Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The land of scuzzy portion size

There are a few aspects of Indian culture I just don't get. No matter how much I try to rationalise it I can't make sense of it. In those instances it's very hard for me to admit that these aspects aren't wrong but just different.

My biggest frustrations always seem to be food related. So although this aspect of Indian culture relates to a wide variety of negotiations for me it largely comes down to food. I am happy to haggle for a handbag, but not my food.

I am passionate about ice-cream. I love it. It is the best concoction ever created. I am not talking about the cheap nasty stuff; I rarely waste my stomach space on that… it has to be the good stuff. In Australia I am quite partial to Royal Copenhagen, Maggie Beer's concoctions, and on occasion New Zealand Natural. In Delhi it's Haagen Dazs and once upon a time Gelato Vinto. However, I will no longer patronise Gelato Vinto no matter how good there product… why? Because of scuzzy portion sizes. I don't expect big American size portions but the last time I ordered at Gelato Vinto I received this tiny ball of ice-cream barely more than a tablespoon rolling around the bottom of my cup. Now you might ask... why didn't you say something? I could have, and they might have given me a skerrick more… but why should I have to? Now days when I order ice-cream I send Ray and he deals with it and demands more. The idea that I have to ask for my fair share, for some reason, makes anger bubble up inside me. This sort of situation is not just limited to ice-cream but also most things and for some reason french fries. We have ordered a side of fries at a few places and what arrives is literally 10 chips on a plate. Maybe they give one potatoes worth per serve. Even at McDonalds the servings are laughable.

For shops like Gelato Vinto I don't understand it from a business point of view. To me normal or even generous servings means repeat business and scuzzy serves the opposite. Surely I am not the only one boycotting Gelato Vinto.
I wonder where the balance lies. Surely a decent serve and more business is the way to go rather than skimping on product.

So over three years I have been mulling over the scuzzy portion sizes and have tried to get my head around it. I have wondered if it is the establishments owners that tell there staff to give the minimum. Or do the staff give little so they can skim some off for themselves… I couldn't work it out… I thought someone must be giving the directive…but I just learnt that no one says a word.

I recently read a book and I discovered it's ingrained in the culture. The book was called OMG Delhi. It is a novel by an Indian author who has a central character who is used to narrate chapters of anecdotes about Indian culture and the way things work in Delhi. The author even makes a point in many of the chapters to highlight the nature of give and take in all aspects of Indian culture. Most of the chapters are summarised with the line 'maximum for minimum' in the case of the consumer and the reverse for the vendor. This book opened my eyes. I now understand that a boss doesn't have to tell the staff to scrimp on servings, it's just the way it is. Unlike other cultures there is no clear cut fair share. You just have to ask for more until you can get no more or in reverse you try and hang on to as much as you can. There are no rules, there is no right or wrong and you can't even consider the ethics of the situation.
The ethics is the hardest part for me. In many situations in India it's not that things are ethical or unethical it just doesn't come into play. I can't articulate it, it just isn't part of the equation. So many people and companies (Airtel!) conduct business and and their lives in which I would judge completely unethical but really that is just a foreign concept from a foreign culture. And who am I to judge. Ok… here comes a long tangent which I will save for another day.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Water Woes

Ray: There is no water
Me: What sort of water?
Ray: What do you mean? There's no water
Me: Tap water or drinking water?
Ray: There is no water coming out of the tap
Me: Try the butt hose… there is always water in the butt hose.

This is one of those conversations you could only have in India. Back home in Australia, free flowing water coming straight from the tap that is clear and drinkable and never runs dry is something we take for granted. In India things are a little different. In Delhi most dwellings have black water tanks on the roof. We get water for an hour or so each day and pump our supply up to tanks on the roof. When the tanks are full, water can be gravity fed into bathrooms and kitchens.

Delhi has particularly rickety infrastructure when in comes to water supply. Thankfully in my neighbourhood we have it pretty good. If I run out of water I run downstairs and ask the landlord to turn on the pump. Occasionally the water coming out of the tap is dirty but most of the time it appears clear. The water is pretty hard so clothes don't come out of the wash as clean as they could and most Delhites are plagued by 'hair fall' so there are countless varieties of hair fall shampoo available… They don't work… My hair is getting thinner by the week... Good thing I started with a lot.

In contrast, many slum dwellers have to fight the crowds for their water. Many slums have no piped water supply so the Municipal Jal (water) Board truck delivers water a couple of times a day. However there is never enough for the growing slum populations and many people receive no water at all. Coupled with this the water deliveries are supposed to be free but in reality residents must pay bribes to have the water delivered.

It doesn't matter where you live in Delhi the water supply is contaminated with sewage, 70 per cent  of samples fail  purity tests conducted by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Perhaps I should go back to brushing my teeth with filter water.

In our old apartment our landlord installed a fancy-schmancy water filter as he thought having 20L drums delivered was unseemly… whatever… For a while I enjoyed the convenience of the filter water but after a while I noticed a lot of residue building up in the ice cube trays, our filter clearly wasn't removing everything. So I went back to ordering in bottled water for drinking and used the filter water for cooking and washing vegetables etc.
Even though there is no proven correlation between hard water and kidney stones I seem to hear of a lot of people in Delhi being afflicted, so I would rather not take my chances.

