Tag Archives: food

Pleasing my Palate in Pune

My foodie trails take me to several places and recently I found myself at Double Tree by Hilton, Pune, a hotel located in Pimpri-Chinchwad away from the hustle-bustle and yet, with all basic necessities a stone’s throw away.

The gourmand in me beamed with pleasure as a large, warm, chocolate chip cookie was handed over to me at the time of check-in. That is a Hilton tradition. The warm cookie was comforting after my journey and simply melt-in-my-mouth.

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3 Spices, the vibrant all-day dining place at the lobby level impressed me. It exudes an air of bonhomie and comfort. The cheerful and warm staff settled us in and we looked around the buffet spread for lunch. There was no run-of-the-mill stuff here. Food from around the world – Indian, Pan Asian, Global- something for every palate.  And attractively displayed. The bar at the entrance is well-stocked and the bartenders adeptly mix cocktails of your choice.

There was a live chaat counter too. Just perfect for this weather to perk up my taste buds.

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The roasted chicken with rosemary jus, the mangshor jhol or quintessential Bengali mutton curry with birasta pulao, struck me as outstanding. The bhakris, chicken in khada masala and stuffed okra that chef specially made for us to give us a taste of the local flavours took my taste buds by storm. The flavours were distinct and no where did spices overpower the ingredients.

The Pan Asian fare was equally well-made sans any additives and preservatives.

The a la carte menu here is exhaustive and boasts of everything from curry laksa and classic caesar salad to penne pasta genovese and chicken tikka pizza. The 6 seeti ka mutton and Kerala Pomfrt curry from the regional specialities are a must-try.

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The desserts were equally unusual. The beetroot halwa, Um ali- the Egyptian bread pudding, caught my fancy and both of them surpassed my expectations. The creamy texture of both desserts wowed my palate.

The varied fare at this buffet with unusual delicacies, certainly sets it apart from many others.

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Although for dinner, 3 Spices had an Awadhi food promotion, which looked immensely tempting, I decided to skip it as Miyuki, the small and cosy Japanese restaurant behind 3 Spices, beckoned me. Chef Nirmal’s work at the Teppanyaki griddle, mesmerised me as he treated us to an exotic meal complete with salads, sushi, sashimi, fried rice with chicken teriyaki and of course dessert. The flavours were simple and subtle, in keeping with Japanese cuisine and the ingredients fresh. The Sashimi particularly stood out for me in the entire meal.

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The service staff at all the F& B outlets is impeccable. Well-trained, courteous and most importantly well-informed.

My breakfast next morning was an enjoyable experience again. The live counters with eggs and waffles were fun to watch as chefs adroitly dished out waffles and eggs for diners a la minute. The ‘Kadak chai’ tapri or stall served piping hot masala tea, in keeping with the culture of Pune.

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Cereals, Pan Asian dishes, fruits, South Indian fare, bakery items. There truly was a lot to choose from. The array of fresh juices- mixed, watermelon, orange, carrot and ginger in glass bottles impressed me beyond words.

Chef Joy who is at the helm and his team of talented chefs ensure that the F&B offerings are unique and monotony never sets in for a long staying guest. They constantly endeavour to create new dining experiences for guests.  The attentive and affable waiting staff executes this to perfection and together, they contribute to a memorable dining experience for the guest.

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Tarta, the tiny and attractive bakery and patisserie in the lobby is hard-to-miss. Fresh breads, pastries and cakes galore, are on display and irresistible.

I have stayed at many hotels in India and abroad, but the F&B offerings here at Double Tree by Hilton Pune, Chinchwad are something I will long cherish and remember.

 

 

 

 

 

Around the World in 52 weeks

A new cuisine every Friday for 52 weeks? Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? World Streat Food Delicatessen and Taproom at Dalamal Towers, Nariman Point Mumbai is the place which accomplishes this magical feat.

 

At affordable prices in a contemporary restaurant with a warm vibe one can relish a new cuisine each week at a week-long festival or order from the exhaustive a la carte menu. Equally varied is the bar menu with exciting cocktails.

