Friday, December 21, 2012

An Ode To USA

The USA. The States. America. And for the just-relocated-from-the-pind crowd, Amreeka. Call it what you may; for me, the US will always be a food-and-fashion haven. No other country gets both right. Yes, Milan rocks the fashion world. But Italian food = monotonous and mostly one-note. Paris has its share of runway shows and trendsetters, but French cuisine = tiny portions of expensive, pretentious food. India gets the food right, but one look at the people will take all thoughts of fashion out of your head. 

Which brings us back to the US - where food and fashion both abound, and both are available in super-cheap ("economy") as well as break-the-bank variants. 

This past year, I was fortunate enough to live in a city replete with enough options to satisfy even my appetite (for food, not fashion; that's another story). Here, then, is a condensed list of my absolute favorites in this country - with both newly-discovered treasures and old sweethearts.

1. Korean BBQ nothing like its American counterpart (which I'm not a fan of). That sizzling plate of chicken bulgogi with sticky rice did indescribable things to my palate. It is a completely new flavor, unlike any other Oriental cuisines. I was an instant fan, and ate nothing but the bulgogi every single time we visited. It was that good.

Chicken Bulgogi lunch box, $9

2. Zaxby's
The (dare I say) superior cousin of the KFC, Zaxby's (a small Southern chain, only in 6-7 states) takes fried chicken to another level. The crust oh-so-crispy, and the chicken so tender it actually melted in my mouth. And they serve it with buttered toast, not biscuits !! Genius. Even though my loyalty to KFC remains, if I see a Zaxby's, that's where I'll be headed. Sorry KFC !

Chicken Finger Plate, $6
3. Cake
Just plain old cake. As some of you know, this year I traveled far and wide in search of the perfect red velvet. I found many versions worthy of a post by themselves, but the larger realization was that we're being cheated in the cake department in India. Cake can be so, so glorious ! A wonderful bakery next door (Strossner's) produced fresh, seasonal delights like strawberries-and-cream, pink lemonade, apple cinnamon swirl and German chocolate, while in India, our options seem limited to either those horrid white "pineapple"/black forest things or the sickly-sweet and done-to-death chocolate truffle. We deserve better.  

4. Cheesecake and cupcakes

'Nuff said.

5. Thai
Both the cheap, greasy, food-court version and the light, brothy, flavorful delight served up by the sweet old lady at Bangkok Thai. Why didn't I appreciate this before ??

From the local mall's food court, $5
6. Gourmet mashed potatoes
The lowly mashed potatoes have seen a culinary revival of sorts; they're popping up everywhere ! I used to be content with the "side" portion at KFC, but after tasting the magical chive-butter-and-garlic loaded versions at Liberty Taproom and The Meatball Shop, I now know what comfort is supposed to taste like.

7. Mexican !!
Another why-haven't-I-discovered-this-before gem, a good bowl of rice, refried beans, chicken, chipotle ranch and hot salsa became my go-to meal for days I wanted all the flavor without the calories. A small bowl (quite enough for lunch) at Salsaritas (another small, southern chain) ran me only 480 calories, and was so good I could've licked it clean.

Honorable mention - Sushi 
Used to hate it, now like it (haven't fallen in love yet).

Spicy crab roll, $10
Indians are known for quickly adapting to the latest in international cuisines, and I'm sure most of these will be very appreciated in desi-land. So now, I wait for these delights to make their way across the Atlantic. 

And drool over memories in the meantime.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The (un)Joy Of Shopping in India

Ok, so this post might digress from being just about food, and hit on my other obsession - shopping. I'm in the mood to rant.

Having lived in the US long enough to have been completely spoiled by the retail experience here, I'm now secretly dreading the prospect of shopping in India.

American store-owners actually want you to buy from their stores. Indian store-owners ("lala ji"), on the other hand, seem intent on making your shopping experience feel like war.

What is it about our country's businessmen that makes them so indifferent, so callous to the needs of the customer ? Why is the mantra of any business in India to rob the customer blind until they wise up ? I've seen a million cheap imitations of American products that don't come close to the original for quality. Not to say the US doesn't have its fair share of duds, but in India, the duds, by sheer volume, crowd out the few good products. 

