’tis the season to be jolly

It’s almost time for Christmas!

I am a Hindu and this is technically not my festival. Although one could argue that in India, all festivals belong to all of us. But I have always loved books and Christmas to me is about all of this:

  • The March girls giving away their breakfast to a hungry family.
  • Hercule Poirot solving a murder.
  • Dickens
  • Buying plum cakes from Wenger’s Bakery in Connaught Place – which has nothing to do with books at all!

But these days, it seems to be mostly about shopping and stress.

Our Diwali celebrations are very homey. We make sweets and savouries. We draw rangolis and light lamps. It is the one day of the year that we all pray together. And then we take our pot over to a potluck with our friends and eat and play cards. Because Diwali is not just the festival of  lights but also dedicated to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and winning at cards on Diwali is considered super auspicious.

But just as crackers and pollution are to Diwali, shopping is to Christmas.

Of course in our consumerist world all festivals are mostly about these things, but Christmas more than all others seems inextricably linked with shopping and gift wrapping. For most of us bystanders at least. But the other day, I got a taste of a real Christmas celebration.

It was the last day of school before the kids started their winter break and their school had planned a Christmas party. We moms then got together and put one up of our own. We pot lucked it, and gathered in one child’s home. We sang carols and the children played. We all ate lots of healthy, home cooked food, played secret Santa with only one gift per child and went home. Sounds like nothing much but it felt like Christmas. And a big reason for this, was the venue.

The house where our party was held started out in life as what in Delhi, we call a barsaati. One room on the terrace. This terrace now, was watched over by a giant tree. And fringed by plants growing in every sort of recycled container including discarded commodes and old shoes! In the middle of all this was a wooden table with a bench on either side where the kids ate their lunch. And there were baskets to shoot into and punching bags and all manner of things for the kids to play with.

Meanwhile the house itself, seemed to have grown organically one room at a time on a need basis. The only rule I could see was that the house should accommodate family. So the kitchen was big and opened onto the dining room which had one big wooden table for all the family to gather round and maybe do their home and office work and chat with whoever was cooking that day. The living room had no ornaments, no paintings, nothing whatsoever that could be broken. And the bedrooms, we were told, were added as the family grew.

What a completely wonderful way to live! I could not do it. I don’t think I am acquisitive or very materialistic, but I do like buying keepsakes when I travel and I have always been very house proud. I don’t think I could be otherwise but I wish I could. Because what a brilliant way to live. Keeping things so very simple. Figuring out what matters to you the most and making it the most important thing to centre the rest of your life around.

We learn something new each day and for all my blabbing about minimalism and the environment, this is one thing I could work on. But no more preaching.

Just Joy to the World! Sing along, folks.

Happy Holidays everyone!


Breakfast at the Egg Factory

We had visited the Egg Factory on St. Marks Road a long time back and not enjoyed the experience too much. Everything had been spicy and nothing had been tasty. But so many friends have recommended it since that we had been wanting to try it again. So this Sunday, we decided to make our breakfast eggstra special. (I suck at this!!!)

The first thing I noticed was the glass bottles at the tables and gave it a thumbs up straight away. A BIG GREEN shout out here!! (But do away with the ketchup and sugar sachets people!)

The factory flavoured decor we remembered from our last visit, but the children enjoyed the wrench shaped door handles, pipes and taps. The music was pleasantly muted and the ambience overall was nice and not overwhelming.

The menu was full of quirk and cracked my older one up since he gets wordplay now. His favorite joke was ‘Omletting you win’ with a cartoon of two boxers. The younger one does not but in a spirit of competition spent much time giggling over the cartoons.

Besides the quirk, the menu was also rather full of choices and it took us some time to figure out what we wanted. I have mentioned Eggs Kejriwal from our previous outing to SodaBottleOpenerWaala. This time we ordered it. Think Masala Papad meets Eggs Sunny Side Up. And sits on a bed of buttered toast. The onions were raw but it tasted nice on the whole. I ordered scrambled eggs which were just a teeny bit runny but buttery and yummy just the same. I needed no salt or pepper to season mine. My husband ordered a masala omelette which was ok.

The kids had cheese omelettes – the older one eating the three cheese one. He loved it and took a second helping, finishing both at record speed. The younger one lingered over his meal as usual but managed to finish.

Tea and coffee were strictly nondescript and the juices were out of tetra packs.

The service was a little slow but all breakfast places are slow on Sundays so no complaints really. We paid about a grand for a hearty breakfast for four. Overall, I would say Yes – eat here. We will again for sure!


My husband called from work the other day and asked if I wanted to eat out. Since our dinner was ready and waiting for him, I was understandably miffed. He does this too often really and I was all set to bicker when he informed me that he’d heard of this place called SodaBottleOpenerWala on Lavelle Road that was supposed to be great and would I like to try. I shut up and here’s why:

  1. The name! Having no idea about the kind of food to be served (though it sounded Parsi), it still sounded too delicious. SodaBottleOpenerWala. I rolled that around my tongue for a bit and liked the sound of it.
  2. Lavelle Road – One of the few places in Bangalore that still feel like the old Bangalore I came to fifteen years ago. Like Queen’s on church street. There’s just something about it.
  3. Being a geek and unable to think about anything for more than 3 minutes without googling, I had already discovered that they served their own version of Kayani Bakery’s Shrewsbury biscuits!
  4. I was reading Em and the Big Hoom at the time, which is a lovely book and I will talk about it at length later, but characters in the book keep hopping into Irani cafes and having chai and Mawa cake. This place now, is supposed to be an Irani cafe and I wanted to look!

