Tag Archives: food

It’s the time to Pisco: Exploring Peruvian cuisine

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Ceviche, pisco, potatoes and fine unique spices, Peru’s rich cuisine is all of this, and more. PRIYA GANAPATHY pays a greedy tribute. 

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I will never forget my first taste of ceviche. Before I could dig in to Peru’s flagship dish, my guide Pablo cried, “Wait! Mix it with a spoon. Taste it slowly.” Misty-eyed, his voice dropped to a whisper, “Ceviche classico is a dish that must be savoured. Taste the freshness of sole fish, softness of cooked cancha (corn kernels), crunchiness of fried corn and onions, sweetness of the orange sweet potato, creamy limey taste of leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) and Peru’s famous amarillo chilli or yellow peppers.”

It is evident Peruvians are passionate about food. Entranced, I swirled the colourful ingredients together and scooped it into my mouth. A burst of different textures and flavours exploded within. Ceviche clearly has the potential to become the next sushi. Peru has even declared June 28th as National Ceviche Day!

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Connoisseurs hail Peru as “the next great global foodie destination”, ranking it among the Top 5 cuisines in the world. It has been propelled into international stardom thanks to celebrity chefs like Gastón Acurio, the mop-haired messiah of Peruvian cuisine who owns more than 20 restaurants and has authoured over a dozen cookbooks, and Chef Virgilio Martinez, recently crowned the Best Chef on the Planet for 2017 when he bagged the Chef’s Choice award.

I landed in capital city Lima, ‘the gastronomic capital of the Americas’ and host to Mistura, the annual food festival in Oct-Nov (this year was the tenth edition) which draws gourmands from across the world. From there on, I practically ate my way through Ica and Cusco, praying that a trek to Machu Pichhu would work it off.

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Three signature ingredients are recurrent in Peru – the holy trinity of papas (potatoes), cancha (corn) and aji (chilli), which come in various avatars and form the backbone of Peruvian cuisine. You will be blown by the sheer variety in sizes, shapes and colours – red, yellow, purple, orange, brown, black, pink… round, long, oval, plump, thin… it’s practically a rainbow in the pantry.

While agriculture has been the mainstay since Pre-Incan times, the Incas elevated it to a science with their larger-than-life field experiments and open laboratories of microclimate terrace farming at Moray, near the ancient Maras salt mines that whiten the entire mountainside.

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According to legend, when the mythical founders of the Inca empire, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca, the first thing the god Wiracocha taught them was how to sow potatoes. Potatoes became not just a crucial food item but their very identity. “Soy mas Peruano que la papa” meaning “I’m more Peruvian than a potato!” is a popular saying in the all-powerful Quechua culture which exalts the iconic tuber.

They have nearly (breathe deep) 3800 types of potatoes and have been growing them for nearly four millenia. Can you blame them for being finicky about which potato goes into which dish? One variety, the yana piña, is full of knots. Cheeky mothers test the efficiency of new brides by telling them to peel it, hence its nickname ‘mother-in-law potato’ or ‘weeping bride’!

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Another extraordinary Quechua dish, Causa Peruana is a delicious yellow potato mash cake, layered with vegetables, mayonaisse, aji amarillo (golden yellow chilli), avocado and hardboiled egg topped with Peruvian botija olives. The non-veg version comes with tuna, egg, crab, chicken or shrimp. Interestingly, causa is linked to the very history of Peru as the dish was born on the streets of Lima.

Folklore has it that sometime in the 1800s, the wives of soldiers fighting for Peruvian Independence would prepare and sell this potato dish as a fundraiser for the ‘cause’ of Independence. Others believe the word causa is derived from the Quechua word ‘kausay’ meaning ‘sustenance of life’ since the potato was the life-blood of ancient Peruvians.

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Corn or maize too is sacred to Peruvians. They grow over 60 varieties that can be cooked, fried, salted or mashed… from steamed and stuffed dumplings called tamale wrapped in corn husk to delicious desserts like mazza mora made with purple corn or traditional drinks like chicha.

Chicha morada is a dark non-alcoholic drink made with purple corn while the fermented alcoholic version chicha de jora is made with yellow corn. In the Urubamba region and Sacred Valley, local chicherias (local pubs) often announce their presence with a pole bearing a red flag. While villagers quaff chicha de jora like juice, to the unaccustomed, just a glass of this golden corn beer will get you tipsy.

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While on potions, one drink all Peruvians rave about is Pisco – a colourless to pale yellow drink made by distilling fermented grape juice to a potent brandy. Contrary to Chile’s claims and a debate that’s been raging for over 400 years, pisco was born in Peru in the 16th century. It was probably named after the town of Pisco, an old port on the Peruvian coast, though pisco is also Quechua for ‘bird’.

