(Originally written a week ago. So parts of the post may suddenly leap out at you with uncanny chronological frivolousness. Deftly side-step with a "Bah!! Die you content belittling demon of chornological accuracy!!!" and the post should read fine...)
Monday morning and the commotion outside the window reveals no respite from the showers. The TV dissapoints and the day starts off on a wrong note with the paper guy dropping off the wrong paper. A quick group SMS confirms we need to work out of home today and that means another day of iffy dial-up connections and boring hours spent over powerpoint presentations but without the comforting presence of broadband, raaga.com and the coffee machine. We still have not got a gas connection even after a month of applying. But why bore you with the sob stories of life in our corner of Wadala. Rather let us go back to my reminiscences of my life gastronomique.
My first job was one not amenable to too many culinary escapades. Long hours in the plant and a house in a corner of an industrial estate meant most meals were called in from Dominoes or Pizza Corner. Most of the time I was delivered depressing pizza and soft drink that had spent eons in the battered delivery scooter. By the time it reached my doorstep both pizza and coke had achieved an even equal lukewarm temperature. The meal was a constant struggle with pizza crust that can only be described as vulcanized. Finally after a few weeks my teeth could take it no more and I frequently made the bus trip to Ganga Sweets at Anna Nagar West. They made the most irremarkable "chat items" as they call it down south and insanely sweet Ras Malai which had so much colouring in it that the only thing that lasted longer than the after taste was the stain on ones shirt if you dropped it. Everyone told me to try out the Saravana Bhavan across the road. But just one visit to that Chennai phenomenon and I pledged never to go there again. Apparently their waiters were trained in the Idi Amin school of cheerful customer service inclusive of the thumb-in-tea, dosa-end-on-table and other age-old customer delight classics. And of course the relaxed dining atmosphere where you could lounge in your chairs after dinner for upto 15 whole nanoseconds. In the AC upper class they allowed a luxurious full minute of relaxation before you were asked to leave. With a flick of brown-green dust cloth. Sheer luxury.
Chennai was also where I discovered the joys of the Punjabi Dhaba Concept restaurant. There was one at Anna Nagar circle and a very popular one at Cenotaph road. More than anything else I remember the Amritsari Kulchas and the Lassis. But sometimes they took the decor to ridiculous lenghts. Even the most moist and tender morsels of Tandoori Chicken are difficult to savour when the ropes of mock charpoy bite into your moist and tender backside. But the lassis were amazing. The steel glasses were 3 feet tall and you wonder how all of it fit into one person. Especially the exquisite beauties who frequented these joints. The ambience was excellent. But my butt still hurt.
In my second year in Chennai I developed this thing for mocktails and sandwiches. So much so I signed up for something called a Masti Card you got from Musicworld I think just so I could get the 15% discount at a nice little eatery opposite the New Woodlands Hotel. Many many are the evenings I have spent there over baked beans and mushroom sandwiches, milk shakes and ice creams. The last football world cup saw me spend many evenings perched on orange chairs looking up at the TV on the top right hand corner. One memorable evening I watched the match with a bunch of non-english speaking oriental looking types watching Japan Vs. Morocco I think. I was rooting for Japan and grabbed a chair right in the middle of this big bunch of oriental soccer fans. I learnt some memorable lessons that day. Including the fact that Morocco has some very oriental looking fans. By half time I had quickly scooted out with a baby corn and peas sandwich safely in a plastic bag.
Then happened the Cafe craze that to this day significantly hits my bottom line. In both ways. While the caffeine addiction hit an all-time high in Ahmedabad the flavorful foundations were set in place at the Cafe Coffee Day a few paces down from Anna Nagar Circle. (Yes I noticed I havent seen much of Chennai besides Anna Nagar have I?) It is some indication of my pulsating social life in Chennai that I used to spend over 8 hours at a stretch sitting in the cafe reading, thinking and trying to do crosswords. I used to know the guys who worked by their first names and some weekends they played some of my mp3 CDs. I was a lonely man with only a Tropical Iceberg and Penthouse Letters for company. Which meant my next career move was a no-brainer. Coffee + Porn = MBA.
