Jamón Jamón


A more elaborate version (pic source: http://www.toastbev.com)

No, this was not about the Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz starrer at all. Though biting on the leaf thin slices of cured ham did evoke some primal instincts in one. I wanted more of those delectable smoky-salty pieces de la carne.

Miguel obliged. He was a man who knew his jamón ibérico from jamón serrano well.

One of the perks of learning a new language always was meeting new people. Miguel took the job of correcting my beginners Spanish at a Grape Harvest Festival. Red and sweating in February heat, he would patiently wait for me to arrive at a particular verb, conjugate it while staying in the present. When I showed a natural affinity towards Latin American coloquialities more than mainland Spanish, he sighed and went back to stomping on grapes with a vengeance.

The French are famous for being unforgiving when it comes to French. But the Spanish, every single one I had met, were friendly, encouraging dudes. Miguel had even promised to indigenously cook me some food.

So there he was, kind and accepting, messing about in his kitchen. He expertly sautéed some fresh prawns in olive oil and black pepper along with sausages in a separate sartén (frying pan). He was making Tapas – an assortment of appetizers. As we sat down to eat, he spoke about how Spanish families would get together at meal times, and fight for a forkful of ham rather unceremoniously. Imagine doing that under the watchful eyes of our ma-mashi where every member has a murir-bati to themselves. Fights over alu-r chop and beguni seldom end well.

My new friend taught me how to make quick Sangria. To the regular club-goer, a fruity Sangria is as familiar as House music. It is a typical beverage in Spain.  I have included the recipe here (finally, something useful in this blog). Sangria normally has wine, fruit pieces, soda and brandy. I watched pieces of orange bobble in a carafe half full of red wine. In went some Sprite, about the same in measure. He added a quart bottle of brandy, orange juice and sugar. I volunteered to stir the concoction; he gave me a massive ladle to navigate around the floating bits. To finish off, we added cinnamon sticks and bunged it inside the fridge.

Useful tip, make sangria in a glass container as wine acquires the taste of metal or plastic.

I was crestfallen when he said that the punch turns out best if left undisturbed overnight. Fortunately he had prepared a more elaborate version a day in advance.

I watched the seven o’clock Calcutta traffic fly past from the balcony. Sipping cold Sangria. Spanish rock floated about in the air. The rock was different. Or really the same. But the lyrics had started to make sense.

Jamón (pic source: www.hamazing.com) Miguel's quick sangria

Jamón (pic source: http://www.hamazing.com) Miguel’s quick sangria


Wine and Cheese from the heart of Spain

Spanish wine brunch

Viva España mailer. Swissotel cabanas in the background.

February 9th, 2014. Sun kissed the tip of my nose and warmed my glass of wine. I retreated to a more cooler corner of the breezy cabanas. You could watch airplanes all day from this rooftop lounge at Swissôtel Kolkata. I took a sip of the incredible Macabeo Chardonnay (de la casa de Torre Oria). One of the best whites I’ve had, this bright yellow delight had been flown in from Valencian soils rich in limestone.

I always believe that a good wine is similar to a warm hug, only from the inside. A light caress for the taste buds, a gentle nudge for the spirits to sour. To go with the wine, there was of course the specialty, Queso Manchego (Manchego cheese).  Made in the La Mancha region of Spain, it’s a cheese that leaves a piquant aftertaste of sheep’s milk. A delicacy no doubt but I’m a fan.

There at Viva España, a Spanish wine brunch (by Advertising Club Calcutta and the Calcutta Malt and Spirits Club) there was enough fare to take the average Bengali on a Provencal adventure. I decided not to be shy and dug into a generous serving of Paella de Mariscos (Seafood Paella). For those who are wondering what that is, Paella is a traditional Spanish rice dish originated in Valencia. It’s what a robust mother in the east coast serves when the family gets together at the table for lunch. Flavorful, spicy and vigorously continental.  A milder cousin of the Paella would be our Bengali Khichuri, though I wonder if we would ever see land snails, oysters and clams go into the cauldron.