I was fortunate to experience the South East Asian food festival as that is one of my favourite cuisines. The menu was exciting and there was a fair amount of variety including several vegetarian options.

A comforting bowl of Laksa was what I began my meal with. Well-made, the ingredients were fresh and of a great quality and the spices, authentic. The creamy  coconut milk based soup was filling and I thoroughly relished it given the rainy season in Mumbai. There were other options too from Indonesia, Malaysia, East Timor, Philippines and so on.

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The Singapore curry puff seemed inviting, but I decided to skip it in favour of the Murtabak. This crispy stuffed pancake with chicken, eggs, potato and spices, was strongly reminiscent of the Moghlai Paratha in Kolkata. Delicious with a generous amount of filling, this was a palate pleaser. The Thai dumplings, usually my favourite, paled in comparison today.

 

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Nasi Goreng, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Phad Phak, there was a lot to choose from.  I opted for the Phuket’s Chilli Basil rice upon the recommendation of the Manager and when it arrived, I was grateful to him for his recommendation.

Served with the fiery Tabonjan sauce, in the center, it perked up my taste buds instantly and set my palate tingling.

For dessert I skipped the typical Tub Tim Grob and settled for the Indonesian custard Kopyar instead. Pieces of tender coconut in a creamy coconut based custard were delightful. The tramisu from the a la carte menu sounded delectable too.

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The al la carte menu is equally a gourmand’s delight – Mee Goreng, Iran Mughlai Biryani, and Brazil Habanero Chilli Prawns Soups like Canada Cheese Burger Soup, Thailand Tom Kha. There is something for every palate.

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Tempting desserts like the Japan Matcha Cake to Thailand’s Tub Tim Grob, Sweden Kladdkka, Austrian Sachertorte are bound to make you indulge in these sinful choices.

Taproom, of this exquisite restaurant is  a hotspot for youngsters, as Crafted Beers and Bottled Wines are being served from  across the world.

The varied range of teas and coffees struck me as impressive. Italy Espresso, Turkey Turkish Coffee, India Desi Coffee, New Zealand Flat White to England Earl Grey, Thailand Thai Iced Tea, Morocco Maghrebi Mint Tea. Whew! Those were some offerings.

The impeccable service, warm vibe, good food which is easy-on-the wallet along with the stellar concept of sampling a new world cuisine each week throughout the year, is bound to make gourmet’s like me come back often to sample a new cuisine.

 

Akshaya Patra : Inexhaustible Efforts To Feed With Love

For the longest time I have been intrigued by the work done by The Akshaya Patra Foundation (TAPF).  Striving to address the issue of “classroom hunger” and promote “education” by providing nutritious meals to children in Government and Government-aided schools, their journey began in 2000, with the feeding of 1,500 children in 5 schools in Bengaluru. Today, they reach 13,210 schools, feeding over 1.65 million children every day in 11 states through their 27 kitchens.

An opportunity to visit and experience their Surat kitchen first hand, seemed like an interesting proposition. At the crack of dawn, one morning, I set out, as the operations in the kitchen begin really early and in order to see the work force in action, one had to get there early.

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The sheer scale of operations was mesmerizing. I had expected to see a big kitchen yes, but certainly not of this magnitude. I was awestruck with the hygiene, cleanliness and state-of-the-art equipment. The work force seemed well-trained and were seamlessly carrying out their work. I was impressed by the fact that practices like daily shower, use of clean uniforms, caps to cover the hair, face masks to cover the mouth and nose area, gloves, gumboots, other protective gears and hand sanitisation are mandatory.

 

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A strict kitchen process is observed which includes certain mandatory routines to be followed by each member of the kitchen staff. Food Safety Management Systems are implemented in all the kitchens be it centralised or decentralised, in order to handle, prepare and deliver food.  All kitchens run by the organisation follow a scheduled menu. All cauldrons, trolleys, rice chutes, dal/sambar tanks, cutting boards, knives and other instruments in these units are sanitised before usage every single day. All vessels used in the kitchens are made of food safe stainless steel of 304 Grade which is capable of enduring high levels of temperature for long intervals.

