The hungry kitten
Sits beneath an elephant
Expecting some food
The hungry kitten
Sits beneath an elephant
Expecting some food
Hyderabad is justifiably renowned for tasty biryani although the very best version of this rice based dish that I have ever eaten was at Paragon in Calicut. There, they serve Moplah biryanis, which are both Arabic and Indian in taste.
The biryani we ate at the Café Bahar in Hyderabad was delicious. It was delicately flavoured and cooked with a light touch. To enter Bahar at lunchtime it is necessary to join a long queue that extends from the top of tje stairs at the doorway to the first floor dining room down on to the busy street outside. It is worth the wait.
The restaurant itself is very noisy and as busy as London’s Oxford Circus at rush hour. We shared a table with a charming couple, who let us try their ‘double masala’ chicken biryani which is richly laden with extra spices. I preferred the less spicy ‘special lamb biryani’. It is made special by adding hard boiled egg and meatballs made with minced chicken.
One should not visit Hyderabad without eating at least one biryani, but avoid the much advertised Paradise restaurant chain, which is ok but nothing like as good as Bahar or Shadab (near the Charminar)
TODAY, WE WERE LUCKY. When we awoke at about 630 am, the sky was almost cloudless. There was no mist. We headed for breakfast at Bakers Café on MG Marg. We took a table by a window with a view of the hills that face Gangtok. To our great delight, we could see the snow covered slopes of Mount Kanchenjunga far beyond the nearer hills. Even though the great peak was partially obscured by clouds, we had managed to see it at last. Until 1853, this mountain was believed to be the highest on the planet. More accurate surveying showed it to be the third highest, K2 also known as Chhogori.
After breakfast, we strolled along MG Marg and then its continuation, New Market. At the far end of the latter, the hitherto fully built up thoroughfare began to be punctuated with greenery, trees and other plants.
After a short ascent, we reached the Ropeway station. It is the halfway point of s cable car service that runs from a much higher station to a far lower one. Currently, the service only runs from the midway station to the lowest one. We boarded one of the two red cable cars to make the descent. Unlike other cable cars I have been on, each cable car has its own cable instead of being on a continuous loop. When the car reaches a station, its driving cable reverses its direction of motion.
The views during the descent are dramatic. The usually tall buildings of Gangtok appear to have been built on step like terraces cut into the sides of the steep slopes of the terrain on which the city is situated. The cable car glides high above a winding road along which an unending stream of small local taxis flows. Looking left and right the tree covered hills surrounding the city offer exciting vistas. The return journey, the ascent, was less dramatic, but enjoyable nevertheless.
We dawdled back the way we had approached the cable car station, enjoying the warm sunshine. Many people were walking around including a significant number of police men and women carrying lathis and short sticks. Wearing berets and dark blue uniforms, they appeared to be milling around casually and without seeming menacing. Every now and then, we saw porters carrying what looked like heavy loads. They wear a thick padded strap over their foreheads. These straps are attached to cords that are tied around what is being carried on the porters’ backs. As they walk, the porters incline their heads slightly forward. This kind of portering looks like a tough way of earning a living.
The shops on MG Mar were open, but those lining the steps leading down to Lal Bazaar were shuttered up, closed. In Gangtok some businesses close on Thursday and others on Saturday. Today, it is Thursday. Fortunately, the excellent, albeit somewhat scruffy, Potala Restaurant in Lal Bazaar was open. I enjoyed a good number of delicately flavoured delicious beef filled steam momos.
After lunch we visited the Organic Market, which is housed in a curved gallery, one of the floors of the so-called Super Market, which is not a supermarket but a multi-storey covered market. Next, we strolled along some of the elevated pedestrian walkways that run above the National Highway, the main thoroughfare of Gangtok.
Before returning to our hotel, we stopped in a small café for beverages. It had a range of breads and pastries that equalled that you would expect to find in large European cities. This was not an isolated example. Gangtok abounds with well stocked bakeries.
The temperature had begun to drop when we reached our hotel, where we sttled down for a siesta.
PS We were fortunate to sight Kanchenjunga on the 28th November, the anniversary of the independence of Albania. Sadly, that country had just experienced a terrible earthquake.
One of my cousins in France gave me a useful tip.
He said that clean toilet facilities are often associated with satisfying restaurants. What he meant was that if the restaurant’s management took care of small details such as the toilets, it was likely that they would take care over the more savoury aspects of the business such as the food and customer care.
Since I was given that tip, I have noticed that there is a remarkably high correlation between my degree of satisfaction with the restaurant and the state of their ‘loos’.
