Paradise Found 

I guess, I’m growing up. Moving away from carbonated beverages and sugar candy to a healthier lifestyle (at least thats the goal). Aerated drinks are replaced with a fine red wine or lemonade, iodized salt replaced by rock salt, the changes are steady. Growing up, I never really understood the value of a good old fashioned home cooked meal till I was away at boarding school. One never really appreciates a good thing till its scare, rather gone. And all those memories came flooding in when I visited Saraya in Sangolda (what I would later closely describe as an untouched Shangri-la in the making). 

What affirms my belief is the simple no frills attached sales pitch- home soul food cooked with love amidst nature. It gets better, the menu is entirely vegetarian and there is NO alcohol served.From the farm to the table so to speak. Now before many of you run through the door (I did initially as well) I urge you to scroll further. Before I get to my showcase piece de resistance of wholesome goodness encompassed in a plate- the type of goodness to give you goosebumps and bring a smile to your face that would put the Joker to shame, I must highlight the most awesome inspired menu from the words of the owner/chef Deeksha Thind, that struck a chord deep within. After all how does an Aloo Paratha sit comfortably on the same menu next to a mud baked wood fired oven mushroom three cheese caramelized wheat based pizza or breaded mushrooms stuffed with butter garlic cilantro & topped with cheese roll with a bruschetta made of local poi toasted with butter garlic topped with fresh basil leaves served with homemade herbed tomato sauce; all in the blink of any eye without raising a gastronomic faux pas. (try reciting that sentence in a single breath, I dare you…) If you are parched and gasping cool off with their wide array of juices that would given mixologists some food for thought such as the Lemonana (a cool freshly squeezed lemon and mint combo) or the pineapple mint. If you need something to soothe your throat do sip into their orange and ginger lemon mint juice. 

Deeksha smiles and elaborates- “all my food cooked is inspired from my kids growing up. They were my muses. Whenever they wanted something I would make them get to work on the mise en place (chopping onions to peeling potatoes everyone had to pitch in) and would get cracking on the preparation of the same. It’s all their favorites.” All the food is cooked in extra virgin olive oil and most of the veggies are organically grown in her backyard. Don’t take my word for it- the meal needs to be consumed to witness the fresh wholesome goodness each bite brings. 

Since I am the lone rider on most of my jaunts, Titli (her daughter) played gracious host to the evening amidst keeping the dogs at bay to wayward patrons who needed a quick affirmation on dining options. The dogs I assure you, are harmless and Falafal (yes thats her name) is my favorite (especially when she plays curious wannabe taster on hind legs..For all non-animal lovers, fear not – a system is being initiated wherein they assure you a dog free dining experience as an option) And right there and then, the simple concept of a utopian, bohemia- a harmonious surrounding where all elements coalesce unpretentiously is something that gets me. Like that very moment Leonardo Dicaprio finds the island in Danny Boyles ‘The Beach’, that moment when he sinks face deep into the sand, exhausted yet fulfilled.   

Apple Strudel -vanilla ice cream & homegrown mint

While Deeksha excuses us to keep an eye on the preparation of their ever evolving famous Apple Strudel; I am in dimensional deep conversation with Titli – an aspiring writer and airline pilot, wherein she elaborates the ‘ethos’ about the place. If you ask me its quite articulately captured in the way Saraya presents itself- concept wise (read quote below).

Imagine if we lived among them ; if we never cleared out those magnificent , beautiful extensions of the earth that we call trees and the entire Eco system that is sustained by them? Remember that universal dream when we were growing up ? – A TREEHOUSE !
A playground filled with mystical magical fireflies and butterflies and grasshoppers that we so innocently liked to put in old jam jars to observe – but then release when our curiosity was no more.
The years have gone by: time is but an illusion- the child in every one of us stays hidden emerging in glimpses- waiting to be unleashed, waiting to create, to travel back to those faraway lands where we “don’t let reality anchor us down. Call it ideal, utopian or just a possibility in this small aspiring community where you imagine,dream, create, and live in harmony with nature.”

– Titli Thind

The Apple Strudel the english loanword from German, is homemade wheat puff pastry (which has undergone a reinvention from readymade puff pastry used earlier) caressingly rolled around a bed of brown sugar caramelized gooey banana, topped with apple & pear with a dashes of cinnamon mixed with peanut butter and drizzled sparingly with gold and black raisins. I love the interpretations this orgasmic dish works at every single time I visit, much like candy land- the star attraction this time being the peanut butter replacing fresh strawberries and black grapes earlier (seasonal as they are).