The "Made in India" clothes that I buy in the US will last me years, while (pricier) clothes I buy in India will unravel in months. Why do we not deserve the same quality in manufacturing that is provided to US companies ? I'm genuinely perplexed - is it the cost ? I'm willing to pay more; no one offers me the option ! Or is it just indifference towards the domestic customers, because we are second-rate in our own country ?

And it's not just retailers; this trend extends to almost every industry. A Domino's pizza in India will taste so different from one in the US that you won't know they both came from the same parent company. Same for Coke. Same for Kitkats and Dairy Milks. McDonald's in India will continually reduce portions and increase prices, while their counterpart in the US is doing the opposite and still making money. 5-star chefs will continue to peddle a frozen, gelatinous mess as "New York cheesecake". At the local Subway, I pay for double meat to get the amount of chicken I normally get in the US.

Kirana-store uncles will always add up your total incorrectly, and when you catch them, laugh it off ("Beta chashme ke bina 3 mujhe 8 dikh raha tha"). Strangely, 8 will never look like a 3 to them, ever. A look at the Facebook page of the recently-launched-in-India version of Forever21 will show numerous messages from customers - none with a reply. On the US webpage of the same store , every question has been answered, every message replied to.

It's our money that drives these businesses, yet we never demand better from them. We've resigned ourselves to being treated like crap and settling for second-best. Why ?

A few recent imports from the US give me some hope - Chili's has great food, US-sized portions and decent prices (let's see how long that lasts). The Quiznos in Hyderabad had my favorite baja chicken and had not (the last I ate there) yet converted half its menu to alu tikkis. Zara India stock their entire international line, not just "India appropriate" clothes. I'm praying for Gap, H&M & the Cheesecake Factory to wake up and smell the opportunity that is urban India.

Till then, I'm relying on my network of friends and family to stuff their bags for me every time they head to India. Please, guys. I need your suitcase space more than you do.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Island of Dreams

Aaah, New York.

Despite having been exploited for all it's worth, with everything written about it that possibly could be, ubiquitous Central Park photos splattered all over the web, New York City still moves me in a way that's almost indescribable.


I can sense the train pulling into Penn station every single time; it sends a shiver down my spine and makes me sweaty with anticipation. The sheer joy of being the world's greatest city (yes, it is), being surrounded by culture, food, art, fashion and history, and of course the shopping - all of these combine into the heady cocktail that is New York. Its narrow alleys set me free; its towering skyscrapers make me giddy, and its pulse finds an echo in the beats of my heart.

Ok, I'll stop.

This trip was probably my last sojourn to NY (as tour guide to my visiting mother), so I decided to tick off another few things on my to-do list (I could never, of course, hope to tick off ALL of them). My focus so far had been on history and fashion/shopping. This time, I wanted pop-culture NY - and I wanted food. So I scoured the Food Network for affordable, interesting places, and this is what I came up with.

1. Magnolia Bakery Any fan of Sex And The City would recognize this name immediately - it's where the ladies got their cupcake fix. Since the show aired, this place has become a destination in itself, known more for the show than the actual cupcakes. I got 2 - red velvet (my absolute favorite), and Chocolate Coconut.

Now, I've been on the hunt for the perfect red velvet for ages (more on that later). This one, while good, didn't come close to that vision. The choc-coco had great texture and soft, sweet coconut, but slightly dry cake. All in all, Magnolia did just about ok in my book.

2. The Meatball Shop A Brooklyn original, it recently branched out in Manhattan (thus saving me a tedious subway trip), and serves beef, pork, chicken and veggie meatballs. You can order them "naked", on a slider (one ball, small bun), as a burger (2 on a bun) or as a hoagie (3 on a hotdog roll), with an assortment of sauces and cheese. I got chicken burger, spicy tomato sauce and pepperjack cheese - and it was goooooooood. The meatballs had just the right consistency, were flavorful, and piping hot. Would go again. 

