+ Traffic in Valletta

Malta | Exploring the fortified cities of Mdina and Valletta

To travel is to live ∼ Hans Christian Andersen 

Fortified cities, picturesque coastlines, pretty harbours in an azure Mediterranean surrounding thronged by fishing and leisure boats alike, Malta is regal and stunning. There’s more to this tiny island-archipelago than just picturesque locales in movies like Gladiator, Troy, Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt’s film ‘By the Sea’ or the legendary series of Game of Thrones. The country checks all the plausible boxes for an exotic travel destination – delicious food, gorgeous landscapes, archaeological relicts, architectural marvels and of course, the allure of history. Malta is the world’s tenth smallest country and boasts of three UNESCO impressive World Heritage Sites: Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, the fortified city of Valletta (the smallest national capital in the European Union) and seven megalithic temples. The latter are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world. Malta’s strategic location in the centre of the Mediterranean and the government’s earnest developmental policies are already managing to attract a lot of foreign investment too, especially in the real estate and manufacturing sectors.

A seven-hour long flight by Emirates Airline that included a small one-hour stopover in Larnaca in Cyprus, brought me to this tiny Mediterranean island. With an area covering around 300 square metres and a population less than 500,000, the size is in sheer contrast to its mighty legacy. The island basked in more than 7,000 years of history, abundant sunshine, dollops of warm sea breeze and vitamin sea all around. I fell in love with traditional Maltese houses which had delicately filigreed wooden verandas known as ‘gallerias’, hanging out of buildings carved out of yellow limestone. This imparted a unique elegance to the landscape, and I was happy to see (and relieve to learn) that the traditional style was being replicated even in the newer houses that were being built. Everywhere, urbanisation seemed rapid and checks and balances prevailed to ensure that the modern real estate developments were in sync with the heritage of the traditional architecture. History and tradition seemed to merge seamlessly into the present. The ubiquitous red telephone booths and pillar mail boxes were reminiscent of the country’s colonial past – Malta became independent as a Commonwealth realm known as the State of Malta in 1964, and it became a republic in 1974. The confluence of myriad cultures and civilisations reflected themselves in the architecture, food and culture.

We stayed in Sliema, one of the busiest commercial and social hubs in the island of Malta, also a popular area for both tourists and local residents. Originally a fishing village, Sliema today has developed into an exciting urban space with luxury hotels, modern apartment blocks, popular restaurants, pubs and cafes, boutique shops etc. The daintiness of the seaside is still maintained by picturesque cafes and restaurants located along the coastline that extended towards Ta’ Xbiex and Gżira in the South and towards St. Julian’s in the North. The latter area buzzes during the night time as we realised on one of our visits to a local pub. During our trip, we visited offices of various ministries, tourism authorities, trade commissions and it was quite apparent that Malta was doing all the right things to promote the country that deserved attention because of its history, heritage and natural beauty. It was wonderful to see the Maltese people basking in their heritage, whether it was the majestic Arlogg Tal-Lira, the traditional Maltese wall clock gilded in gold (in the picture above) that adorned every wall of prominence in a home, office or a hotel, or in their unique language  – Malti, the only Semitic language written in Latin characters.

Do hop into a horse-carriage for a ride along the Sliema promenade - 'the front', just like I did with a companion. We basked in the spotlight with the traffic queueing up in the behind. Savour the slow-trotting ride. Trust me, no one will ever honk or urge you to move faster - the Maltese people are known for their politeness!

Mdina

The first halt in our five-day itinerary was a visit to the historic Mdina, the old capital of Malta. Also referred to as the ‘silent city’ because of the stony silence echoing through its quiet narrow alleys, the history of Mdina can be traced back to more than 4000 years. This is a car-free city and the only way to explore Mdina is on foot. The baroque styled imposing Mdina Gate right at the entrance of the walled city, gives a clear indication to the architectural beauty that lay inside. Designed by Charles Francois de Mondion and built in 1724, the Mdina Gate is also known as the Vilhena Gate, named after Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena. Inside the city, the impressive buildings with courtyards, arched hallways and formidable main doors with intricately carved doorknobs and knockers (il-ħabbata), are still inhabited by Malta’s noble families. These houses reflect a fine mix of medieval and baroque architecture and the city’s medieval name – ‘Citta’ Notabile’ or the noble city reflects that legacy. A visit to the 17th century St Paul’s Cathedral is a must, which is dedicated to the Patron Saint of Malta. Apart from an ornate gilded vault inside, the arched ceiling inside the cathedral have paintings depicting St Paul’s shipwreck. The latter is an important event in Malta’s history and the Apostle St. Paul is said to have lived here after being shipwrecked off the Maltese coasts in 60 A.D. We strolled along the quaint alleys and the strong evening sun casted long shadows on the stony façade until we reached the Bastion Square. As we stood at the edge of Mdina’s ramparts and bastion walls, far beyond the golden countryside, lay the famous Mosta Dome and the Mediterranean Sea. Considered a place of miracles, when the church was almost destroyed when a 200 kg bomb fell through the dome without exploding during a German air raid in the Second World War. All the 300 people attending morning mass were left unharmed!

If you like mystery and adventure, you will love strolling the silent city of Mdina by night when the streets are lit up by lamps. St Paul's cathedral, other landmark buildings and popular squares are lit up too. Most of the visitor attractions like St Paul’s Cathedral, the Dungeons, or the Natural History Museum can however be visited only during the day time.

Valletta

We hopped in and out of the capital city of Valletta a few times during our stay in Malta, in the capacity of both a tourist and a visiting delegate to the various ministries. Recognised as a UNESCO World heritage Site, Valletta is indeed beautiful and filled with large squares, outdoor cafes, elegant arcades, fountains, Baroque styled palaces and manicured gardens. There are statues of important people or monuments commemorating events of historical importance adorn the middle of each square. The St John’s square adjoining the St John’s Co-Cathedral, occupies the heart of Valletta and is one of the largest squares with people from all spheres of life converging at the square’s alfresco cafes. One of my most euphoric experiences in Malta was to see the largest canvas of my favourite artist of all times – Michelangelo Caravaggio’s inside the St John’s Co-Cathedral. Built between 1572 and 1577, the co-cathedral is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and commissioned by the Grand Master Jean de la Cassière. While the exterior of the co-cathedral reflects Mannerist style of architecture, the ornate Baroque styled interior has walls intricately carved in-situ out of Maltese limestone. The vaulted ceilings and side altars have scenes depicting the life of John the Baptist. The marble floor houses the tombs of about 400 knights and officers of the Order. The oratory has one of the greatest masterpieces of Caravaggio – The beheading of Saint John the Baptist, the largest of Caravaggio’s work (370cmx520cm) and the only one to be signed by the artist. There’s another painting by Caravaggio in the oratory – Saint Jerome Writing, rumoured to be the first painting by the artist when he landed in Malta. I am a huge fan of the two famous Michelangelos – Buonarroti and Caravaggio, and one of my inspirational highlights of Malta was witnessing such an impressive work of art painted by the latter in his signature chiaroscuro style that uses strong contrasts between light and dark.

Apart from government offices and museums, the squares and the lanes are dotted by quaint bistros, souvenir shops, antique shops, retro cafes, jewellery shops selling traditional Maltese silverware, home grown fashion boutiques showcasing homegrown and international brands and many others. The coast and the harbour peeps occasionally through traditional houses and filigreed verandas, narrow lanes traversing both uphill and downhill. Valletta exudes both pride and charm and amidst all of this, the Grand Harbour stands out like a stellar showstopper, specially from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Built on the highest point of Valletta, the arches of the ramparts and fortifications here form regal frames for portraits and selfies with the backdrop of the busy harbour lined with ocean liners, cruise ships and traditional sails. Not only does this give a vantage viewpoint of the harbour, it also overlooks the Saluting Battery. At noon and 4pm sharp, one of the restored guns is fired every day as a salute to the artillery heritage of the knights. With a history of 500 years, this is one of the oldest saluting battery still in operation anywhere in the world! Apart from Upper Barrakka Gardens, there are countless photo opportunities elsewhere in Valletta (and throughout Malta which is picturesque!). Only here, our backdrops not only reflected old world charm but also gravitas – for example, the Grandmaster’s Palace and the Aubertge de Castille that currently houses the respective offices of the President of Malta and the Prime Minister of Malta, or other historic landmarks. Whether its admiring the beautiful facades of traditional buildings, curio shops, nudging through the slow serpentine traffic of cars and scooters in the historic Republic Street or inhaling in the spectacular Valletta Waterfront with its vibrant outdoor eateries and magnificent views – savouring Valletta leisurely is perhaps the best thing to do to!

Witnessing tradition is always a novelty, so don't miss the chance to witness the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at The Palace Valletta! It is held every last Friday of the month at St George's Square in Valletta. The parade commences at 1030 hrs, with the AFM Band marching down Republic Street onto St George's Square Valletta. Here, the new guard marches out from the Main Guard in order to replace the old guard which marches out from The Palace Valletta. Following the exchange of ‘duties' the AFM Band conducts a marching display in the same square.

Eating in Malta

Fontanella Tea Garden, Mdina
This popular family-run cafe is situated at the end of the walls of the bastions and boasts of a spectacular view that overlooks the beautiful island of Malta. Although the tea room serves food and snacks, our guide Yvette shared that Fontanella is famous for its home-made cakes. Interestingly, the chocolate cake and strawberry meringue are really special and have remained unchanged for the last 41 years!

www.fontanellateagarden.com
1, Bastion Street, Mdina
+356 2145 4264 / +356 2145 0208; Open 10:00am until midnight daily

 

Caffe Cordina, Valletta
Founded in 1837, Caffe Cordina run by the Cordina family started off as a small outlet in the double-fortified harbour city Cospicua (known as Bormla in Maltese). The cafe was relocated to Valletta in 1944 and today has acquired an iconic status in Valletta. It’s a much recognisable brand with its own product lines of Maltese delicacies – gourmet products, sweets, cakes and cookies, still made in the traditional way and available at selected outlets across Malta and Gozo. One of the must-do things in Valletta is an alfresco dining at the popular cafe located in a historical premise in Piazza Regina. As we walked into the cafe to place my order, I was awestruck by the beautiful decor with gilded walls and arched ceiling. The ceiling is embellished with paintings by the renowned Maltese painter Giuseppe Cali and there are many other beautiful paintings specifically commissioned by the Cordina family. There are seatings inside the cafe as well as outside in the prominent square and we chose to sit outside. The menu was extensive and offered a variety of snacks, savouries and desserts, a breakfast menu and also traditional Maltese food like braised rabbit, Bragioli and others. The halt here was a mini filler for us, so we stuck to Maltese Pastizzi, the traditional savoury pastry. The fillings for the pastries varied from ricotta cheese, mushy peas or a minced beef filling. Our guide Yvette suggested the Rum Baba, a rum-soaked light cake filled with custard cream and fresh fruit. The soaring heat of the midday sun gave us a valid excuse too for ordering a Chilled Coffee with ice cream as an accompanying coolant!

