Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Happy Families

You know those happy families whose smug mugs feature in the Daily Mail, showing off about how clever they are because they moved abroad before the recession, well, that’s us, that is.
At the time of writing we have not yet appeared in said rag but I am told it will be soon because of the current media trend of ramming India’s great booming economy down the throats of everyone who stayed at home. Even Jeremy Vine off of Radio Two came to Mumbai last week to broadcast his show from CafĂ© Leopold.  He was running up and down “Colaba Street” comparing the Gateway of India to the Arc de Triomphe and punctuating his blather about Tata and Tesco with Katie Perry records. From the way he was waxing lyrical about Mumbai, I imagine everyone listening at home will be on their way right now. Will the last one leaving Britain please turn the lights off?
So how come we are lined up to be in the Daily Mail? Mick wouldn’t normally wipe his arse with my mum’s newspaper of choice but soon he will be gurning at her from its centre pages, extolling the virtues of living in Mumbai. She’ll choke on her egg!
 A journalist from a Delhi-based news agency read my blog and contacted me about ‘doing a piece’ on 'reverse emigration' as a nice flipside to all the doom and gloom currently in the British press.
He went on to ask me why we had made the move and how our lives had improved since making it. To be honest, I spend so much time moaning about all the things I don’t like about living here, I hadn’t really thought about the positives. But now he comes to mention it...
Obviously the main improvement in my life, since coming to Mumbai in 2009, is the acquisition of my Mulberry handbag. I used a variety of plastic bags when I lived in the UK, so this is definitely an improvement.
And here’s another good thing. It’s 3.20 pm now as I write and instead of driving like a lunatic to the school, I am here in my office sipping tea (thanks Lucy) while Sameer does the honours. Nor do I have to worry about going to Asda or what’s for tea.
I am being flippant, of course. Although I wouldn’t say life is infinitely better than it was in the UK, it is infinitely different. Last night, for example, Mick was invited to the MI 4 world premiere with Tom Cruise. He most definitely would not have been afforded that opportunity in London.
And on our son’s last visit from boarding school, we flew to Nagpur and drove on to a tiger safari in Madhya Pradesh. This is not a sentence I ever thought I would write.  Our annual holiday used to be a fortnight in a caravan in France but here we are taking ad hoc hols to hitherto unknown destinations. (We didn’t see any tigers, by the way, and it was galling, at G and T time, to hear the tall tales of those who did: “Yeah, we couldn’t believe it; it took down a deer in front of our very eyes!” Hmmm, we only saw a leopard pooh).
On the second week of Hugh’s visit we hung out on the beach in Goa and knocked back some Long Island Iced Teas. Yeah, it’s not so bad living here, is it?
Back to the Delhi journalist’s question: Why did we make the move?  I think I said that it was a fantastic opportunity blah for Mick to work in a burgeoning economy with its young and dynamic population blah, blah or something pat like that but the truth is, the opportunity arose and we took it. You go where the work is. We were lucky; I don’t know what would have happened had we stayed in the UK, maybe nothing. I am beginning to hear of friends who have been made redundant and, there but for the grace of God’ I suppose.
Just the other day, after a Mumbai Connexions do in town, a group of ladies and myself went off to the Taj to look at diamond earrings. Again, that would have been a sentence alien to me a couple of years ago.  Time was, not so long since, I wanted a cardigan from the Boden catalogue but couldn’t afford it. I waited and waited and ended up getting it in the sale. Good things come to those who wait.
The acquisition of material things is, of course, one positive aspect to making this move but sometimes I feel I am acquiring them as compensation for not having other things - fresh air, walks with the dog, dinner with old friends or chatting with my mum at the kitchen table. What price these?
The one thing that we are all getting in spades here is life experience as well as diamonds, new teeth, liposuction and bags. We are the pioneers who lived in India before the days of Tesco and Wal-Mart, before it became as homogenized as any other country in the world and then we'll have some tales to tell, gnashers gleaming, diamonds a-twinkling.

Yuatcha - Youbetcha!

I have put an inch on each thigh and God knows how much around the middle this week because of all the eating out I have been forced to do. Last night, a Sunday, all I wanted to do was slob around and watch the telly, nursing a hangover from the night before, when we were suddenly invited out to a Chinese restaurant by an Indian family we know. I had just finished my Sunday Lunch of roast chicken and Yorkshire pudding but because I am a trooper, I put on my lippy and hauled my behind off to meet them. I was so full when I got home, I was like Mister Creosote out of Monty Python, I couldn’t have eaten a wafer-thin mint!
I cannot get used to all this late night eating; it is getting out of control. I always make the mistake of eating all the hors d’oeuvres and then being surprised when I think it’s time to go home and suddenly everybody is called to a sit down dinner. How many times have I been caught out like that? The last thing I want after a skin full of sparkling wine and a bellyful of fancy little snack-lets is a full-on four course Indian meal.
Lots of my skinny Indian friends are ‘feeders’ too and insist I try everything, especially the gulab jamon and will not take no for an answer. I watch with awe at the beginning of the evening when they all sit around shoo-ing away the waiter’s offerings and declining alcohol, “Just a little room-temperature water for me, please.” If only I could be so disciplined. Everybody is so serious; I need to drink to lighten the mood a little even though I know I will pay for it in the morning, especially on a school night!
So, when Mumbai Connexions members were invited to the preview opening of new Bandra Kurla restaurant Yauatcha, I was pleased to hear it was a lunch time event and there would be no alcohol served – only tea.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived to find everyone sitting around cheerfully with a glass of wine in hand - on a Tuesday afternoon as well! It’s profligate, but it’s also free, so I ordered a nice glass of chilled white.
Yauatcha is the little sister of our favourite Cantonese restaurant, Hakkasan; it is, essentially, Hakkasan-lite.  It’s a lighter, brighter canteen but invokes the same underwater atmosphere with its huge tranquillizing aquariums.  Soon to arrive at the table in thick, ceramic bowls was the steaming Cheung Fun– a type of dim sum, they have 45 different varieties here!  Most are priced between Rs 225 and Rs500, with a couple of very fancy exceptions (the Chilean Sea bass dumpling with lotus root  at Rs950) The table went very quiet while we devoured the Cheung Fun with the sublime accompanying sauce. There was only one ‘mention of ‘slimy’ but that particular critic was pretty quickly silenced by the ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ of the others.

The service was speedy and the wine flowed and next came the aromatic crispy duck. People were visibly salivating as the waiter shredded the duck at the table and we couldn’t plum-sauce-up our little pancakes quickly enough! Along with this we were served glistening, tender pork-belly in a perfectly balanced sweet and tangy sauce. Along came the Sea Bass in ginger and after that, it all became a blur.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, a plate of jewel-coloured macaroons was placed before us. The idea is that you accompany them with one of the huge array of teas. The waiter will advise on which tea complements which particular dish. There are all sorts of delicately-flavoured mousses, ice creams and desserts to choose from, it’s knowing when to stop!
Now the question is which is better - Hakkasan or Yuatcha?  It’s a toughy, maybe I will have to try them both again!
Yuatcha is open from 12 noon to 1 am and can be found at Raheja Tower, Bandra Kurla Complex (E) Call: 26448888