Friday, March 28, 2014

Pottery Show Film Cups

Isn't the world a wonderful place? Take these Pottery Show Film Cups that I picked up in Fuengirola, Spain where I, an Indian, was holidaying with two of my college friends who happened to be from Finland and Switzerland. Small world right?

So, what tickled my fancy about these cups that my friend told me about when we went to one of the many local restaurants on this beachside haven in the Costa Del Sol, Spain; well, they hold a secret that can both entice and excite you at the same time.

The big question, before we get into what these cups can do, is about their origins. I have a faint memory of someone suggesting that they originated in Japan, but the restaurant we were in was Chinese, so they could very well be Chinese in origin.

Nevertheless, the story told to me about these "film cups" is that men in Japan/China (my apologies to the nation that should not be listed here), when they want to have a little fun while at a party at someone's house or at a place where one has to be respectable, they can use these cups that each holds a picture, of the "adult" nature, revealed only to the keen eye, if a clear liquid (for example, rice wine) is poured into the cup. How cool is that?

There is obviously a small design flaw in this; I mean if your wife were happen to do the dishes (I’m not saying she should, but if she did) and poured water into the cup, imagine her shock. I guess you might just say hello to the couch for a very long time.

I've had these films cups in the depths of my cupboard for years now and with kids around the house I don't think they will see the light of day anytime soon, but if you ever come over and are in need of some excitement, remind me to show them to your, but don't tell you wife about them, and especially not my wife.       

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dhaba by Claridges

What makes for a perfect Sunday lunch?

Great weather... check.

Lovely company... check.

A little bit of adventure in trying out some place new... check.

Ambience that sweeps you in, outdoor seating, quirkiness and a theme... check, check, check.

Dhaba by Claridges is a Delhi tradition. Most of us, who mind you were born with a silver spoon in our mouth, the silver being of different levels of purity, have at one time or another eaten at the Claridges' trademark restaurant Dhaba in Delhi. The grand presence of a truck at the restaurant has been a childhood memory that fails to fade away.

So, finally the folks that run the place decided to break off a small part of the restaurant, metaphorically speaking, and open up a stand alone “joint” at the newly opened Cyber Hub in Gurgaon, and that is where we ended up on this beautifully sunny and cool Sunday afternoon.

Dhaba has a lot going for it, and that is besides the backing and the name its mother restaurant has given it from birth. Based on the concept of the popular roadside eating shacks that can be found along the highways of India, it gives the foodie and option to have delicious food without worrying about hygiene or driving out of the city. You obviously end up paying a price for this, but surprisingly not as much as you would imagine.

So, with a number of speciality restaurants and outdoor seating that turned out to be perfect for a late winter afternoon, Cyber Hub (and by association Dhaba) has become the latest craze in Gurgaon. Families, couples, businesspersons, go on any day of the week, and you are likely to find one or the other occupying various restaurant seats and the walkways in this complex. Dhaba occupies a nice little corner in this set-up and the location which adds to the ambience is a huge plus. While the indoors of the restaurant are equally fantastic, weather permitting, grab one of the seats outdoor to take in some sun and enjoy a bit of people watching, while they in return watch you munch on some succulent Chicken Tikka.

Let’s start with the basic and most important reason for the entire trip, which involved us getting out of the comforts our home and driving an astounding 10 minutes to reach the restaurant; the food. Delicious, juicy, tasty, are but a few words that could be used to describe the food; granted that it wasn’t “orgasmic” but it was still filling enough and flavoursome enough to leave everyone satisfied and happy. Serving typical North Indian food, with enough options for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, you are bound to find most of the classic dishes on the menu. Chicken tikka, veg kababs, dal makhani, kadhai paneer, raita, alloo subzi, it’s all there and surprisingly each one equally good. The fact that the restaurant doesn’t try to fancy up these dishes and keeps them low key and true to the concept it follows adds to the charm of the place.

But, life has a way of never giving you everything. It will make you work a little in some cases, and in others will remind you that everything isn’t always in your control or to your liking. So while the weather, the ambience, the food was perfect, the service at Dhaba left a lot to be desired. I find the excuse that it was rush-hour annoying and completely unprofessional, so we will not even consider the fact that it was a busy time for them this afternoon. First and foremost I found the attitude of the service staff a bit pretentious and moody. They weren't rude, but there wasn’t the warmth one might get at a real Dhaba or at any other reputable restaurant. We ended up asking for water, the first deed to be undertaken as soon as guests settle down, three times before our glasses were filled. This when we were there with children, myself included. Side plates were missing for two of us and were brought after two reminders as was the fork in my case. Presentation is another important aspect for any restaurant and while most of the items were served well, the yogurt was brought filled to the brim and as a result dripping and falling on the table when finally placed there.

