Archive for April, 2006

More Beer Tasting

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

So we’ve been behind a little with our beer tasting… or at least with our posting of the long-awaited results of our taste trials. No matter, here we present the verdicts on several beers that we tasted a few months ago. It was an adventure, maybe not in exotic tastes, but perhaps of our own personal tolerance of new beer tastes… or lack thereof. To the beers!

Beer #2: Sandpiper

Right away, I break away from the foreboding introduction with this pleasant Indian brew, which I would say up until now is unanimously our favorite Indian beer. Sandpiper follows the nice bird theme begun by Kingfisher, adding a sensation of “the natural” to this beer. And what sort of images do sandpipers- coastal wading birds that spend their days hunting bugs on the tidal flats of the sea- conjure up? Well for one, the beach, and by association palm trees. In short a serene natural scene whose beauty might just make you melt on the spot. Well, true to these images, Sandpiper beer was just as pleasant for us. A smooth, refreshing, slightly fruity beer with a long pleasant after taste, Sandpiper helped us cope with the hustle and bustle of Delhi’s screaming auto-rickshaw and clunky Ambassador taxi-choked streets, as well as the relentless Indian vendors we had to endure through the day. We agree with the Sandpiper’s claim that it is a “Premium beer”, and officially give this brew a very big thumbs up!! Also, we liked the label and thought that simple was better!! After all, you can’t tell a book by its cover!

choose your poisonNow begin a series of beers we tried one sweaty night in Balasore, feeling like some cold ones would be the key to surviving the heat. Well, we did survive the heat, but unfortunately, the beers had no hand in that, rather a cold shower did the trick. The beers… well… just read below…

Beer #3: Maharani Blue Label Super Strong Beer

In the above photo, you can see Marte chosing Maharani Blue Label as our first beer. It gives me shivers to even think about it!! This “Super Strong” beer is made for the purpose of not enjoying a beer, but almost soley for getting drunk (7.5% alcohol). According to some friends in Balasore, people usually drink if they’re really sad or if they are just totally immoral, and it seems Maharani is the path many of these desperate souls chose. It comes wrapped in clear plastic shrink wrap, giving it a sort of pseudo luxurious appeal.

I’ll let the following quotes from our taste test speak for the quality of this beer:

Marte: “It tastes shocking! It’s going down the toilet…”

Romy: “It smells like yeast.”

Armando: “A terrible beer”.

This particular bottle had a sweet, smoky taste that was, as Marte said, simply shocking. To add to the dramatic taste, it was dark-piss colored, which actually made us suspect that someone in the factory played a trick on the consumer in this one bottle. Our bad luck, I guess…

Beer #4: Royal Challenge

Take the Our luck didn’t improve when we boldly took the Royal Challenge. Our first mistake with this beer and the following is that we drank them warm. This, however, could not be avoided as the temperature of our room was so hot that the beers heated up at an exponential rate. In any case, no good or even decent beer, even if drinken warm, should not taste that bad.

Like Maharani, Royal Challenge was a super strong 7.5% alcohol beer, meant for the drunk, not the enjoyment of the drink. It was strong, sharp, and had the strange effect of drying out our tongues. The beer makes many claims on the label which, after tasting it, were outright laughable. For instance: “Taste the difference extra time makes”. In the case of Royal Challenge, they must mean staleness! Second: “Brewed longer… brewed better”. I think they left this batch out in the sun and it got filled with dead leaves, frogs and bugs… that would account for the beer’s sharpness. Lastly: “Extra time, extra smooth”. A flat-out lie as this beer is very malty and not very smooth, but rather sharp and strong. Romy stated interestingly about this beer: “A very difficult beer to drink… not exactly a thirst-killer”.

Beer #5: Hayward’s 5000

Haywards 5000By the time we got to this beer, we were not exactly jumping out of our seats. While very similar to the other two, but not as bad as the Maharani Blue Label, it was very thick, according to Marte, and in addition was sharp, very bubbly and kinda stomach warming. We didn’t take heart to this beer, as our beer tasting excitement had already been crushed! Hayward’s was simply no consolation, and so it faded into the oblivion of bad beers, just as Maharani and Royal Challenge.

Lassi, Anyone?

Friday, April 21st, 2006

In India, people are crazy about lassis- a cool, refreshingh drink made from curd and flavored with any sweet, fruity taste you can imagine. These tasty drinks are usually topped with chopped marachino cherries, chashews, and fresh shredded coconut.

The place to find a lassi is the lassi stand, which is anything from a solid, open-air brick building to a plywood or sheet metal sided make-shift establishment or simply a tent-like structure with a bamboo pole frame. The latter style comes wrapped like a grand present with bright, silky siding with beach scene print. Whichever the building, the lassi stand follows a general code of decor: the sign outside must be as bright, flashy and flourescent as possible to insipre a craving for the sweet drink- the flasiness is definitely the perfect visual equivalent of the lassi’s sweetness. The innerspace must be large enough to b e able to line colorful plastic chairs up against the walls so that all customers are facing eachother when enjoying their lassi (the must be sipped inside, sitting down, and never have one in a rush- it’s not possible to have one to go!). If there’s not enough space inside the establishment for chairs, then they will be lined up in two parallel rows facing eachother immediately in front of the stand, like a runway for incoming customers.

