Tag Archives: gourmet

Gourmet Dubai: Culinary treasures from the Oyster Shell

Standard

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

Ewaan Restaurant IMG_1528

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

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

At.mosphere Dubai 3

Dining in Luxury

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

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

Al Mahara interior 3

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

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

Stitched Panorama

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

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

One & Only Royal Mirage-Eauzone IMG_1820

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

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

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

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

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

Mekong 2015-12-17 21.34.22

Food festivals galore

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

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

Dubai, Dubai Film, Food Festival, DTCM

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

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

comptoir (15)

Eat Organic

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

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

Ripe Organic Market IMG_2118

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

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

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

FACT FILE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Serre-Sea bass baked in salt crust

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

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

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

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

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

For more info, www.visitdubai.com

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

Mauritian Cuisine: Island Flavours

Standard

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

Chamarel viewpoint IMG_2124

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…

Sugar Factory IMG_1789

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.

IMG_1544

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.

IMG_1709

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.

IMG_1106

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.

IMG_1116

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.

IMG_1262

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.

IMG_1535

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.

IMG_1528

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.

IMG_1683

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.

photo 1 copy

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.’

IMG_1263

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

IMG_1110

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

Standard

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

IMG_3514_1

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.

IMG_3602

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!

IMG_3359

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.

IMG_2940_1

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.

IMG_3120

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.

IMG_3156

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.

IMG_2828

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.

Narendra Bhawan, residence of Narendra Singh ji, the last Maharaja of Bikaner has been beautifully renovated into a boutique hotel IMG_2821

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!

IMG_3623

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.

IMG_2865

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’.

IMG_3460

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.

IMG_3548

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.

IMG_3479

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.

IMG_3213

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.

IMG_3619

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.

IMG_3188

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.

IMG_3263

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

IMG_2869

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.

L’chaim: Cheers to Israeli cuisine

Standard

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

IMG_7250

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.

IMG_8554

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.

IMG_8537

“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!

IMG_8014

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.

IMG_8073

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.

IMG_8965

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.

FullSizeRender

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!’

IMG_7248

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.

IMG_6825

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).

IMG_7520

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.

IMG_9713

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.

IMG_9917

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…

IMG_9078

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

IMG_8556 

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

IMG_8971

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. 

 

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Goa with the Flow

Standard

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

dsc00046_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09708_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09727_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09782_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09808_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09642_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09702_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09895_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09505_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09958_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc00022_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09879_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09848_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09603_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09974_anurag-mallick

FACT FILE

Where to Stay

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

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

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

dsc09499_anurag-mallick

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

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

dsc09926_anurag-mallick

Where to Drink/Eat

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

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

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

dsc09943_anurag-mallick

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

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

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

dsc09896_anurag-mallick

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

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

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

dsc09997_anurag-mallick

What to See/Do 

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

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

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

The Hungry Merlion: Singapore cuisine

Standard

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

IMG_7888_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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.

Tian Tian's Chicken Rice IMG_0561

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.

IMG_7904_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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.

IMG_9996_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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!

IMG_7246_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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.

IMG_0623_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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.

IMG_0768_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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.

IMG_1033_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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.

IMG_0343_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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.

IMG_0361_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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…

IMG_0342_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

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

IMG_7255_Singapore-Anurag Mallick

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.