Friday, August 23, 2013

The Spiritual Aspect of Gastronomy!

By the time you are finished with reading this blog, you may have started enjoying food in a different manner. I can assure that this blog will lead to ‘Salivation’ than ‘Salvation’. I have a different take on the overall aspect of ‘enjoying food and but also come out with a guilty frame of mind, most of the people face after eating their heart out’. The friction starts there and believe it or not, it starts to get accumulated in the form of fat/calories. The more the friction the higher the calories are!

I had been reading a lot in the newspapers (or read ‘tabloids’) regarding the ill effect of certain food e.g. Cheese.  Cheese is sometimes referred as deadly as an assassin and next day, the same tabloid publishes a note on why one should eat cheese regularly to stay healthy. So you don’t know whether to blame yourself or the cheese or that sucker tabloid. Most of the time, you end up blaming yourself or the cheese or mostly..CHEESE!

And there are some research fellows who are writing a thesis on how fast food craving is almost similar to drug addiction. They have come to a conclusion that thinking about fast food activates the similar centres in brain which are generally associated with triggering the addiction of drugs. I insist that addiction for food is not caused by food but by the person consuming it. And FYI, there is an addiction of God also. They keep on chanting 24X7 and expect miracles to happen. I have also come across many people who insist that they eat to live and not live to eat.

First things first. What my experience says – Never blame your food for your ill health. You are consciously accepting what to eat. And even after this if you have nothing but to blame food, you are doing an injustice to it. From here only the unfair treatment of the food starts. Your body decides to not digest it properly. It blames it. It says the food is heavy and is hindering the digestion. This slows the metabolism. And slower metabolism rate means deposition of fat at various organs in your body. Then how food is culprit here?

In general, we see many a people seeking spirituality, trying to be as close as possible to God, seeking inner peace. Most of them attend spiritual camps to cut themselves from the mundane (and essentially ruthless) chores. That particular retreat refreshes them, charges them up so that they can survive the battle for a typical time cycle. Some go a step ahead. They accept a typical order to attain higher spiritual level, dedicate a lot of time for meditation and yet, are part of the family. Some (and almost all sages) leave everything what they have and embark a journey to find themselves which ultimately culminates into finding GOD sometimes.

In a nutshell, you have to work hard to be closer to God. I mean that is the impression we get from the so called ‘learned ’ people. However, I have never heard of God quoting “You will have to go through tough situations to see me. I will test you. I will take you to the cliff. I will torture you and if you pass the ‘examination’ then only I will appear” Is God that tough to people who wish to experience him? Will he purposely make them go through penance? I have my doubts. Perhaps, a simple and honest act can get you far closer to God than the unruly penance can take and that too in less time.

So why am I talking about being closer to God? May be, the following case makes sense for the topic. Consider any moment from the past when you were hungry. Seriously hungry! You wanted something to eat. It didn’t matter what. You were not in a position to define if you needed Italian, Chinese, French, Mediterranean, Punjabi etc . And all you got was simple bread (Roti in Indian context) and vegetable (Sabzi) and it must have tested far better than the ‘most awesome cuisine’ you had till date. Eureka! My dear friend, you had experienced God. Experience of God is the experience of fulfillment, experience of joy and experience of gratitude. It comes in many forms. And food is one of them.

Food is a basic need of any living being. It thrives on it. And it is probably the simplest way of being in touch with God everyday (if you wish to)! There could be nothing as joyful as you enjoying a morsel of food when you are hungry. The sense of fulfillment and joy certainly takes you near to God. Hunger is the penance. I am not trying to write ‘A Lazy Man’s Guide To Seek God’ but what is the problem if there are simpler ways to be happy and grateful. You don’t have to go all the way to Himalaya for that!!

