Sunday 4 June 2017
Wednesday 26 April 2017
I've been on a burger hunt these last few weeks, trying to sniff out the good ones in town. Like in all aspects in life, when in doubt, ask Google baba. However, when you search for something like this, the results invariably throw up - 30 best burgers in Singapore... 100 best places for a burger...and so on.
30 best. Really??? How can these 2 words even go together. If it is the best, it really won't feature at a 28th spot on a list. Then why? Why would you list out 100 places I can go to for a burger?? My finger hurts with the amount of scrolling you make me do to read the list.. and by the time I reach No.13, you've already lost my interest.
It's not really their fault. I have been there, on the editor's chair, commissioning articles for 10 tips for glowing skin or the best buffet restaurants in town. The SEO team loves them and honestly, that's how Google baba works. Listicles get picked up and rank higher than reviews do. The more number of places listed, the better. But does that really make for good food writing? Or have we merely become a directory?
I don't think listicles are all bad. If I want tips or a list of reasons I should eat a particular fruit, it makes it easier for me to scroll down a list. But in my opinion, a list more than 10 is a list too long. And especially when it comes to listing out the best places for a particular type of food. How is it even possible to have 30 places in Singapore that serve a burger which will blow my mind? It is not...thus, the list is populated with some legends and a lot of above average places. A futile exercise, for a reader. If the topic is as specific as a particular dish or even a cuisine, the number of places listed should ideally be in single digits. No, Google may not like you, but it just makes sense. There won't be more than a handful of places in town that push the envelope so far that it just begs a visit. Yes, if you're listing something like Best Meals in Delhi... then it won't be possible to do a list within 10...the diversity of sub-categories is so large.
But please, writers and food enthusiasts, take a step back and look at it with some perspective. Don't blindly follow SEO orders..I know traffic is king and content structure often suffers. But draw the line somewhere. Use your discretion, pick out the topics where you think a list of 10 is justified and put your foot down when you think it should not exceed 5. No, your editor may not love you too much, but hopefully they will be matured enough to respect your opinion on the matter. As for me? Well I'm off to Google baba, to sift through the list of gazillion places in town that make the BEST burger to find the one I will visit today. And when in a few weeks I finally have the verdict on who's king, you can be rest assured that you won't need to scroll more than twice in my article! Till then...keep eating and keep reading..
Sunday 16 April 2017
The title seems apt as I furiously tap away on the keyboard, sitting in the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) bound for Kyoto. From Japan’s modern bustling capital city Tokyo, to its more laidback but crammed-in-every-corner-with-culture ancient capital, Kyoto. I find myself distracted, as I type. The scenery outside, acres and acres of cherry blossoms, rivers aimlessly meandering by, and oh wait.. is that Mount Fuji? Please excuse me as I pause to gape in wonder.
This one deserves a post of its own so I will keep it for another day. But safe to say, what you have been eating as ramen barely scratches the surface. There are many varieties of ramen, each drastically different from the other. The one I decided to hunt out on a cold rainy day, is called Fuunji Ramen and usually has a waiting line around the block. Thankfully the rain kept (most) people home and we only had to wait for 15 minutes. You buy your order ticket, sit on a table facing the chefs, and are served your soba noodles cold, with a hot, mean dipping sauce on the side. Eat and please make way for the people standing behind you in line. The broth? Oh so good. Salty, murky and full of pork flavor.
5) Oh and Sushi too
Sushi is perhaps the most popular Japanese dish outside of the country. But here, with the variety in front of you, it almost becomes an afterthought. Almost, I say, because when you do get around to trying some sushi, it blows you away and obliterates memory of any sushi you may have eaten anywhere in the world. You won’t find maki rolls too often, sushi here usually refers to Nigiri. I went for the English-friendly conveyor belt Ginza Sushi, well aware that it may be inferior to the best in town (far far below the $300 experience at Jiro), but came away amazed at just how delicious it was. The avocado and tuna sushi begged for a reorder and the tuna mince with spring onions and chilly oil still gives me sleepless nights.
Friday 7 April 2017
Wednesday 15 March 2017
Monday 13 March 2017
Thursday 9 March 2017
As a girl who grew up in India, my sense of dressing and idea of appropriateness stems from the environment there. Thus, I have a certain idea of the kind of clothes I should wear inside the colony, what clothes to wear to a mall, what I shouldn't wear when driving alone at night and what I should layer up so that it is not too revealing.
