Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Exploring Lucknow’s Vegetarian Side

Lucknow, like any other small Indian town, is a slow city. A city which runs at its own pace, lazily. There are few things that'll get the city folks up and running. But mention Netram Ajay Kumar’s jalebi and you’ll find them dressed, out of the house, on their two wheelers in a flash, that too early in the morning. The more than 100 year old shop (it’s been there since 1854) in the middle of Aminabad has been a favourite of many generations. A huge
crowd waiting for golden jalebis and khasta in the morning boasts of its popularity. It’s one thing to eat the thick, crisp, sugar syrup loaded jalebis at Netram and another thing to watch them being made. The old halwai, sitting with a composure that’ll shame the trained chefs, drops batter from a brass tumbler into hot oil with quick flicks of his wrist. Ask him to pose for a pick and he’ll do it with an ease of a filmstar, while still doing his job at the same speed. To balance out the sweetness of jalebis there’s khasta - deep fried flaky pastry stuffed with urad dal paste, served with spicy chhole, chutneys and onions. The khasta-jalebi breakfast is what Lucknow wakes up to, almost every day.

While Netram holds the reigns where jalebi is concerned, there are multiple favourites for khasta. Some for quality and other for pure nostalgia. Durga Khasta Corner in Hussainganj is another popular khasta joint where you’ll find a huddle of guys getting their morning fix or getting khastas packed for the whole family. The USP here is the pasty chhole scooped over hot khastas. 

At Netram, breakfast gets over by 10 and the shop gets ready for lunch. Puffed kachoris
stuffed with urad dal bobbing in hot oil, practiced hands making imartis and constant orders of kachori thali is what an afternoon looks like here. The thali has four crisp, double fried kachoris, potato curry, dry pumpkin sabzi, dry potato and cauliflower sabzi, bottle gourd raita and sweet chutney - the last one is so good it’ll make you take some home. Ask nicely and the waiter will happily pack some for you. Wrap up this meal with imarti or ras malai.

Want to make the Kachori Thali at Home? Check out recipe here.

As the Sun sets the city gets ready to take on the varity of chaat sold at every nook and corner. A hop, skip and jump away from Netram there's a small shop at the corner of the street, Shree Kalika Chaat House. They're making chaat since the days of my grandfather and great grandfather and the size of the shop and quality of food is still intact. Try the pani ke batashe here with spicy and tangy pani. The papdi chaat is a package of flavours - flat and crisp puris topped with potato, boiled white peas, red chutney, green chutney and a special masala sprinkled on top. The matar ki tikki, a Lucknow speciality is a simple preparation of pan fried boiled white peas garnished with chaat masala, green coriander and a spritz of lime. Don’t leave without eating their gulab jamuns - small, bite sized and full of sugar syrup. Walk exactly 10 steps to Prakash Kulfi for one of the best kulfis in Lucknow. The shop has been there since ages and serves just one flavour - kesar pista

If you loved Kalika’s chaat, wait till you go to Pt. Ramnarayan Tiwari Chaat Wala in Ganeshganj. The old shop is divided between two brothers so make sure you go to the one on the right. The chaat at Tiwari needs your complete attention so be suffeciently hungry and not in a rush. Start from pani ke batashe right outside the shop. The crisp batashas are filled with boiled white pea and spicy-tangy water in four different flavours - hing (asafoetida), lime, sweet with tamarind and a spicy one. Try the hing one and you’ll go for the second plate. All the waters have right amount of tang and spice. Once you’ve laid the geoundwork for the evening with batashas, move on to matar ki tikki - the one served here is better, crispier and spicier than Kalika. Aloo ki  tikki with whisked yogurt, sweet chutney garnished with thin potato wafers, green coriander and chaat masala is a burst of flavours. The dahi wadas are good too but the curd is tad too sweet sometimes. If you manage to save some stomach space after the tikki have a grand finish with tokri chaat - it's a basket of deep fried potatoes stuffed with aloo tikki, wada, papdi, dahi, chutney and garnished with pomegranate, chopped coriander and chaat masala. Lucknow takes immense pride in its tokri chaat so yes, go for it. 

Another famous chaat place here is Royal Cafe in Hazratganj. It's said that in the good old
days ordering food from Royal Cafe was the sign of being wealthy. You can try the chaat if you’re in the area. However, I’d still suggest that you go to Tiwari. But while you are Ganjing (roaming around in Hazratganj is called that) go and eat the dahi wadas at Gupta - a small wagon which is parked right outside Vallabhbhai Park in the evening. His dahi wadas are chilled, soft with creamy dahi.

