Sunday, November 29, 2009

My first day in India

November 23, 2009; 8 pm:

The morning of November 21 at 9:30, I awoke to a knock at the door. I was greeted with a smaller guy who looked at me and said, “brefa,” which I took to mean breakfast. Just to make sure, he made the motion of eating. I told him I’d be right down…in so many charades. I quickly slapped on a pair of jeans and bustled down the narrow stairway to the dining room. There was a single table with about 6 place settings. There were two men sitting at the table, one very large and jolly looking with a pair of rectangular specs sitting on his face, the second one a smaller guy wearing a red and black nylon jersey. One of the servers came up to me and said, “omele?” I of course agreed to that, because it sounded a lot like the familiar English word ‘omelette.’ He brought me out a delicious milky and sugary coffee, no doubt the famous Chennai filtered coffee that I’d read about, followed by a plate sized omelette with onions and jalapenos in it with 5 pieces of white toast on the side. Do they think I’m American or something? Haha. I gladly accepted and got to work quickly, but soon noticed that they were bringing Indian food to the other men across the table, so I put on my “I’m really curious” look and pointed at what they had. The server’s charades indicated that he understood that I wanted some of the Indian food also, which he quickly produced. The food consisted of a bowl of lentil soup made with red chillies, parsley, basil, anise, and some other spices, rice pancakes (dosas), and some other paste that was just as spicy as everything else I was eating that morning. I found out later that all of that food cost me only 50 cents…I was shocked!

Seeing the men across the table, I did what I do in every other situation where there are people, I started a conversation in English hoping that the others speak English. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could understand the large gentleman quite well. I asked them how long they were staying, and the big guy said he’d been here for 3 years and probably would be staying a bit longer. The smaller guy also was there for an extended stay. Next question: What do you do? The big guy, whose name I learned was Ivan, said that he was a regional manager for a company named Datacraft, which is a software development company partnered with Cisco sytems in the U.S.. Yet another sign of the Indian IT and technology boom. He’s a business and marketing guy. The other guy, whose name is Patma, works for Tata motors. Tata basically deals with everything from salt to motors. The fact of the matter is that Ivan and I are now really good friends based on that first conversation. We talked all about the stock markets, Indian companies, market cap, blah blah, finance, blah. We make a good pair. After our conversation, I hurried back up the stairs to my room, because I knew that Raghavendra, my contact in Chennai, would be back for me.

It was my first rickshaw ride and I was pumped! Raghavendra, my contact in Chennai, had flagged down one of these motorized yellow buggys with three golf cart wheels, bike handlebars for steering, and a very rickety bench in the back. He had agreed on a price of 120 rupees. Barely had my butt hit the vinyl bench before the barefooted driver pulled an emergency brake looking lever in the floor, sparking a throaty dirt-bike noise from the engine of the vehicle. We were off! First of all, I’m just completely confused by this driving on the left hand side of the road thing, but if that’s not enough, then the people crossing four lanes of traffic, sudden stops, impetuous u-turns, and honking certainly pushed my mind into boggledom. I looked at my knuckles, the capillary action turning them white as I clenched the thin, rusted bar in front of me. I didn’t loose my grip.

I eyed the now sun-bathed and bustling shops on the street, most of them in Hindi, but some throwing in some English words. Most of the signs are dingy pixilated with a worn, pastel look to them. There were people lying, sitting, kneeling, standing, etc., etc.. Some were cooking dosas on their wooden carts with bike wheels, others lentil soup (dal) with chapatti (a bread). There was no sign of hygiene amongst the dirt and trash, but they didn’t seem to care. There were vendors of every kind—electronics, baked goods, lime sodas, freshly pressed sugarcane drinks, a neon sign advertising insurance every now and again. The heat and the humidity seemed to temper as the breeze swept across me.

