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August 2005

Black Burma Rice Pudding/ Kheer

Black rice

I was given some Black Burma rice by Ashok and Vivek who grow this among other indigenous rice like Telosing, Ambemohr, and Sarveti on their farm. I believe Vivek got the seeds from the Andamans and the deep brown paddy field is a fine sight among the other saturated greens.


Looking at the rice closely it seemed like a variegated purple rice, with its medium size and different coloured grains. Black hull colouration of the rice is controlled by 3 complementary genes and therefore each geographical area seems to have a different variety.

Grown more extensively in South Asia, Thailand, Indonesia than in India it is popularly made into a sweet rice pudding with coconut, sesame seeds and cinnamon in that region.In Burma it is served in the rural areas accompanied by cups of steaming hot tea during the Karen New Year when glutinous steamed rice is traditionally made after the harvest.

By the way Black Burma or purple rice is not to be confused with Himalayan wild rice which is really a grass rather than a paddy. The rice had been very lightly polished in order to keep all the precious nutrients . Kheer is made with vermicelli or rice here and the black burma rice has been used instead of a white rice.

Black rice pudding

Black or Purple Rice Pudding/ Kheer

  • 1 cup black or purple rice
  • 2 litres milk ( 4 pints)
  • 6 elaichi / cardamoms
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Wash the rice and soak for six hours. Add to the 2 litres of milk and bring to the boil in a heavy bottomed pan. Turn heat to low and add whole cardamoms. Simmer for approximately 1 1/2 - 2 hours till the rice is cooked, soft and the mixure fairly thick and glutinous.Stir occasionally to make sure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add 1/2 cup sugar and stir till dissolved. Remove cardomom and serve.

Serves 4-6 .The pudding has a lovely nutty flavour and a mauve to plum colour depending on how long it has been cooked. Quite unusual.

Monsoon Blues and Greens

It has been a hell of a monsoon. Not just for people in Bombay, who are still paying the price of the downpour in ill health, but for farmers , whose crops have been ruined with excessive rain and flood situations in some areas.

While the facts about mismanagement by successive governments will now come out and the finger of blame pointed to many, the fact is, the ordinary citizen shines in an extraordinary light.

As commuters waded through waist high water, on the road home, in some cases for 36 hours, they were met with amazing kindnesses. Sudhir, a friend, speaks of being helped by families from houses along the way, who plied him and his fellow sufferers with food and water, even offering medicines such as analgesics to those who were in pain.Tales of courage and self sacrifice in such horrendous circumstances remind me of the dignity of the human spirit in the darkest times.

While the media does need to find out the answers to puzzling questions of culpability and governance, it would do well to, just sometimes, shine a spotlight on these instances of a shared humanity.

In Pune the monsoon has not been as bad but definitely one of the worst we have seen in a long time. For several days the rivers running through the city threatened to burst their banks and people often returned home early, in case they were cut off by flooded bridges.

The other side to the tales of woe, the ruined roads with massive potholes, the ghastly state of the traffic, the slush and dirt and mud --- are the shiny washed leaves on the trees, the greenery , the lushness of the surrounding villages and , yes , the avocadoes, papayas and other fruit and vegetables which have done well with the additional rain. After being under a heavy cloud for some time I guess I must add my own bit of sunshine. And here it is. The joy of rain.


Bai in the rain with papayas

MOnsoon 05

Vaishali and Young Love


Masla Dosa Vaishali

Vaishali is an institution. Ask anyone who ever attended Fergusson College. Lectures began at 7.30 a.m and finished at 10 a.m. After that - Breakfast time! And where else but at Vaishali.

Opened in 1956 by Mahabali Shetty who came from Bantwal in the Mangalore district and is part of the community of Bunts who are now  famously the  owners of almost every Udupi restaurant in India.

As the Bunts are a matriarchal community, the ownership passed on to his daughter, and has been run by her husband, Mr J.B Shetty, ever since. From the  small restaurant it was with 3-4 workers and 9 tables under Mahabali it began to grow to the present size of 70 tables, 33 of which are in the expanded garden which now sport two beautiful full grown rubber trees.

Spuds vaishali

'Jai Malhar' , resident of Pune, says,-

"Vaishali *sigh* my first 'date' was in Vaishali. The waiter drove us away saying we weren't ordering anything and then we walked up the hill and were chased down the hill by a marauding bull. Very demoralizing. It was weeks before I could recover my manly pride."

Which young Fergussonian will not empathise with Jai and his first date? Though most will remember the patient waiters under whose watchful eyes romance flowered. Many sweet nothings have been uttered within the four walls of this famous place between a bite of dosa and a dip of sambar.

But much has changed since those long gone days when Vaishali first opened its doorsin 1956; dating was a no no and boys did not dare to raise their eyes to look at the girls of their dreams. Vaishali was strictly purdah. Girls and family room one side, boys on the other.What is now the entrance was the family room, where girls giggled loudly. Boys sat far away, crooning little love songs from the movies. Everyone sat facing the entrance to keep an eye on who was coming and going. Onion Uttapas were 35 paise, and kachoris, 30 .

College kids vaishali

Today the purdah has been lifted and college students sit and talk animatedly.

Waiting to be seated Vaishali

Regardless of the time of day there is always a crowd and you might have to stand and wait for a seat. This is usually found in a couple of minutes because the service is so fast and Vishwanath who handles the seating makes quick and accurate decisions, based on an immediate understanding of age, number and space availability in all the nooks and crannies where chairs are placed in apparent disarray. I am always impressed at his unflappability even when surrounded by fifty hungry diners, but then he has worked there for 18 years, from the time he was brought to Pune after his graduation by an uncle from Udupi district.


One of my favourites on the menu is Onion Uttappa, in honour of which Neelam, one of my friends, named her boyfriend."Uttappa ugh mugh onion special". He was rather large and plump to be honest. Food is churned out at a terrific pace in a kitchen which is crowded and furnace like. The stove over which the sambar boils ceaselessly makes a sound all its own.

Making Masala Dosa vaishali

Dosas are formed like skirts of whirling dervishes and stuffed in record time, while waiters come and go ceaselessly to and from the service area, laden with trays, and always in the best of humour.

Service vaishali

Here are Prachi's (now a resident of New York) recommendations for what to have at what time of day. Even though years from my daily dosa it sounds pretty much like what I'd have chosen.

"Mornings, after climbing the TekDi (hill at the back of Fergusson College) - Upit with chutney.

Lunch/Dinner: Kanda Uttappa. Always ask for the green chutney with it, or an extra mirchi with the uttappa, tastes much better. It's the only place where I'll ever have uttappa.

After 5 pm, Shev Batata Dahi Puri aka SBDP.

In our college days, if someone else was treating you, you added Cold Coffee with Ice Cream to the order. Penniless spongers, we were."

She goes on to tell how involved the waiters got in the lives of their 'regulars'.

Lingappa once famously told me to dump "the boyfriend" I was with, because the guy touched his hair and looked in the mirror at his reflection too often. Later when I took my husband to Vaish, he looked him over and said, "ivanu addi illa. (He'll do.)

Well Prachi, Lingappa, who joined Vaishali in 1968, is still there, and the dosas and Uttappas are now Rs 22 . Mr Shetty who is now 73 years old, comes to taste the chutney every morning and check on every single thing offered on the menu .

Which is why Vaishali is still the most popular Udupi restaurant in town, catering to 4000-4500 customers a day with every sign that the numbers will increase.

Fergusson College Road
Shivaji Nagar Pune 411005
A meal for 2 with a soft drink each costs approximately Rs 60-Rs 100.