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Tom Yum Thai

First published in Bangalore Mirror

I realised recently that if you want to save on the time and expense of international travel, and yet explore the cuisine of Southeast Asia, all you have to do is travel from one end of 12th Main to the other – The Fatty Bao, Mamagoto, One Night in Bangkok, Phobidden Fruit! These establishments though, are largely gastro pubs, and barring very few exceptions, end up costing as much as that international trip! And thus I wondered how a Thai restaurant on CMH road would play it. Though on the main road, it’s pretty well hidden, and the presence of a clinic on the ground floor might intimidate or assuage, depending on how you see it. (map) Perched on the top floor, its terrace section easily outscores the indoor option. So much so that we saw people waiting for a spot outside, even though there were tables vacant inside! The high roof, the Buddha, all lend a certain sense of calm, and with the kind of weather we’re having, the ambiance outside is spot on for a good dining experience. It also manages to minimise the potential damage that can be caused by “Hits of MLTR” playing in a loop.

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Aroi

This post is about Aroi in Kadugodi, Whitefield. For the Aroy in JP Nagar, see Aroy

I’ve always wanted to do that Wiki kind of redirection! 😀 Once upon a time Aroi used to be called Mekong and had outlets in Sarjapur Road and Park Square Mall in Whitefield. The latter has now been closed, and shifted to Shigehalli. (map) No, it’s not as bad as it sounds, and is only 15-20 minutes from Whitefield.

One evening, D was particularly in the mood for Thai food, and we knew from prior searches that the options in our neighbourhood were very limited. We had almost decided to make a trip to Indiranagar when I found, buried inside Zomato, the Aroi listing. It seemed relatively new, and since we had liked Mekong quite a bit, we decided to try our luck.  More

Mofussil Junction

Ian Jack

What a lovely read!

Now that we have settled that, let me elaborate. Mofussil Junction is a collection of the author’s articles about India, written for various publications, over a time frame of more than 30 years. There are essays, profiles, and some wonderfully wistful travel writings. The book is divided into five parts – places, people, (the Nehru-Gandhi) dynasty, ‘Life and Death’, and ‘Fellow Travellers’.

He had me hooked from the first chapter, when I learned that Bihar was the birthplace of George Orwell! There are vivid portraits of Bombay and Calcutta in the late 80s, but it is the tales of Serampur and McCluskiegunge (not to forget this chapter’s superb title) that truly amaze! More

One Night in Bangkok

First published in Bangalore Mirror

If you’re looking for a travel post, stop! ONIB is the name of a Bar & Grill in Indiranagar, run by the folks behind Plan B and Mother Cluckers. Reaching Indiranagar 12th Main is only marginally easier than getting to Bangkok, so we wanted to make sure that our trip wouldn’t be wasted, and tried to reserve a table. But that, we were told, wasn’t possible. Visa on arrival, just like Thailand! Street parking it is, all the very best!

A sliding door and a thick black curtain lead you into a relatively small seating area, though they have used the space really well. At 7.30, we had the place pretty much all to ourselves. That meant we could really look around, after adjusting to the darkness, at what’s being positioned as India’s first Thai dive bar. The Buddha statuettes, the Muay Thai wall painting and the menu itself easily take care of the Thai part, but I think the place is a dive bar more in spirit than in actuality, judging by the prices and the décor. The bar stands out like a beacon of hope in the otherwise dim lit ambiance. Despite mostly high seating – wooden chairs – the place somehow manages to give out a plush feel. The stylish dinginess, together with the DJ’s groovy playlist based on 80s music ensures that the place has the potential to become a favoured neighbourhood joint, probably for a crowd older than the standard pub/lounge set.

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The Black Rabbit

Am I the only one who finds it funny that Sunny has been replaced by a bunny in Indiranagar? Anyway, The Black Rabbit has been open for a while now, (map) and getting good reviews from all who had visited. That seemed a good enough carrot for us to ferry ourselves away from Koramangala’s ever growing dining options. They have valet parking, or you could just park on the lane parallel to 100 feet Road. They don’t take reservations during the weekend. Tables are easy to find around 7, but an hour later, you might have to wait.

