Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Photo Essay: Groups No. 4

It's been a while since I posted a collection of group shots. For new readers - it is a hobby of mine to randomly stop people who are standing/milling about/working/holidaying in groups - and get them to pose for a photo. Even better and more precious if they are all wearing the same uniform.  Yes....a slight obsession!

Here is my latest lot.  Thanks for stopping by!

Railway Porters - Lokmanya Tilak station in Kurla.  Love the bright red shirts.

A group of government drivers and a couple of guards - outside the
West Bengal Secretariat (Writers Building) Calcutta

Dancers in traditional Assamese costume - Kaziranga

Farm workers relaxing and chatting - Aarey Milk Colony

More farm workers - Aarey Milk Colony

Petrol pump workers at Kemps Corner Mumbai (the non-uniformed guy annoyingly slipped into this photo!)

Impeccably turned out waiters at the Trident Hotel, Bandra Kurla

Very naughty boys at a building site in Wadala (one of them threw a stone at me when I turned my back!)

Family group at My first Indian wedding

Three proud guards at Kaziranga National Park - protecting the endangered tiger with only WWII rifles

Nature Park trainees touring Kaziranga - looking a bit Mexican-Mafioso in their scarves and dark glasses.

You may have seen this one before - schoolgirls in traditional Assamese Costume 
A few non-posed subjects:

I wasn't brave enough to ask these holy men to pose but I love the bright orange (Calcutta)
Sarnath near Varanasi - Buddhist Monks mid chant
Not posing for me but a group nevertheless!  - Dabbawalas at Churchgate Station, Mumbai

My collection starts at:

Groups No.1 and is followed by
Groups No.2 and
Groups No.3

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Monsoon Fever

As the humidity and heat of the Mumbai summer reaches unbearable levels, you can begin to feel a change in the air.  Clouds are starting to creep across the city sky and linger, casting dark shadows over the sea.  Even my rheumatic big toe is starting to pain me (always a sure sign that rain is on the way!)  In fact, Mr Jules has already experienced a short and sharp downpour going across the Sealink on his way to work....and it's been the talk of the town. Much like the British start every conversation remarking on the weather, monsoon gossip is rife, with everyone - and especially the newspapers  - trying to predict when it will start.

View from the balcony at sunset - Mumbai is becoming cloudy and overcast which is good news.
But what does the Monsoon really mean to the people of India?  The rains can be a huge inconvenience to people in the city, but they also bring hope and rejuvenation - a chance to wash away the dirt and start anew.  Not just important to rural folk, the whole country is reliant on the monsoon to quench parched land and produce a good harvest - and therefore decent food crops that everyday-people will survive on for the rest of the year. The economy is dependent on it. In the city, we also pray for a 'good' monsoon in order to keep water levels high and prevent water usage restrictions the rest of the year. A weak monsoon, in short, spells disaster for any country that depends on it.

Last year, I lived in fear of getting my feet wet and having them covered in goodness-knows-what from backed-up sewers.  When you see how violently the rain comes down and how poorly the drainage systems cope - you will understand why I have now brought my wellington boots back from the UK!  But this is selfish talk as I hate to think what slum dwellers living at ground level must go through every year - when rivulets of water can reach several feet high. And spare a thought for those who don't even have a slum property to live in and rely on the pavements and a bit of tarpaulin to make their homes.  

But it's sweaty out there, so I am also personally looking forward to the monsoon breaking.  Last year I didn't really take any photos of the downpours - which I find mesmerising - so this year I hope to get a few interesting shots.  

Stay tuned!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Breakfast Club

Oh my kingdom for an English Breakfast!  

One thing you do miss as a Brit, is a proper hearty English Breakfast. We can just about rustle up a cooked breakfast at home now using fatty bacon or pancetta from Nature's Basket. But without our country's famed pork sausages and black pudding, it's just not the real deal. 

When I heard about The Breakfast Club - a weekend pop-up restaurant on Carter Road, I was very excited. Already in it's fifth week, The Breakfast Club is the initiative of two young Brit girls Clementine Vandeleur and Imogen Walker (good on ya!) - and is proving very popular. Spurred on by a mini photography exhibition by Bombay Underground/Reality Gives at the restaurant, we made it to the eatery for brunch this morning - and we were not to be disappointed.

The pop-up borrows the premises of Corniche restaurant and is set in a picturesque courtyard across from the sea.  With its whitewashed walls and furniture, checked table cloths and sunny disposition, there is a distinctly Mediterranean feel to the place.  Actually, I remarked that it was like being on a Greek holiday when I first arrived - even if the Mumbai summer is probably a little too hot to want to eat outside without A/C!

Are we in Greece, or Mumbai?!