www.caffecordina.com
244 Republic Street, Valletta
+356 2065 0400; Open 8:00am until 7:00pm Mondays to Saturdays and until 4:00pm on Sunday

MUŻA
Our first lunch in Malta was in MUŻA, a very special restaurant. MUŻA Restaurant is housed in the historic 16th century building Auberge D’Italie, which was the seat of the Italian knights of the Order of St John. MUŻA is new National Museum of Art in Malta and is Heritage Malta’s flagship project to carry forward the legacy of Valletta’s selection as the European City of Culture for 2018. The restaurant has three main areas, each having a rich history of their own. The Bar-Cafe area is located within what once was the Auberge’s Kitchen; the Donato Room which is the main dining area and where lower ranking officials of the Order of St. John responsible for the day to day running of kitchen and services would have lived during the times of the Order of St John; and the open space of a Mediterranean Courtyard, a public space with a 17th century arched well at the centre of the courtyard. As the word MUŻA suggests, ‘inspiration’ in Maltese, every dish in the restaurant is inspired by an artwork on display in the galleries. The menu also emphasises on fresh, home grown and seasonal produce. We sat in the elegantly decorated Donato Room, the metal-work chandelier casting a delicate floral pattern onto the burnt sienna walls. I ordered ‘The Stone Mason’s Sack’, inspired by the artwork The Stone Masons by Pietro Paula Caruana. It was a linguine dish with spicy Maltese sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and homemade sauce. The dishes ordered by my companions – for example, ‘Olga’s Fish’ was a poached fresh fish with lemongrass court bullion and tomato salsa, inspired by Edward Caruana Dingli’s Olga Galea Naudi; Abstract by Willie Apap that represented dynamic and powerful circular forms very aptly described the ‘Taco Hard Shells’; a salad dish with traditional Maltese cheese Ġbejna or cheeselet, duck, preserved celery, salted tomatoes, fresh herbs was represented by the Giorgio Preca’s Maltese Folk Characters. The mains came with a selection of sides – sautéd vegetables, salads, french fries or roasted potatoes. The presentation, look and feel of the dishes were inspired by the textures, shapes, colours, elements and stories of the artwork that represented the dish. It was here that we got introduced to Aperol Spritz, the popular local cult drink made with bitter orange, and Kinnie, the Maltese bittersweet carbonated soft drink brewed from bitter oranges and wormwood extracts.

www.muzarestaurant.com.mt
 Auberge D’Italie, Valletta, Malta
+356 79790900; Open 10:00am – 9:30pm Sundays to Thursdays and until 10:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays

 

Own Band Club Bar & Restaurant
This bar and restaurant situated on the ground floor in the historical premises of a 1874 building belonging to the King’s Own Band Club. The band was originally founded in 1874 and immediately found a lot of patrons and established established itself as one of the leading band clubs in Malta. In 1901, it became known as the King’s Own Band Club after receiving the Royal consent. The ambience inside is both warm and lively with blue and white table settings and framed photographs of momentous events lining up the staircase. The kitchen is helmed by the award-winning female chef and restauranteur Roberta Preca (of Palazzo Preca fame) and the menu offers both Mediterranean and traditional Maltese cuisine and the ‘specials’ changed every fortnight. We started off with fresh snails served with a squeeze of lemon and local calamari seasoned and grilled and served on a bed of salad. We ordered a few signature dishes off the extensive menu, but the showstoppers were definitely the Lobster Sizzler and Sea Bass Al Sale, a whole sea bass encrusted in sea salt and set on fire by the table-side!

www.kingsownbandclub.org
+356 21230281; 274 Republic Street, Valletta 
Open 8:00am – 11:00pm daily with live music on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays.

 

The Chophouse
We ushered in the spectacularly lit up skyline of Valletta across the harbour at dusk, as we sat at a long table in the wall-to-wall glass windowed terrace of The Chophouse. Situated on the picturesque peninsula Tigné Point, this was renowned to be Malta’s leading meat restaurant. Apart from boasting of being the island’s largest charcoal grill, selected cuts of Aberdeen Angus and Scottona beef from Italy were dry aged in-house. The temperature controlled wine cave in the restaurant stocked an impressive selection of over 350 wines from all over the world. The charm of travelling is to seek local flavours and so we sipped on Maltese red wine from the local brand Merlqot. Made from a blend of sustainably farmed Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, it was vinified in a wine estate at Ta’ Qali, Malta’s agricultural heartland. We were treated to a platter of signature assortments that had been curated specially for us. We started off with the aubergine dish that has its origin in Sicily – Parmigiana di Melanzane, with a rich taste of sweet tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and parmesan cream. A zucchini carpaccio with sheep’s cheese on toasted homemade bread and a pasta in aubergine purée, parmesan cheese and coffee salt followed soon. A Chateaubriand platter served with a classic Béarnaise sauce gave us a fine taste of the quality of the meat that The Chophouse so boasted of. A pan-fried Gurbell (brown meagre) platter with garlic aioli, fennel and radish introduced us to delicate flavours of one of the most popular local fish available locally. The dessert consisted of an assorted platter of the traditional Imqaret and Maltese Lemon Cake with drizzles of home made lemon curd, and served with icecream. While Imqarets were Maltese sweets made with pastry and a filling of dates, I was told that the moist Maltese Lemon cake was a Christmas speciality.

www.chophouse.com.mt
+356 2060 3355; Open 7:00pm-11:00pm Mondays to Saturdays and 12:00pm-3:00pm and 7:00pm – 11:00pm on Sundays
Tigne Point, Censu Xerri, Sliema

Ta’ Kris Restaurant and Maltese Bistro
The concierge at our hotel suggested Ta’ Kris when I was searching for a restaurant that served home style Maltese food. What a brilliant find this was! Situated in one of the oldest and largest bakeries in Sliema, my companion and I arrived to the restaurant on a horse carriage. The restaurant was busy and had an innate charm. Old coloured Maltese tiles, shaded walls and dark Maltese furniture added a lot of warmth. The old features of the bakery had been retained and we were greeted with a all-ladies staff. We were two of us and decided at the very onset that we’ll dive into the main course and stick to the signature dishes. Thus arrived at our table, Dad’s Famous Bragioli, a traditional Maltese dish with slices of beef stuffed with forced meat and slow cooked in red wine, herbs and tomato sauce. The Veal Escalopes came with tender and succulent slices of veal sandwiched with ham and cheese and was served with a creamy sage and wine sauce. We also ordered the traditional Ravjul Malti where the homemade raviolis were filled with rich ricotta, parsley and dipped in a thick and tangy tomato sauce. Although the staff appeared extremely busy initially and it took a bit of time for us to garner some attention, once we were ‘enlisted’, the experience at Ta’ Kris was definitely one of my culinary highlights of the trip.

www.takrisrestaurant.com
+356 2133 7367; Open 12:30pm until 11:00pm daily
80 Fawwara Ln, Sliema, Malta

Hole in the Wall
“We’re a small village bar, it’s very difficult for us to accept reservations. Come & squeeze in!” That’s the inviting tagline from the oldest bar in Sliema – literally a hole in the wall established in 1922. Originally used as stables and later sold as a pub, The Hole in the Wall pub initially had no seating arrangement and offered only take-away wine from huge vats. “I’ll see you down The Hole” that’s what the pilots and cabin staff of British Airways who stayed over-night between flights in the nearby Imperial Hotel and most frequented the pub would always say… and that’s how the story of this little pub began. It still seemed to be the same – a small space with practically no seating. With craft beers, gins, cocktails, toasties, selected desserts and some live music on offer, stumbling upon this ninety (plus) year old local neighbourhood hangout was quite a delightful discovery!

www.holeinthewall.com.mt
31 High Street, Sliema
+356 99834378; Open 10:30am until 1:00am from Mondays to Fridays and from 5:00pm until 1:00am on Saturdays and Sundays

Don’t leave the island without a ‘gentle’ shopping spree

Door knockers and doorknobs to start with… yes, I wish I could bring home one of those ornately designed mermaids or dolphins that could claim a place on our main door in our Dubai home! Or what about Arlogg tal-Lira, the traditional Maltese wall clock? The next on my list is the delicate filigreed silver jewellery. Although originating in ancient Greece and Rome, this type of jewellery is considered a specialty in Malta are still handmade by artisans. Shops are aplenty and prices negotiable, although I ended up buying from an exclusive boutique shop in Valletta. The most popular designs are the silver-laced earrings, bracelets or neckpieces, and of course, the eight-pointed Maltese cross. Traditional Maltese glassware is also a Maltese speciality. Blow glass shaped by hand into pieces of decoration or forms of utility is a traditional technique that takes a lot of pride in the island. Most popular and credible among all is Mdina Glass, the first glass company in Malta which was formed in 1968. I also found a large variety of pastry moulds, trays, cake tins in glass showcases across Valletta. The shapes and designs were very interesting. These were from Pace Pittsform Products, a Maltese brand established in 1940 which specialised in mass production of pastry tins and bakery ware from mild steel, stainless steel and aluminium. Regarding edible purchases, do hop onto my next post on Gozo where we visited an incredible artisanal food-store!

I would love to hear that I have inspired you all to travel to Malta, one of the most beautiful island countries that I have been to so far… and do stay tuned for the next posts where I unravel this Mediterranean gem a bit more!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: It was my honour to be a guest of the Embassy of the Republic of Malta in the United Arab Emirates. For more info on Malta, visit www.visitmalta.com. While we were hosted at the various restaurants, the meals at Caffe Cordina, Ta’ Kris and Hole in the Wall were self paid. There aren’t any affiliated links in this post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on InstagramFacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Interesting Reads:
Maltese clock for their homes(Times of Malta)
MALTA: The Limestone Experience
+ Special Dessert for Holi - Gajjar Halwa with Rabri Mousse and Shahi Tukda

A colourful weekend and Gajar Ka Halwa with Rabri Mousse and Shahi Tukda

Colour is my day-long obsession and torment ∼ Claude Monet

Holi colours

I love this time of the year. All the universal forces seem to collide together to align all the things that I love – festive colours of Holi, magical full moon, new energy and fresh vibration of spring (equinox and all those things) and a bit of celebration. Because… my birthday somehow manages to glide into it all every year! At work front too, we had a bit of a shuffle as FoodeMag dxb rebranded itself to FoodeMag ( here’s a small read) – a new logo and new direction to support our original vision.

