A candle on the plate

I first visited India 25 years ago, arriving in January 1994. On the day before we left to return to the UK, my wife took me to Shezan, a restaurant in Bangalore’s Lavelle Road. This pleasant thoroughfare is named after a Mr Lavelle, who made his fortune at the (now disused) Kolar gold fields east of Bangalore.

My wife said to me that brilliant biryani, which I ought to try, was served at Shezan. We arrived at the restaurant, which was then housed in a picturesque colonial era bungalow.

Where this bungalow used to stand, there is now a modern office building called Shezan Lavelle. Since this was built, the restaurant has been situated at various other locations in Lavelle Road. Recently in late 2018, the Lavelle Road branch of this eatery has been discontinued. Shezan continues to operate in Cunningham Road, where there has been a branch for many years.

Back in 1994, I looked at the menu at Shezan and noticed that Chateaubriand beef steaks were being offered for the Rupee equivalent of 2 Pounds Sterling. I told my wife that I would have a steak rather than a biryani. After all, good biryanis were available in London, where a Chateaubriand used to cost eight to ten times the price at Shezan. The steak at Shezan was first class, and it continues to be so 25 years later.

Shezan used to be run by a man, who died in late 2018, and his elderly father. When we began bringing our young daughter to Bangalore in the late 1990s, we took her for meals at Shezan. Whatever was ordered for her arrived with a small candle flickering on her plate. The candle was placed in a hollowed out tomato that served as a shade.

In early January 2019, we visited the Shezan in Cunningham Road with our daughter, by now a young lady. The branch is run superbly by Aftab, a son of the recently deceased former owner.

Our daughter ordered a portion of Sholay Kebab, a slightly spicy chicken dish cooked with curry leaves. It arrived with a small candle flickering under a hollowed out tomato shell. Remarkably, the kindly Aftab had remembered our daughter after not having seen her since she was a small child.

Talking turkey

Until I was about fifteen, our family usually ate Christmas lunch at my aunt’s home with other relatives and friends. The centrepiece of the meal was often roast goose. My mother’s brother Felix used to try to entertain us youngsters with a story about Turkey Lurkey and his chums Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and Chicken Licken. He meant well, but his story, repeated annually, elicited groans from young and old alike.

One year, 1963, I was in Manhattan with my sister and parents on Christmas Day. That Christmas, I ate sirloin steak for lunch.

Many times during my late twenties and throughout my thirties, I spent Christmas in the English countryside with my PhD supervisor, his wife, and family. They served turkey for evening dinner on Christmas Day. They used to cook enormous birds capable of generously feeding twenty or more folk, yet there was never more than about ten or eleven of us around the festive table.

Everyone except me preferred white meat. One year, when I was asked my preference, I chose brown meat. My host cut off and then placed a whole turkey leg on my plate. It looked like an enormous club, such as might have been used by Fred Flintstone.

After 1994, I often spent Christmas in India. One Christmas Day, I fancied French onion soup rather than festive fare. A couple of years running, we ate Christmas lunch at Sunnies restaurant, which blazed the trail for fine dining with European food in Bangalore. The Christmas menu included the best turkeys I have ever eaten; they were juicy and very tasty. The turkeys at Sunnies were Butterballs specially imported from the USA.

Finally, I will tell you about an unusual Christmas Day ingredient, which I encountered at a place in Bangalore , which I will not name to save causing embarrassment. Several large roasted turkeys were being served at a buffet lunch. After I had enjoyed a serving of turkey, a friend of mine brought me his daughter’s plate, which contained a sizeable piece of uneaten Turkey meat and … a perfectly roasted large cockroach.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!

Veggie mush

I became such close friends with my former PhD supervisor, ‘Doc’, and his wife ‘Wink’, that I accompanied them on their long summer holidays in Greece.

PLAT 77 Campsite with moon

Camping at Platamon in 1977

Every year they drove down to northern Greece with their caravan, which they towed with their aged Land Rover. I accompanied them on several journeys during the late 1970s. Also, I used to join them at their favourite camping spot, a patch of uncultivated land just south of Platamon in northern Greece. This scrub-covered sandy area is now covered by a village known as Nea Pori.

On one occasion, I arrived at Platamon on a train, which I had boarded in Belgrade. It must have been almost 11 o’ clock at night when I disembarked. I was hoping that I would find my friends camping in their usual spot.

As I walked from the station through the village on my way to the camping spot, I passed the grocery shop that Doc and Wink always used. Its owners were sitting at a small table on the street outside it. They recognised me and invited me to join them in a drink. I was handed a tiny glass, such as one might use for shots of strong spirit, and they filled it with beer. We knocked glasses together and I downed the tiniest portion of beer that I have ever drunk. Then, they told me that my friends had arrived and were camping in their usual place. I walked there through the darkness, and saw them fast asleep under the awning. As silently as possible, I erected my tent and went to sleep. Fortunately, I did not disturb them.  

