Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Ram Nayak 1942: An eatery for the worker, Mumbai

1942- Quit India Movement, Summer of 42 (a teenagers growing up story), 1942 the textile Industry in Mumbai is at its zenith. Hundreds of workers pouring out of factories hungry, want meals, which are nutritional, cheap, keeps them from pining about their home. Caters to the tastes of the South Indian and Maharashtrian taste and Bingo ! Ram Nayak, Shri Krishna Udupi Boarding was formed.

This eatery or mess is truly a working class and, as democratic and egalitarian as it gets. You enter and you have the option to be seated in large hall on the first floor overlooking the Matunga railway station (a mini south India in Mumbai). To use a cliche the claim is the owners eat in this restaurant. Its as legendary as the MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room in Bangalore). One can take a tour of the kitchen while the action is happening. The seating is interesting, you sit beside each other in row rather than face each other. The atmosphere is cool, windows open fan running. Despite all the action its not very noisy, its pretty calm and serene.

The food is simple, at times bland, the kind one can eat everyday, rather than binge once a while. The place is open only for lunch and dinner and also has a snack stall at the Matunga railway station exit. There is a fixed plan thali which cost Rs35/- (two chappatis, bowl of white rice, samabar, rasam and a vegetable) all extras are multiple of Rs 4/- and the sweets are priced at Rs10/-
The other Rolls Royce experience is unlimited food, 3 vegetables (we got a cabbage, a gourd nicely diced, a white chana (chick peas curry), sambar, rasam, set curds, salt and a choiceof three desserts, I chose Shrikhand delicious). All for a handsome amount of Rs85/-. Attaboy ! We are under Rs 100/- without even trying hard. There are four of us and we pay Rs 340/-. The tummy is full and the pocket is also still full.

A Ram Nayak passed on the baton to his three sons in the 70s. The legend lives on. One of the sons Satish an affable person was holding fort. We were served by an elderly gentleman who had been here since his youth. All such places have loyalty from their customers and the staff. My Prof Kaimal, at business school said, look after your customers and look after your people , they in turn will look after your business (japanes style of management of the early 90s). Very few businesses can claim to have that, A Ram Nayak certainly does. Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose other than you ................

Monday, August 18, 2008

Son Of Sher-i- Kashmir

We are going to Doctor Saab's house, said Devender Rana (a friend, a newly appointed dealer of Star Tv and the Maruti Dealer for J&K and parts OF HP). I thought he meant, a family doctor pit stop on our way to the office.

We approach a secluded colony near a hill, the white bunagalow in Jammu is massive and is guarded by a platoon of infantry. This is no ordinary Doctor's house. Its the Jammu home of Dr Farooq Abdullah. We enter and are seated in the lawn its winters. He joins us wearing an Arabic long tunic (Thobe, Thaub Arabic) and carrying a new Louis Vuitton Bag with slip on black leather slippers.

Is this a poltical commentary, no I have been writing about food, its ought to have a food angle. We seat ourselves, the normal conversation of Star Tv and Star News, ( back then the halo effect of Dr Prannoy Roy was still alive). We will quickly decide to visit a nearby and close friend of Doctor Saab, for Pyaar Ka Pyaala (a cup of love), actually a mid morning tea invitation. We climb his new Mahindra Scorpio, it has a loud song of Main Hoon Na, playing in it. The motorcade security has been given the day off (we drive out albeit, in the neighbourhood without any security). Considering that just last week there was suicide grenade attack which Doctor saab survived, I am edgy and nervous.

We drive less than 500 yards and reach a two storied middle class home recently made, its a kind of a house warming tea invitation. We sit in the morning sun, I am seated next to the son of Sher-i- Kashmir (his father Sheikh Abdullah was called that). He asks me are a you a Vegetarian, I say No. He says Shukr hai Khuda ka (thank the Lord).

We are served, seekh kabab, shammi kabab, boti kabab, chaap (ribs) , bread , chutney and cucumber. The food is delicious, its only 11 am, I dig in. I look at Dr Khosa a golfer and a vegetarianis pitifully nibbling on bread and cucumber. I immediately knew , why Doctor saab, thanked the lord when I accepted that I am a Non Vegetarian. More good food, cups of tea and we are ready to leave.

Now , instead of driving back home we head to the Gandhi Bazaar, I am genuinely scared, there is no security, Doctor saab wants to buy a blanket, a pillow and sheets, as he hates the bedding on the night train from Jammu to Delhi he often takes. On the way we see, Mufti Mohammad Syed's (the Chief Minister) Cavalcade , we park by the side, Dr Saab looks down, not to be spotted. Just last week, the Mufti had complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that Dr Farooq Abdullah does not take the precautions and blames the state government for inadequate security arrangements.

