Unusual Occupations

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mavalli Tiffin rooms

More famously known by its abbreviated form MTR is synonymous with the garden city and it old world charms. 
A 100 meters from the Lalbagh botanical park, it is certainly not the fine dining place you would take an ‘unindianized’ visitor to.
Or so I thought. 

My brunch today was with a dozen or so fellow walkers from USA, Germany, France & Romania at MTR after an amazing ‘Green Heritage walk’ just across the road at the Lalbagh botanical gardens.  

More about the walk in yet another blog, for the heritage and history of MTR is itself worth a blog.

There were no forks and knives, just the spoons and some paper napkins since the visiting were not used to 'hand wash'. 
The fanfare served for the brunch was MTR’s signature dish – the Rava idli, a Masala Dosa and a Plain Dosa with generous helpings of ghee. 

This was preceded by a Bangalore grape juice and followed by the Chandrahara a sweet from Karnataka and summed up by the south Indian filter coffee served in Real Silver tumblers. ( A privilege exclusively reserved for the Bangalore walks customers)

A motley mix of curious tourists, software professionals from all over the world overseeing the work get ‘Bangalored’ and a couple of new age bangaloreans like me were out discussing the prevalence of
‘ Arranged marriages’ and the relevance of ‘caste system’ trying to demystify present day India over a sumptuous Brunch at MTR.

The Bangalore around it has transformed and come a long way since MTR was established in 1935.
And yet the Mavalli Tiffin rooms in Lalbagh remain unchanged over the years. 

That would not be a fair statement to make.  There are a few changes since the last time I came here over 12 years ago. The silver cutlery in which the feast was served is now replaced by the stainless steel. Apparently as the cost of the precious metal made a steep rise northwards, many pieces of the silver cutlery started disappearing for they were worth far more than the meal that was being served on them. 

The traditionally dressed waiter with a red turban and dhoti has disappeared and had given way to the uniformed boys. The meal is a set meal unlike in earlier times when you expereinced a slice of traditional indian hospitality where the helpings were heaped upon until even if you helplessly protested worrying about the gastronomic overload and its after effects on your digestive system.      
Over years the crowds still throng and wait outside for an average of about 30 mts on weekends and slightly lesser over weekdays to be called upon by the efficient staff for their meal of the day.
MTR takes no reservations. Online or otherwise. You book your table by presenting yourself in flesh and blood  and are given your wait time in minutes before being ushered for your standard meal of the day through a mirage of small 'Tiffin' rooms with simple granite tables and plastic chairs. 
No compromises there.
What makes the meal special is possibly the wait time. For without it a long drive to the tiny, ambienceless MTR is not worth it.  
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
When you set foot into MTR,it just makes sense to set aside all western notions of high calorie food and stop worrying about hygiene concerns and healthy diet and enjoy the experience.   

Calorie laden ghee ( clarified butter) is a part of every preparation and is also served as an accompaniment with brunch and lunch. 

A blog on MTR is incomplete without the mention of their Rava idli. When world war II broke out, India went through its worst famine. All the rice production was exported for the soldiers of British army fighting the wars in faraway lands in  Singapore, Burma (now Myanmar) and other far east countries.
At a time when all home grown rice was getting exported, MTR invented ‘Rava idli’ a dish made of grounded wheat fermented with yogurt, and mixed with appropriate spices like coriander and cumin seeds. Richly garnished with peanuts and cashew nuts they make for a tasty breakfast substituting the traditional idly made with ground rice and lentils.

More than half a century later MTR’s readymade 'rava idli mix' is now famous with the Indian diaspora that lives way above and below the equator in colder climates where fermenting the rice and lentil batter is a time consuming and frustrating task owing to the lack of heat and sunshine.

MTR over the years retains its ambience (or the lack of it) and refuses to adapt to the more hip and flashy culture that is prevalent in the city that has grown around it. Its brand popularity and repeat customers have earned it a reputation that could have easily allowed MTR to move up the value chain in a city that is plush with new found wealth and heaps of disposable income. 

