Thursday, January 08, 2009

I live in the San Francisco Bay area. We have a pretty sizable Bengali population from both West Bengal and Bangladesh. I guess there are a few Bengalees from Tripura as well, though I personally know none. With this population, and mind you most have quite a bit of disposable income, it is quite sustainable to run at least two restaurants serving traditional and modern Bengali food, one would think. But in reality, there is none. In my 10+ years stay in this area, I have seen a few restaurants come and go. First there was Charulata. It closed doors after running for less than a year. Then came Cafe Dhaka. They had a longer life. I think it ran for about 4 years before it went out-of-business. Actually there is Gulistan. As far as I know they are still open. But in all fairness, they are more famous for their North-Indian and Pakistani cuisine than Bengali food. We have tried the place a couple of times. In our opinion also, their Lamb Chops are better than their Ilish preparation.

Last year-end, while we were in Los Angeles, we tried Aladin - LA's Bengali restaurant.

My general observation for all these restaurants is that the food is mediocre, at best. That, too, lacks consistency of quality. One day your Shorshe Ilish is so delicious that you rush back next weekend only to find a different tasting Shorshe Ilish that is so, um, bad that you would think that you have come to a different place. Also, these places lack any characteristic decor (Charulata had the best decor among these, though that doesn't say much), some are outright dirty by western standard. The service is homely but unprofessional. Overall, not a good eating experience.

That makes me thinking, why Bengali restaurants do not make good business? I think, there are valid reasons from different level.

  • Bengali food is generally bland compared north Indian food. Bengali food requires developed palate. Compare Lau Ghonto with Aloo Gobi

  • Bengali non-vegetarian specialty is fish cooked in such a way that it keeps the fishy flavor, which is synonymous to smelly for non-initiated. Any place that cooks fish in Bengali way smells repellingly fishy

  • Bengalis want to eat only exotic or semi-exotic items in Bengali restaurants. I have heard Bengalis saying, "I can cook and eat those daal and lau ghono at home. Why would I pay for those. I will go to a restaurant to have Paturi, Daab Chingri, Koi Gonga-Jamuna. If insisted I can even try Shorshe Ilish, but that better be excellent."

  • Bengali entrepreneurs who take the risk of opening these restaurants ignore aspects of a restaurant business other than the food quality. There also they try to cut corners. Without requisite amount of cash infusion to put up a comfortable place with good service and food, its hard for Bengali restaurant business to run successfully. If you have a already established cuisine with unlimited pool of customers who are addicted to that kind of food, you can forego the frills. Take Pakistani-Indian restaurants like Shalimar, Pakwan for example.

I would say, if you want to start a Bengali restaurant go with a good investment and for a longish haul. Hire the best Bengali cook. Get him or her from India or Bangladesh. Don't just make your mother-in-law toil in the kitchen pretending to be the head-cook. She may cook excellent Mochar Ghonto, but she definitely lacks training to manage and run the show in a busy restaurant. Set up a good ambiance. Use good plates and silver. Have enough and properly trained servers and busboys. Get a trained manager and steward. Make it a legitimate business instead of looking at it as a part time source of extra income with some spare-change investment. Respect the business and get the respect and patronage of the customers.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Don’t Read This …

... instead, read Robert Fisk in The Independent - Why do they hate the West so much, we will ask. What I wanted to say and could not, is there.


As we are entering into the new year, the news and life is bleak all around. This is particularly true for the people in Gaza. They are a hapless victim of a lethal pounding from Israel. What Israel is doing in the name of 'self-defence' is totally and absolutely unacceptable to any person of rationality and conscience. This is not to condone the behavior of Hamas, but a much bigger blame must be affixed to Israel. But I guess this is somewhat expected from a aggressor and occupier like Israel.

What is more unacceptable to me is US foreign policy towards Israel and Palestine. In 2008 Israel was the recipient of the biggest chunk of US aid. 2.4 Billion. "Virtually all of this money is used to buy weapons (up to 75% made in the U.S.). Beginning in 2009, the U.S. plans to give $30 billion over 10 years." (Source: Parade magazine) I have tried to figure out the reason for this uncritical and total support of Israel from US, especially if we remember the English statesman Lord Palmerston's aphorism that "Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests." It is true that US has to have a strong ally in that region. It's strategic importance is too high to ignore for US. Israel fulfills that requirement. However, it has also become quite clear that the blind support of Israel and its aggression is given rise to a deep hatred towards US. Not only in that region alone, but all around, especially with such a blatant nonchalance from Israel's part when more than a quarter of the victims are civilians, mostly children. Israel-Palestine issue has become a very potent tool for separatists and terrorists to recruit and deploy youths all around the globe - be it Middle East, Afganistan, Iraq, Pakistan or Kashmir. In the final tally, a blind support of Israel's aggression retuns a negetive balance to USA's foreign policy balance sheet. I guess, US can still support Israel and it's existence and still maintain some semblance of balance. It may not be an easy task. But the deplomats and the elected officials are not selected or eleced to do easy tasks.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Fast food for thought

I just rebooted my office machine running CentOS 4.6, which is based on Red Hat Enterprise distribution. It was running for 121 days, i.e almost 4 months!!

Ubuntu Intrepid and vpnc

My company has a decent work-from-home policy. Every Thursday we can work from home. And most do, including myself. In addition to the regular Thursdays, we work from home whenever there are project deadlines - which is almost always. Hence, to have a solid VPN connection is a must for me.

My last non-Ubuntu desktop was Fedora. I compiled the Cisco vpnclient and used it without a problem. When I switched to Ubuntu Edgy (6.10) I started using the open source vpnc which worked quite nicely. The upgrade to Fiesty (7.04) and Gutsy (7.10) worked fine too. But from Hardy (8.04) the problem of dead-peer-detection raised its ugly head. There were patches available, but that didn't solve the problem for me. I was looking forward to the Intrepid (8.10) release hoping the the vpnc issue will be resolved for good. After Intrepid was released there were contradictory reports about whether the dead-peer-detection issue has been resolved. I decided to test it out myself. So I upgraded to Intrepid.

vpnc can be used from command line, or else one can install the vpnc plugin for the network-manager (nm) and control the vpnc connection from the network-manager applet. Until now, I have only used the command-line. But this time I have tried both for testing. This is what I have found:

  • The dead-peer-detection issue is solved both in the command-line client as well as network-manager plugin when you pass the dead-peer-detection interval value 0 to the command-line program or check a box in the network-manager plugin.

  • network-manager plugin has a bug that overwrites the resolv.conf when the VPN is disconnected. I am forgetting what exactly is the nature of the bug, but basically it didn't revert back to the original resolv.conf after VPN session ended. The bug may only be for the static IPs.

  • Even if the dead-peer-detection issue was resolved, my VPN connection would just stall for a minute or two before continuing after I have typed about 10-15 characters in my SSH window. And this repeats over and over again. Googling the problem suggests something to do with routing table and/or DNS lookup. I tried different things for a while but none could resolve this issue.

At last I gave up and went back to the proprietary cisco vpnclient. I compiled and installed it following this post. Since then I am having a smooth VPN ride. I would love to go back to the open source vpnc client, but not at the expense of stability of connection. I need to earn my bread.