+ Sakkarai Pongal recipe

Celebrating Pongal with Sakkarai Pongal and other dishes

Wishing you abundance and joy as new harvest is celebrated all across India. They may have different names… Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Maghi Bihu, Uttarayan, Lohri and others, but the intentions are the same. It’s a celebration of nature’s bounty and to her show gratitude. It also marks the sun’s transit to Capricorn, hence marking the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Needless to say, it’s the perfect time to release everything from the past and welcome a new decade by setting new intentions!

Sakkarai Pongal recipeI’m immersing myself into every new experience that I can get in my new adopted home, Chennai. Nothing can be better than a festive season or a celebration to learn about it’s cuisine and culture. Ideally, I’d visit local markets, explore back alleys, try out popular casual eateries alongside the long-standing finer restaurants. I love meeting cooks and chefs of both restaurants and family kitchens, listening to their food stories and food memories. The last year has been quite different in that sense … I haven’t been able to embrace new people in their kitchens and homes spontaneously and without any fear, unlike other times.

I wanted to learn to make a few dishes that are cooked for Pongal so that we could have a special Pongal lunch at home (below) along with the Z-Sisters. During this time of the year, Bengalis celebrate Makar Sankranti. The harvesting season calls for Notun Gur, the season fresh jaggery and different kinds of pithes, a kind of dumpling made with rice dough and filled with fresh coconut and jaggery. I will not be making pithes this time or be able to visit our Bengali friends in Dubai, some of who would invariably make pithes at home… but I can proudly say that I have learnt to make the Sakkarai Pongal, the special Pongal dish cooked with newly harvested rice, moong dal and sugarcane jaggery. I also learnt a few other regional dishes followed by a hearty breakfast with this wonderful family who opened up their traditional home kitchen for me. Yesterday felt extremely special, as after a long time I went into the homes and kitchens of two wonderful families in our community ~ Veni and Subha. Of course, with my mask and social distancing protocols in place.

Traditional Sappadu,or a typical Tamil meal of Venn Pongal, Sambar and Aviyal

Traditional Sappadu or a typical Tamil meal of Venn Pongal, Sambar and Aviyal

Ingredients for making Sakkarai Pongal

Adda with Veni and digging into her Kolkata konnect

When I met Veni, we hit off instantly. She is a Tamilian from Kolkata, hence an honorary Bengali by her own admission. I caught Veni chatting voraciously with a few other residents of the community one evening, about regional sweets. I am not sure whether the discussion had a probable sweet inclination because of the Kolkata influence in her or was it me lurking in the background trying to get a confirmed place in my new friendship circle and manifesting a topic that I could partake in effortlessly. Did Tamilians, like Bengalis, discuss sweets for hours, I wondered! Veni and her family – her husband Swami, their two cute little boys and her parents, welcomed me wholeheartedly into their home when she heard I wanted to learn how to cook the Sakkarai Pongal. This was a special sweet cooked with newly harvested nice, moong dal and sugarcane jaggery. Traditionally, it was cooked in an urli or a claypot in the courtyard, the sun god being a witness. The idea was to have the porridge overflowing as that heralded an overflowing abundance while everyone shouted Pongalo Pongal… may this rice boil over!

I had to reach at 7:30 in the morning as Veni’s mother planned to cook a few dishes for breakfast. Veni had already mentioned that her mother didn’t follow the traditional method of cooking sakkarai pongal in the urli and used a pressure cooker instead, to fast track the preparation. Aunty reminded me of my mum-in-law… very hands on and at the helm of their kitchen. Their kitchen was a cleverly revamped space that combined both modern aesthetics and regional cooking requirements. Aunty spoke to me in Bengali and rebuked me occasionally “eyije dekho” / look here, instructing me to bring back my attention to her cooking rather than chat away with Veni. Along with the sakkarai pongal, our breakfast menu consisted of the savoury vadas and venn pongal to be served with sambar, coconut chutney and multiple refills of filter coffee. Aunty shared her culinary wisdom with me – how to use the grated jaiphal and the edible camphor to sakkarai pongal sparingly or to mix a bit of regular sugarcane jaggery to the special sugarcane jaggery to sakkarai pongal as the latter could lend a salty taste at times. While Aunty was occupied with stirring and “steering” the preparation of the dishes by standing infront of the gas stove, Veni provided prompt assistance in clearing away pots and pans, or whizzing away fresh coconut in the mixie to make the coconut chutney. I learnt that Aunty’s family had been settled in Kerala and her cooking was occasionally influenced by the Malabari style of cooking. Like every family recipe, each family had their own tweaks to the same recipe. But I guess like all mothers’ cooking, Aunty’s preparations too, won the hearts of everyone in this family. Veni’s husband Swami, loved his mum-in-law’s version of sambar. Post my cooking session at Veni’s, I was contemplating whether I should include sambar in my lunch menu at home with a store bought sambar masala that was already there in my pantry. I was advised not to fuss so much about whether I had certain vegetables at home. Any vegetable that was stocked in the refrigerator, could easily go into the sambar, only once in while.

Veni addressed me as “Didibhai”, an endearing term for an elder sister in Bengali and her two little boys had something or the other to share every few moments, with their new found friend “Ishita Aunty”. To my utter surprise, each boy sang two Tagore songs… Rabindrasangeets, for me… “ami chini go chini tomare, ogo bideshini” and “jodi tor daak shune keu na ashe, tobe ekla cholo re”. Their Bengali pronunciation and renditions were perfect as though they were thoroughbred Bengalis. Veni apparently sung these to the boys as bedtime lullabies! Every artwork in their house had some story and as we had a long adda at their long dining table, even the dining table seem to have a story. The wooden top was recycled out of Kilpauk post office and all the wood that was used in their house was recycled. I felt very much at home and welcomed with a lot of affection and warmth. Inspite of that, I wanted to know whether traditional Pongal meals were a family affair or whether the celebrations called in for bigger gatherings like other Indian festive celebrations, for example Diwali or Eid. Families celebrated Pongal at their respective homes, although Veni and Swami celebrated with guests when they lived in Mumbai. They were very happy to have me, the first guest at their home during Pongal after three years. In fact, Swami shared how he missed out on Pongals all these years, as he was usually in Dubai on work at this time of the year. And guess which was his favourite restaurant ? Ravis’s ofcourse… much like the Bearded Biker! 

Once Aunty finished cooking, an assortment of prasad, an offering went directly off the gas stove to the deities in their prayer room. Veni pampered me with a platter and guided me to the best spots in her dining room and in the garden for natural lighting. She seemed to be an Instagram pro, appearing enthusiastically in my video and presenting the platter with a Pongal greeting. While we all ate together, much like most mums, Aunty didn’t join us and was busy serving us. Each dish was delicious. The vadas were undoubtedly one of the best I’d ever tasted, incredibly soft and fluffy from the inside and at the same time deliciously crispy from outside. The sambar tasted very different from the ones I had tasted before in most of the South Indian restaurants in Dubai. I think, it was the variety and freshness of vegetables and Aunty’s secret which probably did the trick. A take away parcel of the sakkarai pongal accompanied me back home, which led to a bit of change in my menu plans… all for good!

Boiling sugarcane jaggery for making Sakkarai Pongal

Filtering the jaggery through a sieve before mixing it in Sakkarai Pongal

Sakkarai Pongal cooked in a kadai

Cashews and raisins fried in ghee

Venn Pongal

Venn Pongal

Tempering for Sambar

Coconut chutney for vada and Venn Pongal

Aunty setting up the table

Breakfast platter on Pongal Day

Sambar poured into small bowls

Breakfast platter on Pongal Day

Venn Pongal, Sambar, coconut chutney and Sakkarai Pongal

A glimpse of tradition at Subha’s

I had also wanted to witness the traditional preparation of sakkarai pongal, the overflowing of milk as the rice, dal and jaggery slow cooked on fire in a pot. Subha came from the Chettiar family and for them the celebration of Pongal as a festival was huge. She and her family celebrated Pongal in the traditional way. I had reached out to her and although I had an open invite, I missed out on the timing and the actual ceremonial preparation. The kolam, the traditional floor artwork done with rice powder in Subha’s kitchen was intricate and beautiful. There were two pots in which sakkarai pongal had been cooked ~ one by her and the other one by her husband. Subha explained the process and showed me how she had offered prasad. She led me to their beautiful puja room, which was adorned with deities created in Tanjore artwork. She served the food on banana leaf which was then placed on the traditional weaved tray that was used to clean the rice. Subha welcomed me to join them for lunch, saying that the food was very different and extremely authentic. As much as I was enticed with her lunch invite, I was too full from the breakfast. Although my heart said that Subha’s invite was too good to miss, my brain guided me elsewhere… to my home to prepare lunch as it was already noon. 

Traditional Kolam design for Pongal

Traditional way of cooking Sakkarai Pongal

Traditional way of cooking Sakkarai Pongal

Traditional Chettiar meal during Pongal

When a burst of colours hit the roads and floors

I took a small detour to the local market just outside our community gate. There were many vendors selling sugarcane plants and turmeric plants – the Pongal tradition called for decorating the entrance with both these plants, the sugarcane and turmeric representing sweetness and savoury respectively. Both in food and life, I guess! On my way back, a quick walk around the community presented me with an array of different kolams that adorned the entrance doorways. There were pulli kolams, the dotted designs as well as some colourful ones. A few #fromwhereistand shots for my Instagram were ready and I scooted home to don my apron for downloading my morning’s culinary knowledge at the earliest.

Sugarcanes sold for Pongal

Pumpkins and peanuts sold during Pongal

Pumpkins and peanuts sold during Pongal

Traditional Kolam design for Pongal

Traditional Kolam design for Pongal

A colourful Kolam design for Pongal

A colourful Kolam design for Pongal

Traditional Pulli Kolam design for Pongal

Embracing the sensory overloads of Chennai wholeheartedly

The sights of flower vendors or women wearing brightly coloured saris with fresh flowers in their hair, I have embraced all these sensory overloads wholeheartedly. The day before moving into our new home which fell on Diwali, I stopped by the road to buy some flowers. The flower lady insisted on putting some flowers on my hair too, taking out a hair clip from a secret chamber. The Universe must have heard my heart’s desire to decorate our home with flowers on a regular basis. Lady Priya, the lovely part-timer who’s come into my life works in the temple in the mornings, setting out rangolis with flower petals and manages her sister’s flower shop in the evenings. Every Monday, she brings in fresh flowers from the local wholesale market, which she offers me at cost price. Their fragrances last for a few days, specially a variety of rose called the pannir rose. Sometimes she strings the flowers into garlands or sets them on silver plates. We place them all around the home, sprinkling a bit of rose water. When she is lucky enough to catch hold of a bounty from the flower market, we decorate a large uruli with flowers and tea lights floating in water. Every time we do that, the traditional uruli, a family heirloom from Bearded Biker’s side, or our Jordanian ceramic bowl adorned with silver filigree, acquires a different dimension altogether rather than lying on the coffee table as mere showpieces. Even the Royal Jasmine, one of the many varieties of jasmine, blooming in our garden or Rangana, the geranium gracing our community gardens are subtle reflections of nature’s colourful bounty that surround us in our new home.

