Visiting First Agro: Digging Deeper Into Pesticide-Free Farming

The OH and I recently had the opportunity to visit First Agro’s farm at Talakadu, about 120 km away from Bangalore. Considering the way we are slowly switching over to chemical-free, local and healthier alternatives for the things that we use in our everyday lives, both of us were thrilled at the chance to visit the farm. It is one of Bangalore’s well-known suppliers of chemical-free vegetables, after all!

Once we reached the farm, we were met by Naveen MV, co-founder and CEO, First Agro. We went on to spend the entire day with him at the farm, looking at this plant and that, and understanding what pesticide-free farming is all about. I must take this opportunity to thank Naveen for sparing such a whole lot of time out of his highly busy schedule, as I am sure it must be, to show us around. You were an amazing host, Naveen!

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The first stage of growing – seedlings – at First Agro

First things first, we understood the difference between ‘organic farming’ and ‘zero-pesticide farming’, as explained to us by Naveen. No, the two things aren’t the same, as we got to know! ‘Organic farming’ is just a method of cultivation; it isn’t a guarantee that no pesticides have been used in the growing, Naveen told us.First Agro goes a step further, he said, by ensuring that not a drop of pesticide goes into the vegetables/greens/fruits that they grow. They have the lab reports to prove that they are, really and truly, zero-pesticide, which not many farms – including ‘organic’ ones – can boast of. (Click here to read more about First Agro’s attempts at growing pesticide-free produce vs. organic produce.)

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Hogging on farm-fresh corn at First Agro – the sweetest corn I have ever had, honestly. And the best part? It is free of pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), commonly present in corn elsewhere.

The consumption of vegetables and fruits which have been sprayed with pesticides or have been grown using GMOs have a truckload of adverse effects on our health, as I am sure all of us have read somewhere or the other. What is scary is that you don’t often realise the ways in which you are being negatively impacted by all the chemicals you consume this way. From PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – a hormonal disorder that is rapidly on the rise among Indian women lately) and unexplained infertility to cancer, a lot has been linked to the consumption of chemicals through food and other means. It then makes sense to try to go as chemical-free as we can in the products that we buy, doesn’t it? At least, that way, we can ensure we are doing our best to lead a healthy lifestyle and protect ourselves, in the long run.

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From left to right, pok choi, bird’s eye chillies and ridge gourd at First Agro

Besides the regular cucumbers and tomatoes and okra, First Agro grows a whole lot of exotic stuff – like heirloom black rice (forbidden rice), red okra, Peruvian kiwicha, jalapeno peppers, San Marzano tomatoes, dandelion greens, Japanese mustard leaves, black radish, lemon balm, pok choy, wild rocket, and lemon basil. We were really, really stunned to taste some of the greens – the taste was so very beautiful I can’t explain it in words!

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From left to right, cherry tomatoes on the vine, Peruvian kiwicha, and red okra at First Agro

First Agro also grows several edible flowers – basil and zucchini and nasturtium flowers, for instance. This is something that isn’t very easy to find in India. I am now craving to experiment with their greens and edible flowers, all of which possess incredible health benefits that aren’t commonly known.

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Nasturtium flowers at First Agro

We are always fascinated by farms, the OH and I. We love seeing new life growing. We love seeing flowers budding and then turning into our favourite vegetables. So, you can imagine how charmed the both of us were as we walked around the huge, 100-acre First Agro farm, checking out this plant and that, sampling leaves and vegetables and fruits on the way.

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Some of the rainbow corn that First Agro is attempting to grow. Fascinating, right?

BTW, First Agro also has its own beehives, and produces different types of honey – jamun honey, eucalyptus honey, neem honey, lychee honey and Kashmir white honey. We didn’t get to see any bees buzzing around (thankfully!), but we were amazed to see their bee boxes.

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Bee boxes at First Agro

We were explained how First Agro ensures that locals from the surrounding villages are involved in the sorting of vegetables, and how they often usual manual labour for certain processes so as to get best results, in spite of being highly time-consuming and expensive.

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Locals weeding at the First Agro farm
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The sorting of different types of chillies!

So, how does First Agro keep its crops pest-free, if no pesticides are used at all?, we asked Naveen. There are various ways to do that, he replied. Using insects is one way – when a patch of vegetables is threatened by a pest, certain insects (which prey on this particular pest) are introduced. These insects eat up the pest, and the problem is solved! Another way of doing this is by putting up pheromone traps – traps that attract pests by emitting the scent of the opposite sex, imprisoning them in the process.

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Pheromone traps in action at First Agro

First Agro’s distribution arm, Sakura Fresh, delivers its pesticide-free vegetables and other produce throughout Bangalore, including some renowned hotels. First Agro has also, apparently, been associated with some other prestigious projects, such as working with some of the best doctors in Bangalore to ensure the supply of pesticide-free produce to cancer patients.

We were treated to a sumptuous and delicious vegetarian meal at the farm, cooked by the staff. It was all cooked with fresh, pesticide-free veggies, and we were left licking our fingers with delight. The freshness of the ingredients make all the difference to the taste of food, after all, don’t they? The meal was proof of this fact.

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The meal that we enjoyed at First Agro

We left for Bangalore when the afternoon was just wearing off, with our hearts full of good conversation and our heads full of knowledge.

I can safely say I cannot ever see vegetables and fruits the same way after this visit – I keep thinking about just how much pesticide has gone into them, or whether they were grown humanely. It looks like we are fast converting into First Agro customers – most of their prices are at par with market prices of veggies grown with pesticides, so it isn’t going to be a difficult switch to make, really. What about you?

Find First Agro on Facebook here. Here‘s their website, in case you are interested in ordering from them, too.

Disclaimer: I do not stand to any kind of gain by promoting First Agro, or recommending their products. The views expressed herein are entirely my own.