The lassis themselves are made on an island located somewhere inside the stand, but in plain view of the street or thouroughfare on which teh stand lays. The island is equipped with a counter for chopping cherries, chashews and grating coconut, a fridge for the curd and other drinks, and a blender, which is used to whip up the sweet, milkshake-like lassi. The production counter is usually surrounded by bottles of ‘cold drinks’, which in India refers to soda pop, or boxed jucies of various types. They are stacked into nice pyramids that give the atmosphere that geometric appleal as well as a thirst-exciting mosaic of different-colored drinks (from cola-bown and mango-orange to seven-up-green).

Thi final touch is made by hanging at least two dozen garlanded marigolds over the threshold of the entrance, adding extra aromatic fragrance to complement the colorful atmosphere.

When I first saw lassi stands in Balasore, I was actually frightened by their imposing look so vulnerably teetering on the edge of the soiled car, rickshaw, motorbike and cow laden street. How this could be appealing to the senses and calming to the spirit, I could not tell, and I made a quite resolution to never set foot in one!! However, when Romy and I took a chance one day to try a lassi, we were pleasantly surprised! Lassis, despite being a dairy drink, and very refreshing and they don’t leave you with the sticky-sweet mouth that eating ice cream or drinking a milk shake gives you. Shile we sat and waited for out lassis, we relaxed in our plastic chairs facing other waiting customers and listened to a melodic Hindi love song filled with deep drum beats and the shrill cries of an Indian woman singer.

Now as for the flavors, I am not an expert, as I’ve only had two lassis total in India. I onl know that they are always sweet, whether mango, papaya, or simply sugar tasting. Apart from flavors, other additives–and this is where it gets really interesting–can be put in your lassi drink. One such additive that Romy and I chose on that fateful April Indian evening was ‘bhang’. While the word resembles more the sound a gun makes, it actually refers to a thin dark green paste that is a derivative of marijuana! What’s more is that is is totally legal in India and is considered a healthful alternative to alcohol- Amen! Bhang lassis are even the official drink of the springtime festival of Holi!

As you can imagine, Romy and I were feeling a little bit unsure whether our order was morally, ethically, or for that matter legally acceptable or not. But, without more than a smile and an Indian-style sideways head wiggle, the lassi man whipped up and delivered us our greenish, earthy-sweet tasting Bhang lassi without a fuss or an attempt to conceal the transaction. We drank up freely and happily, and when we were fisished, we walked back home with clean consciences and without shackles on our ankles. Indian society provided us with this ‘healthy alternative to alcohol’ and we enjoyed it with the same blissful delight and belly-laughing goodness that are considered the ills of the hash and grass smokers. I guess this just goes to show that you can dress anything up with sugar and curd and the illegal can become legal, the ugly the beautiful, and the loathed the loved!

Puras Fotos – Nothing But Photos

Friday, April 7th, 2006

Just a few photos today from in and around Balasore.  Unas cuantas fotos para compartir de Balasore.

The first one is of the “dream team”- Marte and Romy’s interview crew in Dublagadi village.  One of the only days when we were all together.  (Top row: Marte (co-captain), Baonty (interpreter), Aryan (interpreter), Ashaad (jeep driver), Armando (assistant and logistical administrator); Bottom row: Debashish (expert interpreter & assistant), Sanu (interpreter), Suparna (interpreter), Romy (co-captain))

La primera es de nuestro equipo de investigaciones, el “dream team” en el pueblo de Dublagadi.  Fue el unico dia cuando todos estuvimos en el campo juntos. (Fila 1: Marte (co-captana), Baonty (traductor), Aryan (traductor), Ashaad (chofer), Armando (asistente y administrador de logistica); Fila 2: Debashish (traductor experto y asistente), Sanu (traductora), Suparna (traductora), Romy (co-captana)).

the dream team

The second one is of a local watermelon vendor in Balasore, with some local kids who wanted to pose in the photo.  Clowns!
La segunda es de un vendedor de sandias en Balasore, con otros chicos que querian salir en la foto.  Traviesos!

Watermelon man


Wednesday, April 5th, 2006
Romy and Marte, two interpreters, one photographer, and the fishermen…  This is a picture of an interview that Romy and Marte were giving on the traditional landing site in the fishing village of Bahabalpur.   This is one of the first days of fieldwork and the interpreters are still getting used to the interviewing process, which attracts A LOT of attention!  The  curiosity of the people here is amazing.  Everyone’s interested in what we’re doing, but others, like an older lady that Marte spoke to, are just happy to have finally seen a white person in real life… Even though it’s wierd to attract so much attention, it’s nice to know that we can be almost like a moving tourist attraction for them- like a travelling circus, or a band of gypsies with treasures from afar!
marte romy interview
Romy and Sanu (interpreter in pink), Marte and Debashish (the interpreter in the black cap).  Our interpreters are just great!

Holi – 15 Marzo 2006

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

Holi es la celebracion mas cerca al Carnaval latinoamericano. Entre familia y amigos, entre desconocidos por la calle, todos se atacan con polvo de colores. Como en el Carnaval, todos tienen que cuidar al salir a la calle que atras de la proxima esquina puedes ser atacado y bombarbeado con colores!

En nuestro hotel que practicamente es nuestra casa, el ‘Hotel Manager’ que practicamente es nuestro Papa nos prohibio salir este dia. Cerro el porton al hotel con candado para que nadie pueda entrar, y nos preparo cordero para almuerzo, “Non-veg,” nos dijo sonriente con su voz muy oscura, alta y firme. Aunque nos quizo proteger del Holi, no nos salvamos. Un amigo vino, con su primo para celebrar el Holi con nosotros. El resultado fue… pues tres cuys colorados! Esperamos que les guste nuestros recuerdos de este dia extraordinario!

Armando HoliMarte Holi Romy Holi teeth