We enter the Raymond show room, buy a blanket, pay cash, we meet the finance minister of the state, who is getting a suit styled by the in house draper. Pick a Reliance pillow and Bombay Dyeing sheets, pay everywhere in cash. Talk about girls, websites, the Jammu porn scandal, whats the girls name, Anara Gupta, perhaps mentioned has anyone seen her tapes (who has a film being made on her life). We generally shoot the breeze. He suddenly anounces that after all this meat (gosht), we need to have yoghurt (dahi Chaat). So we drive of to Pahalwan Di Hatti for Chaat.

We are parked and we order glasses of Sweet lime juice and soon Papri Chaat ( Yoghurt based stuff). We eat, despite the fact that we are stuffed. We get talking, Dr saab don't you feel scared driving of all by yourself, without the security. He says, living like that all your life is not worth living. Besides, he says, people must think that this is some mad person who looks and dresses like Farooq abdullah, to drive around like this in the security threat environ ment.This was in 2004.

Now, the gang, decided to check out a motorcycle for a poor kid Dr Saab knew. I had my car following all this while, I politiely excused myself and left for the airport in my car. I thought to myself what a way to go, eat kababs, chaat paapri and buying accoutrements for a bed, for a night journey of a man who could have been a king(perhaps he is One).

Again I met him, through my wife (Black Berry Champion), a meeting with the home minister at the Royal Springs Golf Course in May 2007, Dr Saab, though, did not remember me from a previouis meeting, offered me to have beer. Strangely, I was placed next to him on the porch. I politely refused, he said in chaste Urdu, is it a special day when you do not drink, is there a special reason why you not will drink today. I said no. I was offerd beer and kababs, our daughter Ananya (Detective An) who was famished and loves kababs, tucked in plenty. The only relationship I have with Dr Saab is of eating and drinking.
Thank you

Bhawans Diet : Tamil Nadu House

The land and its people which were parochial enough to call me a Vella Kaka (white crow) as a teenager, while I was growing in the state of Tamil Nadu (an aryan in the land of dravidans in the 70s) is gastronomically more than acceptable to me. I have enjoyed the land, the people and the food in great measures from the 70s to now.

Memories, of Annapoorna Hotel in RS Puram, Central Biryani Hotel at Oppenkara Street at Coimbatore and slowly introduced to the Non vegetarian Tamil cuisines (Chettinaad, Chettiar, Karaikudi, Nachiyaar, Muslim cuisine of Tamil Naad), slowly the passion grew stronger and now was delighted to find the dining options at the Tamil Nadu house opposite the erstwhile Chanakya cinema.

Its pretty much a cliche, that all South Indians are Vegetarians (recent studies on food habits have shown the North has 45% Non Vegetarians, while the Southern states offer 65-85% Non Vegetrians). So, the educated gentry which travelled North and made North India their home were from a certain community which was influential, vocal and willing to travel, helped form this extreme opinion. Besides, the Udupi, Tamil and Kerala restaurants in the North e.g Woodland, Dasaprakash, Naivedyam, and the Coffee board restaurants did not want to do extreme stuff, so they stuck to the safer format of Idli, Vaada, Dosa rather than the extreme stuff. While Vegetarian and Non Vegetarian food happily co-exist.

Doing road shows for cable operators in the mid and late 90s for Discovery Channel and then StarTV, showed that all people ate, was Non Vegetarian food and ended it with Curd rice. We then started cutting down the extra dishes to keep the focus.

Now about a little Tamil Nadu in New Delhi. It has the smoke of Aggarbattis as you walk in with a proper cash counter with paans, with waiters with vibhuti(ash vermillion) on the forehead both vertical and horizontal (Vaishnavites and Shaivites). The only thing missing is loud Tamil Music. This is haven for the under Rs 100/- diner. You are spoilt for choices over 150 things on the menu.

We, (the two of us, returning from a sales call) settle down and order Porothas (thats how its spelled and pronounced, though hardcore Tamilians cannot say "P" tend to say "B"). So 4 Borothas (layered, crisp and flaky like patties) and Chettinaad mutton and Chicken biryani feeds us very well with a lot of chutnies, yoghurt with onions and gravy. Great flavours efficient service (plan how many Borothas, well in advance to avoid the in between meak wait).

The flavours are authentic, prices very eglatarian, feels like Rs Puram and you see alot of the Tamil community, even the NRI variety with an American friend from college. It definitely appeals to the sensibility of the travelling salesmen. Yes we paid Rs 250'- with the tips and paan we did not make it to the under Rs 100/- mark but we were close and we ate well. Try it.