Want to take a break from the chaat? Go to Burma Bakery in Ganj and buy their butter biscuits, cake rusk and jeera biscuit. 

One of the best things about eating in North India is the dhaba experience, and no I don’t mean a fancy restaurant dressed up as dhaba. I mean the real experience where you get in, eat and get out. Pappu Da Dhaba near Lucknow University is one such place; famous among students and working bachelors for its cheap and homely food. It's a small eatery on the road side with rickety wooden tables and benches where strangers share tables. The menu rotates and has dal, a dry sabzi, a paneer dish, egg curry, kadhi on some days and soft tandoori roti. The food is simple, not very spicy and unlike regular dhabas low on oil. You also get ande ki bhujiya with bread and parathas for breakfast. 

Lucknow is definitely a city rich with non-vegetarian food - kebabs, biryani, curries and kormas. But for every non-vegetarian dish there's an equally good vegetarian dish which I am trying to explore. More when I visit my hometown next. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Punjabi food haven in Mumbai

Being anywhere remotely close to Matunga East for me has always meant eating at one of the South Indian joints. A lot of our working saturdays (my office is in Matunga West) are planned around going for a Keralan meal at Mani’s Lunch Home or wolfing down hot rasam-vadas and paniyarams at Arya Bhawan. Two weeks ago when I planned a trip to Shanmukhanand in Sion to attend a concert, my brain was already hatching ideas to eat at either Arya Bhawan or the legendary Mysore Cafe.

On Sunday afternoon we drove to Sion and I suddenly realized that I was a hop, skip and jump away from Sion Koliwada. Which meant that Chawla’s chole-kulche joint mentioned by Gaurav on his blog (Eating Out In Bombay) was somewhere here. I asked around and we paced towards the area which was soon to become a mini Punjabi food paradise for me in Mumbai.

The tandoors (clay ovens) outside every shop took me back to my childhood when every summer holiday was spent eating rotis straight out of these tandoors. My nana-nani’s (maternal grandparents) village in district Udhamsingh Nagar was inhabited by Punjabis and there wasn’t a single house without a large tandoor in its courtyard. After the last game of eye-spy or langdi-kabaddi when we walked back home in the evening, calls of "rotti kha le" (come have food) from every home would entice us; their doors always stood ajar to welcome whoever was passing by.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Breakfast Recipe - Baked Eggs

Weekends are so good; you don’t have to wake up early, get ready in a hurry to go somewhere. The best part is that you don’t have to cook two meals in the morning, a good brunch makes up for two. At least in my case it does. I usually cook one heavy meal on weekend mornings or noons. Usually I prefer eggs cause they fill you up for a good part of the day. Today, instead of going the regular bhurji or omlette way I tried these easy baked eggs. It’s basically breakfast in a bowl and very easy to make.

Monday, July 7, 2014

How to make a perfect Sabudana Khichdi

Sabudana khichdi (or tehri as we call it in Lucknow) is easily a unanimously favourite dish during fasts. Sabudana is not a grain or pulse and is full of carbohydrates which fills you up really fast. Top it with dahi and it makes for a complete meal. I still remember, when my mother used to fast she’d cook sbudana khichdi for all of us; even if we weren’t fasting. I always loved the way she made it, slightly sticky and spicy. When I came to Bombay I ate the less spicier version with curry leaves. I didn’t like it initially but then developed a taste for it. This khichdi becamr my go-to Sunday meal while I was living alone. Eventually I learnt the process of how to make the non-sticky khichdi. Here’s my mom’s recipe. Take note of the first two steps, they are the most important ones.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tandoori Khumb (Mushroom)

Last weekend I received a bag of ingredients from Nature’s Basket. It had a pack of crunchy lettuce, fat asparagus spears, bright red vine tomatoes and two plump portobello mushrooms. Now, that last ingredient confuses me. I get a bit confused around mushrooms. What to do with these buggers? Add them to salad, make stir fry or a burger; is that all? This time I wanted to try something new. So I racked my brain, looked on the net and zeroed in on Tandoori mushrooms or khumb. It’s a pretty simple recipe and doesn’t need a lot of preparation.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How not to write about food 101

"The gorgeous *** breast looked like ***gasm on a ***. The sight of it was enough to tantalize my ***. The first *** was an explosion of *** in my mouth."

