Of Iftars, Sehris, and Late Night Roadside Dinners

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Along with October and December, this is my favourite time of the year. October ushers in the Big Fat Durga Pujo Madness (mostly October – I have to refer to Beni Madhob Shil’s Phool Ponjika for confirmations. The ‘ponjika’ is the Hindu Almanac by the way, and knowing the plurality of Bengali festivals, it is quite essential for Bengali homes) which is almost a month-and-a-half of shopping-hogging-drinking-socializing-hogging some more. December is good ol’ Christmas and is the warmest time of the year for me. Nothing soothes my soul more than Kenny G soulfully playing ‘Silent Night’ while a permanent aroma of cake baking hangs in the air. And then, at midnight, the church bell tolls, rice lights flicker everywhere to their set choreography, and you dream of the magnificent Christmas feast while singing ‘Rudolph’.

That brings us to this month – Ramzan. I fast during this period, something I have been doing for four years now for reasons I hold very dearly to my heart. What makes this month an absolute delight is the variety of delicacies that are typical to this period of prayer and abstinence. While my Sehri (First meal of the day before sun break) tends to be very simple – juices, cakes, and tit-bits – major feasting happens during Iftar (post-fast meal after sun down) and for dinner after Tarawi (special prayers that take place during the month of Ramzan). It should also be noted that waking up for Sehri (4 AM) proves to be quite an ordeal for me and often it is blissfully slept over – like today.

During Ramzan, roadside haleem and khichda stalls conjure themselves from thin air around Mumbai. While I have quite enjoyed the haleem even back in Calcutta, I was very recently introduced to khichda, a close cousin.

Haleem and Khichda – A Detailed Understanding!

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Literally, haleem means ‘patient and merciful’. It is served during the month of Ramzan, and is considered to be the ideal dish to break the fast with. Haleem originates from Iran and Afghanistan and is a rich Persian delicacy which was introduced to India during Akbar’s rule. Khichda is a vernacular (and evidently spicier) derivative of the dish.

Haleem is made from wheat, ground meat, a mix of protein-rich lentils, spices and ghee with lemon juice and other condiments. The dish is slow cooked for seven to eight hours, which results in a paste-like consistency, with the taste of spices and meat blending with wheat. In khichda, the chunks of meat remain intact, while in haleem the meat chunks are taken out of the pot, bones are removed, meat is ground to as smooth a paste as possible and put back in the pot. It is further cooked until the meat completely blends with the lentils, wheat, and lentil mixture. It is garnished with caramelized onions, chopped coriander, and hot green chilies. [Reference:  http://nidhiraizada.blogspot.in]

These paddles are used by chefs when cooking haleem and khichda on an industrial scale!

These paddles are used by chefs when cooking haleem and khichda on an industrial scale!

The Hyderabadi Haleem (both India and Pakistan. Pakistan also has a Hyderabad, remember?) has attained global fame as the most delectable preparation of the haleem. Traditionally, Hyderabadi haleem is cooked on a low flame of firewood for up to 12 hours in a bhatti (a cauldron covered with a brick and mud kiln). One or two men stir it continuously with wooden paddles throughout its preparation, until it reaches a sticky-smooth consistency, similar to mashed mince. In 2010 Hyderabadi haleem was granted Geographical Indication status (GIS) by the Indian GIS registry office, making it the first non-vegetarian dish in India to be listed as GIS.

But, the feast does not stop just there. It is quite an introduction though. While the shawarma is my go-to snack (and meal) at least once a week, because of my partner-in-crime’s oddball desire to feel ‘Muslim’ during Ramzan, we have it more often these days (He is Muslim. I don’t know what he wants to attain!) So, last evening we started our post-Tarawi feast with a shawarma each. We were sitting in a bustling restaurant in Kurla which had extended onto the footpath to make space for cauldrons of food and crowd of people. It was a glittering and maddening area with a few more such restaurants busy serving plates of meat and haleem. Even a fight broke out. I was absorbing everything like a sponge – the aroma of spices, the delightful sight of steam spewing out of massive handi-fulls of dal gosht, the fire roasting the stack of chicken for shawarmas, the chef pouring in mugs of malpua batter into hot oil, the piles of roasted-red chicken pakoda, haleem and khichda – and at that moment, I felt very much at home after a long time. It was the warmth in the air, the dynamic of serving the hungry, which connected every individual in that space. The ‘oneness’ of it all was most heartening.

