For the Love of Chinese

There are at least four kinds of Chinese food known to all Indians.

First, is the kind you’d get in China. As delicious as it is, barely anyone cares too much about it. It’s complex, flavorful, extremely health and NOT HERE.

Second, is the kind you get at proper restaurants like Royal China, Bar-b-que and the lot. You could call it the more refined version of the Indian Chinese that we lust after. Third is the very well known and often indulged in – street Chinese. With bad hygiene and a haunting amount of ajinomoto, it still tugs at your heart-strings.

But the best kind is the one smack in the middle of these three. I’m talking about those old Chinese joints that we all know and love. Not really fancy, not too shabby and often have words like ‘Tung’, ‘Fa’, ‘Chung’, ‘Heng’, ‘Dragon’, ‘Golden’ and so on, in their names.
The names are important because it’s partly what assures me that I’ll get what I expect out of it.

These are the joints that will serve you the best egg-y spring rolls, amazing pork wantons, glossy thick noodles and the forever favorite – a bowl of fluffy egg fried rice.
Sure, other places could have all these things on their menu but the experience is never the same. While you’re gorging down on that rice from the stall across your office, a part of you is wondering which diseases your immunity system is fighting off right now. Fancy restaurants are really good, but I often find them a little boring.

When I go out for Chinese, I want the entire experience! The golden dragons painted on the red and white walls, the old Chinese couple sitting at the cashier’s desk who throw dead or mean glances at you, waiters who are always in a rush and the sound of ladles against a hot woks whenever a server passes through the kitchen door. I want all of that, a pair of chopsticks and a damn good table of food in front of me.

So I found myself one. It’s called ‘Original Chung Fa’ and it fared better than I expected it to. I know for a fact that these restaurants are always good in Calcutta. But Bombay’s Chinese can be very different. There are very few traditional Chinese restaurants, at least in South Bombay and most of them can be hella expensive. And if it’s not expensive, it’s usually red. People here tend to douse food with red coloring and call it szechuan. *Rolling my eyes*.

Anyway, the place had the perfect old Calcutta vibe and no red food coloring in the vicinity. We straightaway went for the fried chicken wantons and spring rolls. The wantons came with a lovely hot garlic sauce and we had enough to properly dunk the golden fried babies in it. The spring rolls were disappointing. The breading wasn’t eggy, neither was it crisp. While we asked for chicken and prawn spring rolls, all I could really see was noodles. They too, lacked in seasoning. So far, one-all.

Next, we went for the Chinese chopsuey. Now this was good. The Cantonese gravy was flavorful, full of veggies, chicken and prawn and it came in all steamy. We also called for a foo-yong – only because we didn’t know what it meant.

It turned out to be a stuffed chicken omlete. It was really lovely though. Hot fluffy steamy egg with a ton of chicken and spring onions in it. I barely had enough patience to take this image for you guys. Once we did start digging in, we only stopped once it was over. Gobble gobble!

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Overall, it was a nice dinner. The food had a few hits and misses but I got to relive something I was craving. My quest for this kind of Chinese isn’t over yet. Which brings me to a solemn request. If you’ve understood what I’m looking for and know of such a place, please PLEASE let me know!

 

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How to survive in Calcutta on Rs 150!

Every Calcuttan out of their city is like a fish out of the water. You see, Calcutta has some of the nicest people, best tea, amazing food and a concept of mid-day naps. So when you have all of it taken away at one go, rest assure you’ll hear a lot of nostalgic flashbacks and whining. The worst blow is the one to our diets. Ask anyone who’s been there… Calcutta has the best food in terms of street food, Continental, North Indian, South Indian, Chinese, traditional Bengali, etc etc. So when such a fish reaches a city like Mumbai, there is trouble in paradise. Not only is the food so-so, but its also so expensive! Apart from the staple vadapao, Kyani and few of its likes, even a humble meal costs nothing less than Rs 150.

I know, I know…that does not sound like much. But you will now realize that it is, when you see its true worth. So here is a small guide as to how you can hog the entire day in Calcutta (which is so much more than just surviving) for just Rs 150!

