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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back to Mumbai means back to noisy streets, crowded trains and endless traffic jams. But it also means dozens, nay, hundreds of amazing places to eat. And so, the last few weeks I’ve been heading to old haunts and new places, relishing my favourite dishes and exploring new ones.
So here are the best food experiences in the last one month.
Best breakfast: The Pantry, Kala Ghoda
We spent a gorgeous Sunday morning surrounded by peace and quiet, and great food, of course. “The kheema is brilliant”, declared S after a few bites. And so was the mushroom, chilli and cheese omelette. Oh yum!
Best main course: The Sassy Spoon, Bandra
Packed on a Tuesday afternoon, The Sassy Spoon at Bandra had a great vibe and even better food. The star of the show was my main course- zucchini and sweet potato roesti with ratatouille. With refined plating, the right balance of flavours and the goodness of vegetables, this was a truly memorable dish.
Best dessert: Bombay Vintage, Colaba
Now I’m not a desserts gal at all, but when friends order an weird-sounding dish called jaggery pudding, you know you got to try it. And so I did, and I did NOT regret the calories at all. Topped with ice cream, this dessert was a refreshing departure from cheesecakes and mousses.
Old time favourite: Café Royal, Colaba
S and I are HUGE sizzler fans and so Café Royal is my all-time favourite. I visit the restaurant on an empty stomach and I polish off my sizzler. Always. Check out my sizzler. ‘Nuff said.
On a hazy winter-like day in Mumbai, as busy officegoers crossed the maidan (grounds) at Churchgate, the Rajabai clock tower rises conspicuously high above the crowds, the coconut trees and 20th century buildings.
Inspired by London’s Big Ben, the clock tower was built in the Venetian-Gothic style in the 1870s. Financed by stock broker Premchand Roychand and designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, Rajabai Clock Tower in the Mumbai University campus has been one of my favourite buildings in the city. With its quiet Gothic elegance, the tower is a reminder that the city’s heritage are treasures that can last centuries, if only we care for them.
Location: Churchgate, Mumbai
Date: January 29, 2016
Device: Nexus 5
Sweet corn soup was my favourite dish at Chinese restaurants when I visited with my family two decades ago. There was something about the soup that appealed to my cousins and me- it wasn’t spicy but it wasn’t bland either, it didn’t look intimidating like some other Indian Chinese(?) dishes, it was served at most restaurants we went to, it tasted perfect, and most importantly, our parents approved of it.
But alas, the yummy sweet corn soup run ended a few years ago. Almost everywhere I went, a well-made vegetable sweet corn soup became elusive. Our favourite restaurants shut down, chefs changed, or perhaps nobody cared about the humble sweet corn soup anymore. I had to switch to manchow soup with the fried noodles, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t as comforting as my favourite sweet corn soup. And, hot and sour soup is too strong on flavour for me.
Anyways, when I began to cook early 2014, I realized the world was my oyster (heh!), and I could cook (almost) everything I wanted at home. When the Mumbai monsoon arrived few months later, I began seeking out soups again (no fried pakoras for me, please!). And when I stumbled across a can of cream-style corn in the supermarket one day, I knew it was time to cook myself sweet corn soup just the way I liked it.
So one rainy Saturday S and I set out to cook sweet corn soup for the first time. The ingredients were all gathered, the preps were done (chopped veggies for me, chicken pieces for him), and the kitchen set-up all ready (separate dishes for cooking my vegetarian and his chicken version). Time to begin. S was tasked with opening the can of cream-style corn. We didn’t have a can opener at the time, so he used a knife to prise it open. BIG MISTAKE. A tiny slip led to a nasty cut, and soon S’s hand turned red, and his gushing blood was making tiny puddles on the kitchen counter.
First, I tried not to throw up (luckily I didn’t), then I panicked. Finally I called S’s dad (he’s a doctor) and we were on our way to his clinic, both in our chappals and wrinkled shorts, my uncombed hair tied up in an ugly knot, and just enough money in hand for the rickshaw ride. Meanwhile, it continued to rain, and the cut continued to ooze, and I continued to feel sick, but managed to hold on to my breakfast.
