Book Review: Korma Kheer and Kismet by Pamela Timms

Korma Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi by Pamela Timms

Rating: 4 out of 5

At the beginning of her book Korma Kheer and Kismet, writer Pamela Timms declares that she wants (no, she needs) the recipe for the mutton korma at Ashok and Ashok. That sparks off her street food adventure in Delhi and beyond. She samples jalebis, daulat ki chaat and even chhole kulche in Amritsar. She loves them all and must know how to recreate these dishes at home.

Her approach to the mission? A direct and tireless one. She asks vendors for their recipes, takes help from Delhi foodies, gets invited to people’s homes and even breaks bread with the families of vendors and food business owners.

Korma Kheer and Kismet book cover

Since most of my food-related reading has been restricted to mostly blogs and cookbooks, I was doubtful if a longer piece of food writing such as Korma Kheer and Kismet would sustain my interest. Yes, it did.

The result of the author’s efforts is a book that is a delicious, irresistible and natural culmination of her quest. Her expedition leads her to old Delhi, where she encounters the city’s signature dishes, from kheer to jalebis to daulat ki chaat (which I had never heard of before).

The journey to discovery

Throughout the narrative, Timms weaves in the history of the city, bits of her personal life and the stories of the people she meets. Through these experiences, she discovers the food culture of the city, and as a side dish, the Indian ethos.

The writing is subtly humourous and remarkably descriptive. The pages come alive with people and food. You can smell the fresh jalebis, hear the sizzle of a tawa, feel the warmth of a stove and enjoy the camaraderie and Indian chaos on the streets.

With the author, your mouth waters at the all-season favourite aloo tikkis, you admire the grittiness of the vendors who produce the same food day after day to the exact flavours, and you giggle in understanding as Timms scrambles around Delhi to gather ingredients for a single dish.

And along with the author, you feel a sense of wonder about your own extraordinary yet commonplace food traditions. Timms writes:

I looked hard at the ‘kitchen’. How did such a divine dish come from such unpromising surroundings? How did that threadbare old man tossing dough manage to produce perfect flaky pastry in temperatures which fluctuate from zero to fifty degrees, when everyone from Auguste Fauchon to Nigella Lawson knows that you can only make good pastry if your kitchen, ingredients and hands are constantly as cool as a slab of marble?

Serving fresh

Timms has brought a fresh perspective to Indian street food. Street food is no more just the common man’s daily fare (cheap and delicious), but as an essential ingredient of Delhi’s diverse and historic culture.

It’s refreshing to see food writing that steps away from fancy restaurants, foreign-trained chefs, and tough-to-find ingredients. Some of the recipes in the book may never work for me (how can I get the Delhi winter in Mumbai for the perfect daulat ki chaat?), but the recipes Timms has sourced are very close to the “real thing”. (As an expert Punjabi cook, my mom agrees the kulcha recipe is as genuine as it could be).

Toward the end of the book, the central question remains—what about the mutton korma recipe? Timms hunts far and wide for the true story behind the place, and the authentic recipe. Does she find it? Now that is a question of kismet.

Laced with humour and woven with anecdotes and things quintessentially Indian, like family rivalries, filmy connections and friendly hosts, Korma Kheer and Kismet is much more than a food account.

Toward the end you do lose track of some of the characters, but the book is a delightful read and perfect for those unfamiliar with Delhi food, familiar with Delhi food, food lovers, food haters, and everyone else.

Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi

Author: Pamela Timms

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Available on: Amazon.in

Get Ayushmann Khurrana’s look in Badhaai Ho

Ayushmann Khurrana in Badhaai Ho sports a super snazzy and stylish look. Modish and natty, his smart casual style is perfect for the urban Indian male in his twenties.

Ayushmann Khurrana’s smart casual look
Ayushmann Khurrana plays Nakul, a 25-year-old middle class Delhi chap who is at ease in the confusing space that is urban India. He lives in the cramped railway quarters, but is comfortable in a spacious South Delhi-type home and in a cubicled office in a modern glass building. He speaks Hindi in his native accent, and neutral English without hesitation.

Ayushmann Khurrana Badhaai Ho crew fashion

His smart casual look fits in with the theme of Badhaai Ho and Nakul’s background in the movie. It’s also a style that is easy to get right, and appropriate for all sorts of occasions. For instance, Ayushmann Khurrana is in smart casuals almost throughout the entire film, such as when he’s at work, at an informal gathering, or out on a date.

