How to eat at an Indian buffet

There is a proper way to eat at an Indian buffet which those who are not desi may not appreciate. Being desi myself, I feel that I’m qualified to advise others. But my qualifications to pontificate on this topic don’t end with a blanket ethnic designation. In an earlier era, I was a graduate student who subsisted solely on a fellowship. Back then most of what I ate in my apartment fell into three food groups – chicken, rice and spices.

As a non-vegetarian desi, I’ve always preferred chicken drumsticks to the drumsticks that come from trees, and so this guide primarily deals with the non-vegetarian Indian (or Pakistani or Bangladeshi) buffets that serve the common generic dishes.

Your preparation for eating at a buffet should always start much before you actually go to the restaurant (which hopefully you’ve selected after extensive research). You should also decide on an optimum day to go to the restaurant. If the restaurant has a buffet for both lunch and dinner, go for lunch. Meals for lunch are almost always cheaper. Also try to avoid going on a weekend or a holiday, since many restaurants charge more on those days.

Once you’ve made long-term preparations by deciding on a day you’ll go for lunch, you need to prepare for the meal itself. The day you plan on eating at the buffet for lunch, you must skip breakfast. This is essential to making it count. Expert buffet-eaters are also adept at timing their lunch buffet to just before the close of lunch so that they don’t need to eat dinner either. A little secret is that drinking cups of black coffee or another caffeinated beverage approximately two hours before the first morsel is ingested is helpful for eating more food. Caffeine stimulates acid secretion in the stomach which if timed properly has the effect of making you feel hungrier than you would otherwise.  And don’t worry about the long -term effects of stomach acid; if you’re a graduate student, your stomach is probably already non-stick from all the teflon you’ve ingested cooking your meals with cheap pots and pans anyway.

Now, once you’re at the restaurant and have been seated here, follow a game-plan. Stick to the water; don’t order any beverages off the menu. Scan the buffet area and commit all the dishes to memory. Then go back to your table, look at the menu and identify which entrées are the most expensive to order à la carte. It is inconsequential whether you like these entrées or not. The purpose of eating at a buffet is to get the most value for money by selectively feeding the face with the most expensive dishes. As a general rule, avoid the rice, samosas (and other fried food), raita, and dal. Gulab jamuns are usually microwaved straight out of cans, so don’t go near them. Paneer dishes never have any paneer, so you can avoid those too. At a quality buffet, there will at the least be a lamb, goat, or shrimp entrée. You should be good at fishing out only the high-value bits from the curry with an elegant, clean Azharuddin-worthy flick of the wrist. If a cooked-to-order masala dosa is offered, you are permitted to eat the dosa, but not the potato-based masala. The rationale behind this is that even though the dosa is made from cheap ingredients, it is a value-added product because of the specialized expertise and time required to make it properly. If you eat the tandoori chicken remember not to pick off all the meat from the bone as you would at home. As a rule of thumb, round up 0.5 or greater of consumed food-unit to higher whole number. If others stare at you, it is their problem, not yours.

Like magicians, most competitive eaters have techniques which they will not share with others. One fail-safe trick of gluttony is to eat rapidly before metabolism catches up. But, remember that you are pitted against desi restaurateurs who will try to thwart your noble objectives by making curries as oily, creamy, and hot as possible. So, tactically it is to your advantage to avoid the gravy altogether.  And don’t let the heat get to you. If your face is on fire, don’t stop. Pain is the new pleasure.

Leave as soon as you’re done eating and before you feel nauseous. Don’t add a tip to the bill. As you leave, fill your pockets and palms with as much saunf as you possibly can.

With practice you’ll be good at inflicting the maximum amount of damage for your own basal metabolic rate. Until then, bon apetit!

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

Advertisements

Made-for-you products for desis

After the resounding success of the Soul-purifying Deodorant, Vedic Dentistry, and Extrasolar Astrology – products every desi needs, I’ve decided to launch a new line of on-demand products guaranteed to make your life simpler. Not that I would personally use any of these, but I’m hoping that you need them.

1) Personalized College Rankings

College and university administrators like to dig up rankings that show their academic institutions in the most favorable light. Prominently displayed on websites, these rankings serve as an enticing bait for prospective students. Fortunately, the media is only happy to oblige.  As a result, you can always find a college ranking that lists your college in a position favorable compared to others.

The problem with the current scenario is that if you a student of a lesser-known academic institution such as the Mahipal Institute of Technology, you might end up spending hours on web search engines trying to find a ranking that boasts about the position of your very own MIT.