I am aware I am being extra picky and this is by no means a complaint or a statement that I disliked the place, quite the opposite, but a little bit of class can go a long way when trying to impress the person paying and that is what was missing today.

Dhaba by Claridges doesn’t really re-invent food, but what it gives you is wholesome North Indian food in a setting that is surely impressive.

As for the dent on the pocket, surprisingly not much, but mind you the trick is to go in numbers because with generous helpings, your food bill will be about the same whether it’s the four of you or like in our case the eight of us.    


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stupid Guy Goes to India (Book Review)

There are a number of interesting facts that make Stupid Guy Goes to India a must read; it’s a travelogue in its soul, a Manga comic at heart, but most importantly it is a celebration of the human spirit.

Being a Manga comic, written by Yukichi Yamamatsu, the first thing that strikes you, the reader, is that you need get used to reading it from back to front and from left to right. Not a gargantuan task mind you, as it takes about a couple of pages and then you get used to it. So, you would imagine this is the first ever “Indian Manga”. Well, you would be wrong in thinking that.

The book, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian, is the true story of the author, a Manga artist in his native Japan, coming to India to sell Manga comics translated in the local language. What follows is a chaotic journey into the underbelly of Delhi and a lesson in life, primarily for the author, but also for those that read the book.

Stupid Guy Goes to India is clich├ęd, to the core. You get to read about situations that we, as Indians, have been hearing of or know of for years; the food and water being unhygienic, the language barriers, people trying to rip off tourists and the likes. It’s all there and yes being an Indian it hurts, but there is honesty in what we see on the pages. In fact that is the one aspect of the book that stands up and above everything else, that Yamamatsu doesn’t hold back and writes/draws it as it is, with unashamed honesty, including the time he decides to go and pay for a prostitute.

Although the book has a very limited outlook towards Delhi, almost forgoing the more “rich” parts of the city, it serves as a way to study the thriving backpacking culture of the city. Living in small crowded areas, getting a Japanese book translated in Hindi, multiple frustrating visits to the publishers, and trying to make ends meet with one ingenious idea after another, Stupid Guy Goes to India is also a story of human nature and its resilience to overcome the hardest of situations. Yamamatsu’s grand plan to publish a Manga in India, while having battled cancer, and readily face one obstacle after another, is nothing short of the triumph of human will.

The reader needs to look at Stupid Guy Goes to India in depth. On the surface it might seem like the any story of a tourist who has spent some time in India. It might even serve as a great guide to help you prepare for a trip to India, but it is Yamamamtsu and his never say die attitude that emerges as the “real story” and what makes the book a heart-warming and crazy adventure that one can only dream about.        

This is an unbiased review of the book that was sent by Blaft Publications. Thank you to the publishers for the opportunity.   

Friday, January 3, 2014

Captivating Caribbean – Antigua and St. Lucia in Pictures and Top Tips

A family vacation; A cruise half way around the world; One of the severest winters seen by Europe; The warm Caribbean weather living up to its name; Captivating Caribbean is where I will be covering the stops we made in this 14-day cruise with some photographs and the occasional tips to make your cruise day stop worthwhile. 

Any vacation, even one that includes riding the high seas comfortably on a luxury ship can take its toll. When you have only a day to spend on each port, you try and squeeze in as much as you can into that day because let’s be honest, the chances that you will fly half way across the world to visit the same place are pretty slim. The “At Sea” days might sound relaxing but with the barrage of activities that are planned onboard, you don’t get time to even eat and end up running around trying to participate in as many activities as you can. The problem is that you don’t realize how tired you are until you somehow return back to your cabin to take what is apparently a breather but ends up being the next morning. Eventually everything catches up and the only way to rejuvenate is to finally skip some of the port days.

Antigua gave us no choice. Intermittent heavy rains made the decision to stay at just the port and drink some beer seem more and more favourable. I would however like to add that Antigua boasts of having 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. I say, give me a year-long visa first, and then we will talk. Unfortunately the only negative aspect of staying onboard in Antigua was that we got to see St. John’s Bay fill up with what I can only assume was waste from the ship as they went about cleaning it. Luckily a beautiful rainbow followed by an equally gorgeous sunset was all it took to bring the day to a lovely end.

For us St. Lucia turned out to be the saviour because when we started the day we were not aware of the ordeal we would be facing over the next two days as we made our way back from the vacation. Delayed flights and heavy snowfall in England meant we had to spend the night at the Airport, so all the rest we got at St. Lucia by not travelling too much was welcomed at the end.
In reality we did make it to the beach in St. Lucia, but some rather strong waves scared our little one and having scrapped that idea we simply spent an hour at the shops before heading back to the ship not really wanting to explore the place in a taxi. Nevertheless, it was time to pack as our trip came to an end, just like this series of Captivating Caribbean comes to an end here and now...