Tag Archives: food

Into the hearth of North Karnataka

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travelled 20,000km across Karnataka on a food research project for a restaurant, sampling and cooking local cuisine with two chefs and a video crew. This story covers their North Karnataka leg to jola (sorghum) country.

Benagi vegetable shop Dharwad DSC03144_Anurag Mallick

Gangamma Kashiappa Benagi, an octogenarian vegetable vendor from Dharwad, had more creases on her face than the currency notes she handled everyday. She sat singing in her kitchen, involuntarily rotating her arm over an imaginary grindstone! We smiled. Embarrassed, she confided it was out of habit.

The tune, typically sung while grinding grain, recalls a rich oral tradition where everyday chores and harvesting were celebrated through song. Over the next few hours, Gangamma shared recipes and secrets she had learned from her mother Lingamma who started the vegetable shop in 1905.

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We were two writers accompanied by two chefs and a video crew driving through Karnataka, cooking and sampling local delicacies as part of a food research project for a restaurant. While we had stuffed our faces all day, Gangamma had vended vegetables, tilled her field, changed two buses to meet us and rustle up a great vegetarian spread. She even slapped out 18-inch jolada (jowar or sorghum) rotis by hand. This was Shravana masa cuisine, she explained, using native vegetables available in the monsoon.

On offer were jowari doddmensinkayi palya (stuffed country capsicum), so pungent, it had to be tempered down with curd, gulagayi yenagai (country cucumber fry), jowari mensinkayi (pan fried country chilli), majjige saaru (buttermilk curry) and karchikai palya (Momordica cymbalaria), a little pod that must be consumed right after harvest, before it bursts open. In the old days, the Benagi ladies gave vegetables to local hotels on credit and settled accounts only after the day’s cooking and feeding was done!

Jowar fields DSC02605_Anurag Mallick

This was North Karnataka, the famous jowar belt where sorghum/millet is used to make unleavened bread or jolada roti, served at Lingayat eateries like Basaveshwara Khanavali in Hubli (now Hubballi). In the 12th century, philosopher saint Basavanna started the Veerashaiva-Lingayat faith, marked by Shiva worship and vegetarianism. In Dharwad, every morning Hotel Nataraj displays the saint’s vachanas (sayings) on a board outside.

Lunchtime business is brisk at Basappa Khanavali, a legendary Lingayat eatery started by Basappa Malgond in 1930 with set meals of jolada roti with yenne badnekayi (brinjal curry), hesarukaal palya (green gram curry) and jhunka, steamed gram flour cubes dusted with sesame and coriander leaves. The region is known for its pudis (powders) that supplement the diet as sources of protein – agasi (flax seed), yellu (sesame), shenga (groundnut), puttani (chana dal) and gural or ucchelu (Niger seed), commonly sprinkled on salads and curries or stuffed into brinjal or okra.

Tingal avrekayi palya DSC03376_Anurag Mallick

In the Amingad home, we discovered unusual delicacies like tingal avrekayi palya, a local bean available only for a ‘month’ (tingal in Kannada). Soute Bija Huggi or broken wheat kheer resembles tiny soute bija (cucumber seeds) and features in all Lingayat marriages and functions. The process of rolling out the little pellets of broken wheat dough was tedious. Ashok, who runs Amingad Cool Drink with his father, joked, “In North Karnataka, we also have traditional momos and pasta!”

The ladies rolled out kuchida kadabu (wheat dumpling), kudisida kadabu (stuffed dumpling) and uggi chapattis, steamed on green cornhusk and served with spicy kempu (red) chili chutney and ghee! Little dough beads were pressed on a comb for stripes and shaped into miniature shells or ‘shankha’. “Bro, it’s like Orecchiette” (ear-shaped pasta), exclaimed Chef Manjit. Epiphanies lurked around every corner.

Soute beeja huggi_North karnataka pasta DSC03411_Anurag Mallick

At L.E.A. (Lingayat Educational Association) Canteen, we tried thuppa avalakki (beaten rice with ghee) and their signature Masala Toast with chatnipudi, benne (white butter) and sauce. Slathered together, it was as good as a desi peanut butter sandwich! ‘Hotte’ (Pot-bellied) Nanjappa was literally a heavyweight in the local food scene.

This sweet stall owner with a heart of gold distributed free treats to children and the poor, before selling mandakki (puffed rice) and sweets to customers. Meghdarshini offered an outsized poori, unlimited sabzi and chutney for those with smaller pockets! Philanthropy ran deep in culture-rich Dharwad.

Hotte (Pot-bellied) Nanjappa Hotel Dharwad IMG_2258_Anurag Mallick

The Dharwad peda story began 175 years ago, when Ram Ratan Singh Thakur migrated from Unnao due to the plague and started making pedas for a living. His grandson Babu Singh Thakur popularized it and people formed such long queues at the shop that the area was named ‘Line’ Bazaar.

In 1933, a penniless Avadh Bihari Mishra settled in Line Bazaar and got into the same business. Today, Mishra peda, with its industrial production and multiple outlets across cities, has made Dharwad peda a household name!

Mishra peda factory DSC02890_Anurag Mallick

Dharwad’s twin-town Hubli is dotted with Lingayat khanavalis like Basaveshwara and Savaji eateries like Nakoda and Devika standing cheek-by-jowl with brass bands and ammunition shops. Durgada Bail, the city’s legendary Khau Galli (Eat Street) fires up the evening with snack stalls serving masala dosa and ‘tomato’ omelette!

But it’s not all vegetarian up north. The bold flavour of Sauji or Savaji cuisine is like a beacon for lovers of meat and spice. Savajis or SSKs are Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriyas who claim descent from the mythic thousand-armed warrior Kartiveerya Arjun. They migrated to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra’s borders from Central India.

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As kshatriyas, meat, blood and chili dominate their cuisine. During Dussehra, they offer edimi (wheat-gram flour dumplings), arithi (wheat flour diyas) and lalpani (liquor) to Goddess Bhavani. We cooked classics like keema ball and khara boti at Hotel Milan Savaji with the Kabadis and traditional delicacies with Vidya and Vishwanath Kathare – rakti (blood curry), tale mamsa (brain curry) and karadu (spicy) mutton. If Savaji cuisine uses blood, its spiciness extracts an equal measure of sweat and tears!

Northwest Karnataka shares a border with Maharashtra and the Maratha love for spice is evident in Belgaum (or Belagavi). Be it rassa (fiery curries) or sukka (spicy dry fry), red chili is essential! Manjula’s chicken sukka and mutton rassa at Pai Resorts left us teary-eyed in more ways than one. An erstwhile British cantonment, Belgaum is famous for its kunda, a milk and khova sweet, best at Camp Purohit. Anyone naïve enough to advertise his travel plans to these parts is saddled with requests for boxes of sweets!

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5840_Anurag Mallick

Overshadowed by Belgaum kunda, is the city’s other sweet, mande or mandige. A crepe with a thin filling of sugar, ghee and khova, it is whirled like a roomali, baked on an upturned tava and folded like a rectangular dosa. At Krishnamurthi Saralaya’s Mandige on Konwal Gali, Vijaykumar shared a fascinating legend.

A devout Brahmin was in deep penance when the Lord appeared before him. Since he had nothing to offer, he rolled some dough, sugar and ghee and baked it on his bent back with the heat of his tapas (penance). Thus the mandaka or mandige was born! A must in Brahmin weddings, it’s often displayed unfolded in large baskets. Many a marriage has been called off because no mandige was served!

Amingad kardantu DSC03102_Anurag Mallick

North Karnataka loves its sweets as much as spice. Kardant was invented in Amingad, though popularized in Gokak. 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, creating the karadi-antu (fried gum).

Like a nutty granola gym snack, it became extremely popular among those frequenting garadimanes (wrestling akhadas). Gulbarga is famous for its paan mithai and malpuri, created by Khasim Ali but immortalized by Mamu Jaan, while Ballari is known for its ‘Cycle’ khova sold on bicycles!

Ballari Cycle khova IMG_3339_Anurag Mallick

From sheep farms in Haveri, Karnataka’s ‘Chili town’ Byadgi to the erstwhile Muslim principality of Savanur known for Shivalal’s legendary ‘khara’ (mixture) since 1931, we went into virtually unchartered terrain on our food trail. Just past Almatty Dam, Korti-Kolhaar on the Hubli-Bijapur (Vijayapura) highway attracts travelers with fresh fish from the Krishna river. The matka curd, served with puttani-avalakki (beaten rice) for Rs.25, lasts for days without souring.

