Sunday, September 09, 2012


Those who are fond of South Indian snacks drool over Idli and Dosai (commonly referred to in Mumbai as Dosa). The Udipi restaurants in Mumbai have given an unprecedented popularity to these iconic dishes from the South. The South Kanara restaurateurs who saw a business opportunity in this fast food deserve all the credit. Idli and Dosa joints are galore in Mumbai, thanks to the Shettys and Kamaths. These quick-service joints serve a wide variety of Dosas which include plain, masala, rava, and mysore  besides rava idlis and kancheepuram idlis too!

I & D have become international as well and have caught the fancy of discerning food-lovers. The Saravana Group  has many restaurants in the US and UK. It is a heaven sent for home-sick South Indian students in the US. In 2004, when I was in California, our daughter L took us to a restaurant where I had a masala dosai about two feet in length. Gujeratis have almost made these South indian snacks part of their staple food. These days, there are many stores mainly in the major cities where I & D batter is sold, easing the drudgery of making them. They fly like hot cakes.

Where does Aappam fit in this scenario? It belongs to the same genre as I & D. It is quintessentially a Kerala innovation. Syrian Christians have perfected the art of making aappams. They imbibed the art of making this difficult dish from the Jews who migrated to Kerala hundreds of years ago.The method of preparation of the batter is almost similar to that of idli and dosai though the ingredients vary. Aappam is prepared in an aappamchetty. It is a small and deep cast-iron kadai. My wife S coming from Madurai (closer to Kerala) is an expert. She has now taught our talented new cook P to prepare Aappam. A fortnight or so ago P prepared them for breakfast.
The recipe and the procedure are as under: ( Courtesy Tarla Dalal)

1 1/2 cup parboiled rice
1 coconut
2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup steamed rice
1/2 tsp dry yeast
oil for frying
salt to taste

Soak rice overnight and drain the water in the morning. Grate coconut,add water and take out coconut milk. Mix parboiled rice and cooked rice and add a little coconut, milk and grind. Add sugar,balance coconut milk and salt. mix the yeast with a little warm water, add to the rice paste and mix very well. Keep covered for 3 hours. Slowly rotate the Aappam chetty so that the batter is spread thin on the sides and the middle remains thick.Gentle swirls will ensure that excess batter remains in the centre-soft and spongy. serve it hot with coconut milk or stew. Cover and cook for 1 minute. The middle part will be swollen and sides thin and crisp and browney. It will look like a I & D combo. Fluffy in the centre and brown lace border are the hallmarks of a well made aappam. It is the cook's pride and the neighbour's envy.

Aappam is generally taken with coconut milk or a kurma as an 'accoutrement'. There are some who prefer to take them with thuvaiyal or saambaar.Three Cheers to the 'Queen of Kerala breakfast dishes'! as it is popularly known amongst Malayaalees. Will it become as popular as its siblings, I & D ? The jury is still out on this subject.

And finally how did our cook P fare?  As you can she from the pictures above, she kept it fluffy in the center and a thin and brown crisp lace in the outer periphery. Hallmarks of a well-cooked Aappam. I loved the Aappam and asked for many helpings.

She passed the test with flying colours. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012


There is an old saying that shooting stars always fall. This adage has been proven time and again.  I greatly admired some persons who have recently fallen from grace. To see them fall/fallen makes me feel very sad. Rajat Gupta, Fareed Zakaria and Lance Armstrong are some of my heroes who have become zeroes. They all had a meteoric rise in their careers. But then like meteors they fell to the ground. It was a rapid but short stay in ascendency. Their growth was spectacular but they came crashing down with their reputation in tatters.

They are all unquestionably great achievers. Brilliant, persevering and ambitious. Rajat Gupta came from a humble background but scaled great heights. He became the CEO of the world's largest and best management consultancy firm. He rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty. Known to be a devoted husband and a loving father of three daughters, what went wrong?  Why did such an intelligent person have to indulge in insider trading and be so careless about it?

