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Posts Tagged ‘food’

Change.

A hankering for change is what people claim got us into the situation in which we are today in the US. BUT that’s not what I’m going to discuss now, not in this post anyway.

Instead, I want to highlight a positive concept which is on the other end of the spectrum from change: Constancy. Steadfastness. Permanence.

This is the concept that comes to one’s mind when they mull over how India has dealt with foreign cultures that have found themselves on its shores through invasion or seeking refuge. India is known for its practice of the tenet “live, and let live.” So it has assimilated the non-native cultures into its own over the millennia, thereby resulting in its maddeningly and gorgeously diverse civilization.

This absorption and amalgamation can be evidenced not only in India’s long and varied history but also in its everyday food scene today. These are the aspects I explore often in my writing both here at the blog and in my novels. And I plan to dig deeper into these in my future posts.

Until then, I’ll leave you all with pictures of Indian food.

Why? Because pictures are fun, and pictures of food are even more fun. But mostly because the most accessible route to experiencing a culture is through its food.

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Hyderabad — née Bhagyanagaram, the City of Fortunes — has an eclectic personality you’d be hard put to find elsewhere.

Larger-than-life statues of Lord Shiva and his consort, Goddess Parvathi. The size of the people standing at the base of this sculpture should give you some idea of its magnitude

Architecture:

In this city, the ancient Hindu architecture and the architecture influenced by the Islamic culture have jostled each other over the centuries and ultimately settled down into their own grooves. 

Architecture influenced by the Hindu religion is known for its use of color and sculptures. It, in fact, revels in the portrayal of larger-than-life forms of Gods, Goddesses, humans, and animals and their role in the mythological stories. No Hindu temple is considered complete without its share of intricate carvings and murals all along its walls.

A mosque

Diametrically opposite to this, architecture influenced by the Islamic culture favors tall towers and huge domes. Engravings on the walls depict austere, yet beautiful, geometric and freehand patterns, since Islam forbids depiction of humans in any shape or form.

It is quite common in this city to come upon a temple with its intricately sculpted images painted in riotous colors just around the corner from a solemn mosque, with its towering turrets and domes.

Sculptures on the face of a Hindu temple

 

Carvings on the walls of a mosque

Clothes:

You can’t leave Hyderabad without losing yourself in some shopping, especially for women’s clothing. It is one of the centers in modern India for eye-catching designs, colors, and fashions in ethnic wear.

Women in Saris

A six-yard sari (pronounced phonetically as: saa-ree), a timeless example of “less is more” in terms of exposure of skin, used to be the original choice of apparel for the majority of women in India. Unfortunately, it is not the most convenient of fashions, owing to its several layers that hinder free movement and also the amount of time and skill required to drape it in the proper style. As a result, a sari is losing its popularity as an everyday wear among the modern and younger generations. It has become just one ethnic choice among many, depending on the occasion and time and place.

A chudidar or a Punjabi Suit (a style that is the descendant of the traditions and

Punjabi Suit

 trends from parts of northern India mixed with those of the Muslim culture) is the most usual style of choice among women in all of India now. It is easy to wear, cheaper than a sari (usually) and stands up to the busy and demanding life of today’s woman.

Hyderabad has brought the trends from North-and-South and Hindu-and-Muslim cultures together and come up with a chic — yet ethnic – and traditional — yet immensely convenient — wear for women.

I realized on this trip that, these days in shops, there are as many style choices in chudidars as there are stars in the sky. (Okay, may be an exaggeration, but only slightly so.) They come in several prices ranging anywhere from $10/- a set all the way up to hundreds of dollars. Depending on the time, money, and energy you are willing to spend, you will find a style to suit any occasion, however big or small.

Food:

Dosa with Chutney, Sambhar, and a cup of piping hot coffee

The food in Hyderabad reflects the marrying of not only the two major religions of the region, but also several cultures from around the country (and beyond).

From roadside food vendors’ carts on the streets to small cafés on the curbside (with names like Irani café or Punjabi Dhabha) to posh five-star hotels, each carries a menu that can only be described as a delightful medley of tastes and flavors.

On the same menu, you see items such as: Hyderabadi Biryani, Gosht ka Salan, and Khubani ka Mitha that are examples of the gastronomic gems that are born of the Hyderabadi Muslim culture, followed by true South Indian specialties such as: Dosa-Chutney-Sambhar, Chicken Korma, and Payasam, with Indian-Chinese items like: Chicken 65, Chilly Chicken, and Hakka Noodles nipping closely at their heels, and Aloo Parantha, Kheema Naan, and Ras Malai, mouth-watering delicacies from various regions of North India, not too far behind. (See below for translation/explanation of the names of each of the dishes mentioned here, if you’re interested :-).)

Gosht ka Salan

Language:

The same ease and acceptance exists in their general outlook on life among the city’s populace. Telugu, Hindi, English, and Urdu — all with an accent/dialect unique to the region – are only a few of the languages you hear exchanged on an average day in Hyderabad.

For all its journey full-speed ahead into the 21st century and its willing immersion into true globalization – which has brought materialism and dwindling ethics and values with it, unfortunately – Hyderabad (and all of India, for that matter) still retains a flavor, an other-worldliness if you will, on a day-today basis that dates back to centuries of tradition and culture.