Superior Academic AnalyticsTM now obviates the need to search at all! For a nominal fee, we will create a customized-ranking tailored to your specific college or department needs. Our rankings will be uploaded to a professional-looking website which will be easily accessible from search engines.

Remember that while inflated rankings may not get you your next job at McKinsey and Company, it will allow your immediate relatives to show neighbors that you’ve done well in life. And what is the point in getting an education if  it doesn’t fuel (as the popular ad mentions) neighbor’s envy and owner’s pride?

2) Credit Card Voucher Generator

Business expense reports giving you the blues? Can’t find that one receipt for the champagne and caviar lunch you had using the corporate credit card at the Ritz-Carlton? Or just interested in milking your company’s travel budget by submitting false expense bills while you’re supposed to be meeting clients?

ComPayer TechnologiesTM now offers you the perfect solution. Customized credit card vouchers on heat-sensitive paper or personalized voucher letterhead. You provide the amount and then sit back and relax while our experts take care of the rest.

We can also charge your corporate credit card for fictitious amounts to our constituent companies based in the Cayman Islands. If you find a competitor who does your billing for you for a better commission, let us know. We have a price-matching guarantee. Also check with our Exchange Division for your foreign currency needs.

3) Personalized Accessories On-demand.

Business isn’t as much about giving the consumer a choice, as it is about giving him or her a perception of a choice. In an earlier marketing primer, I’ve provided ideas on how to create a market for existing products, inferior ones, and completely unnecessary ones. My consultancy named An American CompanyTM will show you how to make sure that you have a ready customer-base with guidance on how to personalize accessories.

If you’re part of a company which has created a skin-cream, we will help you market it in Western countries as a tanning lotion and in South Asian ones as a fairness cream. In fact, we even recommend that you use the same appealing adjectives: “glowing,” “fresh,” and “young” in both markets.

Not convinced yet? Here is another case study. A company in the entertainment business had a sports film which they wanted to launch across South Asia. We advised the company to tailor the DVD to have alternate endings to same finale depending on whether the target was a Pakistani or an Indian cricket fan.

But we don’t just stop there. Another problem facing companies is that of products which are too successful in solving problems. These products help no one by evaporating markets. An American CompanyTM will guide you in making sure your business model never becomes irrelevant. For example, we recently advised a manufacturer of dental ceramics to invest in R&D leading to dental fillings made of hard sugar candy. We also advised an organization of orthopedic surgeons to hedge their bets against improved arthritis drugs by investing in Voodoo-dolls and by backing the Chinese makers of uncomfortable shoes.

If you’re a recent management graduate who would like to work for us, please drop us your resume. Remember that everyone wants to work for An American CompanyTM. We recreate ourselves to help you recreate yourself too!

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

How to write your own biography in Wikipedia. From the renowned author of “Deconstructing Quantum Sufi-Yoga”

Last night, the benevolent god mahi-mahi came to me in a vision and instructed me in a mix of Urdu-sounding Hindi, Hindi-sounding Urdu, Klingon, and C++ to form the Khudbakhud Uttarvedantic Wikipedia Society, a charitable organization exempt from US federal income tax under section 501(c)(3). As you know, articles in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia are among the top hits in internet search engines. The goal of our tax-exempt Society is to create our own biographies in Wikipedia and pass off to family members, jealous colleagues, prospective employers, and random, uninterested Facebook friends as evidence of our great standing in science and letters. In this guide, I will lead you in the art of creating your very own personalized Wikipedia autobiography.

One way to get on Wikipedia is to to actually do something worthy of recognition. You could write a bestseller or come up with a major scientific discovery and the world would most certainly notice. Someone would write a Wikipedia entry for you. But let’s be frank. I’m writing a blog and you’re sitting here reading it. Frankly, it ain’t gonna happen for either of us. Fortunately, Wikipedia is written by people like you and me, and so there are tons of mediocre people (just like you and me) who are writing their own over-hyped articles on Wikipedia as we speak. And even if you did have the talent to do something worthwhile in life, why would you take the trouble anyways? It is much easier to become notable through Wikipedia than to become notable and then get on Wikipedia.

Here are the steps to creating your own autobiography on Wikipedia:

Step 1. Start websites with legitimate-sounding domain names. In the mafia, you need a shop to act as a front. In the web popularity game, you need to get your name out on Google by posting comments with your name on as many websites and blogs as possible and starting a few fake websites of your own. If you’re a scientist, write about how great you are on your fake website New Sceintist, which sounds a lot like New Scientist. Steal html templates if you can. If it looks similar, it is just as good. Most people can’t read, so who will notice?

