Cooking Indian street food… in Houston

By Anu Lal (guest post from my sister!)

India has its own street food that’s effectively unknown in the US landscape of Indian food (there are a few restaurants that specialize in Indian street food like Vik’s in Berkley and Balaji Bhavan in Houston).

Most Indians-visiting-India-from-the-US would avoid Indian street food because it doesn’t always meet Western standards for hygiene– it’s usually served streetside in open markets, prepared by bare hands, and served in dried banana leave bowls. For most of us, even the well-travelled in India, we would err on the side of being conservative to protect our delicate Western bellies from the possibility of falling sick.

When I was growing up in States, what I ate on the table was truly foreign to my friends and the country… by the time I was in my twenties I was working with folks who had had Indian roommates in college whose mothers shipped them food regularly so I would be often asked… do you know how to make aloo gobhi (potato and cauliflower) or do you make those honey ball things (gulab jamuns)? Today Indian food in the States ranges from the creamy saag paneer to the flash fried spinach at a Zagat rated 27 in DC. I digress… street food is what we are talking about and even if you “LOVE” Indian food, it is unlikely you have had it… especially not this way!

For my sister’s reveal party (for 20 of which 7 were children—family only), my Mom made, at her request, street food favorites and it was perfect. Perfect in terms of tastes, textures, temperature, presentation, and consumption. The menu:

Virgin Blood Mary Shooters
Gol gappas (also known at paani puri)
Chole
Pau Bhaji
Dahi Papdi
Aloo Tikki
Eggless Flaxseed Pancakes (PPK)

My mother is the mastermind. In her book, nothing can be too “fresh” for my Mom. For example, I’m defiantly a lackey because I cook my family’s dinner mid afternoon rather than right before dinner. Her standards are high and she is demanding of us and herself in what she creates for all of us to enjoy. She loves through her food and feeding us. She loves every part of all of our being… if you could only see what she can whip up in an hour!

We are always on the sidelines learning and listening and taking direction. If you are from the subcontinent you know what “taking directions” means—- shut up, listen, learn, and do what you are told. Think about it later. My mom began cooking that morning—none of this “prep the night before” except for the chutneys (which were made free of pulp and additives, of course).

The tamarind chutney consisted of pods soaked to soften the tamarind fruit and then cooked with sugar and cumin.

The mint chutney was the family go-to: one box of mint, two bunches of cilantro, cumin seeds (1 table spoon), salt to taste, lemon juice, jalapeño.

The cooking the morning of (for a 2 party) began with cooking the garbanzos (no cans, folks!) and were seasoned with dried pomegranate seeds, ginger, tomatoes and onions.

The aloo ki tiki was stuffed with soaked and seasoned lentils

Gol gappa pani – This is the spicy tangy liquid that’s poured into the crispy gol gappa shells right before you place it whole into your mouth. To prepare it, raw rocklike mango was baked for an hour to pulpy perfection and then blended with lemon juice, mint, agave, and black salt.

Pau bhaji, the sloppy joe of India, was started by chopping cabbage, potatoes, bell peoplers, carrots, peas, onion and tomatoes… served with buttery griddle crisped slider buns.

My mother has always done this perfectly, but as we have become young adults she has humored us and allowed us to get involved in presentation and flow of the food under her tutelage. When I say we, I speak of my Delhi-hite bhabhi (sister in law) who has absorbed the ways of her ABCD family that she has married into, my sisters, my brother, and myself. We are the ops people—we get this from my PhD father, who got his PhD in industrial engineering before it was sexy to get an MBA and Harvard graduated 1500 people a year. We have DNA that makes us get things done.

Our task is simple —- take into account our food cultural needs (temperature, taste, freshness), keep the menu simple with little overlap in flavors (my Mom is big on this), presentation should be a pleasure to look at, and the food should be a joy to eat — this means flow around the table, size of the dishes (street food is often eaten standing) and of course, taste, but since my Mom was cooking this was a non issue.

Our innovation for this meal was the gol gappa and gol gappa pani service. To understand why was such a big deal you have to know the how and what of a gol gappa. Traditionally gol grapes are served to you by the vendor to you piece-by-piece while you are standing on in a market or street corner… again, most of us cannot partake because of the flora in our bellies that may get off kilter. Shells cannot be refilled with liquid because they will get soggy and spill so they must be eaten immediately. What did we do? We filled individual wine decanters with the gol gappa pani and everyone was able to serve and feed themselves for a perfect bit every time in without having to get up for each bite or shell. We went through almost 100 gol gappas and over 2 gallons of gol gappa pani. Mind you, we still had all at the other food items that we enjoyed.

