+ 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 a 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 Kabab
+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!

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:
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.

আমি রূপে তোমায় ভোলাব না, ভালোবাসায় ভোলাব।

I shall not entice you with my beauty, but with my love ∼ Tagore

Ma’s rendition of the above Tagore song weaves through the podcast and brings back so much of nostalgia. Do listen to the full track here and let me know how you liked it. And this was the menu for the day… if you are a Bengali reading this, I hope that I did justice to the representation of the vast repertoire of our Bengali cuisine.

Shukto, the Bengali ratatouille as I like to call it, served with shada bhaat, or plain white rice
• Dhokar Dalna, Lentil cakes cooked in gravy
Begun Bhaja with Middle Eastern Twist, fried eggplant with yoghurt dip and fried garlic (sometimes I also garnish the dish with pomegranates and sprinkle of sumac)
Jhurjhure Aloo Bhaja, fried julienne potatoes
Cholar Dal, chana or Bengal Gram dal with coconut
Moong Daal with fish head
Moori Ghonto – rice cooked with fish head
Chingri Maacher Malaikari, the sweet water Tiger Prawn cooked in a coconut gravy
Shorshebata Salmon, mustard salmon. Usually, this preparation is done with the extremely boney Hilsa fish, but I use salmon as there are less bones
• Kosha Mangsho, slow cooked lamb, although back home, this preparation will use goat
Tomato Chutney with dates and raisin.

Desserts:
Bhapa Mishti Doi or steamed sweet yoghurt
Notun Gurer Roshogolla – rasgulla filled with season fresh jaggery


Shukto


Begun Bhaja


Chingri Maacher Malaikari


Shorshebata Salmon

Bengali Tomato Chutney
Bengali Tomato Chutney

Arva and Farida Ahmed from Frying Pan Adventures at home

Do listen to the Frying Pan Diaries podcast on iTunes and iPhone or on their blog, subscribe to them and share the love. Frying Pan Diaries is the first food podcast from Dubai with a focus on food stories from the city and the surrounding region… and to reciprocate the love to the sister duo, they too are a notoriously delicious bunch! In addition to the dishes that I had cooked that day, I had also ordered a few dishes from the Bengali restaurant Zaika Hub in Al Nahda so that I could present a more elaborate menu to the Ahmed sisters. I have also mentioned the restaurant in the podcast. Sad to inform you folks that the restaurant has recently closed down… well, c’est la vie! As we sign off, let us pray for a safer world where faith in humanity may prevail. Let food unite us all despite our varied heritages that make us more distinctive and unique… may we all speak in the common language of food, compassion and love. Shubho Noborsho to all of you… may our celebrations lent themselves to your celebrations as we harvest love and hope for tomorrow and the days to come, for people all around the world. Coming back to my safe haven, we mostly cook up the whole Bengali universe in our kitchen – starting from shukto to murighonto. But apparently, that’s only when we have guests! To be fair, that’s not completely untrue… so the million dollar (or chingri malaikari worth of) question that needs to be addressed first and foremost tomorrow morning – what will the menu be at home for the night!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: Also sharing my thoughts that came out in Gulf News a few days back on the essence of being a Bengali in the wake of the recent disturbances in Bengal – it seems quite relevant with our Noboborsho wishes hoping for a bright future. The Bengali Mishti and Maach never fought over religion or borders, so why should the people? Do read the full story here.

Disclaimer: All images are shot by me, excepting the ones with Frying Pan logos, which have been shared with me by the Frying Pan Adventures. 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 on Instagram, Facebook, Twitterand Pinterest.


Do try out these Bengali recipes from my blog:
Shorshe Bata Maach – Mustard Salmon In This Case
Spicy Baby Potatoes or Aloor Dum – Kolkata Street Style!
Mashed Potato Bengali Style/ Aloo Bhaaté
Luchi Featured In Ahlan! Gourmet | My Ode To Phulko Luchi!
Bhapa Mishti Doi and A Food Safari of Bengal | BBC GoodFood ME
Notun Gurer Payesh/Traditional Bengali Rice Pudding | Remembering My Dida
Payesh or Rice Pudding For My Birthday | Power of Gratitude Messages
Shondesh/Sandesh Pudding | Guest Post For Cook Like A Bong!