We sampled the haleem and the khichda too; a little apprehensive at first as he does not enjoy either and I am very picky about the haleem I eat. Both of us were pleasantly surprised when we had polished off the plates in a few minutes amidst bits and pieces of expert criticism! The haleem was heavenly – smooth and textured, loaded with spices which could be singularly experienced. The khichda was a tad too spicy and gluten-y for me, but definitely delicious. I got my very first ‘Mutton Paya 101’ after that. While he made it sound extremely disgusting (with his very theatrical facial expressions exuding disgust) I was piqued. In front of us, baskets of fresh kidneys and livers were being chopped, mixed with spices and fried on a tawa. Fresh brains with blood running through the rivulets were lined up on a plate next to that. While I am not a fan of kidneys and livers, I enjoy the occasional brain. The cooking procedure of the Paya reminded me of the North Indian Nihari preparation which is a bone-meat-marrow stew cooked in distinct spices specifically for Sehri meals. The Nihari is very close to my heart, and the spice combination (which I used to pick up from Abdul chacha’s store in New Market’s masala patti or spice lane in Calcutta) had exalted even the simplest of mutton curries at home. The Nihari is an extremely tedious process, often slow cooked in a covered tandoor underground! Such intricate culinary processes always excite me.

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Dessert offerings were another ride altogether. We skipped the gulab jamuns and shahi tukdas and firnis for the royal-sized malpuas and rabdi. One malpua could feedeth a family of four very easily! It was fried to perfection, soaked in sugar syrup (which was not sweet enough for me), and then lathered with rabdi. Alternating between soft and crunchy, it was a delight. We hoped that the rabdi was better as it was hardly sweet and lacked the sinful texture. That made us pick up a packed container of Noorani Dairy Farm’s rabdi for home. Best. Decision. Ever. We fought with our tiny plastic spoons, splattering rabdi everywhere, trying hard to scoop up those heavenly pieces of malai. Needless to say, after the first spoon, it lasted hardly a minute.

After all the Arsalan’s Biryani and kebabs that I chomp almost on a weekly basis, this was a fresh change and an extremely exciting gastronomical journey. This evening’s plan: More haleem, maybe paya, definitely rabdi and gulab jamun and firni!

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Image Courtesy: Google Images

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Lazy Re-visits: Big Mouth Diaries II

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Blog date: February 24, 2012

What’s On TV Today

I finally thought that it was time for me to do a TV show review, something I have been dreading for a very long time. So, even though this might not be a review to the T, it is definitely an attempt to applaud a wonderful effort on TV, something that is rarely seen these days.

‘Fabulous Cakes’ on TLC (which also happens to be the TV channel I generally stay glued to mostly) is one of the most engaging food shows for a self-confessed dessert whore. The show has the most crisp and interactive narrative format, taking on the art and architecture (believe me!) of cake making and baking it into a whole new visual delight.

The show generally features three bakeries in the US and covers their journeys of making some of the most challenging and unique cakes one will ever see. From imaginative to quirky, elegant to downright weird, these cake masters wield magic with icing and fondants.

What is most amazing about the show is that, it does not become an overtly dramatic reality show, even though you are watching three cake companies fighting against time to create and deliver their cakes. So, while you shiver when an icing is piped on wrong and breathe a sigh of relief after humongous creations have been loaded and unloaded properly, there is no nail-biting and pit-sickening drama. It is just what any baking kitchen would be like – a whirlwind of sweet creativity and madness.

Every day, while I tune in to the show during lunch, I am wonderfully surprised with confectioners using the most inspiring techniques to make cakes an even better treat. While I agree that everything can be too much of fondant and marshmallow-cereal treats, you also get to watch some inspiring techniques like liquid fondant moulding, transparent sugar candy jewels, and my favourite – blown sugar sculpture.

Blown Sugar Cake
So, tune in folks, to see how absolutely amazing and delightful the world of cake making is today, where birds are sculpted out of blown sugar balloons for a wedding cake which consisted of a hundred miniature wedding cakes and sugar candy and edible glitter makes the most fantastic edible mirror and tiara for a birthday girl’s dresser cake!

Fabulous cakes

Image Courtesy: Google Images

Lazy Re-visits: Big Mouth Diaries

The Big Mouth is my food blog (where I do not post anymore but it still gets a ‘like’ a week on FB to keep it alive!) which details my culinary experiences when I had a well-stocked kitchen to my disposal. I hope to return to it someday in the future when I get my kitchen back. As of now, I am posting some of the blog entries of Big Mouth here for my sitophilic readers.

