Coconut & Mango Pulav

Coconut and mango is a classic combination, one that is much loved. The two flavours marry beautifully, which is why they are found together in many dishes like Sticky Rice With Mango, Mango & Coconut Smoothie, Mango & Coconut Bliss Balls, and the like. The dish I present to you today – Coconut & Mango Pulav – uses this classic ingredient combination again, in a very Indian way.

This Coconut & Mango Pulav tastes lovely. The coconut flavour comes from fresh coconut milk, and I have used some of the dried, sugared mangoes that I picked up while holidaying in Thailand recently. I tried out this pulav recently at home on a whim, and it was an instant hit with everyone.

This is a pressure-cooker dish, a one-pot meal that can be put together in mere minutes. It makes for a different-from-the-usual lunch or dinner, perfect for busy weekdays or lazy weekends. Kids will love this Coconut & Mango Pulav – mine did!

Let’s now see how to make this Coconut & Mango Pulav, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 3):

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 1 cup thick coconut milk
  3. 4-5 beans
  4. 1 medium-sized onion
  5. 1 small carrot
  6. 2 tablespoons shelled green peas
  7. 4 green chillies
  8. Salt to taste
  9. 1 tablespoon oil
  10. 2 small bay leaves (tej patta)
  11. 4 cloves (laung)
  12. 4 cardamom pods (elaichi)
  13. A 1-inch piece of cinnamon (dalchini)
  14. 4 large pieces of dried mango (with sugar)
  15. 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

Method:

  1. We will first prepare all the vegetables we need to use in the pulav. Peel the carrot and chop finely. Chop the onion finely. Remove the strings from the green beans, and chop them finely. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep the prepared vegetables aside.
  2. Wash the rice thoroughly under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water.
  3. Now, heat the oil in a pressure cooker bottom. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon (broken into two), cardamom and cloves. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.
  4. Add the chopped onions to the pan, along with the chopped carrot and beans, and the shelled green peas. Saute for a minute.
  5. Add the washed and drained rice to the pressure cooker. Saute for a minute.
  6. Add the 1 cup of coconut milk and 1.5 cups of water. Add in salt to taste and the slit green chillies. Mix well.
  7. Put the pressure cooker lid on. Pressure cook on high flame for 4 whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.
  8. Meanwhile, chop the dried mango into small pieces.
  9. Mix in the finely chopped coriander and the mango bits. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. I have used Sona Masoori rice here. You may use any other variety of rice you prefer.
  2. The heat in this pulav comes only from the green chillies. Adjust the quantity of green chillies you use, depending upon how spicy you want the dish to be.
  3. Use only a minimal amount of vegetables in this pulav. Only mango and coconut are supposed to be the dominating flavours here.
  4. I have used dried mango from Thailand here, which had some sugar in it. It was quite soft, so I just had to chop it into pieces and add it to the pulav. There was no need to soak the mango.
  5. Increase or decrease the quantity of dried mango you use, depending upon personal taste preferences.
  6. I have used 1 cup of thick home-made coconut milk here. Alternatively you may use 200 ml of store-bought coconut milk, which roughly comes up to 1 cup.
  7. I have used a 5-litre pressure cooker to make this Coconut & Mango Pulav.
  8. I have used refined oil in this pulav. You may use any oil of your preference or ghee, instead.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me in your comments!

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #253. The co-hosts this week are Liz @ Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons and Mila @ Milkandbun.

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Grand Palace & Temple Of The Emerald Buddha, Bangkok

The temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok was one of the reasons the husband and I finally undertook that long-pending trip to Thailand, this October. 9 long years ago, while we were honeymooning in Thailand, it was at this very temple that I made a vow – a vow to come back later, with any children that the future might bring into our lives.

