December 28, 2006

Bangalore Day 3 - Google and Dakshin

I haven't written much about Google Bangalore, partly because I can't say much about it and partly because it's not that different from what I do for Google Mountain View. The office is in a nice building in a posh part of town, but not in one of the "Special Economic Zones" (SEZs). We walk there each morning from the hotel, Debbie does internet stuff for a while and sometimes we have lunch there.

The lunches are quite different from Google in Mountain View, not too surprisingly. For one thing, while we get Indian food in Mountain View. It's nothing like this! There is a choice of from six to eight hot dishes, two kinds of rice, one or two kinds of bread, fresh fruits, salad and dessert - and that's just the "Indian" side of the lunch. We also have a more "Western" style lunch with prepared salads, a salad bar, and various prepared sandwiches. Google also provided breakfast and dinner. I haven't yet tried the dinner, but breakfast was two kinds of hot farina, and an assortment of cold cereals.

For dinner we went to "Dakshin" a fancy restaurant in the Sheraton Towers. The idea is that it serves authentic southern regional dishes presented in an elegant setting with live music, in our case a duo from tamil nadu on the mridangam (drum) and venu (bamboo flute). The restaurant kindly moved us right up next to the musicians when it became clear we were really into the music.

The food started with papads fried in oil that had first been flavored by frying chilis in it. These were the lightest, crispiest, best papads I've had. I'm sure living in India we'll find even better ones eventually but so far these are the best! They were served with four chutneys, two of them standard coconut and cilantro, two of them more unusual - a tomato chutney, and a "sour leaf" chutney, a fermented leaf that reminded me of lime pickle, salty, tart, and pungent. All were great but the sour leaf chutney on the papads was especially good.

Next came a pair of fritters. One was slightly sweet banana and cashew, the other was a more salty rice and lentil flour dumpling. Both had been fried, and were quite delicious. We started with "Kozhi Varuval" a "dry" dish of pieces of boneless chicken marinated in spices and deep fried. Then Maama Saaru (boneless lamb mysore style), Kelayachi Bahji (raw banana with sesame and red chilis), traditional local rice, and Elaneer Payasam (Hyderabadi tender coconut kernels cooked in reduced sweet coconut milk flavored with cardamom.)

Finally they brought us a tray of paan (betel leaf) in this case filled with spices, sugar and flavors including cloves and crystallized ginger. I'm still trying to figure out how one is supposed to chew the things, but I'm going to keep at it for a while.

December 27, 2006

Bangalore Day 2 - Dinner at Sikander

For dinner tonight we went to "Sikander" a nice restaurant in Garuda Mall. The concept is foods from all the places that Alexander the Great conquered. An admirable goal but evidently Alexander only drank light pilsners. Finding a good beer in India may be a challenge. So far all the beers have been lagers, whats more they've been light pilsners. This is no country for an ale drinker.

We started in Turkey with Adana Seek, a ground meat formed around a skewer and grilled. We've had this in San Francisco, and this version was neither much better or much worse than we've had before. We also had Diwani Handi (fresh vegetable dish in browned onions and almonds) and Murgh Dum Biryani a Persian inspired dish of chicken and spiced rice.

Bangalore Day 2 - afternoon

Bangalore is an almost overwhelming maelstrom of impressions. There are women wearing beautiful saris carrying large budens on their heads past barefood sewer workers blithely carrying on in the middle of traffic rushing by on both sides of them as they work.

The sidewalk is cut stone slabs laid on kerb stones, but in places have fallen through or broken exposing the trench beneath. In some places it smells of urine, in most places it is dusty or dirty, often there is no sidewalk at all, and you share the road with traffic.

There are exquisite small shops in almost every block where local people shop and enjoy their daily lives, but as yet despite my curiosity I haven't had a chance to try them. I'm sure we'll get our chance.

Besides the small stores, there are also street food vendors selling all sorts of foods. Roasted peanuts, chaat, snacks of all sorts that I don't yet even have names for. Our local friends tell us not to eat at the street carts, but I'm sure we'll try them sooner or later...

The traffic is bad, but not so horrendous (yet) as we've been lead to believe. There have been a few cases of gridlock, often lots of traffic, but it's just traffic. There's dust and haze, lots of unfamiliar vehicles, but on the other hand it makes sense. Smaller vehicles, bikes, lots of small two-wheelers. It may be hard because we like to walk, and we like to take busses but it'll work out.

One thing that's taking some getting used to is how dogs are treated. In San Francisco we meet a lot of our neighbors through their dogs. We see them on the street, we say hi, we pet them. In Bangalore I have yet to see an obviously "pet" dog. We see lots of dogs, but none of them seem to have owners. Maybe they're "neighborhood" or "community" dogs, or maybe they're just strays, but they're all over. I have have no desire to try to befriend or even pet these dogs. It's a shock.

In spite of all the differences, there are pockets of familiarity. Not necessarily the things I find most attractive about my world, yet they are familiar. Global brands, designer labels, and rows of high end stores. MG Road and Brigade Road have all the familiar names and storefronts, but with a distinctly Indian twist - they all have generators waiting in front of them for the inevitable power failures.

We quickly found the shopping streets, the malls, and the big hotel restaurants. While they have their charms, I look forward to spending more time and enjoying more of the things that make Bangalore, and India what they are. It's not Dominos, malls, traffic, or even fancy restaurants in five star hotels. I don't know what it is yet, but I look forward to learning more.