And if you are interested in reading more on Bengali food in my blog:
A-Z of Bengali Fish
Traditional Bengali Cuisine | In ‘Slight’ Details

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+ Khinkali, the Georgian dumpling

Kavtaradzes’ Khinkali in Pasanauri | Our best food memories in Georgia until now

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life ∼ Omar Khayyam

Note: Article mentions pork and alcohol

When we stopped for lunch by the roadside family style restaurant Kavtaradzes’ Khinkali in Pasanauri, we were half way through our family vacation in Georgia. I hadn’t planned this particular day to kickstart our Georgian sojourn in my blog. But there wasn’t any other way – as this lunch was the most memorable and inspiring meal amongst all our meals in Georgia – and trust me, each meal in this trip had been a supremely memorable one! So what made this one special? This was my second visit to Georgia, the first time had been two years back, with my bunch of travel buddies – Bohochicas, as we are known amongst our friends, and also with Debbie, my partner in food and grime at FoodeMag. I felt that I already knew quite a lot about Georgian food and the different regions in Georgia, but I was so wrong. Like any cuisine which has a historical backing of a few centuries, Georgian cuisine too was rich and vibrant in it’s many regional variations. I had so much to learn from the Kavtaradze family, who welcomed this Saha family, including me into their kitchen despite being busy. Moreover, this small town of Pasanauri in the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region, about 90 kms from Tbilisi made for a stunning and a necessary stop. Stunning, because of the soft rumbling of the Aragvi river with the Caucasus mountains in the backdrop and jubilant cherry blossoms all around, and necessary, because Pasanauri along with the other towns in this region – Dusheti and Mtskheta, were particularly famous for their Khinkali.

Kavtaradzes' Kitchen in Pasanauri

The ladies in charge of the cooking inside looked unhurried and calm, trotting between tending to multiple dishes simultaneously, while the owner and her daughter hustled in and out carrying in the orders from the guests seated outside and rushing out of the kitchens to serve them food. Everybody lent a helping hand when required – chopping vegetables, stirring the broth, tossing the bread in the pan or simply rushing out to look after the guests. That food (and wine, but I will keep that for a future post) is a big part of the Georgian culture, was clearly evident in the way the meals were cooked and served – like any traditional home and guests were attended with utmost care, despite the language barrier in most places. The kitchen was spacious and welcomingly warm, more so because it was freezing outside. In the adjoining room, there was a separate room where the Kavtaradzes men butchered their own meat. The Kavtaradzes also had live fish tanks for the trouts that were caught fresh from the Aragvi river. The restaurant had more than sixty to seventy covers inside and claimed to serving guests the same food, at the same spot for more than five decades – a mighty meaty feat if I may add!

Khinkali – the Georgian dumpling of love

An 86-year old beautiful Georgian dida or grandma greeted us inside the kitchen. She would be showing us how to make Khinkalis, the Georgian dumplings and other traditional Georgian dishes. The Caucasus mountains around this region was where Khinkalis were born. We witnessed her making the original recipe, the khevsuruli, with a filling of minced meat, chopped meat and not grinded meat – 20% pork mixed with 80% lamb or beef. Learning to make and eat Khinkali in the region of its origin is a different experience altogether. Unlike Asian dumplings, the juice of the meat is delicately trapped inside the stomach or the k’uch’i of the pleated dough ball and has to be sipped first before breaking into the rest of the Khinkali, a sort of a rocket science that our travel guide Giorgi taught us later. Although we ended up eating the khinkali in whole, the tough top or the kudi was supposed to be discarded on the plate as a system of counting the number of khinkalis eaten by the diner! Our Kavtaradze grandma was used to making atleast 3,000-4,000 khinkalis a day and it felt like she could blindly pleat the dough into dumplings, after having put the meat and the broth filling inside. The Z-Sisters had a go at making these and all I hear was Lil Z snorting out continuously – ‘My gosh, my gosh, my gosh’ throughout the process! A big burner was kept ready in the corner with water boiling perpetually in an equally big aluminium container (below), waiting for batches of khinkalis to dive into it. It would take seven to eight minutes of steaming for the khinkalis to be done. In between, Grandma stirred the water with a wooden ladle vigorously once to make sure that the khinkalis don’t stick to each other.

