Patel Pizza

Seen: on a recent trip to Carlsbad, CA.
What: a local pizzeria, Paradise Pizza, with specialty toppings. There's the "Gentle Italian", "Royal Hawaiian", "Zen" and last but not least, the "Patel".

I suppose a case could be made for onions & jalapenos as some kind of culinary connection? We ordered one and it was good if a mite on the thin side. We were also somewhat famished, so no pictures of what we ate. Here's another one of their other offerings from Yelp:

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- July 14, 2012 9:31 AM // Food

Chaat Baat

When I was forwarded yet another link on Vik's Chaat House in Berkeley, I have to admit rolling my eyes. Over the years, I've read enough gushing pieces about the glorious aloo tiki, the wondrous pav bhaji, the pioneering nature of the place etc etc to feel I could crank out a copycat piece while whistling RD Burman classics, picking lint out of Virj's hair and dunking a Noni's biscotti in ginger tea, all at the same time. It would go something like this:

It is an early morning Sunday in Berkeley, California and Declan McManus is late. "Gotta get there soon," he mutters to himself while circling for parking in the warehouse area of this laid back college city. You would think he is trying to make a protest on time. Or perhaps attend a nondenominational service in the local Buddhist temple. In fact he is not doing either. By the time Declan arrives panting outside the doors of Trader Vik's, the line has spilled out into the parking lot.

Vik Patel first set out his stall outside the University of California college campus in 1985. He remembers the initial reaction as one of bemusement. "At first, the students would look at the stuff I'd piled up for them," he says. "They would ask, 'how am I supposed to eat this?' I told them it was an Indian delicacy. That they would offend Shiva if they didn't partake," he guffaws.

Now, there is no such problem. Chaat, the Indian version of small plates, has swept the Bay Area. In upscale places like Haldi, you can find small shrimp, fried in butter and turmeric, nestling on a bed of coconut flakes and sev, made of grated, fried potatoes.

Then I actually read the piece and it was nothing I had envisioned. Encomiums to chaat aside, two lines really rang loud and true:

When Vinod Chopra moved to California in the early ’80s, chaat was virtually unheard of in America. There was what Americans call Indian food and Indians call Punjabi food — gooey sauces and garlic naan.

Thank you.

An argument can be made that what passes for Indian culture in the rest of the world is derived in great part from Punjabi culture but that's a post for another day. For now, here's some chaat porn. Yum!

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- April 26, 2010 10:56 PM // Bay Area , Food

How Not To Run A Desi Restaurant

Have you ever been to a curry house to eat where the food is just no good?
I mean the naan is soggy, the makhani mushed and the tikka dry cardboard?"

Chef Gordon Ramsay is big in the UK and his program, "Kitchen Nightmares," where he dispenses tough love and witty zingers aplenty to ailing restaurants, a top show. In this particular segment, he takes on the Curry Lounge in Nottingham, a place torpedoed by an overambitious menu and decor that's a cross between "Bollywood Bling" and a lap dance club. Run by a salesman turned restaurateur, this establishment was apparently losing tons of money per week when it attracted the attentions of Mr. Ramsay.

Now, I am as suspicious of these rescue tales as anyone, but I found this particular show to be a fascinating watch regardless, not the least because what ailed the Curry Lounge was no different than desi restaurants in the SF Bay Area. Most Indian restaurants here, at one point, seemed to be run by folks new to the business. Moreover, their target audience is never desis like us, but rather the upscale, Caucasian crowd. In an effort to attract their target clientele, such places inevitably turn to "fusion" creations which run the risk of being inauthentic and thus end up pretty much alienating everybody. And meanwhile, the best places to go to for Indian food in the Peninsula region at least, end up being the Pakistani joints who at least don't try to be anything they're not.

Consequently, I wasn't skeptical about Ramsay intervening in the affairs of the Curry Lounge - after all, he is part of their target demographic. I was curious about his point of view though. And while his comments likening the naan over there to a "large pair of knickers" must have stung, I would imagine his criticism of their menu as being a dodgy DIY nightmare (apparently they allowed you to mix and match your own curry dish) and the food as being oily, dry and bland hurt more. Moreover, his discovery of the kitchen using tinned pineapple, store bought curry paste and pre-made frozen samosas was equally horrifying.

