Dragon Food Festival @ InAzia, Sheraton Grand, Whitefield

I have had the pleasure of dining at InAzia, the Pan-Asian restaurant at the Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel & Convention Center, a couple of times. Last week, I was invited to partake of another feast there, to check out their ongoing Dragon Food Festival, along with some other food bloggers.

Experience Chef Shishir Rai’s Magic At The Dragon Food Festival

The Dragon Food Festival, as the name suggests, will showcase dishes from the exotic land of China. The festival menu has been carefully curated by Jr. Sous Chef, Shishir Rai, who is also spearheading the campaign.

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Chef Shishir Rai, the mastermind behind the ongoing Dragon Food Festival at InAzia

I loved how the Dragon Food Festival menu has a good selection of dishes for vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians alike. Both exotic and popular Chinese dishes feature on the menu, which is something that won brownie points with me.

(For more pictures from the Dragon Food Festival, check out my Facebook post!)

What did I try out?

Chef Rai suggested the foods we absolutely must not miss out, from the food festival menu. Each dish came to our table beautifully presented, and most of it managed to bowl me over.

Here is a sneak peek into all that I tried out at InAzia’s Dragon Food Festival, the vegetarian, non-alcoholic part of it that is.

Cucumber & Cilantro Soup: Decked with slivers of cucumber, delicately flavoured with coriander, this subtly spiced soup was served warm to us. I loved how it was so simple yet hearty, neither overwhelming nor overly bland. It was done just right!

Assorted Mushrooms Truffle Blast: These dimsums were, again, simple but extremely delicious. The filling was a mix of hon Shimeji enokitake and shiitake mushrooms, scented with truffle oil, and I loved them to bits.

Top left: Cucumber & Cilantro Soup; Bottom left: Assorted Mushrooms Truffle Blast; Right: Vegetable Sichuan-Style Pan-Fried Dimsums

Vegetable Sichuan-Style Pan-Fried Dimsums: Stuffed with celery, carrot and asparagus, these pan-fried dimsums were absolutely perfect. They were mildly spiced, but so delicious! The garlic oil they were seasoned with added a whole lot of oomph to them.

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Wok-Tossed Tofu, Sichuan-Style, at InAzia’s Dragon Food Festival

Wok-Tossed Tofu, Sichuan-Style: Cubes of silken tofu were marinated, then tossed with Sichuan chilli paste to create this dish, which was a real beauty indeed. The outside was crunchy, the inside deliciously soft, the sauce a burst of flavours.

Jasmine Tea: We were served some jasmine tea, to cleanse our palates after the appetisers, in preparation for the main course. Now, I have had jasmine tea at a few places, but never loved it, thanks to it almost always feeling like insipid lukewarm water. The jasmine tea at InAzia was an entirely different story, though! It had a mild and subtle flavour, the gorgeous scent of jasmine, and the power to perk you up. Love!

Traditional Moon Fan: Here, steamed rice was flavoured with traditional Chinese five-spice, topped with sesame soy sauce and assorted veggies. This dish wasn’t bad, but felt quite bland to my tastebuds, as opposed to all the other dishes that were filled with taste.

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Left: Dry-cooked Hoo Fun Vegetable Noodles; Top right: Traditional Moon Fan; Centre right: Tofu, Asparagus & Water Chestnut With Malak Paste; Bottom right: Jasmine Tea

Dry-Cooked Hoo Fun Vegetable Noodles: I loved these flat rice noodles cooked with Napa cabbage, sweet peppers and bean sprouts. Flavoured with sesame oil and seasoned with fermented bean sauce, they were oh so flavourful!

Tofu, Asparagus & Water Chestnut With Malak Paste: With melt-in-the-mouth silken tofu, asparagus, water chestnut and green onion cooked in a sesame-chilli paste, this dish was such a flavour bomb! It was absolutely delicious, and paired beautifully with the rice and noodles.

Cranberry Mint Cooler: Along with the food, we were also served a Cranberry Mint Cooler, an extremely beautifully done mocktail. The sourness of cranberry and the freshness of mint leaves paired together really well. This was something I absolutely loved at InAzia!

Left: Chilled Mango Pudding; Top right: Rice Cakes With Ginger Syrup & Ice Cream; Bottom right: Cranberry Mint Cooler

Chilled Mango Pudding: This pudding with mango jelly was served chilled, with pieces of fresh mango and cream. I loved that the pudding had a mildly sweet taste, and that it was not tooth-cloying. I also loved the bits of fresh mango and cream (of course!), but overall, the pudding felt like it had a bit too much of gelatin in it. While I loved the taste of this dessert, I didn’t quite enjoy the satiny consistency.