Read below to get tips and suggestions on how to dress like Ayushmann Khurrana in Badhaai Ho.

Ayushmann Khurrana in Badhaai Ho: Complete look breakdown
The Basics
Ayushmann Khurrana’s basic wardrobe essentials in Badhaai Ho begin with plain round neck tshirts in multiple colours such as white, beige, grey, black etc.

With that, he teams a simple shirt in a variety of prints, patterns and fabrics, such as a denim shirt or checks, but nothing too formal.

The next wardrobe staple for Ayushmann Khurrana is a pair of straight cut jeans in dark washes. A guy with his physique could carry off skinny jeans easily, but in the context of the film’s middle-class Delhi setting, it would end up looking wannabe. (To be fair, Ayushman Khurana looks great whatever he wears.)

Tshirt from Roadster available on Myntra

Tshirt Roadster Badhaai Ho Ayushmann

Shirt from Highlander available on Myntra

Highlander-Badhaai Ho Ayushmann

Jeans from Levi’s

Levis jeans Ayushmann Badhaai Ho

Outerwear
It gets cold in Delhi, so Ayushmann has a range of light jackets to wear over his shirts, from denim to leather.
When he’s chilling with his buddies at the neighbourhood paanwala in the evenings, he dresses down, and throws on a hoodie instead.

Jacket from Mast & Harbour available on Jabong

Mast & Harbour Badhaai Ho jacket

Shoes
What can I say, but sometimes I think men have better options for shoes than women.

And one of those times was when I spotted Ayushmann Khurrana’s footwear in Badhaai Ho. He’s got some cool sneakers to sport, and he makes white sneakers look completely cool, without being all hipster or gangsta or a trying-too-hard dude.

Sneakers from Sparx available on Amazon.in

white sneakers Ayushmann Khurrana

Accessories
Since he’s no longer a student, but a working professional, Ayushmann has ditched the one-shoulder floppy casual backpacks that teens use. Instead, he has a tan (imitation) leather backpack that he carries to work and almost everywhere else.

Girls and guys will both like Ayushmann Khurrana’s backpack in Badhaai Ho (trust me, it’s the highlight of his look). The backpack has straight clean-cut lines adding to his slick look, and it’s also functional and stylish.

I’m tempted to buy such an accessory for myself.

Backpack from Zara

Ayushmann Khurrana leather backpack

What do you think of Ayushmann Khurrana’s look in Badhaai Ho?

Crazy fashion in Crazy Rich Asians

You just can’t miss the crazy-stylish clothes in Crazy Rich Asians, can you?

In his book Crazy Rich Asians, author Kevin Kwan doesn’t leave a single detail spared when it comes to the wealth and opulence of the Singaporeans. He describes palatial homes, decadent interiors, ethereal weddings, and, of course, fashion, down to the minutest sparkle. No, really. Take a look:

Rachel couldn’t help but notice the enormous canary diamond flashing on her hand like a translucent egg yolk, and the pair of three-carat solitaires in her earlobes, identical to Peik Lin’s. Like mother, like daughter—maybe they got a two-for-one deal….Rachel quickly registered two versions of the Venus de Milo, one in white marble, another in gold, of course. There was a huge round dining table that seated eighteen comfortably covered with a heavy Battenberg lace tablecloth and high-backed Louis Quatorze chairs that were, thankfully, upholstered in a royal blue brocade.

So naturally, an avid reader and cinema fan like me would expect the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians to feature striking fashion that brings Kevin Kwan’s vision to life.

Crazy Rich Asians fashion poster
The fashion scene in Crazy Rich Asians
Set amidst the ultra-glam world of uber rich Singaporeans (the kind who spend $40 million on weddings), Crazy Rich Asians features classy settings, and lots of high fashion and haute couture clothes, but with a strong Asian touch.

Costume designer for Crazy Rich Asians Mary Vogt along with Andrea Wong (consultant and senior costume buyer) sourced clothing from a range of designers, such as Ralph Lauren, Elie Saab, Dolce & Gabbana, Stella McCartney, Valentino and Dior, along with several Asian designers.

The actors in the film wear clothes suited to the Asian sensibility, and style themselves according to Asian standards of style and beauty.

Crazy Rich Asians wedding fashion

Which means you will be delighted and surprised to see fashion choices most Hollywood actors would not make on-screen. In most of Asia (including India), fashion, accessories, jewellery and makeup choices are as much about aesthetics as they are about showing your wealth.