I’m a sucker for celebrations and so we did celebrate. We have a small group of friends in Dubai, an extended family of sort since a long time. We celebrate all our personal milestones together – big or small, with home cooked meals and some cracking up moments. The Holi cum birthday get-together wasn’t any different. Our hostess Sumana, an amateur chef and a keen foodie, said that she kept the menu simple. Deemer devil, the Bengali version of scotch eggs, luchi (here’s my ode to luchi please) accompanied by ghugni, dried yellow peas cooked in gravy, comprised our late breakfast menu (say around 2 pm!). Lunch was traditional – steaming white rice, shukto, dhokar dalna, kasha mangsho and the exotic daab chingri, a subtly flavoured mustard prawn cooked inside tender Thai coconuts. Sumana created an epic dessert fusion, a combination of three traditional festive sweets – Gajar ka Halwa with Rabri Mousse and Shahi Tukda. It not only looked spectacular but tasted divine. Long after I reached home, as I was going through the photos of the afternoon madness and the delicious sit-down, I knew that I had to share the recipe in my blog. I mean, immediately! So, here is Sumana’s tried and tested recipe that she kindly gave a structure to, over whatsapp (you know how we home cooks cook mostly – all ingredients go as per andaj, personal judgement) – even after such a long tiring day.

 

 

Special Dessert for Holi - Gajjar Halwa with Rabri Mousse and Shahi Tukda

 

Indian sweets and Holi colours

Gajar Ka Halwa with Rabri Mousse and Shahi Tukda

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category – Dessert; Cuisine type – Indian 

Special Dessert for Holi - Gajjar Halwa with Rabri Mousse and Shahi Tukda

Ingredients

Gajar ka Halwa
4 tender carrots, grated
full cream milk, enough to cover the grated carrots
200 gms mawa (thickened unsweetened milk)*
3-4 tsp milk powder (S used Nido)
1 small cup sugar
4 cardamoms, crushed into powder
1 tbsp pistachios, chopped
4 tsp ghee (S used Aseel)

Rabri Mousse
1 lt full fat milk
250 gms mawa
400 gms mascarpone cheese (S used Lat Bri)
150 gms or 4 tsp heavy cream
200 gms sweetened milk
sugar (as per taste)
4 cardamoms, crushed into powder
pinch of saffron
1 small packet of unflavoured gelatine, mixed in 4tsp warm water

Shahi Tukda
4 pieces white bread, sides removed and diagonally cut into half
4 tsp ghee
1/2 cup sugar syrup

Method

Gajar ka Halwa

  • In a thick bottomed pan, cook the grated carrots in milk on high flame
  • Reduce flame once the milk starts to boil and slow cook while stirring constantly (the reduced milk tends to get burnt very easily)
  • Once the carrots are cooked nicely and the milk is reduced sufficiently, add mawa and milk powder. Mix the mawa finely and add sugar, cardamom powder, chopped pistachios and ghee. Let it simmer for 5 more minutes
  • Spread the carrot halwa on a flat dish and let it cool

Rabri Mousse

  • Mix the mawa, sweetened milk, sugar in milk and boil on slow heat until the milk thickens and reduces to half
  • Add saffron and cardamom powder
  • Remove the rabri from heat and let it cool
  • Whisk mascarpone cheese, heavy cream and the gelatine mixture
  • Once the mousse is ready, pour it immediately on halwa like a cheesecake
  • Let it set

Shahi Tukda

  • Fry the triangular bread pieces
  • Soak the fried bread pieces in simple sugar syrup (you can boil sugar in water -in the ratio of 1 part water to 1 part sugar)
  • Place them as decorative pieces on top of the rabri mousse

*Mawa or Khoya is easily available in many Indian sweet shops in Dubai – for example, Puranmal sells mawa at Dhs 63/kg. It’s also available in Lulu supermarket. I have an exclusive dekchi, a flat-bottomed cooking pot for making any dessert that uses milk as an ingredient. Milk is such a delicate ingredient that it tends to absorb even the slightest smell of spices from the pot.

 

 

Bubbly in a coloured hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sumana Haldar, an amateur chef

 

BTW, all my friends are great cooks. In fact, some of my girlfriends are dessert specialists of the highest order. From traditional, fusion, new creations – they conjure up sheer fantasies all the time. They did the same that day too. For example, Lipi’s traditional Malpoa and Rupa’s Monomohini – the melt in the mouth kanchagolla with a filling of nolen gur and narkel, season fresh date jaggery and coconut. These were lapped up during breakfast itself as we immersed in the colour madness. Another friend Tito, recreated the traditional almond drink Thandai, a Holi speciality, following Sanjeev Kapoor’s recipe. Finally, a traditional payesh made by Sumana and Lady M’s homemade chocolate moist cake signed off my formal birthday ceremony. It was an afternoon filled in an insane colour riot – enjoy the colour blast below!

People with Holi colours on their faces

 

People with Holi colours on their faces

 

People with Holi colours on their faces

 

Malpua - a traditional Bengali sweet

 

People with Holi colours on their faces

 

 

 

Holi wasn’t the only reason for my colour riot over this weekend. I had a VIP invite from Bupa Global for the prestigious Art Dubai which took place in Madinat Jumeirah. This was the 13th edition of the international art fair in which more than 90 galleries from over 40 countries all across the world showcased their artists. I witnessed the works of some of my favourite Indian stalwarts like M.F. Hussein, Paresh Maity, Ganesh Pyne, Anjolie Ela Menon, Subhash Haloi, Francis Newton Souza and many others. On that same night, we booked into another spectacular event, as a family. A full moon drumming session in the desert with Dubai Drums. Although the moon was shy and refused to come out for most of the time we were there, drumming together in a group of more than 100 people, is one of the most liberating things that I had done. It was a brilliant foreword to the colourful birthday celebrations that I was headed for with my friends the next day. My inner child is absolutely thrilled and I feel really blessed to be surrounded by so much love, sweetness and colours!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: My friend Sumana Haldar is the Managing Partner of www.etutorhome.com and www.ngeinitiative.com – two interactive educational platforms. What tickles my fancy (and inspires me) is that this friend of mine took her passion for cooking to the next highest level by doing an Amateur Chef course recently from International Centre for Culinary Arts (ICCA) in Knowledge Village. There’s no age to start learning something you want. Just go ahead and book into that course that you have always wanted to do!

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that have been mentioned in my 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. Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oInstagramFacebookTwitter and Pinterest!

Try these dessert recipes from my blog:
Gajorer Payesh or Carrot Pudding
Moong Daaler Payesh or Yellow Lentil Pudding
Bhapa Mishti Doi
Gulab Jamum Rabri

Other reads:
Sanjeev Kapoor's recipe for Thandai
How to make Thandai | Sanjeev Kappor
Celebrate Holi with colourful recipes across the world |FoodeMag
Holi in Nandgaon, Mathura and Vrindavan |FoodeMag
 Holi | Wiki
Braj | Wiki
Art Dubai 
DubaiDrums
+

There’s more to Agra than Taj Mahal – for instance, eating

Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat. ∼ Guy Fieri

Yes, there is Taj Mahal in Agra. Then there is the Chaat Gali. Unlike our Lucknow halt, we did full justice to Agra’s historical and heritage stalwarts (which deserve a separate post altogether) before we hit the city’s culinary map. One question that has been playing in my mind though – considering that Agra was the Mughal capital for a long period of time (1556 to 1648), why doesn’t it feature as an important centre for Mughlai cuisine as does Lucknow or Delhi? While Nuskha-i-Shahjahani, a Persian manuscript that records dishes believed to have been prepared at the court of Emperor Shahjahan (1627-1658), mentions ten separate chapters on various aspects of Mughal cuisine starting from naans, qaliyas, dopiazas, pulaos, kababs and many more, the city doesn’t feature anywhere although many of the famous Mughlai dishes have their origin here. For example, the vegetarian dish Navratan Korma, which was inspired by the Navratnas, the talented nine jewels of Emperor Akbar’s court. Falooda was introduced by Noor Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jehangir. Also, the famous dish Chicken Mumtazi, named after Mumtaz, the wife of Shahjahan – the muse for Taj Mahal, owes its origin to the city. In the recent years however, Agra has digressed from the Mughlai food scene in India’s culinary map and has evolved more as a city offering one of the best street food, snacks and sweets in India, particularly the petha.

Eating in Agra

Chaat Gali in Sadar Bazaar
Can you imagine an alley dedicated only to street food like chaats, gol gappas, aloo tikki etc? That’s exactly what Chaat Gali is. Also known as khao gali – khao meaning ‘to eat’ and gali meaning ‘alley’, the Chaat Gali is located off the famous Sadar Bazaar. The latter being a popular shopping destination for tourists to buy leather products, handicrafts, garments and other specialities of Agra. Although some of the food shops are open since the morning, come nigh time and the area transforms itself into a live wire. Chaat Gali is thronged by both locals and tourists who juggle for space as they eat off food shops, street vendors and kiosks lining along the narrow alley. From gol gappas, chaats, tandoori chicken, rabri, kulfi to Indianised Chinese and Italian, you will get almost everything in Chaat Gali. Our tuktuk driver Gaffar Ali (more on his Heritage tuktuks later) suggested that amongst others, we should try the Turban Master Chef for his … well, pasta! And so we did.

Our first halt was at Turban Master Chef Street Food. Mr Jassi, popularly known as the turban chef, had been a contestant on Masterchef India and currently owned a few eateries in Chaat Gali. He served a variety of pastas, pizzas, breads, tikkas, momos etc, however, his soybean offerings were really sought after. From soya chaap in gravy, soya keema chaap and soya kadai chaap, each dish has to be accompanied by rumali rotis. The Z-Sisters wanted pasta (but, of course!) and Mr Jassi suggested his bestseller – the mixed pasta. We watched him prepare the pasta as he mixed two types of the sauces – red and white, each already prepared beforehand and squeezed out of ketchup type of plastic bottles. He added chopped green chillies, fresh coriander and a handful of other indigenous ingredients before pouring in a generous amount of cream at the end. The taste was phenomenal, unlike any other pasta that we had tried before. Don’t try to challenge the authenticity of taste in this pasta. One thing I can assure is that the spunky flavour of this roadside Indian pasta will remain in your memories forever.