Rice Cakes With Ginger Syrup & Ice Cream: This dessert was quite unusual, at least to me. A sweet filling made with adzuki aka red beans was stuffed into rice flour shells, then steamed, and served alongside a mild ginger syrup and vanilla ice cream. The rice flour cakes were not unlike the Tamilian kozhukattai, although a bit thicker. The red bean stuffing takes a bit of getting used to. The ginger syrup was simply brilliant, and went wonderfully with the vanilla ice cream. Overall, this made for a very interesting choice of dessert!

A must-visit!

Like I said earlier, I enjoyed my time previewing the menu for InAzia’s Dragon Food Festival. Most of the food I tried, I loved. I would highly recommend you to pay a visit too, and check out the many foods and beverages the festival menu has on offer.

Intrigued? The Dragon Food Festival is on at InAzia till September 30, 2018, from 7 PM to 11 PM, and a meal for two costs about INR 2,000 plus taxes.

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Thai Food Festival @ In Azia, Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel

Regular readers of my blog will know how special Thailand is to me. The husband and I honeymooned in Thailand, watching Thai dancing and kick-boxing shows by the hour. Who on earth does that on their honeymoon? Turns out the hubby and I do. 🙂 It goes without saying that I have fond memories of us being shy newly-weds together in a foreign land. Making Thai food at home is something I have taught myself to do, to keep that connection with Thailand alive.

Thailand was also my very first international holiday, the first-ever time I set foot on soil that wasn’t Indian, which made the trip all the more special. I wasn’t a food or travel blogger then, so we didn’t explore much of the local food or sights, a fact I regret to date. I haven’t had a chance to go back to Thailand, and explore it to my heart’s content. I did, however, recently get the thrilling opportunity to experience some of Thailand’s famed street food at InAzia, the classy restaurant at Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel. Along with a few other bloggers from the city, I was present at InAzia for a sneak peek into the restaurant’s ongoing Thai Food Festival.

Sample Chef Rungtiwa Sorlae’s expert craftsmanship at the Thai Food Festival

Like I said earlier, InAzia, the Pan-Asian restaurant at Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel, has a Thai food festival going on now. The festival, brought to you in association with Thailand Tourism, will continue till August 29, 2018.

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Thai Chef Rungtiwa Sorlae, Specialty Chef at InAzia, Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield Hotel

Chef Rungtiwa Sorlae, Specialty Chef at InAzia, has put together a special menu for the food festival, which includes several vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies straight off the streets of her hometown, Thailand. There are also some incredible desserts on offer!

We had a lovely time sampling Chef Rungtiwa’s expert creations, and would urge you to partake of them too. The Thai food festival special menu is available at InAzia between 7 and 11 PM every day, on an a la carte basis. A meal for two would cost approximately INR 2000. Prior reservation is recommended.

My experience at InAzia’s Thai Food Festival

As soon as I set foot into InAzia, I was greeted by two ladies in traditional Thai gear with a sweet ‘Sawadee Kha‘ (‘Hello’ in Thai). This instantly put me at ease, as did the lovely live Thai music being played in the restaurant. The simple and uncluttered but elegant decor of InAzia also soothed my mind plentifully.

The understated but classy decor at InAzia

I loved the references to Thailand that were everywhere in the restaurant. Being the sucker for attention to detail that I am, I adored these little touches – centrepieces made of Thai bird’s eye chillies and galangal, Thai-style lanterns on the tables, place mats that depicted the different aspects of Thailand, Thai umbrellas on display, and a live station for Thai salads, et al.

Glimpses from our recent preview of the Thai Food Festival at InAzia

With the warm hospitality that is typical of the Thai people, Chef Rungtiwa brought out one after another of her creations. We greedily lapped all of it up, loving every bit of it.

What did I taste?

Here’s a brief recap of all the vegetarian, non-alcoholic goodness that I sampled at InAzia’s Thai Food Festival.

Som TamSom Tam or Green Papaya Salad is, perhaps, one of the most popular dish in Thai restaurants across India. Chef Rungtiwa’s version was slightly less sweet and sour than the Som Tam I am used to here, more spicy and pungent with hand-pounded chillies and garlic. I loved this salad quite a bit!