I do not grudge these, as they are the way of the land. However, when you think about it, these categories exist for one reason and one reason alone- to avoid unwanted male attention.
I have done a fair bit of travelling outside the country, but it is really in the ten odd days that I have spent in Singapore right now that show me just how liberating it is to not categorise your clothes such. No one stares, no one could be bothered. In fact, everybody dresses so well that you would only be embarrassed if you dressed shabbily rather than if your hemline is too high.
I find myself readjusting to this alternate reality. I look at my wardrobe every morning and try to decide what to wear basis what will look best on me or how the weather is, and not so much depending on whether I plan to take the MRT (train) or the bus today. It also makes me more conscious of my fitness levels as everyone is so fit and thus fit into such gorgeous clothes.
It is not a shift that comes naturally. There have been times (just this morning infact) when I went back and changed my top before I left the house. But I give myself time to accept my body, and to accept the fact that I have the right to choose what to wear, this right does not belong to some stranger on the road. And for this single sense of empowerment, I am glad.
Sunday 5 March 2017
|Image Credit: Toast & Tonic|
My recent trip to Bangalore was full of great food. From the new (and exceptional) Toast & Tonic by Manu Chandra to beer that I actually liked at Windmills Craftswork, there was plenty to write about.
My latest article on NDTV talks about 10 dishes in Bangalore that you must try. Regardless of whether you live there or not, these are must-haves.
Read the article by clicking here.
Saturday 4 March 2017
Tuesday 21 February 2017
As I wrap up things in Delhi, the city I have always called home, I realise that there really isn't much to wrap up. Places have lost their meaning, people have moved and thus, in a way, I'm not really sure what it is that I am saying goodbye to. Yet, there is a heaviness in my heart, not the spring in my step that I would expect. It is after all, a move that I had wanted, to a city that I quite like, closer to my best friend too. But when people ask whether I am excited, it is a smile that I force on. I'm not yet. Hoping that I will be, when I land there, but for now, it is not excitement that fills my heart.
So when I am all complexed out, I do what I do best, I write. My latest article on NDTV lists out 7 dishes that Delhi is quite famous for. I even list out my favourite places to go try these at...and spill the beans on those that I find (grossly) overrated. Read the article by clicking here.
This one is only a trailer though. With (surprisingly) not too many people to say goodbye to, I find solace in food. And thus, for the last week or so, I have been ticking off my list of 'Best meals in Delhi'. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the epic list that you should look out for. A list that you can follow at your own pace, a list which will help you understand the city as I know it. This is as real as it gets, as personal, as honest. Watch this space for more. In the mean time, go read my article on Famous Dishes of Delhi...I bet it'll leave you hungry for more.
Sunday 4 December 2016
Thursday 24 November 2016
Disclaimer: I am not an economist. These are my personal opinions, as a citizen of the country, a logical one at that (or so I think).
The recent demonetization announcement of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes in India has thrown the public and the media into a tizzy. I have spent this time absorbing what has happened, talking to people in the food industry as well as common people standing in queues, driving cars and others. I have read strong opinions supporting both sides of the coin and I have heard heated discussions, both on social media and over dinner tables.
And here is my opinion.
Somewhere, opinions regarding the move are divided solely into two - Modi supporters and Modi haters. And that is where opinions become biased and illogical. So, I have attempted to keep the prime minister outside the picture and look at the policy solely as a standalone issue.
The word on the street, atleast in the sample set that I spoke to, is positive. Yes, people have to stand in line to withdraw puny sums of their own money. Yes, it is extremely inconvenient. Yes, industries and trade are being affected, for example the street food vendors or sabzi mandis. But when I spoke to people from these groups, each believed that this was for a greater good. People are ready to go through a little inconvenience for the larger picture.
So what is the larger picture? I urge you not to use corruption and black money interchangeably. This is a move to target black money and make the economy more compliant. How will that happen, you ask? My mother always told me that if I was doing something that I couldn't tell anyone about, there was a good chance it was something I shouldn't be doing. Large amounts of cash lying with people at home or in lockers got there through unscrupulous ways. I am not talking about amounts upto say 1 lakh, which a normal household may keep for a rainy day. I am talking about the people with sofas full of cash, people who take bribes full of suitcases, people who do transactions half in cash and half in cheque, so as to save tax repercussions. Suddenly all that cash lying with them has become paper.