The final comment I have to make about Bhawans is (though I could go on for another 20 more, it will be repetitive and boring), they can be a huge exposition of modern day culture and food of the province and the state, serving all local produce, including the local wine, beer and other alcoholoic beverages. Move away from current parameters of art and culture, i.e, handicrafts, traditional folk music and dance and give it a modern take for showcasing of modern existance and what better palce than Delhi where there is already a format and venue. But for godsake lets not raise the prices, so much for Government subsidy.

I am tempted to begin work on the Indian Coffee Houses (means different things to different people), I know reams or enough pixels have been written about them and in them, well still worth a try and they are bulls eye in my TG ( Target Group), eating well in Under Rs 100/-

So Long.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bhawans Diet : Orissa Bhawan

An impoverished state serving exotic food. A state known for a large population below the poverty line, claiming gastronomic ranking. Recommended by Sandip, a senior blogger (his blog try it. We had two lady visitors Preeti from Mumbai and Seema from Bangalore we bundled into a few cars, a couple more guys and went into a lane in Chanakyapuri in New Delhi. Reached a wing of Orissa bhawan.

A large hall, with tower airconditioners which I think are quaint, we absorb the atmosphere. Its the kind of place, where if you know the staff, look Oriya, speak Oriya, you get better service.The methodology is simple, basic Thali, Deluxe Thali and lots of Veg and Non Veg addons. The thalis are, vegetable curry, dal, rice, puris/chappati.The interesting part are the add- ons, fish curry, fish fried which is a pair of fried fish like Kane/Lady fish, chicken curry, mutton curry.The fish smells and tastes like sea fish. The flavours are sweeter, the gravies are at best interesting. The platter of deluxe vegetables are very nice, mustard potatoes, greens as in spinach and some bitters (bitter gourd, wax gourd). The service is quick and begins to happen when you begin to connect with the waiters.

The coolness on a summer afternoon is good , our group has ordered everything on the menu, there are 5-6 of us and all the extras put together of which we ordered plenty and the check is Rs 550/- that is bingo under Rs100/ mark per head (qualifies for a salesman guide to eating out). When we begin to order we don't keep the Rs 100/- mark. It just happens to qualify.

The vistors Preeti and Seema were expecting Dilli ka khana, are a bit taken back but they are polite not to mention it. The other guys love it, Murli,Rohit etc. I have been to Orissa Bhawan, twice again with Nitin c and another time with Shantanu c.Have not been disappointed. Try it, its nice. Its differentiated. Its democratic to great a extent, becomes better once you get acquainted. The place offers a great paan when you step outside onto the lane.

Shantanu, a collegue a sales person for over 12 years, says, I have lost so much time in eating ordinary and passable food in my sales career as oppossed to the exotica you have introduced me too. For me it all began, visiting PSU (public sector) canteens on sales calls and sneaking in to savour a different and cheaper meal deal in the early 90s, which developed into an all consuming passion.

More on Tamil Nadu house, a recent visit.
So long

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bhawans Diet: Kerala House

On the way to Kerala House off Jantar Mantar Road(in New Delhi), you see a sea of humanity at the kiosks, people devouring dosas, rajma rice, kadi rice, channa bhatura. The symbol, and one of the edifices of salesmen (some extent salespersons),eating out options at CP or Central Delhi. This is not about capitalism and its symbol "the salesman" and their eating out options.

Its about communism and the eating out options for the party workers and comrades in modern India and in New Delhi. But why does it feel like Kerala. You enter Kerala House, it feels like Allepey, the greenery, the building, the kind of plants, feel like Kerala. Its actually the workers canteen we are usually allowed into and I have been there often, even invited friends (some from Kerala, Murli, Anjana and Alex) and some from well rest of India, Sonu, Injeela, Rohit M and Nitin C.

The food is interesting, brown rice, a vegetable curry two of them (plantain,jackfruit,or something interesting as curries), sambar and Chuuku vellum to drink (out of a jug (variants of herbal or spiced water), it was jeera (cummin seed water I remember). All for Rs15/- and ofcourse unlimited. Hang on the add-ons, beef chilly, mackerel fish, curried or fried all at Rs 15/- each. We eat copious amounts of each. It feels like a workers canteen, with a large table (15 seater) in the kitchen and single men who could not make it to the middle east and work in Delhi, devotedly eat out of their rice plate.

Outside there are a few tables for fours, next to the handwash area,there are stand up dining areas. There is hardly any, chat, laughter or banter, people single mindedly come - eat- leave. As opposed to Lynn Truss's book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Its as eglatarian as it gets. We have filled ourselves with a basic meal(sort of Thali) and addons for four within Rs200/- . Thats eating local exotica for Rs 50/- each.

Its at best eating in way side eatery in Kerala, the food is not overspiced. The mackerel is nice, the sambar is different, almost umami with some ajinomoto in it, one of the only places where you get a basic version of beef chilly.Well, it does qualify as democratic place to eat. Despite its leftist disposition.