Pheuk-TordPheuk-Tord or deep-fried taro cakes are a popular street food in Bangkok. Salty and spicy, they are served with the accompaniments of chilli and/or peanut sauce. These cakes were too bland for me, not meant for my taste buds that demand chatpata food all the time. 🙂

Tom Yum Soup – Spicy and salty and sour, Tom Yum is one of my most favourite kinds of soups there is. Chef Rungtiwa’s version was brilliant – slightly more sour than the Tom Yum we get here in Bangalore, it suited my taste buds just perfectly. It was just the right amount of spicy too – neither the boring kind of bland, nor too spicy as to draw tears from your eyes.

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Top Left: Spiced Pineapple; Bottom Right: Pheuk-Tord; Top Right: Vegetarian Tom Yum Soup; Centre Right: Virgin Mojito; Bottom Right: Som Tam

Spiced Pineapple – This was one of the mocktails I ordered from the regular menu at InAzia, to go with the Thai appetisers. This was such a lovely drink, perfectly made, Indian spices subtly adding depth to pineapple juice. Lovely!

Virgin Mojito – I also tried out the Virgin Mojito here, off the restaurant’s regular menu. It was perfectly made too, the right blend of sweet and sour, very refreshing and lovely.

Pad Thai – Main course began with a serving of Pad Thai, Thai-style noodles that are hugely popular in India. I love a well-made dish of Pad Thai, and this one was no exception. The flat noodles were interesting to eat, with the added crunch of bean sprouts and coarsely crushed peanuts. The flavours were absolutely on point, just the right blend of sweet and spicy and salty, with just a tinge of sour.

Left: Thai Green Curry; Top Right: Thai Jasmine Rice; Bottom Right: Pad Thai

Thai Jasmine Rice – This was my first time eating Thai Jasmine Rice, and I simply loved it. The texture and fragrance of the rice was just lovely!

Thai Green Curry – We were served some beautiful Thai Green Curry to go with the jasmine rice. Mild and subtle, very well-made, the curry made for a great accompaniment to the fragrant rice.

Sang Ka Ya Fak Tong – And then it was time for the desserts to be brought out! We started with Sang Ka Ya Fak Tong, a traditional Thai delicacy that I had never heard of before. Coconut custard is poured onto big slices of pumpkin and baked together, to create this dessert, which apparently sells like hot cakes on the streets of Thailand. The Sang Ka Ya Fak Tong did sound wonderful, but it was too eggy for me to eat. For someone who loves eggs, this would be a very unique thing to try, I’m sure.

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Left: Sang Ka Ya Fak Tong; Top Right: Sang Kaya Ob; Centre Right: Home-made Coconut Ice Cream; Bottom Right: Tab Tim Krob

Tab Tim Krob – Next up came the Tab Tim Krob, another interesting traditional Thai dessert. This one was brilliant, with bits of jackfruit and jellied water chestnut served in sweetened coconut milk. It was delicate but hugely satisfying, mildly sweet but delicious, and I couldn’t stop lapping it all up.

Sang Kaya ObSang Kaya Ob refers to baked coconut caramel custard, another traditional Thai dessert. This just blew my mind away with silky texture, coconut-ty flavour and mild sweetness. It was served on a banana leaf, which added to its taste greatly. This is one dessert I would highly recommend you to have at InAzia!

Home-Made Coconut Ice Cream – Yet another dessert that was brilliant enough to charm the socks right off me! Good ol’ simple ice cream made the traditional way, this one tasted scrumptious. The crushed cookies that the ice cream was dusted with added oodles to its charm and taste. This is another dessert I would highly recommend you to try out here.

Traditional Thai Rose Cookies

Thai Rose Cookies – The meal ended with a thoughtful little gift from Chef Rungtiwa to all of us – a box of traditional Thai Rose Cookies. These were so pretty, I almost didn’t have the heart to eat them. 🙂 I am glad I did, though, for they were exquisite. Delicate, mildly sweet, each one topped with white, dark and milk chocolate, these three cookies were a treat to the taste buds.

In hindsight

I loved most of the food that was served at the preview, though I wish there had been more vegetarian options.

Dishes like Pad Thai and Thai Green Curry gave us a glimpse into Thai cuisine as we know it, while the ones like Pheuk-Tord and Sang Ka Ya Fak Tong taught us that there is more to Thai street food than what we typically find on restaurant menus in Bangalore. I love that this festival has whetted my appetite for more – I can’t wait to head to Thailand now, and explore the vegetarian street food scene there, right at the source! I wish the food festival had delved deeper into more lesser-known food, drinks and desserts from Thailand, but I understand the problems that might cause.

A bit of background, history and stories, to each of the dishes would have been hugely appreciated. To a food history buff like me, that would have been blissful.

