Speaking to a colleague today, i.e post Christmas, I realised, how well marketed is Christmas is, it has a brand mnemonic, cuisine, Santa, gifts, involves children. It fuels a sagging economy. Everyone gets a gift. In India its normal in a household with school going children to decorate Christmas trees, sing carols, get gifts from Santa, buy marshmallows, Christmas pudding, Mince pies. As a contrast, Lohri a north Indian winter festival involves, rural population of Punjab, punjabi couples (newly married) and families in their first year of marriage (first Lohri). Rewri makers and wood cutters and sellers benefit. That's it.
This not about Christmas or Lohri this is about an afternoon, at a store in Jorbagh,(two days before Christamas and how it is similar to a store in John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row and in that, Lee Chong's store(Lee Chong's Heavenly Flower Store).
Steak House : Jor Bagh Delhi
Located at the sanctum sanctorum of the New Delhi's Old rich District. In the tiny and full of character Jorbagh market. This was my fourth or fifth shopping visit ( incidentally I have been billed twice, in excess). The blue blooded Dilliwallah doesn't care or check their bills. The store was set up on 12-12-1963. A break away from Khub Chand and Sons ( a famous store in CP in the 60's, however the piggery by the name Khub Chand and Bros survives). The one act play that follows has the following characters:
The Lady (shopping for bacon and ham, spectacles, fair and professor like giving- free advice)
The Daughter (from the mother and daughter separate bill duo)
The Mother (from the mother and Daughter separate bill duo)
Bikram (the overweight food show host)
Cheese buyer (gives advise on buying cheese, specs blue round neck sweater)
Parthasarthi (bureaucrat shopping on way home from abroad asks for some credit to pay for Christmas pudding from the establishment)
Kuldip Shenker (the owner of the establishment)
Vir Singh (billing, been with establishment for 42 years)
Two uninterested and demotivating store attendants call them Thapa 1 Thapa 2 (largely responsible for uncourteous behaviour)
I had gone to the store for our Christmas food shopping waiting to be served in a brown skin and brown clothes. I was giving Wengers the pass this year and was ready for a more gastronomically interesting Christmas, this year. On the list was cheese (a Pondicherry Gouda), Ham, Sausages, Rum soaked raisin Cake, Christmas pudding and if possible a cured leg of ham.As you enter the store you get an unexplainable smell a blend of stale air, cured meats, matured cheese , yeast and groceries rolled into one.
Started with buying Cheese and overheard the The lady and The Daughter go.... If it wasn't for their ham and bacon I would never come here. The Daughter: The Le Marche at Select City Walk by Sugar and Spice cuts out great slivers of ham, great for sandwiches. The Lady : Sugar and Spice sucks. I added, no, there some great cold cuts stocked at their Khan Market outlet. The Lady: Oh shucks I was just there. Under their breath The staff here is so unhelpful and impolite.
At the cheese counter, I look, I hear, The Daughter tastes smoked Gouda I try and choose the smoked gouda and pepper gouda. I talk about the Flanders's Mozzarella, The Cheese Buyer, says Flanders has a shop at Meher Chand Market In Lodhi Colony and by the way Amul's Mozzarella is the best. He buys his cheese and leaves.
I spot a Bikram an Unknown Food show host,who I had seen on TV,he had been to the Santa Village at Lapland and had covered a restaurant and Spa which offered a meal, unlimited food and Spa @ Euro 300 ! Steep ! We get talking, he asks what are you buying, we discuss my quest for the perfect sausage, he says Calcutta, I ask, in Delhi, He says Pigpo Breakfast Sausage a few Shops away, deep down I don't agree as I have tried it, my quest still continues.
Meanwhile, The Mother says out, aloud, a recipe for Pork Chops (she is getting them dressed, like she is buying and then deciding on the recipe). Bikram suggests, marinate in salt and pepper half cook, smear apple sauce and roast. Kuldip Shenker (the owner), dishes out the right foriegn "expensive"brand of apple sauce bottles and the sale is made.
Me: Desperately looking for Christmas Cake Or pudding I am offered Indian Palco which I can buy from my Anda Breadwallah, or expensive imported cake at Rs 1100/- a pound. Finally I chat up with the establishment he dishes out Mrs Walia'sStuff, ( a relative of the Mrs Bhicoo Manekshaw who runs Basil and Thyme , who I ran into at this store once before i.e Bhicoo), from under the counter. Its the Christmas puddings packed in a steel container. I ask for one.
Parthasarthi: (the bureaucrat) who is buying Ritter Choclates overhears and begs for one as well. We both get one each. Parthasarthi discusses the exotic way his wife will steam and flambe it. However , he is short of some Indian currency and asks for credit as he is coming from abroad (no credit card ? in this day and age ??)
We all patiently wait to be billed, first The cheese buyer who see buys and leaves, Bikram (buys expensive Cheddar, baked beans and some other stuff), the lady, Parthasarthi, Me, The Daughter and The Mother with separate bills and I then move out. It was more than a visit to a store it was like a congregation of foodies, at the local shrine.
This was a slice of life from an afternoon at Steakhouse, so different from the proletariat and pedestrian places I hang out at. As a part of the experiences for a Salesman's guide to eating out under Rs 100/-. This was so different and so detached. I felt like the rich old Delhi Boxwallah albeit, for a little while, raised me from my middle age and middle class existance.
So why the name Of Lee Chang's Grocery in the title of my post. You need to read the Cannery Row by John Steinbeck to see the similarity in the two stores. The cult attraction, the conversation. the late evening hangout, the exchange of recipes and everything in between.
Chong's Grocery in Cannery Row By John Steinbeck
Lee Chong's is the first location we are introduced to in the novel, the hub of commerce in Cannery Row. Lee Chong's store is truly a "general store" in which you could buy, "clothes, food both fresh and canned, liquor, tobacco, fishing equipment, machinery, boats, cordage, caps, pork chops. You could buy at Lee Chong's a pair of slippers, a silk kimono, a quarter pint of whiskey and a cigar. You could work out combinations to fit almost any mood." Almost everyone in the area owes money to Lee Chong, but he is generous with his debtors because he has found they will usually pay him back rather than make the long trek to the next nearest store over in New Monterey. Its also said what you cant get at Lee Chongs Heavenly Flower Grocery you can at Dora's.
Unfortunately, there isn't a Dora's at Jorbagh.
The parting shot.
Today is Boxers or Boxing Day : Why is it called That ?
What the estimated price of Christmas pudding for a pound and two pounds at your favourite outlet ?
So Long !
I know a lot of you are reading, please do leave a comment its quite easy. Love and wishing you all a Happy new year. 2009 will be fine.