A roadside flower vendor in Thiruvanmiyur

A roadside flower vendor in Thiruvanmiyur

Roses and other fresh flowers

Flower decoration at home by Lady Priya

Panni rose in a traditional uruli

Panni rose in a traditional uruli

Flower decoration in our Jordanian ceramic bowl adorned with silver filigree

Jasmine plant in the garden

Finally at home for Sappadu

My initial plan for our lunch menu was to make the chakarai pongal at home. I had instructed our wonderful cook Lady Priya accordingly, to make a vegetable dish the day before. It was to pair with steaming hot rice and ghee and I intended to serve on banana leaf. Aunty’s parcel of sakkarai pongal acted as a boon in disguise. I cooked a quick sambar and the savoury venn pongal that I had learnt in the morning. The kāykaṟi kirēvi, or a vegetable gravy cooked in a claypot by Lady Priya, added a rustic charm to our lunch set up. Aunty’s sakkarai Pongal deserved special spotlight, hence I took out the silver spoons and bowls from my treasured collection. I also placed sugarcane sticks and turmeric plants in front of our puja room and offered a prasad of the venn pongal that I had cooked.

Sugarcane plants

Melange of seasonal vegetables for making Avial

The savoury Venn Pongal

Avial made with a melange of seasonal vegetables

Sambar

Sappadu during Pongal

Sakkarai Pongal

Festive celebrations mean a lot to me. I don’t believe much in rituals but I believe and respect the immense faith that brings people together. Whether it is Bijoya Dashami or Christmas, we have always celebrated them at home so that the Z-Sisters may have some special memories that will anchor them in their respective journeys in life. All these months, I have missed being with my parents and parents-in-laws, so learning to cook with Aunty and chatting with Veni’s father as we celebrated Pongal over breakfast, felt indeed very special. Pongal is celebrated over a few days, each day marking something special. I may or may not be able to learn any more new dishes, or visit another home… but this memory will last me a lifetime. May all the seasons continue to overflow with abundance and give us many reasons to smile!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some posts from my recent Chennai Chapter:
Finally calling Chennai home
Homemade spicy Chicken 65
Chicken Chettinad cooked in a claypot

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

* The recipe is guided by Aunty’s home style cooking of Sakkarai Pongal, that I had jotted down. 

Sakkarai Pongal

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Dessert; Cuisine=Tamil

Sakkarai Pongal

Ingredients

1 cup rice (new harvest rice Pongal raw rice is available in stores. Aunty used Gobinbdobho, a special rice that Bengalis use for making payesh)
1 cup moong dal
¼ cup sugarcane jaggery, powdered
16 cardamoms, powdered
jaiphal or nutmeg, grated (a pinch)
edible camphor
½ cup milk
1 cup cashews
¼ cup raisins
4 tbsp ghee

Method

  • Roast moong dal in a heavy bottom pan in medium flame till the dal turns golden brown and aromatic
  • Add rice to the roasted dal, add water and rinse them well.
  • Add ½ cup milk and 1 ½ cup water to the rice and dal and cook in the pressure cooker upto 2 whistles. Once the pressure is released, mash the rice and dal lightly, and set it aside to cool
  • Make the jaggery syrup by adding ½ cup water to 1 cup of jaggery (Aunty mixed two kind so jaggery saying that the latter tends to be a bit salty). Heat on low flame and keep stirring until the jaggery dissolves
  • Transfer the cooked rice and dal into a thick kadai (You can use a traditional uruli for this. Aunty has recently stopped using the uruli as it’s too heavy for her). Pour the jaggery filtered through a sieve. Begin to cook in a medium flame. Add 2 tablespoons of ghee, powdered cardamom and pinch of nutmeg
  • In a small pan, add 2 tablespoons of ghee and add the cashews, raisins and fry them slightly until they turn golden and aromatic. Pour them over the Sakkarai Pongal
  • Add a pinch of edible camphor and mix well

+ Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

One of the most exciting ways to explore and learn more about a region, for me, is to learn to cook regional dishes. I cooked Chettinad Chicken in a claypot, an affair that I have been longing for a long time. It turned out to be delicious and I’m currently obsessing over everything about it… the aroma, the texture and the excitement of cooking in a claypot.

Chettinad Chicken served with steaming hot rice

I have been gathering recipes from Tamil Nadu  – the easy ones to be stirred on the weekdays while I am keeping aside the elaborate ones for the weekends. Today, I cooked Chettinad Chicken in a claypot, an affair that I have been longing for a long time, specially after a drive to ECR or East Coast Road that brought me to a shop selling potteries and earthen cookwares. I have used earthen tagine for cooking Moroccan chicken or fish in the Mediterranean style before, but this was the first time I used earthenware for Indian style of cooking that probably required tempering of spices in hot oil. I was assured by the vendor that my claypot would be safe and sound… hence I took a leap of faith and survived safe and absolutely sound!

Chettinad Chicken in a claypot

Chettinad Chicken served with steaming hot rice

Chettinad Chicken served with steaming hot rice

Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

Chettinad Chicken in a claypot

Grinding dry roasted spices for making Chettinad masala

Chettinad cuisine is one of the most popular regional cuisines of Tamil Nadu. Originating from the Chettinad region, the speciality of the cuisine is the use of a variety of spices and fresh ground masalas. Although the Chettinad Chicken recipe called for roasting a lot of spices, the cooking itself was neither elaborate nor difficult. I missed out on two ingredients – the small round fat gundu red chillies and kalpasi or black stone flower. While I substituted whole red chillies for the gundu red chillies, I couldn’t substitute anything for Kalpasi. The latter is a kind of a lichen and often blended with other spices – I have added that to my next grocery list.

The WhatsApp group in our community, specially the women’s group, has become quite a lifeline for me. Yes, there is a subgroup from amidst the residents’ group, much like a lot of WhatsApp groups that seem to overwhelm us in our daily lives. Various tips poured in when I asked about Kalpasi and I learnt that it was a flavouring ingredient that added aroma to rice variety and curries. A bit of it was enough to lend flavour. The stone flower is often dry roasted with other spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, fennel seeds, coriander, red chillies, pepper corns and then powdered to flavour curries. Some used it sparingly in its whole form for making coconut based kurmas and fried it along with the onions. Too much Kalpasi could make a dish bitter.

Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

Food cooked in an unglazed claypot gives out a strong earthen aroma and the food retains all the oil and moisture. Moreover, since food can only be slow cooked on slow to medium fire, do remember the adage … patience is a virtue.

I poured myself steaming hot rice and I couldn’t stop obsessing over the Chettinad Chicken that I had cooked for lunch. I am sanguine it was the same for the Z-Sisters and the Bearded Biker. That… when humbly said!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some spicy recipes that you may like: 
Homemade spicy Chicken 65
Stuffed Chilli Spring Rolls Thai Papaya Salad

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

* The recipe shared in my blog is guided by our wonderful cook who follows home style cooking and the recipe has been tried in our kitchen. 

Chettinad Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Category=Side dish; Cuisine=Chettinad / South Indian

Cooking Chettinad Chicken in a claypot

Making family style Chicken Chettinad

Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

Ingredients

1 kg chicken with bones, de-skinned and cut into medium sized pieces
8 Indian shallots, thinly sliced
4 medium sized tomatoes, cubed
4 tbsp poppy seeds
4 tbsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks
8 pieces green cardamoms
8 pieces cloves
2 star anise
8 dry red chillies
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 cup fresh grated coconut
1 lime
20 fresh curry leaves
½ cup vinegar
2 tbsp white oil
salt as per taste

Method

  • Wash the chicken well and marinate it with turmeric and vinegar. Leave aside for 1 hour.
  • Dry roast the whole spices – fennel, cumin, coriander, star anise, cloves, cardamoms and cloves, in medium flame in a heavy pan. As the seeds start spluttering, add poppy seeds, dry red chillies and fresh grated coconut. Keep stirring so that the roasted spices don’t burn. Once they turn golden brown, keep the pan aside to cool and grind the masala in a coffee grinder.
  • Set the claypot in medium flame and heat oil. Add curry leaves (leave aside a few fresh ones for adding them later as garnish), sliced onions and tomatoes. Add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for a while. You may use a deep bottomed pan instead of a claypot.
  • Add the ground masala, mix well before adding the marinated chicken pieces to the pan. Stir them well into the masala. 
  • Add adequate water to cover all the chicken pieces. Add salt, cover the claypot with a lid and simmer the chicken for thirty minutes in slow flame.
  • Check for salt and once the chicken pieces are tender and appear well cooked, add fresh curry leaves before taking off the claypot from the fire.
  • Serve with steaming hot rice.

+ Homemade Chicken 56

Homemade spicy Chicken 65 for today’s lunch

Getting into the Chennai groove with a homemade spicy Chicken 65 for today’s lunch. I made two variations of it – with and without gravy. This is probably the closest any of my blogposts have gotten real-time!

Chicken 65 two ways... with gravy and without

My last blogpost was kind of very long as I belted my heart out into how we have settled down in Chennai. The behind-the-scenes activities started in April 2020 and we moved into our home in Diwali. We finally felt at home by New Year’s eve… all of these culminating in a long emotional blogpost. The header image showed a meal that I had cooked a few days earlier, in the manner of a bhog... Khichuri, a dish made with rice and lentils, accompanied by the humble aloo bhaja / fried potato, begun bhaja / fried eggplant and a sweet tomator chutney.

Big Z vented on Facebook… because the header image captured a lunch that wasn’t real time. ‘This is deception and clickbait Ma. This wasn’t for lunch or dinner today 😩😭‘. I responded back, ‘where have I ever written that this was for today?’ The conversation got me thinking… what about an almost real time blogpost?

