26/11: We will never forget

I was 15 at the time of the 26/11 terror attacks.

I wasn’t in school because Chennai was having another cyclonic depression so it was a series of cold rainy days. I remember feeling horrified as I watched on. 24/7 news channels were having a field day with news coverage as almost any movement at the sites of the terror attacks warranted extended explanations.

Stories of bravery and human resilience surfaced soon after, causing me to marvel at the nature of how some people reacted in such intense situations. My stomach churned unpleasantly as I learned that the terrorists had entered the country via the sea.

I thought back to the beach and tried to imagine the calm waves washing ashore, a boat filled with gun toting monsters.

But the one thing I remember feeling the most strongly, was a sense of disconnect. I had never been to the city. I had never seen these monuments. I had never encountered these people. I wanted to learn how they were feeling. I wanted to see how they were coping. I wanted to understand what they were thinking.

After all, there’s only so much coverage a news channel can offer you.

7 years and 3 days after the horrific incident took place, I offered my bag to the security guard as they rummaged through it. I stood next to Miss BB and our friend as they repeated the procedure. My breath caught in my throat as I stepped in to the crowded café.

Established in 1871, Leopold Café needs no further introduction. It was also one of the first sites of attack where the terrorists barged in and attacked its patrons with guns and grenades.

Being a Saturday evening, the café was buzzing with activity. As I seated myself, my eyes fell on a sight that took my words away.

An irregularly shaped hole, on one of the pillars. Unmistakably, a bullet hole from the 26/11 terror attack. I tried to maintain a calm face as I suddenly felt insecure. All around me, everyone was busy with their beverages and their food and I looked down at the menu, trying to make sense of it all. Sitting there, the gravity of the attacks finally hit me, hard. The reality of the situation that was the terror attack on Mumbai on 26th November 2008… I finally began to understand the depth of the situation.

For more pictures of the cafe after the attacks in 2008, check out this article from Mashable.com

I imagined sitting there, dictating my order to a waiter as a gunman suddenly burst in and began firing. My throat was robbed of its voice as I caught sight of more bullet holes in different parts of the café.

What struck me, however, was how it had an air of stubbornness to it. The wait staff were slightly less than polite to us, though their service was impeccable. It was almost as if they were trying to send out a message- about how well they had recovered and how they were happy to go on.

Which sort of made sense, given the circumstances.

My heart goes out to those who did not survive the terror attack that day, and to those who have to live with the scars in their mind.

To all the soldiers, civillians and citizens who didn’t back down even when brute force tried to strike fear into our hearts.

We will stand tall… And we will never forget.

Image credit- IBN live

Image credit- IBN live

 

Hello from the city of dreams!

You’d think that a 22 year old with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication would be able to wrap aluminium foil around two slices of bread with peanut butter on them.

I have never been more wrong in my life.

Hello my lovely readers! I took a rather unexpected sabbatical from blogging and here I am again, in the city of dreams. That’s right, I’m in Mumbai! I could not be happier to be here right now, interning with BBC in Mumbai.

I know, there’s been a lot going on in my life right now and I’ve been really caught in the thick of things. Luckily, you’ve probably been able to get a hold on how my life is going right now if you’ve been following me on Instagram (@thatepicfoodiegirl) and Twitter (@aish7793)

Bombay, started off with one big amazing trip.

 

Nothing could defeat our spirits! Even at 5 a.m :D

Nothing could defeat our spirits! Even at 5 a.m :D

We literally had to brave a storm. I'm not even sure how they let us fly in weather like that.

We literally had to brave a storm. I’m not even sure how they let us fly in weather like that.

 

Up in the air!

Up in the air!

This made me so happy

This made me so happy

 

I’m living near Bandra right now. Pretty posh upscale area, and for these two months, there is going to be a new character in my life (and blog) whom I’ll be making frequent references to. Miss. BB is a bright, young, promising woman and the most important part is, she’s a vegetarian <3 It’s like it was meant to be.

The thing is Ms. BB is possibly the only person in my life I know who loves food and cooking as much as I do. She’s always prompting me to try new cuisines and explaining things about cooking to me, in addition to having conversations about pretty much anything under the sun. I’m happy I get to be around her.

Miss. BB and I have also started our own Instagram page which will chronicle all the food we eat in Bombay. Follow us @thehungryinterns on Instagram.

I hope to keep you all engaged and enthralled with all of the things that I plan to post. Keep watching this space for more adventures in the land of dreams, shopping and of course, food.

Till next time, much love darlings!

