Tag Archives: cuisine

Kumbhalgarh: Beyond the wall

Standard

The second longest wall in the world stretched to the horizon, the impregnable citadel that fell just once in history, a sanctuary that is home yo the wild – Kumbhalgarh is more than the fort, it is a story in stone, write ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

Kumbhalgarh fort-2

There are few forts as legendary as Kumbhalgarh. Built by Mewar ruler Maharana Kumbha, it is the birthplace of Maharana Pratap, boasts the longest fort wall in the world after the Great Wall of China and is one of the six hill forts of Rajasthan (besides Amber, Chittorgarh, Gagron, Jaisalmer and Ranthambore) to be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2013.

Straddling a 1100m high spur of the Aravalis between the Rajput kingdoms of hilly Mewar and arid Marwar, it was the loftiest and second largest fort in Rajasthan – and a wildlife sanctuary as well! We flew into Udaipur and set off on our 3 hour drive to the western range of the Aravalis.

IMG_1815

After a brief highway stop at Iswal for methi pakoda, kadhi-fafda and chai, our driver Narendra regaled us with anecdotes and local lores. This nook of jagged hills had doubled up as Afghanistan for some scenes in the movie Khuda Gawah. More recently, Bollywood films like Dhamaal and Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo had been filmed here. As we crossed the scenic Banas river, Narendra narrated its mythical origin. The two rivers Banas and Sukri originate at Veron ka Math (a corruption of Veeron ka Math), the spot where Mahabharat warrior Karna allegedly learnt weaponry from Lord Parasurama.

While the Banas flows through Mewar, Sukri courses through Marwar. The fable revolves around a saas-bahu episode, where the mother-in-law hailed from Marwar and the daughter-in-law from Mewar. Since their husbands were away, the two women fought bitterly. Once after a spat, they set off to their maternal homes and the route they took eventually became the course of the rivers. While the quarrelsome Sukri would dry up in summer, Banas would flow all year round. And hence the local expression ‘Saas Sukri, bahu Banas.’

IMG_1678

From a distance we saw the cave from where Sage Gorakhnath would emerge for a ritual bath in the Banas after taking a secret route from his ashram on a hill. Story has it that he and his disciple Machhendranath smoked chillums perched on two mountaintops as they miraculously passed the clay pipe from one to the other.

Machhind, an ancient village in the terai (plains), was named in memory of the sage. When Jain prince and Emperor Ashok’s grandson Samprati constructed the first fortification here in 2nd century BC, he named it after the same Machhind as Machindragarh. Over centuries, the Jain temples fell to ruin and the area lay forgotten for 1500 years.

Resort 5

Aur hum pahunch gaye resort (And we’ve reached the resort),” Narendra exclaimed as we swung into the driveway of Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh. The spell was broken and though we were happy to have reached our destination, we felt a twinge of disappointment that our engaging conversation was over.

Greeted by drumbeats and a Rajasthani kachhi ghodi (folk dancer in a horse frame), we were soon ushered into our room overlooking the rugged hills. The sky turned dark as we walked to the multi-cuisine restaurant for some namakpara (Rajasthani soup sticks), dal-bati-churma, mutton biryani and traditional desserts like moong dal halwa and mohan-thal.

Dal baati choorma-2

The next morning after a leisurely breakfast, we met our guide Salim Khan Pathan at the fort gate. He narrated its fascinating past as we walked up the incline. Much before Udaipur and Kumbhalgarh, the first capital Nagda was set up by Nagaditya, the fourth king of Mewar. Located near Eklingji (23 km north of Udaipur), it was destroyed by Muslim invaders, though the Saas-Bahu temple still stands. In the 8th century, legendary ruler Bappa Rawal expanded the kingdom and built the Eklingji temple, worshipped as the presiding deity of Mewar.

In 14th century, Hammir captured Chittorgarh and was the first to adopt the title Rana. The Mewar kings consider themselves as the Dewan (regent) of Eklingji, hence they do not call themselves maharaja, but maharana. After Chittorgarh was besieged many times by the Sultans of Delhi, Malwa and Gujarat, Rana Kumbha decided to move the capital to a more remote location.

Kumbhalgarh fort_1

Mewar needed to be secured and noted Vastushilpa expert Madan Sutradhar was roped in to build 52 new forts and bolster 32 old forts, especially Machhindragarh. However, the walls built during the day would mysteriously collapse at night. This happened for a week and they finally sought local seer Meher Baba’s help. He attributed it to the curse of Devi Shakti who could only be appeased with nar bali (human sacrifice). The ascetic offered himself on the condition that the fort would bear his name.

The next day, before sunrise, he asked the king to follow him. The place where he stopped for the first time would mark the main gate Bhairon Pol. The next place he halted was where he was to be beheaded. Here, a temple of Durga was built. His headless body then walked up to the top and the spot where it fell was where the main palace was constructed. We paid our respects at the small Bhairon shrine and the cavernous Shakti temple with an idol of Navadurga. True to his promise, the place was called Kumbhalmir after Rana Kumbha and Mehr Baba, but over the years it became known as Kumbhalgarh.

IMG_1865

A series of nine gateways led up to the citadel. Entering through Halla Pol where sentries raised an alarm (halla) in case they spotted an enemy, we crossed Hanuman Pol, Ram Pol and Vijay Pol, the main entrance to the fort. Chaugan Pol marked the chaugan (flat area) till where the king rode an elephant; he then switched to a horse until he reached the pagda (foot trail). We walked past cannons and water reservoirs towards Fateh Prakash Palace built by Fateh Singh in 1884. In the rains, the palace would be covered in clouds, hence its popular name Badal Mahal.

Our guide highlighted the features of the male and female quarters – the mardana had a straight access while the zenana had a zigzag entry and small windows with slats for security and privacy. At the base of the walls were lovely paintings in natural colours depicting elephant fighting with tigers, crocodiles and other creatures. The acoustics in the chambers were amazing and the echoes aided meditation.

IMG_1810

The terrace afforded spectacular views all around. To the west, a white tower in the distance marked the hunting point where kings indulged in shikaar (hunts). The narrow hunting trail used by the Maharana was now a 16km trekking route to the Ranakpur Jain temple across the hill, built by Maharana Pratap’s minister Dharna Shah. Between October and March, the 4-4½ hr one-way trek is quite popular with foreigners, who usually return by vehicle. We lingered till sunset and slowly walked down to the base of the fort.

Kumbhalgarh’s 36km long boundary wall stretched into the horizon. The 15 feet wide walls were broad enough to accommodate seven horses side by side. What was astounding was that the fort, wall and 360 temples (300 Jain and 60 Hindu temples) within the vast complex were built in just 15 years between 1443-58.

IMG_2030

Prominent among these are the Yagyashala, Charbhuja temple, Ganesh temple, Pitaliya Shah Jain temple, Bawan Devris, Parsvanatha, Golerao, Laxminarayan temple and Teen devi ka mandir. Neelkantha Mahadeo has a 5 ft tall Shiva linga; legend goes that Rana Kumbha was so tall that he used to sit and pour water over it as abhishekha (libation) and could encircle the linga with both hands!

We were just in time for the sound and light show, which chronicled the history of Mewar – Samprati’s Jain legacy, Rana Hamir’s greatness foretold, the valorous maid Panna Dai who sacrificed her son to smuggle the infant king of Mewar Prince Udai Singh II (future founder of Udaipur) from Chittor to Kumbhalgarh in 1535 and how Mewar’s brave son Rana Pratap was born here on 9 May 1540 and fought the Mughal army at Haldighati 60km away near Gogunda. Raza Murad’s deep baritone as Akbar boomed across the ramparts as we experienced the past come alive. After the show, the fort was beautifully lit up for a few moments, before darkness took over.

Resort4

Kumbhalgarh was considered an ajeya kila (unconquerable) and was impregnable to direct assault. It fell only once, due to a shortage of drinking water, to the combined forces of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Raja Man Singh of Amer, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar and the Mirzas of Gujarat. Yet, there’s more to Kumbhalgarh than the fort.

The wildlife safari through the 600 sq km Kumbhalgarh sanctuary took us on a sharp descent into a ravine. Though you don’t spot much besides sambhar and peacocks, we saw relics like the old hunting tower Kali Audhi (audhi means howdah) and Danibatta, the eastern entrance that connected Mewar and Marwar. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the nature hike from the park entrance to Thandi Beri, 11km away.

IMG_1994

We dropped by at Beeda ki Bhaagal, one of the three villages besides Gundi ka Bilwara and Gawar adopted by Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh. After chatting with the friendly locals over tea, we visited the local school and interacted with the bright young students who regaled us with patriotic songs. Following a sustainable ‘local livelihood concept’, the resort works closely with surrounding villages and hires locals as staff besides buying their produce and handicrafts.

As part of Club Mahindra’s Hariyali project started a decade ago, we also did some tree planting (the 13th million tree had been planted recently in Maharashtra). The resort also laid great emphasis on sustainability initiatives like solar power, organic farming and conservation and protection of endemic cows on the brink of extinction like the Vechur cow.

IMG_1721

We tried our hand at clay pottery, thanks to Dhanraj, who hails from the potters’ village of Molela. Only soft river clay from the Banas is used for it and he showed us his wares at his stall – a tiny clay whistle shaped like a bird that emitted chirps and warbles when blown and magical pots filled from below that surprisingly didn’t let the water flow out!

Just adjacent was Svaastha Spa and their Universal Indulgence treatments were perfect for our travel weary bodies. We tried the Svaastha Shodhnam, a signature scrub and massage using Ayurvedic and herbal products and a mix of Swedish and Balinese techniques. From our room’s balcony, we caught the strains of folk music emanating from the lawns. Under a blanket of stars, haunting ballads of valour and glory echoed across the Aravalis…

Resort image1

NAVIGATOR

Getting there
Fly via Mumbai to Maharana Pratap Airport at Udaipur and drive 95 km to Kumbhalgarh (3 hr drive) in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan.

Where to Stay
Club Mahindra Kumbhalgarh
Ph 9672724555, 9672723444
www.clubmahindra.com

The Aodhi
Ph 02954 242341-6, 8003722333
http://hrhhotels.com

Fateh Safari Lodge
Ph 7726060701
www.fatehsafarilodge.com

Ramada Kumbhalgarh
Ph 02954 242401-4, 9799937000
www.ramadakumbhalgarh.com

Eat
Try the kadhi fafda, methi pakoda and chai at Charbhuja Restaurant & Mishtan Bhandar at Iswal, on the drive from Udaipur to Kumbhalgarh

Rajasthani Thali 2

Do
Sound & Light Show at 7:30 pm
Jeep safari in Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary (Entry Rs.50/person, Gypsy Rs.200. Safari Rs.1850/Gypsy, Eco Guide Rs.200)
Zipline (Fort view Rs.500, Valley view Rs.200, Forest charge Rs.60) Nandanvan Adventures Ph 9099060604
Feed catfish at Hammeripal Lake
Boating at Lakhela lake, Mewar Boating Ph 9660398813

Around
Pottery village Molela (40km)
Ranakpur Jain Temple (50km)
Nathdwara Krishna temple (50km)
Chetak Smarak & Museum at Haldighati (60km)
Eklingji Temple (75km)

Catfish pond

Shop
Buy Molela pottery items like lamps, statues, vessels and decorative items. In Udaipur, pick up laheriya, bandhini, bandhej and other fabrics, besides traditional sweets, namkeen and papad from Jagdish Misthan Bhandar, Bikaner Sweets and Jodhpur Misthan Bhandar.

