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The Times Tries On Bombay

Steve Klc

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It was ok.. I was dissapointed.  They seemed to have picked some good places.... but on the whole I found it mediocre.  The photographs were unfortunate.  The restaurant Khyber is very sensuous... photographs from a good photographer would have been sensational and added to the overall brilliance of any publication.  There are so many photo ops at Khyber.  BUt not only did the Times person not catch them but they also managed to place the one picture inside.

I believe the writer and the photoeditor work separately, and in this case it was amply understood.  There seemed to have been little understanding of the foods offered in the restaurant.  SOme of the dishes mentioned were not great examples of that regions food.  Gulab Jamun to my knowledge is not made of curds.  Milk evaporated or even simply milk powder and cream.  Shrikhand one of the desserts the writer mentions is far from honey in taste.  It is nothing more than Labni (hung yogurt) called Chakki in hindi and this is flavored with cardamom seed powder and garnished with charoli nuts (to my knowledge there is no commonly known English name for this nut).  And of course the hung yogurt is sweetened very gently.  IN some places  the Shrikhand is flavored with fruit pulp. Mango Shrikhand is most common in Bombay.  But I make it with other fruits as well.

The writer found Trishna confusing and a challenge... I wonder what happened.  I was only 18 and all alone in Bombay when I lived there... and I did not know many people my first week.  Trishna was a great way to break the ice.  In Bombay, very few restaurants would pose a language barrier.  And I do not remember Trishna being as bad as the writer suggests.  Maybe it has changed.

The piece looked very forced to me. A style that did not bring out much passion or love for the food, city, people or their personalities.  To me it read like a piece that was placed to simply fill the need to have written something about India.  There is a great need these days in the US to make sure all peoples are being given equal coverage.  But not many make it coverage that would stand to compliment both the person writing and those being discovered.

I maybe very harsh... but that is why I was silent.  I had been told of this article by the owner of Trishna and also Samrat.

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A larger point, then--do you think it is incumbent upon the editors and writers involved to get good advice from knowledgeable sources before embarking on such a project?

Is this where you feel let down by the Times and does this choice possibly speak as much or more to the treatment of Indian cuisine and culture?

I'm immediately thinking of Amanda Hesser's recent articles on Spain--which I have devoured and admired greatly.  But those articles clearly wouldn't have been possible without her seeking out and listening to good advice.

Could Spain have the buzz and India be seen as past its moment?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo


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Gael Green with NY Magazine and Eric Asimov at the Times,  and most other writers who care would do exactly what you say.  The ink this writer uses to tell you about how she did not know better about the local foods etc.. would have been used by the above mentioned writers to speak about the food, staff and experience.

I am not sure what happened.  I really think it was a piece commissioned long ago... written, never made it to the paper after 9/11 and then all of a sudden... someone decided to bring to surface those pieces that were hidden in the closet.

No one edited.. no one cared to.. and yes it is only India we are talking about.  How much could it matter what we say? Those are idol-worshipping heathens we are writing about.  They should be happy we even bothered to write about them in the first place.

My experience with American food writers is that they care a lot.  In fact... with people like Eric Asimov, I fear they know too much.  They have made it their passion to understand every little detail about the different cuisines they enjoy.  And when I say fear.. I mean I fear for those mediocre restaurants serving ethnic foods and hoping no one in a foreign country would know better.  But someone with Erics curiosity and respect for differences in culture and style is just the opposite to what these mediocre restaurant owners are expecting.  So perhaps this was just one piece where one writer did not get it.  I love what the NY Times does for the most part in their art pages.  Their political coverage is full of bias.  And I will not attempt to explain that here.  

I maybe removed from egullet alltogether for doing that.

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Steven... this last Sundays NY Times Style section made it clear that India has not lost its moment.  People in NY society were doing what they could to be seen with Aamir Khaan a Bollywood hero.  They also called him the Indian Tom Cruise.

I think on  the contrary, NY  TImes is trying to catch up with lost time.  And in doing so, they are not reading or editing what they are putting into print.  

I think it serves writers and editors well for their own trade and their professional growth to call upon those with deeper understanding of topics they explore.  Not always will the writer find place to credit those they called upon, and that is just fine.  But when writers with no background about what they explore write definitive pieces on those very topics they know nothing about, it is clearly evident to those in the know that here is a piece that has no legs.  