The famous Pisco Sour, a classic South American cocktail that originated in Lima, is Peru’s national drink made with pisco, egg white, lime juice, simple syrup and Angostura bitters. They even had a remedy if you drank too much. Adobo, tagged as the perfect hangover meal, is a wholesome soup of pork chops simmered with onions, rocoto, purple corn, garlic and Peruvian spices!

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With the mighty Pacific lapping its shores, Peru offers an incredible bounty of seafood. In the surreal desert region of Ica, I tucked into bowls of fresh Lima bean salad and Pulpito Candelabro (grilled baby octopus) between sips of Inca Cola at La Hacienda Bahia Paracas’ restaurant El Coral.

Vina Tacama, South America’s oldest vineyard, dating to the 16th century evolved from an Augustine nunnery to a world class winery. Sampling wines and local cuisine, accompanied by traditional shows like marinera dances, music and showhorses was a delightful experience.

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I tried a hearty plate of Arroz con pollo o aji de gallina – rice served with generous helpings of spicy creamy yellow chili sauce. Sauces or salsas also colour the Peruvian table. Made with aji (chili) or herbs, they make great dips with potato or yucca chips – from yummy avocado mash guacamole to yellow salsa huancaina, herby green ocopa sauce made from aromatic huacatay leaves and crema de aji rocoto.

Another delicious speciality is alpaca. The animal looks a lot like a llama, but is smaller and has a softer coat. I tried not to think of the cute alpacas I petted at Urubamba and Chinchero’s Urpi weaving centre when I placed my order. Alpacas were a domesticated species of camelids central to the Quechua lifestyle. Bred mainly for their fleece and pelt which women wove into luxuriously soft woolens, alpacas are also culled regularly for meat. Alpaca red meat is tender, lean, low in cholestrol and high in protein and iron, tasting like a sweeter version of venison or goat.

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Every visitor is impressed by the manner in which food is served in Peru. It’s as much presentation as prepartion. Chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant Chicha has a tasting menu that will blow you away with its flavours, textures and exquisite plating style – tartar de alpaca with a mushroom vignarette, lechon crocante (crunchy piglet) swimming in its own juices served with potato and apples, soft lamb pita with muna (Andean mint), cucumber yoghurt and candied sacha, ceviche de valley with trout tarwi artichokes… it didn’t stop.

Nothing’s better than discovering the tastes of Peru in an atmospheric place, like the restaurant at the historic archaeological complex of Huaca Pucllana overlooking the magnificent 15-acre pre-Inca ruins or the creeper-riddled Museo Larco Café in Lima attached to the privately owned museum of Pre-Columbian art. Here, I tried tres leche, literally ‘3 milks cake’ – a typical Peruvian dessert of sponge cake soaked in condensed milk, reduced milk and heavy cream besides a golden mousse de lucuma made from the exotic buttery fruit.

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At the high-end restaurant Senzo at the Palacio Nazrenas hotel, set in the inner courtyard of a heritage monastery complex in Cusco, the colonial ambience adds to the magic. I savoured Cuy (guinea pig) as part of a five-course tasting menu and could see why it was reserved for special occassions. At Cathedral Basilica, Marcos Zapata’s gigantic 1753 painting depicts The Last Supper with the cuy as the main course on the long table!

MAP Café, a courtyard restaurant in the Pre-Columbian Art Museum in Cusco, serves Peruvian food with French and Italian touches. Quechua men knitted traditional woolen caps as the steward wowed us with Capchi de Setas, a soup of Andean setas, mushrooms, fava beans and pariah cheese. It came veiled with a sheet of dough that was dramatically opened! This was followed by delicious pork leg, slow cooked for 12 hours in Cusconean Adobo sauce, resting on a soft bed of sweet potato mousselline l’orange.

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With great music, a Pisco Sour bar and a fab view of Cusco’s remarkable churches, fountain and atmospheric central square Plaza de Armas, Limo is quite the place. I devoured grilled alpaca tenderloin daubed with elderberry sauce and yellow chilli quinoa risotto, Andean tiradito (wild trout with rocoto, Andean lake seaweed and sachtomate sauce) besides suckling pig cheek.

High up at El Parador de Moray restaurant with lilting tunes of the Andean harp wafting over the Moray terraces, we had a traditional buffet spread of lechon (pork) roast, trucha ala sal (trout cooked with salt), pollo horniado (oven-cooked chicken), quinoa tabbouleh, ollucas ragout, humitas (sweet tamales) and desserts like arroz con leche (akin to rice kheer) and mazza morra.