Fortune Tours & Travels
Ph 8003804000, 9166777966
www.fortunetours.co.in

Discover This
The small village of Taladri is known for its unique Fish Lake. The first Rana of Mewar of the Sisodia clan Rana Hammir Singh constructed a lake, which is called Hammeripal in his memory. The large water body teems with catfish, an introduced species, which locals protect and nurture. Visitors buy packets of chana and puffed rice sold by locals and sit on the steps of the ghat lined with shrines to feed the fish. The frenzied splash of large schools of huge catfish resembling a shiny mass of roiling slithering bodies is a sight to behold.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2018 issue of Discover India magazine.

30 unique dishes from Karnataka (How many have you tried?)

Standard

There’s more to Karnataka cuisine than Bisi Bele Bath. On Rajyotsava Day, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a culinary tour across the state to pick 30 unique dishes from its 30 districts and various communities.

Flameback spread DSC01910

Like political leaders and psephologists criss-crossing the state, we had trailblazed across Karnataka on a 2-year long research project to document the state’s cuisine for Oota, a restaurant in Whitefield. Travelling with two chefs and a video crew, we ate in iconic eateries, discovered fantastic food folklore and cooked with nearly 25 communities in homes, roadside stalls and temple kitchens.

From the ghats of Coorg and Malnad to the Karavali coast, ragi fields of South Karnataka to the jola (jowar) and rice fields in the north and the Hyderabad-Karnataka region to the Maharashtra border, we traversed nearly 30 districts and 20,000km. Here’s a sample from an astonishingly diverse cuisine that goes beyond the ordinary…

Chigli (Red Ant) Chutney IMG_0962

Chigli Chutney
The hilly region of Malnad is known for the unique chigli chutney made of kempu iruve or red fire ants (Ecophila Smoragdina). The ants have a vicious sting and the sour ooze from the swollen larvae gives the typical tang and bite to the chutney. The leafy nests must be harvested before sunrise and the ants are roasted along with salt, pounded and stored for future use. Ground with garlic, birds’ eye chili, onion, coconut and spices, and eaten with rice rotis, the protein-rich chutney is a winter delicacy (Nov-March). Its medicinal properties help prevent cough, cold, flu and pneumonia.

Where to Eat: Not feature on regular menus, but hotels serving Gowda fare like Flameback Lodges (Ph 9242714197, 9448379748, www.flameback.in) near Mudigere and Black Pepperz Gardenia (Ph 9242144019) at Daradahalli might serve it on request

Rakti DSC02751

Rakti
Saujis or Savajis are a martial community of the SSK (Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriya) Samaj who migrated from Central India to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra. As kshatriyas, meat, blood and chili dominate their cuisine and Sauji restaurants are popular among meat lovers. During Dussehra, they offer laal-pani (liquor), edimi (wheat-gram flour dumplings) and arithi (wheat flour diyas) to Goddess Bhavani. A unique dish from their repertoire is Rakti, made from rakt (coagulated blood), reduced into a spicy thick paste and eaten with jolada (jowar) rotis.

Where to Eat: Hamsini Hotel on Shamanur Road in Davanagere (Ph 9886792331), Hotel Milan Savaji (Ph 0836-2435450, 9341998875) at Jubilee Circle on PB Road and Kathare’s Savaji Hotel (Ph 0836-2441956, 2435450) at Line Bazaar in Dharwad, Bhavani Sauji Hotel in Rattihalli near Shimoga and Hotel Chetak in Kalaburagi.

Batti Chutney IMG_3039_Anurag Mallick

Batti Chutney
Originally from Andhra Pradesh, the Idugas have been in Karnataka’s border regions for centuries. They are known for their meat heavy cuisine with a liberal use of chillis, a typical Andhra influence. Every part of the goat – trotters, intestine, brain, blood and spleen – is used for dishes like poondi palya mutton, taley mamsa, boti and nalla vanta. Batti Chutney is made of spleen, liver and hand-pounded red chillies and garlic; rolled into gummy meatballs, it makes an excellent spicy bar snack with a taste profile akin to paté!

Where to Eat: Eateries at D Hirehalu and Ballari

Appekayi Trroiin IMG_2186

Appekayi Trrroin
Haviyak or Havyaka Brahmins came to Malnad from Ahichhatra in Central India for the completion of havans (hence their name) and the recitation of Yajur Veda at yagnas. Their scientific approach to food gives great importance to medicinal plants and various concoctions called tambulli made from arshina (raw turmeric), nellikayi (gooseberry) or doddapatre (carom leaf). Most feasts begin with a digestive drink strangely called Appekayi Trrroin, made from appekayi (raw mangoes). As for the ‘trrroin’, it’s most probably from downing it one gulp!

Where to Eat: Havyaka homestays like Gundi Mane near Jog Falls (Ph 9900956760, 9980100975 www.gundimane.com) or Vihar Homestay (Ph 08389-249437, 9449192329 https://viharhomestay.in) near Sirsi

GSB spread with Amshe Tikshe and Sungta Song IMG_5185

Sungta Song
It’s not really a song but you’ll surely dance to the tune of this classic prawn curry from the GSB or Gaud Saraswat Brahmin kitchen. A coastal preparation of prawns in thick tangy onion and tomato masala, it is finished with lemon juice and freshly chopped coriander.

Where to Eat: Shwetaa Lunch Home (Ph 99866 75726, 95918 41334) at Ananda Arcade, Green Street and Hotel Amrut in Karwar (Ph 08382-226609, 645562 www.hotelamrut.com)

Halasina Yele Chilmi IMG_3953

Halasina Yele Chilmi
The unique steamed dish from the Canara coast is as exotic as it sounds! First halasina yele (jackfruit leaves) are shaped into cones, rice paste is smeared on the insides before a mix of coconut and jaggery is poured in and sealed with rice paste. Placed inside a steamer, it is left to cook. The leaf is carefully peeled to reveal a marbled conical dessert.

Where to Eat: Blue Waters Resort (Ph 08254-230093, 9844065100, www.bluewatersindia.com) in Kundapura and their hinterland resort Green Woods in Senapura

Kalees Ankitiya (Pork offal)-IMG_5162

Kalees Ankiti
While leitão (whole roast pigling), a Portuguese tradition is popular among Catholics of Mangalore, the rest of the pig’s ‘spare parts’ go into an offal curry known by the intriguing name kalees-ankiti (literally ‘liver-intestines’). Cooking it is laborious and the intestines must be rubbed and boiled with cinnamon leaves to remove the smell. After adding spices, onions, tamarind, vinegar and local baffath powder, it is finished with pig’s blood and eaten with sannas. Surely not for the faint-hearted!

Where to Eat: Pereira Hotel in Mangaluru (Ph 0824-2425430, 9480158112, 9611067783)

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5840_Anurag Mallick

Mandige
Besides the iconic Belgaum Kunda, Belagavi is known for another sweet – mande or mandige. A crepe with a thin filling of sugar, ghee and khoa, it is made like a roomali on an upturned tava and folded like a dosa. A fascinating legend explains its mythic origin. A devout Brahmin was in deep penance when the Lord appeared before him. Since he had nothing to offer, he rolled dough, sugar and ghee and baked it on his bent back with the heat of his penance. Thus the mandaka or mandige was born! It’s a must in Brahmin weddings and is often displayed in large baskets. Rumours abound how weddings have been called off because no mandige was served!

Where to Eat: Krishnamurthi Saralaya (Ph 0831-2452707/4208620, 9448231751) in Konwal Gali, Belagavi.

Kalbutthi (Flintstone Curd Rice) IMG_2757

Kalbutthi
The ancient capital of the Kadamba dynasty, Banavasi is famous for its pineapples and the 400-year-old Konkani community of Padkis. At the home of Mrs Indira Phadke, we picked up an unusual dish from Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine. Kalbutthi is like a curd rice sizzler using a piece of hot glowing flintstone (kal is stone). On the hot stone, some ghee, curry leaves and mustard seeds are used for tempering and covered with the curd rice to infuse the smoky aroma!

Where to Eat: Konkani Brahmin homestays

Allu susla or 'Susheela' IMG_6121

Susheela
From Davanagere to Dharwad and Huballi to Bijapur, mandakki or puffed rice is a common snack, presented in assorted flavours like Girmit, Nargis or Khara Mandakki, often paired with mensinkayi bajji (chilli pakoda). For breakfast, puffed rice is lightly soaked and tossed with seasoning into a light fluffy poha called allu susla. However, in street parlance it is commonly mispronounced as ‘Susheela’.

Where to Eat: TS Manjunath Swamy’s Masala Mandakki Angadi (Ph 9902200924) on Lawyer Road at Jaydev Circle in Davangere and LEA Canteen at Dharwad (Ph 9448147157)

Ballari Cycle khova IMG_3339_Anurag Mallick

Bellary Cycle Khova
If you thought Ballari’s only claim to (in)fame was the Reddy brothers, think again. Spread around two granite hills with a fort built by Hande Hanumappa Nayaka, Ballari (earlier Bellary) is famous for its cycle khova, sold on bicycles and dispensed from brass containers on eco-friendly sal leaf plates!

Where to Eat: Bombay Sweets (Ph 08392-272228, 9448056398) and Abid Cycle Khova Store (Ph 9901824292) on Bangalore Road, Bellary

KT or Kalladka Tea IMG_5813

KT (Kalladka Tea)
Kalladka, a small town 30km from Mangaluru on the Bengaluru highway, is famous for its strong tea, perfect for truckers and travelers to stay awake on the treacherous ghat route. Locals called it Kalladka Tea or KT, for short. Step into the roadside hotel where it was invented and you can see it made and poured in layers inside the tiny kitchen.

Where to Eat: Laxmi Nivas Hotel (Ph 08255-275359, 9448545203) at Kalladka

Hyd Karn Gulbarga-Malpuri-IMG_5660

Malpuri
Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi) is known for its paan mithai and malpuri, which is like a malpua on steroids. Stuffed with khova and dry fruits like a gujiya, the sugar-syrup laden sweet was invented by Khasim Ali but immortalized by Mamu Jaan. Just utter the password ‘Mamu jaan ki malpuri’ and you will be guided to his little shop.

Where to Eat: Khasim Ali near the dargah and Mamu Jaan ki Malpuri in in Kalaburagi’s Chappal Bazaar

Bullet Idli

Bullet Idli
Mitra Samaj shares a wall with the Chandramouleshwara Temple in Udupi and started off as a temple kitchen. It serves excellent uppitu, Mangalore goli bajji, the gigantic Outlook dosa and an octet of miniature ‘bullet’ idlis in a plate of sambar. Till some years ago, a cow used to walk past the cramped tables to the kitchen where it would be fed reverentially. Only then would it step out!

Where to Eat: Mitra Samaj (Ph 9880199678) in Udupi

Gadbad Ice-cream IMG_5691

Gadbad ice-cream
Invented at Diana Restaurant in Udupi but popularized by Ideal Ice-cream, the assorted ice-cream was invented in a gadibidi (hurry). Local folklore has it that one day a bunch of customers came late and since portions of one flavour weren’t enough, 3 assorted flavours were mixed and served with fruits, cherries and dry fruits. It became a hit. And the name stuck!

Where to Eat: Diana Restaurant (Ph 0820-2520505, 9448132202, 9743388718) in Udupi and Ideal Ice-cream (Ph 0824-2440396, 9448121673 www.idealicecream.com) in Mangaluru

Mahabharata 2

Mahabharata
Just when we thought we had seen and tasted it all, we encountered a tangy mango chutney at a Brahmin feast in Bengaluru. It was called Mahabharata! Even more shocking was the discovery that there was another chutney called Kurukshetra. Truly epic!