How will that stop people from taking bribes in the future or doing cash transactions when the money situation eases up, you ask. No, just this won't. But a move like this will put the fear of god in them. Modi said, and I do believe, that more such measures will be put into place in the near future, which will make it difficult to use or invest unaccounted-for money. All the loopholes that we have been using in the system are slowly being plugged in the backend (I have seen a lot of tightening in the Income Tax processes, for example) and all these will play a role in increasing penalization.
What about all the black money in Swiss banks and others, you ask? Yes, this is only a trickle and a large amount of black money lies invested in gold, offshore accounts and others. But the noose seems to be tightening for them as well, with Swiss banks being slowly forced to release names of account holders (in the news only yesterday) and other such measures.
Here are 4 things I find commendable about this move:
1) Forced digitization: Dhaabas have Paytm barcodes, home delivery services are now coming home with card machines and even sabzi walas are going cashless. Each of these is a step towards a progressive nation. I just got back from Australia where I managed with spending exactly $80 in cash over two weeks and the rest everything on card. That is the benefit of digitization and this situation seems to be forcing small vendors and businesses to do so.
2) Increase in bank account openings: Many, many people don't have bank accounts. Household help, manual labour, and even housewives. Some stay away to evade tax and some don't because they can get away without one. This parallel cash economy costs the government in terms of taxation. With more bank accounts opening and money flowing into the system, the Indian economy can see a widening of the tax base.
3) Increase in compliance: For my article on demonetization and it's effect on the food industry in India (read it here), I spoke to many restaurateurs. AD Singh, one of India's most respected restaurateur with names like Olive, SodaBottleOpenerWala and Fatty Bao from his stable, spoke about how he welcomes this move to bring a level playing field into the industry. Many businesses run on cash, evade tax and thus are able to offer unreasonable discounts which compliant businesses can't. This makes it difficult to run an honest business and also results in tax loss for the country. A move from currency to digital payments forces businesses to get more compliant. Yes, this may be true only in the current situation and things may flow back into the earlier ways, with the new currency notes. But perhaps future measures to discourage cash payments will help this cause.
4) Real estate woes: There is buzz that Rs.2000 notes will be limited in number and the currency will move towards lower denominations. This will make high value cash transactions difficult. In today's India, buying a second-sale property involves atleast 30-40% black money. With cash drying up or becoming more difficult to access, people will be forced to sell and buy with white money, hopefully stabilizing an inflated real estate market, making it a level playing field for professionals and businessmen.
The point is not that Modi has a magic wand, he doesn't. This move is not going to solve all of our black money issues or eradicate corruption. Many other measures are required for that to happen. But this is a step in that direction. Yes, it is extremely inconvenient and I myself have stood in lines to withdraw (my own) money. But everyone in that line seems to understand and empathize with this inconvenience. The line moves smoothly, almost as if we're all in this together.
I hated the odd-even campaign. It was inconvenient. Yet, I supported it for the greater picture of it decreasing air pollution. No, it did not do that, but we tried. It did give me fabulous traffic-free roads though. I am happy to look at the vision behind this move, and pray for even 10% good to come out of it, instead of looking at all the woes and holding my breath for it to fail. There are plenty of issues with the implementation strategy, but it is so easy to point fingers, so difficult to actually do something.
As I said, this is not about Modi. This is about India. And they are two separate things. I am happy to be a part of the change. And if this doesn't work, I will be happy to support the next initiative. We curse India for being dirty yet pee on walls, think the air is terrible but still burst crackers, lament corruption but try to bribe cops instead of paying chalaans. If you want India to change my friend, I suggest you suck it up and applaud anyone who does even a little thing to help it do so. This is our country...where we take it is really up to each one of us.
Tuesday 22 November 2016
I just got back from Australia after a much-needed break. A wonderful trip in many ways...but this post is not about that. It is about that inexplicable feeling of belonging that I felt, when I reached home.