While it is easier to go real time on Instagram and instastories, my style of blogposts required a bit of tending and time. So today’s post is dedicated to her. It is also a loving retaliation from me defending my dignity on social media and putting myself to the challenge to blog about today’s lunch before we hit tea time. Instagram and instastories included! This was today’s lunch – my rendition of the legendary regional favourite – Chicken 65. I made two variations of it, one without gravy that Lil Z liked. The other one had a slight gravy as the Bearded Biker and Big Z preferred their meals with rice. Lil Z and I preferred rotis, unless it’s a fried rice, pulao or biryani. A simple onion salad with a squeeze of lime and green chillies by the side … and that was it. I could hear Big Z scream, ‘Ma, this isn’t salad!’ Then again, we hardly have salads in traditional Indian cuisine excepting a countable few regional salads here and there. Would you agree?

Homemade Chicken 65

Fried Chicken 65 with rotes and an onion salad

Fried Chicken 65

Fried Chicken 65

Chicken 65 is a spicy, deep-fried chicken dish originating from Hotel Buhari, Chennai (courtesy, wiki). The internet is abuzz with many variations of Chicken 65 – from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and other places. I learnt this recipe from my wonderful part-time helper and while not delving into the authenticity of the recipe, I tweaked it a bit (adding a bit of sugar, the Bong touch!). The outcome was pretty insane and exactly how we would like – tender and juicy, crispy and spicy.

I can’t wait to read Big Z’s reprise on Facebook… and yes surprisingly, we are conversing via multiple realms  these days. What matters most is that conversations must keep on going and that we remain connected, what do you think? 

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some spicy recipes that you may like:
Stuffed Chilli Spring Rolls
Thai Papaya Salad

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Homemade spicy Chicken 65

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Entrée / Snack; Cuisine=South Indian

Homemade Chicken 65

Fried Chicken 65 with rotes and an onion salad

Ingredients

2 kgs chicken, medium sized pieces with bones
4 green chillies, sliced
3 tbsp red chilli powder
3 tbsp garam masala powder (store bought garam masalas vary with the region.
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp ginger garlic paste
2 tsp sugar (my tweak)
salt, as per taste
1 cup refined flour
2 tsp corn flour
200 gms plain yoghurt

fresh curry leaves, a handful
white oil for deep frying

Method

  • Make a marinade with yoghurt, red chilli, garam masala, turmeric powders, ginger garlic paste, salt and sugar. Add the chicken pieces and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • Heat oil in a deep bottomed pan. The amount of oil should be generous enough to submerge the pieces by one-fourth while frying.
  • Just before frying the chicken pieces, add flour and cornflour to the marinated chicken pieces and mix well, so that there are no lumps.
  • Fry the chicken pieces until they are almost done. They should be crispy yet tender, not over fried.
  • Add a bit of water to the mixing bowl and pour any remaining marinade into the frying pan. Cover the pan with the lid while lowering the flame.
  • Once the gravy becomes thick and sticks to the fried chicken pieces and the oil is visible, add curry leaves and green chillies. Give a quick stir.
  • Serve the spicy fried chicken pieces aka Chicken 65 along with sliced onions and lime.

+ Traditional Bengali food in my kitchen in Chennai home

Finally calling Chennai home

Wishing you all health and happiness for the New Year from our new home in Chennai, as we start a new chapter in a new city!

Homecooked Brownies for Christmas baked by Big Z

We moved to Chennai this October after two decades of living in Dubai. I can’t wait to explore, learn and know more about the city that is going to be my fourth adopted home after Colombo, Frankfurt and Dubai. “How are you liking Chennai?”; “How does it feel to be back to India after so many years?”; “How are the Z-Sisters adjusting to their new school?”; “Have you all settled down?”; “Given the long stint in Dubai, surely making new friends at this age would be the most challenging?”… to all the questions that are coming my way, my answer is the same. It feels quite surreal that we have finally moved. It also hasn’t sunk in that we have moved. With all the developments that have been happening in the world over the least few months, there must have undeniably been an army of visible and invisible human forces, also some mighty divine forces at play to keep the process going for moving countries and settling into a new city. The other day, I asked the Bearded Biker, “ How are you feeling?” He replied, “I can’t feel yet”. In some sense, it’s pretty much the same for me too. Although we haven’t been moving around the city as such, whatever sights and sounds I have seen and heard of Chennai, I already feel at home.

For every house in every neighbourhood that we have driven past in Chennai, I could almost point to its twin in some para in Kolkata! The city feels so familiar with its kaleidoscopic traffic – be it the crowded buses, the gatherings of people at various crossings, a myriad of food stalls by the roadside, the tangled electric and telephonic wires running precariously across streets and more. Naturally, there were differences, but the warmth and readiness in accepting new people (us, in this case) was exactly the same.

Traditional Bengali food in my kitchen in Chennai home

What makes a new city feel like a home – making new friends, embracing a city’s idiosyncrasies… or is it home cooked food churning out of the kitchen?

I have realised that the criterions for feeling at home have changed over the years. While in my earlier days in Srilanka, making a few good friends and meals arriving at the dining table when I was hungry (preferably not cooked by me) was all that it would take to make me feel at home! Fast forward to two decades later, specially this year – after maintaining social distancing, keeping in touch with Dubai friends over zoom calls, months of staying in a limbo in our Dubai home in anticipation of tentative dates for our move and then finally landing in Chennai, moving into a temporary accommodation (although in the lap of a luxury 5 star hotel) and finally moving into a proper home, I find solace now when simple Bengali food rolls out from our kitchen. Or, when our home is filled with the aroma of Z-Sisters‘ wonderful baking. A simple meal is all it takes to win my heart. Like the other day when I cooked khichuri, a dish made with rice and lentils, accompanied by the humble aloo bhaja / fried potato and begun bhaja, signing off with a tomator chutney. It was more in the manner of a bhog, an offering during any pujo and marked our new kitchen’s ribbon cutting.

A Bijoya get-together at our place with a traditional Bengali spread for our friends had become an annual ritual for us. This year was an exception for obvious reasons and also because we had just moved into our temporary hotel accommodation in Chennai. We moved into our new home on the day of Diwali and although it couldn’t have been a more auspicious day than this to move in, I wasn’t ready to cook yet. The day when I cooked the above mentioned dishes, it kind of felt like a cosy house warming pujo. However, unlike the elaborate festive Bijoya spreads at our home, this time the menu was humble and reminiscent of the Lokhi pujo that used to take place at my ancestral home in Naihati.

Khichuri and Aloo bhaja cooked in the festive wayKhichuri and aloo bhaja, as would be cooked for bhog or offering during a pujo at home

Begun bhaja or fried eggplantBegun bhaja or fried eggplant smeared with turmeric and salt, is enough to perk up a simple khichuri

Aloo bhaja or fried potatosPotatoes cut into round pieces, with skin on – kind of a Bengali version of sliced jacket potatoes … fried, but of course!

Green chillies and ghee accompanying khichuriGhee has to be Jharna ghee – a gaowa ghee, which is ghee prepared from cow’s milk; and green chillies acting more like oxygen for the Bearded Biker

Sweet and sour Tomato chutneyTomator chutney as a sweet sign off, specially in absence of more formal mishti or desserts

Even before we moved into our new home, the Bearded Biker had made sure that our kitchen was the first room to be in one hundred percent working condition. In spite of that, I didn’t rush into cooking proper meals on a daily basis. Instead, I focused on unpacking and arranging the house. We quite fell in love with the ease of ordering in food through food delivering apps like Swiggy and tried out various restaurants for the first two weeks.

In Dubai, we hardly ever ordered from out. From the elaborate Lucknowy Biryani to the complicated Georgian Khachapuri, we cooked everything at home. If we did ever order, it was never through food delivery apps. I had been very conscious about the high commissions charged by these apps that seem to eat into the restaurants’ margins, specially the small eateries. In India though, I gathered it was a different scenario. Due to sheer volumes of these home deliveries, specially during the Covid period, the delivery apps managed to become instrumental to the F&B business. Through the period of our transition and settling in, we ordered from a variety of restaurants – a few Biryani houses, desi Chinese and even a restaurant serving Kolkata rolls and street-style tawa noodles.

For a family who takes a lot of pride in their love for Awadhi Biryani (even travelling to Lucknow for an evening only to eat), the Aatu Erachi (mutton) Biryani from BVK (Bai Veetu Kalyanam) cooked in traditional coal and firewood really impressed us. Equally impressive was the packaging. Covered with Banana leaf in a round re-usable tin container, the serving portions were really generous and came accompanied with a curd raita, brinjal chutney and bread halwa. We also enjoyed the Bengali food and Kathi rolls we ordered from Bayleaf restaurant on the day of Bijoya. Compensating for not having cooked for our annual Bijoya dinner, we ended up ordering an elaborate spread of khichuri, luchi, mochar chop, deemer devil, kosha mangsho, katla kalia, kaancha amer chutney and malpua served with rich rabri. Amongst the few desi Chinese restaurants we tried, we realised that chilli chicken dish isn’t the way we Kolkatans are used to. It is more like chicken cooked in a light soya gravy. Again, the chicken lollypops from most restaurants were pretty phenomenal and came with a spicy Schezwan kind of a gravy sauce. Special mention goes out for chicken lollypops from Red Box.

Traditional Bengali food from Bayleaf restaurantAn elaborate spread of traditional Bengali food from Bayleaf restaurant

Aatu Erachi Biryani from BVKAatu Erachi Biryani from BVK

Aatu Erachi Biryani from BVK


When Sundays start seeming like Sundays again – not the first day of the working week… with kochi pathar jhol, a slow cooked mutton curry for lunch and a promise of a bhaat ghoom, the special afternoon siesta induced by bhaat, or rice!