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Happy Icecreaming At The Right Moo, Bangalore

I was sold the minute I read the name of the newest ice cream parlour in HSR Layout, a few days ago, casually passing by. It is called The Right Moo – brilliant, ain’t it? I had the feeling that the parlour’s offerings would be equally brilliant, too. What intrigued me further about The Right Moo is that it claims to sell ‘100% organic ice creams’ and to be ‘India’s first organic ice cream’.

We absolutely had to go and check out the place over the weekend.I’m glad we decided to go visit went, because we simply loved the two ice creams we sampled at The Right Moo. We can’t wait to go back for more!

The Right Moo‘s organic milk is quite famous among health-conscious people in Madras, apparently, as my cousin who lives there tells me. It is a new name in Bangalore, though – in fact, the HSR Layout outlet opened just two days ago. This apart, The Right Moo has also opened up two more outlets in Bangalore.

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This sign greeted us at the door to the ice cream parlour

I loved the look of the parlour – simple and functional, nothing too fancy. The seating area has a decent capacity, and seats are comfortable.

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The recently inaugurated parlour in HSR Layout

The outlet sells ice cream scoops, cold coffee, milk shakes, ice cream rolls (something I haven’t come across anywhere else!), sundaes, tetra packs of organic milk, organic chocolates and aam ras.

Considering that the parlour is very new, they only had a few basic flavours on offer when we visited. More flavours are supposed to come in in the next week. We noticed that there are a maximum of four or five flavours available in each category (scoops, milk shakes, ice cream rolls and sundaes, basically) – mostly classic ones like mango, chocolate, coconut, chikoo, and strawberry.

We opted for a single Tiramisu scoop first. (BTW, I love that the parlour has a size called ‘On The Fence’ for people who cannot decide between a single scoop and a double! Cute!)

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Single Tiramisu scoop at The Right Moo

Our Tiramisu scoop was creamy and succulent – absolutely flavourful. The coffee and chocolate tastes in the ice cream were perfectly balanced.

Next up, we ordered Mango Ice Cream Rolls, the preparation of which was a delight to watch.

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Spreading out the base ice cream – a simple milk ice cream
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Spreading it out thinner
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Adding mango-flavoured syrup
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Making the rolls
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The mango ice cream rolls, served drizzled with organic honey

I loved these rolls – again, they were creamy and satisfying and delicious. They weren’t very mango-ey, though – we were told that that was because the base ice cream used for all ice cream rolls was a simple milk-based one, which is filled with syrup of whatever flavour you order, and then rolled up.

The husband felt that the base milk ice cream was a bit too milky, but it suited my taste buds just fine. I also loved how these rolls were served in an eco-friendly dish!

We sampled the mango ice cream scoop (different from the one used in making the rolls) – a deep yellow – and it was beautiful! It was intensely mango-ey, a burst of flavour in the mouth, just the way you would expect real mango ice cream to be.

It is great to know that these ice creams don’t contain any of the harmful components that might be present in an ordinary ice cream.

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A sign at The Right Moo

The prices are at par with fun ice cream brands like Pabrais and Cream & Stone. We paid about INR 200 for the two confections that we ordered. Honestly, I don’t mind paying up a bill like that (it isn’t too hefty, it is at par with other, similar ice cream brands) if it means peace of mind and satisfaction at eating completely organic and chemical-free ice creams.

Like I said before, the husband and I can’t wait to go back to this place again, and sample all the other goodies that they have to offer.

Do grab a couple of ice creams (or shakes or sundaes or waffles, for that matter!) whenever you spot a The Right Moo outlet. Highly recommended!

Find them on Facebook here.

Disclaimers:

1. The dishes we tasted at The Right Moo were completely paid for by us, personally.

2. The views expressed in this post are entirely my own, not influenced by anyone.

3. I do not stand to receive any sort of gain by recommending these confectioneries to you.

A Peek Into Route 42, The New Pub-Cafe In Bangalore

When I was recently invited to sample the offerings of Route 42, a new entry in the pub-cafe scene in Bangalore, I was skeptical. I don’t drink and am a vegetarian to boot, so what would I have to sample in a pub-cum-cafe?, I asked the concerned PR. I was assured there would be plenty for me to sample and write about. Today, I am glad I went – the eatery is beautiful, the food is good and reasonably priced, and there was, indeed, a whole lot for me to sample and write home about. Most importantly, I am happy I went because I think, in the process, I discovered a place that I would be happy to revisit and spend time in.

Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritties, shall we?

Location

Route 42 (which gets its name from the number of the block it is located in, and co-owner Ashish’s desire for everyone to take the ‘route’ to the eatery on their way back home from work!) is located in the hip-and-happening locality of Koramangala, near another pub called Tilt. The location is definitely upmarket and not one bit tough to find.

BTW, Ashish is not a new name in the hotel industry – he is a veteran, the man behind pubs and cafes like Le Rock, Legends of Rock, and Moscow Mule.

Decor and ambience

The place boasts of some unique and funky decor, and has a welcoming, comforting vibe to it.

There is ample seating available, both downstairs and upstairs. The downstairs seating area is a smoke-free zone, with a separate zone for smokers provided. A large bar adorns one whole side of the downstairs seating area.

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A denim sofa at Route 42 – classy, yet funky, no?
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Sofas made of gunny bags, in the upper seating area at Route 42. Notice the rustic setting?

I really loved the mural near the entrance, a tribute to Bangalore – depicting all things that are intrinsic to the city, from masala dosa and vada, the Metro, and the Big Bull temple to actor Rajkumar and the Electronic City flyover.

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The ‘Bangalore’ mural near the entrance
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This is what will catch your eye as soon as you enter Route 42!

