Valentine’s Day

Frankly speaking Valentine’s Day in India is a recent age phenomenon and an after effect of globalization, and a very good marketing opportunity. But how many of us know why this day is called thus? Well Valentine’s Day celebrations began in Rome in 269 AD in memory of St. Valentine. He was imprisoned for performing marriage ceremonies of couples, which was a taboo according to a law set by the king of Rome. During this time he fell in love with the daughter of his jailor. Before he was executed he wrote a letter to her and signed it “from your valentine”, which went on to become a tradition. Since then Valentine’s Day is celebrated as a day of love all around the world.

Valentine day preparations begin weeks in advance. Obviously, because no one wants to be the cause of their partner’s displeasure. Normally, you don’t need to spend money to show someone your love but on Valentine’s Day this statement does not really hold true. Prices of certain commodities sky rocket with chocolates and flowers being the most coveted items. Red roses, which are considered as a symbol of love, are sold at double the normal price! Making a restaurant reservation should be done well in advance. Since 14th February is the universal day of love, you will see so many couples tying the knot on this day. Gift shops are the most crowded shops in the mall with people buying tokens of their love ranging from life sized soft toys to precious little platinum rings. These are some of the typical Valentine’s Day traditions. But things are not so stereotyped any more. You will see a large number of people opting for more off beat things, like couples going twin bungee jumping (jumping off a cliff with someone you love could be kind of romantic) or joining a salsa dance class together.

Valentine’s Day may reduce your bank balance to an extent, but all the festive goodies are sure to increase your weight quite a bit! So do make sure you take good care of your health, avoid fats and oils and carbohydrates, and stay away from too many chocolates. If you must eat chocolates, dark chocolate should be the preferred option. And if you do feel like indulging yourself on this romantic day, make up for the excess by jogging a little more, or running a mile more or walking a little more. You have to burn the extra calories you have consumed. Remember that staying healthy and fit will always be the trend. A healthy heart is a happy heart. If you plan to cook a meal for your loved ones, make sure it is nutritious. Use fresh ingredients and cook with your heart and soul. Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with complete abandon or not at all. It’s not always about what you are eating, it’s about who has prepared it and how. No wonder maa ke haath ka khaana is always delicious! Like they say a way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Right?

I am one of those people who consider it as any other day for I do not believe in symbolisms. I won’t be giving gifts to anyone. I will just spend the day doing something I love, with the people I love, my mother, my wife and my daughters. They are all foodies, and I am more than happy to cook for them whenever I get a chance to. It sounds rather simple, but it is not that easy. The four women in my life have very different choices when it comes to food. My mother is a pure vegetarian, so I will cook for her a vegetarian meal, maybe something that she used to prepare for me when I was a kid, that will surely widen her smile. Alyona on the other hand, loves seafood, so I’m planning to make some seafood phad thai, it’s quick and really tasty or Pepper Rawas Tikka. For my daughters the menu is pretty much fixed, Chicken Pasta. Every time I step into the home kitchen, which does not happen a lot these days due to my busy schedule, I am expected to make a chicken pasta and I do it with great joy. For dessert I’ll be making Chocolate Baked Yogurt, which is as healthy as it is tasty. Preparing a meal for my family, who are also my toughest critics and watching them enjoy the meal is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world for me – as a son, a husband, a father and a chef! Nothing can come close to a special home cooked meal, the company of your loved ones and conversations that never seem to end. I am sure my day is going to be very special if everything goes as planned.

Valentine’s Day is a just a reason or a special chance you get to celebrate love, but also remember that each day in your life is a gift, a gift that you share with the people you love and who love you back. Try and make tomorrow more special than today, take chances, follow your dreams and tell the people in your life how much they mean to you as often as possible. Love should be unconditional. You run after it and it will run away from you. Just keep doing what you love and have faith in yourself, you will be rewarded just like I have been by the love and good wishes from the millions of fans around the world.

Wishing you all a happy Valentine’s Day.

Celebrate with these Valentine’s Day special Recipes.

Tiffins to please

Want to know what was packed in my tiffin box today? Alyona had packed delicious Punjabi kadhi, paneer and vegetable jhalfraezi, nachni ki rotis, brown rice, salad and yogurt. Wholesome and completely satiating. What did you have in your tiffin box?

