Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday diary

Today I decided to open a new section in my blog called the Sunday diary, where I would just ramble on about simple nondescript things in my life. I hope this will give an inkling about my existence to my friends and pals, even though I don't think I will manage to write a blog every Sunday.

So what's happening in my life ?

Yesterday, I had the sudden urge to eat something really crunchy and fatty, so I made a "gratin aux endives". Endives are a type of salad that are quite bitter in taste. They come from the Chicory plant whose roots are blended with coffee to give its crunch taste. But tasting the leaves, you would never get this idea. I got used to the taste of endives when I was in France, but never cooked them before. But I reverse-engineered the dish, quite successfully I must say. A gratin is any dish with a lot of cream and cheese and baked in the oven. In Grenoble, the local dish was Gratin Dauphinois which was made with potatoes. Now I replaced the potatoes with endives. Since I didn't have cream, I cooked the endives with milk, putting a liberal chunk of butter inside. Once the leaves were tender, I dropped them into a casserole with some slabs of Gouda and Comte cheese, and sprinkled some garlic on the top. As this dish was getting baked, I decided to make some potato fries to give it company. In the end, I had a heavy meal of butter and cheese, and washed it down with some red wine. I was feeling quite guilty at the end of this experience, and thought I would go running the morning.

Hah, stupid me. Sunday had other plans in store for me. Running or going to the gym were of course not included in these plans.

I woke up quite late today, and after showering, was feeling so lazy I couldn't even cook food. Instead, I decided to go to the Nauwieser Viertel fest and catch some grub there. A viertel in German literally means a quarter, and the Nauwieser Viertel is this area in Saarbrücken that is generally popular with punks, new-age kids, retired hippies and other alternative crowd. I really wanted to live there, but could only find a house in its periphery. Well anyways, the Nauwieser quarter is celebrating its annual summer festival over this weekend. I went there Friday evening and met with Katrin and later with some other friends. By 8 'o clock in the evening, the place was swarming with people. A rough mixture of cologne, marijuana, sweat, fried oil, beer, tobacco and various feminine perfumes was hanging in the air. People had to go underneath each other's shoulders or thighs to get from point A to point B. It was funny to see the youngsters - the guys with preened facial hair and smelling of hair gel, the girls dripping in makeup and sizzling in their clothes - all sandwiched to each other into a viscous human jelly. It reminded me of the suburban trains in Mumbai during rush hour, where Newtonian mechanics gets suspended and Brownian motion takes over. The laws of physics give way to the laws of chemistry, and Boyle's law linking pressure and temperature of a closed system suddenly makes sense in one's head. I couldn't take this  for long and promptly escaped from the fest. But today afternoon, I ventured to go there again, confident that the dispirited youngsters have not yet woken up from their hangovers.

I was not wrong. The whole place was locked in a charmed suspension. The noon was just breaking in, and the shop-keepers were gently rolling their shutters out. I walked along like a king, slowly drinking in the sights : the trinkets on sale, the faint smell of barbecue and grilled meat, the various fastfood outlets selling food from Thailand, India, Hungary, Spain, Italy etc. I settled down to eat the langos, that were recommended to me by Katrin. These are a type of dough patties from Hungary that are deep-fried in oil, a bit similarly to the Indian puris, and served with garlic cheese. I hungrily munched them on, and added on to the guilt accumulated from yesterday.

But the guilt was definitely relegated to the background, as I thoroughly enjoyed the taste and also the atmosphere. I was listening to music at a very low volume on my iPod - dreampop, david bowie, the blow monkeys, heaven 17 etc.; and it felt amazing catching all the notes and rhythm in the very same zone where agitated youngsters were jostling for space yesterday. Hah, bliss.

I took several photographs and then ventured into "Café et al." - another place recommended to me by Katrin. It is a small café selling fair-trade goods, special chocolate and spices, and generally oozing with awesomeness. I went in for some coffee, and asked if they also had some cake to go with it. The owner said yes, they had a home-made cake. I dug in; it was a sort like the French millefeuille, with several layers of fried dough sandwiched with cream. The cream had a faint taste of black pepper- reminding me of the "junnu" cheesecake that my mom made at home. The effect was fantastic, and I was pretty sure this stroke of genius came from somewhere else. So I asked the owner where he came from, and he said Iran. Oh Iran, bless you. I don't know how many times I admired the culinary mastery from that place : a lot of that trickled down into Hyderabad through loads of Iranian immigrants escaping the revolution and settling down to set up restaurants. These restaurants have basically defined the taste of the Hyderabadi biryani (which I woefully miss so much). Later on in my life, I sampled Iranian cuisine several times, and I never regretted one single moment. The man warmed up when I told him I am from India. He enquired what I am doing abouts, and when I told him I have been working here since about 5 months, he said he was greatly surprised by my German skills. This was a bit cheating on my part because my German vocabulary is quite limited and doesn't exceed into anything beyond the introductory parlance. Anyways, the guy told me he makes Iranian food occasionally for customers and that I should sample it sometime. I told him, of course, I will visit the shop again. I left with a box of peppercorns coated in chocolate.

Next to "café et al." is a whiskey shop called "Whiskey Fee". All these shops are open today, quite unusual for Sunday, because of the viertel fest. I walked in and asked the lady that I wanted to buy a single malt. She insisted that I taste a few before making my decision (thank you very much, but I am slightly drunk at the moment in the middle of the noon). I ended up with a highland malt called "Wemyss malts" - it has a slightly sharp taste and aroma. Not the taste I usually go for, but I like it nonetheless.

And then I walked back home, ruminating on Northern European summers. The skies are overcast, and have been overcast from as long as my memory goes. The spring opened up cheerfully to a bright sun, but the mood of the heavens has quickly turned to melancholy as the summer progressed. The place feels like an inverted pint of Guinness, the mushy air hangs below from the clouds and refuses to go anywhere. As I inhaled that mushy air and looked around to see how small this place is, I had this moment where it all felt so cozy. Ah, bliss.

Little girls selling toys at the viertel fest.

The girls are so adorable I decided to take them another picture.

These little guys are selling ties, but they didn't convince me to buy one :) yet.

The "brunch box im viertel" is another nice shop in this area that makes good breakfasts & brunches. They specialize in takeaways, but I prefer to eat inside as their glass windows soak in a lot of sunlight. A good place to wake up on a Monday, drink some orange juice and then go to work.

Shops selling some trinkets. The outlet on the right is called "Govinda's Vegi" and sells samosas and mango lassi. But as far I saw, there were no Indians working there.

This is the fastfood place selling the Hungarian Langos. Yummy stuff.

These guys are selling some cakes. Katrin and I sampled some chocolate cake here on Friday, not bad but not especially good either. They set up shop next to a second hand record store. I swear I am going to buy some records in that place. Just to make a point about how much I like second hand record stores.

The shop on the right is the Whiskey Fee. But I took this photo for the picture on the left graffiti'd on to the wall. That wall belongs to the "café et al" by the way.

Interesting stuff from "café et al.".

This is where you eat breakfast at "Café et al." I am rather pleased with the auto HDR photos that I took with my iPhone.