I felt like a 19th century British explorer making my way to an archaeological dig or something. I could just imagine having to loosen my belted coat and wipe the sweat just below my pith helmet. My khaki pants were all a jumble and sticking to my legs, and my mustache was way too much facial hair for the heat.

“Come!” I heard amidst the daydream. Raghavendra was paying the man the agreed upon 120 rupees ($2.40) for our half-hour ride. We were parked in front of a gigantic white building sporting impressive front gates, mustached guards, and groves of palm trees. The sign on top said Le Meridien Hotel. ‘Yup, that’s the one,” I thought to myself. Raghavendra and I strolled around the asphalt cul-de-sac as our rickshaw melded into the line of traffic, not having bothered to look both ways before diving in. We made our way up the broad marble steps and then were greeted with a hello and a smile from an Indian guard with a large, 19th century British mustache dressed in a green uniform, boots, and a pith helmet…coincidence? I think not. As the guard opened the door, I just looked up and gazed. “Damnit, I’m such a tourist,” I thought in disgust. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the dome ceiling and star-shaped skylights. My gaze shifted downward and I observed a large foyer with Indian carpets, fine wooden furniture, and glass tables, servants bustling to and fro. It was just too much.

We approached the front desk and asked for the managing director. The kind clerk pointed in a direction and told us to ascend the stairs. “One step at a time,” I thought in a practiced manner. “Smile and say thank you, you dope,” I chided myself.

“Thank you,” I said with a large grin on my face.

Raghavendra and I made our way up the stairs and then approached a door labeled “Managing Director.” We walked in. There was a large leather sofa and a glass stand with six different newspapers on it. I could see workers behind a glass wall in front of me typing away on their computers. A man came out and asked us if we’d like coffee, tea, or water. “Water!” I bursted out. I hadn’t had any water since dinner on my Lufthansa flight the night before. I calmly gulped the water down and reached for a copy of The Hindu, India’s National Newspaper, established 1878. The front was slathered with IT news. I got through about half an article, when the door to the managing director’s office opened and a thin Indian man with gold-rimmed specs emerged. He was well mannered and spoke better English than I was used to hearing. A copy of my resume and a cover letter that I’d written a year ago lay across his desk. “Good old Arvind!,” I thought to myself.

The man said, “so, tell me about your project, it sounds very interesting.” So I did. Then he said, “I hear you’re a musician.” He had certainly read my resume and maybe talked to Arvind. I told him that, yes I was a singer and I was really excited to visit with the Indian culture. I also offered up that I might sign up for Indian dance classes, trying to get a laugh or a smile out of him. It worked. We talked at ease about some Chennai music festivals and then I asked him about himself. He deferred back to me, spurring conversation for a moment longer. Then he said, “well, we have three restaurants, one is continental fare, one Indian fine dining, and one a seafood restaurant. Which one would you like?”

“Jackpot!” I thought. Raghavendra and I shared a glance. I didn’t even hesitate…”The Indian fine dining,” I said assuredly.

“Good,” he said. And then he typed some number into the phone and said something in Hindi. Two minutes later, the manager of the restaurants and the head chef of the Indian restaurant were there shaking my hand in greeting. In short, they told me that I could come and go as I please and they’re huge staff would be happy to have me and answer my questions. Then they asked how long I was staying.

“One month and fifteen days,” I told them, which was fine with them I suppose because they just nodded. All three of the men handed me their business cards and wrote down their personal cell numbers. They each said that if I need anything to give them a call. I could start when I wanted.

