10 Experiences We Thoroughly Enjoyed In Shillong

Our recent trip to the North-East began with a brief stop at the sweltering Guwahati, where the only thing we managed to do was visit the famed Kamakhya temple, that too from the outside. The next morning, armed with a good night’s rest, all rejuvenated and excited, we set out for Shillong by road, an approximately 2.5-hour journey if you don’t come across any major traffic jams. We were to stay in Shillong for 2 days.

The roads between Guwahati and Shillong are excellent, and we had a very smooth drive. In fact, we wouldn’t even have realised we had neared Shillong if the quality of the air hadn’t begun to change after a certain point. The closer we got to Shillong, the clearer, the crisper, the colder, the air became. Shillong itself was cold, in the peak of the monsoon season, and we set about sightseeing with jackets and umbrellas in tow.

A brief note about Shillong

From the time of the British rule until 1972, Shillong was the capital of the state of Assam (back then, an undivided state as Meghalaya hadn’t yet been formed). In the year 1972, when Meghalaya became a separate state, Shillong was retained as its capital, while Guwahati was chosen as the capital of Assam.

Shillong is a small but extremely beautiful city – with rolling hills, flowers, waterfalls and pine trees all around. The city enjoys pleasant weather all year round, thanks to its location of about 4000 feet above sea level, but is all the more beautiful in the period from March to June.

The city gets its name from U Shyllong, a revered deity of the local Khasi tribe. Shillong has also been nicknamed ‘Scotland of the East’ because, apparently, the beautiful weather and rolling hills of the city reminded the Britishers of Scotland.

Close on the heels of the British, Christian missionaries arrived in Shillong, establishing churches and schools and spreading Christianity among the local tribespeople. Some of the educational institutes established in Shillong during this period – St Edmunds and IIM-Shillong, for instance – have made the city proud and famous. You will find several relics from the British rule and the reign of the missionaries in Shillong, including the city’s famous rock-and-roll culture. Most of the locals here still follow Christianity, introduced to them by the missionaries. Archery, golf, football and polo are popular sports here.

10 experiences we thoroughly enjoyed in Shillong

We fell in love with Shillong at first glance. As we explored the place, a little on foot and a little by cab, this love only deepened.

Shillong is a popular tourist destination, and it was teeming with people when we visited. We were lucky, though, to manage some off-the-beaten-track experiences here, along with checking out the local tourist spots.

Would you like to know which experiences in Shillong we loved the most? Here you go!

1. Gorging on gorgeous pineapples en route to Shillong

On the way to Shillong from Guwahati, you will come across many little stalls that sell a variety of things, from pickles made the old-fashioned way to local varieties of bananas, jackfruit, banana flowers, pineapples and arum root.

You will come across a vast number of pickles here – bamboo shoot, mango, local berries, gooseberries, raw mango, local fish varieties, and what not. These pickles are made (and sold at these stalls) by people residing in the villages, in the mountains en route. Most of these pickles contain nothing but salt, chilli powder and oil, and are preserved the ancient way – using sunlight.

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One of the little stalls that we passed en route to Shillong from Guwahati. Look at all those bottles of pickles lined up!

We made a pit-stop at a couple of these stores, and the beautiful pineapples here were what caught our fancy the most. We ate the loveliest ever pineapples here – perfectly ripe, so sweet the slices felt like they were dipped in sugar syrup, so juicy the juice ran down to our elbows when we bit into them. The taste of these pineapples still lingers on in my mind, and I now realise how much the fruit available in Bangalore pales in comparison to this gorgeousness.

The families manning these stalls are very friendly too, and we had a lovely time clicking photographs of them and talking to them as we ate.

2. Basking in the beautiful views of the Umiam Lake

About 15 km away from Shillong lies the beautiful, beautiful Umiam Lake. This 220 square km man-made lake was built as part of a hydroelectric project by the Assam State Electricity Board. Over time, the lake has grown to become a major tourist attraction and picnic spot for the locals. Now, you will find stalls selling snacks, photo ops, washrooms, a play area for kids, adventure sports and boating facilities here, too.

The lake looks exceptionally lovely, breath-takingly so, during sunset. You can view the lake from a viewpoint on the highway passing above it, too, and this view is extremely pretty as well.

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Aerial view of Umiam lake, from the highway above. Isn’t that super picturesque?

They say the Umiam lake looks different at different times of the day, depending on how the light falls over the waters. It looks different in different seasons, too, apparently. We spent some quiet time here, just sitting and gazing at the calm, seemingly unruffled waters of the lake, in awe of its beauty.

3. Getting up close and personal with the ducks at Ward’s Lake

All of us – the husband, bub and I – absolutely loved Ward’s Lake in Shillong. This large lake, with a big garden around it is so very pretty! In a lot of ways – the variety of trees in the park, the sloping grounds, the cobbled pathways – reminded me of Sims Park in Ooty, a place beloved to the husband and me.

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Part of the beautiful, beautiful Ward’s Lake in Shillong

We spent quite a bit of time at Ward’s Lake, leisurely walking around the garden, soaking in the beauty around us. We had a lovely paddle-boat ride in the lake – something we dismissed as a very touristy thing to do initially, but absolutely loved it once we got into it. The bub loved, loved, loved watching the ducks at the park in action – they are so used to people that they get really, really close to you; we had never seen ducks at such close quarters before.

If we had had more time, I’d have loved to lounge around in Ward’s Lake for hours on end, reading a book and just inhaling as much of that pollution-free air as I could.