Where to Eat: Brahmin feasts

Amingad kardantu DSC03102_Anurag Mallick

Kardantu
Invented in Amingad, though popularized in Gokak, kardantu is a popular teatime snack and desi energy bar from rural Karnataka. It is often given to pregnant women, wrestlers and body builders. In 1907, Savaligappa Aiholi of Amingad mixed dry fruits like pistachio, almonds, cashew, dates, fig, kopra, jaggery and antu (edible gum) and fried them together to create karadi-antu (literally ‘fried gum’). When shaped into balls, it is called antin-unde.

Where to Eat: Vijaya Kardant (Ph 8123115005) on SH-20/Raichur Highway in Amingad and Amingad Cool Drink, Bijapur (Vijayapura).

Karchikayi, a native vegetable, is used to treat diabetes in folk medicine IMG_3900

Karchikayi Palya
A small pod vegetable that grows in creepers infested by scorpions, karchikayi (Momordica cymbalaria), a relative of the bitter melon/gourd plant, is unique to the Hubli-Dharwad region. Another peculiarity is that the vegetable must be consumed the same day it is harvested, before the pods burst open! It is usually made into a palya or stir fried.

Where to Eat: Uramma Heritage, Anegundi (Ph 9448284658 www.urammaheritagehomes.com)

Sorlaysoppu:Kannekudi soppu khatne IMG_2808

Kannekudi Khatne
The hill region of Malnad is a treasure trove of medicinal plants that grow wild, whose leaves, roots, herbs and barks are used for indigenous cooking. The bushy Kannekudi or Soralekudi (Persicaria piripi) is one such plant, widely used by the Haviyak community to prepare a tangy chutney. Consumed during the rainy season, it protects you against cold and fever.

Where to Eat: Homestays like AjjanaMane at Talavata (Ph 9535693240, 9342253240, Email ajjanamane@gmail.com www.ajjanamane.com)

Masala Akki Roti IMG_1727

Dapati to Uggi chapati
Karnataka has a wide variety of staples – besides jolada roti (sorghum flat bread) and akki otti (rice rotis), there’s berki roti made of mixed flours and pulses, dapati (multi-grain masala roti) and the uggi chapati which is steamed on tender cornhusk and served with spicy kempu (red) chili chutney and ghee!

Where to Eat: Kolavara Heritage near Tirthahalli (Ph 08181 254722, 202210, 9448639444 www.kolavaraheritage.com)

Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani

Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani
Once a flourishing port under the Vijaynagar Empire, Bhatkal attracted Arabian sailors and traders who intermingled with local Jains and GSBs to form a new community – Navayath or ‘newly arrived’. Their dialect borrows heavily from Konkani, while local tastes blend seamlessly with Arabia. Bhatkal is famous for its Godi Halwa, a glutinous sweet made of wheat extract and the exquisite Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani made of delicate vermicelli and prawns.

Where to Eat: Chillies Restaurant (Ph 99803 26265), NH-17, Bhatkal

Carrot Kismuri

Kismuri
Malnad is known for a variety of kismuri or delectable salads that can be made from carrot, beetroot, bale dindu (banana stem) or suvarnagadde (yam). Par-boiled juliennes of the vegetable are mixed with chopped onion, tempered with mustard, urad dal (split black gram), green chili, curry leaves and finished with yoghurt and a topping of crunchy papad.

Where to Eat: Surendra Mallya’s farm at Masigadde (Ph 94486 57245)

Amey soppu (Fiddlehead fern) DSC06318

Ameysoppu palya
Siddis are descendants of African slaves brought to India. Some escaped from the Portuguese in Goa and settled in the forested tracts of the Western Ghats. In Karnataka, they inhabit the stretch around Haliyal, Yellapur and Ramanguli. The Siddis eat river fish, rice and local greens – kesa (colocasia) and ferns like amey soppu, literally ‘turtle greens.’

Where to Eat: Coorg homestays like Gowri Nivas (Ph 08272-228597, 9448193822 www.gowrinivas.com) in Madikeri and Palace Estate (Ph 98804 47702, 94831 98446 www.palaceestate.co.in) in Kakkabe serve Kodava fare like kesa (colocasia) and termay (ferns), in monsoon.

Dasola Yele Khottey IMG_4431

Dasola Yele Khotte
KP Shetty’s unique botanical-themed resort in the lush hinterland off Shiroor is home to over 5000 plants, many of which are used in its ‘health’ cuisine. Try chakramani soppu tambuli (better known as multi-vitamin curry), brahmi tambuli (Indian Pennywort cooler), sandhu balli chutney (cactus vine chutney) and the unique dasola yele khotte (steamed rice dumplings or kadabus infused with hibiscus leaf), served with a dollop of butter.

Where to Eat: Wild Woods Spa & Resort (Ph 7760976680 www.wildwoodsspa.com) at Toodalli village near Shiroor

Brahmi leaf or eli kivi soppu DSC05398

Elikivi Soppu Palya
Brahmi (Centella asiatica) or Indian pennywort is a wondrous leaf that aids intellect and sharpens memory. For centuries, Brahmins have consumed it to help them remember mantras. In ancient times, Sage Manduki noticed that wild animals that drank from a creek where the plant grew became calmer and were attracted to his discourses. In honor of his discovery, it was named mandukaparni (frog leaf) as it was shaped like a frog’s foot. In Kannada, it’s called ili kivi or mouse’s ear! Brahmi is usually stir fried into a palya with onions, mustard and grated coconut.

Where to Eat: Wild Woods Spa and Shanthi Kunnj (Ph 0824-2485180, 9632726888 www.shanthikunnj.com) near Kadabagere

Soute beeja huggi_North karnataka pasta DSC03411_Anurag Mallick

Soute beeja huggi
Believe or not, North Karnataka has rare indigenous pastas, often displayed as part of the Lingayat wedding trousseau! The process of rolling out little pellets of broken wheat dough is rather laborious. It is usually a summer activity, as the pellets can be sundried on the terrace. Using a paradi kaddi (basket stick), the dough is given different shapes – soute bija resembles tiny soute (cucumber) seeds, paradi is bowl or ear-shaped like orechiette while shankha is pressed against a comb and shaped like a conch akin to conchiglie. Once dried, it can be made as a savoury or a huggi (kheer).

Where to Eat: Vijaya Dry Fruits near Durgada Bail in New Hubli stocks a lot of these traditional pastas

Coorg-Madd kool-IMG_2359

Madd thoppu
Literally ‘medicine leaf’, maddu thoppu (Justicia wynaadensis) grows wild in Coorg or Kodagu. It is harvested during the monsoon month of kakkada, the heaviest period of rain from mid-July to mid-August. On the eighteenth day of kakkada, its medicinal properties are at their peak and contain 18 benefits. The stems and leaves are boiled to make a deep purple extract used for madd puttu (steamed cakes) or madd kool payasa (sweet porridge). And, don’t faint in the bathroom if you notice a bright yellow to orange colour when your pee!

Where to Eat: Taj Madikeri (Ph 08272-665800 Email madikeri.coorg@tajhotels.com)

IMG_2986

Vonekk Yerchi
There’s more to Coorg than pandi curry as Kodavas have an array of pork dishes – from chutti, spicy fried bits of pork fat served at Kodava weddings to pork choodals, deep fried pork cubes tossed in green chili-ginger masala, a great accompaniment to drinks. However, the ultimate dish is vonekk yerchi or smoked pork, typically cured for months over the hearth, shredded and stir-fried.

Where to Eat: Cuisine Papera (Ph 08274-247247, 900887767 Email paperacaterers@gmail.com) at Gonikoppal

Tindli Moi (Cashew & Ivy Gourd)-IMG_5628

Tindli Moi
From Konkani eateries to Catholic restaurants in Mangaluru-Udupi, tindli or manoli (ivy gourd) is a popular vegetable. In season, it is stir-fried with beeja (raw cashew) and topped with grated coconut. Tindli-Moi or Manoli Beeja Upkari is a great accompaniment for fish curry-rice meals.

Where to Eat: Hotel Narayana’s (Ph 9448255025) fish meals and Pereira Hotel at Hampankatta in Mangaluru

Pinyanappa-IMG_5363 

Pinyanappa
Bearys are a Muslim trading community in Mangaluru with a typical cuisine. Wedding feasts or ‘tala’ are opulent affairs with dishes like koli norchad (stuffed fried chicken), whole goat and goat head presented to the groom and his friends. There’s naeveri (stuffed prawn dumplings) and kalathappam (thick rice pancake topped with fried onions) and unique desserts like bonda payasa (tender coconut kheer) and pinyanappa. The rice, egg and coconut milk dessert gets its name from the pinyan (bowl) used to steam the dish.

Where to Eat: Many of these dishes can be savoured at Oota Bangalore (Ph 88802 33322 http://windmillscraftworks.com) in Whitefield

IMG_4800

Authors: This article first appeared on 14 May 2018 in Conde Nast Traveller India online. Read the original article here: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/30-dishes-try-30-districts-karnataka/ 

Gourmet Dubai: Culinary treasures from the Oyster Shell

Standard

Global cuisine, fine dining and festivals such as the Dubai Food Festival; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the delicious melting pot that’s Dubai

Ewaan Restaurant IMG_1528

Home to an expat population of 85% and over 200 nationalities, Dubai brings the best of the world on a platter. The sheer choice of cuisines, themed restaurants, Michelin-starred chefs and unique food festivals make Dubai a dream destination for foodies. But below the glitzy skyscrapers is a Dubai that still preserves its strong Arabic culture, heritage and hospitality.

The perfect place to start is Ewaan at Palace Downtown, where a massive traditional spread of rice, meats, salads, grills and desserts is laid out. Relive ‘Arabian Nights’ with energetic tanoura and belly dance performances every Wednesday with authentic delights like lamb juzi (spiced rice with lamb), fish sayadieh (like a biryani), meat kebbeh and a live grill. There’s a range of exotic drinks – Turkish coffee, Moroccan Maghrebi mint tea and Qamar Al Deen, a juice prepared from dried apricot paste. Sample exotic desserts like Um Ali (creamy bread pudding and cinnamon nut stuffed baklava), borma almond, mafrouka pistachio and chaibeyat as a veiled lady fries fresh luqaimat (spongy dessert).

At.mosphere Dubai 3

Dining in Luxury

Fine dining in Dubai has reached dizzying heights. At the quiet Armani Hotel Lobby inside Burj Khalifa, a graceful hostess ushered us to an express elevator, which transported us to the 122nd floor in 45 seconds. Perched at 670 feet, At.mosphere is the world’s highest restaurant ‘from ground level’. The change in air pressure makes your ears pop like a champagne cork as you disembark.

A cantilevered staircase connects the restaurant to the lounge offering the best view in town and top-notch French cuisine by Michelin Chef Jerome Lagarde. A minimum spend policy of 250-500 AED per person guarantees window seating while a nine-course festive menu featuring caviar, foie gras, langouste, truffles, oysters and sea scallops, comes at a princely 880 AED.

Al Mahara interior 3

Al Mahara, literally ‘The Oyster Shell’ in Arabic, at the opulent Burj Al Arab is designed to wow any diner. Walk past gilded interiors through a shimmering tunnel into the restaurant dominated by a stunning floor-to-ceiling aquarium. As you are mesmerized by marine life swimming by, award-winning chefs stir up sea bass with almond sauce, Maine lobster with seaweed butter and poached tsarkaya oysters.

