A Holiday Full Of Experiences At Sterling Fernhill, Ooty

In the world of holidays, Sterling is not a new name. Sterling is known for its ‘timeshare’ holidays, wherein members pay an annual membership fee and get to stay at any of their properties for a fixed period, either rent-free or at a discounted rate. What a lot of people do not know about Sterling, however, is that rooms in their resorts can be booked by non-members too, and that they can also be used for weddings and other events. Then, there’s also the fact that Sterling has recently rebranded itself as an ‘experiential holiday company’, priding itself on providing to guests various local experiences at all of its properties. #HolidayDifferently is Sterling Holidays’ new motto, and they aim to offer patrons unique experiences that will make their holiday hugely memorable.

Recently, a bunch of bloggers from Bangalore and Chennai were invited by Sterling Holidays for a two-day staycation at one of their properties in Ooty, Fern Hill, and to indulge in some of the indigenous experiences they offer. I had the opportunity to join the group too, and ended up having a wonderful mid-week holiday that I will cherish for a long time to come. This was my first-ever time travelling without family, and I am so glad it all turned out so well.

About Sterling Ooty Fern Hill

The beautiful colonial facade of Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, which was our abode for two full days

Located away from the hustle and bustle of ‘proper’ Ooty, Fern Hill is a sprawling property that boasts of over 100 rooms of different types. It is a colonial structure with oodles of old-world charm, and lots of greenery all around. And then, of course, it offers some gorgeous views of the magnificent hills of Ooty!

I loved the simple room that I stayed in at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, especially the huge window with a mesmerising view of the mountains, the comfortable window seat (which I didn’t want to get up off at all!), the writing desk by the window, and the super soft bed. The room, equipped with basic amenities like a heater, an electric kettle and hair-dryer, was kept painstakingly neat at all times by the resort staff. At all times, we found the staff to be warm and friendly, courteous and eager to help.

Glimpses from our stay at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill

We enjoyed our meals at the dining room here, looking out at the scenic landscapes of Ooty. The food was decent, a good mix of Tamilnadu and international cuisines. I found it quite charming that a lot of the herbs and vegetables they use in their daily cooking comes from their very own, organic garden patch!

The activity centre at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill offers several in-house activities for kids and adults alike, including Burma Bridge, vertical climbing, painting, archery, table tennis and bonfires. If you are in the mood to pamper yourself, you can also avail of the spa facilities here or shop for souvenirs at the little store in-house.

Some Sterling Experiences We Enjoyed

I am an experience seeker. I seek small and big memorable experiences wherever I travel to. That is what makes travel worthwhile for me. In that respect, this trip to Ooty with Sterling was a hugely satisfying one for me. The Sterling team had lined up several experiences for us bloggers, to indulge in during the course of our stay. Some of these were quite touristy, while some others were quite off the beaten track. All of them put together, they helped us delve deeper into the place that Ooty is, dig deeper into its cultural fabric.

Here are some of the Sterling Ooty experiences we thoroughly enjoyed.

1. ‘Root Vegetables Of Ooty’ Themed High Tea At Sterling Ooty Elk Hill

Scenes from the themed high tea at Sterling Ooty Elk Hill

While in Ooty, we paid a flying visit to another property by Sterling, Elk Hill. Again, this is a beautiful, sprawling resort with some great views of Ooty, and I loved the look of this place. I adored the little patch of garden here, where a lot of the veggies and herbs used in the kitchens comes from. There is also very cute play area for kids at Sterling Ooty Elk Hill, complete with box hedges and swings of different types, which I think the bub would have absolutely loved!

At Sterling Ooty Elk Hill, we bloggers were treated to a beautifully thought-out and very well-executed high tea. In addition to the usual suspects – tea, coffee, milk and the likes – we were also served a variety of sweet and savoury dishes, all made using the root vegetables that abound in the hills of Ooty. Beetroot Cutlets, Sweet Potato Halwa, Tapioca & Mutton Biryani, Carrot and Beetroot Shots and Carrot Cake were some of the delicacies that were presented to us. And, you know what? Over half of the root vegetables used to make these dishes came from the gardens of Sterling Ooty Elk Hill – just how lovely is that?!

2. Getting up close and personal with the Todas

Some snapshots from the Toda way of life

The Sterling team took us bloggers to a settlement of the Todas, an indigenous tribe in Ooty with a very interesting way of life. We got up close and personal with them, getting to learn more about their lives, an experience I loved to bits. I have been to Ooty several times before, but somehow never got around to visiting a Toda group. I am so glad Sterling gave us this opportunity!

While some of the Todas have started leading modern-day lifestyles, quite a lot of them still live a life that is untouched by modernisation. They reside in very pretty, small huts, called munds. They have a beautiful dressing style of their own, complete with a very unique hairdo. The Todas talked to us of some customs they have been following since centuries, and I was awed at the way they have been religiously protecting their history.

The Todas follow an entirely vegetarian diet, and lead lives that are in harmony with the flora and fauna around them. The very in-sync-with-nature process they use to extract honey from honeycombs hugely fascinated me, when I heard about it. I can’t wait to experience that some time!

3. Shaking a leg with the Todas and Badugas

The Badugas performing their traditional dance for us. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

The first day of our stay at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, we returned to the resort to find a bunch of Todas waiting for us, decked up in their traditional costumes. They were there to perform their traditional dance for us! We were thrilled to watch them singing and twirling, around the bonfire that had been set up in the courtyard. Isn’t that some way to get guests acquainted with the local culture?

When the Todas were done with their performance, it was the turn of the Badugas to go up on stage. The Badugas, a caste that forms the majority of the population in Ooty, were there too in their traditional wear, to present their songs and dances to us! They kicked up quite a storm with their energetic dancing, which looked deceptively simple but so wasn’t! How do I know? Well, because we bloggers were also offered a chance to join in the dancing, and to learn the steps straight from the Todas and Badugas. Super fun!

4. A picnic lunch in the midst of a tea garden

All of us bloggers enjoying a picnic in the midst of a gorgeous tea estate. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

I’m sure all of us who have ever been to Ooty have visited a tea estate, and have taken beautiful pictures in the midst of all that green gorgeousness. I have been there, done that too. However, on this holiday to Ooty, the Sterling team arranged for a different sort of experience for us – a picnic lunch in the midst of a tea estate! It turned out so very lovely!

We drove up, up, up in the hills to reach a beautiful, beautiful private tea estate. With prior permission from the estate owner, a sumptuous picnic lunch had been set up for us here, complete with a carpet, big umbrellas, a wicker basket, fruits and packed lunch boxes. The mist rising up out of the hills added tonnes to the atmosphere. This was such a charming experience that felt like something straight out of a storybook!

5. Learning the alphabet of T-E-A

The goings-on inside a tea factory. Shot at Benchmark Tea Factory, Ooty

Visiting a tea factory is a very touristy thing in Ooty, something a lot of tourists do. We never got around to doing this, though, in spite of having visited Ooty quite a few times. When the Sterling team arranged for a tea factory visit, for us to learn how our everyday cup of tea comes about, I was glad of the opportunity to do so. We had an enlightening experience.

We learnt how the leaves are plucked off tea bushes, sorted and brought to the tea factory. The leaves pass through several processes at the factory to reach the ‘granular’ stage that we commonly find in stores. We were enchanted to learn how green tea, black tea and regular tea all come from the same plant – it is the differences in processing that makes each of these different.

We sampled a variety of beautifully brewed tea at the factory – green, black, ginger, cardamom and masala. We also tried out some white tea, which is one of the most expensive tea in the world.

6. Hopping on the toy train from Ooty to Coonoor

The quaint train we rode on from Ooty to Coonoor. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

Most of us know about the ‘toy train’ plying in Ooty, which is quite a huge draw for the tourists. This quaint train by the Nilgiri Mountain Railways runs between Mettupalyam and Ooty in Tamilnadu, chugging along some really scenic mountain paths. Riding on this train is quite an enchanting experience, for children and adults alike.

I have done the Ooty-Coonoor toy train ride a couple of times earlier, but never with the eyes of a travel blogger. I am so glad to have been given a chance to do just that, by Sterling. As always, it was a cute journey I couldn’t stop smiling throughout.

7. Checking out the bisons

When the mist cleared, and we spotted the bison amidst the bushes

When the Sterling team told us we would be taken to a spot amidst the tea estates where there would be hundreds of bison grazing, it sounded like a fairy tale. Sterling did keep up its promise, and took us to exactly such a place. There was mist all over when we arrived, and when it slowly cleared, we could see the bison amidst the tea plants. There were not one or two bison, but flocks and flocks of the huge, majestic animal, grazing busily alongside the workers on the tea estates. Both parties seem to be quite used to working in the presence of the other. What a sight this was!

