Monday, November 23, 2015

Put India on your plate

In a conversation with Raman Preet Singh Ahluwalia, Executive Chef at Park Plaza Zirakpur, I realised that most of the things I grew up on made complete sense to me and that my logical mind had completely failed me when I hoarded food in packets and cans. The Chef who demonstrated his skill by helping me cut back 2 inches of flab in the two days that I was with him. He spoke about the need to enhance the Indianess on our plates. Here's a few bits from our conversation:

Me: There has been a lot of emphasis on changing the oil we use to cook in every six months or so. What oils do you prefer and why?

Chef: There is no uniform rule to cater to people across the world. In India, we often tend to misinterpret international trends and follow things blindly. The olive oil that is sold in India, for instance, is actually the industrial oil with olive flavours in it. How can that be a healthy option to add to food? In the rush to adhere to international trends of eating, we are totally ignoring centuries-old tried and tested kitchen modules to suit our palettes. I use only the freshly procured mustard oil (kachchi ghaani sarso tel) for cooking at home. Not only is it the freshest oil, it really complements the vegetables and lentils that we eat in this country. Given our climate and weather, our bodies require a certain level of cholesterol to be generated. Th whole market-driven low cholesterol oils are actually doing you more harm than good.

Me: What to you is the best breakfast that one can have?

Chef: Not paranthas. The problem is that instead of adhering to what the actual tradition is, we have moulded our conveniences as tradition. It is not healthy to start the day with fried food anywhere in the world. The best breakfast to have in India is a bowl of fruit with roasted or beaten wheat/barley/ragi or any carbohydrate rich cereal served with milk. If you actually are talking about tradition, stop drinking milk tea and fruit jams and fried food. The ideal meal is always light and nutritious.

Me: But fast food is a necessary evil in our times. How can one avoid junk food?

Chef: Who is asking you to avoid junk food? Eat the burger, leave the fries. In India, it is considered stylish to waste homemade food. How many people leave their fries? We feel ashamed in leaving behind a glass of aerated drink, knowing that it only damages us but we don't mind throwing away glasses full of drinking water. Home-made vegetables are discarded with little concern but pizza is always finished mostly even without having to ask. We have cultivated very irresponsible food habits and we are suffering because of them. The trick that I have learnt and incorporated is to stay true to Indian basics and finish with an international touch.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

To loo or not to loo!

Today's article comes on the lines of World Toilet Day. At a time when the Indian government is paying so much attention to tourism and revenue and jobs that can be generated through Tourism, the question I put forward is: Where are the toilets for women? In the years of my travelling through the country I have suffered (physically and mentally) for the lack of proper toilets along the way. Just a few tips to make everyone's travel through India a "smooth" one!

1. We all know that the key is to know when to drink water. Drink loads of water the day before you travel to avoid using a public restroom (yes, Indian public restrooms are mostly unclean - exceptions do not make this rule).

2. Use the restroom in your house before you start your journey.

3. If undertaking a long train trip, always enquire about the "cleaning" stations on the way. The loos in Indian trains usually get a hose down somewhere along the journey and pantry boys and TTEs are aware of the stations and could share the names so that you can use the loo after it has been washed. Or you could stick your head out of a door AFTER the train stops at a major station (five to ten minute halt) and check.

4. Bus journeys, especially the 10-12 hour ones, are a pain. Not all buses stop at dhabas/restaurants offering clean restrooms. Always know that you can ask the bus driver to stop for a few minutes while driving through a town where you can spot any clean restaurant that you can hop into. Do not be ashamed to request passengers to urge the driver to stop at a place offering a clean loo.

5. Please try not to take nature's call to nature. Going behind the bushes/rocks is neither safe nor hygienic. Most women in rural areas face assault on their way to open spaces where they go to defecate owing to the lack of proper sanitation system in their homes.

6. Whenever you find a clean toilet, please make a note of it and share information (like Alpaviram's facebook page: for other traveller's to benefit.

7. Use the toilets in a hotel room than the general toilet in the lobby of the hotels. In case you are being hosted at someone's house, kindly leave their loo clean after your use.

8. The restrooms near the boarding gates are always cleaner (in my experience) than the ones just before the security gates. Although there are some airports that have just one loo so whenever you have the option, use the restroom closest to the boarding gate before taking a flight.

9. If you are driving down in a car/taxi, it is advisable to stop at state-run institutions (even museums) for a loo break. Most heritage sites have loos that are regularly cleaned (thank you Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan, Clean Indian campaign). Cafe Coffee Days are a better pit-stop tan petrol pumps in India. It was mandatory for petrol pumps to

10. Try the "pee-buddy". It is a unique innovation that does not require you to squat to relieve yourself. You can stand and do your business and reduce the risk of infection. A lot of wayside amenities do not have working flushes. Kindly ask for water or tip the cleaner to clean up before you.