3. Waffles and Dinges A traveling truck that dispenses authentic, hot Belgian waffles. Found out it was parked in Times Square (perfect). A long line of post-lunch, craving-something-sweet people greeted me. I got a plain small waffle with just powdered sugar...........and couldn't figure out what people raved on and on about. It was nice, yes, but nothing to write home about. Ah well, maybe it takes a more sophisticated palette ! I was on a busy sidewalk with sugar all over my fingers, so no pics. So sorry !

4. Red Hook Lobster Another traveling truck, and this one went gourmet ! Serves lobster rolls, lobster mac and cheese, and even live lobsters ! It was the most expensive of my jaunts - a $16 lobster roll ain't cheap - but oh, was it worth it ! Cold, sweet chunks of lobster, a hint of spicy mayo and a perfectly buttered bun - H.E.A.V.E.N. 

NYC never fails to surprise and amaze me. This was my 8th (9th ?) trip to the little island, and I discover something new every single time. 

That's why I keep going back for more.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pub Mein Kukkad......Blimey, Mate !

Brits do a lot of things well - fashion, museums, the tube, and of course, the staple of British alleys and nooks - pubs. I'm a fan of fish and chips, and for me, that's about as far as pub food went. I know of some great Colonial pubs in Manhattan, but never expected to find one in our little cubbyhole town.

The credit for this discovery must go to the husband, really. We seemed to have exhausted our usual routine, familiar restaurants (the kind where we no longer needed a menu to order), and wanted to try a new place. After a little digging, the husband came up with a quaint pub downtown. I was reluctant (fish and chips = diet disaster), but followed along when he promised an extensive menu.

Surprise, surprise ! In addition to some lovely, unusual dishes (spicy lamb burger, The Starving Artist - a hodge-podge of rice, beans, salsa and gravy), the menu featured........Butter Chicken. 

Wha.................... ?

It is unheard of to find an Indian dish on the menu, outside of Indian restaurants, in the US. Curiosity piqued, I ordered it (the husband went with the spicy lamb burger). Both dishes arrived looking beautiful, and smelling delicious.

The butter chicken

The lamb burger
The lamb burger was flavorful enough, but the husband had eyes on my butter chicken from the start. And for good reason - it far surpassed my expectations ! It had all the right spices, wasn't drenched in butter, and was boneless - so it checked all the boxes I grade chicken on. Sadly, Karim's memories never let me enjoy a good naan; if it isn't great, it doesn't count. But other than that, it was perfect; we wiped the plate clean.

Unexpected pleasures really are the best.

P.S. I'll be back (have to try the Starving Artist !).

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mofongo Khush Hua !

While researching for our upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, I stumbled upon what seemed to be the favorite local food - the Mofongo. Every website I stumbled upon had tourists raving about this delicious tropical staple, some going so far as to say they only ate mofongos during their entire trip.

As scary as it sounds, its description had me intrigued - a bowl made with fried, mashed plantains, and filled with your meat of choice. My love of all things fried is legendary, as is my fondness for poultry, so naturally, this seemed like food made just for me.

Now, I knew plantains were a distant cousin of the banana, but I had no idea what to expect as far as taste goes. Luckily, lard blocks out pretty much most of the original taste of anything, so all I tasted in the plantain bowl was kind of fried-dough-taste, which served as the perfect backdrop for tender chicken chunks doused in garlic aioli.


It was also, however, so filling that I couldn't move for the rest of the evening, and much of the next day. Because our vacation was only 3 days, I didn't dare try it again. Both the husband and I did try out a few more of the most recommended local dishes, but none compared to the mofongo.

Regretfully, it was so dim in the restaurant that I couldn't take a decent pic. I'll try to paint a verbal picture - a 4" wide, 1" deep fried bowl, the color of a good samosa, filled to the brim with meat, doused with sauce, sometimes sitting on a bed of veggies or rice. Sounds good, doesn't it ?

It's actually quite easy to make. The plantains can be substituted with mashed unripe bananas mixed with a little flour. Roasted/grilled chicken/tofu/paneer/shrimp/fish chunks and your sauce of choice complete the mighty mofongo.