My first day in India

November 23, 2009; 8 pm:

The morning of November 21 at 9:30, I awoke to a knock at the door. I was greeted with a smaller guy who looked at me and said, “brefa,” which I took to mean breakfast. Just to make sure, he made the motion of eating. I told him I’d be right down…in so many charades. I quickly slapped on a pair of jeans and bustled down the narrow stairway to the dining room. There was a single table with about 6 place settings. There were two men sitting at the table, one very large and jolly looking with a pair of rectangular specs sitting on his face, the second one a smaller guy wearing a red and black nylon jersey. One of the servers came up to me and said, “omele?” I of course agreed to that, because it sounded a lot like the familiar English word ‘omelette.’ He brought me out a delicious milky and sugary coffee, no doubt the famous Chennai filtered coffee that I’d read about, followed by a plate sized omelette with onions and jalapenos in it with 5 pieces of white toast on the side. Do they think I’m American or something? Haha. I gladly accepted and got to work quickly, but soon noticed that they were bringing Indian food to the other men across the table, so I put on my “I’m really curious” look and pointed at what they had. The server’s charades indicated that he understood that I wanted some of the Indian food also, which he quickly produced. The food consisted of a bowl of lentil soup made with red chillies, parsley, basil, anise, and some other spices, rice pancakes (dosas), and some other paste that was just as spicy as everything else I was eating that morning. I found out later that all of that food cost me only 50 cents…I was shocked!

Seeing the men across the table, I did what I do in every other situation where there are people, I started a conversation in English hoping that the others speak English. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could understand the large gentleman quite well. I asked them how long they were staying, and the big guy said he’d been here for 3 years and probably would be staying a bit longer. The smaller guy also was there for an extended stay. Next question: What do you do? The big guy, whose name I learned was Ivan, said that he was a regional manager for a company named TCS, which is a software development company partnered with Cisco sytems in the U.S.. Yet another sign of the Indian IT and technology boom. He’s a business and marketing guy. The other guy, whose name is Patma, works for Tata motors. Tata basically deals with everything from salt to motors. The fact of the matter is that Ivan and I are now really good friends based on that first conversation. We talked all about the stock markets, Indian companies, market cap, blah blah, finance, blah. We make a good pair. After our conversation, I hurried back up the stairs to my room, because I knew that Raghavendra, my contact in Chennai, would be back for me.

It was my first rickshaw ride and I was pumped! Raghavendra, my contact in Chennai, had flagged down one of these motorized yellow buggys with three golf cart wheels, bike handlebars for steering, and a very rickety bench in the back. He had agreed on a price of 120 rupees. Barely had my butt hit the vinyl bench before the barefooted driver pulled an emergency brake looking lever in the floor, sparking a throaty dirt-bike noise from the engine of the vehicle. We were off! First of all, I’m just completely confused by this driving on the left hand side of the road thing, but if that’s not enough, then the people crossing four lanes of traffic, sudden stops, impetuous u-turns, and honking certainly pushed my mind into boggledom. I looked at my knuckles, the capillary action turning them white as I clenched the thin, rusted bar in front of me. I didn’t loose my grip.

I eyed the now sun-bathed and bustling shops on the street, most of them in Hindi, but some throwing in some English words. Most of the signs are dingy pixilated with a worn, pastel look to them. There were people lying, sitting, kneeling, standing, etc., etc.. Some were cooking dosas on their wooden carts with bike wheels, others lentil soup (dal) with chapatti (a bread). There was no sign of hygiene amongst the dirt and trash, but they didn’t seem to care. There were vendors of every kind—electronics, baked goods, lime sodas, freshly pressed sugarcane drinks, a neon sign advertising insurance every now and again. The heat and the humidity seemed to temper as the breeze swept across me.

I felt like a 19th century British explorer making my way to an archaeological dig or something. I could just imagine having to loosen my belted coat and wipe the sweat just below my pith helmet. My khaki pants were all a jumble and sticking to my legs, and my mustache was way too much facial hair for the heat.