In most western cultures including Hollywood, less is generally more, but in Asia, the rule is “less is too less, go for more”. Hence you will see multiple accessories in a single look, splash of colours and embellishment, and daring prints.

My favourite fashion looks from Crazy Rich Asians
Awkwafina as Peik Lin Goh
Awkwafina in Crazy Rich Asians fashion

Peik Lin is quirky and funny, she knows it, and she dresses for it. In a sea of Singaporean Asians with long, dark hair, she chooses to go short and blonde. This spunky gal also dresses like she doesn’t care. Her outfits feature quirky prints, bold colours and mix-and-match separates that seem to be just thrown together in the morning.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Peik Lin is a fashionista in her own way. She has a closetful of pricey designer dresses, and she carries multiple outfit and accessory options in the trunk of her car for fashion emergencies like a sudden cocktail party invitation.

Constance Wu As Rachel Chu
Rachel Chu is a New Yorker, so her signature style is laidback and casual. As an economics professor and humble upbringing, she doesn’t care much for high fashion. Even when thrust into the world of crazy rich Singaporeans, Rachel maintains her style sensibilities and sticks to her simple aesthetic style. Meeting with her boyfriend’s mother and grandmother? An “auspicious” red dress. All-expenses-paid shopping spree? An understated cotton outfit.

Awkwafina Constance Wu Crazy Rich Asians fashion

But her dear friend Peik Lin helps her up her fashion game when it’s time for Rachel to show she can be classy too. Peik Lin chooses a multi-hued shimmering gown for the first meeting with the formidable mother, and a baby blue tulle Marchesa dress with a tiara for a grand wedding.

Constance Wu Crazy Rich Asians fashion wedding

In a critical moment in the film, Rachel opts for a game of mah jong with her boyfriend’s mother Aunty Eleanor. In this scene, Rachel shows Aunty Eleanor what a New York gal can really do. Dressed in a flattering floral print dress paired with subtle makeup, Rachel stuns Eleanor with her grace and class in terms of style and as a human being.

Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young
As one of the richest women in Asia, Eleanor Young (played by Michelle Yeoh) epitomizes elegance in every frame. As a woman with impeccable manners and taste, her fashion choices are always accurate and her looks are perfect down to the finest detail.

Michelle Yeoh in Crazy Rich Asians

My favourite Aunty Eleanor look is the cocktail party at her mother-in-law’s home. She wears a pleated burgundy floor-length Valentino gown with a gorgeous brooch and matching earrings. Her hair is in a classic updo and her makeup is just right. Perfection!

Gemma Chan as Astrid Young Teo
Astrid is an heiress with a passion for all things rare and beautiful. She has an eye for vintage, a big heart and a contemporary outlook. On ordinary days, she wears silk blouses with high-waist trousers, form-fitting dresses and loads of oomph.

Gemma Chan Crazy Rich Asians Dior dress

My favourite Astrid look is her introductory scene- a stylish Dior dress with a high draped collar, oversized sunglasses and a cute designer handbag.

Which is your favourite look from Crazy Rich Asians?

All pictures courtesy Warner Bros (from Crazy Rich Asians official Facebook page).

Get Taapsee Pannu’s fashionable look in Manmarziyaan

In Manmarziyaan, Taapsee Pannu plays a character whose fashion journey is as crucial as her personal journey. As she evolves, her clothing choices reflect the different stages in her life, and finally when it’s time to make a big decision she makes a style decision to reflect her state of mind.

Manmarziyaan’s costume designer in Prashant Sawant.

Pre-wedding style aka Rumi the Carefree

Rumi, played by Taapsee Pannu, is a tomboy and a badass. She plays hockey, goes for a run through Amritsar, rides a Bullet, works with her uncles at their sports goods store, and sneaks around to hang with her passionate boyfriend Vicky (Vicky Kaushal). She doesn’t hesitate to give non-committal Vicky a piece of her mind and a few kicks and punches when he pisses her off with his reluctance to take things forward.

Taapsee Pannu as Rumi style in Manmarziyaan
(Photo by Khamkhaphotoartist)

In this tomboy avatar, Taapsee wears men’s shirts as kurtas paired with loose patiala salwars. Makeup is markedly absent, while her jewellery is only a pair of tiny earrings. In her daily life, Rumi wears plain cardigans and hoodies over her shirts and rolls up the sleeves to look tough.

Rumi has streaks of red in her hair, perhaps to match her boyfriend’s blue highlights, and it’s a curly mess (her aunt calls her Amritsar’s “Laal Pari”). What’s just as outrageous is her pair of bright-tinted sunglasses (I found them bold!).

