Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Punjabi Wedding - The Ultimate Foodgasm!

Being a compulsive foodie, it is undoubtedly apt that I sign off on 2011 with some piece on food.
And there cannot be anything better than this - Neeti and I were in Delhi a few days back for her cousin's wedding. This was a rare occasion to experience Delhi in its wintry splendour.
North Indian weddings are known to be lavish, and Delhi weddings are literally big and very very fat! While people in Mumbai are used to a time bound schedule - say a hall would be booked strictly from say 7 to 11, Delhi is much more casual and open to fun in that sense.
On the feasting side, food in North Indian weddings is probably as important as, if not more, than the nuptial ceremonies - the robustness of flavours in wedding cuisine is something to talk about for days, the aromas set the digestive juices gushing out like a gigantic flood. Now that is quite unlike weddings in Mumbai, where caterers are majorly influenced by the Gujju palate and nearly every dish would have a sweetish tinge to it, though there was one exception - a pal's wedding I attended in June this year had exceptional Maharashtrian fare followed by Puri and Aamras for dessert, which I am sure to salivate over for years to come - dare I say that would be a foodie's equivalent of a wet-dream!
So coming back to the wedding in question - we looked forward to being back in Delhi for a couple of days, more than anything else, enjoying the weather and the unique winter delicacies that North India has to offer.
One of the best ways of enjoying an outdoor winter wedding is to stand beside burning charcoals in angithis, which are set up strategically, and warm hands in the near freezing temperature. That happened during this wedding too.
Then come out the waiters with a mouthwatering array of starters - fried stuff, tandoori stuff and papdi chaats. It is indeed sheer bliss to pop a hot aloo tikki straight into your mouth in the freezing cold.
In such functions, young women would dress up in their very best - sequined sarees and lehengas, baring the elements, showing a generous length of their bare slender midriffs and happily chomping away on fried stuff, blissfully unaware of how diet concious they were a few hours back. What the hell is dieting? Obviously a wedding treat is a convenient excuse to forget all that, isn't it?
The papdi chaats and spicy aloo tikkis with mouthwatering chutneys that make the guests endlessly salivate are actually ticking timebombs! Having this kind of stuff on a cold winter night is sure to give a good 50% of the guests a nerve wracking sore throat, but the temptation always gets the better of you.
The best, or rather, the healthiest bet would be to gulp down tandoori mushrooms (these are usually tangy, juicy and fresh), paneer (cottage cheese) tikkas, tandoori potatoes or other grilled and barbecued stuff. Not only are these equally yum, they also save you the morning-after guilt of counting the 4-digit calories!
I go after papdi chaats (notwithstanding the sore throat that follows!) and the grilled snacks with an indescribable gusto. I do try to avoid the fried options, but sometimes I do succumb to the temptation.
The main course usually comprises of standard North Indian fare - dal makhanis, malai koftas, tawa sabzi, paneer in some exotic sounding gravy, sarson ka saag and the likes. I usually the main course a pass unless I get too tempted, in which case I attack the dal makhanis, select okra, baby aubergines and bitter gourd from the tawa sabzi (minus the gravy) and some sarson ka saag alongwith a steaming hot naan or a makki ki roti!
After loads of starters and a light main course, the best is saved for the last - desserts, sinfully delightful and absolutely unavoidable!
As things have taken a modern turn, continental desserts like chocolate mousse and trifles have crept in into wedding menus. But the Indian fare is the safest bet, in terms of being sure of what quality you would finally get. one can be very sure to find ice creams, kulfis with falooda, tender gulab jamuns in thick sugary syrup, jalebis with rabdi, gajar ka halwa or moong dal halwa on the menu. This is the best part of the treat, the grand finale! The trick is to sample each of these first and then go hogging on the best. In this wedding I went after the jalebis with rabdi and gajar ka halwa without the khoya and nuts. My dessert platter got a rare thumbs-up from Neeti, who is impossible to please when it comes to desserts!

