A little bit of This and a little bit of That

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.


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.



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.



10 Years and Millions of views later

Ten years have passed since I first began writing this blog . Several hundred posts, a  second career in food writing and a cook book later I can say I have finally learnt a respectable amount about cooking and food. It has been a great culinary journey so far.

Here is my first post from April 2005-




Circumstances made mine a life of constantly being on the move.In the years of crisscrossing the Indian continent several memories have remained firmly planted in the mind. Smells, sounds, pictures,tastes, feelings.Some mishmashed together like kedgeree, some clear and separate as grains of basmati rice.

One recurring memory is of the little cottage in the back of the red tiled bungalows we used to live in. It was the cook's cottage, the khansama's kitchen which was joined to the main house  by a long, narrow and roofed open corridor. From here, all sorts of interesting smells curled out to catch  our childish noses as we played in the vast, dry gardens where red and pink hollyhocks would strive to grow taller on spindly stems and trees contributed the main brushstroke of green on an otherwise brown canvas.

When we arrived in a new place the cottage sometimes resembled the black hole of Calcutta. The room had not been whitewashed with chuna , a lime paste and the woodfired chulah had blackened the ceiling and walls so much that you could write on it with a finger and a negative image  would appear.

There were clues to the cuisine of the house's  former residents. A smudge of masala, a leftover bottle of paste, a whiff of an unfamiliar spice used so regularly as to seep into the old teak cupboards in the corner of the cottage.

Just a few days after moving in, all would have changed. The walls would be washed to a brilliant white, the cupboards lined with clean sheets of newspaper and the shelves familiar with the shine of  our own pots and pans. The chulah would be lit and the glow of the fire could be glimpsed from across the divide, from a vantage point in the pantry. We would get a clue as to what was going to be on for lunch.Familiar smells would fill the place and we knew we were home again.