Archive for Outside Eatables

Satanic Curse upon you if you ogle at this maami

There are three good reasons why we are forced to shamelessly steal such a hot picture of Padma Lakshmi from the website of a truly great paper, The Sunday Times of London, using Google™.

Reason No. 1: Because she is South Indian, a Palghat Iyer, a single-child, who has managed to capture the world’s attention (and Sir Salman Rushdie‘s for a while) with a name like Padma Parvati Lakshmi.

Reason No. 2: Because by steaming up camera lenses like this, as a model, as an actress and as a TV host, she is truly a bad miss in our list of The Sexiest South Indian South Asian Woman♥, for which we beg her apology.

Reason No. 3: Because as the author of Tangy, Tart Hot and Sweet, and as the host of the American reality show Top Chef, Padma, who was brought up as a vegetarian, has put some much-needed intellectual spin on the lazily uttered cliche, “Food is the New Sex“.

“Food is very tactile and sensual. If you think about it, it’s the only way you can get into another person’s body without actually touching them.”

As a website named after a food item, that likes to sing in praise of masala dosas, mavinakaayi chitranna, Iyengar bakeries, haalu khova, Maddur vade, kodu bale, and thair-vade, we wholeheartedly agree.

Get the picture?

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Photograph: courtesy The Sunday Times, London

Also visit: Maami’s Weblog

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Can Maddur Vade bring peace to the subcontinent?

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RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: For the better part of the past month, one of the questions that has been bugging me is a food-related one: who made the first Maddur Vade, and why did he make it in one of the more unremarkable places on the Bangalore-Mysore road?

(It’s so artless in its looks, it has to be a he, right?)

Sexist stereotypes aside, there are two reasons—three, if you include the inclusion of Our Man from Maddur to head the external affairs ministry—why I have been thinking about the Maddur Vade—or Maddur Vada or Vadai to irritate the semantic chauvinists.

Firstly, as my husband (age 41) keeps teasingly insisting these days, food is the new sex: there is some kind of voyeuristic pleasure to be had in reading about it; in thinking about it; in publicly imagining its myriad private possibilities.

And secondly, how can any self-respecting foodie in Bangalore not think of the Maddur Vade?

I mean, Mysore has its pak; Mangalore has its bajji and gadbad; Dharwad the peda; Davangere its benne dose. Even tiddly Bidadi has its “thatte idli“. If the identity of these small towns can be defined by food, just what accident of history deprived “big” Bangalore of its culinary claim to fame?

And what accident of history gave Maddur its pride of place on the gastronomic map?

The answer could be geography.

The fact that Maddur lies almost exactly mid-way (70 km) between Bangalore and Mysore could well explain its birth and growth as the must-have mid-way snack.

Back in pre-liberalised India, when the trains were metre gauge and private cars were few and far between, “Non-Stop” buses was the way to go. The buses halted for a few minutes underneath amid the coconut orchards for the men to amuse themselves.

Was that when the Maddur Vada made its brave incursion?

These days, for some 40-50 km on the 140-km stretch, from somewhere after Ramanagara to somewhere before Mandya, Maddur Vade stalks you like those picture postcard sellers do at the Taj or Gateway of India.

In a way, though, the Vade could be Maddur’s picture postcard except that you view it through your mouth and quickly eat up the evidence before the next town nears. But since the flavour of burnt onion is the defining characteristic of the Maddur Vade, the memory lingers long after.

So, you wonder who made it first and why?

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download2If you are on an express or shuttle trains, the vendors haul up the buckets stuffed full with the Vade at the various stations and “crossing” points. These Vades are of varying quality, slightly thicker and a slightly more expensive than the Vades that the young boys produce at your bus window.

But it is only when you are in your own car or on a bike, that the full magic of Maddur Vade can be properly exploited and appreciated.

Reason: on public transport, the Maddur Vade is a heartless, no-fuss, commercial transaction.

On the train, for instance, the vendor serves it to you on 1/8th of a newspaper sheet and rushes off because there are 14 other compartments to serve.

If you are on the evening Chamundi Express heading to Mysore, the vendor might even affectionately persuade you to pick up a packet of three or five in a plastic cover for the family but that’s just “stock clearance” before he closes shop for the day and gets off in Srirangapatna.

If you are on the dreadful Shatabdi Express, god help you.

On the bus, the Maddur Vade is a victim of logistical inconsistency. Different kinds of bus services stop at different kinds of places, and some like the Volvos don’t even do that. Result: you don’t know where, if at all, your next Maddur Vade is coming from.

It is only when you take an express bus that you can be sure that at least in the place of its birth, the Vade will materialise at your window.

On both the train and the bus, the Maddur Vade is a functional experience. The Vade and nothing more. It’s bone-dry and convenient although the train Vade has been calculated by scientists of the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) to be on average 2.3 times thicker than the bus Vade. (The Defence Food Research Laboratory has put the figure at 2.35 times.)

Downside: the vintage of the Vade is hidden by the speed of the transaction.

