Friday, June 14, 2013

What's the mood today?

Dear Hyderabad Weather,

This year your behavior seems more erratic than a woman's mood...what's up?
You had us all sweltering, perspiring, stewing, stifling and sticky till the end of May. So much so that even an afternoon nap was impossible without the ACs going full blast. The State Electricity Board gleefully sent a fat bill as you made us use it with a max and min temperatures hovering at  45° and 34° . Guess you went bonkers! You worked overtime, not willing to relent  below 34°    even at nights!
And then, you started blowing those gusty winds.We Hyderabadis breathed in relief as we saw the temperatures drop to a more bearable max and min of 36°  and  26° Good, we thought and waited for the much-awaited Indian monsoon where we could see sheets of heavy rains beating down on the earth, smell the first rain and joyously dance at this heart-warming sight. Yet, you cheated again. After 3 days of gusty winds heralding your arrival...making us wait and wait and wait, you come stealthily in the night and poured buckets...poured and poured. You stole from us the joy of watching the first rain happen.
With these showers you seem to have brandished a magic wand which changed the weather overnight. Now you make us shiver with cold with these intermittent rains which has us switching off the fans and trying to adjust with your temp of 25°  and 22° ! Mood swings? Yes, happens, but all this within 10 days' time?!
And as a woman to woman, I understand your moods. Some unpredictability is needed to make life interesting, isn't it? But do you mind if I ask you to turn up the thermostat just a little, just a bit till the real winter sets in?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Encounters@Taj Krishna

I had read good reviews about the Encounters restaurant at Taj Krishna. Why I opted for this restaurant will give you an insight into why it disappointed me so much.
We had planned to watch a movie @ INOX, Banjara Hills at 1 pm. There was this dilemma...we needed to start eating at 12 to be able to complete our lunch and be in time for the movie. And for someone who is used to eating a late lunch, 12 noon was way too early. So we decided to go for a rather heavy breakfast a little late and eat lunch after the movie at 3.30 pm. From all my previous experiences I know that all restaurants lunches in Hyderabad close by 3 or 3.30 pm max. An internet search revealed that the Taj had a round the clock service promising different cuisines at different times of the day. We planned  go for an international cuisine which is rarely offered by the local restaurants.
On going to the Encounters@ Taj, we found a near-deserted restaurant. Skeptical, we asked for the menu. We skipped the South Indian menu and the usual North Indian stuff of rotis and curries and dived straight at the international one.
What we found were a few soups, starters and some main course items. I was pretty excited and called the steward asking him for the details. He started suggesting that we go for idlis, dosas or parathas. I told him we aren't interested and insisted on his explaining the stuff on menu. He simply couldn't! None of the items mentioned in the menu had any names in English by which I could identify what the dish was about. A dish was mentioned as a constituent of different items within whose names were in their native tongue of which I understood very little. Hence I had to ask the steward to assist me. He again suggested the North Indian and South Indian stuff. He didn't seem to have a clue of what's on the menu. By this time, it was around 5 pm and we were starved. When we insisted on the Continental, he suggested a Caesar salad , not on the menu, but some name he was familiar with, I guess. And when we said ok to that, he came back to say that the salad was not available in this kitchen and he had to order it from another kitchen of the hotel and that it would take at least half hour!
Meanwhile, I called up my son and asked him to google and let me know what those ingredients meant. When he explained, then we could decide what we could eat or not. By the time the salad had arrived, we were famished and ate it in a great hurry. It was served with a variety of breads and butter. We gobbled it up as soon as possible and decided after this immense delay not to order anything more. This frugal salad came to around Rs. 500/-  ! By this time, they had started laying out the evening buffet.
I think all those reviews were for their buffets. That's fine but then EVERY restaurant offers food at the regular hours. If you offer a 24 hour service, you better ensure your kitchen runs for 24 hours and ALSO have a steward who helps you with understanding the menu. You deserve at least this with all the exorbitant pricing. For people who have late breakfast, or those who want to have lunch at their convenient time and not be restricted by the usual and expected lunch hours, Taj is not the place to head to.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The religion of pickle-preparation

The Telugu-speaking need no introduction when I speak about pachadi or avakayi ( chutneys and pickles). We live and die by them.
Now that the season of pickle preparation is on, my mind goes back to my childhood days when pickle preparation was almost like a ceremony. Summer would bring raw mangoes into the market. We would start the season with mamidikayi pappu (raw mango-mixed dal) and mamidikayi pachadi (raw  mango chutney). Further, before the right mangoes for pickle preparation hit the market, mother would make something that she'd call the temporary pickle which would be prepared like the conventional pickle but with much smaller pieces so that it was ready to eat as soon as possible.  
The pickle preparation would start with elaborate planning. How many varieties of mango pickles to be prepared? How many varieties of mangoes need to be bought? But even before buying the mangoes, more elaborate preparation awaited. Transfer last year's left over pickles, if any, into smaller jars and wash and keep all those big glass and ceramic jars out to air in the sun. Buy mustard seeds, buy red chilies and dry them out in the sun for 1-2 days. Once the chilies were dried and crisp, mother would pound these in the mortar with a long wooden pestle.There was also a belief that unless mustard powder was quickly mixed with salt, it would turn bitter. Salt used then was the crystal salt. These powders were then sieved through a cloth to ensure that the finest powders were used for optimizing the tastes. 
After the jars and powders were ready, father bought the mangoes. Different varieties of mangoes were used for different types of mango pickles but the first and the sourest ones to hit the market were used to make 'Pachi Avakayi' (Raw mango pickle). Other varieties would involve the sun-dried and other varieties of pickle.
Cutting and preparing the pickle was a family affair. Mother, and sometimes father would cut the mangoes into halves. We kids would sit around with screw drivers in hand to remove the 'jeedi' and the 'pora' (seeds and the thin plastic-like layer surrounding the seed) carefully from the halves and then the mangoes would be cut into smaller pieces, each mango yielding about 15 pieces. Mangoes with any kind of scratches or cuts were declared unfit for pickle. We kids would hang around just for that opportunity and quickly grab those pieces; a small portion of salt and chilly powder in our tiny hands and the sour mango pieces dipped into and eaten with great gusto. 
Once the pieces were cut, then the process of mixing would start. Mother would measure and pour out a mound of red chilly powder. On that would come the green mustard powder, followed by the white salt, the yellow turmeric and then the creamy brown asafoetida powder. I would watch with wonder as she would hand-mix these colors together. The colors would slowly blend with each other till they formed a uniform reddish-brown texture. The huge jars were brought out. Handfuls of the mango pieces scooped up with mixed powder and shoveled into the waiting jars. When the entire amount of the mixture and the mangoes disappeared, mother would pour out the thick dark mustard oil all over the pickle. We would want so eagerly to taste it  but were asked to wait for a week while it got ready.
Most of the time, this whole thing was done after lunch. Remember, there were no excuses saying that I need to do so much today and hence," let's get food from outside" business in those days :) Mother had to cook, we had lunch, dishes cleared away and then the process would start.
Mother would mix the contents of the pickles a couple of times to ensure uniform pickling. And the day she declared it done, we used to eagerly wait at the dining tables to savor the first taste of the season's pickle. Hot white rice, a dollop of avakayi and hot ghee mixed together, eaten while biting into the mango pieces still crunchy and  relishing each mouthful of the great spicy, aromatic experience...heavenly!

My tribute to the tradition this year: a mini ceremony with 6 mangoes