The NY Times is not alone to make this happen... I get calls from writers and editors from all over.  Even in other countries who have found me through word of mouth or even a google search and want my feedback on something about India and its food.  They get their information, a brief overview and then they move on.  Some call back and send me what they wrote.. some even quote me or others I tell them about... some do neither.  But when I search for their pieces, I find pieces that are very well researched and well written.  It is that what matters in the end.  My ego is not hungry for quotes.  And I am not alone to be called upon... in NYC alone we are many who can give enough insight to a writer wanting to understand India and its foods.

And actually... editors and writers at most important publications already know who the key players are in most any group.  It only takes a keen writer and a caring editor to get the network rolling.

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Steve - I find the printed word is often not worth reading. I find newspapers disappointing. I find the Times disappointing. Etc.

Seriously, I find a lot of travel writing to be little more than a report by someone visiting a reasonably interesting place for the first time with maybe a bit of advance research. The only rationale I see, is that the article will prepare the reader for the experience he will have if he does no more research. My suspicion is that there's a good market for this. Tourists just want the name of a restaurant or two and a hotel. People like to read about simple adventures in places that are not really threatening. What can I say? I live with a travel agent and have to listen to her rude remarks when she reads the Sunday Travel section. Travel writing can be worse than food writing, especially in the NY Times and I've not been a fan of much of the food writing there.

Amanda Hesser has certainly been the target of much of my criticism. To see her writing informed articles on Spain is a nice surprise. Perhaps she is maturing into the writer others have told me she could be, or perhaps editorial direction is changing for the better at the food desk. I believe Suvir has mentioned that Eric Asimov is now an editor. It's also true that Spain is hot in terms of dining--and not in the way Mexican food is hot. Look at the cluster of Michelin stars in Catalonia and in the Basque region.

Suvir - In addition to your work here, do you have a suggestion where those interested in India and Indian food should go for intelligent writing?

Robert Buxbaum


Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux you embarass me... I wish I was as informed as you make me out to be.  

I love food and love India.  That is all. It helps me that I traveled a lot and that my parents made it a point to teach us about India and it's very rich culture even as we as children did what our peer did.. follow the west.

I think we really do need some more voices and writing that is brilliant and about India.

I rely on friends and family and my own curiosity.  I actually would love to know of places I can go to as well.

I have not been exposed to any.  I find the food writing and travel writing dealing with India or with many other cultures to be rather poor and uninspired.

I have enjoyed a few writers and their skill with words.  My absolute favorite is Gael Green.  She makes love to food in her words.. and he writing is exciting to me.  I am sure others may find it lacking in ways... but her work does it for me.  

Eric Asimov does a great job in exposing the many layers of foods.  At least I see that evident in his Indian restaurant reviews.  Very thorough.. very well researched and very well criticised.  He also always has a great way of looking at something foreign, exposing what is new and yet sharing what makes it unique and special.  So I cannot complain about the NY TImes too much.  Since  they have at least one writer that cares to share a wealth of information.  

I have enjoyed the very detailed and scientific pieces by Amanda Hesser.  The pieces she has done on kithcen hardware are excellent.  I found some of her pieces hokey to my understanding.  But I feel as Steve Plotnicki had pointed out in some thread on egullet.. that may have to do with my being Indian and not knowing English well enough.  Or was it Lord Lewis that said that?  Or both maybe... But I seem to do fine with the writing of Gael Green, Eric Asimov.

Then there is Food Arts where they do a great job with most all their stories.  Michael Batterberry is a great writer.  The editors at  the magazine do a painstakingly thorough job with every story.  No detail is missed.  And the end result, a world class, excellent publication.  Great photographs, good writing and excellent layout.  Wish we had more magazines like that.

Upper Crust is a magazine from Bombay that is doing a fairly good job.  Maybe people can check them out.  Farzana Contractor the young and vivacious widow of Bahram Contractor is running the show at the magazine.  She is carrying on in the great spirit of Busybee (Bahram Contractor) and sharing with Indians the many fine elements of food, dining and travel from around India and the world.  The link is below.

Upper Crust Magazine

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