And yet. Dinner was on the table and I am a bonafide housewife and mother now and cannot be setting my kids the example of chucking good food and rushing off to eat at Irani cafes. Besides it was late. So we came to a compromise. We had to visit friends and see their newly born baby the next day so we figured we could go to Lavelle Road after and eat there then. It was not what my husband wanted to hear but compromise is the core of all successful marriages. Touchwood!

When we landed up at SodaBottleOpenerWala post our new baby visit and battling Bangalore’s infamous traffic, it was ten pm and way past the kids’ bedtime. I  had confirmed previously over the phone that they stayed open till 10:30 so that was ok BUT there was a 25 minute wait. On a weekday! At 10 PM! In a restaurant that opened over six months back! In Bangalore that signifies great things and my husband was thrilled. My spirits though plummeted. I had come straight from work and my work clothes did not fit in in that fancy place. There were NO other kids and I think they were not expecting people to walk in with their kids either. The music was really loud!

While we waited, I had time to take in the place. The decor was quirky. There was a blackboard with a set of stern injunctions like  – ‘No Flirting. No Laughing Loudly. No Singing. No Childish Tantrums. No Talking to Cashier’. Red chequered table cloths which I have since discovered are an Irani cafe staple and this train track running round the restaurant, only overhead. My children discovered this one and the younger one especially was extremely thrilled by it. He giggled  non stop for about 14 minutes, squealing ‘Time Tunnel approaching’ every time the train went through the ‘tunnel’ in the kitchen and shrieked as it emerged on the other side. I watched that train go round and round for twenty minutes till my head was spinning. By the time we got our table, the kids and I were dizzy and drained.

The menu was full of interesting names. I was especially intrigued by the eggs Kejriwal. As of today, there is only one famous Kejriwal but I had heard nothing of his preference for eggs and I wondered at the dish. I discovered soon enough that this was a famous Bombay egg preparation with a history.

My husband is an adventurous eater and he ordered all kinds of things. I wanted to try Bombay street food but they were out of vada pav so the little one and I stuck to Bun Maska. The older one predictably discovered Macaroni on the menu and asked for that. My husband ordered non vegetarian Parsi fare that I was too exhausted to enquire about. Enquiries across the table would anyway have entailed large scale bellowing. Think Aunt Dahlia calling the cows home across the grand canyon and you’re close.

My husband insisted on us ordering better fare so I threw in an English pound cake and the kanda bhaji which were strictly average. The macaroni was too spicy and I decided to not try the biscuits or the mawa cake. Oh the tea was sad too. The whole experience was a depressment – maybe I was not in the mood for it. I’ll plan to return another time and leave the kids out of it and report back.

Actually though it might simply not be my place.

I really like that in our generic, newly homogeneous  world, there is a place so specific! It is like someone from UP discovering a Jain Shikanji in LA or a Bangalorean chancing upon a darshini in Tokyo. An Irani cafe is a very specific piece of cultural history, belonging to only one place, and within that place to only one community. If you don’t get it, I guess you just don’t!

There was an item on the menu called ‘Khade chamach ki chai’ which google informed me is  like a challenge thing. People who manage to finish this syrupy tea get their name up on a wall of fame which has six names to date. When I told the spouse about this he looked at me with an air of bewilderment and said – ‘You mean you haven’t seen the Amitabh Bacchhan movie where he stirs ten spoons of sugar into his cup of tea then parks a spoon in it which stands upright and says -this is how I like my chai. Khade chamach ki chai!’?

I guess I just didn’t get this one.

PS. An update. I didn’t want to go back to try again so I made my own mawa cake from this recipe. I used atta and milkmaid instead of mawa, creamy milk instead of milk and cream and eno instead of baking soda but the end result was quite nice!


The responsible gypsy eats


There is a reason to the title of this post. It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that this site is far more about ranting than travelling. I’ve been wondering if it might not be a better idea to create another, possibly linked blog called the responsible gypsy rants and move all the non travel, non food related posts there? Maybe!

Anyway, this post is about the rather enjoyable Sunday we had. The boys are growing up and now that our weekends are not crazy messes of homework and nonstop cooking/feeding without the usual weekday help, we can think about some fun stuff. Also, in case the name of this blog and what I’ve put in the About section has not tipped you off, I am a bit eco friendly. What this means in the present case is that I abhor mall weekends. So our fun stuff is a bit different from what most friends and colleagues get up to.

My husband booked the kids in for some badminton at a club in Indiranagar. The club is called City nest and come to think of it, maybe a review would be worthwhile! The badminton courts certainly are well maintained enough to please my husband who is somewhat fastidious about these things.