Did you know: Traditional Hungarian, Austrian, and Czech strudel pastry is different from strudels elsewhere, which are often made from puff pastry.The traditional strudel pastry dough is very elastic.The dough is worked vigorously, rested, and then rolled out and stretched by hand very thinly with the help of a clean linen tea towel Purists say that it should be so thin that you can read a newspaper through it. A legend has it that the Austrian Emperor’s perfectionist cook decreed that it should be possible to read a love letter through it. The thin dough is laid out on a tea towel, and the filling is spread on it. The dough with the filling on top is rolled up carefully with the help of the tea towel and baked in the oven.

Be mindful of time in this place, as it has the power to arrest you and transport you into the lap of nature with nurturing home cooked food.

Dance with the butterflies till we next meet.

 

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A double date

“Mr. Mascarenhas, You have a date tonight. It’s a double date.” That messaged accompanied the invite, to pique my curiosity and head over to the Grand Hyatt Goa. The weather played sport and waited till I got there in my fancy shoes (they were Zara rust pink slip-ons, yes! metrosexual much? Indeed and proud dahlings!!!) which I decided to take out of hibernation for my ‘epic’ night. I arrive on time to be greeted by two bubbly and affable hosts Miriam & Diana, who with a glint in their eyes escort me over to the bar to present their concept –Fondue evenings– The Cheese and Chocolate Fondue (double date indeed…jackpot!!)

Fondue is not new (pardon the rhyme, it’s not intentional) to Goa but at the moment places doing it (if any) are seldom few (sigh what a pity) And I love a good Fondue, don’t you? (I did it again, trust me- it is the bard in me taking centre stage after all those glasses of exotic wines) The moment calls for a flashback- to the time I travelled to the Alps.There are a few things that are quintessentially Swiss and come to mind immediately at the mention of that fabulous country -cheese, the oh-so-sinful Swiss chocolate, and fondue! My historian guide at the time educated me through a chapter in history –its name derived from the French word fondue – meaning ‘to melt or to blend’. The frigid Swiss winter snow covered mountain valleys, isolated villages and towns were hard on one and all. Consequently fresh food became scarce and had the towns people to rely upon locally made foods.The local villagers discovered that if they melted their cheese with wine, garlic, and herbs and dipped the stale bread into the mixture, the bread would soften (became hard from the cold and difficult to eat).The cheese was melted in a earthenware pot called the caquelon. Although communal eating from one pot can imply a shortage of cooking equipment and utensils among the poorer peasants, it was a symbol of community dining. Each person kept their corner of the pot showing consideration and kinship, a Swiss custom still respected to this day.

Did you know:A cheese fondue mixture should be kept warm enough to keep the fondue smooth and liquid but not so hot that it burns. If the temperature is held until the fondue is finished there will be a thin crust of toasted (not burnt) cheese at the bottom of the caquelon. This is called la religieuse (French for the nun). It has the texture of a cracker and is almost always lifted out and eaten. Try and get hold of this post your fondue. That cracker of crispy melted solidified cheese is to die for. 

Back to our table, I requested if the menu could be spaced in order to savor the tastes and drink away the painful thought of all the calories to be gained with every swirl. After all, given the offerings on hand this meal had to be planned efficiently. I decided to pair my wine with the fondue on offer, so I narrowed it down from the ones on offer from various regions of the world- the Lagarde Classico Sauvignon blanc from Argentina, a Neil Joubert Chardonnay from South Africa, Jospeh drouhin la foret Bourgogne blanc from Burgandy France,the Oxford landing Sauvignon blanc from South  Australia, the fruili grave, pinot Grigio – Italy or the Torres vina esmeralda muscatel from Catalonia Spain. An exotic selection to choose from which would put Hemingway in a tizz as well I suppose. (now do you see the need for planning?)

The devil plays back door advocate in the subtle blink-and-miss accompaniments which does overpower ones senses ranging from crusty garlic herb baguettes to cherry tomatoes and celery sticks to green apples, black olives, gherkins and pickled baby onions for that extra crunch. And to the fondue itself on offer ranges from the essential Three cheese (emmental, cheddar, Dutch edam cheese, cheddar,garlic swirled with white wine) to the classic Blue Cheese (Danish blue with its peculiar distinctive taste) to the must try Chili Cheese (English cheddar, chili, garlic with white wine). A statutory note: Each serving comfortably serves 4 so the key imperative word is ‘plan‘ your meal.

Fondue became a fad in American in the ’60s and ’70s after it was brought back by a jet setter who had it on a ski holiday. It was the Americans that then invented chocolate fondue.

Cookies & Cream Fondue with cream puffs 

The meal was scrumptious. At the hands of Chef de cuisine Narasinh Kamath, a careful selection was advised and each offering had him pause to give a glimpse of the process of his creations.Very informative indeed.

