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

Why Powder Room is a candid recount of Indian fashion

Why Powder Room is a candid recount of Indian fashion

Last year at the exhibits area of Lakme Fashion Week, I had a long talk with an upcoming designer from Kolkata. There weren’t too many people around and he was in a chatty mood so we ended up talking about things beyond the fashion shows. Among other things, he recalled his first fashion week party, when someone turned to him and asked, “Who are you wearing?” “They are so fake, and they love name-dropping,” he grinned. Just then, a designer friend dropped by, and both started making jokes about the appalling amount of bling they’d seen at the ongoing fashion week shows.

This kind of candour is unheard-of in the fashion industry, and this is the barrier Shefalee Vasudev has tried to break through in her first book Powder Room. In the book, the ex-Marie Claire editor explores the underbelly of Indian fashion, attempting to demystify the “beautiful” industry and focus on the fashion professionals’ not-so-glam life. In the process, she also comments on Indian society, its aspirations and the value attached to labels (high fashion brands and Bollywood icons).

Powder Room

Benarsis, Bling and Bollywood

Powder Room takes us on a journey across the fashion industry through a series of stories shared by fashion insiders. For instance, Tarun Tahiliani speaks about brides’ tantrums and bling, an aspiring model says she is willing to jump on the casting couch, and a family of Patola weavers shun Bollywood stars.

Yes, the Patola makes an appearance too- one of the several traditional weaves that’s dying slowly. There are only a few who understand the need to revive region-specific textiles even as boundaries disappear. So you can get a kanjeevaram sari that’s not made in that town, or Maharashtrian paithani that’s made in Varanasi. I’m not sure how many fashionistas would want to own any of these.

Shefalee has travelled across India while writing the book, meeting people and reporting their stories and experiences. A journalist to the core, her reportage is carefully worded to let the reader decide on what they feel about the spendthrift Ludhiana Ladies and the small-town ladies tailors “copy” big designers.

Crafts and Commercials

However, you do feel the indignation as she reports on a family of Patola weavers who struggle to keep the craft alive, even as they shun Bollywood stars and “commercial” versions of their products. The indignation turns to amusement as she writes about the “editorial support” luxury brands offered to Marie Claire.

The contrasts that exist in Indian society often creep their way into the narrative. The monthly salary of the ambitious sales assistant at Emporio Mall cannot buy her more than a belt at the store. Meanwhile, the rich seek out designer wares, and middle class women want Zara copies and “Katrina blouses”. I remember seeing Preity Zinta’s “Veer Zaara suits” at the local fabric stores and Mangaldas Market. And Vidya Balan’s saris are everywhere already.

As part of my experience working at a fashion brand, I’ve learnt that almost everything in fashion magazines is up for sale. All you got to do is the fill in the cheque with the right numbers. And if you read extensively on fashion, you’ll know how a writer “loves” this designer’s collection, and already has that brand’s dress on her “wishlist”. Shefalee calls for fashion writing to be part of mainstream journalism- backed by facts and investigative reporting rather than just gush pieces. After a famous Bollywood-cum-bridal designer’s fashion show, a journalist muttered, “That was ghastly!” But of course, that would never get reported, not even in the mildest form of real fashion criticism.

What should you do with Powder Room? Depends on who you are- if you’re part of the fashion industry or want to be, then read it. And if you’re not part of the industry and never want to be, you should read it. Fashion is, after all, a business like any other.

Powder Room by Shefalee Vasudev is available at leading booksellers and online stores.

Chic Guide: Top 5 things to do this week

Chic Guide: Top 5 things to do this week

Buy: Lush Color Cosmetics

I was lucky enough to get my hands on some Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics’ brand-new Emotional Brilliance colour range. This range consists of lip colours, eyeliners and eye shadows, along with skin tints and a translucent powder. The pigments are named after emotions/ feelings like Independent, Fantasy, Passion etc. I tried the lip colours (they come in cute glass bottles which can recycled) and I love the way they don’t “feel” like a typical lipstick or lip gloss, they last long too. I also loved the Feeling Younger skin tint which brightens skin and can be used as an under eye concealer. I usually mix it with my moisturizer and spread evenly over my face and neck.

Lush cosmetics colours

Available at Lush stores worldwide.

