The Suitcase Diaries: Legend of Banaras 

Varanasi, also known as Banaras, plays home to much that is magical and mystical. A journey through the core of Uttar Pradesh’s ascetic region, highlighting why this destination is one worth exploring

 Varanasi, also known as Kashi or Banaras, is the world’s oldest continually inhabited city and has been a cultural centre of North India for several thousand years, closely associated with the Ganges. A major centre for pilgrimage in Hinduism, it is believed that death in the city will bring salvation. If one had to describe the soul of this place in a sentence, it would be aptly described in the words of Tahir Shah: “The combination of enlightenment and death is the primary business of the city.” 

There is more than meets the eye; lurking beneath this city, filed with a rich lineage and culture of education, music, gastronomic feats, history, mysticism and trade, this city has something for everyone. Vibrant and eclectic with a wide variety of choice, this city has churned out a number of prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians who live or have lived in the city. 

Home to one of Asia’s largest residential universities – Banaras Hindu University (BHU) – the city gives one the nostalgic feeling of a potpourri of religious beliefs as it is believed that Buddha founded Buddhism here in around 528 BC when he gave his first sermon, ‘The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma’, at nearby Sarnath, and Guru Nanak Dev visited Varanasi for Shivratri in 1507, a trip that played a large role in the founding of Sikhism. For the culturally acute, Tulsidas wrote his epic poem on Rama’s life called ‘Ram Charit Manas’ in Varanasi. Here’s through the looking glass of the recent Uttar Pradesh Travel Writers Conclave 2016, the marvels of what this spiritual city has to offer.

 Postcards from Varanasi

 

For those sweet tooth cravings, indulge in a Gulab Jamun – a milk-solids-based sweet mithai. Made mainly from milk solids, traditionally from freshly curdled milk, it is often garnished with dried nuts like almonds to enhance flavour. A dish prepared during the medieval times here, it is derived from a fritter that Persianate Central Asian Turkic invaders brought to India. One theory claims that it was accidentally prepared by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s personal chef. The word ‘gulab’ is derived from the Persian words ‘gol’ (flower) and ‘āb’ (water), referring to the rose water-scented syrup. ‘Jamun’ or ‘jaman’ is the Hindi-Urdu word for Syzygium jambolanum, an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape.

 

Stroll the serene and quiet morning scenes from the Sonwa Mandap in Chunar fort, near Varanasi; a fort filled with stories and legends galore. One tells the story of Nepali king Sandeva (1333) who built this structure for his daughter Sonwa (translates to Golden hair) when he was looking to find her a husband. 


He had but one condition: the suitor had to defeat him to win his daughter’s hand in marriage. Fifty-two kings tried and lost their heads in the process. The pavilion never donned the avatar of amandap (marriage hall) because as the story goes, Sonwa was spirited away by an admirer who chose not to fight. Blood and gore trumped by peace and tranquility. From supervised baths of royalty to executions and solitary confinement of prisoners over the years of its many rulers and reigns, this place has many tales to tell; after all, legends are but elements of truth, based on historical facts with ‘mythical qualities‘.

 

 The Silk Puppeteers are the weavers from an era past, entrusted with the delicate ‘zari‘, brocade work of the intricate Benaras sarees. During the Mughal period around the 14th century, weaving of brocades with intricate designs using gold and silver threads became the speciality of Banaras. Depending on the intricacy of its designs and patterns, a saree can take from 15 days to a month and sometimes up to six months to complete. With no room for error, and precision at its finest hour, these master weavers spin stories via silk. 

Did you know? In the old days, women used to cook food wearing pure silk sarees as they were fire resistant. Also, they had an anti bacterial property that made for hygienic cooking. 

 

Ever had that moment, when the beauty of an object left you speechless? Ponder and revel in Meenakari artwork. Expensive indeed, this art form was invented by Iranian craftsmen during the Sasanied era and Mongols spread it to India and other countries. Its name is derived from ‘Mina’, referring to the azure colour of heaven.

 

A group of priests daily at this ghat perform the Agni Puja (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga (the Ganges), Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe. Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main ghat and is located close to Vishwanath Temple. This is probably the most spectacular ghat. 

Two Hindu legends are associated with it: The First – Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. 

According to the second legend, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses during Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed here. The yajna dates back to ancient India and was a horse sacrifice ritual followed by the Śrauta tradition of Vedic religion. 

Used by ancient Indian kings to prove their imperial sovereignty, a horse accompanied by the king’s warriors would be released to wander for a period of one year. In the territory traversed by the horse, any rival could dispute the king’s authority by challenging the warriors accompanying it. After one year, if no enemy had managed to kill or capture the horse, the animal would be guided back to the king’s capital. It would be then sacrificed, and the king would be declared as an undisputed sovereign.

 

From sages and mystics to a dip in the Holy Ganga to the Sadhu deep in trance, the city is bustling with activity at the crack of dawn. A man, wrapped in a white shroud, his head freshly shaved, sits mournfully and watches a burning pyre. A bamboo ladder, supporting another body, its shape visible under an orange shroud, makes its way to its final immersion in Mother Ganges. Cows standing idly, then settle down amidst the debris to chew cud. The omnipresent pye-dog picks its way down to the water’s edge. A purple kite flown by a child on a nearby roof climbs impossibly high into the sky. A burning candle, surrounded by flowers, someone’s offering, bobs along in their wake. Rub the sleep of one’s eyes and make way to the banks of the Ganga to see the ritualistic salutations to the elements via traditional beliefs. A morning snapshot for the senses.

