Tag Archive | Thailand

StarChoice 22: THE TAMARIND SEED

THE TAMARIND SEED  (1974)

1 2While in Bangkok recently, I once hopped over to the enormous Saphan Khao Fruit Market, mainly to take some photographs of the Dragon Fruit (Gao Mung Gorn) and other exotic and unfamiliar fruits you will come across in Bangkok. Now Saphan Khao Market is a fruit lovers’ paradise where most fruit-lovers can come across their requirements. Having feasted on a delicious breakfast with cheeses, cold meats, small bowl of salads and an assortment of wheat breads, and a hassle-free taxi ride from our hotel in the infamous morning traffic of Bangkok, we were not in a hurry to leave this market.   Amongst the huge crowd of customers on that day was a group of tourists from Singapore tasting and buying a fruit called “Makham wan” (Scientific name: Tamarindus indica), a sweeter variety of tamarind available in Thailand which is generally eaten fresh after peeling, while it can also be boiled in water to make a refreshing fruit drink. Native to tropical Africa and widely grown in India, the long, bean-like pods containing sweet and sour pulp of the tamarind fruit and shiny Spanish mahogany-coloured seeds is not alien to us as it forms part of the culinary usage in this part of the world just as in Latin American countries. 3 Next to the Singaporeans savouring the tamarind fruit (Puli, in Malayalam), I could see a tall plastic container with holes around its lower rim, positioned by the drainage to the side of the stall, where customers could discard the tamarind seeds and pod shells and its strings. Those holes acted as lower outlets for the dirty water to flow out when the water tap above the container is occasionally opened to cleanse the contents in it. Considering the numerous nutritional and health benefits of these seeds and pods, they were eventually collected and transported elsewhere for processing. The seeds are also a popular snack amongst the rural population as an emergency appetizer. Due to its medicinal qualities, they are roasted, soaked and eaten whole to expel intestinal parasites or added with other ingredients to make substitute for coffee. I was told that the extract of the seeds is also used in eye drops for dry eyes while these seeds are also powdered and used as starch in the textile industry. 4 At that moment, I was reminded of a curious legend told in the 1974 Blake Edwards’ film “The Tamarind Seed” in which the seeds play a pivotal role in the culmination of the love affair between the characters played by Julie Andrews and Omar “Cairo Fred” Sharif. As the legend of The Tamarind Seed goes: “A slave on Hayward’s plantation, St. Peter, accused of stealing a sheep, was hanged from a Tamarind tree. He protested his innocence, saying that the tree would vindicate him. Since then the Tamarind tree has born a seed in the shape of a man’s head.” 5 Although we longed to see that film once again, our copy was in our library in India. I stored the thought away for fulfilment at a later date. That later date turned up only after I learned of the sad demise of its male star in the central role. 6 Blake Edwards (born William Blake Crump), as we know was originally a writer and actor before he turned director of movies under the titles: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961); Days of Wine and Roses (1962); What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966); 10 (1979), S.O.B. (1981); Victor Victoria (1982); The Pink Panther series; etc. 7 8He is also the director of Darling Lili and The Tamarind Seed, which was the second of seven films made with Julie Andrews (born Julia Elizabeth Wells) by Blake Edwards since his marriage to her in November, 1969.   The first film, Darling Lili (1970) featured Andrews as a World War I spy against the English posing as a London music hall performer who turns a dance performance into a striptease. The film failed to generate audience interest at its release but the role of Lili Smith transformed Julie Andrews as sexy from the sweetened screen image she earned from the title role (her film debut) in Mary Poppins (1964, D: Robert Stevenson). 9 The second film, The Tamarind Seed was based on the 1971 book by Evelyn Anthony, faithfully adopted for the screen by Blake Edwards, effecting modifications on the geographical details of the romantic storyline from Washington, D.C/New York to Paris/London and supplementing with scenes such as the action sequence at the London Heathrow Airport. The Tamarind Seed featured a contemporary love story with spy elements of the Cold War. 10 Now in this review of The Tamarind Seed, we are talking here about a time when KGB, Lubyanka prison, Iron Curtain were constant reminders of dread. The attractive British widow of the movie, Judith Farrow (Julie Andrews) whose husband had died in a car crash, is on holiday in Barbados to find herself after failure of a six-month affair with a married British group-Captain Richard Paterson. 11 The small hilly island of Barbados, shaped like a loin pork chop, with its large sugar cane plantations, elegant resorts, hotels, many miles of silky white beaches, and, of course, sun, has been the most favoured travel destination for sun-seekers for several centuries. Here, by sheer coincidence, Judith is strangely drawn to a tall, dark, ‘very kind, knowledgeable and generous man” called Feodor Sverdlov (Omar Sharif) staying in a neighbouring villa, here on vacation “to get away from people”. 12 No sooner their friendship became known in official channels, their activities were closely monitored. What on earth is she doing with a Russian spy? From Judith, Feodor learned that she is a personal assistant to a man called Sam Neilson of the Home Office in London. Feodor let her know that he is employed as a military attaché at the Soviet embassy in Paris. During the time they have been seeing each other, they had developed simple, satisfying routines: two dinners, an early morning swim, a dinner at the Colony Club and sparkling conversations. While on a visit to the Bridgetown museum, they came across “The Legend of the Tamarind Seed” and a seed in the shape of a man’s head. Impressed by the legend, she wished she would find such a tamarind seed. 13 Ever since they met, Feodor had been full of life, energy, and mischief and let her know of his desire for her. Although she found him affectionate and harmless, she was always thinking defensively. All the same, she told him about her failed affair with Captain Paterson, a mistake she admitted to Feodor later. Feodor too was not far behind in telling her about his unhappy marriage to a woman back home, who is a very good judge of everything and knows exactly what is right and what is not right. He didn’t find it a great mistake in letting her know that he did not feel anything for the socialist revolution anymore. The following day, as Judith wanted, they went looking for the tamarind tree at Hayward’s plantation. 14 Later, en route to London, Judith’s flight was over the Atlantic Ocean when she found a tamarind seed, in the shape of a human head, in an envelope given to her by Feodor when he bid goodbye at the hotel. She was happy so now had her tamarind seed. 15 In Paris, Judith was interrogated by Jack Loder (Anthony Quayle), the British Intelligence officer located at the Paris embassy, which Judith found irritating, but felt helpless. 