Where can I eat…

Very often, someone will ask me for a food recommendation and then they’ll regret it. A food conversation with me does not stop until I see you taking notes. One of my work beats is food — not fine dining, I’m afraid. I do the rasta food, and the nice little mom-and-pop shops, and the grotesque food and little food economies. So I talk about food a lot. 

Which got me thinking, that we’d never spoken about it much. Let’s do meetha. Here’s a list of must-eat Bombay treats depending on where you are in the city. Let’s start South.

Chocolate Eclairs from Theobroma, Colaba

When I walk into the Colaba branch of this patisserie, the server asks me, “One or two?” He means chocolate eclairs. Their hazelnut ganache filling is piped into the née firm choux, instead of sandwiched. The year before last, they made  a half-kilo birthday eclair for me and it wiped away my weariness. The lemon syrup cake, dense chocolate loaf and banana loaf are my reliable hostess gifts.

Theobroma was also the landscape against which I met my favourite philosophy. At one time, I used to work in the early morning shift for the afternoon edition — 3 am to 8 am. This meant we could end our shift with breakfast and we’d try a new place each time. At Theo’s, a mother was coaxing her daughter to eat a sandwich and bribed her with the promise of a sweet treat if she did. The girl insisted she wasn’t hungry and finally, her mother gave her permission to pick whatever she wanted from the display. The little girl chose the biggest and gaudiest birthday cake. “I thought you didn’t have place in your stomach,” challenged her mother. “It’s for my other stomach,” replied the girl.

RTI Lemon tarts, Fountain or Colaba Causeway

Bright yellow, synthetically strong and surprisingly crumbly pie. The routine at work was to call RTI and ask if they had them, and then book them all and go sprinting. Best Rs 35 fix.

Mawa jalebi from Bhendi Bazaar (Mohammed Ali Road)

This is by far the most obscene treat. The little stall behind Hara Masjid (Jama Masjid) opens after 5 pm. He squirts mawa (essentially the same thing that gulab jamuns are made of) into squiggles, deep fries them, dunks them into chashni and then BOOM! Widow-maker. They look like turds and I can’t eat more than one.

Taj Ice cream, Saifee Ambulance Lane, Masjid

Saturday was Taj Icecream day at the newspaper. It was also Badshah day. These guys hand-churn the full cream milk in 150-years-old copper containers. Mango or Strawberry is the flavour I suggest (fresh fruit chunks). You may not be able to stomach the environs (it looks like a mori), so order in.

Firni at Shalimar, Majid

There is a kheer they make in my marital household, which I can only describe as angel semen. The milk is reduced on a low flame for nearly three hours, then in go ghee-roasted vermicelli, slivered almonds and pistachios. After this it sits in the fridge overnight and makes its way to my welcoming gullet. The phirni at Shalimar is a near replacement. I suggest the glutton’s platter — rabdi (not overly sweet), kulfi and phirni all together. It’s not for amateurs. 

Pedhas from Gaurishankar Chitarmal Mithaiwala 

The best pedhas in the world come from this mithaiwala under the Parel bridge. I’ve eaten them all my life (Ajoba and maami come home with a white floral bundle under their arms. Glee ensues). The thumb-pressed squares are the right form factor, perfectly sweetened. I served them at my engagement and wedding, and one guest took a plateful and made a meal out of them. I also like squashing them into thickened milk and freezing the mass into kulfi.

Suttarfeni from Damodar on Dadar TT

Suttarfeni loyalists are divided into the Parsi Dairy Farm and Damodar camps. But through a purely scientific method, it has been concluded that Damodar is the best — light, fluffily and not too sweet. Parsi Dairy farm’s suttarfeni is too greasy with ghee for my taste. My heart was ruled by their mawa samosa for years until it was discontinued in 2008-2009. That was the worst kind of betrayal.

Strawberry Mille Feuille at Oven Fresh, Shivaji Park

I am a fan of this place’s ethos — mark a territory and serve it to the best of your ability. They turned 20 recently and my favourite thing on the menu has to be their Sour juice (blueberry, raspberry, banana). They hold sampling sessions often (during which I perform feats of pastry architecture on my paper plate) and there I met a strawberry mille feuille, which didn’t make it to their permanent menu, but is a strong contender for my birthday cake this year.