Menthya (fenugreek) is another staple and sprigs of the smaller-leaved country variety are served at every meal, made into a pachadi (salad) or steamed into kadabu (dumpling). With our Bijapur ‘oota’ (meal), we got crunchy country cucumbers as well. Here, people love their jolada rotis kadak (crisp) and their mensinkayi bajjis fiery. “But why such spicy food in a hot climate?” we cried. Thippanna looked at us incredulously. “It’s a hot arid region; people eat spicier food so it makes them sweat and keeps the body cool.” Baffling, yet believable!

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At Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi), the Maratha-run Chaddi Hotel got its name from the owner who wore shorts. Gajanan of Chetak Sauji Hotel recounted how on a busy night, he ran out of food and had to cook a fresh batch in a pressure cooker, which patrons tagged ‘seeti rice’ after the whistle! The small-grained rice goes perfectly with kavala (tender) mutton, mutton keema balls and anda curry.

The Hyderabad-Karnataka region, bordering Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, has culinary influences like gongura (Sorrel leaves), made into chutney or cooked with lentils or mutton. Hyderabadi dishes like biryani, dalcha (meat with lentils) and bread ka meetha are popular in these parts, explained Lalitha Jawali.

Gurudwara Nanak Jhira Bidar langar kitchen IMG_5048_Anurag Mallick

In 1512, Guru Nanak came to the Deccan during his second udasi (spiritual journey). When people lamented about the brackish water in Bidar, he tapped a stone with his foot to create a fresh water spring (jhira) that flows to this day. The langar (free kitchen) at Gurudwara Nanak Jhira feeds thousands of visitors daily while Rohit Restaurant nearby serves excellent Punjabi food.

We stopped for Iduga cuisine at Dandina Hirehalu, the historic camping ground for soldiers marching from Bellary Fort to Chitradurga Fort. The Idugas migrated from Andhra to Karnataka centuries ago and are known for meaty cuisine and fondness for chilli. At HRG Farmhouse, Mahadevi explained, “Mutton kebab is best marinated with papaya flowers. Every part of the goat is utilized – trotters for kaal (leg) soup, blood added to boti (intestines) becomes nalla vanta and spleen and liver mixed with hand-pounded chilli makes batti chutney.” The round appetizers tasted like paté!

Batti Chutney IMG_3039_Anurag Mallick

Beyond Hamp’s Hebrew signboards advertising shakshuka, babaganoush and Israeli fare, there’s local food aplenty. At Uramma Heritage Home in Anegundi, we cooked with Sharda and Hemlatha of Bhuvneshwari self-help group, who specialize in traditional cuisine.

They whipped up unusual bhendekayi (okra) chutney, alasande gugri palya of cowpeas or lobia, country brinjals roasted on open fire and mashed into badnekayi chutney and hesaru bele (green gram) payasa (kheer) and kosambri (salad).

Holige making with Bhuvneshwari Self-help group Anegundi IMG_3695_Anurag Mallick

Davangere is synonymous with the benne dosa, made with generous dollops of white butter and served with alu palya (potato mash) and coconut chutney, best savoured hot at Kottureshwara Benne Dosa Hotel. Professor Ganesh took us on a street food tour with a cooking session at Vinutha Ravi’s home.

Davangere has hundreds of bhattis (mills) that produce mandakki (puffed rice), served with mensinkayi bajji (chilli fritters) at street stalls. At TS Manjunath Swamy Masala Mandakki Angadi, puffed rice was furiously stirred into masala, khara or nargis mandakki. An entire street was dedicated to shavige (vermicelli), dried like screens of silken yarn on terraces. The tantalizing aroma of oggarne (seasoning) hung in the air as someone busily tapped a ladle against a vessel.

Shavige Davangere IMG_2274_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Getting there
There’s a daily flight from Bangalore to Hubli, from where Belgaum is 101km, Davangere 151km, Hampi 164km, Ballari 214km and Bijapur 193km. From Bijapur, Gulbarga is 151km and Bidar 112km further northeast.

Where to Stay
Places like Davangere, Bijapur, Gulbarga and Bidar have regular city hotels. At Bellary, try Hotel Royal Fort, Pai Resorts opposite Killa Lake in Belgaum, Uramma Heritage Home at Anegundi and Orange County’s Evolve Back at Kamalapura near Hampi.

Where to Eat

DAVANGERE

Sri Guru Kottureshwara Benne Dosa Hotel
Medical College Road, Kuvempu Nagar
Ph 9449135100

TS Manjunath Swamy Masala Mandakki Angadi
Lawyer Road, Jaydev Circle
Ph 9902200924

Hamsini Hotel
Shamanur Road
Ph 9886792331

HUBLI/HUBBALLI

Basaveshwar Khanavali
Opp Old Bus Stand, Kamaripeth
Ph 0836-2357745

Basappa Khanavali Dharwad-local favourite DSC02879_Anurag Mallick

DHARWAD

Basappa Khanavali
Opp Civil Court, PB Road
Ph 9902729973

Hotel Milan Savaji
Jubilee Circle, PB Road
Ph 0836-2435450, 9341998875

Kathare’s Savaji Hotel
Line Bazaar, Opp Sangam Theatre
Ph 0836-2441956, 2435450

Hotel Nataraj
Sangam Circle
Ph 0836-2442855, 9964607800

L.E.A. Canteen
Belgaum Road
Ph 9448147157

Megh Darshini Restaurant
Subhash Road
Ph 0836-2435147

Amingad Cold Drink House
Subhash Road
Ph 0836-2442437, 9740013177

Babusingh’s Thakur Pedha
Near Sri Ram Temple, Line Bazaar
www.thakurpedha.com

Mishra Peda
Court Circle, SH-1
Ph 0836-2213217
www.mishrapedha.com

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5845_Anurag Mallick

BELGAUM/BELAGAVI

Krishnamurti Saralaya’s Mandige
Konwal Gali

Camp Purohit
Opp Shringar Cinema, High Street, Camp
Ph 0831-2422715

Hotel Niyaaz
PB Road, Opp Market Police Station
Ph 0831-2400133

AMINGAD

Vijaya Kardant
SH-20, Raichur Highway
Ph 8123115005

HAMPI

Uramma Heritage Homes
Anegundi
Ph 9448284658
www.urammaheritagehomes.com

Hampi fields IMG_4032_Anurag Mallick

BIJAPUR/VIJAYAPURA

Shri Sai Prasad Khanawali
Sainik School Road, Opp KSRTC Workshop
Ph 9902153239

GULBARGA/KALABURAGI

Hotel Chetak
Humnabad Base
Ph 9901003399

Mamu Jaan ki Malpuri
Chappal Bazaar

BIDAR

Rohit Restaurant
Inside Kamaan, Guru Nanak Colony
Ph 9241374425

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

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L’chaim: Cheers to Israeli cuisine

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Over varieties of local bread and the ubiquitous hummus, ANURAG MALLICK finds the pulse of the Israeli platter

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As I raised my Taybeh Golden – ‘Taybeh’ is Arabic for delicious – the steward pointed out that it’s not technically Israeli craft beer but one made in Palestine. “L’chaim,” he said with a smile (pronounced ‘la haim’, Hebrew for ‘cheers/to life’). The political undertone was ironical. I was drinking a Palestinian interpretation of a German style lager in Jerusalem, a city that has jostled over shared legacies for over two millennia. Israel’s unique geographic location at the crossroads of culture as it straddles Africa, Asia and Europe has a lot to do with its hybrid cuisine.

Celebrity chef Moshe Darran was giving us an intimate experience of what he described as ‘Biblical Israeli cuisine’ at his award-winning restaurant The Eucalyptus. He clutched a bunch of assorted herbs reverentially and brought it to his nose to take a deep whiff. He was an Iraqi Jew who grew and harvested his own herbs and the dishes mirrored his rich cultural legacy. The Soup Trio (Jerusalem artichoke, red lentil, Iraqi tomato) was followed by fire-roasted eggplant with tahini (roasted sesame dip) and aged pomegranate syrup, then roasted cauliflower with tahini and lemon-tomato cream. Quick to follow was macaroon filled with chicken liver paté, red wine and wild berry sauce besides figs stuffed with chicken served with sweet and sour tamarind sauce.

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Chef Moshe challenged us to tell him the origin of the word ‘tamarind’. I cleared my throat and began, “When the humble imli was exported from India, it was usually deseeded and pressed into blocks for ease of transport. When it landed on Arabian shores, it looked just like dates. Local traders called it ‘dates from India’ or Tamr-i-Hind, hence the name.” Moshe’s jaw dropped and he stared incredulously as if I had snatched his punch line. Impressed, he asked me to grab an apron and share the spotlight to help him lay out his pièce de résistance.

