Feeding the poor

A few years ago, I was on Calcutta during the August monsoon. As I waded through the filthy rain water flooding the streets of a bazaar area, I noticed that at quite a few clothing material shops run by Moslems there were huge pots of rice and dal or curry. These were manned by shop staff. They were doling out this food to various poorly clothed passers by.

I asked what was going on. One shop keeper told me that during Ramadan it was considered virtuous to feed the poor while the faithful Moslems upheld their required daily fasting. This charitable activity impressed me.

During a recent visit to Ahmedabad in February, I passed an eatery, whose signboard read Muslim Kifayat Hotel, hotel being Indian English for restaurant.

Kifayat is the Urdu word for ‘sufficiency’. It may have other meanings in Hindi.

The restaurant under discussion is on one side of the enormous market place that extends from the Bhadra Fort through the three arches of the 15th century Teen Darwaza and beyond.

Rows of benches are lined up on the pavement in front of the open fronted restaurant. Often, these are occupied by people, who appear to be extremely impoverished. Food (all vegetarian) is prepared at the front if the restaurant in huge pots and a tandoor oven.

One of the men running the Kifayat Hotel explained that the meals they served – dal, rice, freshly cooked rotis, and vegetables – are normally priced at 40 rupees, but poor people pay no more than half of that amount.

Later while exploring Ahmedabad we spotted other eateries like the Kifayat Hotel, and like that place they had rows of benches in front of them. Often, these seats were quite crowded with men, women, and children.

I have yet to discover whether the charitable eating places we saw on Ahmedabad are self-financing or to some extent assisted by charitable institutions.

P.S. just before publishing this, I visited a Hindu temple in Koramangala, Bangalore. Every Thursday, lunch is provided free of charge to anyone who turns up, regardless of their religious belief.

A globe trotting chef in Gujarat

So-called Italian food is popular in India. Indians are fond of pasta and pizza and are happy to eat almost anything that claims to fall into these categories. Often what is served as “Italian food” would be almost unrecognizable to Italians.

However, things are changing. Increasing numbers of Indians now visit Europe and many Europeans and Americans familiar with authentic Italian food visit India. They are more discerning than about the quality of Italian food served in India than Indians who have not been abroad.

Despite this, very few Italian restaurants in India are serving what I would consider Italian food like Mamma would make. Chianti Restaurant in Koramangala (south Bangalore) does makes the grade.

Tonight, I ate at Fiorella in the Alkapuri district of Vadodara in Gujarat. This Italian restaurant serves brilliant food. It is Italian food which makes no compromises to satisfy traditional Indians’ palates.

We met Ravichandra, Fiorella’s chef. He speaks Italian fluently, which is not surprising as he lived and worked in various cities in Italy for 14 years. He has lived abroad, mostly in Europe, for a total of 22 years.

He became a member of the Federation of Italian Chefs. He worked as a consultant advising the owners of Italian restaurants all over the UK. Spending 3 months in each restaurant, he helped their owners improve their establishments.

Following his return to India in 2008, Ravichandra, who was born in Kerala, worked in various hotels and restaurants before 2012, when the owner of the Express Residency Hotel in Vadodara asked him to set up Fiorella. The plan was to establish Fiorella as a totally authentic Italian eatery, whose food was not at all adapted to Indian tastes. This, Ravichandra has achieved most successfully. An Italian eating here would not be disappointed.