Fareed Zakaria was also a brilliant student. He studied at Yale and Harvard. He is a prolific writer and India's show piece to the US world for his excellence in reporting and news coverage. He was with Newsweek and then Chief Editor of Time magazine. He has written many books and some of them were best-sellers. Why did he have to plagiarise? Did he imagine that he would get away with it?

Lance Armstrong, six times winner of Tour de France, the toughest cycling competition in the world, has been recently accused of continuous usage of drugs over the years and he is being stripped of all his titles. He suffered from cancer and heroically fought the disease and wrote a best seller and inspired thousands of people by his courage and stoic determination. He battled all these charges all these years but now has given up fighting anymore. What made him take to doping to win competitions? And if it is true, did he not know that he will be exposed sooner or later? What made him to continuously take drugs before cycling competitions?

The answers are there for all of us to see.

Arrogance, over-confidence, ego and greed. All negative qualities which must be abhorred. There is a saying in Sanskrit- "vinasha kaale, vipeerata buddhi" which explains the behaviour pattern of these shooting stars. The very mighty fall when they become egoistic, arrogant, over-confident and greedy. History is full of such examples. In the above episodes, there is a lesson for our present younger generation. We see many of them very successful in India as well as abroad. Fame and wealth have come to them very fast. They must preserve what they have gained and scale greater heights. Modesty, integrity, sacrifice, helpfulness, empathy and concern with and for the down-trodden should be their guiding values. Then they can be called truly outstanding and remain at the top and not crash down like meteors.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Is 13 A Lucky Number ?

Many believe that 13 is an unlucky number. Horrible things have happened on the 13th. And if it is Friday 13th, then it could be really horrific for those believers. I did a blogpost in 2007 on this subject and I am inclined to do this post on the same subject after five years.

What is the provocation? Yesterday evening when I was having my evening walk on Marine Drive, I looked at Nana Chudasama's one liner on a banner on top of "not just Jazz by the Bay"restaurant. They are always witty and they carry a message. This one was on No 13.  He was referring to our new President Pranab Mukherjee's taking oath of office on 13th July and hoping that it would be a good omen for the country.

No 13 has always been a lucky number for Pranabda as he is called. He was married on 13th July 1957, elected to Lok Sabha on 13th May 2004. his office in Parliament was in Room No 13 and he lived in a house in New Delhi whose address is 13 Talkatora Road. Surely, he will do well.

Balbir Singh,87, who played hockey for India and won the 1948 Olympic gold for his country wore Jersey No 13 throughout his career.With the same jersey number, Balbir Singh played in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics and completed the golden hattrick in field hockey. Not only was 13 his jersey number, his house no was 1534 which adds upto 13, his car number added upto 13, his court case file number added upto 13 and his birthdate also added upto 13. This number 13 was so lucky for him that he restricted the number of chapters in his biography "The Golden Hat Trick" to 13. Didn't  Sikhism founder Guru Nanak kept repeating tera-tera once when he was weighing groceries for a customer. Who says 13 is an unlucky number?

As per Indian mythology and numerology, 13 is a lucky number. The Chinese also consider 13 a lucky number. In Mandarin, digit 1 when it is a ten sounds like "shi" which means definite. And 3 which is "san"means life/living. So the combined meaning is "definitely vibrant" or "assured growth". That should answer nana Chudasama's question. But ask a Westerner or even a Japanese. They would shun anything connected to 13. One man's meat is another man's poison.