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Akshaya Patra is one of the best examples of PPP (Public Private Partnership) model, where Central Government, State Governments, Corporates and individual donors contribute to the cause, and the Mid-Day Meal Programme of the Government is successfully implemented through the efficient workmanship of Akshaya Patra.

The pre-production begins as early as 2-3 am in the morning, when vegetables, grains and other ingredients for that day’s meal are readied. The cooking process begins a bit later and the mid-day meals are ready to go out to schools carried by the special vans by 8.30-9 am.

The roti-making machine in particular seemed fascinating. The manner in which the dough is made, rolled out in sheets, cut into circular rotis, cooked and even smeared with ghee before getting into the containers is a treat to watch and inspiring.

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Similarly I was enthralled by the manner in which large vessels were used to cook rice and pulao with steam. The attention to detail by the work force is praiseworthy as is their dedication.

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Standardisation of recipes is an important factor while maintaining high levels of nutrition along with taste and TAPF strictly follows this. In order to achieve these levels, a well-structured Quality Assurance programme is implemented at all stages of Operations— Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production.

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Watching the meal being prepared was captivating enough, but equally gratifying was a visit to the School no. 301, Shree Purushottam Ji Prathmik Shala, Punagam, Surat. The meals arrived piping hot to the school in the special vans and were lovingly served by volunteers under the supervision of the Principal Chaya Ma’am and her team of teachers.

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Girls and boys queued in a disciplined manner to avail of the meals in steel thalis. The kabuli chana pulao and dal was the meal for that day, as the menu changes daily. I spoke to several children independently and discovered that they enjoyed this meal even more than what they ate at home and looked forward to it each day. What’s more, I sampled the meal myself and could vouch for the quality and taste.

The teachers informed me that they have never faced any quality issues with the meals. The meals are first tasted by the teachers before being served to the children. The meal quantity too is sufficient to feed all the children to their heart’s content.

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The Akshaya Patra Foundation is continuously leveraging technology to cater to millions of children. In partnership with the Government of India and various State Governments and the inestimable support from many philanthropic donors and well-wishers, Akshaya Patra has grown. Today, Akshaya Patra Foundation is the world’s largest (not-for-profit run) mid-day meal programme serving wholesome food to over 1.6 million children in 26 locations across 11 states in India

By leveraging the unique resources of the organisation, Akshaya Patra is all geared to fulfil its mission of ‘feeding 5 million children by 2020.’

As I stepped out of their Surat kitchen, having witnessed the painstaking operations by the dedicated work force, I had a silent prayer on my lips. I earnestly wish that they are able to reach their goals soon and in future, every hungry child in India is well-fed so that education is not an option, but a priority.

 

 

 

Oh! Simply Unpretentious

New format restaurants and eateries always excite me and when it’s from deGustibus hospitality, (of Indigo and Indigo Deli fame) the expectations are even more. Casual, self-service, fun, were the words I had in mind as I entered this new eatery for a sneak preview one afternoon. But lo behold! D:oh in Kamla Mills, Lower Parel, was all this and more.

The cheerful ambience enveloped me immediately as did the different hues of blue and lime green along with the other quirky decor elements. Even though I may not be a 25-something, I almost felt I belonged here, merely because this place was so unpretentious and embodied my personality. The lack of pretense permeated in the menu too as the offerings on the menu, I noticed were comfort food, some of which I have grown up on, others vaguely familiar but sans any culinary snobbery, nonetheless.

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One can actually enter and help oneself to a tray and select one’s sandwiches, juices et al before you pour yourself a beer from the draught taps and then head to the counter to order some hot food and of course pay of it.

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My food arrived. It delivered its promise of being simple and straightforward and yes, global. I sampled an old-fashioned rustic chicken burger where the patty was fried but juicy and moist. Luscious flavours all the way. The  hotter wicked fries were medium spicy (one can have even spicier ones)  and they are called hottest or the hot ones, which are mild. Slathered with cheese sauce these were pure sin, but I was not complaining.