I have spotted wildlife in the Bandipur forest area en route to Ooty, several times, but this was a first for me. The husband is fascinated by bison, and I am sure he would have thoroughly loved this experience. I’m raring to do this all over again, with him around!

Would you like a Sterling holiday too?

The next time you visit Ooty, do consider staying in a Sterling property. Why, go the whole hog, and take up some Sterling experiences as well – they will show you a whole different side to Ooty, I’m sure!

From what I could gather, I think the Sterling resorts are great places for families, with something for every member to love. They might not be uber-luxurious spaces, but they are definitely places I would like to stay in with my family.

Do get in touch with the Sterling team for prices and other details!

This post is brought to you in collaboration with Sterling Holidays. All opinions expressed in this post are based upon the experience we had at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill. The views herein are entirely mine, entirely honest, not influenced by anything or anyone.

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Jamia Masjid, An Architectural Marvel in Old Srinagar

Just a few minutes after driving into the heart of Srinagar, fondly referred to as Old Srinagar or Downtown Srinagar, we noticed the landscape around us begin to change. The relatively modern buildings and wide roads of modern Srinagar – where we were staying – began to fade. The roads got narrower and narrower as we drove on, the buildings getting more and more ancient, some with rather pretty latticework on them.

Electricity wires seemed to dangle out of nowhere. Vendors selling everything from vegetables and spices to fancy trays, baskets, Kashmiri shawls and dry fruits dotted the streets. Tiny shops choc-a-bloc with some really interesting stuff – like the kangris or wicker baskets that the Kashmiris use to carry a coal brazier, to keep themselves warm or pretty, pretty, pretty samovars that are used to make the local kehwa – began to whizz by. I would have loved to get down, to take a long, exploratory walk around the place, even indulge in some shopping, but I didn’t. We were on the way to see the famed Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, Old Srinagar. The bub wasn’t keeping too well, and we wanted to limit exploration and get back to our hotel quickly. Before the husband and I could even realise it, our cab stopped. We had reached our destination.

What is the Jamia Masjid like?

One word – beautiful.

The Jamia Masjid of Srinagar, a hugely sacred mosque and place of worship for Kashmiri Muslims, is a beautiful specimen of Persian architecture, with a few influences from Buddhist pagodas. There has been generous usage of Kashmiri glazed black stone, bricks and deodar wood in the building of the mosque, which gives it a quaint, charming look. Our first glance of the mosque stunned us with its prettiness.

Our first glimpse of the mosque, as soon as we had set foot inside the main gate

The Jamia Masjid was constructed by Sultan Sikandar Shah Kashmiri Shahmiri in 1394 CE. The mosque was originally built to accommodate 33,333 people at one prayer session, besides the imam. It is a huge structure, believed to be about 1,40,000 square feet. There are four entrances to the mosque, from the east, west, north and south.

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The prayer hall we walked through, to get to the actual mosque

As soon as we stepped inside the main gate, we found ourselves in a gorgeous prayer hall with a beautiful wooden ceiling and columns. The high ceilings gave the hall a roomy, airy, light feeling. We walked through the prayer hall to reach an open courtyard with a little Mughal-style garden and a fountain. This courtyard housed the actual place of worship, the mosque, a stunning edifice.

The main prayer hall at Jamia Masjid

The mosque was, apparently, extended later, when Sultan Sikhandar’s son Zain-ul-Abidin added turrets to it. The landscaped Mughal garden which we saw outside the mosque was also added later, we learnt.

One of the turrets of the mosque. Notice the similarities to a Buddhist pagoda?

When we visited the Jamia Masjid, on a weekday morning, it was drizzling lightly and the place was almost empty. Almost to ourselves, we spent about an hour here, walking around, admiring the architecture, offering our prayers, soaking in the peace around us. I am sure the scene would have been completely different on a weekend or on a festival day.

Exploring the bazaar outside Jamia Masjid

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A glimpse of the bazaar outside Jamia Masjid, Srinagar

Step out of the Jamia Masjid gates, and you will find yourself amidst a little bazaar of sorts. Little shops, manned by smiling Kashmiris, sold household things like spices, dry fruits and groceries, dresses and footwear, tea sets (which I learnt later is a huge passion in Kashmir), curtains and bedsheets, suitcases, bags and purses, kitchen utensils and the like. Walking around these shops, checking out things, photographing, learning and shopping was a treat in itself.

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Some beautiful outfits that we came across, for sale in the bazaar outside Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid

I fell in love with a tiny spice shop in the bazaar, filled to the rafters with culinary treasures. I was hovering outside, asking the owner a battery of questions about the several indigenous-to-Kashmir ingredients he stocked. He invited me inside to take a look, and I became a kid in a candy shop.

The charming little spice shop outside Jamia Masjid that I loved

We ended up spending over an hour here, chatting with the owner about this and that – the cockscomb which is apparently the reason for the pink cheeks of the Kashmiris, the Kanagucchi or the special ear-shaped mushrooms that come up in the forests only when there is a cloudburst, the local tradition of drying up vegetables and fruits to preserve them, Kashmiri tea and black moth daal and veri masala. I picked up quite a few things here, small quantities of all that I wanted to go back home and try out.
In the meantime, the owner plied the husband and me with the pinkish salt tea aka noon chai that a whole lot of Kashmiris prefer to sip on, and the bub with big fat kishmish from his shop. Marketing? Probably. Probably not. All I can say is that we absolutely adored the time we spent in this little shop, and we valued the conversation with the owner. Moments like these are precisely what makes travel worthwhile for us.

Some of the treasures we found in the spice shop. Top left: Dried lauki aka bottlegourd; Centre left: Kashmiri black moth daal; Bottom left: A cake of freshly made Kashmiri ver masala or veri masala; Bottom right: Cockscomb, a flavouring agent that is typically used in Kashmiri cuisine; Top right: The tea that is commonly used for different types of brews in Kashmir

Don’t miss this grand mosque whenever you are in Srinagar!

Tips for travellers

  1. The Jamia Masjid is located in Nowhatta, in the heart of Old Srinagar, quite a sensitive area by the looks of it. Monday to Thursday would be a good time to visit, as the mosque tends to become crowded on Fridays and weekends.
  2. There are no entry fees here. Photography is allowed.
  3. Visitors should cover their heads and remove their footwear before entering the mosque. Please ensure that these simple rules are followed. Also, considering that this is a sacred place of worship, maintaining silence and decent conduct is advisable.
  4. There is not much to do here, in terms of activities. However, the place is, indeed, an ocean of calm and peace, which one can spend any amount of time soaking in. The architecture of the mosque is a treat to the eyes, as well.
  5. If you want to time your visit with a prayer session in the mosque, please check on the exact timings before you embark.
  6. Do spend some time at the bazaar outside the Jamia Masjid, walking around, learning, shopping, photographing. This is a great place to learn about traditional Kashmiri culture and culinary traditions, if you are interested in that sort of thing. This is where you can shop for some unique foodie souvenirs from Kashmir, too. The shopkeepers are friendly, and most of them speak Hindi. Prices are reasonable, we felt, and we didn’t feel the need to haggle.

Chef Sumitra Kalapatapu Concludes Pop-Up Andhra Kitchen At WelcomHotel

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of partaking of a special Telugu Brahmin meal, curated by Chef Sumitra Kalapatapu for Jacaranda, the restaurant at Welcomhotel by ITC, Bangalore. I was at WelcomAndhra, a 10-day pop-up kitchen by Chef Sumitra at Jacaranda. The experience, I must say, was quite lovely!

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Chef Sumitra Kalapatapu at the pop-up Andhra kitchen at Jacaranda

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Chef Sumitra Kalapatapu, a well-known name in South India, specialises in the preparation of food from Andhra Pradesh, and is well known for her traditional vegetarian dishes, chutneys and pickles, not to forget her warm hospitality. She is the force behind the famed Sumi’s Kitchen, which operates from Vigyannagar, Bangalore. She undertakes catering for events, hosts meals at her place and also does pop-ups at restaurants.

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Chef Sumitra Kalapatapu with the Jacaranda, Welcomhotel, team at the pop-up

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Mr. Dhawal Ajmera, Chief Executive Chef at ITC Limited – Hotels Division, strongly believes in encouraging the talents of home chefs like this by enabling them to set up pop-ups such as this one. A great and welcome initiative, I must say!

