Vidhyarthi Bhavan – “History” and greasy dosas.

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The old neighborhoods of Bangalore have several “historical” eating houses. You know, those heritage places that claim to have a glorious history and are still surviving because of that alleged history. The truth is, these cut-rate places became famous because in those days there were few options for eating out. Now, with the phenomenal growth of the food industry, there is no dearth of quality eating houses. But these relics continue to survive, solely because of their “history”.

Vidhyarthi Bhavan is one such. Dingy, congested, insolent, over-rated. The food is ridiculously expensive, due to “historical” reasons, while the quality of the food is equally ridiculous.

The “historical” dosa I had last evening was, without any doubt, the worst I have ever eaten. It made me sick, literally. Burnt to a crisp, dripping with grease, served with insolence and the spiciest chutney on earth.

I have only myself to blame. I was a regular at Vidhyarthi Bhavan once upon a time. I last visited the place ten years ago, and I had stopped going there, because of how bad the place had become. Guess what. It’s become worse.

Remember this tip from a food quality expert (i.e. myself) – when you enter any eating house, first look at the floor. If the floor is dirty, leave.

Second, look at the walls. Too many glowing reviews, five-star ratings, celeb photos on the walls? And a dirty floor? Leave. Don’t just leave. Run.

Yesterday, at Vidhyarthi Bhavan, I forgot these golden rules myself and paid the price. The timeline was as follows: Wait outside to be called in – “merely” 20 minutes. An average adult can barely squeeze himself behind the ancient tables. Wait for the table to cleaned of all the filthy plates – 10 minutes. Wait for waiter – 10 minutes. Wait for dosa – 18 minutes  (I timed it).

I didn’t have to wait that long for the indigestion though. That was practically instantaneous.

Price of plain dosa, burnt to a crisp, dripping with grease, served with insolence and the spiciest chutney on earth: Rs. 45/-.

I blame only myself.

Who gives a shit about “history”? I want clean food, served in a clean place, in reasonable time and with some good manners. And for that, I do not mind paying a more than reasonable price.

Really. I’m a dosa connoisseur and an expert on food quality. Thirty years in quality control. I know what I’m talking about.

Across Bangalore, there are a hundred small-time dosa vendors that I’ve been to. They are cleaner and have better manners. They are small-time upstarts. They don’t have any “history” or “heritage”. They just make a bloody good dosa. And they serve it with a smile.

It’s time Vidhyarthi Bhavan becomes a vidhyarthi again and relearns the basics of good food.

I know. Die-hard customers of VB will curse and abuse me. I don’t give a shit about them either. Let them enjoy “history” – and greasy dosas.

I value my health and my palate. I’d rather patronise my non-historic road-side dosa vendor. Maybe one day he’ll put up my photo on his walls!

Stay healthy. Stay safe. As Nature intended.

The Rogue Elephant … Review

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For a middle-aged heart patient who’s intolerant to several items, finding a good place to eat out in a city that exclusively enjoys spicy oily junk food, is a remarkable challenge.

The Rogue Elephant is an odd name for a garden café, but one had heard good things about it, and decided to take a chance. This rustic little cafe is located next to Krishna Rao park in Basavangudi, one part of Bangalore that still retains some of its original character. No vulgar condos and foul-mouthed H1B types here.

The café is part of an old Bangalore home and is flanked by another classical bungalow. Ambience is quiet and homely. A huge gulmohur tree provides shade and an avian concert as well. Barbets, koels, tailorbirds and sunbirds dart to and fro over my head. Thankfully, no monkeys.

In any eating house I venture into, the one factor that really really pisses me off is bad co-diners. This place is a pleasant change. The people who feed here are generally well behaved and keep their voices down. Another plus – no loud music.

The food is advertised as Mediterranean and North Indian. Wonder why they take the trouble to offer pedestrian stuff like palak paneer, aloo tikkies and the like. The Mediterranean offerings are actually pretty good.

