Cooking Experiment: Aloo Gobi

Part of our mission in moving to India is to master Indian cooking. In time, we’ll find people to observe so we can learn the finer points, but in the meantime, we’re just diving in! We bought heaps of spices and used the recipe from Veg Recipes of India to attempt Aloo Gobi. I do not in any way blame this very fine recipe for the food we created.

We were out of tomatoes, which was mistake number one, and decided to go ahead anyway. We also do not yet have measuring cups or spoons so can’t be certain that our ratios were quite right. And the cashew cream was pretty darn lumpy with a few fully or partially intact cashews in the mix, owing to our use of a spice grinder to make it. We also wonder what would happen if we ground the spices instead of treated them like aromatics simmering in the gravy.

The resulting dish had a really unappetizing color, was strangely lumpy, and was surprisingly bland despite all of the spices that went into it.

We will persevere in our Aloo Gobi efforts with the following adjustments:

  • use all ingredients on the list
  • buy a small food processor for the making of cashew cream and other chutneys and sauces
  • buy measuring implements so we can better follow recipes
  • be brave with the spices

On the upside, the frozen flaky paratha was delicious!

Chapter 5: A Busy, Fun-Filled Weekend

If you know us, you know that we’re more wallflowers than social butterflies, and are often happy to sit quietly at home. At the same time, we really enjoy getting to know people and we’re committed to a life outside of our comfort zone right now. So this weekend, we said, “yes,” to the opportunities that presented themselves, and were pretty happy about it.

On Friday night, we were invited to the home of two of Tom’s fellow teachers. They are game lovers, as evidenced by an entire bookcase filled with games near the front door, and have frequent dinner and game evenings. This gathering brought over 20 people together, including new teachers, old teachers, and teacher families. It was lovely getting to know people, and particularly nice for Melissa to meet more of the people Tom has been talking about. We were also happy to see an apartment similar to ours that actually looks like a home and get some tips on where to buy furniture and furnishings (it looks like Zefo will be our saving grace, with used and overstock furniture at great prices). We had to acknowledge a moment of envy, though: our apartment complex has two phases, and we live in phase one with all windows gazing at phase two, and all of the bustle that comes from overlooking a courtyard; Nicolas and Beth live in phase 2, with 5th floor windows that all look directly at the canopy of a dense forest, and only nature sounds around them. So lovely. Maybe there will be an opportunity to move to another unit next year – we’ll see how cozy we’ve managed to make our home by then.

On Saturday, Tom was in need of a slow morning after a week of overwhelming work. By midday, though, we were both ready to rally. We decided to walk to Yelahanka Satellite Town which is a half-circle of streets filled with residences and shops. We desperately needed to activate our ever-frustrating phones which now had data but no talk/text minutes applied to them, so a need to visit Airtel gave us the excuse for some wandering. It took about 30 minutes to walk from our house to the commercial section of the img_1818satellite town – a walk that would have felt completely daunting a week ago, but which now felt perfectly fine. We’ve gotten good at leaping over sidewalk gaps and no longer hesitate to step into the street when necessary to get around a vendor, heap of garbage, or dog blocking the path.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to walk around here – it really is filthy and often smelly, the noise from the honking of horns is constant, personal space is defined differently, and people don’t step aside when in your way. At the same time, there are occasional fence gaps revealing beautiful meadow areas, delicious smells wafting from restaurants and vendor carts, and an incredible parade of clothes that seem too nice to wear for any but the fanciest of parties. And, yes, there are cows.

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Seriously, they are everywhere. They lie down on sidewalks, they saunter through frenetic traffic, they amble through the tall grasses. They are everywhere, just exuding a sense of peace and ease.

The center of the satellite town is filled with shops selling everything you can think of. At a glance, many of the stores appear large, but when you get closer you see that they extend fewer than 5 feet back from the street. What you see from the sidewalk is what there is img_1819to see.

At the Airtel store, Tom was able to use the ATM-type machine to activate his phone, but Melissa was “unsuccessful” and directed to request a refund of her $500 rupees from the cashier. The store was packed and we didn’t want to wait for help, but it didn’t seem like there was much of an option. As soon as the cashier looked free, we headed up to just get our money back. He was so kind and gracious, applied the $500 to talk/text time, and said to just come to him instead of the machine next time. We will.

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Throughout the satellite town, there are surprise green spaces.

With that task successfully accomplished, we headed home, only realizing when we were practically to our gate that we’d failed to stop at the wine store so Tom went back. Our closest wine store is called “Not Just Wine and Cheese,” which is particularly funny after you’ve been inside and seen that there is no cheese anywhere and the shelves are filled with hard liquor – the wine is an afterthought relegated to the hot, stuffy 2nd floor with a single standing fan pointed at the bottles. Sub-optimal storage conditions.

