Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trying my hand at Biryani!

I confess.... I had never heard of Biryani until I came to India despite the fact that I LOVE Indian food and have eaten out in many Indian restaurants. But Biryani is literally all over the place at least in Bangalore. Almost every restaurant has Biryani on the menu. So, I asked our super housekeeper Mary to teach me how to make Biryani. The whole process took about an hour, but here is how you make it.

Veggie Preparation 
- wash rice (we made 3 cups) and soak it in water (let it soak for a while)
- chop onion
- chop tomato
- chop mint
- chop cilantro (a.k.a. coriander leaves)

- some ginger garlic paste (you can get it at any store)
- star anise (2 to 3 pieces)
- cinnamon stick (just 1, break it into big pieces)
- cardamon (2 or 3 pieces)
- cloves (3 or 4 pieces)

- cube the chicken (we used about 400g of chicken)
- massage with salt
- then marinate it in the mixture of curd (yogurt) and turmeric

1) heat the pot and put in some olive oil (enough oil to cover the bottom of your pan). While the oil is getting hot, rinse rice and drain it (let it dry).
2) add all the spices until aroma comes out
3) then add chopped onion, constantly stir until it gets slightly brown (it took me about 5 mins)

4) then add ginger garlic paste, cilantro, and tomato, constantly stir until it gets stew-like (it took me another 5 mins)

5) add marinated chicken into the pot, mix well.

6) add 1 cup of water to the pot, cover, and cook for 10-15 mins. In another pot, boil 6 cups of water  (we used 6 cups as we used 3 cups of rice).
6) measure (or guess) how many cups of juice remain in the pan with chicken after 10-15 mins, add enough boiling water into the pot to make the total water of 6 cups
7) add perfectly drained rice into the pot, add chopped mint, some salt, cover, and cook until the water is gone (for about 10 mins).

8) stir up and let it cool a bit before you eat!

That's it. Very easy. Now I know how to make it, maybe I will try mutton Biryani next time.
Thank you Mary for the brilliant cooking lesson!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bindi and the sixth chakra

As you probably know, bindi is a red dot typically put on the forehead of a married Hindi woman here in India. Nowadays, it is becoming more like a fashion I heard. There are lots of cute and decorative sticker-type bindi that you can buy at the local jewelry stores (I also heard that you can buy at any "fashion stores" = clothing stores, but I haven't tried yet), and I also got myself a couple of them the other day just to explore how they would add some spice to my forehead :-)

Anyway, what's interesting is the particular location on your forehead that you place the bindi at. It is in the eyebrow region and is said to be the sixth chakra, Ajna. It is also commonly known as the third eye. According to the wiki, however, Ajna chakra is positioned in the brain, directly behind the eyebrow center, while its superficial activation site is at the eyebrow region.

Ajna is the chakra of the mind. When something is seen in the mind's eye, or in a dream, it is being 'seen' by Ajna. It has two petals representing the psychic channels Ida and Pingala. They would meet at the central Shushumna channel, before rising to the crown chakra, Sahasrara.

Ida is the lunar nadi (life force energy similar to "ki" in Japan; "nadi" comes from the Sanskrit root of "nad" which means "channel", "stream", or "flow"), and it corresponds to the left hand side of the body and the right hand side of the brain. Pingala is the solar nadi, and it corresponds to the right hand side of the body and the left hand side of the brain. As you may guess, Ida is an introverted passive energy, and Pingala is the extroverted active energy.

There are two deities (gods) residing in the chakra. One is Ardhanarishvara (a hermaphrodite form of Shiva-Shakti), symbolising the primordial duality of subject and object. I believe these are represented by the letters on the petal 'ham' (left side) and 'ksham' (right side). And the other is Hakini Shakti, who is inside the central circle, is moon white white with 6 faces, and 6 arms, holding a book, a skull, a drum, a rosary, and making the gestures of granting boons and dispelling fears. I found the drawing (above) of Hakini Shakti on one of the sites about Ajna chakra.

Ajna is said to be the entry point of external spiritual energy and the exit point of the Kudalini energy. It is from here that a person harmonizes the forces within him/herself and achieves a balance between Ida and Pingala.

According to this site, when energy is not flowing freely from this chakra there will be poor focus and intuition. For instance, your perception of the world, sense of purpose in your life, morals, and your thought process could be out of normal. I guess you need to leave this chakra open but yet in a very cautious and balanced way. Maybe my new bindi will help me focus around this chakra a little bit more.