Pranabda has proved that 13 is his lucky number. Let us hope that his term is 'vibrant' and that the country has an 'assured growth' and that he has a good run as the President of India.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


I heard of marathon running since the time Standard Chartered Bank initiated and sponsored the Mumbai Marathon run many years ago. My son-in-law H runs marathons regularly both in India and abroad. He is a passionate runner. Of course many run the full marathon and some the half-marathon as well and some fall by the wayside. There are many examples of how many individuals have started running at advanced ages. Centenarian Fauja Singh who lives in England is an outstanding person who started running at 86 to get over the depression he was suffering from when his wife passed away. He has been running marathons ever since. There are other examples where middle-aged men with back and leg problems decided to do the marathon and completed it successfully. Courage, determination, endurance grit and risk-taking ability are essential to run the marathon. Marathons apart, running has become a way of life for many who believe that their day is not complete if they have not run at least 5km on that day. Passion many times becomes an obsession.

Recently when I read in the Time magazine about Ultramarathoner Scott Jurek running 165.7 miles in 24 hours, I couldn't believe my eyes. Why would someone run such a long distance? According to Scott Jurek running Ultramarathon is more of a head game. One has to be adaptable; strength to run need not necessarily be genetic. It is very discomfortable but at the end of the day it makes one stronger. He grew up in Northern Minnesota and enjoyed fast food. Now his diet has taken a 360 degree turn. He eats beans, legumes, soy products, plenty of vegetables and fruits. And for proteins tempeh is the king. Ironically, he hated running when he was young and hated vegetables too. Today running ultramarathons in his first love and he is a vegan. Scott thinks running marathons is cool. His favourite place to run is in the Swiss Alps, near Chamonix, France. He has written a best seller Eat & Run. Scott Jurek is a superhuman man with extraordinary capabilities.

Friday, April 20, 2012


When my son-in-law H and daughter L came up with a suggestion for a short Easter weekend holiday in Kerala, I was very excited. But then, when I asked them about the location, they said it was going to be Bekal. I had never heard about this place and I was not really sure what I was in for. Before I could even change my mind and suggest a better known place, they assured me that I was going to love every bit of my stay. They had booked the air  tickets and accomodation was reserved at the Taj Vivanta which hardly gave me any choice to opt out. After all, L's birthday was falling during that period and our two cute grandaughters were coming with us. To cut a long story short, I agreed to join them. It was an unforgettable holiday.

Bekal is a small sleepy seasidetown in the North of Kerala. One has to take a flight to Mangalore and then drive down for about one and half hours to reach Kasargod and finally Bekal. Taj Hotels manage the huge property of beach-front rooms and villas in the midst of lush greenery all around. It is a spanking new hotel with luxurious rooms and a plunging pool in each villa. All of us spent a lot of time  in the water, either in the plungepool or in the main swimming pool or taking long morning walks on the pristine beach with the strong waves lashing at our feet. R enjoyed the excitement of picking up sea shells and preserved them as a present for her grandmother who could not make it to Bekal. Holding R's hand and walking along the beach early in the morning was an unforgettable experience. We enjoyed the food which was a combination of North Indian and Kerala cuisine and ate to our heart's content.  I took several massages in the makeshift spa as the main spa was under some renovation. It was very relaxing and enabled me to recharge my batteries.

On L's birthday, Taj Vivanta took great pains to decorate our room with flowers and baloons and kept for us the choicest of wines. And of course a big birthday cake which L cut surrounded by her beaming two daughters. All of us immersed ourselves in cake and champagne while R & R enjoyed every bit of the chocolate cake.

We visited the huge Bekal fort next day. It is a massive key-hole shaped laterite structure. It stands imposingly on the beach with supposedly many secret tunnels into the sea. During Tipu Sultan's period the fort was of strategic importance to him. A surprise in store for me was the Anathapadmanabhaswamy lake temple in Anathapura, an hour's drive from Bekal. The only one of its kind in Kerala, it is supposed to be the moolasthanam of Lord Ananthapadmanabhaswamy. There are many legends associated with the temple.

It is said that all good things must come to an end. I felt sad when we packed our belongings to leave. It was a fine holiday, well spent. Good food, good ambience, soothing massages, lovely beach and wonderful hospitality at the Taj. What more could one ask for? After all isn't it God's own country?