That evening, we actually had two invitations to choose between. A large group was going for dinner at Druid Garden, a local hotspot where we’d attempted to celebrate our anniversary. We were also invited to the home of one of Tom’s English department colleagues for a celebration of the July birthdays of the other three members of the department. Eager as we were to go to Druid Garden, we decided that an intimate dinner was likely to be more our speed. We brought the wine.

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Of the four members of the high school English department, Tom is the only non-Indian member. Adina, Devika, and Archana are starting their 4th, 8th, and 2nd years at CIS respectively. Adina, our host, does not enjoy cooking but has some great skill in ordering food, so we enjoyed a delightful feast: samosas, onion pakoras, a sort of sandwich pakora (unusual and tasty!), and Caulifower Chilli (which we’ve had elsewhere, called Ghobi Manchurian). There were also many different munchy things, and sweet graham balls called Ledou (or something like that). Lastly, there was a chocolate cake to celebrate the birthdays and welcome us (Tom & Fly = Tom and Family) – so sweet! Adina’s home has a lovely view of the nearby lake that Tom walks around on his way to school. When we weren’t eating, we were enjoying the view and interesting conversation – we learned quite a bit about Indian history. It was a really nice evening.

On Sunday morning, we met up with a big group of new teachers, all eager to go to the Mantri Square Mall. We piled into three taxis and headed over to meet two returning teachers who were leading our excursion. They kindly offered to spend the day at a corner table in the Starbucks so that we could run around amassing homewares and periodically dropping them off with them so our hands would be free to go get more. This was a terrific mall with everything we needed. While we didn’t accomplish everything on the list, we came pretty darn close, and went home tired but happy that we finally had hangers, clothespins, candle holders, a cheese grater, napkins, placemats, mixing bowls, and a bunch of other stuff as well.

That night, we decided to check out the famous Druid Garden for ourselves (see Druid Garden) and had a perfectly lovely time. We’re starting to get the hang of life here in Bangalore.

Druid Garden

After a couple of failed attempts, we finally made it to Druid Garden. The place came with crazy high expectations. Shane (Tom’s Head of School) intended to send us there for out anniversary (it was closed — we ended up at Saffron instead), and everybody seems to indicate it is their go-to for a nice, festive night out. In fact, Tom’s colleagues had been the night before, and one of them, Ivana, was very excited for us to try the Vietnamese salad rolls.

When we thought we were going there for our anniversary, while we were still in Portland, we looked at their menu on-line, so we already had a good idea about Druid Garden’s most notable characteristic: a multicultural breadth neither of us had ever seen. They serve Italian, American, Southeast Asian, Latin American, and Indian.

img_1829Despite the vast size of the place, it is really very warm. Though there is one large main space, there are a number of smaller, more intimate spaces, as well. We were seated in a secluded little section at a window overlooking the surrounding neighborhood of Sahakanagar, which was lovely, except that we were afraid we were forgotten. Melissa had a nice view of a very large TV, from which she got not only an intro to the ubiquitous cricket, but also an intro to kabaddi, a sport we had been told was basically full contact tag and is a very popular professional sport in India.

Oh, yeah, and we had some food. We went with a multinational spread: the Vietnamese spring rolls Ivana suggested; leak, corn, and emmenthaler empanadas; and a margherita pizza. We also had their own IPA.

All of it was good if unremarkable. We will return for the festiveness and friendliness and the reliably decent food.

Melissa’s Musings: The Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore

Before the big move, I had a bit of a panic when I thought about my potential isolation in Bangalore.

How would I meet people if I wasn’t working? How would I learn how to function in a strange country if I couldn’t meet anyone? How could I be happy in Bangalore if I couldn’t figure out how to function on a daily basis?!

In my panic, I turned to the internet. I searched for meet-up groups, hiking groups, language classes, art classes, and lots of other search terms besides. One group popped up a number of times: The Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore. The first couple times, I ignored it. The name made it sound like some kind of imperialist remnant, which was not what I was looking for. Finally, though, I clicked and was pleased by what I read. It’s a group that has a lot of social opportunities, but also a focus on “giving back to the city that so warmly welcomed us,” by supporting 21 charities around the city with both money and time. This group might be able to help me find both friends and a sense of purpose! It was at least worth checking it out.

