Saturday, January 29, 2005

A million blogs in the naked city!
Originally uploaded by lools.

And I thought that blogging was still a fledgling subculture dancing on the fringes of the mainstream Web! One look at NYC Bloggers and it's pretty clear to me that there's a lot of creative expression spilling out every second, at least from the five boroughs here in New York City.

NYC Bloggers beautifully organizes all registered blogs by closest subway station. You can, for example, discover who else is blogging in your neighbourhood. Maybe you'll even recognize that person tapping away on her laptop at the Starbucks around the block!

I was fascinated by the variety and sheer volume of dialogue on the blogs I chanced upong surfing this site. Talk about the ultimate reality show, peeping into the daily lives and minds of complete strangers littered across the city. From 9/11 diaries to the frequently broadcast rantings of an overworked and highly stressed NYU student, musings on life in energetic and enigmatic Manhattan to essays on architecture, I'm sure that you'll ferret out at least one blog that really strikes a chord. Happy hunting!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Zen Palate

I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of faux-meat but Zen Palate, a trendy vegetarian restaurant in Union Square, has won me over with its innovativeness with soy and wheat-gluten based dishes.

I love the fact that Zen Palate is an all vegetarian restaurant. Especially in Manhattan, seldom do devout vegetarians have the luxury of an entire menu to choose from. And the restaurant is even divided to suit your price point. When in the mood for a quiet and romantic evening or business meeting, you can choose the elegant dining room upstairs that has an upscale menu. For all other times, the casual dining room downstairs with its low-priced fare is just fine. A coveted seat at one of the sidewalk tables will allow you to people watching in one of the most exicting interesting neighbourhoods of the city, Union Square.

Some of my regular orders at Zen Palate are the Hot and Sour Soup and the steamed vegetable dumplings. Recently, I've discovered Sweet and Sour Sensation, a faux-meat entree served with brown rice, broccoli and yummy spring rolls. This dish is so good that it might even entice your non-vegetarian companions!

34 Union Square East
(at 14th Street)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Japanese + Brazilian + Peruvian cuisine =

Originally uploaded by lools.

It's Restaurant Week 2005 in Manhattan which means that you can eat fancy three course lunches and dinners at participating restaurants for a fraction of the usual price. This is a great way to sample the gourmet cuisine in restaurants that are otherwise somewhat intimidating.

At lunch yesterday, my colleague suggested we sample the fare at SushiSamba located at Park Avenue and 19th. As you enter through the glass door, which is a mosaic of colored glass rectangles, you immediately feel the wonderfully energetic vibe of this exotic fusion restaurant. The bright orange walls are inviting and cheerful. The central sushi bar and the highly skillful art of the sushi chefs are a source of constant fascination for diners seated at the sushi bar and the tables in the front room.

We were fortunate to be seated at the newly opened Sugarcane Lounge, the back dining area that turns into a trendy lounge at night. You feel like you're inside a tunnel with the ceilings all light up in bright colours. The bar has LCD screens of various sizes embedded in the wall all flashing various Japanese visuals. A red lightbox illuminates a line drawing of Che Guevara. The music varies between samba, meringue and Latin trance from Brazil and Peru. The bar is fully stocked with a great range of sakes as well as all the other regular spirits. Sugarcane lounge offers an exotic ambience which I'm sure is happening at night.

My miso soup with tofu and cilantro turned out to be the most flavourful miso soup I've ever tasted. It lacked the usual fishy flavours that I'd rather avoid but was instead full of different tangy and lemony notes that really pleased my palate. And the tofu pieces were tender and delicious. For the main course I ordered a plate of vegetarian sushi rolls. I was served a combination of avocado and cucumber rolls on a transparent, square glass plate with the freshest wasabi and ginger. The cucumber roll was as crisp and fresh as I wanted and the avocado roll just melted in my mouth. I thoroughly relished the freshness of the sushi rolls. Dessert was green tea given that I'm watching my waistline after indulging in Bombay. What a wonderful welcome back to Manhattan luncheon!

245 Park Ave S
New York, NY
Cross Street: 19th St
Phone: (212) 475-9377

Monday, January 24, 2005

Back in snowy Manhattan!

Originally uploaded by lools.

After a lovely holiday followed by two weeks of work in Bombay, I am back in Manhattan. I just about escaped being marooned in Frankfurt as JFK was closed the previous day and all flights had been cancelled. On our flight today, we picked up many passengers who had be stranded in Germany because of the terrible weather on the East Coast.