In the middle of the restaurant a large platter covered by an overturned vessel lay in waiting to be uncovered like a hidden treasure. It contained maklubah, a slow-cooked dish like biryani made of chicken, rice, vegetables, saffron, almond yoghurt and tomato relish. “Wave your hand seven times over it, hold the vessel from the edges and lift it”. I willingly played the apprentice to Chef Moshe’s conjuror and to slow claps of the diners the dish was presented with great flourish.

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“The best part is the crunchy layer of rice that gets stuck at the base,” he confided! “Mothers would secretly give the ‘scratching’ to their favourite son. Iraqi Jews even have a special name for it ‘Hkaka.’ And so do other cultures! The Spanish call it socarrat, Colombians La pega (literally ‘glue’), Puerto Ricans pegao, Filipinos tutong, Koreans nurungji, Chinese guoba, Senegalese xoon and Dominicans con con. Is there a name for it in India?” Not wanting India to lag behind in the unofficial global competition for burnt rice, I dug deep into my culinary knowhow and replied, “Umm, in Kashmiri it’s ‘fuhur’.

Moist-eyed, the chef clasped my hand after he jotted it down, and introduced more local specialties like Ingeria – a beef and eggplant stew in sweet & sour tamarind sauce from his mother’s kitchen, Kube-niya – Syrian style beef tartar with mint, red onion, lemon zest and kube wrapping and Jerusalem Siniya – minced lamb and beef, slow roasted garden vegetables, tahini and pita bread to mop up all the goodness!

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In a region where Jesus had performed miracles with bread, the humble bread had been elevated to divinity by its people. Jerusalem’s streets heave with a wide assortment of baked goodies – challah (braided bread used at Shabath), Jerusalem bagels or Ka’ek Al-Quds (ring-shaped sesame bread) and pita bread topped with zaatar – an oregano-like spice of dried hyssop with thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt.

We stopped at Ikermawi near Damascus Gate, the purveyor of great hummus since 1952 and grabbed assorted falafels with onion, herbs and cheese. Walking through the Arab quarter, we got a sugar rush at Ja’far Sweets with their excellent baklava, knafeh (Arab sweet pastry of noodles and goat cheese), mutabak (folded pastry) and borma (pistachio-filled sweet). Spice stalls sold Bedouin tea, dried rose, apple cider and masalas for shakshuka, zataar, kebab, pesto, fish, meat, chicken and falafel.

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There was a feeling of déjà vu – the labneh, tahini and hummus were reminiscent of Oman, the shawarma, ubiquitous across India was typically Middle East, nougat was Turkish and baklava Greek. But it was heartening to learn that beyond the shared Mediterranean legacy of hummus and falafel, there was a thing called Israeli cuisine!

Whether it was the beachside Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv, the cliff-top Dan Panorama Hotel in Haifa, a city hotel like Prima Royale in Jerusalem or lakeside at Rimonim Hotel in Tiberias, the buffet spreads were extensive – various breads, sour creams, cheese, olives, a colourful assortment of vegetables, some pickled like fish.

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Much of the local cuisine is a sum total of Jewish migrations from various parts of the world – be it Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe or Sephardic Jews from the Mediterranean or Iberian Peninsula – Spain, Portugal, Middle East.

Shakshuka, literally ‘mixture’, the quintessential Israeli staple of eggs poached in a red spicy onion-tomato sauce is of African origin and was introduced by Libyan and Tunisian Jews when they migrated to Israel in the 1950s. Zahara, fried cauliflower with tahini, curry and tomato salsa, is believed to be of Syrian parentage.

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Another classic Levantine or East Mediterranean dish is kibbeh or kubbeh, literally ‘ball’, a deep-fried shell of bulgur (cracked wheat) filled with minced onions and ground lean beef, lamb or goat meat spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and Middle Eastern spices. It is the national dish of several countries in the Middle East and the Syrian city of Aleppo is famous for over 17 varieties.

One variant, the oblong Kibbeh Raas or Nablusi kubbeh from the Palestinian city of Nablus, is shaped like a miniature rugby ball. British soldiers stationed in the Middle East during the Second World War nicknamed them ‘Syrian torpedoes!’

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In Migdal, the Biblical town of Mary Magdalene, Magdalena Restaurant is hailed as the best Arab restaurant in Israel for good reason. The kubbeh here was a veg variant stuffed with chickpeas, onions and garlic, served with black lentil salad, drizzled black tahini sauce and homemade pickles.

The house bread with dips was divine, as was the Shishbrak, dumplings stuffed with lamb and pine nuts, cooked in goat yoghurt, besides desserts like Halawet Elgeben, semolina dough filled with sweet Arabic cheese and Nuts Kadaif in cream and Amarone cherries. The highlight was frikeh – a crunchy salad of fire-roasted tender green wheat.

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Enough hummus has been spilt in the raging debate about its Arabic origins and its Jewish love and appropriation. But nowhere is Jewish-Arab coexistence more apparent than Haifa where Douzan restaurant is a living example of the secular ‘Haifa atmosphere.’ Located in a renovated old bungalow in German Colony, an avenue of bars and restaurants, its friendly open-air vibe is infectious. Owner Fadi grabbed a chair as he explained, “The art of fine-tuning the stringed instrument oud is called douzan; this is where people are fine-tuned so that they remain in harmony.”

Douzan’s furniture has been sourced from Lebanon, Syria, Germany and Italy. Every item is special and unique. Food too is a hybrid of Palestinian, Arab and Lebanese dishes with a bit of French and Italian. We had great tabouleh (parsley salad with bulgur, tomatoes and cucumber), fattoush (fresh garden salad with sumac, toasted bread and goat cheese) and malabi (milk pudding).

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Man has always wandered far for food and water. And the quest for good hummus is no different. We chased the ‘hummus trail’ from Café Ziad in Jerusalem with its no-frills version to Osul (literally ‘Genuine’) at Yesud HaMa’ala, where owner Shahar served it with a mind-boggling array of side dishes and pickled vegetables.

At Abu Hassan in Jaffa, it came in a variation called Msabaha – mushy chickpeas with hummus and tahini, garnished with paprika, fresh parsley and chopped onion. In some places it came with ful (fava beans), at others alongside baba ghanoush – a Levantine dish of cooked eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil and seasonings.

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Humus Magen David, an old synagogue with painted glass interiors, lies half-hidden in the crammed bylanes of Shuk HaCarmel – Tel Aviv’s only Arabian style market. Jews, Arabs, tourists, all queue up to devour the creamy hummus on seats that once chaired congregation members.

Bar Ochel has local street food, starters and chimichurri (sauce) serving shakshuka, salads and ‘the best beef kebabs in Tel Aviv.’ Rani of Beer Bazaar is quite a character and gives a lowdown on the Israeli craft beer scene. The Carmel market offers a great food tour, giving a ‘bite card’ with coupons and a map.

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Puaa in Jaffa has furniture sourced from the Jaffa Flea Market and every item at the restaurant is for sale. It dishes out traditional but stylishly plated fare like mansaf – ground beef with rice served with yoghurt and majadra – white and wild rice, green and orange lentils and vegetables, topped with yoghurt. The grilled eggplant with crème fresh, red tahini, goat labneh and fried cauliflower is to die for, as is the kadaif – mascarpone, cream and raspberries.

At the legendary Jaffa sweet shop Abouelafia, people queue up for bourekas (stuffed pastries), which they dish out proudly sporting ‘Abouelafia’s Co-existence Association’ t-shirts ‘Jews & Arabs refuse to be Enemies’. Definitely not over a plate of hummus…

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Israel’s national carrier El-Al flies direct from Mumbai to Tel Aviv thrice a week and takes less than 8 hrs. A new connection from Delhi is in the pipeline. Turkish Airlines has daily flights to Tel Aviv via Istanbul – a journey of 11 hr 45 min while Ethiopian Air flies via Addis Ababa (12 hrs). Haifa is just over 90km north of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem 72 km.

