Butter Chicken In Berlin

I’m listening to the Gayatri mantra, being sung by a German in a laundromat in Berlin. Between showing me how to start the washing machine and work the clothes-dryer, he tells me about his fascination for India. It would be surreal, if it wasn’t so familiar. I have heard so many similar versions of the story over the course of the one month I’ve been in Berlin. At my neighbourhood bar, I bump into an aging pony-tailed hippy who tearily talks of falling in love with a Indian drifter in Mumbai, and then returning to India 14 times to find her. An edgy street artist tells me he plays Shah Rukh Khan’s bodyguard in the upcoming “Don 2”, set in Berlin. And every neighbourhood flaunts bustling Indian restaurants — all crammed with locals wallowing in butter chicken, vindaloo and palak paneer.

Berlin’s favourite fast food is the curry-wurst, a startling combination of sliced sausages and a dark, viscous tomato sauce, deepened with paprika and flavoured with curry powder. At the sun-filled Sgaminegg café, my Berliner friend regularly orders frothy cinnamon-dusted ‘Chai lattes’ with apple pie. I snootily dismiss them as inauthentic, but as time goes by I’m gradually captivated by their sweet, vanilla-scented lushness.

The Germans I meet ask about my opinion of the Indian restaurants in Berlin. They tell me the food’s unapologetically inauthentic. However, inauthentic is not always a bad thing. Look at what we’ve done to Chinese food in India, creating a fiery, oily but delicious new cuisine by blending the most obvious, populist elements of Chinese cooking, and reinterpreting them for a mass desi audience. A cuisine should be strong enough to be adapted in many ways and tailored to suit different tastes without losing its soul. This way it transcends borders.

Yet, I’m decidedly less forgiving when a friend takes me to Ashoka, a trendy Indian restaurant in chic Charlottenburg, West Berlin. It looks promising, crammed with German customers happily spooning up their ‘lentil dal’ and ‘saag aloo’.

The meal starts promisingly with steaming samosas, liberally dusted with chaat masala. Then comes a sugary raita, butter chicken that tastes like a cross between cranberry juice and tomato sauce and finally a black dal that’s chewy with husk. It’s all washed down with refreshing mango lassi, a German-Indian restaurant staple, made from canned mangos.

Is this Indian food? Across Berlin, Indian restaurants serve the same fare. They use paprika instead of chilli powder, parsley instead of coriander and pour prodigious amounts of cream into every curry. Sometimes you’ll find sugar in a dish, sometime cheese floating on top of a curry. Yet, in a city with very few Indians, it works. From ‘Yogi-Haus’ to ‘Maharadscha’ to ‘Namaskar’, on Saturday night, every Indian restaurant is full. So who decides what’s traditional?

Personally, I prefer the W-Imbiss approach. Instead of hankering for authenticity it calls itself Indian-Californian fusion. The steamy little kitchen specialises in naan pizzas.

We stagger in late at night, exhausted and starving, and are quickly served a Jewish naan, slathered with sour cream, capers, sliced onions and generous slices of salmon.

Despite being tempted by the Dirty Naan — ghee, garlic, fenugreek and chillies — we settle for a Indian red lentil soup, which tastes like sambar and is served with a salad. The vibe’s relaxed and friendly. So friendly we get into an intense political discussion with the guy eating a quesadilla at the next table, and end up polishing off his bowl of super-hot sauce.

However, since I’m on a mission to find at least one authentic Indian restaurant in Berlin for this story, the pressure is on.

Finally, through a network of Indian friends, I hear about a tiny place called Agni in Alt-Moabit, a quiet part of Berlin. As soon as we enter, the smell of tandoori and presence of Indian customers convinces me that we’ve finally hit gold. ‘Uncle Sanjay’ who runs the kitchen with his wife, is from Delhi where he studied catering with ITDC Ashok group. He moved to Germany as a cook 21 years ago, worked with a series of restaurants and finally decided to start his own.

In classic Indian style, he cooks us a massive meal of kebabs, stuffed parathas and dal, and then brings out a complimentary tray of rich, milk sweets as he pulls his chair up to our table and settles down for a gossip. He eats his own lunch as we chat — dal-roti.

“In the end,” he chuckles, “this is what I like best.” It seems appropriate. To cross continents and end up feeling the most at home with a plate of dal-roti in a small room shiny with plastic lights and alive with the sound of Kishore Kumar.”

Advertisements

Ibiza: Where even sunsets have sound tracks.

They’re battered.

There’s no prettier way to put it. Waiting for my flight out of Ibiza, I watch a procession of , muscle-sore party boys and It Girls ouch and groan their way to Departures. As a blonde Brad Pitt look alike passes out on the bench beside me, his friends stand around helplessly, weakly clutching their six packs and water bottles. After some feverish mumbling, they hoist him up, and wobble to their gate. Think: Saving Private Ryan. In slow motion. With tattoos. And massive hangovers.