I left Manhattan when it was 55 degrees so today was officially my coldest day in the city and it was only 15 degrees. I shudder to imagine how much colder it can possible get. Now I am finally going to fully experience the wrath of the New York winter that I've heard so much about!

It felt quite strange to drive back into town and see snow piled up on the sidewalks. Few people were outside and those that had to brave the weather were fully protected from head to foot. It was amazing just how much the snow had slowed down the usually frenetic pace and hustle bustle of the city.

I can already predict that I'm going to be ordering-in a lot for evening meals. Back in July when we moved to Manhattan, I started a plastic folder to collect menus from various restaurants that delivered to Chelsea. I lazily leafed through my personal restaurant guide and picked a nondescript Mexican place for a quick burrito. Needless to say, the burrito was as bland as I had sensed from the menu but I wolfed it down, starved from the Asian Vegetarian Lufthansa diet in the past twenty four hours.

Now that I'm back in the States, stay tuned for more regular postings at Lulu's Gonna Love Manhattan!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Mango-ginger from Matunga market

Originally uploaded by lools.

Being a South Indian, I love my pickles. I can always count on Bedekar's Vadu Maanga, Mother's Recipe Garlic, Gujrati Mango Chunda or my homemade mango pickle to awaken my appetite and intrigue my tastebuds. Pickles offer a burst of flavour and are used in Indian cuisine to add flavour or accent a dish.

I can eat Indian pickles with almost anything including rice, yogurt, sandwich bread and even crackers. Kalustyans in Manhattan has an impressive array of different Indian pickles including Punjabi, Gujrati and South Indian varieties. Unfortunately they all float in generous quantities of oil which is obviously not very healthy.

One of the healthiest pickles is Manga-Inji also known as Aam-Handi. It is made from the mango-ginger root, which true to its name, offers hints of raw mango tartness with the familiar tang of the ginger root. I ventured to Matunga market yesterday to pick up some of the fresh mango-ginger root directly from the vegetable vendor that stocks the best quality in the city. It was so much fun being in an authentic vegetable market and haggling with him over the price and settling on what I thought was a steal. He did not mind being photgraphed at all but was a bit shy by nature and so refused to look directly at the camera!

The pickle is extremely simple to make. Peel the mango-ginger root and grate coarsely. Add chopped green chillies and lime juice along with lots of salt. Mix well. That's it - an amazingly delicious and healthy pickle that's a terrific accent to any Indian dish, best enjoyed with yogurt-rice, of course!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Lucknow chikan work kurtis

Originally uploaded by lools.

Kurtis seem to be one fashion trend that is not going out of fashion anytime soon. From men and women, the young and old, simple Maharashtrian officegoers to snazzy, Sindhi party animals, everyone in Bombay is donning a kurtiover traditional churidhars, trendy parallel pants, skirts, pants, jeans, etc. The popularity of the kurti is, I think, due to the fact that it really allows a lovely Western/Ethnic look, comes in a variety of fabrics, styles and patterns and can be quite flattering to the Indian figure, if well styled.

The only kind of kurti that appeals to me is the one that has Lucknow chikan work. My mom used to wear these back in the 70s and has a favourite store at Opera House from where she has been sending me the most exquisite pieces that many of you may have seen me wearing around Manhattan. I accompanied her a few days back to check out the store first hand and see why it was so easy for her to splurge on every trip.

Lucknow Chikan International is the city's most famous purveyor of exclusive chikan garments for men, women and kids. They have a spanking new showroom on the first floor of Purshottam Building in Opera House. On display is a dazzling array of kurtis, salwar kameezes and sarees of different colours and patterns. Once you decide on a few materials and patterns, the firendly staff is more than happy to overwhelm you with lots of options. I was most drawn to the new pure silk kurtis with lovely ethnic motifs in gorgeous combination colours.

Chikanari is a type of Indian embroidery for which the craftswomen in Lucknow are best known for. Chikan comes from the Persian word "chakeen" which means rendering a delicate pattern to the fabric. Noorjehan, the beautiful wife of Mughal emperor Jehangir, is credited with introducing the craft to the region.

It is the simplicty, grace and elegance of the chikan embroidery that has allowed it to stand the test of time in terms of fashion trends. The floral and geometric designs lend the fabrics a wonderful versatlity to mix with various styles. Many other regions in India now produce chikan work but the centuries old craft handed down through generations of kaarigars in Lucknow have enabled the city to reign supreme in this crafts form.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

From Manhattan to Mumbai to Madurai

Originally uploaded by lools.