How to get there?
• Distance between Varanasi and Goa is 1746 km by road along with an aerial distance of 1450 km.

• There are no direct flights or trains or buses available between Varanasi and Goa. The convenient and fastest way to reach from Varanasi to Goa is to take a plane from Varanasi to Goa via Mumbai and Delhi.

• The cheapest way to reach Goa from Varanasi is to take a flight from Varanasi to Mumbai then take Matsyagandha Express from Mumbai to Goa.

 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

 

Tolerance or Menace? 


As a travel writer and consultant, i am of the firm belief that a place is defined by the holistic society that comprises it lending itself to the aura and experience of ‘tourists & guests’ that visit it. 
The burning question today in the Times of India. 
Is the menace of hawkers & beggars on beaches giving Goan tourism a bad image? 

Hawkers and beggars are either direct or indirect outcomes of the society that creates them. From a tourist stand point it’s important to note that it does tarnish the overall experience of the state or any other state/ country for that matter in the same breath as infrastructure, security etc. 
The experience of a tourist friendly destination is the seamless integration of all these factors involved making it ‘tourist friendly’ for all who visit our lovely state. 

Though I’d take a step back and split the two in entirety- hawkers sell products to earn what some would call a ‘honest living’, beggars prey on the emotional quotient of humans as a outreach program for help and monetary motives. 

Why? Cause ‘no thank you’ , is never taken at face value. I’ve seen them pester tourists into involuntary submission just to not have them hang around them. This also has a negative impact on us as a tourist friendly destination. As mentioned earlier it’s deep seeded and is more than meets the eye.

Tell me what you think. Here’s my take and personal opinions on it. 

Objectivity & Opinions 


Over a gifted night of wine & cheese in the solace of my own dominion, I read this phrase that stuck with me till date. 

‘Opinions are like arseholes, Everyone has one’

Without too much of a pun on the word, in my ‘opinion‘ everyone is entitled to their own as long as they don’t subject it on the likes of others around them- at times forcefully imposing their point of view leading to culling objectivity in the process. 

A beautiful piece written by a talented fellow blogger for OHeraldo in Goa- Fernando Monte da Silva and I share a few thoughts on the subject. 

My excerpts as follows:

“In the field of throwing open ones ideas up in the air objectively speaking of course- is the false assumption of acceptability from multiple thoughts alike. Basing that assumption the objectivity of food is that of Russian roulette from multiple factors ranging from the chef having a lovers tiff to the improbability of sourcing the right ingredients thus leading to lack of continuity and monotony to produce the same fare time and again matching to expected objectified standards by patrons. 

As a writer it’s imperative to understand the perception of the chef to allow a deconstruction of his food through a presentation and taste storyline for acceptance and approval from the concerned recipient. Many a times, this is lost in translation thus leading to objectivity been thrown out the window without caution. Influencers and foodies alike play a integral part in this constructed ‘storyline’ and it needs to be cajoled with utmost love and care. Failure to do so would lead to quite the catastrophe. 

Let’s  break it down with an example. Not a particular fan of aubergine- does that make the ratatouille carefully crafted unpalatable to describe and eat to my readers? Objectifying the process and the closeness to home is something everyone looks forward too in a meal given Nuevo cuisine and international fare.

 Objectivity of a writer is paramount as their recommendations form the quantitative basis of food making its way to multiple palates for them to make a decision accordingly.”

“Monetization for the art of writing and blogging is a trend that has long been in parlance just as paid media is these days. 

My opinion on that is just cause it’s monetized, a seasoned writer should not be influenced by the same. There are two independent parallels. Cash for goods and services in this case words. 

Writing is an art form indeed and a mature writer should not allow the cost of words dictate the truth behind them. Are we saying that if it weren’t paid it would be truthful? There are two sides to that story. 

There are many incognito writers I am aware off who go unannounced and craft beautifully written articles, however died out naturally in coverage due to ‘life’ happening to them in the interim. Eating out is a serious business these days and let’s not forget extremely expensive. 

Having said that the cycle of ad space vs articles is something people are banking on these days. Also there should ideally be no demarcation between traditional media and website blogs. A few known blogs have coverage close to rival of many regional papers and hence capitalize on the same much like how newspapers and magazines run. 

More eyeballs. Having said this in the matter of objectivity it’s a sharp sword. Once bitten indeed if a writer is not true to his word it shows through the readership of fans knowing that monetization ruined the piece written was not objective enough. 

All it takes are a few bad reviews and voila, one loses credibility in the eyes of all.”

Thank you for a wonderfully crafted piece.  

M.P.D @ Lafayette Gourmet 

Alter ego personality clashes are uncommon among most….. FALSE!!! 
In my opinion- everyone has at least two personalities within whether they identify with it or not. Now take someone with Multiple Palate Disorder and an overriding sensation of being spoilt for choice, with 11 cuisines fighting for ones palate sample at La Fayette Gourmet, Dubai Mall and you would understand the term- Sensory Overload. 