Growing up, it was always an occasion when relatives from abroad came visiting, with suitcases full of gifts. 'America' and all western countries were 'the blessed land' and we looked towards them with starry eyes, atleast I did.
And then I grew up. In India. Started earning and establishing myself in my career. Got married. And we started travelling outside the country. The first time I used my passport was when I went to Bali for my honeymoon and that was just the starting point. 10 years and 13 countries later, my perspective has slightly changed.
Over these years, many of my closest people, family and friends, chose to move abroad and settle there. Each did so for their own reasons, each seems happy with their decision. As I am with mine.
Yet somehow, I find mine questioned time and again.
I chose to stay in India. I still choose to do the same. I love travelling, within my country and outside it. I love exploring, experiencing new things, seeing new cultures and tasting different food. But I also love my life here. I'm not sure at what point it became unfashionable to do so. I find myself defending my decision to live in India more and more often. Which is ironic, considering it really is my default setting. I might choose otherwise somewhere in the future, or I may not.
I am not going to launch into a list of reasons why I love India, that would defeat the purpose of this post. The point is, I do. I think it is a chaotic, crazy, mad but wondrous country. It is dirty, corrupt, polluted, but it is mine. Yes, there are many things I'd like to change in it. But I'm part of the change. And I like that.
I think it is possible to appreciate a place without comparing it constantly to another. For one to look good, the other doesn't necessarily have to be proven bad. Every country that I travel to has its nuances, some are expensive, some inconvenient and some racist; some are polluted, some have language issues; work culture is terrible in some and others are a stagnant economy. Each is wonderful in its own way. It would be such a shame to constantly compare them with India or pit them against each other. Like people, it takes all kinds to make this world. We should celebrate our differences rather than highlight each others flaws. With the world being almost border-less now, it would be so much nicer to do so, don't you think?
Thursday 29 September 2016
Monday 19 September 2016
Tuesday 13 September 2016
Things have been a bit crazy in my family for the past 7 months and thus my writing and my travel were both impacted. I can't really say that things have settled down now, but perhaps we are all trying to find a way to live this new 'normal' better. As a consequence, the travel has started again, albeit in short bursts and much closer to home.
Last weekend, we drove down to this lovely property called Mud Fort Kuchesar. Set amongst green fields and basically nothing else, the Mud Fort is merely 2 hours from Noida by road. This is a blessing, especially when you do not want to spend half your day in transit. The fort itself is 200 years old and belongs to the royal family of Bharatpur. It's quite a wonder that it is not more popular.
With a massive moat surrounding it, the fort has been divided into two, only half being used as a hotel. Our room overlooked the central dining courtyard and had a lovely shared verandah outside, where a drink or two kept me company as the baby slept. The room was large and airy, much like the high-ceiling(ed) rooms in my erstwhile ancestral house in Ludhiana. The AC provided welcome respite from the humidity and heat that is typical of UP.
Now let me put a disclaimer. If you like activities and amenities, you may be better off at a five star property elsewhere. This is a heritage hotel, in the middle of a village. And thus, to fully enjoy it, you need to be open to new experiences. I rediscovered the fact that I could ride a cycle (I haven't ridden one for 25 years, since getting grievously injured from one). What could be more exciting than riding along well maintained roads with green fields on both sides and the only traffic, a stray fellow-cyclist? We did pottery with a local potter, and made some not-so-perfect diyas for Diwali too.
Another great adventure was the bullock cart ride. Done in style, the cart had mattresses for our comfort and took us deep into the owner's lands towards mango orchards. The baby learnt how to climb trees and breakfast was picnic-style on a khatia. Post breakfast indulgence? We climbed atop the tube well and dipped our feet in the freezing cold water, watching leaves float by like sail boats!
The service deserves special mention. Nothing was too much to ask for. The baby always had 2 people running around her, trying to get her to cycle or play carom or just catch peacocks (did I mention the gazillion peacocks who live there?). The food was exceptional and homely. I only wish they did a few local dishes too, and a couple of chutneys to take it a notch up.
The weekend was idyllic and perfect. But perfection is relative. If the good ol' country life excites you too (and yet you like your comfort), Mud Fort Kuchesar makes for a great weekend break.
