Still life season

Sakura bloomed this year in Tokyo by the 15th of March, one of the earliest bloomings on record. Around that time Mumbai recorded a temperature of 39 Celsius, the highest ever temperature recorded for that date. The Atlantic had the largest Sargassum bloom recorded, almost 8000 kilometers across at some places. In the US, bird migrations are affected by the weather, with males beginning to move northwards earlier than the females. Here, where I’m spending some time away from home, the weather has been very unsettled. It was much warmer than I’d expected in the previous week, whereas this week has been full of rainstorms roiling the upper atmosphere and bringing that cold air down.

Holi is over, and in a couple of days we will hit the spring equinox. Instead of venturing out for photos celebrating that astronomical event, I thought it better to stay indoors and try my hand at photographing seasonal produce. Still life is not something I’ve seriously tried before.

So here it is, the pumpkins are the last of the season (we ate pumpkin flowers after a long time), and the potatoes have just been harvested. These small bananas, a wonderfully sweet and flavourful local variety called champa, will disappear as the heat builds up. Oranges are winter fruits, and we are clearly getting the last ones. They are still tangy and juicy, thankfully. I have no idea what the season for pomegranate is, but we seem to get them the year round. And the ber! I haven’t eaten such wonderful fruits from Ziziphus mauritiana trees in years. We’re lucky to be here in this season.

A breakfast buffet

During our post-pandemic travel through India we found that the breakfast buffet at all the hotels have converged to a standard menu. Cut fruits, some salad, sprouts and a cheese platter are close to the beginning, next to fruit juices and tea or coffee. The fruits are predictable: pineapple, melons, papaya, or watermelon. You could have a pile of bananas or orange nearby, but I don’t think I’ve seen chikoo or custard apple at breakfast. Confronted with this again on our weekend visit to Chilika lake, I decided to practice my plating. I placed a few cubes of the industrial cheese, and some fruits and sprouts, before squeezing lime over the fresh ingredients.

The next stage through the buffet brings you to cooked food: idli and dosa, parathas or kulchas, and sometimes puri. This being Odisha there were puris instead of paratha. The family committed sacrilege on the plate by having her puris with yoghurt. I kept to the straight and narrow path: potato sabji. Plating Indian food is never easy, and I had to depend on the colour to make the serving look good in a photo.

The meat comes late. In fancy places you can get cold cuts and an egg station where they’ll do your eggs to order. Here I they had boiled eggs and cooked sausage. I’m more fond of potato wedges (The Family raised a quizzical eyebrow) than the sausage, but protein is protein. The peas did not assuage the eyebrow.

Finally it was time to sit back and relax. I’d had several cups of tea through the rest of the breakfast, but I can always have another. There was surprising amount of choice in the bakery section to make me vacillate between a croissant and a slice of brown bread. But The Family picked carrot cake, so I had a slice of tea cake to go with my last tea. I’m glad my daily breakfast is so much simpler.

Home delights

We like to taste the local food of every new place that we go to. But in every culture there is a subset of hidden foods, the food that you eat at home. Home cooked sweets often fall in this category. So we were happy to see in a fancy restaurant in Bhubaneswar a selection of Odisha’s pitha.

The three that you see in the photo are the manda pitha, with its steamed rice flour coating, the deep fried kakada pitha, and the enduri pitha, which is made by enclosing the pitha in turmeric leaves before steaming. All had fillings of grated coconut sweetened with palm jaggery. You can also see a serving of rice kheer, that staple of home sweets across the rice growing parts of the country. This one was sweetened with the same gud that was used for the pitha. I finished one serving before The Family reminded me to take a photo.

The lassi cooler

The Delhi Metro makes me feel peckish. What quick snack could I get? Outside the metro station was a very crowded paratha place. It smelt good, but a paratha is not a small snack. Around the corner I found matkas full of lassi, cooling in cold cabinets bearing logos of giants of retail who are locked in a perpetual battle like the Arisians and Eddorians or the Kree and the Skrull. I don’t mind the pop culture of The Empire, but I would rather have a lassi than sugared water for a snack. One matka was enough for two of us.