Few of you may argue that many communities across the globe have the practice of saying prayer before starting lunch/dinner. Saying prayer and experiencing fulfillment are different things. Further, saying prayer has become a mechanical ritual. In my school days, I used to be so eager to finish the prayer so that I can open my tiffin and start eating the food. More or less the same case across the globe.  Few must be doing this very dedicatedly but is all right if you do that after finishing your food. It will have more element.

And finally small note on a tribe of people who call food ‘s**t’ when they don’t like it. Okay, I understand your outrage but referring food in that manner is complete disrespect and not acceptable in any terms. There are millions on this planet who don’t get to anything to eat for days and they are ready to eat anything. Think for a moment about them before you disrespect food. And yes, please finish the portions in your plate. If you can’t finish then please don’t serve yourself with that much quantity. You will be doing a lot of favour to the whole mankind!

So, in a nutshell…it’s easy!!! Love your food, love the person who cooks food for you, appreciate, say thanks and just enjoy it!!! J     

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Two and Half Hours in Mussoorie

Statutory Warning – This is a blog regarding my experiences for the time I was there in Mussoorie and mostly contains the review of food served at a famous oriental eatery called ‘Kalsang’. This blog is not about the tips about what to do, where to eat, what to see in 2.5 hours in Mussoorie. Oh yes, this is the right time…turn back…and read some useful stuff. What follows is a story of how a dream to spend a whole day (yes that’s when the daylight is prominent) went awry and was shrunk to 2.5 hrs (thankfully, in the daylight!)

So the Google Maps say that the distance from Haridwar to Mussoorie is merely 80.7 km and can be covered comfortably in 1 hour 49 minutes. For me, what matters is the distance, you can’t calculate time (on the contrary time calculates you!) Did somebody say….. time= distance/average speed? So stationed at Haridwar in the second week of April of 2012, I was contemplating about doing a day trip to Mussoorie. Since there are regular bus services from Haridwar to Deharadun and from Dehardun to Mussoorie, I was expecting myself to reach Mussoorie in 3 hours (base case scenario).

I don’t remember what went wrong…but I started late. I was waiting outside Shanti Kunj in the outskirts of Haridwar towards Rajaji National Park. So things start turning hostile when you mess up with them. I started late and now, I was waiting for the bus to arrive for more than half an hour. Finally, I got the bus at around 11.15 am and reached ISBT Deharadun at 12.45 am. There I was enlightened about the buses for Mussoorie departing from the bus stand at Railway Station, hain? So I hurriedly caught a 6 seater auto to reach the Deharadun Railway station (It was already 1.15 pm! L)

Thankfully, as I reached the bus stand, a bus to Mussoorie was ready (read as it was standing there with the signboard ‘Deharadun to Mussoorie’). I got the tickets and took my seat. I didn’t see a kitty crossing my road but still there was more than a half an hour delay (or right time?) to start the bus. But the only thing which was comforting me was the distance- mere 30 km. It was about 2 pm and somebody sitting behind my seat roared while having conversation with a fellow passenger “No doubt! We will not reach Mussoorie before 3.30 pm!” What??? 1.5 hrs to cover 30 km distance? I was almost in tears. I was hungry!

Finally, the driver of the bus arrived. I don’t remember how he looked but he was almost an angel who had transformed from a Satan I was cursing few minutes ago. After covering few kilometers briskly on the plain and well maintained roads of Deharadun, I had started doubting the ‘backseater’s’ claim.  But as our bus started ascending on the hilly road, I knew that the claim was right. However, the air turned cooler and as we kept on elevating the vistas were turning more beautiful. (Na na…not breathtaking..for that you have to be face to face with The Himalayas and that I experienced next day itself at Deoria Taal near Ukhimath!) So our bus came to halt at Mussoorie bus stand at 3.30 pm. My base case scenario had gone for a complete toss.