In Dubai, we had got used to Fridays and Saturdays being our weekends. Switching to Sundays being our first working day took a longer time than switching back. Soon I would message my Dubai friends on a Sunday asking whether they would like to hangout over zoom! While we bought our poultry products over apps like Licious, Tender Cuts, Fresh to Home and others, the Bearded Biker practically obsessed over buying mutton from a local butcher shop. The butchers here refer both lamb and goat as mutton, but for us Bengalis, it is the kochi patha or tender goat curry is what we fantasise about. As if by destiny, there were two good butcher shops just outside our community gate, highly recommended by a friend I had recently made. Our Sunday ritual has now become quite like this – the Bearded Biker scurries to our star butcher Tejuddin as early as possible, so as to get hold of the best cuts. I then marinate the meat and slow cook it in the manner of my mum-in-law’s cooking. This is the taste of traditional mutton curry that I have always associated with our Kolkata homecoming meals. Ma uses a pressure cooker, but I resorted to a deep bottomed pan on Tejuddin’s insistence on the tenderness of the meat. The indulgent bhaat ghum, or the lazy afternoon siesta induced by bhaat or rice, hasn’t yet materialised because many household logistics are requiring tending during the weekends… inshallah soon!

I always say this very proudly to everyone – people do many things when in love. I have nailed the legendary Kolkata Biryani and now this… the slow cooked mutton ala mum-in-law! 

Leaving aside the rich mutton curry, a simple paanchmeshali torkari with bori, or a mixed vegetable cooked in gravy along with dried lentil dumplings and white rice does make an amazing prequel to the mutton curry. A few other simple Bengali delicacies have already graced our kitchen in Chennai – pulao, bhaja moonger daal and simple begun bhaja in all its avatar, radhaballavi or deep fried flat breads with spiced stuffing with aloor torkari and more. While our weekend menus most often reflect our Bengali roots stirred up by culinary nostalgia and childhood memories, its completely different on the weekdays. In between online office and schooling, lunches are mostly grab and go. Dinners are a bit more leisurely and the menu is quite casual that can be prepared easily by all of us – pastas, grills and wraps or a simple curry with plain rice. 

Mutton cooked in Bengali home cooked styleMutton slow cooked in Bengali home cooking style

Paanchmeshali torkarg with BoriPaanchmeshali torkari with bori, or dried lentil dumplings

Traditional Bengali food in my kitchen in Chennai homeBegun bhaja, or fried eggplant

Bhaja monger daal and pulaoNiramish pulao and bhaja moonger daal

Radhaballavi and aloo torkariRadhaballavi and aloo torkari


Mishti… a Bengali’s connection to the sweetness of life. And a bit of khuchur muchur or snacky tit bits with chanachur and nimki

“What you seek is seeking you.” Rumi’s words cannot be more true than in my life. I have always been blessed with friends and family who love to eat as well as feed. Our close friend Srikanth, a Tamilian born and brought up in Kolkata and now settled in Bangalore has been instrumental in bringing Banchharam, the legendary Bengali sweet shop from Kolkata to Bangalore. As soon as we moved into our home in Chennai, he sent us a trousseau of traditional Bengali sweets, all the way from Bangalore. From nolen gurer roshogolla delicately dunked in rosh, chanar jilipi, a variety of shondesh – the soft makha shondesh included, mishti doi set in claypots and every mishti that I could imagine. Our fridge that night was reminiscent of my mum and mum-in-law’s fridges… stacked with sweets. I have always wondered the need for stocking so much of sweets on a day-to-day basis. Both mums’ reasoning has always been… what if a guest turns up suddenly? Along with the assortment of sweets, there were some familiar packets of what we refer as khuchur muchur or savoury tit bits. The sweet, spicy and sour Mukhorochok chanachur aptly named tok-jhaal-mishti… and nimki, the diamond shaped fried savoury pastry, both being the ultimate accompaniments during tea-time.

Nolen gurer roshogollaNolen gurer roshogolla

Traditional Bengali Sweets from Banchharam BengaloreAn assortment of traditional Bengali sweet

Different kind of Bengali shondeshGurer shondesh

Mishti Doi or sweet yoghurtMishti Doi

Chanar jilipiChanar jilipi

Bengali savouries Chanachur and nimki


What constitutes my Bengali kitchen?A few quintessential Bengali must-haves in a Bengali pantry… and a few precious cookbooks

Our kitchen isn’t confined to Bengali cooking. There are spices, salts and sauces from around the world as well as different types of oils. However, the must-haves in my Bengali pantry would definitely have to be these quintessential Bengali items… a very strong and pungent mustard oil, a gaowa ghee under the brand called Jharna, the thick mustard dip Kashundi, spices like panch phoron, the Bengali five spice mix of fenugreek, nigella, cumin, radhuni and fennel seeds powdered and blended in equal proportion; the Bengali gorom moshla consisting of powdered cardamoms, cloves and cinnamons in equal proportion, kalo jeere or black cumin seeds and few basic spices that are common to all Indian kitchens. Gobindobhog, the small-grained fragrant rice is preferred for making signature dishes like Payesh, the rice pudding or the Murighonto, a rice dish with fish head. Different types of boris, the dried lentil dumplings make their coveted entry in some vegetarian dishes like shukto, borir jhaal or dishes made with shaak or leafy vegetables. We are also most excited about the availability of posto or poppy seeds which were banned in Dubai. Posto in different forms – bati posto, aloo posto, different vegetables cooked with posto – like begun posto or potol posto have always been such an integral part of lunch in my side of the family with connections from epar Bangla, which refers to West Bengal.

Along with the trousseau of traditional Bengali Sweets that arrived from Bangalore, our Santa from Bangalore also sent some cooked items like the typical Bengali shingara, kochuri and vegetable chops made with beetroots and carrots. On my special request, there were a few ready to be fried radhaballavis too! To add to the punch, there were spices like panch phoron, a wood pressed Mustard oil, kashundi, Jharna ghee, different kinds of boris, Gobindobhog, muri and as mentioned earlier Mukhorochok chanachur and nimkis. Also, patali gur and Dulaler talmichri or palm candy… the latter having a Bengali pedigree as legendary as Boroline, the antiseptic cream!

Some quintessential Bengali items in a Bengali pantrySome quintessential Bengali items in a Bengali pantry sent by my friend

Patch photon or 5 spices mixPanch phoron, the Bengali five spice mix – fenugreek, nigella, cumin, radhuni and fennel

Bengali garam masalaThe Bengali gorom moshla consists of cardamoms, cloves and cinnamons in equal proportion

Posto or poppy seedsPosto or poppy seeds

Boris made from different types of lentilsBori or dried lentil dumplings

Gobindo blog chaalGobindobhog rice

Jharna gheeJharna ghee

Patali gur Patali gur

Mustard oil ; kashundi

Over the years, I have also collected a cabinet filled with traditional pots and pans, utensils and knick knacks that I like to use when I present Bengali cooking. Some of them have been handed over and can be considered as heirloom – like the shondesh mould that the Bearded Biker’s Dida used, the dekchi in which I always cook payesh when I’m cooking for auspicious occasions like birthdays or pujo and the beautifully etched Sheel and Nora, the grinding stone and pestle that are used typically to grind wet masalas. Cookbooks also form a part of my priceless possession, many signed by the cookbook authors and chefs that I have been fortunate enough to meet. Although the internet is abuzz with many blogs on Bengali recipes, I still love going through cookbooks. Interestingly, the most referred to cookbook on my shelf is a simple cookbook, the N.I.A.W. (National Indian Association of Women) Cookbook that my mum-in-law had gifted to both S and me after our wedding, lovingly signed “Cook happily & Eat merrily”! The cookbook is a compilation of recipes from different cuisines around the world. The recipes are simple, easy to follow and there are no pictures. The next most referred cookbook is one by Tanima Ray, a personal compilation of family recipes by my father’s close friend Mridul Pathak, and a more recent one called Taste of Eastern India, brilliantly captured and penned by Kankana Saxena. It’s a precious gift from Kankana and the only cookbook that has got both my mum and mum-in-law’s sign of approval regarding authenticity of recipes. Moreover, the recipes are very easy to follow and the pictures are not only just brilliant but present a lot of signature Bengali dishes in a manner that make me so proud of my culinary heritage. That I have always been, but honestly I still haven’t found too many cookbooks depicting the rich heritage of Bengali cooking. Mallika Basu’s Miss Masala offers humorous read on her early life in London along with quick Indian recipes, also shares some Bengali recipes. Rinku Bhattacharya’s The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles is also quite an easy read. Thakurbarir Ranna by Purnima Thakur or Pragyasundari Devi’s double editions of Amish O Niramish Ahar, will interest a serious culinary reader. The latter published in 1902, is often referred to as the first cookbook in Bengali.

And then there are blogs… I have connected to many passionate food bloggers, in my initial years of my blogging or in my food writing journey. Some of them are Bengalis and I have been fortunate enough to meet up with some of them. We all feel the same bond – our mission to write on food and our culinary heritage. Whether it is Anindyo and Madhusree of Pikturenama, Debjani of Debjanir Rannaghor, Kalyan of Finely Chopped, Soma of E-Curry, Sandeepa of Bong Mom’s Cookbook, Sudeshna of Cook like a Bong… these are bloggers who have inspired me and keep me motivated. Asma Khan, who I knew from the time she penned a blog called Darjeeling Express, is now a noted restauranteur and star of of the documentary series Chef’s Table on Netflix. I have often resorted to them for food adda virtually or met up with them in their respective cities. I hop on to their blogs occasionally for tried and tested traditional and non-traditional Bengali recipes or to keep my blog mojo going.

Sheel Nora for grinding spicesSheel Nora for grinding wet spices

Shondesh mouldShondesh mould belonging to the Bearded Biker’s Dida

Traditional metal utensilsSome traditional utensils from my photography cabinet

Bengali cookbooksMy collection of Bengali cookbooks

Signed cookbooksMy precious possession of cookbooks – all signed by the chefs and authors I’ve met

Signed cookbooks


Farm freshness delivered to the doorstep

We are still very traditional in the sense that we still prefer reading books, rather than read on kindle; feel, touch and see the fruits and vegetables we buy rather than buy them online. In Dubai, we got every kind of fruits and vegetables from around the world. But I am finding that the freshness of fruits and vegetables here are completely different, whether bought from popular neighbourhood grocery stores like Nilgiris and Freshies. I am not sure whether the food mileage and seasonal offerings have something to do with it. Every Wednesday, there’s a vegetable market within the community set up by a supplier called Ansio Fresh who source directly from the farms. We have a wide variety ranging from seasonal fruits and vegetables grown locally or otherwise, to choose from. Although initially the weekly vegetable market was set up during the lockdown period, it has continued even now and is gradually becoming quite popular with the residents. Apart from this weekly community event, I also look forward to the residents’ whatsapp group, which has been pretty much my lifeline since we moved into the community. Anyone having a good experience with any producer, artisanal or gourmet products, information is immediately shared. Orders are placed within the group and the product is delivered to the doorstep within hours.  

