Manzurul Haque


October 11 2011
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alife in Bungalows

12 Things About Tea Your Local Dim Sum Restaurateur Won't Tell You

Master Leung Ka-Dong has been working at Ying Kee Tea House for almost 40 years.

"What type of tea do you usually order when you eat dim sum?" asks Ying Kee

Tea House <http:///> Master Leung Ka-Dong. "I usually

order white hair peony because my family always orders it," I reply. "Did you

know that almost all restaurants mix their white teas with black to add flavour

and colour?" he says. No, I did not know that. I did not know that it's only in

the recent 50 to 60 years that white, green and pu-erh have become

Hong Kong's most popular teas either. With a richer economy, Hong Kong

people stirred away from simple black teas from India and Sri Lanka and began

to enjoy tea for various health reasons or collect pu-erh tea like wine. Thanks to

Master Leung, who has worked at Ying Kee Tea House since the early 1970s, I

now know a little more about how to appreciate Chinese tea. Here are 12 things

he told me about tea that no restaurateur would have:

1. Never drink tea on an empty stomach

    Always drink tea during or after a meal. Our stomachs are acidic and tea is

     alkalizing. Acid and alkaline combined have a bloating effect.

2. Drink white tea if you are a smoker

    White tea is really good for the lungs and throat, so it is especially beneficial

    for smokers. A cup of white peony tea helps clear all the phlegm in our

    throats and cures coughs.

3. You won't be able to tell the quality of white tea by its colour
    Most restaurants mix white peony tea with black tea to add colour and

    flavour because customers generally prefer tea that tastes richer and looks

    darker in colour. Pure white tea itself has hardly any flavour or colour

    compared to other teas.

4. Only fine dining Chinese restaurants serve screw shaped green tea
    Genuine screw shaped green tea is the highest grade of green tea and the

    most expensive. At Ying Kee Tea House, it sells at HK$5,067 per kilogram

    (HK$380 per 75 gram bag). Produced only in Jiangsu Province Dong Ting

    Mountain , it's also the rarest green tea in China , producing only about

    1,000 kilograms a year. It must be consumed fresh, within a year after

    picking the tea leaves. Screw shaped green tea of higher quality is best

    consumed within six months even. If it is tasteless, solvent or extremely

    bitter, that means it has already gone bad. But while it is certainly expensive,

    screw shaped green tea has a very particular taste that not everyone may

    like. Even when it is fresh, it tastes more bitter than other teas. For all those   

    reasons, screw shaped green tea is only served at fine dining Chinese

    restaurants, usually at hotels.

5. Treat pu-erh tea like a digestible detergent to flush all the grease away
     Always pair oily food with pu-erh tea.  Dim sum, no matter steamed or fried,

     contains lard. When you eat shrimp dumplings, there is always a piece of fatty

     pork in there to add flavour and fragrance. Pu-erh tea helps you rinse all the

     grease from the food out of your system. It aids digestion, blood circulation

     and lowers cholesterol levels. If you don't have detergent at home, boil some

      pu-erh tea and use it to wash your dishes.  It's like a digestible detergent.

6. Sweets go best with green tea
    Sweet food is best paired with tea that is more bitter.  Loong cheng green

    tea helps moderate the sweetness of desserts. Like pu-erh tea, drinking

    green tea helps lower cholesterol levels and break down fat. But while most

    teas are best brewed in boiling hot water, green teas like screw shaped green

    tea and loong cheng only need to be brewed in water that is about 75 to 85

    degrees. If the water is too hot, it will be difficult to maintain the same

    fragrance in the second brew.

7. Teh kuan yin goes best with spicy food
    Spicy foods are best paired with teh kuan yin because it has a bitter sweet

    effect. If you ever visit a Chiu Chow restaurant, they always serve teh kuan

    yin tea with their spicy dishes. Plus, Chiu Chow city borders Shantou city and

    Fujian province, which is known for harvesting teh kuan yin leaves.

8. Fried food goes best with white tea
    Basically, any type of fried or deep fried food goes well with white tea. In

    Chinese medicinal terms, fried food is considered dry hot. White teas like

    white hair peony help release body heat.

9. Smell quality
    Aside from pu-erh tea which is almost odourless, quality tea should always

    give off a fragrant smell. If you can't smell the tea or see that it is very solvent,

    then it has probably expired.

10. You won't be able to find good pu-erh tea at dim sum restaurants
      It is simply not cost-efficient.  Pu-erh tea is like wine. The longer you store

      it, the richer it becomes. Storage for at least three to six years is optimal.