They have a pleasant outdoor sitting area, and after a little tour to take a look at the options inside, (a couple of floors) we figured we liked the outside just a little more. Thankfully there weren’t any smokers around either. There’s a fairly comprehensive liquor menu with a few house cocktails thrown in as well. We chose the Currylicious and the Cuba Libre. The first had gin, sweet & sour mix, and just the right amount of curry leaves to give it that extra zing. The latter was a refreshing mix of light rum, cola and lime juice.

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Mother Cluckers

12th Main Indiranagar now rivals Koramangala in terms of cuisine diversity! Mother Cluckers belongs to the Plan B family and pretty much rules the roost in terms of popularity in the area. (map) I was told that finding a table among the dozen options available would be near impossible. But we were early cluckers and got a spot, near the ‘hippie entrance’. In about half an hour, the place was packed. Not surprising, since it’s not a really large space. In case you don’t get lucky, take your drink and spend some time in the smoking zone beside the entrance. They have made the most of the space – rustic brick walls adorned with plaques and posters that sum up the commitment to clucking good food. The glasses, tissues and even the menu show the lineage quite clearly – Plan B. The dim lighting (though they have done a fantastic job of ensuring tables are well lit) and a general informal ambiance and decor make it a perfect spot to unwind in the evening. That’s despite the mildly uncomfortable wooden park bench seating. The music went everywhere from ‘Walk of Life’ to ‘Summertime Sadness’, and the decibel levels don’t really encourage a lot of clucking.

One gigantic menu, one side of which is occupied by solids, and the other by liquids. The focus is clearly on bites that can go with drinks, which does make eminent sense given the place’ intent. We decided to test out the standard stuff before the specials. The Long Island, despite not skimping in alcohol, fell rather flat. The Caipirovska didn’t have as many illustrious ingredients, but was a much better drink – smooth and refreshing. The obvious choice for me, from the house specials, was Chutney Mary – a mix of vodka, guava juice, and spices. I suspect the ‘spices’ were chaat masala, but the drink is fantastic, if you’re the kind who doesn’t mind the drink being ‘hot’. Also, it does set the tone for the food. From “The Clucker’s Arsenal”, we asked for the Fiery Clucker, boneless chicken, grilled and marinated. Tasty enough, but surprisingly, despite the name, it turned out to be relatively less spicy than the other starters we tried. The Chilli Fried Pork, on the other hand, did live up to its name, and is only for those who can handle the heat! The Beef Chili Cheese Fries occupied the middle ground, with the cheese tempering the spiciness of the beef. The bacon with sausage, was exactly like all things that have bacon – great! The crunchy prawns were true to the name, and though the batter was bland, the mildly pungent dip made up for it. It was also a good respite from the spice assault! This is not really the best place for herbivores, but the Stuffed Mushrooms are totally worth a try, thanks to the delicious cheese and spinach stuffing.

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The mains options consist of burgers and a reasonable selection of other dishes. We started with the Pandi Burger, probably the most unique one in the list. Instead of the patty, there’s spicy Coorg pork, with a zesty tang to it. They have a crab burger as well, in case you prefer a sea adventure. The Smoked Spare Ribs is another dish that stands out from among the spice crowd! The marinade is sweet and only mildly spicy, with well cooked meat. Yet again, there was a pleasant veg surprise, this time in the form of Baked Eggplant, with a healthy dose of cheese and a tasty sauce.

The menu doesn’t display desserts, so we had given up hope, until one of us noticed the board outside with four options! We chose the Banoffee pie and a Chocolate cheesecake. It’s counterintuitive to go to a pub for desserts, but you’d be forgiven in this case. Spectacular stuff and a sweet mother clucking end to a meal!