When Rumi carries a dupatta it’s completely mismatched with the rest of her outfit, showing her nonchalance for anything sartorial, too feminine or too conventional.

Taapsee Pannu fashion in Manmarziyaan
(Photo by Khamkhaphotoartist)

But guess what is Rumi’s most out-of-sync style choice? The sporty sneakers she wears with her salwars!

Want to adopt Taapsee Pannu’s pre-wedding Rumi look in Manmarziyaan? See our style picks below.

Checked shirt by Roadster available on Myntra

Checked womens shirt for Taapsee look

Patiala by Go Colors available on Myntra
Blue Patiala salwar for Taapsee Pannu look

Sneakers by Clarks available on Jabong

Post-wedding style aka Rumi as a Married Woman

Every Punjabi bride gets a trousseau from her family with clothes and jewellery that the bride will need in her new home, and Rumi gets a set of 21 outfits. Since Rumi doesn’t seem to be fashionable types, I get the feeling that her aunt chose her trousseau.

Once Rumi gets married, she wears her new outfits as she must, albeit a bit reluctantly, complete with her bridal chura and some jewellery. The little studs give way to small jhumkas but there is very little attempt otherwise to keep up the appearances of a blushing bride or bahu.

Taapsee Pannu Rumi in Manmarziyaan song
(Photo from Manmarziyaan official Facebook page)

As soon as they reach their hotel in Kashmir for their honeymoon, Rumi pulls out sneakers from her suitcase, ties them up and off she goes running, music in her ears to nurse her heartbreak.

The post-marriage wardrobe upgrade expands to smarter jackets, bright-coloured wedding embroidered kurtas and salwar kameez sets with (ahem…) matching dupattas.

Meanwhile, Rumi’s hair is still a mess but then there’s a hint of lipstick, nothing too obvious, just a nude shade to make her look a bit more well, married and grown-up.

As Rumi’s marriage goes through a series of ups and downs, her clothing choices fluctuate. At her family’s home, she is pretty much her old self. But as rapid changes happen in her life, she seems to grow. She begins seeing things more clearly and she makes some changes to her wardrobe to keep up with her newfound maturity.

Most notable is the final scene of Manmarziyaan, when Rumi heads out to woo her man (no spoilers here!). Rather than her usual careless look, she makes an obvious effort with her appearance, but without compromising on her crazy personality (she still asks impertinent questions and speaks random stuff to throw off people).

In this scene, Taapsee Pannu wears a knee-length straight-fit kurta with little embroidery motifs all over and carries a somewhat-matching purse. Then she applies lipstick and wears earrings, even though she doesn’t need to. Clearly, it’s a woman in love putting herself out for her man.

Get Taapsee Pannu’s post-wedding look in Manmarziyaan. Here are some suggestions.

Kurta suit set from Biba
Biba pink suit Taapsee Paanu in Manmarziyaan

Zaveri pearls jhumkas available on Myntra

Zaveri-Pearls-Jhumkas for Taapsee Pannus look Manmarziyaan
Lipstick by Kiki Milano available on Nykaa
Kiko Milano lipstick Taapsee Pannu in Manmarziyaan

What do you think of Taapsee Pannu’s look in Manmarziyaan?

Restaurant review: Miss T brings Myanmar to Mumbai

I’ve been missing Burmese food since I moved back to Mumbai from Yangon, Myanmar (Burma Burma at Fort is Burmese-inspired). So I rushed to book a table when I heard that the recently-opened Miss T in Colaba had Burmese dishes on their menu.

Miss T is a bar and restaurant serving mostly Vietnamese and Burmese fare and is located next to the recently-shut Indigo. The vibe is contemporary but understated. Embellished birds adorn the walls as you ascend to the first floor.

Miss T Colaba Mumbai restaurant review

The food and drinks menu feature limited items, but everything seems to be carefully selected and there are an equal number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. (Interesting side note: Some dishes feature meat that is typed as b**f on the menu!).

We kicked off our meal with two non-alcoholic cocktails: Knowledge Tree and Talking in Salads. The latter was exceptionally good, refreshing with a touch of ginger, lime and arugula (that’s why “salad” in the name).

For starters, we obviously chose the pickled tea leaf and tomato salads, along with forest mushrooms and Shan tofu. The server informed us that the tea leaf was imported from Myanmar, and we kept our fingers crossed about the salads.