I found I was able to talk very comfortably with the other food bloggers present at the sampling, in spite of the music playing. I soon got to know the reason from Kumar, a co-owner of the property. The eatery has a special sound system which defracts noise and ensures that music is spread out evenly throughout, and does not hit one’s ears harshly even if played at a loud volume. I loved, loved, loved this kind of attention to detail, considering that the OH and I have been disappointed several times over with not being able to hear a word over the loud music in a number of restaurants we have visited. When you go out with your partner or friends to eat, you seek conversation as much as you seek delicious food, right?

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The view from the upstairs seating area

The smoking area downstairs has also been fitted with a special kind of exhaust system, we were told. Cigarette smoke and the smell of smoke clears within minutes thanks to this kind of exhaust.

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The ladies’ loo – cute!

Kumar went on to tell us about the decibel meter they have invested in, to ensure that the sound of the music system does not spill out of the pub, as is popular fashion these days.

I am impressed by this attention to such minute details, I must say. There are a whole lot of little things which have been taken care of, after detailed thought, to make sure the customers have a nice, relaxing experience at the pub.

The drinks

Route 42 has a decent selection of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

I tried out a few of their mocktails and loved most of them.

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Clockwise from top left – Kiwi Mojito, Chocofill Berry, Strawberry & Banana Smoothie, Mango Mock-O-Lada

My personal favourites were the Mango Mock-O-Lada (oh, it had a lovely mango-ey taste!) and the Strawberry & Banana Smoothie (just the right amount of tang and sweetness!).

Some of the food bloggers with us ordered cocktails and alcohol from the menu, all of which was great, I was told.

Mocktails and cocktails alike, the presentation of the drinks was very appealing.

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A Strawberry Diaquiri, ordered by a fellow food blogger

The food

Route 42 serves a mix of Indian and Continental food, an extensive array of starters and main course items. Some of the items on the menu – like Akki Roti with Pandi Curry, for instance – are quite unique and difficult to find in a pub-cafe of this sort.

I am thrilled to tell you that Route 42 has as big a list of vegetarian starters and main course dishes as it does for the non-vegetarian ones. The OH and I have eagerly been to so many eateries with friends, only to discover that there were nothing much for us to explore – maybe some French Fries or a salad. Thankfully, Route 42 is different.

Ashish went on to tell us of how he has some old-fashioned things like Chilly Chicken Manchurian and Cheese Chilly Toast on the menu as a throwback to the olden times when pubbing in Bangalore wasn’t as fancy a thing as it is today. This is thanks to Ashish’s vision for Route 42 – he wants it to be a simple pub/cafe that people love coming to, nothing fancy, nothing elaborate.

We sampled quite a few of their starters, all presented beautifully, and liked most of them.

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Clockwise, from top left – Cajun-Spiced Fried American Corn, Kung Pao Baby Potatoes, Cheesy Shooms, and Paneer Garlic Sticks

I loved the Cheesy Shrooms and the Kung Pao Baby Potatoes – both very well done, with the perfect blend of spices. Different starters came with different sauces, all of which were very flavourful.

We heard from the bloggers who sampled the non-vegetarian starters that they were great, too.

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Chicken Skewers, ordered by a fellow blogger

For main course, I decided to taste their pizzas, all of which are thin-crust, done the authentic Italian way unlike the biscuit-y crust we have encountered in a lot of eateries.

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The Farmhouse Pizza and the Pesto Primavera Pizza that I sampled

I am now a big, big fan of Route 42’s pizzas! I loved the flavours of the pizzas here. In fact, the pizzas were the star of the day for me.

The non-vegetarian pizzas were very well done too, I was told. Apparently, the other non-vegetarian main course dishes that my fellow food bloggers tasted were good, too.

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East Indian Keema Pao ordered by another food blogger

Ashish told us of how he orders a special type of masala, which goes into most dishes prepared by the restaurant, accounting for their lovely taste.

After all of that lovely food, we moved on to the desserts, of which there are only two on the menu – I do hope this is improved upon soon!

We sampled their Banana and Nutella Croquettes, something very unique to me. I fell in love with them instantly – they were lovely, hot and chocolate-ey, with the banana slices inside them fried to perfection. Just gorgeous, I say!

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Banana and Nutella Croquettes

Prices

All of us food bloggers present for the sampling at Route 42 felt that prices are very reasonable, as compared to those at other similar pubs and cafes. Especially so when you consider the great taste of the food and its good quality – there’s nothing cheap about the food here.

The drinks are also priced quite reasonably, we felt.

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The menu at Route 42

Considering the lovely ambience of the place, the food is definitely a steal. In fact, the price is one of the factors Ashish wants to use to differentiate the pub from others in the area, at least in the initial stages. He wants the pub to become the ‘watering hole everyone loves dropping into’, which is why he wants to try and maintain the affordable prices.

Another thing I would like to mention here is – we were assured that the quality of the food, its presentation, its taste is always the same as what was served to us. The quality or taste wasn’t upgraded simply for the day, just because we food bloggers would be visiting.

All in all, I loved the experience of visiting and lunching at Route 42. It is the kind of place that I would actually like recommending to you people. Do visit!

You can follow them on Facebook here.

Disclaimer:

My review is based on the food and drinks served to us at Route 42, as part of the sampling. The sampling was free of cost for us. The thoughts expressed herein are purely my own, not influenced by anyone or anything. I do not stand to any kind of gain by recommending this eatery.

A Round-Up of The Very Enlightening Diabetic Masterclass, Bangalore

Yesterday, on the occasion of World Diabetes Day, a Diabetic Masterclass was organised at Hotel Anjappar, Koramangala, Bangalore. The class, organised by the Diabetes Food Trail (Go here to understand what the trail is all about!) in co-ordination with Britannia NutriChoice Essentials, aimed at spreading awareness about diabetes and about the fact that food for diabetics (or healthy food, in general) can be tasty as well. I am happy to tell you that I was a part of the event too, along with some other food bloggers. And, I am very glad I was, for it was such an enlightening experience.