Vegetable market

Vegetable market

Vegetable market

Ishita B Saha with a friend


Rockin’ around the Christmas tree…
Have a happy holiday!

From Diwali until this Christmas … well, that’s exactly how long it practically took us to unpack all the boxes that had packed in our Dubai home. Day by day, the house is evolving into a home. Bits and bobs are still left, and I am guessing they will still be there for the next few months… but every day we pat ourselves and say we are ‘almost there’! From learning that we will be moving… to have finally moved into a new city after having wrapped up years of living in Dubai … that too amidst the pandemic… it’s been quite a journey. From last December until this December – its a whole year of unfolding of multiple events! There’s something magical about Christmas and just like Durga Pujo and our Bijoya get togethers, the festive season and Christmas celebrations at home with friends who had become like family, had become annual rituals for me. Every year, Big Z insists on setting up the Christmas tree as early as the first week of November, bringing it down only by end of January. To that effect, the Christmas tree was set up a bit late at our home this year – in the first week of December! She kept the decoration very simple, saying that she wanted it to reflect how she felt this year – solemn and lonely. Solemn, because we lost one of our Labrador sons – Cinder in November. Lonely, probably because she had to leave her friends in Dubai without any proper farewell. Unlike Lil Z who has met up with some of her school friends who live within the community, Big Z is making an effort to make new friends. Much like us. We had all become so snuggled up and comfortable within the group of close friends that we had in Dubai, that sometimes it feels like we have forgotten the art of making new friends! Thankfully, the community and the neighbourhood that we have moved into, is very warm and welcoming. Many residents are still maintaining social distancing and most taking all the necessary precautionary measures. This festive season promises to break a few barriers (hopefully not codes) and bring the community together. There was a festive bake sale for the children for which Big Z made delicious homemade brownies and Lil Z baked vanilla muffins, while the other children put up such amazing fare. I also met up with a few residents and got the feeling that we would soon make some good friends here.

The Z-Sisters are ardent bakers and quite proficient in that. The aroma of their occasional baking fleeting though our home is my happy space. While I like to be experimental in the kitchen with my cooking, recipes that require following them to the tee, restrict me. Exactly why Big Z finds baking exciting … she likes having  a structure. The Bearded Biker is also meticulous about following instructions but isn’t into baking. He’s more focussed on meat dishes from around the world and follows recipes meticulously to stir up elaborate and complicated meat recipes. Lil Z is still quite young and mostly chooses recipes that are colourful and fun. So I guess, each of our cooking preferences reflect our philosophies in life!

Festive cheer

Homecooked Brownies for Christmas baked by Big Z

Homecooked Brownies for Christmas baked by Big Z

Homecooked Brownies baked by Big Z

Baking at home

Heart shaped cupcakes baked by Lil Z

Homecooked cupcakes for Christmas baked by Lil Z

Celebrating Christmas at our home had also become an annual ritual, much like the Bijoya get togethers. This was an honour that was conferred upon us after our return from Germany! An elaborate spread surrounding the roast turkey, mulled wine stirred by a close friend, Christmas rum balls made by another friend, cookies by Lil Z, our garden lit up in fairy lights, s’mores in the bonfire and an impromptu skit by the children and carol singing by all those gathered … our Dubai home embraced it all. This Christmas was a bit different in that sense, reflected beautifully in Big Z’s Facebook update…

We had a family Christmas this year instead of having a Christmas party with friends. We opened gifts in the morning, went back to sleep, ate a yummy lunch, baked for hours, cycled for a bit and then ate turkey for dinner. Lil Z organised easy activities like crafts and cookie icing whilst I screamed Christmas songs at the top of my lungs. Even though today was simple and relaxed, it was super fun. I actually enjoyed this family Christmas more than normal parties because it was slow and felt like a longer Christmas day than normal. Of course, we played with Brownie and he sat under the table waiting for scraps of food and went out on his first walk in a couple of weeks. Throughout it all, for the first time since Cinder left us, I still had fun while remembering him and how wonderful last year was with him.

I realised that while preparing for all the get togethers at our home, whether it was for Bijoya, Christmas or any birthday celebration, I put all my heart and soul into cooking the food and I set out with a lot of intention. This year, everything was different. There were too many things happening all simultaneously in my life that sometimes I am just surrendering to where’s life taking me rather than what I should be doing / or what I want to do. Big Z’s post also made me realise that sometimes in trying to bringing everyone together in the past, no matter what my intentions were … we didn’t get the time to be with each other. This Christmas too, I spent the whole day cooking but somehow, we felt as if we are all together.

Christmas decoration

Christmas lunch with mashed potatoes

Christmas lunch with German sausages

 

Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner

Yorkshire pudding

Homemade chocolate cake

Homemade cookies

It was a fairly elaborate Christmas lunch with mashed potatoes, green peas, German pork sausages – both spiced and non spiced, spicy meatballs and Zwiebelsosse, a typical German onion sauce that I learnt to make when we lived in Frankfurt. We ordered the sausages and meatballs from a Bangalore based company called Meisterwurst. For dinner, it was a roast turkey, steamed vegetables and mushrooms in white sauce. Big Z also made some Yorkshire pudding to be had with the turkey gravy. The Bearded Biker carried on with his legacy of shaving the turkey like every year… alibi a smaller audience this time. Big Z’s chocolate cake and Lil Z’s cookies with DIY icing signed off the festive dinner splendidly. There was so much of happiness in the simplicity of it all. We also ushered in 2021 in a similar manner – cozy, at home with the five of us. Yes, finally we are at our home in Chennai. And guess what? I am also mishti doi ready in our Chennai kitchen… I have bought some claypots on my day out to ECR the other day with my lovely friend I have made from the community. The objective is very simple… to try out my first batch of bhapa mishti doi and to make some new friends!

May 2021 bring in lots of joy and happiness in your lives… and let’s stay connected more than ever – spicier, sweeter and stronger!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Recipes that you might like making for the New Year:
Happy Cinnamon Rolls that you can make at home
Homemade Bread with Sprinkled Sesame – an ever evolving romance
Stuffed Chilli Spring Rolls – because a little spiciness in life is sweet
Kogel Mogel recipe
Bhapa Mishti Doi

Claypot for cookingDisclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

 

+ Debbie Rogers and Ishita B Saha on a food tour with Frying Pan Adventures

An Indian food tour in Old Dubai with Frying Pan Adventures

A delicious way to discover Meena Bazaar, one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods of Old Dubai, is to book into the 4-hour long ‘Little India on a plate’ food tour with Frying Pan Adventures.

The cone shaped Topi Dosa at Sangeetha Restaurant

While chalking out my favourite food memories from the neighbourhood trio of Bur Dubai, Karama and Oudh Metha in my previous three-part blogpost, I decided to leave this wonderful food tour aside for a separate blogpost. One of my favourite ways of discovering a city is though walking, specially a walking food tour. The latter not only throws spotlight on eating holes with long-standing legacies, it also reflects a different perspective to a city than the typical ‘things to do’ features in the best selling tourism guides ever will. My association with with Frying Pan Adventures goes back a long way – my first food tour with them being the Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage. Much later, I invited Arva and Farida, the vivacious sisters and founder duo of Frying Pan Adventures, home to show case Bengali cuisine during Noboborsho for their podcast.The following autumn, I hosted a Bengali feast for one of their Sufra events. Even with all the association, it wasn’t an easy task for Frying Pan Adventures to convince me to join them on their Indian food tour ‘Little India on a plate’. As a self-proclaimed Dubai old-timer who could navigate blindly to the nearest Indian restaurant in the Meena Bazaar neighbourhood from any given car park in the area, I honestly saw no novelty in this food tour. I couldn’t be more wrong.

Even for the proud desi that I am, who’s been eating off all the alleys in Meena Bazaar for the last two decades, I was mighty surprised on the Indian food tour.

Ishita B Saha on a food tour with Frying Pan AdventuresBeing on a food tour is a serious activity… gritty and sweaty

One sultry summer evening… once upon a time, when one could walk and eat around freely and happily, free of masks and fear, Debbie (my partner-in-crime and co-founder of FoodeMag) and I hit Meena Bazaar on a four hour long food walk with Frying Pan Adventures. The tour was filled with tasty treats and valuable insights from Farida Ahmed, our tour hostess and co-founder of Dubai’s first food tour company.

Bhel Puri at Rangoli RestaurantBhelpuri at Rangoli Restaurant

our tour hostess and co-founder of Frying Pan AdventuresOur tour hostess Farida Ahmed, being a spice show off

South Indian filter coffee at Sangeetha Restaurant Learning the rocket science of a good South Indian filter coffee at Sangeetha Restaurant

South Indian mini thali at Sangeetha restaurantSouth Indian mini thali at Sangeetha restaurant

The cone shaped Topi Dosa at Sangeetha Restaurant The cone shaped ‘signature’ Topi dosa at Sangeetha Restaurant

Farida spilling out behind the scene kitchen secrets and insights

Aloo Bonda at Farisian CafeteriaDeep fried crispy aloo bonda at Farisian Cafeteria

Aloo bhondas, samosas with mint chutney from the thirty year old neighbourhood eatery Farisian CafeteriaDaunting task – choosing from crispy aloo bondas and samosas

Chicken tikka in the grill at Sind PunjabChicken tikka in the grill at Sind Punjab

Chicken tikka and naans at Sind PunjabSucculent chicken tikkas at Sind Punjab

Fluffy naan at Sind Punjab Meena BazaarHot fluffy naans straight from the tandoor at Sind Punjab

Fresh jalebis in the making at Salam Namaste Jalebis in the making at Salam Namaste ( I notice the Amul Ghee!)

