The Fat of The Land

Processed versus fresh foods
As food prices escalate across India and the cost of 250 grams of the most common vegetable ranges between 20 and 60 rupees, the weekly basket of fresh fruit and vegetables for a family of four weighs less and less. Till ten years ago most people in India subsisted mainly on fresh food and whole grains and no one was overweight, in fact the average person was thin by international standards and not because of malnutrition.

Now that fast food and processed food is available cheaper than fresh food many among us choose these alternatives on a daily basis.This is both for reasons of cost and convenience but also because in India there is a strange perception that processed foods are better for us- which is why people both rich and poor are turning to them.

Processed foods are filling our grocery store shelves. Instant foods, readymade sauces, packaged meals are slowly reducing the space given to fresh produce. These are so attractively presented many people think they are better both nutritionally and taste wise than food produced at home. As consumers we should become more aware of what exactly is in those packaged and processed foods, or the fast food so readily available everywhere in urban areas.

The list is distinctly unappetizing: Anti Caking agents to make flours, salts and powders flow, bulking agents to increase the quantity of foods, food colouring to make food look more attractive, emulsifiers to keep oil and water mixed, acidity regulators, glazing agents to add shine, humectants to keep food moist, sweeteners, tracer gas to protect packaged foods, stabilizers and preservatives among several others much to increase shelf life and reduce chances of spoiling.

And strangely enough the worse we eat the fatter we become. “According to a report from urban South India, 21.4 % of boys and 18.5% of girls aged 13-18 years were overweight or obese .The prevalence of obesity among school children in India has been reported between 5.74% and 8.82% “ Qazi Iqbal Ahmad - Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 2010 Part of it is due to lack of exercise . Part of it due to the food choices made by parents today.

We are surrounded by obese people, many of them young, who weigh up the costs of food in a very short term light. “Why should I buy expensive vegetables and fruit, spend time cooking and preparing a meal when I can get a Burger for less”. A stomach can be filled with anything edible and few young people think about the value of ingredients when taste can be manipulated with all kinds of unhealthy additives.

The reason why these processed foods have been so willingly embraced is a kind of food snobbery. The poor, who fed themselves on Jowar and Ragi imagined that wheat and white flour was better because these refined foods were consumed by the rich. Even today the household help will turn up her nose on chapathis to eat white bread. Perhaps it is the taste factor but that is doubtful. Who can deny the greater flavor that Jowar and Ragi have? These also take longer to digest and the stomach feels satisfied for longer. White flour, while quicker to digest, needs to be eaten in greater quantities and so there is an increased intake of starch and sugar while roughage and nutrients have been stripped by refining. Many processed foods are empty of natural nutrients and these have to be added . 

Obesity is only one reason to avoid processed and fast food. We just have to turn our eyes westward to observe the long term effects of this kind of diet . The US has a huge health industry dealing with those effects.

Without any doubt they are bad for our health. While many processed foods claim to reduce cholesterol, glucose levels or weight by cutting out the offending ingredient we know there is no particular food which can be treated like poison. At different times accusing fingers have been pointed at fat, gluten or sugar and foods have been processed to remove the particular poison. So we have low fat milk, sugar free ice cream and sodium free etc. In fact it has been proved that high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease are just a few of the problems exacerbated by these processed foods.

It would be wonderful if simple facts about food, health and nutrition could be taught in our schools. Young mothers also need to be taught to make the right choices for their families. I find it strange that we really need this education when many of those facts were self evident in not too distant memory ,when the average Indian’s plate held mainly vegetables and whole grains appetizingly and simply prepared .

The government would do consumers a service by preventing the import and sale of processed foods and spend more on the infrastructure required to distribute fresh food and grain rather than investing more and more in the processed food industry.

We could save a generation of young people who might otherwise look forward to a life of odd diets and disease.


Sunday Carvery at Royal Haathi Mahal, Cavelossim, South Goa

Goa is about sun, sea, food and  fun. Several trips made  over the years have made the cultural and historical sights and sounds of Goa so familiar that we no longer feel the need to do the touristy thing and visit those places again, wonderful as they are.( Old Goa, Tambdi Surla, Fort Tiracol, Divar) .

We do what every one else does....relax and think about the next meal.

Finding a good meal in Goa isn't as easy as it sounds. Beach shacks serve up a pretty standard menu and after a couple of days one starts getting nitpicky about the size of the prawns  in the curry rice. While its necessary to taste the local food when on holiday, two weeks of any one cuisine can get a trifle boring.And  in these days of choice it is not necessary to exclude all other options as chefs in Goa get better and better at producing other cuisines--Italian, Mexican, Burmese, French ..besides Indian regional food be it Kashmiri or Bengali, its all available in Goa. 


One of the best dinners we had was on a Sunday at Attwoods Bar in Haathi Mahal, close to Cavelossim Beach. Good old British Pub food but then a mite better than you get in Blighty.IMG_5362

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Roast chicken , beef and pork, all perfectly cooked, accompanied by roast potatoes, carrots,  cauliflower cheese, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings.