Breakfast at Maharani

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Source: Zomato

Located in Southern Avenue, Maharani is one of Calcutta’s gems. Every morning you can see a line up of cars and bikes with people waiting for their morning tea and breakfast. Middle aged uncles drive down from the nearby parks after their morning walk, only to indulge in mouthwatering samosas and kachori-sabzi. So have your heart’s content of food, and wash it down with kadak chai served in clay pots (that makes the tea taste so much better).

Price- Four Kachoris with Sabzi– Rs 28 ; Tea- Rs 7

Money left- Rs 115

Lunch at Kusum

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Source: Flomojo

Serving the best kathi rolls Calcutta is famous for, and my personal favorite, Kusum situated in Park Street is a must try. They have a variety of rolls (please do not picture Mumbai’s ‘frankies’) on their menu. From the basic egg or chicken roll, to mutton rolls and vegetarian varieties of paneer and aloo rolls, all of it is a foodie’s delight. I’m drooling all over my computer, I swear. I would recommend the egg chicken which is a monster of a roll. Finishing a roll in a go is a point of pride for many.

So have get a roll and walk around on Park Street, taking in the best of the city. If you have a sweet tooth, you can also stroll down to Balaram Mullick near the Park Street Post office for a traditional Rasgulla!

Price- Egg Chicken Roll- Rs 45; Rasgulla– Rs 10

Money left- Rs 60

Dinner means Biryani!!… Or you can also have Chinese.

 

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Source: bengalconnection

Ah. So many options. Calcutta biryani is famous for it’s unique flavor and the treasured aloo. While there are many famous joints such as Arsalan and Zeeshan that are famous for their mughlai, you can get the same amount of yummy at a lower price at one of the local  stalls. Yes, there are biryani stalls through out the city where people serve the delicacy out of a huge-ass handi . Some of these places are, Haji Biryani in New Alipore, or Classic Fast Food Center in Hazra. The latter is a personal favorite as they cook only with sunflower oil, delivering the same amount of oomph in our beloved biryani without the guilt of consuming Dalda.

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Source: Zomato

If you’re not a biryani fan (which is hard to believe), you can depend on the unlimited number of Chinese joints sprawled all over the city. Denzong Kitchen, available in three locations, is one of those eateries that gives you an authentic Chinese experience for money worth peanuts. You can either have their famous pan fried chicken momos (served in Schezwan sauce) or a plate of chicken Hakka Noodles. Either way, you’ll have a happy tummy by the end of the night!

 

Price- Biryani– Rs 60/ Pan Fried Momos- Rs 60/ Chicken Hakka Noodles- Rs 60

Well there! You’ve used up all your money in exchange for three amazing meals I’d kill for. So have i convinced you yet about how awesome Calcutta is, or what?

If you have more suggestions regarding where to eat for cheap prices, leave a comment below! Like, comment and share! 🙂

Feature image source: ScoopWhoop

73, Chinatown

With the first ray of the sun, the street is set up. Little tables and chairs line up on either sides of the lane with the comfortable hum of an early morning market place. Within minutes, you can smell the delicacies as they lift the steamer’s lids to invite you, revealing the treasures within. Sweet buns, dim-sums, fried sweet bread, meatballs, fishballs, prawn wafers, spring rolls and Chinese sausages. This is the spread of Chinese breakfast in the Tiretta Bazaar of 73, Old Chinatown, Calcutta.

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The dishes line up on Sun Yat Sen Street is some of the best comfort food I have ever come across. The light dim-sums stuffed with chicken, fish or prawn fillings are one of the popular attractions. Then, there are the meat balls and fish balls that dance in pots of boiling broth. Pork, chicken and egg stuffed buns that are streamed to perfection and are ever so subtly sweet. Steamed momos, fried balls covered in sesame and some of variety of authentic Chinese cuisine.

I have so many memories attached to these treats, which is probably why I felt compelled to write about it. For me, this unique culinary experience reminds me of Sunday mornings when my father would wake me up while it was still dark outside. We would take some of the biggest containers we had, to pack as much of the dim-sums and meatballs possible. I remember waiting impatiently in front of the vendors, while they served me a taste of what I would end up eating that day for breakfast, lunch and dinner! It reminds me of family gatherings in our living rooms when our  cousins would pour in to share a few hours out of their busy lives, laughing and chatting over a steaming hot bowl of soup.