Where to Stay

Carlton Hotel, Tel Aviv
Ph +972 3 5201818
www.carlton.co.il

Dan Panorama Hotel, Haifa
Ph +972 4 8352222
www.danhotels.com

Prima-Royale Hotel, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 5607111
http://prima-royale-jerusalem.hotel-rn.com

Rimonim Galei Kinneret Hotel, Tiberias
Ph +972 4 6728555
www.rimonimhotels.com

The Scots Hotel, Tiberias
Ph +972 4 6710710
www.scotshotels.co.il

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Where to Eat

The Eucalyptus Restaurant
14 Khativat Yerushalayim, Jerusalem
Ph +972 2 6244331
www.the-eucalyptus.com

Magdalena Restaurant
90, Magala Centre, Migdal Junction
Ph +972 4 6730064
www.magdalena.co.il

Puaa Restaurant
Rabbi Yohanan St 8, Tel Aviv-Yafo
Ph +972 3 6823821

Douzan Restaurant
Sderot Ben Gurion 35, Haifa
Ph +972 539443301

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Cafeteria Ziad
65 Aqabet Al-Khanqa, Jerusalem
Ph +972 6283640

Abu Hasan/Ali Karavan
1 Ha’Dolfin Street, Jaffa
Ph +972 36820387

Osul Restaurant, Yesud HaMa’ala
Ph +972 525588881

Adir Winery & Dairy, Kerem Bin Zimra
Ph +972 4 6991039
www.adir-visit.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 24 September 2017 in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald. 

 

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The Ibnii Coorg: Do the Dew

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When it comes to Coorg, most people have ‘Been there, done that.’ ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go offtrack and discover a delicious secret amid the lush green hills

The Ibnii Coorg-Kaadu

For a region often described by locals as ‘60X40’ (measuring 60 miles by 40 miles), understandably there are few secrets in Kodagu (Coorg). Yet, tucked around a bend just off the Sunticoppa-Madikeri Road, the gates of The Ibnii Coorg open into a hidden world of its own. For a project that was ten years in the making and formally opened this February, the eco resort was truly a well kept secret. Literally ‘Dew’, The Ibnii comes as a breath of fresh air in Coorg’s hospitality scene.

A tree-lined cobbled driveway ends at The Kaadu, a scenic viewpoint overlooking the valley that cradles the resort. Welcomed by lovely hostesses draped in local Coorg style saris, we are ushered down a small wooden bridge to a lookout. The check-in is paperless and we savour the view over some bellath (jaggery) coffee, traditionally served to guests in Coorg in the old days. In the distance, the four-tiered Cascade swimming pool breaks the expanse of dense green in a striking splash of turquoise blue.

The Ibnii Coorg-Kaadu reception viewing deck

We linger over another cuppa and only the promise of greater comfort makes us move! A golf cart transports us to our spacious, private pool villa. Each of the 22 Pool Villas, called Kopi Luwak after the Indonesian civet cat coffee, comes with an indoor Jacuzzi and an outdoor pool. Ten Balinese Wooden Cottages on stilts, named Arnetta, overlook a lake – they are open only to couples. Kids are not allowed here due to safety reasons, but safety be damned, kids could surely be made in here…

In a fragile region globally recognized as an ecological hotspot, everything about the resort is eco sensitive. The architecture and landscape was designed without damaging local flora – all the villas and structures are built around existing vegetation and no trees were cut except dead and decaying ones. Three lakes were created on the 120-acre property for rainwater harvesting.

The Ibnii Coorg-Rainwater harvesting lake

Other green practices include a stringent ‘No plastic’ policy, vermi-composting and waste recycling and fresh bottled water. The resort prides itself in having no room service or phone network (though wi-fi is available), encouraging guests to explore the outdoors with true-to-nature holidays that promise fresh air, fresh living and fresh food.

We get a first hand experience on our ‘Bean to Cup’ coffee tour on the process of making coffee and grading of beans. The venue is Kaldi Kaapee, a tranquil lakeside coffee house named after the Ethiopian shepherd who discovered the rejuvenative properties of coffee after he found his goats prance about after feeding on some wild berries. On display are assorted coffee grinding machines, filters and presses as well as single origin coffee from an all-woman village co-operative in Chikmagalur. Yep, it’s called Halli Berri!

The Ibnii Coorg-Kaldi Kaapee coffee shop

The Boulangerie, tucked behind the coffee counter reveals a hi-tech interactive kitchen where baking classes are conducted for kids and adults. Our impromptu session sharpened our blunt baking skills and soon we are sipping cappuccinos outside, nibbling on warm oven fresh crispy puffs we had kneaded and rolled only minutes earlier! The boulangerie also serves delicious biscuits, cookies and cakes.

Walking to the Greenhouse, an in-house garden where fresh veggies and herbs are grown, we learn that the Ibnii kitchen only uses fresh hand-pounded masalas. Packaged products are discouraged and the stress is on food without preservatives. We are pleasantly informed that the resort also makes its own bread, butter, jams, pickles, ketchup, chicken sausage, baked beans, pastas and cakes… and fresh orange juice using Australian oranges.

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Taking cues from local Kodava culture are the resort’s themed dining spaces with a traditional touch. Set in a single complex called Pattola Palame (‘collection of silk strands’ and also the title of a cultural tome on Coorg) are Ballele (veg restaurant with meals served on ‘banana leaf’), Masikande (literally ‘charcoal’, a covered outdoor barbecue & grill), The Fig (multi-cuisine restaurant serving Kodava, South Indian & Continental fare) and Bendhoota (a banquet hall named after ‘traditional post-wedding family feast’).

The next morning, following the medley of bird calls, we set off on a Nature Walk & Birdwatching tour with our able guide who helps us spot 45 species of birds besides sharing fascinating stories on flora like Gloriosa superba, locally called tok-poo meaning ‘gun-flower’ and tracking the hoof prints of wild deer that had wandered into the property at night. Our trail ends with duck feeding, though the round of fishing at the pond (as per catch and release) is thwarted by rain.

The Ibnii Coorg-Manja Spa

The evening uncoils itself with a relaxing spa session at Manja Spa named after the ‘turmeric’ herb, used in the Ayurvedic and Western spa treatments. The treatments are designed using locally sourced ingredients (including a Coffee scrub) while the techniques adopt Balinese, Swedish and traditional Ayurvedic styles.

With a lakeside Yoga pavilion on the anvil, The Ibnii takes its eco luxe tag seriously. No wonder it has already won accolades – the best eco luxury resort in the country and the first resort in India to acquire IGBC’s (Indian Green Building Council) Green Homes Platinum Award 2017.

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FACT FILE

Getting There
The Ibnii Coorg is at Ibnivalvadi village, 4.5 km short of Madikeri town and around 250 km from Bengaluru. Take State Highway 17 (Bengaluru-Mysuru highway) and turn off before Srirangapatna onto State Highway 88 towards Madikeri.

What to See/Do
Besides local birdwatching trails, responsible fishing and a bean to cup coffee tour, the Tibetan monasteries at Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar, the Elephant training camp at Dubare and sights like Raja’s Seat, Mercara Fort, Gaddige and Abbi Falls in Madikeri are close at hand.

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The Ibnii Coorg
123, Ibnivalvadi village, Boikeri, Madikeri
Ph +91 88849 90000 Email reservations@ibnii.com www.ibnii.com
Tariff Rs.35,000, meals included

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

10 Cool Things about Singapore

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ANURAG MALLICK uncovers the Big 10 as he indulges in the best that Singapore has to offer with this cool guide to the island nation

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For a country that measures just 50 km by 27 km, Singapore sure packs in a lot. There are enough attractions, entertainment, streets and museums on the island nation to merit a visit again and again. Here’s what makes Singapore so amazing…

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Cool Quarters: Little India to China Town
When Stamford Raffles developed Singapore, he earmarked ethnic quarters for various communities. Chinatown, lined with shophouses selling Chinese medicine and barbecued pork, has shrines like Thian Hock Keng and Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic temple besides quirky bits of history. Sago Lane was once called ‘Street of the Dead’ as old people moved into ‘death houses’ to save on expensive funeral costs. Kampong Glam, the old Arab/Muslim quarter dominated by the Sultan Mosque, has cloth merchants on Arab Street and shisha bars, Middle Eastern restaurants and boutiques on Haji Lane. In Little India, originally a European haunt, streets are named after eminent British personalities – Hastings, Clive, Campbell, Dalhousie. Europeans lived here in the 1840s, mainly for the racecourse, but moved towards Orchard and Dempsey. Little India’s location by the Rochor River with its grassy banks made it ideal for grazing cattle and vendors often brought their buffalos to shophouses to sell fresh milk. Hence, Buffalo Road! The India Heritage Centre retells history through interactive exhibits and Augmented Reality.