It is imperative to keep place for what I would term a decadent affair!! The Yin-yang fondue. A work of art and the urge to disrupt the beauty in it makes you cringe with your first swirl. It’s a beautiful mix of white and dark chocolate- a perfect blended balance indeed. If this concoction does not get your head in a whirl dont miss the accompaniments ranging from chocolate brownies, fresh bananas, rock melon and pineapple (for the health conscious folk) marshmallows, moist carrot cake, gooey filled cream puffs and signature cookie nuts. All this topped with the choicest of liqueurs from the cartron cacao, baileys served on ice, sinful kahlua & amaretto to name a few. Sin indeed. ( I can see my trainer grinning as she chalks out my next torturous gym routine tomorrow) 

Yin-yang Fondue 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Whatever you do, try not to lose your bread or cookie in the pot! It’s a tradition that if a man drops his piece of bread in the fondue pot, a round of drinks must be purchased for the entire table. (Quite the expensive affair)However if a woman loses her bread in the pot, she must kiss all her neighbors. That’s something you boys could look forward to with heated prayer (no pun intended)

Swirl away with the pitter patter of harmonic drops on the window pane.

 

A Night at Rustom’s

One of the many qualities Parsi’s are known to have – aside from prominent noses, serious eccentricities and a passion for two-wheelers – is a delectable offering of their fine cuisine. It’s wicked, incredibly creative and even non-Parsis are likely to become ardent fans once sampled. Having dated one I speak from first hand experience in the subject matter, given the classic belted dishes that passed out from her kitchen.

In Delhi recently,the opportunity presented itself- Dinner suggested by a friend, I gleefully and instantaneously accepted.(old memories et all).At Rustom’s- one can expect the classic Parsi delicacies such as Kheema Pattice (spiced mutton mince stuffed in mashed potato patties with an egg casing) , Paatra Ni Macchi (sole fillets encased in a mint coriander chutney and steamed in banana leaves), Mutton Dhan Sak (spiced masala dal with vegetables, served with caramelized rice and vinegared kachumber and kheema kebabs) lest forget the amazing side dish accompaniments such as Salli (fried & salted crisp potato straws), Malai Na Paratha and Parsi Rotli and a whole lot more.

However his post is NOT about how great the food is (believe you me its scrumptious) or the homerun showcase of desserts such as Lagan Nu Custard (Baked egg custard with nuts and raisins) & Caramel Custard. The food here is testament, that all you need is simple homestyle food to make people fall in love with a cuisine that belongs to a relatively small yet culturally rich community.The eye for simple detail stands out in this small establishment that can seat 20-25 people (on the higher side) with antique ornaments and beautiful pictures adorning the walls (photographed by filmmaker Sooni Taraporevala) all reflective of the Parsi way of living.

This post goes back in time – to the ambience, the era of deja-vu, the memory of that peculiar taste and THE drink- The Pallonji Raspberry Soda. Mind you this soda is not for the faint hearted. Known for sweet nothings it has the makings of something Getafix would stir up in his cauldron to give Asterix & Obelix a super charged sugar rush. But it has its historicals in place and, that is what I love. No Parsi meal is complete without it. Its like a lingering first kiss calling you for more or the euphoria Dracula might have felt looking tempestuously at the throbbing vein of his victims. Its transfixing not to mention addictive. Due to limited production the brand is something that has it confinements to most Parsi households and restaurants/cafes where one can sip into a taste of the past. (Case in point the soda at Rustom’s is sourced all the way from Mumbai) Much like Goa & her Feni produce.Traditional legacy intact!!! Locally produced, globally yearned for.

Lest not forget the music that accompanies ones meal- retro indeed, sending one into a lull of melancholy of the years gone by- interspersed with food, conversations and laughter the setting provides for an ideal meal. If you are an antique aficionado look out for the little quirks like a magnifying glass presented with the bill (to read better..a hint of Parsi humor en tow) or the grandfather clock- time holding still and spend some conscious time going through the menu (which is a historical document  entirely – menu interspersed with B/W photographs (to distract you from the main purpose…i.e.to order) this quaint little place throws you back in time with good food for company.

In the immortal words of my almost-to-be-parsi-father-in-law when i politely refused a beer offering, Daar bari gayi” (translated literally means ‘the dal is burnt’ – for non parsi meanings it is  someone who is miffed or angry). Note to self dikra (boy); never refuse a man offering.

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

Nômoshkar..Comment ça va?