While the staff was extremely polite and warm, we found the service to be quite slow. A bit more pro-activeness on the service front would have taken our dining experience up by several notches.

Overall, we had a great time at the food festival, eating our way through some of Thailand’s known and lesser-known delicacies, created with Chef Rungtiwa’s finesse. I would definitely urge you to head to InAzia too, to get your fix of authentic Thai street fare!

 

 

Berry Vanilla Gateaux @ The Academy Of Pastry Arts, Bangalore

Desserts are like mistresses. They are bad for you. So, if you are having one, you might as well have two,” said French chef Alain Ducasse once, and I heartily agree.

Desserts are important in my life. I have a huge sweet tooth, and absolutely love desserts. They are something I always, always save space for, especially if they are made of good-quality chocolate. That said, I don’t stop at just chocolate – I believe in exploring different types of dessert, going through dessert counters systematically, trying to figure out what I like the best. It might not be the best thing for me to do, considering my constant battle with increasing weight, but hey, I’m not one to spoil a day of indulgence with guilt.

With this background, you can imagine just how thrilled I would have been, recently, to receive an invite from The Academy Of Pastry Arts, Bangalore, to be part of a dessert demonstration. It did turn out to be quite a scintillating experience. Yours truly, alongside a bunch of other food bloggers from across the city, watched agog, as Chef Kimberly Rozario of the Academy gave us a live demonstration of a magnificent Berry Vanilla Gateaux.

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Check out the Berry Vanilla Gateaux that we learnt to make at the Academy. Isn’t she a stunner? Don’t miss those gorgeous fresh berries and tiny macaroons on top!

Making the Berry Vanilla Gateaux

Baking requires a lot of precision and patience, specially so when making as elaborate a dessert as this Berry Vanilla Gateaux. This particular cake required a number of steps, some quite complex and requiring special expertise – first making a chocolate sponge, then vanilla mousse, berry jelly, the red glaze that goes on top and, finally, the gold button, chocolate belt and little white macaroons that are used to decorate the cake. Each of these components was then assembled masterfully to create the stunning whole – the Berry Vanilla Gateaux.

Some pictures from the live demonstration of the Berry Vanilla Gateaux. Can you tell how many painstaking steps lie behind that one finished product?

Chef Kimberley took us through each step of the process very patiently, talking about the right kind of ingredients and apparatus to choose, clarifying doubts, answering questions and sharing her expert tips throughout. She made the entire process look almost magical, I must say, flawlessly building up that red confection from scratch.

Chef Kimberly Rozario of The Academy Of Pastry Arts, Bangalore, with the Berry Vanilla Gateaux that she demonstrated to us

We also got to sample this red beauty and, I must say, she blew my mind away. The flavours of vanilla, berries and chocolate came together so beautifully!

Chef Kimberly with her team at The Academy Of Pastry Arts, Bangalore

Head to my Facebook page to see more pictures from the demonstration!

About The Academy Of Pastry Arts

The Academy Of Pastry Arts is an esteemed professional culinary and dessert school with a Pan-Asian presence. In India, the Academy has branches at Bangalore, Delhi NCR and Mumbai, with the Bangalore branch being located on Sarjapur Main Road, Jakkasandra. Apart from this, they also have a presence in the Philippines and in Malaysia.

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The reputed chefs who are part of The Academy Of Pastry Arts, Bangalore

The Academy boasts of having a number of world-class chefs on board, who work with the school either on a permanent or visiting basis. State-of-the-art infrastructure and cutting-edge technology are their points of pride. There are several long-term and short-term courses on offer, wherein students can learn various aspects of culinary and dessert arts. The Academy assures small batch sizes, one-on-one attention to every student, hands-on training, the passing on of top-notch culinary dexterity, internship with hospitality brands of repute, and placement in five-star hotels and patisseries on the completion of courses.

From the walls of The Academy Of Pastry Arts, Bangalore

The Academy Of Pastry Arts has participated in several national- and international-level competitions, winning a few of them too.

The Academy Of Pastry Arts in the news

In Conclusion

As an amateur baker, I was way out of my depth in the demonstration of this beautiful, but complex cake. However, I was impressed with the clean kitchens and the state-of-the-art technology the Academy uses, not to forget Chef Kimberly’s expertise and patient handling of us. For someone who is serious about making a career in the culinary or dessert arts, this is definitely a place to head to.

Details

Address:

Bangalore Centre
9, 1st Block, Sarjapur Main Road,
Jakkasandra, Koramangala,
Bangalore

Phone:
+91-8095719222
+91-8095442277
+91-8025505222

E-mail:
info@academyofpastryartsindia.com

Website:

http://academyofpastryartsindia.com/

 

Go Crazy At These Eight Asian Destinations!