Jhamas at Chembur, Vashi, Nerul

You’ll need a list — pista katri (slivers of pistachio embedded in kaju katri); sev barfi (fragrant with rose water); and kalakand. For a easy fix, their warm gulab jamuns (also kept on a simmer) and the simple barfi are enough. Everythign about that barfi appeals to my senses — a nice even cube, moist but not liquid, not too sweet and fragrant not inherently, but by virtue of the sev barfi it sits next to. 

Malpuas at MM Mithai, Malad

This gift came to me via colleague Vikas Hotwani. I wasn’t into malpuas until I met these. Paper thin, crisp around the edges and about three inches in diameter. I like them cold when the sugar has crystallised a bit.

I hope you’ve got that down. I need to make a food map.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Phrases I am going to throw around more often

L’ at
Phrase
Like that.
A usage mostly among Catliks.

One fine Bandra evening, Alan is nursing a feni.
He is listening to “The Best of Lionel Ritchie”.

Ryan passes by.

Ryan: What you doin’, men?

Alan: L’at only.

Bond
Noun
A person who has unbelievable expertise with certain things.
A: Dude, I’m getting a lot of errors during run time in this program.
B: Go to Santosh man, He is a Bond when it comes to correcting logical errors in Java.
A: Lo macha, networks 2 nalli yenu gottila.
B: Santosh hattra hogo, avnu aa subjectnalli bond. Yen bekadru helkodthane.

I have been told that in certain circles (read: Danda, Khar), Bond also refers to one’s father. I like that usage better.

Porki
Noun.
Ineffectual bumbling fellow that displays a combination of slothfulness and sketchiness while also being unrefined; used as a a term of endearment
Ryan is a total porki! Look at him with his hands in his pants doing nothing useful.

Of course, now there is kolaveri, giving name to the undescribable rage within.

Kolaveri
Noun
Popularized by the song Why this Kolaveri Di

It means a murderous rage felt by a jilted or spurned lover but in everyday parlance refers to unnecessary anger. Also see KLPD to understand the full spectrum of male rejection in India.

Girl : I called you a few times last night, why didn’t you pick up?
Boy: Oh sorry, I was watching TV.
Girl : Dude, how dare you? What if it was something important? Don’t you have any sense of resonsibility?
Boy: Hey! Don’t over-react. Why this kolaveri?

Projects that lasted a day

1. My dad was never big on imparting his “culture” to us, much to our handicap. When people ask why we’re matriarchal, he says marriage to a g***** is unconditional surrender. Now I speak to him in Gujrati and he answers in Marathi.
But that Thursday night in 1989, AS was staying over and my loving, malleable father thundered: “Fruit of my loin! Thou shall learn Gujarati! Tomorrow we commence your training at 9 am sharp! Okay, 10 am.”
My brother was harbouring adolescence in his room and learning Gujarati was not going to help him further his career as a GI Joe.
So me and AS gathered in the morning in front of my cupboard. The doors were painted black so that I could draw and play teacher-teacher on it.
My father wrote out the alphabet and the numbers one to ten. We copied them down studiously and repeated after him. Then we broke for lunch and he suspended lessons for a nap.
We went out to play hopscotch. He never mentioned the lessons again, even though I wrote about them in a composition on ‘How I Spend my Fridays’.

2. During the 1991 Gulf war, we (mother, brother and I) were sent back to India for a few months, like many other Indians. That was a tragically wrong move because those were the best days to be in Bahrain.
Destruction was imminent so life was tuned to Full Swing — there were random days off from school, US troops brought excitement, shops went on sale and when we came back, everyone had these really cool Gulf War tee-shirts.
We landed mid-term in Navi Mumbai and my parents were keen on us continuing our CBSE education. The only school was in Nerul, three towns away from Vashi, where we lived. It only had classes up to Eighth grade and my brother was in Ninth. My parents didn’t want to separate us as I couldn’t travel alone.
So they enrolled us and we got brand new uniforms. A tie and belt would seal our admission. I was really excited about them because 1. I had never worn a tie before and it looked very official 2. My skirt kept falling off.
But by the end of the day, my parents decided that it would not do for my brother to lose a year, nor for us to be separated.
That’s how I was in ApeeJay school for one day.