A sanctuary, right within a bustling mall that serves the likes of lip smacking Rotisserie, Moroccan, Italian, Asian, Sushi Art, Indian, Grills, Mediterranean and mouthwatering beverages to choose from it really sends even a seasoned palate into a tantalising tease. 
Introduced by a family friend, Andrea- with the menu being conceptualised even before I set foot in Dubai, this restaurant’s reputation precedes itself and does have a dedicated fan following. Little wonder given the fact that Lafayette translates to ‘faith‘ a la ‘faithful‘ 

To segregate the meal let me first start off with a out of bed kickstart- Turkish Coffee. As the famous Turkish proverb goes; “Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love”. 
Turkish Coffee

I love the traditions that go along with the way one consumes a Turkish coffee- the meticulous details followed. There’s a certain way of preparing it. Other than having Turkish coffee beans, you need small coffee pot (copper is recommended) called “cezve” and Turkish coffee cups (thin porcelain cups like espresso cups) called “fincan”. If the beans are not ground, a Turkish coffee grinder (kahve degirmeni) is required for that smooth flow and taste to boot. 

Note: If you are not making your own Turkish coffee but being served, let the host/waiter know in advance how much sugar you want in it. It can either be served as sade (without sugar), az sekerli (a little sugar), orta (medium sugar) or sekerli (sweet).

Steeped deep in tradition, after drinking the coffee, there’s another waiting for the ones who like fortune reading. This tradition of reading someone’s future from the coffee grounds is called “fal” and very popular in Turkey. They say “Don’t believe fortune telling but don’t be left without it”. 

Did you know? Back in the old times when a woman was asked for marriage, potential husbands were served coffee and allowed to judge whether the woman was a good match for marriage based upon her ability to make coffee. Some prospective brides used to add salt instead of sugar in order to avoid an unwanted marriage. And if they wanted to end the marriage talks, they used to spill coffee over the guests. Even today, in modern Turkey, some people still keep traditions alive.

If the coffee didn’t jumpstart my senses the next serving sure did. 


Lafayette Wasabi prawns with mango salsa. Aptly described as a ‘riot’ to ones olfactory senses- succulent crunchy farm fresh prawns coated with a wasabi dip and sweet mango salsa. The first reaction is the crunch followed by the tingling hair follicles stimulated by the wasabi dip and the mango salsa playing agony aunt to ones singed tongue. This is a dish that hits the spot- in a matter of literal speaking. 
Something to cool oneself down with an Italian salad had its calling in the Burrata mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and gazpacho vinaigrette


Ideal to share just the way the ‘Italians like it’ (sic), it’s reminiscent of the way cheese is to be consumed. Rich creamy gelatinous textures, engulf ones palate and scraps back a rolling jawline to consume it in entirety, it’s a sin to relinquish this dish in haste. The juicy tomatoes and crunchy bruschetta accompaniment all pans out perfectly much like a synchronised orchestra with tones of ‘Whiplash’ in between. Bang for the buck- (no pun intended.)

Nearly consumed yet craving for more I decided to skip dessert with more focus on the Warm Goat Cheese parcels with roasted beetroot salad, rocket leaves and raspberry vinaigrette. Yes I can see all you folk rolling your eyes in wonder at a first- (no dessert?), just goes to show how M.P.D skewed the food made me. It made me switch loyalties. Sigh!!! I go shoot myself now. 

Anyhow before I do, imagine an old Chinese uncle taking you to a decrepit attic on your 18th birthday and handing over a silk tightly enclosed parcel with ornate wonders and treasures within (not the creepy kind, think more like The Emperor Tomb from The Mummy franchise) – the sense of entitlement and satisfaction consume you all at once, with the warm goat cheese gushing and urging you to consume each parcel whole (no droplets of cheese will be wasted) with the roasted beetroot and raspberry vinaigrette laying a smooth tarmac of sweetness to accompany the fermented cheese atop ones tongue. 
It’s no wonder with creations like these, that this establishment has its ‘faithful‘ heading back to their doors for more, time and again. I look forward to my next dessert for Round 2. 

Images shot on Iphone6 

The Art of Sushi 


Click on the image to enlarge and read

A Guide to Sushi Etiquette
· You may be offered a hot, wet towel (called an oshibori) at the beginning of your meal. Use it to wash your hands and try to fold it back neatly the way it was offered to you before returning it. 

· Do not rub your chopsticks together. When not in use they should be placed parallel to yourself on the holder (if there is one) or on the shoyu dish. They should also be placed there when finished with your meal. 

· Don’t put wasabi directly in the shoyu dish. Nigiri-zushi (fingers of rice topped with fish or another topping) comes with wasabi placed under the neta (fish) by the itamae, and reflects what he feels is the proper balance of wasabi to fish. Some of us like a little more, and you can always sneak some separately on the fish or with it.

· It is OK to eat nigiri-zushi (sushi) with your hands. Sashimi is only to be eaten with your chopsticks. Pick up the nigiri-zushi and dip the fish (neta) into your shoyu, not the rice (which will soak up too much shoyu). The rice is like a sponge, and too much shoyu will overpower the taste of the food and could also lead to the rice falling into your shoyu dish and making soup, which is not a good thing. 

· Do not pick up a piece of food from another person’s plate with the end of the chopsticks you put in your mouth. When moving food like this use the end you hold, which is considered the polite way. 