      Regular pu-erh teas served at restaurants have generally been modified

      during the fermentation process to reduce storage time. By doing this, they

      lose whatever fragrance and flavour they originally had. Good pu-erh tea

      should look very smooth and deep red in colour, not black like regular

      pu-erh tea. You can also test the quality of your pu-erh tea by the stain it

      leaves on your cup after drinking it. If you see a stain surrounding the rim

      of your cup, that means you are drinking regular or low quality pu-erh tea.

      If your cup is left with no stain after consumption, you are drinking pu-erh

      tea of high quality.

11. Teh kuan yin, daffodil and oolong are all the same at dim sum restaurants
       No matter which of the three you order, dim sum restaurants will serve

        you low grade daffodil tea. All three teas come under the same oolong tea

        category, yet they are very different in flavour. Teh kuan yin tastes more

        clear and fragrant. Oolong is stronger and more solvent. And daffodil is the

        purest of them all.

12. The best moments of tea enjoyment are when you have time
      Drinking tea is a matter of mood. And when I talk about mood, it mainly

      has to do with the condition of time. You've probably heard many rules

      about tea, from water temperature to colour. But at the end of the day,

      drinking tea is a very personal experience. Some people like their tea

      boiling hot while others like theirs lukewarm. Some may like theirs stronger

      than others. So it's all about time. We need time to brew that perfect cup

      of tea.


October 11 2011



- Close encounters of the colonial kind

 by  Malavika Karlekar



When the British came to India, working and living in an alien climate meant the need for appropriate spaces. As much of their work involved interacting with ‘natives' in villages and rural areas, life under canvas for weeks on end became the norm for the administrator, judge and itinerant doctor. By the early years of the 19th century, then, the bungalow and the tent became enduring symbols of life in the colonies. According to Anthony D. King, who has researched extensively into the origins of the bungalow, the earliest ‘banggolo' was a peasant's hut in rural Bengal. Based on this prototype, by the last quarter of the 18th century a new form of dwelling with a pyramidal thatched roof and kuccha (usually mud) walls was constructed. Early bungalows had ceiling cloths that "looked just as nice as a whitewashed ceiling" but, wrote Rudyard Kipling in "The recrudescence of Imray", "between the cloth and the dark, three-cornered cavern of the roof" lived "all manner of rats, hats, ants and other things".

As more permanent structures appeared over time, these four-legged creatures had to find other abodes; the verandah was a useful addition to the bungalow, providing a salubrious ambience for the sahib's sundowner and, during the day, a semi-private space where the memsahib conducted business with the darzi (tailor), discussed meals and gave orders to the khansama (cook) and khitmatgar (table bearer) and children played safely out of the glare of the tropical sun. For the district officer, it was often the designated waiting area for those who wanted to meet him during mulakati, public dealing hours. It was also where geckos hunted insects and the odd viper nestled amidst cushions.... Soon, recognizing the usefulness of the bungalow as a largely racially-defined space, dak (post), canal and forest bungalows were built to provide "private cultural territory to the Europeans", says King.

In the closing years of the 19th century, bungalow-living started becoming popular among Indians, and princes, traders and business families, lawyers, doctors and of course civil servants, opted for the more compact structure. Rambling havelis and joint family mansions built around courtyards, terraces, roofs and separate spaces for men and for women increasingly co-existed with the better organized and often smaller bungalow. The gradual use of separate rooms with distinct functions led to what the historian, Christopher Bayly, has called the "colonization of taste"; I would add that the colonized were not only the Indians who opted for bungalow-living but also many colonials who brought with them legacies of different lifestyles. Class differences have strange ways of manifesting themselves and the ideal of the perfect home must have been a huge burden for many an embattled memsahib. There was something devastatingly regimented about the necessity of having a phalanx of menials, of a drawing room rather than a parlour and so on. Trophies of shikar (see photograph) were important ‘props' in the growing theatre of empire, adding to the peculiarly colonial décor of rattan cane furniture, ottomans, pouffs and ubiquitous chintz upholstery.