Asia, the largest continent on this planet, has plenty of sites that will astound you to no end. From scenic and mighty mountains to pristine low-lying valleys, from roaring seas to serene beaches, Asia has lots of destinations to please all kinds of travellers.

Many of these Asian destinations should definitely be on your bucket list! We present to you a list of some such amazing Asian places – choose any of these for your next holiday, and we assure you will have an experience worth cherishing!

Bali

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Are you looking forward to a romantic honeymoon vacation? In that case, Bali is the right place for you. Thanks to its prolific beauty, this place is often referred to by travellers as ‘heaven on earth’. Picturesque mountain ranges, lush rainforests, scenic beaches and sweeping valleys all together make it a vibrant destination in Asia to holiday in. Moreover, Bali also boasts of a handful of serene temples, which you absolutely must not miss on your vacation. The cultural capital of Bali, Ubud, is something you must visit as well.

Singapore

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People often ask why Singapore is unique and different from other Asian nations. Well, Singapore offers travellers a melting pot of Asian cultures. In Singapore, you will find a blend of various cultures, which gives it a modern outlook and vibrant city neighbourhoods, as well as some really eclectic cuisines. Singapore is one of the most-loved island nations in the world. While here, you must head down towards Little India and China town for an amazing shopping experience, and later the Merlion to contemplate the high-rise skyscrapers.

Nepal

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This Himalayan country surely needs no introduction. If you are planning a trip to scenic Himalayas in all their majesty, Nepal is the place you should be heading to. Nepal is the most sought-after destination for trekkers – here, you can undertake various treks here, each of which will give you an opportunity to introspect and explore your inner self. Nepal is also where you can relax in the serenity of golden temples and watch wildlife.

Bangkok

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This capital of Thailand is choc-a-bloc with things to do for all sorts of travellers. Take your pick from a horde of eye-catching sites to never-ending nightlife and mouth–watering Thai cuisine! The Chatuchak Weekend Market is a huge street market that you must not miss. The sacred shrines of Bangkok are where you can immerse yourself in spirituality, if that is your kind of thing. Bangkok is also a good place to indulge one’s senses, with some of the best spas in the world on offer.

Ladakh

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Travelling to Ladakh by road is quite a thrilling experience, one that must definitely be on your bucket list. Ladakh is visited by thousands every year, but the beauty of the regal Himalayas never gets old. There are several Leh Ladakh tour packages on offer, each of which will leave you with an unforgettable experience.

Bhutan

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Surrounded by the gorgeous Himalayas, Bhutan has a magical aura to it that you must definitely experience. Bhutan is a country full of surprises. Here, rice is red and chillies are not only seasonings, but very much a main dish. Here is where a Buddhist monk will update his social media handles after performing a divination. Yes, you read that right! The traditional Buddhists of Bhutan have completely adopted modern culture, and are proud to do so.

The Maldives

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A kingdom of oceans, 1200 islands, and a never-ending horizon – that is what the Maldives are. Wherever you go, you will find clear, clear skies and the prettiest of turquoise waters waiting for you. You can choose to stay in one of the many luxurious overwater bungalows that the Maldives has to offer, and spend your holiday watching majestic coral reefs and surfing white-sand beaches with your loved ones. Maldives is quite a popular destination among honeymooners, and that is no big wonder!

Tokyo

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The largest city in the world, Tokyo, has plenty of things to offer travellers. It is a beautiful and vibrant city, known for its crowded streets, flashing lights and warm people. Tokyo is a shoppers’ paradise and a haven for foodies. This megacity of Japan is buzzing with constant movement, something that you must experience for yourself.

So, which of these Asian destinations would be your pick for your next holiday?

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This post is brought to you in association with Thrillophilia, international travel planners. All images in the post are courtesy of Thrillophilia.

Introduction To Sindhi Cuisine @ Sindh Kitchen, Malleshwaram

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to sample some Sindhi food at Sindh Kitchen, Malleshwaram, at a bloggers’ table. It turned out to be an enlightening experience, my first proper introduction to Sindhi cuisine, close on the heels of this post of mine about the Sindhi Koki. We had a lovely time admiring the simple decor of Sindh Kitchen and, of course, gorging on some delicious food!

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The simple, functional decor at Sindh Kitchen, Malleshwaram. I absolutely loved those tiles!