Fast forward to my first Thursday home alone, and I was ready for the weekly morning coffee at the Leela Palace. I had prearranged for Madesh, the taxi driver recommended to us by CIS, to pick me up – when I asked him what time he’d need to get me in order to have me at the Leela Palace at 10, he said 8 am. I was surprised he thought it would take so long, but it actually did take an hour and a half, and clearly could have taken longer if not for his fancy (vaguely terrifying) driving!

I arrived half an hour early and walked into the most beautiful place I think I’ve ever been in my entire life. The Leela Palace is truly gorgeous. A young woman walked me to the Library Bar as I’d been told that the OWC would be meeting just outside – she was very concerned that the bar would not be opening until 11, but I assured her that I was fine and needed no more assistance.

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I wandered around awkwardly, taking photos, and looking about for women who looked as lost as me. At 10, I realized that the meeting was actually in the courtyard through the doors across from the Library Bar and women were beginning to gather there.

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The covered courtyard where the OWC meets
I was instantly welcomed after heading outside and began to be introduced around to the early arrivals – a woman from Singapore who has lived in Bangalore for many years, a woman from the US who moved here with her Indian husband nine years ago (intending to stay for two), a woman from the UK, and two women from Japan. One of the Japanese women was there for the first time, having arrived in Bangalore two days after me. The two of us sat with Meredith, the American woman who has a leadership role with the OWC. She told us all about the different kinds of meetings and events we can participate in and gave me membership materials. She’ll be at the Canadian International School next Thursday for new student orientation, when there are lots of new international parents also seeking orientation to the city. I can send my orientation materials to school with Tom to pass off to her.

I then went to talk with a woman on the Charity Committee who could tell me about opportunities to volunteer. She was able to pull up a map of the charities they work with and recommended a couple that are based in Yelehanka where we live: the Bangalore Eduational Trust which runs a free school for poor, rural children and the Sai Shankar Loving Lights Trust which runs a residential program that provides education and life skills for 50 disadvantaged teens. I’m not ready to make a commitment yet, but I’m so glad to know that there are some good options when I am.

I then made my way over to a group of women sitting in the corner – one from Sweden, one from the UK, one from New Zealand, and one from New York. From what I gathered, they are all here in Bangalore because their husbands are working here and they are not. They all seemed smart and kind and are all very much enjoying this city. They also had some good tips for me – for example, apparently everyone who leaves the country takes an empty suitcase with them that they bring back filled with large blocks of cheese and other tasty foods that aren’t available here. If you don’t want your bag to be carefully searched, just put a layer of tampons on the top. Lesson learned. It was nice to just talk about the things that I’m unsure of (should we really be doing the grocery shopping online?) or confused by (why does it take a million years to have a functioning phone?) or worried about (is it possible that I won’t be added to Tom’s bank account?) and get answers from women who have been there and already grappled with these very things.

While the coffee meeting was pleasant, I’m really looking forward to my first regional coffee – the Leela Palace coffee is weekly and brings women from all corners of Bangalore while the four regional coffees are monthly and take place in different parts of the city. These are smaller and more intimate so it’s possible to actually make friends. Once I’m a member, I’ll get info on all my other options too – regional coffees, the book club, the sundowners happy hour group, the monthly lunch group, and the monthly road trip group. I was glad to be able to assure Tom’s colleagues that this is not a group of “bitter women” who gather to complain, but actually a group of happy, interesting people who are enjoying the chance to delve into a new culture. I think the OWC can keep me as busy as I want to be, but I’m also starting to turn my mind to work.

Chapter 4: A Perfect Sunday

Tom’s orientation began on Friday and only allows for a one-day weekend this week, so we wanted to make the most of it. At the same time, we were still fighting the jet lag, and Tom had had two days of focused attention as he took in a barrage of information and met a lot of new people. So, this week, “the most” meant a relatively relaxing outing.

We started the day by calling Madesh, the driver recommended by the school. He has a number of drivers who work for him, and they can all be trusted to get you where you want to go when you want to go there. Uber is supposed to be a good alternative, but until we have fully functioning phones with data plans, we can’t use it (and frankly, we’re just not fans of Uber anyway). We requested a 10 am pick-up and said we’d want the driver until midafternoon. At 10 am, we met Anan at the gate to our apartment and asked him to take us to Koshy’s downtown (See: Koshy’s). Traffic was really light – we are filing away the notion that Sunday may be the best day for heading into city center.

There was one moment at breakfast that was a little too easy. Stay tuned for some thoughts on white privilege in India. For now, just know that breakfast was delightful.

