Identity crisis

Our TV viewing at home consists of flicking between Sky Sports channels, Food Network channels, Music channels and Indian channels. This is pretty much it. Oh and for the ad hoc comedy moments of the ever endearing ‘Friends’ episodes. Other than these, we don’t use our Sky package to its maximum capacity. Oh, just to point out to clear misconceptions, I watch Indian channels not for the slow and overly dramatised serials that creepily make you want to dig a hole and bury yourself. For they are that mundane and suck the life out of you. I watch for some good Bollywood movies and educational series such as the Mahabharat and Ramayan.

I’m a die hard fan of Food channels and follow the latest chefs on the scene. I have been an avid supporter of MasterChef Uk, and watched a few various other versions in Australia. A couple of months ago, we got hooked to MasterChef India, Season 4. Purely because this was the very first fully vegetarian competition of its kind.

Several episodes in and we soon realised how melodramatic this was, akin to all other Indian soaps and series. The participants were as eager as all the usual ones you watch across the continents. However, the whole MasterChef India show has a different kind of excitement associated with it. The first episode of each week was seldom about food and cooking, and more about the silly antics by both judges and participants. The standard of cooking also did not appear to be as expected when compared with the UK counterpart. This could purely be because I am a vegetarian and since I have no ounce of knowledge on how to cook non-veg food, roasting a whole chicken would seem more complicated than making ‘kheer’. Or, it simply could be that it was not up to par. I am more inclined to believe the latter as one of the finalists, Ashish, plated a dish equivalent to the standards of the first round as his finale dish of the show. Thankfully he was suitably eliminated.

Looking past the dramatics of the show, we followed the contestants on their journey to be crowned the 4th MasterChef in India. Some of the dishes produced were inspiring and also looked pleasing to the eye. Others faltered. However, since we were not there to taste, who are we to judge really.

The weeks sped by and fast forward to Saturday just gone, the penultimate episode aired. This is where it all started to crumble. The episode was about the 4 remaining contestants and they had to cook their deciding dish to see which 3 will be the final 3. The bizarre fact was that the public were going to vote as to who they wanted to be crowned the next Indian MasterChef. This may seem norm to some, but to me, without having tasted any of the food, how are we supposed to vote as to who is deemed perfect for the position? Last I checked, this was not a popularity contest.

Voting began and the winner was to be announced on Sunday. However, in true Indian style, the winner will not be announced by a simple statement from the judges. There was a whole evening planned of what I can only describe as tasteless entertainment. It began with the 3 finalists prancing on stage with their version of Bollywood dancing. Because this is a cooking competition finale, and dance is a main part of the popularity show. Or so she says, whilst trying to make sense of this turn of events. This was followed by various plugs for other reality Tv shows such as Nach Baliye (a dance show!) and promoting a soon-to-be-released Bollywood film. Why? Why you may ask.

Have you ever noticed in India how they love their sponsorships and advertising? For example, whilst the recent Cricket World Cup was taking place in Australia, we were in India at that time. You can of course imagine the Indian team being sponsored, as well as the ads you watch/listen to in between breaks on television or radio. However, sponsorship goes beyond that. When the second team is batting, you swiftly get to hear every so often ‘This run chase is sponsored by Suzuki Maruti’. When a batsman hits a 4 or the ultimate 6, ‘This 4 (or 6) was sponsored by BSNL (or something like that!)’ – a broadband company. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is sponsored. Even the cement used to form buildings. It will have an ad of its own with an A list celebrity endorsing it.

This explains the sponsored entertainment for a finale cooking show. It just makes the whole thing tacky. As explained, in our house, we are very opinionated and subjective with our choice of television. I do not want to tune in to a cookery show only to see a finale that involves everything else other than food. I am all for culture and types of expectations each country has. But there is a fine line between tasteful and keeping in theme with the subject versus drowning in cultural expectations.

It is safe to say that this was our first and last experience of MasterChef India.

I lost my tea

So for the last 2 weeks I have been busy in a productive way, whilst having the time of my life meandering my way around Mumbai and Delhi, attending Lakmé Fashion Week, visiting designers at their studios and basically eating at every opportunity I got. This running around and ever need to feed my mouth consumes a lot of my energy, which only the simple act of having good brewed tea can provide. In simple terms, I run on tea.

My daily routine consists of having a mug of masala ‘chai’ (or tea for those unaccustomed to the term) with my breakfast, followed by another cup of any other flavour after dinner. 2 cups in 1 day and I am set to go.

Masala chai originated from India (or at least one would hope!) as it is the staple drink in most Indian households. So you would expect to indulge in the best tea once in India.

Fake
Fake

However, I was extremely disappointed to receive the drink in front of me dubbed as ‘masala chai’. Every restaurant, every hotel, every shop, every (the list goes on) … we sipped on this new fad of machine-produced masala tea. In India, when I order a cup of masala tea, I automatically mean the ‘proper’, brewed and cooked-over-a-stove kinda one. Not the one where you open a packet and add hot water to. Not the one where you add water to a masala tea bag. This is India for crying out loud!

Admittedly, my morning cuppa consists of a masala tea bag. But the circumstances are different. I live in London.

I do occasionally make the authentic version over a stove, and nothing can beat the aroma or the taste.

The only place where I found the authentic masala chai was at the street vendors’ stalls, where their tea brews for hours on end to supply the demand of the working class all day long. This was the real deal.

Oh India! Why this trend to produce machine-brewed tea, when the original version is so much better and so original? In this change to provide a perhaps more universal choice, the actual authenticity has been lost. The decision to provide this fake substitute is beyond me and, on many a time, I had to resort to the option of having coffee instead.

Rant over.