I would also add that for a home chef to cook in a large-scale commercial kitchen for 10 days, serving a different menu every single day, is no mean feat. Chef Sumitra pulled it off beautifully, the hugely talented persona that she is.

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Assorted pickles by Chef Sumitra at the pop-up

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On the last day of the pop-up, when I visited, Chef Sumitra served some typical Andhra home-style vegetarian food that was as finger-lickingly delicious as it was simple. It was wonderful to see the way this simple, home food stood out amidst the extensive buffet at Jacaranda!

So, getting down to the nitty-gritties, what all did I try out at WelcomAndhra?

Top Left: Cabbage Vadas (Picture Courtesy: PhenoMenal World); Bottom Left: Stuffed Mirchi Bajjis; Bottom Right: Kobbari Tomato Perugu Pachadi; Top Right: Tomato Pachadi (Picture Courtesy for the two chutneys: Sumitra Kalapatapu)

Cabbage Vadas The good ol’ urad daal vada with chunks of cabbage in it! Served piping hot, straight off the stove, these were so very good!

Stuffed Mirchi Bajjis Chef Sumitra took some plain old-fashioned chilli bajjis and jazzed them up with a lovely onion stuffing! Apparently, this is the way mirchi bajjis are served on the streets of Vizag, where she hails from. A few of them were super spicy, but man, were they delicious?!

Tomato Pachadi This one was a tad on the saltier side, but was extremely delicious. It was so very well done! The tomato chutney reminded me of one that an Andhra neighbour of mine used to prepare for me, growing up – it brought back some very fond memories!

Kobbari Tomato Perugu PachadiThis tomato chutney with yogurt was sheer beauty. With just the right amount of tangy and spicy, this was a pleasure to eat. The mustard in the chutney took the taste of the chutney up quite a few notches.

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Clockwise from top left: Palakoora Pappu, Vankaya Jeelakarra Kaaram, Mukkala PulusuAratikaya Aava Petti Koora, Pulihora

Palakoora Pappu – This was a simple Andhra-style preparation using spinach, and it tasted quite lovely. The dish was very well executed, all the flavours in perfect harmony with each other. It made for just the perfect accompaniment with plain steamed rice.

Vankaya Jeelakarra Kaaram – This was an Andhra Pradesh specialty, eggplants cooked simply with assorted spices. This was decent, but I am not a big fan of eggplant cooked this way, so this did not take me to the high heavens.

Mukkala Pulusu – This sambar cooked with mixed vegetables was simple and homely. Again, it was a very well-made dish, with the flavours melding beautifully with each other. I thoroughly enjoyed eating this, mixed with steamed rice.

Aratikaya Aava Petti Koora – I would say this was the star of the show for me – the dish that stole my heart. This was a raw banana curry cooked with ground mustard, in Andhra Pradesh style. This was so, so, so beautiful! I absolutely adored this, and am going to try making this pretty soon.

Pulihora – The Andhra Pradesh Pulihora was quite different from the Tamilnadu- and Karnataka-style puliogare that I am used to. It was brilliant, just tangy and spicy enough to tantalise your tastebuds. It had me going back for seconds!

There was Rasam on the menu too, but I simply couldn’t manage to taste it. My tummy was way too full! I heard it was extremely lovely, though. I couldn’t manage any of Chef Sumitra’s wonderful pickles either – I guess I should visit her place soon for that! 🙂

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I relished most of the Andhra fare that was served as part of the pop-up! With its simplicity, subtle spice levels, and bright and beautiful flavours, the food was a refreshing change from the usual rich, rich, rich restaurant fare! My perception about Andhra food now stands completely changed. 🙂

 

Walking Alongside The Almond Trees At Badamvaer, Srinagar

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Badamvaer – prettiness is what meets your eye, wherever you gaze

It was love at first sight with Badamvaer, Srinagar, for both the husband and me. The moment we set foot inside the gates of Badamvaer and caught a glimpse of its prettiness, we were charmed. It was a rainy weekend morning when we visited, in the course of our holiday in Kashmir, and we were lucky to have this beauty almost all to ourselves.

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This was the sight that greeted us, the minute we had stepped foot into Badamvaer. For some reason, this particular spot reminded me of a fairy garden straight out of Enid Blyton’s books.

What is Badamvaer, you ask? Popularly called ‘Badamwari‘, Badamvaer is the Kashmiri name is a gorgeous, gorgeous garden in Srinagar. Like the name suggests, almond trees abound in the place (‘Badam‘ refers to ‘almond’, while ‘vaer‘ is ‘garden’ in Kashmiri). I hear the garden comes alive in the spring, when the almond trees blossom. There are beautiful white blossoms everywhere, and the garden is a sight to behold. When we visited this May, there were no blossoms on the almond trees, but the place was still a sight to behold.

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Multi-hued flowers in bloom, at Badamvaer

The story of Badamvaer begins with the Durrani Fort, a very famous tourist spot in Srinagar. The Durrani Fort stands regal on a hillock called Hari Parbat, on the outskirts of Srinagar. The fort shares space with a few Muslim shrines, a Shakti temple that is sacred to the Kashmiri Pundits, and a Sikh gurudwara.

The Durrani Fort sitting regal atop Hari Parbat, as seen from Badamvaer

It is believed that Emperor Akbar had plans of setting up a new capital around Hari Parbat, which is why he began construction of a fort here in 1590. However, the project was never completed. It was during the Durrani reign in Kashmir, under the reign of Shuja Singh Durrani in 1808, that the present-day fort was constructed.

Emperor Akbar had plans of building Naagar Nagar, a city around the foothills of Hari Parbat, which would house palaces and balconies for the royal family, residences for the noblemen of the court, and army barracks. Thanks to the downfall of the Mughal empire that began at around this time, the city never came into existence. In the year 1876, when Dogras ruled over Kashmir, the then ruler Ranbir Singh got the garden area (as per Emperor Akbar’s original plans, I suppose) planted with almond trees. Over time, the garden began to be known as Badamvaer or Badamwari, the garden of almond trees.

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The almond trees that abound in Badamvaer aka Badamwari

Badamvaer used to be a popular picnic spot for Kashmiris in the 1900s, from what I understand. Slowly, though, the place fell into a state of neglect and disrepair, and local footfall kept reducing further and further. It was in the year 2007 that J&K Bank took up the project of bringing Badamvaer back to life. The garden was painstakingly cleaned up and landscaped all over again, a new lease of life handed to it. Over time, locals and tourists alike began to return to Badamvaer, and the Kashmiri picnics began happening here, all over again. The J&K Bank continues to undertake maintenance of the garden till date, and has done a really good job at it.

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Inside Badamvaer aka Badamwari

Badamvaer boasts of some stunning landscaping and extremely beautiful flowers, which had us going all ga-ga.

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I had never seen roses in this particular purple-pink before Badamvaer happened. Can’t get over just how pretty this shade is!

The huge climbing roses that are everywhere in Kashmir are present here as well, of course.

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A much-coveted selfie and photography spot within Badamvaer, which the climbing roses have chosen to adorn

Apart from roses in many hues, the garden is full of exotic flowers that only a place like Kashmir can have in such plenitude.

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Pansies are all over Kashmir, and so they were in Badamvaer too. Is it just me or can you spot a face in these flowers, as well?

Badamvaer also offers some lovely views of the mist-shrouded mountains that surround it.

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The beautiful structure that houses a well, in the midst of Badamvaer

I wonder why Badamvaer is not as popular among tourists as, say, Nishat Baugh or Shalimar Baugh is. I never read about Badamvaer on any of the travel blogs I checked out, while researching for our trip – I am so thankful our tour operator suggested we visit this lovely haven! When we visited, there were absolutely no tourists around – just some locals and school kids busy picnicking. Well, good for us!

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This part of the garden took my breath away, it was so beautiful on that sun-kissed, rain-drenched day. And, this school kid insisted on getting into my picture!

I love how Badamvaer has managed to retain an air of purity, of cleanness and freshness, how it is still untouched by commercialisation in spite of being such a gloriously beautiful locale. I really hope it stays that way.

We spent a good couple of hours in Badamvaer, just walking around, basking in the beauty all around us, soaking in the place.

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An Indian mynah we spotted, nestling in one of the trees in Badamvaer

It is quite a huge garden too, one that deserves to be walked around leisurely and explored slowly, to one’s heart’s content.

A metal bridge running over a stream from a man-made fountain, in Badamvaer. Pretty, ain’t it?

