Friday, October 31, 2008

Mystery of Motimahal : Spot the Original

Have been contemplating, who's photo should be the lead photo,
butter chicken or the man who created butter chicken.Now, like the Mona Lisa preceeds, Leonardo Da Vinci, similarly butter chicken preceeds, Kundan Lal Gujral. Surprisingly, there are more fake , remake, replicas, rehashes of Motimahal restaurants across
the world, than the Mona Lisa.

The story began percolating within me nearly a week ago when we visited, Motimahal restaurant in Daryaganj, New Delhi. This was a pre-diwali team lunch. The objective was to go to the real Motimahal and trace the roots of popular Tandoori cooking in India. The owner, took our order, rather we took his recommendations and ordered, butter chicken boneless, keema, brain curry and rotis and the vegetarians did a hit and trial of tandoori gobhi, daal makhni, kadhai paneer nad something else and rotis. Overall we loved our food, excellent service, 3-4 waiters to table of 10. We befriend the staff, the oldest worker for 41 years, Joshi, Ijaaz Khan 17 years and the owner Vijay Chadha..... Vijay Chadha..... Its meant to be owned by the legend and his family name should be Gujral.

Thats when I decided to dig deep and find out clarity in the maze and matrix of Motimahals all over India and the world over. We all know Kundan Lal Gujral worked in a restaurant in Peshawar called Motimahal started in 1920 with the partition, he set up shop in the tony precinct of Darya Ganj in 1947 and rest is history with visits and patronage from Bulganin, Kruchchev, Gorbachov, Nixon, Kennedy, Trudeau, Zakir Hussain, Maulana Azad, Shah of Iran and most importantly, Nehru and then his daughter Indira Gandhi. Catering by Motimahal was famous at banquets and state functions even Sanjay Gandhi's wedding was catered in part or whole by them. Gujral was a rockstar among statesmen and film stars, and was often visited by Sunil Dutt, Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Nargis even Jackie Kennedy.

So then what happened, whats the problem, though I know the original genesis was in independent India, are all the Motimahal's in India part of the same group. With a comprehensive research, we find out that the biggest mistake Lala Kundan Lal Gujral made was that he did not register the trade mark and proprietary rights.

Original - One
The Original site at Daryaganj which was establisheed in 1947 and claims it has no branches is now owned by Vijay Chadha, who bought the tenancy rights in 1992 and also claims to be the original.

Original- Two
Then there is the Moti Mahal India Or Moti Mahal group, pioneered by Amrit Lal Kohli began with Moti Mahal Deluxe in Greater Kailash I in 1975 , South Extension, Noida, Ashok Vihar and so on followed. They claim on their website true decendants and blue (sorry butter) blood. (5/6) restaurants)

Original - Three
Moti Mahal Deluxe Hospiatality Limited owned by Ashim Gujral has Moti Mahal Restaurants and Bar directly owned or in the franchisee model (nearly 19 of them) across India, Jammu, Chandigarh, Mumbai Bandra West and so on. The food claimed to original, however is not obsessively puratanical.They also include sizzlers, continental and other cuisine in their menu.

Original -Four
Moti Mahal Management services Ltd, pioneered by Monish Gujral, who got immensely active in 2005 and has opened 52 restaurants primarily in malls across India with the brand name Moti Mahal Deluxe- Tandoori Trail.This group has the media's attention and share of voice. Newspapers and showhosts are eating out of his palm, without perhaps knowing the entire truth.

Original 100001
All across nthe world from Calgary to Warsaw, Singapore, Toronto, Melboune, Chicago, several in London there is a Moti Mahal all claiming to be the real Mc Coy. The real thing with the real lineage.

However, in our reserach Original Number Three and Original Number Four are as close in family name to the original and can claim to be the decendants of Kundan Lal Gujral and therefore of Moti Mahal. But hang on! it does not matter, if , its a belligerent rooster or a timid chicken, the taste is in the eating and in the sauce, if you like it and enjoy the experience thats the original one for you. I had to demystify things, I think I have come close.........
p.s parting shot can any one recognise amongst the two dishes (in the photos above) which is more authentic
p.p.s Hindustan Times Cafetaria (my previous employer the newspaper and not the Cafe) called News Cafe is catered by Moti Mahal (wonder which one)

So Long

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bengalooru mornings : MTR Vs Vidyarthi Bhavan

Waking up at the crack of dawn, hanging out with newspaper vendors and having(1/2) called " by two coffee" is definitely not a privilege of a newspaper circulation/ distribution executives job in any part of the world. However, soon after having the choice of an early breakfast at the local exotica with the team is certainly a privilege I definitely cherished.