16 Her friendship with Feodor has put her in a cloud of suspicion and she is considered a security risk. Questions were raised at her. Was their meeting really accidental? Why did this man choose Judith out of the whole island? Was Feodor trying to recruit Judith as spy? The way Judith was, she would be a brilliant gift to them. Anyhow, Loder would take the issue in stride and directed her to inform him of any specific developments. Jack Loder had other worries, too. He worked in a world of political loyalty, betrayal, murder and professionalism. He had discovered that an unknown Soviet spy under the code name “Blue” existed within the British government. 17 Arriving back in his Paris office, Feodor spoke of his friendship at Barbados with his Russian boss, General Golitsyn (Oscar Homolka). The General, who listened with perceptible interest, was led to believe that the woman in question has a very confidential job at the Home Office in London and could be very useful. Feodor also suggested that he could recruit Judith. In fact, Feodor secretly believed that this ploy would enable him to meet Judith again, the inspiration and object of his love, and he can continue with the affair blossomed at Barbados. 18 In time Judith met up with Feodor for a dinner and let him know about Loder’s interrogation. Feodor advised her to “try to tell the truth as long as possible, that way when time has changed and you have to lie, there is a great chance that you will be believed.” Although in the beginning Judith was wary of starting a new relationship, things are different now. Later, based on warning from Judith, Feodor decided against returning to Russia but elected to seek political asylum in Canada with the help of Captain Paterson and Jack Loder. Feodor will not go empty handed to Canada. In exchange to set up home there with the usual guarantees, Feodor will be a very worthy acquisition to Britain. His offer to the British would be magnificent: the identity of the unknown British traitor “Blue”. For that prize, he knew Loder would plan everything for Feodor down to a “T”. 19 Subsequently, Feodor stole an ultra-secret file from the Soviet embassy for the British intelligence – an action which would set off the bulls and bears of the good old days of the Cold War lashing out dangerous repercussions in the lives of Judith and Feodor. 20 As the character of actor Donald Sutherland spoke in the 2003 version of the movie, The Italian Job: ‘There are two kinds of thieves in this world: the ones who steal to enrich their lives, and the ones who steal to define their lives.’ Well, Feodor’s reason is obvious. 21 Produced by Ken Wales with music by John Barry, the American-Britsh romantic drama, rated PG, has an impressive line-up of crew: Ernest Walter (Editor – The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)); Harry Pottle (Art Direction – You Only Live Twice (1967)); Maurice Binder (Main title designer – earlier James Bond movies); John Briggs (wardrobe supervisor – Isadora (1968)) and Academy Award-winning cameraman Freddie Young (Doctor Zhivago/Lawrence of Arabia). Young had worked in Barbados earlier for the 1957 film Island in the Sun (Dir: Robert Rossen) 22 British-born Julie Andrews in the role of the British Home Office functionary has the role tailor-cut for her. Julie is always worth looking although in this movie she does not wholly delve beneath the surface of her character. Julie Andrews’ clothes in this film are by Christian Dior and co-ordinated by Emma Porteus. 23 With his dark Egyptian features and smouldering eyes, Omar Sharif (born Michel Demetri Shalhoub) as the Russian spy lover displays a masterly flair in liveliness and chivalry, and, of course, very persisting with his wanting for Judith ever since he met her. Sharif was a very popular heart-throb during this period with a string of romances and a steady row of films prior to The Tamarind Seed: The Last Valley (Dir: James Clavell), The Horsemen (Dir: John Frankenheimer) and The Burglers  (Le casse, Dir: Henri Verneuil). 24 In 1973 when he appeared as Le capitaine Nemo in six episodes of the TV-Mini-Series L’île mystérieuse, he had purchased a huge mansion on the Spanish island of Lanzarote (in the Canary islands off the coast of West Africa), calling it Casa Omar Sharif. In May, 1973, The Tamarind Seed started initial filming at locations at Barbados’ west and east coasts before the unit shifted to London for further filming. Meanwhile, in early June, Omar Sharif won The Ladbroke World Master Bridge Championship, when he beat the former champion Latvia-born Boris Schapiro in London. 25 Under Blake Edward’s intelligent and sophisticated direction, the film also features an impressive line-up of supporting cast: Anthony Quayle; Oscar Homolka (Final film); Irish actor Daniel O’Herlihy (Fergus Stephenson, the British minister in Paris); David Baron (Richard Paterson); Celia Bannerman (Rachel Paterson); Bryan Marshall (George MacLeod); live up to the roles of their characters. Also in the supporting role is English actress Sylvia Syms (Sylvia May Laura Syms OBE) as the unhappy diplomatic wife Margaret Stephenson with desire for unholy carnal pleasures and an energizing passion for dominance. Syms, who would act as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in The Queen (2006, Dir: Stephen Frears), earned a BAFTA nomination for The Tamarind Seed. 26 Other members of cast: Roger Dann (Colonel Moreau); Sharon Duce (Sandy Mitchell); George Mikell (Major Stukalov); Kate O’Mara (Anna Skriabina); Constantin de Goguel (Dimitri Memenov); Alexei Jawdokimov (Igor Kalinin); Janet Henfrey (Embassy Section Head); John Sullivan (1st KGB Agent); Terence Plummer (2nd KGB Agent); Leslie Crawford (3rd KGB Agent). The film is also known under the titles: La semilla del tamarindo (Spain); Il seme del tamarindo (Italy); A Semente de Tamarindo (Portugal); Die Frucht des Tropenbaumes (West Germany); Sementes de Tamarindo (Brazil). The Soundtracks are: a) “Play It Again” sung by Wilma Reading (uncredited) – Music (John Barry), Lyrics (Don Black) and b) “Man with a Monkey” Music (Sam Fonteyn). 27 The Tamarind Seed was filmed through facilities of Samuelson Film Service Ltd, London. Besides locations at Eaton Square, Belgravia, I remember having read somewhere that more location shooting was facilitated at the London Zoo, at scriptwriter George Axelrod’s house in Mayfair district and at a Jazz Club. In Paris apart from Champs-Élysées, and other streets, locations included France-Amériques, Orly Airport, etc. 28 The film never fully explores the attractions of Barbados which retains its Old World charm which is British. On a historical note, this is the place where George Washington brought his brother, Lawrence, in 1751 to recuperate from tuberculosis (now known as the George Washington House) – the only land outside North America Washington ever set foot. Apart from the scenic beauty of the sandy beaches and the horizon, people lazing under coconut palms, parts of cultivated countryside, and interior of the museum, hotels, etc, the heritage monuments and picturesque sights of the island are not shown – such as the bronze statue of Admiral Lord Nelson (erected on 22 March 1813) at Trafalgar Square (renamed National Heroes Square) in the picturesque capital city of Bridgetown, which is older than the Lord’s statue in London. 29 With a good script, charming performances, haunting score, this is a lovely movie for those who love ingenious espionage thrillers and mature romance – a mellow way to end the day. Jo. 30 Notes: 1.. The DVDs of the movies referred in this article are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