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The first-class Belmond Hiram Bingham luxury train along the legendary route from Ollantaytambo to Machu Pichhu presented 1920s style grandeur. Imagine polished wood and gleaming brass fittings, champagne, exotic fare like Wayllabamba’s smoked trout and grilled tenderloin beef, with unparalleled views of the Andes and meandering rivers on a voyage to the Inca empire.

In the streets, we encountered smiling vendors with packets of fried corn, yucca chips and coca leaves or trays of churros, a delicious fried dough stick that can be eaten plain or with a filling of chocolate or dulce de leche. Food is so integral to Peruvian life that it infuses their slang with phrases related to fruits or food. Christina Maria, our Peruvian companian giggled and said, “A handsome hunk is called ‘churro’. When a girl is skinny we have a phrase that means ‘put some extra potato in her soup’!”

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For a glimpse into what locals eat, wander around the San Pedro Market in Cusco. Be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Alongside crafts, apparel and souvenirs, you will encounter a mind-numbing assortment of breads bigger than your head, jug-sized servings of fresh-pressed juices, speckled quail eggs, various animal heads, pickled snakes and roasted guinea pigs stacked in buckets!

Chef Uriel Alfares from Gaston Acurio’s Chicha restaurant in Cusco, attributes the universal appeal of Peruvian cuisine to the unique spices, produce and the fact that chefs are increasingly experimenting with indigenous products and traditional dishes and techniques. This boutique restaurant can seat only 22 people at a time, yet sees over 300 people streaming through the day! “The exciting thing is the freedom to do fusion cuisine with ingredients from other countries like India and Spain. We have the produce, the passion, the instruments and tools” confessed Chef Uriel.

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Each region in Peru has something special to offer. Chef Uriel elaborated “In Cusco, Lima beans salad and Adobo are popular. In Lima, it’s ceviche, suspiros and picarones, a special kind of doughnut made with sweet potato, a Moorish influence. In Arequipa, it is rocoto relena and pastel de papa. Mazza mora is made of chicha, or maize with cinnamon, pineapple and sweet potato flour – mazza indicates ‘dough’ and mora denotes the Moors from Spain. There is a lot of Spanish influence in traditional Andean dishes.” Traditionally, the Incas didn’t know about oil and only boiled their foods; frying as a cooking technique was introduced by the Spanish.

Peruvian cuisine is a mirror of its rich ethnic mix – native Indians like the Quechua, Spanish conquistadores, Moorish cooks who came on ships, African slaves, Chinese indentured workers and Japanese immigrants who arrived in the 20th century; all have put their stamp on Peru’s food. At Maido, Chef Mitsuharu Tsumara’s speciality Nikkei cuisine fuses local Peruvian with Japanese food created by Japanese immigrants. Most of them arrived in the 1900s to work on sugarcane farms.

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Even the Chinese integrated into Peruvian society and contributed to the popular chifa culture. Our guide laughed saying, “You’ll find a chifa restaurant in every corner of my village!” Lomo Saltado Montado is the perfect example of Peru’s rich fusion cuisine. Traditionally a chifa dish, served with a heap of white rice, fried egg and fries, it was beef saltado (stir-fried in a wok), a technique introduced by the Chinese.

Peru has doggedly promoted culinary tourism for the last 15 years by participating in food fairs and festivals. According to Christina Maria, “Food is not only food… it is an entire food chain critical to the Peruvian economy – producers, farmers, the market, the produce. Before the 1980s, quinoa was what we fed to chickens! Now people are aware of its nutritional value and it’s everywhere… We always knew our food was great. Today, we’re just showcasing it better to the world. About 20% of people coming to Peru are culinary tourists… they come only to eat!” I think I just increased the percentage and my waistline.

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The Information

Getting There
International flights like Air France and British Airways operate regularly to Peru’s capital Lima via Paris, Amsterdam, London, Madrid and Miami. Paracas is a 4-hour drive (261km) south of Lima along the Pan-American Highway and 22km south of Pisco. There are over 35 daily flights from Lima to Cusco (1 hr 20min) operated by Peruvian Airline, LATAM, Avianca, LC Peru.