Have you tried any exotic foods ? Are there any that you'd want to try ? 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Meri Maggi: A Bowlful of Memories - Part 1

Hot and soupy, straight from the pan. Cold and congealed, in a plastic lunch box. With veggies. With chopped-up boiled eggs. With ketchup (yeah !). With chicken curry. Al dente. Starchy soft. In a bowl. On a plate. Masala, Tangy Tomato, Sweet and Sour.

No matter how you liked your Maggi, everyone in India under the age of 40 has memories of it. Each one of us remembers waiting for that one day of the week when mum would oblige us with Maggi in the lunch box, or for dinner, while grumbling about its lack of nutrition. I even had a pact with my best friend - she would share her Maggi lunch with me, and I would share mine. That way, we could enjoy Maggi twice a week. Such cunning !

It's the stuff legends are made of. Dorm cafeterias and university dhabas boast of "their" way of cooking it. Hot plates and electric heaters are smuggled into hostel rooms for the sole purpose of making a (very) late snack of it. It is sustenance for the millions of hungry souls inhabiting the colleges and universities of India, and increasingly abroad. It is what I still yearn for on a rainy day (and on days when the maid fails to show up). After exhausting evenings of partying and dancing, a shared bowl of Maggi stifled the rumblings of our collective stomachs.

It's a simple food - flour noodles, and a packet of seasoning. Boil water, add noodles and seasoning, cook until soft. And to this day, I haven't managed to cook it in the stipulated "2 minutes". It usually takes me 8-10. 

But I digress. False advertising aside, Maggi delivered on its promise of being a tasty, spicy, quick and easy meal (it never claimed to be healthy, until a whole-wheat avatar was launched in 2008). While many households reserved it for an evening snack for the kids (after a vigorous game of tag), many a harried mother has given in to its temptation as full-blown dinner on days when chopping veggies, frying onions, making curry and rolling out chapattis seemed to be just way too much.

We never had much say in when and how much of it we could eat; we could salivate for weeks before the elders deemed it ok - "Chalo aaj Maggi bana lete hain". Ahhh ! The joy ! The anticipation ! The aroma wafting from the kitchen as the saucepan bubbled !

And then came college, with the inedible dorm food and the perennially broke situation. We all turned to our only savior - the only thing that remained edible no matter who made it - and we all over-did it. Maggi for lunch, dinner, and late-night snack. All week. All month. All semester. Towards the end of my 4 years was the only time in my life that I was slightly revolted by it.

To be continued........

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ghar Ghar Burger Shurger Hoye !

Beef - the official food of the USA.

Ok, I may have made that up; but it isn't too far from the truth. The average American adult consumes 270 lbs - yes, more than their own body weight (or is it ?) - of beef each year (source: NPR). McDonald's - the premier hamburger giant - is the largest publicly traded food company on the stock exchange, closely followed by Burger King and Wendy's. The beef section in the grocery store spans 4 aisles. There are restaurants that have only one item on the menu - beef.

My point is - USA is beef country.......

.....with a Hindu population of 1.2 million. 

While some desi immigrants have taken to beef, most still consider it taboo, for reasons both religious and cultural. Even for largely non-religious people like me, beef remains out of bounds, simply because trying out a new food is tricky territory. Some of my food adventures (raw oysters, caviar, smoked salmon) have left a bad taste in my mouth long after the meal was over. It also represents a kind of cultural leap - from being a "desi" desi to being a transitional American - a leap I'm not willing to make.

A small but growing population here in the US is beginning to realize that there are other, healthier meats out there - poultry, seafood, turkey - that have remained under-utilized for decades. But none of these comes close to replicating the mouth-feel of a good, juicy burger - chicken and seafood can't be ground up and made into patties; turkey dries out and is bland.

The Indian answer has always been the potato patty - the delightful "tikki" - mashed up potatoes, peas, onions and lots of spices, grilled on a flat pan and handed out with generous doses of chutney, sometimes sans the bun, often as a tea-time snack. I wonder how long it will take McDonald's to realize that its Indian version sells a potato-patty burger that could be a delicious veggie option on their US menu.