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Littering in the Long Bar
In a country that’s a stickler for cleanliness, there’s indeed a place you can litter – a National Monument at that! Inside Singapore’s iconic Raffles hotel, each table at the Long Bar comes with a complimentary bag of peanuts and it’s an old tradition to toss the shells on the ground. Five large sacks are used every day! Another tradition is to try the Singapore Sling where it was invented. Opened in 1887, the hotel was a haunt for writers, adventurers, tycoons and movie stars. Since it wasn’t fashionable for women to drink in public, the wily bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created a ladies’ cocktail disguised as fruit juice! In 1915, he concocted clear gin, brandy, Cointreau, Dom Benedictine, pineapple and lime juices and Grenadine syrup into the pink-hued Singapore Sling. While you spend more than peanuts for the original Sling ($36), the peanuts are free! www.raffles.com/singapore/

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3D selfie with masterpieces at the National Gallery
As if admiring masterpieces was not enough, Singapore’s National Gallery transforms two-dimensional art into interactive selfie stations. Visitors click themselves against giant 3D reproductions like Cheong Soo Pieng’s ‘Drying Salted Fish’, which features on the back of Singapore’s $50 note! Engaging hour-long guided tours by volunteers deconstruct works of local artists. Each tour has 20 slots on a first-come-first-served basis. The Building Highlights Tour (11am daily, 3pm weekends) explores the two national monuments the gallery is housed in – City Hall, where Lord Mountbatten accepted the Japanese surrender in 1945 and Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew took oath and, the Supreme Court, with holding cells for undertrials and a domed Rotunda. Don’t miss the Foundation Stone with a Time Capsule of old newspapers and coins buried underneath to be retrieved in 3000 AD! www.nationalgallery.sg

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Restaurants in renovated spaces
As an island nation where space is limited, repurposing the defunct comes naturally to Singaporeans. Yesterday’s churches, plantations, barracks and underground shelters are hip hangouts of today. Lau Pa Sat, a Victorian era wet market was transformed into an open-air food court. Dempsey Hill, a British cantonment, is now a posh entertainment quarter with top restaurants like PS Café, ChoPSuey and The White Rabbit, actually a converted church. On Victoria Road, a Catholic convent is now a complex of bars and cafes. Built in 1841, the Church of Infant Jesus was renovated into CHIJMES, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the church bells. Ann Siang Hill was earlier a spice plantation of nutmeg and mace; today all the spice comes from conversations of rooftop bars. Besides Lolla and Oxwell & Co, hop into the uber cool subterranean haunt Operation Dagger, named after a Singapore Police drive to crack down on Chinatown’s notorious underground societies. The bar’s nameless entrance sports a secret scrawl like a gang sign. A collection of bulbs dominates the bar, lined with unbranded bottles mimicking an apothecary. Their cocktails – The Egg, Hot & Cold and Penicillin – are equally edgy.

Street art & graffiti
Street art in Singapore first became prominent at the old Arab quarter of Kampong Glam in the hipster Haji Lane, Victoria Street and Aliwal Street. At the Art Precinct of Bugis-Bras Basah, a low wall next to Peranakan Museum on Armenian Street is emblazoned with art commissioned by the National Heritage Board in celebration of their 20th anniversary. Nearby, an independent arts enclave The Substation has funky graffiti all over. Bras Basah Complex features ‘Rainbows’, part of a larger street art initiative by the Australian Commission of Singapore. ‘50 Bridges’ celebrated Singapore’s 50th year of independence with 50 pieces of street art across the island. Wherever you go – sidewalks, walls or pedestrian pathways at Clarke Quay – there’s art everywhere.

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Mind-boggling cuisine
From hawker centers, Michelin-starred restaurants to street food joints that made celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay eat humble crow, Singapore has ‘em all. Winning the cook-offs catapulted small eateries like 328 Katong Laksa and Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice into overnight sensations. In Singapore, the popularity of a restaurant is judged by the length of the queues. Topping the list are Jumbo’s award-winning Singapore chili crab, Song Fa’s bak kut teh (pork rib soup), Din Tai Fung’s steamed pork dumplings, Tanglin Crispy Curry Puffs and Ya Kun’s Kaya toast – crispy toast with a generous wad of butter and kaya (coconut jam). Kim Hock Guan, the city’s oldest bak kua shop established in 1905, serves the best barbecued pork slices. Try degustation menus at top restaurants like Pollen at The Flower Dome or pair signature desserts with sake at Janice Wong’s 2am dessert bar in Orchard.

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Experience ‘satisfaction’ in ‘Sentosa’
It’s hard to imagine that Singapore’s popular island resort was once a pirate hideout, a war outpost and a backwater of death and disease. After a complete overhaul and a public contest in 1972 by Singapore Tourist Board the island was renamed Sentosa, Malay for ‘happiness, satisfaction’, from Sanskrit santosha. You need a week to do justice to its attractions; thankfully the trams are free. Pose with the tallest Merlion statue and take in magnificent views from the revolving 131m high Tiger Sky Tower, the tallest free-standing observation tower in Asia. Stay at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa at the western end overlooking Siloso Beach and get free tickets to a guided walk at Fort Siloso. At Resorts World Sentosa, an integrated resort with a casino, explore marine life at S.E.A. Aquarium and cut the queue at Universal Studios with a VIP Tour to experience dizzying Transformer 4 and Battlestar Galactica rides. For real adventure, try Skyline Luge, MegaZip, i-Fly or walk on a suspension bridge to the ‘Southernmost point of continental Asia’. http://staging.sentosa.com.sg/en/

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Garden within a city or City within a Garden?
As per the Green City Index, Singapore is the greenest city in Asia and it’s easy to see why. From tree-lined avenues to orchids and heliconias at the Botanic Gardens to vertical gardens at hotels like Park Royal and Oasia Downtown, it’s tough to discern whether it is a garden within a city or a city within a garden. At Gardens by the Bay, the dramatic SuperTree Grove channels rainwater harvesting to sustain thousands of plant species growing up the metal cladding of eighteen giant trees. Singapore has 300km of Park Connector tracks that meander around ponds and gardens. There’s even a Civic District Tree Trail that explains prominent trees around key monuments!

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Explore Changi, the world’s favourite airport
Amazing gardens, slides, restaurants, shopping, artworks and as a bonus you can even take flights from here; Changi is more than an airport, it’s a destination! Many things make it the world’s most loved airport. The world’s tallest slide in an airport, Cactus Garden in T1, Orchid Garden in T2 and Sunflower Garden, Butterfly Garden and Enchanted Garden in T3. Uniformed volunteers rove the arrival areas as Changi Service Ambassadors to help passengers. Massage chairs are free, not coin-operated. For long layovers of over 6 hours, there’s a free city tour. And if transiting on the national carrier Singapore Airlines, you get free Changi dollars to spend ($40/ticket)! Snooze in dedicated Sleep Zones and discover why Changi is repeatedly voted as ‘the best airport to sleep in’. And if you forget to catch your flight, Crowne Plaza Changi was voted the World’s Best Airport Hotel in 2016! https://in.changiairport.com

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Night Life
Singapore’s nightlife is legendary. From the pulsating vibe of live music and animated chatter from bars and restaurants at Clarke Quay to throbbing clubs like Zouk, Singapore is a different animal at night. As the sun sets, tables and chairs crowd the sidewalk at Ann Siang Hill and Lau Pa Sat with alfresco dining as food and beverages are consumed with abandon. There are unique after-dark experiences like Food & Night Cycling tours, the Singapore Flyer and free laser shows at Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands. Pick up a ParkHopper Special ticket to visit Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo, River Safari and end the day with the Night Safari, an exciting tram ride through the world’s first wildlife night park!

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FACT FILE

Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies direct (4 hrs) from Bengaluru, Chennai and other cities to Changi Airport, in the eastern part of town. www.singaporeair.com

Where to Stay
Oasia Hotel Downtown Ph +65 6664 0333 www.stayfareast.com
Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Ph +65 6275 0100 www.shangri-la.com
Crowne Plaza Changi www.ihg.com

For more info, visit www.yoursingapore.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the March 2017 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Garli: Chateau Charisma

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover old world romance and architectural gems in a heritage village in Himachal Pradesh

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If it wasn’t for the summer heat and pahadi drumbeats heralding our arrival, we could have been in a faraway village in Germany or Switzerland. We stood under the painted oriel window of Chateau Garli with blues skies broken by white clouds and gyrating weathervanes, utterly besotted and bewildered by its beauty. The arterial road running through the pahadi town was lined by heritage buildings on either side though the summer haze obscured the snow-capped Dhauladhar range.

Garli in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra Valley wears its European influences with an air of nostalgic élan. In the 16th century, the area came under the rule of the Jaswan kingdom. The brave princess Prag Dei put up a stiff resistance against a band of marauders terrorising the valley and Pragpur was established in her honour. Its sister town Garli is peopled by the 52 hill clans of the Sood community, who originally lived in Rajasthan but were driven out by the Mughals.