2.. This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of this movie. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details. 31

3.. The book Judith is reading when she first met Feodor is a hardback edition of Kingsley Amis novel The Riverside Villas Murder, published in 1973 (read elsewhere that this dust jacket was designed by illustrator and children’s author Ian Beck.)

4.. Darling Lili gathered Academy Award nominations for Best Original or Adaptation Score and Best Original Song (Whistling Away the Dark – sung by Julie Andrews) for Henry Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics); and for Best Costume Design for Jack Bear and Donald Brooks.

5.. Evelyn Bridget Patricia Ward-Thomas (pseudonym: Evelyn Anthony, Anthony Evelyn, Eve Stephens) born on July 3, 1928, and convent educated, wrote ten successful romance/historical novels before turning to genres: Mystery/Crime/Suspense. She lives in Essex, England.

6.. Those of you who liked the novel “The Tamarind Seed” may like to check Evelyn Anthony’s “The Defector” for their similarities. Further books by Evelyn Anthony currently in Manningtree Archive:  32 33 34 35 7.. Sharif divorce his wife, Egyptian film and television actress and producer Faten Hamama in 1974, the year this movie was released (Faten Hamama died on January 17, 2015 at the same age Omar Sharif will join his former wife at the grave in less than six months later.)

8.. Julie Andrews is the second Julie to become Sharif’s heroine following Julie Christie of Doctor Zhivago. Julie Newmar was his co-star in Mackenna’s Gold.

9.. The movie’s links to month of July: Author Evelyn Anthony was born on July 3 (1928); Director Blake Edwards born on July 26 (1922); Omar Sharif died on July 10 (2015).

10.. This article is in memory of Omar Sharif – May his soul rest in peace. 36

(© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

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Songkran: The Spirit of the Moment

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Thailand is in a festival cheer. Though rain was expected for sometime, as for now, the skies are clear above Bangkok. For the past few days, people were flocking to Don Mueang airport and to bus/metro terminal stations to head for their home provinces to celebrate the annual Songkran (The Water Festival) holidays.

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I heard that under the “Leave your homes in police care” programme, many houses in Bangkok have reportedly registered with the police for protection while the tenants are away on holidays. Owing to the heavy traffic on major routes out of Bangkok, the road safety campaigns for the “seven days of danger” are popularised.

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To prevent and reduce road accidents from drink driving, the provincial health officials nationwide are strictly enforcing an alcohol ban in designated areas during the 7-day period of the water festive season of Songkran which runs until Thursday.

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Believed to have been derived from the Sankranti Hindu festival, the uniquely beautiful tradition of Songkran (from the Sanskrit word samkrānti) marks the Thai New Year’s Day.

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Celebrated throughout the country, the occasion is a time for family re-unions and of bonding between family members, friends, etc.

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It is an occasion to show reverence and appreciation to one’s parents and seek blessings from the elders. Young people pour fragrant water into the elders’ palms in a gesture of humility to ask for their blessings.

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Traditionally, this is called the ‘Rod Nam Dum Hua’ ceremony which is performed on the first day of Songkran. Indeed, April 13th officially set as the day of Songkran also marks the National Elderly Day.

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The Songkran holidays signify the heritage and tradition of the people of Thailand. It marks the occasion for temple visits and annual house cleaning.

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Apart from the ritual of pouring water on sacred Buddha statues and making food offerings at temples, some enterprising Shopping Malls have also set up conveniences for the bathing of Buddha statues which includes five bowls containing different coloured (representing prosperity in a variety of forms) floating flowers for visitors to pour over the sacred statues.

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Our arrival here in Bangkok, the City of Angels, on April 4th was timed to coincide with the busy days of the special exhibitions, shopping promotions, entertaining activities including carnival games, craft and cooking demonstrations, traditional performances, etc, whilst Bangkok geared up for the start of Songkran.

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By April 12th, many fairs in Bangkok were offering a variety of attractions for the visitors. There is a fair where one can pay respect to the Buddha tooth relic from Tibet while another offered the opportunity to see a replica of Phra Narai Balaji or Lord Venkateswara from India. Then there are activities such as pail-kicking competitions for elderly people or facilities for children to build traditional Sand Piles (sand chedis), in addition to parades, beauty pageants, decorated floats, oyster shelling competitions and general merriment. Children can take enjoyment in splashing water at painted jumbos housed at the Elephant Camp in Ayutthaya.

