Hallimane

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Hallimane was one of the best restaurants that Archana introduced me and Kenny to last fall, and we returned this week with our Seattle friends for a decadent lunch feast. It is conveniently located in Malleswaram, just a short walk from Sean and Archana’s apartment and an even shorter walk from the wedding hotel.

Its name is Kannada for “village house,” indicating that the menu features the typical foods of rural Karnataka. Of course, for variety, there is also an array of North Indian dishes available, but everything is vegetarian.

Like many casual lunch joints here in Bangalore, Hallimane has a system where customers order and pay at the counter and then deliver receipts to various stations to collect their food. Most hot dishes can be picked up indoors, while ragi and akki rotis as well as parotas must be collected from the men working the flat grill outside. Because Hallimane is always packed, this process involves elbowing your way through throngs of people, and is not recommended for claustrophobics.

Two of their signature dishes are made of ragi, the grain of Karnataka: ragi roti, and ragi mudde, which is a mushy steamed ball of grain. The mudde was certainly not for me, but Kenny and I love love loved the roti, which is made from a batter that includes onions, chilies and dill. We even tried making our own in Archana’s kitchen last fall, but had problems with the rotis falling apart. Thus was born our invention of the ragi waffle.

On our visit with the Seattle friends, we devoured a huge two-round feast, including several orders of ragi roti, two akki roti (made of rice flour), two aloo parota, one ragi mudde for everyone to try (no one enjoyed it much more than I had on the first visit), and a rava idly. We even tried a couple of North Indian dishes this time – channa masala, shahi paneer, naan, and kulcha – and they were excellent, probably the best North Indian I’ve had in Bangalore. For less than $2/person everyone was in food heaven, followed by a huge food coma that threatened to impede our last-minute wedding reception shopping.

Overall, it was an epic food day, starting with Veena for breakfast, continuing with Hallimane for lunch, and finishing off with a huge dinner buffet at Jayamahal for Sean and Archana’s wedding reception.

Lunch at Hallimane
Mini-feast at Hallimane with Kenny and Archana last fall

Kenny and Archana
Kenny and Archana love Hallimane

Hallimane feast
Hallimane feast with the Seattle friends

Hallimane chefs
These guys make the delicious ragi and akki rotis

Hallimane
3rd cross Sampige Road
Malleswaram
Bangalore, India 560003
+91-80-65611222

Indian Dress-up

This morning the rest of the Seattle crew arrived in Bangalore. Although they were jet lagged, we only had 34 hours remaining until the wedding, so we were forced to ply everyone with coffee and take them downtown for an Indian wedding clothes shopping trip.

Lauren and I had brought our outfits from last fall, and while we were in Delhi Gio purchased two kurti in Karol Bagh (though no pointy shoes). So this afternoon on Commercial Street, Justin, Steve and Brad were the stars of the show.

On Sean and Archana’s recommendation, we started our adventures at Prestige the Man Store. While most of their sherwanis were a bit over the top decoration-wise (and quite pricey), they also had a large selection of reasonable kurti. After about 30 minutes of fashion shows, we had fulfilled half of our mission; Brad walked away with two outfits, and Justin with one. Furthermore, since we were shopping at an upscale store in India, we were served another round of coffee. While Steve was a little distraught that he had come up short at Prestige, he struck gold (well, rust actually) at FabIndia. A few street-side shops provided the last two kurti, as well as an assortment of stoles to complete the new ensembles.

With wedding preparations behind us, we celebrated our purchases over drinks at the 13th floor, a bar in the tallest building on MG Road that provided a great view of the daily thunderstorm (it is monsoon season), followed by an awesome meal at my favorite sit-down restaurant in Bangalore, Coconut Grove. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone decked out tomorrow night for the main event.

Justin making shopping decisions
Justin finally narrowed his choices to two…but how to decide?

Brad's kurta Justin's kurta for the reception
Brad decided on the “Greek god” look for the ceremony, and we got to see how Justin would fit into the Indian royal court

Drinks with a view
After jet lag and heavy duty shopping, it’s important to unwind with drinks overlooking the city parade grounds

Passage Back to India

We’re back in the Motherland. After five days touring around London and environs, and yet another red-eye, we’re in Delhi. We’ll be here for a couple of days playing tour guides for our good friend Gio, including a one-day stopover in Agra. Of course, Kenny insists that we will have a meal at the new and improved Khan Chacha. I just can’t wait to try Indian mangoes.

On Tuesday, we head down to Bangalore to join the fun for Sean and Archana’s wedding festivities. I can’t wait to see them and to revisit the neighborhood where we lived for two months this past fall. I’m also extremely excited to take all of the folks coming in from the US shopping for Indian wedding clothes. We already have ours, of course.