Badamvaer was quite the weekend hang-out spot for locals from 2007 onwards (after the garden got a new lease of life) until recently, with dance performances and cultural programmes happening here. However, the performances have been temporarily put on hold as of now, considering the political unrest and upheaval in Kashmir in the last few months.

A fountain, in the midst of Badamvaer

Here’s hoping peace finds its way to Kashmir soon!

That’s the washroom in Badamvaer! Can you guess?

If Badamvaer is pretty now, I can only imagine just how gorgeous it would be with all those almond trees weighed down by white blossoms, in spring time. I hope to be able to return to this place some time, to see that phenomenon in person.

The husband and the bub, enjoying a leisurely walk in Badamvaer

So long, Badamvaer! I hope to meet you again, soon!

If you ever find yourself in Srinagar, don’t miss visiting this hidden gem. Highly recommended!

Tips for travellers:

  1. A visit to Badamvaer can be combined with one to the adjacent Hari Parbat fort and Old Srinagar, where there is loads to see and do and explore.
  2. There is a small entry fee that needs to be paid, to enter Badamvaer.
  3. If possible, try to time your visit to Badamvaer with the blooming of the almond trees in spring – it is totally worth it, I hear.

 

 

Highlights: World On A Plate – 2018

VR Bengaluru in Whitefield, Bangalore, saw a 3-day culinary festival, World On A Plate, happening between June 8 and 10, 2018. For the uninitiated, World On A Plate (popularly called WOAP) is one of Bangalore’s biggest foodie festivals, which aims to bring together food enthusiasts from all spheres, from across the globe – foodies, food brands, masterchefs, stalwarts from the food industry, restaurants, food critics, food bloggers and journalists, and the likes. I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of World On A Plate – 2018, the third edition of this festival, which happens to coincide with VR Two, the second-anniversary celebrations of VR Bengaluru.

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Chefs Sarah Todd and George Calombaris at the World On A Plate – 2018 media meet

Chef George Calombaris and Sarah Todd (both of the MasterChef Australia fame), famed Indian chefs Saransh Goila, Ajay Chopra and Ranveer Brar, and pop star-cum-culinary enthusiast Anaida Parvaneh were some of the chefs associated with the event this year. At the exclusive masterclasses held as part of WOAP – 2018, foodies got a chance to learn from these celebrity chefs. Patrons were also offered an opportunity to engage in a tete-a-tete with the chefs and to pose for photographs with them. This year, Chef Calombaris had also curated a special 4-course meal for WOAP-2018, in co-ordination with Toscano. I could not be part of the masterclasses or the Calombaris-special menu because of paucity of time (and thanks to not keeping too well!), but I loved the little of WOAP – 2018 that I insisted on being a part of.

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Chefs Saransh Goila and Ranveer Brar in a solemn mood, talking about celebrated food writer Anthony Bourdain’s recent demise, at the media meet

At an exclusive media meet held on June 9, Jermina Menon (VP-Marketing, Virtuous Retail – South Asia) spoke of her excitement at being associated with World On A Plate the second time in a row.

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Ms. Jermina Menon speaking at the media meet for World On A Plate – 2018

Kiran Soans (CEO of Gold Rush Entertainment, the principal organiser of this festival) said, “This edition of World on a Plate is bigger in scale and size and guaranteed to be an unparalleled culinary journey for connoisseurs and aspiring chefs.

He also spoke of GiftAMeal with HUG – an initiative to collect funds for the underprivileged as part of a hunger management program, something that World On A Plate and Gold Rush have supported for three years now. In the year 2018, the program aims at giving away 1,00,000 free meals, something that I absolutely love and highly appreciate.

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Mr. Kiran Soans speaking at the media meet for World On A Plate – 2018

The media meet was quite enlightening and interesting, with Chef Ranveer Brar speaking of the differences in food culture among the various cities of India. He spoke of how Bangalore is a great space for food innovation, thanks to the people being quite open to experimenting.
Chef Saransh Goila spoke about the need for a formal body to certify food bloggers and writers. He also went on to speak, very interestingly, about the need for a chef to balance humility with social media popularity, especially in these modern times.

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Top: Chef Saransh Goila, speaking at the media meet for World On A Plate – 2018; Bottom: Chef Goila’s Goila Butter Chicken, presented at the venue

The media meet also offered us, food bloggers and journalists, a chance to sample a few dishes put together by Chef Sarah Todd, Chef George Calombaris, Chef Saransh Goila and Chef Ranveer Brar.

Chef Goila presented his signature Goila Butter Chicken, which Chef Calombaris fondly referred to as ‘the best butter chicken in the world‘.

Chef Todd presented Kolhapuri Slow-Cooked Lamb On Betel Leaf, while Chef Calombaris presented Potato Skordalia With Black Garlic & Walnut.

Chef Ranveer Brar, known for his innovative fusion ideas, presented Burnt Miso & Chocolate Matcha Modaks.

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Left: Chef Sarah Todd speaking at the media meet for World On A Plate – 2018; Right: The Kolhapuri Slow-Cooked Lamb On Betel Leaf, presented by Chef Todd at the venue

I didn’t sample the non-vegetarian dishes, of course, but loved the two vegetarian ones that I did. Chef George Calombaris’s Potato Skordalia With Black Garlic & Walnut was exquisite, with curry leaves adding an Indian touch to the jacket potatoes.

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Left: Chef Calombaris speaking at the media meet for World On A Plate – 2018; Right: Potato Skordalia With Black Garlic & Walnut, presented by Chef Calombaris at the venue

Chef Ranveer Brar’s dish was utterly gorgeous! It was sheer beauty inside and out, a very well-executed blend of Indian and international cuisines. The green matcha modaks were oh, so pretty, the miso-and-chocolate filling complementing the exterior perfectly. The aam ras the modaks were served in added a burst of flavour to the dish!

Left: Chef Ranveer Brar speaking at the media meet for World On A Plate – 2018; Top Right and Top Bottom: The Burnt Miso & Chocolate Matcha Modaks presented by Chef Brar at the venue

Some of the best-known restaurants of Bangalore city set up stalls at the event, including Caperberry, Smally’s, Punjab Bistro, Sindh Kitchen, Nasi & Mee, Sodabottleopenerwala, The Whitefield Arms, Rajdhani and Siam Trading Co. The atmosphere at these stalls was charged, not unlike that at a fair.

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A few of the food stalls at World On A Plate – 2018, at VR Bengaluru

Many of these restaurants are places I have always wanted to try out. Every single one of these stalls had some really lovely food on offer, and I had a tough time trying to figure out what to taste and what not.

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The Sodabottleopenerwala stall at World On A Plate – 2018, at VR Bengaluru

Patisseries like Smoor, Aubree and Lavonne: Academy Of Baking Science & Pastry Arts offered some of their beautiful creations for sale at World On A Plate – 2018. I had a gala time walking through these stalls, checking out this and that, taking pictures.

Some gorgeous sugary confections on sale at the Aubree stall, at World On A Plate – 2018

I abstained from treating myself to a dessert, but was still on a high by the time I had finished ooh-ing and aah-ing over all of those delightful confections, merely by looking at them! 🙂

Top left: Melting Apple, a very interesting-looking dessert from Smoor; Bottom left: Cake pops from Lavonne; Top right and bottom right: Special desserts created for World On A Plate – 2018

I love events like this because they help me discover unique food products and ingredients. World On A Plate – 2018 was no exception. Soya-based vegetarian meat by Good Dot and beautiful, beautiful, organically grown cherries sourced from Jammu by Healthy Buddha were my cherished discoveries at the event.

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Left: Vegetarian Meat by GoodDot, on display at World On A Plate – 2018; Top right: Vegetarian Meat Chilli Chicken; Bottom Right: Vegetarian Keema

I loved the Vegetarian Meat Chilli Chicken and Vegetarian Keema that I sampled at the GoodDot stall and, now, I can’t wait to cook with these products in my kitchen!

The cherries from Healthy Buddha were so fresh and lovely, they disappeared within minutes of my bringing them home. Now, I’m all eager to get my hands on more of their gorgeous produce!

Left: A sweet decorative piece at World On A Plate – 2018; Top right: Green burgers at Smally’s; Bottom right: The gorgeous cherries that I picked up at the Healthy Buddha stall

Overall, it was such a beautiful experience for me, being a wee li’l part of World On A Plate – 2018. I wish I could have done more, explored more, tasted more, learnt more, but I am glad I got to do at least this. Well, next time…!

