Sunday, December 26, 2010

Season’s Eatings!

 The work was never ending and the stress level was high. It had been like that for more than a month. But this particular day was exceptionaly bad.  It was one of those workdays when everybody form your boss to colleagues and from subordinates to family members is after your happiness. I looked out of the window. The December is almost through. Fading afternoon sun hardly had any warmth but still it was a very tempting time to resist going out. In the moment of anxiety, fear or even desperation- my thoughts often go back to my good food memories. The Good Food memories of Winters necessarily includes cakes and bakes. Recently a school friend very aptly described December and January as very “Cakey times”. So I left the file I was pretending to look at and walked out of the building. I hardly had any idea of the place I wanted to explore. I had searched out an address in Paharganj but knew nothing what I can expect there. German Bakery! The very name brings to my mind delicious cakes,breads and doughnuts. I have no idea why they are called German Bakery, I don’t even know why they are scattered all over Himalayas and some other selected towns of India. Yes there was one at Kaza as well. One in Manali I remember and also a small one at Tabo . And why German -Are Germans supposed to be great bakers anyways? Or it has got something to do with German Hippies of 70s, who could not stay away from their cakes and bakes even as they continued their search for Nirvana.

But I couldn’t care less. I needed a distraction from work and what could be better than a bustling market with narrow lanes, traffic snarls, colourful display of things and all familiar sights of an old city. My driver and peon were certain that I am off for some shady place when I told them where I am going. I have been to Paharganj many times before- but this part of Paharganj was new to me. The firang part- I mean. This part caters only to foreign tourists. Mostly backpackers. All eateries claim to be “the original German Bakery” and there were at least half a dozen World Peace Cafes. They all offer a menu difficult to find in other city bakeries. No cream filled black forest and pineapple cake (with red cherry on top). Here the offerings were more to suit the taste of our foreign guests - less of cream and more of cake. The cinnamon rolls and croissants, the pies and the doughnuts looked tempting. Of course these were not for me- there were no eggless varieties available…but they looked very different and very yummy. When I finally reached the German Bakery I was looking for it was disappointing. The ambience was just ordinary - hardly what I would imagine at a place so famous. I mean it was not even a bakery – it was just a small time tea shop with some baked stuff inside the glass case. Some shops selling knickknacks for tourists were also part of the same room. But then I looked closely – the stuff was different . There were exotic cakes- Walnut, Apple-honey, Cinnamon, and of course chocolate . All without the usual generous scoops of cream. I bought several types for my friends and my husband and walked out . While coming back from this odd bakery – I thought of other bakeries I have loved .

For me Birthday cake was always very special and with three birthdays in the family in January – our supply of cakes was continuous for that month. I could never hide my excitement when my birthday was round the corner. My dad- pampering his youngest , always brought multiple cakes for the day . Being the glutton I always was, I never said no.   It was so funny that the owner of Lucknow’s Burma Bakery which supplied my birthday cakes from my 9th birthday onwards also remembered my and my sister’s birthday .

Bakeries are very happy smelling places. I read somewhere that smell of baking soothes nerves and makes one feel relaxed. I totally believe in that as I recall my baking memories. My trials with baking have been mildly successful. I tried all kinds- scones, cakes, pies, breads and even cookies. It was great fun to learn new baking tricks with friends . But my success in baking are almost equal to my failures. The good part is –I never left trying . As my sister- my captive taster once commented jestfully - “ You keep on trying …we will get either cookies or paperweights . Both are useful. ”

It is unfortunate that now bakeries have lost their individuality. In Calcutta the three bakery chains have identical stuff in all outlets. Very uninspiring if you ask me. Even the middle range bakeries in Delhi have similar stuff. They are not even open to try new items. Some do customize of course, but most have limited items to offer- they do not even change the icing for your choice. I remember in my growing up days I used to specify the icing on my birthday cakes. One year I wanted a wafer house and on another multiple coloured jam layers. It was always made with perfection.
Some old colonial towns ahve great traditions of bakeries. I have seen lovely small bakeries in Shimla, Mussoorie and Pune. Mumbai also have some very special ones . Another place which comes to my mind is Kochi- the place where Jewish bakeries are still thriving with pride . Calcutta too had Nahoums' . The famous new market bakery - which hardly had anything for a no- egg cake lover like me. Even though I never tasted their famous rich plum cake on Christmas - I can see that even a mention of it  brings  a delightful shine in my hubby's eyes .

With the January approaching us in another four days, and with it both my birthday and the New year  – I think of my yummy memories and smell the familiar “cakey” smell in the air. Happy days are here again!!