I absolutely love theme based restaurants. Not to forget my quest to learn new languages (case in point showcased in the heading above. For all those who are scurrying for a translation; it’s a Bengali dialect of the greeting derived from the Sanskrit word Namaste – simply translated to ‘the divinity within me greets the divinity within you’ and for all you French lovers I’m just asking you all- how are you?) salutations et all. 

Now when the establishment in mentions concept is based on my favourite condiment- Mustard, there is reason to hop. Dijon, beer, spicy brown deli (with horseradish), honey, hot pepper, sweet Bavarian, and French (music to ones ears and palate) holds a special reserve on my fridge shelf; smuggled as reminscent of ones travel (aside from fridge magnets of course!!) 

Nestled across the green sleepy slopes of Sangolda, comes together the perfect unison of Bengali & French cuisine for the love of all things- Mustard. After all, we know the liberal use of this condiment across both cuisines. That’s exactly it!, wherein lies my adoration for the simplicity of a concept. A theme so united from parts of the globe yet so delicately crocheted together. 

If you don’t have the inclination to head over to the quaint town of Chandannagar in Bengal (btw it’s a French colony that was established in 1673, when the French obtained permission from Ibrahim Khan, the Nawab of Bengal, to establish a trading trading post on the right bank of the Hughli River. Bengal was then a province of the Mughal Empire. For a time, it was the main centre for European commerce in Bengal) it is a must to head over to this beautifully restored old Portuguese villa in a ‘paperbox happy cookie dough’ art Parisian style theme cafe with vibrant subtle hues. For everyone else in every season there will always be Paris!! 

If you have had the privilege, to know and meet some residents from West Bengal,you would know how to be spoilt for choice ranging from affable intellectualism to gracious hosting. Well read, articulate, proud of their legacy and (by George!!) fabulous hosts. The live to eat kind, they pride their hospitality with food and know all how to add a few inches to ones bulging waste line with a smile on their face. One can never deny a serving of a Bengali host on the dinner table and live to tell that tale so joyously- they pride themselves in the art of ‘culture sharing’ through ones plate. Chef Jay Bhatt sure does take the tradition seriously at mustard and a step further (might I add) belting out the classics under his watchful eye. 

Fish is as integral part a meal as sugar to a tart for the average household in Bengal. 

Heading steady course to the theme of simplicity of two legendary cuisines, the first thing that comes to mind is the underplay of owerpowering greats- the Terrine and the Smoked Fish (simple in name, arduous in preparation) We all know of fine dining establishments filled with the razzle-dazzle of pomp and flair, much to my pleasant surprise these preparations are well plated, yet let their flavours do all the talking.

The Smoked fish steeped in history; was born aboard the steamers that plied the waters of the Padma River in undivided Bengal. It is delicately marinated in mild flavours with just a hint of mustard powder, mustard oil and smoked with puffed rice, jaggery and husk (the traditional way). This is as much a history lesson as a culinary one and the fish on plate was the Goan local- chonak. Fresh, light and flaky it melted off the fork with every serve and the after hint of mustard tickled your tastebuds for more. 

Smoked Fish
 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

The classic terrine is forcemeat (similar to texture in pate) usually made from meat and is served cold. In France many terrines are usually made with game meat normally deer or boar (generally not eaten any other way). A twist has this classic made with local fresh kingfish served warm with onion pickle. This hit the spot. 

Kingfish Terrine  
Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

While you and your loved one decide to venture out this monsoon and are in a mood for some ‘four-play’, might I suggest an eclectic mix of cuisine (a heady mix of Bengali & French) to grace your table with some classics on offer- do try the BBQ on Fritters (work of art indeed) with some Kosha Mangsho (mutton curry) and place allowing the Rui Maacher Shorshe Jhaal (Mustard Fish).
Trust me if you have no more room to digest insist on a ‘doggy bag’. do NOT leave the restaurant without trying it (you will thank me later, trust me.)

 It is imperative to plan your meal here (especially for all you sweet tooth fairies) to keep place for dessert. Mind you as deceptive when witnessed these portions pack quite the volume and must be savoured slowly and steadily. A must have would be the Kheer Komala and the Bhapa Doi (the distant cousin of the ever popular Mishti doi). 

If you read this and decide to head on over immediately without further pause try the Steamed Mustard Eggs on toast. A breakfast item that can be had all day long. Bon appetit. 


Tapas’ya’

Lets get spiritual. A derivation from the word root ‘tap’ -meaning ‘heat’ (which depending on context) either from fire,weather, pain,penance,suffering – Tapas means deep meditation,reasoned self discipline and effort to achieve self-realization, sometimes involving solitude. Well for all you Adam Levine fans he’s got it inked on his chest as well. While were still spiritually inclined, my recent visit to Martins in Margao was the need of the hour. I had to quell the ‘heat’ stroked & flamed up playfully by Cassy Martins over a phone call a few weeks earlier, scrumptiously describing ideas for his new menu.Of course he was referring to a wide variety of appetizers of the Spanish cuisine he had concocted for the meal. 