Maybe this dog that I saw the other day on the street which had a little bindi on her forehead might be much more awakened than I am :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Edo, Japanese restaurant, in Bangalore

Edo5Food: ★★★★☆
Ambience: ★★★★☆
Service: ★★★★☆
We were so happy that one of the Japanese ladies that I met told us about this restaurant. Immediately off we went :)

It is in a 5-star hotel called ITC Hotel really close to UB City. The ambience is superb. Although it is located on a ground floor and you don't get to see starry sky or anything, but you get to see a rather zen-like garden through the big windows. Sushi chef is Japanese (yes!), and he assorted sashimi for us out of very limited ingredients he gets (according to him). Of course, you won't get the freshness you get in Japan, but all of them were pretty good. We also ordered some robata type of food (grilled food) . Our favorite was Aspara Buta Maki (asparagus wrapped with a thin slice of pork meat).  It is rather a common plate in Japan, but it was rare for us in India as people hardly ever eat pork here. Tempura Moriawase (assorted Tempura) was also good. Overall we enjoyed everything. And, they also had a wonderful display of different sake and shochu! That's so rare in Bangalore, as I heard that from another Japanese restaurant that they could not import sake for a while due to the earthquake.

One problem is the price. Most of the dishes are above 500 Rs. Sashimi platter (regular size) was 2000 Rs. Pretty much double of what you usually pay in Japan (for the served proportion). So, be prepared. It is definitely a place to go for a nice occasion.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ethnic groups in India

According to some people, India is not a country but a continent. Everything seems to be diverse here. For instance, there are several hundred different mother tongues in India, out of which 29 languages are spoken by more than a million and 122 by more than 10,000. But more interestingly, I started to notice different ethnicities.

We found a friendly spa in our neighborhood that we loved to go to once in a while. Most of the employees there look more oriental than Indian. Some look Thai and some look Mongolian. I asked them where they were from, expecting them to say that they were from either Burma or Thailand, but most of them were from the state called Manipur (later I found out that Manipur was the scene of fierce battles between Japanese soldiers allied forces during the WWII...). Ignorantly, I said "so.... you are INDIAN!". They laughed and told me that yes they were Indians, but they also told me that the culture, food, and almost everything differs from what people know of as "India". For instance, they told me they eat lots of pork there :)

I got interested in the ethnicity of Indians and started to do some research, but there seem to be lots of "theories" but nothing conclusive yet. One article said it is divided into six major ethnic groups: 1) Negrito, 2) Proto - Australoids or Austrics, 3) Mongoloids, 4) Dravidian, 5) Western Brachycephals, and 6) Nordic or Indo-Aryans.
Negrito is considered to be the earliest to have come to India from Africa. The Jarawas or the Great Andamanese are some of the examples. They tend to have broader heads. Their hill tribes can be found in south India.
Proto - Australoids or Austrics were the next to come to India and said to be the ones who built the foundation of Indian civilization. They are characterized by their wavy hair, medium height, dark complexion, long heads and flat nose.

Mongoloids are the ones that I recognized at the spa I go to. They are found in northeastern parts of India such as Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Tripura. They have a lighter complexion, oblique eyes, high cheekbones, and are of medium height. 

Dravidians are the peoples of South India. According to the wiki, it refers to the diverse groups of people who natively speak languages belonging to the Dravidian language family. They are mostly found in South India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. They are said to be shorter in height and darker in complexion. 

Western Brachycephals are Alpinoids, Dinarics, and Armenoids. Parsis and Kodavas falls under this category as well. Although the particular article said they were broad headed, but they also seem Caucasians (maybe broad headed Caucasians) according to the wiki article.

Indo-Aryans were the last one to immigrate to India around 2000 to 1500 B.C. (still a long time ago...).  They mostly lived in the northern and central part of India. However, according to the wiki, this term rather refers to the wide collection of people united as native speakers of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian family of Indo-European languages (wow!) and that most of them live in South Asia.
I also found this interesting article, and according to this, there is no race such as Dravidians or Aryans and that the Indians are categorized as Caucasians (btw, Caucasians are not equal to "white" people). And, also the wiki about Indo-Aryans also said this: "Several recent studies of the distribution of alleles on the Y chromosome, microsatellite DNA, and mitochondrial DNA in India have cast strong doubt for a biological Dravidian "race" distinct from non-Dravidians in the Indian subcontinent. A 2009 study of 132 individuals using 560,000 SNPs concluded that the modern Indian population is a varying admixture of two divergent ancient populations, the Ancestral South Indians (60,000 ya) and the Ancestral North Indians (40,000 ya)."