Tea and Pashminas
One of the familiar things about Mumbai was that it was a city and like any other city, there were lots of shops and vendors. Perhaps a little different, the vendors tended to be rather aggressive. It was a strange aggressive. These, primarily men, have a huge smile plastered on their face and in the friendliest of expressions, nearly insisted you hold or just see their products. They hand you something and if you take it, be warned, they wont take it back and will wave off your attempts to put it down. They negotiate with a fierceness that is just absolutely contrary to their super amenable demeanor. It took a bit of getting used to and a bit of “friendly aggression” on our part too. Ultimately, the prices are amazing and considering the take-home salaries I knew most were living on, we didn’t really mind paying the “tourist rate”. That’s not to say we didn’t negotiate! But we didn’t try as hard as perhaps we could have. This point was driven home on the last day of our visit when we visited Elephanta Island. The price of souvenirs there, prior to negotiating, was lower than what we had paid in the city after negotiating! And we rarely paid more than half of the initial quoted price.
There was a causeway which had outdoor stands in the afternoon and evening that was a great place to shop! Lots of jewelry, pashminas, trinkets. So much to see! If only the culture was a little less forward, I would have enjoyed spending a lot more time browsing the goods. There were lots of East Indian / British “antiques” and musical instruments and of course, your bootleg DVDs.
One thing I learned was that 100% pashmina is kind of a trick. Pashmina, is a scarf. So if a scarf is 100% pashmina, it could be made of anything! What really separates scarves is those made with cashmere. Cashmere wool (which is technically a hair and not a wool) comes from cashmere goats which were historically from the colder climate near the country of Kashmir, north of India. Now-a-days, a lot of cashmere around the world comes from China. Andrew and I picked up a couple of 100% cashmere pashminas from a local shop recommended by a cousin of our friend. These were so very soft! Because cashmere is so fine a fiber, it is very warm, but also very delicate and the patterns tended to be more in the knit and a single colour. A blended pashmina of cashmere and silk felt a bit sturdier and a nice product as well. We were taught how to differentiate the 100% cashmere from the blended as well. Simply pluck a small amount of material away cleanly. It should pull readily. If you (very carefully) set the fiber on fire, it should first off smell like burnt hair, as well as crush into ash readily when out.
One day early in our adventures, Andrew and I met up with the friends of the groom to check out some sari’s. The final wedding event would be a formal reception and what is more formal than a sari! A cousin of the groom was kind enough to show us the ropes. The sari’s, like the pashmina shops, were just so colourful! It really drove home how much black I have in my own wardrobe! Cubby after cubby of fancier and finer materials, bejeweled and sparkly. Had we a larger budget, we could have spent thousands on a sari! Or, actually, not really. They had a hand sewn, hand-jeweled sari that took six months to make by hand. The price? Around $500. I briefly considered what it would be like to have my time and salary valued so little, then proceeded to distract myself from the inequity by trying on sari’s! With help, of course, as the sari is a whirlwind of a garment to do up! (Yes, you’ll have to wait till I tell you about the reception to see the sari I picked out!) Of course, one of my favorite parts of sari shopping was getting to know the friends of the groom and the groom’s cousin. They were very fascinating people with very diverse backgrounds.
Now, you might be thinking after all this shopping, girl needs a drink! Of course, it was very common to find men with a heated pot of tea wandering around populated areas. Men squatting on corners with a stack of cups and a kettle. Chai or masala tea-salesmen really understood the beverage market way better than Starbucks. Talk about a shop on every corner! While shopping for pashmina’s and sari’s, the storeman bought a round of teas for Andrew and our friends. Passing through the Gateway of India I felt a bit parched, and picked up a little cuppa for 10 rupees, fifteen cents! You were never far from a cup of tea, this I could get used to.
Of course, the tea only held us over until we could get our hands on some yummy Indian food. I don’t eat Indian food often enough, but I do enjoy it immensely. My favorite dish is saag. Sometimes called sagwala, it is a spinach/greens dish. So yum! We found a place up the street that was wonderful! So many wonderful spices and dishes. Andrew couldn’t get enough of the Tikka Masala! Somehow the spices they used in Mumbai were just so much more alive than those utilized in the same dishes found in New Zealand or the US. We tried so many wonderful foods. curries and lentil dishes but sadly, I’m terrible with the names of most Indian dishes. So much was so new and I didn’t get to record everything! We did find it strange that the Indian’s loved Chinese food! Most menus were a combination of some Indian dishes, Chinese dishes and a Western dish or two. This turned out to be a good thing, as my stomach didn’t appreciate the strong spices and oils of the local dishes, so I ate my fair share of wonton soup sadly. If I were a billionaire, I would absolutely invest in a medicine that would permit me to eat abroad without worry. Maybe something that could coat the stomach for a week, or something that you can consume with food that will sanitize everything? My newly fickle stomach didn’t stop me from trying things most of the time, but a break was needed on occasion.
There was a restaurant that was called Leopold’s Cafe that was a popular spot after being written about in the book Shantaram. It’s on my Nook, but I haven’t read it yet. We went one evening and were delighted to find the upstairs was air conditioned. We found the upstairs a dark and a bit sketch, which we later found out was an accurate assessment as the upstairs was known for some dark dealings. We stopped at a pastry shop one morning about nine AM only to find they were just setting up for the day. India wakes up late! Despite the heat of the day, the work day doesn’t start til 10 or 11 AM, finishing later about 6 or 7PM. Most shops were open late hours as well. The jet lag meant we were early birds, so that wasn’t ideal. We did get into a bit of the habit just before we left of course!
Needless to say, I’m looking forward to trying my hand at some of these Indian dishes! I’m not as optimistic about finding a comparable tea, so I’ll have to stick with a visit to the local Indian grocer and see what I can come up with!