The city is Bangalore, business is over and its only 6a.m. A brisk walk in Lalbagh and we are ready for breakfast. The option is hop across to MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room), the high priest of Doasas and Karnatesque breakfast cuisine, or the highly recommended Vidyarthi Bhavan. Both have their huge following. MTR with the Discovery Channel and Vir Sanghvi crowd.Whilst ,SM Krishna (the erstwhile Chief Minister of Karnatka) often drops in at Vidyarthi Bhavan. I choose to go to both, we have to get up every morning in any case (we are launching Mint the business paper with Wall street Journal), we have to congregate for breakfast in any case. Kanan, my friend and then Head of Circulation organises a breakfast meetings with the team or vendors or distributors everyday. I get to sample local exotica. The only serious clause the price has to be under Rs 100/- per head which here in Bangalore is not at all difficult.

Amongst all the varied breakfast places we went to, the MTR and Vidyarthi debate was the most prominent with both places evenly poised. MTR is two storied has a smoky, old world look with waiting benches and and easy and relaxed waiters with barefeet, knee length hitched lungis. The dosas served with ghee and chutney (sambhar on request), The idli and khara bath (a kind of upma) are served with chutney and sambhar and when they run out of chutney and sambhar, which they often do at 9am.They serve these with a potata gravy (the kind eaten eith pooris in south India). The service is relaxed, there are some oldies and senior citizens having their weekly bash. This is heartland Kannadiga belt of Bangalore. Anyone who believes Bangalore is truly cosmopolitan, needs to do a reality check after visiting Lalbagh, MTR and Gandhi bazaar. The whole experience is very different from any other south Indian food experience ever before.The prices, idli, Rs10/- Masala dosa 20/- Kesari Bath/ Kara Bath Rs 20/- cofee Rs 15/- any which way you van eat very well under rs 100/-. They encourage you to visit their enormous and clean kitchen.Basically a place to come in regularly and when one is not in a great hurry. Relax ! is the tone.
Now Vidyarthi Bhavan, it comes highly recommeded by the locals, has a huge fan following, its the unglamorous but more talented of the two siblings. The take on dosas is very different, almost a thick caramellised crust. The tast lingers on for hours, the service is unobtrusive and prompt. Our waiter Vasu has spent over 20 years at the outlet in Gandhi Bazaar. We order idli , vadas and dosas and coffee its Rs 17/- Rs 9/- Rs 12/- Rs 6/- respectively. I remember I went with my wife Praveen, who was visiting Bangalore, we both ate very well for Rs 75/- in all. It was Ganesh Chaturti the whole of Gandhi Bazaar wore a very festive look. Decked with flowers vegetables and fruits. The restaurant is very ordinary, a blink and you miss it. Situated in about a 200 sq metres plot of land, squeezed between shops. Its long narrow hall, with a cash counter as you enter.

Both these places as you can see with the menu boards attached, offer a meal fore under Rs 100/- (definitely recommended for my Salesman's guide to eating out). My vote definitely goes with Vidyarthi Bhavan for the food, umm the taste lingers on and MTR for the experience.

My question to you, can you recognise the Vidyarthi Bhavan dosa out of the two attached pictures.

So Long.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rekong Peo and Kalpa : Journey unlimited in US$ 65

Walking in the park with my Junkie friend Sanjoo in 2006, he mentioned a non stop state roadways that goes from Delhi to Rekong Peo (in Kinnaur, located on the Old Hindustan Tibet trade road/route). I had to go there. Tried a couple of times, something or the other came up.Finally, I and Sandeep Gupta walked into the sunset all set for a 20 hours, 800 kms and Rs465/ journey.

We left Delhi in the HPSR (Himachal Pradesh State Roadways) bus on Wednesday October 01, 2008 evening at 8.10 pm . Reached Rekong Peo with 5 halts (including nature breaks, meals, tea and temple halts and two tyre punctures) at 5.15 pm on Thursday 02, 2008 .Not satisfied with journey so far and the PWD rest house at Rekong Peo we went further 13 kms and a few hundred metres above sea level to live at the beautiful village Kalpa and the very nice Circuit House. Offering perhaps one of the best views of the Kinner Kailash range and the legendary Shivling, Parvati Kund, Jorkandan peak and the adjoining Raldang snow clad mountains.

We made the trip of 4 nights, 1800 kms and 12 meals and entertainment of IMFL and other miscellaneous within Rs 3000/ a person. This sounds unbelievable for the price of a night out at a pub we explored within ourselves and the world outside for US$ 65 (at current conversion rates) and enjoyed the whole experience. We ate well, lived well and drank well, it seems amazing. We did not start with a budget, somewhere half way in the trip we decided to beat the inflation and do it under Rs 3000/- and live to tell the tale.