I hope you were part of the event this year, too!

Were you at World On A Plate – 2018, too? How was your experience there?

Check Out The Summer Menu at Farzi Cafe, UB City!

Farzi Cafe is a name that needs no introduction. The place is, I think, best known for adding quirky twists to ordinary recipes and the dramatic presentation of food. The out-of-the-box plating at Farzi Cafe has been known to titillate – no wonder the dishes here are so widely Instagram-ed and Facebook-ed.

At a recent bloggers’ table, a few of the city’s foodies (including yours truly got a sneak peek into the ongoing Summer Menu at Farzi Cafe’s UB City-Bangalore branch. The Summer Menu includes various exciting new drinks, dishes and desserts, all of them bearing the cafe’s signature off-beat presentation style. I tried out some of the vegetarian and non-alcoholic offerings from the Summer Menu, which will be available for a month or so more. There were a few dishes that I fell in love with, while a few others did not quite tantalise my tastebuds. That said, the presentation of every single thing brought to our table managed to blow me away!

Here is the low-down on the dishes we sampled from the menu and the stars of the show, for me.

Drinks

I absolutely adored the mocktail I chose from the Summer Menu, Litchi Panna Desire, the perfect cross between the tangy aam panna and sweet litchi juice. It was very well done and utterly refreshing, the sweet and sour perfectly balanced. This is one drink I would highly recommend here!

The Strawberry Lemonade, a non-alcoholic mix of strawberry and lemon juice, came a close second. It was beautifully done too, the sweet and sour well balanced and complementing each other perfectly. The drink was quite the beauty too, a pretty pink, presented in a glass with a ‘tail’. 🙂

Top Left: Strawberry Lemonade; Bottom Left: Farzi Rita; Centre: Litchi Panna Desire; Top Right: Chuski Margarita; Bottom Right: Bottle Ka Gin

The Chuski Margarita (a mango margarita served with a desi ice gola), Bottle Ka Gin (a gin-based drink served in a light bulb, with magical effects), and Farzi Rita (a cocktail served in a tall glass shaped like the Eiffel Tower) won full marks for presentation. My fellow foodies were thrilled with these cocktails!

Soup & Appetisers

The Desi Curd Rice Poppers With Smoked Tomato Chutney were simply mind-blowing! What are these, you ask? Well, curd rice coated with batter and deep-fried till crisp and absolutely delicious, served with a gorgeous South Indian-style roasted tomato chutney. Trust me, I don’t like anyone messing with my curd rice – it is soul food for me, and I want it as simple as can be. Farzi Cafe, though, had done a real good job with these poppers – they were super-duper delish! The roasted tomato chutney they were served with was delish, too. Highly recommended!

Top Left: Desi Curd Rice Poppers With Roasted Tomato Chutney; Bottom Left: Harissa-Spiced Paneer Tikka served with Tadka Cream; Right: Curd Rice Tikki Chaat with Dragonfruit Scoops

The Curd Rice Tikki Chaat With Dragonfruit Scoops, another starter that used the good ol’ curd rice, was absolutely gorgeous, too. The curd rice, here, was converted into a delectable chaat, served with pretty scoops of dragon fruit and a beautiful tikki, and the end result was finger-lickingly delish! Again, highly recommended!

Harissa-Spiced Paneer Tikka served with Tadka Cream and Paanch Phoron Paneer Bhurji Tarts were the two starters that were presented next. Both of these were not bad, but weren’t brilliant either. They, sort of, paled in comparison to the two lovely starters we started off with. I fared similarly with the soup we sampled next, an Avocado & Mint Gazpacho served with Jeera Namak Paara – though quite unique and beautifully presented, it was not something my tastebuds relished.

Top Left: Avocado & Mint Gazpacho with Jeera Namak Paara; Bottom Left: Paanch Phoron Paneer Bhurji Tart; Top Right: Black Sesame Chicken Tikka served with Sesame Ash; Bottom Right: Santrewala Chicken Tikka

The Black Sesame Chicken Tikka served with Sesame Ash and Santrewala Chicken Tikka were thoroughly relished by my fellow non-vegetarian diners. I loved the look of both these dishes, too!

Main Course

The Daal Khichdi Risotto With Papad Crisp And Achaari Butter was so very blissful! It was comfort food in the form of a simple and homely arborio rice khichdi, served with achaari spice-infused butter and crunchy papad. If khichdi reminds you of home, too, this is one dish-with-a-twist that you must absolutely try out here!

Top Left: Daal Khichdi Risotto served with Papad Crisp and Achaari Butter; Bottom Left: Andhra Chilli Chicken Thatte Idli served with micro herbs; Right: Charcoal Appam with Paneer Ghee Roast and Podi Dust

It was love at first bite for me with the Charcoal Appam served with Paneer Ghee Roast and Podi Dust. The black appam was fluffy and utterly gorgeous, the ghee roast absolutely heavenly. The cottage cheese was succulent, beautifully spiced, bursting with rich flavours. This you shouldn’t miss out on, at any cost!

I heard wonderful things about the Andhra Chilli Chicken Thatte Idli from my non-vegetarian counterparts, too.

Desserts

I loved the Flourless Chocolate Cake With Tanguery Mousse And Orange Crumb, a perfectly made, super light intense chocolate cake, served with orange-flavoured cream. Brilliant, I say!

The Peanut Butter Mousse Taco with Banana Kulfi & Caramelised Banana did not blow the socks off me, sadly, pretty as it looked. There was a bit too much of peanut butter and banana in there for my liking.

Top Left: Peanut Butter Mousse Taco with Banana Kulfi & Caramelised Banana; Bottom Left: Flourless Chocolate Cake with Tanguery Mousse & Orange Crumb; Right: Feni Nest with Chhena Balls & Flavoured Milk

The Feni Nest With Chhena Balls Served With Flavoured Milk is one of the prettiest desserts I have come across. Shaped like a bird’s nest, this one was so beautiful I resisted digging a spoon into it. I am so very glad I did, though, for it tasted even better! Everything about it was just perfect – the flavoured milk was sinfully rich and gorgeous in taste, complementing perfectly with the soft, soft, soft chhena balls and the feni. Don’t miss this!

In hindsight

I think Farzi Cafe – UB City’s Summer Menu surely is exciting. There are quite a lot of interesting new drinks, dishes and desserts to try out! Do check it out if you are in the vicinity!

Head To Punjab Bistro For A North-Indian Extravaganza

People in Bangalore, I’m sure many of you will remember the iconic Punjab Grill right opposite Forum Mall in Koramangala, a high-end joint that used to offer some pretty good North Indian fare. Well, the restaurant has now been rebranded as Punjab Bistro, and is now even better! There has been a change in the management, the place has been given a facelift, and the menu has had a revamp, too. A few of us foodies in Bangalore recently had the opportunity to visit the newly re-done Punjab Bistro and check out the new menu.

Location and ambience

The location of Punjab Bistro remains the same as that of Punjab Grill, opposite Forum Mall in the hip and happening Koramangala. It is still a fine-dine eatery that serves an array of North Indian food, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. The place prides itself on offering authentic North Indian fare, along with a few international dishes.

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Part of the inside seating at Punjab Bistro

The interior is done up simply, but with class. The ample natural light filling this place makes the ambience bright and welcoming, a far cry from the dingy, dim-lit interiors of many fine-dine restaurants in the city. This is quite a large space, with plenty of seating available.

You can avail of the valet parking service here.

Food and drinks

We had an absolutely lovely time at Punjab Bistro, with some amazing food and drinks served to us. Most of the fare we tried out here, we loved!

Here is a quick look at all that we sampled at Punjab Bistro.

Shikanjivi: We started our meal with a glass of Shikanjivi, Punjabi-style lemonade, which was simply awesome. The lemonade was just perfect, the right amount of tangy and sweet, the spices in it fragrant. We relished this drink to the last drop.

Aam Panna: The Aam Panna, a spiced raw mango drink, tasted good but it paled in comparison to the brilliant Shikanjivi. A bit less thickness to the drink and a bit more sweetness would have done it for us.

Mast Guava: This mocktail, a spiced guava drink, was quite well done too. It tasted absolutely lovely and refreshing. The guava didn’t taste syrupy, but was fresh and nice, the spices not overpowering but beautifully complementing the drink.

Top left: Shikanjivi; Bottom left: Mast Guava; Right: Aam Panna

Chilgoza Paneer: This is a starter that we loved to bits – soft, soft, soft cottage cheese stuffed with a mix of toasted pine nuts, dill leaves and cheese, marinated and grilled to perfection. It was so very well done, an absolute pleasure to eat. Quite a unique thing to find on a restaurant menu, too! Highly recommended!