And although there are no sausages or black pudding to be seen on the menu (aaaaaw ...but we forgive you as you just can't get those ingredients in this city) - the rather unusual choice of set breakfasts more than makes up for it. There are nine to choose from - ranging from 'The Healthy' - muesli with fresh fruit, yoghurt and honey; to 'The London' - boiled eggs and asparagus wrapped in bacon with garlic-butter soldiers; to 'The Self' which is made up of four components that you choose from a selection.  There is also the luxurious sounding 'Corniche' - scrambled eggs with basil and smoked salmon on toast.  Mmmm...perhaps we are going to have to keep coming back in order to sample all of them!

It was hard to choose what to have - everything sounded so delicious but in the end I went for 'The Irish' - because I am a sucker for hollandaise sauce. This comprised of poached eggs and crispy bacon on a bed of sweet potato hash browns - topped off with the most beautiful, tangy hollandaise sauce I have ever tasted.   Mr Jules 'Self' helped and went for runny fried eggs with bacon, mushroom and dauphinoise potatoes.  Yum. We both had our own cafetiere of properly made coffee, together with a freshly squeezed apple juice (although this had mashy bits of apple in it, rendering the juice a little difficult to drink).  Juices and tea/coffee are included in the set brunch price.  

Sumptuous, tangy hollandaise...and check out that bacon.  A scrummy combination with sweet potato hash browns.
In my haste to order, I had not turned over the page of the menu - otherwise I would have realised there was also a selection of seven salads to choose from!  Examples include Beetroot marinated in garlic yoghurt with dill and pomegranate or the utterly delectable sounding figs, bacon and walnuts with honey, lemon and olive dressing.  I might have been tempted to have the latter instead of (or as well as) my 'Irish'. 

For something simpler to go with your coffee or as a side, there is a baked bread basket consisting of Danish pastries, muffins, brioche and rolls on offer - or alternatively - cinnamon pancakes/vanilla waffles with seasonal fruit, ice cream and chocolate sauce.  If you're going in for a proper long Sunday brunch with friends, you will be pleased to hear that there are some alcoholic options such as the Sula Brut Bellini, Sangria and beer. 

Mr Jules's selection from 'The Self' - perfectly runny fried eggs with mushrooms, bacon and dauphinoise potatoes.
We can forgive the lack of a good British sausage!

I was very impressed by the endeavours of these two budding restauranteurs. They've definitely tapped into a gap in the market. We were some of the first to arrive this morning and most of the tables had already been reserved or filled.  If we'd arrived any later, I think we would have been disappointed - reservations are therefore probably recommended.  And even if there wasn't a genuine British 'Fry Up' to be had, everything was well cooked and beautifully presented.  Mr Jules even remarked that it was the best western breakfast that he had so far sampled in India.  Quite a compliment, coming from him!

Price wise, the set brunches range from 450 Rs for 'The Healthy' - to 600 Rs for the meatier 'London' to 1,000 Rs for the smoked salmon 'Corniche'.  Salads are in the range of 250-275 Rs and a cup of coffee is 135 Rs. (Prices exclusive of taxes).

Originally, the concept was supposed to run for eight or nine weeks only, but I hear that The Breakfast Club has been such a runaway success, that it's going to become a permanent fixture at the Corniche.  For people like us who are not particularly interested in having big fat boozy hotel brunches every Sunday - but instead want to experience home cooking with a twist - this is great news.

Thank you for bringing us The Breakfast Club Clemmie and Imogen!

Mulchy apple juice and a cafetiere of decent coffee.

The Breakfast Club at Corniche
B-15, Gagangiri Co-operative Housing Society
Carter Road
Bandra (West) 
Tel: 022 2646 0147

Every Saturday and Sunday, from 11am to 4pm

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Eastern Treasure Home Furnishings Mumbai

I met Karan Chandiramani by chance at a charity event supporting the NGO I work for.  When he told me that his company - Indoglobe - manufactured, sourced and supplied bespoke furniture, I of course collared him and told him that I would have to write about it on my blog.  Even better, this furniture was available to view at a store in Bandra - which then led me to visit Eastern Treasure! Some of my Mumbai readers seem to depend on me for home furnishing information and I am always happy to oblige by reporting on new finds!

Eastern Treasure may well be a new find to me, but actually the store has existed for eight years. The thing is, that in Mumbai, such places as Eastern Treasure are half hidden.  You have to know exactly where they are first. There is little advertising (other than the odd mention in Architectural Digest magazine) and there are usually no shop fronts visible at pavement level.  Many of these businesses seem to thrive on word of mouth. However, if that word of mouth is only between locals, it means that us expats can get left out.