Never pass food to another person using chopsticks as this is too close symbolically to the passing of a deceased relative’s bones at a traditional Japanese funeral. Pass a plate instead allowing an individual to take food themselves. Also, never stick your chopsticks in your rice and leave them sticking up. This resembles incense sticks and again brings to mind the symbolism of the Japanese funeral and prayers to one’s ancestors.

· Eat nigiri style sushi in one bite, a traditional itamae in Japanese sushi-ya will make the pieces the proper size for this.

· Gari (ginger) is considered a palate cleanser and eaten between bites or different types of sushi. It is not meant to be eaten in the same bite as a piece of sushi. 

· Technically one doesn’t drink sake with sushi (or rice in general) only with sashimi or before or after the meal. It is felt that since they are both rice based, they do not complement each other and therefore should not be consumed together. Green tea is a great option with sushi or sashimi

· Sake is available both chilled and hot, depending the quality and style. Experiment to learn what you like, but generally, higher quality sake is served cold. 

· Belching is considered impolite at the Japanese table, unlike some other Asian cultures. 

· “Kanpai!” (“empty your cup”) is the traditional Japanese toast you may hear. Do not say “chin chin” as to the Japanese, this is a reference to a certain male body part best left out of proper conversation. 

 

 Did you know? 

 • Sushi did not originate in Japan! – Although the Japanese get full credit for what we call sushi today, the inspiration for sushi is thought to have started in Southeast Asia. Nare-zushi, fermented fish wrapped in sour rice, originated somewhere around the Mekong River before spreading into China and ultimately Japan.The concept of modern-day sushi was invented in Japan by Hanaya Yohei sometime around the end of the Edo period.

Sushi began as cheap fast food. Sushi caught on originally as a cheap, quick snack to eat with the hands while enjoying a theater performance.

Sushi is supposed to be eaten with the hands. True to its origins, the correct way to eat sushi is with your fingers. Chopsticks are typically only used to eat sashimi — raw slices of fish.

Nigiri is to be eaten upside down – Sushi connoisseurs recommend that nigiri, a slice of fish squeezed atop a strip of rice, is best enjoyed by turning it upside down and placing the fish side on your tongue. Nigiri is typically eaten with the fingers rather than chopsticks so that you can keep it together and rotate it easily 

Puffer fish is the most dangerous sashimi contain lethal amounts of poison in glands and organs. If a chef inadvertently scrapes one with a knife while preparing sashimi, he could potential kill his own customer. To be certified to work with fugu sashimi, chefs in Japan must undergo a rigorous training and certification process — then eat their own finished product! And yes, there have been deaths during the final exams.

This is part of a series of articles written for Goa Times (Times of India) on people,food and happenings in and around Goa. 

This article encaupsulates The Art of Sushi – a cuisine that is gaining rapid popularity in and around the country and excerpts from some of the culinary stalwarts of the art. 

Ready.Set.Jump 

“Welcome to the jungle,” said the spider to the fly. You enter at ease, with dense scenic foliage around. Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary- a wildlife-protected sanctuary has an eclectic range of flora and fauna species nestled deep in the heart of South Goa. Painted billboards along the way, a guide to the forest dwellers inhabiting the jungle– king cobra, kraits, Russell vipers and the common rat snake and the elusive leopard and many species of spider and scorpion. Deep within the jungle is a hidden treasured extreme activity- Canyoning. An exhilarating technique-oriented sport, its activities range from walking, abseiling, wading and swimming through waist deep and open waters, scrambling, climbing, jumping and sliding down natural slopes. Imagine, Indiana Jones wet dream.

 Three guides, with a cumulative 25 years of experience, direct each expedition. Being a moderately risk defined activity- Safety is paramount. Medical kits are on standby– water, helmets and harnesses with a wet suit provided. Instructions are delivered post the signing, of a surreal consent form. It’s more dissuasive than persuasive. One has to be moderately fit, not afraid of snakes or spiders, and have no fear of water or heights.

 The jeep meanders an uphill road, a few grunts and shrieks later; arrives at the destination. You tread the off beaten path no more than a few feet wide with loose gravel and strewn spider webs on the earth’s floor for company. It’s humid and the smell of wet earth engulfs the air. There are ascents, which run 75o inclines that get you huffing & puffing. Itchy cacti stand guard to the river like militia. It gives you the sense of a quest for lost treasure – a secret to be discovered. One is allowed multiple breaks and the guides – Clement, Vlad and Philip – are an enthusiastic laugh riot. Their jabber makes the trek bearable. The sound of cascading water can be heard beyond the dense foliage ahead. The course charts 3kms in total, yet having barely crossed a kilometer, the lactic acids in ones legs start to build up.

 Standing at the cliff’s edge, one realizes there’s no turning back. Once underway, the way out is seeing it through the end. The Sauri River majestically makes its way over rocks and boulders with numerous waterfall drops in the distance. 

At a point in a deep cove, resides Brian- a water snake. Luck in their favor, the guides catch the elusive irate reptile and can make a formal introduction on request. The canyon puts one to the test, and chances to conquer it are high, though with a few minor nicks and scratches and a multitude of tumbles in tow expected. The ending for this beginner course is far more theatrical, to say the least. The last rappel against gushing water from up above, one is informed of the rope holding self is a few meters short. The only way left, is to let go!! Fear not, the water below embraces the fall tenderly much to the impish grins of the guides above. A sense of accomplishment beckons on departure amidst tired bones and muscle aches – which would have one ready to repeat this again. Or maybe it would be the adrenaline talking; longing to see Brian, once again.