After a mini recce of the Chaat Gali, our next halt was at a panipuri or gol gappa kiosk with its parent shop, JMD Juice and Shake located just behind. It promised to serve an exciting array of 6 variety of flavoured panipuri waters. We noticed one or two other kiosks of panipuri nearby, which also served several flavoured waters. Interestingly, the flavours offered by each kiosk was different from the other. In fact, the most popular chaat centre in this area – Panditji Chat Bhandar had only panipuris with regular water. My family and friends know that I am obsessed with panipuris – or phuchka as we call them in Kolkata. For me, the best ones are available at Dilipda’s stall in Vivekananda Park, which promises to serve the ‘world famous in Kolkata’ phuchkas. Occasionally, we also try different variations at home. Needless to say, I tried all the flavours at JMD Juice and Shake – regular, pudina/mint, kala khatta, hing jeera/asafoetida-cumin, garlic and lemon. Although I can’t visualise any spicy and flavoured water mixed with panipuri masala going much wrong, if I had to choose one winner from all my tastings that evening, it will be the sweet and tangy kala khatta flavoured water, the flavour being the syrup that’s poured over golas or crushed ice sold at roadside vendors.

Turban Master Chef: +91 9557025325 (one plate of mixed pasta cost us Rs 150/-)
JMD Juice And Shake: +91 9319991010 (A plate containing 6 gol gappas cost us Rs 60/-)
Panditji Chaat Bhandar: +91 88811 21924
Shri Ram Faluda Centre:  +91 9759914410

The Mughal Darbar 
How can you come to an erstwhile Mughal capital of India and not taste its Mughlai food? There are a lot of Mughlai restaurants around Jama Masjid area and we were keen to try out an old restaurant, but Gaffar, our tuktuk man, suggested The Mughal Darbar in Tajganj. My initial reaction to this modern stand-alone restaurant was, ‘seriously… this one that’s a multi-cuisine restaurant?’ I have something against multi-cuisine restaurants, not the roadside small ones that profess to serve multi-cuisine food but the medium to big sized ones with all-day dining options using the same disclaimer. Please don’t ask me why! However, once seated inside, the warmth of the staff calmed me down. Specially Suraj, the waiter who took our orders and served us like only a mom will do. When he heard that we were headed to Lucknow and intended to taste the biryani and kababs there, he gently prodded, ‘Try the biryani in Agra too. It is different, very specific to Agra and I’m most certain that you will like it’. There wasn’t any scope for starters as we had quite a fill in Chaat Gali before arriving here. We ordered straight off the mains – few signature dishes like Gosht Biryani, Mutton Shahi Korma, Murgh Kadhai Wala and some naans. Two creamy lassis preceded the main course. The biryani was not the kind of biryani that we were used to, that is, the Awadhi style of biryani. Instead, it was more like a fragrant pilaf or pulao. The rice grains were super fine, extra long and appeared in two shades of colour – a subtle saffron infused yellow and bright orange, the result of edible food colour as I was told later. For some, this would probably be the Navratan biryani – sweeter and having a rich garnishing of cashews and raisins, and cooked in yakhni or creamy stock and meat. Just like the taste of the Lucknowi biryani from Idrees still lingers on, the Agra Biryani has a similar hangover effect. I remember having a conversation with the Bearded Biker later at the hotel that night and both of us exclaimed, ‘the rice grains of that biryani were something else’! We are back in Dubai almost three weeks now, and I had to get in touch with the restaurant. So, how is the Agra Biryani different from its Lucknowi counterpart? Mr Saifullah Khan, the owner of the restaurant, was extremely patient and happy to answer all my questions over my international call. ‘The Agra Biryani is more like a pulao and we cook the meat separately with spices,’ he said. It was a pakki biryani where both the meat and rice is cooked separately then arranged in successive layers and steamed, vis a vis a kaachhi biryani where both the raw meat and rice is cooked together. Mr Saifullah added further, that he was in this business for a long time and this is all they did. While The Mughal Durbar was just six months old, he owned another restaurant, The Silk Route, which was 27 years old. He handed me over to his chef, Mr Sunil Gurung who shared the elaborate method of preparation of the pulao, the kind of rice that is used and other finer details Hopefully I will be able to share the recipe with you all soon!

It cost us Rs 2500 for four persons (two gosht biryanis at Rs 450/plate, one mutton shahi korma at Rs 600/plate and one full portion murgh kadhai at Rs 500/plate, two naans, two sweet lassis at Rs 100/glass and a fresh lime soda at Rs 100/glass)

The Mughal Darbar
Phone: +91 9719002219
Address: 18/160A Purani Mandi, Opp. Kailash Movies, Tajganj
Open 8am – 11pm daily

The Silk Route
Phone: +91 5624002786
18-A/7-B, Fatehabad Rd, Bagichi, Tajganj
Open 8am – 10:30pm daily

Panchhi Petha
Panchhi Petha has become a trademark in Agra and you will find there are petha stores with the name Panchhi everywhere. A closer look will reveal something like ‘new’ or ‘real’ Panchhi Petha etc before the wordings Panchhi Petha. What is a petha? Petha is a translucent soft candy made from ash gourd, also known as winter melon or white pumpkin, or simply petha in Hindi. Although petha is said to have originated in the kitchens of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, it’s now reached the hearts and streets of Agra! In fact, pethas have a Geographical Indication (GI) label certifying their origin to Agra. Gaffar took us to the original store at Hariparwat crossing where we bought a few boxes of petha and dalmoths, the savoury snack, for gifting. Established in 1950 by the Late Shri Pancham Lal Goyal Ji, whose nickname was Panchhi, the pethas he made soon became a household name. Even today, the pethas at Panchhi Petha are made by highly skilled artisans or karigars under stringent quality control measures. According to Panchhi, “ash gourd is peeled and the seeds removed. It is then boiled in a sugar syrup, called chaashni, to create the translucent, almost clear sweet. Petha is usually flavoured with rose water. The water is then either drained, leaving a dry dish, or it is served or sold with some of the rose-flavored syrup that it has been prepared in. In the dry form, it can be packaged and has a fairly long shelf life, though it can also be canned with the syrup and sold around the world.” We tried the dry pethas, the original form of petha. They were sugar free that have been sweetened with honey. A variety of flavours were available at the store, for example, kesar petha, angoori petha, chocolate petha, pan petha, gulab petha, khus petha and more. Interestingly, pethas aren’t sold openly at the store but come packed in boxes due to governmental regulations on quality and hygiene and truly unlike other sweet shops, we actually didn’t find any flies hovering around the sweets inside the counters.

Phone: +91 562 404 1523
Mahatma Gandhi Rd, near Siddhivinayak Hospital, Hariparwat crossing
Open 10 am – 9:00 pm daily

 

Madhu Ice cream
You don’t want to miss out on this home grown icecream brand that has its origin in the city. You will find kiosks and colourful cycle-carts everywhere selling Agra’s famous Madhu Ice-Cream. Lil Z chose a regular chocolate flavour and when I tasted a spoonful, it was rich and creamy, much like the texture of rabdi. The magic of buffalo milk perhaps? We sat in a park bench by a busy road in Sadar Bazar, with no mood at all to capture any evidence! Set up in 1956 with only five available flavours, today it has more than 100 flavours, but no fresh fruit variety except the mango when in season. As this writeup in Upper Crust writes more … The Kapurs are originally a vegetarian Punjabi family of printers from Lahore. Arvind and his brother Madhukar are the fifth generation. Their father Harkishan Kapur introduced the family to the ice-cream business in 1956. Arvind tells the story: “We were vegetarians and all the ice-cream sold in Agra then contained eggs and gelatin. So Dad decided that we should make our own 100 per cent vegetarian ice-cream at home for the family and if there was any spillover, we would sell that. The initial investment was Rs. 30,000. Today, Madhu Ice-Cream is a Rs. 3 crore business. We supply ice-cream all over Agra and the periphery. Madhu Ice-Cream is available at all the big hotels in Agra, it is also sold in parlours here and in Jhansi, Aligarh, Gwalior, Ferozebad…”

Staying in Agra

Grand Imperial Heritage Hotel
My only reason for booking into this hotel is because I am very nostalgic and emotional about heritage buildings since my childhood was shaped by a heritage house in Kolkata. Grand Imperial Heritage Hotel is probably the only heritage hotel in Agra and had a colonial past that dated back to more than a century. The hotel boasted of a legacy of hosting luminaries such as Crown Prince of England, Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Vice Regal of India), Shah of Iran, Prince Aga Khan, Dr. Rajendra Prasad (President of India), Jawaharlal Nehru (Prime Minister of India), Jai Prakash Narayan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (founder and President of Pakistan) and many others. The arched corridors echoed the grandeur of a bygone era which was reinforced by high ceilings, thick walls made with Lahori biscuit bricks, intricate floral work on handmade floor tiles, beautifully adorned suites with four poster beds, antique furniture and prints of the late Raja Ravi Verma‘s paintings hung as tapestry or used in the upholstery. We booked into the Chamber of Princes, two spacious suites on the ground floor. While on one side they opened up onto a veranda overlooking a well manicured lawn of the hotel, its powder room cum anteroom opened onto the swimming pool and a backyard. Our stay here was very serene – we would relax on the rattan easy chairs in the veranda or snuggle into the traditional wood-crafted jhoola or swing in the evenings. Each of the Chamber of Princes suite was named after great kings and queens of India and one could almost feel the old world charm. We were living in suites named after the great kings Ashoka and Chandragupta Maurya! With only 15 suites on the ground floor and 15 garden facing deluxe rooms on the first floor, the property had an intimate feel. Again, chandeliers, period furniture and chequered tiles, Raja Ravi Varma prints lent an atmosphere in the all day dining restaurant Shahenshah that was elegant, rather than overwhelming. During the evenings the entire mood changed with a live performance of Indian classical music. My suggestion here would be to dine a la carte rather than opt for the standard buffets which although offered a lot of variety of dishes – both continental and Indian, lacked the Mughlai specialities. The breakfast buffet was elaborate but the  dish that will remain in my memory though, is the famous bedhai, also known as bedmi puri served with aloo sabzi, a gravy cooked with chunky potatoes. Bedhai is much like a kachori and made with a filling of urad dal. As the Dubai based recipe blogger Anjana explains in her blog, “In Banaras, Agra and Delhi you can find bedmi pooris which are made by mixing the lentil paste and spices with the flour and then it is rolled like pooris and deep fried.” While it’s a popular breakfast dish all over Agra and there are sweet shops like Deviram who are famous for its bedmi puris, the best ones are probably served by the kiosks by the roadside in each muhalla or locality. Traditionally accompanied by crispy jalebis, bedmi puris are a must have in Agra!

We booked through Booking.com and it cost us around Rs 15,600/night for each of the Chamber of Princes suite, inclusive of breakfast and misc taxes. We also spend an additional Rs 9,000/- towards F&B – buffet for three persons and an a la carte order on one instance and a bit of room service on another occasion. We reached Agra from Jaipur by road and the national highways were pretty impressive. Only registered tourist cars can take tourists and charges are roughly Rs 13/km, sometimes inclusive of toll charges.