3. 1994-1995 was a bad year for concentration. Over every class, ever conversation gathered dark clouds booming the importance of Board exams. They thundered stress and guilt. Everyone was fine-tuning their approach to distinction. I found I could “study better” if I went to the terrace in the evening. Between reading chapters and drifting off, I caught sight of birds flying right to left.
I would study their patterns, I declared to my rapt inner audience. Present a paper on them after my board exams were done. Look, they only fly out in pairs! No they don’t! They head only in one direction! I could count them and see if they number tallied over days! They might be a rare, undiscovered species! My life had a purpose! Up yours, Board Exams! The inner audience stood up to applaud.
I forget to go up next evening.

Take the train

At Kurla, the Second Class Gents compartment is packed like Rakhi Sawant’s blouse. A fight breaks out between two strap hangers, and the amalgamated crowd rocks back and forth. People shout.

“Bas kar maadarchoddo, koi gir jayega”
“Aee! Aee! Band karo!”
“Akal nai hai kya tum logo ko?!”
“Shhh! Shhh! Hurr! Hurr!”
“Maar, Amitabh Bachchan, maar”

Bappi, we love you

YP was present at a ceremony felicitating Asha Bhonsle in 1997. This is his story.

Somebody gave Bappi Lahiri the mike and asked him to say a few words about Ashaji.

Bappida [in a thick Bengali accent]: Ashaji ke baare mein kya kehena. Ashaji ke gaan mein jo awaaz hai, woh kissike gaan mein nahin. Sab director apna gaan leke Ashaji ke paas jaate hai. Ami bhi unke gaan ke saath bahut kuch kiye. Humne inke gaan ke saath fusion kiya! Usme guitar dala! Tabla dala…

Ashaji [whispering]: Gappa kara hya maansaalaa…

Win!

They tried to talk me out of it, but I was a woman with a dream. High on the launch of the SaM store, I marched ahead. I had achieved a cherished dream and stepped into a magical decade. Nothing could stop me. After all, wasn’t I the one who had given this paper one of its most iconic headlines?
The story was about how to tone your gluteal muscles. The headline:

Kadak Bun Pa-o

I’ll bow to every small victory.
Once, I used to sneak in song titles and literary references. How lame was that?

And a special mention to Vycus for the exceptionally ghatiya picture.

Clogged

I have been struck down by viral infection of the snotty kind, which crept up on me while I was on anti-biotics for a violent urinary tract infection. This is why I don’t believe in doctors. I don’t like doctors. I don’t go to doctors.
I like instead to self-medicate by eating the right kind of foods, do jal neti, rest and shout a few encouraging words to my body while it fights the infection. I also depend on pani puri ka paani which can cure everything, including cancer. In that respect, it is superior to chocolate.
Whining is my preferred road to recuperation. I like to walk around the house moaning, “I’m dying. I’m dying” like a ghoul. Tushar escapes to work. “I’m dying of UTI,” I call him to say, “Will you miss me?”
Usually, I’m left to the dog, that selfish, demanding piece of tar who is as sticky as he looks. Whatever you read about dogs sensing you are ill and comforting you is a lie. Tell a dog you’re dying and he looks at you expectantly. Tell him again and he wags his tail. “Are we going for a WALK? TO THE DOWNSTAIRS?” Your dead body is as good for cuddling as a live one, albeit a bit colder.
Tushar’s mother, who lives with us, keeps saying things like, “Doctor ke paas chali jao” or “Paracetamol lo”. She means well, bless her soul, but she’s no expert in wasting illnesses. I try to break it to her gently that there’s no use in trying to deal with the dying, but she doesn’t believe in rhyme.
Unless it’s pretty drastic, I put off telling my own mother. But with Tushar at work, the dog trying to crawl back into my womb and mother-in-law more interested in scientific reasoning, I have no choice.
Besides, my mother smothers illnesses with her love. The last time she took me home, this happened.

1. Took me to her doctor and told him how hard I work and how I don’t get enough rest, or eat the right food and asked for a supplement to make me stronger. I won’t say I don’t enjoy this.

2. Make me ALL my favourite food. It gets better if I say I don’t feel like eating. Then she brings the tray UP to my old room and FEEDS me while I lie in bed. I also get my choice of breakfast, but the best thing about having a mother is that you don’t have to tell her what you want; you just tick one of the multiple choices offered.

3. Ask if there’s been trouble between me and Tushar. Frankly, I think my mother’s disappointed that I haven’t banged the door on Tushar’s face and come home to wage a cold war for a few days.

