Monthly Archives: November 2017

A taste of the North East in Kalina

In the morning, the suburb of Kalina is a quiet place. A few shop shutters go up, a straggle of people return from daily Mass, and stray dogs start riffling through the piles of garbage being swept from the street. 

Near the St Roque Grotto, a small two storey space starts to come to life. As part of his morning ritual, Yaomi Awungshi, 36 is having tea and breakfast with his family. In some time, the plates and cups are cleared and the place is open for business.  

The business being Thotrin Café, the suburb’s newest, and what they call the city’s only, North Eastern restaurant. “We serve food from typically cooked in our homes, and from other states,” says Awungshi.

“This area has a lot of families from the North East. We wanted to offer them the tastes of home,” chimes in his cousin Worsem Zimik, 34. Awungshi and Zimik both belong to the Tangkhul tribe – they identify as Nagas but geographically, their home is in Manipur. The menu features Naga tribal dishes and some from other North Eastern states too.

Food stories

The restaurant launched three months back. It is a small space with just four tables. There’s a blue ceiling, few potted plants, and a full length motivational poster covering the door to the kitchen.

“You can call us and request any dish and we will make it,” says Awungshi proudly, adding that recipes are sourced from family and friends. On the menu are dishes like the Manipuri salad shingju, oxtail soup, thukpa, mayang pai manak – a meaty potato mash made with King Chilli and fermented river fish; steamed chicken with bamboo shot and shiitake mushrooms; thesui – fermented soyabean, ngari – fermented river fish with King Chilli, and even escargot. They also serve pork and beef items but that’s off the menu – they don’t want to alienate customers. Dishes are of substantial portions, cheap (the most expensive dish is Rs 220) and meant for sharing.

The diners streaming in and out of the place include family and friends from nearby, Catholics from all across Kalina and Vakola, and members of the community who come from as far as Mira Road and Borivli. “We get a lot of students too. They come to study at the Kalina University and so, settle down here. They often don’t have the time to cook or look for specific ingredients. This was our way of helping them,” says Zimik. When he first came to the city to study law 15 years back, there was no place to buy homemade food or ingredients so he started cooking himself. “We have airhostesses who are regulars who always gush about the food and say it tastes like home.”

Zimik, who had to abandon his dream of becoming a lawyer due to financial reason, has worked in the hotel industry for over a decade. He is currently an operations manager at AB Celestial, Mahim. He believes the time is ripe for the city’s diners to ‘indulge in their love for regional food by trying out our food’. He would know. One of his work stints was at King Chilli, the Chindian fusion restaurant down the street from Thotrin. There, customers could order off-the-menu Manipuri food items like Khaiko Kasathei (a dry fish salad) and Harsa Kasathei (chicken salad with onion, lime juice and King chilli) and Alangsa, a beef offal stew-like dish. The dishes, once only eaten by members of the community, are no popular with anyone looking for a taste of the North Eastern cuisine.  

The right ingredients  

The popularity of the King chilli (or bhut jolokia as its popularly called) these days means it is easier to source. For other ingredients specific to the region, people turn to small community stores that source their wares from the North East.  The Kalina Masjid lane has two such stores selling foodstuff, vegetables, breads and sweets specific to the Manipuri and Naga community. Think fermented fish and bamboo shoots.  

Thotrin gets its produce from the store sharing its name, which Awungshi started three years back. He  gets his produce from home, thrice a week, and the pickles, fried items and bread all made by the family.  The small space is packed with clear packets of fresh vegetables – mustard leaves, Indian bean root, white pepper, aiyang thei (Naga eggplant), fermented bamboo shoots, and dried King chilli.

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Fresh vegetables and dried fish comes in every week from Nagaland

The fish comes in pickled form or a dried version (usually done over heated charcoal) and packed within small woven bamboo baskets. There’s a rack from which hang pickled sweet red plums, packets of meat masala, and tins of fish and meat pickle. Two small refrigerators nearby hold vegetable salads and pork pickle. The dry food stack has strips of dried beef intestines, fried beef and pork, chewy doughnuts sprinkled with coconut, crispy rice cakes and a sweet puri-like bread made from black rice. “When we opened, on the first day itself we had 100 customers!” laughs Awungshi. “That’s when we knew we were right in starting the place. It was that time we had the idea to open the restaurant too.”

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The vegetable rack at Thotrin store

Both places are open through the week. Sunday afternoon is the only time you will find them shut – it’s because the family goes to church. People from the Tangkhul tribe are largely Protestant and go to a small hall within the Air India complex at Kalina for afternoon (and English) services. And after church, they are usually joined by a small group of people who come to get a bite to eat at the restaurant.   