In the world’s tallest hotel JW Marriott Marquis, Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar (no longer with the establishment) reincarnates Indian food into a contemporary form at Rang Mahal (Palace of Colour), dominated by plush orange and black interiors and massive temple pillars. The Navratan Menu features Lasooni Scallops to Meen Moilley, culminating in a Modern Art Dessert Canvas of assorted Indian sweets ‘painted’ by the chefs. For Indian fine dine at its best, head to Indego by another Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia at the luxurious Grosvenor House.

Stitched Panorama

Encased in a beautiful two-storeyed glass facade, La Serre fuses the charm of a Parisian street café with the buzz of Downtown Dubai. The traditional boulangerie on the ground floor bakes the freshest breads in town while the first floor bistro offers the perfect vantage. In elegant white interiors, dine at the Chef’s Table on house classics – Tarte Flambée, lentil salad, rigatoni with white truffles, grilled veal chops and whole seabass baked in salt crust.

Chic and modern, the beach-facing Sea Fu is the signature restaurant at Four Seasons on Jumeirah Beach and one of the top seafood restaurants in Dubai. Expect Med-style dishes and Asian-influenced delicacies in a cool, loungey atmosphere, overlooking the spectacular Arabian Gulf. Try the Sea Fu platter, seafood fettucini and crispy prawn with wasabi lemon dressing.

One & Only Royal Mirage-Eauzone IMG_1820

One of Madinat Jumeirah’s hot new launches, folly by Nick & Scott boasts award-winning cuisine that requires booking weeks in advance. The stunning arched hallway of the Arabian court at One&Only Royal Mirage leads to their lovely Moroccan restaurant Tagine. We dropped in at EauZone for Asian mezze, grilled hammour fillet and steamed miso seabass.

At Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road, dine amidst contemporary art or enjoy a stunning rooftop view of the Dubai skyline and fast-moving traffic from Level 43, the rooftop Sky Lounge. In Palm Jumeirah, the Signature Brunch at Social by world-renowned chef Heinz Beck at Waldorf Astoria is a culinary tour de force.

Four Points by Sheraton Level 43 Sky Lounge-Sheikh Zayed Road IMG_1574

With 5-star hotels aplenty, there’s no dearth of fine dine options, sometimes within the same hotel. The Beach House at Anantara, The Palm has relaxed beach side dining with views of the glittering Dubai shoreline as you relish Med fare, tapas, seafood and signature cocktails like ‘After the Storm.’ Anantara’s Mekong is counted among Dubai’s top Pan-Asian restaurants.

Relish authentic Far East preparations in rickshaw-style seating at oriental tables with overhead lights in birdcages. The Sharing Platter of crispy and Vietnamese spring rolls, Tod Mun Goong (Thai shrimp cake), Plah Goong (prawn salad with lemongrass), BBQ minced prawn on sugarcane skewer, Gai Hor Baitoey (chicken pandan) and chicken satay is highly recommended.

Mekong 2015-12-17 21.34.22

Food festivals galore

There’s no better showcase of global and local flavours than Dubai Food Festival (DFF), the perfect hangout for the gourmand and the glutton. Besides pop-ups and street food awards, the Restaurant Week saw 15 top-end restaurants offer a 3-course menu for AED 199. Tum Tum Asia, voted among the Top 10 Hidden Gems at DFF, brings typical pan-Asian street flavours into a purely 100% vegetarian menu, thanks to the ingenuity of Indian celebrity chef Akshay Nayyar and owner Prakash Adtani. The vibrant décor inspired by street art and tuk-tuks has a quirky lip-smacking menu of dimsums, satays, kebabs, sushi, baos and Thai curries, presented imaginatively.

This year, Etisalat Beach Canteen captured Dubai’s eclectic multicultural milieu and was the heart of DFF. Funky food trucks and homegrown eateries served global fare and experimental, artisan food with tastes as varied as Polish dumplings at Zapie Kanka, falafel burgers and charcoal lemonade at BurgerItch, spicy Tacos at Maiz and Spanish churros from Churros Factory to bizarre presentations of Bubble waffles with chocolate injections and Butter Beer, a creation of American Chef Ian Klienman at the Inventing Room.

Dubai, Dubai Film, Food Festival, DTCM

Adding to the food fiesta was live music, yoga on the beach, kite surfing, paddle boats by the bay besides cooking demos and Master Classes by renowned chefs. From fresh buns to berry pistachio pancakes and ‘freaky fries’, we tried That Place Café’s fusion food of bun-based dishes paired with pasta, potatoes, sheesh tawook and curry. Decadent desserts are also served in a delicious bun, so you could say, no one can eat just bun!

The second edition of Miami Vibes Food Festival celebrated soul food in a happy beach-like vibe combined with festival founder Elham al Arif’s love for Miami. From mid-Feb through March, the parking lot of Green Planet in Dubai’s City Walk became a lively pink-splashed outdoor avenue amidst pink sun decks, beach umbrellas and giant flamingoes. On offer was live entertainment and food truck culture featuring global fast food – burgers (including hot pink ones), sushi, rainbow sandwiches, local Koshari meals, sour khameer (Arabic pastry), Hakiki Turkish ice-cream and gourmet desserts shaped like exotic flowers from Dolci e Salato.

comptoir (15)

Eat Organic

Comptoir 102, winner of the Best Healthy Café in Dubai, is a classy craft boutique on Jumerirah’s Beach Road that morphed into a café and organic restaurant. Chef Erwin Jmaampoc emphasized that their unique food is nutritious, wholesome and sourced from local organic farms. The ever-changing contemporary menu is dictated by season and harvest with sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, super foods and vegan options. Impeccably presented, each morsel assures healthy goodness in a relaxed ethnic setting. Don’t miss the hearty Avo’ Club, Acai Bowl and juices that come with tempting health and beauty oriented names!

In the cooler months from mid-October to mid-April, Ripe Outdoor Market convenes at Zabeel Park every Friday with organic fruits and farm fresh vegetables, gourmet pickles and pestos, exotic white honey from Kyrgyzstan, food stalls and over hundred kiosks selling boutique and lifestyle products.

Ripe Organic Market IMG_2118

At Carli’s Chimneys, we tried Black Rose, a charcoal-activated ice cream the owner picked up from Vienna. Another seasonal cultural extravaganza is Global Village, bringing together flavours, arts and entertainment from across the world. We sipped kerkade (hibiscus iced tea) and savoured Egyptian cuisine at Al Dahhan.

The seaside marina boardwalk Club Vista Mare in Palm Jumeirah is lined by fine restaurants like Simply Italian, Gursha (Ethiopian) and Aji (Peruvian) besides shisha bars. BoxPark Dubai, the hip entertainment quarter on Al Wasl Road has trendy boutiques and niche cafés housed in 220 shipping containers with a lady DJ spinning tunes from a converted food truck! No matter when you visit, Dubai is ready to tantalize your taste buds. It’s surprising that Dubai does not have its own Michelin star restaurant yet, but we might just have to eat our words soon.

Al Mahara-Line caught sea bass with almond sauce, black truffles and forest mushrooms 2015-12-18 15.52.06-2

FACT FILE

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Dubai International Airport (3-4 hrs).

When to go
Dubai Food Festival is held in Feb-March. www.dubaifoodfestival.com
Ramadan in May-June has great spreads for iftar and suhour.

Where to Eat
At.mosphere, Burj Khalifa
Ph +971 4 888 3803
www.atmosphereburjkhalifa.com

Al Mahara, Burj al Arab
Ph +971 4 301 7600
www.jumeirah.com

Ewaan, Palace Downtown Dubai
Ph +971 48883444
http://www.addresshotels.com

Mekong, Anantara The Palm Dubai
Ph +971 4 567 8304
www.dubai-palm.anantara.com/mekong/

One & Only Royal Mirage
Ph +971 4 399 9999
www.oneandonlyresorts.com

Rang Mahal, JW Marriott Marquis
Ph +971 4 414 0000
www.jwmarriottmarquisdubailife.com

La Serre-Sea bass baked in salt crust

La Serre, Vida Downtown Dubai Hotel
Ph +971 4 428 6969
www.laserre.ae

Indego by Vineet, Grosvenor House
Ph +971 4 317 6000
http://www.indegobyvineet.com

Sea Fu, Four Seasons
Ph +971 4 270 7777
www.seafudubai.com

Four Points by Sheraton, Sheikh Zayed Road
Ph +971 4 323 0333
www.fourpointssheikhzayedroad.com

Ripe Organic Food & Craft Market
Ph +971 4 315 7000, 380 7602
www.ripeme.com

For more info, www.visitdubai.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.  

Goa with the Flow

Standard

What’s hot in the country’s coolest holiday destination, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY dig out hip hangouts in Goa

dsc00046_anurag-mallick

Everyone goes to Goa for a holiday. We are the only schmucks who go there for work. Eating at new hotspots, hopping in and out of bars and beach haunts, checking out new places, meeting interesting people, that kind of punishing work. For a place we visit so often (a friend once remarked ‘Arey, tum fir aa gaye?’ – an apt tagline for any state tourism board), Goa still holds many new experiences in store.

Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) was launching hot air ballooning in South Goa, Heli Tours, Duck Boat Tours from Panjim with plans to develop Mayem Lake. The same lake that generations of Goans grew up going for picnics to – it’s so old, Hum Bane Tum Bane from ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ was shot there. Plans were afoot to develop a clutch of five islands off Vasco – Grande, St George, Pequeno, Conco and Bhindo. Goa’s year-round festivities were being promoted – Bonderam Festival at Diwar Island (April-May), Sao Joao in June (where Goans literally go an’ jump in the well), Pattoleochem Fest at Socorro in August where the steamed pattoleo (rice and jaggery dumpling) is the star. Hell, there’s even a Ponsachem fest (jackfruit) and Touxeachem (cucumber) fest. Yes, food is indeed a celebration here.

dsc09708_anurag-mallick

A new addition to Goa’s cultural scene (besides Sunaparanta in Panjim and Houses of Goa Museum near Porvorim) is MoG or Museum of Goa. Blue roadside mermaids guided us to the museum of contemporary art in Pilerne set up by local artist Subodh Kerkar. Working with a wide range of media in his installations, his abiding muse remains Goa – its sea, coast, surroundings, rich culture and heritage.

Collaborating with the ocean, he immersed antique ceramic plates and allowed oysters, barnacles and shells to create artworks on old china. Chipping and slicing through layers of red, yellow and blue oxides painted over time, he turned sections of old walls into his canvas. Other local artists too gave rare insights into Goa. Shilpa Naik’s Mosaic paid tribute to the mosaic tiles ubiquitous in most Goan homes. We discovered that Goa never had any ceramic industry and the chips were actually ballast brought by Portuguese and Chinese ships!

dsc09727_anurag-mallick

Santosh Morajkar’s ‘The Motorcycle Pilot’ celebrated Goa as the only place in India where motorcycles are used as taxis. There are nearly 10,000 of them here. The first motorcycle taxi stand was at the base of Pilot Hill near Panjim Church. Since the lighthouse on the hill helped ‘pilot’ the ships in Mandovi River, the motorcycle taxis were nicknamed ‘pilots’! Besides MoG Sundays dedicated to Talks, Films, Expressions (11am-1pm) the museum hosts frequent jazz and music events. Subodh also leads free-wheeling walks on request at Saligao, Aldona, Siolim or any village a short drive away. Subodh’s private jaunts turned professional when Bambi, the manager of the lovely seaside cottage Ahilya by the Sea asked him to lead walks for guests.