Blog date: March 3, 2012

A Trip Down Spice Lane/ the Spice Girls

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A section of the New Market in Calcutta is dedicated to spices alone. And you can find any spice or powder or combination of spices in this spice lane. It is an intoxicating experience for your nose, as you are constantly hit with numerous aromas, strong and subtle, overbearing attars, and colourful condiments. It is one of my favourite walking spots in the city.

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A word or two about spice combinations from across the world –

In India, a common spice combination is the Garam Masala or the Hot Spice, which is a lovely blend of black & white peppercorns, cloves, mace, cumin seeds, cardamom pods, nutmeg, star anise, and coriander seeds.

Allspice or All spice, is actually fruit, used in the Central American, Jamaican, and Mexican regions. The English thought that the flavour was derived from a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Hence, the name. The fruit is originally called Pimento.

The Chinese Five Spice powder is a lovely balanced combination of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and ground fennel seeds. The pepper can be substituted with common black pepper. I have tried doing that myself and the difference was not very distinct. A plea: Give up ajinomoto.

The Lebanese Seven Spices is a personal favourite. The Seven Spices are used in the Middle East extensively in meat dishes and stews. It includes black pepper, cumin, paprika (can be substituted with ground chilli flakes), coriander, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom. The ratios are easily available online.

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Amongst a range of Mughlai spices which are extensively used these days, a personal favourite of mine is the Nihari Masala used for the Nihari meat preparation. The spice combination is extremely soft and distinct, used to cook mutton shanks for a lovely breakfast stew. The Nihari style mutton is the national dish of Pakistan! P.S. – Check out the national dishes of various countries on Wikipedia. UK will be a shocker!

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Image courtesy: Google Images

A Ramadan Story


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There is a certain grace with which Fire burns objects. It reddens brick, turning those blocks of earth earthier. It is more unsympathetic towards leaves, charring them brusquely, watching them curl, spew smoke, and die. Cloth burns without grace, as Motilal Mandiwala noticed. Fire left patches of black, trying uncomfortably to gobble, destroy, and survive. In all the crowd of thick impenetrable smoke, he realized that Fire was burning itself out.

Fire barbequed flesh with delight. It licked off hair, leaving clotted threads of ash. And as skin begins roasting, water oozes out of leaks and cracks, sizzling with the flames, fizzling out. And as it digs deeper, after the charred skin retreats, tasting raw flesh, liver, and blood, the flames rise higher thriving on the fuel of sweat and bone.

The city had been finished off by Fire, smouldered to the ground. Incinerated stumps of dead trees, gaping pane-less windows hung precariously to skeletal remains of the cityscape. Molten metal, toasted sand, political graffiti-ed debris like a pile of painted egg shells. Final remnants of democracy and communal partisanship in piles with burned galli-ka-kutta and burned galli-ka-kutta shit.

Only one house remained…At the centre of it all, unfazed…yet. Fire peeked into the dark room through the filigree windows. A man, reclined peacefully on a chair, his kurta with no-milk-no-sugar tea stains. It was an empty room, a pair of spectacles lay beside him on the floor, and a knotted roll of newspaper. His eyes were closed, and his face bore an almost Buddhist sense of tranquility. As if that chair, that moment in that room, was Nirvana itself.

And then Fire saw, kneeling in one corner, a shadow against the green tiles of the wall, sat Wind. Wind had its hands on its knees, and in soft murmurs, was moving its head from one side to the other. While Fire was charring the walls outside, the room was pregnant with a cold breeze, ballooning, as if forming a cloud itself.

Try as much as it might, even though Fire engulfed the whole house, deep inside that one room, Wind cradled that lonely man with its broad wings in absolute peaceful slumber.

[More original short fiction will be featured on the blog, both mine and by other writers. Stay glued]

What’s Keeping Me Lazy These Days?

 

After a whole day of words and texts and sentences and paragraphs, the last thing I want to do after work is read a goddamn English letter (not even subtitles) on my laptop screen. While movies are a late-night activity after my partner in crime comes home from his daily slog, my evenings are occupied happily by television shows, passionately downloaded. Here, I must definitely thank one of my dear besties and fellow art-maniac, Aru the Lenswielder, for being my torrentz slave and obediently downloading every bloody thing I ask for. She grumbles often but rarely disappoints. She is a darling.