“Come!” I heard amidst the daydream. Raghavendra was paying the man the agreed upon 120 rupees ($2.40) for our half-hour ride. We were parked in front of a gigantic white building sporting impressive front gates, mustached guards, and groves of palm trees. The sign on top said Le Meridien Hotel. ‘Yup, that’s the one,” I thought to myself. Raghavendra and I strolled around the asphalt cul-de-sac as our rickshaw melded into the line of traffic, not having bothered to look both ways before diving in. We made our way up the broad marble steps and then were greeted with a hello and a smile from an Indian guard with a large, 19th century British mustache dressed in a green uniform, boots, and a pith helmet…coincidence? I think not. As the guard opened the door, I just looked up and gazed. “Damnit, I’m such a tourist,” I thought in disgust. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the dome ceiling and star-shaped skylights. My gaze shifted downward and I observed a large foyer with Indian carpets, fine wooden furniture, and glass tables, servants bustling to and fro. It was just too much.

We approached the front desk and asked for the managing director. The kind clerk pointed in a direction and told us to ascend the stairs. “One step at a time,” I thought in a practiced manner. “Smile and say thank you, you dope,” I chided myself.

“Thank you,” I said with a large grin on my face.

Raghavendra and I made our way up the stairs and then approached a door labeled “Managing Director.” We walked in. There was a large leather sofa and a glass stand with six different newspapers on it. I could see workers behind a glass wall in front of me typing away on their computers. A man came out and asked us if we’d like coffee, tea, or water. “Water!” I bursted out. I hadn’t had any water since dinner on my Lufthansa flight the night before. I calmly gulped the water down and reached for a copy of The Hindu, India’s National Newspaper, established 1878. The front was slathered with IT news. I got through about half an article, when the door to the managing director’s office opened and a thin Indian man with gold-rimmed specs emerged. He was well mannered and spoke better English than I was used to hearing. A copy of my resume and a cover letter that I’d written a year ago lay across his desk. “Good old Arvind!,” I thought to myself.

The man said, “so, tell me about your project, it sounds very interesting.” So I did. Then he said, “I hear you’re a musician.” He had certainly read my resume and maybe talked to Arvind. I told him that, yes I was a singer and I was really excited to visit with the Indian culture. I also offered up that I might sign up for Indian dance classes, trying to get a laugh or a smile out of him. It worked. We talked at ease about some Chennai music festivals and then I asked him about himself. He deferred back to me, spurring conversation for a moment longer. Then he said, “well, we have three restaurants, one is continental fare, one Indian fine dining, and one a seafood restaurant. Which one would you like?”

“Jackpot!” I thought. Raghavendra and I shared a glance. I didn’t even hesitate…”The Indian fine dining,” I said assuredly.

“Good,” he said. And then he typed some number into the phone and said something in Hindi. Two minutes later, the manager of the restaurants and the head chef of the Indian restaurant were there shaking my hand in greeting. In short, they told me that I could come and go as I please and they’re huge staff would be happy to have me and answer my questions. Then they asked how long I was staying.

“One month and fifteen days,” I told them, which was fine with them I suppose because they just nodded. All three of the men handed me their business cards and wrote down their personal cell numbers. They each said that if I need anything to give them a call. I could start when I wanted.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Breaking down curry powders

As you may know, curry powders are easily available at almost any supermarket given the piqued interest in Indian cuisine, but I bet you can't guess what the difference is between these curry powders and the "curry powders" used in traditional Indian cookery. So let's take a look.

Most curry powders that you buy at the store come with a blend of spices that go something like this: dried coriander seeds, red chillies, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamoms, cloves, black pepper, cumin seeds and poppy seeds (sometimes fenugreek and garlic). This is all well and good and it certainly includes many of the spices that are used in Indian cuisine; however, it just doesn't do it justice. First of all, these powders can only be kept on a shelf for a matter of weeks before they start to lose their piquancy. Second, curry powder producers tend to use cheap spices in order to lower the price of production, which most western users won't be able to tell, because they've never been to India or had true Indian cuisine. Third, they completely omit or use very little nutmeg and mace due to their high costs. These spices are pivotal to bringing out flavors.