We tried out some traditional Sindhi dishes like Dal Pakwaan, Koki, Sindhi Kadhi, Sindhi Vadi Ki Sabzi, Aloo Tuk, Sai Bhaji and Pragree, along with some other not-so-traditional dishes. I loved most of the fare we tried out here, which was as authentic as it gets, considering it is prepared in-house by a Sindhi family.

The food and drinks

Here is how I fared with the food and drinks at Sindh Kitchen.

Drinks

Lemon & Mint Cooler: We started our meal with a shot each of Sindh Kitchen’s Lemon & Mint Cooler. This was quite refreshing, well done with the right mix of sweet and sour.

Appetisers

Palak Patta Chaat: Next up, we were presented with platters of Palak Patta Chaat, spinach leaves deep-fried till crisp, then topped with the assorted sweet, savoury and tart makings of chaat. This was perfectly done, just the way I like it. Needless to say, I loved this chaat to bits.

Sev Papdi Chaat: The Sev Papdi Chaat came next, flat deep-fried discs topped with fine sev, assorted chutneys and boiled potatoes. I found this to be quite decent, not bad but not brilliant either.

Top Left: Lemon & Mint Cooler; Bottom Left: Sev Papdi Chaat; Right: Palak Patta Chaat

Dal Pakwaan: And then, it was time for the piece de resistence, perhaps the best-known dish from Sindhi cuisine – Dal Pakwaan – to be brought out. The Pakwaan is made with maida (sometimes with a little wheat flour added in) mixed with some fragrant spices, bound into a dough, rolled out into discs, and then deep-fried. It is served with a sort of lentil stew called Dal, topped with finely chopped onions and/or green chillies, as well as sweet and spicy chutneys. I adored the Dal Pakwaan I tried out in Ahmedabad for the first-ever time, and the Sindh Kitchen version somehow fell short of it. In my humble opinion, it could have done with some more flavour.

Top Left: Dal Pakwaan; Centre Left: Sindhi Wadi Ki Sabzi; Bottom Left: Sindhi Kadhi; Right: The Dal Pakwaan presented differently

Main Course

Sindhi Wadi Ki Sabzi: Mixed vegetables are cooked Sindhi-style, with sun-dried lentil wadis, to make this sabzi. I loved this dish to bits – it tasted absolutely brilliant, redolent with spices.

Sindhi Kadhi: Unlike the regular kadhi we are used to, the Sindhi Kadhi is made without any curd. Flavoured with Garcinia Indica aka kokum, with a variety of vegetables added in, this is a lovely accompaniment to rice. I absolutely loved this dish!

Meethi Boondi: I love meethi boondi, especially the rose-flavoured orange version that is just the right amount of sweet. The meethi boondi we were served at Sindh Kitchen was exactly like that, exactly the way I love it. We were asked to try having the boondi with the rice and kadhi, the way it is apparently consumed in Sindhi households, and I must admit the combination did taste nice. Personally, though, I would just prefer gulping down a bowl of this meethi boondi on its own, for dessert!

Left: Aloo Tuk; Top Right: Sindhi Papad; Bottom Right: Sindhi Koki and Sai Bhaji

Aloo Tuk: This is a traditional delicacy made with twice-cooked potatoes. Potatoes are typically par-boiled or fried once, then slightly smashed, then fried again to make them crispier. They are served with a generous dose of salt, red chilli powder and chaat masala. The Aloo Tuk was so, so, so very lovely, great with the rice and kadhi! I think these beauties would go really well with sambar and rice as well – can’t wait to try that combo out!

Sindhi Papad: We also got to try out the Sindhi papad, quite less spicy than its Punjabi counterpart. I liked this mild papad, which made for a nice accompaniment to the rice and Sindhi kadhi.

Sindhi Koki: This thick but soft and crumbly Sindhi flatbread was just beautiful! It tasted absolutely delightful, with finely chopped onions and green chillies added in.

Sai Bhaji: ‘Sai‘ refers to the colour green, in Sindhi. True to its name, Sai Bhaji is made with a variety of greens, with assorted vegetables added in. It is quite a flavourful way to sneak greens and veggies into one’s diet, I must say. It pairs wonderfully well with Sindhi Koki – add a dollop of curd to it, the way the Sindhis do, and this becomes a heavenly trio!

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The white rice is called Chawal in Sindhi. Anti-clockwise from the Chawal is Bhuga Chawal, Dal Pakwaan, Sai Bhaji and Sindhi Kadhi

Bhuga Chawal: As part of the main course, we were served some plain steamed white rice to have with the side dishes. We were also served some Bhuga Chawal, a Sindhi preparation wherein basmati rice is cooked with onions, flavoured with spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, bay leaves and garam masala. The Bhuga Chawal was not unlike a pulav, though quite low on spice, fragrant with all the spices. It was delicious, and paired well with the various side dishes served to us, though I would really prefer having it on its own, or maybe with some raita.