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A meal for two would cost around Rs.1500 (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) – a couple of cocktails, a non veg starter, a main course dish and a dessert. There are only two things that can bring tears to your eyes – your preference for veg dishes (if any), and the spice levels in pretty much all the dishes. If you’re fine with that, and a hoarse voice that comes from shouting over the music, you’ll completely enjoy the place. The place is built for carnivores who enjoy their drinks. The rest of the world would unfortunately have to go cluck itself.

Mother Cluckers Bar, 957, 12th Main, HAL 2nd Stage, Indiranagar Ph: 9886092625

Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

Devdutt Pattanaik 

I consider myself more well-versed with the Mahabharata than the average person, because of my interest in Hindu mythology and the amount of reading I’ve done on the subject. But I’m really glad I read this, not just because of the small details I learned about (I counted 6 things I hadn’t known about – Sahadeva’s precognition gained by eating Pandu’s flesh, Draupadi cursing dogs to copulate in public for stealing Yudhishtira’s slippers, Vibhishana being present at Draupadi’s swayamwar, a couple of stories on why Krishna stepped in to protect Draupadi when Dusshasana tried to disrobe her, why Shakuni did his best to ensure the destruction of the Kuru clan, Draupadi’s regret over Karna and at least a couple more interesting tidbits) but because of the wonderful lessons it provides. The author also mentions several variations of the tale, regional renditions and folk variations adding layers to the original story. Even as one feels the familiarity thanks to the places (which still exist) mentioned and can identify with the experiences and tribulations of the mortal characters, there is also an awe created by the elements of divinity.

The excellent illustrations and the simple yet elegant and evocative storytelling took me back to a time when I first started hearing these stories – childhood. So vivid is the prose that one can easily create visualisations of the events. The explanation of events are done on many planes – rational, metaphysical, spiritual, bringing a lot of clarity to the complex tale. The concepts of dharma and justice are explained beautifully and even as the Pandavas grow their perspective during their exile and their pride, anger etc get tempered before and after the war, there is tremendous learning for the reader too. It is easy to understand why this is indeed considered the greatest story ever told, and continues to be relevant through ages. The original tale is epic, and so is this narration. Very highly recommended.

Jaya

Stomp

First published in Bangalore Mirror, though I had no hand in that unintentionally hilarious USP! 

I whined when I was asked to do this review, because it was in Whitefield! The Koramangala snobbery in me called it a 2D/1N package, specially thanks to traffic. But it was a good thing that I finally visited. A visit to Stomp manages to bring out both the meanings of the word. I can imagine people stomping their way (angrily) through Forum Value Mall (map) trying to find the place. They have hidden it well in a corner! But once they manage to get in, I can understand why they’d want to stomp – dance with a rhythmic stamping step.

There’s a small alfresco section, but the rest of the ambiance immediately reminded me of Richard O’Brien’s Crystal Maze – this would be the Medieval zone, with some ‘Industrial’ thanks to the large pipes. Add to this a Gothic touch, and the picture would be almost complete. Almost, because music is an integral part of the pub’s character as well. I loved the church-like stained glass ‘windows’ featuring Ozzy, Hendrix, Morrison and so on, and the quotes by famous artists that pop up at a few places. With all of that as the backdrop, we were mildly disappointed when we walked into a James Blunt song video playing on the giant screen. But that was quickly redeemed with a blast of Floyd, Dire Straits, Guns N’ Roses, The Police, Bon Jovi and videos we hadn’t seen in a long time! A hark back to the days of my youth, but as the night progressed, the playlist became younger. Avicii woke me up to the fact that I was older and Icona Pop reminded me that “You’re from the 70’s, but I’m a 90’s b***h”! The food proved to be a good distraction, and I let the non-veg mafia croon ‘Don’t you worry child’ in their own comforting way!