A Decade of Dosai

Courtesy of the New York Travisa office, we are now the proud holders of 10 year India visas. It was a remarkably easy process, and many thanks to the Travisa security guard, who when we asked “is it going to take longer or complicate our applications if we check the 10 year box instead of the 6 month box” told us that either way our application would be approved and ready by the next day. No more red tape between us and the Taj Mahal.

The Next Six Weeks

We have only 10 days left in Thailand. I know it will be extremely difficult to leave. On the one hand, I do feel a bit ready to move on from our small town. It is lovely, but after three months I certainly feel like I’ve seen what it has to offer. On the other hand, it will be very hard to leave my volunteer assignment. Not that I didn’t accomplish my goals – on the contrary, the staff and I have accomplished a lot more than we expected. I just know that I will miss them horribly and I want to continue helping them work for democracy in Burma. The separation will also be a poignant reminder that while I’ve been here helping them voluntarily, this cause is their life and they can’t just leave. In fact, they can’t really go anywhere.

Here is our plan for the next six weeks. As usual, it’s ridiculous and it involves a lot of flights:

  • Thailand: We have one more week volunteering in Mae Hong Son, then we head to New York (via Chiang Mai, Taipei, and San Francisco).
  • New York: We’ll be in New York for about a week for Kenny’s sister’s wedding. We have a bunch of errands to run — AJWS post-mortem at their office, get new India visas, get yellow fever shots for Uganda, etc. — but we’ll also get to spend time with family and friends while we’re there. My parents are also coming to the wedding. I’m excited to see my Dad again so soon, and I’ve promised to take my Mom on the Jewish tour of New York (Lower East Side, Brooklyn, etc.).
  • Boston: We will have four days in Boston to visit our dear friends Julie and Damian, and their newest addition, Sophie. A few friends from Seattle will be joining us.
  • London: On our way to India for Sean and Archana’s wedding, we arranged for a four-day "layover" in London. Kenny has never been to Stonehenge, so we will probably try to squeeze that in too. It will be a weird, very first-world tourist experience in the middle of this year of Global South adventures, but hopefully New York and Boston will help with the transition. I expect that we’ll spend more money during four days in London than we typically spend in four weeks here in Thailand.
  • Delhi: Delhi always seems to be our gateway to India. Gio is meeting us, and we’ll spend a couple of days showing him the sights (and we need to take him for a celebratory meal at Indian Accent). Then we plan to make a day trip to Agra, since we promised ourselves we’d see the Taj Mahal this time. It’s going to be HOT, but I suppose it can’t be much worse than April in Northern Thailand
  • Bangalore: The main event for us in India is Sean and Archana’s wedding in Bangalore, which promises to be an all-out traditional Tam-Bram affair. After the wedding, we’re all heading to a Jungle Retreat in the Nilgiris for a few days.
  • Kampala: On June 11, we’ll fly from Bangalore to Dubai to Addis Ababa to Entebbe, in order to start our next volunteer assignment, which is a technology for agriculture project, based in Kampala.

Chilies!

I really like spicy food, but my wife takes the love of chilies to a whole new level. She has her standards, and one could even argue that she is obsessed with spiciness. I learned one possible reason why, when reading a side-bar on the menu at Tamarind in Luang Prabang:

Why is there such a love of chili worldwide? Because when we eat them, our bodies product a natural high or ‘”chili buzz.” Lovers of hot and spicy food are probably addicted!

The chili pepper is an amazing fruit (yes, it is a actually a fruit). Some Burmese would starve without them, and their use of chilies may explain why they don’t get sick when eating their unrefrigerated leftovers:

Rich in Vitamin C, they [chilies] act as natural preservatives. Drying chilies concentrates the natural sugars and intensifies their flavors, and dried chilies give sauces complex flavors and spiciness.

In case the chili wasn’t impressive enough, I was recently informed that India is planning to use their spiciest “ghost chili” (which we sampled in Bangalore) to make eco-friendly hand grenades!

Lauren likes chilies
Lauren loves chilies

Chapattis!

After we started our baking experiments with P Nik, a few loaves of bread made their way to my office and the staff ate them up (literally). One of the staff members asked me if I would teach her how to bake bread, but unfortunately the office doesn’t have an oven. I told her that when we were in India we didn’t have an oven either, so we often made rotis, also known as chapattis. She and a few other staff members became extremely excited when I mentioned the word chapattis, as they remembered eating them back in Burma. I promised that I would teach the office staff how to make them at some point.