BTW, this was just the food. The party was fabulous too. Take a look…

My quick review of the Apple Airpods

I’ve been evangelizing the Apple Airpods since I got mine 2 weeks ago. A friend asked me what was special about them and here’s what I told him:

  • They’re comfortable and don’t fall out (because there’s no cord pulling on them)
  • Two ear sound (without a wire connecting them)
  • The pairing process is magically simple (pairs seamlessly across iPhone iPad and MacBook)*
  • The AirPods case is a great place to store the buds and make it easy to carry them in your pocket and bag. Plus they recharge them so they last a long time.
  • They pair with my iPhone, iPad and Macbook Air, so I’ve been able to eliminate two cables from my bag (lightning wired earbuds + 1/8″ jack wired earbuds)

* The process of switching the pairing from my Macbook Air to by desktop (a Mac Mini) to my iPhone and back could be easier than it is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple innovate here in subsequent updates to iOS and OS X.

How technology is changing everything

I recently wrote an article for the Houston Chronicle on the future of personal technology. Re-posting it here so I have an easy-to-link-to copy of it:

How technology is changing everything
By Rakesh Agrawal
October 26, 2016

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Late one night in the first days of 2013, a California delivery truck unloaded my new all-electric car, a Tesla Model S, in our driveway. Our then-4-year-old daughter observed the scene and openly wept, saying through tears: “Everything’s changing!”

As a Houstonian, an investor in innovative companies and a technology enthusiast, it’s fun to consider the question: How will technology shape the future? To answer this question, I enlisted the help of a few fellow Houstonians.

Transportation

Among the topics I polled friends about, transportation and self-driving cars came up the most. Between Uber launching self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Tesla’s Autopilot feature and General Motors buying a self-driving car startup, Cruise, for $1 billion, autonomous vehicle technology seems to be at a tipping point.

There is no doubt: Fully autonomous vehicles will radically transform our cities, including Houston. Car utilization will go up and the amount of real estate required for parking will go down. And many commuters, especially those in Houston, will reclaim the one resource that we all have a limited amount of: our time.

John Long, the executive director of Bike Houston, believes that “driving and parking your personal car will be less desirable than other options – including the use of electric, self-driving and ride-share vehicles.” And John points out that this is already happening. “Many of today’s young urban dwellers already eschew automobiles, opting instead for a smorgasbord of transportation options including bicycle, light rail, bus, walking and ride share.”

Christof Spieler, a Rice engineer, a Houston Metro board member and a public transportation enthusiast, believes more information will mean new ways of getting places. “In the future, I’ll be able to find out if there’s an empty parking space or how safe the sidewalk is. This will make it easier to use multiple modes – walk sometimes, Uber sometimes, transit sometimes – as opposed to, say, driving everywhere.”

Education

Education is also poised for transformation. Much of our education system traces its heritage back to the industrial revolution, often referred to as the “factory model of education.”

Tory Gattis, a native Houstonian, Rice University graduate and founder of the Talent Unbound school for children ages 5 to 18, believes education will become “extremely personalized through eLearning technology, allowing each student to progress through the material at their own pace and achieving mastery before moving on to the next level.” Gattis believes this personalization will lead to students spending more time “engaging in project-based learning where students learn real-world skills like collaboration, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”

Money

Money will also change, thanks, at least in part, to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and the technology that underlies them known as the blockchain. Blockchain enables a software-based system for currency and transactions that is decentralized, meaning it does not require any government or bank to uphold or maintain it. As blockchain tools become better and gain more adoption, they could eventually eliminate large financial institutions. Blockchain will also drastically lower the cost and logistics involved with money moving across international borders since it enables a system of money not tied to any government.

Grace Rodriguez, one of the co-founders of Station Houston, a coworking space that focuses on early-stage software startups, had this to say about blockchain: “I think blockchain will change the face of information storage and exchange, and completely disrupt how all transactions are done, in general.”

Food

One thing that will remain the same is the love Houstonians have for eating good food. Yet, the entire value chain of food will change, from farming being affected by data and artificial intelligence to food preparation using robotics, to apps and drones transforming food delivery. Many Houstonians are already enjoying the benefits of apps such as UberEats, Favor, DoorDash and, most recently, Amazon Restaurants.

I recently walked into the Freshii in Midtown Houston at lunchtime on a weekday and heard an iPad behind the counter repetitively making a “ding” sound – it sounded like a slot machine that had hit the jackpot. I asked the server behind the counter what was going on and he told me, “Oh, those are lunchtime orders from UberEats.” More restaurants will optimize around delivery, lowering their costs of real estate and staff for delivery orders and accordingly lowering prices of delivered food for consumers.

Scott Tranweaver, co-owner of Jenni’s Noodle House, cautioned against too much technology at the counter: “You may be able to order and pay for your food from an iPad and have zero employee contact, but do you really want this? Our staff is dynamic, kind and memorable and they make an effort to get to know our customers. At Jenni’s Noodle House, we will avoid technology that gets in the way of making personal connections with our customers.”

Drones

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are another personal technology that will transform our everyday lives. Amazon has been conducting drone package delivery trials for a few years now, promising deliveries in 30 minutes or less. At the same time, drones are getting smarter and cheaper, with computer vision and other algorithms allowing them to automatically navigate from point to point and avoid obstacles. Maybe in the future, when you’re in a classic Houston traffic jam, you’ll deploy your personal drone to fly ahead of you so you can see what what’s causing the back-up.