However, it is when you stop by leisurely at the highway restaurants—Maddur Tiffany’s on either side of the highway, the “MTR” Shivalli restaurant, Kamat Lokruchi, etc—especially when the sun is dipping, that you get to savour the experience of a warm-to-hot Vade with chutney, followed by strong coffee.

Only those who have newly bought a white elephant called the tread mill can stop at just one.

(Café Coffee Day, I am certain, is never likely to soil the muffin-coated mouths of its clientele despite its founder’s conjugal links with Maddur.)

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The strange thing about the Maddur Vade despite its reasonable reputation is that there are few claimants to its discovery.

The Moti Mahal in Delhi will lay claim to dishing up the first butter chicken; Bombay’s Nelson Wang to the gobi Manchurian. But who lowered the first Maddur Vade into the boiling bandlee? We will never know.

There is a museum in Shivapura but there are no statues hailing the maker, the master-chef. Yet.

My own first memory of Maddur Vade is when I was seven or eight. Our family was proceeding to Bangalore in our old Morris Tiger early one morning. Shortly after Maddur, my father swung the car into a narrow lane which deposited us in front of the railway station. Magically, a vendor appeared and served us the goodies on l’il banana leaves.

Even now, the Maddur Vade at the railway station commands a small premium over other Maddur Vades, and old faithfuls still swear by it, resisting all overtures from the vendors on the trains, till the stop nears. But this could just be good old nostalgia.

For me, the Maddur Vade has held its charm for one key reason: it was the rebel among vades in our joint family kitchen. My mother, Sharada, now 75, never ever made or attempted to make it at home. Uddina vade she did, masala vade she did, but Maddur Vade was a strict no-no.

There was something “street food” about it.

So, falling for its charms not only became a matter of the stomach but an expression of the heart. Nothing about it suggests good health. Not the oil, not the semolina, not the deep fried onions.

But the fact that they didn’t make it at home was reason enough to hog regardless of the time of day. A deep fried vade first thing in the morning on the way to work may not be what the doctor prescribes, but what’s medicine got to do with the palate when geography beckons?

Speaking of which, will Prema Krishna put Maddur Vade on the MEA menu  when the “dialogue process” begins with Pakistan? And could it usher in peace between our two countries in our troubled subcontinent?

If the shortest route to a man’s heart is through his stomach, can even Asif Ali Zardari resist the Maddur Vade‘s naked attraction that has melted millions from different parts of the country?

It’s pure fantasy, of course, but you can almost hear S.M. Krishna sitting at the high table, nodding in agreement with himself as he delicately pushes a plate of Maddur Vade towards his guests from across the border: “Here, try some of these with some gatti chutney….”

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: How V.G. Siddhartha built the CCD dream cup by cup

Once upon a time, shortly after the lunch break

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By-two badaam haalu for the lambu leggie, please

Mane Adige recipe: Maddur Vade

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The harder it is to pronounce, the more authentic?

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Star of Mysore editor K.B. Ganapathy wrote recently about how an unreasonably expensive glass of fruit juice at an exclusive hotel only turned out to be a bitter experience both literally and figuratively.

The juice served to him not only turned out to be bitter and undrinkable but it still had to be paid for in full despite not having been consumed at all.

Contrary to what we naturally expect for having paid for them through our noses, it is indeed true that some five-star experiences can turn out to be memorable for their bitterness rather than for their pleasantness. This holds good to the comforts or the unique but very real discomforts of staying there and also to their exclusive cuisine.

Although having travelled a lot, I will comment on the travails of staying there at some other time and restrict myself to the vagaries of their cuisine here.

These days almost all exclusive hotels without any exceptions whatsoever promote what they call traditional Indian cuisine, taking great care to include in it representations from every region of our vast country.

It is as if they are trying to make sure that their guests, especially the foreigners among them, get a chance to sample the best of our cuisine at one watering hole with expert guidance without having to travel over the full length and breadth of the country.

Every regional item on the menu is touted as being the handiwork of a well-trained chef of that region, from a lineage of ancestors in the same field, brought and retained by them at great expense, just to give your taste-buds the authentic experience.

I have found that very often the biggest players in this very paying playing field are the biggest liars in this respect. The same holds good for most of the continental and Chinese dishes that are on the menu.

They remain faithful to their countries only as long as they remain hard to pronounce and harder to understand names on the menu before they are dished out to you only after a long wait that leaves you so hungry and impatient that you are in no mood to ask or even see what you are eating.

On more than one occasion I have been to some of the best hotels in the country only to experience at great cost the worst kind of disappointment both with their food and the quality of their service.

The biggest culprit is the consistency and the authenticity of what they serve.

When you get very impressed with a particular dish and at a subsequent visit, especially when you are accompanied by someone important whom you want to impress, when you order the same dish, you are in for the worst kind of disappointment. You will find the dish you are served is not even remotely close to what you had liked the last time.

I have also found that sometimes when the rush is heavy or when a particular chef is overworked or on leave, the dish you order and the dish you get are not the same although when you complain, the steward, the waiter, the captain, the restaurant manager and even the stand-in chef, perhaps believing that strength lies in numbers, reassure you in smiling unison that it indeed is.