12 days later (yes I counted in anticipation) and my meditation and self disciplines paid off when a few traveller friends and yours truly made our way down south for a feast in waiting.

The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover”. This is a culinary design cleverly conceived to encourage conversation, because people are not really focused on eating an entire meal that is set before them- Brilliant!!! Multiple pro’s, very little on the downside. Ever wonder now how those Spanish footballers remain so fit and taut? Eat less (smart), play more. On my trip to Seville its tradition like for people to finish work an head to a tapas bar to socialize (no facebook & mobile phones are not part of the deal…human conversations are call of the hour) right before supper time. Tapas can be consumed hot or cold, a favorite comes to mind; ‘chopitos‘-(batter fried crunchy baby squid) with the ever-versatile Torres Viña Sol and i’m yours- in food heaven. (Earth calling Nolan!! Come back to the tapas at hand please…)

There are several theories to the etymology of the name. Though the primary meaning of tapa is cover or lid the most commonly cited explanation is that an item, be it bread or a flat card, etc., would often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies that were a common menace; at some point it became a habit to top this “cover” with a snack. Another theory states that since one would be standing while eating a tapa in traditional Spanish bars, they would need to place their plates on top of their drinks to eat, making it a top. A few scholars mention a final possibility surrounding King Felipe III, who passed a law in an effort to curb rowdy drunken behavior, particularly among soldiers and sailors. (The hope being that the food would slow the effects of the alcohol, and fill the stomach to prevent over imbibing.)

Accompanied by world travelers from the land down under (Australia) & West ( San Francisco) were the ‘Foodie Fernandes’ brothers each with their own background to good food and hospitality. ‘Chorizo’ was a vital showcase and part of the menu sans dessert (thank god for small mercies) 

The Chicken & Chorizo Meatball with Ratatouille hit the spot on all fours. After all who doesnt love their meatballs? But meatballs with a twist, now that was something to pine for especially with perfect European blended cues from various countries (Spain,France,Italy). Chicken mince with a seasoning of celery,parsley and garlic slow cooked with goan handmade chorizo mixed with smoked paprika imported directly from the Extramudra region (South Madrid).This chorizo is oak smoked before cooked so as to get a distinct woody pipe flavor hidden in their notes. No doubt a tastier, healthier and gourmet version of a chorizo for sure (given the preservatives used in cured chorizos these days). All this ladelled in Ratatouille sauce (Yes the same one Remy the mouse cooked up in Pixar’s classic Ratatouille) 

Another item one has to try (appetite allowing) is the Chicken breast stuffed with house chorizo & extract sauce. Nothing fancy but oh so plenty in flavor. A simple breast marination with a secret sauce (unfortunately the chef is not at liberty to share that recipe without having to kill you post) and seasoned with thyme, parsley, rosemary with drizzles of olive oil and chorizo extract sauce.

Accompanied with a fine glass of bubbly Sangria (a unique twist by mixing champagne, green apple and some fine red wine) cleansed each morsel sampled only to ask for more. All in all a fine evening of good food, tales from across the world and multiple cups of hot water. To get your cravings on a shoe string budget allow the Martin brothers to bring Spain right to your backyard. (of course the other alternative is to head to Spain itself) 

Dios te bendiga!! (God Bless you)

Chicken & Chorizo Meatball with Ratatouille sauce Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography  

Trolling for the Crystal Skull 

I am trolling for a legend. The legend of the 13 Crystal heads- a controversial archaeological mystery, 13 crystal heads have been found in regions around the world, from the American southwest to Tibet. They’re dated between 5,000 and 35,000 years old, and were supposedly polished into shape from solid quartz chunks over a period of several hundred years. Although according to engineers, they bear no tool marks to tell us exactly how they were made. The heads are thought to offer spiritual power and enlightenment to those who possess them, and as such stand not as symbols of death, but of life.The basic elements of the 13 crystal skulls legend is that at a pivotal time in humanity’s history, the 13 crystal skulls will be reunited to awaken a new era – transforming from an old paradigm into a new world. (Pretty intense stuff huh?)  However every quest leaves one thirsty and sapped especially for something such as Crystal Vodka which is a resounding-Pure Spirit. Im not going all mystical on you and no- I am NOT a soothsayer or ancient shaman (though its my most wildest fantasy to possess such powers) 

I must confess I am NOT a Vodka drinker. I’m a whiskey man from the go-go bar (sigh Jim Morrison…how i wish you were around) and with friends such as Basu Shatbhi ( Maestro Mixologist) and Karina Aggarwal (Alcobev Blogger) i’m in good company never stray from the dark side (in a liquor of speaking of course!!) However I love art- I mean look at this bottle, its mesmerized me enough to purchase one for my bar (and mind you its not cheap!!) I love purity & simplicity in this complex world. I love all things.. au naturel and this is the first thing that strikes me about this vodka.