Our secret connection with the Emerald Buddha

We were shy newlyweds then, on a tour to the temple not unlike many other Indian tourists. The Thais place immense faith in the Emerald Buddha, housed in the Grand Palace (the former residence of the country’s royal family), and strongly believe that no prayer goes unanswered here. When we visited, back then, the aura of sacredness came off the place in waves. When our tour guide mischievously suggested that the husband and I should pray to the Emerald Buddha for a cute baby girl, I went ahead and did just that. I prayed for the husband and I to lead happy, healthy lives together, vowed to Him that I would come back with our cute little one to see Him again. I kept my pact with Him this October, introducing Him to the cute and little (but also, super naughty and super frustrating) bub. The experience made me feel all light-hearted and warm inside. Touchwood.

People’s expressions range from ‘Whhhhhatttttt?’ to ‘Squeee! Just howwww romanticcccc is that!’ when they hear this story. I’ll leave you to decide on that. I’ll just say that, back then, the prayers came straight from the heart, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do. This post is a glimpse into the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha, through my eyes.

About the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Grand Palace in Bangkok refers to the former residence of the royal family of Thailand, since 1782, which is when it was constructed by King Rama I. It is not a single structure, but rather a collection of a number of buildings, halls, lawns and open courtyards, and a temple. Considering that these buildings were slowly added on over the years, their styles of construction are quite different from each other. This asymetry is evident as soon as you enter the main gate of the Grand Palace, but the painstaking detailing and prettiness of each building will not fail to blow your mind away.

The various buildings that the Grand Palace houses, visible as soon as you enter. Can you notice the mixed architectural styles?

By the year 1925, the royal family had completely moved out of the Grand Palace. However, there are a few royal government offices that are still functional here. Parts of the palace grounds are open to visitors, who come in droves. Even as I write this, the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha within are among the most visited sites in Thailand by tourists.

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The entrance to one of the structures in the Grand Palace. Can you spot the crowds of tourists?
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Just how beautiful is this structure at the Grand Palace!

Wat Phra Kaew (more commonly known as the temple of the Emerald Buddha) is a chapel located within the palace grounds. Apparently, King Rama I had the temple constructed in 1782 to house the 60-foot tall statue of the Buddha that he had carved out of green jasper stone. This statue exists in the chapel till date, and is considered one of the most important Buddha idols in Thailand.

Our experience at the Grand Palace

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A pretty mural we came across in the Grand Palace. This was a part of an entire series of similar murals, all of which apparently depict the Thai version of the Ramayana.

It is a hot and humid October afternoon when we visited the Grand Palace for the second time. The taxi we hire drops us off at the designated spot for the same, from where we proceed walking towards the palace. Only to be stopped by a smiling local, dressed formally and wearing some sort of a tag around his neck – he goes on to tell us that the Grand Palace was closed till later in the day, that we should probably head out to some of the other surrounding tourist attractions and come back post that. The husband and I sense something fishy about this, and walk away saying we would check with the tourist information desk at the Grand Palace anyway. Only later do we come to know this is a popular scam around here – a way to make tourists part with some of their cash by making them go on unnecessary tuk-tuk rides and visiting spots they hadn’t planned for in the first place.

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A structure inside the Grand Palace. Just how pretty are those ‘ball’ trees?
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One of the many ‘bearers’ we spot at the Grand Palace, holding up the many pillars and blocks present here

The Grand Palace is very much open, as we suspected already. We buy our tickets and head inside, not opting for the services of a guide or an audio tour. Instead, we decide to rely on the maps freely available to tourists at the ticket counter, and tour the premises ourselves. Swarms of tourists walk in with us. Thankfully, the Grand Palace premises are huge (almost 2,20,000 sq mt., to be precise), and it does not feel stiflingly crowded inside.

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A demon guarding the temple of the Emerald Buddha within the Grand Palace compound. Check out the detailing on the idol! There were six huge ‘demons’ like these, every single one crowded with people who wanted selfies with them!
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Check this out! Beautiful detailing on one of the walls within the Grand Palace premises

The premises of the Grand Palace are extremely neat and well-maintained, just as I remember them from our visit all those years ago. The traditional golden-coloured Thai monuments glitter as they catch the rays of the sun, as does the fine detailing in crystal, glass and gold detailing that seems to be everywhere. Personnel from the Thai Army and Police are everywhere too, infusing order to the movements inside the palace compound. All over again, I am entranced by the place at the first glance.