The American answer to the beef substitute isn't potatoes (they use potatoes as a side anyway); it's the humble bean  ! Black, red, soy or kidney - ground up beans can hold flavor and moisture, and can be made into a patty ready for the grill. The patty looks surprisingly similar to a beef burger, goes perfectly with cheese melted on top, and fits snugly into a toasted bun. Vegetarian heaven !

Black bean burger at a local joint in G'ville
About 6-7 years ago, when I first visited USA, I could only find these patties at specialized stores, frozen. I would bring them home, along with a bag of buns, and get grilling. To my surprise and delight, they have made their way into mainstream culture, and can now be found at most restaurants. I don't see bean burgers at fast food chains yet, though (Mc Donald's current "vegetarian" burger is lettuce and tomato on a bun). 

Ah well, someday. Until then, I'll head to the frozen section.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Grocery Conundrum - Why I prefer the friendly neighborhood desi kirana store to the US versions

Who would've imagined dowdy, boring grocery shopping to cause so much melodrama every week ! But it does, at least in the US.

It's easy to do grocery in India - pricing usually takes a backseat in deciding where to shop, because all packaged goods have the same retail price across the nation. You go to the nearest market, pick a kirana store with a sweet uncle ji/aunty ji manning it, and soon enough, they know your weekly list by heart and will have Chotu bring out the 2-lt Thums Up, no-sugar-added juice and bag of roast peanuts as soon as you set foot inside. Some chit-chat and gossip exchanges later, you're all set for the week. 

Photo courtesy Outlook magazine
Not so the US. As with everything else  in this country, you have way too many options on where you want to get your aata-dal from. For most people, it comes down to cost differences - the price of the same product can vary greatly from store to store.

The lowest-price retailer in any area tends to be Walmart. Price-wise, it makes sense to shop there all the time. But for the downer - Walmart is depressing. Very depressing. Bleakly lit, withering bunches of flowers, week-old piles of apples and bruised bananas, and a bakery section where the ingredient of choice is lard. It does offer vast choices at great prices, and some of those choices are good ones (high-fiber cereal, no-preservative yoghurt). It is up to us to sort through the crap.

Produce at Walmart
This is just sad
In stark contrast is Whole Foods - a mecca of organic, locally-grown goodness, of produce fresh off the farm, flaxseed supplements on everything and a preservative-free, calorie-conscious bakery ! It stocks shelves upon shelves of imported Italian pasta sauces, whole-grain cereal, cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef, hand-cut potato chips and even gourmet international cuisine (Sanjeev Kapoor mango pickle, anyone ?) - things that will have you feeling more wholesome and healthy just by looking at them. Well, the one part of you that won't feel so healthy - your wallet. Yep, organic comes at a steep cost; just because the farmers save on pesticides doesn't mean you save too. 

Produce at Whole Foods
Well-stocked with fresh, crisp veggies
So, where do we go ? Cheap Walmart, where our wallets will thank us but we'll need mood-enhancers later, or Whole Foods, where we'll feel uplifted and broke ?

We've reached a compromise - for the packaged stuff (toothpaste, soap, paper towels, cereal, canned goods etc.), Walmart is just fine. For produce, it makes sense to shell out a bit more and buy pesticide-free, fresher stuff, so every few weeks, we run by WF and stock up.

What do you look for in a grocery store ? Would you prefer the perfect aisles of US stores to the chaos of desi kirana shops ? Would you pay more for fresh and organic, or does that scream "scam" to you ?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wings On Fire

One bird, and a million different ways to cook it - my love for all things chicken is evident to anyone who has seen me in its company. Nostrils flare, drool puddles, and the stomach rumbles when I get a whiff of my favorite culinary ingredient.