Khameeri Roti: Khameeri Roti is another type of Sindhi flatbread, made using whole wheat flour and yeast (known as ‘khameer‘ in Sindhi). Traditionally cooked in clay tandoors, these rotis are melt-in-the-mouth soft.

Sathpura: Sathpuro Phulko or Sathpura is a flaky flatbread made using wheat flour. The dough is rolled out, cut into strips, greased with oil or ghee and re-rolled, the proceedure giving the flatbread its flakiness and pillow-soft texture. It is the Sindhi version of the Kerala paratha, if I may put it that way.

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That, there, is most of the spread we tried out at Sindh Kitchen. Check out the flatbreads – the Sindhi Koki lie atop the Sindhi Papad, the ones wrapped in foil are Sathpura, and the whitish ones are Khameeri Roti.

Desserts

Pragree with Rabri: Pragree is a delectable traditional Sindhi dessert, a layered puff stuffed with a sweet khoya filling. Served with a beautiful, beautiful rabri, this was exactly the kind of dessert that takes a sweet-toothed person like me to a state of bliss!

Left: Pragree with Rabri; Right: Gulab Jamun with Vanilla Ice Cream

Gulab Jamun with Vanilla Ice Cream: This wasn’t your average gulab jamun, but one made with loads of khoya, just the way I love it. With the vanilla ice cream, it tasted all the more lovely.

In hindsight

I surely enjoyed this gastronomical voyage through Sindh, with Sindh Kitchen. If this is something you would like to experience as well, I would recommend you visit the place as well.

Tank up on some authentic Sindhi delicacies, as well as the other, more modern food they have on offer. The Sai Bhaji, Sindhi Kadhi, Meethi Boondi, Pragree and Gulab Jamun especially come highly recommended!

A meal for two here would cost around INR 1,000.

 

 

 

 

Old Favourites From Made In Punjab Now Back At BBQ’D!

Made In Punjab Revival At BBQ’D

Old-time foodies from Bangalore will remember Made In Punjab in UB City. It used to be quite an institution back in the days, known for its authentic Punjabi food and unconventional twists to traditional dishes. About a year ago, Made In Punjab got rebranded as BBQ’D, and everything from the look of the restaurant to the menu changed. However, it so happened that Made In Punjab refused to get out of people’s minds. Patrons kept asking for their favourite foods at Made In Punjab over and over again, so much so that the management recently decided to add them back in the BBQ’D menu! 🙂

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The ambience at BBQ’D

Along with a bunch of other foodies from the city, I had the opportunity to check out this ‘Made In Punjab Revival Menu’ at BBQ’D, just a few days ago. I absolutely loved most of the fare we were served, amidst sips of some of BBQ’D signature mocktails. Chef Mahabir Pundir, Head Chef at BBQ’D, has been spearheading this ‘Made In Punjab Revival’, and I must say he has done a brilliant job of it.

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Chef Mahabir Pundir, who served us with remarkable hospitality and warmth

What did we try out?

Mocktails and other drinks

Watermelon Shikanjeevi: The ordinary watermelon juice has been taken to a whole new level with this shikanjeevi! With the addition of chaat masala and some other fragrant spices, this was one bomb of a drink, and I loved it to bits. I appreciate the fact that real watermelon juice has been used here, rather than something out of a bottle.

Kesar Pisteywali Lassi: The Kesar Pisteywali Lassi is a drink that has been re-introduced to the menu, from the Made In Punjab days, on popular demand. One sip of it, and you know exactly why it was so much in demand – it is sinfully rich and creamy, served with a generous dose of dried fruits and nuts, so very delicious, absolute bliss to gulp down. This was definitely one of the stars of the show at our table! Highly recommended!

Khattha Meetha: I loved this mocktail too, simple as it was. Perfectly made with orange juice, it was the right mix of sweet and sour, utterly refreshing.

Top (left to right): Watermelon Shikanjeevi (Modelled by Sakhi Ravoor); Kesar Pisteywali Lassi, and Khattha Meetha; Bottom (left to right): Litchi Touch; Guava Mary; and Minty Apple

Litchi Touch: This mocktail sure is a stunner – a beautiful shade of green, served in a tall glass. It tasted decent, but was a tad too sweet and syrupy for me.