Hot crispy jalebi at Salam NamasteHot crispy jalebis to be savoured strictly with a rich and creamy rabdi

Meena Bazaar in Bur DubaiThe eternal charm of Meena Bazaar

A group of six enthusiastic foodies, we started off with the spicy chaat speciality of Bhelpuri and Panipuris at the Gujrati restaurant – Rangoli and ended our food walk with fresh made crispy sweet Jalebis topped with a creamy layering of Rabdi at Salam Namaste. We made several food stops and halts in the pulsating neighbourhood of Meena Bazaar, in between experiencing the captivating behind the scene kitchen activities, learning on Indian spices and other food stories. Our second stop was at Sangeetha Restaurant, where we had a taste of South Indian food. A steaming South Indian filter coffees followed by a mini thali set and the restaurant’s ‘signature’ cone shaped Topi dosa in its complete finery with spicy sambar and coconut chutneys. The thirty year old neighbourhood eatery Farisian Cafeteria was our next stop, where and we munched on crispy fried aloo bhondas and samosas, accompanied by spicy dips of mint and tamarind chutneys. A quick stop at the Indian grocery store Madhoor Supermarket gave us a chance to buy some of the versatile stock – a variety of lentils and flours used in an Indian pantry. Our ‘meat’ stop was at the formidable Sind Punjab where Farida ordered fresh sugarcane juices to wash away the exhaustion of our previous food tastings and walking in the heat. A food tour is more than an indulgence, it’s sweaty and gritty – a serious activity! Now we were ready for the succulent chicken tikkas, a signature dish at the restaurant that had people queuing up since the time the restaurant opened up in this neighbourhood in 1977. Accompanied by hot fluffy naans which arrived at the table straight from the tandoor, the chicken tikkas lived up to their stardom. Much like some of the long-standing restaurants in Meena Bazaar, Sind Punjab too, carried the heavy tag of being one of Dubai’s culinary legacies. In fact, all the meals that we had at the various places that evening, bore testimony to the goodwill and legacies created by each one of them over the years.

Debbie Rogers and Ishita B Saha in a food tour with Frying Pan AdventuresDebbie and I have always bonded over comfort food and food stories that connect people and places

The epic food tour with frying Pan Adventures, traversing from treats from North India to South India, was not about tasting delicious food or learning about small eateries and legendary restaurants that characterised the alleys of Meena Bazaar. It was sonmething much more than that.

It’s getting to connect to the essence of one of the most intriguing neighbourhoods of Old Dubai and how they co-exist alongside the blooming new neighbourhoods. I felt such a sense of pride when our wonderful hostess Farida pointed out about Al Jamarik Cafeteria, which ‘nourished the soul of Dubai, serving tea to all those establishments in the surrounding’. Established in 1958, even before the birth of the United Arab Emirates, Al Jamarik Cafeteria was one of the oldest cafeterias in Dubai. When places like these hold its head high amidst Dubai’s new urban landscape in 2020, this is a story that has to be told and celebrated. What do you think?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Disclaimer: Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com) kindly hosted us for the ‘Little India on a plate’ tour. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.


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+ Iranian dhows in Dubai creekside

Bur Dubai | My favourite food memories from Old Dubai – Part 1

Chalking out my favourite food memories from the neighbourhood trio of Bur Dubai, Karama and Oudh Metha in a three-part blogpost … digging into a two decade long delicious list!

After twenty years of living in the UAE, we are relocating to India once the commercial flights resume between the UAE and India. The Bearded Biker is being transferred within the organisation that he has been working for, hence it’s a happy move. Where are we headed to next? While I shall reveal that shortly – what I can tell you right now is that, it’s going to be another delicious journey!

Esha Nag, Senior Editor of Gulf news and Ishita B Saha, author of culinary travel blog IshitaUnbloggedWith Esha Nag, Senior Editor of Gulf News for whom I have written one of my favourite columns – Hidden Gems, featuring many casual eateries around Dubai

In one of my recent articles published for the Gulf News Neighbourhood Guide (above), I chalked out my favourite food memories from the neighbourhood trio of Bur Dubai, Karama and Oudh Metha. To do justice to the long standing culinary legacies of these neighbourhoods, a combined article with a word limit of 800-1000 words can never be enough. In fact, an entire supplement is also probably not enough if I were to dig into my memories from two decades! So in my three-part pictorial blogpost here, I am including some of the eateries that I couldn’t mention in my published article and sharing some delicious images for the ones that I may have already mentioned in the GN article… for one can never be rich enough… or in our case, hungry enough!

Property Weekly Neighbourhood Guide: Do explore the various communities of Dubai in this weekly community neighbourhood magazine… where to stay, where to shop and most importantly, where to eat!
Barjeel Al Arab Restaurant, the traditional Textile Souq and Meena Bazaar area, Everest Restaurant, Arabian Tea House, Local House Restaurant and Coffee Museum in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood... these are a few places that I have mentioned in the above article.

The traditional sweet and savoury vermicelli dish Balateet at Barjeel Guest HouseThe traditional vermicelli dish Balateet for breakfast at Barjeel Al Arab restaurant

Traditional ethnic wear shops in Meena Bazaar

Flower shop near the temple alley in Bur DubaiA shop in the temple alley in selling fresh flower garlands and other puja ingredients

Crispy hot jalebis at Veg WorldCrispy hot jalebis at Veg World

Live chaat counter at Veg World

Blue Barjeel restaurant by Dubai creeksideBlue Barjeel restaurant by Dubai creekside

Breakfast at Blue Barjeel restaurant – falafels, parathas and eggs

Apart from Barjeel Guest House, the Blue Barjeel restaurant situated near the Al Ghudaiba Metro station is also a great alfresco dining option by the creek. The Textile Souq and the Meena Bazaar nearby is a culinary treasure trove – from small eateries offering fresh juices, crispy fried pakodas and shawarmas to restaurants which have stood the test of time. Veg World situated in the atrium of a shopping centre is a very good chaat stop in this area. Much like a food court, there are multiple shops that serve different kinds of Indian quick bites – street food, a variety of kulfis, fresh juices and more. The chaats and panipuris aside, the Cheese Gini Dosa is also my favourite pick here.  The spicy concoction of cheese, vegetables and sauces inside crispy upright mini dosas, is a popular rendition of the South Indian dosa from Mumbai’s roadside food vendors. A stone’s throw away, the Pakistani restaurant Sheher Karachi is a must try for meat lovers. The restaurant has been around for more than thirty years and is open way past midnight. Try the special Peshawari Mutton Kadai, the most sought after dish in this restaurant… amongst their other signature meat dishes

Traditional Nepali thali at Everest Restaurant in Bur DubaiThakali Mutton thali at Everest Restaurant

Kothey buff momo at Everest Restaurant in Bur DubaiKothey buff momos at Everest Restaurant

Steamed momo at Everest Restaurant in Bur DubaiSteamed momo at Everest Restaurant

Chilli Buff Momo at Everest Restaurant in Bur DubaiChilli Buff Momo at Everest Restaurant

Desi Chinese at Everest Restaurant in Bur DubaiBadam Sadheko or Nepali roasted peanut salad

Desi Chinese at Everest Restaurant

The Everest Restaurant near Astoria, serving authentic Nepalese cuisine and desi Chinese is another small eatery that we are very proud to have discovered. Tucked in a small alley near the Astoria hotel, it can be a bit tricky to find the restaurant. The kothey momos – half steamed and half fried dumplings or their other momos served with spicy peanut sauce are as delicious and authentic as the ones that we tasted in Kathmandu. You must also try the Nawari khaja sets and the Thakali Mutton thali.

Our cultural lunch at SMCCU – Chicken Machboos and Leqaimats

Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Cafe in Al Fahidi

Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Cafe in Al Fahidi

Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Cafe in Al Fahidi

Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Cafe in Al FahidiChicken Machboos at Arabian Tea House Restaurant and Cafe

The Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood is not only a cultural and creative treasure trove, there are so many different kinds of cafes and restaurants in its hidden and not so hidden alleys. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) offers a variety of programmes where one can have a glimpse of both Emirati culture and cuisine with its interactive cultural meals (you can read all about it and Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood in my earlier post). Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café is one of my favourite restaurants and hang out spots in Dubai, since the time we arrived in Dubai. It is as if by sheer syncronicity, that I wrote about it way back in 2017, as one of the restaurants that I would like to visit one last time, if I were to leave Dubai!

XVA Gallery Art Hotel & CafeThe legendary mint lemonade in XVA Gallery Art Hotel & Cafe

Coffee Museum in Bur Dubai

Coffee Museum in Bur Dubai

The Local House Restaurant located next to Arabian Tea House serves Emirati and regional specialities while the XVA Café doubles up as a boutique guesthouse and art gallery and specialises in a gourmet vegetarian menu. The Coffee Museum is a unique museum and is a brewing haven for coffee lovers (above images). From learning about roasting and various brewing techniques to understanding about different coffee cultures – Arabic, Japanese, Ethiopian, Vietnamese and others, there’s also a small cafe at the museum where one can taste a variety of coffee.

Meena Bazaar in bur Dubai

Another delicious way to discover the old Dubai area is to book into the ‘Little India on a plate’ food tour with Frying Pan Adventures… do read all about it in a separate post. While I must absolutely wrap up this post now, all I can say borrowing the words from Andy William’s Love Story…

Where do I begin
To tell the story of how great a love (Bur Dubai) can be
The sweet love story that is older than the sea
The simple truth about the love she (Bur Dubai) brings to me
Where do I start?
Bur Dubai is my first muhalla in our Dubai chapter… changing houses and neighbourhoods multiple times after that in a span of twenty years. See you in Karama in my next post!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. We have paid for our meals at all restaurants, excepting the cultural meal at SMCCU and the ‘India on a Plate tour, where we were kindly hosted us our FoodeMag team. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

 

+ Bengali Taler Bora

Taler Bora or Palm Fruit Nuggets, if I may call them so

When Janmashtami or the annual celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna is in full swing, these fried mini Taler Boras make their entry… sweet – bitter – crunchy entry!Bengali Taler Bora

My attempt at another futile translation… Taler Bora. Palm Fruit Nuggets? The last time when I translated Phulko Luchi to Bengali puffed-up flour flatbread, I was sure that some of Luchi’s crispiness and fluffiness got lost in translation. So this time, can I simply say how I love these fried balls of deliciousness? Or how they might just become extinct, washed away by the more popular fritters and branded nuggets? Or shall I add to the already existing confusion – how will you categorise Taler Bora… under snack or sweet?

Bengali Taler Bora

Bengali Taler Bora

Bengali Taler Bora

Bengali Taler Bora

Bengali Taler Bora

Bengali Taler Bora

All I know for now, these are fried mini balls filled with love. Love from grandmothers and mothers belonging to the previous generation. Probably not my Ma though, who’s got other kind of cooking skills to her credit! During the monsoons around Bhadra maash (the Bengali month of Bhadra coincides with mid August onwards), when Janmashtami or the annual celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna is in full swing, these fried mini Taler Boras make their entry… sweet – bitter – crunchy – delicious – entry. We resort to Purnimadi, the wonderful lady who’s been cooking and looking after my parents for more than fifteen years. Purnimadi prepares Taler Bora, Taler Shaash and many other edible knick knacks that are typically associated with Janmashtami. She prepares all of these at her home and shares them affectionately with us.