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Seema and Manoj, founders of the Diabetic Food Trail, start off the Masterclass

The event started with an informative presentation by Biocon, one of the largest producers of medicines for diabetes. Followed by this, renowned nutritionist Geeta GH went on to elaborate on the different kinds of food that diabetics and health-conscious people should include in their daily diet. This was a lovely, energetic, enthusiastic session that provided me a whole lot of information on what I should be eating and what I shouldn’t. The session reinforced my belief in eating locally, eating seasonal produce, cutting down on processed food, and eating everything that you love, but in moderation, rather than racking my brains on trying to understand the thousands of nuances in cooking/eating different types of food.

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Nutritionist Geeta GH speaking about how to go about eating a healthy diet

Post this was the turn of celebrity chef Irfan Pabaney from Sassy Spoon, Mumbai, to go on stage. Were we all excited?! Of course, we were!

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Some of the ingredients, ready and waiting to be used in some wonderful dishes!

Chef Pabaney demonstrated two lovely recipes – a Curried Quinoa Salad and a Roasted Pumpkin and Brown Rice Risotto – which were oh-so-delicious.

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Seema and Chef Pabaney with the Curried Quinoa Salad
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A close-up of the Curried Quinoa Salad
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A close-up of Chef Pabaney’s Roasted Pumpkin and Brown Rice Risotto

Then, Chef Jinnendra of Smally’s, Church Street, Bangalore went on stage to demonstrate the two recipes we had tried earlier as part of the Diabetic Dessert Trail – No-Bake Muesli Cheesecake With NutriChoice Essentials Oats Cookies and Twisted RagiChoco Cake with NutriChoice Essentials Ragi Cookies. Gorgeousness, I say!

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Chef Jinnendra on stage
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A close-up of the No-Bake Muesli Cheesecake
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Chef Jinnendra demonstrating the Twisted RagiChoco Cake
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A close-up of the Twisted RagiChoco Cake

After this, Anjappar’s Head Chef from Chennai, Chef Tamil, came up on stage to demonstrate two very interesting recipes – a Drumstick Soup and a Chettinad Bitter Gourd Garlic Kaara Kozhambu. Lip-smacking, I must say!

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Chef Tamil on stage
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That’s the drumstick soup!
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And that is the lovely, lovely, lovely Bitter Gourd and Garlic Kaara Kozhambu!

Can you believe that all of these beautiful-looking dishes are actually healthy? Well, they are! The recipes for each of these dishes have been modified to make them healthier and diabetic-friendly. With these dishes (which I can’t wait to try out at home now!), you can eat delish food, guilt-free. Now, if that isn’t a win-win situation, I don’t know what is. 🙂

PS: For those of you who are interested in the recipes, I will be sharing them soon, after I try them out at home.

The Diabetic Dessert Trail 2016: A Wonderful Experience

I was recently offered the opportunity to be associated with the Diabetic Food Trail (Second Edition this year), and grabbed it with both hands. I got to be a part of the Diabetic Dessert Trail 2016 in Bangalore – a compilation of ‘diabetic-friendly’  dessert recipes put together by the chefs of some of the top-notch eateries in the city. Along with some other food bloggers, I got to sample the desserts that these experienced chefs have come up with. What an enlightening, wonderful experience all of it has been!

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For the uninitiated, here is a a bit of background about the Diabetic Food Trail.

Seema and Manoj Pinto, husband-wife duo and the brains behind this trail, have had a long-standing association with diabetes in their families, and have seen first-hand how the disease wreaks havoc on one’s body. In spite of over 75 million people affected with diabetes in India, Seema says, it is shocking to see the lack of awareness about the disease and its complications. So many people go on to suffer from diabetes, year after year, kids included, when all of it could be avoided with just a few lifestyle changes and the right sort of diet.

That said, Seema says it has been a struggle to find the right sort of healthy food, fit for diabetics, on Manoj’s and her extensive travels across India. ‘Healthy food’ has often been equated to bland or tasteless food that no one would want to eat. The Diabetic Food Trail was launched by Seema and Manoj, in 2015, as an attempt to change all of this. Over 120 eateries across India were brought on board, in different cities of India, including Bangalore. Each of these restaurants served specially designed healthy food that is not bland and tasteless between November 14 and 30, 2015 (considering that November 14 is World Diabetes Day).

This year, 2016, the Diabetes Food Trail is bigger and better. Fava, Caperberry, Tea Trails, Little Italy, Barleyz, Nimisserie, Via Milano, Green Theory, Smokehouse Deli, Chianti, Anjappar, Arbor Brewing Company, The Ritz-Carlton, and Republic of Noodles are some of the eateries in Bangalore that are participating in the Trail this year.

“Our vision is to see a healthy, diabetic-friendly menu served in every restaurant in India, so people with diabetes can make an informed choice about what they eat,” say the founders of the trail.

For more information about the Diabetic Food Trail, do visit the website.

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The Diabetic Dessert Trail that I was a part of is a sub-section of the Diabetic Food Trail. It is an attempt to showcase healthy desserts that diabetics (as well as health-conscious people) can enjoy in a guilt-free manner. It is aimed at teaching people that healthy desserts don’t need to be boring – all they need is a different sort of thinking.

Now, enough of my blabbering, eh? Let’s move on to all those wonderful desserts that we sampled for the Dessert Trail!

Fava, UB City

The first pit-stop for all of us food bloggers undertaking the trail was at Fava, UB City.

I loved how paper placemats had been used at the tables to debunk various common myths about diabetes. Way to go! I can now safely say I understand diabetes quite a bit better than I used to, thanks to the trivia and the pep talk by Seema and Manoj.