 A great place to stay at is La Mangrove. A blink-and-miss eco resort in Katebag, it offers a modern tipi concept opposite a serene mangrove. An idyllic, tipi accommodation and river lounge garden in South-Goa, only 5 minutes by cycle from the beautiful protected Galgibag Beach, also known as Turtle Beach. It’s located in an authentic and charming Goan Catholic village, 25 minutes from the famous Palolem beach. The river lounge is a ‘bubble of fresh air,’ a place to escape from the hustle & bustle of life. 

A panoramic view of what expects you at La Mangrove 

The view transcends your senses to an alternate realm of peace and calm with only the occasional egret and Brahmin kite for company. Being an eco resort that’s one with nature, the tipis come with open-to-sky bathrooms and thatched walls right behind each with a common meeting and dining area right next to the mangrove. The reception is good with free wi-fi and a delectable organic menu to choose from.

 Perfect for an early morning awakening, with a hot cup of tea to watch the sun rise from behind the riverbed far ahead.

La Mangrove has an exclusive sitting area facing the river and mangrove. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared daily with organic foods by their chef from a set menu. Serving a range of Indian, Tibetian & Continental -a must try is their La Mangrove Momos, Pasta a la carbonara, Tentuk soup. 

The deep fried chocolate momo’s with vanilla ice cream is a must try. 

The breakfast is part of the package with a choice of continental and a healthy option. The food prepared is fresh and wholesome. 

A scrumptious continental spread to start the day at La Mangrove 

Another option is 10 minutes away on Turtle Beach at Santosh Bar & Restaurant. Known for his fresh fish and recommended by Jamie Oliver you should ask for the catch of the day. 

Fresh catch of the day. Basic. Scrumptious. 

An unforgettable sunset amidst the crashing waves

Word of Advice: 

  • Avoid Canyoning if you suffer from arachnophobia
  • Canyoning is best done between October and March
  • If you suffer from any serious medical conditions it is best to avoid this activity as it is very strenuous on ones body.
  • There are a variety of levels to accomplish depending on fitness levels.

Tour Operator: It is recommended you book your stay through the website http://www.lamangrovegoa.com for the best deals. Thibault can be contacted on +91 8408086365 or lamangrovegoa@gmail.com

For the canyoning experience it is best booked with Emanuel Ferre the owner of Goa Jungle Adventure. He can be contacted on +919850485641 or manu@goajungle.com


 This article was written for Lonely Planet Magazine as part of their Easy trips. No part of this publication  can be reproduced without prior consent/ approval of LPMI. 

Chocolate momos, Fresh catch, breakfast, panoramic views, hammock Pic courtesy by Nolan Mascarenhas Photography. Shot on Iphone6. Images for main article shot by Sameer Mangtani.

Tea, The Bard & Me 

Hello from Abu Dhabi. What am I doing here? Well of course I’ve come for a spot of tea to Shakespeare & Company- a Victorian era themed restaurant offering a diverse menu of reputed international fare with a elegant French patisserie for most of their short acts. 
The minute one steps into the gateway doors, is transported to a scene right off Downtown Abbey- sans the eloquent language in tow. As part of my #AbuDhabi #Foodtrail, this quaint little bistro is first off my list. From the overpowering interiors of Victorian frills and decor, to the friendly staff this has everything on spectacle- as an offering. 

The Dessert Bar 

The dessert bar, stretches far and wide with sumptuous fare, that tingles my tastebuds, leading me to the cardinal mistake of what we all suffer from- ones eyes being larger than ones stomach! I did eventually fall prey to the same and zestfully ordered more than I could chew, for lack of a better word. After all, I recollected the words of the famous bard in the background as I gorged on my first offering. 

Our bodies are our gardens,

Our will are our gardeners. 

-William Shakespeare

Will? Hah. Act One, as I lovingly called it was a Will, that fell as fast as the cookie crumbled.

 I decided to put my ‘smart consumption‘ skills to the test and try the Caramansi- a white sponge cake, coated with a creamy caramel chocolate and rice crisps sealed with oozing calamansi cream and lemon zest peel with noga for company in a sort of airtight containment formed this decadent dessert. 

Act One- The Caramansi 

Don’t let the photography fool you. This calorie monster, was no bigger than a bangle- in the palm of my hand. And I had the feeling of being well satiated with the serving as ‘apt sizing‘. However the buildup to the tea was the ultimate goal, so I truged along like a trooper. 

Act Two- Cheesecake

And then there was Cheesecake. You must be wandering how this dessert made its way in the middle of my choicest selections? Well, I’m a creature of habit and a cheesecake is a must have in any French patisserie. The quintessential raspberry jam with baked Cheese cream and a digestive biscuit base. They were taunting me with the word ‘digestive’ which was anything but, with all the calories flying around midair like scribbled crumpled pages to a rooms corner as did the famous bard. I could feel his snickering presence haunt me as to the faux pas I was in the process of committing. 