The railway station was at the north end of the centre of Platamon, well beyond the shops that Doc visited. Whenever we drove into Platamon, Wink would rush to it because there was a small newsagent’s stall near it. She was hoping to find a copy of an English newspaper. She did occasionally but it was always a few days out of date. Apart from her, there were few others in Platamon who would have wanted to read an English paper.

By the time that we returned from Platamon, the sun would have been setting for a while, and it was time for our sundowners and olives. Doc used to prepare supper (dinner, if you prefer). He often fried the fresh fish which we had just bought in Platamon. He was a good cook. The fish or meat, if we were eating that, was often accompanied by a mixture of vegetables that included onions, aubergines, peppers (green or red), and tomatoes. It never contained garlic because he did not like it. These were stirred together in a pot until they were cooked.

Doc referred to this dish as ‘veggie mush’ (pronounced ‘moosh’). When I told him that the dish, which he believed to be his own creation, resembled the classic French dish ratatouille, I could see that he was flattered that his own creation could be compared to something enjoyed by gourmets.  

The sky at Platamon was frequently cloudless. Where we were camping there was little ambient light so that the night sky could be seen easily. We used to stand looking up at the star-filled canopy that covered us. Shooting stars shot over us frequently, momentarily altering the map of celestial objects that twinkled down at us. Doc would stand with me and point out the various constellations.  He showed me how to identify the North Star. We stood in a glorious silence that was only occasionally interrupted on some evenings. Otherwise, we could neither hear the sea, the sound of whose waves were lost in the dunes that were between us and it, nor the trains that ran along the tracks a few hundred yards to the west of us.

 

The slow table

Food can be scarce

but when it’s abundant

let folk have plenty of choice

ADAM small

 

I attended Golders Hill School, a primary school in in Golders Green, between 1956 and 1960. It was a high-achieving school for boys and girls with an all female teaching staff. Founded in 1908, just after the Underground was extended from Hampstead to Golders Green, it still works today but in a greatly enlarged ‘campus’.

 

We used to spend all day at school. Lunch was served at 1 pm. We sat at various long tables. The children sitting on the table which ate its food fastest were  rewarded with a piece of confectionary from a box of ‘Dolly Mixture’.

 

I was a fussy eater. Having had a difficult few first months of life, my mother was happy to see me eating anything at all. I was not forced to eat anything I did not fancy. Actually, there were few foods that I was prepared to put in mouth. A particular dislike of mine, which remains with me to this day, is green peas. Their taste, or even just thinking about them, makes me feel nauseous. I can recall that my mother was keen that I should get to like these nauseous little green spheres. She would put a few on my plate. To avoid eating them, I employed the following delaying tactict: I would first slowly peel a pe, and then carefully cut into four pieces. My parents soon tired of watching, and eventually attempts to make me consume them were abandoned.

 

Almost nothing that was served at Golders Hill appealed to me apart from steamed pudding and the oddly named ‘spotted dick’. Main courses often came served with cubed carrot, chopped green beans, and green peas. I would not touch them. No table that I sat on would ever be rewarded with pieces of Dolly Mixture.

spotted

Spotted Dick with custard – source: https://www.justapinch.com

I was shifted to the slow table, where the four slowest eaters in the school sat trying to finish their food during the play time that followed lunch. I remember nothing about the three other members of the slow thable except that they were all girls and one of them was called Rhoda.

 

Even if I had been kept at the slow table for the rest of the day, there was no way that I would be able to finish what was in front of me. I devised a solution. I put whatever I could not eat into the pockets of my short trousers (‘shorts’), visited the toilet, and then emptied the unwanted food into the toilet pan, and flushed it away. This worked for most foods including slices of canned fruit.

 

My biggest challenge, and I can only remember it happening once, was gooseberries in hot custard. I felt that putting this in my pockets was not at all a good idea. In desperation, I carried my filled bowl to the closed door of the staff room. I knocked on the door, hoping that whomever answered would take pity on me. A forlorn hope because many of the teachers were quite formidable. I hoped that it would not be the large Miss Fitzgerald, who frightened me greatly. If it was Miss Dredge, I would have felt happier.

 

I cannot say who it was that opened the door. But, as soon as it opened I dropped the plate with all of its contents ont the feet of the teacher at the door. It still puzzles me why I was neither punished nor told off for my act of carelessness, or was it defiance.

 

PS: I still dislike peas, but now I love gooseberries.