While the guests enjoy the delicacies on offer, I pity the hapless grooms and brides who are barely able to relish these treats. The functions that we normally have are rather torturous on the duo - they go through a gruelling schedule in the run-up to the finale, then force plasticky smiles for long-lost relatives or unknown family friends and the worst of all - posing in the so-called "romantic" poses for zealous photographers!
For us North Indians, the wedding buffet is somewhat of an event in itself besides the main event. Memories of a great feast would be etched forever in the hearts of guests, whether they remember who got married to whom and when and blah blah, like my grandma, who remembered the one wedding she attended in Lahore in the 1930s, as a teen alongwith her folks, where food was simply heavenly - she remembered the wedding feast till she died in 2004! That is the magic a great wedding feast can do on you!
But as the feast got over, I was reminded that we would return to Mumbai in the afternoon - Holy crap, not again - the thought of an inflight meal on Jet Airways made me feel pukish!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mile-High, No Quads?

A few days back, I happened to see a BBC documentary on the now defunct American carrier, Pan-Am, titled Come Fly With Me - the Story of Pan Am. The documentary traced the evolution of the airline from propeller aircraft to the jet-age heralded by the Boeing 707.

Instantly, I was taken back to the 1980s. That is when I took my journey on a quad-jet - the Boeing 707, of Uganda Airlines, probably between Entebbe and Nairobi. That was an amazing jet, with a splendid livery in the colours of the Ugandan flag - a crested crane on the tail and prominent yellow, red and black band that stretched along the fuselage.

Then followed journeys on Boeing 707s of Air-India and Zambia Airways. The Centaur on the Air-India Boeing 707 tail always looked smart. I still cannot fathom why Air-India dumped the Centaur.

The first Zambia Airways Boeing 707 I saw was at Lusaka Airport, in October 1984, at twilight, with its tail, an orange Z stylised as an eagle, set on a green background. We flew on that beauty to Bombay, in what was my most memorable intercontinental flight.

As we approached the Indian airspace, dawn broke and we woke up. It was enthralling to see two engine nacelles hanging from the wing, against the backdrop of the azure Indian Ocean. What ensued was a quick visit to the cockpit, led by an eager stewardess. The flight crew were Zambians, and were happy to show off their smart cockpit to me, a precocious 8-year old, before they commenced their descent. Those were different days and innocent thrills of seeing a flight deck at work were easy to come by. Today that's unimaginable, for obvious, security reasons.

We flew on a trijet, McDonnell Douglas DC10 after that, which was again pretty smooth, but not quite like a quad - the thrill was lacking.

My last flight on a quad was on the Air Mauritius Airbus A340 from Plaisance to Bombay in October 2005. That was a pretty interesting flight - seeing the slim red nacelles hanging from the wing was a sight to behold.

In the last few years, I flew largely on Boeing 737s, Airbus A320s, Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s. But these flights were completely devoid of the thrill that one has of peering out of the window and seeing two nacelles hanging underneath the wing!

The era of quad-jet airliners which started with the Boeing 707 in the 1960s, seems to be ending now, with twin-jets being deployed for the job. Last month, Airbus announced that it was discontinuing the A340 line. With this development, the choice of quad-engine aircrafts reduces to just two - the Boeing 747-8 family and the Airbus A380. These Jumbos are niche products, which would not make much sense for most airlines. With limited flexibility of operations, these Jumbos can operate only from a limited number of airports around the globe, as a result of which we'll see fewer and fewer quads with each passing year.

A lot has been said about the efficiency and reliability of the twin-jets, which have been extended operations certified or ETOPS certified for non-stop intercontinental operations. For a few years now, they have been deployed for non-stop operations from India to the US East Coast, overflying the the Arctic. This cuts the flying time, bypassing a stopover in continental Europe.

The twin-jets, Boeing 777, Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 have specially designed engine with a diameter exceeding the quad-engine nacelles by a factor of over 1.5. The higher diameter provides for the increased airflow through the engine for the required lift.

But twin-engines lack the redundancy that the quads provide. I dread to think of a situation on a twin-engine overflying the Arctic and one engine fails. Where would the aircraft land?

But an aviation enthusiast would lament the loss, the excitement of being mile-high (pun unintended) on an intercontinental flight and peering down upon two engines!

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Nightmare!

I had a nightmare early this morning.
I dreamt that I had gotten very late at office. When I left office, I could not get any cab to get back home. After a long search I decided to walk back home. The roads were deserted and not a soul was to be seen.
And then as I was walking, I looked up and I was shocked to see fighter jets flying in a V formation - they were at least 20 of them and at quite a high altitude. Two jets were trying to engage them in a dogfight.
We were being attacked!
I was scared. There was not a single car, bus or bike on the Western Express Highway. It was dark and scary. But I had to get back home, fast.
The dogfights were going on in the air. The sounds of the fighters made the silence on the ground even more eerie.
After a long walk, I touched New Link Road. Dawn was breaking. The eerie silence was all pervasive.
Then I saw a long queue. Citizens were lining up to register for emergency evacuation.
Chills ran down my spine. That's when I woke up.
This is not an unreal scenario. With the kind of neighbours we have, we can face this scenario, though I hope we don't.
But we have to be prepared, prepared to fight back with arms, tactics and strategies. And we need to fully, unconditionally support the Indian armed forces to ensure that such nightmares don't come true, ever and forever.