Look at the number of cars (visitors) even on a weekday  in Mussoorie and also, the Anand Bhojanalay near Bus Stand

Relieved, I finally CLIMBED to the Mall Road. Every other hill station in North India has a Mall Road, the busiest street and probably, the most avoidable during peak seasons (Actually I give you a good advice – AVOID POPULAR HILL STATONS DURING PEAK SEASONS!!!) Mussoorie though is referred as the queen of the hill stations. Thankfully, it was not a peak season and very few rumblings were happening on the mall road. A wedding celebration was going on in a nearby cultural hall. I couldn’t make it which wedding it was! It sounded like Nepali wedding with the song being sung there. It was about 4 PM and I had nothing since morning. L I earlier thought of visiting Chic Chocolates on Mall Road but skipped it and proceeded for Kalsang at the far end of the Mall Road (I had to hire a rickshaw puller as I was too tired to walk all the way!)

Kalsang is a very famous oriental (read Tibetan) eatery in Mussoorie and has got a tremendous patronage. The dekko oozes all oriental stuff. The red lanterns, crimson interiors as well as exteriors and the staff dressed in red mandarin suits assure that you are entering a genuine oriental eatery. As soon as I settled on the table, I was presented with a menu card with quite an elaborate menu. I actually had not thought about ordering specific stuff but was intrigued by my earlier day’s visit to Clement Town in Deharadun where most of the Tibetan restaurants serving Thukpa and Momos.

After flipping through the Chinese menu, I came across Tibetan menu. Well, for me, any day Tibet wins over China in any aspect. I had been to Namgyal Monastery in McLeodganj (HP) and have watched ‘Seven Years In Tibet’.  A wide smile on my face as both thukpa and momos were available. I ordered (as usual) veg versions of both these dishes and told the waiter that I would order main course after a while. He gave me a smile and told me that my order would be sufficient to fill the guts. Trust me, I am a foodie with serious appetite but this bowled me over. But I didn’t stop there. Let me elaborate!

Thukpa is a thick noddle soup along with lot of veggies (and yes meat too in the original format..happy?) If you ask me to nominate the soup I would like to have any day, there is no competition to Thukpa. Amazingly delicious, kindles almost all your taste buds on the tongue, the aromatic waft makes all the gastric juices ooze at the same time, the portion is very filling and a person with average appetite may even struggle to finish the bowl. Thukpa took my breathe (and my hunger) away!
God Bless You, Tibet! What an awesome Thukpa is this!

However, I couldn’t do any injustice to the momos which were served while I was enjoying Thukpa. Momos are the packets made of fine flour enclosing finely chopped veggies (for me) and meat (again in the original format!) and are steamed to perfection. Served with a tantalizingly pungent red dip/chutney, it tastes like jackpot. I mean your eyes roll to appreciate the taste. Nine momos served with finely chopped cabbage disappeared one by one from my plate. The waiter might have started regretting about suggesting to limit my order. He He! J

Veg Momos with delicious dip!

How a lunch could be complete without a dessert? Honestly, I don’t remember the name but I certainly remember the taste! J A huge block of vanilla ice cream supported at four corners by four extremely delectable banana fritters (banana pakoras) with white sesame on the outer layer of the fritters. Enough it was! I took out my pen and wrote a wonderful thanking note on it! Hopefully you’ll find it on the table just near the kitchen!  

The unusual dessert made of vanilla ice cream, bananas and white sesame! Yummilicious!

Now, it was 4.45 pm. I decided to walk the entire stretch of Mall Road to digest the heavy stuff. The air was crisp and cool. The Mall Road literally looked deserted. I sat on one of the bench alongside the road inhaling the beauty of the valley and the distant hills. It was time. I had to catch the bus to Deharadun at 6 pm. Luckily this bus left on time. J

Though the start of the day had been messy and almost squeezed my patience out of me, I was happy that I got to spend at least 2.5 hours in Mussoorie (and I got to eat the best Tibetan dishes I had till date J). Life loves you. Don’t worry! Even if the start is frustrating, you’ll be rewarded with one of the finest things you couldn’t have imagined. My belief in this became stronger after spending 2.5 hours in Mussoorie!