Act Three- Hazelnut Success 

This was NOT intentional. The server did not understand the gravity of the situation, when she mistakenly mentioned the following words;’ Almond Macaronade biscuit laden with hazelnut cream coated with caramelised Hazelnut chocolate coating’ , that sent all my senses into a tizzy much like a pinball machine on power surge with me almost demanding for one in a toned matter of speaking, ‘give me that and no one gets hurt‘. 

Think I scared her out of her wits as I didn’t see her for the remainder of the evening. As I said. Unintentional is the keyword I’m falling on. This is turning out to be a tea time snack of EPIC proportions. (No pun intended) 

Act Four- The Rising Flower & Caramel Eclaire

What I really did come to savor was the Rising Flower. The art and balance of carefully selecting a flower bud and allowing it to blossom inside a transparent tea kettle, watching it bloom entirely over 8 minutes (to the ‘T’)  was truly magical. The process of transforming hues with the tea light candle for company, was mesmerising and before one knew it the flower,had blossomed  with whifty tones of camomile & infused jasmine for that ethereal calming effect. Two sips and I decided to square it off with their signature Caramel Eclaire – fate a choux with caramel creame. It’s hard to describe the senses that rushed through my brain at first bite. The choux pastry was a perfect melted moment with the caramel creame for company oozing out at every bite. 

I sat there, with a satiated look on my face for the better half of the hour post consumption. However, this foodtrail has gotten off to a great start with the bard whispering in my ear, as I depart- “All’s well that ends well” 

A Spectacular Dream 

We all have dreams. However in order to make them a reality, takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort. Stand forth Aakritee & Virendra Sinh of A Reverie. It a feeling of excitement engulfing me, as I pen down the second article dedicated to this dynamic duo and their work of art located in Calangute. 

Why second you ask? I arrive at the gates of a restaurant that had the sense of old with the cloak of new. Everything has been redesigned. Only the hallmark of the place remains through the boundary walls that define its existence from a time before. The Dreamer stands right in the middle of the restaurant. One cannot fail to see him. Suspended mid air, gently eavesdropping on bar conversations it makes one sit up and take notice (no pun intended

This new concept (their dream, in a matter of speaking) has transformed their restaurant with a cutting crisp approach with defined sections ranging from the lounge, the space, the tasting room and the wine experience. All this in the confines of the original space. Those who have been here before would reveal in the transformation taken place for the season. 

There is a nip on a cool moonlit night where I happen to dine at this establishment. Virendra and his bar, have been highlighted before. A proud conceptualiser of some of the most exquisite hand picked malts and spirits the world over he spoils one for choice. Having him on the table for company you know your nights going to end in ‘high spirits’.  

A special tasting menu hand crafted for mr. NObody was presented. The earthy feeling sets one right at ease, with the clever play of tones from cream to camel hide brown- which lulls one into a trance of being in touch with mother earths roots. A pleasant feeling indeed. 

Here’s a serve by serve of a few highlights of the meal. 

A Balancing Act 


Peanuts! You gotta love them. Be it Charlie Brown & Snoopy or just your average nut the peanut chaat has a twist on the Goan & Thai tryst balancing the scales. Here it’s a play between peanut and cashewnut tossed in flavors of the region- Thailand and Goa. The herbs used were from their organic garden outback with a few Thai herbs thrown in for good measure. The cashewnut was married to Thai spices as well. (Pro tip: Best consumed with a chilled beer or Single malt for company. Let the spice work your palate and the beverage quench it). 

Sweet turned Savoury 


Neureos & Churros. You got to love the combination. Anyone heading over to a good ol’ gathering in ones ancestral village/house, over festive season is bound to sample and savor Neuroes- the goan stuffed answer to the Churros filled with coconut shavings. Churros with their ever crunchy, sugar dusted Spanish origins made the perfect date for this dish. These were Chilli cheese toast filled Neuroes & Churros with beetroot sour cream. (I can see you faces cringe at the blasphemous thought of the absence of chocolate dip- try this. It’s expansive and mind altering…and yes do thank me later) 


Fishing for Compliments 


Oh;this dish indeed was aching for some and then some more. In all honesty, I loved the presentation and the throwback to weddings in goa- especially Catholic ones. With the ritualistic – wine and cake at the toasting of the married couple, this finger food finds its way on the plate as an appetiser in most settings. Their twist was a fish ceviche, Amla & orange water with smoked mackerel (kudos to staying local in the fish selection, quite a dicey fish -this. And fabulously prepared), mayo and what they like to call other stuff. Fun in a pani puri. There is nothing like eating this ‘street food chaat’ in a fine dining restaurant. Redefines the experience entirely.  (Read pani puri at chowpatty. The other stuff is what makes this finger licking good. Kidding! sic) 

A Latino’riental Conspiracy 


Everytime I hear the word Latino, I go all Ricky ricardo meets Speedy Gonsalves in my head. Sexual, sultry, voluptuous (oh wait we’re talking about food here, back to the basics)…. As I was describing the food is spicy , tangy, soulful and eccentric filled with passion. Aakritee’s madness did not disappoint. Crispy corn tacos (home made at that), French duck breast & hoisin sauce. (My only complaint was not getting more.)

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A pause…. NO this is not the intermission, however I am pleasantly surprised to have Aakritee sitting on the table with us for more than 20 minutes ata stretch. In all my seasons of dining at this establishment she is the quintessential butterfly fliting between the kitchen and the table. It’s a surprise to have her nursing a cold with a stiff drink right next to me in animated conversation. I ask her ,whose manning the pass inside? 