Super cool aviation style desk (Rs. 1.55 Lakh) with studded swivel chair
So here we are - I've found the store on the third floor of a building on Hill Road, Bandra and I've been given the tour of the furniture supplied by Karan.  Actually, 'Eastern' Treasure is a bit of a misnomer - the showroom is completely different to what I was expecting.  I found a style more consistent with a British gentleman's club or library. Karan, tells me that I am not imagining it - as the founder of the store - Renu Chainani (an interior designer who trained in London) strives for this look;  masculine sofas and leather club chairs; a desk that looks like it has been made from the wing of a 1930s aeroplane; a studded, leather swivel seat by Timothy Oulton; armchairs with a Union Jack motif; an Indiana Jones style desk - trunk-like and made of leather, and adorned with a stainless steel vintage car model.  The trunk desk is matched with a Louis Ghost Chair by Kartell.  All around the walls are framed prints of stacked books - everything you could need to create that library feel. 

My personal favourite - Indiana Jones campaign trunk desk (Rs 1.25 Lakh) and
Kartell Louis Ghost Chair (9,500 Rs + VAT...selling out fast)

But the collection is eclectic - because although there are buttoned back sofas and formal occasional chairs, there is also a large 70s style bubble seat and a couple of bright orange plastic stools.  Somehow it works.  On display I can also see a big comfortable leather corner suite, a unit housing stacks of manly looking cushions and some unusual, shiny accessories. 

If you are into the colonial look - as I am - these furnishings would tie in wonderfully.  A strong teak wood bookcase would sit beautifully with the Indiana Jones leather desk for example.   Wooden art-deco side tables would look excellent with the leather club chairs. Some of the shiny accessories would look very glamorous on top of a rosewood cabinet. 

As you know, I have been to quite a few home furnishings stores in Mumbai - but this has to be one of the first ones I have seen offering something for the style conscious bachelor.  If you are guy setting up home in the city (with a few pennies in your pocket) - this is the place for you! And - if you can't quite find what you are looking for - Karan can arrange custom made furniture for you through his company Indoglobe - which already manufactures tailored-fit items for hotels, projects and restaurants. 

Images of this fabulous furnishings partnership:

A close up of that unique swivel chair (Rs 62,000)
(by Timothy Oulton, London - which you can also source at Harrods!)

Nice, shiny accessories

Venetian style, mirrored chest of drawers.  I am guessing that the tusks are faux-ivory!

Clubby sofa

More button back seating 

Unusual champagne glass light fixture

Cushions that even men would like!

Unusual Victoriana console unit (45,000 Rs)

Prints of stacked books everywhere (starting at 7,000 Rs) - create your own library

Designer 70s bubble chair and cool orange stools

More Timothy Oulton furniture - Bring out the Brit in you.

For custom made furniture, you can contact Karan directly on 9820052726 / 02 (

or visit the store :

Eastern Treasure Lifestyle
301, Libra Towers, 3rd Floor, (Above Lakme Salon which is above Play Clan)
Opposite Stanislaus High School, 
Hill Road, Bandra West, Mumbai - 400050
Tel 9819102256 or (022) 65548203, 26432565

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A Very Fine Finely Chopped Food Walk

For an expat dining out in Mumbai, it is all too easy to only frequent well known restaurants and Sunday brunch locations. Ones which can be considered 'safe options' that cater well to our western constitutions. But what about trying out some of Mumbai's more traditional eateries?  The kind of places that are part of the very fabric of the city?

Mumbai is without doubt, the most cosmopolitan city in India - but it is also the most itinerant.  Over many decades, millions of people have flocked to the city from rural villages all over India, each one bringing their own traditions, faiths and recipes.  Nowhere else in India will you find such a variety of regional cooking; rich meat curries from the Punjab; coconutty prawn curries from Kerala; vegetarian thalis from Gujurat; Irani influenced Parsi berry pulaos; the Portuguese balchaos of Goa.  The list is endless.  The most well known of these food styles can be found at the best Indian restaurants in town. But in order to get right under the skin of itinerant Mumbai you have to dig a little deeper - by going right to the soul of the community.

Last night, Mr Jules and I did exactly that by joining a 'Finely Chopped Food Walk'. Finely Chopped is actually a food blog and Facebook page with a huge following that is lovingly written by Kalyan Karmakar - a guy who works in market research whilst penning all things food related in his spare time.  As the blog became more and more popular - and supported by the explosive growth in dining out - he created the concept of the Food Walk. The aim of which is to take a group of people right to the heart of regional cooking; to experiment with cuisine at local restaurants (where you may not even find a word of English on the sign!), to walk around an area and shop for ingredients along the way, and to get people to meet other people with similar food interests.  A forum for discovery, discussion and enjoyment.

Dadar was the location of last night's walk - an epicentre for 'typical' Maharashtrian cuisine. Previously, the only Maharashtrian food that we had sampled was of the Mumbai street food variety - Wada Pav, Sev Puri, Pani Puri etc.  Nothing particularly 'substantial'. Maharashtrian cuisine itself, being the cuisine of Marathi (and hence Mumbai) people actually covers a wider range of districts -  from Nagpur in the very North, to Mumbai and Pune in the middle, Kolhapur in the south and the Konkan coast down the west side of India.