Eyes searching for
A tasty snack dropped by chance;
The hungry pussy cat
For several years in the 1970s, I used to visit my friends Robert and Margaret while they were spending summer camping near to Platamon on the Aegean coast of Greece.
Every morning at Platamon began with a ritual. Before we were allowed to eat breakfast, we had to take a dip in the sea. This was no hardship; it was quite an enjoyable way to wake up. Washing in the sea was the only form of bathing possible at our camp in Platamon; there was no bathroom in the caravan. Robert and Margaret, who used to spend at least 6 weeks there, did not shower or bath in anything but sea water at Platamon. Robert was not worried by this, but after a while Margaret began to miss the daily soaks in a hot bath, which she enjoyed at home.
Breakfast at Platamon resembled that at my friends’ home. It consisted of a cup of tea, bread with home-made marmalade, scrambled egg, and a minute slice of sliced bacon. In 1975, and for a few years after, my friends travelled without a refrigerator. Butter was stored in a moistened terracotta container. The evaporating water kept the butter inside it cool. My friends carried a whole side of smoked bacon from England. This was not refrigerated in any way, but somehow remained more or less fresh enough to be edible. It was kept swathed in white muslin. When needed, it was unwrapped, and Robert used to cut little bits off it using one of his folding French Opinel knives.
I remember once that he spotted that part of the surface of the bacon was going green. I asked him what he was going to do about it. Without replying, he began scraping the mould of the unwrapped chunk of bacon, and then placed the ‘naked’ meat onto the Land Rover’s roof rack, saying to me:
“The ultraviolet rays from the sun will disinfect the bacon.”
Not long ago, we visited a restaurant. To save it from being emabarassed, I will not mention its name or location. On its dessert menu, it had the following item: “Mango”. This was described as coconut ice cream with mango sorbet, topped with a single raspberry, a lychee, and a fruit sauce.
One of our party wanted to try the “Mango” as described on the menu. A friend and myself wanted, if possible, a scoop or two of mango sorbet without the other trimmings. We asked one waitress if it would be possible to have the sorbet on its own. She went away to consult, but never returned.
After a while we asked a waiter, who appeared not to be fluent in English, whether we could have the mango sorbet solo. We asked him several times. He kept on replying:
He appeared not to be able to distinguish the word ‘strawberry’ from ‘sorbet’.
Not willing to give up, we called the manager to repeat our wish. He told us that he would speak to the chef. He returned quickly and assured us that our wish would be granted.
The desserts arrived. The person who ordered the “Mango” as described on the menu received a lump of mango sorbet fused to a lump of coconut ice cream. This was topped with a single raspberry and a piece of frozen kiwi fruit, but not a lychee in sight. This was covered with a sweet red fruit sauce.
Those who had sought mango sorbet on its own, my friend and I, received not plain mango sorbet, but a deconstructed version of what was on the menu. The mango sorbet was fused to the coconut ice cream, and the other ingredients, including the frozen kiwi piece, were neatly arranged around the inseparable icecream and sorbet. The sauce was placed in a small dish.
Two things occurred to me later. First, the restaurant only had the mango sorbet inseparably fused to the coconut ice cream. Secondly, the restaurant had no idea how much to charge us had we been served the ice cream/sorbet without the trimmings.
To compensate for the delay and confusion, the manager provided us with an extra portion of the “Mango” dessert ‘on the house’. That would have been kind had the unasked for extra portion not appeared on our bill!
My late mother (see picture above, taken in the 1960s) was averse to weighing machines.
When she visited the doctor and had to be weighed, she did not want to be told or in any other way infrormed of her weight.
Her dislike of weighing machines extended into the kitchen. There were no kitchen scales in our home. A good cook, she managed without them. However, she did use a conical measuring device made by the Tala company. This contains printed markings that allow the user to dispence known amounts of powdered ingredients such as, for example, flour, rice, and sugar.
Years after my mother died, I married a lady from India. She told me that in the olden days, professional cooks of Indian origin often measured out cooking ingredients by feel rather than using a weighing device. For example if a cake required an equal weight of egg and flour, the cook would hold the egg in one hand and estimate its weight by feel and then measure the required amount of flour, also assessing its weight be feel alone. I do not know whether my mother possessed this skill, but regardless of that she was widely recognised to have been a competent cook.
I had always wanted to visit Gulbarga (now ‘Kalaburgi’) in northern Karnataka (India), not far from Hyderabad, because of the richness of its medieval Islamic architectural heritage.