— ** —

Glossary:

Hyderabadi Biryani: Fried rice/Pilaf using chicken or mutton cooked in a style unique to Hyderabad.

Gosht ka Salan: A spicy curry of goat or lamb.

Khubani ka Mitha: Khubani is Urdu for apricots. This is a dessert consisting of dried apricots in a thick syrup, served over a thick cream or custard. 

Dosa: Crepes made out of lentils and rice. One of the most common breakfast items in southern India.

Chutney: A spicy ground mixture made of peanuts or some kind of lentils to go with crepes.

Sambhar: Yellow lentil soup.

Chicken Korma: Chicken curry made using yoghurt and several spices.

Payasam: Traditional rice pudding.

Chilly Chicken: Chicken cooked in Chinese style (steeped in Indian spices) and garnished with lots of green chillies to make your eyes water along with your mouth.

Hakka Noodles: Also an Indo-Chinese specialty, crispy noddles that taste sweet and savory/hot at the same time.

Aloo Parantha: Unleavened bread stuffed with spiced potatoes.

Kheema Naan: Flat bread with several light layers, stuffed with spiced ground goat meat.

Ras Malai: A dessert made of paneer (somewhat similar to cottage cheese) and thick cream.

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“Mummy, have you got anything we could have to drink?” asked Janet. “And to eat too? We’re having a Secret Seven meeting this morning.”

“I’ll give you lemons, and some sugar, and you can make your own lemonade,” said Mummy. “You like to do that, don’t you? And you can go and see if there are any rock-buns left in the tin in the larder.”**

This is how my introduction to Enid Blyton came about, and I never looked back. Enid Blyton and I have shared many an adventure together in my childhood. Is she a friend of mine? She very well could have been, for all that I felt for her and experienced with her by my side.

Enid Blyton can be considered probably the most prolific writer of children’s literature (she wrote over 600 children’s and juvenile books over her forty-year career), and she hails from England. I speak of her in present-tense, even though, regrettably, she passed away quite a few decades ago – in 1968, to be accurate. But authors like her never die – they live on in the hearts of generations of readers that come after them.

I happened upon a book from her Secret Seven series when I was seven or eight years old. And my world turned upside down – in the most pleasant sense, though. (Upside down IS good sometimes, isn’t it? You get to view the world in a whole different manner.)

My eyes, and those of my like-minded siblings, would automatically scan for Blyton among the rows of books whenever we came across a well-stocked bookshelf — a habit I retain to this day. I began to find excuses to visit the school library – a large, musty, cavernous hall with tall bookshelves teetering under the weight of books, which were neither well-organized nor well-kept – more often than was allowed.

Soon it got to be where the tall, rail-thin librarian (who had hitherto had an unnerving habit of looking at kids disdainfully down her nose) became my chum. She got into the habit of hunting for Blyton’s books among the mildewed tomes arranged in the forgotten shelves in the far recesses of the library. And on my next visit to her, she would produce for me a moth-eaten, dog-eared copy (of one of Blyton’s books or others that were close to Enid Blyton’s books in genre and setting – I sadly forget the authors’ names now) that I had yet to read, with an air of a wizard conjuring up a rare gem — which was exactly what the book was for me. With each new book that I read, my love for reading strengthened, until it metamorphosed into a desire for writing.

The Secret Seven series is set in a village in England where seven kids, obviously, found a secret society and solve crimes, big and small, in the neighborhood. There is also Scamper, the golden spaniel, who is always tail-waggingly ready to do his part in digging up clues.

In all of Enid Blyton’s books food features prominently, and the characters are always either having smashing teas or settling down to tuck into the contents of laden picnic hampers. The books are sprinkled with references to eatables such as: currant buns, ginger biscuits, meat pies, boiled eggs, scones, lemonade, sausages, egg and lettuce sandwiches, ginger-beer and chocolate éclairs. For a child brought up on a steady diet of idli, chapati, dosa***, and chicken curry, among other things, those foodstuffs were as exotic and mouth-watering as they could get.

As I read about: the foggy autumn morning with smoke spiraling lazily up the chimney of the shepherd’s cottage; or the children biking to school along narrow lanes bordered by celandines, violets and primroses; or the gardener dressed in a patched tweed coat and hat working in the vegetable plot in the back of Bramble Cottage on Hawthorne Lane, my heart would ache from nostalgia.

Nostalgia? I was all of seven, for crying out loud, and all I’d experienced until then was only hot and humid tropical weather. What could I possibly be pining for? I have yet to figure that one out, but that was exactly how the books left me feeling.

To me, Enid Blyton is, and always will be, a sorcerer who, with a wave of her magical fountain pen, created a cozy and charming world, populated it with simple, lovable characters and then softly breathed life into the both of them.

To be continued…

** Excerpt from “Secret Seven on the trail” by Enid Blyton.

*** idli – steamed rice cakes

      chapati – unleavened bread

      dosa –  crepes made of rice and white-lentils soaked and ground into a thick batter

Check out Enid Blyton – 2 also. (Edited 3/17/2010 – Link added retroactively.)

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