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Places set with mats indicating diabetes-related trivia, at Fava

Well, at Fava, we were served the first dessert of the trail -Fresh Ricotta and Red Grape Timbale with NutriChoice Essentials 5 Grain Cookie Crumble and Organic Honey. What a beauty! It tasted just gorgeous – the ricotta was super fresh and melt-in-the-mouth, the organic honey and grapes lent it a beautiful, beautiful flavour. I am quite sure I am going to try this out at home some time! (PS: NutriChoice Essentials is the title sponsor for the event)

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Fresh Ricotta And Red Grape Timbale

The second dessert served by the Fava chef was a Sugar-Free Callebaut Belgian Dark Chocolate Sorbet With Cut Fresh Fruits. To a chocolate lover like me, this was a glimpse of pure heaven!

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The chef explained to us how his team had just whipped up some high-quality sugar-free chocolate to create the mousse, with nothing else added in – which was what gave it its clear, slightly bitter but gorgeous pure chocolate taste. The sorbet was perfectly complemented by the fresh cut fruits that it was served with.

Caperberry, UB City

The next two desserts of the trail were courtesy of Caperberry, UB City.

First to go was the Sugarfree Belgian Chocolate Decadence with NutriChoice Essentials Oats Cookie Crumble and Fresh Berries. This eggless dessert was so, so, so beautiful – I was left licking my spoon, literally!

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Sugarfree Belgian Chocolate Decadence

Next up was the Eggless and Sugarfree Pannacotta with Orange Compote, Vanilla Sauce and Crunchy Tuille. What loveliness, I tell you! The tang of the orange, the scent of vanilla and the melt-in-the-mouth pannacotta complemented each other just perfectly.

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Eggless and Sugarfree Pannacotta with Orange Compote, Vanilla Sauce and Crunchy Tuille

Smally’s Resto Cafe, Church Street

To sample the next two desserts on the trail, we headed to Smally’s Resto Cafe on Church Street.

Here, we were served a No-Bake Muesli Cheesecake With NutriChoice Essentials Oats Cookies. It was a lovely, lovely confection made of hung curd, muesli and the graininess of biscuit crumbs. Light and frothy and delish, it was something you could have for breakfast or at any time of the day.

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No-Bake Muesli Cheesecake

Next, we were served a Twisted RagiChoco Cake with NutriChoice Essentials Ragi Cookies. This dessert had the beautiful crunch of peanuts, which went very well with the crumbled ragi cookies and dark chocolate used in it. What an idea! I am definitely going to steal it soon.

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Twisted RagiChoco Cake

The Ritz-Carlton, Residency Road

We headed to The Ritz-Carlton on Residency Road for the next part of the trail, where decorations and preparations for Christmas celebrations have already started.

We were each served a plate consisting of Apple-Plum Strudel, Apricot Cranberry Cupcakes with NutriChoice Essentials Oat Cookies, and Blueberry Mint Parfait with NutriChoice Essentials Oats Cookies.

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The plate of desserts we were served at The Ritz-Carlton

All of these desserts had nil to very little sugar, most of the sweetness coming from the fruit/s that had been added to them. They were just the way healthy, diabetic-friendly desserts are supposed to be – though a tad tough for an average person to gulp down, sadly.

Post the dessert session, one of the restaurant chefs demonstrated the technique to make the Apricot Cranberry Cupcakes that we had just had.

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A Ritz-Carlton chef demonstrating how to make Apricot Cranberry Cupcakes
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Decorating the cupcakes with fresh cranberries!

Then, Seema Pinto went on to brief us about the short cookbook that she has designed, along with her husband Manoj, for diabetics. It is a work-in-progress, she said, to which they are hoping to add a whole lot of new recipes. That said, the book still has a lot of lovely, healthy recipes that I am definitely going to try out. Each food blogger present at the venue was gifted a copy of the cookbook, which I am waiting to use.

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Seema briefing us about the healthy recipes in the cookbook

And that was the end of a very interesting, very enlightening experience. 🙂

Here’s wishing the Diabetic Food Trail and all those associated with it the best of luck. May they be successful in their mission to spread awareness about diabetes, and help in the prevention of at least some part of it. May there be healthy food available across the world, out of home, to everyone who wants access to it.

Notes:

  1. Some of the sugarfree desserts we were served at Fava and Caperberry had used Stevia as a sweetening agent. Unlike artificial sweeteners that are chemical-based and believed to have carcinogenic properties, Stevia is plant-derived and relatively safer to use in desserts, tea and coffee, and other savoury preparations for everyday use. If you want to read up more about Stevia, please go here. I don’t have the necessary knowledge to comment on how safe it is to use Stevia, so I will refrain from doing that. Personally, though, I would rather use fruits, honey or palm sugar as a sweetener for a dessert, if I don’t want to use refined sugar.
  2. Honestly, none of the desserts we were served at Fava, Caperberry or Smally’s tasted bland or bitter or uninteresting. They were all gorgeous confections, pieces of art that tasted as great as they looked. I wouldn’t mind it at all if these restaurants continued to serve these desserts even after the Diabetic Food Trail ends on November 30, 2016. I would surely love to taste them again!
  3. The desserts were served to us, free of cost, in exchange for an honest review on our respective blogs. The views expressed herein are completely my own, and haven’t been influenced by anyone else.

 

Calcutta Diaries: Of Hogging Street-Side Jhal Muri

Photographing jhal muri in a cone made out of a Bengali newspaper, in Calcutta, has been a silly little dream of mine for as long as I can remember. And, of course, the dream included the eating of the said jhal muri too. :)

I am happy to report the coming true of this little dream on our recent Calcutta visit. Street-side jhal muri – check, Calcutta – check, Bengali newspaper – check, deliciousness – check.

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We chose a vendor near New Market to sample our first jhal muri in Calcutta – and it turned out to be our only sampling of the same as well.