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A beautiful, beautiful white-and-blue structure within the Grand Palace premises
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Statue of a Chinese guard spotted at the Grand Palace

I can understand why a visit to the Grand Palace proves to be quite overwhelming for some tourists. The droves of tourists, the hordes of uniformed guards, all those monuments, all those different architectural styles, all that detailing and bling, a highly sacred Buddha in the midst of it all – it can be too much to take in and process. The husband and I take it really easy, for this very reason. We have no agenda in mind; we are not there just to check the place off a long checklist. We have come prepared to stay for a few hours’ time, simply walking around and taking in the scenes and sights and sounds, one little piece at a time, taking breaks in between just to sit in silence. I can’t say we understand the entire layout of the Grand Palace or figure out the many stories associated with the place, but I can definitely say we thoroughly enjoy exploring it at our own pace. This way, our visit turns out enriching and oh, so rewarding.

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The surroundings of the Emerald Buddha temple. Again, the same mix of different architectural styles.
Outside the temple of the Emerald Buddha

Walking around, we reach Wat Phra Kraew or the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and get inside to pay our respects. The inside is cool and refreshing, a welcome respite from the heat that is beating down outside. Photography is not allowed inside the temple, so I have no pictures of the idol to show you. However, we are surely left breathless by all the ornate work in and around the temple.

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Some of the detailing on the walls outside the Emerald Buddha temple
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A mythological Thai creature that is half-woman, half-animal

We sprinkle some of the holy water from the temple over our heads, and gear up to walk around some more. By then, the sun was at its hottest best, and we are quite tired. We realise we should be heading out soon, and that is just what we do. On the way back, we capture a few more of the charming, painstakingly done sights that the Grand Palace has to offer.

A model of Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple, in the Grand Palace premises. Cambodia used to be a vassal state to Thailand (erstwhile Siam) in those days, and legend has it that King Rama I had this constructed so he could show people this beautiful temple from the other country that was also under Thai rule.
Rows and rows of cannons spotted in the premises of the Grand Palace. I kind of shudder to think that these must have been in actual use at some point of time.

Tips for travellers

  1. Visiting the Grand Palace can be quite an overwhelming experience for some travellers. It helps to take this place easy and explore it at one’s own pace, like we did.
  2. You can hire the services of a guide at the Grand Palace, if you so wish. He/she will help you understand the history of the place better. However, make sure he/she speaks good English, and do fix a price for the tour beforehand to avoid heartache later.
  3. Beware of tourist scams in and around the Grand Palace. Be careful with your belongings.
  4. Dressing conservatively is a must at the Grand Palace. Shorts and dresses that expose knees and/or ankles are a strict no-no. If needed, you can rent a wraparound from a stall located near the ticket counter.
  5. Photography is allowed everywhere in the Grand Palace, the parts that are open to public I mean, except inside the temple of the Emerald Buddha. The chapel is highly sacred to the Thais, and it is advisable to follow the rules and maintain the sanctity of the place.
  6. Entry fees at the Grand Palace are 500 Thai Baht per head, for foreigners, which is actually pretty steep.
  7. The palace remains open between 8.30 AM and 3.30 PM daily, except on special holidays which are usually announced well in advance.
  8. The Grand Palace gets really, really crowded with tourists! If you would like to explore it quietly, you would do well to reach before it opens, before the maddening crowds descend upon it.
  9. Walking around the huge premises of the Grand Palace can be a tiring, draining affair, especially in the months of summer and monsoon. Ensure that you don’t carry much while you walk around, wear loose and breathable clothes, and have a bottle of water with you as you explore.
  10. Do read up a bit about the history of Thailand and the Grand Palace, as well as a bit about Thai culture and mythology, and I can bet you will have a fascinating experience here. No time to do that? Check out the place at leisure, and then do your reading after you get back home – like we did.
  11. There are several places that you can visit around the Grand Palace – the temple of the reclining Buddha aka Wat Pho, for instance, Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, and the famous Khao San Road. You may combine a visit to the Grand Palace with any of these places.
  12. You can use a cab, the BTS Skytrain or river taxi to get to the Grand Palace, or just walk down if you are staying nearby. We used a cab.