It's almost mid-January and I'm still travelling in India. This past weekend, I took a trip down south with my parents to Madurai to visit my hometown and spend some time with my grandma who has been living here for the past 60 odd years. We arrived by the overnight Tuticorin Express from Bangalore City to Madurai Junction. My favourite part of the journey was waking up in Dindigul to the sounds of "tea, coffee, bajji" chanted by a young teenage vendor at 6 am in our A/C sleeper compartment!

Madurai, with more than 2500 years of history, is the oldest city in Tamil Nadu both historically and mythologically. It was once a forest but the Pandava kings built a temple upon spotting the god Indra worshipping there. A city was built around the temple and just when the city was about to be named, Lord Shiva made his appearance. Drops of nectar from his hair fell on the town so the city was named Madurai, the nectar city as Mathhuram means nectar in Tamil.

Madurai is home to my mother and I was born here in the TVS hospital but have never actually lived here. I have visited every year since I was five and I must say that little has changed since the 70s! My mom and I made our annual piligrimage to the famous Hajeemoosa clothing store to get good quality sarees at throw away prices.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Kala Raksha crafts fair

Originally uploaded by lools.

A spacious room on the second floor of Artur House in Kala Ghoda was filled with gorgeous, exquisitely hand embroidered, patched and appliqued garments and accessories. From colourful cushion covers to kurtis and jootis, I didn't know where to start shopping. Every where I looked, a unique piece was fighting for my attention. I started at one end of the room and made my way around, eagerly grabbing everything that caught my fancy at Kala Raksha's annual exhibition in Bombay.

Kala Raksha is a grassroots social enterprise committed to documenting and promoting existing traditions of art and craft from the Kutch area of Gujarat.The organization maintains a collection of heirloom textiles from which the designers and artisans continually draw inspiration for new patterns and motifs. Six different styles of embroidery passed down from generations are used in the various items created by the craftswomen. Every motif is named and has a particular significance.

What's so special about Kala Raksha is that it not only helps in preservation of traditional arts and crafts of the Kutch area but also provides illiterate women with a real source of livelihood leading to self-confidence and empowerment. I've heard that hand craft is even less valued than manual labour in India and that such handicrafts could become endangered if we don't support and promote them. How sad if we as a nation traded in all these beautiful garments for synthetics and rayons. Aagh ;(

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Very Verve!

Originally uploaded by lools.

One of the first things I do when I arrive in Bombay is to visit the neighbourhood magazinewala to pick up the latest issues of the most interesting Indian magazines including Verve, which is my current favourite.

Verve embodies all that is fabulous about the modern Indian woman - intelligent, savvy and with a real eye for aesthetics. Editor Anuradha Mahindra herself is a fabulous icon for the brand. A woman of style and substance, she has expertly put together all the ingredients for a visually stunning and engaging magazine. The articles, written by the best Indian talent, feature Indian achievers in every field from business to Bollywood. My only complaint is that it only a bimonthly as I usually can't wait to get my hands on the next copy!

Monday, January 03, 2005


Originally uploaded by lools.

Despite the easy availability of branded and packaged coconut water all over Bombay, I'm still drawn to the charm of the roadside nariyalwala and his simple coconut water offering.

I went to Marine Drive this morning to find my favourite vendor but was sad to learn that the cops had driven him away. Apparently there are very strict rules these days and one needs to have a license to sell. Disappointed to not meet the guy who cut a coconut for me so often while I was in business school, I drove to the Fort area for some other errands and came across a friendly chap who enticed me to taste his special coconut with extra malai(cream)!

I watched as the nariyalwala expertly chopped off the top of the coconut with his rusty looking knife and stuck a slightly dirty straw into the fruit. I winced as I examined the germ infested straw before sipping but quickly let go of my NRI hangups. I prayed that my immune system that was developed on Bombay food and drink would withold the onslaught of germs! The coconut water was so refreshing and the creamy coconut was delicious.

Coconut water is a favourite health and beauty aid among Bollywood stars and Bombayites alike. It helps raise your metabolism, boost your immune system, cleanse your digestive tract, detox and fight viruses and even reduce your risk of cancer. Because it regulates the intestine, Coconut water can help you have better skin. Given all these amazing benefits, it is a highly sought ingredient in beauty products. I totally rely on coconut oil for thick, lustrous hair and coconut body cream for smooth and soft skin.

How I wish the nariyalwalas like the taxiwalas would migrate to Manhattan soon so we can all drink coconut water every day!