If you really want to go traditional, then poppy would not even be used. This spice was first used in the mid-1800s when the British mandated the growing of poppy fields in the Northeastern state of Bengal in order to participate in highly-profitable trade with the western world and China. As a result of this mandate, the fields that traditionally grew the fruits and veggies for the Bengali cuisine were replaced by poppy plants. With so much of it being produced, the people of Bengal eventually found a way to use it in food. Thus, this spice has only existed in the cuisine for about 150 years.

So, you might ask, what are the traditional spices used in an Indian "curry powder." To that I would say, it's not easy, because the cuisine of India varies far and wide, just as the culture and language do. But here are some standards:



******Garam Masala (A North Indian curry mixture)
This mixture consists of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black cumin seeds, nutmeg and mace. Depending on your specific taste preferences, you can change the proportions.

Start by adding equal parts cloves and black cumin seeds. Then, add equal parts cinnamon and cardamom seeds (the little black ones inside the cardamom shell), each of them being 3x as much as the cloves and black cumin seeds (for instance 1/4 ounce cloves and black cumin seeds would mean you need to add 3/4 ounce cinnamon and cardamom). Next, add a good pinch of nutmeg and mace. Grind all of them in with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder, pass through a fine sieve and then store in an airtight container. Use within a couple of weeks for best taste.





*****Variation on Garam Masala used by Kashmiri chefs
(Kashmir is the northernmost state in India)

This mixture includes black cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mace, black pepper, and nutmeg.

Add equal parts black cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. Then, add an amount of cardamom that is 4x as much as you used for the first spices listed. Last, add 1/2 as much mace and nutmeg as you used for the first spices listed. Grind, sieve, and store.

*****Madras Rasam or sambhar powder (from Chennai, formerly called Madras)

This mixture is from down south. It includes split black beans (a type of lentil/bean), white cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black pepper, and fenugreek seeds.

This one is a bit different, as you have to fry each of the ingredients separately before mixing, grinding, and storing.

Add equal parts split black beans, white cumin seeds, and coriander seeds. Then, add 1/2 as much black pepper as you used for the first spices listed. Last, add 1/4 as much fenugreek seeds as you used for the first spices listed. Grind and store.

**************************************************

These recipes are quick fixes for producing the flavors that you will find in Indian cuisine. Once you have mastered (which I haven't yet, by the way) the art of adding spices individually to a dish, then you can perfect your recipes by bringing out and suppressing certain tastes.

Indian Cookery

I have started my internship at Le Meridien Hotel in Chennai, India and I've purchased several books on Indian Cuisine, so we're going to begin learning Indian cuisine from this point forward!

First Night in India

As my plane skidded to a stop on the runway, I took the chance to glance back through the cabin. It’s interesting being the minority. Everyone has a look on their face like, “What the hell are you doing here?” When the plane attendants bid me farewell in German, I couldn’t help thinking, “Oh boy, now I’m not just one, but two parts removed from America…The US seems a long way off.”

When you enter a really foreign place, you immediately notice the smallest things…the fact that no one has cleaned the glass on the doors for a long time, the brown dinginess that inhabits corners and crevices, the lack of d├ęcor, or a haphazardly placed Buddha in the corner of a surgically lit hallway.

I had been to Germany in the last 10 days, an “infected” area, so I was greeted by a finger ushering me toward a group of masked government workers eager to take my little green form that I had diligently filled out on the plane. They didn’t even check me. I could have just lied about having the flu and they wouldn’t have known. One success!

As I walked away from the masked crusaders, I had the familiar feel of purpose come over me as I walked to the passport counter. But I was shot down! The man looked at my little white paper and said in a very Indian accent, head bobbing from side to side, “you didn’t fill everything out; where are you staying?” I explained that I didn’t know where I was staying and that all I knew is that I was going to meet someone outside the glass doors, hopefully gripping a paper with these 8 letters: “ETHAN WOODS.” That wasn’t doing it for him, though, so he told me to go use the free telephone to make a call and pointed in a seemingly arbitrary direction. His directional led me to a long counter against a wall with a single telephone sitting atop it. Above it was a laminated piece of white paper that said “free telephone.” I think I made that sign in third grade.

