Monday, May 26, 2008

mumbai mumbai

Aneesa had some family matters to attend to, so I spent the day faffing around in Colaba. Colaba is one of those places that is rather pleasant to simply spend the day doing not much of anything in. There's always something to see: confused hippies, drunken Arabic louts, beautiful Bollywood types in skintight jeans, drunken louts of all shapes and sizes and colors. Also many, many ravens.

For some reason, the dining area at the Sea Palace insists on playing Bruce Springsteen singing about the SUMMER OF SIXTY-NIIINEEEE while I am trying to eat my cornflakes. This really is most offputting at times.

I have a curious Indian problem: I love bhindi masala. I really, really love it. For the unknowing, bhindi is ladyfinger or okra, that uniquely slimy vegetable loathed by most reasonable human groups other then: Indians, some African groups, and American Southerners. All groups have developed their own ways of preparing it so it becomes delicious and rich instead of slimy and wiry, but this is admittedly a delicate art that should not be trusted to *just* anyone. So I proceeded to spend my time in Mumbai trying bhindi masala pretty much anywhere that offered it. This was fun.

I decided to try a place that was encouragingly called The Food Inn on the main drag of Colaba for lunch. (Determining where I eat lunch takes up a majority of my leisure time on vacation. This pleases me.) I settled in and ordered the usual bhindi masala and a half tandoori chicken: I am always up for some meaty goodness.

The bhindi masala was only okay: they'd left the ladyfinger stalks whole which made them rather difficult to eat - no one ever, ever gives you a knife in an Indian restaurant. The chicken, however, was delicious - juicy and rich in the middle with a nice honey and masala infused exterior. Yum.

I ate that, wandered around a bit, bargained in a half-hearted way with the book stall guy over A Suitable Boy (high way robbery!) then decided to be a reasonable human being and sleep the rest of the day away. And so I did.

Aneesa and her sister were able to meet me briefly for dinner at a place called Rajdhani, which is sort of an upscale Rajhastani fast food joint. I love seeing the incarnations that fast food goes through in different places and cultures. The menu specializes in the kind of light and interesting vegetarian snacks that are rife in that bit of India: lots of curd, dry masalas, street foods and the like, along with plenty of mango specialities since the Alphonoso mangos are finally, finally in.

In any case, we ordered a thali, some puri chaat, and a pav bhaji. (While we waited, the music in the place for some reason turned to extremely creepy vampire horror show type stuff, which was a bit...offputting, epecially in a cheery and brightly lit orange colored sort of place.)

The thali was immense and delicious - I was thrilled with both the bhindi and the palak paneer, but there wasn't a loser on the plate. It even came with a tasty whipped mango dessert and a mini and adorable potato samosa. The pav bhaji was also nice: pav bhaji is a Mumbai speciality composed of buttery vegetable curry served with a rich dinner roll. You dip the roll in the curry and eat at will: hard to beat. The chaat was also nice, full of crisp fried wafers, small strings of potato-based sev and slightly sweet buffalo milk curd, tossed with spices and plenty of tomato and oion. Refreshing and the perfect thing on one of those very very humid Mumbai evenings.

That evening I decided to defy Saleem's solemn command to never ever ever go anywhere without a phalanx of angry looking male bodyguards, and adjourned to the ever-famous Leopold Cafe, usually home to a healthy number of frightened looking pink people eating crisps and drinking beer. I parked myself at a likely looking table, ordered a nice after-dinner fruit salad, and did a few drawings: my hobby of drawing comics has for some reason come back in full force since I've been in India.

They tolerated my occupancy of a single table for a while, but eventually tried to kick me out. I shrugged and decided to head on home and turn in, but as I was leaving, a guy came from downstairs to see me off: apparantly he'd been waiting to buy me a drink and was put out that I was leaving. I'm always open to a conversation when I'm on my lonensome in a foreign country (though I could feel Saleem's head exploding all the way across town in Bandra), so I joined him upstairs at the part of the bar that apparantly fancied itself hip because it was playing that Thumpy Techno Music. Also the interior was all brushed metal.

We chatted: turned out Rich was from Alabama, which meant we immediately got into a discussion about the various merits of barbeque sauces and barbeque preperations. One curious cultural reality about my people (Southerners) is that we will immediately upon meeting one another begin talking about how to cook a pig. There will usually be polite disagreement about correct pig cooking protocol and what should be served witht the pig and what sort of sauce the pig should be doused with: but the consensus is that there is pig and that smoked pig is delicious. It is always so comforting to know what to talk about.

Still, we did talk about more then just pig. I enjoyed hearing about Rich's many experiences in Japan: he did a foreign exchange when he was my age and fell in love, returning for the JET program and many times after for both work and pleasure. He was in fact about to lead a trip to Japan as an adjunct professor for Alabama State University (of snot nosed kids my age!), which sounds pretty cool to me. I warned him that people my age can be exceedingly obnoxious. He seemed unmoved. (But we so are.)

We also shared a nice bitch-fest about the hordes of unwashed hippies who moon around Colaba smoking weed and having dodgy encounters with various drug dealers and ladies of ill repute who hang out in Mumbai. Of course, it seems like everyone is gleefully of ill repute to some extent in Mumbai (which may be one of the things I like about it, though unfortunately I am not nearly as of ill repute as I'd like to be.)

We chatted in this fashion til' one AM, where we were unceremoniously kicked out per Indian regulations. (This translates into someone coming around and saying LEAVE NOW.) I certainly enjoyed meeting him and talking smack about the world around us....I love meeting Americans who travel and help in some small way to rectify the USA's current not-so-hot reputation in the world. And also prove that Southerners are NOT all unwashed banjo-playing hicks thank you very much. Only some of us.

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