The desi feeling came and how, as I bit into the dal wada dahi chaat with oodles of dahi or curd, chutneys, spices but all in the right proportion, generally a rare occurrence. I was satiated and the flavours transported me to Delhi, known for its lip-smacking chaats.

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The crispy sririacha chicken tenders were equally comforting and one could unmindfully polish off a plate whole chatting with a friend.

Short Eats, Big Bowls, Breakfast, Burgers and Desserts. This no-fuss menu boasts of it all. It truly caters to a universal palate.The mocktails, smoothies, shakes and coffees selection is extensive and delightful.

The seating is comfortable and combines elements of fun (you can actually sit on a swing) with a variety of options. The crockery too in enamel is simple yet, elegant.

While there are no frills in the service and the food is seemingly uncomplicated, there is no compromise on the quality. As always, the best of ingredients of topmost quality.

Executive Chef JD Mukherjee and his team create a unique dining experience yet again and although it is a far departure from Indigo and Indigo Delis(intentionally of course) it is an unparalleled experience, which gourmands in Mumbai are going to lap up and enjoy.

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A quick breakfast, a hassle-free lunch, a leisurely rendezvous with friends or family, this place offers an atmosphere conducive to all of these.

Gen Y is going to love this place. Never mind if I am not one of them, I love it too!

Rating: 4/5

 

 

 

 

 

Soulful Soups

Ah! there is something about soups in this weather that is so comforting. If made with the right ingredients and spices, these can be nourishing as well as healthy too. Nothing like a steaming bowl or mug of soup especially for dinner. In fact, on most days I prefer just that.

Goan, Bokdiacho caldo (mutton soup) made from mutton bones, onion, ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander leaves and dices of potato, salt and pepper, is my all-time favourite. It is filling and boosts my immunity too. Caldo Verde with potatoes as the base is also a light and flavourful vegetarian soup of Portuguese origin.

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Being from Kolkata, I am used to relishing a spicy Thukpa, a Tibetan soup made with mixed vegetables, mixed meats and noodles  when the mercury dips. There is something for every palate in global cuisines too. Mulligatawny, Tom Kha, Tom Yum, Miso soup, Lobster bisque. My mouth is watering now.

Be imaginative and play around with flavours and textures. Be experimental. And global soups are not your only options. A plethora of soups from our very own Indian cuisine are a delight in this weather. Soups made from dals or lentils, paya soup, tamatar ka shorba or even a murg shorba. The options are endless.

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Don’t forget to add seasonal veggies in your soups wherever possible for that extra health quotient. Pumpkin, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, work wonders. And yes, the right spices to for additional warmth and immunity.

Cinnamon works wonders, as do ginger and garlic. I love to add these in my soups where ever possible.

If the soup alone is insufficient, pair it with garlic bread, toast or add macaroni to your soups or even red rice, to make it more sumptuous.

There is nothing like a well-made soup, it is soulful and comforting in winter, keeping winter blues at bay.

 

 

Dealing With Diabetes

With the alarming proportions, diabetes is assuming across the world and especially India, it is indeed heartening to see the husband wife duo, Seema and Manoj Pinto, proactively share their experience to inspire people to cope with diabetes through healthy eating and the Diabetic Food Trail is a positive step in that direction.

The Diabetic Food Trail 2016 is all set,  to begin on November 12. The aim is to offer Diabetics, Pre-Diabetics and Health conscious individuals, a wonderful culinary experience at over 200 restaurants across Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore & Pune, where Celebrated chefs from acclaimed restaurants across the country will get a chance to showcase their culinary talents to an all new set of target audience that did not have many options for healthy and diabetic food earlier.

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I was fortunate to have experienced this in Mumbai at Meluha-The Fern Hotel in Powai, where, Executive Chef Parimal Sawant, along with his team demonstrated several recipes including a salad, soup, main course and dessert which are healthy and suitable for diabetics. The demos were fun and interactive, with Seema constantly asking chef pertinent questions and the chef sharing helpful tips.

