brilliant and experienced a very successful corporate work life in his time. A rare combination of having been an IIT and an IIM product, with work experience in between, it was an unheard of combination in those days. Some of his nephews and friends' children were inspired to follow in his footsteps to chart their career paths. He was extremely well-read, highly intelligent, widely travelled, amiable, sociable, jovial and friendly. 

Dad was simple, shy and quite a different soul at heart, which even his friends and family did not know. Almost a closely guarded secret! It was just shyness, which I have also inherited, again something people close to me will find hard to believe. 

There were also those who hated his guts or were envious of him. Many judgements were formed based on their own perspectives. Yes, he was dominating and had an ego, but then almost everyone has one. It was the inferior complex in others (including me) that could not stand up to him because he was almost always annoyingly right! 

But he never lied, cheated or betrayed anyone. He said it like it is and that kind of straightforwardness is something very few can swallow, much less accept. He was kind, helpful and actually quite a softie at heart. He was also extremely vulnerable and hurt easily but did not show it. People misconstrued his intentions at times and misunderstood him, which was unfortunate. 

As a son, he was reverent towards his parents and held a deep respect and regard for them. He was both traditional and modern and faced life courageously. He was bold and well ahead of his time in views, opinions and many aspects. He had exceptional will-power which held him in good stead during his illness, allowing him to bounce back despite being repeatedly knocked down, year after year. He faced extreme financial and emotional burden during the worst times of his life and yet ploughed on with tenacity. 

Dad lived a great life, but it was also filled with ups and downs, though he kept on going. He also underwent immense suffering the last 15 years of his life, and yet he retained his sense of humour, sense of grace, and regard for others through the trying times. He did not want his loved ones to see him suffer. 

During his retired years, despite serious health ailments, he spearheaded a campaign to bring water into the apartment complex he lived in and loved. This had not been done during the construction and even a decade or so later. In his official capacity, and with his unique negotiation skills he made it happen and was christened 'Bagirathi Pai' and till date, people remember and thank him for it. For me, it is amazing that he did something for future generations who, of course, take this basic commodity and elixir of life for granted. It was a legacy he created that exists well beyond his own and many lifetimes. The best part is that he did it because it had to be done, and was long delayed despite many committees that existed before he came along. He installed an RO plant in the neighbourhood with another kind gentleman, who is also no more, and whose daughter was good friends with my father as well.

He enjoyed many interests - music, movies, theatre, sports, business, politics, news, television shows, computers, the Internet, driving, meeting people, travel and much more. Food and reading were his primary passions. He was always neat, tidy and well-groomed, never sloppy. He was finicky about the little things - even having his handkerchiefs ironed :)

His wife Vatsala was his strong, silent support throughout. He affectionately nicknamed her 'Vat 69' since they were engaged that year, a name that stuck and she is still addressed that way by many friends. On their 25th wedding anniversary, he wrote in the card "Still intoxicated" :) 

They were married in the middle of Dad's stint at IIM, Calcutta, and Mom would visit during his hostel days. Many a humourous tale has been spun of those days and I never tired of hearing Dad smile what I used to call his "bunny rabbit" smile and tell those stories. They had a good, long (6 months was a big deal back then) courtship that led them to appreciate and accept and love one another with complete honesty. 

I'm not one of those children who finds the love their parents share embarassing. I was happy and proud of it and found it extremely endearing. They have been open and honest with me always and placed their trust in me, for which I feel immensely grateful. During Dad's last few months, he wanted Mom around and enjoyed listening to her sing, talk, giggle and laugh, and of course, make him his favourite yummy goodies that he was not supposed to indulge in!

Right now, unfortunately for me, it is hard to remember the good times although there were so many. Only the terrible memories filled with pain and suffering due to his ill-health continue to flash through my mind often. I am trying. Still unable to look through photos despite Dad's wonderful, handsome, smiling face in each of them. 

Somehow, I never really allow myself to grieve. I do not suppress it but I miss him very often and particularly when there are decisions to be made and I feel incapable of making them without him to advice and guide me. (It is another matter that he felt I never took it!) 

Today, am just letting myself go through what I am feeling, for a change, and accepting it for what it is. 

Deeply grateful for a father's love. 