We set off with Subodh from Birdsong, a charming 200-year-old renovated villa in the quiet hinterland of Moira. With peacocks calling and mist rising from the roads and yellow paddy fields, we walked past lovely homes to explore Goa anew… Rubbishing our fantastic theory that GoA was derived from Government of Adil Shah, Subodh conjectured that the ancient name Goapuri and Gopakapattanam was in existence and the Portuguese probably truncated it to Goa to rhyme with Lisboa.

dsc09782_anurag-mallick

Subodh pointed out the scalloped curved tiles fringing the roofs of local homes. Apparently, the clay tiles were hand-patted on the thigh, giving them a distinct curvature – narrow on one side and broad on the other. The tile’s shape depended on how fat a person was! When the Portuguese came, the shell windows were already in use. In his book ‘Goa and the Blue Mountains’, 18th century traveler Richard Burton dismisses how “In Goa, there is not even proper glass available and they used seashells for windows”.

It was an unwritten rule that houses could be any colour but white was reserved for churches and chapels. Colours were derived from natural pigments – oxides of red and yellow and chuna (lime) mixed with indigo yielded blue. We walked past locals tending to tendli (ivy gourd) gardens. Subodh joked how his request to pluck tender tindlis on a previous walk were rebuffed with a stern “They’re kids!”

dsc09808_anurag-mallick

Others watered their red-leaved tambdi bhaji (amaranth). “That’s karith”, Subodh pointed to a small gourd. “It’s very bitter and during Diwali it’s customary to eat karith before you eat sweets, symbolic of keeping the balance of bitter and sweet in life.” Straw and hay figurines of Narakasura were being built on the wayside, to be lit up before Diwali.

Tracing the lineage of what are now considered Indian vegetables, Subodh explained that the Portuguese introduced the tomato, chili, potato, caju, besides sweet potato, chikoo and guava, which came from Peru. The Marathi word for potato comes from Portuguese batata and the guava is called Peru! Bread was also a Portuguese introduction. For the longest time, tomatoes were not eaten by Hindus because they thought it was flesh.

dsc09642_anurag-mallick

Just like the walk had no script, Bhatti Village in Nerul had no menu. Patrick’s voice quavered passionately, “Oh we have many varieties of fish.” Earlier a bhatti (feni factory), barrels and glass decanters share restaurant space with 3-dimensional stickers of Spiderman and Minnie Mouse amid strange wall plaques of crabs, lobsters, shrimps and fake flowers.

Patrick had us at ‘beef kebab’, though we said yes to everything he suggested – white bait rava fry, tisro sukka (clam coconut), saudalo (butterfish)), dodyaro (saltpan fish), shark ambotik (sweet sour red gravy), ending with Sera dura, a heavenly Portuguese dessert. “You want Guizad as well – you won’t get in any restaurant! And I’ve packed the ambotik, heat it tomorrow and eat it with poi. Should I pack some poi?” Patrick called over our retreating shoulders as we staggered out, heavy-bellied and weak-kneed.

dsc09702_anurag-mallick

Locals take great pride in their culinary heroes – be it Anton in Nachinola or Eldridge Lobo at Eldou’s in Siolim, Sabita Fernandes at Amigos for crab hunting and Jurassic crab, cafreal at Florentine’s in Saligao or beef roast and ox tongue at Mafia Cocktails in Pilerne, run by Tony and his famous ‘Sister Cook’. But a new generation of chefs at Goa’s welcoming shores were tantalizing local palates.

From Greek cuisine at Thalassa, Vagator to Australian Masterchef Sarah Todd’s nextdoor restaurant Antares, the making of which is a six-part documentary on SBS, there’s lots to dig in to. Sarah’s Scents of India cocktail seemed right out of a ‘Hassan weds Mehjabeen’ wedding platter and we were happy to have space for dessert and homemade gelato at Baba Au Rhum, doing well in its new location in Anjuna.

dsc09895_anurag-mallick

Elevar in Ashvem currently boasts the best view and food in town. The latest offering of chef Chris Saleem (Sublime Morjim fame) treated us to excellent Seabass Carpaccio, Celery fried prawns, Papaya-spinach-prawns-lotus root salad, seared bass with pesto tapioca and tandoori prawns over saffron fenugreek risotto.

His style is ‘flashy and mainstream.’ “I like to give people what they want,” Chris admits. Earlier, we were floored at The Tavern in Fort Tiracol (where Chris was roped in to curate the menu), by exemplary dishes like spaghetti with Tiracol clams and fish fillet with Goan chorizo crust.

dsc09505_anurag-mallick

Stefan Marias, a Frenchman from South Africa, was now helming the beachside restaurant Go with the Flow overlooking Baga Creek. With two new outdoor decks, the restaurant spills out of the verandah of the 1928 Filomena Cottage onto the gardens with a makebelieve river meandering through that lights up at night. We wolfed down the Mozambican style Prawn Nacional and crispy salt n pepper squid in no time.

In the bustling Candolim-Calangute stretch, the talented Mr. Bomra stirs up what some describe as the ‘best Burmese restaurant outside Burma’. A friend quipped “To be honest, how many Burmese restaurants are there outside Burma?” On our anonymous visit, the steward clarified, “The chef is Burmese, but the food is not. It’s whatever he likes to make.”

dsc09958_anurag-mallick

Once when some American guests complimented how tender the Aldona slow roast suckling pig was, the manager Chris remarked, “Of course it is. It is a suckling pig, it was suckling on its mother when we took it away and slaughtered it. It’s a baby, that’s why it’s so tender.” Baulking, the guests set down their cutlery and left. Clearly, eccentricity has always been in Goa’s gene.

Like Pondicherry, the fusion of cafeterias and boutiques has caught on in Goa. Latika Khosla’s gorgeous home store Freedom Tree in a seagreen Portuguese villa in Sangolda houses hobo-chic styled crockery, lighting, rugs and furniture. After shopping, step into the adjacent Mustard restaurant, which sums up France and Bengal’s passion for food in one seed – the tiny yet, omnipresent mustard! Conceptualised by Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh, the restaurant was actually the villa’s old kitchen!

dsc00022_anurag-mallick

The subtle nuanced flavours of East Bengal have been perfectly curated by food historian Pritha Sen and the delicate notes of French cuisine put together by Chef Gregory Bazire. Here, regional specialities like Shukto and Mochar Ghonto rub shoulders with authentic European favourites like Tuna Pan Bangnat and Tortelloni a la Giardinera.

The sharp tamarind tang of Tentul Joler Sherbet spiked with vodka and a bowl of Chilled Cucumber Latte (Goan cucumbers with Bengali kasundi with mint and mustard sprouts) was the perfect appetizer. We embarked on Mustard’s journey to ‘savour the flavour’ of Dhoom Pukth Mach (Smoked Chonak Fish) and Kosha Mangsho with Luchi. Except for certain traditional ingredients, the restaurant follows a zero mile green philosophy and sources everything locally. You can even buy a pot of microgreens to spruce up your salad at home!

dsc09879_anurag-mallick

Thanks to its low faded signage, Satish Warrier’s Gunpowder Restaurant (two houses away from the new Fabindia outlet in Assagao) is a blink-and-miss restaurant set in the backyard of Cursino Villa, an old Portuguese home. Hidden within a leafy compound behind the well-known boutique PeopleTree design studio, Gunpowder’s Peninsular Kitchen stirs up Syrian Christian beef, chilli pork ribs, crispy natoli fry (anchovies), appams and regional delicacies.

Complementing Gunpowder’s South Indian flavours is the cool new bar designed by ace mixologist Evgenya Pradznik, a Russian who has mixed her way from Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Lebanon to Goa. Behind her teak bar counter, she uses locally sourced turmeric, ginger, spices and fruits. They grow their own herbs like thyme, lemongrass, black pepper and 200 pineapple shrubs. “Though we have so many options to choose from, my idea is to stick to classic combinations made with full respect to the main spirit.”

dsc09848_anurag-mallick

Evgenya had some homemade brandy with dry apricot macerated in Riesling stashed away, date liqueur in white rum and mad new concoctions like Pop Fashion, a version of Old Fashioned with an infusion of popcorn in bourbon. We tried the Ginger Cucumber Caipiroska and Tamarind Pineapple Margarita and teetered out…

It seemed like an abandoned rundown village house except for the vines of Chinese lights wrapping it in a warm firefly glow. The peeling plaster on the mud walls disguised its twilight avatar where people flit in like moths towards lamplight. Soro, strategically located on the Assagao-Siolim road is a New York style pub masquerading as a Goan village bar.

dsc09603_anurag-mallick

Exposed brick walls, retro style posters, multi-coloured geometric floor tiles reminiscent of Mexican homes, bald filament bulbs and stage lights, industrial pipes and quaint relics of juicers make a bold design statement. Old world bar stools propped next to large windows overlook foliage and fields beyond. Named after the Konkani word for liquor, Soro is actually located in an erstwhile soda factory, making it the ideal place to down or drown your sorrows.

“Where next”, asked Savio at Coco Shambhala, a tropical haven near Coco Beach where we had come to experience their new Forest Essentials massages. “Cantare in Saligao, LPK (Love Passion Karma) in Nerul or Cohiba near Aguada?” “No more”, we gasped. “Don’t worry. ‘Soro jivak boro’ (Alcohol is good for life). As the therapist confirmed our appointment, we cracked up when she said “I hope you have come on an empty stomach.”

dsc09974_anurag-mallick

FACT FILE

Where to Stay

Birdsong
497, Calzor, Moira
Ph +91-9987962519, 9810307012, 9587508222 www.birdsonggoa.com

Ahilya by the Sea
Coco Maia, 787, Nerul-Reis Magos Road, Nerul
Ph 011-41551575 www.ahilyabythesea.com

Coco Shambhala
Nerul, Bardez
Ph +91 9372267182 www.cocoshambhala.com

dsc09499_anurag-mallick

The Secret Garden
Estrela e Sinos, Saligao
Ph +91-95525 18664

Lar Amorosa Boutique B&B
House No. 68, Barros Waddo, Sangolda, Bardez
Ph: +91 7888047029 www.laramorosa.com

dsc09926_anurag-mallick

Where to Drink/Eat

Elevar Beach Bar & Restaurant
Leela Cottages Beach Front, Ashvem, Morjim Road, Mandrem
Ph: +91 9130352188 www.facebook.com/elevarashvem

Go With The Flow
House No. 614, Calangute Baga
Ph: +91 7507771556, +91 7507771557 www.gowiththeflowgoa.com

Soro The Village Pub
Assagao Baddem Junction, Goa
Ph: +91 9881934440, 9881904449
Wed-Jazz, Fri-Rock, Sat-Ladies night www.facebook.com/SoroGoa

dsc09943_anurag-mallick

Bomras
Souza Vaddo, Candolim, Bardez
Ph: +91 9767591056 www.bomras.com

Thalassa Greek Taverna
Mariketty’s Place, Small Vagator, Ozran
Ph: +91 9850033537 www.thalassagoa.com

Antares
Small Vagator, Ozran, Vagator
Ph: +91 7350011538, +91 7350011528 www.antaresgoa.com

dsc09896_anurag-mallick

Baba au Rhum
French Café, Bakery, Pizzeria
Anjuna, Goa
Ph: +91 9822866366

Gunpowder/People Tree
6, Assagao, Cursino Villa, Saunta Vaddo, Bardez
Ph: 0832 2268228 www.peopletreeonline.com

Mustard Restaurant/Freedom Tree Store
House No. 78, Mae Dey Deus Vaddo, Chogm Road, Sangolda
www.facebook.com/mustardgoa

dsc09997_anurag-mallick

What to See/Do 

Museum of Goa
Pilerne Industrial Estate, Pilerne, Bardez
Director: Dr Subodh Kerkar Ph: +91 9326119324
Email museumofgoa@gmail.com www.museumofgoa.com

Houses of Goa Museum and Mario Gallery
Near Nisha’s Play School, Torda, Salvador do Mundo, Bardez, Goa 403101
Ph: 0832-2410711 www.archgoa.org

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine. http://beta.outlooktraveller.com/trips/goa-with-the-flow-1009179

The High Life: Dubai De Luxe

Standard

From diving for pearls to touching the skies, Dubai has come a long way. ANURAG MALLICK lives the high life…

Downtown Dubai

Tom Cruise may have climbed, rappelled and swung around Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol but I wasn’t letting that deter me from dining calmly at At.mosphere, the 122nd floor restaurant in the world’s tallest building. Ushered past the quiet Armani Hotel reception by a graceful hostess to the express elevator, in 45 seconds, I was transported 670 feet to the world’s highest restaurant ‘from ground level’. The change in air pressure is so drastic, you’ll be popping more than the bubbly.