I hope you liked this post, and found it useful! Do tell me in your comments!

 

Agathi Poo Poriyal| Vegetable Hummingbird Stir-Fry From Tamilnadu

Last month, we finally made that long-pending trip to Thailand. This voyage had been waiting to be undertaken for years on end, and it did happen over the bub’s Dassera holidays in October. Thailand is where the bub turned 4, and we spent some happy days there, roaming around and exploring as much as we could. This time around, I saw Thailand from the eyes of a food and travel blogger, a completely different experience to the one I had previously, on our honeymoon. Among the foodie souvenirs I brought back to India from our holiday were these edible flowers, called Vegetable Hummingbird.

Walking around the aisles of Big C, a departmental store in Pattaya, I spotted this packet of flowers – labelled ‘Vegetable Hummingbird’. Apparently, these are flowers of the Sesbania Grandiflora, called so because their shape resembles that of the beak of little hummingbirds. The flowers, called Dok Khae in Thai, can be white, pink or red. They are used in several Asian cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Lao, Maldivian, Indian and Sri Lankan. The Thais use vegetable hummingbirds, mostly the white ones, raw in Nam Prik, and cooked in curries like Gaeng Som. I was intrigued, and absolutely had to pick up a packet of these to carry back home with me.

Vegetable Hummingbird, Agathi Poo or Bokful

It was only after I got back home and did some quick reading on the Internet that I got to know that these flowers are the same as Agathi Poo, quite commonly consumed in Tamilnadu in the olden days. With time, though, there are fewer and fewer families in South India using these flowers, sadly. I have never had them before, and had no way of knowing these were from our very own Tamilnadu – I lugged them all the way from Thailand! The family had a hearty laugh, at my expense, but I was thrilled to have had an opportunity to cook with something new to me! 🙂

The Internet also told me that these flowers are also commonly used in Bengali cuisine. The Bengalis call these Bokful, and they are dipped in chickpea-flour batter and deep-fried to make delicious Bokful Bhaja. I cannot help but marvel at these little similarities in cuisines throughout the world!

Both the flowers and the leaves of the Sesbania Grandifloraagathi poo and agathi keerai in Tamil, respectively – are chock-full of nutrients. The flowers have the power to ward off ailments like asthma, rheumatism and epilepsy, and to keep stress and anxiety at bay. Rich in calcium, the flowers have a cooling effect on the body, too. In Tamilnadu, agathi poo are used to make a lip-smackingly delicious stir-fry or poriyal, the slight bitterness of the flowers balanced by the addition of sugar, grated coconut, onions and/or beans.

Check out the lovely Tamilnadu-style Agathi Poo Poriyal I made using these flowers, under Amma‘s expert tutelage. It was, indeed, super delicious and made for a wonderful pair with piping hot rasam rice!

Agathi Poo Poriyal or Tamilnadu-Style Vegetable Hummingbird Stir-Fry

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

  1. 15-20 vegetable hummingbird flowers aka agathi poo 
  2. 1 medium-sized onion
  3. Salt to taste
  4. 1 tablespoon sugar or to taste (optional)
  5. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  6. 1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
  7. 3 green chillies
  8. 1/2 tablespoon oil
  9. 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (rai)
  10. 1 sprig curry leaves
  11. 2 pinches of asafoetida (hing)

Method:

