The proof of the pudding

Italy is waking up to the fact that some of its best chefs are not Italian which is seen by some as a national crisis. In a recent list of the best restaurants in Rome:

… second place was L’Arcangelo, a restaurant with a head chef from India. The winner: Antico Forno Roscioli, a bakery and innovative restaurant whose chef, Nabil Hadj Hassen, arrived from Tunisia at 17 [Link]

Foreign chefs are so widespread that even at one of the most traditional restaurants in the capital, 70% of the chefs are of non-Italian origin. Many Italians feel that food, like culture, has to be transmitted from Italian to Italian, and therefore see these changes as threatening.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, one of the hottest tickets for Saturday’s first Passover Seder is Floyd Cardoz’s (non-Kosher) version of the traditional Passover meal:

Floyd Cardoz’s Indian take on gefilte fish needs no help from horseradish. It is a Kerala-style striped bass patty steamed in a banana leaf with a nice dose of spice on its own; mellow roasted beet salad is served alongside, bottom center… The choices are: excellent herbed chicken soup with a fluffy matzo ball seasoned with fenugreek ($16), banana leaf fish patties ($28), beet salad ($16), chicken tikka ($24, top left) and brisket spiced with ginger and chilies ($34), all in portions to serve two. [Link]

This isn’t just passover food, the whole religious service will be held at the restaurant with all the guests to the seder eating family style.

Clearly the cosmopolitans get to eat much better than the nativists. Game, set match.

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The “Great Khali” Attempts to Make Peace; Receives Sucker Punch

I know, I know — there are numerous absurd things happening here. How Boston Bhangra got involved, for one thing, is a puzzle. The “Poonjabi Peace Offering” sounds, to my ear, like it’s been delivered in Hindi. Indeed, The Great Khali is ethnically not Punjabi at all, I don’t think. (His real name is Dalip Singh Rana.)

But if you’re worried about those minor inaccuracies, you’re really REALLY missing the point of the eight glorious minutes of “entertainment” contained herein. Continue reading

The Price of Rice

On the News Tab, KXB posted a link to an article in Time about the skyrocketing global price of rice, which has the potential to destabilize economic conditions (and governments) all over Asia. For those who haven’t been following it, the price of rice has more than doubled in the past six months, peaking recently at more than $23.00 per hundred pounds. (See this Guardian article for more detailed numbers. Incidentally, the rising price of food has already led to riots in Haiti.)

The Time article points out that the problem isn’t that rice production has fallen (though part of the reason for the tight supply in Bangladesh in particular is the destruction caused by last year’s cyclone). Rather, the global demand simply seems to be rising faster than the supply, and many individual nations have been banning rice exports, destabilizing the market.

In India, the interaction between state regulators and the recently liberalized market is particularly complex:

Take India, for example, where rice prices are rising fast, contributing to 7% inflation last month, the highest in more than three years. The country is not suffering from a classic case of tight supplies. National rice production this year should hit 94 million metric tons, up more than 2 million metric tons from last year and more than 20 million metric tons from 2003′s crop, which was devastated by a bad monsoon. Nor have shortages hit a government-run rice-distribution program that helps feed India’s poor. That program bought 20.6 million metric tons last year. This year, procurement, from both domestic growers and importers, is expected to rise to 25 million metric tons, according to Manoj Pandey, a senior government official. “It’s not a question of low production or low procurement,” says Pandey.

What has changed is that, because of economic reform, the government has gradually eased its control over the rice trade during the past 15 years. India is now more open to the world — and more exposed to global price fluctuations. Farmers and traders across India are now selling to the highest bidder. That means a lot of Indian rice that was once sold domestically is instead sold abroad for higher prices — which in turn drives up domestic prices. The government, in an effort to keep as much rice as possible at home to quell inflation, has banned exports of nonbasmati rice and adjusted price controls to discourage exports of aromatic basmati rice.


The measures aren’t working. As the article goes on to state, instead of pushing the price of rice back down, the government’s ban on exports has led to hoarding on the part of sellers, who would rather not sell than sell at reduced prices.