Were they true to the Burmese salads we enjoyed in Yangon tea shops?

A resounding yes.

Miss T Mumbai pickled tea leaf salad

Burmese Tomato salad Miss T Mumbai

The tea leaf salad even featured the crunchies that the Burmese like to use as garnish, so I guess these were imported as well. The chefs got the tomato salad taste right on target too, though we would have preferred the green tomatoes instead. The mushrooms were fresh but lacked that Burmese kick.

For the main course, we had a vegetarian curry with pandan rice (it’s essentially a Thai-style curry), and the char-grilled spring chicken. The curry was tasty though a tad watery, while the chicken was an absolute delight. It was soft and succulent, topped with a spicy coconut-based sauce, and came with sweet potatoes on the side. The result was a delicious hit of distinct flavours in a single bite.

Miss T Mumbai chargrilled chicken

We rounded off the meal with a cappuccino (excellent) and Chocolate Dacquoise (high on style and taste). The crispy meringue discs balanced out the berries, ganache and coconut cream.

Dessert at Miss T restaurant Mumbai

As for service, the staff is knowledgeable and willing to make recommendations. The food and drinks do take a little time to arrive but are worth the wait.

We left the restaurant with a wishlist for our next visit- Vietnamese rice paper rolls, pho and the Burmese noodle salad.

A meal for two at Miss T costs approximately ₹3800 (without alcohol). Reservations recommended.

Miss T

4 Mandlik Road, Off Colaba Causeway, Mumbai.

022-22801144, 022-22801155

Spa review: Massage at Sukho Thai

Earlier this week, I headed for a 60-minute massage at Sukho Thai in South Mumbai. I had done a lower body workout that morning, so I knew my legs could do with some R&R.

Sukho Thai Mumbai spa massage

The serene atmosphere in the reception area helped me forget the chaos outside. After I changed into super-duper comfy pyjama set (I wanted to steal it!), the masseur led me into the massage area.

With calming music and dim lights, I eased into the massage chair, and left everything into the hands of my very skilled masseur.

The massage began with a foot soak in lukewarm water. Then as the masseur worked his magic hands with oil on my feet, ankles, calves and shins I felt the tension melt away.

Next he pressed the right spots to release my quads and stretched my legs to open the hip muscles and hamstrings (we all have tightness here but don’t know it).

Then we moved to the upper body. The masseur hit the right spots pretty hard to ease out my neck area, stiff due to my weight training and long laptop hours.

Then the masseur guided me through shoulder and back stretches, which were pretty intense. For people not used to yoga or deep stretches, it could be bit of a surprise (I didn’t have any issues though).

And then, it was all over. I enjoyed the last few moments of the delightful Sukho Thai experience with a bowl of fresh fruit and ginger tea. I left super-charged to take on the rest of the day.

Sukho Thai massage spa Mumbai

For me, the real test of a massage is how well I sleep and how I feel the next morning. The massage at Sukho Thai passed my test with flying colours. I slept soundly and woke up without any stiffness. After a cardio and abs workout the following day, I left the gym feeling like I hadn’t worked out at all. As I write this, I feel more energized than I have in months.

The 60-minute aroma massage at Sukho Thai is Rs 1890 (inclusive of taxes). They also have other therapy options such as with hot stones, scrub etc. Visit the Sukho Thai website to know more, or call +919821008877.

Note: This post is a Chic Promotion. The massage was complimentary but has not influenced my views of the service.  

How to dress like Taapsee Pannu in Mulk

In her latest film Mulk Taapsee Pannu plays Aarti Mohammed, a lawyer in the holy city of Varanasi. Despite the low glam quotient of the film, I liked Taapsee’s understated style in Mulk.  Her look provides excellent style inspiration to working women who want to look smart, crisp, elegant and powerful.

So how does Taapsee Pannu get the right look in Mulk?

Taapsee Pannu in Mulk white shirt black pants

Taapsee’s Mulk style statement

Taapsee Pannu’s work and off-duty looks in the movie are practical and pragmatic, simple and fuss-free. She looks like a woman who takes minimum effort in getting dressed which is why her look will work for many Indian women who constantly juggle between work, home and countless other responsibilities.

Though Aarti Mohammed is an Indian woman, she lives in London with her husband Aftab. Hence Taapsee’s style is in line with international standards. She opts for a no-frills, minimalistic style that you would see on most women abroad, except that in Mulk her look is mostly based on Indian wear.