  1. Open up the agathi poo and remove the stamen – the hard stalk within. Discard the stamen. Chop up the agathi poo finely – you should get about 1 cup of the chopped flowers. Keep aside.
  2. Chop the onion finely. Keep aside.
  3. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.
  4. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the mustard seeds, and allow them to pop. Add the asafoetida and the finely chopped onion. Stirring intermittently, saute on medium flame till the onion begins to turn translucent. This should take about 2 minutes.
  5. Now, add the curry leaves, the slit green chillies and the chopped agathi poo to the pan. Add in the salt to taste, sugar (if using) and turmeric powder too. Cook on medium flame, stirring intermittently, till the flowers are cooked. This should take 2-3 minutes. You may sprinkle a little water if you feel the poriyal is too dry or is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Mix in the fresh grated coconut and cook for a minute more. Switch off gas. The Agathi Poo Poriyal is ready!

Notes:

  1. The agathi poo has a slight bitterness to it, and the onions, sugar and fresh grated coconut help to counter that. You may skip the sugar if you don’t want to add it, but I personally think it adds a lovely flavour to the poriyal.
  2. Agathi poo comes in red, pink and white hues. The white ones are less bitter and tastier than the pink ones. Thai cuisine makes use of the white flowers only, while Tamilians use the white, red and pink ones.
  3. Coconut oil or gingelly oil works best in this kind of poriyal. However, you can use any other kind of oil you prefer, instead, too.
  4. You may add finely chopped coriander leaves to the Agathi Poo Poriyal too. We usually don’t, in this kind of poriyal.
  5. Typically, only the heat from green chillies is used in this kind of poriyal. However, if you feel it is too mild, you may add a dash of red chilli powder too.
  6. Considering the vegetable hummingbird flowers are quite thin, they cook really easily. There’s no need to cover the pan while the flowers are cooking, but you may if you want even faster cooking.
  7. Vegetable Hummingbirds or Agathi Poo are quite fragile, and do not have much of a shelf life. They are best consumed straight after plucking or buying at a vegetable vendor’s, as the case may be.
  8. The calyx of the agathi poo – the greenish part at the bottom of the flower, which holds the petals together – is okay to consume. The stamen – the hard stalk within each flower – needs to be removed.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

I’m sharing this post with Fiesta Friday #251. The co-hosts this week are Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Monika @ Everyday Healthy Recipes.

Paneer Masala Dosa| Dosa With Cottage Cheese Stuffing

Bored of eating the same ol’ dosa with chutney/sambar, or masala dosa? Paneer Masala Dosa is another version of dosa that you could try out.

With a protein-rich, delicious cottage cheese stuffing, Paneer Masala Dosa makes for a great snack or even a lunch/dinner option. This is quite a filling dosa that doesn’t require any accompaniment to it. If you have dosa batter on hand, making these is a breeze, too!

I tried out Paneer Masala Dosa for the first-ever time at Murugan Idli Shop in Madras, a few years ago, and fell in love with it. A few attempts at making my own version at home later, I was rewarded with success – a beautiful, delectable dosa that was much loved by everyone in the family. Do try it out too, and let me know how you liked it!

Here is how to make Paneer Masala Dosa.

Ingredients (makes 8-10 dosas):

For the filling:

  1. 100 grams paneer aka cottage cheese
  2. 4-5 cloves of garlic
  3. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  4. 1 small tomato
  5. 1 medium-sized onion
  6. 1/2 tablespoon oil
  7. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  8. 2 pinches of asafoetida
  9. Salt to taste
  10. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  11. Red chilli powder to taste
  12. 1 tablespoon garam masala
  13. 1 tablespoon amchoor powder
  14. 1 tablespoon sugar
  15. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander

For the dosas:

  1. 8-10 ladles of dosa batter
  2. 8-10 teaspoons of oil, to make the dosas

Method:

We will first prepare the filling for the Paneer Masala Dosa.