The brothers look at Thotrin as a space that brings the community together, a social hangout spot. “We want to take this food and the restaurant all across Mumbai,” says Zimik with a smile. “We want to make it famous.”

Thotrin Café is situated opposite St Roque Grotto, Kalina Kurla Cross Road, Santacruz East; open from 9.30 pm to 11 pm; call 077382 30296

 

 

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Worth the Mani

I am at a table with three strangers. We don’t talk; our mouths are busy shoveling down idlis, wadas and upma. The only sounds we make come from the cracking of a crisp dosa, and the slurp of hot filter coffee.

A waiter hovers by, ready to refill our bowls with ladles of fragrant sambhar. The thin and tangy vegetable stew coats the idlis (steamed lentil rice cakes) on my plate, giving them an orange tint. In another bowl, the soup-like rasam, made with tamarind juice, tomato, chillies, and spices, soaks through the medu wada (crisp fritters made with urad dal), softening them up.

I wipe both dishes clean, resisting the urge to lick my fingers as many around me do. Someone near me gives a satisfied burp. Nobody bats an eyelid. At Mani’s Lunch Home in Chembur, table etiquette and manners are secondary to enjoying a good meal.

Rasam Vada

Rasam vada.

In Mumbai, there’s cheap and then there’s lunch home cheap. Mani’s Lunch Home, or Mani’s, falls in the latter category – nothing on their menu costs over Rs 150. The 80-year- old institution serves simple, homely, vegetarian South Indian food. Last year, it shut down its Matunga outlet and moved to the eastern suburbs of Chembur.

I visit the new digs for a late breakfast. It takes time getting used to the white walls, metals chairs and air-conditioned interiors. The old Mani’s felt like the dining room of a friend’s home, warm and inviting. Here, under the glare of white lights, the four of us sharing a table are extremely conscious of each other. We sit properly, without fidgeting.
Once our orders arrive though, all propriety is forgotten.

A flurry of waiters deposit plates of dosas the length of my arm, tiny containers of chutney, filter coffee in tumblers, fluffy idlis, crisp wadas and bowls of sambhar and rasam. There’s no cutlery so we use our hands and dig in. My Ghee Roast Dosa is paper thin and crumbles as I break into it, revealing a mound of masala’ (boiled potatoes with onion and tempered with mustard and curry leaves). In between bites, I pour the filter coffee from the stainless steel tumbler into the cup, cool it and take small sips. It is milky
and sweet enough to jolt me awake.

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Masala Dosa. Photo courtesy: Mani’s Lunch Home

Eating at a lunch home is a lesson in portion control. I barely wipe the last drop of sambhar from the plate, when a hand materialises out of nowhere and fills it up. After two rounds, I feebly wave the waiter away. He is understandably surprised. Whoever says no to extra, and free, servings?

By now, I am regretting all the food I’ve ordered. I can’t seem to finish all that I have ordered. My fellow diners have finished up, paid and left. They know their limits. They also know that you don’t waste time at a lunch home, you eat as quickly as you can and leave, making way for other hungry diners.

As I pay the bill, the owner KS Narayanaswamy walks over for feedback. I am full of praise but, he isn’t fooled. He saw me wave away second helpings. “You didn’t finish your paper dosa,” he says, accusingly. I sheepishly apologise, promising to return and do justice to everything I order.

This was part of my breakfast series for Roads & Kingdoms; read a full review of the place in Midday

Brno: To the market

This is the second story in a three-part series about Brno’s underground wonders. Read the first one here: Bone Season 

The Labyrinth underneath the Vegetable Market

There’s a legend related to the tunnels under the vegetable market that I discovered in the book, The Czech Republic – The Most Haunted Country in the world? It says that the beautiful Countess Amalia murdered her lovers – 13 in all – and hid their bodies underground. She still roams the tunnels, ensuring the bodies remained hidden. If true, she is doing a good job, because during my one hour tour of the tunnels, I didn’t spot any bodies.

The Labyrinth underneath Zelný trh (Vegetable Market) is located about eight metres, and 200 steps below one of the oldest squares in the city. The individual cellars, I’m told, were discovered in the last decade. In 2009, they were reinforced and connected via passageways.

I join a Spanish tour group, lurking in the back with my English audio guide, which though informative, is boring. Luckily, the tour is fascinating.

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The Alchemist’s lab.

The guided tour is actually an exhibition offering insight into the different uses of the cellars. In the early 13th century, the cellars under the Horní trh (Upper Market) were used for storage of food, wine, and beer. My audio guide points out the barrels of wine and beer, which were ‘refrigerated’ by placing them on wooden grates. An alchemist’s lab shows us how medieval doctors functioned, and a wine cellar and tavern are reminders of the local tradition of winemaking. We learn about the different sources of light used back then, from the first torches to oil lamps. Our guide allows us to reference our cavemen ancestors, by trying to start a fire using two stones. She isn’t disappointed when few of us can.  