Conceptualized by Dan Aykroyd a well-known actor (remember Ghost busters..Who you gonna call?); a spiritual believer in what he calls the “invisible world” where otherworldly presences are a “form of reality as valid as our normal reality.” and the one ad only veteran fine artist John Alexander who lent his art to the construct of this masterpiece. A couple of years of research and the bottle was ready heavily inspired by the legend and vodka was the natural drink of choice, however,with it, a commitment to do something enlightened and different.

The result was perfect vodka, with absolutely no additives. No glycol (an ingredient for engine anti-freeze); no citrus oil (used in its raw form as an insect exterminant); and no raw sugar. Nothing was needed, because it was abundantly clear that finely produced vodka came by its smoothness and flavor naturally. So in the end, only the highest quality peaches and cream corn was distilled four times into a neutral grain gluten-free spirit and blended with pristine water from Newfoundland,Canada. And that was not all- the liquid is post filtered seven times, of which three are through layers of semi precious crystals known as Herkimer diamonds (Ladies go wha…?eyes sparkling yet..?) which are double terminated quartz crystals (a crystal with two naturally faceted ends. It is a rarer form of crystal.) also known as Middleville diamond or a Little Falls diamond. These raw stones are quartz crystals, which have been ascribed healing properties by some new age belief systems.

So the next time you wish to imbibe in this long lost mystery and unearth stories untold head on over to The Capiz Bar @ The Grand Hyatt Goa. With a wide array of spirit to keep you company ,try not to look too deep into its eyes, it might arrest you and unveil its true undeciphered meaning to life’s mysteries.

May the force of the 13 guide you well…

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

A Grand way to start your ‘Day’ 

I warn you, the next 600 odd words you are about to feast your eyes on are pure sin. No, this is NOT an adult rated post nor 51 shades darker.However it could well easily be.

Something about the monsoons here that get people in the mood for good food and drink. I guess its got to do with the melodious waves thrashing against the shores with only you and a pink fat lady for company, amidst a clear sky for company at The Park-Goa.

A resort known to take the unconventional route on multiple occasion the team is always on the look out to introduce some cracker fusion concepts with a steadfast eye of keeping traditional flavors intact. All this and more thanks to their maestro team & Chef Sharad Dewan who made his way from Kolkata for this particular showcase event.

This delightful preparation being – Nihari in succulent Australian lamb chop with noisette potatoes.

First and foremost – I would like to deconstruct this for your reading and my comprehension; primarily since I would have never imagined this preparation in my wildest gastronomic dreams. Consider this – The most tender lamb meat in the world (Australian lamb chops are known to be) infused & stewed delicately through the elaborate preparation of Nihari- a dish known for its spiciness and mostly cooked overnight (roughly 6-8 hours of prep time- mind you),sometimes even buried underground while it is gently stewed. What would this process result in? Extremely tender morsels of meat that literally fall off the bone!!

Ever indulged yourself with some traditional Nihari? What is it,you ask? Simply put; it is slow-cooked beef or lamb along with bone marrow which is seldom garnished to taste (most of the taste lies in the meat stewed to perfection over hours) and occasionally served with cooked brain. The Nihari is garnished according to individual tastes which vary from coriander leaves, fried onions, green chillies, strips of ginger, lemons and sliced white radish.

The etymology of the word ‘Nihari’ comes from the Arabic word ‘Nahar‘, meaning day.Traditionally ‘Nihari‘ is eaten just after the morning namaaz (prayer). There are multiple legends to the origin of this fabulous dish. One story pegs its origination in Old Delhi in the late 18th century during the last throes of the Mughal Empire courtesy – the Muslim Nawab who ate it early in the morning after his prayers only to resurrect later in the noon (Yes one must bring an appetite and a pillow, for the aftermath of this preparation as it lulls you into a long slumber). Another story reveals that Nihari was cooked overnight in large volumes to be served to the laborers.During the expansion of the empire, the kings in some instances replaced coin (currency) with Nihari as a free meal and accommodation for their services.Since the work had to start in the morning, it was cooked in an earthen pot, sometimes even buried and served early to ensure the supply of an energetic workforce.