4. Exploring the delights of Police Bazaar

Police Bazaar is one of the biggest markets of Shillong city, a bustling place that is best explored on foot. Here, you will find shops selling everything, from readymade garments, cosmetics, footwear and groceries to the locally produced betelnut, knives, berries, plants, fruits and vegetables and bamboo handicrafts – all at very reasonable rates.

In this bazaar, you will find several traditional eateries, modern cafes, bakeries and sweet shops, too. Come evening, and the bazaar comes alive, transforming into a food lover’s paradise, with road-side stalls selling kebabs, chaat, roasted peanuts, noodles, chowmein, fried eggs, and what not.

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Women prepping the locally grown betelnut at Police Bazaar, Shillong

We loved the time we spent walking around the bylanes of Police Bazaar, taking in the sights and sounds and smells, trying to capture as much of the action as we could on camera, bargaining and shopping, understanding the ways of the locals, experimenting with local food.

Yes, the Police Bazaar area can become quite crowded, especially during the evenings, but I would highly recommend a visit here. This place will definitely give you a taste of local flavours.

5. Checking out the ‘Skywalk’ at Don Bosco Centre For Indigenous Culture

The Don Bosco Centre For Indigenous Culture in Mawlai, Shillong, is a great starting point if you want to understand the cultures of the many tribes that reside in North-East India. The museum houses pictures of the various tribespeople, their clothing, utensils and jewellery, as well as life-size models depicting their daily lives. The little shop in the museum sells Meghalaya-special souvenirs, such as locally grown tea and turmeric powder, as well bamboo handicrafts. There is a small cafe in the museum premises, too, which will give you a taste of North-Eastern food.

To be honest, the husband and I weren’t too impressed with the museum. It is extensive, yes, and it is definitely a good place to understand North-Eastern cultures. That said, there was an air of commercialisation around it, that feeling of there being too many models and not enough actual relics from the past like you would expect to see in a museum like this. That said, I still maintain that this is a place you mustn’t miss out on, on your visit to Shillong.

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A church, set against the backdrop of the city and the hills, as seen from the Skywalk

The part of the museum that we absolutely loved was the ‘Skywalk’, a winding pathway that takes you up, up, up, from where you can get breath-taking views of Shillong. Don’t forget to check out the Skywalk whenever you visit the museum!

6. Soaking in the peace at the Shillong Gaden Choeling Monastery

The Shillong Gaden Choeling Monastery is not your typical tourist destination. It is a place of worship for Buddhist monks, a small place nestled in the foothills of Lumparing, Shillong. It is a scenic place, though, and a very peaceful one.

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Prayer wheels at the monastery

We visited the monastery early in the morning, while incense was being burnt near the prayer wheels and the chants of the monks filled the air around us. There were no other tourists, and the place emanated a pleasant, peaceful, relaxed vibe. We just walked around for a while, looking at this and that, and that sat in to bask in the peaceful atmosphere. Absolute bliss, I tell you!

7. Staying at the home of a Khasi family, at Dew Drop In

The husband and I have always loved staying in homestays wherever we go. We think it is a great way of understanding local culture and cuisine, a wonderful opportunity to interact with locals. Now, with the bub travelling with us, homestays work out best for us, where we manage to get kid-friendly food and other necessities under the same roof, without too much of a hassle.

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Dew Drop In, the charming homestay we stayed at, in Shillong

While in Shillong, we were thrilled to know that our tour operator had arranged for a day’s stay at Dew Drop In, the home of a Khasi (one of the local tribes) family. The property is extremely beautiful, well managed and maintained. We had a delightful time staying here, looking around the place, admiring the artful way the house has been done up, checking out the gorgeous plants here, just chatting, reading on the terrace, and gorging on some wonderful Khasi food. Our guests were super friendly and courteous, taking care of our every need, and that made our stay all the more pleasant.

Don’t miss staying at this place whenever you are visiting Shillong. I can assure you that the experience will be totally worth it!

8. Relaxing at the Don Bosco Cathedral

The Mary Help Of Christians Cathedral in Shillong, popularly called the Don Bosco Cathedral is quite a popular tourist spot in the city. And why not? The church, said to be one of the oldest is Shillong, is a beautiful, beautiful Gothic structure. The surroundings are lush green, filled with the flowers that are a common sight all over Shillong. What’s more, you get a majestic view of the mountains of Shillong if you climb all the way to the top of the cathedral. I also hear the Cathedral housed refugees in times of war, saving them from the clutches of hunger and death.

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At the Don Bosco Cathedral, Shillong

This is the sort of place that fills you with peace the moment you set foot in it. There is that charming, old-world aura to the place, and memories of all those prayers that must have taken place here rush to you as you walk around. All that unadulterated, natural beauty around is sure to make you feel heady, as is the beautiful weather of Shillong. We spent a couple of hours here, much more than the average 15-20 minutes usually allotted to this place, just relaxing and soaking in the loveliness of it all. We absolutely loved every bit of it.

9. Walking along the very pretty golf course

The golf course at Shillong is a beautiful, beautiful thing. You might think – as we did, initially – about what exactly there is to see at a golf course. But, there is! This golf course is a huge expanse of green, dotted with pine trees, with some gorgeous views.

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At the beautiful Golf Course, Shillong

You must spend some relaxed time here, like we did – walking around, soaking in the peace, sampling local berries from the women vendors who frequent the place, taking pictures of the amazing surroundings, reading a book or listening to music, collecting pine cones, sitting below the pine trees and taking in their gorgeous scent as the wind ruffles their branches… this surely is a place that needs to be cherished.

10. Hogging authentic Khasi food at Red Rice and Dew Drop In

Being the foodie that I am, I wanted to try out at least a few authentic Khasi dishes while we were in Shillong. Considering that we are pure vegetarians and that the people of the North-East are predominantly meat-eaters, this was a slightly difficult task. Thankfully, our tour guide directed us to the right places where we did manage to get hold of some very authentic, vegetarian Khasi food.