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Around 19th century they settled around the hamlets of Garli and its more famous architectural twin town Pragpur four kilometres away. The site was chosen carefully at the tri-junction of three Shakti temples – Chintpurni, Jwalamukhi and Brajeshwari in Kangra to receive auspicious astral influences. They came here with cobblers, carpenters, craftsmen and other professionals to set up a trading township.

As treasurers of the Kangra royals and contractors who helped the British establish Shimla, the Soods amassed great fortunes and love for European style is so evident in Garli. The town is a haven of sprawling ancestral homes showcasing jaw-dropping architectural styles. Today, most are however in need of care and renovation. Some of the houses seem to be in a state of decay and the sleepy town does wear a tattered cloak of neglect and abandonment.

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Giving credence to this is a legend of a young bride who was wrongly accused of adultery by the villagers years ago. Angry at the slur to her reputation, the helpless girl cursed the entire village to eternal ruin. Surprisingly enough, over the years people started moving out and by the 1950s, apparently most of the houses in the once thriving village were abandoned. Thankfully, a few, like Chateau Garli, which lay unoccupied for 20 years, have now been protected.

Our host Yatish Sud and his son Amish have painstakingly restored their mansion, constructed in 1921 by his grandfather Lala Mela Ram Sud, into a boutique heritage stay. Each of its 19 rooms holds memories of another time – colonial furniture, mellow lights and crystal chandeliers contrasting sunlit coloured panes spilling rainbow reflections onto the floor.

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Our room in the old main building had a lovely balcony overlooking the large swimming pool. The ceiling artwork and gilded motifs framing the doorways, walls and windows were hand-painted by Amish’s sister Tarini, adding a classy, personal touch to the interiors. The acute gabled roofs, long windows and pillared verandahs of the main building flowed seamlessly to the annexe, which used to be a cattle shed.

Overlooking the pool and rustic kitchen counter, the annexe with its colourful windows transforms into fairytale castle at dusk. Each of the rooms are dressed with antique furniture like four poster beds and baby cribs, which accentuate its old world charm. Beside the pool, a mud-plastered counter was lined with brass pots and a traditional chulha (earthen oven) where food was prepared by local staff.

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Lunch was a lovely Kangra dhaam (meal) featuring a fixed menu of traditional Himachali delicacies like mhani, a preparation of black chana with jaggery and amchoor, siddu, the local steamed bread, mah ki dal, khatta (tangy curry) and meetha (sweet). After washing it down with some Kangra tea, we went on a guided walk around Garli.

Meandering cobbled alleys were lined by copper-toned mud-plastered homes, brick houses with slate roofs and lovely balconies, wooden balustrades, carved doors, wall murals and Rajasthani arches. Rayeeson wali kothi, the first mansion built in Garli, had murals and Rajasthani motifs on the walls, Santri wali kothi was dominated by two turbaned plaster sentries on the parapet wall while Nalke wali kothi had a public tap in front.

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We stopped by at one of the earliest bakeries in town where home-style cookies were being fired in a coal oven. On the town’s eastern end on the road to the Beas stood Naurang Yatri Nivas, a charming rustic style country lodge renovated by Yatish’s friend Atul Lal. In market lanes we discovered the progressive town planning, water and drainage system incorporated nearly a century ago.

The Soods established a boys’ school in 1918, a special women’s hospital in 1921 and a girl’s school by 1955. All of these, along with Garli Water Works, which used imported copper pipes from London, are still operational! The waterworks was inaugurated by Sir Malcolm Hailey, the Governor of Punjab on 8th February 1928 and a special road was built for the purpose. At a time when the rest of India was largely underdeveloped, the infrastructure of this tiny outpost was leagues ahead.

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Homes had wall niches for lamps to illumine the path for pedestrians in the old days. Pots of water were left thoughtfully for people to help combat heat and thirst. Such generosity of spirit was apparent even at Chateau Garli. When Yatish’s grandfather struck water while building the house, he adjusted his compound walls so that the well came outside his boundary and village folk could fill their pots. The practice continues to this day.

As Yatish drove us around local sights like Pong Dam, Dada Siba temple with Kangra paintings and 8th century Masroor rock-cut temples, we realized hospitality was not new to the Suds, it was an age old tradition.

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VITALS

Accommodation
Chateau Garli has 19 heritage rooms and suites between its main house and the annexe and serves robust, home-style meals including Indian, Chinese and local Kangra fare. Each room comes with AC, coffee maker and wi-fi besides a common swimming pool with underwater speakers!

Chateau Garli
Ph +91-1970-246246, 94180 62003
http://www.chateaugarli.com
Tariff Rs.5000 onwards).

Getting There
Garli is 4km/10 min east of its twin village Pragpur in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district. It is 45km/1 hr southeast of Dharamsala, 186km/3 hrs from Chandigarh and 425km/7 hrs north of New Delhi. The closest airport is Gaggal in Dharamsala which has flights from Delhi. The nearest railway station is Amb, 16km/20 min away, connected by Himachal Express from Delhi, which reaches at 8am. Regular buses ply to Garli from many cities in Himachal like Pathankot (120km), Kullu (180km) and Simla (180km).

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller magazine: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/mountain-stay-chateau-garli-for-himachal-heritage-and-kangra-khana/

Under the Goan sun

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Fun, food and festive fervour, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY find new reasons to come back to Goa

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The Goan sun may have lost its burn after heavyweight music festivals like Sunburn and Supersonic shifted to Pune last year end, but that can only mean good news to Goa lovers. There’s plenty of elbow room to party for Christmas and New Year! Crank up the volume with the Krank Goa Boutique Party Experience (27-30 Dec) at Chronicle, have the ‘Craziest New Year’s Eve party’ at Banyan Tree with legendary techno artist Goa Gil or try the Yoga Retreat Fest at Mandrem (28 Nov-3 Dec).

However, there’s more to cheer about this season. Starwood’s swanky W Hotels opens in Vagator this December. An old soda factory at Baddem has been reinvented into Soro, a rustic New York-style pub with colourful tiles and retro posters. After wowing Hauz Khas hipsters in Delhi, Gunpowder is scorching Goan taste-buds with its eclectic Peninsular cuisine. Sharing space with PeopleTree design studio in Assagao near the new Fabindia outlet, Gunpowder has a new trendy bar designed by ace mixologist Evgenya Pradznik.

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Not enough? There’s hot air ballooning (Rs.9900/person) at Assolda in South Goa and Duck Boat Safaris in Panjim, making Goa the first state in India to introduce it. Like Dublin or Dubai, you can take a terrestrial-aquatic tour of the architectural precinct of Old Goa followed by a boat ride on the Mandovi. Surely an upgrade from those sunset cruises with ‘live Goan music and dance’!

GTDC Managing Director Nikhil Desai is upbeat about new tourism initiatives. “We have launched cycling tours and birding trails. You can hire a yacht or go on boat tours to Chorao and Divar islands. Plans are afoot to convert Mayem Lake into a recreational spot. Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tours like Singapore and London are in the pipeline. Apart from beach tourism, the focus is on the rich hinterland, unique festivals and Goa as a gourmet destination.”

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Gourmet Goa

Having savoured Goa’s diverse repertoire, we had to agree. Be it Bomras’ Burmese cuisine like lah pet toke (pickled tea leaf salad) in Candolim, souvlakis, tzatziki and Greek fare at Thalassa in Anjuna or Indo-French fine dining at Gregory Bazire’s Le Poisson Rouge at Baga, Goa is for gourmands. Dig into river crab and fresh turmeric tortellini with a curry leaf emulsion at Le Poisson Rouge or hop across to Matsya Freestyle Kitchen at Samata Retreat Centre in Arambol to try out Israeli chef Gome Galily’s excellent tuna tataki and red snapper ceviche.

Chef Chris Saleem, the man behind Sublime in Morjim is now manning Elevar, a seaside restaurant in Ashvem. A large deck with casual seating overlooks the surf as well-plated dishes like Seabass Carpaccio and Tandoori prawns over saffron and fenugreek risotto are served. We took a ferry across to Fort Tiracol to dine at Tavern restaurant where Chris’s signature menu blends Portuguese, Goan and Indian flavours into petiscos (tapas). Overlooking Keri Beach from the fort ramparts, we tucked into spaghetti with Tiracol clams, Vitello Tonnato (stewed beef filets) and Peixe caldeirada (Portuguese fisherman stew) with a view as terrific as the food.