La Dolce Vita, Viva Italiano!!!!

Today, a Facebook contact posted an interesting fact on his wall. The post said "Pizza Margherita was named after Queen Margherita of Italy, by chefs of Naples to commemorate her visit to the city in 1889. Red tomatoes, white cheese and green Basil represent colors of the Italian flag."
Interesting facts like these are little known but they do give an interesting twist to whole experience of having the preparation.
Of all foods, I find Italian food the most gratifying. My first brush with Italian food was early in the 1980s, when my Mom's friend, an Italian nun, Sister Vitelina, invited us for a meal of cheese and macaroni, spaghetti and roast rabbit. That was amazing!
As years went by, off and on, Mom used to make amazing pasta in tomato sauce, typically for New Year eve dinners.
Then came in Pizzas. My first experience with the baked concoction was at the Sector 17 outlet of Hot Millions (or HMs as we used to call it) in Chandigarh!
Then Dominos came to India. My favourite was their Pepperoni Pizza - the melted globules of fat from the pepperoni gives a unique meaty taste.
In Delhi, I discovered the Slice of Italy which delivered gourmet pizzas and pastas, that was a welcome break from the mass produced Dominos crusts.
Another exciting find was Flavors, a trattoria under the Defence Colony flyover - I got the chance of visiting the place twice, once with colleagues and the next time, it was a date with Neeti. The place had an amazing artisanal pastas and hand-tossed, wood-fired pizzas! I haven't visited the trattoria for years now and would love to go there again.
In Bombay, despite all the glitz surrounding the city, attitudes towards food are defined by what the Gujjus want. That makes a lot of restaurants go vegetarian with a vengeance. Little Italy is one such trattoria - there used to be an outlet on New Link Road, where Neeti and I went a couple of times. The pizzas were crisp and flaky, the pastas and risottos had an earthy flavour. Then tragically the outlet shut shop - the half life of restaurants in Bombay is really short, you can safely blame that on artificially elevated real estate prices, which these outlets unviable. The closest Little Italy is now in Juhu, but finding time is a big issue. I lately heard about Ristorante Don Giovanni on Juhu Tara Road which is now undergoing a renovation. But hope it stays long enough - the Chef, Giovanni Federico, had been upset with the real estate prices for a long time.
I started experimenting with pizzas and pastas at home. Into the kitchen, came bottles of olive oil, pasta sauces, olives and capers, with fresh herbs - oregano and basil, from Godrej Nature's Basket.
Neeti came up with her version of tangy pizza sauce which came in very handy for rainy Monsoon dinners when the cook played truant.
The latest concoction we evolved is earthy pasta sauce - chargrilled tomatoes with herbs and spices which made for a delicious pasta.
What I like about Italian cuisine is the earthiness and healthy, crunchy vegetables. Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, olives are rich in vitamins and healthy fats. Sadly, we have to rely on packaged olives and capers here.
There's lot more than the bastardised Italian that we know of from the likes of Dominos - it would be grave injustice to bucket all genres into one. One really needs to experience the various regional cuisines- Tuscan, Tyrolian, Veneto, Ligurian, Campanian, Puglian, etc. Artisanal stuff like lardo, South Tyrol speck make my tongue tingle with anticipation. Experiencing all this can only happen on a culinary tour of the country.
Till then I will eat my way to health and cry aloud "La Dolce Vita, Viva Italiano!!!!"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Smooth As Silk!!!!