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Water has a special meaning in Asia. It represents life, prosperity and, of course, a new beginning. It also symbolizes joy, tranquillity and coolness to hot summer days.

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During this festival, groups of farangs (expatriates) and local people armed with water-guns and buckets splash/hurl water at pedestrians and onto moving traffic as a ‘gesture to give and request a blessing”. The water splashing fun also symbolizes the washing off all misfortunes of the past year and welcoming the New Year.

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Many shops displayed water-guns of different colours and sizes to choose from. There are also places where barrels of water are sold or else, you can refill your water-gun from bottled undrinkable water on sale. Some shops sell beige coloured powder (Din sor pong) which is mixed with little water to smear on the faces and bodies.

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Also on sale are waterproof Songkran pouches to protect the cellphone, etc from the hurling water. It’s all part of the festival fun. When the water hits you – do it the Thai way. Don’t miss out on the fun. Just smile and move on, probably into the sunlight to dry off.

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A sure bet to get water-soaked in Bangkok is to be at the front courtyard of CentralWorld where a three-day event is held which includes a foam party.

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Apart from popular Songkran venues at the Ratchaprasong area, Silom Road, the biggest and wildest celebration was at Khao San Road, Bangkok’s backpacker quarters.

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Everywhere you are often greeted cheerfully with “sawatdi pi mai” (Happy New Year) as they try to drench you with water.

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According to TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand), the occasion is fun time and attracts foreign tourists to the Kingdom. It’s the only time of the year one can bathe Buddha statues for blessings, enjoy a variety of themed activities and hurl water at one another!

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The water-guns were out on the streets by the afternoon of April 12th. We took the first hit from some children near our hotel while returning after a delicious lunch at the “Lord Jim’s” Restaurant of Bangkok’s legendary Mandarin Oriental Bangkok Hotel, cooked under the supervision of one of the top Executive Chefs of Bangkok, Chef Stefan Trepp. More about this in another write-up.

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Today April 13th, following the Palm Sunday Mass at the Assumption Cathedral we had taken an extensive drive through the water-splashing streets of Bangkok. At the wheel of the car was Mr. Vichai, a former employee of Saudi Aramco and later of Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, whose ardent fervour to receive maximum water-hits on his four-wheel drive perfectly matched the exhilarating enthusiasm of the young and old Songkran revellers engaged in the celebrations on the streets.

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I saw cheerful people everywhere – unified, smiling and cheerful. Some of them were dressed up in traditional costumes (Chud-Thai).

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The unity and the strong national spirit of the Thais will remain the underlining strength of this country – a need to be preserved. Earlier in the evening of this New Year’s day, just before we reached our hotel, it had rained. It is said that a light, lovely rain is always a blessing and a good sign of prosperity.

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To some, Thailand might just be a popular tourist destination. But to me, this country remains endearing not only for its charm and history but also for the many wonderful friends and memories I have gained since I first started visiting Thailand regularly (twice this year and counting) since 2002.

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At this late hour when I write this in the Suite in our hotel, I could hear the muffled sounds of merriment from the streets down below. Songkran is a time for togetherness, for love, for food, for fun, for exchanging-gifts, and for long holidays – and at the heart of this festival lie the important values of Thai Society. Sawasdee, Jo

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(© All photos except those credited to TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand): Carina-Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

Following two pictures – Courtesy: Bank Ake, Bangkok

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An Affordable Gift …..

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Every girl deserves flowers. The first time I gave a flower to a sweet girl was at the age of 11. I was in the middle of school vacation and we were staying at my mother’s parental house in Fort Cochin. This Anglo-Indian girl, almost my age, is the sister of one of my friends.

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She had shown great interest in me over the last one month when I saw her inadvertently at my friend’s house or when we hung out at the beach, though I didn’t have the nerve to utter a word other than smile back at her. I had spent hours imagining intimate conversations with her but when it actually happened, it was she who took the bull by the horn and spelled out that she liked me. El amor!!

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A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul. It brought me a touch of self-confidence charged with energy, enthusiasm – and more sensitivity. It also made me want to show her that she’s not just someone inconspicuous. Giving heeds to the whispers of my heart, I decided to give her a “special something”. But what could I give? The only thing that my student’s pocket could afford at that age was what the groundnuts (peanuts) seller sold by the beach.

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It was on a Sunday evening when a friend suggested that he could help with the idea of flowers. Though only three years older than me, he appeared ingenious – a bit “learned” in such subjects. By the following Monday afternoon, my Mom was looking for a white rose that had suddenly gone missing from our garden. (If she remembers, that riddle will be cleared to her now with this post. Alright, Mom, my cell phone is switched on)

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It is generally held that a red rose is a symbol of love – but the one available to me at that time was white. Later on I came to know that a white rose is nothing short of remarkable. A single white rose is a hopeful sign and means that the giver’s heart is innocent and hasn’t yet known love. That has to be true!

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Well, the girl was over the moon when she received that “Oh, It’s-soooo-lovely” flower. It opened several buds of flowers of happiness in me, too. Then again, that teeny adoration fizzled out over time as we both moved on with our studies and lives. Even so, that white rose planted in me the first seeds of the significance of flowers.

Flowers will die, but the fragrance and memories they sometimes leave behind has a lasting quality. Jo

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Pictures (from top)

1.. “Special Thanks” of Manningtree Archive to the “models” of our main title picture.

2.. On the premises of St Mary Abbots Parish Church, London

3.. At Blumenmarkt (Flower Market), Remigiusplatz, Bonn, Germany

4.. At Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand

5 & 6.. Floral display at Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok

7.. “Ring a Ring a Roses” by Myles Birket Foster (1825–1899) – Source: Bonhams / commons.wikimedia.org

8.. On Calle Floridablanca in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, near Madrid, Spain

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 (© Manningtree Archive)

KNOCK ON BANGKOK’S DOOR

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I am in no way interested in immortality,  But only in the taste of tea.”