 

IMG_5360The ingredients are sourced and their cooking supervised by Jeremy Westcott, who once ran pubs and hotels in Somerset. As a result you get custard of a perfect consistency, Yorkshire pud, crisp but not dry, and sauces the likes of which I haven't tasted outside of the British Isles.

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The apple pies are made in a light and crumbly pastry not the stodge one is generally served . Jeremy also makes the outstanding sausages on site at the Haathi Mahal . His genial  presence is a big plus to the otherwise fairly sleepy resort and he has crafted a menu to remember. 

IMG_5354Attwoods bar is a bit of a throwback, in style and decor, to the ubiquitous corner pub in every British town. Its low ceilings with exposed timber, beer barrels and dart board all add to the theme. The name of the bar is a touching tribute to a former manager of the resort by the owner and, except for the large portrait of the India hating, racist Winston Churchill which is quite  inappropriate here, manages to be a cosy place.

The Carvery is a right royal feast , with unlimited portions of everything on offer and highly recommended to those craving a change from red chillies and rice. 

 Every Sunday  from 7.30 pm . An amazing Rs 750 per person inclusive of taxes.

 

At Haathi Mahal.

Cavelossim, Mobor, Salcette, Goa 403731

Phone:0832 672 5300
 
 

Brooklyn Shuffle - Restaurants In Pune

Situated in the up market Koregaon Park area, Brooklyn Shuffle Diner is fortunate in its location. It is part of the lovely “Sanskruti” complex on the seventh lane, set amongst three old style bungalows and a large and pretty garden. The restaurant is welcoming and attractive. A large parking lot adds to the appeal considering the space crunch in Pune and the ever looming threat of “traffic police” trawling quiet roads, ready to haul off your car, never to be seen again.

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The décor is eclectic. Red and blue rexine covered sofas and black and white checkerboard tiled floors, reminiscent of a 50’s American diner, is mixed with white brick walls decorated with baseball bats and mitts and a large picture of Billie Holliday. A cheerful outdoor seating area comprising of what looks like a reading room is interspersed with details like a vintage Leica camera and other references to the era.

It is all very hipster and smart yet comfortable and pleasant at the same time. The clientele seems to match. A modelling photo shoot is in progress as we seat ourselves in the large, high ceilinged room overlooking the gardens.

The menu

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Burgers, Subs and sandwiches are the main attraction on the menu. Grilled corn, potato wedges, Spanish omelette, chicken nuggets and fish fingers, those olde familiar favourites form the opening section. Some interesting Burgers listed are with combinations such as mushroom and brown rice, paneer and oats , a Moroccan chicken burger and a lamb burger marinated in cumin and spice and served with feta cheese and yogurt. Among the subs the Vietnamese Banh Mi style chicken sub and the Prawns Po’ Boy sub sounds mouthwatering with deep fried maize battered prawns in a remoulade sauce nestled in a soft roll.

The sandwiches

The sandwich menu has 11 classic choices. Vegetarians can choose from Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, the Roast Pepper and Bocconcini , the Three Cheese Toast or the Veg Brooklyn Club . Non vegetarians have a larger choice- familiars like Roast beef, Egg and chicken, Turkey, Ham and Cheese amongst others.

My companions, all the way from Brooklyn, New York, U.S. of A have been here before and order their favourites, the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and Ham and Cheese. I go for the Veg Brooklyn Club . Our orders come charmingly arranged on individual wooden, painted trays, with French fries in a metal bucket, onion rings and a tossed salad on the side. The sandwiches are generously sized and we have to manouevre them into our mouths. The filling for the Club is a mixed vegetable mash made of carrots, potatoes, peas and garbanzo beans in the first layer and cucumber, onion and tomato slices in the second layer. It reminds me a bit of a cutlet filling with green chutney spread on the toasted bread. The Ham and Cheese has back bacon and a slice of cheese and is a bit dry. “It would benefit from a dash of sauce” says my fellow diner. The Pulled Pork sandwich is polished off and pronounced “good” with the caramelized onions, but “just a trifle soggy”.
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The onion rings are perfectly crisp in the Panko batter and juicy inside, the French fries outstanding and while the menu states that each order is served with coleslaw, we get a tossed salad with a few leaves of iceberg lettuce and sliced black olives and a balsamic vinegar dressing. Nothing to write home about.

Signature /vegetarian:

We are told that the most popular sandwich on the menu is the Roast Beef served with mayo and French mustard.

Provenance:

The bread is freshly baked in house, every day. Whole wheat and white for buns, rolls and sandwiches. All the other ingredients are locally procured including the cheese, ham and bacon.

Drinks:

The watermelon juice I ordered was a little thin and watery. I would have preferred a thicker more textured drink but there are not many to choose from. The menu could do with some smoothies besides the ubiquitous tea and coffee.