Lady wearing yellow sari

Every year around July and August, we are in Kolkata. An indulgence that I have been referring to as my summer hibernation. The Z-Sisters and I stay on for a longer period, while the Bearded Biker is headed back to Dubai to join back work. The 10ft x 6ft balcony in my parents’ house overlook a lot of greenery that fools one into believing that there can be no cacophony on the road below the lush green foliage cover. One couldn’t be more fooled. All day long, the chayer dokan or the roadside tea stall across the road, are frequented by the locals, mainly parar chokras or the young men from the neighbourhood. Their day jobs seem to be just hanging around the tea stall and drink tea, accompanied by tea biscuits and rusks, which are very typical of these roadside tea stalls. It seems to me sometimes, that these never ending tea-refills must be coming for free!

Bengali Taler Bora

For both my patents, the balcony has almost the window to the world. I may be sounding over-dramatic but believe me, it really has become so. In the mornings, my Baba, a retired bureaucrat, enters the world of somebody else’s reality, by flipping through the pages of the several newspapers that he’s subscribed to. This is my Baba’s version of scrolling through his social media feed while a nondescript radio tuned into the local FM channel unceremoniously cuts into the birds chirping in the nearby Kadam tree (wiki describes it as Leichhardt pine, and coincidentally Lord Krishna’s favourite tree!). The branches of the Kadam tree seem to forcefully barge into the balcony, which is where we all converge during our tea times… and the candid photo shoots of Bengali food cooked at Ma’s kitchen.

Ishita B Saha and Rupa Dutta Chowdhury in KolkataAn early morning walking tour with Calcutta Walks last year at this time, along with my photographer buddy

My annual summer hibernations in Kolkata are powered by addas – hanging out with family and friends. They are stirred by a whirlwind of emotions… kaleidoscopic journeys through Kolkata’s alleys and a whole lot of food stimulation. I am curious to know… are you at this hour, living in the city where you have grown up in? Or are you making a home in a different city altogether… far away from home? Wherever you are… keep safe and stay happy.

Don’t ever give up on any festive spirit or traditional recipes that connect you to your roots, no matter how hard it can be at times and how hard times are!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter!

I would love you to see Kolkata through my eyes. Here's a rewind on some of my favourite Kolkata memories:
Introducing Kolkata's street food in BBC Travel Show at Dacker's Lane; immersing myself in a surreal Ramadan Walk with Calcutta Walks; indulging myself in the colonial hangover at Flurys; diving into ice creams at my childhood ice cream parlour by the Ganges - Scoop; there's Dilipda's Phuchka, which is 'world famous in Kolkata' and last but not the least... hoping that unique bazars like Tiretti Bazar continue to thrive, where you can still find the last remnants of Chinese culture... but maybe not for long.
    • Taler Bora or Palm Fruit Nuggets

      • Servings: 4
      • Difficulty: easy
      • Print
      Category=snack/dessert; Cuisine=BengaliBengali Taler Bora

      Ingredients

      1 ripe tal/palm fruit with 3 medium size kernels
      4 bananas
      1 cup suji/semolina
      1 ½ cup maida/flour
      1 cup sugar
      ½ cup grated coconut
      white oil for deep frying or ghee (if you are generous!)

      Method

          • Scrape off the skin of the palm fruit and squeeze out the fibrous pulp from inside. Use a sieve so that the pulp is smooth
          • Squeeze the kernels in water before throwing them off, so that all the juice isn’t wasted
          • Add the semolina, flour, sugar, grated coconut into the pulpy juice and mix them thoroughly to make a smooth batter. Add mashed bananas and mix them into the smooth batter
          • Heat oil in a deep bottomed frying pan. Or ghee (oh yes, generously if you using ghee!)
          • Make small balls (1 inch in diameter) and drop them slowly in the hot oil and fry them till they are crispy and golden brown.*

      *Where will you get Palm fruit in Dubai? A few Indian/Asian stores like Lulu Supermarket, Adil and in the Fruits and Vegetable market in Deira or Backet in Sharjah. A few of the Spinneys outlets hold Market Days on Mondays and stock many Srilankan vegetables. My guess is, you might get palm fruits there as they are also used widely in Srilankan cuisine.

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

+ Srilankan Lamprais cooked at home

For the love of Lamprais… and Srilanka

Cooking Srilankan Lamprais at home… what a delicious and elaborate tribute to the country where we set up our first home – Srilanka!

Srilankan Lamprais cooked at home

On the day of Guru Purnima when one pays homage to their gurus or teachers, I wanted to pay homage to a country that has taught me a lot – Srilanka! I cooked Lamprais and Deviled Prawns at home, both very popular Srilankan dishes… delicious and elaborate tributes to the country where we set up our first home. Lamprais is a rice preparation where Kaha Bath or yellow rice, along with Lampara meat curry, fried plantain cooked in coconut curry, Wambatu Moju or an eggplant preparation, seeni sambol, fish cutlet and others… all are delicately wrapped up in a banana leaf and cooked in an oven. A Dutch-Burgher influenced dish, Lamprais is a reminiscent of the Dutch colonisation of the island country. Cooking the Lamprais was much more time consuming than I had originally expected with so many things accompanying it. Digging into the lumped rice by hand was mandatory, at least in our home!

Srilankan Lamprais cooked at homeCooking Lamprais is quite elaborate as there are several accompaniments with lumped rice

Srilankan Deviled Prawns cooked at homeSpicy deviled prawns – Srilankans love their spices and I don’t think a Srilankan dish can ever be spicy enough!

My Srilankan Sojourn – the pre digicam and smartphone era… does anyone even remember the era?

I landed in Colombo in January 1998, a few days after our wedding. This was my first trip to a foreign land and Colombo didn’t disappoint my idea of how ‘abroad’ looked – imported cars, beautifully marked roads, supermarket isles with neatly stacked glossy products, branded clothes and everything that I had imagined. What I hadn’t imagined was the intensity of the tropical lush greenery and verdant landscape, or the eternally smiling friendly faces – quite a contradiction to the regular army checkpoints at roadsides, where we were stopped frequently to show our identity cards. Carrying our passports with us became as natural as carrying our wallets and handbags – even to the neighbourhood grocery. The country was in civil war and waking up to news of bomb explosions far and wide was as normal to us as waking up to the birds’ chirping in our garden. S had been living in Srilanka for a while and was quite used to the on going situation. I found it rather disturbing initially. It was also difficult to explain to our parents back home during our weekly calls that we were – safe and doing fine. After the initial panic buttons were switched on for a while after such unprecedented events, I realised that life bounced back to our familiar understanding of normalcy pretty soon.

Ishita B Saha and Subir Kumar Saha in Colombo

 

Our house at Rosmead Place in ColomboThe beautiful staircase in our home at Rosmead Place – taken from both inside and outside

My 1st lesson in Srilanka … home is wherever the heart beats happily.

We lived in Rosmead Place in Colombo 7, a heavily guarded prestigious neighbourhood that housed a few embassies and residences of political dignitaries. Our house was beautiful and pretty huge. Much like the Magistrate’s House in Alipore, the house that shaped my childhood and honed my creativity, the house at Rosmead Place contributed to shaping my youth. It soon became my creative dream pad. S and his colleague, who became our close friend, were put up in this house at Rosmead Place by their office. Each had a bedroom to his own on the first floor with an attached bathroom, while they shared the rest of the house. The ground floor was a single unit – an open kitchen giving way to a living cum dining space. Our bedroom and the corridor leading to it, overlooked into the living room space below from above, much like an inner courtyard. The alcove windows with its wooden blinds overlooked a lush garden that encompassed the entire stretch of the house. Even before I moved in, our house had become a cool hangout spot with the wonderful Srilankan friends that the two boys had made in their initial year. Effectively, I invaded a boy zone and was welcomed whole-heartedly into the gang. Not a single chore was delegated to me. Cooking to doing the dishes post-dinner, everything was off my job list! Grocery was a fun outing together to the popular supermarket chains like Keells and Cargills Food City. The only designated chore for me, was supervising the cleaner who came once a week. He spoke in Tamil and didn’t know a word of English. I didn’t know a word of Tamil. I decided to converse with him in Bengali. Guess what? It worked!

Sketch of our garden in Rosmead PlaceMy painting of our garden which thrived on its own, fed and nurtured by short afternoon rain showers

My purpose in life in those days was just to find out my purpose, which has changed its direction and flowed with the ebbs and tides of my life over the years. Quite naturally so!

I sketched and painted quite a lot. I slept occasionally during the days and dreamt during the nights. Once in a while, I cooked and while the boys were at work, I thought of ideas to innovate on our cooking techniques. To this day, the kitchen in our Srilankan house has been by far the largest kitchen we have had in our married journey so far, with the least number of gadgets. Not to mention our cooking skills, which were also at the lowest level. Fish wrapped in banana leaves and placed on a hanger, which was then set on a bucket filled with water with an immersion water heater… that was my genius kind of an idea for cooking steamed fish. We saved on the gas too! I haven’t ever shared this with anyone… I sometimes pretended that I owned the house, and similar houses in our posh neighbourhood. In a way, it was true. S and I set up our first home here, in spite of the fact that we were sharing it. The concept of ‘mine’ or ‘ours’ hadn’t crept in yet. When we got married, I didn’t have any particular notion or expectation of setting out ‘our own home’ or a separate home. My only reason to get married was that it allowed me to hang out more with S. I didn’t have to return home at a given time or rebuked for the long telephonic conversations late at night. In fact, S kept all the phone cards that nurtured our cross-country relationship through the year before our marriage when we were living apart – it’s quite an impressive stack!

My 2nd lesson in Srilanka … to intuitively ‘feel’ ingredients. Much like the different colours that went into a painting in different proportions and mixes, it was the same with ingredients. There was no right or wrong in cooking, nor only one technique. Like an artist continually evolving, a cook too, evolves.