Proud to be your precious daughter, dear father. Will never forget how you slipped down the stairs while carrying me as a child when I was asleep in your arms while we were visiting with friends. You did not let go of me during the fall as you retained your presence of mind and managed to balance me on your shoulder. However, you ended up spraining your ankle, which caused you pain ever since then, but never once did you mention it, let alone complain about it. I'm sorry I was such a thorn in your side for all of your life. 

I have fought with you a whole lot and given you much grief and disappointed you many a time. I am truly sorry for all the anguish I caused you. I know that you have forgiven me in your heart and soul. 
Miss you more than ever - my dearest, lovable, kindest, wittiest and smartest Popa. 

Will be doing this again on your birthday this year - Thank you, Eco Kitchen.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Roy? Boy, oh boy!

'Roy' is a bit pretentious, disappointing really. Went to check out the casting and did not read up on the movie at all as it is supposed to be a thriller and all. Pfffttt, only.

Also, my annoyance was compounded by this couple next to me in the corner seat. I never pick these seats but those were the only ones available. Big mistake. The girl didn't stop talking to the guy and was also yakking on her phone. Why do people bother coming to a movie if they do everything else but watch it??? Seriously irritated! 

Also, theatre was ridiculously crowded. How come so many people are not at college/work???? Two idiots got into a fight and started yelling at the top of their voices. 

Surprised (pleasantly) to see all the whistling for Ranbir. Lots of whistles for Jacqueline too, which was surprising. Just for her looks, right? Although being cast with Ranbir and Rampal, she makes it straight up into the A list set of heroines. Her acting? Less said the better. Looks gorgeous, of course.

Ranbir - a two second fight scene which started and ended in the blink of an eye, had the whole hall whistling. I mean, seriously? Either they were actually enjoying it (which makes one wonder at the kind of things that seem to impress people these days) or they were clearly bored! And is Ranbir in it for just his star value? No change of expression, and no acting skills required, just stare into the distance on foreign shores and pocket the big bucks! Nice indeed. For him.

Rampal - brooding and supposed to be intense but the role really did not demand it! :)

The visual and melody of the song 'Tu Hai Ki Nahin' is pleasant, and Jacqueline is of course, very easy on the eyes (not to mention a less expensive option for T-Series as compared to Katrina Kaif).

It was nice to see Shernaz Patel after a long while, but she might as well have been playing Arjun Rampal's mother as per her role. Anupam Kher in yet another role as the supportive father; he might as well sleepwalk his way through Bollywood now.

The trailor made it look interesting, and the movie seems great for the main cast, but what's in it for the audience? Am still wondering.

Otherwise, slow movie. Confusing as well. Kept waiting for something awesome to happen. No such luck.

From Chandni Chowk to Chennai... :-)

Dilli waali chaat comes to Singara Chennai. Burrrraaahhh!! Or shall we say Bravo, 'coz it is considered a brave move by some.

'Authentic' is a word that has become commonly (ab)used in cooking terminology across India. Most cuisines when brought to another city/country tend to absorb the flavours of the local palate into their preparations, so much so, that it is very difficult to get people to appreciate the original and (yes, let's say it), authentic taste across the board. 

Sathyam Cinemas' range of multiplexes are popular in the city not just for the latest movies that run in their theatres, but equally or probably even more for their food ventures. One of the first to bring in  French desserts for the connoisseur at Ecstacy, and the spiced seasonings and flavourings for popcorn (Cajun, chilli barbecue, cheese, caramel and so on) that are extremely popular among all ages, it is now time to bring in street-style Indian chaat, all the way from Delhi.

Around 13 chaat varieties are available with two dessert options. Having sampled a plate of Golgappas/Paani Pooris, Dahi Poori, and Frontier Samosa Chhole, I will definitely be going back for more. The plateful of crisp jalebis in a puddle of sweet rabdi is a visual, sensory and olfactory delight.

The Golgappas are of two varieties - the usual 'atta', and now available at a few other outlets, 'sooji'. You can pick and choose as per your preference. There are also SIX varieties of paanis available - kala khatta, jal jeera, kali mirch, pudina, hing and classic. Again, you get to taste each of the paani varieties or you choose whichever you prefer. I personally found jal jeera refreshing given the summer heat that's already warmed it's way into February.

Thoroughly enjoyed the Samosa Chhole. The filling has aloo and green peas, spiced with both 'teekha' and 'meetha' chutneys, along with hot chhole. All the flavours blended in beautifully. 