The jhal muri was beautiful, with just the right amount of mustard oil in it, not too less and not too overpowering either. I had never thought I would enjoy a confection with pieces of coconut and mustard oil in it so much, but I did! And, this guy added some mustard-oil-y pickle to it too, which tasted just gorgeous!

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I have had jhal muri in Bangalore before, but didn’t like it much. Now, I know why. Those plates of jhal muri were so underwhelming, so not right, so not the real thing.

I can’t wait to try my hands out at making jhal muri at home. Will I get the taste right? Only time can tell.

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Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Man Proposes…

Calcutta Vignettes

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street

Calcutta Vignettes – 2

Visiting Nahoum’s, One Of Calcutta’s Oldest Surviving (Jewish) Bakeries

Calcutta Vignettes – 3

Calcutta Vignettes – 3

The rickshaw wallahs are such an important part of Calcutta, ferrying luggage and passengers across the streets, pulling their rickshaw by the sheer force of their bodies. I found this heart-breakingly sad and refused to use these rickshaws, but they are definitely still very much in vogue in the city. I just can’t imagine the landscape of Calcutta without these rickshaws.

I fell in love with the beautiful sound of the cowbells that these rickshaw wallahs hold in their hands, and ring to attract customers. I wanted to get one for myself, but didn’t find it anywhere. I should have asked a rickshaw wallah the source, I think now, in hindsight.

 

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A rickshaw puller’s bell

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In Bangalore, I have seen cans of filtered water being made available to the economically deprived sections of the society at INR 5 a can or so. But then, I have never seen anything as well designed and sleek as this ‘Water ATM’ that we stumbled upon near the Gariahat market.

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Water ATM near Gariahat market

Cool, no?

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Walk through the bylanes of Calcutta, especially around New Market, and you will definitely go back in time. While doing so, we came across so many quaint shops – some probably going back a few hundred years – that I loved photographing. This tea shop, for instance.

I loved, loved, loved the look of this tea shop, though we didn’t get in. There’s something very charming about the facade, right? Like it is straight out of a book.

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Wherever we walked around in the olden part of Calcutta, we came across these shrines on the roadside. The idols would be so beautifully decorated, and would look quite different from the sort of idols we are so used to seeing in South India.

This Hanuman shrine was spotted somewhere in New Market.

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Hanuman shrine in New Market

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Sindoor is a hugely important component of the shringar of an average married Bengali woman. We came across quite a few sindoor sellers outside Kali Ghat, and I was fascinated by the number of colours of sindoor powder on display.

I didn’t buy any because I am more of a liquid sindoor kind of person, and I don’t use it every day anyways.

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A sindoor vendor outside Kali Ghat

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I was utterly fascinated by this old-fashioned oil merchant’s shop in New Market. A munshiji sitting on a high desk, his minions transporting oil in big cans on a hand-pulled cart – where else could I have come across such a scene but for Calcutta?

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Inside an oil merchant’s shop in New Market

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We passed through this ‘hanging bridge’ on our way to the Dakshineshwar Kali temple. No, it is not Howrah Bridge, but a bridge built on similar principles.

I was charmed by this bridge, for reasons unknown to me. Riding in a cab going above the bridge felt like entering into a movie.

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A hanging bridge en route to Dakshineshwar Kali temple

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Water, filled in old vanaspati ghee dabbas, and transported on a hand-pulled plank was something we saw quite commonly while shopping in the New Market. Where was all that water being transported to? Where from? I can only speculate.

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Water being transported in New Market

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The variety of street food available in Calcutta is mind-boggling. With a toddler threatening to running amok the minute she was put down on the pavement, it was tough for us to sample all of this gorgeous street food – from chaats and rolls to chowmein and lassi – but we did our best.

That said, we would often crave for a Darshini to sit and rest our tired feet, in the midst of street shopping, a tough nut to crack in Calcutta.

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A kiosk selling food and tea near Gariahat market

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Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Man Proposes…

Calcutta Vignettes

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street

Calcutta Vignettes – 2

Visiting Nahoum’s, One Of Calcutta’s Oldest Surviving (Jewish) Bakeries

Visiting Nahoum’s, One Of Calcutta’s Oldest Surviving (Jewish) Bakeries

Our recent trip to Calcutta was one for which we didn’t do anything but the most basic of research. We wanted to take things as they come, to let experiences come to us rather than our going to them. Thanks to this, I hadn’t known about Nahoum’s before one of my acquaintances told us about the place just a couple of days before we were to leave on our trip. ‘If you are going to visit Calcutta, you must visit Nahoum’s,’ she said, and proceeded to give us the names of the stuff that we absolutely must try out there.

The minute the said acquaintance described Nahoum’s to me, I knew I had to go there – I simply had to go. How could I not want to visit one of Calcutta’s oldest bakeries, over a 100 years old? One set up by a Baghdadi Jew in 1902, which still holds a place in the hearts of the foodies of Calcutta? One that is described as a place with a charming, charming, old-world vibe to it?

So, checking out this bakery was high on our priority list, and we went on to do the task one humid afternoon when we had not much else to do.

The place, in itself, didn’t disappoint. Located bang in the middle of the bustling New Market in Calcutta, Nahoum’s (Nahoum & Sons, Dainty Confectionery, actually) is a large-ish bakery-cum-shop that oozes charm. With a high ceiling, glass cases all around showcasing baked goodies, an old-fashioned till and a well-worn floor, the place surely took us back in time.

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Part of Nahoum’s bakery-cum-shop in New Market

When we visited, though, most of the glass cases were empty. There was no tell-tale sign of baking wafting out of the bakery, and not many goodies left to sell. There were freshly baked plum cakes, however, sitting pretty on one of the counters (different from the freshly baked fruit cakes sitting on another counter), and some biscuits and other savouries.

We decided to sample things based on our inner compass, our friend’s recommendations, and by those of one of the shop’s assistants.

First off, we had a vegetable pattice.