During our stay at Dew Drop In, our Khasi hosts were more than happy to cook us an authentic local meal with vegetarian ingredients. Here, we got to sample Khasi daal (made with greens), mixed vegetable curry, jado stey (a Khasi dish of rice cooked with turmeric, green peas and onion), a pickle made with local sour berries, along with rotis, curd and green salad. Every single dish that was a part of this meal was absolutely delicious – simple but hearty, well cooked and flavourful.

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The very Khasi meal we had at Dew Drop In

Another such beautiful meal was at Red Rice in Police Bazaar, a small eatery that prides itself on serving proper Khasi food. Here, we sampled a Khasi thali, served with the locally consumed red rice. It was, sort of, marvelous to see how a meal could be cooked up with so little ingredients and yet be so fulfilling, so lovely. It set me thinking as to how we city dwellers do have a lot to learn from these people of the hills, who live every day in the face of hardships.

Khasi fare is definitely something that I want to try out in my own kitchen. Hopefully, soon!

In hindsight…

Well, that is all about the experiences we loved having in Shillong city. But then, of course, that is not all there is to Shillong. There is a whole lot more to be felt, explored, in the city, and I am so sure we have simply touched the outermost fringes. Beneath its touristy, vibrant exterior, there are surely layers to Shillong that we can fathom only when we make several more journeys to the place.

I hope you had fun reading this!

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Have you read my other posts about our North-East trip? If you haven’t yet, please do!

The beginning of school and a ‘schoolmoon’

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

Playing hide-and-seek with the clouds in Meghalaya

Chawal Ke Pakode| Leftover Rice Fritters

Recently, for a cooking group that I am part of – called Shhhhh Cooking Secretly Challenge – I recreated a dish that my mother would make often as I was growing up – Chawal Ke Pakode or fritters using leftover rice. She would make these fritters whenever there was extra cooked rice left over, and they would get gobbled up in minutes. In fact, apart from the rice, she would add any leftover dry curry, upma or vermicelli too. 🙂 Best way to use up leftovers, I say.

For the Challenge, I was paired up with another food blogger, who writes at Shobha’s Food Mazaa, who assigned me two ingredients – mixed vegetables and flour. I had to use these ingredients to create something fried, which was the group’s theme for this month. I decided to make this dish I have grown up eating.

Following in my mother’s footsteps, I made the chawal ke pakode with leftover cooked rice, vegetable upma, grated cheese, cauliflower and onion curry. Unlike Amma, though, I added in some taste-makers – amchoor, sugar and garam masala. They made for a beautiful snack on a rainy day and, as always, got eaten within minutes of the making.

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Chawal ke pakode aka leftover rice fritters, my way!

Here is how I made the fritters.

Ingredients (makes about 15 pieces):

  1. About 3/4 cup cooked rice
  2. About 1/2 cup vegetable rava upma
  3. About 1/2 cup cauliflower and onion curry (dry)
  4. 1 small onion, chopped finely
  5. 1 small carrot, peeled and finely grated
  6. 1 cube of processed cheese, finely grated
  7. 3 tablespoons besan (gram flour)
  8. Salt, as per taste
  9. Red chilli powder, as per taste
  10. 3-4 tablespoons sugar, or as per taste
  11. 1-1/2 tablespoon garam masala, or as per taste
  12. About 10 stalks of fresh coriander leaves, chopped finely
  13. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  14. 2 tablespoons amchoor powder, or to taste
  15. 2 pinches of asafoetida powder (hing)
  16. Oil, for deep frying

Method:

  1. Take the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, and set it to heat on a high flame.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients except the oil. Mix well, ensuring that all the ingredients are well combined together. You should get a mixture that you can easily shape into balls, without everything crumbling apart. There is, usually, no need to add water.
  3. Make lemon-sized balls out of the mixture, and keep them ready.
  4. When the oil is nice and hot, reduce the flame to medium. Deep fry the balls in the hot oil, a couple at a time, turning sides, till they are well browned on all sides.
  5. Serve piping hot, with chutney of your choice, tomato sauce and/or kasundi.

Notes:

  1. Personally, I think the sugar adds a nice taste to the chawal ke pakode. Feel free to reduce the quantity of sugar or skip it altogether, if it doesn’t sound like a great addition to you.
  2. Basically, any dry leftovers from your kitchen can go into the making of these fritters. I made another batch of these using leftover cooked rice, potato curry, carrot salad, and lemon rice. Those tasted yummylicious, too.
  3. Increase or decrease the quantity of gram flour that you use, depending upon the consistency of your fritter batter. Add just enough to make a mixture that easily shapes into balls, without coming apart in your hands.
  4. You could add any other veggies from your refrigerator to these fritters too.
  5. My mother would pick out the chillies from the leftover upma before making these fritters, and so did I too. Leave them in, if you are okay with them.
  6. Amma would add just salt, red chilli powder and a hint of garam masala, but I went ahead and added some amchoor and sugar too. Take your pick, as far as the spices are concerned. Chana masala or pavbhaji masala instead of garam masala would be a nice touch too, I think.
  7. I used Amul processed cheese.

Did you like this idea of using up leftovers from your kitchen? How do you make use of leftover rice and curries? Tell me; I’m all ears!