4. Insist that I get a full medical check up.

5. Offer to support me financially I want to quit my job and stay home.

And all I had was a sinus infection.

Baby, you just got to release me

Sometimes, I feel really sad that farting isn’t socially acceptable. Is there anything more satisfying than the hydraulic- release of the gases from your intestine? The curiosity and amazement of how long and rumbling it can be and the satisfaction of a caved in stomach? The relief of letting out a small, irksome bubble with a pop? And the glee of releasing a silent but noxious soldier? And above all, the laughter! Is there anything funnier than the sound of a fart?
Why can’t we treat it like a sneeze or cough, and just say “bless you” and continue the conversation? Let’s sympathize with, “Cabbage huh? You should have smelled the ones I let out last week. Ruined the paint.”
Raise a thigh if you agree.

Did I miss the bus?

I read this on Broom’s blog and thought it was a great way to measure how far I’ve come. So…

2000: I was in the final year of college. There were six students of English Literature in the final year and were a close-knit bunch. We brought in the year at Romel’s new home and I was terrified that I didn’t know what to do with my life. Everyone else had their careers marked and if I wanted to study further, I’d have to finance it myself. I needed to start earning soon and I had a portfolio clicked. I did one assignment for Frazer and Haws, made twice the money I invested in the portfolio and never tried it again. I was in a long-distance, long-term relationship with a boy. I was content but unstimulated. We broke up by the end of the year because his parents refused to pay his med college fees if he continued to date a non-Sindhi. I started freelancing for a local newspaper by the middle of the year and by November got a job as a copy-editor with a computer gaming magazine. I also got my first column, met a bunch of geeks who opened my mind with a crowbar; and worked in what seemed then like a concentration camp, but in hindsight, was the best journalism school I could go to. I learned to use computers and the boys are among my favourite people today.

2001: I turned 21 at my first job and have celebrated every birthday at work since. Met merlin. Blown away by his talent. Magazine discontinued in August. Devastated. Fell irreversibly and irreparably in love with a drunk and drugged poet. Broke my heart in eight months. Hear of new snooty boy at work whose MSN nick is Scrotum. Start working at architectural magazine. Travel from Panvel to Bandra every day and cry at night for the poet.

2002: Decide to get a Masters. Move out of home with college-mate into our own row-house. Series of rebound mistakes follow. Roomie pines for Malabar Hill artist, I for poet. Ally McBeal soundtrack tape is worn down. Get a job with technology magazine in old office. Brother moves to America, I move back home. Almost marry Wrong Guy because I’m lonely and heartbroken. Seek counselling.
Learn Scrotum’s name. Offers money to see me in a skirt. Insult him at office Diwali party. Briefly date Married Man with Child while simultaneously dating Scrotum. Leave when I see turds in toilet bowl. He isn’t particular about flushing because he lives alone.

2003: Feel strangely young and mostly happy. Start blogging. Dissatisfied at work. Pine for poet. Go to Sikkim with best-friend from college.

2004: Scrotum asks me to marry him. Say no. Say yes. Say no. Say okay. Go back to poet. Come back to Scrotum. Get engaged. Quit tech magazine. Join Animal Rights organization. So happy about what I do, even if it means travelling from Panvel to Juhu every day. Go to Pondicherry with two girlfriends.

2005: Become Mrs Scrotum. Boo comes home. Get fired from Animal Rights Organization by insecure boss AFTER she calls my husband for tech advice. Spend three months at home, swimming free-style in anger.

2006: Join newspaper. Resentful. Directionless. Worked to the bone. Start three blogs to kill time. Start investing in tools of trade. Buy Macbook, nice camera and tripod.

2007: Swasta Ani Masta becomes a newspaper column. Consider switching to writing from editing. News to features. Join dance classes.

2008: Apply to volunteer on a kibbutz. Put Cassie to down. Lose grandmother. Start writing more, editing less. Put Boo in car and go around Kokan.

2009: Lose Cookie, Rusty and Dumpy. Tushar taken to ICU. Loses gall stone two weeks later. Tushar’s grandmother hospitalized for one-and-a-half months. Comes home, leaves earthly abode two weeks later. Spend first NYE in seven years away from Tushar.

ps: I didn’t know the Married Man was married. Neither did anyone else. His family was in his hometown and he’d been pretending to be a bachelor in Mumbai for 6-7 years.