Reekong peo is the District HQ of Kinnaur and Kalpa is the erstwhile District HQ and now declared aUnesco heritage village. It has a thousnd year old buddhist monastery which was burnt and then again rebuilt in the 50s. Kalpa was an outpost on the Old Hindustan Tibet trade road and route and strong junction on the Silk route.

Walking in the same park this time with Mr Chaterjee and and Mr Mehnditatta (as I fondly call them) , they mentioned about the Kinnauri Apsaras, mentioned in the Vedas and the Puranas, and their celestial beauty. We ratify that Lord Shiva, was right, to come to the legendary village of Kalpa as his winter abode. The women are pretty and easy to talk to. We even visited a local house to buy the local brew called Ghanti (bell, does ring a bell, made from apples, apricot and grapes) and the women wanted to chat up and next day in the village square they were again chatty. Kinnaur is the apple orchard haven and each house is allowed to make 24 bottles of local wine for their own consumption and for religious purposes.
Ghanti comes in two formats, light and strong, the legendary stuff comes from a village called Ribba. To test the potency, you dip your finger and then light the fire, the liquid burns and your finger is intact, thats strong and that retails at Rs 100/ a bottle and the light one is like a potent wine and does not light up retails at Rs 50/. We hated it and gifted the only bottle we bought to the Circuit house staff Joban Dass the housekeeper and Narendar the cook at Kalpa.

The main occupation in the valley is apple farming. The variety is the Royal Red and Delicious which are red and very juicy and very crunchy they sell at wholesale price ranging from Rs 800 to Rs 1200 for a cardboard box of 20 kg. This year the apple farmers were worried, as the size of apples is very small and they were red and ripe even at the size of a plum. Most attributed it to ecological imbalance and change in climatic conditions.

The ecological imbalance can be attributed to the creation or devastation (depends on how you look at it) of the several hydro electric power plants of HPEC (Himachal Pradesh Electricity Corporation) Jaypee Group who are collectively producing 3000 MW through several plants at Nathpa Jhakri, Baspa, Karcham, Wangtu and so on. Basically they are trying to harness the wild apaloosa of a 1500km long Satluj river. Block it , divert it, tunnel it. As a result the constant blasting has led to the place looking like a war torn territory and shaken the foundations of the mighty mountains. Resulting in landslides and silting of the river. It looks like a serious catastrophe in waiting.

WE were lucky to stay in the HP PWD Circuit house at Kalpa, with hot meals, hot water, warm beds and heated rooms, all for Rs 200/- a night, inclusive of tips we paid Rs 600/- for everything for two nights. We stayed in the old wing which was a wooden bungalow of the British era, with two bedrooms, two toilets, dining room and a lounge with glass windows with a view of the snow clad mountains.On the way back we stayed at Narkanda, HP Pwd Rest house another British era rest house spent two hundred rupees for dinner and stay of two persons for the night.

The food on the trip was average to poor as Himachalis are average cooks and could not savour the non vegetarian cuisine as I was a vegetarian, so no momos, thukpas and Khadus (mountain goat) and Bhedu (sheep). We stuck to the Aloo Paratha, Puri Aloo, Cutlets for breakfast and Rajma Rice, Roti, Vegetables and Dal for Lunch and Dinner. The locales made up for the lack of gastronomic appeal. As my grandfather often said, great locales, poor food, poor locales great food.

We did challenge ourselves to some degree, of our physical limits travelling 40 hours in a bus out of the96 hours we stayed out, walked for 11-12 hours and were shooting the breeze and sleeping the balance 44 hours. The last time I did anything close to the this physical exhaustion was when I drove down alone in an Opel Astra in 27 hours from Mumbai to Delhi (in 2000), while truckers take 72 hrs. It did rejuvenate me and makes me feel alive.
We got to do a day climb, to a peak called Chaka above Kalpa at about 15000ft. It had a water source called Chaka and a small lake. It was like a pasture land for the summers. Truly Lord Shiva chose an ideal place to relax through winter.

The highlight of the trip are the economic commercials, my companian Sandeep will be deeply disappointed (for all the hardship I caused), If the details are not shared.Transport 1215.00,Stay Rest Houses for three nights 450.00, Food, booze, guide and all other trivia, mineral water, choclates, ghanti etc 1665.00 in all Rs 3000.00 with some loose change to spare. Long live Bhola and Ghanti.
So Long