Shubho Mahalaya

I first met a Bengali when I was 11. His name was Gogol Ganguli, and Jhumpa Lahiri spoke to me at great length about identity crises and generation gaps. That was the first time my curiousity was piqued by the culture as described in that book. I became increasingly fascinated with their expressive eyes, their ‘well-rounded’ language, their passion, their intellect and of course, their fierce love for Calcutta. The Namesake was my earliest exposure to Bengalis. Before I joined college at Symbiosis, never did I imagine that I would have the pleasure of meeting so many of them and that I would go on to become close friends with some of them.

So when you know as many Bengalis as I do, you’d know how they speak of home with an air of reminiscence and a twinge of nostalgia in their voices. Well, my beloved bongs took it a step further. They organised a feast, which is called ‘bhog’ to celebrate Mahalya.

So I went a step further and tried to find out what Mahalaya is all about. It’s an auspicious occasion observed seven days before Durga Puja. It was originally an invocation. When the demon king Mahisasura was increasingly cruel to the gods, the gods pleaded to Vishnu to annihilate this demon, unable to bear his tyranny. The Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva came together to create a powerful female goddess with ten arms- Goddess Durga or Mahamaya. Goddess Durga rides on a lion to battle Mahisasura and then slays him. After he has been slayed, heaven and earth rejoice at her victory.

Such a victory of epic proportions would certainly not go uncelebrated here at Symbiosis International University!

First up, we were served Luchi. Luchi is the Bengali name for Puri and I didn’t really find it different from the puris I’ve had elsewhere, but they had less oil and I really appreciated that. The first dish to be served with it was Alur Dom. That’s the Bong version of dum Aloo. A dish that (incidentally) I’m not very fond of, but I bit into it nevertheless and I was pleasantly surprised. The gravy that the Alur was in was full of flavour and spice without being overwhelmingly spicy and the potato actually retained its natural flavour, hence adding a few sweet notes to the dish.

Luchi and Alur Dom

Luchi and Alur Dom

Next up we were served Khichuri, which is their version of Kichdi. I quite liked it because it was warm and I could taste the slightest trace of ghee somewhere there. My friend Jui directed me to eat the Khichuri with Labra. Labra is a mixed veg curry that had carrots, beans and a few other veggies. Again what I loved about the Labra, was how the true flavours of the vegetables came through beautifully, despite the fact that it was cooked with oil and spices. The vegetables retaining their flavours puts a very interesting spin on the dishes and they make them feel so much more organic and beautiful.

Khichuri

Khichuri

My personal favourite was the Bhaja. Bhaja was thin crispy potato fries served with roasted groundnuts and garnished with a hint of chilli powder. The potato melted in my mouth instantly and though one would think that the flavours of the groundnut and the potato would clash, they didn’t. They formed the most beautiful symphony in the simplest of snacks.

What a feast it was! Photo courtesy: Swastika De Sarkar

What a feast it was!
Photo courtesy: Megha Varier

The organisers, hard at work Photo courtesy: Swastika De Sarkar

The organisers, hard at work
Photo courtesy: Swastika De Sarkar

Overall, the experience was absolutely magical. It made me feel satiated without feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. I felt a sort of comfort that lulled me from deep within when I finished my meal. I may not be Bengali, I may not understand their language, but in those few beautiful fleeting moments when I was eating food, so lovingly served to me by my own friends, I finally felt like I was home.

 

Ganpati Bappa in Pune is the true definition of larger than life.

Ganpati Bappa Moriya!

Image courtesy: Dekhnews

Image courtesy: Dekhnews

 

Punekars bid goodbye to their favourite Elephant faced God- Ganpati, Ganesh, Vinayak, Pulaiyaar, Ekadanta, or whatever name you want to use to address him. This Ganesh Chathurthi has been a significant time in my life because of how I was tested. But I’m going to save that for later.

If I was in Chennai, I would’ve woken up to my mother (in all probability) yelling at me for sleeping in (read as sleeping till 8 or 9 a.m) and me hustling to get out of bed. I’d quickly shower, wash my hair and get dressed and rush to help my Father make Kozhukattai, all while hungrily eyeing the hot and crispy vadas my mom was making as the divine smell filled the entire house. My sister and I would join hands and say a prayer that we learnt back when we studied in the same school together and we would then fall silent as we prayed for each other’s health, success and joy.

This year's Ganesh Chathurthi spread at home.

This year’s Ganesh Chathurthi spread at home.

After lunch, and our prayers and offerings,  we’d all gather around and watch a hit movie that was being played on Sun TV or Vijay TV. Most probably involving Rajinikanth ( <3 ).

*Deafening whistles and screams* Image courtesy: Indiannerve.com

*Deafening whistles and screams*
Image courtesy: Indiannerve.com

I felt miserable and alone when I woke up to cloudy skies at Noon this year, on Ganesh Chathurthi. I spoke to my mom who seemed preoccupied and slightly distant on the phone. There were puja celebrations happening in the recreation and wellness center of our campus as well, but I felt so poorly motivated to actually be a part of them. I’d taken a trip home only recently, but somehow that day I missed home more than ever..