I started making our meals occasionally, with the intention of helping out the boys. My first culinary bible in those days was a simple cookbook that my mum-in-law had gifted to both S and me, lovingly signed “Cook happily & Eat merrily”! The cookbook –N.I.A.W. (National Indian Association of Women) Cookbook was a compilation of recipes from different cuisines around the world. The recipes were simple, easy to follow and there were no pictures. This is the cookbook I most refer to, even today. Those days, I didn’t have much experience in cooking, except making instant noodles or scrambled eggs. This was quite typical of most Bengali families in my known circuit when “porashona kora/studying” superseded everything else in a child’s life, especially for girls. I didn’t fear cooking, nor was I ever anxious about a dish turning out wrong. My principle was simple – if following a recipe, cream custard turned into a sorbet in my next attempt, I presented that smartly as a dish I had planned it to be! There was always something to learn from an experience and that was the great fun. Any dish that I liked soon became my culinary reference point, be it cooked by my mother, mum-in-law, friend or relative or I would come across while travelling.

In course of time, cooking became my favourite subject for experimenting and connecting to people, known or unknown.

Mum-in-law cooking potol that she brought from Kolkata

My parents-in-law dressed up for a formal dinner. The kitchen has always been our happy space!

My father and S in Mount Lavinia hotelAt the heritage property Mount Lavinia Hotel for a sundowner with my father

With my mum-in-law on our trip to GalleWith my mum-in-law on our trip to Galle

When my parents-in-law visited us, our kitchen soon became the focal point for all our hangouts and late night chit chats. We ‘binge-devoured’ on traditional Bengali meals cooked by mum-in-law. The first episode of the subsequent future seasons of her carrying potols and other typical Bengali food items in her suitcase when Ma visited us in different cities where we set up home, started from our Colombo days (here’s a story of food, love and good memories travelling in our suitcases)! I accompanied them back to Kolkata to celebrate my parents’ 25th anniversary on the condition that my father would drop me back to Colombo. We wanted everyone in our families back home to visit us in Colombo – such was the charm of the island and the house that we called our home!

My 3rd lesson in Srilanka… to grace kindness, humility and faith on a daily basis.

Our Srilankan friends showered us with immense love. Every person we met, was friendly, kind and smiling. While at home, we were surrounded by giggles and laughter, we were surrounded by joy in spite when we stepped out. This was despite all that was happening in their lives. We heard from how the civil war and the conflict in Jaffna affected the people. Every family had some incident to share that was a result of the conflict. Amidst all these conflicts however, what struck to me was how they had an unflinching faith and hoped for peace in their beloved island.


Discovering Srilanka

Colombo

Colombo… the starting line

In the course of the year, I explored Colombo and Srilanka as and when S’s work permitted. While the city was new to me, S already had his favourite spots, which he proudly introduced me to. Ice cream sundaes at the dessert parlour Carnival in Galle Road, my first ‘food court’ meals at Liberty Plaza Food Court, tuk tuk rides to the seaside promenade Galle Face over the weekend (here’s my love story on tuk tuks!). The tuk tuk drivers would mistake S for a local and charge us the regular fare. On realising that we weren’t, they would start renegotiating! On our occasional visits to the lakeside Buddhist temple Gangaramaya, I learnt to emphasise on faith rather than any particular religion. Leaving spirituality aside, the material girl in me loved visiting Odel, the famous Srilankan department store. A short walk from our house, I loved the scented candles, colourful sarongs or their eclectic range of accessories. Every product on Odel’s self seemed to reflect the characteristics of the island and that really inspired me.

Bentota and Galle – the seduction of coastal Srilanka

Galle, situated on the southwest coast of SrilankaGalle’s colonial past is reflected in the architecture of its houses and fortifications

Turtle Hatchery near BentotaMany endangered species of turtles have been nurtured at the Turtle Hatchery Project at Bentota Beach

Our first trip out of Colombo was to Bentota, a laid back seaside town on the southwest coast. We stayed at the Serendib Beach Hotel, a causal beachfront property designed by the world famous architect Geoffrey Bawa. The architecture was characteristic of Bawa’s signature style – simplicity and a blend of the surrounding landscape. Our room on the ground-floor overlooked the serene sea through a grove of swaying coconut trees. Beach barbecues, grills of fresh catch by the table – specially King Fish, watching the locals scaling up coconut trees to tap toddy, sunsets over the sea, late night strolls by the beach and… watching one day old turtles in the nearby Turtle Hatchery – these are just a few of my favourite ‘Bentota’ memories from a long list. A day trip to the Galle situated on the southwest tip of the island, completed our first trip outside Colombo. Built in 16th century by the Portugese colonists, the old town of Galle with its historic fortifications, is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Galle’s colonial past was reflected in its architecture and magnificent fortifications. The Portugese had arrived in the 16th century, the Dutch in the 17th century and subsequently followed by the British in late 18th century. The Portugese styled white-washed houses city exuded an old world charm. The Galle Lighthouse, standing tall on the fortification rampart, was one of the oldest in the country and still in use.

Kandy – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an alluring ancient capital

Ishita B Saha and Subir Kumar Saha in front of Kandy Lake Kandy Lake is encircled with a decorative white parapet that resembles clouds. Built in early 19th century, there are many folklores associated with the lake

Perehera, a spectacular procession held annually to pay homage to Buddha’s sacred tooth relicKandy Esala Perahera or The Festival of the Tooth is a spectacular procession paying homage to Buddha’s sacred tooth relic

In August, we took a trip to Kandy, situated three hours away from Colombo amidst the scenic hills of Srilanka. We had booked into a B&B run by one of S’s colleague’s grandparents. The sacred city of Kandy comprising of The Temple of the Tooth Relic was another UNESCO World Heritage site. When we visited the temple, it was still reverberating from the damage left behind by a militant attack earlier in January, the same year. The shrine housed the relic of the tooth of the Buddha and was considered one of the holiest temples in Srilanka. We had planned our trip to coincide with Kandy Esala Perahera or The Festival of the Tooth. Held annually in July or August, the Perehera is a spectacular procession held annually to pay homage to Buddha’s sacred tooth relic which is carried in a golden casket by an elephant. We queued for hours so that we could watch the mesmerising procession standing in the first row. Elephants dressed up in ornamental garments, local folk as well as traditional Kandyan dancers, drummer dancers, fire dancers and many such heart stomping show-stopping activities were part of the procession. We walked the entire circumference of the picturesque Kandy Lake, a manmade lake with an island in the middle. Built in the medieval era, the lake was encircled with a decorative white parapet that resembled clouds. A beef preparation with kankun (water spinach) that we tasted in a restaurant that overlooked the lake and the simple breakfast at the guesthouse with homemade jams and Kiri Peni, a dessert made with curd and palm sugar treacle, still linger on my tastebuds.

Sinharaja – of hikes and forest trails

Hiking in Sirigiya forest in SrilankaA small break while hiking in the rainforest. My need for wearing those long, thick football socks? Bloodsucking leeches, of course!

Dense rainforest in Sirigiya, SrilankaThe dense rainforest in Sinharaja National Reserve is home to many endemic species and sixty percent of the island’s endemic trees

Posing in the Srilankan highwayPosing on the highway – nothing is more exhilarating than outstretched hands without any inhibition

We went on a hiking trail once with the gang to the dense rainforest in Sinharaja National Park. Recognised as a World Biosphere Reserve as well as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the experience was thrilling. Gushing waterfalls and breath-taking views of the forest cover from vantage points made for several gorgeous photo-ops. A subsequent visit to a gem factory and museum at Ratnapura later, opened our eyes (literally so) to the various gemstones that the emerald shaped island was famous for. Those were the pre-digital smartcam days, hence limited captures only after several contemplations! One of my favourite pictures from our Srilanka albums is when our friend’s car broke down. We stood across the highway holding our outstretched hands. And a not-so-favourite moment? The leeches that kept on gnawing at us all along the forest trail!


Revisiting Srilanka – Bentota on repeat mode and hey you, digicam… you are so welcome!

View of Indian Ocean in Bentota in SrilankaView of the Indian Ocean from Taj Bentota

Senaka Senanayake's work in Taj BentotaSenaka Senanayake’s signature style – bright hues depicting Srilanka’s flora and fauna

Origami activity in Taj BentotaBig Z with her origami art

When we planned our first vacation beyond the annual Kolkata visits after Lil Z’s birth, our first choice of destination was obviously Srilanka. So off we headed back to the island in 2011. With the Z-Sisters accompanying us, we were exploring a different Srilanka this time – alibi a luxurious vacation mode. Naturally, Bentota had to be the first stop. We booked into Vivanta by Taj, a far cry from our humble holidays in our first years of marriage. Not that it seemed to matter in those earlier days of travelling. Perched on an elevated cliff with a stunning ocean view, Taj Bentota provided us with some precious moments – a mile long stretch of Bentota’s classic golden beach, origami activities, stunning ocean views and authentic Srilankan food. The other truly memorable experience for me was witnessing the work of Senaka Senanayake, one of Sri Lanka’s best-known artists. Several brightly hued canvases depicting Srilanka’s flora and fauna that are so characteristic of the artist, hung on the wall of Taj Bentota – a priceless collection indeed. We also visited the Kosgoda turtle farm nearby, as we wanted to share the experience of holding one-day old baby turtles with the Z-Sisters.

Kitulgala – a riverside rendezvous, an epiphany and the inception of my blog

Rafters' Retreat in KitulgalaKelani River in Kitulgala… most of the scenes in the ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ that were shot in Srilanka are in Kitulgala

My 4th lesson in Srilanka… life always comes back in full circle. In doing so, it gives one ‘cues’ to the direction that leads straight from your heart. Grab them!

After the sunny seaside, we were headed to the scenic Hill Country of Srilanka. We stopped for lunch at the riverside ecolodge Rafters’ Retreat in Kitulgala (here’s my write up). The gushing Kelani river and mountainous forests brought back memories of my trip with the gang from a decade back. It was a similar landscape in Ratnapura where we had stopped impromptu… to bathe in Kalu Ganga! The riverside stop in Kitulgala this time, was momentous in my life. It was like an epiphany and my blog was born. Here’s an excerpt from my first blog post, written nine years back…

Re-visiting Srilanka was more than just a vacation. It was as if, we were searching for our own roots. A decade back we had stood by the banks of the Kelani river, letting our eyes wander into the woods. Now a decade later, the four of us were standing at the same spot. As if one circle of life just got completed.

Rafter's Retreat, Kitulgala, SrilankaKitulgala is one of the wettest places in Srilanka with two monsoons in a year