Where to Stay
Lima: La Hacienda Milaflores www.hotelslahacienda.com
Paracas: Bahia Paracas Hotel www.hotelsahacienda.com
Cusco: Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness www.aranwahotels.com

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Where to Eat

Lima:
Museo Larco Café Restaurant (Avenida Bolivar 1515, Lima 21; Ph: +51 1 4624757)
Huaca Pucllana (8 General Borgono Cuadra, Lima 27; +51 1 4454042)
Maido (399 Calle San Martin, Corner Calle Colon, Lima 18; +51 1 4462512)
La Mar (Av La Mar 770, Milaflores; +51 1 4213365)
Central (Calle Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores, Lima 15074; +51 1 2428515)

Paracas/Ica:
El Coral (Hacienda Bahia Paracas Hotel, Urb. Sto Domingo Lote 25, Paracas, Pisco; +51 56581370)
Vina Tacama (Ica; +51 56581030, www.tacama.com)

Cusco/Sacred Valley:
Limo (Cochina Peruana & Pisco Bar, Portal de Carnes 236, Cusco; +51 84 240668)
Senzo (Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Calle Palacio 144, Cusco; +51 84 582222; www.belmond.com)
Chicha (Heladeros 261, Cusco 08000, Cusco; +51 84 240520; www.chicha.com.pe)
MAP Café (Casa Cabrera, Plazoleta Nazarenas 231, Museo de Arte Precolombino, Cusco; +51 84 242476)
El Parador de Moray (Fundo Moray, distrito de Maras, Cusco; +51 84 242476)

For more information visit www.peru.travel or www.facebook.com/visitperu

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the special double issue of Outlook Traveller magazine in December 2017. 

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Mauritian Cuisine: Island Flavours

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ANURAG MALLICK deconstructs the multi-cultural flavours of Mauritian cuisine through its most famous product – sugarcane

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If there’s one thing that shaped the landscape, cuisine, economy and in fact, the very destiny of Mauritius, it is sugarcane. Such is its importance that it features in the Mauritian coat of arms. The endemic dodo, though extinct, lives on in the insignia, where the flightless bird and a sambar support stalks of sugarcane.

From this wondrous grass, other lucrative products like sugar and rum were derived. Mauritius may be located just over a thousand kilometers east of Madagascar, yet its cultural and culinary influences are far-reaching – from African, Dutch, French, British and Indian to Chinese. The reason again, is sugarcane…

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While the Portuguese were the first humans to set foot on Mauritius in 1505, the Dutch colonized the island in 1598 and named it after their ruler Maurice, Prince of Orange. Besides introducing African slaves, wild boar and tobacco, the Dutch also brought in sugarcane from Java in mid-17th century. Being inferior in quality, it was mostly used for producing rum.

After the Dutch left in 1710, the country came under the French, who initiated sugar production and turned ‘Ilé Maurice’ into a successful trading base. Plantation workers and slaves brought from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation to work on the sugarcane fields eventually formed the Mauritian Creole community.

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By the end of the 18th century, Mauritius was producing enough sugar to supply passing ships and the Mascarene Islands (a collective term for Mauritius, Rodriguez and Reunion islands). In 1810, Mauritius was ceded to Britain, who freed the slaves and transformed sugar into an industry.

The turning point came in 1825 when Governor Farquhar persuaded the British Empire to allow Mauritian sugar into the British market at the same rate as West Indies. The exploitative navigation law was also repealed, allowing Mauritius to trade with countries other than England.

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After slavery was abolished in 1835, new immigrants were needed to develop the island and the workforce was replenished with workers from China and India. Indian immigrants landed at the Apravasi Ghat in capital Port Louis to work as indentured labourers and Mauritius became the first country to benefit from Indian labour under contract. Governor Higginson (1851-1857) called them “the key to colonial prosperity”. Whether they came from Bharuch or Bhagalpur, the Indian immigrants brought their food with them.

From frata (paratha), achard (anchar), briani (biryani), samoussa (samosa), gajak (pakoda), alouda (falooda) and curries to an assortment of chutneys; many dishes in Mauritian cuisine are of Indian parentage. Perhaps the most iconic crossover and easily the national dish is dholl puri. Borrowed from the Bihari staple dalpuri (a dal paratha), it is often rolled up with white bean curry, pickle and chutney.

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In Mauritius, everything seems like a case of misheard lyrics. Familiar Indian words are softened and stretched like dough into convoluted forms, phonetically interpreted with Caribbean flair. The airport is named after the first Prime Minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (loosely translated from ‘Shivsagar Ram Ghulam’).

As we drove off, the road was lined with sugarcane fields that extended to the coast on one side and collided against jagged mountains on the other. The island was formed after the eruption of the Bassin Blanc volcano, now a crater on the island’s southwest with a fresh water lake.