Then we were handed an assignment by our professor to go to the city and cover Ganesh Chathurthi celebrations in Pune. I was reluctant to, but I did go, and when we went, I was speechless at the grandeur of celebrations left me stunned, finally lifting me out of the misty gray dullness that had enveloped me over the few days that followed Ganesh Chathurthi’s first day.

Ganpati Bappa in Pune is the true definition of larger than life.

Ganpati Bappa in Pune is the true definition of larger than life.

As I roamed the streets, I understood for the first time in my life, what the phrase ‘larger than life’ meant. There was festive splendor everywhere and I couldn’t take my eyes off the sights and sounds. It was so invigorating to be part of that crowd and report.

IMG_9228

Found outside a pandal: If you can throw a coin into that pot in the middle, then all your desires will be fulfilled.

Make a wish.

Make a wish.

On the last day of our reporting assignment, I felt like we had come around to a full circle. It had been almost 4 or 5 days of continuous shooting. Those days were filled with fun, despite the hard work and running around we had to do. We were walking on a narrow footpath on a busy crowded road when we chanced upon a small shop that sold sweets and (of course) modaks.

Yay! Modaks!

Yay! Modaks!

My friend and I eagerly dug in as a huge smile spread across my face. It was like tasting something my dad had made. I smiled kindly at who appeared to be the shop owner and told him this was the best modak I’d had in a while and that it reminded me of the ones I ate at home. The outside was soft yet firm and on the inside was jaggery and coconut. I took my time in relishing and eating the dish as never before had a sweet dish come so close to what we eat back at home.

That’s when I realised… Home is not a place that you leave behind. Home is everywhere, if you look hard enough. Home is in the same blue skies and the shining sun that warms your face. It is in the people, whose hearts you happen to touch merely by the virtue of you saying hello. You can never leave home behind. Home is somewhere you carry in your heart.

My first baking experiment!

It was a dark stormy night in hell when I first decided I’d enter the kitchen to bake a cake.

Actually, no. Let’s rewind a little. As a part of my undergraduate course, I was required to select a non-major elective. Time pass wala stuff basically- we didn’t have a final exam or a grading system based on this particular elective. So this meant cool things like online trading, arts and crafts, painting, fabric printing, entrepreneurship, and of course baking and icing. I’d get home at 7 every day after these tiresome classes that usually involved us watching on while our teacher explained to us the nuances of baking, and shortly after, the hungry group of 40 odd girls would fight for samples of cooking that were handed out. This involved all sorts of deliciousness- like red velvet pastry, cheesecake, chocolate ganache icing and even things like marinated panneer that would melt in your mouth while simultaneously setting your tongue on fire.

It was all going so so well.

Our teacher would dictate ingredients and measurements while we wrote them down in a notebook. It all seemed easy enough.

I first stepped into the alien land of deliciousness, where my mom (and sometimes sister and rarely, dad) ruled over with an steel spatula and a magic hand of deliciousness. You had every possible [vegetarian] delight to the senses emanating from this land, right from the smell of melting ghee to the sizzle of mustard seeds, to the spicy scent of schezwan chutney and chinese style pulao dishes.

I looked around cautiously, half expecting something to spontaneously combust at my very touch. When I determined that all was safe, I proceeded to pick my favourite cup and tumbler to measure out the ingredients with.

Bad idea.

Foodie tip #1- Equipment matters!

Baking is a really really precise science. You need everything to be perfectly measured if you don’t want your cake to turn out tasting horrible.

The recipe called for 2 cups of flour. I suddenly realised that I had only one cup and a little more left.

Foodie tip #2 – Always check if you actually have the ingredients that your recipe calls for before embarking on your  culinary adventure.

“Eh. What’s the worst that could happen?” I thought to myself as I dumped a cup of corn flour in to compensate.

Foodie tip #3- NEVER replace one ingredient with another. There is NO excuse for this. None. At all.

You’ll find various food blogs and experienced chefs who tell you its completely alright to substitute one ingredient for another. But when I’ve tried this, it has ended in nothing but disaster. And weird after tastes in my mouth.

I then proceeded to approximately mix all the ingredients together and mix with a wooden spoon lying around. Because who actually needs a whisk for the ingredients to mix well together?

But you know what was funny? The mix didn’t even look like batter. I’m not that dumb, hey, I know that the batter has to be liquid. That’s when cross checking the recipe helped me realise that I had forgotten to add the milk.

So, after a whole lot of sweat and sore arm muscles from beating that damn near impossible cake batter, I finally came up with a batter that was a rather stubborn liquid… but liquid. Yes! Success!!