Grand Imperial Heritage Hotel
Phone: +91 562 400 2781
2 / 107-A opposite DM Bungalow, Mahatma Gandhi Rd, Chhipitola, Rakabganj, Agra

Moving around in Agra

Heritage Tuk Tuk Agra
Agra is famous for its traffic, much like any other Indian city! The hotel staff suggested that we take tuktuks from a company called Heritage Tuk Tuk. From visiting the Taj Mahal at the crack of dawn until dropping us back to the hotel after our dinner at The Mughal Darar, with Agra fort and a shopping spree in Sadar Bazaar in between, these tuktuks became our very own national carriers. Gaffar Ali, the affable boss man, drove us around in his impeccably kept tuktuk. We flipped though newspapers or magazines stacked inside alongside some postcards of Agra. The postcards with various landmarks of the city acted as a reminder of the city’s grand legacy and also to pique a tourist’s curiosity in them. He arranged for an additional tuktuk as we were four of us, two tourists to one tuktuk. By his own admission, he seemed to be the Indian Johnny Vegas with a somewhat resemblance to the English actor and comedian. Like Vegas, Gaffar was full of humour and wit. He was our ‘googleman’ in Agra – he had answers (and opinions, mind you) for everything – what to eat, where to eat, what to shop, where to shop and so on. Two of Gaffar’s tuktuks were practically at our disposal the whole day and even the guide we hired for our sightseeing was on his referral. To cut short, do seek Gaffar’s tuktuks when in Agra and rest assured, you will be riding high through the city’s short cuts!

It cost us Rs 200/tuktuk for each of the roundtrips we made –  one from the hotel to Taj Mahal, then an afternoon trip to Agra Fort and Sadar Bazar; and finally a trip to Chaat Gali and The Mughal Darbar and back. The distance of all these places from our hotel ranged within 3kms-5kms.

Heritage Tuk Tuk
Phone: +91 9720930252

I vividly remember my first visit to Agra more than twenty-five years back. The first sight of Taj Mahal was surreal even at that time as it was this time too. The tranquility and the subtle rose scented corridors of Grand Imperial Heritage hotel, the warmth of Gaffar, the excitement of Chaat Gali, the fragrance of the Gosht Biryani at The Mughal Darbar, the loud cacophony of the city suddenly vanishing just as we stepped into the Taj premise, as if by a stroke of serendipity … I will remember every little detail from this trip. I’ve also set my intention to come back again to catch up on what we missed out on this visit… bedmi puris at Deviram, parathas at RambabuParathe Wale, jalebis at Shree Ji Sweets, chaats at Chaat Gali and most importantly, seeing the Taj Mahal on a clear full moon night!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Note: We planned our Agra trip such that we could visit Taj Mahal on a full moon night. The tickets for this special viewing is limited to 400 people and are available 24 hours one day before the night viewing of the Taj Mahal. Tourists are advised to contact their travel agent/hotel/tourist offices/Archaeological Survey of India. Inspite of contacting the hotel team at Grand Imperial Heritage Hotel since a long time, they couldn’t organise our tickets. Although the weather stood by us and proved to be cloudy that night, and as a result we slept off early and were ready for a spectacular viewing of the Taj Mahal at sunrise the following morning, this was a bit of a dampener in our otherwise genuinely memorable stay at the hotel. 

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all my bills have been self paid. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey oInstagramFacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Try these recipes from my blog:
Ananta in Oberoi Dubai | For The Love Of Galouti Kababs, Here’s The Royal Recipe
Kolkata Biryani | Cooking The Royal Dish In Lafayette Gourmet

Other reads:
Mughlai cuisine in India
A Brief History of Mughlai Food in Agra, India
Mughlai Cuisine | Wiki
 Food Safari: in search of Agra Petha
Mr. Nice Is A Scream!
+ Prakash Kulfi at Aminabad

What we ate in Lucknow – and still dreaming of

The belly rules the mind ∼ Spanish Proverb

Visiting Lucknow for a food trail had been on the top of Bearded Biker’s wish list – and mine. Finally, we made it to Lucknow alibi a night halt, before we could take the flight back to Dubai after an epic Jaipur-Agra trip. Lucknow’s alleys are still steeped in history and we knew that without seeing it’s architectural or cultural heritage was a sacrilege. In our defense, we’ve already set our intentions to come back to the city soon. This time however, our agenda was to eat. There are numerous popular food trails and food tour companies in Lucknow offering special itineraries that revolved around both street food as well as curated dining experiences at noble homes. In the latter, one could feast on authentic Awadhi recipes belonging to noble families that were passed down the generations. We decided to be on our own this time – a mini recce if you like. We were overwhelmed with information overload, thanks to whatsapp forwards from kind friends, specially my cousin sis who had also joined us with her family on our Jaipur segment. Every morsel that we ate, needed her approval. Thankfully, we made her proud!

Many of you may be aware, eating and cooking is more than just a passion in Lucknow. It’s a way of life. The city of Nawabs and their love for food transcended to the common people too. While Lucknowi kababs are legendary, the galawati or galauti kabab, the so called melt-in-the-mouth kababs are what legends are made of. The first galawatis were made for the ageing and toothless Nawab Asad-ud-Daula (1748 to 1797), heir of the great Siraj-ud-Daula. He was so fond of his kababs that his seasoned khansamas reinvented them with minced meat that was pounded to melting softness along with more than 150 spices going into them. Much later, the galawatis made by expert kabab maker Haji Mohammad Fakr-e-Alam Saheb or Tunday Kababi attained an iconic status when Nawab Wajid Ali Shah fell in love with the galawati  kababs and extended his royal patronage to the ‘Tunday Kababi’. Apparently, while perfecting the mixture for the galawat, Haji Ali fell off the roof and broke one of his arms. He carried on making galawatis unhindered with one arm and his shop became known as Tunday Kababi. Tasting the galawati kabab at Tunday Kababi was big on our Lucknow itinerary, the other one being the Lucknowi Biryani.

Talking of Biriyani, the only Biryani known to a Bengali is the Lucknowi Biryani. Or the Awadhi Biryani. For as legend (and history has it) and I have written in an earlier post… although the Awadhi cuisine has travelled far and wide, nowhere has it settled down strongly as in Kolkata. Mohammed Wajid Ali Shah Bahadur (1822 AD-1887 AD), the Nawab of the princely Indian state of Awadh or Oudh (modern day Lucknow), was a well-known food aficionado, a khadyo roshik as we say in Bengali. The Dum Pukht style of cooking was invented in this Nawab’s kitchen where the meat, rice or vegetables are covered and sealed in a copper or an earthen pot with a flavoured dough of flour, and everything is let to cook in its own juices on a very slow flame. Exotic nuts, herbs and aphrodisiacs went into these Nawabi dum pukht meals. In 1857 AD, when the Awadh kingdom was annexed by the British, the Nawab was exiled to Calcutta (today’s Kolkata). His passion for gourmet food travelled from Lucknow to Kolkata and was nurtured, garnished and fuelled by his special Bawarchis – the chefs of the Nawab. The Biryani that originated in Lucknow didn’t have potatoes in it. Subsequent economic downturn of the Nawab later led to the addition of potatoes in order to substitute meat and this began the tradition of the famous Kolkata Biryani – Biryani with potatoes in it and occasionally some eggs too. It is believed that only a handful of chefs with royal khansama or lineage knew the secrets to authentic Awadhi Cuisine and each Mughlai restaurant in Kolkata today claims to have one such gem working in their kitchen!

Biryani conjures up all things emotional. Most of our hangouts during our school and college days in Kolkata ended up with biryani followed by a drive to Scoop at the Outram Ghat for icecream. With the limited budget that we had, the most generous feast that we could manage was a packet of Special Biryani per person (also taking a few beers in account – Stroh’s cans in those days!), sometimes two packets for a gluttonous few, from Shiraz at Park Street. A special biryani got us a coveted potato and egg along with the fragrant biryani. Even to this day, when we visit Kolkata, we have to have at least one evening of “Dear Shiraz, we do!” One can argue that there are restaurants who make better biryani than Shiraz, but for us, it is Shiraz that takes us back to our childhood.

With one evening in our Lucknow itinerary, speed was of utmost importance. Considering that Lucknow traffic had quite a name, we booked into a hotel near Hajratgunj so that it was easy to navigate between the older parts of the city which had most of the eating joints and MG Road which would take us to the airport the next day. We zeroed in on two of the most recommended joints – Idrees Biryani and Tunday Kababi. We decided that if we had to fit another one in this list, that would be only at a later stage, depending upon tummy storage!

Idrees Biryani in Lucknow

Idrees Biryani
A visit to Idrees was on my cousin sis’ recommendation and we are so glad that we did. Already a veteran on Lucknow eats, she warned us that the eatery was small, crowded and perhaps not fit enough to sit there and eat. Located in the historic Chawk area, Idrees is supposed to shut shop as early as 7 pm. The Biryani got over very quickly. We panicked as it was already 6:30 pm, but our driver suggested that we take a chance. People queued endlessly to pick up biryani from the eatery – literally a hole in the wall. The restaurant was founded by Mohammad Idris in 1968 and is now managed by his sons. One of the sons (above left) sat behind the big vessel or degh containing biryani and was busy filling up take-away boxes. When asked how many people ate at Idrees daily, he replied, “Wo to maloom nehi/I don’t have an estimate for that”. He shared that they cooked around 18-20 deghs daily with each degh taking a preparation time of as long as 3 to 4 hours. The biryani was slow cooked in the degh on chulla or open fire using stone coal, on the street itself. As we approached inside, we felt the heat emanating from one such chulla that had already been abandoned. Fresh rotis were being made by the side of the eatery in open tanours. The aroma of the Biryani hit us so hard that there was no going back to the car with packed biryani packets. The Z-Sisters strutted behind me as I urged the Bearded Biker to make some space in the sitting area. There were two tables inside, one table could sit upto eight persons – four one side and four on the other. The second table faced a green wall and could sit another four people. The manager cum waiter cum usherer cum senior staff welcomed us and once inside, the four of us somehow squeezed in and fit perfectly. It seemed like we were dining out together as a family in a roadside supper club of sorts, along with other strangers. The cacophony of loud banters, squealing car horns created a perfect backdrop to the orders being screamed out to the kitchen staff. A colourful printout of the menu was splashed across the wall. There were only a few dishes that one could choose from – a mutton biryani (either a half portion or a full portion), mutton korma, mutton stew, chicken korma and three kinds of breads – sheermal, kulcha and rumali roti. We ordered two half portions of mutton biryani and two mutton kormas between the four of us, keeping in mind that this was our first stop. A maximum wait of five minutes and the food had already arrived on the table. The staff insisted that we try some kulcha but we needed to prioritise. No adjective can be adequate enough to define the Biryani we tasted at Idrees – each grain of rice distinct, cooked perfectly with its flavour intact, and the pieces of meat falling off gently from the bones as we touched. The level of greasiness was perfect and seemed to caress our fingers. I looked around and discovered two bags of Basmati rice on the shelf, under the brand named Zaika. The mutton korma was delicious too with a light gravy which was spicy, but not hot. As for most popular restaurant recipes, secret ingredients went into the biryani here too that the staff didn’t divulge. ‘Special Awadhi spices’, along with milk and saffron. “That’s all”, he said and that was the end of our conversation as I was left licking my fingers!