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Forget Italian and Asian, there’s even Bengali cuisine in Goa! Latika Khosla’s gorgeous home store Freedom Tree in a sea green and white Portuguese villa in Sangolda had enough room for a restaurant. Her friends Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh found inspiration in the Franco-Bengali love for mustard and roped in food historian Pritha Sen to meld subtle flavours of East Bengal with French cuisine. Over Cucumber Latte and tamarind-based Tentul Joler Sherbet, Pritha deconstructed Eastern Indian cuisine.

“When the British built the railways to expand the trade in tea and Burma teak, steamers ferried goods, passengers, forest rangers, British officials and zamindars from the railhead. Mogs, a Burmese hill tribe from Arakan, were ace cooks who picked up European flavours aboard Portuguese pirate ships. Unlike Hindu or Muslim cooks, Mogs were Buddhist and had no qualms preparing pork or beef, so the British employed them on these steamers. Over time, this ‘steamer cuisine’ crept into the Raj clubs of Calcutta.” Pritha tracked down the last living mog in Kolkata and coaxing recipes and techniques from his assistant, introduced a limited menu here. The highlight is smoked fish, made the traditional way by charring puffed rice, jaggery and husk.

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Museum of Goa

MoG was the flavour of the season! The smoky taste still on our lips, we breezed past the blue roadside mermaids scattered between Porvorim and Candolim to MoG or Museum of Goa in Pernem Industrial Estate. Mog is Konkani for ‘heart’ so when the museum opened last November, locals wondered what scandalous affair would unfold at the lonely hilltop. But the museum of contemporary art wows every visitor.

Spread across four floors amid landscaped sculpture gardens, MoG is the largest private art space in India. Set up by local ‘sea artist’ Subodh Kerkar (his muse is the sea), it chronicles Goa’s various cultural histories by local artists. Spanning a time frame from Parashurama to the Portuguese and 450 years of colonial rule, the museum is a tribute to Goa. Ceramic and pottery workshops by local artist Mayank Jain, art classes, book launches, lectures, film screenings, concerts; MoG is a hub where many art forms collide. The lores behind the themes were as interesting as the exhibits.

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The artists creatively interpreted Portuguese imports to India – from pepper and chili to gulmohar (brought from Madagascar and locally called kombyache zhad or ‘tree of the rooster’ owing to its crest-like flower). Subodh created installations using green mussels, sawn boats, porcelain plates submerged in the sea for months, even a fish vendor’s chopping block!

A large wooden horseshoe titled ‘Al Khamsar’ retraced Goa’s trading history as the centre of horse trade during medieval times. Nearly half of Goa’s revenue came from the sale of Arabian horses, in high demand by Indian royalty. The Vijayanagar kings were the biggest buyers with exclusive rights to all horses brought by the Portuguese. They also paid for horses that perished on the sea voyage, provided they could furnish the tail!

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Exploring Panjim

The gallery’s in-house Om Made Café served organic fare, but we were so famished, we could’ve eaten a horse! At Ritz Classic on 18th June Road in Panjim, patrons stalk diners for a free table, so we checked out their spacious new outlet in Patto. After a plate of chonak (Giant Sea Perch) fry, we concurred the taste was as spot on as the grilled pearlspot.

Panjim’s alleys are dotted with great eateries – Viva Panjim, Casa Bhosle (amazing tisrya sukkem or clams) and Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro that offers a daily rotating menu. Chicken cafreal on Monday, beef stew on Tuesday, feijoado (beef-pork-bean stew) on Wednesday, xacuti on Thursday and any dish on Friday. Bhatti Village in Nerul goes one better – an unfixed menu based on Patrick’s wife’s whims!

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Besides gastronomy, it was heartening to see Goa finally do justice to Mario Miranda’s legacy. The Reis Magos fort, named after the Biblical three wise men, was renovated by architect Gerard da Cunha, INTACH and the UK-based Helen Hamlyn Trust. The Craft Centre outlines the restoration process while two halls showcase Mario’s work, though one has been recently converted into a freedom fighters’ gallery!

Most visitors miss the first-of-its-kind Indian Custom & Central Excise Museum opposite Panaji jetty. Located in the 416-year-old Captain of Ports Building, it was renamed the Blue Building after a repaint in 2001 as tribute to the indigo trade. A chapel near the entrance is dedicated to St Anthony, patron saint of the lost-and-found. Among the highlights are dioramas of old trading settlements, Goan ports, a rare manuscript of Ain-i-Akbari, a Narcotics Gallery and a Battle of Wits Gallery where smuggled goods were seized in hollow shoe soles, cane sticks, commodes and car engines!

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In Panjim, take a guided walk through the old Portuguese quarter of Fontainhas. Walking past lovely vivendas (homes) and pousadas (guest houses) with oyster shells windowpanes, we reached the fonte (spring) after which the settlement was named. Artist Subodh Kerkar too leads heritage walks and we joined him on an early morning jaunt to ‘any place within a short drive.’

At a time when we normally return from a rave, we set out to explore the heritage village of Moira. Beyond architect Charles Correa’s ancestral house, we strolled to the Moira riverfront guarded by the pre-Aryan folk deity Rastoli Brahman Prasann. At the sluice gates, fish was left to dry and fresh hatchlings in perforated plastic jars hung half submerged in the waters. ‘It’s to keep the bait fresh! On each walk I learn something new,” said Subodh.

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Having done enough rounds of Anjuna’s flea market, we browsed Mapusa’s Friday Market for local produce, clothes, furniture, terracotta artefacts and round Salcette sausages we had tried at the Pattoleochem Fest in Socorro village. They looked more like rudraksha beads (rosaries). “Child, they’re so tasty, you’ll come back for more”, one lady said. Indeed, we will! You can never have your fill of Goa…

FACT FILE

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Dabolim airport in Goa.

When to go
Besides IFFI in November and Christmas/New Year in December, look out for local fests every month – Grape Escapade in Jan, Carnival in Feb around Lent, Shigmo (Holi) in March, Mango festival in May, Sao Joao (well jumping) and Ponsachem (Jackfruit) Fest in June, Touxeachem (Cucumber) Fest in July at Talaulim and Pattoleochem Fest in Aug at Socorro.

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Where to Stay

Birdsong, Moira
Ph 9987962519, 9810307012, 9587508222
www.birdsonggoa.com

Coco Shambhala, Nerul
Ph 9372267182
www.cocoshambhala.com

Ahilya by the Sea, Nerul
Ph 011-41551575
www.ahilyabythesea.com

Aashyana Lakhanpal, Candolim
Ph 0832-2489276, 2489225, 9822488672
www.aashyanalakhanpal.com

Panjim Inn, Panjim
Ph 0832-2226523, 2228136
www.panjiminn.com

W Hotels, Vagator
Ph 0832-6718888
www.starwoodhotels.com

Turiya Spa, Canacona
Ph 0832-2644172, 2643077, 9821594004
www.turiyavilla.com

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Where to Eat & Drink

Casa Bhonsle
Cunha Rivara Road, Near National Theater, Panjim
Ph: 0832-2222260

Ritz Classic
‪Patto Plaza, Gera Imperium II, Near Kadamba Bus Stand, Panjim
Ph: 0832-2970298

Elevar Beach Bar & Restaurant
Leela Seaside Cottages, Ashvem
Ph: 9130352188

Soro The Village Pub
Baddem Junction, Siolim-Assagao Road
Ph: 9881934440, 9881904449

Gunpowder
People Tree, Assagao
Ph: 0832-2268228

Mustard Restaurant
Freedom Tree, Sangolda
Ph: 98234 36120 

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What to See/Do 

Indian Custom & Central Excise Museum, Panaji
Ph: 0832-2420620 Email goamuseum2009@gmail.com
Timings: 9.30am-5pm (Tues-Sun)
Entry: Rs.50 Audio Guided tour tablet

Museum of Goa, Pilerne
Director: Dr Subodh Kerkar Ph: +91 9326119324 www.museumofgoa.com
Timings: 10am to 6pm
Entry fee: Rs.100 Indians; Rs.300 foreign nationals, Rs.50 students and children.

Reis Magos Fort, Verem
Ph: 0832-2904649 Email reismagosfort@gmail.com
Timings: 9.30am to sunset (Tues-Sun)

Houses of Goa Museum, Torda, Porvorim
Ph: 0832-2410711 www.archgoa.org

For local tours, contact GTDC
Ph: 0832-2437132, 2437728, 8805727230
www.goa-tourism.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the December 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine.