A mellow afternoon well spent.

paella khichuri

Paella de Mariscos and Bengali Khichuri (pic source: Google, http://chilliandmint.com/)

Viva España - Spanish Wine Brunch at Swissotel Kolkata

Viva España – Salad Bar, Torre Oria, Cabanas

Social dancing at Tollygunge club

Friends from Columbia

Social dancing at Tollygunge club

Salsa Under the Stars with Aditya at the Tollygunge Club

Just another day at the Kolkata International Salsa Congress. One is reclining with a splendid bottle of red wine, expecting warm dinner at the table any minute. Temperature steady at 13 degrees, and we are outdoors watching Latin social dancing at the lush lawns of Tollygunge Club. My teacher, Mr. Dibyajyoti Mukhopadhyay (founder of the Indo Hispanic Language Academy) introduced me to a lady eager to meet fellow Columbians in Calcutta. That’s how I met Julia, a sprightly and ever smiling person who loves to have conversations. For some reason she insisted on naming me Diya (Diya, mi querida, como estas tu?). Months away from home, it was good to listen to her gushing in rapid Spanish with Eider and Jose.  They would look at me expectantly in between and unable to come up with anything profound in my baby Spanish, I would stick to Si, Si and Verdad (yes,yes, true). Desperate to make an impression I volunteered an obvious: Hace frio, no? (It’s cold, innit?) To which Jose promptly replied in English: It’s actually kinda warm. 

Julia gave me an earful later for egging her on to dance with Jose. Fellow Spanish language enthusiasts, know that not all Spanish speakers dance.

When Stand-up Comedy met Latin Dancing

Stand up and Dance Show Night at CC&RC club

Eider, Luisa, Alexander and Eva

February 2nd, 2014. As dusk unveiled a curtain of stars, Tiki torches lit up the sprawling lawns of the CC&RC club. Mercury had dropped to a pleasant 14 Degrees. Spotlight followed a young gentleman on stage. Of course he looked familiar. He was Papa CJ, one of the most sought after stand up comedians in the country.

Whether it was the cold or the anticipation, the audience held their breath. We were all there as part of the Kolkata International Salsa Congress. An annual event hosted by Vive la Salsa, Kolkata (Aditya Upadhya & Shaneel Mukerji). We Calcuttans  are thrifty by nature. Always enjoying  joke at other’s expense. But gender, age and nationality were never a bar for Papa CJ . Among peals of laughter, the stage lights dimmed to give way to that bewitching Tango music.

Originally from Columbia, Eider had come for the first time to the City of Joy with Luisa, Alexander and Eva. They are BNF Danza & Entretenimiento (Dance & Entertainment), a very popular company based in Dubai known for their fiery and passionate productions. I had met Eider a few years back in a Salsa festival in Bangalore. He is one of those brooding unassuming type of dancers who set fire on stage the moment music comes on. First time in our city also was Euphoria Dance Company, with Jose, Nerea, Federica and Massimiliano all the way from Italy. Jose took his dancing expertise from the United States to the continents to became the fast & furious of world salsa. Us Bongs tend to be fond of our cute little pet names, for no Bengali is born without one. Check out Jose’s, he’s popularly known as Jose ‘La Salsa’ Diaz.

Mega Show Night at CC&RC club

Papa CJ always has his audience in splits

Mega Show Night at CC&RC club

Jose, Nerea, Federica and Massimiliano

Dance brought people together from all over the world. When it comes to show business, India always packs a punch. Performers from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Pune showed off their Salsa, Bachata, Zouk skills in style. Calcutta presented Contemporary and intricate Salsa and Bachata routines (Vive la Salsa). A fine blend of international and national talents, the evening just kept on getting better.

Laughter twinkled at the corner of eyes, shadows cast long and mysterious in the firelight. The audience drawn to their feet marveling at the passion and commitment each dancer brought to the stage.

Thank God we take time out to experience new stories, to walk in new directions. Calcutta shall always have her spirit of adventure and her will to explore the quixotic.