After I grew out of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and finished arguing that it was, indeed, better than HIMYM, I met a drought of television shows to watch. I don’t quite know what I was looking for. I tried 30 Rock and Big Bang Theory – even That 70s Show – but just got bored of laughing my ass off. Yes, that is possible. After that, I became a TV whore and started couch potato-ing everything from Castle to Grey’s Anatomy (Yes, yes, not something you own up online). Finally, bringing you all up to speed, here is a list of my Lazy recommendations:

 

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Fringe

If you have not watched this show, you have not lived life enough. Science fiction-meets-superior imagination in what must be one of TV’s most challenging and intelligent shows ever. Fringe is the brainchild of the amazing Mr. J.J. Abrams, and deals with genetic mutation, parallel universes, futuristic mutant invasions, and mind-boggling gizmos, all wrapped in a story centering on a genius scientist and his wayward son. What starts off simply as a show about a segregated police department that deals with extra-scientific ‘Fringe’ events, soon unravels into a story about parallel universes, alternate realities, and secrets too devastating to stomach. Every episode, other than a nerve-wracking twist, includes clues and puzzle pieces that you will need to keep in mind for future episodes. Trust me, I have spent many mornings at work, reading up on the episode I watched the previous night on Fringepedia (yeah, they actually have that. It is like Sparknotes). Complicated, twisted, and terribly unpredictable, Fringe wrapped up last year after finishing its fifth season. While the last season was not much of a bang, the first four are worth all the fireworks. A brilliant cast, excellent writing, the best production design and special effects you will ever see (let us also not forget the impeccable makeup) on TV; after Fringe, nothing will seem to interest you for a very long time.

 

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Smash

Yes, I am an outright Broadway fan boy! After Glee became too soppy to keep watching (I abandoned it mid-season three. That is how yawn it got!), I was looking around for another musical dramedy that I could sink my teeth into. This show had big names – Spielberg, Jack Davenport, Debra Messing, Katherine McPhee and guest starring Uma Thurman and Jennifer Hudson – and the story dealt with a team trying to stage a musical based on Marilyn Monroe. That. Was. It. The first season was instantly downloaded and I spent hours after hours being thoroughly ‘Smashed’. The music was played on loop and sung along (which are original tracks, unlike Glee’s now increasingly-boring remixes and mash-ups), and favourite scenes were watched over and over again. The second and unfortunately final season, saw new characters, more music, albeit, less drama. While the first season enjoyed more razzmatazz, the second had a more backstage point of view – details of the turmoil of staging a play rather than the play itself. The second season, which felt more personal to me, understandably found fewer fans. The music and choreography was top-notch for both the seasons (songs like ‘Let me be your star’, ‘Don’t forget me’ and ‘History is made at night’ are unforgettable), the performances were so exquisitely honest (especially Messing, Davenport, and McPhee), and the writing enjoyed its own rhythm and pace – making this a short lived, yet winning entertainer. Jack Davenport, who delighted everybody earlier in Coupling (the best sitcom writing till date) as the incorrigible buffoon Steve, proves his acting mettle yet again with Smash. For me, this show will always remain a darling – just like Monroe – sparkled as long as it lived.

 

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Dhoop Kinarey

Heavily recommended by my partner in crime, who used to enjoy this Pakistani serial as a kid when he used to live in the Middle East back in the 80s, we finally hunted down a DVD of the show and binged on it. A lover of all things old that I am, DK was such a soothing affair. Beautiful dialogues, good music, and impressive performances made this medical drama a wonderful affair. This was a show from the pre-melodrama era and thus the natural approach of the show, the ‘normal’ behaviour of the urban Pakistani, the age-difference romance deemed to be ahead of its times (India made a remake of the show in 2011), all contributed to making this a sober and relaxing a watch. The adorable cast – especially the super stylish Marina Khan – definitely finds a special place in my heart.

 

Da Vinci's Demons 2013

Da Vinci’s Demons

Cut to 2013. Nothing beats a good conspiracy theory. So, sample this: Leonardo da Vinci – a handsome young womanizer and arrogant genius – gets entangled with a secret society, much to the anger of the Vatican, in Renaissance Florence. Throw in his exceptional early attempts with robotics and flying machines, courtroom and papal politics, murder, betrayal, and sex – this show packs in everything for an action-packed one hour. With a talented cast (Tom Riley, Laura Haddock, Elliot Cowan, Blake Ritson) and promising writing (written and directed by David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan’s story writing partner for The Dark Knight and Man of Steel) entertainment is guaranteed. A fine marriage of fiction, political drama, and suspense, the show also incorporates da Vinci’s original illustrations and experiments as a part of the narrative, bringing a piece of history back from the dead. Now that the first season just wrapped up, this British-American production is back on the floors, shooting season two. If I predict correctly, this show might just become one to look out for in the long run.