A weekend in Ibiza, hedonistic party capital of the world, can be rough.

In the sixties, this island, a part of the Balearic archipelago of Spain, became famous as an idyllic refuge for hippies tripping on flower power, ‘love-not-war’ philosophies and acid – not necessarily in that order. Gradually its distinctive music and anything-goes attitude drew bohemians and rock stars, artists and party chasers, the wild and the reckless from all over the world. If you were hip, cool and anti-establishment, Ibiza was the place to be.

Eventually, the 24-hour raves, fuelled by trance, alcohol and a cocktail of chemical uppers (illegal but absurdly easy to obtain) earned it the tag ‘Gomorrah of the Mediterranean Sea.’ By the late nineties, the Vengaboys were trilling about ‘going to Ibiza,’ but for a large part of the party world, the island was ‘over.’ It had become too accessible, too obvious, too crowded. A metaphor for bad behaviour, desperate partying and juvenile high jinks.

Till now. My friends and I land in Ibiza to find it in middle of a rejuvenation. The hippies and artists are reclaiming the North, along with the likes of celebrities like Jade Jagger. The Gucci tourists are back to sipping sangria over spicy paella in Eivissa Town’s graceful medieval Dalt Vila area, flush with designer boutiques. (We’re told that “rupee squillionaire” Lakshmi Mittal’s yacht is anchored here.) Electronic Dance Music, Ibiza’s greatest export, plays everywhere, a sound track to sunsets, full moons and baking afternoons on the beach. And the clubs, some of the best on the world, are vying with each other to source designer DJs and host supremely riotous party nights.

It seems like the ideal place for three girls to channel their inner hippies. We’re concluding a hectic two week holiday, and after hefty doses of culture, history and architecture in Barcelona and Lisbon, we plan to do little besides lounge about in a zen-like stupor all day, soaking up the music, art and atmosphere. And of course, party through the nights.

This is the start of the ‘season’ – which stretches from June to October. We head to rocking San Antoni to watch sunrise from Café Del Mar. However, with its regulation bouncers and grimly chic waiters it seems rather naff so we amble down a line of sea-facing cafes to find a breezy bar with zingy mojitoes and wonderfully eccentric customers.

As the sun goes down in a flaming chaos of colour, a shy Spanish man with a braided beard teaches us tricks on his unicycle, watched appreciatively by the local Don Juan who chats us up using his scruffy dog as an icebreaker. A British playboy, who lives on his yacht, introduces us to passing friends (“everyone knows everyone else here”), and between it all our tousle-haired Argentinean waitress gives shopping tips. This fluid confluence of nationalities is a large part of Ibiza’s magic.

We choose Pacha, arguably the island’s best known club, to party the night away. Although Pacha has clubs around the world, from New York to Munich, its flagship is in Ibiza. It’s Flower Power night, a tribute to the island’s most colourful phase. Bathed in joyful pink, yellow and blue light, the front doors open into a multi-level room where hundreds of people dance to the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin… The energy is palpable, the music infectious.

Our charming Polish friend Maciek, a global nomad who has spent six months of a year working in Ibiza for the past 10 years, shows us around the club’s five rooms, capable of holding 3,000 people in all. We dance. We lounge. We sing, ‘All we are saying is give peace a chance,’ with a thousand people, hands in the air. The night ends on the terrace as day breaks, watching the sky slowly turn a delicate shade of blue.

In time-honoured Ibiza tradition, we wake up by afternoon and stumble out with sunglasses, hats and hangovers. There’s a dizzying variety of new age fetishism on offer in town, from snake massage therapy (150 Euros an hour) to nude power yoga. We settle for caffeine instead, sitting placidly at a café, watching determinedly botoxed women in clingy dresses totter by.

The buzz at the café is all about David Guetta, who organizes the ‘F**k Me I’m Famous’ nights at Pacha every Thursday, bringing in the likes of Will.I.Am, Taio Cruz and Black Eyed Peas. Since we’re in the mood for a more placid form of clubbing, we head to Bora Bora beach to snooze in the warm powdery sand while all around us beautiful people in gym-toned bodies and designer swimwear groove to the beat of yet another DJ, in yet another bar.

Maciek drives us out of town to demonstrate why he loves Ibiza on our final day on the island. We glide past wide open fields, quiet beaches and glittering salt pans, Ibiza’s white gold. And always, in the background, the deep blue Mediterranean sea. Our last few hours on the island are spent on Las Salinas beach, soaking up the sun, watching cold jelly-fish laden waves wash upon the shore and listening to a DJ dreamily spin that now intensely-familiar Balearic beat.

 

Sho-Buzz

October 2019
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031