Out comes; Chef Pablo Miranda. A gentle, yet towering demeanor -don’t let his boyish looks fool you. Under their watchful eyes, he has carved his credentials in a kitchen that was once pilgrimage to the hands of Aakritee herself. Having her relax outdoors is a silent testament of the work being belted out by this gent. A hands on/off approach in a matter of speaking. 

Back to more food. 

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The Cake 


They tout it as their much ‘celebrated’ dish. I would concur. The Cake is a Chicken liver pate with white truffle, onion jam infused with  Goan Port wine no.7. Not stopping at that- Add some black truffle coulis and cashew for company. (I wouldn’t really know how to describe it. You lost me at truffle. A dish so nice you have it twice- white & black indeed; I’ve died and gone to heaven

A-Maize 


A vegetarian’s orgasmic delight of truffled steamed polenta with baby spinach & mushroom ragout laced with a cauliflower purée, golden corn mash, sautéed vegetables & spiced crumble of -corn nachos, popcorn and cornflakes. (Quite a corny affair indeed)

More than what Meats the Eye 

This would be Porky & Petunia Pig’s (alongside their cousins) worst nightmare, at the delight of the carnivore in you. Aptly titled ‘pork few acts’, one is accompanied by a Belgian pork loin chop with hickory BBQ & GOAN bankal glaze. This double act is accompanied by Goan farm bred pork loin with a homemade mustard rub & mashed potatoes with Canadian bacon (re-salivation moment) and toddy fermented sauerkraut, sautéed vegetables & beetroot sour cream. I love the mad scientist at play working on so many classics with GOAN influences. It’s a tough act to pull and this was done ever so well. Kudos. 

Wake Up & Smell the Coffee 


Aptly described – it’s Coffee nirvana meets Lovers Paradise atop Gulliver’s Peak on an island far away. Espresso yourself indeed, is what constitutes the espresso ice cream, Columbian Coffee soil & Jamaican coffee truffle. That’s the first start to get your senses riled up. Round two heads to coffeeology intoxiology , a delicately balanced tiramisu with Goan coffee liqueur. Wait we’re not done yet. The third consumption is coffee jar- Coorg coffee creme anglaise, goan serradura custard with panko saw dust. And we top it off with the humidor- a Javanese coffee waffle cigar. 

The Banoffie Pie 


Aptly described as Reconstruct post a deconstruct of the Classic Banoffee Pie. Part of the trifecta is the first morsel is a smoking hot ‘chilled’ out sundae- which is ‘smoke’, banana ice cream, toffee sauce, condensed milk ice cream and cookie crumbs. 

Once you have satiated your senses you move over to ‘the humble pie’- (not so humble) A wafer thin chocolate Mille-feuilles, bananas topped with rum cream and strawberries. (Pro tip: try and consume in a single morsel to avoid making a faux pas of the event through spillage)

And what better way post the decadence, than to reach out to the land of milk and honey, with deep fried churros with reduced milk dip & honeycomb with an edible bumblebee. Mind you, the honeycomb wafer is pure unadulterated sin straight from an actual beehive!!

As I struggle to depart with the war of food battling inside, the Dreamer looks pleased. Here’s to the future, one which belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. 
Image courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography  Shot on Iphone6 

Cocktails & Dreams 

In the midst of reading this article there will be no words of wisdom from Doug Coughlin or the impish smile of Brian Flanagan (apologies for the spoiler alert). 

The art of the cocktails has evolved from playing safe with the regulars for the faithfuls to the ever evolving palate of the discerning international traveler- with mixologists taking global cues with local infused mixes to create fusion blends and classics alike. 

With the temperature rising, here are a few coolers to play sport in and around Goa.  

Mulled Wine Sangria 

concept created by the Goan produced Armada Liqueur, the mulled wine sangria is a flavorsum blend of a medium bodied red wine and fanta laced with Armada liqueur and finely chopped apples and oranges with mint leaves. 

Oscar De Sequeira Nazareth, proprietor of Armada states- “Liqueurs are a very popular ingredient in cocktail making – from Jagerbombs to really complex layered cocktails, their colour and flavours lend themselves to all sorts of combinations! I chose to highlight the Mulled Wine Sangria for a couple of reasons: Firstly because Sangrias are a very popular summer drink in Portugal and Spain, where the recipe for Armada originated. Secondly because it allows the subtle spice notes of Armada to really shine through. Thirdly to showcase our liqueur’s versatility: Creating a cool version of a mulled wine is no easy task – to then turn it into a Sangria is the work of a skilled mixologist case in point Nupur Joshi for bringing this concoction to life!


French 75 

cocktail made from gin, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar developed over the 1920s. The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled with the powerful French 75mm field gun. Brought back to life by Sunder Aaron & team of Pizza Mia quips “ We wanted something authentic and unique giving a twist to our cocktail selection with the wide variety of Pizza’s on offer. It’s a cooling and refreshing drink, consumed either night or day.”

The Peanut Buttercup 

The best way to savor this cocktail would be atop the cliff with the setting sun for company. Souvik Mishra the mastermind bartender behind this creation at Antares, infused a generous amount of Peanut butter laced with baileys and vanilla caramel based on vodka. He states, “ This is one of our most sought after cocktail, favored by one and all as it blends the tastes of a dessert with every sip. A must try for every gorgeous sunset we witness daily.”  