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I start with roasted pumpkin soup, billed as the soup of the day. It’s hearty, non-spicy, piping hot, as I like it. A trifle heavy on the butter, but a good robust soup to start a meal.

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The waiter recommends hummus with grilled chicken and pita bread. The hummus is well made, with a nice smooth texture, served with two olives and a hefty amount of olive oil. The grilled chicken is not exactly world-class, however.

A half-portion of spaghetti with meat sauce follows. The quantity is right for one lonely soul and the meat sauce is generous.

rogue-04175-2For dessert one indulges in apple pie and ice cream – in direct defiance of my cardiologist’s orders. The apple pie is passable.rogue-04180One finishes the meal with french-pressed coffee, strong and fresh.rogue-04200Prices are steep. My meal cost me about Rs. 800/-.

Overall impression – chalega. Not bad.

Minus points for: Bottled water being sold at twice the legal retail price. And the 10% service charge. Which is why I do not strongly recommend this place.

Cheers … Srini.

 

Eight glasses a day? You might DIE, you fool!

Of all the foolish medical myths out there, the most dangerous is the one that claims we must drink eight glasses of water a day for good health.

The average glass of water is 200 to 300 ml. You have been led to believe that you must drink between 1.6 to 2.4 liters of water a day.

Are you mad? That much water can actually kill you. There is an enormous amount of medical research that has clearly and repeatedly shown that too much water can indeed kill you.

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Why do you drink water?

Obviously, because your body needs it. Your body has to maintain a balance between its salts and water. The technical term is “osmomolarity”.

And how do you know when you should drink water?

Obviously, your body will tell you. To be more accurate, your brain will tell you. The sub-fornical organ is a specialised part of your brain that tells you when you need a drink of water. Your brain has a sophisticated and accurate mechanism for maintaining osmomolarity. You know it as Thirst.

And how do you know how much water is enough?

Once again, your brain will tell you. Just as the brain has a thirst mechanism, it also has an accurate inhibitory mechanism that tells you when enough is enough.

It’s called the swallowing inhibition response.

Simply put, you will find it difficult to swallow water after a certain point. At this point, stop drinking more water. Just stop.

Who came up with this eight-glasses-a-day crap anyway?

Well, there was a report published back in 1945 by the US Food and Nutrition Board that recommended a total water intake of 2.45 liters. Mind you, total water intake. That includes water from food, vegetables, fruits and beverages like coffee and tea. An apple for example, contains 86% water. A banana has 75% water. A cup of cooked rice about 65%. Rasam, sambar, most curries are 70% water. A cup of tea is 95% water. Even dry roasted peanuts contain 5% water.

Some manufacturer of bottled water misquoted this report, and started this ridiculous and dangerous myth about eight glasses a day.

There’s a more recent report by the US Food and Nutrition, published in 2005, that will give you every single detail you need to know about water intake, and more important, the real risks of drinking too much water.

You can download the entire report using the link I’ve given below.

What this means is that a normal adult who eats thrice a day and has two or more cups of tea or coffee, does not need more than three glasses of water a day.

Look at your urine. If it’s straw colored, you’re doing fine. If it’s dark yellow, drink a glass of water. If your urine is colorless, you’re in trouble. Don’t drink more water.

The health benefits of drinking eight glasses of water are: Zero.

Effect on skin: Nil
Effect on “toxins”: Nil
Effect on weight-loss: Nil.

On the other hand, the dangers of eight glasses of water:

Damage to kidneys: YES.
Increase in blood pressure: YES
Excessive strain on your heart: YES

By drinking eight glasses of water a day, you will lose too much sodium from your body. It’s called hyponatremia. And it is potentially fatal.

How about dehydration then?

Yes, dehydration can occur with severe diarrhoea, excessive sweating caused by heat, and some disease conditions. Elderly people sometimes forget to drink enough water. Only in such cases, and under medical advice, is higher water intake recommended.

So, I don’t need eight glasses a day?

For a normal adult, there is no medical justification for eight glasses of water a day. The health benefits are ZERO. The risks are very real.