I enjoyed the changes Ramsay brought to the joint and his efforts at out of the box thinking in terms of marketing. While his effort to refashion the Curry Lounge menu into simpler, more authentic dishes was straightforward, I found his idea to introduce the notion of tiffin lunch deliveries fascinating. Certainly non obvious - the easy choice would have been to go buffet. In addition, hiring ladies versed in the art of Bollywood dance and parading them up and down the streets of Nottingham is a stunt that, I would daresay, not occur to most Indian restaurants as a way of drumming up business. While tacky, again, this is something that would appeal to the target audience. In addition, Ramsay is not afraid to consult his friends that are more knowledgeable as regards desi khana and that lends some weight to the proceedings.

There's more in the actual program including a power struggle and a taste test that Ramsay tries on the restaurant stuff where they discover they themselves can't tell any of the dishes apart. Have fun!

Part 1 (no embedding, sadly).

Part 2

Part 3

This particular episode was a big hit in the UK apparently:

The audience for Channel 4's Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares hit a series high of 4.3 million last night, Tuesday December 11.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, which last night featured a curry restaurant in Nottingham, drew an 18% share of the audience between 9pm and 10pm, ahead of the series' 15% average, according to unofficial overnight ratings.

The current series of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares debuted with 3.9 million on October 30 but fell to as low as 2.5 million and a 10% share on November 20. It has since recovered, hitting a previous high of 4 million two weeks ago.

Makes you wonder why Ramsay waited so long to feature an Indian restaurant in his program. I suppose the hunger for all things curry in the UK continues unabated.


Manoj writes:

You'd be interested to know that Ramsay did work on an Indian restaurant on the American version (Dillons, NYC). Sounds similar to the Nottingham setup. Health violations galore, blah menu and a power struggle.

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- May 9, 2009 3:56 PM // Food , TV


Think of an Indian chaiwalla and the following images come to mind:


In an interesting twist, a cousin of Shari's, Neil Sanyal, decided to upmarket the idea and open his own version in tony Hampstead, London. I found mentions of it in a bunch of places including The Telegraph in Kolkata:

BREWING MAGIC: Chaiwalla, the teashop

Tea, anyone?

A challenge to the Starbucks coffee culture has been mounted in Hampstead in north London by Neil Sanyal, who was born in Britain and educated at St Paul’s School but whose parents and grandparents come from Calcutta.

In March this year he set up Chaiwalla, a teashop which has just been named runner-up by Time Out London in its “Best Tea Room” competition.

Neil, who is 19, has sought to create the atmosphere of adda in Calcutta. “When walking into Chaiwalla it is like stepping straight into a part of Calcutta from the bustling streets of Hampstead Village.”

Whilst searching for ideas in India to bring back to London, he was drawn to the chai drinking culture in Calcutta. “Here, many millions of people drank chai, purchased from road-side chaiwallas, in disposable clay cups that are smashed after use. My idea was to create an Indian alternative to the western coffee shop, as well as importing hand-made clay cups from West Bengal.”

Ah yes, those clay cups. Where would desi tea be without them? Here's how they're made:

Here's what some final versions look like:

And here's how they're recycled:

This is the UK version:

Neil's brainchild has a website and offers much more than just masala tea. You can find free wifi, sisa, an extensive breakfast and lunch menu (including biriyani), kulfi, desi sweets and fruit smoothies. Oh yeah, love the external setup as well:

Though I don't drink tea very much myself (or coffee for that matter), I find the whole endeavor extremely interesting starting from the way we heard about it. We first got word about Chaiwalla from internal family sources and not in a particularly effusive way either. As in what's the son of bhadralok (Bengali term for middle class gentlemen) doing opening a tea store? Shouldn't he be slogging his butt off in engineering or medicine or something?

This is something I've heard throughout my life - if you walk the chosen path of computers and doctorhood and engineering, the Goddess Laxmi will shower her largesse upon you. You'll get all that and a 500SEL Benz. However, woe betide you if you stray. The Lord Vishnu himself cannot save you from the Bengali middle class "chee chee" styled derision. Sometimes I wonder how we produce any artists or entrepreneurs at all. So, it's great to see someone bucking the trend and going their own way. Looking forward to Chaiwalla going international and opening a branch in San Francisco, preferably next to the Bollyhood Cafe in the Mission district. It's only fitting. Bangla represent!