In Conversation With Chef Kunal Kapur: About Food And More

A chef who has trained under some of the most reputed institutions out there, who has a couple of television shows to his name, who is well recognised by all and sundry in Indian households, who has been a judge of the famed MasterChef India, who has been witness to some of the most exciting trends in the culinary world, who has had the opportunity to cook for the nation’s Prime Minister and the foreign dignitaries visiting him – that is Kunal Kapur for you, a celebrity in his own right. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity, recently, to attend a ‘Food Camp’ by the celebrity chef at the International Institute Of Hotel Management (IIHM), Bangalore.

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Chef Kunal Kapur demonstrating different techniques of plating and the basics of molecular gastronomy, at his Food Camp, at IIHM-Bangalore

I had gone to the event prepared with a set of questions for the chef, and was so glad the bloggers present were given a chance to have a little one-on-one conversation with him. Chef Kapur was happy to answer my questions, in his cool and composed and smiling manner.

Without further ado, here’s presenting to you the conversation I had with Chef Kapur, about food and more.

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Me: What is comfort food for you?

Chef: Ice cream and chocolate – these spell out ‘comfort’ to me (laughs). Also, homely, old-time stuff like daal chawal or khichdi are what I turn to when I need comfort.

Me: How do you think food has changed over the years?

Chef: I think everyone wants to order out these days. There are very few people today who really love cooking, and that is a sad state of affairs. Food has become fancy. Plating is of crucial importance now. Soon enough, actual home-cooked, simple food will be a luxury.

Me: How do you manage to stay fit, in spite of cooking so much, day after day after day? 

Chef: I try to burn whatever I eat – that is the only way. I think you can eat all that you want, but in moderation. And you have to work out, get moving, and burn fat.

Me: You are currently researching unique pickles across India for your latest book. Could you tell us more about this book?

Chef: Yes, you are right. I am travelling from one place to another in India, talking to people, trying to find out about various pickling practices used in the country. There are so many unique pickles made in our country, many of them unheard of by common people. That is the stuff I want to bring to light through my latest book.

This book will take me at least two more years to write. The Internet hasn’t been of much use in my research – this is something that needs extensive travel and first-hand research. I am in full-on research mode, for the book, as of now.

Me: What are the most unique pickles that you have come across, in the course of your research?

Chef: A very unique pickle I encountered, in the course of my research, was one made of mustard leaves, in Darjeeling. The leaves are pounded, put into a sack and buried under the earth for over a week’s time, to ferment. Post this, the fermented leaves are dried and pickled. This is something I had never heard of before!

Then, there was this mahani root pickle that I tried out in South India. The root is pickled in buttermilk, which is said to preserve the pickle. This completely blew me away. Commonly, when we think of pickles, we think of a whole lot of salt, spices and oil – but this pickle is so very different!

Me: What do you think are the best-kept secrets of Indian cuisine?

Chef: I would say, the dadis and nanis in Indian families, the grandmothers, are the best-kept secrets of the culinary world. These grandmothers possess a wealth of experience and knowledge. They have, in their repertoire, a number of culinary secrets and recipes that are, largely, unknown to the modern world. They are the best people we should be learning to cook from!

Me: You have been conducting food camps in different cities across India. What do you plan to achieve with them?

Chef: Yes, I have been conducting food camps in hotel management institutes in different Indian cities. These food camps are, basically, workshops where students can learn the basics of molecular gastronomy, plating, food trends and reinvention. These hotel management students are the chefs of tomorrow, which is why I want to work with them, to train them. I want them to get the benefit of my experience of all these years.

Through these workshops, I plan to bridge the gap between the trends prevailing in the culinary world, nationally and internationally, and the syllabus followed in these institutes.

Me: How was your experience cooking Sattvik food for PM Narendra Modi, on his visit to Bangalore? And for the visiting German dignitaries? Do tell us more!

Chef: Oh, it was a wonderful experience! I had a lot of fun preparing a slew of vegetarian dishes for Narendra Modiji, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the other honoured guests. I am so glad I got this opportunity to showcase the wealth of vegetarian dishes we have in India, to these guests.

You know, I was okay cooking Sattvik food for Modiji, since he is used to vegetarian dishes. I was actually scared of preparing vegetarian food for the German dignitaries, who are hard-core meat-eaters. What if they didn’t like what I had to offer them?, I worried. I needn’t have worried, though. Everyone loved the meal, German dignitaries included.

Me: Is there a memoir in the offing? Do you plan to write a book telling your fans all about yourself?

Chef: Oh, I don’t think I am accomplished enough to do something like that! I’m still learning about food, trends and different cuisines of the world. There are a whole lot of things about food that I want to write about – not myself.

If someone else wants to write about me, though, they are welcome to take it up (laughs). That is not a task that I want to undertake myself.

I hope you enjoyed reading our little conversation, folks! Do let me know!

 

 

 

Burfee (Barfi) Ice Cream| How To Use Leftover Burfee

What do you when you have a few pieces of burfee (or barfi) left over, and you don’t want to eat them as is? You could do a whole lot of things with them! I decided to use them up to make a delectable burfee-flavoured ice cream. 🙂

A while ago, the husband came home from a work trip to Nagpur with a box of the famed orange burfee. The burfee, from Heera’s, was delightful, but then there were way too many pieces of it for us to eat. We ate some, we gave some to family, and there were still about five pieces left in the box, staring us in the face every time we went into the kitchen. So, I made burfee ice cream over the weekend, which turned out to be gorgeous.

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On the left: The box of Heera’s orange burfee, from Nagpur, On the right: My burfee ice cream!

This is a great way to use up leftover burfee, I think. I might just go ahead and buy another box of burfee to make this ice cream all over again. Yes, that’s how much we loved it!