As I picked up the receiver, I had another familiar feeling come over me…failure. I realized that no sound was being emitted from the telephone speaker. “It’s a different country with new rules and laws,” I thought to myself. “Perhaps there is no dial tone here,” came the follow up. So, I plowed ahead anyways laying a heavy finger on each successive button, the feeling of purpose returning to fight against inevitable failure. One…two…three…four…no sound…five…failure.

“EATAN!,” a voice came from behind. “God, is that you,” I thought—no one knows my name in this country. I did an about face and was greeted with a smile. I recognized the man from the plane, but had not talked to him at all. He was wearing a white winter cap, hardly appropriate for the hot, humid conditions in India. After realizing that my face must be clenched with the lines of deep thought forming above my brow, I said hello. He then explained to me that he had heard me talking to the flight attendant on the plane about my trip around the world and my “shooting in the dark” approach to India. He said that he had talked to the man at the passport counter and told him I was staying with him. I was confused and a little taken aback at his openness and forwardness, but I readily handed over my pen to let him write in his address on my form. If it got me past step 1, I knew I could handle steps 2, 3, 4, and 5. Success two!

It turns out that the guy is a software engineer and was recently working for Ferrari in Italy. He said he was returning home to surprise his wife, whom he’d recently married. Apparently she wanted him back in Chennai with her, but he had a year contract in Italy. I guess he had figured out a way to break it and was quite excited to surprise his wife.

I proceeded to the conveyor belt full of bags and boxes, all eagerly waiting to be snatched up by their owners. So I looked, and I waited, and I waited, and I waited. The thing about having the last name Woods is that you learn what patience is after having been called last in anything that was ever alphabetized, However, my patience was wearing thin, especially because I knew that my new friend was waiting behind me checking his cell phone for lack of a better thing to do. I looked down at the scratch marks on the steel belt and decided that my bags were in fact going to come…and that they did. Success three!

When you walk past a line of frantically waving Indians waiting to receive their family members, partners, and business associates, you kind of feel like a piece of meat on display. It’s like you’re the fish at the outdoor market that everyone keeps asking about, because you look different and out of place. Or maybe it’s just because you’re twice the size of everyone else around you and you’re naturally the landmark for watching the flow of traffic…who knows? All I know is that straight ahead, I found what I was looking for: a white piece of paper with “ETHEN WOODS” written on it…close enough. Success four!

The man who greeted me is called Raghavendra and he is the business associate of Arvind Nayak, who helped to arrange my stay in India. Raghavendra is one of 150 employees in Arvind’s freight shipping business (www.nayakaviation.com) and runs the operations in Chennai, one of the seven offices in India (there are two more in Hong Kong and Singapore). Arvind and I have yet to meet, but I know that he is a kind and caring man who has decided to help a wayward traveler who just so happened to graduate Dolgeville High School about 35 years after he did (as an exchange student). He has graciously set up places for me to stay in Chennai, Bangalore, Cochin and New Delhi and found me very wonderful places to learn about the cuisine, the first being a five-star hotel in downtown Chennai. You’ll learn more about him, as will I.