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It was a short ride to our resort Shanti Maurice, an oasis by the sea with diverse culinary experiences. At Rum Shed manager Bobby Ghoora plied us with bottomless barrels of spiced rum, as we feasted on prawn pancakes and calamari. There were signature cocktails like Rum Dawa using ginger infused rum, Waw Mojito with cardamom & lime infused rum and Bab Daiquiri with banana and vanilla infused rum!

The resort has its own herb garden, where La Kaze Mama (literally ‘Mum’s House’) dishes out Mauritian and Creole cuisine. At Fish Shack, we enjoyed beachside barbecues and fresh seafood amid lantern-lights, Sega dancers and the sound of waves breaking on the reef.

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But there’s more to eat in Mauritius than mere seafood. At La Vanille Crocodile Park, a 3.5-hectare reserve, besides feeding giant Aldabra turtles and petting iguanas, you could try crocodile meat. Ironically, the restaurant is called Le Crocodile Affamé or the Hungry Crocodile and it serves a sample crocodile degustation platter with mini spring rolls, mini kebabs, smoked crocodile and salad.

The local favourite cœurs de palmier or heart of palm makes a great salad, often mixed with salad leaves and a variety of seafood – oysters, shrimp, crayfish, prawns, smoked marlin and crabs – and tossed with sauce rouge (red sauce) into Millionaire’s Salad.

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The best place to learn more about the history of Mauritius and its tryst with sugar is L’Aventure du Sucre, the Sugar Factory and museum near the famous Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens. The self-guided tour, enlivened by info panels and videos, ends with tasting 12 types of sugars and 9 rums! Dotted with rhumeries (rum factories) and distilleries like St Aubin House and Chamarel, there’s always some rum tasting going on in Mauritius.

At Chamarel, besides exotic flavours like vanilla, mandarin and coffee rum on offer, the L’Alchimiste restaurant liberally uses rum for various dishes – Chamarel espresso, pork braised with Chamarel rum and Chamarel rum baba or baba au rhum, a small yeast cake saturated in syrup made with rum. Chateau de Labourdonnais, a historic estate started in 1771, has a distillery and old bungalow run like a heritage museum, showcasing Mauritian lifestyle in the 19th century.

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July to December is sugarcane harvest season when distilleries are busy with production. Mauritius is a tropical paradise also known for its sweet pineapples and coconuts, best enjoyed on the beach. Be it Casela Wildlife Park or La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, most tourist attractions have great dining options.

In capital Port Louis, a visit to the food market is a must. For an authentic French and Mauritian gastronomical experience, head to Le Courtyard, a boutique restaurant set in a courtyard around a fountain. They serve terrific seafood paired with French wines – scallops, scampi, salmon, mahi mahi and gueule pavé (Goldlined sea bream), with special touches like confectionery and amuse-bouche (literally ‘mouth amusers’ – single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre) as compliments from the chef. The desserts are to die for, especially the crème brulé, made with Mauritian Muscovado – unrefined brown sugar, a chefs’ favourite.

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If sugar is a precious commodity in Mauritius, its salt is equally coveted. Fleur de sel or flor de sal in Portuguese – literally ‘Flower of Salt’ – is hailed as the Queen of Salts. It is formed as a thin, delicate crust on the surface of seawater as it evaporates and is known for its characteristic crunch and clean light taste.

Despite being a small island nation, Mauritius packs in great culinary diversity. The French touch is apparent in the love for bouillon, tuna salad and coq au vin. The Chinese influence can be seen in the spicy noodles, fried rice and seafood dim sums. Mauritian favourites include calamari salad, daube, an octopus stew, fish vindaye (local version of the vindaloo) and rougaille, a Mediterranean dish of fish or meat with tomatoes, onions and garlic. Creole classics like Mauritian fish and aubergine curry and chicken curry are relished with rice and a chilli paste called mazavaroo.

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At its peak in the 19th century, there were nearly 400 sugar factories in Mauritius. Many of these have now been converted into museums, resorts and restaurants. Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa, built around an old sugarcane factory, has a dilapidated chimney as a reminder of colonial plantation life. Overlooking the pool, the Le Comptoir restaurant serves ‘Eye Opener Juice’ of strawberry lemonade and hearty breakfasts with seafood at Ocean One overlooking the private Azuri beach.

Today, sugarcane is grown over 85% of the arable land in Mauritius and on an average, 6,00,000 tonnes of sugar is produced annually. And yes, a lot of rum! I bit into my caramelized pineapple dessert flambéed with Mauritian rum and sighed… Joseph Conrad was right. Visiting Mauritius in 1885, the author set his story ‘A Smile of Fortune’ here and called Mauritius the ‘Sweet Pearl of the Indian Ocean.’