A cantilevered staircase connects the restaurant to the lounge with the best view in Dubai. Our mission impossible? A nine-course festive ‘taster’ menu of Oscietra caviar, Maison Soulard foie gras, Portugal Langouste, truffles, oysters and sea scallops. It was as if Ethan Hunt had sleepwalked onto the sets of Casino Royale with the memory of Jason Bourne. Thus stuffed, the only danger lay in rolling off while admiring the view…

At.mosphere Dubai (54)

Two floors up, the world’s highest observation deck, At The Top, was voted recently as the ‘Best Attraction’ in the world. Storming the 2015 Worldwide Attractions Awards, Burj Khalifa surpassed tourism heavyweights like London Eye and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

The viewing deck also came second to the Empire State Building in the ‘Best Observation Deck’ category and was voted the ‘Most Romantic Attraction or Tour 2015’ alongside the Eiffel Tower. The fireworks display from Burj Khalifa easily ranks among the most spectacular year-end celebrations.

Seawings Seaplane Taking Off

While Burj Khalifa offers a terrific bird’s eye view, it is quite another thing to leave the stationary perch and see Dubai from the air, like a bird in flight. SeaWings, Dubai’s ultimate luxury excursion, took off from Dubai Creek for a 25-minute seaplane tour of the city. Barring 5 minutes each for take off and landing, it was 15 minutes of pure flying time. The New York Times calls it the No.1 thing to do in Dubai for good reason. The 10-seater Cessna Caravan cruised along the coastline past landmarks like Port Rashid, Dubai’s old port that’s now a cruise terminal.

It’s only from the air that the 300 man-made islets of The World Islands, using sand dredged from the sea, can be seen in the shape of a world map. Most are still uninhabited, except the Sultan’s pleasure playground ‘Greenland’ and ‘Lebanon’, the only island in commercial use. We flew past Downtown Dubai’s skyscrapers, dwarfed by the Burj Khalifa. The iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab stood like a yacht at the edge of the Arabian Gulf, almost poised to set off.

SeaWings seaplane tour-Burj al Arab 2015-12-17 18.15.19

There was a collective gasp as the seaplane swooped towards the fronds of Palm Jumeirah. Nakheel Group’s flagship artificial archipelago is Dubai’s most exclusive address with several mega hotels like Waldorf Astoria, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray and Atlantis. Shaped like an Arabic portal to another dimension, Atlantis featured extensively in Shah Rukh Khan’s heist flick ‘Happy New Year’, described by critics as ‘Ocean’s 11 written by baboons’. Indian cinema is huge here and the world’s first Bollywood-themed park is slated to open this October. SRK is a big celeb here as well and owns a villa (k..k..k..K-93) at Palm Jumeirah.

“That’s where I’m staying,” I pointed to Anantara’s unmistakable orange gabled roof on the eastern crescent. Another gasp and envy, as we splashed down near Jebel Ali Golf Resort where my chauffer-driven Merc whisked me back to Anantara at Palm Jumeirah. The word Jumeirah is derived from the Arabic jamilah, meaning ‘beautiful’. And it sure was! The blue waters of the Persian Gulf looked so inviting one could jump in. Fortunately, my lagoon villa provided the perfect opportunity to do so. Overlooking an exclusive beachfront, The Beach House serves excellent seafood and signature cocktails like ‘After the Storm.’

Anantara The Palm Dubai 2015-12-18 10.46.25

After a relaxing spa session in the new Turkish hammam, I headed to the in-house Mekong, Dubai’s top Pan-Asian restaurant, where I was welcomed with miang kham, a traditional Thai snack of roasted coconut shavings, chilli, ginger, garlic, shallots, peanuts, dried shrimps and raw mango, wrapped into a betel leaf. Miang kham translates to ‘eating many things in one bite’.

In the dimlit interior, I leafed through the menu – it came with its own clip-on torch. My steward Sunday (born on a Sunday in Myanmar) suggested that despite dining alone, I should try the ‘sharing platter’ of spring rolls, crab cakes, satay and chicken pandan. Sunday made my day.

Mekong-sharing platter 2015-12-17 21.34.53

Now I’m a big fan of eating local and purists may question the logic of eating Thai in Dubai! But with 200 nationalities making Dubai their home, there’s mind boggling cultural and culinary diversity. Lebanese, Japanese, Turkish, Mexican, Egyptian, French, Italian, American diner, Australian Outback, you name it, they got it. Like the UN went to a party and forgot to report back to duty.

There are other multi-cultural cities too, but Dubai is unique because expats comprise nearly 80% of its 2.45 million population. So whatever the cuisine, it’s top-notch. Here, they throw around ‘Michelin star chef’ with the same casualness as we use ‘hotel management course from Switzerland’ in India.

La Serre bistro

As a city, Dubai believes in the best, the biggest and the tallest. After seducing immigrants with tax-free income and quality of life, it provides every avenue to make sure they spend it all. And the more you spend, the more you must earn. It’s a neat little cycle; a whirlwind ride that’s easy to get in but hard to get out of! Over 50 shopping malls – Ibn Battuta Mall, Deira City Centre, Dubai Marina Mall, Burjuman Centre, Mall of the Emirates with its own indoor ski slope and Egyptian-themed Wafi Mall – let you buy any brand or product in every variation possible. However, Dubai Mall took not just the cake, but the entire boulangerie.

It was as if someone went to God or Santa Claus and made the most impossible wish. “I want the largest and best mall in the world”. (Granted) “Er… with a Dancing Fountain and an Aquarium. And the world’s largest collection of sharks and rays. (Will 33,000 marine creatures do?) “Ya, but behind the world’s largest acrylic panel! And an Ice Rink, with intermittent snowfall like the real thing.” (Ok…) “Hang on, also a waterfall, across four floors.” (Anything else?) “Umm maybe a dozen fiberglass divers plummeting down the cascade? And a 155-million-year old dinosaur to round it off.” (OKAY already, it will have every goddamn thing you ever need!)

Dubai Aquarium

Spread over 13 million square feet (and still expanding), Emaar Group’s Dubai Mall also has its own indoor theme park SEGA Republic, the world’s largest sweet shop Candylicious, the largest shoe store in the world by Chalhoub, a 22-screen cineplex with 4-D, edutainment zone KidZania, a Gold Souk, Hamley’s from London, Bloomingdale’s from New York and Galeries Lafayette, their only store outside Paris.

And a flight simulator for Emirates A-380, the largest aircraft in the world, because you always wanted to fly a plane, right? With over 1200 stores, you can be here for a while. Thankfully, we had a buggy for the mall crawl and Karim from Emaar as our guide. Amidst all the action, it’s easy to miss the daily show at Dubai Fountain (every half hour 6-11pm) just outside the mall.

Anantara Thai long tail boat ride - Burj al Arab view 2015-12-18 12.14.07

Dubai wasn’t always like this. Its humble origins lay in a nondescript fishing village of makeshift dwellings, home to Bedouins who depended on pearling, dhow making and trade. In the 1930s, the Japanese learnt how to artificially manufacture pearls and road and air travel reduced the dependence on boat building.

Dubai lived in relative obscurity till the discovery of oil in 1966. Though Dubai’s foundations were laid on oil and gas, its present economy is run on real estate, gold, diamonds and free-market capitalism. “Dubai, Do Buy, get it?”, my Sri Lankan guide Wickeramasinghe cackled at his profound joke.

Dubai Creek 2015-12-18 18.34.02

The best place for a sense of the old traditions is Dubai Museum, housed in the Al Fahidi Fort built in 1787, the oldest existing building in the city. The 20-seater abra (boat) ferries passengers across the creek from Bur Dubai to Deira, the old commercial quarter with its gold and spice souks. For a dirham it’s the cheapest thrill to be found in Dubai.

Cheaper still is hearing Malayali men in thick accents selling ‘Rolllexxx and original fake watches.’ A more leisurely experience is the Thai long tail boat ride at Anantara – ‘a touch of Thai in Dubai’. It was a lazy cruise to Dubai Marina past parked yachts and looming skyscrapers. The danger was, you could get used to this life of luxury…

Al Mahara-Line caught sea bass with almond sauce, black truffles and forest mushrooms 2015-12-18 15.52.06-2

By Day 3, I was ordering ‘Grilled tiger prawns a la Provençale with crispy olive polenta’, like I had been having polenta for lunch everyday back home. Google informs you, in chaste Devanagari, that polenta’s Hindi equivalent is ‘Makai ki khichdi’. Perhaps I wasn’t too far from the truth. “So what did you have in Dubai?” “Umm… khichdi”. Nah, polenta was fine.

That’s the thing about fine dine – it makes anything sound good. Before being presented with magical flourish, nearly every dish was preceded by a 1-minute introduction, as if it were nobility, listing its pedigree and parentage. When confronted by words like Moelleux and Cremeux that you might mispronounce, ask for recommendations and snootily confirm.

Al Mahara interior 3

The sheer choice in Dubai is mind boggling – dine next to a ceiling-to-floor aquarium in the opulent Al Mahara restaurant at the 7-star Burj Al Arab or al fresco by Jumeirah Beach at Four Seasons’ SeaFu, dig into a whole seabass baked in salt crust at the Chef’s Table at La Serre or try Indian cuisine with a twist at Atul Kochhar’s Rang Mahal.

After eight elaborate courses in Rang Mahal’s orange and black interiors dominated by massive temple pillars, we hankered for dessert and were frostily informed, ‘The chef is painting.’ We wondered if this was indeed a tall tale in the world’s tallest hotel JW Marriott Marquis, when five minutes later the Dessert Canvas of assorted Indian sweets was presented like Modern Art. “Is that Gouda?” “No that’s Gaudi”, went my imaginary conversation with the steward.

Rang Mahal

That’s Dubai for you, where dessert can be made into art and an oasis can be carved out of a desert. Clearly no mission is impossible, if you have the audacity to dream it. Despite a slowdown after the 2009 economic crisis, development continues at a furious pace. Dubai Creek is being deepened and extended through the city.

The heritage quarter of Al Bastakiya is being shaped into a Historic District. Large scale construction with buildings, cranes or South Asian workers in overalls are seen in every frame. If Dutch comfort is ‘Thank god it’s not worse’, Dubai lies at the other end of that scale. ‘We know it’s great, but it will only get better.’