It cost us Rs 500 for four persons (2 half mutton biryanis at Rs 120/plate and two mutton kormas at Rs 110/plate).

Idrees Biryani
+91 9415093727
Raja Bazar, Chowk, Lucknow
12noon – 3pm, 6pm – 8:15pm

Mutton Biryani at Idrees Biryani in Lucknow

Eating at Idrees Biryani in Lucknow

The legendary Tunday Kababi
This one name – Tunday Kababi conjures up the best kababs of Lucknow, specially the galawati. The original eatery is located in Chawk behind Akbari Gate in Old Lucknow and was set up by Haji in 1905. It still serves galawati kababs made only from the traditional water buffalo meat and ulte tawa ka paratha – paratha made on the inverted griddle. A branch in Aminabad was set up in 1996 by Haji’s grandsons and served lamb galawati and other Mughlai dishes which helped the brand to reach out to a wider audience. This Aminabad branch has now expanded to three storeys, with the basement itself hosting more than 100 covers. I was told that Aminabad was so crowded that cars won’t be able to reach the restaurant, while only a rickety rickshaw could take one to the Tunday Kababi in the chawk. I’m not too sure of the route that our driver took, but it took us less than five minutes to walk to the restaurant from where he parked the car. The façade of the restaurant wasn’t fancy but was extremely busy, with multiple takeaways being organised simultaneously. As we entered the restaurant, it was apparent that the space inside had expanded organically with whatever space seemed to have been available from neighbouring structures. Photographs of celebrities – Bollywood film stars and cricketers alike, and who have eaten in Tunday Kababi hung on the entrance wall as brilliant testimonials. As we settled down at our table, we realised that most diners, like us, had travelled from far and wide. We were attended by a Bengali staff and soon realised that there were lots of Bengalis working here. Most of them seemed to come from Mushirdabad district in Bengal. The restaurant buzzed and we were told that being a Thursday, it was actually less busy than other nights as some Hindu diners refrained from eating non-vegetarian on Thursdays. There were more than 150 people in the kitchen team, three-fourth of the staff strength tending only to the huge number of daily takeaways.

At Tunday Kababi too, our food arrived as soon as we placed our order – four plates of galawati kababs with mughlai parathas, lachcha paratha, sheermal, followed by Mutton Biryani. This was the moment we had waited for. The kababs were intense in their after smoked aroma and truly melted in the mouth, while the parathas were crisp and beautifully flaky. I was taking my time to savour each bite, also speak our attendant as I wanted to know more. Even today, the spice mix going into the kababs is a guarded family secret and prepared by the women in the family. The only thing that we learnt, not surprisingly was that the kababs were cooked in ghee using the famous dum technique. The Mutton Biryani was brilliant too but didn’t come close to the Biryani we had tasted at Idrees earlier. It definitely wasn’t the case of law of diminishing returns either. In fact, we found our girth to be more elastic than we had originally thought, and adjusted by itself to accommodate any additional morsel. The interesting thing that we learnt was that the original Tunday Kababi at the chawk served paranthas and kebabs at very modest prices so that the food that was once confined to the royal kitchens of the nawabs could also be available to every diner who visits!

It cost us Rs 600 for four persons (2 half mutton biryanis at Rs 120/plate; 4 mughlai parathas; 1 sheermal, 1 laccha paratha, 4 portions of buffalo galawati kababs at Rs 44/plate)

Tunday Kababi
+91 522 262 2786
No.168/6, Old Nazirabad Rd, Beside St.Marry Inter College, Khayali Ganj, Aminabad
Open 11am until 11pm, daily

Eating at Tunday Kabab in Aminabad

Prakash Kulfi
A few hundred steps away from Tunday Kababi was a small kulfi shop called Prakash Kulfi, a recommendation from the hotel team. “Prakash ki mashhoor kulfi/the famous kulfi from Prakash”, read the board of the shop which barely had five to six tables. Prakash Kulfi was started by Late Shree Prakash Chandara Arora in 1965 and currently his sons and grandsons run the business. Although the menu card now offered a variety of flavoured kulfis like chocolate, strawberry, butterscotch etc, the bestseller is still the traditional Kesar Pista. The kulfi is served either in stick or in a plate with falooda. We opted for the latter, and a plate came with a generous portion of kulfi – a palm sized block that could easily be shared between two persons. The kulfi was creamy, nutty and tasted more like a dense kheer. Although I’m not really a fan of falooda, the traditional vermicelli noodles at Prakash Kulfi won my heart. The noodles here weren’t soaking in a dense sugar syrup, instead chilled rose flavoured falooda was served almost plain, semi-draping the kulfi. At Rs 60 per plate, it was the perfect culinary souvenir to compliment the romance of kababs and biryanis of Lucknow.

It cost us Rs 120 for two portions of Kulfi

Prakash Kulfi
+91 9415083536/+91 9415083536
2/432, Vivek Khand Gomati Nagar/ Mohan Market, Khayali Ganj, Aminabad/ Santoshi Mata Mandir Crossing, Chawk
Open 9am until 9pm, daily

Kesar Pista Kulfi at Prakash Kulfi in Lucknow

We came back to the hotel satiated, yet felt a strange emptiness with the knowledge that we would be leaving the next morning without tasting a few other famous kababs that Lucknow served – Kakori Kebabs, Shami Kebabs, Boti Kebabs, Ghutwa Kebabs, Seekh Kebabs etc. In the meanwhile, my sis insisted that we call up Dastarkhawan in Lal Bagh the next morning, requesting them to keep some ulte tawa ke parathe and galawati kawabs ready to take back home. She refused to give in that we had an international flight to catch at 2 pm while the restaurant opened only after 12 pm. We are back in Dubai for more than a week now and I just received her whatsapp… “did you all go to the real Tunday in Aminabad? It’s very congested and cars can’t go there at all. Are you sure you didn’t go to the one that’s in the Chawk, near Idrees…. .” I sent her pictures as evidences, zooming in on addresses written on shop-boards and headers from Aminabad area. I’m happy to share with you all that I’ve just received a thumbs up emoji from her. Yes, we did ‘eat’ right in Lucknow!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Note: Some of the older parts of the city aren’t accessible to cars, so taking a rickshaw or walking are more convenient options. If you hire a car with a driver, do make sure he’s an expert on Lucknow roads and knows where to park if you intend to eat at these well known old eateries. Also, most places don’t take credit cards and have cash only policy. I must mention here that the national highways and the new expressways built in the last few years are incredible – we came to Lucknow from Agra by road and there are registered tourist cars which ply. Charges are roughly Rs 13/km, sometimes inclusive of toll charges. Lastly, we were flying out of Lucknow International Airport and we didn’t spot even a basic convenient store which sold water, leave aside any light bites. Both the check-in and immigration lines were long and took enormous amount of time… may have been just one-off days. So I would suggest that you keep adequate time in hand… and a few ulte tawa ke parathe and galawati kawabs packed beforehand, if you can!

Edited below: Such is Bearded Biker’s love for Galouti Kababs, that one of his close friends who hails from Lucknow, gifted him some galoutis and lacchha parathas packed from the original Tunday Kababi! Don’t miss the packing – they came all the way from Lucknow. What an incredibly delicious gift idea… it simply requires sufficient freezing if they are ,meant to travel distance and undertake long haul flights.

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all my bills have been self paid. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey oInstagramFacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Try these recipes from my blog:
Ananta in Oberoi Dubai |The royal recipe of Galouti Kababs
Kolkata Biryani | Cooking The Royal Dish In Lafayette Gourmet

Other reads:
History of Lucknow food
Curated dining at Mahmudabad house
How the galouti kebab assumed mythic proportions in the City of Nawabs, Lucknow
Prakash Ki Kulfi
+ A curated menu at Bab al Bahr terrace in Ajman Saray

An epicurean weekend escape in the UAE

Epicurean

/ˌɛpɪkjʊ(ə)ˈriːən/
noun
a person devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that is derived from fine food and drink.
Note: Article mentions alcohol

In the city

A luxury weekend getaway across three different locales in the UAE, a promise of an epicurean treat inspired by and curated for each locale – and my suitcase was packed in a jiffy! Do read my experience in this three-part post in FoodeMag with a short video that captures the entire journey. Having lived in Dubai for two decades, I have aligned myself completely to the pulsating rhythm of the city. Every now and then, a small escape from its urban landscape revitalises the mind and body – even if it is an unplanned drive away to another emirate, an impromptu lunch halt at a small roadside cafeteria or buying fruits and vegetables from a vendor tucked away at an exit by the highway. Only this time, it wasn’t that random, or casual. We were invited to be the first ones to experience an itinerary, meticulously planned and curated by Samantha Wood, founder of the restaurant review website www.foodiva.net and co-hosted by The Luxury Collection. Big Z joined me as my plus one on the second night and the entire trip gave me a great chance to exchange notes on two of my greatest passions – namely food and travel with some of my friends from the blogging and media fraternity. Checking into my luxurious room in Grosvenor House on the first night, brought back nostalgic memories of JBR, a neighbourhood which we had moved out from in 2015, after living there for six long glorious years. There can be no denying that the marina and the sea have different vibrations altogether, irrespective of all its new developments. It felt like I had come back home.