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Where to Eat/Drink

St. Aubin House
www.saintaubin.mu

Rhumerie de Chamarel
http://www.rhumeriedechamarel.com

L’Aventure du Sucre
www.aventuredusucre.com

Chateau Labourdonnais
www.chateaulabourdonnais.com

Hotel Shanti Maurice, Chemin Grenier
www.shantimaurice.com

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Hotel Radisson Blu Azuri
www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-mauritius-azuri

Hotel Paradis & Dinarobin, Le Morne
www.beachcomber-hotels.com

La Vanille Reserve des Mascareignes (Crocodile Park)
www.lavanille-reserve.com

La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, Mare Anguilles
www.lavalleedescouleurs.com

Casela World of Adventures, Cascavelle
www.caselapark.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 5 November 2017 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

 

Bikaner: Tales of the Wild West

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the bylanes of Bikaner on the Royal and Merchant Trails, tonga rides and other curated experiences while staying at Narendra Bhawan, the residence of the last Maharaja of Bikaner

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In 1488, proud Rathore prince Rao Bika, second son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur Rao Jodha, broke away from the dynasty after his ego was bruised by his father’s barb. On a whim, he came with a band of followers to a barren outcrop of land called Jangladesh to establish his own lineage. This was the Wild West, home to warring Jat clans, who were subdued only after local mystic Karni Mata arranged a strategic matrimonial alliance of Rao Bika with the daughter of Rao Shekha, the powerful Bhati chief of Pugal.

The new capital ‘Bikaner’ thrived due to its strategic location along the caravan routes between Western India and Central Asia. Enriched by trade on the Silk Route, Bikaner’s merchants and nobles built opulent palaces, havelis and temples in red sandstone that have withstood the shifting sands of fortune for five centuries.

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It was the 6th Raja Rai Singh who moved from the original bastion and laid the foundation of a more secure Junagarh Fort, giving impetus to trade in oil and spices. Maharaja Sujan Singh invited merchants to settle at Sujangarh while it was Maharaja Ganga Singh who offered them an incentive to make Bikaner their home, with the promise of tax-free income and donations of land to build houses, ‘for just a rupee and a coconut’. It is said, 1001 havelis were erected during his reign.

Preceding the city’s foundation is the 15th century Bhandasar Temple, the oldest and largest of the 27 Jain shrines in Bikaner, commissioned by Seth Bhanda Shah Oswal in 1468. When someone questioned the need for a lavish temple in a water-scarce region, the indignant trader swore not to use a drop of water. He built the temple’s foundation entirely out of ghee or clarified butter!

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The unique ‘Ghee Wala Mandir’ used 40,000 kg of ghee and is an apt symbol of a proud land, where merchants were no less haughty than kings. Carved in red sandstone and white marble, the temple holds a treasure of frescoes, etchings and wall paintings with rich mirror work and gold leaf work.

We stood awestruck outside the stunning cluster of seven Rampuriya havelis built by three brothers. Red sandstone mansions with exquisitely carved jalis (lattice work) and contrasting turquoise doors and windows lined the narrow lane.

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The Merchant Exploration tour, specially curated by Narendra Bhawan, offers charming insights into the grandeur of the mercantile class and their pivotal role in the growth of Bikaner.

We sat like royals behind Sultan, the sure-footed equine who navigated Bikaner’s impossibly narrow bylanes trotting nimbly beside pedestrians and motorists past havelis on a delightful horse carriage ride. Where the lanes were too tight, we disembarked for a guided walk.

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From Golchha Haveli to Dadda Haveli and Rangari Chowk, Kotharion ka Chowk to Daga Sitya Chowk, the tour culminated in a well-earned meal at Punan Chand Haveli, once a grand merchant residence. Welcomed with a tumbler of chhaas (buttermilk) and fragrant cold towels, we were ushered up narrow staircases to a chamber on the top floor.

While we absorbed the rooftop view of Bikaner, our hosts assembled an amazing Marwari platter on traditional low seating – sev tamatar, Jaisalmeri kala chana, ker-sangri, bajre ki roti, poori, boondi raita and moong dal halwa. The descent seemed daunting after our heavy feast and we soon returned to the comfort of Narendra Bhavan.

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Set in an urban landscape, the residence of Bikaner’s last reigning maharaja Narendra Singh ji seemed like any other Rajasthani haveli from the outside. But step into this boutique hotel and you are transported into a colourful world, much like the idiosyncratic persona of its former owner.

Narendra Singh ji straddled the cusp when the old order was changing to the new. He was born a royal but wanted to live like a commoner so he left the palace to build a humble home for himself. Composed of memories from his travels near and far, the residence is accentuated with unconventional bric-a-brac and offers thoughtfully curated, bespoke experiences.