But like any technology, there are potential negative consequences of drones. When cars became popular people bemoaned the noise and visual pollution of cars. And today, this is something we simply accept about urban life. With an increase in popularity of drones, the same could eventually be true of our skies. While we are used to clear and quiet skies today, in a few years we may look up to a horizon that is dotted with Pizza Hut and Amazon drones.

Conclusion

In 2011, Marc Andreessen, the inventor of the web browser and co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Software is Eating the World.” In the article, he lays out the case for software companies taking over large swathes of the economy ranging from financial services to oil and gas to education and health care. And five years later, we are seeing this play out, with every sector of the economy being altered by software. And with the rise of entrepreneurship in our culture, from hit TV shows like “Shark Tank” to movies like “The Social Network” (about the founding of Facebook) to startup accelerators that focus on different vertical markets, I can only imagine that the rate of change is going to increase.

To conclude the story of my daughter, who had shed tears as I replaced my internal combustion engine car with an all-electric car: One week later, the Tesla was the only car she would ride in because it could play all her favorite music on-demand via Internet radio.

Weird bubbles (air, water?) in my Tesla Model S screen

These bubbles (not sure if they are air or water? If I had to guess I’d say air) showed up last week. Service said they had seen the issue before, asked me a bunch of questions about where I park my car (inside or outside, shaded or unshaded) and they have a screen replacement scheduled for later this week. Screen functionality is 100%.

As they say on the Internet: ¯\_(?)_/¯ 
   
 

A quick review of Blue Apron (in Houston)

Earlier tonight, I tried Blue Apron, which just started operating in Houston. Delicious home-cooked meals with fresh ingredients. Here’s my experience.

I signed up on their website, I chose the option for 3 weekly meals for 2 people for $60. I chose their vegetarian menu. Great options, these are this week’s and next week’s menus:

   

 
So 10 days later, this past Tuesday, I got a Fedex package in the mail on with ingredients thoughtfully labeled for 3 different recipes. 

 
The recipes are printed on this nice heavy cardstock.
  
It took me about 45 minutes to prepare.
  

And then 15 minutes to bake.
  
And it was very tasty– it needed some more salt, but, hey, operator error.

There’s a lot I like about Blue Apron: These guys make it easy for non cooks to make fresh home cooked meals. No having to figure what to buy at the store or how much. No extra ingredients at the end of the process. They solve the problem of, “What should I make?” And the meal was delicious and fun for me to make. We cook a lot of fresh food at our house (and by “we” I mean people other than me!) so I’m spoiled where it comes to fresh home cooked food. But even still I could see us doing Blue Apron regularly.

But I’m not sure about the distribution model. I ended up with these two big ice packs with the packaging which seems wasteful. Maybe that’s temporary as they get started in Houston, a way to bootstrap this market? Also though, it seems like this is a product, a way of delivering a recipe, that would be very successful it if it was available in grocery stores. Right? And the grocery store, it seems, would have a significant cost advantage over someone shipping all that stuff to you. (I think Central Market here in Houston does a bit of this, though it’s not as well “kitted” there.)

Ok now I need to go clean the kitchen. Make a product for that, THAT would be magic 🙂

Quick hack for parents with 3 children

My wife and I have 3 children, ages 11, 7 and 3. Going from 2 children to 3 children hasn’t been the easiest thing.

Here’s a little hack for three children families:

One of us takes one of the children out for an activity (1 adult + 1 child) and the other parent takes the remaining two of them (1 adult + 2 children) and we go do things separately.

One of us and one of the children get 1-on-1 time together, which is something we missed when we went from 2 children to 3 children.

The other fun thing about doing this is every pairing of the children has a unique chemistry — for example, our middle child and our youngest child interact in a very particular way when it’s just the two of them. And the youngest and oldest have their own chemistry. And the oldest and the middle child have their own equation too.

Shonali and I always come back from these outings having learned new things about our children.

Of course, we do things altogether too– all the time– but this is always a refreshing change to the rhythm of all the relationships.

How I got past the “iTunes could not restore the iPad because the backup was corrupt or not compatible” error message

I was using a Windows 7 box with the latest version of iTunes and I kept getting this error message when I tried to do a restore (from one iPad Mini to another iPad Mini):

iTunes could not restore the iPad because the backup was corrupt or not compatible

How did I fix the issue? I switched to my iMac and the backup and restore went without a hitch.

Moral of the story: use your Apple device to do backups and restore.

iTunes for OS X > iTunes for Windows

Hacking AngelList notifications

In the last couple of years, I’ve made a number of investments through AngelList (I’m number 3 on the Houston Investors leaderboard).

Early on, there was a deal that I wanted to invest in that I missed out on because I didn’t see the email in time.

So I hacked a simple “notifications” mechanism:

Setup up a gmail filter to forward all emails from “closing@angel.co” to my cell phone as a text message.

For your carriers email to SMS gateway, see this blog post.