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The experience isn’t just about food though. It’s about visiting one of the oldest parts of the town, among people who have seen the city change over the years. Every person has a story there…from their local traditions to stories of drug lords during the 1970s. All you have to do is strike a conversation.

Though Chinese breakfast has gained popularity over the last few years, the traditional spread has been around since the 18th century, when a Chinese tea trader fell in love with the city and decided to call it home. There after, it has been home to the Chinese community in Calcutta. This community later expanded to an area in the other side of the city which is now called Tangra. It is home to what we know now as Indian Chinese and is another culinary goldmine everyone should experience. But that my friends, is a whole different story!

So the next time you visit the city of joy, you know the first place to head for the best breakfast ever… DSCN1679.JPG

Principles of Convenience

“It’s not just the girls, even guys feel the need to use fairness creams now”, she said as a matter of fact. “Females need to stop acting like the victims here. Tell me, would you date a black guy!?”

This was a conversation between a friend and our professor, during a class.

“I have dated black guys” said my friend, visibly controlling her anger.

“Yeah sure, but would your mom ever accept one?” the teacher exclaimed, as if the answer was an obvious no.

We looked at each other in shock and uncertainty. Was this really happening? A teacher in one of the most reputed institutions in the country was freely being racist. How does someone even react to that?

We have all been in situations like these. Situations against racism, sexism and every other ‘ism’ there is. People like you and me do stand up against these comments and views, but somehow its only in a non threatening situation. We easily lash out on our friends for their inappropriate remarks of casual sexism, making our point with pride and vigor. But why is this limited to conversations in the canteen? Why don’t we stand up to people where it really matters?

It’s because our morals and principles of equality and justice are also principles of convenience. Like every principle, this too has a law. It’s called the Law of Power.

The Law of Power states that principles can be applied freely and effectively only if the power (between the two parties) resides with you, or is equal between the two parties. Between two friends, the status is that of equals, where none hold power over the other. Whereas, if the same conversation takes place between you and a person of higher authority, our morals turn into principles of convenience.

In the previous example of my friend and our professor, we should have probably called her out as a racist. Made our point about how she was living in the dark ages (no pun intended) and we even tried. But we gave up in a minute because she had power over us. Our grades, our research thesis, were all in her hands. Now who wants to screw something that important over a silly racist woman, right?

I’m not saying it isn’t important to do the same among a group of friends, because it is. But why are we so inconsistent and powerless in situations where some of higher authority is involved?

I still regret not telling that teacher where to shove it. But maybe I can say that now because she has already graded my research.

 

Have you ever handled such a situations differently?
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Egg-a-licious

Eggs are amazing. They’re yummy, cheap, filling and unbelievably versatile. You could crack one of those babies into almost anything and the result is guaranteed to be amazing. When it comes to the culinary world and restaurant menus, eggs are surprisingly under-appreciated and often fluctuate in and out of fashion. Here are 5 classic egg dishes you can make at home without being a genius in the kitchen. And oh! They’d easily make your day.

1. Eggs in white Sauce

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Courtesy: cookandbemerry

Eggs in white sauce is one of those recipes that are simple to execute, yet impress everyone on the table. Introduced to us by the British, though the French claim credit for the silky white sauce, this dish is a personal Sunday tradition for me. All you need is well toasted whole wheat bread and some blazing Tabasco sauce to give it an edge. While some may also suggest a doze of English mustard instead of the Tabasco, I’d recommend a splash of bengali Kashundi. It makes all the difference.

Below is a Youtube tutorial on how to make the white sauce!

 

2. Stuffed Omelette

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Courtesy: sliceandcook

Now there is barely anyone who would disagree on this with me. A well stuffed fluffy omelette with a couple of warm buttered toasts is one of the most loved breakfasts all over the globe. The best part about this, is that you can stuff almost anything under the sun into an omelette and it still tastes amazing! Left over meat, sauteed mushrooms, buttered corn,  cut up sausages, or the classic masala (tomatoes, onions, coriander and green chillies)…everything tastes amazing when put between layers of fluffy protein. My personal favorite is crispy bacon and pork salamis sauteed in pasta sauce with chunky onions and garlic.Once you try this, you’ll never go back to the plain old version

3. Perfectly fried egg

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Courtesy: Food Network

Oh the light cracking of an egg against the pan before it is dropped into a shallow pool of golden oil, its sizzle filling the room… is there any better than a perfectly fried egg? I think not. Everyone has a different definition of ‘perfect’ when it comes to food, and so do I.

