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Everybody loves a good, cheap, vegetarian thali

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When the average worth of each MP in the current Lok Sabha is Rs 5.1 crore, when the average assets of each minister in sadda Manmohan‘s team is Rs 7.5 crore, a good question to ask is if crorepatis can really relate to the woes of the crores of people they represent.

The flip side to the argument is provided by the Indian Express today, which asks if the honourable members of Parliament (MPs) who are worth so much can understand the travails of ordinary Indians whose backs are bent double by soaring prices of essential food items if they eat for so less.

Reason: the astonishing subsidy that MPs—and others including, yes, media people—enjoy at the canteens at the Parliament House complex that it can almost cause you indigestion.

Vegetarian thali: Rs 12.50

Non-vegetarian thali: Rs 22

Sada dosa: Rs 2.50

Masala dosa: Rs 4

Dal (assorted): Rs 1.50

Soup with one slice: Rs 5.50

Four chapatis: Rs 2

Boiled rice: Rs 2

Churumuri: Free

OK, not the last one.

How much do you pay for your dosa and thali?

Read the full article: Why soaring prices don’t worry this House

Also read: Did Marie Antoinette really say “let them eat cake”?

* Photograph used for illustration purposes only. Actual parliament thali may differ depending on the day of the week.

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Julie & Julia, Betty Crocker and “Premila Lal”

Sourish Bhattacharyya uses the release of Meryl Streep‘s latest film Julie & Julia to talk about India’s best known nom de cuisine, in Mail Today:

“Many years ago, when a journalist working with a leading newspaper in the country was asked to write a cookery column, she chose the name “Premila Lal” because she did not want the column to impede the progress of her career as a serious writer.

“Little did she know that her pen name would take over her life and Premila Lal, the acclaimed cookbook writer, would become an essential part of the trousseau of every newly wed woman at a particular point of time.

“Premila Lal’s story is somewheat similar to that of Betty Crocker, the big difference being that the name that has sold many million copies of the American cookbook is purely the invention of a publisher. There has been no Betty Crocker—it’s not even the pen name of a real person.

“But Julia Child (played by Streep in Nora Ephron‘s film) was real and she made French food a fashion statement in the US after the publication of her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1981. [And so is Julie Powell] for her blog where she recounted her adventures in the kitchen with Julia Child’s recipes.”

So, who was Premila Lal?

Kiki Watsa.

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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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If you’re what you eat, what does this make you?

At the Guo-li-zhuang restaurant in Beijing, guests can sample from an extensive and impressive menu of penises and testicles of every conceivable variety.

Stefan Gates of The Times, London, watched the chef show him a preparation:

“He enters holding aloft an eye-wateringly large yak’s knob. It’s about 45cm long, but thin, so thin. It’s been boiled gently and – I can’t believe I’m writing this – peeled, except for a hunk of foreskin still clinging on to the end. He cuts the thing in half lengthways with a pair of scissors. As he chops through the very tip of this impressive member, I feel an undeniable empathy twitch in my own penis and a bizarre feeling of nausea in my groin.”

Read the full article: China’s penis restaurant

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When the heart pines for panneer butter masala

BANGALORE: A group of North Indian prisoners, most of them undertrials lodged in the central jail in Bangalore, have approached the High Court and demanded that they be served North Indian food, reports The Hindu. They claimed that South Indian meals had made them weak.

The six petitioners, two each from Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, claimed the food was prepared in unhygienic conditions. They said they could not order meals from the canteen as it had been closed since July last year, and wanted the jail authorities to either permit them to receive North Indian food or allow them to cook their food.

There are nearly 50 North Indians in the central jail in Bangalore.

Read the full story here: North Indians can’t digest jail food

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What your choice of food says about you

How far has your food travelled before it reaches your table? Was it grown in some other part of the world by some facelss multinational, frozen, flown by air to your country, and transported to your supermarket by road?

Or was it grown in and around where you live by those of your own? You might ask, does it matter? The short answer, according to those who believe in the concept of “food miles”, is it does.

“There are many good reasons for eating local — freshness, purity, taste, community cohesion and preserving open space — but none of these benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces fossil fuel consumption. In this respect eating local joins recycling, biking to work and driving a hybrid as a realistic way that we can, as individuals, shrink our carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment.”

Read the full story: Food that travels well

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It’s not what you eat, but where you eat

If you had to pick between dining out in a fancy restaurant in a rich country or a rundown establishment in a poor country, where would you go?

For most people, the answer would be obvious. But Tyler Cowen, a professor at George Mason University in Washington D.C. and the author of Discover Your Inner Economist says that’s not a wise decision.

“If the quality of food is the sole mission, Cowen argues, look for contrary indicators. “Iron bars on the windows,” he writes, “and barbed wire on the fences, however bad for the residents or your own safety, are both good signs for the food.” The magic ingredient, he elaborates, is extreme income inequality, which ensures a large reservoir of cheap labor to grow and prepare the food, as well as a sufficient number of rich people who, being rich, must eat well.”

Read the full story here: Discover your inner economist

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