The question I have for those who understand these issues better than myself is this: what should the Indian government do, keeping in mind that the vast majority of Indian consumers of rice cannot afford the current price? Continue reading

Parallels between Madia’s and Obama’s campaigns

For those of you who haven’t already heard, Ashwin Madia, who we interviewed way back in December here at SM, won the Democratic Primary in his Minnesota Congressional district against rather tough odds:

DFL activists Saturday chose first-time office seeker and Iraq War veteran Ashwin Madia as their endorsed candidate for the Third Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Jim Ramstad.

It took eight ballots before state Sen. Terri Bonoff, who had trailed Madia throughout the day, withdrew.

DFLers left the convention energized by the possibility of having a Democrat elected to the seat in the western Twin Cities suburbs for the first time in 50 years. [Link]

I find that there are some interesting parallels between the strategy he used to beat the more well known and experienced Terri Bonoff, and the strategy Barack Obama has used to pretty much beat Hillary Clinton:

  1. Both women were the presumptive front-runners with loads of traditional political experience and establishment backing
  2. First-time participants make up the base of both Madia’s and Obama’s supporters and are very enthusiastic
  3. Madia and Obama both realized that it is the delegates that matter most and went after every one
  4. Rhetorical charm, not attacks were employed by both during debates and speeches to win support

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HipHopistan — upcoming in Chicago

(Link stolen from PTR.) I have no idea what the song is about [translation help, anyone?], but I love the video, beats, and the sound of the rap.

People in Chicago this week might want to head down to the University of Chicago for a Desi Hop Hop Conference, HipHopistan (April 17-19). It’s a mix of performances, roundtable discussions, and hands-on workshops. Among the performers present will be Yogi B & Natchatra (featured in the video above), as well as Chee Malabar, Kabir, Abstract/Vision, and the ubiquitous DJ Rekha.

I must admit I’ve stopped aggressively following developments in Desi Hip Hop and Bhangra/hip hop fusion somewhat lately. (Have I been missing much?) If I were in Chicago, I might show up at this event just to see if anything these guys are doing might inspire renewed interest. Continue reading

Money for Nothing …

Last week, when the Clintons released their tax returns, it came out that one of the largest fees paid to Bill Clinton came from a charitable fundraising event organized by London socialite Renu Mehta. In 2006, Mehta organized the “Fortune Forum” to encourage Britain’s super-rich to give more to charity. The event was a success, drawing Lakshmi Mittal, Michael Douglas and others, but the overhead was very high, with a third of the money raised going to pay Clinton’s speaking fee:

The event raised about $1.5 million and brought together dozens of billionaires, celebrities and activists … But success came with a steep price. Fundraising costs consumed more than half of the proceeds, with $450,000 going to Clinton as a speaking fee, one of the largest he has collected as personal income. [Link]

What’s weird about this is that Bill charged this charitable event almost double what he charged other groups in the same period, even though one of the other groups was a for-profit partnership:

Clinton’s fee for his Fortune Forum appearance dwarfed the $280,000 the former president charged for a speech earlier in the day in London sponsored by a for-profit partnership and the $280,000 he received the next day for a speech in Dublin. [Link]

The outsized speaking fee makes me wonder if this was an indirect method of contributing to the Clinton campaign. While political donations are capped at $2,300, there is no limit on how much of one’s own money (or one’s spouse’s money) can be spent. So a payment to Bill Clinton, while taxable, is exempt from campaign finance regulation, although it may serve the same purpose. This suspicion is made a bit stronger by the fact that Clinton’s appearance was arranged by one of their key fundraisers, the controversial hotelier and restauranteur Sant Singh Chatwal.

This is one of the things that makes campaign finance regulation tricky – money finds a way to a candidate when people want to give it. However, with the FEC out of action this election (it has insufficient members to constitute a quorum due to gridlock), the line between business deal and campaign gift is unlikely to be clarified any time soon.

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The Googlization of Everything

Those who know me well often joke that I’d make a good spokesperson for a Google ad. I can’t help it if Google has changed my life (and I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way). The google desktop app has saved my writing life more times than I care to mention, and google calendar is the means by which my husband and I can always convince each other to attend otherwise resisted events (“Oh, you couldn’t make it? I had no idea. Your google calendar said you were free!”)