Get this into your head: Too much water kills.

There are too many blogs and websites that rant about the “benefits” of overdrinking water. Please do not take medical advice from an unqualified, non-medical nitwit just because he/she has a stylish blog.

Educate yourself by talking to a doctor and by reading correct information from authentic sources. I’ve given some links at the bottom, to start you off. Do use them.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. As Nature intended.

Cheers … Srini.

 

Useful links:

https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Dietary_Reference_Intakes.aspx

http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/Gyn/ObgynClinic/8GlassesWaterMyth.pdf

http://www.sciencealert.com/there-s-no-evidence-we-need-to-drink-eight-glasses-of-water-a-day-researcher-advises

The Paowallahs of amchi Mumbai.

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CC image by Deepesh

What is Mumbai without its pav?

Vada-pav, pav-bhaji, maska-pav, bhajiya-pav and just plain old chai with pav. The humble pav is Mumbai’s icon, it is uniquely and typically Bombay, it exemplifies the bindaas attitude that defines the City of Dreams.

The word ‘pav’ does not come from the alleged practice of bakers using their feet to knead the dough! No bakery in Bombay is known to do this (at least I hope not). The word ‘pav’ actually comes from the Portugese ‘pao’, which means bread. The technology for pao-making was brought to India by the Portugese in the late 15th century.

After the Portugese took over Goa, that state fell into economic ruin. Many Goans migrated to Bombay, and settled in a place called Cavel, near Dhobi Talao in South Bombay. One such Goan was Vitorino Mudot, an enterprising young man from the village of Assagao. In 1819, he set up the first bakery in Cavel, and started making Portugese-style pao.  Vitorino encouraged his fellow Goans by giving them jobs in his bakery and by helping them set up their own bakeries. Vitorino Mudot became a rich man in the process.

In 1843, one of his own assistants, Salvador Patricio de Souza, forcibly took over the business. He in turn grew rich and powerful, and diversified into banking, real-estate and cotton. Under his reign, Goans monopolised the bread-making business in Bombay. After he died in the late 1890’s, the Goans were undermined by the aggressive Iranis. The pav business in Bombay is now dominated by north Indian muslims, most of whom are in the Grant Road area.

The golden age of the Goan pao-makers is long gone, but the nickname given to them still remains – makapao. It’s not a polite nickname, but the easy-going Goans take it sportingly (usually, but not always!)

So the next time you bite into a spicy vada-pav, don’t forget to pay your respects to Vitorino Mudot, the young baker from Assagao.

Cheers … Srini.

A dose of Dosa.

20170714_155307It’s a multi-billion dollar industry in India, not to mention the rest of the world. It is breakfast, lunch, dinner, fast food and health food, all in one. The dosa is, well, the dosa.

The idli isn’t really Indian in origin, but the dosa is totally desi. Dosa making goes all the way back to 600 AD, somewhere in south India.

The masala dosa on the other hand, was invented in the 1960’s, at Woodlands Hotel, Udupi, by Kadandale Krishna Bhat. Potato curry was usually served separately with plain dosas. During a potato crisis in the 1960’s, Krishna Bhat served dosas with a layer of pureed potato curry applied inside the dosa, to save on potatoes. Thus was born the masala dosa.

In its classical form, the dosa is made with parboiled rice and urad dal (black gram), ground together in a ratio of 3:1, and fermented overnight. As with the idli, the process of fermentation increases the dosa’s nutritive value, making it a super-food. There are several dosa versions without rice, like the ragi dosa, adai, pessaratu (made from moong dal), wheat dosa, cabbage dosa, and what not.

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Davangere benne dosa. Fried in pure butter. Might give me a heart-attack, but who cares!

The traditional dosa is a powerhouse of nutrition. The normal dosa has about 80 calories only. It has significant amounts of vitamin B, carbohydrates, protein and almost no fat (provided it is not fried in ghee). Instant dosa mixes are simply not as good. And hotel dosas are generally bad for you. Instead, make them at home, with parboiled rice and urad dal. Add some home-made potato curry, or better yet, add a lightly spiced paneer or soya curry, and you have one terrific low-cal, high-protein meal.