As for the butt hose… I have no idea why it and the toilet never seem to run dry.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Indian Food
My Kingdom For a Decent Salad

Back before I lived in India I quite enjoyed Indian food. I would often make it my choice in food courts, I would sometimes dine in Indian restaurants and I would even attempt to make it at home. After three and a half years in India I don't dislike Indian food, I am just tired of it and it would no longer be my choice. And at the risk of being controversial I think the reason I am tired of it is because it all tastes the same.

The thing about Australian food is that it does not really exist. We just take what we like from everywhere else making the choices and flavours very diverse. Although not all Australians appreciate this as there are plenty who barely deviate from a bland diet with the standard dinner fare of meat and three veg.

Indian food however all seems to have the same undertones… a mix of turmeric, cumin, cardamon, coriander and cloves. When I first arrived in India I loved it all. The first lunch of dahl and rice at Sewa Ashram was the best thing I had ever tasted. But after eating it everyday for 6 months I could barely get down a single mouthful without gagging. Indian's of course never get sick of Indian food and a lot of them don't enjoy other types of food. Perhaps that is why there are so few foreign food restaurants here and even fewer that serve up anything worth ordering. The pickings are slim, even in food courts I struggle to find something appetising. In fact even in McDonald's just about everything on the menu has been Indianised.

In contrast just about every suburb in Sydney will have the following restaurants…Chinese, Indian, Thai, Pizza, Lebanese, Japanese, Fish and Chip and sushi. My taste buds weren't brought up with slight variance of the same flavours… it's all about diversity.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with the differing eating styles I am just saying that food choice is probably one of my biggest struggles here in India (a silly problem as living in India I am confronted with real problems on a daily basis). Some days, even after 3.5 years, I literally don't know what to eat. On those days it's a matter of finding something, anything that will keep the hunger away. Usually yoghurt, toast or a banana. In fact I went through a stage of making the most delicious banana bread a few times a week, until one day I realised it was just sitting there going moldy as the thought of eating another slice would make me gag… So I guess what I have learnt is I need to plan and I need to come up with new things that I can make and rotate.

It's not all bad really, it just takes a lot more planning and the choices are limited. I have to make a special trip to buy decent bread. I am yet to find good rocket or other salad greens. There are limited choices when it comes to good cheese and ice-cream… unless you are made of money. I would not even know where to start looking for fresh seafood that hasn't been swarmed by flies.

I am rambling now but here is a thought… In a city which has such hot weather for most of the year why do they eat all there food hot and their veggies with all the life cooked out of it?… Why not salads, gazpacho, cold noodle salads and soups, sushi, sandwiches.… I don't understand. By the way… they even fry sandwiches here!

I wonder if I would face the same dilemma in Japan… I have always considered sushi something I could eat everyday… I wonder how long it would take until I gagged.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Escaping Delhi

While Ray and Sam took off on their motorbike trip through the Himalayas, Hunter and I were fortunate enough to have been invited along on my mum and sisters trip to Europe.

As usual our flight out of Delhi was at a ridiculous hour… 4am. This was made particularly torturous due to the fact we had been up since 4am the morning before when Ray and Sam departed for their trip. You would think that having been awake for the better part of 24 hours I would have crashed once I got on the plane but I am yet to master the art of sleeping while sitting.

We met up with my mum and sister at Dubai airport. Let me just say Dubai airport is a dive; crowded and way too small for the number of people transiting this airport and not enough seats to go around. I have never seen so many people strewn all over an airport floor 

Copenhagen… I could live here.

First Impressions
One of the first things I notice when I get off a plane is the smell of the country. To me Denmark smelt a bit like timber crossed with a slightly sweet pastry smell…haha…I can't quite describe Delhi's smell but it is very distinct.
I found the customs check in Denmark to be very relaxed… No arrival forms, didn't even look at my photo, just found an empty page and stamped…very efficient. After waiting what felt like forever for our luggage we found we had missed our car ride to the hotel so took the train instead.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel which was really well located but our room was teeny tiny and was on a slope…. weird.

Highlights of Copenhagen…

Running Tour… 
Not sure how I came across this but I decided to do it and I loved it! The guide, Lena, was fabulous and I am amazed at any one who can run and talk at the same time. The tour was perfect for getting the lay of the land. I saw all the major sights including the little mermaid with about 100 asian tourists.

Canal Tour…
Lots to see, lots of history and some amazing architecture… I love this city

Illums Bolighus…love… if I could live in a store this would be the one. If I believed in reincarnation I I would assume I was Danish in a past life. This store is the mecca of Danish Design. Of course I bought myself a lil something.

Oh Yeah! All the things I have been missing… seafood, liquorice ice-cream, pastries, summer fruit.. I could go on.

The Palace…
I really like how the palace is set up around a big round-about and you could walk right up to the front door and knock. It was nice to see where Mary lives. Apparently the running tour has caught up with Mary out on her morning run. That would have been cool.

Bike Riding...
I have never seen so many bicycles before…actually, maybe I have in Holland. I think the cycling culture is one of the reasons I feel I could live here… everyone gets around on bikes; something like 80% of the population. One evening Hunter and I went and found ourselves some free city bikes and went for a ride down to the harbour baths. Even though we were there during peak summer it still felt too cold to swim. 
We deliberately avoided peak hour and went for a ride at about 9pm, the locals ride like they are on a mission and you have to keep out of their way. I found riding on the right side of the road a lil confusing too, especially when making left turns.

A tip… Never ever cross the street in Copenhagen unless the walk sign is illuminated. It seems this is one rule not to be broken, even if you are in a rush and no cars are coming. If you do you will be yelled at and accused of setting a bad example for children. I did not learn this from experience.