Little did I know that my battle had only just begun.

We have ALL been this dog at some point in our culinary lives

I started looking for something to actually make the cake in. I didn’t own a cake tin- or any baking equipment for that matter because I’m the first in my family to take a walk on the wild side. So I ended up putting the batter in a cooker tin. (the same ones that you use to make dal)

Since I didn’t own an Oven Toaster Griller (OTG), I ended up putting the cake into a cooker. Which is not unheard of, but you need to know Foodie tip #4- if you’re baking with a cooker, look for cooker recipes. Search for recipes according to the medium you actually own.

I put the cooker tin with the batter in the cooker assuming it would take the same time as an OTG to bake.

I’m going to go back to Tip #1 because I cannot stress on it enough. Equipment matters!

*Ignores a 13 year old giggling somewhere*

nearly 30 minutes later, my cake looked baked, but when I pushed a knife in it to check, the knife had both uncooked cake bits and cake batter itself sticking to it when it came out.

45 minutes later, I could faintly smell something burning. I consulted with Mom who advised me to switch off the stove and get it out ASAP. I heeded her worldly wise advice and the end result was something I will never forget all my life.

When I inverted the cooker tin, not only had the base of the cake burnt, but it was stuck to the bottom of the cooker tin. I cut the base off to check if any other part of the cake was edible. There were still bits of batter here and there (Damn that stubborn liquid!) and some parts appeared somewhat edible.

I stared hopelessly at the cake. My mom took one look at my face and burst out laughing. This was the first time in my life that I had tried my hand at something and failed so astonishingly. I cut out cautious pieces of the cake and attempted to eat it and blanched. Mom had an equally pained expression on her face as she gave me a brave smile. There was no substance on the planet that tasted less like a cake.

Another round of laughter ensued and mom told me not to give up. I took her advice and strangely, I actually got better at it eventually. The saying “try and try till you succeed” actually worked. A couple of failed attempts later, I actually learnt enough to make delicious chocolate cake that melts in your mouth. Cake that would disappear from the box within seconds of me opening it in college. It was nothing but positive feedback from there, but my mom and I still laugh over that very first cake that I attempted to make and all the dumb mistakes that went into ruining it.

So here’s to one of the yummier tasting cakes I’ve baked

Because… Sprinkles

Chocolate cake with chocolate ganache… God it was delicious

Meet the Foodie

There are scores of people who can offer you ‘helpful’ unsolicited advice. “Follow your dreams”, “stay true to yourself!”, “Carpe Diem!”, “YOLO!”. These vague statements can be really confusing if you’re someone like me- 21, still kinda young, uncertain, and lost. However, there’s one thing in my life that has always been constant- my love for food. When I was younger, I was quite the fussy eater and my parents would have the toughest time getting me to eat right. Can you believe I refused to touch Pizza till  I was in second grade? *shudders*. Luckily, time has passed and standards have dropped. I am now an eggetarian who will eat anything anywhere, as long as it doesn’t contain meat. (If you’re going to come to me and argue that eggs are non-vegetarian, don’t bother. They’re amongst my favourite foods.)


It was when I was 11 that my love for writing came to the forefront. Incidentally, my first poem was about a trip to the bakery 😀 It was fun writing it indeed. There is literally nothing I love in the world more than food. (Sorry boys 😉 )

Nothing describes me more accurately



I have a pretty amazing relationship with food- I love eating good food, I’m interested in trying new dishes and I enjoy baking/cooking occasionally (read as almost never). Starting this blog was my sister’s idea. I jokingly told her that I would love a job that paid me to eat good food. She looked me straight in the eye and told me not to wait around for a job like that, so here I am, actually going after my dream- writing about food.


Allow me to introduce myself-my name is Aishwarya. I’m currently pursuing my Master’s degree in Journalism at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune. [It only looks like I have my stuff sorted. Trust me, I don’t]. I was born in Hyderabad, and I’ve lived in Kerala, but Chennai is my hometown and my heart beat. Oh, how I love this beautiful city of mine! Moving to Pune was hard, but it was worth it. Now I’ve grown to like Pune just as much as I like Chennai, thanks to the people in it. Almost all my friends are like minded foodies and we love exploring new places and trying new things together.
Us, happy after binge eating at Barbeque nation.

As far as food is concerned, chocolate milk, dosas and thayir sadam (curd rice) are my biggest weaknesses. My tam-brahmness betrays me in this regard. I would willingly give up anything in the world except these things! However, “Variety is the spice of life. That gives it all its flavor” said William Cowper, an English poet. Well, I believe that taking this quote a little literally and applying it to food makes life worth living. I strongly believe in the fact that life can be one crazy adventure, and I hope you enjoy reading my blog as much as I know I’m going to enjoy writing it.

Also, always remember this