 – Lú Tung (790-835), Tang Dynasty poet

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(Above: The first tea garden in Ootacamund (Udhagamandalam/Ooty), South India, was planted in 1863)

Everybody knows something about Tea. With its distinct flavour and aroma, it is arguably world’s best-loved refreshment. Tea had reached the West from China where it was consumed for more than four thousand years. Last December, just in time when the old year was wrapping up and launching into the Year of the Horse, dressed in the best British heritage and its colonial history, the fragrant cup of green gold finally came knocking on the door of Bangkok.

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Harrods, the globally renowned British Department Store synonymous with quality, luxury and an array of merchandise and with a history that spans over 160 years, has opened their first “Harrods Tea Room” in Bangkok where the equilibrium of “coffee culture” is rapidly tilting to “tea culture” – an aspiring lifestyle.

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A Thai newspaper recently wrote: “Coffee is Out; Tea is In” – a trend that is also catching up in large cities here in India where tea shops are common features in villages. As Carina, who favours coffee, recently quipped, “The moment ‘you’ shifted from Coffee to Tea back in 2008, I knew this is bound to happen!

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Reportedly a project between Harrods and the CEO of LME Co., Ltd (distributor of ready-to-wear fashion brands) in partnership with Thai-MC (Mitsubishi Corporation Japan), Harrods Tea Room is located at Siam Paragon, a trendy luxury shopping mall in the centre of Bangkok.

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There, in Harrods traditional ambiance, we can enjoy not only tea, clipped from plantations in Sri Lanka (earlier Ceylon), India and Kenya (all former British colonies), but a variety of British delicacies.

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Harrods is no stranger to trade in tea. Indeed, the humble beginnings of Harrods is linked to tea since Charles Henry Harrod (1799–1885) moved to Knightsbridge, London in 1849 as a small tea merchant– at a time when tea could be afforded only by the wealthy due to its high price.

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Being one of the English tea traders was advantageous since they had unrivalled access to tea from India and Ceylon due to the involvement of the British East India Company. Tea was also sold as medicine to cure cold, fever, giddiness, headache, stomach-ache, pain in the joints, cleansing the kidneys, for clear eye-sight, to strengthen the memory, to prevent sleepiness, etc.

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Harrods Tea Room has a rather conspicuous statement of no pretences to anything but luxury. You could feel a palpable air of optimism as you walk into it. In addition to the tables set outdoors, the main split-level dining area of about 280 Square metres offers a seating capacity of approximately 80 plus guests.

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Brightly lit, the whole area has the colour-scheme of Harrods green and cream. Clean and convivial, the high ceiling, marble floor, ceiling-to-floor windows, furniture and interior decor characterise a classical British elegant theme, even though some extra unique elements have been added to bring newness.

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Each dining table is set in definite Harrods style with their insignia inscribed on the tableware.

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All of these are calibrated to inspire an authentic Harrods look and feel that would ensure that the clients feel they are at Harrods Knightsbridge Store in London.

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In spite of the present political adversity, Thailand has retained its position as a giant amongst tourist destinations where echo-tourism is encouraged in the right manner. Getting into figures, the revenue from tourist visitation adds up to more than 10 percent of its gross domestic product.

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Located at the centre of Asia, the first European presence in Ayutthaya/Siam came with the arrival of Portuguese in 1511, followed by the Dutch (1605), the British (1612), the Danes (1621) and the French (1662).

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18To this day, Thailand remains a place so welcoming to outsiders. As fond as we are of this lovely country, there are many in romance with Thailand’s culture, traditions, warm weather, interesting sights and places, towns and villages, flora and fauna, stunning beaches and islands, affordable cost of living, business opportunities, good eateries, dynamic nightlife, and most importantly, the pace of life and charm of the people, which entice many to seek a fresh start there.

The Tea Room emphasises the four core elements in equal balance: the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the total ambience.

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The few times we had been to this Harrods Tea Room, we had enjoyed delicious dishes (Harrods Heritage hand-wrapped Beef Wellington, Roast Beef with Yorkshire pudding, etc.) personally prepared and impressively set up for both visual and consumption perspectives by Chef Nicolas Bourel. People eat with their eyes first. Bon appetit.

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21Good cooking starts with the best ingredients. When the heat is on in Harrods’ new kitchen, a succession of British gourmet favourites like Bangers and Mash, Blue Water River Prawn Thermidor, Homemade Shepherd’s Pie, Truffle-poached eggs Benedict with Scottish Smoked Salmon, Fish & Chips (reputed to be the traditional meal of England and the first English take-home dish), Spicy Crab Cakes, Salads, etc., and for the Continental spin, Quiche Lorraine, pasta and risotto, are cooked.

Besides the choice of wine and traditional appetizers, the bold and beautiful Menu offers an extensive range of food which also forms part of their Take-away service.

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The quintessential British Afternoon Tea, a staple in British culture, is regarded as a Pick-me-up. It offers a choice of premium teas from Harrods tea gardens; gourmet coffees with a cloud of milk and chic café sweets and pastries.  We were served special treats of freshly cut finger sandwiches, home-Baked English scones and fine tea pastries.

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Open for all-day dining on every day, swift, efficient and genuinely friendly members of staff greet each customer with much enthusiasm – and most importantly, with smile, the Thai national charm and reality.

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Professionally trained and neatly attired in crisp black and white with ‘Boater’ (hat), they display ‘timeless, sophisticated elegance”, not flamboyance. The energy and grace of these floor attendants is complemented by the optimism and enthusiasm of Ms. Rapeeporn Onsuratoom, the Tea Room Manager.