Raghavendra said some words to me in English, I thought, but it was very difficult to make it out through the Indian accent, so I just followed. The sidewalk was a veritable hotel of homeless people stretched out on pieces of cloth or just face on bare cement, some engaged in conversation and some with just a vacant, lifeless expression. I pressed on. Analyzing the flow of traffic, I saw Land Rovers, Tatas, tiny cars, and auto rickshaws wildly competing for the next chance to push forward. I would liken it to a dangerous game of tetris, where everyone was trying to fill the next spot…no blinkers, just honking. I was very confused in my new surroundings, and I had just spent 16 hours in transit starting at 4 a.m. in Vienna and ending at midnight in Chennai, India. My brain was so shot up with holes that it could have been a stop sign in a redneck village. But I followed Raghavendra’s motions, climbing into a tiny car, the driver positioned on the front right. Air conditioning…phew! I was so glad to be out of the oppressive heat and humidity that first struck me as wading through a pot of luke warm hot dog water, when you add the smell. The traffic was moving slower than molasses and the road looked like a war zone. And, if I thought Turkey had chaotic traffic, you should see India! Hit the accelerator hard and hit the breaks fast, honk when not spoken to, and hold on for dear life! Those are the rules of the road in India.

I looked over to analyze my only friend in the world, Raghavendra, as the car windows began to condense with water droplets jealous of the cold on the car interior. I said the only thing I knew to say, “Thank you!”

He smiled and said, “no thanks, no thanks.” That’s when I remembered what I had heard about Indian hospitality. Always a smile and always a helping hand.

The car ride was long and the traffic was unbearable, even at 1 a.m., but I took the chance to acquaint myself with the man sitting beside me as well as his Indian accent. I also surveyed the surroundings through the mist on the windows. From what I could tell, it was India…I wasn’t dreaming. The streets were dirty, the curbsides were high to battle against flooding and lack of drainage, the people were everywhere in the streets and, to reiterate, it looked like a garbage truck with it’s back hatch open had dispersed its garbage all over the road.

As we pulled onto my corner, as I now know it, the road was a puddle of stagnant water and garbage from the recent monsoon rains and flooding. My white blood cells recoiled with horror, the malaria pills in my bags just begging to be swallowed. We rounded the next corner and pulled up next to what looked like a house. Raghavendra said, “come, this is the guesthouse.” I obediently followed.

He rang the bell on the front door and a taller Indian looking guy dressed in jeans and a button up shirt answered the door, feet bare. Raghevendra and the young man exchanged some words, and then the young man flashed a smile and bobbled his head a little from side to side and ushered us in. He led us up a narrow staircase decorated with some carpet and Indian decorations, then opened the door on the right. “This is my home for a while,” I thought to myself. Here goes nothing. I stepped in and the young man flicked a couple switches, causing a fan to start whirring above my head and a fluorescent tube to lazily spring to life. The fluorescent glow revealed a large room with white granite floors, two standard looking beds, a nightstand, an armoire, a brown wardrobe, and a small table with a tv atop. There were two doors on the other side of the room. To my surprise, I heard the familiar sound of an air conditioner rumbling to life. I felt like I’d just won the lottery! It all looked pretty normal, I thought. There were towels, blankets and sheets neatly folded at the bottom of each bed with a small bar of soap topping the neat stack. The clock in the upper right hand side of the room seemed to say that Indians were not one of those timeless cultures that only meet based on positions of the sun in the sky (that was a joke…I knew that). The decorations and curtains were pretty standard looking. I walked across the room and opened door one, after having slid the large silver deadbolt to the “heel boy!” position. It was a balcony with a view of the neighboring building, a staircase extending out of sight above. I closed the door. That only left one thing: the other door. I eased it open to reveal a white tiled bathroom. There was a sink and mirror directly in front of me and some faucets to my side protruding from the walls. I looked down to see a couple of dingy buckets, one that was very large and the other dangling from the side of it, a handle facilitating its grasp. I thought to myself, “well, you can’t have everything.” Little did I know that there was actually a shower above my head, I just didn’t notice it because my gaze was fixed on the buckets and faucets below. I really thought I was going to be sponge bathing for a while. I noticed a drain in the corner on the completely level bathroom floor, which no doubt was supposed to drain the flooded post-shower bathroom floor. And then I saw it…the vestige of western civilization that I thought would totally vanish…a porcelain throne!! Success five!!!

