Christmas is almost here…
And while in other parts of the world, people are scurrying around in their wind swept cold cheeks and heavy coats, rushing into the warmth of the malls to pick out last-minute gifts for their loved ones, sending and receiving invites to marshmallow nights and Christmas dinner reunions by the log fire, here in Mumbai, things are a little bit different… 😉
Singlet, shorts and flip-flops firmly in place, Mumbai-ites are strolling around the busy Christmas-ready lanes of Bandra and Malad, picking up bright green mistletoes, snow-white star lanterns and festive red everything – from the usual Santa hats and stockings, to blingy finger rings and even furry bedroom slippers! So what if we don’t have snow, or cold winds or even sub-15 degrees temperatures for Christmas here? At least we can create the right festive atmosphere with a little bit of imagination, right?
For a city that needs no reason to party, there is an abundance of black-jacket corporate dinners, glitzy celeb hob-nobbing galas, wine-and-plum cake choir get-togethers, high-octave karaoke bashes and homely ‘Secret Santa’ dos. But this time around, there are a few new ways in which the city is ringing in Christmas, drawing inspiration from some of the coldest countries who have some of the warmest Christmas celebrations…
Before I tell you about the first unique celebration, here’s a short story…
Once upon a time, in a very cold land far, far away, there lived farmers with large tracts of green hillside pastures and many scores of cows and sheep. They were hard-working farmers, working in a rugged territory, climbing steep hills, crossing cold streams and rounding up some very stubborn cattle in biting winds and fading light. These farmers would take breaks from their hard work to sit by campfires and melt some of the cheese that they carried with them from home. This was a flavourful cheese made from fresh cow’s milk, easy to carry and just right for melting into a glob on a pipe or pan on a small fire, to be scraped off and plonked on bits of bread, providing the much needed nutrition and warmth to these sons of the soil. The farmers and the cattle went on to live happily, for the rest of their lives, perhaps because of this cheese? 😉
This was the Raclette cheese, a semi-hard traditional Swiss cheese that is till today consumed with gusto in Switzerland as also different parts of the world. And the process of melting the cheese near a fire gave rise to not just a dish of melted cheese, but also a table-top electric open grill by the same name! The Raclette Grill is something of a symbol of togetherness. Because the Swiss concept of grilling cheese and various kinds of vegies, meats, fish etc. on this grill, much like the more popular Japanese Teppanyaki, lends itself to some great moments of family fun, while cooking your own food at the table. And that is why this is such a common and celebrated Christmas tradition amongst the Swiss.
At the Christmas brunch held at the cute and colourful Palate Culinary Studio run by petite Chef Rakhee Vaswani, the group of foodies was no less a family – a family of food lovers, keen to cook up a storm with the versatile Raclette Grills. Bell peppers, spring onions, prawns, chicken skewers, salmon steaks, sausages and mushrooms all landed up on the grills, along with some of the delicious and chunky Raclette cheese, to be smoked, grilled, charred – maybe even burnt! – to your own liking. This GIY (Grill-It-Yourself) experience, as I like to call it, gave us a taste of faraway Switzerland, right here in Mumbai, and also brought us foodies closer together as we discussed marinades, exchanged cooking tips, and exchanged anecdotes on grilling disasters 🙂
As smoky aromas filled the room, the crisp Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc and the light sparkling J C Leroux from South Africa added a sparkle to the proceedings, and the boys from Aspri Spirits never left a glass empty. Sayoni, Saloni, Akansha, Kajal, Pushpa and a handful of us had our plates full of beautifully smoked and grilled food in no time, helped, coaxed and encouraged by an attentive host. And then it was time for a sweet end… a selection of desserts, prepared specially by Rakhee and her team, along with a traditional Rich Plum Cake as return gift to celebrate the festive season. Yummm!
Soon after, another cold country showed us how to celebrate Christmas and the festive season in a unique way. The bubbly and warm Swedish Consul General in Mumbai, Fredrika Ornbrant, threw open the doors to her beautiful house and invited a clutch of close friends, associates and fellow Swedes for a traditional Glogg get-together. Glogg, a Swedish mulled wine sweetened and spiced with cardamom and orange peel, is prepared in large pots and served warm in all Swedish homes in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In a country where the sun only makes cameo appearances around this time, and the temperatures are way below freezing, this is a good way to stay warm, and a great reason to get together and party hard. And party they do, if Swedish House Mafia and Avicii are examples to go by! 😉
This party had more than the delicious Glogg on offer. There were the St. Lucia buns, made with real saffron, and so, beautifully aromatic. Then there was a simple yet gorgeous Cheesecake, a rich and lightly crunchy Chocolate Fudge Cake, and – what became my favourite pastime at the party! – the amazingly tasty and oh-so-light Gingerbread Cookies that everyone just kept nibbling on! It was a spread that would make any sweet lover emotional… sniff!
Bumping into old friends Manisha Talim, Nikhil Merchant and Sameer Malkani, all completely immersed in the festive spirit, made this do even more special. Together, we sipped on the delicious Glogg and traded warm-weather Christmas stories for White Christmas tales with misty-eyed, homesick Swedes. They are a surprisingly warm and spirited lot, these tall, blonde, blue-eyed guys who have made Mumbai their home, and are just about coming to terms with the traffic, the noise and the people that make up this city. And when the conversation invariably turned towards the incredible variety of food that makes this city truly unique, we discovered that the Swedes are as passionate about food as we are! As I pursued Fredrika into her kitchen, nagging her for the Glogg recipe and tasting some of the bubbling red liquid straight out of the aromatic pot, I realised that they are not that different from us after all!
Yes, the festive season has a way of bringing together and levelling off people from not just far-flung hills and seasides, but from very different cultures and experiences, only to drive home the point that we are, after all, just the same… a fragment, a ray, of the same old sun 🙂
So guys, go out there and shine your lights! Merry Christmas! 🎄 🎅 🎉