27aGood staff is the backbone of any successful restaurant and it is amazing what you can achieve if you do not care who gets the credit.

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Closer to the Tea Room is Harrods Boutique displaying a variety of their souvenirs such as bags, cute bears, soft toys, hampers, cookies, chocolates, coffees, teas, etc. Large size dressed teddy bears adorned the Harrods-wing at strategic locations.

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Food is a vast bridge across cultures. Think for a moment about fine dining in Bangkok. It is a world-class city where you can find trendy restaurants with Michelin-starred chefs to street eateries, teeming with diners at any given time of the day.

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According to an expatriate Chef, “Bangkok is now the food centre of Southeast Asia.” Bangkok Thais are aware of their cosmopolitan city’s delightful array of eateries offering culinary options of various countries.

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Speciality restaurants, Coffee houses, Irish pubs, Bistros, Bars abound in the contemporary food culture.

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The globalisation has increased the number of entrants into the domestic market, exerting a strong influence on expectations and options of the customers. They know which eateries hold their faith by keeping the same standards, quality and consistency.

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They are aware of the various global brands, including KFC, McDonald’s, Mister Donut, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Auntie Anne’s, Swensen’s, etc – they are all there and more are entering the increasingly competitive environment of Thai foodie market.

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Like Donq Bakery, the 100-plus year old bakery chain of Japan that opened its first branch in Bangkok at Central World Plaza and the Japanese Restaurant “Tenya” (Tempura Tendon Tenya), more foreign foodservice outlets are establishing their brand-name franchise options.

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No wonder, plans are in progress to open further Harrods outlets there. Complementing these outlets would be Harrods’ Café in Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and “Harrods: The Plantation Rooms” in Ginza Mitsukoshi, Tokyo (Japan).

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The constant queue of clienteles which includes many farangs (Westerners) waiting to savour the Harrods experience affords a clear-eyed perspective about the success of this flagship Tea Room on the Ground Floor (G32) of Siam Paragon.

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It also validates the fact that the City of Angels is an ideal choice for Harrods’ winner business plan to create value and gain competitive advantage in the global market.

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Then again, with all those food lovers coming in, expect the room to erupt into frenzied activity.

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Nothing can substitute experience. When you think of the personalities and principles behind this restaurant, none is short of expectation for a little taste of good living that could possibly become part of all the good times that deserve to be remembered. Enjoy every day.  Jo.

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(© Photos: Carina-Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)

Kerala – Fruits of the Sea

 

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I have good reason to like seafood. From childhood on, a delicacy from the sea would often find its way onto my dining table with occasional reminder from Mom of the true nutritional value of the fish and how it helps to grow strong and wise. I do not dislike other kind of food (except anything that crawls or with feathers) nor do I love all sorts of seafood. Actually, if I wish to be selective, I could do so since my home State of Kerala in the South-western tip of India bounded by the Western Ghats on the east and the Arabian Sea on the west, and a coastal line that stretches more than 360 miles long, has an abundant wealth of seafood.

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Besides the lakes, ponds and paddy fields (where fingerlings are occasionally released), we have 41 west-flowing rivers here in addition to three east-flowing one and a continuous chain of lagoons and backwaters running parallel to the sea-coast. Then there are about 275 varieties of fish in India of which 175 species are reportedly in the coastal and inland waters of Kerala.

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Far into the ancient times, the shores of Kerala saw the arrival of visitors and traders from afar. The sea grew into a decisive factor in the history of Kerala in the wake of the discovery of the monsoon trade wind around the first century A.D when a proper route cutting right across the Arabian Sea was established which enabled the marines to adopt the direct sailing from Aden in Yemen to Muziris in Kerala.

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While a profusion of spices (1) went out in vessels like ‘dhows’; new religions, alien cultures and rulers breezed in. Looking back over the history of this State I note that, the people having come to terms with foreign influence were also remarkably tolerant of other people’s customs and ideas. And all along, this land strived to retain its natural beauty and resources.

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Indian climate may broadly be described as tropical monsoonal climate. The southwest monsoon season of Kerala begins in early June and it coincides with the spawning season of majority of the fishes of the land, particularly shrimp.

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To conserve the marine resources, more specifically, to prevent destruction of fish eggs and young fish from large-scale harvesting by fishing vessels, several studies had recommended that seasonal restriction is essential. Hence, fishing with trawlers or mechanised fishing boats is stopped during the breeding period, an annual feature since 1988 which blanketed 12 nautical miles of the sea from the Kerala coast.

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Even though the ban would contribute to make the price of fish to soar, in an era of depleted oceans and endangered fisheries, the restriction on trawling is an appropriate and a responsible approach, especially when we read this together with reports that under pressure from deforestation, mining and the building of dams of the Western Ghats, an estimated 30 species have been lost over the past 60 years. In view of the welfare of marine resources and the numerous fishermen depending on the connected industry, the Government and state owned enterprises have set up ever-improving activities. Besides, the Church is also playing a good role for the welfare of the fishermen and their families.

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At midnight of June 14 of this year, the annual ban on trawling came into effect which would give a bit of peace to some of those marine species swimming in the vicinity of Kerala. This 47 days break (until July 31) entitles the fishes to breed and groom and have a wonderful peaceful monsoon vacation in cooler waters when the ‘gentler’ Kerala is lashed with heavy rain and isolated thunderstorms.

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As the monsoon drenches the highland, floods the midland and drowns the lowland of Kerala, soaking the thick forests, inundate agricultural fields and luxuriant growth of trees dominated by the coconut groves; the raging sea does its annual business to wreak havoc on the coastal life and encroach onto the sandy soiled shores and grab bits of land from the coastal belt.

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With approximately 5,400 mechanised fishing boats registered in the State (2) now on compulsory holiday, thousands of fishermen, including some of those working in harbours and peeling sheds who lack material and educational advancement, face a period that is unlikely the best days of their lives.