The group of 14 introducing themselves in Aaswad.
A mixture of expats and locals
Kalyan at the helm and resplendent in orange

Within 30 minutes of meeting at the first eatery - Aaswad - we had already been introduced to a diverse group of 12 other individuals - including a travel writer, a food blogger, a corporate lawyer and even an American ex-fighter pilot!!  A refreshing drink was swiftly brought out to get things started - Panha - which is a mango juice infused with cardamom and saffron.  As Kalyan proceeded to give us a commentary on the origins and ingredients of all the dishes we would be sampling, the food began to arrive:  crispy and flat Thalee peeth pancake; soft batata (potato) vada fragrant with mustard seeds; rice-crispy like sabudana vada; delicious, sweet mango aamras puri; and lastly, a refreshing amba daal salad. (Some detailed in the pictures below).  My eyes were already beginning to feel bigger than my stomach!

Thalee Peeth - flat and crispy and tasted
a bit like an onion baji.  Dip it in white butter and yoghurt first.
Yummy Batata Vada broken open - have it with a sprinkle of chilli and a dollop of coconut chutney
Sabudana Vada - fried dumplings of sago. Crispy and wholesome
Divine Mango Amraas Puri - mango pureed with a bit of milk in which to dunk puris
- which tasted like donuts but better!

After spending an hour or so at Aaswad, we moved out of the restaurant and across the road to visit a local spice shop.  The shopkeeper allowed us to smell the various fragrant spices and tangy pickles and we were even able to taste one or two of them.   I purchased a meat rub with a sophisticated hint of star anise - a good sized packet for a mere 35 Rs.  A stallholder at Crawford Market had previously tried to rip me off for 300 Rs for a small bag of madras curry powder, so I was even more pleased with my purchase.

Spice kiosk across from Aswaad - smelling and tasting before buying

Colourful pickles

Then we moved on to the next shop - the very charming Kokan Bhavan - which specialises in ingredients from the Konkan coast.  In particular, the juice of Kokum which is a berry unique to the region and which is used in curries and sherbets.  We bought two large bags of papads for deep frying, a rustic looking mortar and pestle (for grinding our spices properly!) and we were given a bottle of the Kokum juice free of charge.  We are going to experiment with this juice to see if it makes a good gin cocktail!

Kokum Juice - perhaps a nice mixer for a gin cocktail?

Spices at Kokan Bhavan

Next we moved on to Prakash restaurant for a short stop and a taster of 'missal' - a spicy concoction consisting of mung beans, potato, curry powder and topped with sev (crunchy gram flour noodles like you find in Bombay Mix).  This was a bit too chilli hot for me but it was nicely washed down with Piyush - a bit like a sweet lassi and totally delicious.

Waiter at Prakash serving us sweet and refreshing Piyush
Our final destination (which was just as well as I was almost at bursting point) was Sachin restaurant - serving traditional veg and non-veg Gomantak food. Gomantak is a style of cooking that belongs to the Saraswat community from the coastal areas of Southern Maharashtra and Goa and is therefore very seafood based. First to come out was the Sol Kadi - a salty coconut based drink that most of us unfortunately did not like - worth trying but I think it is an acquired taste.  Then in quick succession - prawn fry, Bombay Duck (Bombil fish) Fry, and Sukha Mutton - meat cooked in a most unctuous and deeply flavoured sauce.

The not so popular Sol Kadi - salty and warm.
Prawns Fry - who can resist something so crispy and deep fried! Yum.
All the while we were receiving a detailed commentary on the food - their origins and ingredients and some of the history of the restaurant owners.  Kalyan really knows his stuff and is so enthusiastic about the food, you can't help but enthuse with him! We left the restaurant thoroughly but pleasantly bloated, holding a complimentary box of sweets to have later. We really enjoyed our outing and it made such a change from the usual slump on the sofa in front of a Sunday night movie. Not only that, but we met an interesting and diverse group of people, experienced completely new tastes, found new places to shop and we also came to appreciate Dadar for being a community offering a quality food culture. A place that would have otherwise remained hidden to us forever.

I can't wait to go on another Food Walk.  Kalyan also mentioned he may be offering cookery lessons during the quieter monsoon this space as I will be first in the queue for that!

In order to get on a walk – keep tabs on the Finely Chopped website ( or email Kalyan on to see when the next walk is coming up. We paid 2,000 Rs each which included all restaurant food, a few freebies and bottled water. The outing lasted just under four hours (6 to 10pm).

 A few other images:

We walked past this street stall selling sweet Jalebis

Small onions at Kokan Bhavan

Sweet stall outside Prakash restaurant

Our last stop.