Long back Thai Airways had adopted "Smooth As Silk" as their commercial tagline. Those who know me as an aviation freak would think this post is about Thai Airways. No it isn't! (Sorry to disappoint aviation freaks!)
This post is all about Vidya Balan in her role as Silk in the latest Bollywood blockbuster, The Dirty Picture, which succinctly depicted the life of the southern star, Silk Smitha.
When Vidya made her Bollywood debut in the 2004 hit, Parineeta, I could tell that there was something about her acting that was unique. She got into the character of Lalita making the movie feel real.
Many men were actually smitten by her then. A close friend jovially remarked that she was the ideal "marriage material"!!!! I certainly did not go that far but I too did admire her a lot!
Then came Bhool Bhulaiyaa, which I saw on a DVD when I was travelling to Satara in January 2008. She played the role of a woman, suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder to perfection! She deserved the Filmfare Best Actress nomination for this movie.
Then the same month, I travelled to Delhi on a Kingfisher flight. She was on the same flight, in the forward first class section. For some reason, after landing she stayed back inside the cabin, presumably waiting for the rest of her retinue, while we all deplaned -that is when I got a glimpse of her. Later at the baggage claim, she waited, fidgeting with her mobile, while her bags were being collected. She looked stylish, pretty and quite slender but was quite conscious of all the attention she, the "Parineeta-wali", was getting - that forced her put on her shades.
She acted in a few movies after that but was majorly panned for her dressing style, after which came Ishiqya, which saw this southern belle getting into the role of crafty, expletive-spewing North Indian widow, who manipulated two horny crooks, played by Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi to make her ends meet. And "Ch...ium Sulphate" became the essential part of the expletive folklore!
Paa was next, which again proved that she had it in her - the ability to play non-conventional roles with an uncanny finesse. Though I have not seen No One Killed Jessica, I am told she did pack in quite a punch. By any stretch of imagination, the glamdolls and size-zeros of Bollywood could not have done even half of what she had rightfully achieved.
And this week, The Dirty Picture, a biopic on the southern siren, Silk Smitha, opened to rave reviews and record breaking collections. The portrayal of Silk was not only brutally honest to the character but was also replete with the typical 1980s' heaving bosoms and thunder thighs. From a viewer's perspective Vidya performed brilliantly, just as smooth as silk!
And already I can visualise Vidya Balan "Ooh La La-ing" her way to presentation ceremonies at award functions.

Garam Masala or Wah Baharaat?

Yesterday, TLC aired the Sino-Australian restaurateur, Kylie Kwong's show Cooking With Heart & Soul recently in which she cooked up a Moroccan meal - a lamb tajine with salads and rice.
To make her tajine, Kylie used an Arab spice, Baharaat (بهارات‎), which she said was used to give a unique flavouring to Arab cuisine.
I did a quick websearch on the Baharaat on Wikipedia after the show was over. The Baharaat is a spice blend used in Arab and Middle Eastern cooking to season meats, fish and gravies.
Peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks and paprika form the essential ingredients of the Baharaat.
Ohhh, that is much like our own garam masala (गरम मसाला), which is ubiquitous in North Indian cuisine. Now cardamoms, cloves and pepper originated in the spice plantations on the Malabar coast, right here in India. Arab trading dhows which had been visiting Malabar for over a thousand years would have taken these spices to their lands, so today what we call garam masala is known as Baharaat in the Arab lands.
My Mom used to and still makes her supply of garam masala. She used to dry roast all these spices on a griddle, with a wonderous, exotic aroma filling the whole house. The roasted spices would then find their way into the mixer, making the aromas even more potent. The ground spices would their way into airtight bottles. The treasured spice would then be used to spice up dry vegetable preparations, chickpeas, red kidney beans and non-vegetarian gravies.
When I moved out of the nest and set up the first home at Delhi, I used to buy vacuum sealed packs of garam masala from Malviya Nagar market. That wasn't even half as good as Mom's concoction. And then Mom visited. She was shocked to see the kind of mild, tasteless garam masala we were using. That was it! She then ensured we get an endless supply of Mom's special concoction, which she would get on her monthly visits to Delhi! Homecooked food, all of a sudden, underwent a magical transformation!
And then I shifted to Bombay, got married and things took a healthier turn. Salt intake was reduced, fat intake was greatly minimised, food became less spicy, with a greater emphasis on fruits, salads and yogurts! So intake of garam masala greatly reduced.
But the magical smell of Mom's garam masala wafting through the air will still make me go crazy!
Aviation Photo Search Engine
Biggest aviation photo database on the 'Net
Aircraft Type...[ Help ]
Airline...[ Help ]
Country / Airport...[ Help ]
Category...[ Help ]
Uploaded... [ Help ]
Keywords... [ Help ]
Range...[ Help ]
Sort By...

Include only photos for sale

Stop searching after hits [ Help ]