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- November 2, 2008 3:14 PM // Bangla , Diaspora , Food

Back From LA LA Land

Just returned from a four day stay in LA. Some desi related flotsam and jetsam:

Jamie Masada (of Laugh Factory) and Jon Lovitz Yuk It Up At OnHollywood 2008

This was a session on the current state of online comedy. I was surprised to hear numerous references to desi-Canuck comedian Russell Peters. Apparently, his shows sell out regularly everywhere and it's all because of The Internets!

Holy Cow Restaurant

Near to West Hollywood where we were staying. Love the name and the logo. Food was just OK though.

Tattoo Stand Picture - Venice Beach Boardwalk

"Om" has many meanings, one of which is "Welcome to the Gods." Can the location of this particular one be taken to mean "Welcome to My Mammaries?"

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- June 14, 2008 4:47 PM // Food , Technology , Travel

Rice Rationing

While we're on the subject of rice, MSNBC reports:

BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Sam’s Club, the membership warehouse division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is limiting how much rice customers can buy because of what it calls “recent supply and demand trends,” the company said Wednesday

The broader chain of Wal-Mart stores has no plans to limit food purchases, however.

Sam’s Club said it will limit customers to four bags at a time of Jasmine, Basmati and long grain white rice. Rice prices have been hitting record highs recently on worries about tight supplies as part of broader global inflation in food costs.

Howls of outrage from the local "Passage To India" and "Lucky Pot Chinese" establishments were not included in this article. Probably because:

The warehouse chain caters heavily to small businesses, including restaurants. Spokeswoman Kristy Reed said she could not comment on whether the problem was caused by short supplies or by customers stocking up in anticipation of higher prices.

So gentle readers, the next time your Indian curry night cookout is ruined by lack of basmati, you know who's hoarding the grain.

The whole affair is sadly reminiscent of the Great Dal Shortage of 2006 when:

The Indian government's decision to ban the export of dal (lentils) has hit Indian Americans hard.

The ban, imposed in June, has resulted in the commodity getting scarce in Indian grocery stores in the US, with prices almost doubling at some places.

"The minute (the ban) was announced, wholesalers put up the price," Jalil Hay, owner of an Indian grocery store in Stockton, California, told India New England , an ethnic newspaper. "(Prices) have almost doubled and tripled."

Ouch! Forget the recession, the lack of dal-bhaat (rice/lentils) is the one-two punch that's likely to hurt us Indian Americans the most.

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- April 23, 2008 4:02 PM // Diaspora , Food

Ciabatta Malpoa

What do you do you if you have a bunch of Ciabatta bread from Costco lying at the bottom of the refrigerator occupying valuable space? Sadly, I am the only one who took a liking to this product in its original state and I vastly overestimated my appetite for it. Luckily, my mother-in-law devised a plan: convert it to a Bengali sweet called malpoa. The results were delightful and I asked her for the recipe.

It's quite simple:

  • soak bread in milk to soften
  • fry in vegetable oil for crispness
  • dip in sugar syrup - but not too much, just enough for the sugar to seep in
  • set aside to cool

Ciabatta Malpoa

Apparently, a variant of this recipe is also known as Bombay Toast.

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- March 8, 2008 7:28 PM // Bangla , Food

Desi Grocery Could Save Veronica Mars

Some of you might be familiar with Veronica Mars, the chick detective show that, after struggling for a couple of seasons, was finally dispatched to the great TV in the sky. However, dedicated fans, following the lead of another recently axed yet resurrected show, Jericho, have launched a campaign to bring their show back. In this, they've found a very unlikely ally indeed: an Indian grocery store based in Houston. Key here is the fact that a) TheIndianFoodStore has an online storefront and b) features British imports including candies. Yep, the idea is for fans to buy Mars bars from here and have them fedex'ed to the CW headquarters ASAP. The initial surge caught the store by surprise, but, to their credit, they adjusted quickly in true web 2.0 style. More info from their freshly launched "Bars From Mars" campaign:

I'll be honest, we've never watched the show before but WOW, we are impressed! Your enthusiasm and support for the show has awed us all! I have been in contact with some of you in the past day or two and I realized how powerful this has become! Apparently, CBS's Jericho had a similar campaign and it worked! I'm fired up to make this work too!