The view of the sunset and the cool sea breeze hit me afresh as I walked into the terrace of Siddartha Lounge, our first meeting point for a formal initiation along with bubblies as sundowners and delicious canapés. The beauty of a curated ‘dine around’ such as this one was that one got to mingle with like-minded guests – food connoisseurs, editors and influencers in our case. Not to mention the casual interaction with chefs of stature such as Gary Rhodes or Vineet Bhatia. Both of them soon led us later in the evening as we dined in their respective signature restaurants. At Vineet’s restaurant Indego by Vineet, the celebrity chef shared how he conceptualised Indian street snacks into their fine dining avatars – for example, papdi and dahi bhalla coming together in the disguise of an ice-cream. ‘Unapologetically Indian. Uncompromisingly Indian’ – is how Vineet described himself and that’s exactly what we got to taste that evening. Vineet is a social media star himself, his style exuding an uber cool attitude – be it for his fluorescent green frames or vermillion pants. My first interaction with Vineet was through his Instagram feed many years back and I had landed up at Indego (on his invite, of course) for a hot cuppa of masala chai, much before the restaurant opening hours. Those days, I was quite sceptical to dine at Indego, because I was going through a phase of denying all Indian restaurants – fine dining or otherwise, that served butter chicken on the menu and displayed velvety cushions and brass statues of Indian deities (in Indego, it was the multiple Natarajas). I had been on a two months road trip in the US the previous year and every Indian restaurant that I visited displayed velvety cushions and brass deities as their decor statement. I am definitely not the kind of traveller who looks for Indian food wherever I travel. So can I just mention here that I was forced to visit these restaurants, courtesy friends who waited for me to land up, so that they could show off and dig into some desi restaurants! Coming back to the topic, once I tried Indego’s weekend brunch and sampled a few dishes, I was gobsmacked enough to list Indego as one of the top fine dining Indian restaurants of Dubai in GQ India. Lately, I have also been following Vineet’s journey where he trekked upto the Everest Base Camp with his pots and pantry to cook and raised funds for charity. He is quite an inspiration indeed for many of us.

After Indego, we moved to Rhodes W1, where the menu created by Gary was not only classy but also exuded the charm of homey comfort food. Both the pan-fried salmon – flaky and delicate, served with a creamy spring onion risotto and the slow cooked braised beef vied for my attention along with all the vegetarian dishes served. While this was my first visit to Gary’s restaurant, it wasn’t my first experience of his food. Two years back, I had the fortune of attending a milestone birthday celebration of someone, who happened to be one of Gary’s closest friend. The menu was created specially by Gary where he literally cooked his heart out for his pal. Every course for that gorgeous sit-down dinner was exceptional. What I love about chefs like Vineet or Gary and I have seen the same with many celebrity chefs excepting Gordon Ramsay (but then, Gordon is Gordon is more like a Hollywood celebrity than a chef with bouncers and security hovering around him!), that their celebrity statuses don’t interfere with the very purpose these chefs were celebrated for – their cooking. These chefs were totally hands on, engaged in the nitty-gritties of the preparation of dishes that were being served for the night, checking on the taste, the presentation, signing off the final garnish etc. Evenings like these made the guests feel really special – as if they personally knew the chefs! Our final destination Buddha Bar was a testimony to the frenzy that percolates at popular Dubai nightspots such as these. A session of mixology later, we were sat around a table filled with a crazy line up of desserts – chocolate bowls placed in the centre that one could break, tarts and millefeuille, edible canvases to paint on with edible paints etc. The evening ended on an extreme sugar high, drama and excitement and proved that we all were children at heart eternally. Desserts brought an extreme sense of satisfaction and joy to most of us, along with megatons of guilt!

By the water & sea

You may wonder (like me), how a morning of kayaking fit into our epicurean itinerary? I’m so glad that it did actually, an intermission before the non-stop eating sojourn that awaited us in the next twenty-four hours. As we stood in the tallest mangroves in the UAE – Al Zohra Nature Reserve, an expert team from Quest for Adventure briefed us on the basics of manoeuvring our kayaks. Big Z and I boarded a twin kayak and although we were supposed to be sharing the paddling load, I was the one to do the honour. Talk about mama duty, even on a press trip! It was a memorable morning with blue skies, soft breeze and a lot of learning about the national reserve and the mangroves. An hour of paddling in and out of the lagoon amidst the mangroves made me feel like I had already conquered the world and there is more to the UAE than the glorious sand, beaches and desert. We now truly deserved our awaiting feast!

A feast indeed awaited us at Ajman Saray, a beach property of The Luxury Collection. Dibba Bay Oysters, a local farm engaged in sustainable oyster farming, set up an oyster pop up by the sea. An oyster menu with curated recipes offered a variety that ranged from raw oysters to flavoured ones. This was the first collaboration for the brand with a luxury hotel to host such an unique pop-up and we learnt that there plans to set up similar pop ups over this season at various locales. The oysters that we tasted that afternoon were brilliant, a nostalgic remembrance of a similar oyster session we had long time ago. I vividly remember the hot afternoon at a picturesque fishing town called Sausalito, located off the Golden Gate in San Fransisco. Switching back to present time, later in the afternoon, we moved to the Bab al Bahr rooftop for a barbecue lunch. The entire ambiance had a celebratory vibe – fresh flower arrangements on a long table, freshly made breads and dips, locally sourced seafood… including one of my obsessions – jumbo prawns. The only regret is that we couldn’t savour the specially crafted desserts at leisure; we had to dash off to catch up with our event-filled itinerary.

In the desert

This is one the few resorts in the UAE that may be termed as a complete travel destination. I have been to Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa a couple of times at various times of the day and on various occasions – lunches, sundowners, picnic under the stars etc. I remember my first visit to Al Maha – a tweetup during my earlier days of blogging. The FoodeMag #BringBackBalance event that we held here is also very special to me. The menu was specially curated by Chef Peter Sebby who created a few special recipes exclusive for our event. One such special recipe for a welcome drink made with avocado and mangoes delighted us on our visit this time. This was my first stay at the boutique resort nestled amidst shifting dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. The only reason we hadn’t considered staying here yet (personally as a family) was because their guest policy didn’t allow children below ten years in the property which had a lot of wildlife. Understandably so, for Lil Z did create quite a raucous once when she saw an ostrich peep into our vehicle on a safari while staying in this precious island property. Lil Z just completed ten last week and I can now consider booking into Al Maha with the family. The experience of staying here is quite a magical experience, from watching a new dawn breaking out of its slumber in the reflection of your very own private pool to being greeted by desert gazelles walking upto your front door. Our bedouin suite opened into a wooden deck and a pool, ensconced in a bed of lush foliage. This was our haven of an oasis in the midst of a desert reserve where we would soon make memories that would last us a lifetime. We missed out on the sundowner picnic, which I have had the fortune of booking into once, and is quite an experience. This was more than compensated by a barbecue dinner and dining under the stars.

The early morning was reserved for a falconry experience at the desert ground, a few hundred feet away from the main lobby. We sat on wooden seats, arranged in the the manner of a quarter-circle. The falcons and a desert owl performed like total divas, swerving into their flights once the expert guides swung their lures. After breakfast, a wildlife drive in a 4×4 Landcruiser through the magnificent desert reserve revealed the true beauty and the significance of the luxury eco resort. Al Maha is truly special and the way it has been working in conjunction with conservation experts in protecting the surrounding eco-system. The beauty and the calmness of the reserve permeated all my pores and lingered on even after our car hit the main highway after our farewell lunch on the terrace of Al Diwaan restaurant. Alas, we all had to return to our respective busy city lives. One thing that was reassuring amidst all this was… an oasis of tranquility in the desert haven lay very close by – a mere 45 minutes drive away from the hustle-bustle of Dubai!

This epicurean trip was truly special – three contrasting locales with different culinary itineraries. It’s a fact that when Samantha curates something, it’s always very special. I have travelled to Jordan earlier on her curated itinerary that had been so inspiring that I took my family back the very next year following the same itinerary. While occasional weekend escapes are necessary to rejuvenate, escapes like these makes one addicted to escapes. Hey, its kind of good to be an escapist then, do stay tuned for more – there’s so much to explore in the UAE!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

amantha Wood, the founder of the restaurant review website www.foodiva.net

Disclaimer: My plus one and I were hosted guests of Samantha Wood (above left), the founder of the restaurant review website www.foodiva.net, and The Luxury Collection, Marriott International’s luxury brand portfolio. All images have been taken by me, unless otherwise stated. There aren’t any affiliated links in this post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Please join me on my daily food and travel journey on InstagramFacebookTwitter and Pinterest

For more info, visit the following websites:
Siddharta Lounge by Buddha Bar, Dubai
Indego By Vineet
Rhodes W1
Buddha Bar Dubai
Grosvenor House, A Luxury Collection Hotel
Quest for Adventure
Al Zohra Nature Reserve
Dibba Bay Osyter
Ajman Saray
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

OTHER READS
An Epicurean Journey in the UAE with Foodiva and The Luxury Collection - FoodeMag
 Perfect peace in the dunes: Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa – My Custard Pie
An idyllic luxury stay at Al Maha Resort – Dubai Confidential
Kayaking within the mangroves of Al Zorah Reserve – Dubai Confidential
 Is it time for a UAE Michelin Guide? - The National

WATCH VIDEO
An Epicurean Journey in the UAE with Foodiva and The Luxury Collection – FoodeMag Youtube

IG STORIES
Instagram stories Highlights – IshitaUnblogged
+ Kogel-Mogel, a traditional dessert with seasonal fruits baked in egg yolk and sugar

Farmers’ Market, Picnic in Krakow and a Kogel Mogel recipe

‘I hear the world is beautiful’ – said the blind man. ‘So they say’ – replied the seeing one.

The above quote is from Stanisław Jerzy Lec’s Unkempt Thoughts. Published in 1957, it is considered to be one of the most quoted Polish books.

Farmers’ Market and a Cracovian Picnic

Our travel itineraries always focus heavily on food – where and what to eat, learn to cook regional specialities, visit local markets, and meet people who talk and work on food (and drinks). Poland was in no way different. Our nine-days long Poland trip was packed and our initiation to Polish food was in Krakow. Krakow is known as a historic city and it will soon be on the global map of gastronomy. In June 2018, it was formally announced that Krakow was the first recipient of the title – European Capital of Gastronomic Culture for 2019, bestowed by the European Gastronomic Academy. From what we saw, there was definitely a wave of resurgence to learn about the history of Polish food – an emotion that had been wiped out during the greater part of the communist rule. There was also a new-found pride amongst the Polish people (definitely amongst all those new generation chefs we met on our trip) in re-discovering and experimenting with regional recipes, seasonal produce, local ingredients, and an utmost urgency to share with the outside world, the richness of Polish cuisine. Debbie, my co-partner in FoodeMag (above left) and I were guests in Poland and we immersed ourselves gladly into learning and exploring everything culinary that Poland had to offer. Our trip was curated by Monica Kucia (below), a popular food writer and organiser of events on Polish cuisine. It kickstarted with a visit to the Targ Pietruszkowy farmers’ market. The market takes place on weekends at Plac Niepodległości, and sells fresh, organic, natural and pesticide-free products produced by food producers who are located within an approx. 150km around Krakow. We bought fresh herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables from the main market, and a variety of cheeses including the legendary smoked cheese made from salted sheep milk – Oscypek or Oszczypek (the last image in the series below), from the underground market in the square. We were headed to restauranteur and activist Katarzyna Pilitowska’s home for an interactive cooking session followed by lunch. A small deliberate detour took us to the weekend community picnic in Bednarski park, PiknikKrakowski. Kasia (Katarzyna) also organised this social event and it gave us a glimpse to the city’s evolving culinary scene. In this case, the homegrown food concepts via food trucks, stalls and popups. 