The Hungry Merlion: Singapore cuisine

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From pushcarts to plush restaurants and Chilli Crab to Chicken Rice, ANURAG MALLICK covers iconic dishes and fine dining venues for a real taste of Singapore’s exciting food scene

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Singapore’s status as a serious food destination can be gauged from the fact that ten of the Top 50 restaurants in Asia can be found here. This is where celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay met his Waterloo in a Street Food Challenge organized by local telecom major Singtel; his chicken rice lost out to the original at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Road Food Centre. Overnight, the tiny stall became a sensation.

Anthony Bourdain considers their chicken rice so good you can have it all by itself, even without the chili-shallots-ginger-garlic condiment and sliced red chili in soya! The trick is in the rice cooked in chicken broth with steamed or roasted chicken breast sliced and served on top.

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After working at Tian Tian for over twenty years, chef Wong Liang Tai quit and set up his own stall Ah Tai two stores away. Both remain so popular, there are serpentine queues at lunch time. Equally legendary is Boon Tong Kee, started by Mr. Thian Boon Hua as a tiny stall in Chinatown in 1979, serving Cantonese chicken rice infused with silky white sauce. After the first restaurant at Balestier Road in 1983, five outlets opened in quick succession and by 1999 it had diversified to Zi Char (home-style cooked food).

Singapore must have truly humbled Gordon Ramsay for he also lost to a tiny shop called ‘328 Katong Laksa’. Laksa is a coconut based curry with yellow noodles, prawns, boiled egg, sambal, topped with fried onions and peanuts. Run by a former model, her noodles come in bite-sized pieces, so it’s easy to soup up.

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Singaporeans love their Char Kway Teow – flat rice noodles and egg noodles stir fried with eggs, cockles, lap cheong (Chinese sausages), bean sprouts and Chinese chives. However, the ultimate favourite is Singapore chili crab, best served at Jumbo Seafood and Long Beach.

Some culinary experiences are so uniquely Singapore that patrons don’t mind queuing up. Jumbo’s award-winning chili crab makes it hard to get a table at their Clarke Quay outlet. They’ve opened multiple outlets to cater to the insatiable Singaporean. Song Fa’s bak kut teh (pork rib soup) evolved from a tiny push cart on Chinatown’s Johor Road in 1969 to a chain of restaurants.

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Patrons patiently line up for a table to eat juicy pork ribs falling-off-the-bone and umpteen helpings of the peppery spice-infused pork rib soup served with white rice, garlic chilli paste and sliced red chilli in soya sauce. For the best steamed pork dumplings, there’s Din Tai Fung while Tanglin Crispy Curry Puff has been tingling taste buds since 1952 with its golden fried curry puffs in chicken, sardines or yam.

Lau Pa Sat, once a Victorian era wet market has transformed into a buzzing street food centre. A diverse range of stalls are anchored around a central clock tower with an ornamental metal roof fabricated and shipped all the way from Glasgow. In the evening, vehicular traffic on Boon Tat Street is shut down as makeshift tables and chairs spill out from the building onto the streets. Satay stalls fire up their skewers to dish out mutton, chicken, beef and prawn satays with Tiger Beer. A sign displays the Satay Challenge record of 150 sticks consumed in 20 minutes!

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There’s diverse seafood on offer – soupy black mussels, fried sting ray, crayfish, scallops, squid, octopus, oysters, prawns with baby kailan (Chinese broccoli). The unique thing is you have to pay the moment your order arrives. With none of the usual squalor associated with street food, the hygiene standards are really high and each hawker centre has to shut down compulsorily for four days every month for cleaning.

With limited land available and a limit to reclamation, Singapore loves to squeeze out maximum utility from minimum space and repurposing the old. Dempsey Hill, once a British cantonment and barracks for soldiers is now a swanky gourmet and shopping district spread around a gently sloping hill. At PS Cafe and its sister concern ChoPSuey, dine indoors or outdoors feasting on rib eye steaks, pastas and wine.

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Ann Siang Hill, once a spice plantation of nutmeg and mace is now a buzzing F&B district crammed with rooftop bars and restaurants. Critically acclaimed Lolla offers tapas sized portions of house specials – toasted sourdough with kombu butter, cured meat platter, Iberico pork collar, lamb rack and more.

CHIJMES – the 1841 Church of Infant Jesus was renovated from a religious complex to a plush entertainment quarter (cheekily renamed after the peal of the church bells) with high end restaurants like the newly opened El Mero Mero, literally ‘The Boss of the Boss’. It serves excellent Mexican – Bluefin Tuna Tostada, Wild Fish Ceviche, Grilled Wild Fish Taco to signature cocktails like Habanero Mango Martini and El Mero Mero – orange-infused mescal, fresh lime and agave.

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A similar experience in a fast food chain format is Chilis, available at multiple locations across Singapore including Universal Studios. The sheer diversity of dining locations in Singapore is mind boggling. There’s a 34-seater Gourmet Bus that tours the city offering an excellent wine dine experience on-the-go.

At Gardens by the Bay, dine at IndoChine in a SuperTree, sit outdoors at Satay by the Bay or opt for a 7-course degustation menu at Pollen inside the Flower Dome in a plush indoor setting. For dessert, you are ushered to the counter for exquisite desserts hand plated in front of you. Try the pumpkin ice-cream, caramelized pumpkin seeds, fresh blueberry, white chocolate parfait, garnished with pumpkin seed oil.

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At the Botanic Gardens inside the National Orchid Garden overlooking the Ginger Garden is Halia, ‘Ginger’ in Malay. Their chilli crab spaghettini and paperbag fish are signature specialties, as is their version of Singapore Sling using Hendrick’s gin that contains 11 botanicals and notes of cucumber and rose.

With its diverse multi-cultural population, Singapore has excellent Asian cuisine ranging from Chinese, Malay, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, top international fare to the delectable fusion of Baba Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine – the food of Chinese straits settlers who speak Malay. Perked with spices, tempered with coconut milk and sweetened with palm sugar, drop by for a taste at Blue Ginger on Tanjong Pagar Road.

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And for those who love the comfort of Indian food, Little India offers enough variety – pure veg South Indian or Jain meals, the carnivorous delights of Chettinad, biryani and North Indian dishes. Most city hotels like Oasia in Downtown offer a great breakfast spread while resorts like Shangrila Rasa Sentosa have separate Indian, Chinese, Malay and Continental counters.

Local desserts like Chendol (shaved ice with pandan jelly, red beans, coconut milk and gula melaka) are legendary though for a special treat, head straight to Janice Wong’s 2am dessert bar in Orchard. Paired with sake or exotic cocktails, try their signature desserts like Tsujirehei Green tea tart, Kyoto Garden, Blackforest Cornet offered in a degustation menu classified as Zen, Playful and Natural. It was as much taste as performance.

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The 2am snickers inaya sorbet had cinnamon and rosemary smoked and covered with a wine glass to infuse a smokiness. In Cacao Forest, the Earl Grey bergamot chocolate mousse, forest fruits, miso and ice-cream were shrouded in a ring of cotton candy. As the crème de cacao liqueur and vanilla whiskey were poured on the fluff, the ‘forest’ disappeared before our eyes.

The iconic Singapore Sling, a gin-based cocktail infused with Grenadine was crafted in 1912 at the Raffles Hotel so ladies could drink in public without inhibition. When the Americans came here after World War II, they looked around for Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in vain until someone decided to stuff country sandwich bread with meat and eggs and called the Asianized version Roti John! Singapore thrives on culinary inventiveness. Bon appetit…

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Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies direct from Bengaluru, Chennai and other cities taking 4 hrs for the flight to Changi Airport, which is located in the eastern part of the city. The route-dictated menu matches destination and passenger profiles with deliciously wholesome meals and Shahi thali on Indian routes, besides ‘Book the Cook’ service on Suites, First Class and Business Class.

Where to Stay
Oasia Hotel Downtown
Great location, this new hotel in the CBD is close to attractions.
Ph +65 6664 0333 www.stayfareast.com

Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa
A top resort at the western end of Sentosa overlooking Siloso Beach, it’s close to the Fort Siloso walkway.
Ph +65 6275 0100 www.shangri-la.com

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When to go: The Singapore Food Festival is held from July 16-31 with pop up kitchens and food promotions. This year, gourmet food festival Savour at Marina Bay has been staggered across three periods – Gourmet (12-15 May), Wines (8-11 Sep) and Christmas (17-20 Nov). World Gourmet Summit in April-May sees Michelin star chefs competing with local chefs.

For more info, visit http://www.yoursingapore.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 24 July, 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.