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Although such an annual period is foreseen; some fishermen make use of this period to sort out domestic matters and attend to maintenance of fishing units, while those with dilapidated finances seek temporary jobs elsewhere, all the while, ticking off the days for the ban to end to once again see their silhouettes reflecting off the water, to toil in their boats in the territorial waters – early in the morning, under the scorching sun, sometimes into the middle of the night while their women and children anxiously awaited their return with aches and pain in their heart and mind. Health is a gift those men took for granted – the energy they need for the tasks comes at the right time. It’s a unique personal connection that fishing creates between man and nature.

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For these men, some trips are good, some not. And so, life at the sea is a buzz of many occasions, more smiles, less bitter or vice versa: the thrill of a good catch; the exhilaration when you hit Chakara (3); the extreme oppression of the weather and the strains of the job; the comradeship: its joy and pains; their mastery in the colloquial language laced with Portuguese and Jewish terminologies; their knowledge in the salient features of different kinds of fish and the taste of its roes; the happiness of seeing an occasional rainbow or a comet; of interrupted sleep on board, the constant alertness for warning signals of danger……

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Good timber does not grow in ease –

The stronger the wind, the tougher the trees

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Apart from observing from close quarters in harbours of Cochin, Vizhinjam, and Panaji, as well as from books and visual media, I have never set foot inside a fishing trawler. My cruise on board M/V Bharat Seema to the Lakshadweep Islands (India) and back was an awesome experience, especially to lie on the deck during the night and look up at the intense full moon glaring from the dark sky as the ship rolled from side to side shifting the wide horizon up and down. By far, I have seen the hustle and bustle of many beaches and markets of India including the Lakshadweep Islands, Thailand (Pattaya), Yemen (Hodeidah, Al Mokha and Aden), Italy(Venice), Portugal (Lisbon), Turkey (Istanbul) and few in England.

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The wealth of imagery on some of these beaches is phenomenal. I have savoured the thrill of watching the arrival of fish laden boats to dock; observed the everyday scenes on the beach and the daily lives of the fisher-folks. These are human beings working alongside nature – in harmony with nature.

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Having conversant with many in the field of fishing in Cochin itself, some of the stories they told have captured my imagination. The memories they stored away in their mental scrapbook: some spoke of the rhythms of their daily life as fickle and unpredictable as the sea; of their piscatorial gods of protection; the superstitions and their bravery. Once I heard a fisherman cooking up an anecdote of having seen a ‘stunner’ whale (Thimingalam) as big as the Venduruthy Bridge of Cochin (around 635 mtr); one spoke of an omen of misfortune about the crows while another about good aspects of seagulls believed to contain the souls of dead sailors.

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There are fishermen who would not stop to count the number of fish they caught for fear that they will not catch no more on that day. A naturally right-handed fisherman, considered it unlucky to cast his line with his left hand. But one thing I read in a publication that I didn’t tell them for reasons you could comprehend is, if a fisherman had an (un-staged) quarrel and fight with his wife before going to sea, he can expect a good catch! What an idea!

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In order not to miss the boat when the dark clouds gather under the sun, the seafood export-houses of Kerala do their annual stocking up (especially shrimps, Kerala’s “pink gold” much sought after in U.S.A, Europe and Japan) with the harvest of the sea well in advance to keep up with their regular outflow of exports. However, the dining tables around the State have no reason to panic about the fish factor. To substitute this shortfall due to the ban, Kerala’s good network of backwaters is breeding “nursery” for vast variety of fish, some of which the locals actually prefer more over those caught from the sea.

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Exempt from the blanket coverage of the ban, the artisanal and peasant fishermen on canoes (traditional Vallom), with or without small motor, continue with their fishing activities in these backwaters traditionally rich with fish and clams or even venture out into the generally rough sea during the monsoon months to cast their nets at their own risk – while the trawler workers are saved from dangerous exposure to the rough sea due to the ban. In addition, freshwater fish is sourced from Tamil Nadu and from Aqua farms on the eastern coast of Andhra Pradesh.

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Fresh and dried fish is a regular item on the dining tables in Kerala. With more than 70 edible varieties of sea beauties (4), Oh boy, this is heaven for a connoisseur of fish.

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A preferred variety for many is the Green Chromide (Etroplus suratensis), a species of cichlid fish whose colour is most beautiful during the monsoon (June-September & October-November). A fresh and brackish water fish commonly found in South India and Sri Lanka, it is locally known as Karimeen (Eli-meenu/matak/ersa/erpe/eri menu/kaggalase in Kannada, koral in Bengali, Kundal in Odia), but also bears the name Pearlspot Fish due to the pearl-like white spots on its scales.

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Distributed abundantly in large rivers, lakes, lagoons and estuaries throughout Kerala, especially at Alleppey (Alappuzha), this herbivorous fish has the perfect characteristics for fish-farming/Pisciculture (breeding, rearing, and transplantation of fish by artificial means). Karimeen commonly reaches 20 centimetres (7.9 inches) but the maximum length is twice that, a growth it achieves by feeding on filamentous algae, plant material, small worms/prawns and insects. Breeders are fed with conventional artificial feed prepared with rice bran, groundnut oil cake, etc. Even though fishing methods have continuously evolved and the opportunities for innovation have been especially good in recent decades, gillnets, which impose less impact on the environment, remain more prevalent in the local use to catch Karimeen.

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Available throughout the year, many restaurants in Kerala cater dishes featuring the oval-shaped Karimeen as their star attraction in addition to other authentic dishes that forms part of Kerala cuisine (5).

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One restaurant famous for Kerala cuisine, especially for Karimeen, is the Grand Hotel in Cochin where delicacies of this fish tops their Menu in different flavour and cooking methods (6). While cleaning this fish, after cutting off the gills with kitchen scissors, care has to be taken to not only remove it’s scales but also to remove a film of the skin with a sharp knife which can be done from the tail-end upwards, leaving a gleaming white surface.