We’ve recently begun a Monday-night ritual where I stay late at the office after work, Kenny comes over on his bike, and we have a big office dinner together. It’s been fun for me to introduce Kenny to my co-workers and to the delicious food I have been enjoying every day for lunch. This Monday was particularly special because all of the interns had just finished a grueling day of tests and interviews for an advanced school. We decided that a celebration was in order. Fortunately, Kenny had just returned from a Kay Htoe Bo celebration, and had a bottle of rice wine in hand. He offered to make a quick run to the grocery store to grab some flour for chapattis, and the staff started working on a huge pot of veggie curry.

Of course, there’s no atta in this part of the world, so we had to make do with all-purpose flour and its suboptimal gluten content. No matter, I taught one staff member how to make chapatti dough, Kenny taught another how to grill the flattened pancakes, and within an hour the office had been transformed into an efficient chapatti-making operation. Someone went over to a friend’s house to borrow a huge round griddle pan that could accommodate five chapattis at a time, and we became a chapatti factory, churning out  a new batch of hot, delicious flat breads every couple of minutes.

The Burmese curry that was served with the chapattis was delicious, and featured many flavors reminiscent of India. It was a delicious, festive meal, and Kenny and I went home stuffed.

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Alvin’s Guide to Good Business

We don’t watch much TV here, but when we do it’s usually the BBC or France24. One show we chanced upon a few weeks back is Alvin’s Guide to Good Business. Alvin Hall was in India talking with IDE about drip irrigation. It’s fun watching him talk to social entrepreneurs in the developing world, especially when we recognize the country or city. The structure of the episode is in two sections. For the first section Alvin visits, learns about the business and makes some suggestions. Then he comes back six months later to track their progress for the second part of the show.

This morning’s episode was about Friends International, the organization behind Makphet in Laos and a number of projects in their headquarters of Phnom Penh. We had visited their shop in Phnom Penh, but had no idea just how many (tens of thousands of) street kids benefitted from the project every day.

Alvin, if you’re listening, you should talk to Babajob. Sean offers a great example of a “pioneer of innovations that benefit humanity.”

Elbow Grease Peanut Butter

When we were in India we made all kinds of things from scratch, including peanut butter in the mixie. But since we didn’t want to fork over 1000 baht for an electric blender that we’d then have to ditch when we leave Thailand, Lauren and I thought we might just have to go without our peanut butter fix for a few months.

The other day I was munching on some roasted peanuts from the local market and noticed a mortar and pestle at work. I wondered whether I could put these two things together. I held back on my experimental urge… until this afternoon.

Prompted by our weekend discovery of a decent locally-baked whole wheat bread, I took the pestle to the mortar and crushed and re-crushed 100g of peanuts. After about 15 minutes of pounding (and some inquisitive looks from my co-workers), I had a mortar full of handmade peanut butter!

Hand grinded peanut butter

As my co-workers all took a sample, I explained to them the English term “peanut butter” and some of its usages as a spread in Western foods. They still thought I was crazy, but they liked the peanut butter and next time I’ll bring in some bread as a prop for a future English lesson. On my first taste I also realized that there had been a little residual crushed chili in the mortar, adding a touch of spiciness. This was accidental, but tasty, and next time I’ll likely add a small dried chili to the mix.

Tonight we bought a loaf of the whole-wheat bread from the night market and celebrated with a post-dinner snack:

Fresh as can be peanut butter snack
Lauren satisfying her peanut butter cravings for the first time in six weeks

Towers of Babel

So far this year, Lauren and I have chosen to situate ourselves in places where it’s difficult to immerse yourself in a local language. In India, while the north pretty uniformly speaks Hindi, the south is a veritable melting pot of linguistics. Each state has its own language and Bangalore, being very close to multiple states, has all of them represented. People speak Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi. This actually worked out ok for us, as the situation results in everyone speaking English as a common language (plus the average Indian’s English skills are quite good).

At first glance, Thailand is a much simpler place. The national language (and most residents’ primary language) is Thai. However, there are a few complications for us. Lauren and I are both working with Burmese refugees, and the language situation in Burma is much like that of South India. While Burmese is the national language, each ethnic minority has their own primary language. So our foreign language exposure is:

  • Lauren’s NGO: mostly Burmese (since there are multiple ethnicities involved), and bits and pieces of two different ethnic minority languages
  • My NGO: a different ethnic minority language than either of the two at Lauren’s NGO
  • Restaurant and shop owners: Thai

On top of it all, all of these languages are tonal, which always throws us off. We are still picking up bits and pieces of each language (one of our waitresses is determined to teach me Thai), but our experience is definitely scattered. Our response – teach lots of English to the locals. :) Fortunately, that’s part of why we’re here anyway.