  1. Crumble the paneer, using your hands. Keep aside.
  2. Peel the ginger and chop finely. Chop the garlic finely. Grind the ginger and garlic to a paste in a small mixer jar, using a little water. Keep aside.
  3. Chop the onion finely. Keep aside.
  4. Chop the tomato finely. Keep aside.
  5. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a pan. Add in the cumin seeds and asafoetida. Allow them to stay in for a couple of seconds.
  6. Add the chopped onion to the pan. Saute on medium heat till the onions begin to brown.
  7. Now, add the chopped tomato to the pan, along with a little water and salt, and ginger-garlic paste. Cook on medium flame till the tomatoes turn mushy.
  8. When the tomatoes are cooked, add in the crumbled paneer, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, sugar, amchoor powder and garam masala. Mix well. Cook on medium heat for a minute. You may add a little water at this stage, if you feel the mixture is too dry. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Switch off gas when the filling is done cooking. Do not overcook the filling, as this might cause the paneer to get hard and rubbery.
  9. Mix in the finely chopped coriander into the paneer filling. Set the filling aside.

Now, we will make the Paneer Masala Dosas.

  1. Heat a thick dosa pan on high heat. When the pan is nice and hot, turn down the flame to medium.
  2. Place a ladle of the dosa batter in the centre of the pan. Spread it out to form a medium-sized dosa.
  3. Spread a teaspoon of oil around the dosa. Let the dosa cook till it gets brown on the bottom.
  4. Flip over the dosa, and let it cook on the other side for about a minute.
  5. Transfer the dosa to a serving plate, and place inside it a little of the paneer filling we prepared earlier. Close the dosa. Serve immediately.
  6. Prepare all the Paneer Masala Dosa in a similar manner.

Notes:

1. I have used home-made dosa batter here. You can use store-bought batter as well.

2. I have used paneer from ID to make these Paneer Masala Dosa. You may use home-made paneer instead, too.

3. Adjust the quantity of salt, red chilli powder, sugar, garam masala and amchoor powder that you use in the filling, depending upon personal taste preferences.

4. Be careful while adding salt to the filling, as the paneer will have some amount of salt in it too.

5. I have used store-bought amchoor powder (from Everest) and garam masala (from Ciba Taaza) to make the paneer filling.

6. You can use chana masala instead of garam masala in the filling, too. It adds a lovely, different touch to the filling.

7. You may skip the sugar in the filling, if you so prefer, but I would not recommend that. The sugar does not make the filling sweet, but rather rounds off the other flavours brilliantly and brings out their taste more effectively.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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This post is for the Healthy WELLthy Cuisines Facebook group that I am part of. The members of this group cook for a particular theme every fortnight. This fortnight, all of us are cooking different types of dosas.

Check out what the other members have prepared for the theme!:

Pavbhaji Dosa by Sasmita| Ragi Dosa by Shalu| Healthy Brown Rice & Quinoa Dosa by Vanitha| Sweet Cucumber Dosa by Seema| Jowar Dosa by Jayashree| Spicy Tomato Dosa by Rosy

I’m also sharing this post with Fiesta Friday #249. The co-hosts this week are Diann @ Of Goats and Greens and Jenny @ Apply To Face Blog.

 

 

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!

 

 

Your Sterling Holiday Is Waiting!

Hola, people!

I have something exciting for all of you! ♥️ Read on!

Here is your turn to #holidaydifferently with Sterling Holidays, to create loads of memories to cherish!

Now, you can book a stay at any of the Sterling properties across India and get 15% off! All you need to do is log on to http://www.sterlingholidays.com, book your room/s, and use the code PRIYA to avail of the discount. This offer is valid on bookings done till October 10, 2018, and is over and above some other exciting promotional offers already in process by Sterling.

So, what are you waiting for? Time to book for your Dussehra holidays and let the travel tales unfold!

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.

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.

Doon Chetin| Kashmiri Walnut Chutney

Have you ever tried out Doon Chetin, a walnut chutney in Kashmiri style? I tried it out at home recently, and fell head over heels in love with it, as did my family.