The creaminess of the burfee and its orange flavour melded together beautifully with the condensed milk and fresh cream I used to make the ice cream. The ice cream was a delight to eat, with little bits of orange burfee in it, taking the taste to a whole new level. You must try out this burfee ice cream to know exactly what I mean!

Here’s how I made the ice cream.

Ingredients (Makes 4-5 servings):

  1. 5 pieces of orange burfee
  2. A pinch of salt
  3. 200 grams sweetened condensed milk
  4. 250 ml fresh cream

Method:

  1. Take the fresh cream in a large mixing bowl. Whisk lightly till the cream becomes a bit lighter. Do not overdo this step.
  2. Add the condensed milk and salt to the mixing bowl too.
  3. Crumble the burfee into crumbs, using your hands. Add these crumbs to the mixing bowl.
  4. Whisk the mixture well, making sure everything is thoroughly incorporated together.
  5. Pour the mixture into a clean, dry, air-tight box.
  6. Place the box, covered, in the deep freezer and allow the ice cream to set well. This should take 4-5 hours.
  7. Get the box out of the freezer only when you are ready to serve the ice cream. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. I used Amul fresh cream and Amul Mithai Mate to create this ice cream.
  2. The pinch of salt helps the ice cream set faster and better. Be careful not to add more than a mere pinch, though, as the flavour of the ice cream might get altered in that case.
  3. Add in some roasted and chopped almonds or cashewnuts to the ice cream mix if you want, before popping it into the freezer. I didn’t.
  4. I used orange burfee from Heera’s, Nagpur, to make this ice cream. You could any flavour of burfee you want.
  5. We found the sweetness of the ice cream (using the above proportions) to be just perfect. Decrease the quantity of condensed milk if you prefer the dish to be less sweet.
  6. I crumbled the burfee using my hands, because I wanted us to get little bits and pieces of it in the ice cream. You could use a mixer to pulse the burfee, too.

You like? I hope you will try out this burfee ice cream too, and that you will like it as much as we did! When you do, don’t forget to let me know how it turned out!

Kunal Kapur’s Food Camp, IIHM-Bangalore: An Absolutely Enthralling Experience

Earlier this week, I was invited to be a part of ‘Food Camp’ by celebrity Chef Kunal Kapoor at the International Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM), Bangalore. It was an opportunity I grabbed with both hands, because why would a foodie like me miss a chance to learn from a celebrity chef himself?!

This post is a sneak peek into the event, and what I learned therein.

About Kunal Kapur’s food camp

Since the start of this year, Chef Kunal Kapur has been conducting food camps in hotel management institutes in different Indian cities. Each food camp is basically a workshop, where he trains students of the institute in the basics of molecular gastronomy, plating, food trends prevailing nationally and internationally, and the like. In his own words, ‘these food camps are my way of bridging the gap between actual trends in the culinary world and what these students study in their institutes, as part of their syllabus’.

A sneak peek into the food camp at IIHM, Bangalore

This week, the camp was held at IIHM in Indiranagar, Bangalore. I got an opportunity to be part of the event, in my capacity as a food blogger. It turned out to be one of the best events I have ever attended, very interesting and enlightening. I am sure the things I learnt at this food camp are going to stay with me and be of use to me, for a long time to come.

The approximately 2.5-hour-long session began with an introduction to Chef Kunal Kapur (no one needed it, of course!). Then, the chef came up on stage to talk about how food and the way we perceive food has changed over the course of time.

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Chef Kunal Kapur talking about the way food has changed over the years

He talked about how plating is a skill that is crucially important for chefs these days, because everyone expects their food to look good.

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The Chef, demonstrating different approaches to plating food

Then, to a spell-bound audience, the chef went on to demonstrate three of the widely used approaches to plating food – Classic, Linear and Asymmetrical. He plated the same dish – chicken breast with sauce – using each of these three approaches, something that won him a huge round of applause.

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Left: The classic approach to plating (food in centre of plate); Centre: The linear approach to plating (food arranged in a straight line across the plate); Right: The Asymmetrical approach to plating (as the name suggests, food arranged without any apparent symmetry on the plate)

Then, we were shown a variety of techniques to make sauces or purees look attractive while plating food. Using simple kitchen utensils – a juice glass, a spoon, a ketchup bottle – the chef went on to create awe-inspiring patterns on plates. So, so, so very interesting this was!

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A variety of styles in which sauces and other purees can be plated, as demonstrated by Chef Kunal Kapur. Picture courtesy: at200deg

Lastly came the most impressive, the most interesting, the best part of the entire event – a session on molecular gastronomy!

‘Molecular gastronomy is the ‘in thing’ in restaurants in India and abroad these days. It is nothing but the use of science in cooking and plating,’ said Chef Kapur. ‘Through its use, you can change the form of various ingredients in your dish, as you know them. Through it, you can reinvent the way a traditional dish looks like – change the clients’ perception of how a particular dish is supposed to look like – without changing its taste,’ he added.

‘We drink orange juice. We can use molecular gastronomy to convert the form of orange juice, so people can eat it. This is but one example,’ Chef Kapur said.

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Chef Kapur demonstrating how to make spheres from curd

Then, Chef Kapur literally spun magic on-stage, as he used substances like Soy Lecithin, Sodium Alginate, Agar Agar and Calcium Lactate to convert the form of certain ingredients as we know them. He converted orange juice into little beads resembling caviar, which burst in your mouth and create a burst of delightful flavour. He converted the imli ki chutney that we have all used a countless number of times in chaats, into foam that would stay put for some time and taste exactly the same as the chutney. He went on to create beautiful, beautiful spheres from sweetened curd and a thick, flavourful gel out of pomegranate juice. By this time, all of us were transfixed, riveted to our seats.