What’s more, her minimal look extends to her beauty choices. Taapsee’s hair has been cut short and she leaves it open when she’s at home. Reflecting her role as a woman from a modest family, she wears almost no makeup.

Taapsee Pannu’s work look

Aarti is a serious lawyer and it shows when she dresses for court. In court, Taapsee is nattily dressed in white and black as mandated by court rules. She wears a crisp white shirt with slim-fit black trousers that taper at the ankle. Her accessories are a thin black belt and black loafers.

Even if you’re not a lawyer, this simple look of a tucked-in shirt with a belt and loafers are enough to make a great impression at work.

Try these suggestions to get Taapsee Pannu’s courtroom look in Mulk:

White shirt from Vero Moda, available on Jabong

White shirt like Taapsee Pannu

Black trousers from Marks & Spencer, available on JabongBlack trousers M&S

Black loafers from Allen Solly, available on Amazon.in

black loafers Amazon

Taapsee Pannu’s casual look

Taapsee’s trademark style at home is simple, straight-cut cotton and linen kurtas. The kurtas’ sleeves are elbow-length and they come with formal collars. This means mandarin collars, not the round and V-necklines that we see everywhere. The kurtas are solid and void of any prints, embroidery and embellishment.

Take a look at this tweet Taapsee Pannu posted from the sets of Mulk:

 

However, her kurtas are NOT BORING, because they have little detailing like a long button placket and a bit of piping around the collar. Taapsee has skipped the ubiquitous churidar, instead opting for straight-fit pants. Tiny diamond earrings and flat kolhapuri-style slippers complete her Indian casual look.

Here are my recommendations to adopt a look similar to Taapsee’s in Mulk.

Kurta from W

kurta from W

Diamond earrings from Caratlane

diamond earrings from caratlane

What did you think of Taapsee Pannu’s look in Mulk? Would you adopt such a look at work or at home?

The world is my home

Another day, another pointless visit to the market.  I’m like a lamb trying to find its way through the forest where it does not belong.

So I’m lost. Emotionally.

As I make my home through the busy market, sellers scream out their wares and prices. A young man is selling a cartful of fruits, a young lady is selling flowers, a quiet woman sells bananas.

But even though I pass through this market every day, I don’t know I am doing here. It’s a strange place, this city of Yangon, earlier called Rangoon. Yes, I had committed a year of my life to be here as a trailing spouse, companion to my husband for his year-long stint.

But this place isn’t home. How can it be home?

It doesn’t have the spirit that my city Mumbai has. In Yangon, their stilted tongue is so different from the hard consonants in Marathi. They don’t speak English either. There isn’t any vada pav hawker on the streets. The people look different here. They dress different. Their food is different.

Burmese khowsuey Yangon Myanmar noodles

All this means that my life in Yangon is a constant struggle.

Urgh, just eleven more months. And then I’ll be out of here. Till then, I just have to survive.

And how do I survive?

Barely. I have insomnia, and when I sleep, I have nightmares.

I wake up late, spend yet another day in front of the TV, go out to shop a bit, cook instant noodles or toss a salad, and then brace myself for the next day.

This isn’t what life should be.

After a long and restless night in early June, I fall asleep at dawn. I wake up in the around noon, expecting the sun to be beating down harshly on me through the curtains. But it’s cold and cloudy instead. Gloomy overcast sky.

My eyes flicker and it takes me a few seconds to register where I am. This hint of rain, this impending downpour, am I not in Mumbai?

Of course I’m not. I’m in Yangon, the place where I’m a stranger, an outsider. A mere passer-by.

But as the clouds open up and the raindrops splatter against my bedroom window, it hits me. This.. this rain, it’s just like home. Just like Mumbai.

The monsoon, the evening crowds, the commuter-stuffed local buses, the busy markets, the concrete buildings cramped together. The sea, not visible, but too far away either. I even joke that Yangon’s Hledan area resembles Mumbai’s Dadar.

So wait, if Yangon is home, there would be other similarities too, right?

I switch from survival mode to exploration mode. I scour my neighbourhood market and find things I hadn’t spotted before. A sprig of curry leaves, just what I need for my morning poha. A coconut seller who will grate it for my curry. A lady who sells mangoes that beat the alphonsos out of the ballpark.

I become bolder and begin to think of myself as a world traveller. I need to be more open-minded.