There are almost as many dosa variants as there are cooks in India. Onion dosa, banana uttappa, pineapple uttappam, set dosa, benne dosa, neer dosa, and some weird ones like Amitabh dosa (six feet long. I’ve eaten one such), Punjabi dosa, and Schezuan dosa and chop suey dosa (of all the things!).

My personal favorite: Kheema dosa – traditional dosa stuffed with chicken mince. Superb stuff. (My mom would be scandalised!).

Cheers … Srini.

The Great Weight-loss hoax – part 2

obesity-crop-187102.JPGUnderstand this:

Obesity is a medical condition. Like all other medical conditions, obesity needs medical attention. Period.

So, first and foremost, you must consult your primary healthcare provider.

Disregard all promotional hype about supplements or herbals. Remember, this stuff is not made by people who deeply care about your weight or your health. These are people who want your money.

That does not necessarily mean that all nutra-peddlers are dishonest. But it also means that they are not necessarily scrupulously honest.

You have a medical condition. You talk to a medical professional.

So what are my options?

If you’re a few kilos overweight, and below a BMI of 26 or so, then a sensible doctor would advise proper diet and exercise – and nothing more.

Dieting means eating smart, making the correct choices, and still eating well. Exercise does not mean huffing and puffing in a stinking, expensive gym. It means getting off your butt, getting into moderate aerobic and anaerobic workouts, and also workouts that improve your flexibility and balance, like hathayoga.

The first-line treatment for weight management has always been, and will always be, diet and exercise.obesity-crop-1920.JPG

Across the world, every single government agency that regulates public healthcare solidly endorses this line of treatment. Diet and exercise.

What if I’m really obese?

If you’re above BMI 27 and you have a family history of diabetes or coronary disease, you are morbidly obese. Don’t worry. Your doctor has several options:

1) Prescription meds: These are medicines approved by the USFDA or the relevant government agency in your country, and available only on prescription.

Do they work? Yes, they do, within reasonable limits. And when taken under medical supervision.

Are they safe? There is no “safe” drug.

There is no “safe” dietary supplement or nutraceutical either.

In a medical context, “safe” means that the drug has been approved after rigorous testing over several years, and the benefits of the drug outweigh its potential side-effects.

Even so, any responsible doctor will think twice before prescribing a drug for weight-loss.

Six prescription drugs are in common use for obesity management. I won’t mention any names, in case you think I’m promoting any particular medicine. Each of them is useful in treating severe obesity and each has its own benefit-to-risk profile.

How long do I take prescription meds?

This is the difference between scientific obesity management and nutra-quackery.

Prescription meds are taken under medical supervision for limited periods of time. Depending on your response to the drug, your doctor may prescribe it for a few weeks to a few months. The doctor’s objective is to use drugs to bring down your weight to the point where you can take up a diet and exercise program. At this point, the drug will be discontinued.

The nutra-peddler on the other hand, will try to convince you that you should buy his “safe” nutraceutical stuff for the rest of your life. It’s “just” a dietary supplement, you will be told.  You can take his “safe” dietary supplement for the rest of your life and remain slim and sexy for the rest of your life.

Yeah, sure.

If you’re expected to consume a nutraceutical, every single day, for the rest of your life, don’t you think you should be deeply worried about its long-term effects on your body? And don’t you think your nutra-peddler should give you safety data on his weight-loss supplement? By long-term, one means over a period of ten years at least.

In most cases, your nutra-peddler won’t give you this data. Because he doesn’t have it. Because long-term safety studies cost money. Because it’s cheaper to hire a smart lawyer instead.

2) Surgery

For patients whose obesity is potentially life-threatening, and cannot be managed even with prescription drugs, a doctor will consider bariatric surgery. The objective of bariatric surgery is to temporarily or permanently reduce the size of your stomach, and thereby restrict the amount of food you can eat.