Tikki Chole: This starter stole the show, at least for me! The aloo tikkis were perfectly done, crisp from the outside and soft on the inside, served Delhi-style with chole masala, assorted chutneys and fine sev. The taste was on spot, exactly what you would find on the streets of Old Delhi. Brilliant! I can’t recommend this dish highly enough!

Top left: Chilgoza Paneer; Bottom left: Tikki Chole; Top right: Dahi Ke Kebab; Bottom right: Spinach Corn Quesadillas

Dahi Ke Kebab: I love dahi ke kebab, but sadly, the ones at Punjab Bistro failed to please. The kebabs here were too soft, too sweet, not the crispy ones with a soft, delicately spiced interior that we love. The berry sauce these kebabs were served with was just lovely, though.

Spinach Corn Quesadillas: This was yet another starter that we absolutely loved! The quesadillas were beautiful in taste, the filling a mix of delicious spinach and good-quality cheese. I loved how the cheese was oozing out of the quesadillas, yet not overpoweringly so. This dish comes highly recommended!

Dal Moradabadi: For main course, one of the dishes we ordered was Dal Moradabadi, a dish that I loved, loved, loved. This is, apparently, a specialty from the city of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, made with split moong dal, garnished with tamarind chutney, coriander chutney, finely chopped onions and tomatoes and fried moong dal. It was an absolute delight, full of different flavours and textures! Oh, I could polish off a bowlful of this dal all on its own – it is, after all, not dissimilar to a bowl of chaat, a complete meal on its own! Don’t miss this dish at Punjab Bistro, I tell you! (Head to my Instagram page to read the very interesting history behind the Dal Moradabadi)

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The gorgeous Dal Moradabadi at Punjab Bistro

Firangi Subzi: The Firangi Subzi – a curry made with ‘English’ vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers and baby corn, cooked in a cheesy gravy – was sheer beauty. It was so very well made, and tasted finger-lickingly delicious!

Paneer Makhani: The Paneer Makhani, succulent pieces of cottage cheese cooked in a creamy orange gravy, was good, but it didn’t quite measure up to the high expectations created by the Firangi Subzi and the Dal Moradabadi.

Top left: Paneer Makhani; Bottom left: Firangi Sabzi; Top right: Chur Chur Paratha; Bottom Right: Spring Onion Kulcha

Chur Chur Paratha: I love how Punjab Bistro has a vast selection of rotis, naan and parathas on the menu, something for every palate. Some of these breads are quite unique, and not easy to come across in Bangalore – Chur Chur Paratha, for instance, or an Iranian flatbread called Sheermal or Makke Di Roti. We ordered some Chur Chur Paratha to go with the sabzis, a pillow-soft paratha with a delicate cheese and potato stuffing. Had piping hot, it was heavenly!

Spring Onion Kulcha: The kulcha came with a beautiful cheese-and-spring onion stuffing, soft as can be. It was absolutely delish!

The Great Indian Dessert, a stunner of a dessert, at Punjab Bistro

The Great Indian Dessert: Next up came a dessert that was absolutely stunning, as much in looks as in taste and range of textures – called The Great Indian Dessert. Rose- and paan-flavoured kulfi, served on a bed of basil seeds soaked in Roohafza, served with crumbled sohan papdi and motichoor laddoo, slivers of Karachi halwa, sprinkled with aam ras and rose syrup – quite interesting, right? I loved how the different tastes and textures melded together to create one lovely, delectable whole. This pretty dessert is a tribute to some of India’s hugely popular desserts, something that I would urge you to try out whenever you are in Punjab Bistro! Highly recommended!

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Bistro Special Mille Feuille, at Punjab Bistro

Bistro Special Mille Feuille: This is Punjab Bistro’s take on the classic French mille feuille, with pieces of perfectly soaked gulab jamun, succulent strawberries and cream layered in between slices of crunchy pastry. This dessert was quite the beauty! It tasted good, though I don’t think it is something we would order again.

And that was how our delightful meal at Punjab Bistro panned out!

Service

We found the service staff to be quite friendly, warm and courteous. They were well-informed about the menu and were able to offer helpful suggestions.

Price

Prices here are on the higher side. A meal for two would cost about INR 1800.

In hindsight

Like I said earlier, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Punjab Bistro. Most of the food we tried out here, we loved! The presentation of all the dishes was so good, too! I love how the eatery has a wide selection of dishes for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians, but I wish there could be more vegetarian options in the Soups and Rice Dishes sections.

We will definitely be visiting Punjab Bistro again, to try out more of the delectable food on their menu! So, the next time you are craving for some ‘proper’ North Indian food along with a touch of the international, head to Punjab Bistro, and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

Have you been to Punjab Bistro yet? What are your favourites from the menu? I’d love to hear all about your experience!

 

 

Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi

If you have been reading my blog for a while now, you would probably know that the husband and I love trying out local vegetarian dishes wherever we travel to. We are suckers for exploring the foods popular at various destinations. We often bring back local ingredients (and sometimes recipes) from the places we visit, and using them in our home kitchen. This Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi that I’m going to write about today, is one such instance.

In the heart of what is known as ‘Old Srinagar’, in an area called Nowhatta, there stands a majestic specimen of Mughal-era architecture called the Jamia Masjid. We had a lovely time walking around the mosque, trying to fit the beautiful architecture into frames on my camera, from different angles. It was also a treat checking out the various little shops around the mosque, selling spices, apple chips and cockscomb and walnuts and different ingredients indigenous to Kashmir, clothes, tea sets, shoes and cutlery, among other things. It was at one of these little stores that I came across the Kashmiri black moth daal. I absolutely had to pick up some, to cook with later. From these shops, I also bought some beautiful Kashmiri ver masala and dried mint, all of which I have used in this Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi.

The black moth daal from Kashmir is packed with various nutrients, and has an earthy taste to it. The Kashmiris typically use these lentils to make daal or cook it in combination with meat or vegetables. I decided to use them in this Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi, a one-pot meal that is awesomely delish, very easy to make yet full of flavour.

Here’s how I made this Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 1/4 cup Kashmiri black moth daal
  3. Salt to taste
  4. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  5. A small piece of Kashmiri ver masala
  6. 4 green chillies
  7. 1 medium-sized onion
  8. 1/4 cup shelled green peas
  9. 1 small capsicum
  10. 6-7 beans
  11. 2 medium-sized tomatoes
  12. 5-6 cloves garlic
  13. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  14. 1 tablespoon oil
  15. A few stalks of fresh coriander leaves
  16. 1 tablespoon dried mint

Method:

1. Soak the Kashmiri black moth daal for about 20 minutes in warm water. When done, drain out the excess water and keep aside.

2. Peel the ginger and garlic. Grind them to a paste in a mixer. Keep aside.

3. Chop the onion length-wise. Peel and chop the carrots into batons. Remove strings from the beans and chop into batons. Chop the capsicum into cubes. Chop the tomatoes and coriander finely. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.

4. Mix the Kashmiri ver masala in a little water, until completely dissolved. Keep aside.

5. Wash the rice well under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water. Keep aside.

5. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker bottom. Add in the chopped onions, carrot, beans and capsicum, the shelled green peas, and the ginger-garlic paste. Mix well. Saute on high flame for a minute or so.

6. Now, add the washed and drained rice and Kashmiri black moth daal to the pressure cooker.

7. Add in 3.5 cups of water, as well as salt to taste, the ver masala paste, the chopped tomatoes, turmeric powder and the turmeric powder. Mix well. Taste the water and adjust seasonings as needed.

8. Close the pressure cooker and put the whistle on. Pressure cook on high flame for 3 whistles. Let the pressure release manually.

9. When all the pressure has gone down, open the cooker and fluff up the khichdi. Mix in the dried mint and the finely chopped coriander.

10. Serve the Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi with plain curd or raita of your choice.

Notes:

  1. I used Sona Masoori rice to make this khichdi. You can use any other type of rice you want to.
  2. Adjust the quantity of water, depending upon how grainy or soft you want the khichdi to be.
  3. If you don’t have dried mint powder, you can add in a few torn leaves of fresh mint to the rice while pressure cooking it.
  4. The Kashmiri black moth daal imparts a lovely earthy flavour to this khichdi. If you don’t have any, though, it can be replaced with whole masoor daal – soak it the same way for about 20 minutes and then add it to the pressure cooker.
  5. The Kashmiri ver masala is a mix of 60-70 ingredients, including oil, Kashmiri red chillies, garlic, shahjeera and cockscomb. I would not suggest omitting this or using any other masala in place of this, as it would alter the taste of the dish.
  6. Adjust the quantity of green chillies and Kashmiri ver masala you use, depending upon how spicy you want the khichdi to be.