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The wine tavern.

The most chilling section is saved for last. Here, we are shown replicas of torturing devices and punishments used on dishonest people. In a corner, by itself, is the much-publicised cage of fools. In the olden days, the small iron cage was stuffed with people – the unusual height meant you couldn’t sit or stand in it. A few braver members of the group attempt squatting uncomfortably but give up after a few seconds.

 

At the exit, I ask the guide about the legend of the Countess. She dismisses me with a wry smile.

Information: Located at Zelný trh 21, 65878. Closed on Monday; 9 am to 6 pm (Tuesday to Sunday). Cost: 80 Kč to 160 Kč

These wonderful photos are courtesy Michal Růžička, TIC Brno

A house for Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) was not just a celebrated French fashion designer, known for introducing the tuxedo to women and creating ready-to-wear chic. He was also possibly the only one from his generation to systematically archive his work since the creation of his couture house in 1961. The 5,000 garments, 15,000 accessories, sketches, collection boards, photographs, and objects make for an impressive collection of international haute couture. On October 3, the Yves Saint Laurent Paris Museum opened at his former haute couture house, 5 avenue Marceau, where he worked for almost 30 years. Till April this year, before becoming a museum, the space was the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, which organised art, design and fashion exhibitions.

A walk through the museum begins with a biographical introduction to YSL in the former salons and on to the permanent galleries of the ground floor of the museum devoted to the history of his collections. The stage section has two parts — the first looks at the history of fashion through YSL’s work; the second is an intimate look at his original studio. The ground floor has a room framed on one side by a ‘wall of jewels’ and a ‘wall of drawings’ highlighting his creativity in the field of graphic arts. The tour ends in an enclosed space, the ‘mental studio’ retracing the paintings, literature and music tha influenced YSL.

Fondation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent.© Luc Castel

The studio at 5 avenue Marceau.

Heritage conservator Aurélie Samuel is the head of collections, and curator of the new museum. Here, she sheds light on what awaits visitors at the museum.

What led to the decision to turn the foundation into a museum?

The desire to create a patrimony first arose in 1964, when Saint Laurent decided to set aside certain designs after each show. In 1982, the word ‘museum’ first appeared in the ateliers’ specifications sheets for these pieces, which were kept in special storerooms beginning 1997. This legacy, composed of thousands of designs and the documents related to their creation, is unequalled in the fashion world. All these elements prompted me to reorganise the conservation of these objects, give them a status and legitimise the creation of a unique heritage museum.

The archive runs into thousands of dresses, accessories, photos, sketches and garments. How were the final pieces chosen?
The pieces of the exhibition have been chosen according to their interest for the public and also according to their state of conservation. The inaugural exhibition aims to show the themes tackled by the couturier, from the iconic to the imaginary travels, through the first collection of 1962. Two rotations will take place in order to preserve fragile pieces.

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Swatches from the Plance collection.

Do visitors get to see the entire creative process that went into designing a garment?
Yes. They are able to see the creative process repeatedly: the first time in the studio, with the presentation of the different workstations, and a second time in the educational gallery, with the films presented. In addition, the sketches, collection plates and bibles in the first room showcase a draft of the process.

What are some of the iconic YSL works on display? As someone who revolutionised fashion for women, can we expect a section dedicated to the pantsuit and women’s tuxedos?
There is a tribute dress to Piet Mondrian in the mental studio called Aesthetic Phantom, as well as other iconic pieces such as the Van Gogh jacket, Matisse dress, Picasso short dress, the Bambara, the bullfighter, the cape bougainvilléers and the Russian. From the inaugural exhibition there is a podium reserved for the tuxedo, the jumpsuit and the Caban. We are thinking about organising a thematic exhibition devoted entirely to the empowerment of women through the work of YSL.

E - Robe hommage à Piet Mondrian © Alexandre Guirkinger (1)

The tribute dress to Piet Mondrian.

HC 79 H 133

Robe Hommage Pablo Picasso.

There’s another YSL museum opening in Marrakech too. How is this one different?
The main theme of the Marrakech museum is based on the intangible link of YSL with Morocco, the country of adoption for the couturier who worked and lived there every year. The YSL Paris Museum has its own collections and the Museum of Marrakech borrows its pieces from the museum in Paris.

Will Pierre Bergé, who recently passed away, be honoured at the museum?
We will honour him through the history of the House and with the movie, An Eagle with Two Heads, devoted to the unique relationship between him and YSL. Together they established and ran a haute couture house that became an empire, with YSL designing and Bergé managing it. YSL described their partnership as “that great eagle with two heads who navigated the seas, transcended boundaries, and invaded the world with its unparalleled scope, that was us”.