After a thorough cleaning, a roll of bandage and a tetanus shot, we were finally done. We got hold of a can opener on the way home. With so much loss of time (and S’s blood), neither of us were in the mood for sweet corn soup anymore. And neither of us wanted to cook. But lunch had to be had, even if it was terribly late. And so we used the can opener, poured out the cream-style corn, and began to cook. While I insisted S not bother with the cooking, he hovered around, and our first attempt at homemade sweet corn soup was delicious.
The first sip transported me back to Chinese Room, an Indian Chinese restaurant we loved. The only things missing were a light brown tablecloth, fading upholstery and kindly waiters. Ah, sheer nostalgia!
Sweet Corn Soup (Vegetarian and chicken versions)
1 tin sweet corn (cream style)
Vegetable or chicken stock (400 ml)
A large handful of chopped veggies of your choice (I used carrots, french beans, spring onions)
OR 200 grams boneless chicken, chopped into pieces
1 egg (optional)
1 tablespoon white vinegar*
1 teaspoon light soy sauce*
3 tablespoon corn flour
1 tablespoon of cooking oil (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour out the contents of the sweet corn tin, add two glasses of water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 5 minutes, then add your vegetable or chicken stock with chopped chicken or vegetables (except spring onions) and let it cook.
Chicken will take at least 15-20 minutes to cook, while the vegetables will be done quicker (they should still have a bite and not be completely soft).
Ten minutes after adding the chicken, break an egg over the pot and quickly stir it through the soup.
Add vinegar and soy sauce, and add oil gradually.
Meanwhile, mix cornflour with a small bowl of water. When the chicken and vegetables are almost cooked (put a fork through them to determine), add the cornflour-water mixture and let the soup cook for another five minutes. The soup will then thicken. (You can add water or the cornflour mixture to thin or thicken the soup to your liking.)
Add salt and pepper to taste, along with spring onions. Serve hot.
Notes and Tips:
Add vinegar and soy sauce according to your taste- some folks like it sour, some like it more umami.
Be careful with the amount of salt you use, since soy sauce already has a salty flavour (umami).
Those who like it spicy can add a dash of Chinese chilli or schezuan sauce.
You can make this without cream-style corn, if it’s not available or you prefer using fresh ingredients. Replace the cream-style corn with 1.5 cups of fresh corn kernels (aka American corn).
You’ve posted those food pictures on Instagram with cool filters, you’ve tweeted your 160-character restaurant review, and you’ve written a longer opinion on Facebook, tagging the friends you dined with, and all those you missed. And oh, you’ve used a dozen hashtags with all your updates.
Congrats, you’re a foodie! (And yes, I’m guilty of all of the above).
But alas, being a foodie comes with a great burden. What to eat, what not to eat. Watching the waistline expand is not anyone’s favourite activity but with dozens of amazing restaurants to visit, hundreds of appetizing dishes to try and so many big fat weddings to attend, what is a foodie to do to never gain weight? Or avoid clogged arteries and spiked sugar levels?
Simple. First, you get fit: jog, run, dance, swim, do pilates or yoga or whatever you fancy. Next, you continue being fit while enjoying your food. Here’s how.
Stop counting calories.
Think in terms of nutrition instead. Is this deep-fried gobi pakora nutritious, or is it too heavily loaded with transfats to cancel out the nutrients of the humble cauliflower? Will this lamb burger help me get my daily dose of much-needed protein?
Figure out what doesn’t work for you. And avoid it.
I’m not lactose intolerant but I know my body doesn’t like too much of it- it makes me bloat and builds up congestion. So I skip cheese-laden dishes. While I do enjoy a good pizza once in a while, it’s not high up on my list of preferred foods.
No excuses on this one. S and I have been following this mantra for a few months now, and it’s working wonders for us. It’s not just the crazy amount of calories that sugar adds, but the spike in glucose levels and the addiction that comes with it (you can never have just one bite of cake no matter how much you try to resist). So yep, skip it completely. And if you can, skip the hidden sugars too (ketchup, mayo, processed and packaged foods… you get the drift).