If you are curious, we are a small family business located in Houston, TX that just recently started our online operations. We have been importing from India and England for several years now and primarily distribute to retail stores and grocery stores around the country. We have yet to become profitable in this aspect of our operation, but this publicity will certainly help! More importantly, I am so happy that I am involved in this, especially since I have been able to communicate with so many fans directly. Once things settle down a little, I'll be sure to watch all of the shows in the past seasons!

As we attempt to inform you with updates on the Amazon website, we are calling all distributors we know around the country trying to buy Mars Bars. (We had to raise the prices $.20 just to reflect this, so we apologize for this!). I've created this blog to get fans to post their comments and give us suggestions on how we can improve this. We've only got until Monday to make this work since it will take some time for FedEx to arrive to their facility! (By the way, can anyone get a video of the FedEx driver pulling into the CW facility so we can show all the fans?)

And in a later update, they inform us they are now considering Snickers Almond Bars:

Someone in the comment section gave us a suggestion that Snickers Almond Bars are the same as Mars Bars and they prominently display a "Mars" logo. If the majority agrees, we can try to arrange 4-5 thousand bars of that and send it along with this big shipment. Of course, these are more readily available (and cheaper!) than the Mars Bars. So, if everyone can give us a show of support for this, we can look into it and get it (hopefully!) arranged. Once the Mars bars run out, we will lower the price, of course, to reflect the lower cost.

Fast turnaround indeed! I was never a big fan of the show myself but my best wishes to the enterprising fans, the producers and to the little desi store that could.

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- June 7, 2007 7:51 PM // Food , TV


We recently returned from a trip from Banff, Calgary. The scenery is gorgeous and amply illustrated elsewhere. What I wanted to document for posterity was the fabulous chocolate fondue we had at the Fairmont Lake Louise. Sliced bananas, strawberries, whipped cream, apples, pineapples and fresh cubed banana bread together with rich molten chocolate. Heaven indeed!

Chocolate Fondue

This way to sunshine. If only it were that easy :-)

This way to sunshine

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- May 25, 2007 7:28 PM // Food , Travel

All You Can Eat Ayurveda?

A good friend of ours, Lalitha Vaidyanathan, has been hard at work trying to bring the concept of Ayurvedic food to San Francisco. Specifically, she's focusing on franchising Annalakshmi, a chain of vegetarian restaurants with a twist. From The Karmic Kitchen in the San Francisco Weekly:

Imagine walking into an upscale Indian restaurant, its menu filled with delectable-sounding choices like Malabar avocado and coconut soup (made with plain yogurt, cumin, and lemon juice and served with fresh cilantro chutney and whole wheat chapatis) and drinks like the Saffron Sandalwood Fizz (lime juice and pure water, cooled overnight by the light of the moon). You sit down with friends and enjoy a delicious, ayurvedic vegetarian meal, served with a smile. Then you finish, feeling satisfied, and signal for the bill -- but none comes. This scenario is not merely a fantasy: At Annalakshmi, you decide what to order and how much to pay.

Inspired by Swami Shantanand -- a Hindu monk from Rishikesh, India, who came to Southeast Asia in the early 1970s -- the small international restaurant chain operates with an uncommon trust in humanity: that people will pay what is fair because we are inherently good and because it is in our own best karmic interests to give. Although its concept may sound too idealistic to stand a chance, Annalakshmi has been in business for 19 years, and has thriving outposts in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and India. And now it's geared up to open its first eatery in the United States -- in an as-yet-undetermined spot in San Francisco.

Behind the scenes is a 35-year-old Marina District woman named Lalitha Vaidyanathan, who, late last year, quit her job as a co-founder and vice president at SquareTrade, a company that facilitates fair online sales, to pursue the restaurant's local development full time. "I always felt like Annalakshmi has so much to offer people beyond just food," she explains. "It really provides a whole new way of seeing the world and its possibilities. I felt that San Francisco would be a perfect place to open one. Why not? I figure if it's meant to happen it will. I have complete trust in whatever's meant to be."

Hear hear! For those of us fortunate enough to taste the teasers Lalitha prepares in her kitchen, all I can say is she may well make permanent vegetarians out of us yet! Until then, here's to Annalakshmi, a place where you can balance your doshas (not dosas) as well as your pocketbook.

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- May 30, 2005 11:13 PM // Food