Insider tip:

Try the baked cheesecake for dessert. It is “Just as good as ‘Juniors’   in Brooklyn”, says my friend, who adds fervently, at the end of the meal, “If I had to take people out for lunch I would bring them here!”

Address:

390 Sanskruti Lifestyle Complex, Opposite Post 91, Lane 7, Koregaon Park, Pune 411001.Tel : 8657419724

Timings:

11.30 am- 11.30 pm

Prices:

Sandwiches between Rs 180-280. Meal for two Rs 1000

Ratings

Quality: 8

Choice: 5

Provenance: 7

Atmosphere: 9

Value: 8

Originally published in BBC Good Food, India


The Modern Myth of Superfoods

The term Superfoods entered the dictionary in the early twentieth century. In the 60’s and 70’s it was frequently used in conjunction with the word “cultural “. Cultural superfoods, by definition, were those foods which were a community’s main source of calories because of which they acquired a tremendous religious, cultural, historical and mystical hold on particular societies acquiring a semi divine significance to its people.

Often these foods, generally staples, were cultivated and ingested to the exclusion of other nutritious foods and unless supplemented with other foods , led to malnutrition in the immediate population as proved by Derrick Brian Jeliffe and his wife Eleanore Patrice, experts in the field of infant and cross cultural nutrition. Thus rice in South India, Steamed Plantain (Matoke) in Buganda, Wheat bread in Europe and  Maize in Central America, having this socio religious significance, were classified as Cultural Super foods. *1

Today the usage is somewhat different.

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Messing in Mussoorie-at the Carlton Plaisance

Finding good food during travel seems to have become as much of an adventure as deep sea diving , involving  research, exploration, and discovery, while risking little else but cash and intestinal well being.

Which is why anyone and everyone, those with taste buds and those without, are on the same adventure trail, exclaiming about every meal  on SMS, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Enthusiasm is generally in direct proportion to the amount paid for such detection. The vada pau rarely gets the same flowery praise as the French croquette especially if said croquette is served in "French owned" restaurant , even though it might be equally deep fried to death.

The question is ...what is so pioneering  about  "discovering" a fancy restaurant, one which is heavily advertised and has million of reviews to back up claims of excellence? The real taste revelation is more and more to be found in peoples homes ,where food is prepared with care, and sometimes even better, with love.

So how do you find this on your travels? In India where relatives abound, it isn't as difficult as in other countries, though the tradition of asking people over to a meal is slowly fading and  becoming a thing of the past. You might be still be lucky. Mostly it is serendipity . You are mysteriously drawn to places and people which promise the palate surprise, comfort and delight.

Such fortunate happenstance occurred when we plumped to stay at the Carlton Plaisance in Mussoorie recently. I say 'plumped' because, with just a little  scouting online, I found the site "still under construction".The description of the hotel was intriguing, promising a bit of history, ( A Chateau built in the late 1800's )  a bit of garden, and a good view.

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What we found was a rambling old house, eclectically furnished, with a delightfully shabby air. High ceilings , ventilators and dark interiors reminded me of my many childhood homes. A parlour filled with (now very non kosher) stuffed animals  and deep sofas, a high table, permanently set with linens, crockery and cutlery in the centre hall from which doors led out to large suites and the kitchens.

The better suites had a pretty gallery which once looked out to the hills in the distance but now looked out to a cement structure, which may have been a water tank. Water shortage is a problem in Mussoorie  and we were sparing in our use of it during our stay. The platform on top of this structure ruined the view but closer to our rooms were very pretty flowers, glimpsed through the window panes , hyacinths and daisies which bloomed cheerfully in the sun.

 

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Once in a while monkeys thundered across the tin roofs and were chased off by the staff. For the rest, even though the Company Garden road passed 100 meters away , we remained unassailed by other noise, chiefly the incessant honking of cars, which is a feature on all roads leading to, away and in Mussoorie, reaching high decibel levels near the Mall Road

What made the stay so good was that every day we ordered our meals in consultation with the cook , Kalam Singh, ( what was in season, available , tasty)  and and he made  it as simple or as elaborate as we wished , fresh and on time , calling us to the table when all was ready. We felt very much at home.

Everything tasted good, with a homely type of tarka, not swimming in oil or smothered in spices. In the course of our stay three preparations stood out. The Nepali Anda Aloo Achari, a mustardy dish with a creamy texture, the Pepper Chicken ,unlike any other chicken I have tasted to date,  and the Achar Dal.

In spite of petitioning him thrice, Kalam Singh did not deign to share the recipes , smiling mysteriously and fading into the depths of the kitchens. Usman , the genial, friendly and  always helpful Major Domo, kept his secret .

Now the only way for anyone to taste all that good food that is to go spend a pleasurable week at the agreeably laid back Carlton Plaisance while getting a glimpse , albeit dim, of an era long gone, like the promised (pale) view of hills.

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