Now read it again...

"The gorgeous chicken breast looked like foodgasm on a plate. The sight of it was enough to tantalize my tastebuds. The first bite was an explosion of flavours in my mouth."

What? of course I was talking about food you sick mind! Do you think there are other kind of breasts that can look gorgeous? Huh?

With so much food porn, foodgasm and voluptuous prawns around it's hard to maintain an asexual relationship with food. But can we not save these adjectives for our husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, partners etc. and enjoy a platonic relation with our meals?

This post is not about how to write about food. A lot of food writers know much more about it than I do. This post is to tell the food writers and bloggers how to not write about food. It’s pretty simple, if your writing makes the dish sound unappetizing you are doing it wrong. Your words should give a clear picture of what’s on your plate and not what’s in the hidden folder of your hard drive. Of-course, unless you aspire to be the next E.L. James. In that case you are doing the right thing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

#ExperienceTaj - Golden Dragon

Disclaimer - This is not a review of Golden Dragon. When you visit a 110-year-old hotel's 40-year-old restaurant. it's not just food that you eat; there are stories, memories and anecdotes that create an experience worth remembering.

Last week I was invited for lunch at Golden Dragon, The Taj Mahal Palace's Chinese restaurant. The idea was to introduce food bloggers/writers to restaurant's dining experience with a menu including signature dishes and regular favourites. A small group of three food writers; Romi Purkayastha of Follow The Eaten Path, Roxanne Bamboat of The Tiny Taster and me joined by Nikhila Palat - Taj Mahal Palace's Public Relation Manager and Parveen Chander - the Deputy General Manager at The Taj Mahal Palace, was hosted at this 40-year-old restaurant. 

Opened in 1973, Golden Dragon was the first restaurant to bring authentic Chinese cuisine to Mumbai. At the time when Chinese food meant Indo-Chinese or Kolkata-Chinese for us, Golden Dragon introduced Mumbaikars to Szechuan and Cantonese cuisines. A fleet of five chefs was flown in from China to get the right cooking techniques and authentic flavours. They carried their own pots and ladles and no one except those five chefs was allowed to touch them, until an Indian chef convinced them that he was worthy of cooking their food.

With stories like these, our meal started with a cup of traditional Chinese tea which was served from a pot with an unusually long spout. This peculiar pot was used to serve tea in the times of war. It allowed the server to pour tea from a distance stopping him from overhearing the private (read top-secret) conversation. Tea was followed by a dimsum platter which had a mix of signature as well as new dishes. I loved the Flaky radish dimsum - grated radish wrapped in a flaky, deep fried shell, which has been on the menu since the time Golden Dragon opened. The other favourite was the crunchy Lotus root and celery dimsum. These were lapped up with sweet chilli sauce, the best I've had in Mumbai so far. Golden Dragon has one of the best dimsum selection in the city and has a special dimsum lunch menu on Sundays. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An open letter to Rasna

Dear Rasna,

The other day I was in a supermarket buying summer coolers when I spotted you. At first, I couldn’t recognize you between the packets of Tang and ice teas; you all looked the same to me. I think that clarifies my initial indifference; I wasn’t trying to ignore you, not deliberately at least.

In order to reunite with you I bought a packet. It had a fancy name of a foreign kind of orange; looked like you were trying hard to impress. You were never about real fruit and added vitamins. Those fads are for juice companies. You were always about fun and taste and that’s what all the kids loved about you. You were our one glass of bliss after a game of langdi-kabaddi or kho-kho in hot Sun. You were the stuff all birthday parties were made of. We never had to buy Coca Cola or Pepsi for our friends cause we knew you’ll always be there with your orange, mango, cola, khus khus and tutti frooti flavours (11 flavours in total). You were there to lift our spirits after a tough day at school; you were there to calm us down before a tough exam; you were there to make play times better and to make study times bearable. Every time we lifted a glass of you we said "I love you Rasna" aloud, and that love came straight from the heart.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Restaurant Review - Brunch 'n' Munch, Malad West

It was Sunday morning and I woke up craving a big breakfast, preferably English breakfast. Sadly, there aren't many places serving a good English breakfast in Goregaon and Malad and going to Indigo Deli burns a big hole in the pocket, especially during month end.