Burj Khalifa - 148 floor

FACT FILE

Getting there
There are several direct flights from India to Dubai International Airport (3-4 hrs). Emirates, the national carrier, boasts the world’s biggest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s. www.emirates.com

When to visit
Weather-wise Nov-Mar is the best time to visit, with big sporting, entertainment and shopping events all year round – Dubai Shopping Festival (1 Jan-1 Feb), Dubai Food Festival (25 Feb-12 Mar), Al Marmoom Heritage Festival and camel race (April), Al Gaffal Dhow Race (May), Ramadan/Eid (June), Dubai Summer Surprises (July-Sep), among others.

For more info, visit www.dubaicalendar.ae, www.visitdubai.com

Anantara view from Lotus Lounge 2015-12-19 12.58.05

Where to Stay

Anantara The Palm Dubai
Ph +971 4 567 8888 www.dubai-palm.anantara.com
Located on the eastern crescent of Palm Jumeirah, the Thai chain offers excellent lagoon rooms, beach pool villas and the only over-water villas in the UAE.

St Regis, Al Habtoor City
Ph +971 4 435 5555 www.stregisdubai.com
Dubai’s newest 5-star hotel that’s centrally located on Sheikh Zayed Road. A grand staircase, huge chandelier and excellent food at its specialty restaurants like Brasserie Quartier. Try the ‘Brunch at the Manor’ on Friday.

Al Mahara lounge 2015-12-18 16.27.26

Where to Eat

Al Mahara, Burj al Arab
Ph +971 4 301 7600 www.jumeirah.com
Sheer opulence with gilded interiors and a giant aquarium; try the sea bass with Almond Sauce, Maine Lobster with seaweed butter or poached tsarkaya oysters in cucumber and apple broth

At.mosphere, Burj Khalifa
Ph +971 4 888 3828 www.atmosphereburjkhalifa.com
French cuisine by Michelin chef Chef Jerome Lagarde, the Lounge has a minimum spend policy of 200 AED per person at lunch and 250 AED for dinner, with guaranteed window seating. The same seating privilege for lunch at the Restaurant will set you back by 500 AED. The festive menu comes for 880 AED.

Mekong, Anantara The Palm Dubai
Ph +971 4 567 8304 www.dubai-palm.anantara.com/mekong/
Rickshaw style seating at oriental tables with overhead lights in bird cages and excellent Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese. Try the sharing platter – crispy spring roll, Vietnamese spring roll, Tod Mun Goong (Thai shrimp cake), Plah Goong (prawn salad with lemongrass), BBQ minced prawn on sugarcane skewer, Gai Hor Baitoey (Chicken pandan), Chicken satay

Mekong 2015-12-17 21.34.22

Rang Mahal, JW Marriott Marquis
Ph +971 4 414 0000 www.jwmarriottmarquisdubailife.com
Indian cuisine with a twist by Atul Kochhar; the Navratan Menu features Chowk kee Aloo Chat, Lasooni Scallops, Meen Moilley, Limbu Rubiyan, Tandoori Murg & Gosht Boti Korma

La Serre, Vida Downtown Dubai Hotel
Ph +971 4 428 6969 www.laserre.ae
Classy Parisian-style café with boulangerie on the ground floor and upstairs bistro in white, serving Med fare like Tarte Flambée, Burrata with tomatoes, Lentil salad with pickled vegetables, Rigatoni with white truffles and the most succulent Grilled veal chops

Sea Fu, Four Seasons
Ph +971 4 270 7777 www.seafudubai.com
Asian-influenced dishes presented Med-style in a cool, loungey atmosphere overlooking Jumeirah Beach. Great for sundowners; try the Sea Fu platter, homemade seafood fettucini and crispy prawn with wasabi lemon dressing.

SeaFu-Fettucine with seafood

What to Do

Sea Wings Dubai
Ph +971 4 807 0708 www.seawings.ae
The 40-min Dubai Silver Tour takes off from Dubai Creek near Park Hyatt and costs AED 1695 per person. They also do Dubai Creek heritage walking tours.

Dubai Museum
Ph +971 4 353 1862 www.dubaiculture.gov.ae
At AED 3, it’s quite a bargain for insights into Emirati culture and the history of Dubai in neatly laid out galleries in an old fort. Also has a souvenir shop near the exit.

Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Ph +971 4 448 5200 www.thedubaiaquarium.com
Located on the ground floor of Dubai Mall, the 10-million litre aquarium can be viewed from a distance for free, besides a range of immersive experiences like cage snorkeling, scuba dive and encounters with rays, otters and sharks for AED 100-200.

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared as part of the Cover Story ‘Experiential Holidays: International Special’ in the March, 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine. Read the story on OT at http://www.outlooktraveller.com/trips/dubai-the-ultimate-luxury-destination-1008693

The Art of Indulgence: Etihad Business Class to Bad Ragaz

Standard

From Business Class Travel on Etihad Airways to blissful thermal spas at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in the Alpine region of Switzerland, PRIYA GANAPATHY enjoys a life of luxury

IMG_7239_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

Would you pass an invitation to indulge at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland, one of Europe’s most reputed wellness health resorts and a ticket to enjoy the privileges of the newly refurbished First and Business Class Lounges at Abu Dhabi? Not I. So when all attempts of an online check-in for a flight to Zurich via Abu Dhabi turned futile, I imagined I’d be in for trouble at the Bengaluru International Airport. The Etihad Airlines ground staff were huddled for the daily briefing. Before I’d begun to gripe about the online check-in muddle, I found myself smiling back at the staffer who promptly said, “No problem, I’ll take care of your confirmation ma’am”. He even obliged my request for a window seat! A perfect omen for things to come.

As the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Etihad Airways prides itself as an international airline that constantly challenges the definitions of comfort and luxury. Wafting on a carpet of clouds, feet outstretched, sipping Sauvignon Blanc while carving into a platter of chicken breast, salad, sautéed veggies and assorted breads. Thanks to Etihad’s Wi-Fly connection I was simultaneously dashing off mails and tweeting from 35,000 feet. It was easy to see how wonderful life is, while travelling Etihad Business Class.

IMG_7834_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

Touchdown at Abu Dhabi Terminal 1 was smooth but I couldn’t check out the recently refurbished First and Business Class Lounges as I had to rush to Terminal 3 to meet my companions onward to Zurich. Thankfully, a genial Mohammed led me through the maze of people and prevented any further loss of time lest I got waylaid by duty-free shopping outlets! Just past the neon lit corridors, I slowed down to observe the exquisite art on display. Eid was just a day away and the themes explored in the paintings and shadow sculptures were enough to move anyone walking through the open gallery.

A little further on the left was The Premium Lounge at Terminal 3, near Gate 35 – a spacious realm designed for waiting in style. After witnessing rapid growth in a relatively short time, Etihad Airways has upped its ante to meet and perhaps exceed the expectations of its clientele. Many had already settled in the multiple dedicated areas to relax besides the business centre and work stations with free Wi-fi access. A few made a beeline to the smoking room while others curled up to sleep in the choice of cushioned couches.

photo 5 (1)

Making full use of the convenient shower facilities and the thoughtful amenities pouch, I felt totally refreshed. Talking of subtle details, the pouch is a keepsake as it wears a traditional Emirati “Sadao” weave crafted by local artisans at Sougha, a social enterprise owned by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development. Sougha incidentally means “travellers gift” in Arabic (not too different from ‘sougat’ in India). There are several buffet counters for starters, mains and desserts that I had to forsake this time round. A quick bite and I was set to catch up with the trio accompanying me on Flight EY 73 to Zurich.

Emblazoned in gold the words “From Abu Dhabi to the World” gleamed in the darkness as I climbed aboard. Buckling up at Seat 9A, I felt like Nicole Kidman, brand Ambassador for Etihad in my very own luxe box chamber. Muted lights, a warm blanket, a flute of French Champagne Jacquart, Brut Mosaique – a dry medium bodied wine complemented by cheese and a bowl of nuts… I could drift into a dream or watch a choice of entertainment shows on TV. I chose the latter. The night wore on and the champagne made me daringly try the Rheinhessen, Grauer Burgunder from Trocken. Noting my expression after the very first sip, Etihad’s very perceptive F&B Manager Vera Ivanova, swiftly offered to change it to a delightful white wine from one of New Zealand’s best vineyards, and I gracefully gave in!

IMG_7840_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

The attention of the cabin crew to keep every passenger’s preferences and needs in mind was commendable. How and when I slipped into slumber and was tucked in was anybody’s guess but in the wee hours of the morning, Vera bent down to whisper, “Would you like some breakfast? We have half an hour before we descend.” The menu tempted with a host of offerings perfectly crafted by the staff trained at The Savoy, London no less. A decadent round of Banana sweet chilli loaf with mascarpone (a thick creamy Italian cheese) and dulce de leche (a delicious thick caramelized spread) followed and I was literally in food heaven, floating on a sea of soft clouds.

Zurich airport to Bad Ragaz in the Canton of St Gallen in the north eastern Switzerland was a beautiful 1½ hour train ride past green fields and meadows, wooden Swiss chalets tumbling down the high ridges where louvered window sills overflowed with baskets of flowers and the glittering ribbons of Lake Zurichsee and Lake Walensee slithering past colourful sailboats docked near the pier. I couldn’t prevent myself from yo-yoing from one side of the compartment to the next, fearing I’d miss something spectacular on other side!

IMG_6963_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

The famous spa village of Bad Ragaz surpassed all I had imagined it to be. It lounged against the Pizol mountains, freshly washed by rain as clouds split and the sun broke through gilding the autumnal leaves on the trees and shrubs. The Grand Resort Bad Ragaz was just a stone’s throw from the railway station overlooking snowcapped peaks and an elegant Evangelical Church, whose steeple shot into the blue sky.

The palatial resort lived up to its name on all fronts – luxury, size, hospitality, treatments and health-care and of course gourmet cuisine. Sprawling across 5000 acres were the resort’s realms of relaxation – the five star Quellenhof and the Hof Ragaz hotels, lush gardens, restaurants, golf course, casino and the lifeline of the resort – the healing thermal waters channelled from Tamina Gorge.

IMG_6866_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

Over the next three days and nights we surrendered to the enveloping warmth of the Tamina’s waters, breathing lungfuls of the crisp, clean mountain air, tasting fine wines and eclectic flavours in the hotels many world-class restaurants. With 8 restaurants including the one Michelin star Abestube, and 58 GaultMillau points to its credit, this is a haven for epicureans.

The timing of our trip was perfect as we caught BadRagartz, the fantastic triennal festival of art (9 May-1 Nov 2016) featuring works of renowned international and local artists. This was the sixth edition of Europe’s largest sculpture exhibition and was themed “Blue” as a tribute to the 175th Anniversary of the land’s Blue Gold – the thermal waters of the Tamina spring. Deep in the jagged Tamina Gorge the thermal spring emerged from a grotto, gurgling behind a sheet of glass.

IMG_7082_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

The trip to the gorge was not the only high point. The following day, we had a round of wine tasting at Fromm vineyard in Malans en route to Heidi Village in Maienfeld. The latter was the land that inspired Johanna Spyri’s children’s classic ‘Heidi’. On the way back, the River Rhine whizzed by in a blur as did the 18-hole sprawling golfing greens of Bad Ragaz and we were back at the resort, ready for our last unforgettable supper. At Namun, the Pan-Asian restaurant we met our delightful hosts Thomas Bechtold and Kathrin. We stepped into the casino later knowing fully well how our chips were down. We had run out of luck in terms of time and relaxation and had to bundle our bags for a train from Sargans to Zurich HD at dawn and another rail ride to the airport.