Having had my fill of the desi, tikka-masala variety, I decided to venture into (so far) uncharted territory - the wing. To me, it seems like this country has it all wrong; why the fuss over the scrawniest part of a plump bird ? At least in India, the wings were tiny - all bone, no meat. All that gnawing on the bone puts me off too. But one episode of Man Vs. Food featured a wing joint in Greenville, so we HAD to check it out.

We arrived at the Quaker Lube Wing Stop ( for lunch, and immediately saw what Adam had ordered - an order of their "Atomic" sauced wings. Here's the scale they use to define the relative heat of their sauces:

And behold, they had topped their own fiery fiesta (the Atomic), with the fierier, hotter, death-wish Triple Atomic !!

Now, you ask - did we ? Nope, we chickened out (ugh) this time. We tried Cajun and Arizona Ranch. And we could have them boneless ! Yay !

Here's the Cajun (served with pita wedges):

and the Arizona Ranch (served with soft pretzels):

While the chicken itself was juicy and nicely done, the AR sauce was almost bland, and the Cajun seemed like one of Maansingh bhaiya's generous mirchi days - a tad hot, but nothing to write home about. So much for the rating of 4000 ! 

This has now boosted our confidence enough that we will, on our next visit, give the Atomic a shot. If we survive that, the Triple Atomic will be our crowning achievement.

Watch this space !!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Crunchy,spicy goodness - Magic Masala

Ahh ! Frito Lays ! The creator of The Chip - that tiny bite of crisp saltiness that gets you hooked. You can choose from a smorgasbord of flavors; some favor the plain salty, some the subtlety of sour cream, and yet others like it cheesy. 

None of those pansy-a$$ flavors for me, though. I like bold, fiery - I want my chip to kick me in the face ! In India, my staple favorite (for years) has been the Magic Masala flavor of the rippled Lays. It's been a constant companion - for studying until the wee hours in college, through the tumultuous years at the job, late night chats or books that I can't put down.

It's what I instinctively reach out for when it rains, or when I get bored of bland foods, or simply when 1 am (or 6 pm) cravings hit. It was an easy (though unhealthy) snack at work - packaged, non-perishable, cheap, and delicious. 

So you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered that my favorite blue bag had not made it to the shores of USA ! I searched desi grocery stores all over Houston and Frederick and Jersey, to no avail. Was I doomed to making do with Doritos, or having dad spend ridiculous amounts  to ship me a few bags ? 

Up until now, yes. But then...........a miracle ! We walked into the friendly neighborhood desi grocery store in Greenville, and presto ! There it was - the familiar flash of blue that had me drooling in anticipation.

I happily slapped 2 packs into our shopping cart; the husband recoiled in horror ! He knew what was coming - arriving home to a sea of crumbs, blue wrappers and a fat wife smelling of garlic and paprika. 

That's when I swore to myself I'd never let that happen. I no longer eat these by the pound; I stretch one 2-oz  bag a whole week. I now treat these calories bombs like an indulgence, not a meal. And I gargle with mouthwash afterwards. 

All is well.

Uh oh, it's 1 am..........

P.S. Some say chips go best with beer; I say nothing beats a chip chased down with a cold Thums Up (more on that later).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

California Chronicles Part 2: Desi Thai Bhai Bhai

A few days into our California trip, we decided to venture out for some good ole' Thai, a good substitute if you get tired of desi and still want the rice-and-spice. Duly checked Urbanspoon, and picked the # 3 recommendation (the top 2 were a tad pricey). 

Thai Spoons - a tiny place tucked into a shopping block, almost unnoticeable. A few minutes into the buffet meal, I wished it HAD gone unnoticed. How could trusty, dependable Thai go so, so wrong ?  My basil chicken looked and tasted like dog food, the hubby's plate (red curry) had virtually none. We paid $8 a pop for tasteless crap - the complete opposite of what Thai should be. 

Fast-forward to yesterday in Greenville - I really needed a Thai fix to help recover from that disaster. We found another tiny little place called Kannika's with great recommendations, and ordered basil chicken again, with some trepidation. What if ............?

Needn't have worried. This is what Thai should taste like - bright, crisp, spicy curry, succulent chicken and fragrant, fluffy jasmine rice. This time, the $8 each seemed perfectly well-deserved. 