When my friend in Bangalore, Mansour, a great gastronome and connoisseur of fine foods, knew we were in Gulbarga, he said:
“If you’re there, you must try tahari“
Well, we had no idea what this dish comprised, but if Mansour reccomended it, it must be worth trying. A search on Google revealed that the Limra Tahari was highly rated. We rang to make a reservation and were told that was unnecessary. Also, we learnt that the place only took cash payments.
One evening, we hired an autorickshaw to take us to Limra. However, the driver had no idea how to find it, and eventually dropped us near a different restaurant, saying;
“This is a restaurant. You can eat here. “
It was a totally unsatisfactory eatery.
Next evening, we were fortunate. A rickshaw driver knew where to find the Limra. When we arrived, he told us that he would wait for us as we would not be long and, also, it was difficult to find autorickshaws in the area in the evening. We wondered why, but soon found out.
The front of the restaurant was unprepossessing, to put it mildly. The place was separated from the street by a pair of ageing red curtains, rather like that found at a theatre stage. The steps leading up to it from the street were littered with old newspaper and other rubbish. I looked at my wife questioningly. She seemed happy to enter, so we parted the curtains and stepped inside. The interior was spotlessly clean.
To the left of the entrance, an old man sat behind a small cash desk. To the right, there were a couple of men preparing food in huge metal post heated by smouldering charcoals. Limra’s dining area was simple. There were several long narrow rectangular metal tables, which were probably screwed to the floor. All of the diners were men, except my wife.
Before we had time to ask for a menu or what was on offer, a boy slid two metal plates across our table towards us. Each plate was laden with tahari. He added a third plate that contained an unappetising looking greasy sauce. We ordered a couple of bottles of mineral water and began our exploration of tahari.
The tahari consisted of spicy yellow rice which contained a few lumps of well-cooked tender meat. The sauce turned out to be delicious and not at all greasy. The tahari was very tasty and delicately spiced – a real treat. Tahari is, I later discovered, an Awadhi dish from the region of India where Lucknow is located. It is typical of a certain style of Mughal cooking. It is, as we saw when we entered Limra, slow-cooked.
When we finished our tahari, we noticed the menu on the wall behind us. It consisted of two items: tahari: full plate, and tahari: half plate. No wonder, we were served our food immediately. There was nothing to choose from here! Our bill for two full plates and two bottles of water came to only 80 Indian Rupees (about £0.90 sterling). It took us no more than 10 minutes to finish our scrumptious meal. We understood why our driver decided to wait for us, and we understood why the restaurant did not accept anything but cash as payment. So, if you are ever in Gulbarga, you must try tahari!
Until I was 16 years old, I accompanied my parents on annual holidays in Florence (Italy). We always stayed at the Pensione Burchianti, which was run by two ageing sisters. Almost every evening, we ate dinner in a nearby restaurant (the Buca Mario). This excerpt from my book CHARLIE CHAPLIN WAVED TO ME describes how I began to acquire some limited skill in speaking Italia. Here is the excerpt:
” … After dinner we would walk back to the Burchianti. It might have been during one of these evening strolls that my father came up with a new version of the saying ‘a penny for your thoughts’, namely: ‘a penne for your sauce’. The traffic in the streets would have quietened down by the time that we had eaten, and all of the traffic signals, or ‘robots’ as my South African parents called them, had flashing amber lights instead of the usual sequence of three coloured lamps. The pedestrian signals, which alternated between the red ‘Alt’ and the green ‘Avanti’ during the day, simply flashed both messages at the same time at night.
When we arrived back at the Burchianti, the residents, who had been eating supper, were usually still lingering at their tables. Many of them almost lived in the Burchianti. There was an elderly commendatore, who took all his meals there but slept elsewhere. There were also a number of business people who spent the week working in Florence, but resided some distance away in the weekend. They lived in the pensione during the week. One of these was a lady pharmacist from Parma who spoke Italian with a curious accent, rolling her ‘r’s in an exaggerated way.
On entering the dining room, we would be greeted like old friends, which I suppose we were. We would be invited to sit at the sisters’ table, and then I had to perform. One of the sisters would ask me in Italian what I had eaten for dinner, and I had to reply in Italian. Everyone listened to my reply which usually went something like this:
“Primo piatto o mangiato spaghetti con pomodoro. Dopo o mangiato bistecca con patate fritte. E dopo, profiterole.”
It was not difficult to relate what I had eaten because every dinner I ordered the same thing or substituted lombatina di vitello (veal chop) for the bistecca. This nightly recitation gave me the confidence to try to speak in Italian, even if badly. When I did not know a word, I tried using a Latin word but pronounced it in a way that I believed made it sound Italian. Often, this worked! ...”
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