I head to downtown Yangon. The staid and elegant colonial-era buildings could be anywhere in South Mumbai. The erstwhile telegraph office and the old High Court could easily be mistaken for Mumbai structures. The stock market building was earlier the RBI office in the pre-independence era, and resembles Mumbai’s RBI headquarters on Mint Road. Even the floor tiles in the old part of the Indian embassy remind me of old buildings in Fort.

Heritage building Yangon

There’s a shared history between Mumbai and Yangon. A shared culture too.

The people love street food, especially in the evenings. My favourite snack quickly becomes the local tea leaf salad, tossed with steamed corn and sliced garlic.

Buddhist pagodas in every major street replaces Mumbai’s iconic temples. I pray to Buddha along with everyone else at under the golden dome of the sacred Shwedagon pagoda.

Shwedagon pagoda Yangon Myanmar

I learn the local language. As a result, I make friends with my fruit seller, my vegetable vendor, my landlord’s family. I learn the Burmese words for potatoes is aloo, pronounced exactly like the Hindi word.

Yangon Hledan market

Then I immerse myself even more. I bargain with taxi drivers. I cook with Burmese jaggery, and I learn to tell the difference between the various Burmese accents too.

Finally, a day comes when I buy some fabric from the textile market. I go to a tailor on my street to get the green swathe of cloth stitched into the local sarong-like skirt (called the longyi). When I wear it, I’m mistaken for a local. My neighbours compliment me.

Somewhere along the line, I stop missing Mumbai. Yangon is home.

Now that I’m back in Mumbai, I know what I did in that beautiful country of Myanmar. Just having that little bit of acceptance turned me into a new person.

But mostly, I said yes to Yangon. I said yes to the world. And now the world is my home.

 

Some pickle lovin’

Most Indian households have a pickling tradition.

As the cold winters wither away, the sun’s rays warm the land, and raw green mangoes appear everywhere. As one of the most popular choices for an Indian pickle, the raw mangoes undergo a very thorough process to reach their final pickled state.

In my family, my aunts took up the responsibility to make spicy mango pickles.

I never saw that mysterious pickling process. I just knew it was something that took a lot of time to prep, and you had to wait a few days to eat them.

When the mango pickle was ready, I savoured the thick dark green peels and soft flesh of the mango, now completely transformed. Sometimes we had them with lunch and dinner, and sometimes with the mathis or mathris that Punjabis love. They’re a thick, flaky, brittle snack, usually salty, and they go perfectly well with pickles.

You break off a piece of the mathi, dip it into the pickle, then quickly push it into your mouth so the oils of the pickle don’t drip. Then you let the pickle’s juices flow and you bite into the mathi.

This was one of my favourite snacks as a child.

But some time in my 20s, I went on a health streak. And Indian pickles went struck off my list of approved foods.

Why?

They were too oily, too greasy, contained too much salt, and were generally extremely unhealthy. At that point, I completely stopped eating those beloved pickles. And frankly, if I wanted to cheat and unhealthy things, there were a gazillion other things to choose from, like chocolates and French fries and pizzas.

Around five years ago, I read The Beauty Diet by Shonali Sabherwal (you can read more on her website).

I loved her explanations of different types of food and their effects on our bodies. Among other things, she introduced me to the toxicity of sugar, the importance of whole grains (jowar, bajra, rajgira) and how to eat a balanced, well-rounded, satisfying meal. One of the crucial elements she recommends: pickle.

No kidding.

Of course, I was surprised by that. But then Shonali wrote about quick pickles and stressed that pickles don’t always need to be oily or salty or spicy, and don’t always need weeks to be ready.

A couple years ago, I had a leftover carrot in my refrigerator and I looked up a quick pickle recipe online. The result was a bright and beautiful carrot pickle, steeped in flavour.

And thanks to that by-chance experiment, I re-found my lost love for pickles!

Too much oil and salt is generally a bad idea, but a quick pickle can taste just as good.

Even in ayurvedic principles of eating, having quick pickles with your meals is advocated. Even nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar recommends pickles (more in this story from Outlook).

Pickles are fermented and are said to be good for gut bacteria because they function work as probiotics. Whatever your reason, pickles made the right way can be good for us. I can vouch for this—I felt quite good when I had pickles with my lunch. I especially felt fuller much longer than usual.

Last week, I tried this quick pickle recipe with cauliflower that was errr… super quick (obviously!), easy and super flexible. I used a bit of regular white vinegar with very little apple cider vinegar, a sprinkle of turmeric (for colour) and a threw in a few pieces of star anise to the jar.