Such is the conundrum of Urbanspoon - some days, it leads you to little gems hidden behind the Toys R Us and Staples; other days, to culinary hell-holes whose bad taste stays in your mouth long after the meal is over. 

Do you use Urbanspoon or similar websites for restaurant recommendations ? What has it led you to ?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

California Chronicles: Part 1

This past week, the husband and I were in California, visiting family. Families, of course, have to eat, and eat we did !

After hiking (riding in a car and occasionally getting out to walk 200 m) in Yosemite National Park for 2 days, and surviving on cold cheese sandwiches and microwaved pizza, we were really looking forward to a good meal on our drive back. We chanced upon a tiny place called Anarkalee (, which seemed decent.

Turns out, it was the long-lost firang cousin of our very awesome Karim's ! Gaint, thick fluffy naans (albeit not greasy, even a tad dry), rich curries, good gulab jamuns, and paan - can I say Chandni Chowk ? 

I still remember my first trip to Karim's - the Delhi Metro had just been inaugurated, and I had talked fellow foodie AB into coming along. Got off at the Chandni Chowk station, asked around, got lost, took a rickshaw, walked some more - and there it was, tucked into a tiny corner, sending stomach-rumbling whiffs our way.

I think I saw a look of panic on the guy's face when he took our order - 6 dishes for 2 people ! And I am proud (ashamed?) to say - we finished every last bit, even chewing up a whole naan plain, without any curry. Yes, it was that good. Of course, we were immobile for an hour afterwards. 

Prompted by my gushing reviews, the husband made the trip once......and came back not quite impressed. Hmmm. Maybe he visited on an off day. 

While living in Gurgaon, I chanced upon a Karim's.......3 blocks from my house ! At our next soiree, we ditched our usual desi take-out place and ordered Karim's instead, even though it rung up a much bigger tab. The food was good, not great. Apparently the CC location is the only one that gets it just right.

As I dipped big chunks of naan into the fish curry at Anarkalee, the great memories of Karim's came rushing back. And just for that, I'd give it 5 stars. 

Have you been to Karim's ? How was it for you ? 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tea Tales

It's only apt that my first post should be about that irreplaceable, irresistible classic - a steaming cup of tea.  It's what wakes us up, calms us down and sets the stage for the best gossip sessions.

"Anyone for tea ? I'm making some !" has been my rallying cry to sleepy-eyed friends on many a cold/rainy afternoon.......and no one has ever said no (except G, who, for some incomprehensible reason, dislikes tea !). Whether it's 2 pm or 2 am, chai is the perfect background for whatever you're doing. 

It was my most essential tool in my working days. Without the 4 cups a day, I just wouldn't function. Now that I don't need that level of focus any more, I'm down to 1-2 cups a day. But I put in much more effort into that one cup, and it satisfies so much more than those 4 hurriedly made, dunk-teabag-add-milk-back-to-work cups.

I'm of the old-fashioned, brewing-tea-in-a-pan-for-eternity school of thought; teabags seem like the poor cousins of the mighty loose-leaf. Here in the US, there's very few options for people like me - it's either make do with that Starbucks disaster called "Chai Tea Latte" (a cacophony of cinnamon, nutmeg and syrup that tastes less like tea and more like hipster juice) or stay at home and brew the darn cup yourself. 

Now, I love the results of the brewing; I'm just not very fond of the work it requires. The  million dirty utensils that are left behind in the wake of that perfect cup sometimes, sometimes, make it seem not worth it. 

Which is where this genius invention steps in to save the day !!! The tea mesh ball that eliminates the need for a sieve, and the pot stays clean !! Discovered this in a tiny shop in SF Chinatown.........for $2. 

So far, it's worked well - tea leaves stayed in, expanded well, and no pot scrubbing ! I might even go up to brewing twice a day. Aaaaaaaaaaah. 

What's your take on tea ? Brewed, teabag or none at all ? How many cups a day ? Cinnamon and nutmeg, or plain Tata/Red Label ?