When you’re in a restaurant where you’re not sure about portion sizes or how much you can eat, order just a dish or two to start with. If you’re still hungry, you can always order more food.
Don’t fall for tempting promotions.
Happy meals don’t make happy waistlines, but bulging bellies. Unlimited platters may give you bountiful joy today, bad stomach tomorrow. And free flow of booze may give you a nasty hangover the next day. So all those crazy food offers are just going to mess with your digestion, your focus at work and your arm fat.
Cook cool stuff at home. Even if you don’t cook.
If you or your cook (read: mom, spouse, sibling, roomie) already prepare delicious food at home, great. If you don’t, learn. Once you realize how much fun it is to make your own scrumptious kebab or burger or lasagna, you won’t want to eat them outside. And you can control the amount of refined flour, bread, and other ingredients that go into your food. And oh, your own food makes an excellent photo op for Instagram too. The compliments will soon come trickling in.
If someone offers you mango-based dessert in December, you know the fruit’s been frozen or preserved, right? You’ll skip the mango dessert and opt for the strawberry instead. Anywhere in the world, choose the dish that uses seasonal or fresh or easily available local ingredients.
It’s okay to waste.
When you just can’t eat anymore, STOP. It’s your body telling you that enough is enough. Eat anymore and you’re at risk of adding unnecessary pounds, getting a stomach ache, getting sick right there at the party, unable to drive comfortably back home, or having a terrible bathroom emergency. My rule is: Better waste than to the waist.
Mumbai’s food vendors are an innovative lot. Their street-side inventions and adaptations of local dishes would perhaps put MasterChef contestants to shame. The latest surprise they’ve sprung is the chocolate sandwich.
This vendor at Nariman Point tried hard to sell me a chocolate sandwich. Besides putting the chocolate-y condiments on display, he tried to entice me by rattling off the ingredients in the sandwich- Nutella spread, chocolate flakes and Hershey’s syrup. Very, very tempting but I had to give this one a skip. Too sinful for me!
Location: Nariman Point, Mumbai
Date: November 16, 2015
Device: Nexus 5
Mumbai, like most Asian cities is a contrasting picture of heritage structures and modern high-rises. Very often, these lie adjacent to each other and people pass by hurriedly without marvelling at the interesting juxtaposition.
While waiting at a traffic light in south Mumbai, these two buildings struck my eye. A three-storeyed stone tires building barely conceals the tall giant behind. The latter may be tucked away in a tiny lane, but it sure catches the attention of people passing by.
Location: Kemp’s Corner, Mumbai, India
Date: November 14, 2015
Device: Nexus 5 phone camera
My cousins’ maid plonked down four mugs of hot milk before us at 4 pm sharp. I cringed. The milk at my cousins’ place had a certain smell and tasted a bit funny too. Milk was absolutely compulsory twice a day, so I had no choice but to hold my nose awkwardly and hope it would go down my throat.
It was buffalo’s milk from the iconic Parsi Dairy Farm and nothing like the cow’s milk I had at home. As a kid, taste mattered to me, not how “iconic” the supplier was (this rule continues to hold true today for me). Despite having had hundreds of mugs of PD milk shoved down my throat, I never developed a taste for it.
The water problem
With a fan following and catchment area limited mostly to South Mumbai, Parsi Dairy needed to maintain its topnotch quality to hold on to their customers. Unfortunately for them, when my mom also began with Parsi Dairy milk at home (sad, sad days), the milk seemed to be more watery than cow’s milk.
I don’t know when or how the milk was watered-down, but this universal-in-India vice affected PD milk too. I’m not sure if the PD management ever corrected that, because we soon switched back to cow’s milk. The “packet-wala” doodh was good enough for me. My extended family took several more years to make the switch.
