Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cochin, Chai, Purdah

Kochi, Cochin is a beautiful town. It is really part of the Ernakulam conurbation in central Kerala. The Chinese, Portuguese and Dutch traded spices from this port from the 13th century onwards. They still do. A huge Chinese vessel cruised through as I took this picture. The series of Chinese fishing nets left by the Kubla Khan empire remain operational as seen here. Modern Kochi lies in the background.

On Making Proper Chai
I was telling someone proudly how I used black pepper during the making of my Chai tea when he told me that on no account should pepper be used; only cinnamon, cardomom and ginger. The way to make satisfying Chai is as follows. I found this to be as tasty as anything I've had here.

Take 5 cardomom pods and slash lengthwise releasing the some of the black seeds inside. Take a knob of ginger the same size as the end joint of your thumb or even more. Peel, chop and bruise. Crumble cinnamon bark to make a small mound.

Put all ingredients prepared so far in a medium-sized saucepan.

                                                     A chai tea stand

Add not more than a centimetre of water. Boil for 2-4 mins. Add 1 pint of creamy milk. Add 2.5 teaspoons of black tea dust or builders tea bag. Add/dip second bag to adjust the strength.

Remove from the heat at boiling point. Pour into a teapot. Take to the table and add a spoon and a half of sugar to each cup. Makes 5 small cups. Adding a sprinkling of chilli flakes makes for an extra spicy brew. Cloves, cumin, star anise and vanilla are all used in different regional versions.

Two months ago I asked an Indian lady who had been kind out for coffee. She said it was 'not possible.'
Undeterred, I waited until my mother arrived then asked her out to dinner. She agreed. Provided my mother was in attendance. On the night, a rooftop dinner in a Trivandrum hotel, she insisted her driver drove us there not the taxi I had arranged. Downstairs I heard her receiving a stiff lecture from her chaperone who brought her to my apartment.
At the restaurant she refused alcohol on account of the culture whereby women must not drink or smoke anywhere, much less in public places.

Clearly she enjoyed going out but periodically masked this with oddly placed stone faces. Quite perplexing to the uninitiated. When my mother the chaperone had gone to the ladies room she told me how Indian husbands did not kiss their wives at any point of their relationships. This gave me food for thought, drew a striking picture for me, of how many Indian women live emotionally on the everyday level in India.

Living with an Indian family, as part of a enclave of three Indian families over three and a half months has been interesting. Once every two weeks I drank a beer with my landlady, a comely widow. Beer or her favourite tipple, white rum at the top of the stairs. She on one side of a set of bars, me on the other. After half an hour her cousin either rang on her cell phone and physically attended to call her away. Sometimes my partner became irascible on account of this. Twice she left mid-conversation. She didn't return. Several times I heard sets of instructions issued in Malayalam. And yet there are incredible displays of public happiness.

The bougainvillea of Kovalam.


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