India Insight

Mumbai’s local delicacies no longer everyone’s cup of tea

Every day, for the past few decades, Dayanand Shenoy has taken an early morning train to Grant Road station in south Mumbai from his home in the suburb of Borivali. Initially, it was for work but now it’s just for oven-fresh mava cakes from B Merwan.

The bakery, on the ground floor of a dilapidated four-storey building, has many admirers in India’s financial capital. Hundreds line up daily, some at sunrise, to buy cups of sugary tea and some bun maska (sweet milk bread slathered with butter).

“I don’t remember how long I have been coming here, ever since I can remember,” said Shenoy, a retired businessman. “It is far away, but I can’t do without having some mava cake every day.”

Merwan, set up 100 years ago by the Irani family, opens at half past five each morning, serving municipal workers, shopkeepers, vegetable vendors and schoolchildren who sit in grimy chairs and wait, bleary-eyed, for their food to arrive.

A cup of tea and a bun maska sets patrons back by 16 rupees (25 cents), one of the city’s most inexpensive breakfasts. The cafe also serves omelettes and scrambled eggs. There is an even longer line at the takeout counter where locals pick up the famed Merwan puff pastries and mava (milk solids) cakes that sell out in a couple of hours.

Old Delhi food steps into the digital age with start-up

With thousands of shops, hundreds of carts, horses, cows, vehicles and an ever-rising number of visitors and shoppers, Delhi’s Chandni Chowk can be a menacing place if you just want to savour a jalebi. But the syrup-drenched, pretzel-like traditional sweet from one of the oldest shopping hubs in India is a mere click away.

A new start-up promises to come to the rescue of many Delhiwallas who want to eat good food from the Mughal-era Walled City, but can’t stand the chaos of what a government portal calls the food capital of India.

“Whenever we want to eat the food on weekdays, it becomes impossible for us,” said 24-year-old Rahul Garg. This and a desire to have their own business led Rahul and his IIT graduate brother Anshul to launch an online food delivery platform that focuses Chandni Chowk’s delicacies.

A look at some of India’s cheap food schemes

Nearly 70 percent of India’s population lives on less than $2 (around 120 rupees) a day, according to World Bank data. The country, the world’s second-largest producer of wheat and rice after China, is also home to a quarter of the world’s hungry.

Helping the poor has always been on the ruling government’s agenda since independence. India, which currently spends 900 billion rupees on giving the poor access to cheap food, hopes to increase it to 1.3 trillion rupees ($22 billion) and widen its scope with an ambitious food security programme launched this month.

The problem is many of the intended beneficiaries don’t realize they’re missing out on existing schemes.

Has Congress lost the plot on inflation?

“Government Plan To Tackle Prices Is Just Hot Air” screamed the front page of Friday’s Mail Today, as India’s political media lined up to belittle what was billed as a list of anti-inflationary remedies but was robustly rejected as “already failed measures and oft-repeated homilies.”

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ruling Congress party Chief Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stand to attention as the national anthem is played during an oath-taking ceremony inside the presidential palace in New Delhi May 28, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meetings this week with senior cabinet ministers to tackle year-high food inflation dragged on long into the night, keeping editors on tenterhooks and assuring Congress of front page headlines.

This morning, those headlines would have made for painful reading. After rumours of export curbs and future markets tweaks, what emerged to be a paltry list of recommendations was seen by many as nothing but ineffective band-aids for a broken economy requiring surgery.

Will rotting foodgrain bring about a retail revolution?

Pictures of grain rotting in the rain in Punjab have shocked a country reeling under high food price inflation and where hundreds of thousands go to bed every night on an empty stomach.

A labourer carries a plastic sheet to cover wheat sacks at a wholesale grain market in Chandigarh May 18, 2010. REUTERS/Ajay Verma/FilesThe estimates vary from 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice and wheat wasting in Punjab alone, and as much as 18 million metric tonnes of food grain lying in the open across the country because of inadequate storage facilities, translating into losses of about 270 billion rupees ($6 billion).

But this is not a new problem. India has prided itself on increasing agricultural productivity, but it has not invested adequately in storage and warehousing facilities, condemning some 40 percent of produce that the country can ill-afford to waste to the trash can.

Why let a debate determine the fate of GM foods?

Students hold a mock funeral procession against genetically modified brinjal crop in Chandigarh January 28, 2010. REUTERS/Ajay VermaThere’s nothing Indians like better than a good debate.

So when Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced last month that he would hold public debates to decide the commercial fate of genetically modified brinjal (eggplant), there were hopes these would provide a chance for all stakeholders to be heard.

But the debates, in seven cities including Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, were chaotic, nothing more than acrimonious shouting matches between environmental activists and scientists, who say they were not given a fair chance to voice their opinion.

One scientist said he had his hand raised for more than half an hour, but was not allowed to speak. Another said he was told he could make a presentation, but was again not allowed to. Others were not even permitted to enter the premises.

Table laid out in the winter sun

Ever had a lotus stem salad laced with fermented fish, evaporated cane juice cookie, chopped eel spiced with chillies or a plate of fried mountain onion roots?

Okay, they’re probably not on the menu of your average restaurant but to my pleasant surprise all the above and much more were on offer in New Delhi at a cultural event dedicated to northeast India.

The main attraction seemed to be the food — cuisines from all eight states that occupy India’s hilly northeast region. Maybe it was because of their novelty factor (not many restaurants in Delhi offer such dishes) but many people lined up at the food stalls (although admittedly, many were probably just gawking at the unusual dishes on display).

Jury still out on Indo-U.S. “unclear” deal

US President Bush raises his glass for a toast with Indian Prime Minister Singh at an official dinner …US President Bush raises his glass for a toast with Indian Prime Minister Singh at an official dinner …You could be forgiven for thinking that the civilian nuclear deal with the United States is all about whether India holds early elections or not.

Every newspaper is speculating if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has staked his personal reputation on the deal, will resign to disassociate himself from an administration that failed to save a pact keenly watched by the world.

But are these the arguments India should be debating in the short-term or should we be discussing the real benefits and drawbacks of the deal?

A chance to bash Mr Bush

Fed by a sensation-hungry media, India’s politicians got another chance to flex their nationalist muscles and bash the United States over the weekend.

U.S. President George W. Bush waves as he walks across the South Lawn after returning to the White House in Washington, April 25, 2008. REUTERS/Jim YoungThe object of their ire was none other than George W. Bush, who was reported as having blamed India for rising global food prices.

“A cruel joke,” said Defence Minister A.K. Antony. The United States appeared to believe “the rest of the world should starve”, the CPM was reported as having said.

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