Guava Mary: I loved this one! Guava juice served up cocktail-style, but without alcohol, with salt around the rim. It was so very delicious and refreshing.

Minty Apple: A mix of apple juice and fresh mint, this mocktail surely sounded interesting. It was a tad too sweet and syrupy for my liking, though.

Appetisers

Palak Patta Chaat: This dish was such a looker, with crispy-fried spinach leaves standing tall in a platter, served with sweet and sour curd. The spinach had been fried a tad too crisp, but overall, this chaat was oh-so-delectable!

Bhatti Paneer: Cottage cheese aka paneer is subtly spiced, then rolled in crumbs of papad, deep-fried and served with a drizzle of ghee. That is Bhatti Paneer for you. It was so, so delicious, it had us licking our fingers!

Tandoori Bharwan Aloo: Potatoes are scooped out, then fried, and stuffed with a potato-and-paneer filling, to create this appetiser. It was very well done, and tasted as lovely as it looked!

Top (left to right): Palak Patta Chaat; Bhatti Paneer; Tandoori Bharwan Aloo; Bottom (left to right): Hara Bhara Kabab; Legacy Tandoori Champ Paneer; Malai Broccoli

Hara Bhara Kabab: I don’t like the Hara Bhara Kabab at a lot of places – it is often too bland for my tastebuds. At BBQ’D, it was a wholly different story altogether. The Hara Bhara Kabab here was beautifully done, full of flavour. The taste was spot on!

Legacy Tandoori Champ Paneer: This was another beauty of an appetiser! Soft, soft, soft chunks of paneer were marinated and grilled to perfection, served with some really flavourful chutneys made in-house. Finger-lickingly delicious, I tell you!

Malai Broccoli: Here, broccoli is cooked in a rich, creamy sauce that is simply and mildly spiced. This was quite nice, but sort of paled in comparison to the other, very lovely Punjabi appetisers.

Tandoori Mushroom Tikka: This was the star of the starters, at least for me. Marinated Portobello mushrooms were stuffed with a delicious cheese stuffing, grilled to perfection and served with some secret sauces made in-house. So, so, so good! I highly recommend this to you!

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The very lovely Tandoori Mushroom Tikka

Main course

The main course spread was just as lavish as the two earlier courses. We were presented with a host of dishes that are Made In Punjab signatures, brought back into the BBQ’D menu.

With assorted flatbreads, we had the following.

Lehsooni Chhena: This was a mildly spicy, simple gravy with garlic-infused spinach and in-house chhena. While it was decent in taste, I found it to be quite bland. A bit more flavour to it, and this dish could have worked wonders.

Lahori Aloo: This dish consisted of potatoes cooked Lahore-style in an extremely flavourful, tangy gravy, redolent of spices like kalonji. What’s to not love? I loved this curry to bits! So perfectly made this one was!

Daal Makhani: The Daal Makhani was the requisite amount of thick and creamy, but I felt it could have done with some more flavour. The texture was lovely, but taste-wise, it somewhere fell short of brilliant, in my opinion.

Top Left: The lavish main course that we indulged in; Top Right: Vegetable Pulav; Bottom (left to right): Lahoori Aloo, Daal Makhani, Lehsooni Palak Chhena

Vegetable Pulav: The Vegetable Pulav was well-made, a simple dish with lots of veggies and chunks of paneer. The fried onions it was topped with added a lovely texture to the dish. However, I found it a tad bland in taste, again – some more flavour to it, and this dish would have been par excellence.

Desserts

And then, it was time to try out the desserts! We sampled two favourite desserts from Made In Punjab, which have been re-introduced to the BBQ’D menu.

Nukkad Jalebi: If you are anything like me, you adore piping-hot jalebis that are straight off the pan. Now, what if these straight-off-the-pan jalebis are presented beautifully to you, in a wine goblet, with some ultra-delish, rich rabdi? That’s exactly what the Nukkad Jalebi at BBQ’D is all about. It was instant love for me with this dessert, something I couldn’t stop gorging on.

Left: Nukkad Jalebi; Right: Rasmalai

Rasmalai: Rasmalai was the other lovely dish served to us at BBQ’D. The chhena balls were just perfect, gloriously soft and spongy. The ras or the syrup the balls were served in could have been thicker and a bit more creamy.

In hindsight

I enjoyed most of the dishes I tried out, from the Made In Punjab Revival Menu at BBQ’D. I loved the plating of the starters as well!

I am so glad Made In Punjab is back, albeit in a little way. I would urge you to visit BBQ’D too, and have your fill of these dishes. I’m sure you won’t regret it!

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.

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.