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The menu is mostly Indian, and even when they do stray towards Continental and Mexican, there’s an Indian touch to it. The good news is that alcohol is relatively cheap and there are some interesting cocktail options. We tried the Purple Slurple, made from cabbage juice and white rum, and the strong and frothy Whisky Lass-y. The white wine Sangria was also different from the standard, apparently using a pulpy soft orange. The complimentary Guava Martini wasn’t bad either. Solid consumption began with the Beef Chilli Fry, which was quite tasty – well cooked meat and spicy. A house special – Ghaati Chicken Sukha was up next, and it reminded us of the coastal Sukka dishes. This was our favourite non veg starter with a mildly spicy masala and finely grated coconut for texture. Baingan Burani tha, in fact it was quite good and in appearance and flavour reminiscent of chaats. The Chilli Pork was the last of the starters to arrive, and except for the animal involved, was a replica of the beef dish we’d had earlier. But we had been  warned, so I wouldn’t really complain.

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Understandably, the main course section has fewer options compared to the starters, but what was disappointing was that quite a few dishes were unavailable. All dishes are served with Indian bread/rice variations. We had to go with the Dal Gosht because the Dabba Gosht, Maamsam Koora and the Sri Lankan Beef Stir fry were not available. Unsurprisingly, this bland dish proved to be the least favourite. The Prawn Chilliajo made up for it with juicy, brilliantly cooked prawns in a delicious onion and pepper based thick gravy. The only vegetarian in the group tried to interest us in the Pesto Penne, which was quite good, though heavy, according to her, but we were preoccupied with the superb Chicken Farfalle in Makhanwala sauce – thick, flavourful and an example of a happy cuisine marriage.

There are only four dessert options and the house special wasn’t available. The Gulab Jamun turned out to be quite good, though not extraordinary. The shocker was the Shahi Tukra. Though they weren’t stingy with the milk ‘sauce’, it wasn’t really rich, but the bread was the kind that could be successfully used for interrogations. You must pray that the tooth prevails!

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For about Rs.1800, you could share a couple of cocktails, two non veg starters, a non veg main course dish and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The service is friendly, but occasionally careless. They also need to be coached on dishes. I had to wonder how many people coming to Forum Value Mall would be interested in this kind of an offering. A pity because once you find your way in, the only thing that could piss you off is the lack of a toilet – you have to use the mall’s common facilities. Despite all that, I think the combination of good food, excellent ambiance, and different and interesting meal deals through the day will help this wonderful hangout establish a stomp of authority in Whitefield’s pub scene.

Stomp, 12A, Ground Floor, Forum Value Mall, Whitefield, Ph: 080 49420000

Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River

Alice Albinia 

I am showing signs of travelogue addiction, and this is the kind of book that creates it! It’s not just the content of the book, which is marvelous and makes for a treasure trove of information, but the sheer tenacity and guts the author displays, that has made me a fan. Spanning four countries, this book is the story of the river Indus, from its source to its destination, though not in a linear way. What it succeeds in doing, like the best travelogues do, is to also allow us to travel through time, in this case, even to the time before man existed. From Hindu mythology to the Harappa civilisation to Partition and the Kargil conflict and China’s occupation of Tibet, the book is not just the story, but the history of a subcontinent (at least a part of it) and the civilisations that rose and fell.

The preface gives us an idea of the expanse of the river through its various names, given across lands and by everyone from Greek soldiers to Sufi saints.

There are nuggets everywhere right from the beginning – the comparison of the arrangements of the Quran and the Rig Veda, the integrity shown by a citizen in the early days of Pakistan’s formation, a modern day citizen blaming Jinnah for the country’s authoritarian culture, a nation’s search for identity, and the vision of its founder, who was only human. The first chapter ‘Ramzan in Karachi’ is a book in itself, and this can be said of all the chapters! ‘Conquering the classic river’ is a slice of the Company’s India exploits, ‘Ethiopia’s first fruit’ shows the amazing ‘presence’ of Africa in the subcontinent’s history and present, and the facets of their absorption into the mainstream. ‘River Saints’ is about Sufism and its modern day remnants who are not beyond politics, religious conflicts and feudalism.