Alongside multiple legends of origin comes various cultural influences that have their signature added to the dish. I have witnessed this delectable dish in Hyderabad which comprises of lamb bones and tongue. The Nihari with multilayered kulcha (indian bread) is a famous cuisine of Old Lucknow. Another version sampled is the Nalli nihari – a variation made with the marrow of bones where one has to slurp and vacuum every scrap left with the help of your lungs and tongue. Whilst backpacking in Kashmir I gorged on Harissa- a very popular meat preparation made for breakfast in the valley,slow cooked for many hours, with spices and was painstakingly hand stirred throughout. Best be noted that Harissa has a different texture from Nihari, and is much milder in taste, however it resembles Nihari in its method of cooking and the ingredients used, much like the distant cousin you always loved more than your younger sibling.

While you demand your Nihari- and demand you must a suggestion of pure indulgence lies in their ‘Act Menu’- a handcrafted multi-course meal which would excite and titillate your senses of world cuisine masterly crafted for your dining pleasure.

Mind you the meal ain’t over till the pink fat lady sings….

Pic courtesy: The Park, Goa. 

To Banana or Bacon? that is the question 

I am on my ‘guilt weight trip’ ritual to devote some serious time to my crunches in the hope of toning up my mid rift. This happens every other quarter -wherein I decide NOT to abuse my body and focus on eating right and healthy. Even my nutritionist (yes I have one) gets on board to ensure my ‘love handles’ are handled to the best of their abilities.

Harped upon daily and constantly, about breakfast being the most important meal of the day is indeed all for good measure. However; eating right does get the better of me on multiple occasion. There is only so much ‘goodness’ I can take before I succumb to culinary ‘lust’. After almost a fortnight of eating ‘right’ – low fat yogurt with muesli and soy milk I decided to initiate protocol ‘Cheat Day’ well ahead of schedule.

I scurry over to meet a friend on the pretext of a simple ‘catch up’ – throwing a veil of deceit over my nutritionists eyes (did I feel guilty? Let’s leave it at melancholy) Of course the real reason was to sample what was cooking in her culinary mastermind. It’s theraputic, knowing the creative process of friends such as Vandana, who runs a lovely cafe -Cafe Bodega in the heart of an art gallery- Sunaparanta- in an old Portuguese house with a courtyard. The atmosphere so tranquil, one could lose track of time along with such an efficacious personality – bubbly and brimming with ideas all from the world of good food.

Known for my love of waffles,(I pride myself in sampling the likes of the Belgian, Liege (Eastern Belgium),Flemish aka Gaufres a la Flamande (Northern France and western Belgium) American, Stroopwafles- my favorite (Netherlands) and the Bergische waffles  (German region of Berg country) all these have been ticked off my bucket list) – a simple question posed, I find myself caught like a deer in the headlights when asked for my preference that day – sweet or savory? With a calorie count weighing on my head, I obviously was stuck in a conundrum and her  explanation of the construct definitely did not help (yes tough decisions indeed).

Factoid: Waffles are preceded, in the early Middle Ages around the period of the 9th-10th century with the simultaneous emergence of fer a hosties (communion wafer irons) typically depicting imagery of Jesus and his crucifixion on hosts- Oubile in its basic form comprising of only grain flour and water.  As a product it evolved around the 11th century with The Crusaders bringing new culinary ingredients such as orange blossom water and locally sourced honey predominantly used during that time. 

While i resigned myself to fate and simply let her choose on my behalf- a mischievous glint in her eyes, and seconds later shes off to the kitchen. I decide to soak in the sun and ponder over what was to unfold. A whiff first presented itself – an aroma of Nutella and deep fried bacon, emanating from behind kitchen doors on to play catchup to the speedy plate being carried over to table for its visual appeal. Voila!! 

Belgian waffles with her twist on a complete breakfast. Masterclass indeed. Crunchy strips of bacon covered half the side and gooey Nutella covered bananas on the other. It toyed with me to leave table manners and just gorge on the feast laid in front of me. Let’s not forget a swab of butter, a ladleful of maple syrup and drizzles of sugar powder and it sure was a home run in my books. ‘Cheat Day’ devoured and successfully accomplished.

With affable conversations a few cutlery clinks later it was time to bid adieu only to plan my next meal there the minute I departed.

Off to the gym now.
Waffles with crispy bacon, banana & Nutella

 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Original Sin 

There are various purposes to ones travel. Some for pleasure, rest and relaxation and some for business. At times I like to mix both when I come across such delights.