What’s the word for a wedding?

Indulgence. That’s it. Open boxes of sweets which every passer by can dip into, long and frequent meals, enough alcohol to drown those who can’t swim. Bling and glitter, dressing up, colour and noise, these are also included in the word indulgence. The words “big” and “fat” are used sometimes, but they refer to the guests after they return home.

A dhaba in Chandigarh

Fantastic is a word that I’ve used to describe the Punjabi food I ate a year ago in Amritsar. Hilarious might be a better description of the food in Chandigarh. On a short family visit to Chandigarh, several car loads of us went to a dhaba recommended by many. It looked promising. There were three dhabas with the same name clustered around a parking lot. The usual story, we were told. The father started the dhaba, and the sons split it up, claiming equal rights to the brand name. Someone knew which was the best of the lot. Certainly the high-lights (very literally, as you can see from the photo of the signboard) of the menu looked exciting.

After we sat down, someone asked for nimbu pani. In a jiffy our waiter produced a plate of sliced lemons, a plate piled high with sugar, and a condiments dish with salt, pepper, and shikanji masala. “We don’t make it,” he said as he put these down, “but you are welcome to make your own to taste.” It was a funny moment, but I liked it. They seemed to know what they are good at, and they were not going to make something they were not masters of. But business is business, and if the customer wants nimbu pani, he’s going to give them an option.

We’d ordered the butter chicken in spite of knowing better. It has little to do with Punjabi food, and a lot with the shortages immediately after the partition. The traditional murg makhani did not use tomato sauce. The recipe heavy in masala and pureed tomato is reputed to have been invented in a Delhi restaurant in the 1950s when butter was in short supply. Over the years it has become a ridiculously heavy dish, with tomato, masala, and butter being the sea into which a few lost pieces of chicken give up the ghost and sink. The butter chicken in this dhaba had large pieces of juicy well-cooked chicken, but the company of swirls of butter and a heavy tomato gravy spoilt it for me. I liked the black dal and the rajma much better. These had the authentic light rural flavour that makes traditional Punjabi food such a delight.

Growing Malabar spinach

Quite a surprise it was when I found this bowl on the window ledge behind the kitchen tap. Our cook had salvaged a few stalks of Malabar spinach and was growing them. They’ve put out enough roots to be potted now. The right time too, what with the old creepers now seeding. I could plant a few of them. It takes about two months for the seeds to grow. In the mean time these will grow to produce new leaves. I can use them along with the remaining berries. It looks like a wonderful time ahead.

Images of broken light

Like everyone with a smart phone or camera, I’ve been taking street photos for years. So there’s nothing particularly special about the ones you see here. You could just look at them and move on. Or you can treat them as a challenge. Can you tell where each one is from? Count the featured photo as numero uno. The rest are numbered in the caption for your convenience.


You could just try to guess the continent, say South America. Or the country, say Ghana. But there are probably enough clues in the photos to tell you more. If you play along, it will be nice to have the reasons for your guess. But you could just leave your answers if you don’t want to type so much.


Khari, the puff pastry that melts in your mouth is a staple of Parsi and Irani cafes. Of course it had to be from Iran. Sure enough, when you search for puff pastry from Iran you get lots of recipes and names of sweets like Zabaan and Naan Khamei. They are sweet, unlike this, whose very name means salty. Apart from the sugar, the recipes seem like they could be for this. A khari and a cutting chai is the typical Mumbai pick-me-up, but it may have started life elsewhere.

January strawberries

Somewhere I remember reading that Mahabaleshwar produces 85% of the strawberries in the Indian market. I’m not surprised: the hillsides are full of open farms and greenhouses. The production peaks in January, and you can get these sweet and flavourful beauties at bargain prices. Perhaps we should get a basketful and make some jam. There’s no dearth of it, but it is simple enough that making your own is more fun.