‘Up the Khyber’ is about the exploits of Mahmud of Ghazni, the sexual preferences in the frontier province, and the beginning of the author’s more difficult challenges as she zigs and zags through Taliban and smuggler territory. ‘Buddha on the Silk Road’ is an awesome chapter on the meeting of 3 great religions – Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism and how they influence each other in the area, down to the destruction of the ancient Bamiyan statues more recently. In ‘Alexander at the outer ocean’, the author stubbornly walks, despite very serious hardships, the route that the Sikunder-e-azam took. ‘Indra’s Beverage’ takes us back to Rig Veda times, the Aryans and ancient Stonehenge like relics that survive to this day, along with the Kalash tribe, which follows a religion that goes back beyond Hinduism. Some areas, as the vivid prose describes them, seem to exist the same way they did in Rig Vedic times. The incredibly advanced Harappa civilisation is showcased in ‘Alluvial Cities’, though the reason for their fall is still contested. Kashmir’s archaeological treasures are the focus in ‘Huntress of the lithic’ and it’s interesting to see how the same ‘painting’ has been reinterpreted across time by various people to suit their needs. In the final chapter, the author captures the startling contrast of man’s attempts to conquer nature and at the other end of the scale, his ever decreasing ability to live in harmony. This chapter is also a testament to her commitment to the book, and the mentions of Kailash and the possibilities of Meru were extremely interesting to someone like me, who is interested in Hindu mythology. The book’s final words, which makes us wonder how long the river which spawned civilisations will be around, is a melancholic gaze into the future.

At 300 odd pages, every page of this book is packed, and there is no respite. But it’s completely worth it!

Kanua

Kanua has been on our radar for a long while now, and D had loudly voiced her protests when I finally managed a visit with my office friends crowd. So, on a weekend when she had a craving for seafood, this automatically became our destination. Kanua is easy to miss if you do not know exactly where it exists. This map is accurate, but since the restaurant is on the top floor, it is not easily visible from the road. Parking is usually not a problem.

The decor has lots of elements that collectively give a feel that you’re at a traditional coastal residence. We chose a small two-seater that also gave us a good view of distant lights. The overall ambiance is fantastic and they have Karunesh and the likes playing at a moderate volume so you can have a conversation and listen to some soothing music as well. It’s probably because of the distance from the main road that at some points you can feel a silence, notwithstanding noisy kids. :)

We began with the Paanak, which was the most unique (non alcoholic) drink we saw on the menu. I think they serve wine – have had that on my last trip – though we were not given a menu. A herbal cooler – sweet, sour and spicy is what was promised, and the ginger based drink delivered on everything except sour. From the starters section, we asked for the Zalke Naked Masala – the Anjal (seer) version. The spicy masala was finger lickin’ good as promised.

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It was around this time that we figured out that the stamps on the menu weren’t for decoration! Duh! Also a good time to note that the menu is a fantastic job in terms of presentation. We were a little spoiled for choice, but decided to try out a Zalke Randhei and a Gawnche Chicken Curry with Oondies and Paanpole to go with them. The first is a fish curry with a red coconut based gravy, but it wasn’t thick as promised and I got an overdose of what I thought was turmeric, but it could have been saffron as well. D thinks it was mustard! We preferred the chicken dish with its ground peanut – based thick gravy! The Oondies – six in a plate – (seasoned steamed rice dumplings) were fantastic, and so were the exactly-right-moist and soft paanpoles. We also wanted to try the Khotto but they weren’t available. So we turned out to the dependable sannas and thankfully they were great too – fluffy and soft and a perfect combo with the chicken curry. Dessert was chosen after grueling rounds of elimination. The Raagi Manni was a raagi based version of a souffle and reminded us of the ada pradhaman Kerala payasam.  I’ve had the chocolate mousse earlier, and it is fantastic.

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All of the above came to just less than Rs.2000. I really love the serene ambiance, and since the menu offers scope for more experimentation, we’ll definitely be back.

Kanua, No.1,Survey No.6/2,Kasavanhalli, (off) Sarjapur Main Road. Ph: 65374471/2