Keep two cracked and ready in a bowl while you heat a wok with three to four table spoons of oil in it. Once the oil starts shimmering, reduce the heat to a slow and gently pour the eggs in. The eggs immediately fluff up almost covering the yolk, which is a good thing. Let the eggs cook for half a minute before basting the eggs with the hot oil to achieve perfection. Once the outer line of the eggs turns a faint golden and a little crisp, carefully drain it out of the wok while making sure you don’t break the concealed yolk. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and cut into the yolk with a fork or knife to witness the fried egg in its complete glory.

Now while this fried egg is heavenly just by itself, there are a fair number of condiments that add to the experience. You can add mushrooms and broccoli, a lightly tossed salad, some cold cut ham or even burnt garlic and chilly oil to take it up a notch. One of my favorites is grilled cottage cheese with tempura battered lady fingers! I guess that’s the best part about this, you can give it your own twist to suit your definition of perfect.

4. Bengali ghee bhaat with deem.

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Courtesy: Taste, Au

Ghee= clarified butter, bhaat= rice and deem= egg. This is a dish full of memories and nostalgia for every bengali. It is equal parts comfort mixed with pleasure. One of the simplest dishes ever, all you need for this, is a bowl of freshly cooked steamed rice, an egg (boiled, fried or poached) and a generous dollop of ghee. It is the answer to every lazy Sunday lunch and grocery crisis. While this dish is perfectly amazing in it’s original form, I sometimes like adding fresh herbs in my rice, also substituting the ghee with salted butter.

 

5. Tomato Egg Curry

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Courtesy: foodpandaindia

Like I mentioned earlier, eggs are extremely versatile. They fit equally well in a French brunch as they would in a pot of spicy Indian curry.  Hard boiled traditionally, these balls of protein give the overall balanced experience of flavor and texture. The curry, on the other hand, can be tomato based, onion based, north Indian, south Indian or even Thai!

 

Care to share some of your favorite egg dishes with me? Leave a comment ! 🙂

(Feature Image Courtesy: Pintrest, Women’s health Magazine)

 

 

 

Garam Chai ki Pyaali

Everyone has their own poison.

Some prefer meditation, some are gym enthusiasts, some indulge in alcohol while others are addicted to harder substances. But most people have that one thing in their lives that they don’t really need, yet can’t do without.

For some, it’s a nice cup of strong hot tea. It’s the first sip of that bronze concoction with an aroma which is almost earthy, a flavor unique to itself which often comes with the warmth of ginger that pulls you in for a taste. Sure it might be so hot that you know it will scald your mouth, but that’s no reason to stop. You lean in, tasting the steam first, which is followed by a brief slurp. Your mind instantly screams “shit I burnt my tongue!” but then there is a moment of nirvana, when the warmth fills your chest. Ah.

It’s what some people describe their first smoke of the day as. The rush of that first sip, followed by stolen minutes during work when you go out for another cup. For some, it is so deeply integrated into their lives that the addiction is not even noticed. Not unless a secluded vegan resort forces a cup of herbal garb on you, compelling you to live without the real deal for the weekend. That is when you realize the worth of that inexpensive beverage, running to the closest chai wala as soon as you hit the city.

That is when you realize that though it’s not something you need, it’s something you really can’t do without.

 

 

What’s your poison?

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5 Instagram Accounts for Pork Lovers

Bacon. Ham cheese sandwiches. Masala Sausages. Pork chops. Tender belly. There is no part of this amazingly delicious and otherwise cute animal that does not appeal to a meat lover. For those of us obsessed with the swine, here are 5 Instagram accounts you must follow !

P.S. It might leave you hungry.

1. Tender Belly

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Because pictures like these are why Miley Cyrus has a pizza blanket. #pigsinablanket @tenderbelly

2. The Bacon Party

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I would marry this if I could. And then eat it. @thebaconparty

3. Pork be Inspired

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This is what dreams are made of. @porkbeinspired

4. All Things Meaty

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Looks like the beginning of a perfect day. @allthingsmeaty

5. Meat and the City

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Dammit I’m hungry now. @meatandthecityldn

Warning: Do not try this after 2 am.