By getting your name out in cyberspace, you’re increasing your hits on Google, a primary index used to determine if you’ve done anything worthy of Wikipedia.

Step 2. Make a list of important-sounding fake publications. This is the most important step. If you’ve ever written anything in life, you need to put it on Wikipedia. For example the essay you wrote on the cow in primary school should be written up as A post-modern analysis of the sociological and economic importance of Bos indicus var. dudhwali in the South Asian subcontinent. Anything will do, but you will need to use words such as “deconstruction,” “post-modern”, “quantum”, “paradigm”, as well as a smattering of South Asian keywords (preferably with religious connotations). That way later if your article is tagged for deletion, you can always challenge the Wikipedia editors. If they dispute the South Asian part, tell them they are perpetrating colonialist stereotypes. If they attack the science, appeal to the art. No one on the planet understands both Derrida and Bose-Einstein statistics.

It is as easy as 1-2-3. Follow my example. By putting some very esoteric words in the title of this article, I am enhancing my own reputation as a pundit. Web aggregators will pick it up and soon enough I will be known as an expert in Deconstruction, quantum mechanics, Sufism, and yoga. Repeat after me: “I am as smart as I fake myself out to be”.

If you haven’t done anything creative in your life, then use the approach of making up something extremely important. For example, say that your magnum opus is A Long History of the World (Vol I-XX). Always use Roman numerals for volumes and throw in some French or Latin if possible. If challenged to produce your work, say that it was originally written in a now-extinct Andamanese dialect and that the editor is being a racist, Eurocentric pig. If you’re a woman, claim to be the poor victim of a male-dominated society. You can’t lose!

Step 3. Create an account on Wikipedia. You’ll need an account to look legit. Without one, editors will flag your IP address. Choose something distinguished such as Rabindranath_Tagore or S_Radhakrishnan and put an embellished resume up on your page. For example, if you know that Achtung is not the sound of a German sneezing, mention on your page that you have native-level comprehension of the German language.

Step 4. Find a list of editors you can win over. For the most part Wikipedia is edited not by professional experts, but by hobbyists who know all the levels in Tekken, but not which side of the bread is buttered. Win them over by commenting on their personal pages. They don’t have money, power, or social lives. I mean, why else would they write for no recognition or money?

Step 5. Make some very basic edits on other Wikipedia articles. If the first thing you do is to write your own article, people will get suspicious. Do some very basic copyediting on one of the thousands of incomprehensible articles on the site first.

Step 6. Steal the template for an existing high-quality Wikipedia article on someone you admire. Wiki-markup is easy, but stealing is easier. Take an article written about a famous person in your discipline and use it as a template. It will have all the category tags built it and it is as easy as “plug and play”.

Step 7. You are who you want to be, so write creatively. Journalists are very good at this, but everyone should be instinctively good at using weasel-words. Use “many”, “most”. and other non-specific words to blast across how awesome you are. As you write, think carefully. If you ever sent your flop book to someone, say it was “well received” (omitting the fact that the postal service is efficient). If your mother really liked your painting, say “many experts found it breathtaking in scope and originality.” If you know multiple languages, then use non-Roman script for your works. Again, you are working on the vanishingly small odds that there is someone who is both a polymath and a Wikipedia junkie.

A final word of advice  for those lucky few in positions of power. Get your employees or students to do the work for you. Say that you are just about to work on their annual performance review or grade their test papers. You’ll be surprised at how common people who don’t deserve to be on Wikipedia grovel just to keep us celebrities happy!

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

How to get a bank loan in India

Or how to forge your own signature.

Our NRI friend Pappu Patligali recently applied for a personal loan from a local bank. He was planning on applying to one of the swank new privately-operated banks, but was advised not to by his elderly patients. “All our lives we have only transacted with the Tropical Bank of India,” they said, sagaciously.

Pappu picked up the form and got together an application packet with all the primary documents, supporting pieces of evidence, and annexures. Properly-dressed and armed with the bulging file, Pappu arrived at the bank at 11 AM. He walked up to the loan officer, who was annoyed that he was interrupted from relishing the juicy gossip in the morning papers. A Bollywood starlet was pregnant, and there was speculation that the father of the love-child was a flamboyant Australian left-handed batsman.

“Yes? What can I do for you?” barked the loan officer as he peered up from his glasses.

“Well, I came the other day. You gave me a form so that I could apply for a loan…”

“Hmmm. I need ALL documents on this list. If you are missing one only, then sorry I cannot help you,” said the loan officer as he sipped his chai. This was usually an adequate deterrent for most applicants.

“Yes, I know. I’ve brought the listed ones plus a few others. Originals and attested photocopies.”