Pre-order: Powder Room

I discovered Powder Room: The Untold Story of Indian Fashion by Shefalee Vasudev on Flipkart recently, and was fascinated by the summary. Written by a former fashion editor, it offers an inside view of Indian fashion through interviews with leading names in the industry, and “… [the book] mirrors how and why India does fashion.” I’ve booked my copy already.

Powder Room

Available for pre-order on Flipkart.com for Rs 399.

Talk about: Olympics fashion

Now that everyone’s talking about Olympics 2012, it’s time to brush up on Olympics fashion. So here goes: Stella McCartney did the British uniforms, while the Italian kits were designed by Emporio Armani (though Prada’s done the sailing team’s outfits).

And there was a very unsportsman-like controversy about Ralph Lauren’s uniforms for the American contingent- they were apparently made in China which caused quite a furore in the US of A. And a US senator wanted the uniforms to be burned! The official statement from Ralph Lauren doesn’t completely deny that the uniforms are not made in China or elsewhere. Outsourcing (in fashion and other industries) is a stark reality in the 21st century, so why this pretense of patriotic outrage?

BTW, no one seems to know who’s created the Indian uniforms. Fingers crossed.

Retro eyes: Catty glares, luxury glasses

From affordable to luxury, there’s options for everyone looking to accessorise their eyes. Get catty with Fastrack’s new Cat Eye sunglasses that are easy on the pocket. Or kiss your boring dailywear chashma goodbye, and get your hands on Chrome Hearts black and white rimmed eyewear. Their latest model comes with a .925 sterling silver Chrome Hearts “plus” motif. Never mind the price. It’s Rs 63,450. Surprised smile

Below: Fastrack Cat Eye sunglasses

Fastrack Cat Eye sunglasses

Below: Chrome Hearts sight eyewear

Chrome Hearts EASY_BK-WT

 

Fastrack is available at leading Fastrack stores across India (Cat Eye sunglasses from Rs 1695 to 2095).

Chrome Hearts eyewear is available at leading opticians in Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore.

Shop: For your kids

Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, if your kids aren’t spoilt for choice yet, they will be now! Kidology’s new collection is in stores, Tommy Hilfiger Childrenswear stores are opening all over, and Nee & Oink are now available at Atosa, Chamomile and Mal. So step into any shopping neighbourhood in Mumbai, open your wallet and watch your kids turn into fashionistas. 😉

Below: Nee & Oink

Kids-Nee&Oink

Chic News: Junglee is here, brings limited fashion choices

Amazon.com’s Junglee is here! I was quite excited to know Amazon.com had finally made a foray into India so I’ve spent good amount of time over the past few days on the website.

junglee-logo

Junglee.com’s got over 1.2 crore products to choose from with over 14,000 brands selling books to electronics to clothes to garden furniture. But of course, I’m more interested in the fashion. 🙂

Brands, brands, brands

On the fashion front at Junglee, there’s not-so-good news- the fashion choices on the website are still limited.

Junglee-clothing

While there are quite a few big fashion and accessories brands on their seller list, Junglee still has a long way to go to make a mark. Especially if you compare it with amazon.com and amazon.co.uk’s brands- they’ve got some really cool brands like Mango, Desigual, Diesel, Gas and Esprit, among others.

Currently, the fashion (clothes and accessories) brands on Junglee.com include Label by Ritu Kumar, Satya Paul, Fab India, Hidesign, Gitanjali, Bata, Puma and a handful of others.

Facing the fashion competition

Junglee will have to face competition from the fashion and flash sales websites that have been around for a while (Fashion and You, 99 Labels, Myntra) along with the more recent launches (Freecultr, BeStylish.com).

I would love to see Junglee’s fashion section acquire a strong local flavour with focus on Indian brands and designers like Latin Quarters, Wills Lifestyle, Metro, AND, Seven East… you get the drift. Junglee could even seek to carve out a niche in this area as a supporter and an online store for several Indian brands.

Some cool international brands would be fun too! It would be good to see top brands on Amazon during the season throughout the year, instead of just seeing old maal on flash sales sites.

In terms of user experience, the website is easy to navigate, clutter-free and has a good range of filters—like price, colours, sellers and brand.