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In many ways, Narendra Bhawan is an assault on the senses. Its eclectic influences range from the Art Deco movement of Bombay to the flamboyance of Broadway, the decadence of royalty to regimental pageantry inspired by generations-old royal interactions with military academies.

Tall Ming vases in the verandah, crystals from Czechoslovakia, porcelain from Dresden, red velvet settees and gold walls in the waiting room, bronze sculptures of hounds and horses, Hussein paintings, antique furniture and embroidered tapestries.

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A whimsical electric red Baby Grand piano ‘Edith’, a tribute to Edith Piaf, sat on a raised stage at the far corner of the foyer. Cleverly renovated, the old single-storey structure was encompassed by a four-floor edifice built around it with the old terrace becoming the central courtyard. The haveli’s pillared arches and latticed windows echoed the traditional architecture of the region.

As the perennially dapper Manvendra Singh Shekhawat, the man behind the project, explained, “It’s like the house of a mad uncle we all love. Nothing makes sense initially, but eventually it grows on you. Because it is a residence, it is not themed, but a landscape of memories, a life depicted through time!” The rooms represent Narendra Singh ji’s transition across the ages – somber Residence rooms, flamboyant Princes rooms and Regimental rooms with masculine leather tones… Our room had the flourish of The Great Gatsby with candy pink lights and sorbet green lamps lighting up a marble topped work desk with a maroon leather chair and printed ottoman. No two rooms were alike and the best artworks were reserved for the loo!

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Here, Narendra Singh ji stayed with his family, 500 cows and 86 dogs. It is common lore that he would call individual cows by name and they would respond. He was awarded a Gauratna for his service to cows and he apparently never ate a meal till all his animals were fed. As a tribute to his love for animals, the gaushala (cowshed) and verandah have been reinterpreted into an outdoor dining space for a drink under the stars. The onyx tabletop came alive in the evening, lit up from below, to impart a fiery glow as we sipped the signature Negroni.

Bikaner has one of the most evolved cuisines in Rajasthan – from the banquets of kings and menus structured in French, to a touch of Bikaner with vegetarian fare of the traders and the meaty flavours of Muslim cuisine. P&C or Pearls & Chiffon was a tribute to the ladies of the house and the illustrious military backgrounds of their families. The high backed chairs exuded an aristocratic air.

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Here, churros and chooza kebab went hand in hand while murgh sabja, dahi waley alu, kachre ki sabji (local melon), angoor ki sabji, kale chane ki kabuli and mooli palak rubbed shoulders with goat cheese mousse, smoked duck with Hoisin glaze and white fungus mushrooms with butter cream and fried walnuts. Desserts like red velvet with ghevar, French almond biscuit and fresh berry compote could melt the hardest of Rajput hearts while their version of the Philadelphia Cheesecake was what one ought to eat before hitting the gym!

After a suitably leisurely breakfast at the Mad Hatter’s Bake House, we set off next morning on a bespoke Royal Exploration tour of its fort and palaces. We started off near the Lakshmi Nathji Temple where it all began – at Bikaji ki Tekri, a collection of chhatris or royal cenotaphs of Rao Bika and Bikaner’s early rulers. Stone tablets in Devanagri script commemorated the valour of the kings. On saving Indian princes from the tyranny of Aurangzeb, they received the title ‘Jai Jangalghar Badshah’.

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Unlike other citadels in Rajasthan that are perched on hills or vantage points, Bikaner’s Junagadh Fort is a rare edifice built on flat land in 1593. Yet, the imposing fort of red sandstone, the same colour as dried blood, has never been conquered. Within the complex lie spectacular courtyards and mahals (palaces) with eye-popping frescoes and tile work.

Karan Mahal has Mughal influence, Anoop Mahal bears gold leaf or usta work, the exquisite Phool Mahal features glass inlay on stucco, while Badal Mahal has blue clouds interspersed with lightning motifs painted on its walls and ceilings. A ceremonial 1,100-year-old sandalwood throne stands in the Durbar Hall. Another outstanding highlight is the Sur Mandar’s unique jharokha of blue and white Delft tiles.

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The Fort Museum heaves with riches like Ali Baba’s fabled cave – thrones made of silver and sandalwood, golden swings, royal palanquins and howdahs and an ornate jhoola (swing) with the dancing gopis. There’s even a Haviland Plane displayed in the Vikram Niwas Durbar Hall, pieced together from the parts of two DH-9DE Haviland Planes shot down. Junagarh houses a smaller private museum Pracheena that displays contemporary arts and crafts, period furniture, costumes, photographs, crockery, cutlery and framed menu cards!