Harkat Studios: A co-working oasis

A stray cat stares at me imperiously as I pick my way around her. Her amber eyes follow me as I enter Harkat Studios, the city’s hippest and possibly coolest co-working space cum performance venue. Once I’m in, the cat stretches and goes to sleep.

Harkat, I soon learn, has that effect on people. It makes everyone feel at home.  

The co-working studio has been in the news ever since it opened its doors in the tree-lined, quiet locale of Aram Nagar in Andheri. The founders, Micheala Strobel (or Mika) and Karan Talwar knew they wanted a space that was quiet, green and welcoming. Indeed, walking on the gravel path to reach the studio, past bungalows shaded by a green canopy and breathing in the quiet, it’s hard to believe this is Mumbai.   

 

 

Outdoor

The outdoor section has its own library and a canopy of trees.

Harkat has an outdoor and indoor space. The outside is a courtyard, now shaded because of the monsoon, with benches and potted plants. Inside, it is one big room, leading off into a narrow green room, and a kitchenette and bathrooms.

It’s been designed as a living room and it certainly feels that way. The all white space has splashes of colour, from the painted repurposed furniture, yellow girders, framed posters, and rugs. CDs hang from the ceiling, competing for attention with low-hung bulbs. 

 

 

I spy little nooks everywhere, different seating zones to cater to every kind of freelancer. A sturdy centre table can be used for a business meeting; side retractable panels on one side of the wall for those who want privacy; mattresses and a painted trunk for those who like sitting on the floor. My favourite is the individual desk, painted in bright colours.

It’s fully equipped for work and my freelancer’s eye is appreciative of the plug points, the printer, the strong Wifi signal and that necessary writer’s fuel, chai (there’s kombucha for those drinking healthy). Another creative working staple, silence, is available in plenty – it is the first thing that attracts me to the place. “We did all this ourselves,” says Mika, her arm sweeping across the room. She points to a table, painted blue with glass on top. “This was a discarded window frame. We got it in Behram Baug and painted it. It was a team-building activity,” she says.

 

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What started out as a bookshelf n contains fascinating set of odds and ends. Photos courtesy: Harkat Studios

The coolest thing here, apart from a vintage typewriter, is the bookshelf. That Harkat staple is visible in almost every picture of the space; an unmoving background to the proceedings. For once, it’s not the books that fascinate me as much as the other knick knacks. “It was originally supposed to be moveable. But once we started putting in the shelves, and added in the books and other things, it became impossible to move,” says Karan. Now, it’s like an open treasure box, scattered with a kaleidoscope, vintage camera, a matryoshka doll, a tie, trophy, painted bottles, paintbrushes and candles. It’s not the prettiest sight; it looks like an elongated stepladder, draped with fairy lights. But, it certainly is compelling. It fits right in; all the furniture here is repurposed or salvaged antique. I run my hands down the wood, trying to imagine where it came from and the stories it must hold. It’s kitschy without being over the top. “The fact that we had no money proved to be a big advantage,” chuckles Karan. “It ensured nothing here is stark or perfect. Everything has rough edges”.

Harkat’s biggest asset is its ability to transform from a laidback co-working space to a performance venue. On most days, it’s a co-working space with people huddled over their laptops, nursing mugs of unlimited coffee and chai. On performance days, held over the weekends, it undergoes a quick 20-minute transformation. All the furniture is moved outside or lined against the walls. The kind of performance – a writing workshop, a film screening, a comedy special –determines the stage area, the décor and whether chairs will need to be borrowed from upstairs. Harkat can comfortable hold about 50 people, 75 if they’re squeezed in together. On Sundays, the outdoor area turns into a vegetable market, selling organic produce.

Hovering in the background and ensuring that everything is on track is a person Mika calls the ‘life of Harkat’, the office boy Ram. It’s not uncommon to hear someone call out his name, several times in the day, asking for his help.

Lunch at the co-working space is communal affair and often, after eating, people curl up on the mattresses and take a nap. “Everyone feels at home here. People come here to work or just to make some tea/coffee and chat with others. It’s a neighbourhood hang out,” says Mika. 

As I sink into a plush yellow armchair, sipping on water from a wine bottle (‘no free wine here’), I can’t help but agree. Harkat is comfortable enough for me to work and for a break, I can curl up with a good book or just take a nap.    

Harkat Studios is located at Bungalow No. 75, JP Road, Aram Nagar Part 2, Versova, Andheri West.The co-working plans start from Rs 300 (a day) to Rs 7,500 (for a desk). Log on to http://co-work.harkat.in