Dahi Poori is a mix of the atta and sooji pooris, sprinkled with finely chopped onions that provide the perfect crunch, topped with 'hara' and date chutneys, and yogurt with pomegranates and sliced green grapes, adding a tangy yet sweet freshness to the whole dish.

A young group of local Tamilian boys and a girl who was being teased by her friends to pay the bill with her credit card, opted for just one plate of Hari Mirchi Pakodas, which they all shared. The Bajji is a popular street snack here, which is probably why they chose that one among the rest. The Bajji of the South is totally different from the Mirchi Vada or Pakoda of the North. The filling and chutneys have nothing in common. Ajnabee, a well-known chain of restaurants owned by a Gujarati family here offering short eats and chaats, has a very spicy mirchi vada on its menu, although the size of the pakoda is half of what is available at Sathyam. 

I chanced upon the colourful poster with the Indian lorry-style title while booking tickets for the first day, first show of the movie, Roy. Except for the casting, scenic locales and the song with the musical whistle, I'm glad there was something outside the theatre to look forward to for a change. This counter is only at Sathyam Cinemas' Royapettah location now, at the counter facing the front entrance steps. 

I can have chaat any time of the day or night, and after having grown up in Bombay, Calcutta and eating expeditions in Delhi, one is practically starved for chaat in the South.

Abhijit Berde, a food consultant from Mumbai who has worked as a chef with the ITC and The Oberoi groups and with flight kitchens like Kingfisher earlier, is testing the waters here for just three days. If this takes off, he says he would help bring in more options like a Rajdhani-style thali with South Indian non-veg dishes, and a high-end chaat resto where the street food favourites are all prettily plated up. 

Abhijit says if it does well Sathyam would probably change the branding. I like it the way it is even right now. For the moment, check out the 'Chaat OK Please' counter at Sathyam Cinemas this weekend.

The Chaat Festival is on only from the 13th to 15th of Feb, 11am to 11pm. 

Go get your chaat fix on!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Filter Kaapi Pit Stop!

Only Coffee - Essentially, a coffee shop on the way to Trichy. It serves traditional Kumbakonam degree coffee. Or filter 'kaapi' as it is popularly referred to in 
South India! :)

The owner has given it a Kerala style ambience. The entrance is dotted with potted plants, giving the whole place a green, pleasant and breezy vibe to chill out in.

With terracotta artefacts, a Ganesha idol and brass overhanging bells, the varieties of coffee powder are prominently displayed at the entrance on a platform covered in a traditional 'mundu'* style! Simple yet elegant!

This little display of a crow throwing pebbles into a pot to bring the water up to the surface took me back to my childhood days where burrowing my nose in a book on Aesop's fables or an Amar Chitra Katha was the norm. 

Harmonious music mellifluously hums in the background. The open air style of the coffee shop ensures a lovely cross ventilation of fresh air. 

An entire section is devoted to books - for children & adults. Folk takes and philosophy essentially, in Tamil & English. 

I actually found a book here that I've been looking for, for over two years!! It is never in stock at bookstores nor online as it a very old publication and reprints are rare to find, though it was a bestseller. The original book was here!! Imagine discovering it in a remote coffee stall on a highway on the way to a small town in South India! The music CDs are mostly of the classical and devotional variety.

And now on to the main purpose of this establishment! 

The coffee is prepared in front of you, on a very clean platform with a stove and other utensils, at the live coffee station, a nook at the side of the entrance. 

An ancient coffee grinder occupies pride of place here. Fresh coffee grounds are displayed in pans to showcase the different coffee blends available.

The coffee, needless to add, is delicious!! Served in brass-plated davaras, the halt here during a road trip on a hot day makes you feel refreshed and energised. 

The staff is courteous and serve you with a smile. A shelf stocks readymade mixes of 'podis'** and pickles and savouries.

The restrooms are spotlessly clean and well maintained. There is a little play area for kids.

The entire ambience has been carefully created and celebrates (and reminds you of) the simple pleasures of life - to stop and enjoy sipping a hot, tasty beverage while appreciating the open air, Indian culture, good music and good books to occupy one's mind and heart, amidst a peaceful, serene setting - while traversing the sometimes convoluted journey called life!!

Kudos to the owner for creating (and maintaining - always the hardest part) a li'l oasis in the middle of nowhere for the weary traveller!

*mundu - traditional garment worn by people in Kerala.
**podis - podi is a ready mix of Indian spice powders that can be eaten as an accompaniment to rice, idly, dosa and so on.