More on food in New York

Just a collection of pertinent observations:

  • It’s amazing how so many restaurants which might get classified as “fine dining” in Bangalore are run out of such small places in New York. Of course, in Manhattan real estate is at a premium but the amazing thing is how these restaurants maintain their class despite putting tables within a foot of each other.
  • Tipping here is serious business. For the first time in my life I’ve left a minimum of a 15% tip wherever I’ve gone. And despite paying the tip by card, I follow the standard Indian policy of rounding off so that the total amount is a round number.
  • I’ve had mediterranean food thrice in three different places and each has tasted much different from the other. Hummus and pita bread has been the common factor in each.
  • Went to an Indian restaurant once during these two weeks (when I was catching up with some IIM friends) and it was surprisingly good. Especially since my benchmark was the Bangladeshi places in London, I suppose
  • As I had mentioned in an earlier post, large cosmopolitan urban agglomerations such as New York lead to extremely niche restaurants. What are the odds of finding a “high class vegetarian” Korean restaurant (called Hangawi; brilliant food and even more brilliant ambience) or a Caprese (serving food supposedly native to the island of Capri) restaurant?
  • I’ve taken a fetish for soup – had soup thrice this week. Veg dumpling soup at Hangawi, fawa beans and green peas soup at the Capri Caffe and a mixed vegetable soup at The Hummus Place. All extremely thick and excellent. I should try soups at more places.
  • I had the much-recommended ethiopian food the other day. The main item is some dosa-type thing. It’s a bit sour and is served cold, though. Extremely large and similar to home-made plain dosa. I had a veg platter for the main course. Got four dals (two of which tasted like the pappu you get in Andhra meals and one had wine) and four sabzis. Not ideal with dosas but was good only.
  • The Greenwich Village area seems to have a good congregation of high quality (but cheap looking) restaurants.
  • The way they make the omlette in my office cafeteria is interesting. First they just put the vegetables onto the tawa and then they take pre-beaten egg/egg white and pour it on top of the vegetable using a bowl. And they spray something on the tawa so that it doesn’t stick. And they actually toss the omlette in the air to flip it around on the tawa!
  • When we were kids we would hear that American kids can’t do arithmetic and use a calculator even to add two single digit numbers. Restaurants have taken advantage of this. For example, on today’s dinner bill, at the bottom it said something like “for 20% tip leave $4.64” or something. So basically since most people don’t have patience to do the arithmetic for 15%, they just take this number given to them and put it. Profit for the waiters!
  • I hope to eat many other kinds of tasty food in my one remaining week here.


I wrote this post last evening. Since I didn’t have broadband access then, I’m posting it only now. This was written on my blackberry, so excuse the typos. Also, blackberry meant that I was typing much slower than usual so this post will probably lack the sudden rush of thought that can be noticed in my other posts.

For the first time in my life I really ezperienced and enjoyed a sugar high today. I must say it was almost like being drunk, except for that it’s unlikely to scr3w my health and that I managed to drive fairly peacefully. It was a really wonderful feeling and though it’s unlikely to last as long as an alcohol high, I think it’s really worth it.

Now I was wondering about the reasons for my high today since the quantity of sweet I consumed today was nowhere close to peak consumption. Thinking about it, however, I realized it had everything to do with relative value and by that metric I’d eaten a lot today.

For the last three month, for health reasons, I’ve been competely off sweets. I don’t take sugar in my coffee. No sugar in fruit juice. Diet coke. No tea, since I can’t stomach it without sugar. Hardly any biscuits. Strictly no desserts, etc

Biologically speaking, the human body is favourably disposed towards sweets since sweets are extremely high in energy and in times when food was scarce (till 200 yrs back) it was a mechanism to make sure of getting the maximum possible energy. It can be argued that our instinctive love for sweets is a darwinian advantage. Since 200 yrs is too short for natural selection to act for humans, we still like sweets despite them not being good for us.