On the return flight from Zurich to Abu Dhabi, I lay cocooned in my flatbed by the window, gulping the welcome fresh orange juice thirstily and answering mails, tweeting my Swiss holiday photos and squeezing the most from the wi-fly facility. Meals were spot-on in terms of taste and portions and the voyage of 6 hours and 20 minutes over the snowy Alps to the hotter hemisphere was blissfully dealt with generous refills of bubbly and a delicious serving of veal steak layered with tomato and grilled Emmental, Tagliatelle noodles and veal jus.

IMG_7844_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

A 6 hour layover at Abu Dhabi was ideal opportunity to wander into the revamped Terminal 1. The efficient staff stowed away my jackets and woollens in a closet leaving me free to roam around lighter. I made a beeline to the Six Senses Spa to book a complimentary back massage before entering the buffet section for dinner. The lounge presented a surplus of choices from Western to Asian and Arabic that was devoured with great zest by all who walked in.

With enough time to shower and snooze, I snuggled up in the comfortable seat, to catch the news on TV. The back support massage at 11.40pm was the key to destress. All I did was straddle up on a massage chair and let Balinese masseuse No Ketut Sukerni work her magic. Her firm fingers combined shiatsu and oriental techniques to ease my hidden aches and pains, almost seducing me into peaceful slumber.

photo 2-2

The range of 15 minute complimentary offers – be it Massages (Back Support, Bamboo Fusion, Foot Massage, Hand Massage, The Hedonist, The Realignment) or Facial Therapies (Eye Retreat, Face Radiance) or Wellness (Reiki) and a Six Senses Spa experience is highly recommended. They even have a Style & Shave Salon giving the complete package of grooming. Before long, I was curled up in the waiting lounge.

At 2.40am when the final boarding call was announced, a concerned Etihad staffer appeared genie-like to wake me and speedily escort me to my flight. Be it the lounge or in-flight, Etihad’s signature efficiency and style in hospitality was discernible. All I did was learn how to give in, gracefully.

IMG_7830_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

Getting there
Etihad Airways flies from Bengaluru to Abu Dhabi and Zurich, from where Bad Ragaz is an hour’s ride by train. www.etihad.com

Grand Resort Bad Ragaz
Bernhard-Simonstrasse, 7310 Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Ph +41 81 303 30 30 www.resortragaz.ch

IMG_6880_Etihad Priya Ganapathy

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article on the Etihad-Bad Ragaz trip was written exclusively for the blog.

Kochi Coo: 10 Reasons why we love Cochin

Standard

There’s more to India’s first European township than Dutch palaces and Chinese fishing nets; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY find ten reasons to love Kochi

IMG_9292 Earplugs at Brunton Boatyard_Anurag Mallick

Boat spotting from Brunton Boatyard
Anyone stepping into the leafy courtyard of the pierside Brunton Boatyard never fails to ask how old the heritage property is. Guests are startled to learn that CGH Earth’s faux colonial hotel resurrected from an old Victorian shipbuilding yard is just over a decade old! At the waterfront garden spot birds and boats over breakfast or watch the daily traffic in India’s busiest harbour from your balcony. Ferries, fishing boats, trawlers, massive liners to naval ships; it’s a continuous procession along the aquatic highway. Little wonder the attentive management provides earplugs with each room to block out the foghorns!

http://www.cghearth.com

IMG_9340 East Indies_Cheenavala, a trio of fish, calamari and tiger prawn_Anurag Mallick

Colonial cuisines
Kerala’s legendary Spice Coast drew the world’s leading colonial powers to its shores. And there’s no better place than Cochin to see the merging of various cultures through cuisine. The Portuguese introduced the use of coconut milk, the Jews gave the appam while the Dutch drew culinary influences from their colonies in Ceylon, Indonesia and Malaya. Even today, the Dutch Bruder bread is baked daily in Fort Kochi. Enjoy the confluence of Mediterranean and Malabar flavours at The Malabar Junction or Cajun and Creole at fusionBay. At Eighth Bastion Hotel’s East Indies take the ‘Dutch Route’, a specially prepared menu of satays, rendang (Sumatran caramelized curry), shiitake bisque and lamprais (a corruption of ‘lump rice’) – a Sri Lankan Dutch Burgher dish of aubergine, frikkadel (Afrikaans meatball), sambal (spicy relish) and shrimp balchao (pickle) wrapped in a leaf with rice. Brunton Boatyard’s History Restaurant offers a limited portion of First Class Railway Mutton Curry every day, besides classics like Syrian Christian Duck Moilee, Anglo Indian cutlet, Jewish Chuttulli Meen and idiappam (Ceylonese string hoppers) with fish curry. Enjoy the day’s catch at the alfresco Terrace Grill or fresh fish caught at the Chinese fishing nets rustled up at street shacks.

IMG_9548 Rickshaw Run parking lot_Anurag Mallick

India’s most colourful parking lot
Ganesha’s Goras, Curry on Tukkin’, Bananas in Pyjamas, Good Korma, The Goafather, Krazy Jalfrezi, Here Today Gandhi ‘morrow, Naan Point Five on Rickshaw Scale… the names of the autorickshaws are as colourful as their zany appearance. Kochi is the designated parking lot for the Rickshaw Run, a 3500 km race across the subcontinent organized by The Adventurists. The offbeat tour company describes it as a ‘pan-Indian adventure in a 7 horsepower glorified lawnmower, the least sensible thing to do with two weeks’. Teams of three take part in custom-built autorickshaws with no fixed route, often espousing a social cause. On a handwritten bulletin board, participants record memorable incidents on the road, which makes for an interesting read! There’s a Cochin to Jaisalmer race via Goa in January 2015 and an August run from North East to Cochin.

http://www.theadventurists.com/rickshaw-run

IMG_9450 Graffiti on Burgher Street_Anurag Mallick

Graffiti from Kochi-Muziris Biennale
Kochi is literally an open-air gallery where walls act as canvases and beachside boulders and trees are reclaimed as artworks. Local artists often squat by the roadside, drawing old buildings or picturesque lanes. Most of the graffiti appeared during the inaugural Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art held at Kochi and the historic port of Muziris in December 2012. Over three months nearly 4 lakh visitors saw works by 89 artists from 23 countries at a dozen sites. After a great debut, the second biennale between December 2014-March 2015 saw new artworks and the addition of a new venue – the historic Bastion Bungalow. Drop by at Gallery OED on Bazaar Road, Kashi Art Gallery and David Hall for ongoing art exhibitions.

http://www.kochimuzirisbiennale.org

IMG_9983 Feeding pigeons at Jain Temple_Anurag Mallick

Feeding pigeons at the Jain temple
Every noon, the old Jain temple at Mattancherry witnesses a unique avian ritual. The resident pigeons at Sri Vardhman Sthanak Vasi Jain Sangh circle the spire of the temple thrice before landing in the courtyard to feed. The sky is transformed into a blur of wings as the fearless birds hop right into your palm to peck at grains. Spotting the white pigeon is considered auspicious.

Visiting hours for foreigners is after 11 am.

IMG_9601 Fort Kochi Heritage Walk_Gunnery_Anurag Mallick

Heritage walk around Fort Kochi
If you’ve had your share of overpriced spice boxes in Jew’s Town, the world’s largest varpu (brass vessel) at Crafters antique shop and a peek into Idiom Booksellers, the ‘best little book shop in South India’, take a heritage walk down the streets of Fort Kochi. The Dutch wrested Cochin from the Portuguese in 1663 and the British took over in 1795. The streets bear traces of all these colonial influences. Begin at Vasco Da Gama Square with a narrow promenade running parallel to the Chinese fishing nets. By the beach is a large anchor and steam boilers; relics from the dredging of Vembanad Lake to create the modern port of Kochi in 1936. The artificial island thus created was named Willingdon after the erstwhile governor of Madras, who commissioned the project. Walk past the remains of Fort Immanuel and Gunnery and follow the Dutch Cemetery Road to the oldest European cemetery in India dated 1724. Marvel at the colonial architecture of Poovath Heritage and Thakur House as you walk past Parade Ground to St. Francis Church, Santa Cruz Basilica, VOC Gate from 1740 and the Indo-Portuguese Museum inside the Bishop’s House campus.

IMG_9301 Eighth Bastion Hotel_Anurag Mallick

Stay in historic settings
From St Francis’ home to Vasco da Gama Inn and the House of Yesudas to colonial haunts, Kochi’s hotels are steeped in history. Imagine staying in a bungalow once inhabited by Vasco da Gama and Saint Francis Xavier! Dating back to 1506, Neemrana’s Le Colonial adjacent to St. Francis Church is the oldest hotel in Fort Cochin. Its other property The Tower House, a scallop-walled twin-bungalow on the site of a 17th century lighthouse, is located right opposite the Chinese fishing nets. Amritara’s Poovath Heritage is a renovated Dutch palace next to the Dutch cemetery while Bolgatty Palace is an island resort located within the oldest Dutch palace outside Holland. The Old Harbour Hotel, a colonial home for employees of English tea-broking firms is a 300 year-old building that blends Dutch and Portuguese architecture. Koder House, home of an illustrious Jewish family that migrated from Iraq, served as a haunt for statesmen and dignitaries who came for its Friday Open House parties. Adding colour and character to Cochin are several homestays and boutique hotels – from The Bungalow Heritage Homestay in Vypeen to Walton’s Homestay on Princess Street described as ‘The home by the side of the road’.

http://www.neemranahotels.com

IMG_9569 David Hall_Anurag Mallick

Vibrant cafe scene
Kochi has a buzzing café culture where art, music and eclectic cuisine come together. The iconic Kashi Art Café on Burgher Street is a destination by itself with great décor and atmosphere, besides excellent French pressed coffee, cakes and canvases. Try Teapot on Petercelli Street, catch a gig at Café Papaya’s Under the Tree in Ernakulam or Springr Café & Studio in Mattancherry, with the popular Ramesh ettan chai kada below it. David Hall, built in late 17th century by the Dutch East India Company from recycled material of demolished Portuguese churches, was the residence of Dutch commander Van Rheede who compiled Malabar’s flora in Hortus Malabaricus. Renovated by CGH Earth into a contemporary art gallery for local artists, it also has a laid-back garden café.

Kashi Art Café Ph 0484-2215769 http://www.kashiartgallery.com

IMG_9962 Kayees mutton biryani_Anurag Mallick

Kayees, Mattancherry’s Mutton Biryani
There are biryanis and then there’s Kayees’ mutton biryani. Locals even specify, “The one from Mattancherry, not Ernakulam”! For years, Kayees Rahmathulla Café, a small eatery on New Road has been churning out delicious Malabari cuisine in its wood fired kitchen. Besides biryanis, try chicken curry, mutton roast, fish curry, or mop up the curries and kurmas with an assortment of idiyappam, appam, pathiri, puttu or parotta. Lunch times are quite busy with large take away orders. Be there early as the mutton biryani gets depleted quite rapidly.

Kayees Hotel Ph 0484-2226080, 2221234 Email kayees@sify.com

IMG_9432 Take a ferry_Anurag Mallick

Take the ferry instead of the road
Cut down travel time like the locals by ferry hopping from Fort Kochi to Ernakulam and islands like Vypeen, Bolghatty and Willingdon. The spacious ferries load up bikes, cycles, four-wheelers and throngs of people in an organized manner, before tooting their horn and chugging across the waters. The ferry service is available from 6am to 10pm and the timetable and fares is listed at all jetties. Escape peak hour snarls in a 30-minute hop between the islands!

Main Jetty Ph 0484-2360215

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 28 November 2014 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/10-reasons-why-we-love-kochi