And for me, a reminder of how I really need to move away from the city :)
Wednesday 25 May 2016
Wednesday 27 April 2016
Sunday 27 March 2016
Thursday 31 December 2015
Sunday 18 October 2015
"..It is a fine thing to be male, middle class and Hindu in India. Even in a deprived part of the world, one is privileged.."
I did not think too hard into that until last evening when I was driving back home. But to explain that, let me rewind a little.
The very fact that I am writing something titled thus, seems inappropriate to the hilt. I consider myself lucky and privileged, to have been brought up in a family that does not differentiate between boys and girls. They actually wanted two girls and we decided to fulfill their wishes. We grew up with equal opportunities, being told we must make a mark in the world and with freedom that millions don't have.
Unfortunately, this differentiation is so deeply entrenched in our belief structure that it shows up when you least expect it. When I was driving home at the extremely respectable time of 9:45pm, I found myself urging the car to go a tad faster, lest I receive an sms asking where I was and when I would get home. I usually make it a point to get home by 10pm if I am driving alone or else try to get a friend or a friend's brother/dad to follow me home.
Take a minute to think about that. I am 33 years old, yet I or my family does not have the confidence that I can spend a languid night out and come back when I want to.
I do not remember any guy I know being asked a similar question, with the same intention. If a guy is asked what time he will get home, it is either from a logistical point of view (does he have the keys to enter?) or that you'd prefer him to come earlier to spend time with you. But it's never he 'should' be home by 11.
'Should'. The connotation that I tried to understand one day.
Now that I work in an office set-up again, I get free to go out only by around 7:30-8. Take Delhi distances and traffic, which means that wherever I wish to go, I will only reach by 8:30-9. And I should be home by 10...which means I should spend only 15 minutes at the place I plan to go to?? Ridiculous much??
To understand this 'should', I sat down with my parents recently and asked them why they felt so uneasy if I were to come home late. Safety was the obvious point, which I agreed to and said I'll keep something in the car, download an app, msg them where I am, when I leave and be followed if it is beyond 10:30. After a little hesitation, my extremely-modern parents also let it slip that it doesn't seem 'nice' if girls are out in the night. Ok then. Let me reiterate. I am 33, fairly balanced a person, have friends who are equally so and whom my family 'approves' of, when I go out, if I go out, I'd probably go for dinner or to a new place opened up; yet, if someone saw me out with my friends (in an extremely respectable place) at 10pm, it would not seem 'nice. I wonder what those people would be doing there if it is not a place I should be at. I also wonder if the same point would have been put forth if it were a guy who was out for drinks with his pals. It wouldn't.
I am extremely privileged. I do believe that. However, if such an incredibly deep bias rests inside us without us even realising it, imagine the unseen shackles other girls live with, girls born into families that are not even a fraction as modern as mine is. Ponder on that as I make plans for a movie in the afternoon today...because you see, a night show is out of the question.
Thursday 8 October 2015
Wednesday 9 September 2015
|The lovely terrace of the Khan Market outlet, sans seating now. Source: Facebook/SodaBottleOpenerWala|
And then I moved to Bombay. The naysayers may dis Britannia or Ideal...but I personally fell in love with them. The fact that all 3 generations of the family are always there to greet you or serve you at Britannia, the cat which owns the cash counter and claims it as its own, the buzz and the nostalgia, it is all real, acquired and not something that can be recreated. And don't even get me started on the Berry Pulav, the Cutlets or my favourite, the Sali Keema.
|Sali Keema at Britannia, Fort, Mumbai|
|Chicken Farcha and Komli Fry at SBOW|
The Chicken Farcha came accompanied by a delicious and fresh coriander chutney, onion and lemon. As seemed to be the theme of the evening, the chicken was underwhelming. The meat was a tad bit too dry and even fared worse than the passable farcha (where passable is being generous) one gets at Ashmick's Snack Shack on Pali Hill.
|Ashmick's Chicken Farcha, Pali Hill, Mumbai|
I also tried the Tamota Papeta Par Eeda, which I remembered as being the only thing I liked the last time I ate here. A skillet with tomato-onion chutney, sliced potatoes and 2 fried eggs, this goes well with Maska Pav. The latter is something which you can order by itself too, freshly baked inhouse and loaded with melting butter, the pav reminds me of the fabulous bhajia pavs sold by the guy who would sit outside my complex in Bombay.