Making Doon Chetin (‘Doon‘ is Kashmiri for ‘walnuts’ and ‘chetin‘ refers to ‘chutney’) had been on my mind ever since our recent trip to Kashmir. I didn’t have an opportunity to savour this chutney in the course of our holiday, so I pledged to make it once I got back home. I made sure to pick up some Kashmiri walnuts (which are believed to be of high quality) and some shahi jeera (black cumin) that goes into the preparation of this chutney. I read up on the Internet, and was lucky to find an authentic Kashmiri recipe for the Doon Chetin. Like I said earlier, the chutney was made recently, and the rest, as they say, is history. I served it as a dip with home-made kuzhi paniyarams, and it was gone in no time at all!

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The Doon Chetin combines some really unusual ingredients – fresh curd, black cumin, raw onion, walnuts, mint and the like. Initially, I admit, I did have apprehensions about whether I would like the taste. What if it tasted too weird? Well, I wouldn’t know unless and until I tried it out, right? So, try it out I did, and I am so glad I did – the Doon Chetin tastes absolutely amazing, rich and creamy, yet light and exquisite, the chillies and mint adding a zing to it, the walnuts contributing their nuttiness, with the faintest of sourness from the curd. Yumminess, I tell you!

Traditionally, the Kashmiris prepare Doon Chetin in a stone mortar and pestle, which gives it a slightly coarse texture. It is eaten with non-vegetarian kebabs or rice dishes, typically. I used a mixer to make the chutney and ground it smooth, which is fine since I was planning to use it as a dip.

Try it out, and I am sure you will love it too!

Here’s the recipe for the Doon Chetin.

Recipe Source: Keep Calm & Curry On

Ingredients (makes about 3/4 cup):

  1. 1/2 cup walnuts
  2. Salt to taste
  3. 2 green chillies
  4. 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
  5. 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
  6. 1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped
  7. 1 teaspoon shahi jeera aka black cumin
  8. 1/4 cup fresh thick curd

Method:

  1. Place all ingredients in a mixer jar.
  2. Blend till smooth.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
  4. Serve as an accompaniment with tandoori dishes, fried snacks or rice dishes.

Notes:

1. For best results, use thick and fresh curd that is not too sour.

2. Adjust the number of green chillies you use, depending upon how spicy you want the chutney to be.

3. I used Kashmiri walnuts and shahi jeera to make this chutney. In case you don’t have access to them, you can use locally sourced variants for these two ingredients too.

4. Traditionally, this recipe uses Kashmiri red chilli powder, which is low on heat and adds a gorgeous reddish colour to dishes. I didn’t have any, so I used ordinary red chilli powder instead – which is why the colour of my Doon Chetin is not as beautifully brown as it is, traditionally.

5. You can add in a couple of cloves of garlic while grinding the Doon Chetin, too. I skipped it.

6. If you do not have shahi jeera, you can substitute it with ordinary cumin. However, shahi jeera adds a richer, deeper flavour to the Doon Chetin.

7. Dried mint powder can be used in the chutney, in place of fresh mint leaves. If you are using dried mint powder, use about 1 tablespoon for the above quantities of ingredients.

8. I wanted the Doon Chetin to be of a smooth texture, so I ground it in my mixer. You can keep the texture coarser, too, if you so prefer. You may even use a mortar and pestle to make the chutney, as is done traditionally in Kashmir.

9. Any leftover Kashmiri Walnut Chutney can be stored in a clean, dry, air-tight box and stored, refrigerated, for 3-4 days. Use only a clean, dry spoon for the chutney.

10. I served the Kashmiri Walnut Chutney as a dip alongside quick-fix kuzhi paniyarams made from idli batter. The two made for a wonderful, wonderful pair.

What do you think about this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

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shhh-secretly-challenge-image

This post is for the Ssshhh Cooking Secretly Challenge. I was paired by Priya Mahesh of @200deg for this month’s challenge, who assigned me the two secret ingredients of ‘Walnuts’ and ‘Curd’. Doon Chetin is what I decided to make, using these two ingredients.

I’m also sending this recipe for Fiesta Friday #230, co-hosted this week by Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.