Other MTR restaurants do have presence in upmarket malls and eating joints across Bangalore. However the original Mavalli Tiffin room in Lalbagh still offers the same value for money food in the same ambience for possibly a much wider range of curious customers from all over the world who arguably cannot stop raving and ranting about the experience.  

Here was a sample that expreimented eating Masala dosa without a fork and a knife. .     

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tick tock tick tock chimes my cuckoo clock

I am not the one given to splurging and impulsive buying. 
But today was an exception.
I saw this grandfather’s clock and fell in love with it.

Like Laila (Katrina Kaif) would have said in ZNMD ‘Mujhe afsos karna nahi aata’, I went back, said to myself WTH and paid for this one.  

Grandfather clock gets delivered tomorrow.

I have now begun to wonder if my lovely little cuckoo clock will feel intimidated and neglected with the arrival of this Big ben of B-102. I just realized that he will be competing with her to chime in every half hour.

Now; that was not a sceanrio I thought about when I gave in to my temptations this evening at the antique exhibition.

The cuckoo clock came into my life on a similar surge of temptation about six years ago.

I was on this solo - soul searching trip to Europe with a bunch of strangers that I never cared to befriend.  It was a  warm summer afternoon at  Munich’s central Marienplatz square where I watched the Glockenspiel – chime and dance to the tunes for the royal wedding and the ritualistic dance at the stroke of midday.       

I fell in love with the charm of the old world mechanical clocks and the art and science that goes behind creating them.  

That evening  the tour took us through the meandering Rhine valley along the black forest to this quaint village called St Goar  where according to my tour guide , was the place where the original cuckoo clocks were made by families  that had the craftsmanship passed on to them generation after generation.     
At the cuckoo clock shop in St. Goar  were clocks big and small, grand and understated. Each clock spoke of delicate craftsmanship and the pride and passion that goes behind creating these simple works of mechanics with such precision and beauty. 

I just knew, I wanted one of them .  

On a shoe string budget Europe trip, this was certainly not the one thing I had budgeted for.

But then …   

I am not given to splurging and impulsive buying. 

But that day had to be an exception.

Years later Laila (Katrina Kaif)  would say in ZNMD ‘Mujhe afsos karna nahi aata',

 I think that is what I said to myself that warm summer evening at St. Goar in Rhine valley.

At 120 euros this was the cheapest cuckoo clock and the only one I could afford.  When I now think of it, it was steal. Although at that time it did burn a big hole in my pocket.

September 6th 2006. That was the day I got her. 
Instinct told me she would occupy a special place in my life.

I lugged her from the Rhine valley to Normandy and then to Paris and then from Calais to Dover across the English channel and all the way to London on the coach and then in the tube and then the train all the way to the house in Croydon.  
I carefully assembled her into working condition soon after my return from the Europe trip. 
She chimed for a while at our Croydon house and then fell silent. To be fair I was out in India for six months and decided to pack her up since I would not be able to wind her up every week to keep her chiming. 

Then we shifted houses. Considering she was not given to harsh handling (Oh-so-much-like-me), she stopped chiming when I reassmbled her at the hounslow apartment although she always showed the right time and was hung right in the middle of the entrance of the apartment.

With a three year warranty still running, I could have taken her back to St. Goar in the  Rhine valley , to the cuckoo clock shop where she could have been  mended.

She badly needed the mending, but so did my spirits. 

I did not do anything about either of them. 

Perhaps reflective of my own spirits she was never really unpacked  when we shifted houses once again, this time to Egham.  
One never gives up hope. I lugged her back to India when I decided to relocate to Bangalore. I made a special trip just for her and made sure I checked her in as a hand baggage. She was too delicate to be handled in a check in baggage even if it was marked fragile.

She got the much needed mending at an upmarket cuckoo clock specialist in Indira nagar in Bangalore.
Once again, reflective of my own spirits, she started chiming again and has been doing a great job adorning the center stage of my drawing room. The Cuckoo chimes reverberate all over the house.
Her cuckoo chimes have given me company through many a sleepless nights in the past and also give me company when I sleep  like a baby, only to faintly hear her chime away a seven or perhaps even an eight in the mornings, starkly reminding me to get out of bed , strut my butt and begin the day.        
For the last two and a half years she has kept me company chiming happily and  unfailingly.