While I was thinking of options I remembered Chef Joel D'souza tweeting about a place in Orlem, Malad which serves English breakfast. Orlem has some very shiny gems hidden in its by-lanes and the three month old restaurant/cafe Brunch 'n' Munch is definitely one of them. Located in the same lane as Uncle's Kitchen, this restaurant is sandwiched between a tattoo parlour and a salon, all three owned by the same guy J'son D'Souza.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Date a girl who likes jalebis

Date a girl who’ll never let you eat another khatti (sour) jalebi in your life. She’ll finish pao kilo of jalebis just to taste if it's the perfect one before getting another 1 kg packed. She will brighten up at the site of hot jalebis making your world colourful, as colourful as the orange jalebis coming out of the wok of hot oil. The old Dhara (jalebiiii!) ad will be her favourite television memory. Date a girl who knows her jalebis.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A healthy, power packed smoothie - An ideal way to eat oats

I hate oats; any form, size, shape. Recently, I tried MTR's oats upma but couldn't make myself to buy it again. i feel really guilty when I see a bottle of oats sitting sealed in my kitchen. I know it's one of the healthiest breakfast options, good for heart, keeps away bad cholesterol etc etc. I was hoping that there'd be some way I can include oats in my breakfast. That's when Nikhil Merchant, blogger and food consultant, started posting a series of smoothie recipes that he makes everyday. Check them out here. I got the idea of adding oats to my smoothies from him. If you hate oats like I do try this smoothie, it's brilliant, filling and power packed. Or you can try these Genius Overnight Oats from Prachi Joshi's blog, Deliciously Directionless.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Beetroot chops recipe

Do you know how I love making bread rolls, aloo tikkis and chhole bhature on Sundays? Deep fried Indian snacks are my guilty pleasures hence I try adding healthy ingredients in my recipes. The lowers the guilt factor to a certain extent. I stuff bread samosas with seasonal vegetables or make aloo tikkis stuffed with peas. In one of the issues of BBC's Good Food India, I saw this recipe of beetroot or chukandar chops. I liked the idea and thought of trying it. The original recipe is sourced from the magazine to which I added some dry mint powder and mixed roasted seeds. I've recently grown fond of seeds (flaxseed, melon seeds, pumpkin seeds, cucumber seeds) and try consuming them on a daily basis. While I like to eat them plain, straight from the bottle, the husband throws a fit. So I sneak them in tikkis, salads etc (please don't tell him). In this recipe I used the roasted mixed seeds from Godrej Nature's Basket's Healthy Alternatives section

Friday, February 21, 2014

War of Gujarati thalis - Thackers Vs Samrat

Sometime in August last year I visited a restaurant which is now my new favourite for vegetarian, especially Gujarati food. Thackers, at Girgaon Chowpatty a favourite among the Gujaratis living around that area. In a true foodie/Gujarati spirit, the locals queue up at Thackers for lunch/dinner every weekend. The restaurant serves an a la carte menu of Gujarati delicacies along with Continental and Indian dishes but is more famous for its Thali.

A short drive away from Thackers is Samrat restaurant located near Churchgate Station. This too, like Thackers is popular among those who love Gujarati food. Apart from traditional Gujarati thali restaurant also serves regular Indian and Continental food.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Litti Chokha - The Bihari staple

In winters, strolling on the streets of a small town in Bihar or eastern UP, you'll find a bunch of people huddled around fire roasting littis. The staple from Bihar, litti chokha is one of the most rustic dishes of India. Traditionally the sattu (whole Bengal gram flour) stuffed littis (dough balls) are roasted on dried cow-dung cakes (gobar ke uple) and are eaten with chokha - mashed roasted brinjal mixed with spices. In some homes chana dal and yogurt topped with jaggery is also served along. Another favourite accompaniment with litti is spicy mutton curry cooked in a handi (earthen pot). Sadly, the dish never made to the menu of a main stream restaurant serving Indian food. While we have places serving dal-bati-choorma litti-chokha has mostly gone unnoticed. However, I won't delve into that issue here and will give you the recipe which is really close to my heart. I learnt it from my mom who started making it on cow dung cakes (gobar ke uple) and slowly moved on to gas oven for more practical reasons.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fried Rohu in Mustard and Ajwain

Given that I am such a big fish eater it only makes sense to start the blog year with a fish recipe. Rohu is a river water fish and it's taste in itself is so sweet that you don't need too many spices to prepare it. This one is a very Bengali/UP preparation with just mustard and ajwain seeds. Cooking in mustard oil creates some magic in the kitchen and I for one cannot resist the aroma. The recipe is simple. Try it and thank me later.

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