So the whole point of eating sweets on special occasions, I guess, is to give you that sugar high. And in times of less abundance when calorie consumption was low, eating the sweet would’ve been worth it for the sugar high alone, with taste being incidental.

So when you’re normally not used to consuming too muxh energy, as was the case with most people until 200 yrs ago, eating a sweet results in a sudden rush of energy to the brain. And this sudden extra rush, which is usually not accounted for by the body, gives the brain extra energy to do stuff. And hence you get what is called as ‘sugar high’. You suddenly become high energy. All the ned goes away. You want to do something to spend the energy stimulus. You get sudden enthu. You get high.

Unfortunately, given our high energy lifestyles, normal quantities of sweets are hardly enough to provide any sort of spike in energy flow to the brain, and hence don’t cause any high.  And thus the only thing we can enjoy from the sweets is the taste. The main advantage of sweets seems to have been lost, maybe forever.

I’m glad I’m on this diet. Apart from helping me in terms of general fitness and causing significant weight loss, it has also helped me appreciate sweets better. And experience the real high.

Here’s wishing all my blog readers a happy and prosperous deepAvaLi.


This Monday, for the first time in my life, I got myself shaved by a hajaam (barber). Yes, for the ten-odd years that I’ve been shaving, I’d so far never let anyone put a blade on my face. However, a long vacation in Bangalore, absence of my usual Mach-3 and constant jibes by my mom about “wilderness on my face” led me to the hajaam.

I started off my shaving career sometime in 1999 when I was presented a Gillette Sensor Excel. After I earned my first ever salary (four years back) I upgraded myself to a Mach 3. I’ve had a few flings with cheap one-piece razors such as the Gillette Presto or the 7 o’clock Ready 2 Shave, but till a week back had never put a single blade on my face. It was always at least double. And I’d always do the act twice, once forward and once “reverse”. And for all these ten years, the part of the process that has taken the maximum time has been to ensure that my sideburns (I’ve always had them) are of equal length.

The act of getting shaved itself was pretty quick, maybe since it was so much easier for the hajaam to figure out if my sideburns were of equal size, or maybe since he didn’t care about it as much as I do. It was a bit uncomfortable as his hands, one of which held an ultra-sharp single blade, hovered over my face and neck. It itched a bit, and my face twitched a bit, but thankfully I didn’t get cut. It was again a “double shave” but unlike my own double shaves, both the shaves that the barber did were in the “forward direction”. Maybe the barber’s single blade isn’t suited for “reverse shaving”.

In the two minutes that I spent getting shaved, I started thinking of the history of shaving (no I’m not talking about the series of communist portraits here (Marx-Lenin-Stalin-Mao) ). About how if I’d been born a century earlier I’d have to go through this hajaamat on a regular basis – since safety razors weren’t yet in existence then. About how certain Hindu customs have failed to take into account the development of the safety razor and the fact that one can shave himself easily now. I was thinking about the total amount of business that barbers would have lost thanks to King Gillette’s invention – rather than making their money out of a daily shave, they now had to rely on monthly hair cuts only.

Another thing with the invention of the safety razor is that full beards are now less popular – back in the days when everyone had to go to the hajaam for a shave, people couldn’t afford to shave daily, and a full beard appeared significantly better than a stubble. Now that people can afford to shave daily, they never have a stubble and can thus be always clean-shaven.

The most uncomfortable part of the shave was when the guy was shaving the upper lip. With the nose on one side and the mouth on the other I was quite scared. I now reason that the coming of the safety razor has played a significant role in the decreasing popularity of moustaches – you feel so much more comfortable taking care of that sensitive region yourself rather than handing it over to a hajaam.

It was overall a quick, mildly scary, but decent experience. I got charged Rupees Twenty which I thought was okay for the shave. And I realized how much higher the barber’s “billing rate” was for the shave (twenty rupees for five minutes’ work) as opposed to a haircut (fifty rupees for twenty minutes’ work) . And I started wondering once again about the damage to barbers’ fortunes caused by King Gillette’s invention.