Do try out this Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi, too! I’d love to hear how you liked it!

I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #226. The co-hosts this week is Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

 

Dodh-E-Pather Aka Doodhpatri, The Valley Of Milk

In other news, we just got back from a week-long holiday in and around Srinagar, Kashmir. We had been considering a few destinations to go to before the bub’s summer holidays ended, which wouldn’t kill us with sunstroke, where the bub could enjoy herself and so could we. We finally zeroed in on Srinagar, and hooked up with a travel agent in the city. Working with them, I built a slightly off-beat itinerary than the done-to-death Srinagar sightseeing-Gulmarg-Pahalgam-Sonamarg plan that most tourists undertake. We have already done that in the past.

This time around, we wanted to venture deeper into Srinagar, dig into local food and experiences, and explore a couple of lesser-known destinations around the city. While I wouldn’t say we got exactly the kind of holiday we wanted, it was still a beautiful trip – we did visit some gorgeous places and made memories that will last a long, long, long time to come.

Here I am, with the first installment of travel stories from Kashmir – about our visit to a spot called Doodhpatri.

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When the husband, the bub and I embarked on our drive to Doodhpatri, some 40-odd kilometers away from Srinagar (where we were staying), little did we know that we would absolutely fall in love with the place. Neither did we know that Doodhpatri would force us to think deep and hard about human nature.

Located in the district of Budgam, Doodhpatri is a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous place. Think meandering meadows full of cows, sheep and goats. Think truckloads of soft green grass with very few people around. Think snow-clad mountains and freezing cold. Think natural springs and pine trees. Think nomadic shepherds tending their flocks and their squat mud huts. Exactly, that kind of place. Doodhpatri is not as well-known to travellers as, say, Gulmarg or Pahalgam, and has only recently started seeing tourist influx. As a result, the place still remains largely untouched, pristine, uncommercial – this also means that there are no restaurants of note or tourist activities of note here. There is a lot of virgin natural beauty, though, much to explore for the non-touristy traveller.

Locally called Dodh-e-Pather, the name of the place literally translates to ‘Valley of Milk’. The cattle here are renowned for the plentiful, rich milk (doodh) they yield, which is what gives the place its name.

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A shepherd tending his flocks, at Doodhpatri

It is an almost 2-hour drive from Srinagar to Doodhpatri, the road not in the best of condition at places, but decent enough. As you near Doodhpatri, signs of city life grow lesser and lesser, the vistas grow wider and greener, and the views become more and more stunning. When the snow-capped mountains come closer, they almost take your breath away.

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Our first sight of the snow-capped mountains and the gorgeous green plains of Doodhpatri

A few sharp curves and turns later, you come to a point beyond which no vehicles can go. Walk for a few minutes, and you reach a gurgling spring, the water milky white, humming along over rocks that have turned smooth with wear.

The beautiful spring at Doodhpatri

We spent a couple of hours at this point, just winding down, talking, eating, taking pictures and gazing at all the beauty around us. This is a hot spot for selfie lovers and photographers alike. You may even choose to don the Kashmiri costumes available for hire at the couple of make-shift stalls here, and get a photoshoot done.

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The milky white waters of the spring at Doodhpatri

The rustic wooden bridge across the spring stole my heart away. It surely was something straight out of a dream!

The rustic bridge that had me charmed

You can cross the bridge and walk along the plains beyond, soaking in the pure air and the prettiness of nature around you, or you could let a pony take you there. There is no dearth of horsemen here, who will plead and haggle with you to hire them for a look-around Doodhpatri on pony-back.

A bunch of horsemen in their traditional pherans, waiting for tourists to hire their ponies

Considering that the bub wasn’t too well when we visited Doodhpatri and the terrain looked quite rough too, we decided to skip the pony ride. We contented ourselves with just gazing out at the spring, snapping pictures of this and that. That, in itself, is quite an experience, let me tell you.

A barbecue guy we came across at Doodhpatri

There isn’t a single proper restaurant in Doodhpatri, like I was saying earlier, thanks to it not really being on the tourist grid. There are just a couple of shops here selling tea, coffee, chips, Maggi and the likes.

In fact, I hear the road we drove on did not extend till the stream, two years ago or so. One would have to get down at a certain point and hike a few kilometres to reach the stream! Now, considering increasing tourist interest in Doodhpatri, the road has been laid out further.

A small shop selling refreshments at Doodhpatri. I was charmed by just how pretty this shop looked!

There is a sharp drop in temperatures at Doodhpatri when it rains or when the mountain winds blow. In winters, the snow makes the place practically unlivable. The place, therefore, remains open only about 8-9 months a year. For 2 or 3 months every year – in the winters – the winding roads to Doodhpatri become inaccessible due to all the ice on them, and the place is therefore shut off. No one comes here then, not even the semi-nomadic Gujjar shepherds. There is no permanent structure here which is in use throughout the year – neither a home nor a shop nor a tourist activity.

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A Gujjar hut at Doodhpatri

You will find the small, squat mud huts of the Gujjars – the famous wandering shepherds of Kashmir – at Doodhpatri. These shepherds wander the mountains and plains of Kashmir with their flocks of sheep, horses, goats and cows in the winters, trying to find grass for them. They perform odd jobs – building construction and the likes – to earn some money.

In the summers, they build houses on the mountains and stay put for a few months with their families.

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A small Gujjar hut that we came across at Doodhpatri

When we visited, some of these Gujjars were selling snacks and refreshments for the tourists out of their huts. We walked along, fascinated by the structures, fascinated by the typical Kashmiri snacks some of them were offering.

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A stall selling the large traditonal pooris of Kashmir, called Khajla, which is typically eaten with semolina halwa. In the background are the dried pea-pakoras that are commonly available across Kashmir.

Neither the husband nor I had ever tried out the halwa-poori combination before, and we went on to do just that at Doodhpatri. My, it was mind-blowing – bites of the Khajla filled with the halwa!

We were snacking on some beautiful Maggi noodles cooked with vegetables at one such home when we noticed a sudden drop in the temperature. All too quickly, the wind started howling (that eerie way the wind has of howling in the mountains!) and the plastic chairs around us began to crash to the ground (I am not exaggerating!). It began to turn finger-numbingly cold, and the jackets and caps we were carrying with us offered no protection at all. The bub began to shiver. The Gujjar shepherd whose shop we were eating at was quick to invite us inside his house. We gratefully accepted.

The little fireplace inside the Gujjar home we visited

Inside, the hut was warm as toast. The man’s wife was busy cooking lunch for their family, and the wood fire was working wonders. I don’t know what did it – the thick, hand-made mud walls or the structure of the hut or the wood fire – but it was gorgeous inside. It was a cocoon, a separate world in its own. The howling winds outside did not even touch the inside of the house. The lack of electricity and the bare minimum of possessions inside the house kind of stunned us – it was a stark reminder of just how much we urbane folk cling to our worldly possessions day in and day out.

The family invited us to stay for lunch or at least for some tea, but we refused as we had already eaten. We did spend quite a bit of time sitting with them, chatting, warming our hands on the kangri (Kashmiri coal brazier) they were generous enough to share with us.

The kangri that saved us from frostbite in Doodhpatri

The husband and I had so many questions for the family and their way of life, and they were happy to respond to every single one of them. Snippets of the conversation still refuse to go out of my mind.

Hum 6 mahine yahan rehte hain, is ghar mein. Sardi mein 6 mahine hum parbat ke niche rehte hain.. majdoori karte hain..gay bakri charate hain.. kaam karte hain..,” the man told us. (‘We stay here, in this house, for 6 months. For the 6 months around winter, we stay in the foothills. We undertake labour and other odd jobs, tend to our cows and goats.’)

Yahan pe kuch nahi milta. Paani, aata, sabzi.. sab kuch neeche se le ke aate hain.. yahan par bahut zyaada thand padti hai na?,’ his wife said. (‘There is nothing available here. Water, flour, vegetables.. we get all of it from the foothills.. It’s too cold here, no?’)

Raat ko hamari gay aur bakri ghar ke andar rehte hain.. subah hote hi bahar chhod dete hain… woh chalte rehte hain, aur hum bhi saath chalte hain..,’ the man said. (‘We keep our cows and goats inside the house in the nights. As soon as morning dawns, we set them free. They walk around everywhere, and we walk around after them.’)