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It is served on board traditional tourist boats (Kettuvallams) (7) plying the scenic backwaters (a chain of interconnected rivers, lakes, inlets and canals) since its dishes forms part of an average tourist’s Kerala experience. Even Kerala has elevated Karimeen as the official fish of the State and to boost up its production and facilitate larger exports, observed 2010-11 as “The Year of the Karimeen”.

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The restaurant of Grand Hotel is often filled with tourists resolute with their wish not to leave without savouring the good taste and flavour of this all-time favourite. This is also a preferred haunt of non-resident Keralites, especially those hailing from the Kuttanad region of Alleppey district who reminisce of their childhood at their houses beside palm-fringed rivers and lagoons where their mothers had displayed their culinary skills with this “upper-middle class” fish on their eating plates when it used to cost far less, unlike today when it is still dodging the cooking pots of the common man due to its overpriced cost.

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Tradition and religion have played an important role in Kerala cuisine. Although it has a specialized local character of its own, Portuguese and British rule is evident in the cuisine of minorities like the Christians. In the heart of all this are the spices and every family has their own specialism in its mixture that is passed on from mother to daughter over the years.

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Fish is a creative cook’s dream. Properly prepared, any palate will perk up at the taste of fresh fish. No doubt about it. Most of us have a favourite fish or seafood that is cooked in a certain way. From poaching to steaming to boiling to broiling to smoking to sautéing to grilling to frying, the ways for preparing fish are many.

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With great seafood dishes ranging from appetizers, to soups to salads to pasta to burgers to curry to Sushi, cooking seafood right does require skills – especially when we consider the delicious, nutritious and healthy aspects of the meals.

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Recently I came to know that the great opera tenor (late) Luciano Pavarotti shared a common interest with me. Like me, he loved to cook as well as eat. I learned of it the hard way when I was hitting singles during the last years of my stay in Yemen where fish is abundant but narrow on variety and availability of the right ingredients.

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39Later, the wonderful wealth of cooking techniques so graciously shared to us by some of the brilliant chefs we befriended during our outings enabled me to cook up some impressive dishes whenever I get into the kitchen where life sometimes makes up its mind. But it was Carina who taught me the secret of making a good court-bouillon which I find a fantastic base for lobster. Cooking and enjoying seafood can be quite fun with all the variety and the related ingredients we have here. As long as the fun lasts, we are glad we can make the most of the fish we buy. Until next time. Ciao, Jo

(1)    Spices like pepper (Piper nigrum L/Kurumulaku), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum Maton/Elam), cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum/karuvapatta/Elavangam), ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe/Inchi), nutmeg (Myristica fragrans/Jathikka), clove (Syzygium aromaticum/Grambu/Karayambu), turmeric (Curcuma longa L/Manjal), etc.

(2)    Registered boats: Data according to a local newspaper.

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(3)    Chakara: When the temperature of the atmosphere increase, schools of poovalan shrimps living in the bottom of the sea rise up to the surface to enjoy the fresh water and coldness from the new rain. Another common explanation is that, the easterly approach of the south-west monsoon wind conjure up a current running perpendicular to the ebbs and tides forcing the subsurface water to come up with the fish swimming in the bottom. ‘Chakara’ is a rare phenomenon seen only in the coastal waters of Kerala between Kannur and Quilon during the southwest monsoon period. On June 24, 2013, a ‘Chakara’ of Poovalan Shrimps (Metapenaeus Dobson) appeared off the coast of Cochin. Another ‘Chemmen (Shrimps) Chakara’ occurred at Chavakkad, Trichur five days earlier to that when fleet of shrimps appeared a couple of kilometres off the coast.

(4)    There are crustaceans like shrimps, lobsters, crabs; sharks and rays (Elasmobranchii); King fish/Seer fish/Indo-Pacific king mackerel (Scomberomorus guttatus/naimeen/ayakoora/varimeen), Indian Mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta/ayala), Indian oil Sardine (Sardinella longiceps/mathi/naichaala), Pomfret Silver/Black (Pampus argenteus/niger/aavoli), Striped Mullet (Mugil cephalus/Thirutha), Malabar blood Snapper (Lutjanus malabaricus/chempalli), Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus/tilapia), Tuna (tunnus albacares/euthynnus affinis/choora) and I don’t forget Dussumier’s ponyfish (Leiognathus dussumieri/mullen), et al.

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(5)    For details on Kerala cuisine: http://www.keralatourism.org

(6)     Karimeen Molly, Karimeen Pollichathu, Karimeen Vevichathu, Karimeen Mappas, Karimeen Varutharachathu, Karimeen Fry, etc.

(7)    Kettuvallams were traditionally used as grain barges. The present motorised houseboats are made of planks of jack-wood joined together with coir and coated with a caustic black resin prepared from boiled cashew kernels. It has covered accommodation facility with kitchen, built up using bamboo mats, sticks, wood of areca nut tree and coir for roofing and wooden planks with coir mats for flooring.

(8)    Painting: “The King of Cochin riding on an Elephant, attended by his Nairs” by Portuguese traveller Jan Huygen van Linschote (1562-1611)  – Source: Public Domain image in Wikimedia Commons

(9)    Painting: “Overwinningh van de Stadt Cotchin op de Kust van Mallabaer – Victory over Kochi on the coast of Malabar” by Coenraet Decker (1650 circa-1685)  – Source: Public Domain image in it.wikipedia.org

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This article is dedicated to the memory of my late paternal grandparents, Anna and Joseph, great connoisseurs of seafood.

(Photos: © Manningtree Archive)

Backwater-Campaign-Kerala 1

Backwater-Campaign-Kerala 2

Backwater-Campaign-Kerala 3The three images shown above: Photo courtesy: Kerala Tourism