Usha
Bangaloreans have always been fond of eating out what with the place being the home of inexpensive restaurant chains like the Udupis and Kamats and of course MTR , which used to be a tourist attraction along with Lalbagh and the Bull temple. But for the young people in bangalore, the scene has changed rapidly in the past 10 years and a lot of places have sprung up serving continental and exotic cuisine - an offshoot of the IT boom and the fantastic salaries and increase in the population of Yuppie singles. So "exotic" is no longer Chinese as it was 10 years ago but Thai and Japanese and Meditteranean and Italian and Greek and Mexican and what have you.

The total experience of eating out starts with the description of the fare on the menu card. Apart from the wonderful names that you see like "devilled something" and "some delight" and "some surprise", almost half of the recipe finds its way there. There are ingredients with names like basil and oregano that sound so wonderful,and cooking methods employed like "basting" and "sauteed" and then the accompaniments with which it is served – enough to make you salivate right there.The expectation begins to build up from the time you read the description.The number and names of ingredients alleged to be part of the dish entice you into trying the dish out at least once , never mind the price tag. It is all about packaging the product.

When he was about eight or nine, my son developed a great passion for eating out. We usually went to the restaurants nearby and ate pretty much the same kind of dishes that I made at home and the qulaity was not really very different from my preparations. But still he loved the experience. It seemed that he loved being served by men in uniforms, ordering from a menu, and if they brought caramalised fennel and toothpicks with the bill, he declared that the hotel had class! I even used to joke that I could dress like waitress and give him a menu card and even give him a bill if that is what he wanted(and of course,the saunf and toothpick!)

Recently my aunt had forwarded a nice mail about the factors at play and the dynamics involved in the making of the menu cards of different genre of restaurants.
"'Menus are the Pavlov's bell of eating out. They are a literature of control. Menu language, with its hyphens, quotation marks, and random outbursts of foreign words, serves less to describe food than to manage your expectations. Take the description of my dish above: It promises the unconventional—crosnes!—while reassuring the unadventurous with familiar comforts—risotto, peas—then slaps a thin veneer of glamour on the enterprise with the pizazz of "black truffle vinaigrette." This menu
entry doesn't merely entice, it justifies the cost of dining out. "
While signing off the same my aunt had added:
"My today's evening menu is :
long grain rice seasoned with cumin seeds fried and boiled , tamarind sauce with special spices and lentil dumplings, pureed tomatoes with special spices made into a thin sauce garnished with cilantro.Potatoes braised with onions in a chilli base, tomatoes and onions in a yogurt surprise, fried round lentil drieds, grated carrots with lemon.!!”
My mouth started watering and I wondered where she had learnt these complicated culinary delights until it dawned on me that what she was referring to is a standard Sunday lunch menu in a Tamil household which would have been causally dismissed as jeera rice, sambar ,rasam ,potato curry, raitha and carrot salad.
After all it is all about making the ordinary sound unusual - the power of words in dressing up the mundane much like what presentation and garnishing does to the dish itself!

I think I'll print a menu card describing the daily menu in words aimed to make the taste buds go berserk. May be that will increase the appreciation for the food. Who knows they may even leave me a fat tip!
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22 Responses
  1. Hehe..Good one..
    reminds me of the famous Melgutonic Soup.
    you have to go have a look at the menus of hotels like Park Sheraton Dakshin..You can have a heartly laugh, and get some ideas for your menu too..

    And being one among the IT-crowd you are referring to, well I would like to add that these cuisines do offer a good variety, especially when you are bored with north & south indian.

    Chinese is no longer exotic coz it has become a day to day affair. I saw a fellow the other day selling "Goby Manghoorien" on a railway platform in a Laundry Van.

    Besides, what else can you do in bangalore other than going to eat-outs. (Especially when don't drink or don't do the discos).

    there is no beach :(. That's the one I miss the most. You can goto the beach play around, talk as much as you want and come back by just spending 10-15 rupees on "molaga bajji" or "sundal".. You don't get to do such things in bangalore. What do you say??


  2. Mohan Says:

    sorry for deleting the earlier comment..had something more to say and accidently clicked "publish" button..:)

    I wud rather go to a SLV or Brahmin's coffee bar for Idli chutney(which is infact my sunday routine after cricket) to hav breakfast than be robbed at a Oh-such-a-nice-place like Miller's 46 where a steak is minimum 150 bucks..sheesh..AT the rate at which i was eating at this posh restaurants..i wud hav become bankrupt if not for a friend of mine who started calculating how much it costs for a month, a year, and so on..and the figure arrived was so shocking we decided to stop going to fancy eatouts..

    my mom had the same thing to say abt me when i was a kid..the same dish cooked somewhere else had a magic taste which was lacking at home..but now..its the reverse..sign of maturity??..heh heh

    but i totally agree with the menu sounding more delicious than the actual dish..kinda similar to the trailer being better than the movie isnt it?..:D


  3. Mahadevan Says:

    As you have said correctly, the game mainly consists of packaging the product. They don't believe (rightly so) in 'what is there in a name' theory. They call their products in "Many a Mused Names" and we are bewildered. As your aunt has observed minutely, the menu card rings Pavlov's bell and Credit cards add to our misery. At Bangalore, I am comfortable with a modest bite at Shanti Vihar in Tagore Nagar notwithstanding the tempting offers elsewhere.