New Delhi, often referred to as the food capital of India apart from it being the nations capital -does live up to its name. The people you meet and come across are affable and hearty foodies who centre ‘food’ at the heart of any discussion. Believe you me, I’ve been witness to food chatter thrown in the middle of business deals as to where lunch needs to be sampled. It’s part of their culture and I love it. After all, some of the best people one could ever meet – are well – lovers of food. 🙂

I am usually a light eater on travel – especially pit stop travel when there is a quick agenda involved, however, I happened to stop over to meet the lovely folk of J.W.Marriott at Aerocity and was pleasantly surprised with a new addition to the menu. It’s amazing how they have the knack to identify and remember a customer at the door. A returning one at that, I am told -would never be presented a menu as given the pleasure of serving me something ‘unique’ on ever visit was paramount. A class of touch. I feel privileged.

I have a standard rule of asking my server (in case I don’t have the good fortune of knowing the chef personally-which is seldom rare) to “Surprise me” and quite often it’s reaped huge rewards to my ever evolving palette.

I present -The Banana pancake with crushed berry compote (they didn’t want to add the fresh whipped creame and burbon maple syrup -as they thought it would be a mouthful!!! Hmm thoughtful of them much?)

Simple in name, voluminous in bite. However don’t be misled, its stratospheric in taste tingling your senses with hints of butter banana mixed in the pancake batter, that first hits followed by a sneak hint of the blueberry compote that wishes not to be forgotten. All in all the ‘true wife’ – fresh cream and the maple syrup comes into play to ensure its original dominance lest be forgotten in the midst of all this adulterous behaviour. Consumption tip: A strong unadulterated (minus sugar and milk in my dictionary) coffee preferably of African blend is best recommended with this harmonious concoction to disrupt the heady honeyed senses just to revert back to them with the next bite. 

And as all good things must come to and end I’m Up in the Air once again.

Breakfast of champions indeed. The stomach agrees.

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography  

Dance with me

They say the best way see ones backyard is through the eyes of a stranger. And that is exactly what happened when i met an friend on an exchange program from Brasil. Maria Roella from San Paulo decided to drop in and surprise me drink. We have travelled together on occasion and she the quintessential backpacker who, like me, lives her life through a lens and sleeping bag.

At breakfast, she decided to treat me to a day in Brasil. A luncheon special -of her favorite street food dish- Acaraje  and some evening entertainment with a bunch of Capoeiristas who she befriended over a beer the night prior had invited her for a show that evening.

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art, that combines elements of dance,acrobatics and music and is sometimes referred to as a game. Developed in Brasil mainly by West African descendants (slaves sent to Brasil) at the beginning of the 16th century. Capoeira was born in harsh environments and treatment of slaves with a simple hope of survival from their Portuguese masters. It was a tool, with which an escaped slave, completely unequipped, could survive in the hostile, unknown land and face the hunt of the armed mounted colonial agents who were charged with finding and capturing them. They were known as capitates-do-mato 

The etymology of the word ‘capoeira’ comes from the Tupi words ‘ka’a’ meaning jungle, ‘e puer ‘ it was, referring to the areas of low vegetation in Brasils interiors where fugitive slaves would hide.A practitioner of this art is called a Capoeirista. 

Capoeiristas at play  Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

Lunch was an affair interspersed with tales of travel over some good vino while we slaved in the kitchen together. Maria Roella, being the historical chef explained the dish to me as we went along. Acaraje or Akara is a dish made from peeled black eyed peas ( not it has not got anything Fergilicious to it) formed into a ball and deep-fried in palm oil. In our case we used extra virgin olive oil. Predominantly found in Brasils northeastern states especially from her home town of Salvador. Once deep fried it is split in half and stuffed with vatapa and caruru- some seriously spicy pastes made from shrimp, ground cashews, oil and some secret ingredients the way her mama taught her. A vegetarian version of the same is typically served with hot peppers and green tomatoes. Akara is originally a recipe by the Yoruba people of South Western Nigeria. This dish played a significant role in their culture, as it was only prepared in large quantities and distributed across every household when a person came of age (70 and above to be specific) and died. It also used to be prepared as a sign of victory, when warriors came back victorious from war by the women of the village for all.

If I had I loosely base it i would say our vada pav from Maharashtra would be close contender had it been deep fried much like a bread potato pakora. I’m sure by now you know the lingo of what a pakora means.

Word of caution, for someone with a mild palette it’s best to keep a bottle of chilled beer on standby. It’s guaranteed to douse the flames a lot quicker than the arrival of the fire brigade.

Obrigado por uma boa refeicao, Maria Roella (thank you for a good meal) 

Till we meet on our next adventure together; Vaya con Dios ( God be with you) 

Home cooked Acaraje   Pic courtesy: johansens.com