Robin & a biscuit 

I remember the first time I laid eyes on a dog. I was in love. Though the thought of having this monster approach me with a mesmerizing gaze in her eyes, did send chills up my spine enough to shudder a bit, I stood still. She towered over me- a Great Dane of course and my frame maxing out at a 1 foot nothing (all of 3 years I was told) was enough to look right into the drool that was about to accumulate high above. Much like a American Bomber about to deploy a weapon of mass destruction.  

But what did eventually follow after what seemed like forever, was a sniff and a nudge which sent me plonking to the ground accompanied by a light whimper and a tear rolling down the corner of my eye. What followed was magic. A reassurance of a slobber laid kiss, (the way one would lick a postage stamp)to say ‘I’m sorry, little one’.  

From then on, began my love affair with dogs and carries on till date. I have a loveable, oaf of a mutt- Mojo, who I dote over with,unabashed, unconditional love and every now and then I’m the Pied piper about town with numerous strays being befriended along the way. I find myself in the land of royalty- Jaipur, for a quick meeting and chance upon an old post office. I decide to write a hand written letter to a special someone. The art of being a purist. I’m old school that way. 

Outside this old torn down post office, I hear a few whimpers under a broke down scooter, only to see a litter of mutts cowered together away from the heat. It is hot here. Scorching to put it lightly. So what needs to be done? Water to rescue, which was welcomed by these pups. And this one inquisitive fellow I christened -Robin (for the mask like Batmans sidekick) followed me around and waited with me while I stood in line without a care in the world. He kept staring up at me the exact same way I did all those years to Laika, the Great Dane and I felt that instant connection of life having come around a full circle. We played a bit, devoured a packet of glucose biscuits (mashed in water) while I sipped on my cuppa. The solace and gratefulness of having this creature next to me was an unparalleled experience. No spas, no reviews, no restaurants, no fancy hotel rooms- just me and Robin exchanging thoughts through the desert sun. I was tempted to take him back with me and inquired about their well being. The guard happened to mention the mother was nearby and right before I departed made her way to her litter. The joy and happiness seen in their faces when they saw mommy dearest approach. The simple things in life. 

And right then before I left, Robin arrested my senses and gave me a look. The look of a thousand words that conveyed one simple message, ‘We are your best friend’. 

A packet of biscuits and a pup- was exactly what the doctor ordered to realign me with purpose. Thank you Jaipur and much love Robin. Till we cross each other’s paths again someday. 

 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. 


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 

Post-it’s on a Crab

Some restaurants do fan walls some photo galleries. This one (Soul Soufflé) nestled near a lovely fresh water spring does this. 

It’s simple really. You choose a crab,they cook it to your taste and liking (mine was tossed in herbs and butter garlic) and once done is cleant for your good wishes. 

Might I add it was de-li-ci-oussssssss…..

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography   

 

The Morning After

Ever heard those LIFE inspirational quotes where when one shuts a door a window is opened somewhere?  I ain’t on the verge of a spiritual discourse however given my condition the night before this image it is truly is a wonder I made it through the night without freezing my butt in the rain. 

With hail and brimstone in the middle of nowhere literally I chanced upon this ashram at the stroke of midnight and requested shelter from a rather grumpy priest (wouldn’t you be on your best behaviour having being woken up at midnight to a stranger now) and he offered to lend me shelter in his godown with the caveat of keep one eye open for critters and creepy crawlies that come visiting (he was referring to the garden snakes that might have jostled me and eventually nestled up in my sleeping bag)

Just like the Stones all I could think of with sigh of relief was the humming of the soundtrack Gimme Shelter and pray that I woke up without unexpected company. 

And viola I see this early in the morning. I mean gobsmacked would be an understatement. I never wanted to leave. Right next to the temple -pristine clear drinkable water and the serenity of an undiscovered Shangri-la. 

Thank you. Last night a Monk saved my life and we bonded like long lost life seekers over a cuppa chai (tea) in the morning. 

The little joys of travel. Your adventure awaits…what you waiting for?

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

 

HONK-OK-PLEASE-JESUS-ELEPHANT!!!

Here’s a flashback scenario of a traffic signal back in L.A. Yes the city of angels and over sized cars. There i was in a friends Saab and over at the side comes this monster of a Hummer growling and grunting waiting for the lights to go green. It made me feel 3 inches tall not to mention be a comfortable spectator for the grit and grim below the chassis (oh wait he missed a spot of dirt- my mind jumped with envious glee) 

Fast forward a decade later and here we are in a tuk-tuk. A three wheeler with the engine of a gearless moped (public transport widely used in India) and at a signal stop on the highway intersection this rolls in. Need I say more? 

Guess the Hummer would have to settle for second best!! 😉 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

In God's Own Country

In God’s Own Country