Chalna humare liye badi baat nahi hai. Humein aadat hai. Gulmarg se Doodhpatri ho ya Pahalgam se Sonamarg, hum chaltein hain..,’ the man stated. (‘Walking is not a big thing for us. We are used to it. From Gulmarg to Doodhpatri or fro Pahalgam to Sonamarg, we can walk.’)

The conversation was nothing short of enlightening. It set us thinking.

How hard would a life like this be, where you need to walk for kilometres on end just to fetch clean drinking water?

How many of the little things in my life I take for granted? Can I live a simple life like this, or am I too addicted to the complexities of my life?

How did these people cope up with so much hardship? Every single day? Did they even feel it was hard?

What makes these people stick to their roots? Do they ever wonder about the world beyond these hills?

Do they ever think about moving to an easier place, an easier way of living? Or does that thought never even cross their minds?

How different these people’s lives are from mine! And yet, we are all the same at the core of us – humans.

I don’t have the answers yet.

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Notes for travellers:

  1. Doodhpatri is a drive of about 2 hours from Srinagar. There are okay-ish roads some part of the way, while the roads in other parts are decent.
  2. It would be a good idea to carry some snacks/food while you visit Doodhpatri.
  3. Private cabs are the best way to reach Doodhpatri. You can hire one from Srinagar, where the nearest airport is located.
  4. The weather gets quite chilly at Doodhpatri at times, especially while it rains. You might want to carry a change of clothes, warm clothes, umbrellas and/or raincoats when you visit Doodhpatri.
  5. Pony riding is quite common among tourists, to see the sights in and around Doodhpatri. Walking everywhere might not always be possible. I would suggest going ahead with pony riding only if you are comfortable with the idea – there’s no fun in it if you do it half-heartedly or when you are scared.
  6. If you do decide to undertake a pony ride for sight-seeing, please do decide on the rates with the horsemen beforehand. Bargain if necessary, to fix a decent rate.

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New Menu Tasting At Mainland China, Indiranagar

Mainland China needs no introduction, I am sure. The chain of restaurants has created a name for itself in serving good-quality Chinese fare. The husband and I love a Chinese meal occasionally, and have often headed to Mainland China for the same. So, when Mainland China recently introduced its new menu, I was thrilled to be a part of the tasting process at their Indiranagar branch, along with a few other food bloggers. We ended up having a delightful experience!

Location, decor and ambience

This was the first time I visited the Indiranagar branch of Mainland China, located on the bustling 100-Foot Road. It wasn’t difficult to find at all.

I loved the fact that there is ample parking available here, and valet parking is offered as well.

The interiors are simple and understated, classy and beautiful. The place is spacious, good for get-togethers with friends and/or family.

The new menu at Mainland China

The new menu at Mainland China leans more towards Pan-Asian fare, and has some great options for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. The menu is quite extensive and, I am sure, has something for everyone. Old favourites have been retained, and new flavours have been introduced. We were presented with some signature offerings from the new menu, of which I had the pleasure of tasting the vegetarian dishes.

#newmenunewflavours

Here is what I tried out from the new menu at Mainland China.

Vegetarian Tom Yum Soup: We started our meal with a vegetarian version of Tom Yum, which was nice, but not brilliant. The broth was flavourful and aromatic, with a generous amount of ingredients added in. However, the soup could have done with a bit more body, IMHO. I loved the slightly thick, more rounded Tom Yum that I had at Misu, and tend to hold that up as a standard against which all Tom Yums are measured. On that scale, this Tom Yum Soup fell a wee bit short.

Corn Chilli Pepper With Kaffir Lime And Salt: This made for a lovely starter, the corn nice and crispy without being overly chewy, the hints of chilli and kaffir lime coming through beautifully in every bite. I absolutely loved the presentation of this dish in a wine goblet, too!

Top Left: Vegetarian Tom Yum Soup; Top Right: Corn Chilli Pepper With Kaffir Lime & Salt; Bottom Left: Truffle Oil-Flavoured Zucchini Roll; Bottom Right: Crispy Lotus Stem With Curry Leaves & Black Pepper; Picture Courtesy for the corn and lotus stem dishes: Kasalsfoodsprings

Truffle Oil-Flavoured Zucchini Roll: These rolls were perfectly cooked, with a crispy exterior and a lovely, mild zucchini stuffing within. Taste-wise, these could have done with more flavour, I felt. I couldn’t sense any truffle in the rolls, though.

Crispy Lotus Stem With Curry Leaves And Black Pepper: This one tasted absolutely delish, and was the star of the meal for me. The lotus stem was sliced really fine and was fried well, the Chinese-style sauce it was cooked in really flavourful. The idea of adding curry leaves, sort of, didn’t really go with the concept of Chinese cuisine, but they didn’t seem out of place in the dish – they seemed to lend themselves to the whole, without hampering the overall taste of the dish.

Corn & Water Chestnut Dumplings: These dumplings were so very well done, beautiful inside and out! They were exquisitely delicate, the green outer shell delightfully paper-thin. The corn-and-water-chestnut filling was subtly spiced, mild, and very delicious. These come highly recommended – don’t miss them whenever you visit Mainland China!

Left: Corn & Water Chestnut Dumplings; Top Right: Edamame Dumplings With Truffle Oil; Bottom Right: Orange Piroshka

Edamame Dumplings With Truffle Oil: The next set of dumplings presented to us had a lovely, subtly spiced edamame stuffing. The outer shell was, again, brilliantly thin. I absolutely loved these dumplings too!

Orange Piroshka: From the extensive list of non-alcoholic beverages available at Mainland China, I chose the Orange Piroshka, a cooler made with orange juice and mint. I absolutely loved it! The drink was a beautiful medley of sweet and sour, quite refreshing and beautiful. I loved how the Orange Piroshka didn’t feel like a commercially-bought-flavoured-syrup-infused drink that is so very common with mocktails in several restaurants.
Japanese Wheat Noodles: A very interesting addition to the eatery’s new menu, the Japanese Wheat Noodles were absolutely lovely! Similar in looks to ragi vermicelli, they had a beautiful, beautiful texture. They tasted delicious, with subtle flavours, mild and soft. Such a refreshing change from the Hakka Noodles that you commonly find at Chinese eateries! This is another dish that I would highly recommend you to try out here!

Left: Japanese Wheat Noodles; Top Right: Vegetables & Edamame Fried Rice; Bottom Right: Lemongrass Vegetables In Fresh Cilantro Sauce

Steamed Chinese Greens And Tofu In Mild Ginger Sauce (not in pictures): This dish was well done too. Mildly spiced, none of the flavours of this dish overpowered the others. I am not particularly fond of the smell of steamed Chinese greens, and this dish was no exception. Taste-wise, I wouldn’t say I was bowled over by this, but I did like it.

Vegetables & Edamame Fried Rice: This was a refreshingly new take on the good ol’ fried rice, a well-executed twist. The rice was mild and subtle, well cooked and a pleasure to eat. Compared to the soya sauce- and black pepper-laden fried rice that we are used to, this rice was very mildly spiced, and loaded with veggies.

Lemongrass Vegetables In Fresh Cilantro Sauce: We ordered this to go with the fried rice, and were pleasantly surprised by the lovely taste of the dish. I was sort of worried if the lemongrass and the cilantro in the dish would overpower the dish, but they absolutely did not. Everything in the dish was very well-balanced and, overall, the dish was mild and well turned out. It made for the perfect accompaniment for the rice.

Chocolate Dome With Warm Chocolate Sauce: For dessert, we opted for a chocolate dome that melted when warm chocolate sauce was poured over it, revealing a base of vanilla ice cream, chocolate brownies and salted popcorn underneath. This was an absolutely blissful delight for a chocolate-lover like me – different tastes and textures melding together to create a lovely dessert. Another must-try here!

Top: Warm chocolate sauce being poured on the chocolate domes; Bottom: That’s how the dessert looks after the chocolate dome has melted!

In hindsight

I loved most of the dishes I sampled from the new vegetarian menu, and my fellow non-vegetarian diners were pleased too. I am definitely eager to try out more of the new dishes that Mainland China has introduced!

Prices here are on the higher side, but the quality of ingredients, execution of dishes and their taste totally make up for it. Service is courteous, warm and friendly.

The next time you crave for Chinese (or Asian) fare, why don’t you head to Mainland China? Do let me know how you like the new menu!