  4. Anonymous Says:

    So when do i come over for lunch ?or dinner?! hee hee


  5. visithra Says:

    Reminds me of the time we first landed in chennai n were trying order food only to find half the menu in hindi! Though it was a south indian shop! Aloo gobi, palak panner - were all so weird to read - thats something i dont like on menus - names in languages i dont know
    But that menu of ur aunt had me saliviating as well


  6. hilarious! very nice post. in vernacular: menu cards are too much build ups for local stuff.

    but is this ("...was not really very different from my preparations..") typically all Ammas' lines? or are you Ammas just patting your own backs? ;)


  7. and! ditto anon!


  8. Paavai Says:

    wow what a menu and you are right - it does set a certain expectation - my cousin makes it a point at least once in a month to get the dining table set up with candles - mats, crockery and cutlery for the family to eat..


  9. Jackal Says:

    tht was nice........but really some times these menu's are so confusing....u think u are ordering something and it turns to be .....y not keep them simple..........


  10. Antara Says:

    hello Usha,
    This is Antara here.. thought Souvik will never introduce me to you : ( so just wanna say hi...
    i like reading what you write most of the time!


  11. Ram Says:

    Your posts in the recent past have all been on meta topics so this one is a refreshing change! To add to your other sterling qualities, you also seem to be endowed with a very neat sense of humour. Cheers


  12. Usha Says:

    Kripa:
    Yes, these menus are prepared by creative writers I think, like the guys who make marketing collatereals (make it all sound absolutely attractive and talk about functionality whether it is available or not!!!) Sometimes I wish I could bring home a couple of these menu cards.
    Lol@GobY Manghoorian! ( sounds like a cartoon character to me!). I agree that eating out is a form of entertainment in itself here. I miss the beach too - drooling over the thought of Molaga Bajji and sundal...yum!
    Mohan:
    is that how often you guys go out to eat? Wow. yes. Idly chutney has an eternal appeal which no dish from anywhere in the world can replace for us!
    I guess if it is a matter of 3 of 4 times in a year, these pricey places are worth going to for the ambience and excoticism.

    Mahadevan: Yes, "many a mused names" is the right word for these. Yes Shanthi sagars ( Vihar?) are great value for money.

    anon: you can come over after adequate notice say one day?

    Visithra: Is that so? Traditionally chennai people were not known for being adventurous about food. I think that has changed in the past 25 years . Hey, I dont remember seeing any menu with kothavarangai kootu , muttaikos poriyal etc listed.They are always served as part of a thaali I think. Only snack items are lsited. No?

    Sashi: Yes that was an amma line and it is true also ( because amma says so! lol!). You are welcome anytime.

    Paavai: Actually thats a lovely idea. and does her family appreciate it? Obviously they do, otherwise she would not be doing it every month.
    I know a frind who once tried it and was livid because her husband wanted the lights on in order to be able to watch television!!

    Jackal:Ya as Mohan said, sometimes the description raises your expectation so high that the actual dish can be disappointing.

    antara: Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comemnt. Have heard so much about you (all good) from asha. look forward to meeting you.(your mail did not have an email to respond to. hence here!)

    Ram: Kind, as usual. Thank you.


  13. Dubukku Says:

    haha very true...Vathha kuzhambu sutta applama kooda they put it in mouth watering style :)


  14. Wild Reeds Says:

    Making the ordinary sound usual... perfectly put. Very nice blog.


  15. Mahadevan Says:

    Shantisagar is the correct name. My visitsto Bangalore are few and far between and hence the slip.


  16. R2K Says:

    I like your template...


  17. Usha Says:

    Dubukku: isn't v.Kozhambu/s.appalam a mouth waterer in its own right?

    Wild reeds: Thanks.

    Mahadevan: But there are shanthi vihars too. You are bound to get confused!

    Alex: Thanks. I got he template from psyc.horm.org


  18. A.R.Malik Says:

    ROTFL.......

    But Veer Sanghvi, in his "Rude Food" column (now brought out as a book) does explain the intricasies of all these exotic cuisines. fat lot of good it does me, tough, since I'm a devoted culinary coward. I stick to a very narrow fare of tried-&-tested stuff.


  19. Lioness Says:

    Check this guy's blog out..he rocks!
    http://waiterrant.net/


    ..and I usually hate all the towels, forks, spoons and other paraphrenalia they place before they give the food..I'm like.."Alright! I get the idea..bring the food mannn!!"
    Besides half the time I dunno what the hell to do with them..if I wipe my mouth with the napkin it is supposed to be on my lap and if I put it on my lap it is meant for wiping the mouth! Sheesh!


  20. Vaish Says:

    Hahahahahahaha!!! :) Hilarious! :)

    Have you ever been to Bangalore Bistro? They have the most bizarre menu ever. I love the SLV Menus that read:

    Idli 2.00
    Vada 4.00
    Dosa 8.00
    B.Bele Bath 8.00

    They're the best! Yum! Yum!


  21. Usha Says:

    Abhilash : Culinary coward huh? Shame on you!(Must check out Vir sanghvi's book. sounds Yum though!)

    Lioness; Hahah, I am in the same class too. And sometimes I do shock the hotel staff my using the wrong implement for the wrong purpose. Oh god, some of them are soooooo snobbish.( I'll tell you about my experience at the Taj Mumbai one of these days)

    Vaish: Yes, I like those simple, honest menus. You know what you are getting and how much you're paying (incl of taxes)and the food is so yum. We love it.


  22. WhatsInAName Says:

    hahahaha :)
    Absolutely right. Not just the words, even the presentation makes them oh-so-drooling. The same rasam served in soup bowl with tadka in place makes it so different from the normal way we serve at home. That reminds me of the eeya-sombu-rasam... yummy!