 

 

 

Wise Words

I recently visited heaven.

After a day of riding the ferry, relaxing on the white sandy beach of Kashid and eating a lovely lunch of Konkan prawn curry and rice, one would be pretty ecstatic. But there is something about the unexpected pleasures that life decides to award you with, that puts the biggest smile on your face.

That day, after lunch, we were taken to a place called Bohemian Blue in Alibagh. ‘Taken’ because our designated driver had some work nearby. The premises had an earthy vibe… old looking wooden furniture with stained glass work, hammocks in every corner and a coolness you can only experience as a result of heavy plantation around.

That is when it came to me, a martini glass with pleasures infinite. It looked so ordinary! Like any other glass of chocolate mousse with a melting ball of vanilla ice cream. But this was so much more. One dig into the dessert, and I could see how smooth it was. Its dark rich color looked perfect in contrast with the trickling ice-cream. And then that first bite. Wow. Never had chocolate been so chocolaty and  never had I reacted to a dessert this way ( I’m more of a savory person). I couldn’t stop myself. I went for a second bite to make sure my taste buds weren’t pulling a trick on me and it was just as good, if not better. I stormed through the whole glass I had initially intended to share, only to order another one.

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This time, I was more delicate. As the flavor hit me again, suspending the law of diminishing marginal utility, I could differentiate between the textures. The cold and delicate cream of the ice melting against the warm lush of the chocolate that enveloped everything after a moment. But there was something more. Something with a bite, in the glass of free flowing love. It had a structure to it, but just for a second before it melted into nothing, leaving a familiar taste behind which was neither savory nor sweet.

I had to ask! As I sheepishly went up to our server, she told me it was white butter. AH. There is something about just the thought of white butter. It takes you back to childhood when your grandmother lathered heaps of freshly churned butter on your parathas and everything else that she could.

I couldn’t stop smiling as I walked back to my hammock and lay there, pretending I was five years old again- sitting on a swing, devouring a bowlful of chocolate. I closed my eyes only to hear her words ringing clearly in my ears. Butter makes everything better!

 

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That Indian Girl

How are Indian girls perceived? I have always wondered.

As I ask myself this question, my brain goes into overdrive and spits a thousand stereotypes out. Housewives, repressed voiceless beings, rape victims, street performers, uneducated child bearers, people whose life’s aim is to get married… The average western citizen talks about Indian women with a voice that reeks of pity.

But I wonder what they think about us when they experience the Indian woman firsthand, when they visit my country and see the diversity. Sure those stereotypes have some truth to them and there are millions of women whose lives are far from ideal. But what about the independent educated girl they meet on the ferry to Alibaug and what about the girl on the beach who’s on a vacation with her boyfriend? What do they think when they meet an unmarried mother of two and what comes to their mind when a young girl knows more about their country than themselves?

I know that the average Indian girl is underprivileged, and heaven knows how I wish it was otherwise. But does their perception change, even a bit, when they see the “privileged” ones?

I hope it does. Because then we can change their opinion, one girl at a time.

 

 

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A Taste of the Woods

The small village of Vikramgarh, on the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra, hosted a group of photography students to lunch, the desi style. The meal, though simple, comprised of everything an out-station student craves. A generous serving of steamed rice bathed in dal (pulses), a side of beans and potato and an added flavor of garlic chutney. All was served on an over sized leaf from the woods nearby, while we sat under the shade of a temporary tent next to a lake.

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The dal was the hero of the show. Cooked over hours in a massive handi (utensil) on an open fire, it had a subtle smokey flavor that is unique to the style of cooking. There was nothing extravagant about it, since the villagers come from meager means. But it reminded me of the food served in langar (mass meals organised in Gurudwaras) which magically tastes delicious, despite the lack of luxurious ingredients.

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The chutney carried an extra punch of flavor. Its strong aroma and mysterious look forced me to ask the cook for the recipe. “It’s just garlic with salt, coriander and gram-flour rubbed into a paste” he said, visibly proud that a city dweller was taking interest in his skills.

This is where one of the cardinal rules of cooking comes from. Keep it simple, let the ingredients speak. The best things you see, come in simple packages.