In just a couple of hours, my cauliflower pickle had a delightful sweet-sourish flavour, and the star anise gave it a subtle kick.

cauliflower quick pickle

But here is a version of another quick pickle recipe I’ve tried a couple times, written by the lovely Madhur Jaffrey. The result is always super delicious.

Note:

Since I have a refined sugar-free kitchen, I used local jaggery (gur).

Be careful with the amount of spices and vinegar you use because the flavours of the spices are quite strong.

Quick Mixed Vegetable Pickle

(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe).

Ingredients

3 tbsp jaggery (cane sugar)

150ml cider vinegar (you can use lesser)

100ml extra virgin olive oil (or a vegetable oil you like)

1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

400g small cauliflower florets

5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 5cm pieces

225g baby turnips, peeled and halved

2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds, ground in a clean coffee grinder

2 tsp salt

a mixture of 1 tsp chilli powder and 1½ tsp bright red paprika (I use only chill powder)

½ tsp garam masala

 

Method

Heat a small pan on low flame, and add the jaggery and vinegar. Stir occasionally till the jaggery dissolves. Then turn off the heat.

Pour the oil into a large pan set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add garlic and ginger and stir for 30 seconds.

Add the cauliflower, carrots and turnips to the pan. Stir the vegetables and cook for about a minute or until the vegetables are coated with oil but still crisp.

Get the heat down to low and add the ground mustard, salt, chilli powder and paprika mixture and garam masala. Stir and mix for a minute or two until the vegetables are coated in the spices.

Pour in the jaggery-vinegar mixture and stir. Take off the heat and allow the pickle to cool.

Transfer the pickle into one or two clean jars and place in refrigerator.

You can enjoy the pickle immediately, though it can last for up to three weeks in the fridge.

The year of badass women in films

I’m tired of watching timid women in films, in whichever language they may be. I’m tired of them playing second fiddle to male protagonists, and I’m especially irritated with the stereotyped, hollow and misguided projections of “modern” women in Indian films (Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi, Sonakshi Sinha in Noor).

But 2017 has given me some hope. I’ve seen women kick bigtime ass in films, I’ve seen women who won’t take no for an answer, and I’ve seen women who won’t let others decide their destiny.

Like this one:

Gal Gadot playing Diana in Wonder Woman

And these:

Ramya Krishna playing Sivagami in Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion

Anushka Shetty playing Devasena in Baahubali: The Conclusion

Taapsee Pannu playing Shabana in Naam Shabana

*Cue applause.*

And here is why I love them:

They fight. And how.

They fight, and not just physically. Not just by kicking or punching a villain, or by cutting off a perverted man’s hand. They fight society’s expectations, and they fight to save other’s lives. And, even better, they fight for themselves.

Naam Shabana fighting

I loved watching Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman taking down the bad guys, and Taapsee Pannu as Shabana extracting revenge. The immense satisfaction I got from seeing their toughness just blew me.

They are self-centred, but selfless and loving too.

Hurray for multidimensional women. They exist around the world, but very rarely on screen.

Whether it’s Diana (aka Wonder Woman) or Devasena from Baahubali: The Conclusion, they are clear about what they want- learn to fight, be a better archer, hunt down a kiiller. And they will do whatever they can to reach those goals.

Wonder Woman

But that doesn’t make them bitches.

Because they still care about people. They fight to protect their kingdom, to protect their country and to save humanity.

They have men in their lives.   

How many times have we girls heard the line, “Men don’t like women who are too ambitious or career-focused, so don’t be so driven”?

Sorry folks, but just because we like to do “unconventional” things doesn’t mean we can’t fall in love or have a man interested in us.

Thankfully, the men in these films are more in touch with their masculinity and like to see women fight. They cheer them on during a fighting match, and share their own skills with them (remember the three-arrow hold in Bahubali: The Conclusion?). And thank god for that.

Baahubali 2 archery

Because yes, there are such men in real life too and the world needs to see them. Not all men want their wives or girlfriends to be damsels in distress or be totally dependent on them.

But…

All these films have their flaws in their treatment of women characters, especially in their relationship with male protagonists (and that’s a blog post for another time).

Nevertheless it’s refreshing to see such wonderful roles for women in popular cinema in Bollywood and Hollywood. It’s even more awesome that audiences are watching and accepting these films.

Maybe the time will soon come when film makers won’t have to rely on big-ticket male actors to attract audiences, and have women do some REAL stuff on screen. Stuff that is mostly confined to men.

It’s too early to celebrate path-breaking female characters on the big screen. But there is some hope…