Maharaja Sir Ganga Singh ji served in the First World War in France and Flanders in 1914–1915 and sent 1000 camels to aid the British war effort. The elite gun-toting camel corps called Ganga Risala saw action in both the world wars. Ganga Singh ji represented India as one of the signatories at the Treaty of Versailles and opened the Gang Canal from Punjab in 1927. The world’s longest lined canal at the time, it ushered in another chapter of prosperity for Bikaner.

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Ganga Singh ji also commissioned the opulent Laxmi Niwas Palace, which took architect Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob five years to complete. This fine specimen of Indo-Saracenic architecture (a mix of Hindu, Mughal and European styles) served as the private residence of the royals and is now a heritage hotel. The stunning inner courtyard is lined by various chambers. In the resplendent Swarna Mahal with usta art on a Burma teak-paneled ceiling, dine on elaborate Rajasthani thalis and lal maas or mutton cooked in gulmohar flowers.

Inside the Trophy Bar, an Assamese rhinoceros and a Nepalese bison face off from opposing walls while fourteen magnificent tigers stare down at you in the Billiards Room. In 1902, another royal retreat was commissioned. Lalgarh Palace, now a heritage hotel, was built in Victorian style with beautiful lattices, filigree work and vintage etchings, hunting trophies and old portraits adorning the walls.

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We stopped at the market to see the local jadau jewellery as craftsmen worked wonders with enamel and diamonds studded in 24 carat gold. Others kept alive the tradition of usta, derived from ‘ustad’, an art brought to Bikaner by Muslim artisans. A detour to see the royal cenotaphs at Devi Kund Sagar and we were ready to hit the pool at Narendra Bhawan.

Overlooking the city, the terrace dons its Havana-esque style with aplomb. The plain walls with niches and bursts of green foliage contrast the blue sky and the gorgeous azure of its infinity pool. By evening, it transforms to recreate the magic of Arabian nights with shimmering curtains and sumptuous feasts.

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Narendra Bhawan’s unique experiences are not limited to the confines of the haveli. ‘Reveille at Ratadi Talai’ promises ‘goat for breakfast’, a take on the cavaliers grill, with goat grilled to perfection and served with nalli nihari – a robust curry of trotters, with eggs, bacon and hash.

We drove deep into the heartland of the Bikaner desert to a secret enclave for ‘Sundowners at the Pastures.’ The light of the lanterns mirrored the stars twinkling above, a folk musician played a soulful tune on his ravanahatha, singing about battles won and lost. We raised a toast to the wild glory of Bikaner’s past as the untamed Jangladesh wind ruffled our hair.

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Discover This
30 km from Bikaner, the 600-year-old Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke, is dedicated to the household goddess of Bikaner’s rulers. Famous as India’s rat temple, it is home to legions of rats that are worshipped by the local Charan community as their reincarnated ancestors.

Scurrying in and out of holes, they perch on shoulders of pleased devotees and scuttle down marbled hallways, into pails of milk and platters of sweets, all 20,000 of them! Devotees tread warily performing pradakshinas (circumambulation) around the shrine as harming a rat is sacrilege while a glimpse of the kaaba (white rat) considered most auspicious.

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NAVIGATOR

How to Reach
By Air: The nearest airport is Jodhpur, 253 km away or Jaipur, 334 km.
By Train: Bikaner lies on the Western Railway and is well connected to Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kalka, Allahabad and Howrah.
By Road: Bikaner is 249km from Jodhpur, 312 km from Jaisalmer, 334 km from Jaipur and 458km from Delhi with good bus connectivity.

Where to Stay
Narendra Bhawan
Ph +91-7827151151
http://www.narendrabhawan.com

Laxmi Niwas Palace
Ph 0151-2200088, 8875025218
http://www.laxminiwaspalace.com

Lallgarh Palace
Ph 0151-2540201-7, 9711550134
http://www.lallgarhpalace.com

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What to Eat
Local namkeen and mishtan bhandars are famous for sweets like Mawa Kachori and Ghevar besides the local staple mirchi bada. Bhikaram Chandmal Bhujiawala is the best place to pick up the eponymous Bikaneri bhujiya while Chhotu Motu Joshi Sweet Shop is good for aloo puri, methi-puri, kachoris and lassis.

When to Go
The best time to visit Bikaner is between October and March, the winter months. The colourful Camel Fair is held at Bikaner in January.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in November 2017 in Discover India magazine.

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

Reinterpreted Spaces-Underground bunker now hip bar Operation Dropout-IMG_0628-Anurag Mallick

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.