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Vegetable pattice at Nahoum’s

The shell of the vegetable pattice wasn’t flaky, like those of the vegetable puffs we are so used to in Bangalore. The stuffing wasn’t as tasty, either. Overall, the vegetable pattice disappointed.

We moved on to the next item on our hit-list – Nahoum’s famous rum ball.

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Rum ball at Nahoum’s

Now, the rum ball was absolutely delicious. The outer shell was made of hardened chocolate, and inside was a lovely chocolate cake that smelled of rum, but not overpoweringly so. For us, the rum ball turned out to be the star of all that we sampled at Nahoum’s.

The rest of the goodies we chose, we asked for them to be packed so we could get them back home to Bangalore with us.

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The other stuff that came with us from Nahoum’s to Bangalore: Orange biscuits (top left), chocolate brownie (below), plum cake (bottom-most), macaroons (to the right of the plum cake), and vanilla fudge (top right)

I absolutely had to dig into these goodies the minute we were settled in, back home.

Sadly, the orange biscuits turned out highly disappointing – they felt under-baked and there was only a very mild hint of orange, unlike the strong orange fragrance that I had expected them to have.

The brownie was dry – very different from the moist, gooey chocolate brownies that I have become accustomed to having in Bangalore – but tasty. It smelt of chocolate and walnuts and I liked it, in spite of it being quite dry for my taste. I didn’t love it, but I liked it.

The plum cake – one of Nahoum’s signature products – was strictly average, I am sorry to say. The cake was thick and dense, not airy like the gorgeous, gorgeous plum cakes that I have eaten in Bangalore. The candied fruit and nuts were all settled at the bottom of the cake, and the top part was only batter, as if the cake hadn’t been mixed properly. The plum cake didn’t entirely disappoint in taste, but it wasn’t eye-poppingly great either, as I had somehow expected it to be.

The macaroons were good. They were crunchy on the top, slightly soft on the inside, without an overpowering aroma of egg, the way I have experienced with this kind of macaroons elsewhere. I didn’t fall in love with them, but they were good.

The vanilla fudge, again, was very disappointing. They felt like cakes of flour and sugar and butter, with only a tinge of vanilla in it.

The behaviour of the staff was just about average; I am sorry to say this, but there was a lot of room for improvement on that count. Prices are slightly on the higher side as compared to an average bakery – all of the goodies that we got (including the vegetable pattice and the rum ball) cost us INR 500.

Overall, our experience with Nahoum’s was good in some ways, not great in some other ways. It has, definitely, whetted my appetite for their confectioneries, though. I can’t wait to go back to the shop when the shelves are full and to try my luck at getting some of their Jewish delicacies, which they do stock at times. I have a feeling I am going to love some of the confectioneries from this place, some of which I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on yet.

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A little bit of the history of Nahoum’s, for the uninitiated

Nahoum’s was set up in the very same place in New Market, Calcutta, in 1902 by Nahoum Israel, a Jew who came to the city from Baghdad. Subsequent generations from the family took over the running of the shop after Israel and, I believe, the business is still within the family. Apparently, the shop hasn’t changed much since it was originally established – it has the same furniture and display cases.

Nahoum’s doesn’t have an online presence. The fact that the bakery still survives is, largely, attributed to the efforts of the subsequent owners, after Israel, and to the great taste of some of their products.

The bakery is hugely famous for its plum cake for which, I hear, the residents of Calcutta form long-winding queues at the time of Christmas. If you happen to visit the bakery just before a Jewish festival, you might also be lucky enough to find baklava, date babas, and a whole lot of other exotic bakes. Their samosas and bread are supposed to be really good, too, but sadly, we couldn’t sample either – there were no samosas to be had, and the bread would have expired by the time we got back to Bangalore.

The Jewish population in Calcutta is fast dwindling, and was reported to be as low as just 20 in 2015 by this source. With the dwindling in numbers of this community, the availability Jewish baked goodies in Calcutta is also fast going down. Nahoum’s is believed to be the only surviving Jewish bakery in the city.

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Have you ever been to Nahoum’s? What was your experience there like?

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Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Man Proposes…

Calcutta Vignettes

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street

Calcutta Vignettes – 2

Calcutta Vignettes – 2

The Calcutta airport is lovely, and I had a lovely time exploring it, thanks (but no thanks!) to the fact that our flight back to Bangalore was delayed.

I enjoyed visiting the Biswa Bangla store and picking out some cute little souvenirs from Bengal to get back home.

I also loved how part of the airport has been done up with Bengali letters on the ceiling. So beautiful!

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We got hold of some fresh, fresh, fresh water chestnuts in Calcutta – they were everywhere in the markets! I’ve never seen them this fresh anywhere else.

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And, yes, if you hadn’t known before, we are the sort of people who would stroll around in markets on a holiday. Also, yes, we are the sort of people whose hand baggage on the flight back home would consist of vegetables and stuff from the market, among other things. 🙂

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There was a Kali Pooja pandal right next to the hotel we were staying at in Calcutta, and we loved visiting it at different times in the day, every day. I loved watching the priests do the traditional dhunachi aarti – the smell, the feel of it is just amazing!

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I hadn’t known that something like Kahaani 2 existed until we went to Calcutta and spotted this poster in the Gariahat market. At first glance, both the OH and I thought it was an actual ‘Wanted’ ad by the police, for a person who looked amazingly similar to Vidya Balan. Something in me told me to take a pic of the ad, and only when I lifted up my camera to do it did I realise my faux pas.

The husband and I went on to have a hearty laugh post this. Bubboo didn’t understand head or tail of why we were laughing so much!