What is tiffin?
Now before I go further let us dissect the word ‘tiffin’ which leaves a lot of people wondering what it actually means. When I was researching for my book on ‘Tiffin’ recipes, I found that the word tiffin was derived from the English slang tiffing. This word is now obsolete but it means ‘taking a little drink or sip’. In the present day it takes on a different meaning and pertains to food.

I further found that the word ‘tiffin’ as we understand now, originated in British India when the Indian custom of having light snacks replaced the British practice of afternoon tea. The wafer thin cucumber sandwiches and cookies that were served with the very British cup of hot tea in delicate china cups were replaced by mathris, samosas, chewda and the like. In South India tiffin is generally used for in-between-meal snacks which include dosas, idlis, medu vadas etc. So they have tiffin for breakfast in the mornings and tiffin in the afternoon too accompanied by cups of hot frothing filter coffee. However in other parts of India, including Mumbai, the word mostly refers to packed lunches that school children carry to schools or working people take to office.

When my daughters started full day school, Alyona would pack two tiffins for them – one for the short break and one for the long break. The one for the short break would be a smaller one in which she would pack sandwiches or biscuits or dhokla or khandvi or aloo tikki or some similar finger food. In contrast the other one would have wholesome foods like roti-sabzi rolls or some pulav or a pasta or some stuffed parantha or foods such as these. It really was some task for her, for the children expected something different every day. It was natural too for their friends too looked forward to their tiffin boxes.

How do you pack tiffins?
Tiffins can be packed variously: for example sandwiches can be packed in aluminium foil or in zip lock bags; you get airtight plastic boxes which are also leakproof besides being usable to reheat in a microwave oven. These days you get compact hot cases which keep the food hot.

In Mumbai there is this unique system whereby you need not carry your lunch with you. Tiffin dabbas are delivered at various destinations by around five thousand odd dabbawalas and they have been doing this without a break for over 125 years now. They deliver nearly two lakh tiffin dabbas everyday and that too on time. Their exceptional management and operational models have become subjects of management study in global business schools. It is a matter of pride that the dabbawalas have a Six Sigma quality certificate and a global business fan club that includes Prince Charles and Mr. Richard Branson.

Did you ask what’s so unique about this? First of all the dabbawalas are semi literate and have no formal education in management strategies. And yet the dabbas are picked up from various homes and delivered to workplace on time. Lunch over, the dabbas are once again collected from various offices and reached to their homes before the sun sets. Furthermore what is surprising is that a dabba is collected by one dabbawala and delivered to its destination by another and rarely is there any mix up. How do they manage to do this? It is because of wonderful teamwork and the way the team members manage the logistics with fabulous technical efficiency. The way it works is really difficult to comprehend by people like us who sit in the offices and expect their lunch dabbas to be delivered to them on time.

To better understand how they manage this I spoke to a dabbawala who delivers a couple of dabbas at our office. He explained thus: the dabbawalas provide the dabbas which are marked with a colour-coded notation which helps them to identify its owner and the destination where it has to be delivered. Once the dabbawalas collect the dabbas, they travel to the nearest railway station on bicycles, then board the train and reach the station nearest to the destination. There the dabbas are sorted out for area-wise distribution and then delivered. This way a single dabba change hands three to four times.

Fun filled lunch hour
In our office lunch hour is like a merry picnic. Tiffin boxes in different sizes and shapes come out and all of us sit at the same table, eat from our own dabbas as also from others’ amid lot of chatter and laughter. In fact whenever I am out of Mumbai I miss this wonderful hour of pleasant camaraderie for it also gives us the opportunity of tasting and learning new recipes.

What to pack in tiffins?
What kind of foods can be packed in the tiffin box? Anything that your child wants or anything that you wish to have at work. It can be a complete meal or it can be a compact meal like roti-sabzi or sandwiches or idli-chutney or vegetable upma or….the possibilities are many. But let me give you a suggestion that is based on my personal experience. When you pack your tiffin box, pack at least two portions or you may not get anything. Your colleagues would like to taste your food too, you see. Same is the case with your children – kids often look forward to eating from their friends’ boxes.

So you see you can make the tiffin a many splendoured one. Just let your creative imagination take over your kitchen and ladle out delicacies that will please everyone.

Here are some great tiffin recipes….

     Vegetable Grilled            Perfect Hakka Noodles            Olive Upma