Bariatric surgery can result in significant and sustained weight-loss. But remember that any surgical procedure, even a simple tooth cavity filling, has an element of risk. And also remember that bariatric surgery is not a cosmetic procedure, like a liposuction or a facelift. Bariatric surgery is a serious intervention and it does carry some risk. When it is performed by the right surgeon, the procedure can be life-changing.

Any kind of surgical intervention is used as a last resort, and bariatric surgery is no exception.

But then, most obesity patients can be readily treated with diet and exercise, and if really necessary, a short course of prescription drugs.

Obesity can be psychologically devastating. I’ve seen how bad it can get.

In my opinion, nutra-peddlers who exploit your fear to sell you worthless and very expensive nutra-crap, are the lowest forms of human life on this planet.

I have spoken.

Srini.

 

Key references:

The NHLBI’s Obesity Education Intitiative, under the US government’s Dept of Health and Human services provides a wealth of information and booklets that you can download. I would seriously recommend that you read them.

Here’s the link:

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart#obesity

Nutra Tamasha – The great weight-loss hoax – Part 1.

obesity-crop-187102.JPGTamasha: In India it means “farce”.

Obesity: In the world of nutraceuticals, it means “cash-cow”.

Nutra-peddlers can always count on your irrational obsession with your waistline – to improve their bottomline.

Every profit-making nutraceuticals manufacturer (and there are a lot of them, thanks to you), has at least one “guaranteed” product in his arsenal for weight loss. You can safely bet that half their profits come from your paranoia about your bulging belly and your jiggling butt.

Whether any of these weight-loss nutraceuticals or dietary supplements actually work is debatable. Very debatable.

The root cause of the problem is social. We have weird, illogical, physiologically unattainable and medically ridiculous standards of beauty. We judge others by their physical appearance, not by their competence.

In other words, the root cause of the problem is not the nutra-peddlers, but you.

Nutra-peddlers know this very well and they exploit your stupidity to the hilt, as they ply you with one “scientific” dietary supplement after another, each backed by “research”, each guaranteed to make you as sexy as Adonis (or Aphrodite), and each equally worthless.

What’s obesity anyway?

Ah. That’s a good question. Innocent laypeople (that’s you), cannot distinguish between normal weight gain and morbid obesity.

I said, normal weight gain. It is perfectly normal to gain some weight as one ages. Obviously, you cannot expect to be as slim and hard at fifty as you were at twenty. Normal human beings tend to gain some weight, as their metabolic rates decline with age.

The technical term is basal metabolic rate or BMR. Simply put, BMR is an indicator of how much energy you consume at rest. As you age, your BMR will decrease. This is a natural process and not something to be tampered with.

Many nutra-peddlers claim that their products, uniquely, can increase your BMR and make you lose weight dramatically.

Bullshit.

It is exceptionally difficult to raise your basal metabolic rate, partly because it is difficult to accurately measure your BMR in the first place. No nutraceutical or dietary supplement that I know of can increase your BMR to the point where you will lose weight just like that.

If any supplement does increase your BMR, then I would definitely wonder about what that supplement actually contains – because only certain prescription drugs are known to affect BMR, and those drugs have nasty side-effects.

How do I know if I’m just overweight or really obese?

What you need to know is your body-to-mass index, also known as BMI. It’s easy to calculate. Simply divide your weight in kilos by your height in square meters.

For a 6 foot tall man weighing 80 kgs, his BMI would be 80/(1.83)^2 = 23.8.

Another quick calculation is your waist-to-hip ratio. That’s easy. Measure waist, measure hips. Divide.

A BMI of more than 26 is generally considered obese. If your BMR is more than 30, that’s morbid obesity.  If your waist-to-hip is more than 1.2, and your BMR is in the high twenties, it would be a good idea to seek professional help.

Mind you, professional help. Not nutra-crap in a bottle.

Up next: How to properly treat obesity.

Stay tuned.

Srini.

 

Key reference:

Weight control, US Dept of Health and Human Services.

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/weightcontrol