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Kahaani was the trigger for my craving to visit Calcutta, when I think back to the time I watched the movie. I had always been fascinated by the city, but this movie took that fascination to an entirely new level. The Durga Pujo scenes, the Sindoor Khela, the craftsmen making idols in preparation for Pujo, Vidya Balan walking through the tiny bylanes of Calcutta – all of it made me want to visit Calcutta desperately.So, it is a beautiful coincidence that we spotted this ad for the Kahaani sequel in Calcutta.

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I was so thrilled when I spotted the famous Gondhoraj Lebu of Bengal in Gariahat market! Of course, I had to get some home. 🙂

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Bengal loves its fish, which is no secret. We came across fish and other seafood wherever we went in Calcutta.

This scene, in New Market, of a man carefully choosing the fish he wanted from the fish seller’s sack is something that stayed in my mind for a long, long time afterwards. I absolutely had to click a picture.

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Walking through any street of Calcutta has to be a delight for a photographer, with all those ancient, ancient buildings all around. Any wonder I always had my camera on the ready all the time when we were out in Calcutta, leaving the OH to carry, cajole, talk to entertain Bubboo? 🙂

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An old, old, old building near New Market

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Paan parlours are everywhere in Calcutta, in every lane that you turn into. What interested me most about these parlours is a rope tied to a pillar outside most of these parlours, burning away slowly from one side. Smokers light up their cigarettes and beedis using these ropes, which is something I have never seen anywhere else before.

This particular paan wallah near the Gariahat market made such a pretty picture that I couldn’t stop myself from clicking a photograph of him.

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We didn’t try out any Calcutti paan all the while we were in the city, I realise now. Sad, but nothing that can’t be rectified by another visit.

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We loved looking at the little souvenir shops outside Kalighat, mostly selling pooja paraphernalia, idols of Kali Maa, sindoor and shankh pola.

This particular shop had very beautiful idols, and I absolutely had to take a picture of it!

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There was this stall in New Market that was selling the cutest of Kolhapuri chappals for little babies. I fell in love with the little ones, just as I do with any piece of little clothing or footwear meant for babies.

Considering that Bubboo isn’t used to wearing chappals – she mostly wears shoes and buckle-on sandals – we didn’t buy any. But these are definitely on my hit list the next time I visit Calcutta.

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Well, that is that for now. Until the next post, be good, you folks!

I hope you enjoyed this little trip through Calcutta!

Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Man Proposes…

Calcutta Vignettes

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street

I don’t think Park Street in Calcutta needs any introduction. It is THE happening street in the city, the place with all the cool eateries and stores, the place to hang out with. On this hip and happening street of Calcutta, though, we had only one place on our wishlist – Flury’s.

I don’t think Flury’s needs any introduction, either. Flury’s is a legend in Calcutta, a landmark, a meeting point, a heritage breakfast place, a place where you stop by for some lovely baked goodies. I had heard a whole lot about Flury’s from everyone who has ever been to Calcutta or lived there, and everyone has sworn by the taste of the confectioneries there. So, naturally, the bakery was on our hit list.

Park Street looked just like any other Bangalore street to us (sorry, all those of you who have deep sentiments for the place!). We didn’t explore much of the street – we just took pictures of all the lovely lights all around us for Kali Pooja, and then headed straight to Flury’s. The minute we entered the bakery, we were struck by just how similar it looked and felt to Koshy’s in Bangalore. The vibe of the two places is very, very similar.

The Park Street Flury’s outlet is, apparently, five generations old. Established in the year 1927 by the Swiss couple Mr. and Mrs. J. Flury’s, the tearoom/ eatery/ bakery went on to become hugely popular among the affluent class of Bengalis. Later, it went on to become a cool hang-out joint for the old and young alike. Today, it is a major landmark in Calcutta that everyone recognises, and no tourist is recommended to leave the city without visiting it. I read up online about some old Calcutta residents cribbing about how Flury’s has, sadly, lost its character with time, of how the pastries don’t taste the same any more, of how the management just isn’t bothered with customer satisfaction any more, and of how the customers just aren’t satisfied any more. We decided to visit the place, nonetheless, and figure it out ourselves.

The breakfast at Flury’s was highly recommended to us, but we decided to give it a skip considering that it consists mostly of non-vegetarian options and that it comes to above INR 500 per head, including taxes. We headed straight to their pastry case, and spent a lot of time ogling at the various confectioneries on sale. Everything looked just gorgeous, and we had a tough time narrowing down our choice to just two or three pastries that would give us a fair idea of the quality of bakes on offer.

Finally, after much rumination, we chose a Pineapple Pastry, a Cherry & Chocolate Cake, and a Lemon Roll. We sat down and began tucking into our choices, one after the other, but were, sadly, only met with disappointment.

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Pineapple Pastry at Flury’s, Calcutta

The Pineapple Pastry was very dry and had only the mildest scent of pineapple. For someone like us who is used to the juicy, pineapple-filled pastries from Sweet Chariot, Bangalore, this felt like a big-time let-down.

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Cherry & Chocolate Cake at Flury’s, Calcutta

The Cherry & Chocolate Cake was filled with chocolate, but as dry as a piece of paper. It felt tasteless.

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Lemon Roll at Flury’s, Calcutta

The Lemon Roll, again, was dry and tasteless. Eating it felt like we were eating spoonfuls of dry cake and lots of cream lightly infused with lemon essence. We have had some gorgeous lemon cakes in the past, elsewhere, and were expecting the kick of lemon, its heady fragrance, the tang of it, but it was nowhere.

Our bill came to around INR 350, exclusive of taxes (we sat in the tax-free section of the bakery, which is self-service). We dropped the idea of getting their plum cake and rum balls (for which they are very famous!) parcelled to take back home – these looked very dry, too.

We walked out, feeling extremely let down, wondering if we were making some kind of mistake. Flury’s is a legend, after all. How could we not like even a single thing out of the small selection we ordered? Did we make the totally wrong choices? Any insights into these questions would be appreciated!

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Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Man Proposes…

Calcutta Vignettes