Ahmedabad has to be world's number one restaurant city. There are restaurants everywhere. I mean everywhere. It is the home of authentic vegetarian American, Mexican and Italian food. Amdavadis were never bored or lazy. No my dear reader if an Amdavadi had ten minutes to spare he opened a restaurant. If he was on transit from Chicago to Baroda and had a stopover in Amdavad for two hours, he rushed out of the terminal, opened a Thali joint made a couple of crores and checked in. That was how crazy eating out was in Ahmedabad. And only one thing was crazier than the number of restaurants. The number of people who wanted to eat in them. Weekend meant that hordes of families descended onto the eateries and cafes of the city and let loose orgies of, among other things, Pakwan Thalis, Paneer and Havmor Icecream. The good non-vegetarian places were few and far between and Saturday nights usually meant feasting on the biriyanis at Four Foods, the mandatory mallu eating place, or Tomoatoes, the mandatory over-priced American decor place.
Four Foods was where Amdavadi mallus celebrated any occassion with chicken, mutton and fish. Since good non-veg was tough to come by, these occassions were frequent and included such age-old auspicious events like the Sunday after Onam, all four days before Onam and all non-even days of the month. But honestly the food was not that great. But parochial spirit clouded our taste buds, and that and the Mohanlal songs on the stereo meant every morsel took me back home to Abu Dhabi... err... Thrissur.
"Tomatoes" is nothing short of a phenomenon in Ahmedabad and one of my fave ROML. The decor was severly Yankee-influenced and if it wasn't for the prohibition rules it would easily make one of the pubs that are all the rage for a few years and then slide away into oblivion. But their menu was interesting and they made a decadent Tiramsu shake that went straight from glass to artery lining in two or four mouthfulls. The crowning glory of the "Tomatoes" menu was the non-veg tandoor platter. It is to be seen to be believed and I will refrain from describing it so as to not disturb my vegetarian mostly celibate friends. Of course my veggie friends dabbled in such things like Cheese Tacos and grilled paneer and things like that. But even they gasped when a tandoor platter made its appearance and secretly wished they were never born Iyer. With a sad shrug they then quickly munched down on a piece of lifeless unemotional unpoetic babycorn.
Ah the Cafes. Hours I tell you. Hours were spend sipping brew and munching on cling-wrapped sandwiches lounging around on the orange sofas. There was a big bunch of us and few were the days when we were not at a nearby Barista or Coffee Day outlet sharing jokes and some excellent coffees. Or maybe the company just made us think the coffee was good. Soon we knew very cool facts like that the Barista at Vijay Char Rasta never had ice, or that the Coffee Day at Passport office always had less food than the one at Orchid building. As you can see even in the midst of so many people we were all individually porn-reading coffee-drinking anti-socials. Sometime in second year though our simple coffee drinking adventures were complicated by the arrival of Cafe Mocha in Ahmedabad. Cafe Mocha is to Coffee Day what Pamela Anderson is to Mamta Kulkarni. Infinitely better quality but still big big portions. We lounged more, drank coffee more, and went back to buying less toothpaste and soap to afford it. But Ahmedabad will be Ahmedabad and soon there was a waiting list of around 4 million people on the weekends. I miss Cafe Mocha though. I miss the coffees, the deserts and the awesome floor couches. And of course the celebrities. Once we saw Parthiv Patel there. He walked in, was served a cup of coffee and then promptly dropped it on the floor. As always happens to poor Parthiv it had bounced off a rough patch and was entirely not his fault
Sob. The cafes of Ahmedabad evoke many a nostalgic memory. Thankfully we were all shipped off to our respective workplaces and with the emergence of the salary and credit cards I embarked on an ongoing journey of culinary discovery… But Mumbai and its restaurants deserve a whole blog to itself…
Till then… sleep, work and eat well while I whip up a little post on Bade Miya et al...