A look of disgust crossed the loan officer’s morose face. Why were these people intent on spoiling his day? Everyone should have known by now that his mornings were devoted to scanning the newspapers. He did an hour of work in the afternoon and then went for tiffin. After a final round of chai, he was in the habit of leaving for the day so that he could yell at his wife and kids.

As he was about to find some excuse to put this aside, the loan officer looked up at Pappu and felt pity for him. Perhaps it was the martyred expression on Pappu’s face. He said, “leave you application materials and come back after one week.”

One week passed by.

“Hi. My name is Pappu Patligali. I applied for a loan last week.”

“Yes. Please sit down. I am sorry, but you will need to fill out another application form,” said the loan officer.

“What? Why? I thought I had included everything” said Pappu incredulously.

“No sir. You were supposed to provide your full signature on the line here,” chided the loan officer.

“But I did. Right here. P. Patligali. That is my signature.”

“No we need FULL signature for official purposes. Please, you write, Pappu Patligali,” corrected the loan officer.

Realizing that arguing was going to get him nowhere, Pappu sighed. He picked up another form, “signed” it with his first and last name legible, and handed it over.

“Thank you sir. Please come and check again next week.”

“Next week? But you’ve already taken a look at all the documents! Why should it take so long?” said Pappu furiously.

“No please understand. This is not America. These things take time in India or have you forgotten saab?” said the loan officer sarcastically.

Another week passed by.

“Well, have you now had a chance to look over my application?” said Pappu, hoping to finally get some sort of resolution.

“Sorry, I cannot help you. You will need to apply again,” said the loan officer coolly.

“What! What the hell is going on here? What’s the matter now?” yelled Pappu.

“There are three signatures on the application form. In two you have signed ‘Pappu’ with the capital ‘P’, but one looks like small ‘p’. I will get in trouble because it looks like fraud case.”

Pappu was furious. “I signed those documents in front of you! What is going on here? I demand to see the Bank Manager.”

Arre, no use getting gussa. What will Manager do, saab? I am here to help you, na? But try to understand. We are understaffed and this is lot of work for me.” said the loan officer with a tragicomic look on his face.

Pappu finally understood what the delay was all about. He reached for his wallet to provide some chai-paani to grease the wheels, but was stopped short. “What you are doing? Not here,” said the loan officer. “Your address is on the form, saab. You are married, na? I will come to your house and bring some sweets for bhabhiji and little ones. Oh and you please not to worry, saab. I am telling that you will get loan.”

More of The Charmed Life of Pappu Patligali here

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

Food at the cultural divide – the burrito and the salad sandwich

There is a very poignant scene in Mira Nair’s cinematic adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake. Having recently arrived in the United States, Ashima Ganguli, finds Rice Krispies in the cupboard and proceeds to eat it as she would the Bengali snack, jhalmuri. Watching the film again, the scene reminded me of a moment of culinary awkwardness I faced years ago when I arrived in the United States for higher studies.

I will never forget my first encounter with the burrito. For those unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine (or American variants), a burrito consists of a flour tortilla wrapped around fillings consisting of rice, beans, and meat and vegetables. To elaborate further, the flour tortilla is the closest relative of the desi roti you will come across easily everywhere in North America. I had no problem eating either the tortilla or the fillings. In fact, I quite relished it. My issue was with the packaging. In India, I had grown up eating rotis alongside rice, but the concept of filling a roti with rice was very alien to me. For the longest time, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the whole idea!

If you’re from India and you’ve never come across rice packaged inside a roti, how would you feel about eating a burrito?

I am sure North American readers will wonder what the big deal is here. Well, let me pose a similar scenario. Would you eat a sandwich that didn’t have a patty, but instead had a salad inside? I am not talking about a tuna salad or a chicken salad, but a house salad. Sure you might be able to get one easily if you wanted to, but if you’re not vegetarian the thought might seem offbeat to you.

Then, it will surprise you that the most American of all establishments, McDonald’s, sells a sandwich in India with primarily lettuce, tomato, onion, and salad dressing. Called the Salad Sandwich, this entree item sells  where a large chunk of the population is vegetarian and has no problem eating a salad inside a sandwich bun.

How would a culinary creation like the Salad Sandwich do in the land of the Big Mac?

Hmmm… now there’s a thought!

Footnote: Now if you really want to taste a mainstream dish that boggles the senses, I’d recommend fried ice cream.

Burrito image:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetonveg/ / CC BY 2.0

Salad Sandwich Image © McDonald’s India. Fair-use rationale: not-for-profit commentary of product using a very low-resolution image.