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The High Court of Karnataka in Cubbon Park
With a wonderful breakfast behind us, we walked to Cubbon Park, referred to as one of Bangalore’s lungs. It’s a lovely green space filled with trees, flowering plants, fountains, and playgrounds. It’s also home to the library (which was hot, silent, and packed with studying students) and surrounded by government buildings. There’s a drive through the center of it, which is closed to cars on Sundays. It’s also apparently closed every day from 5 am to 8 am when the park is kept silent. If it didn’t require a driver to get there, it would be a great spot for early morning meditation.

From there, we went back to UB City to buy Melissa a phone at the Samsung store. The store clerks were all kind and helpful, but strangely insistent that Melissa sit at all times. Any time she stood, to bring a credit card over for example, she was quickly ushered back to her seat and offered water. The intentions were clearly good, but it was a little oppressive. It will be interesting to see if that’s the norm elsewhere as well. Melissa loves her new Galaxy S8 – it’s so pretty and so powerful!

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Maharaja Wodiyar of Mysore statue in Cubbon Park

It was now a little before 2 and we called Anan to pick us up, which he did just a short while later. We asked him to take us to a supermarket that we’d read about called Loyal Market, and Tom showed him on his google maps where it is. Anan confidently headed out while Tom followed the route on his phone. When Anan seemed to turn away from it, we were concerned, but he insisted through limited English that he knew where he was going. He actually pulled up at the Royal Mart, sister store to the one we walked to on our first day. Luckily, this was a much bigger store and we accomplished most of our list, including everything we needed to make our own channa masala at home that night. Here, rather than oppressive assistance, the clerks at Royal Mart were incredibly helpful. Every time we had a question, someone was nearby to help. What really got them excited was when we, who were clearly out of our element, made it clear that we didn’t want the channa masala spice blend but the spices to make our own. In addition to the team of clerks, a fellow shopper found the amchur powder for us, as he was clearly and amusedly eavesdropping on our quest.

And dinner was delicious! A perfect end to a perfect day.

Koshy’s

For our first meal out on our own at a restaurant we found all on our own, we decided to go to Koshy’s for brunch on our first Sunday in Bengaluru.

Koshy’s first opened its doors in 1940, so it’s been around a while. Melissa had read about it while researching places to go in Bengaluru – while no one lists it as their favorite restaurant, everyone feels compelled to give it a nod, referring to “good old Koshy’s” as a stand-by. When Tom described to his peers that we had been, they had the same unenthusiastic but respectful reaction.

The menu looked ok and the prices affordable, so we thought it would be a good first breakfast out. It definitely has a sort of dimly lit, by-gone charm, and it was packed, which is always a good sign. We enjoyed a dish that was totally new to us, the Sunday special of Appom with vegetable stew, after seeing people around us eating it. Appom are large pancakes that are very thin around the edges and very thick in the middle so they almost look stuffed. They are made from rice flour and coconut milk (gluten and dairy free!), and they are really delicious. The only thing we could equate them to is the Ethiopian bread, injera, but the similarities are really as thin as the outer portions. The accompanying vegetable stew was mild with a coconut milk base and potatoes, carrots, and green beans in it. The combo was delightful. We also enjoyed a cheese omelette (it was cold — we’re interested to see if this is the norm), toast, and coffee.

When trying new restaurants, we always wonder about the Delhi Belly risk. We were, after all, the only white people there for a good chunk of time. Our worry was nonsense. It was a delightful meal.

Melissa’s Musings: Day One Alone          

Tom and I were both worried that I’d struggle once he started orientation at the Canadian International School. He’s used to having summers off, to being home alone while I go off to work, but I’ve never before been the one at home. Would I be bored or lonely? Would I feel useless or sad? Nope. None of that.

My first day on my own was kind of perfect. I had time to think my own thoughts, to research things I was curious about, to exercise (just a little), to tidy up and putter. When I was tired of my own thoughts and poking at productivity, I had the Gilmore Girls to keep me company. Any time I felt guilty at not doing more, I reminded myself that I’d been saying for months that I needed some time off, and this was it. This, right now, is my long-anticipated time off, and I need to appreciate it while I have it.

A highlight of the day was when I went for a stroll outside and met three little girls who live in my building – two of them at the end of the hall on the floor where we live and the third two floors down. Mimi, Ruchi, and Suchi are vivacious and excited about everything. Once I let them know that I was very happy to be talking with them, the questions started to fly: Are you from England? Where’s Uncle? Is he a boss? Can we see your apartment? I invited them up, but there’s not much to see here yet so I think it may have been disappointing.  Nonetheless, they squeal, “Auntie! Auntie!” and wave wildly when they see me, so I’m pretty sure we’re friends now.