The session ended with a demonstration of Chef Kapur’s version of dahi papdi chaat, a dish that is no doubt delicious, but often isn’t very visually appealing. The chef reinvented dahi papdi chaat as we know it, with potato hummus, imli ki chutney foam, anar gel, and dahi spheres. Super-duper cool!

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Left: Chef Kapur’s version of a deconstructed dahi papdi chaat, Right: The dahi spheres that made up part of the dish (The picture on the right is courtesy of at200deg)

Overall, this was an event that I thoroughly enjoyed, an experience that I will cherish forever. Chef Kapur was such a sport, humble and sweet, answering questions in such a composed manner, open to sharing the knowledge of his years of kitchen experience with eager students. It made me look at the profession of a chef with new eyes, with new respect. This surely wasn’t an evening I am going to forget for a long time to come.

I can’t thank IIHM-Bangalore for this opportunity to get up close and personal with Chef Kunal Kapur. And, oh, I even managed a little one-on-one conversation and interview with the chef – coming up on the blog soon! Watch out for it!

Cook-Off With Chef Michael Swamy, at Fairfield By Marriott

I recently got the opportunity to witness celebrated Chef Michael Swamy in action, at a cook-off organised by Fairfield By Marriott. It turned out to be a fun evening, as Chef Swamy, alongside Chef Aniket Das (Executive Chef at Fairfield By Marriott, Rajajinagar) demonstrated a few recipes from Maharashtra and Karnataka. The best part? The Chefs showed the audience, consisting of food bloggers and foodies, how to cook these dishes in a healthy way, without having to compromise on the taste.

The cook-off began with Chef Das demonstrating a dish from his childhood in Maharashtra, usal made with moong sprouts. He explained how the dish is full of nutrition, thanks to the addition of moong sprouts and is made with extremely little oil. It can make for a lovely breakfast option, he said.

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On the left: Chef Aniket Das demonstrating moong sprouts usal at the cook-off, On the right: The usal that Chef Das created, served with pav, onions and slices of lemon

Next up, Chef Swamy showed the audience how to prepare Fish In Chinchoni Masala. Chinchoni masala is a special kind of spice mix used in the coastal areas of Maharashtra, that adds spicy and sour flavours (‘chinch‘, in Marathi, means ‘sour’). The masala can be prepared very easily at home, and imparts a beautiful reddish-orange colour to any dish that it is used in. The fish used in this particular dish was steamed (rather than fried) and cooked in very little oil, making this a healthy yet flavourful preparation.

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On the left: Chef Michael Swamy demonstrating Fish In Chinchoni Masala, On the right: The dish, prepared and beautifully plated

Lastly, both the chefs jointly demonstrated a Karnataka-special recipe – Ragi Shavige aka Ragi Vermicelli Upma. All of us know of the numerous health benefits that ragi (finger millet) possesses, and this upma is a delicious way to use all of that goodness, Chef Das stated.

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On the left: Chef Michael Swamy and Chef Aniket Das jointly demonstrating Ragi Shavige, On the right: The ragi shavige aka ragi vermicelli upma that the chefs jointly created

Both the chefs then expressed their desire to make Indian cuisine better known in the world. ‘India has such a vast culinary heritage. Every little part of the country has several indigenous foods to boast of, and yet, when the world talks about Indian cuisine, it is mostly understood to be just a few dishes like chicken tikka, masala dosa and chicken curry. That is so not the real picture,’ said Chef Das.

‘The only way to clarify this misconception is through masterclasses like this, where people get to know the real breadth of Indian cuisine,’ said Chef Swamy. That is so very true, when you come to think of it, no?

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Chef Aniket Das (left) and Chef Michael Swamy (right) posing alongside the three dishes they demonstrated as part of the cook-off

The cook-off ended with a beautiful high tea that showcased selected dishes from Maharashtra and Karnataka, like pao bhaji, podi idli, ragi dosa, bhel poori, vada pav, gobi manchurian, mirchi bajji, onion pakoras, thandai, cutting chai, filter coffee, and mango milkshake. Delectable much!

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A sneak peek into the high tea at the cook-off! On the left: Gobi manchurian and vada pav, Centre: a variety of mini idlis, ragi dose, Maddur vade, On the right: Mumbai-style bhel poori, onion pakoras and mirchi bajjis

I have to thank the chefs as well as Fairfield By Marriott for this very well-presented, thought-provoking, and informative cook-off!

About Chef Michael Swamy

Chef Michael Swamy is a well-known figure in the Indian and international culinary world, with a career spanning over 20 years. This Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef has had the honour of having cooked for and served several prestigious personalities like Sir Andrew Pagewood and Prince Charles. He has authored two Gourmand Award-winning books, The East Indian Kitchen and Easy Guide To Pairing Indian Food & Wine. His third book, Comfort Food, co-authored with Mugdha Savkar, was released recently.

Chef Swamy has worked as food critic and feature writer for various magazines and periodicals, such as Jetwings and Jetlite (in-flight magazines in Jet Airways), Liquid, and Asian Photography. He has also contributed articles on various aspects of world and Indian cuisine, patisserie, desserts and sweets, for various newspapers, magazines and websites.

In February 2017, Chef Swamy launched his own restaurant, Nueva, in New Delhi, where he serves his take on South American cuisine.

About Chef Aniket Das

Chef Aniket Das heads the kitchen at Fairfield By Marriott, Rajajinagar, Bangalore. This culinary artistry expert has been associated with the Marriott group for over 7 years now, juggling various roles in different hotels in the group. He has also had international exposure with a 2-year stint at the Movenpick Hotel in Doha, Qatar, as Executive Sous Chef.