When Parsi Dairy came home
This is how it went every morning: The doodhwala in his blue shirt and khaki shorts rang the doorbell at an unearthly hour (you had a choice between 5 am and 1 pm). You opened the door all groggy, carrying a pateela and pink coupon. The doodhwala poured from his large metal container into your pateela, then you handed him the coupon which he took back to HQ. Those coupons had to be purchased from Parsi Dairy at Marine Lines. My mom often sent me there to buy those booklets and I had to cover my nose and mouth before I entered, so strong was the dairy smell.
It was all a big inconvenience.
Which working woman wants to wake up at 5 am for the milkman? She’d rather head to the supermarket or general store after office and buy her milk and curd in tetra packs. And now that you can order online, why run to buy coupons? I mean, we don’t even queue up for movie tickets anymore.
All businesses, whether dairy farms or social farming games, need to keep up with evolving technology and customer preferences if they want to succeed. Stick to old patterns, and sooner or later your bottomline will take a hit. Parsi Dairy may be a victim of its own old school charm, though they have tried to expand by supplying to a couple of supermarket chains locally.
Not so sweet anymore
Fresh grass-fed cow’s milk was introduced in Mumbai a few years ago and a lot of quality-conscious customers opted for it. Parsi Dairy lost quite a few customers to these new brands which were convenient, delicious and hygienic.
Parsi Dairy’s milk-based desserts were popular too. But good mithai shops are ubiquitous in Mumbai and western desserts are giving strong competition to traditional Indian sweets. For instance, I’d rather have frozen yoghurt than kulfi.
Yes, we all get nostalgic about Parsi Dairy Farms when we pass Princess Street at Marine Lines. Will we miss it if it shuts down? I’m not so sure. I know I won’t.
I prefer soy milk with my muesli and almond chocolate for all muh-meetha festive occasions.
It’s hard to believe that a biryani delivery service uses the very expensive and exotic saffron as a standard ingredient in their dishes. But I believe it, because I saw plenty of saffron at Biryani360’s kitchen in Bandra last week. A dozen glass bowls of soaked saffron strands lined the counter and aroma of the fragrant spice wafting through the office was quite a royal welcome!
A glimpse of their clean kitchen:
Biryani360 is a newly-launched gourmet biryani delivery service in Mumbai. The owners claim the dish is made without preservatives, and is cooked and delivered the same day. So you get fresh biryani delivered to your doorstep, prepared with premium ingredients and whole spices (rather than the powdered form):
The biryani comes neatly packed in a cardboard box with machine-sealed packaging. A lot of effort has been put in to make your biryani meal a gourmet experience, from the quality of the cardboard box to the soft yet thick tissue that comes with the biryani. And of course, the biryani looks great too!
The True Taste Test (and Mom knows best!)
So does Biryani360 pass the Taste Test?
YES, with flying colours.
In just the first bite, I could feel the freshness of the biryani with the zing of the whole spices and the pleasantly thick yoghurt (brownie points for that right!). The uneven yellow-ness of the rice comes from the saffron and not artificial colours, so that’s comforting! And you may get a saffron strand or two in your biryani pack, like I did. Raisins were a surprise ingredient in my veg biryani, but they quickly turned out to be a pleasant one. That little burst of sweetness balances out the other spices that you experience.
While the flavours, textures and colours are a delicious mix, the almost-zero oil makes Biryani360 a hands-down winner. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been appalled by the sight of the shiny oil in the biryani delivered by “biryani centres” and local restaurants.
The best North Indian home cook in the world (my mom) also gave a thumbs-up to the veg biryani and yoghurt. She was already curious about when the Biryani360 guys would open kiosks in multiplexes and malls, or deliver to her place in town.
Why Biryani360 is cool
You only need to visit the Biryani360 website to know why the service is so cool. The website is a fun place, so read the FAQs and watch the video. Also, when you get your biryani pack, there’s lots to keep you interested and entertained and smiling! Take a look:
Biryani360 only offers veg and “unveg” biryani, with a serving of yoghurt. A single pack of veg or unveg biryani (serves one) is priced at Rs 360. Delivery is across Mumbai or you can order takeaway (they’re located very close to Bandra station). Visit https://www.biryani360.com/ to order.