The kids had a super time. The older one is getting to be a good player and made his dad run around the courts a bit. The younger one had skipped breakfast like his favourite Sher Simha who he simultaneously loves and learns nothing from. There is a small canteen on the premises but it had closed for lunch(!!!) and I had to forage for food. As it was drizzling, I had a pleasant walk by myself. The little one had biscuits to his heart’s content and played a bit to please his dad. We each enjoyed ourselves in our own way and left quite satisfied with a good day’s work.

For lunch we decided to try the German cafe at Max mueller Bhawan. There’s a reason for this as for everything. We’ve been living in Bangalore for donkeys years now(why are they called that though? Because donkeys’ ears are so long? Must look up!) and have heard about this place forever and had never been. I knew it was on CMH road but somehow assumed it was on the same side as the Metro and never felt like venturing out to those parts. CMH road has been on my work route for a while now, and I realized quite by accident that the cafe and MMB were on the hospital side of CMH road. I have been wanting to go there ever since.

Cafe Max, for such indeed is it’s name, is located on the terrace of the MMB. The windows are kept open except when it starts pouring and there are trees all around the building and a lovely breeze. You can see the neighnours’ terraces too and if you don’t mind the Sintex tanki view, the place has a nice old Bangalore feel to it.

About the food:

The difference in food tastes between my boys tells it’s own tale about styles of parenting. My folks had retired and moved to Bangalore by the time the younger one came along and he has been reared on his grandmother’s paruppu sadam and rasam and does not care much for restaurant food at all. He could in a pinch eat north indian food, but anything else is a no-go.
The older one on the other hand was raised by me using books as a guide. His first foods were stews and pastas off recipe books. It was a slightly unreal upbringing in the Indian context and he amazes me by not getting over it. What I am coming to is this. On that particular day I was craving Indian food and but for the older one would gladly have skipped Cafe Max. Once there, I was dismayed by what a LOT of european looking people there were. So the food was probably quite authentic.

And bland. My mom would have said uppu, kaaram unnu illame, kandraavi! I ate and liked but made a note to not return. My husband’s plate had an astonishingly segregated selection of carbs in the form of potatoes, protein represented by chicken and some salad doing duty as minerals and vitamins. No wonder Rujuta Diwekar is always on about Indian food wisdom and not classifying our food into buckets. I mean HOW would you classify kootu? Or bengali khichdi! Anyway, the younger one had a little pasta, some cake and said a firm “Enough”. The older one on the other hand finished his pasta, his brother’s, asked for a second helping and was stuffing himself astonishingly when I begged him to give his tummy a break and have it packed. He looked doubtful and correctly interpreting his hesitation, I promised him that none of us would touch any of it and even threw in what was left of my lunch as his takeaway and then he agreed.

So if you can figure out where you stand in the wide culinary sweep that is my family, you can decide whether you would like to visit Cafe Max!

They had some nice event posters up though so it might be worthwhile to drop in just for a coffee plus cake and make plans for your next outing!

Tuck Shop Blues

I was informed by my son about a month back that his school was organising a tuck shop and he was expecting his dad and me to cook chicken and pasta respectively. I heard what he was saying without really listening, having learnt from experience not to pay attention to anything involving actual work that did not come in writing and signed by the teacher. Things came to a head a few days later when a fellow mom called asking if she could pool in with us since we were sending in two dishes anyway. Apparently the whole pasta-chicken story had been broadcast wide and was considered fairly official by then!

To back up a bit for those not in the know, a tuck shop is when the school encourages the momming community to cook food for the school to sell. On tuck shop day, the children bring money and pay to eat stuff their mother spent last evening slaving to make. It is precisely this sort of enterprise and focus on the bottomline that reinforces faith in the hearts of parents hearing such poor feedback on the Indian school system.

Putting the pasta-chicken fairy tales to one side, I narrowed it down to chips and dip – junk enough for the kids to love, simple enough to not ruin a week in preparation. So I met the teacher and confirmed everything when last week my son called me at work and told me that I would need to send a sample to school the next day. Without being able to understand why someone would ask for a sample of free food that could always be thrown away, I came home after work to put together (in the absence of half the ingredients) something that would not be rejected at school thereby condemning my child to the humiliation of being the only one with the mother who cannot cook. The tension next day was killing. Only when I called home and my son confirmed that ‘Pappu pass ho gaya’ was I really able to breathe easy.

So when my school whatsapp group was discussing heatedly the other day about all the pressure on schoolgoing kids these days, I couldn’t help wondering – what about their moms? From projects to exams and homework – we can’t seem to catch a break. I have a friend who routinely spends Sunday nights putting together crafts, albums and mini theses. I have never seen her boast about her senior managerly achievements in the tech startup she works for but these projects she is inordinately proud of. As she should be. Our mothers had a hard time of it too but this generation must be the only one to do triple duty – face competition and stress at work, home AND in the school once again!

Anyway the food was ready the night before and did not taste half bad though I could not muster up the courage to post selfies with my masterpiece like the other moms. The next day I followed breathlessly the reports on which item sold out when even as I walked a customer in Singapore through his troubles with network troubleshooting. It was not too bad in the end. My chips sold out before the 50% discount on the leftovers opened.