Chef Das believes in keeping his flavours authentic and his plating artistic.

Cotton Candy Ice Cream| Candy Floss (Buddhi Ke Baal) Ice Cream

Do you remember those carefree days of childhood when you used to go to fairs and pig out on candy floss? Or weekend outings to the neighbourhood park when you were bought candy floss as a special treat? I surely do. Those were simpler, easier times, when there weren’t many fancy desserts and a little treat meant, often, something like cotton candy aka candy floss, known as ‘Buddhi Ke Baal‘ (literally ‘old woman’s hair’) in many parts of India.

I am always hunting for unique flavours of ice cream and, this summer, have tried my hands at making quite a few new-to-me ice creams at home. When I saw several international bloggers making cotton candy ice cream, I knew I had to try it out too, that I was going to love it. But, a quick search showed me that most of these bloggers had used cotton candy syrup to create the ice cream, something that isn’t available in India, as far as I know. I began racking my brains to find a substitute and, soon enough, I did. I used the end product – cotton candy (buddhi ke baal) – itself.

On the left: My cotton candy ice cream!, On the right: The store-bought cotton candy that I used to make the ice cream

I bought a couple of packets of cotton candy from a departmental store – these days, cotton candy is available all neatly and hygienically packed, eh? Over a weekend, I perfected my version of cotton candy ice cream, which was much loved by everyone at home. All of us connected instantly to it, I think, because of the nostalgia associated with it, the charm, memories of us as little beings peering into huge vats that would go whirrr-whirrr-whirrr as cotton candy was made.

Here’s how I made the ice cream.

Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings):

  1. 250 ml fresh cream
  2. A pinch of salt
  3. 200 grams sweetened condensed milk
  4. 2 packets of cotton candy (30 grams each)
  5. About 1/4 cup of milk, boiled and cooled to room temperature (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat about 50 grams of the fresh cream in a thick-bottomed saucepan, till it starts bubbling. Switch off the gas at this point.
  2. Tear the cotton candy into small pieces and add them, one at a time, to the hot cream. Stir. The cotton candy will begin to dissolve into the cream immediately. Make sure all of the candy is thoroughly dissolved.
  3. Set the cream aside for a few minutes, till it cools down to room temperature.
  4. Meanwhile, take the rest of the fresh cream in a large mixing bowl. Whisk till it is slightly light, without overdoing it.
  5. Now, add in the salt and condensed milk to the mixing bowl, and mix well.
  6. Add in the cotton candy-cream mixture to the mixing bowl. Mix well, making sure everything is thoroughly incorporated together.
  7. Taste the mixture. If you feel it is too sweet, add a little milk to balance it out. If you think the mixture tastes alright as is, leave out the milk.
  8. Transfer the mixture to a clean, air-tight, dry box.
  9. Place the box in the freezer, covered. Set temperature at high. Let the ice cream freeze till it is set well – this should take about 4 hours.
  10. Get the box out of the freezer only when you are ready to serve the cotton candy ice cream. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. I used Amul Mithai Mate condensed milk to make this ice cream.
  2. The pinch of salt helps the ice cream set faster and better. Do not add more than a pinch, though, as that might alter the taste of the ice cream.
  3. I used Amul fresh cream.
  4. I used 2 packets of Candy Mist store-bought cotton candy (30 grams each), to make this ice cream. The cotton candy that I used was a mix of butterscotch and strawberry flavours. You could use cotton candy in any flavour that you prefer.
  5. Using milk is optional. Use it only if you feel your ice cream mixture is too sweet.
  6. You could use slightly less condensed milk to make the ice cream, if you prefer. I felt 200 grams of condensed milk, with the addition of about 1/4 cup of milk, worked best for me.
  7. Cotton candy packets off roadside or fairground stalls would do too.

You like? I hope you will try this recipe out soon, and that you will love it as much as we did!

 

 

 

Ripe Mango Mania| Best Ripe Mango Recipes| Ripe Mango Recipe Collection

I think, by now, all of you know how mango-crazy I am. I have been putting up mango-based recipes throughout this summer, like I do every year. I have absolutely loved the process of trying all these recipes out.

Mango season is, sadly, soon about to come to an end. Before that, I would like to put out a list of the best ripe mango recipes from my blog. I hope you will try out at least a few from this ripe mango recipe collection!

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1. Chilli & Mango Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The sweetness of ripe mangoes, the saltiness of cheese, and the heat of jalapenos meld together in this sandwich, to create a gorgeous, flavourful meal. You have to try it out to believe just how lovely this unusual combination tastes!

2. Stuffed Mango Kulfi

Delectable malai kulfi stuffed inside a sweet ripe mango – what is to not like? Try out this unique-looking kulfi and be prepared to wow your guests.

3. Mango & Hung Curd Parfait

This is, I think, a wonderful thing to make with ripe mangoes. The addition of nuts, honey and hung yogurt makes this parfait a very healthy thing to have. You could make it for breakfast, for dessert, or as an evening snack!

4. Mango Special Fruit Extravaganza

This dessert is a throwback to older, simpler times when there were no boutique bakeries and condensed milk was a luxury. You’ll be surprised by just how good this simple treat tastes!

5. Ripe Mango Salsa

This summer, do try out this mango-ey version of salsa! Spicy, sweet and tangy, this salsa goes very well with chips, nachos, khakras, lavash and the like.

6. Mango Pooris

Give the humble pooris a twist by adding some mango to them! These mango pooris make for a wonderful change from the usual meals. We love having them with mixed vegetable korma or a South Indian-style potato sagu. Yumminess!