Monica Kucia, a popular food writer and organiser of events on Polish cuisine

Targ Pietruszkowy farmers’ market in Plac Niepodległości

Targ Pietruszkowy farmers’ market in Plac Niepodległości

Targ Pietruszkowy farmers’ market in Plac Niepodległości

Targ Pietruszkowy farmers’ market in Plac Niepodległości

The legendary Oscypek or Oszczypek sold at the underground market at Targ Pietruszkowy

Cooking class and lunch in a Polish home

Kasia’s home was a twenty-minute walk from Bednarski park, some of it along the beautiful river Vistula. We crossed a few green parks and lots of flower decked windows. The Polish summer was in full glory and both the flora and the fauna flaunted it! Located in the Kazimierz or the Jewish district, Kasia’s apartment was homely, warm and beautiful. Black and white framed portraits of the family hung on the wall, and a hammock complemented a cheerful flower-printed wallpaper on one wall. Just across the street stood Ranny Ptaszek, an all-day breakfast eatery run by Kasia and her partner Bartłomiej Suder where we lunched the following day. With slow jazz drifting along and our glasses filled with Polish wines, we were ready to cook with Kasia. The menu (shown below) showcased some seasonal and vegetarian Polish dishes, breaking the myth that Polish food was all meat! Our lunch consisted of a Salad with tomatoes, redcurrant, herbs, lettuce, Bunz (sheep’s cheese) and oil; Mizeria, a traditional Polish salad with grated cucumber, sugar, wine vinegar, sour cream, oil, dill and garlic; Cottage Cheese with honey and mint; Green beans in tomatoes and herbs; Young cabbage with dill; and some cheeses to be had with homemade berry compotes. A dessert of seasonal fruits baked in Kogel Mogel (egg yolk and sugar) signed off this brilliant lunch. Kogel Mogel is a traditional dessert made with egg yolks, sugar and flavourings such as honey, vanilla, cocoa or rum etc. Kasia added her own twist to it, with a drizzle of lavender syrup bought that day from the farmers’ market. Here’s our lunch story followed by the dessert recipe as shared by Kasia. 

Summer flowers blooming in the windows in Krakow

Chef, restauranteur and activist Katarzyna Pilitowska's beautiful apartment in Augustiańska 4/5 str, Krakow

Katarzyna Pilitowska or Kasia cooking our lunch

Our lunch menu of a Summer Breakfast Menu at Katarzyna Pilitowska's apartment

Mizeria: a Polish salad made with cucumbers

   

Kogel Mogel 

Have you come across any dessert that sounds as pretty as this? Kogel Mogel is a dessert that is popular in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in Caucasus. It is very similar to a thickened eggnogg and can be made with or without alcohol. Historically, the dish can be traced to the 17th-century Jewish communities in Central Europe. It gained popularity during the Communist era of the 1980s when the availability of sweets became a challenge. So what are the other cute names that Kogel Mogel is known as, around the world? Google it … and you will find hug-mug or hugger-mugger in English, Kuddelmuddel in German, gogol-mogol in Russian,gogle-mogle in Yiddish etc! [info courtesy: wiki]

Kogel-mogel dessert

Seasonal Fruits baked in a Kogel Mogel

  • Servings: 3
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category – Dessert; Cuisine type – Central/ Eastern European, Caucasian 

Ingredients

250 g seasonal fruit (raspberries, blackberries, cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, rhubarb)

4 egg yolks

4 tbsp of sugar

1 bag of vanilla sugar (like Dr Oetkar’s, approx 3tsp)

lavender syrup

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180ºc 
  • Whisk egg yolks with sugar until creamy and white
  • Add vanilla sugar into the fruit mix and place them in three small baking cups
  • Pour the kogel mogel – the egg yolk and sugar mixture over the fruit mix and bake for 10 minutes
  • Drizzle lavender syrup on top of the kogel mogel and serve hot

*A recipe from Kasia

Krakow is a relatively undiscovered gem when compared to other European cities

Krakow was a revelation – old world charm combined with buzzing modern day vibe. In fact, Poland was a revelation for all of us and demands a revisit. Krakow is easily accessible too, a stone’s throw away from Dubai. Okay, a rock’s throw away, with a six hour flight by FlyDubai, in it’s recently launched route. My next few posts will unfold simple Polish recipes that we picked up on our trip, our interactions with the chefs and the people we met in Poland… and of course, a detailed week-long culinary guide on Poland. Enjoy watching our video on Poland, and please subscribe to FoodeMag on YouTube for more. And do stay tuned!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Krajowy Osderek Wsparcia Rolnictwa (the National Support Centre for Agriculture in Poland), Poland Tastes Good and the Krakow Municipality with the mission to learn and share about Poland and its food, cuisine, culture and culinary traditions. For more info on Krakow, visit www.kowr.gov.pl. There aren’t any affiliated links in this post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Please join me on my daily food and travel journey on InstagramFacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

OTHER READS
Where to eat in Krakow?
Farmers Market, Cooking Class, Modern Eateries - foodemag.com
Heritage and traditional Polish Food - foodemag.com
Regional specialities and a trip to the local trout farm - foodemag.com
Six Essential Food experiences in Krakow - coffeecakesandrunning.com

What to see in Krakow Best attractions in Krakow, Poland - sana.ae

Why Krakow? Krakow - city of gastronomy - inyourpocket.com

WATCH VIDEO
A week long culinary trip to Poland - FoodeMag YouTube

+ Traditional Bengali Meal thali to celebrate Bengali New Year

Shubho Noboborsho | A traditional Bengali menu for Frying Pan Diaries podcast

Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark ∼ Tagore

Shubho Noboborsho! As we celebrate our Bengali new year 1425, here’s wishing others who are celebrating their new year too… Vaishakhi in Punjab and North India, Vishu in Kerala, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Bihu in Assam and more. Whether you are a Bengali or not, Indian or not, celebrating a new year or not… I pray that each day we wake up to, is a day worth celebrating. For, every new ‘day’ is ushered by a new dawn filled with hope and new possibilities.

Arva and Farida Ahmed of Frying Pan Adventures come home to do their podcast on Bengali food

Yes, every now and then we wake up to some shocking news and shaken up by images of unfortunate events happening in different parts of the world. Sadly, they always seem to belong to someone else’s world and not ours, until the dreadful happens to our near and dear ones. I feel so helpless as my belief in humanity is shaken. And then the above words of Tagore, ‘Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark’, drills faith back into me. I suddenly remember the Georgian grandmas from our recent trip to Georgia – complete strangers to me, holding and hugging me, and feeding us morsels cooked in love. My faith in humanity is immediately restored. My belief is reinforced that as long as there is food cooked by human hands combining the ingredients of love, and connects people… there is hope. I see that hope everyday in my kitchen when Lady M and I discuss the menu of the day. I see the same love while planning the weekly grocery with the Bearded Biker. I remember how my childhood is now secured in the treasure trove of fuzzy warm memories and delicious aromas of my ma and grandmothers’ cooking. Special dishes for celebrating festivities and special occasions remain etched in my mind still. After marriage, the same continued as my shashuri/ma-in-law strived to make every mealtime for us a special one. And if a guest happened to visit us, heaven save them. Atithi Devo Bhava treating the guest as Godis something that we have imbibed from the time we were in the womb!

The Frying Pan Diaries Podcast on Bengali Food with Ishita B Saha

Coming back to the good things happening in this world, when the brilliant sister duo Arva and Farida Ahmed from Frying Pan Adventures, Dubai’s first food tour company (I have walked a lot with them in the alleys of Dubai and Sharjah… with the primary objective of eating of course!) wanted to make a podcast in their Frying Pan Diaries on Bengali food, I thought the best venue would be my home – we could sit around our infamously small but famously food-overloaded instagram worthy dining table… and taste the food too. What will be my menu? The last time I opened my Bengali kitchen for a media preview to Dima Sharif, it was a traditional Bengali menu. But the dilemma I always feel here is this… how many dishes should be included or rather safely excluded so that a person who’s non-initiated to Bengali food gets an elaborately fair idea about the richness of Bengali cuisine? Eventually, I managed to pin down a menu of a sort. The podcast is genuinely beautiful as it delicately weaves through the episode through what we tasted … from Shukto to Dhokar Dalna, Jhurjhure Aloo Bhaja, Cholar Daal, LuchiMurighonto…. Shorshebata, chingrimaacher Malaikari… Kasha Mangsho … Mishti doi and Notun Gurer Rasgolla. My ma’s Rabindra Sangeet in the background track… Rupé today bhulabo na… adds ups the emotional quotient. Although I have spoken about Bengali food many times over on radio, curated Bengali menus for a few special pop ups (at Bookmuch and once at Rang Mahal with Atul Kochhar), I have never felt so complete, sounded so confident or been so happy listening to myself. That may have to do with the fact that the Bengali tigress in me was caught in her own territory – in my own kitchen, talking about my Bengali food to the two sisters who I am very fond of, and who constantly remind me of my own daughters – the Z-Sisters. The passion with which they are pursuing a food business resonates my own passion, specially the urge to speak in an honest voice – notoriously delicious – as I read them mentioning me somewhere!

My menu planning when we have guests at home depends upon two factors – the occasion and the nationalities of the guests. For example, if the occasion is our annual Bijoya celebration, without any doubt I will be making a very traditional Bengali fare. The occasional culinary experiments inspired by our travels are mostly offloaded onto my family and close Bengali friends. But if a guest is a non-Bengali or a non-Indian, the menu tends to be pretty much a summarised CV from my encyclopaedia of Bengali food. There is also always an expectation of a few popular Bengali dishes like Shorshebata maach or the Mishti Doi. Moreover, my frequent behind-the-scene instastories result in friends and guests requesting for some dishes that they may have seen in my instastories… for example, the Kolkata street-style Aloor Dom that I like to serve as a Starter or the Middle Eastern inspired Begun Bhaja, the fried eggplant with yoghurt and fried garlic (picture below). When we lived in Germany, the menu for my German friends would be quite different – I always added a twist to the Bengali recipes that I was learning to cook, as those were my initial days of my foray into cooking Bengali food. The German Kartoffel Purée, thus, would acquired the Bengali status of Aloo Bhaaté, the mashed potato with a twist of fresh grated coconut, a tempering of mustard seeds and a dash of Kashundi. Or say, my phenomenally successful dessert Shondesh Pudding – a fusion recipe of traditional Shondesh and the cream caramel. No such menu trials for my guests nowadays as I have realised that I want to introduce or present them with authentic Bengali food, specially when they are tasting it for the very first time.