The dim lighting that can make all dishes all people look alike and the fact that you are the lone complainer in a crowd of satisfied customers can only go against your grouse. You may even be made to feel happy for next time’s sake that they will modify the dish to your liking but it usually does not help as the improved version is still not what you expected. But the courtesy has to necessarily end here as you cannot be right twice and they certainly cannot be wrong twice with all their knowledge and experience.

On many occasions, just to avoid unpleasantness, I have pleasantly acknowledged their fake reassurance with an equally fake smile and swallowed spoonfuls of Chicken shreds dunked in a sticky Shezwan sauce from a distant and unseen country across the Himalayas, mentally recalling the rich tangy taste of the truly Indian Chettinad Chicken which I love !

The logic behind the five star dining experience is very simple. If you have ordered a dish which the Moghuls or the Rajputs or the Nizams ate a few centuries ago, how can you lay a claim to knowing how it tasted unless you dined with them? And if you had dined with them, you certainly would have died with them too !

Very recently on a Saturday evening, when every eating place, high-end or low-down, even in drab Mysore, on weekends looks and sounds like the Chatrapathi Shivaji (aka Victoria) Terminus in Mumbai (aka Bombay), I was served what was unmistakably Palak Chicken in its trademark green gravy, which I abhor, as Chicken Hyderabadi. The waiter was so adamant that he was right and I was wrong and the service was so slow in the first place that like most doctors, I decided against a second opinion, let alone a second order.

A couple of years ago, some Chinese doctors were on a month-long training programme in cardio-thoracic surgery at a very reputed hospital in Bangalore. Although quite impressed with our state of progress in medicine, since there is a great deal of difference between what people eat in China and what was being served to them day in and day out in the hospital cafeteria, they were visibly uncomfortable with the food.

After two weeks of their rather busy stay my friend who heads the department there, with the intention of ending their home-sickness and also perhaps to show them the genuineness of our faith in the ‘Panchasheel’ agreement, decided to take them out to an exclusive Chinese restaurant at one of Bangalore’s best known five star hotels. As each dish arrived, borne by authentic smiling Chinese speaking waiters, albeit of Indian nationality, the Chinese guests somehow failed to share the excitement of their Indian hosts.

When my now slightly crestfallen friend asked them for their lack of enthusiasm in enjoying what they had been missing all along, they very hesitantly told him that none of the dishes served so far were Chinese !

Wizened by some very expensive learning experience, I now make sure that unless it is unavoidable, I always go to an eating place where I know someone who knows me as well as he knows his cooking and still believes in the ancient saying that customer satisfaction is what brings more customers. Bon appetit!

K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared.

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R.K. Narayan must be rolling in his grave

“Malgudi” has moved out of the novels of R.K. Narayan and into the menu cards, and a new restaurant inspired by the writer’s imagination has opened in Bangalore with branches in Marathahalli and HSR Layout.

This is the line from an advertisement for the firm:

“Offering the tongue tickling and mesmerising flavours from Kovai, Ramnad, Madurai, Arcot, Tanjore, Tirunelveli and Virudhunagar under one roof.

“Experience the pure taste of Vella Appam, Khaima Aduku Idly Roast, Elaneer Kozhambu, Chuppal Kari Kozhambu, Varutha Meen Kozhambu, Ambar Attu Iraichi Biriyani, Eraal Thokku, and many more.”

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India’s Bukhara is Asia’s best restaurant

The 2007 list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants is out, and there is only one Indian entry: Bukhara in Delhi. Bukhara, up nine places from last year, has also been adjudged as the best in Asia. Two others, Wasabi and Indigo, figure in the top 100.

Read the full list of 50 here:  The 2007 list

The next 50

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Why the Sikh langar is vegetarian

Most of us slip into poetry describing the meal at temples and mutts. But how is it in a gurudwara? On worldchanging.com, Sarah Rich has a lunch at the langar.

“Every Sikh temple throughout the world has a Langar (Punjabi for “free kitchen”). This is not a soup kitchen. It’s not exclusively for the poor, nor exclusively for the Sikh community. Volunteering in the cooking, serving and cleaning process is a form of active spiritual practice for devotees, but the service they provide asks no religious affiliation of its recipients. Our guide’s chorus was, “Man, woman, color, caste, community,” meaning you will be fed here regardless of how you fit into any of those classifications. This spirit of inclusion and equality is reinforced by the kitchen’s adherence to vegetarianism, not because Sikhs are vegetarian, but because others who visit may be, and by serving no meat, they exclude nobody.”

Read the full article here: Lunch at the Langar: Exploring a free kitchen in Delhi

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Chicken soup for the soul about to catch a cold

“Everyone has a signature dish, a meal they secretly think they’re quite good at making. The man who sits next to me at work says his speciality is tuna surprise. He brings it every day for lunch. Every single day. To mix things up a bit he uses different kinds of pasta. But the less said on tuna surprise, the better.”

Read the full article here: Tuna surprise vs Mexican chicken soup

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