Please look out for more Bhawans, next is Orissa or is Odissi food , interesting.

So Long

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bhawans Diet

A nation mobilises in 48 hrs and goes on a diet regime for aweek to be fit to fight a war- The Israeli army diet. We have heard of the GM Diet , the Mediteranean diet, the South Beach Diet and Agent Sam's absolut favourite the Atkins diet. But, this about an absolutely an interesting diet that only people living in Delhi for extended periods, or visting Delhi can practise. Its largely a day diet (meant for lunch) usually unproductive and sluggish and unresponsive during the evening and nocturnal practise.

This is the Bhawans Diet. Eating out at states bhawans located in Delhi. It can also include the State sadans, State residences. I have been researching for a few years eating well in 100 Rupees (local exotica) and not pizza, burgers, vada pav and dosas. The State bhawan's representing the 28 states (I hope thats correct)and 7 Union territories (except Delhi of course ) are well represented in Delhi and most offering the cusines of the state in most intertesting spread and economical budget as they largely fit in the Rs100/- price range.

My friend Nat, who dislikes all variations of regional food (a tamilian by birth and Bengali by adaptation and Dilliwala by profession), seriously overweight, coined the term Bhawan's diet. Had this to say, on Bhawan's diet, a term he coined, If I keep eating in all Bhawan's for a month,I will not only experience variety for 26 (or is it 28days) and perhaps like the Atkins diet lose as many pounds.

On contraire, Agent Sam feels, will gain as many pounds.

I have always been a great evangelist and perhaps an exponent (among my circle of trust) for the egalitarian eating out business and have often voiced my need to write a " A Salesman guide to eating out under rs 100/-" priced at Rs 99/. I have visited over 174 interesting place to eat in over 32 towns in India. But as I said its not about in India, no hang on Its about India, but all of India in New Delhi. Trust me its not a slap dash job of going to Dilli haat and writing about the food in Awadh, Kerala, Andhra, Maharashtra on a few afternoons out.

On contraire, its a deep quest for the right address, cajoling and making polite conversation to be allowed into the sanctum sanctorum of the gastronomic halls of freedom. Its a pity that all Bhawan's do not have the authentic food of the region with the provincial chefs and contractors . However there are many more that offer gastronmic delights that feel like a eurakan moment in terms of discovery.

The State bhawans/ Sadan/hostel and residences I have visited are Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Orissa, Mahrashtra, Tamil Nadu and I embarassed to admit Andhra Bhawan which every man and his dog in Delhi has visited (including me). Actually Andhra Bhawan is the firestone that ignites the journey to Bhawandom.The other Bhawans slowly and usually follow.

Jammu and Kashmir:

Not a patch on the original Kashmiri food at Hadoos in Srinagar, Mir saab of Jangpura in New Delhi and a caterer in the Jammu Kash House who caters for Weddings (I forget his name). Other Kashmiri experiences in Hotels and restaurants have been mediocre, e.g, Chor Bizzare at Hotel President and the IHC and IIC.The best experiences have been in rich Kasmiri homes, both Pandit and Muslim.

The food at Jammau Kashmir House is best described as that of a Musafir Khana (which it actually is), which is served in the dhabas, on the upper climbs on the highway to Poonch (which in the late 80's had Gen Zia- ul -haq's photo behind the cash counter and its not POK that I am talking about). The bland meat with high doses of turmeric and salt the only percieved flavour. We went in as agroup of 4 persons, ordered Rogan Josh, some vegetables, rice and multiple orders of seekh kabab (procured by chatting up the waiter with polite conversation). In fact several portions of the above for a royal sum of Rs 450/-.

Its tolerable budget Kashmiri food, which leaves with you a feeling, let me try it one more time, before I make and form an opinion. Missed out on the exotic need for Haq (greens), Nadroo(lotus stems, lotus eater you see), Tabakmaaz (fried ribs) and of course, Rista (meatballs), Gustaba (more meatballs) and other parts and entralls of the humble goat and its, diet ( I meant the goats diet in terms of the greens).

The dining hall is two sections one quiet and lonely (bourgeouise) and full and noisy (proletariat)Net, net please ago if you are missing the the cookhouses on the Rajouri - Poonch road, with impoverished, porcelain plates, cups and plates. Maybe if we told them in advance, or have the access to Kashmiri bourgeouise, bureaucrat or royalty with us for a better experience. It does not qualify as democratic place to eat yet.

While we are on Kashmiri I have an interesting story to tell on Kashmir

Son of Sher-i-Kashmir (Doctor saab)

Will fill you in slowly on other bhawans Orissa which have been several times, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

So Long