Junglee-clothing-filters

Waiting to grow

Of course, it’s still the early stages for the site and for Amazon in India (someone told me Amazon has big plans for India and Junglee is only a beachhead for them). I assume the folks at Junglee will be working hard to expand their fashion brand base… fingers crossed!

What do you think of Junglee.com?

Chic Reads: South Mumbai gets a Landmark

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South Mumbai bookworms, your book-hunting woes are over. For we have the mother of all bookstores—Landmark— within our reach now.

Located in the heart of Mumbai—the Palladium (Phoenix Mills), I paid a visit to the store soon after it opened.

I expected something a tad better than the unimpressive Crossword, and boy, was I wrong. For Landmark is at least a hundred-and-a-half times better than the puzzling bookstore (pun intended). And it’s not just to do with Landmark’s amazing collection.

There are rows and rows of books, encompassing genres and themes I never thought would find place in an Indian bookstore. And so, there’s something for everyone—kids, teens, music and film lovers, graphic novel fans, and even history and war buffs.

I was quickly lost in the store, as it surprised me with the width and depth of its collection. In the dictionaries and languages section, I discovered phrasebooks in the most unlikely languages, like Turkish!

I especially loved their Travel section, which wasn’t just about Lonely Planet guidebooks, but also travel books that bring a place alive with their words. Their fiction collection is humungous, to say the least. And the staff is helpful too.

So what’s in it for fashion lovers? Well, fashion books I never thought I’d see sharing shelf space in India—fashion marketing and design text books, fun books on fashion design and fashion illustration, books on luxury brands like Bvlgari, and even Scott Schuman’s Sartorialist (my heart leaped with joy on seeing this one). 🙂

A book lover could easily spend a day at Landmark, browsing through the store and unwinding at the gaming consoles. I’m marking such a day for when the rain gods pay a visit. 

Final word: Speaking Chic has a new favourite haunt!

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Chic Reads: Books we love

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Among the hype and hoopla over Earth Day, we forgot there’s a window of opportunity for bookworms worldwide—World Book Day celebrated April 23.

As a celebration of this day, the Speaking Chic team drew up a list of books that we find stylish. FYI, by stylish we mean: 

  • Books that we love, that make us laugh or cry, that take us by surprise or anger us.
  • Fun reads
  • Fresh styles of writing
  • Creative/ cool works of literature

Here’s our list—a mix of international and Indian writers (in random order):

  1. Cervantes’ Don Quixote—The book that everyone wanted to read, but didn’t because of its size!
  2. William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar— “Friends, fans and followers, lend me your eyeballs.”  Classic. (Also: Hamlet, Macbeth and A Merchant of Venice)
  3. Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover: Late 19th century, early 20th century. Married women having affairs. Ooooh.
  4. Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone—Yeah yeah, it’s a total time pass yaar, but Chetan’s voice struck a chord with young urban Indians.
  5. J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy—The imagery, the imagination, incredibly irresistible for all fantasy lovers.
  6. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude—My introduction to magical realism. After the second reading, I was sure it’s of epic proportions.
  7. Amitav Ghosh’s A Glass Palace—Excellent historical fiction.
  8. Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian—Gave me a new perspective on what it is to be an Indian.
  9. Philip Kotler’s Principles of Marketing Management—Perhaps one of the most “mugged”  books ever?

And here’s a sampling of what people thought was stylish:

1. Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point

“It was my first non-fiction and it made me look at things bit differently. Things that appear obvious on the surface might have some other phenomenon lying beneath.”

— Prakash, tech student at Austin, Texas

2. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead

“It’s its the best book I’ve ever read, because it teaches a very important fundamental of life–
every man is capable of living a self sufficient life, instead of living like parasites dependent on others.”

— Rahul, working in outsourcing industry, Delhi

3. The Goddess Dairies

“It’s a treasure trove of stylish info on everything from being a domestic goddess, to sex goddess, to style goddess. It had great tips; from how to remove stains on silk to dressing up stylishly.”

Chelna, writer, Mumbai

4. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

“Just one thought: life-changing!”

— Sia, copy writer, Mumbai

What’s the most stylish book you’ve read? If we missed out on some super stylish books, let us know! Happy reading.

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