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Apart from being simple recipes, what appealed to me was that the ingredients were ones which could be easily procured as opposed to exotic ones usually suggested. The chefs at Meluha-The Fern exhibited a great deal of innovation in crafting those recipes.

Furthermore, I was glad to know that the Diabetic Food Trail will also introduce a special Healthy Dessert Trail which will allow diabetic patrons to sinfully indulge in  their guilty pleasures-desserts as these desserts,  do not contain any processed sugars.

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Seema Pinto – Director, Semora Entertainment Works and the brain behind this initiative says, “The focus of the second edition is on Diet and Fitness in effective Diabetes management. For a person with diabetes, eating nutritious and well-balanced meals with a regular fitness routine is vital in managing diabetes. This applies to pre-diabetics and the health conscious too”

The aim of this masterclass is to help individuals understand the ingredients, nutritional values, read packaging labels, learn exciting recipes which will help elevate the eating habits of diabetics without compromising on taste. These masterclasses will be held by renowned nutritionists and chefs across the 5 cities.

 

Some of the participating restaurants include Sassy Spoon,  Zaffran, Copper Chimney, Lemon Leaf, Boveda, Fern Hotels, Renaissance-Powai,  Woodside Inn, Mirchi & Mime, Smoke House Deli, Faasos, to name a few.

That’s not all, Seema has put together some well-researched  recipes in a small book which can benefit diabetics a great deal, which you can enjoy cooking too.

So eat healthy and stay fit and yes, diabetes can be controlled with eating right, apart from exercise.

 

Bengali Food, that I miss

It’s that time of the year when I miss Kolkata,  more than ever. And this has been the story of my life for 24 years now, every year. Durga Pujas are almost here. The fun, gaiety, adda and Bengali food, is all a part of the ethos that contributes to this festival.Having grown up in Kolkata and am almost a Bong, so love Pujas and the food we relish during these 5 days.

Even otherwise, I have a soft spot for Bengali food. The aroma of food cooking in mustard oil. Ooh the flavour of paanch phoran(five spices) spluttering in this oil makes me nostalgic. Kosha Mangsho with luchi or even cholar dal, chorchori, sukhto, begun bhaja, alu dum, ghee bhat, maccher jhol and sada bhat, chitol muthia are my all time favourites. And the delectable chana sweets. What can I say about those? The list of my favs is endless.

It is the oil and the spices used in Bengali cuisine that lend a special flavour to the food which is so unique. Also the taste of the fresh water fish that one normally eats in Bengal is different. The salt water fish Hilsa or Ilish which is such a delicacy in Bengali, is unfortunately not my favourite. I prefer Rohu or Rui as the Bongs lovingly call it. Each household in Kolkata has a different way of preparing fish. A lot depends upon the texture, size, fat content and the bones in the fish. It could be fried, cooked in a simple spicy tomato or ginger based gravy (jhol), or mustard base with green chillies (shorshe batar jhaal), with posto, steamed inside of plantain leaves, cooked with doi (curd/yogurt). The steamed fish in plantain leaves is similar to Patranu Macchi of the Parsis. Even Goans make fish in this manner with green chutney inside the fillet. I can devour fish fry or maccher jhol with rice. Have a soft corner for Doi Mach too, if prepared well.

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Mumbai has always had a few Restaurants serving Bengali food, but somehow they are not upto the mark. 25 Parganas at Sahara Star was good, but alas! it exists no more. Bijoli Grill of Calcutta is  still decent, but Bhojohari Manna is a perfect example of hype, save a few dishes. Of course Oh! Calcutta has been around for a while and serves Bengali food, but not 100% authentic.  Some of the dishes are closer home though, in flavours. But obnoxiously priced. Hangla  has become a popular chain with outlets in several places, but only takeaways. Their food is good, specially the rolls. They are the closest to the ones I am used to from Stop Over in Ballygunge Phari Kolkata or Nizams.

Gosh, with all this talk about Bong food, have to prepare something tonight as my mouth is watering or  head to a Bengali friend’s place for dinner.