My darling cuckoo clock, the grandfather clock is not here to intimidate you. He will be here to give you company. I am sure you will complement each other
 You and I, have been on a long journey together.  And you will always remain the special one.        


Saturday, August 04, 2012

Pista house Hyderabadi Haleem

'Aiyo shiva shiva !!! HALEEM ...aa . Non-veg theriyuma,  Aattu kaal soup' ... shrieked out amma, when I called her from Hyderabad airport to let her know I was packing some Pista house haleem for dinner.
It came ot me as a surprise that Haleem by itself could be a familiar recollection in a Tam bram household. Atleast I had not heard of it before.
 No, not really this is the vegetarian version,’ I pleaded over the phone, cautiously adding that I had it yesterday for dinner and it was delicious.
She sounded upset over her wayward daughter going astray eating non-vegetarian food and god alone knows what else and would not have any of it at home. She said there was no way she would take a chance and declared the war against Haleem.  Vegetarian or otherwise.

Not expecting such a ferocious reaction, I had already lugged three packed boxes of vegetarian Haleem in my checked in baggage with the hope that I would convert my folks at home into relishing something different. No luck. Such are the ways with my folks. More about them in another blog.  

  Vegetarian uh - you are missing out on real Haleem,  rich with mutton and ghee’, pitied friends who apparently seem to have tasted the better variant.
 I always hear similar judgements drawn upon me everytime I dig into a vegetarian version of Hyderabadi  biriyani.
I have rather become immuned to all this. The vegetarian in me has refused to budge and for all rightful reasons.  There is so much variety in the vegetarian world to relish, so why bother killing animals.

When the customer is ready the product shall appear .. as the almost familiar saying goes.
In 2010, Pista house, known for having patented the Hyderabadi Haleem bowed into popular pressure from the Hindu friends who would’nt eat meat in the months of Shravan . Shravan month would coincide with Ramzan in the following years and that would leave  many Hindu customers  out of bounds from tasting haleem. And thus out of good business sense and innovation,  the vegetarian version of Hyderabadi haleem  was born.   

Pista house at Charminar - the place from where Haleem is exported all over
The Haleem was oozing out ghee which would have normally sent me scurrying for a weighing machine if not for an angiogram. The lactose intolerant me, was almost beginning to regret having ordered under influence of peer pressure.  Not wanting to be a spoil sport I dug into what was a container oozing with ghee and a semi solid syrupy dish. 

Spiced mildly and flavoured well, you can tell when a dish has soul in it.  Cooked for 12 hours in slow wood fired containers, only the purest of ghee and spices are used for the cooking of  Pista House Haleem. I can tell when a food contains transfats or artificial preservatives. Pista house Haleem passed the test in flying colours. 

And thus the Pista house (vegetarian version ) haleem won me over.  It did not feel the least bit heavy and it was delicious . More importantly it was nutritious and wholesome.

I am told the vegetarian version is available in Hyderabad alone and in limited quantities. 
I think it should gain more acceptance. Some purists feel that Haleem should he had only during Ramzan.  Making it available on other months takes away the anticipation and nostalgia associated with it.
I rest the case, so be it.

Just make the vegetarian version more widely available .  You have a brand ambassador in here.

P.S : For all the lugging around in checked in baggage i was left to myself to polish off all the three boxes of Pista house Haleem. To be very honest, the refrigerated version does not taste as good as the original one served hot.  Not sure if it is the Refrigerator or the Microwave or both that kill the taste.

Lesson learnt in inclusivity and diversity

Boarded the metro at Baiyappanahalli  this afternoon. As the train approached the station, was pleasantly surprised to discover that the driver on duty was a young  (and pretty) woman.
Made a mental note to Google it up.
A google search on ‘Namma Metro drivers’ and here is what it threw up.

Picture courtesy – Hindustan times
Turns out that there are atleast two of them ( Priyanka and Rashmi) if not more.
Way to Go …Namma Metro. 
There are lessons to learn in diversity and inclusivity for us in the corporates to emulate.