So, of course, my curiosity piqued when I recently read about Siva Vaidhyanathan’s recent book deal with the University of California Press. siva.gif

Per Publisher’s Weekly:

THE GOOGLIZATION OF EVERYTHING: How one company is transforming culture, commerce and community – and why we should worry, showing how Google is taking on governments, organizations and entire industries – and the implications of Google knowing more about us than we know about it.

(The book began as an open book experiment sponsored by the Institute for the Future of the Book, where Vaidhyanathan is a fellow, and was subsequently picked up for publication.)

Vaidhyanathan is a rising cultural historian and media scholar whose two previous books Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System have met with wide praise.

He is approaching the book as both a fan and as a critic, he says at his website: “I am in awe of all that Google has done and all it hopes to do. I am also wary of its ambition and power.” Continue reading

Honey, who shrunk the dosa?

A friend of mine emailed me this photograph of a mini-dosa from a desi restaurant’s lunch buffet in Davis Square:

It’s not the size of the dosa that counts, it’s the flavour of the filling

From a restauranteur’s perspective, this innovation makes perfect sense. You can’t serve everybody a dosa, it’s too large. And you can’t serve dosa slices either. Enter the mini-dosa, everybody gets dosaed, the restaurant has less waste, everybody goes home happy right?

And while we’re on the topic of alternadosas, how about totally American fillings like “Grilled Chicken with Goat Cheese, Spinach and Roasted Tomatoes” or “Tuna with Cilantro Chutney Dressing, Avacado, Arugala & Tomato“?

Are these reasonable innovations or travesties wrought by American commerce on the fine traditions of Madrasi South Indian cooking? In other words, is it a shanda like the bagel stick with the cream cheese inside, AKA the bagel Twinkie?

Ever toast, spread cream cheese on, and eat a bagel, and be like, damn, this is taking too long? Kraft’s Bagelfuls, essentially, a bagel Twinkie, are for you. A “Bagelful” is a frozen bagel tube with cream cheese inside. They’re kept in the refrigerator and then toasted, microwaved, or even eaten straight from the box. [Link]

How do we tell when a departure from beloved tradition is actually progress?

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Exxxxxxxxtreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeme Yoga!

Hello mutineers! I’ve been holed up in my east-coast satellite bunker for a while now, perfecting my Gleeson Grip, watching test cricket and savagely turning my back on a lacto-vegetarian upbringing.

I have been trying to keep up, however, and came upon this little gem of an article via our newstab (thanks Brij), relating the life of a peculiar kind of Yogi–one who may be tempted by “Extreme” branded potato chips.

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In Defense of Pakistan’s Hindus

Ali Eteraz has an informative column on Comment is Free about discrimination against Pakistan’s 3 million Hindus.

The immediate inspiration is a recent lynching of a Hindu factory worker in Karachi, after it is alleged that he uttered blasphemous words about Islam and the Prophet Muhammed. The family of the man who was murdered have suggested that he may have been killed for other reasons, and his co-workers have merely invoked blasphemy as a convenient ruse for a murder committed for more prosaic reasons. It is unclear whether his killers will be prosecuted, though there does appear to be some legal interest in doing so.

In his column, Ali Eteraz rightly condemns the institutional discrimination that exists against religious minorities in Pakistan, including the establishment of separate electorates for Hindus (dating from 1973), and an anti-Ahmadiyya blasphemy law that was first instituted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and then enhanced by Zia ul-Haq in 1982.

One of the commenters on Comment is Free also linked to this article in the Washington Post, which describes Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws in greater depth. Reading that article reminded me how complex Pakistan’s legal system is. I think Ali Eteraz’s sincere hope is that the Blasphemy Law in particular ought to be immediately repealed. For my part, I must admit I have no idea whether that is a realistic possibility or not. However, we might remember that Pakistan’s legal community took a heroic stance last fall in the face of Musharraf’s anti-democratic actions. Perhaps they can do so again. Continue reading