 

Elementary

Elementary

Sherlock Holmes is now American, and Lucy Liu is Watson! Definitely a far cry from the crisp-collared British versions or Guy Ritchie’s swashbuckler, ‘Elementary’ updates Arthur Conan Doyle’s plot lines in modern day Manhattan, with Holmes (the inimitable Jonny Lee Miller) as a recovering drug addict working as a consultant to the NYPD, and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) his sober companion and therapist, who soon becomes his partner in investigation. Holmes’ idiosyncrasies, sharp wit, conniving villains, and exciting plot lines – not to mention Holmes and Watson’s entertaining ‘bromance’ – this is what I am unwinding with these days.

For more of the latest TV show options, visit my story on www.mansworldindia.com.

 

 

Lazy Shorts: A Chatty Dawood and Disaster Prince Girish Kumar

 

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D-Day

India wants to capture He-who-must-not-be-named aka Iqbal aka Goldman (Rishi Kapoor). Wali Khan (Irrfan) has been an undercover agent for India in Pakistan for 9 years. He has a family and leads a double life of a barber. When information reaches intelligence that Goldman will be dismissing protocol and attending his son’s wedding, Ex-army man Singh (Arjun Rampal), bomb specialist Zoya (Huma Qureshi), and ex-convict Aslam are sent over for the Operation. But things go wrong. All hell breaks loose when both the Pakistani and Indian intelligence want the four of them dead. They have to persist, stay alive, and try to give the Operation one last shot. Will they succeed?

With an impressive cast and excellent crew, the film has an extremely promising start. The narrative progression is interesting and you are actually hooked enough to want to see where it is all going. Barring Shruti Hassan, the cast gives an admirable performance (I will be slightly partial. Apologies. You lose objectivity when you see Arjun Rampal and Irrfan Khan in the same frame), ably supported by the secondary characters. Although, I wish Huma Qureshi and Chandan Roy Sanyal had more screen time. The second half staggers due to sluggish editing and one extremely ridiculous reason – a chatty gangster. Rishi Kapoor is on a verbal diarrhea at places, talking way too much than any normal World No. 2 Terrorist would talk. Picture this: Three Indian agents are holding Goldman (*cough* Dawood *cough*) in a dilapidated farm house in the middle of a desert near the Indian border and – are serving him dinner! Crockery and tables and chairs et al! And the altercation where he tries to convince Wali to call his family is downright absurd. The stolidity and brooding personality that the first half deliciously creates for Kapoor’s character, a mysterious super power behind shadows and rose-tinted shades, suddenly becomes a chatty, irritating minion. Unfortunate.

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The music is impressive with a respectable version of Mast Qalandar. The script and dialogues should be applauded too. The cinematography is effectively gritty and if the editing department had been more supportive, this would have been a kickass thriller. Nikhil Advani, known till date as Bollywood’s best example of amazing-debut-pathetic-filmography finally redeems himself. It is heartening to know that he might have the talent for film making in him. D-Day might just be his real debut after all.

 

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Ramaiya Vastavaiya

Poor-girl-rich-boy-fallsinloveinasecond-boy’s-family-insults-her-boy-comes-to-village (random item number in the middle of mustard fields)-to-prove-his-love-goesthroughalotofbullshit-wins-challenge-put-down-by-girl’s-brother-lustyjealousangryvillainsattack-dhishoom-dhishoom-wham-bam-boy-kills-villain-brother-takes-responsibility-goes-to-jail-for-seven(!!!)-years-is-released-marriage-everybodyhappy.

I have no idea where Shruti Hassan’s talented acting genes disappeared. Did she poop them all out one day?

Prabhudeva, Sir, with all due respect, don’t direct films.

Sonu Sood, why you waste your talent?

Girish Kumar – Really, kid? This is what you choose for a debut? Haven’t you seen films enough to know that what you did in RV is of the worst, bullshitest, shitfestest order?! This film should have been burned in the cans. Take my advice: Train yourself for a few years and save yourself from becoming the next Tusshar Kapoor. Also, you are good looking. I am sure you don’t need to star in a film to get laid. And, you also have money (rich dad). Then, if being a good actor is not what you want to achieve, why on earth are you choosing this career? Fame?

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KRK is famous. Fame comes very easy these days. Easier than sex, actually.

So, please, get your priorities in order, dude. And if you still want to be an actor, we will be looking forward to another debut – this time, a REAL one.