Memoirs of these times provide many accounts of bungalow-living, some joyous and enthusiastic, others more complaining and dire. Some of these are now available to us in Respected Memsahibs: An Anthology, compiled by Mary Thatcher while she was archivist at the University of Cambridge's Centre for South Asian Studies. Among the more interesting uses of the conventional bungalow was that by Reginald Maxwell, a district officer and amateur lepidopterist. His collection of Indian butterflies and moths - numbering almost 200 examples - was handed over to the British Museum in 1950. When he was the collector of Karwar, then part of the Bombay Presidency and not far from Goa, the couple lived in a wooden bungalow said to have been made out of the wood of a ship wrecked at sea. Apart from the usual bedrooms with dressing rooms, separate sitting and dining rooms, there was a work room where the butterflies and moths were pinned and set; this was in 1913, and as by this time domestic photography had become quite the norm, the room also housed photographic equipment used to visually record specimens. While the front verandah was used for meetings, casual entertaining and as a waiting area, the back verandah was converted into an additional experimental space with thick tumblers with lids and cages in which the larvae lived while feeding.

Bungalows were typically situated within compounds often bounded by brick walls, most with gardens, lawns and a line of servants' quarters housing a variety of minor specialists. This not unsubstantial entourage was presided over by the memsahib. The kitchen ("a constant miracle of production") was often detached from the house, the cooking ‘range' a solid slab of concrete with holes along the top and side where wood if not charcoal was fed. To keep it going was the job of the cook's ‘mate' whose talent lay in maintaining invisibility from the sahib and his family. In fact, he was rarely paid, and it is rumoured that he might instead have paid the cook to act as his apprentice and gain experience for a job in the future.

When J.N. Gupta, a member of the Indian Civil Service, became collector of Rungpore (present-day Rangpur in Bangladesh), he was able to satisfy his passion for roses in his large garden and in winter, the mali never failed to supply the kitchen with green peas, little round red radishes, carrots, lettuce, cauliflowers and cabbages. Many years later, his daughter, Monica, reminisced about a life heavily dependent on the labour of others - apart from the kitchen and table staff, there was the paniwalla (water carrier) who would carry up water for the zinc bathtubs from a well in two empty kerosene tins slung on either ends of a pole, the sweeper who carted night soil in baskets to the latrine far removed from the house, cleaning and returning them to the ‘thunder boxes' and of course, the punkhawalla (fan puller). She wrote of the punkha - a thick frilled white cloth attached to a three-foot-long horizontal wooden rod attached to a thick string that was pulled by the punkhawalla. Very often she would find the hapless man fast asleep "stretched out on his back, the string twisted around his big toe; the motion of pulling... automatic".

Winter was usually the touring season, a time of great excitement for children and of stress for their mothers. Such periods involved weeks of bandobast - planning, organizing and frantic communication with persons in the areas to be visited. Then there were supplies to be arranged, porters hired, animals chosen to carry persons and loads. To say nothing of the fear of illness, insect and snake bites, and the occasional visit by a wild animal. In the pre-automobile days, the adults set out on horse-back, children in doolies (litter) and once a suitable location near the final destination was found, equipment would be unloaded, the animals tethered and tents pitched; this was preferably on the banks of a stream or river or in an open space surrounded by fields of mustard, vegetables and paddy. It was important to look for the shade of a few large trees. Generally the camp consisted of two large double-flap tents in which the family stayed, an open shamiana (marquee) where meals were served and several single-flap tents (choldaris) for the servants, chowkidars (guards) and one for the cookhouse.

Some parts of India made camp life extremely arduous as is clear from the memoirs of Beatrix Scott, whose husband was an Assam civilian. Heavy rain dominated many months and soggy bedding and clothes became an unpleasant fact of life. Mosquitoes, sand flies and blue bottles had a field day and picking leeches off one another was an occupational hazard after a day's trek through the verdant jungle. In other parts of the country, some terrains invited bicycle riding, others dug-outs or even larger boats in which the party glided down rivers. Children roamed the countryside, gathering flowers and fruits, chasing butterflies, the older ones playing cricket or football on uneven fields. And evenings were the time of feasts on local vegetables and murgi (chicken), a chhota (small) peg for the sahib and a visit from the local shikari. As moonbeams skimmed off the river and tales of tiger hunts became more spine-chilling, a spotted owlet called its mate and somewhere a panther coughed. Everything looked perfectly calm, wrote Lyle Maxwell, "and yet one knew one was in some of the biggest jungles that are", where Mowgli and Shere Khan roamed free, if not in reality then certainly in one's imagination. If the colonial encounter was one of interfaces, then few things exemplified it better than bungalow-living and the tour with its life-in-the-raw experiences.

The author is former Director General, National Council for Applied Economic Research