As I sit here at almost 4:30 in the morning, I realize two things: one is that my throat is really dry and I don’t dare drink the water, and the other is that this is going to be an awesome experience!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Location in India

India

Population: 1.2 billion
Capital: New Delhi
Number of States: 23
Current State: Tamil Nadu
Current City: Chennai
Population Chennai: 4.5 million
Population Bristol Fellows in Chennai: 1






In the pictures on the left hand side of the page, you can see where exactly I am staying until January 5. The pictures zoom in to my exact location at the Guest Inn located at:

No. 1, 3rd Street, Habibullah Road,
T. Nagar, Chennai - 600 017
Telephone number (office):
+91 44 28341691
Telephone number (res):
+91 44 2834 1272

I also have my own cell phone number which I acquired today. It is:
+91 9789075200

If you want to call me from Skype, it will cost you about 10 cents a minute.


The 'A' is my location within the city.
















To give you more information, I will be working at the Le Meridien Hotel (I know the 'Le' and 'the' are redundant, but not everyone speaks a romance language). It is a five star hotel and it would remind you of something straight out of a movie where a handsome looking guy arrives in a cream colored suit at an exotic location and checks into a hotel that's the size of the Oklahoma Panhandle and has servant's bustling everywhere, opening doors and such. Here is the website for the hotel: Le Meridien Hotel, Chennai. The image below shows my guest house as a red 'A' and the hotel as a purple blob. The hotel has three restaurants: one with international cuisine, one with Indian fine dining, and one with seafood. Can you guess which one I chose to work at?























As far as Chennai goes, I can tell you more as we go along with wacky updates, but all I know about it now are a few juicy tidbits that I have gathered here and there. This wikipedia page is also helpful: Chennai, India. Here's what I can tell you...Chennai is quite pungent, lacks the English language (what ever happened to the effects of British colonialism...just kidding, that's insensitive), and produces a lot of cars. In fact, there is a Ford and Hyundai factory here as well as parts manufacturers for names such as BMW and Mercedes. It produces 60% of India's auto exports and is called the detroit of South Asia...Go GM! (too soon?) The food here, as far as my tongue can discern, is very spicy, but luckily I frequented enough hot currywurst stands in Germany to accustom my stomach to the heat. I'm actually getting used to the joint crying/feeding sessions after my first 24 hours here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bolognese Sauce ala Ethan

Here is a recipe that I learned in Turkey and then perfected in Italy. It's a very delicious
Bolognese sauce with some of my own touches. I never work with measuring cups, so you'll have to bear with me on the measurements.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef or meat of choice
1 can of broth to match meat
3/4 stick of butter
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1 red onion and 1 yellow onion (chopped)
1 green pepper and 1/2 green chili pepper (chopped)
6 capers and a splash of caper juice
6-8 vine ripened tomatoes (or equivalent in beefsteak tomatoes)
2 stalks celery
1 carrot
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup whole milk
1 handful grated Parmesan cheese
oregano
basil
1/2 bouquet parsley (some dill optional)
allspice
nutmeg
pepper/salt

1) Chop all the vegetables to approximately the same size. Crush the tomatoes after having chopped them.
2) Over medium heat, add butter, oil, onions and garlic and brown for 1-2 minutes.
3) Next, add the peppers, carrots, celery, pepper, salt, a good amount of oregano, and an amount of basil that is less than the oregano you added and let simmer for 6 minutes.
4) One by one, add the red wine and the milk, letting each evaporate off.
5) Add the stock, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, nutmeg (to taste), allspice (to taste), capers and caper juice, and let simmer over low heat for 1-2 hours. You should not need to add very much nutmeg and allspice (each less than a teaspoon).
6) Add the parsley and dill directly before serving and serve with fresh Parmesan cheese

*For best results, let the sauce sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. This is pretty much the rule with any Italian sauces you might make. This recipe seems to be a hit everywhere I make it. You know when people go for their third plate.