7. No-Churn Eggless Mango Ice Cream

This is one of my most favourite things to do with ripe mangoes. In-season mangoes give the ice cream a beautiful taste and colour, naturally at that. It is super-easy to make, too.

8. Ripe Mango Curry, North Indian-Style

This delectable curry makes for a welcome change from the usual style of curries that we make in South India, as accompaniments for rotis and rice. Don’t miss trying this out, this summer!

9. Instant Mango Dhokla

The taste of the simple dhokla (beautiful in itself, I think) goes even higher with the addition of mango to it. Spicy, slightly sweet and tangy, these dhoklas are a treat to the tastebuds all right! What’s more, they can be whipped up in a matter of minutes.

10. Fruit Custard 

Fruit custard in itself is an awesome thing. When you add chunks of sweet, ripe mango to it, the flavour level goes up several notches. Try it out!

11. 3-Ingredient, No-Cook Amrakhand

This simple-to-make dessert is a bowl of sunshine all right! It is a mango-ey treat that tastes just as good as it looks.

12. Ras No Fajeto

This Gujarati dish made with yogurt, buttermilk, ginger and green chillies, as well as a few other ingredients tastes absolutely delectable. It makes for an utterly ‘Wow!’ combination with rice and rotis alike.

13. Mango Kesari

This slightly tangy, sweet and very flavourful ripe mango kesari is an absolute delight. If you have a big sweet tooth like I do, don’t miss trying out this recipe, this summer!

14. Mango Bruschetta

Light on the palate, yet satisfying; simple to whip up, yet delectable; a blend of varied textures and flavours – that is mango bruschetta for you. This very different-from-the-usual appetiser will surely leave you craving for more!

15. Ripe Mango Hummus With Sriracha

This hummus is just the right amount of spicy, sweet, and tangy, perfectly rich and creamy. It makes for a beautiful dip for nachos, khakras, murukkus, lavash and chips, apart from being a great spread for sandwiches and toasted bread.

Which of these ripe mango recipes sounds the most inviting to you? Do let me know!

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Do check out my post about the best raw mango recipes on my blog. There’s so much to try out!

Playing Hide-And-Seek With The Clouds In Meghalaya

You know you are in Meghalaya when you often feel like you are standing amidst clouds. Here, you will often come across clouds obscuring an entire mountain range, wiping it out of your eyesight. Here, you will often feel clouds wrapping around you, leaving you mesmerised and cold, as if you have just stepped inside a life-size refrigerator.

While holidaying in Meghalaya, one of the husband’s and my favourite pastimes was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. Like two excitable kids, we would shout out – ‘Look, there come the clouds!’. We would watch, fascinated, as the clouds would blot out things as big as elephants from our line of vision, letting us see only that which they wanted us to see.

See, for instance, this set of pictures taken at the Arwah caves in Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya. These pictures have been taken within seconds of each other and, yet, how different the landscape looks in each one!

This was the scene in front of us when we reached Arwah caves…

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Clouds rising up from a valley amidst the mountains

… which, within seconds, went to this…

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Rising up, up, up

… and then this…

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Higher and higher and higher go the clouds

… and this.

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Can you tell there is a mountain behind those clouds?

I could go on watching this for hours on end! I would have done just that, if I had been on a long, long trip, without having to bother about a budget or time or other destinations to check out.

The name ‘Meghalaya’ is so very apt for this north-eastern state, I say. It means ‘abode of the clouds’ (Megh-alaya), and the clouds, really and truly, do reside here. I’m not sure who coined the name, but is surely is perfect. No wonder Rabindranath Tagore loved this state enough to spend a large part of his life here, and was moved enough to write poetry.

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I hope you have been reading and enjoying my posts about our recent trip to North-East India. If you haven’t checked them out so far, please do!

The beginning of school and a schoolmoon

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

Ripe Mango Hummus With Sriracha

Ripe mango hummus with Sriracha has been doing the rounds on Pinterest lately. I didn’t get tempted enough to try it out, though, till I came across a simple recipe for the same by Monika Manchanda. And then, I absolutely had to make it.

I loved, loved, loved the way the mango hummus turned out – creamy and just the right mix of spicy and tangy and sweet. It makes for a great spread on toasted bread, a lovely base for sandwiches. It goes as a beautiful dip for lavash, chips, murukkus (yes!), nachos and khakras, too. Try it out to know just how versatile it is, yet how easy to make!

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Ripe mango hummus with Sriracha!

Here is how to make the hummus. I used Monika’s recipe as is, only substituting the paprika therein with red chilli powder.

Ingredients (yields 1 medium-sized bowl):

  1. 1-1/2 cup boiled kabuli chana (chickpeas)
  2. 1 cup of ripe mango chunks
  3. Salt to taste
  4. 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  5. 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  6. 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  7. 2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
  8. 2 tablespoons olive oil

Method:

  1. Take all the ingredients in a mixer jar. Blend till you get a smooth paste.
  2. Transfer to a clean, dry, air-tight box. Store in refrigerator and thaw before use. Serve the hummus with toasted bread, in sandwiches or as a dip for khakras, murukkus, lavash, chips or nachos.

Notes:

  1. Increase the quantity of lemon juice if you want the hummus to be more tangy. Similarly, increase the quantity of Sriracha sauce if you want a spicier hummus.
  2. I used Sriracha sauce from Thai Heritage.
  3. You could use any variety of mango that isn’t too fibrous. I used a Banganapally.
  4. Use a ripe, sweet and juicy mango that isn’t too sour. The mango should be firm and not too squishy.
  5. If you don’t have Sriracha sauce on hand, you could substitute it with red chilli sauce.

You like? I hope you will try out this Sriracha and mango hummus, too, and that you will love it just as much as we did!