Poptail 

Imagine a sparkling bubbly Prosecco from Italy with a choice of Ice candy lollipop- Blue Lagoon & Hawaian Chilli. 

This is the brainchild of Chef Xavs Norr from Route 66 in Panjim.

 An experimentalist at heart, he decided to pair a sinful fruity bubbly with the jolt tones of candy flavor in every sip. He explains “ I like to bring an element of fun and passion in every creation. This brings together the two sides to the coin- a grown up adult with their Proseco, a regal drink, and the kid inside us all with the lollipop submerged within. The reaction on their faces is priceless each time I present this drink to them. Many are stumped as to how to consume it. The answer would be, any way you please.


Cazulo Peru Meru 

drink born out of circumstance, the Cazulo Peru Meru found its origins from the Bloody Maria- which was riff of the regular Bloody Mary replacing vodka with coconut feni, thus staying true to the basics, but adding a Goan spin on the drink. However one December, Goa was faced with an unexpected shortage of Tomato juice.

 Not being deterred Hansel Vaz, owner Cazulo Feni- innovated and decided to use a juice that isn’t normally used in a cocktail, thus experimenting with Guava- thus the Peru Meru was born. “Our secret ingredient… there is always one.. was creating a rim of chilly powder and salt. Not only is it an interesting blend of flavours, but each sip of the cocktail and the salt chilly rim, invariably takes you back to your childhood school days were Guava smeared with chillypowder and salt was the most sinful thing we ever did before coming home.”


 Amour de Paris 

drink celebrating Paris in Goa through the Good France Week to promote French cuisine across the world. True to its gastronomic tastes of all things wine and cognac this cocktail is cognac based with triple sec and layered with lemon juice for that after taste zing. The strength of the cognac with subtle flavors of triple sec appeals universally top both stronger and lighter taste palates. Saurabh Khanna, General Manager of The Park Calangute states- “Amour de Paris as the name suggests means ‘Love from Paris’. This is our own libation made of French liquors by our barman Srimanta Dey. An easy to consume drink it is available with us all year round.”

Karp Wheels

A twist to the classic bourbon- the Karp Wheels is a symbolic balance of the yin and yang between sweet & tangy much like the effervescent colors inspired by Koi fish. It also looks much like the wheels of a ferris doing kart wheels’ quips Shefali Gandhi of Koi Goa. While it may look subtle and delicate with vibrant hues it’s got a heady mix of Angoustra bitters infused with sugar cubes garnished with lime & lemon wheels with maraschino cherries for company. A dash of grenadine, ginger ale and club soda over a layer of burbon seals the deal for this summer refreshment.  Aziz Lalani further adds ‘ We decided to play around with good ol’ burbon as its a common favourite and not commonly used  as a summer thirst quencher given its heavy hues. However this balances out perfectly and is quite a hot seller at Koi. No pun intended.’ 

This is part of Spotlight- a series showcasing unique gastronomic trends in and around the culinary food world. 

Bacon..A high-five for your mouth

Let’s start off with a riddle to ignite your grey cells.

Billy has 32 pieces of bacon. He eats 28.

What does he have now?

Happiness. Billy has Happiness!!! 

 Have you ever noticed that there’s no such thing as leftover bacon? There’s the intoxicating smell; that smoky, fatty, salty, porky-sweet flavor; the contrast of pliable, tender meat and shatteringly crisp edges. There are few foods as sensual and appealing as bacon. The mere smell of it can take you by the nose and lead you across to our very kitchen. 

After all, we can vault it with anything from eggs to chocolate to Brussels sprouts to new levels of deliciousness. Bacon is vivid and specific and entirely unlike anything else. 
We have experienced it in the ‘flesh’ (no pun intended) acting as a “gateway meat” to tempt vegetarians. So what makes our Route 66 Hickory smoked streaky bacon taste like it does? Perhaps the succulent cured pork belly, smoked and sliced thin. We are pretty ‘Porky’ about the way we cure and smoke our bacon in the attempt for the perfect flavor. 
 Before & After  
The first step in making bacon is curing it—that is, treating it with salt along with flavorings like black pepper or maple. Sugar is almost always added during this phase as well.
 Smoked to perfection.  
 Did you know? 

 In the days before refrigeration, curing was an essential step to extend the pork’s shelf-life for as long as possible by creating an environment unfriendly to bacterial growth.
Rules of Bacon:
1. There must always be bacon in the fridge. Always!!
2. There does not exist a food that doesn’t go well with Bacon
3. There are 2 kinds of people in this world. Those who love Bacon & those who will be used as fodder in the case of a zombie apocalypse
4. Crispy and Chewy are both acceptable ways to cook bacon. Thou shall not Discriminate
5. 90% of the world’s problems can be solved by cooking more bacon
6. Meals without bacon are not worth eating
7. Bacon gets you Laid.
Route 66 Hickory smoked streaky bacon  
So come this summer, get your chops on and head on over to sample some of the best cures and marinades with some mouthwatering delicious treats, asking for repeats. What’s more, if you wish to take some home for your next barbecue, were happy to oblige and sell you the same. On request of course. 
Oink out!