Pkhlovana Khachapuri

In between making the Khinkali, Grandma started making the Pkhlovana (pronounced klovana) for us, a speciality of this region. This was a type of Khachapuri that we wouldn’t be coming across again in our entire stay in Georgia. Although the egg-topped boat shaped Adjarian Khachapuri, also called Acharuli, is one of the most popular Georgian dishes amongst tourists and outside Georgia, the Khachapuri is basically cheese (generally Sulguni cheese) filled Georgian bread ~ Khacha meaning cheese and Puri meaning bread. Khachapuri is considered to be Georgia’s national dish and each region seemed to have it’s own regional variation. The Pkhlovana was filled with salty Ossetian cheese and beetroot leaves and the recipe originated from South Ossetia. At the Kavtaradzes, the cheese was home made and the leaves plucked fresh from the beetroots that grew in their garden. The beetroots were used up to make the popular beetroot salad prepared with beetroot cubes marinated in plum sauce. The filling went into a bigger dough this time, and Grandma pleated and sealed the dough (above right), then she rolled it and flattened it to make it round shaped. It was then put on a thick pan and fried amidst generous pouring of white sunflower oil, the successive stages of which have been captured in my camera below. The Kavtaradzes also made their own sunflower oil – so ‘farm to table’ trend maintained strictly through and through in this modest restaurant!

Making of Pkhlovana Khachapuri

Pkhlovana Khachapuri

Pkhlovana Khachapuri

Other morsels

This was the only day that we ate fish in Georgia, that too at Giorgi’s insistence – the trouts were supposed to be exceptionally good from the adjoining rivers. The reason for our fish-reluctance was the month long overdose of fish at our home with my in-laws’ visiting us, just prior to leaving for Georgia (which promoted me to write this – A-Z of Bengali fish!). We are fish-loving Bengalis, but we too needed a respite. However, the char-grilled trout (above) freshly caught from Aragvi river was much too tempting. Another thing that had been a constant through out all our meals in Georgia was barbecued pork (below). Pork is the most popular meat, followed by chicken. In fact, barbecued pork seems to be very popular wherever we went – mostly arriving at the table as a simple barbecue of pork cubes marinated in salt, pepper, garlic, onion and sometimes with the Georgian spice Ajika. It was always served with home made tomato sauce which tasted more like a light salsa sauce than the thick ketchup and the popular sour plum sauce Tkemali.

Apparently all Indian tourists looked for rice in Georgia… again those myths – most Indians liked their food to be spicy or were vegetarians! Although we didn’t ask for rice, despite Big Z being such a hardcore rice lover, rice was being cooked specially for us. Chashushuli, a Georgian veal stew made with tomatoes sat on the adjoining burner of the gas stove, cooking over a slow flame. The rice sat in the cooking pot as long as the veal got cooked, as a result the rice that stared back at us looked more like a sticky rice rather that the fine-grained rice that we are used to eating at home. Although rice isn’t a staple in Georgian homes and definitely not eaten separately as an accompaniment to any dish, there is a traditional soup, the Kharcho, made with beef, Tkemali, chopped walnuts and rice. Fresh coriander leaves and parslay, chopped finely seem to be a constant in many of the Georgian dishes that we tasted and used in abundance – either as a garnish or while a dish was being cooked.

Almost a Supra, the traditional Georgian feast

Supra, the traditional Georgian feast where the table is laid with various types of dishes and lots of wine, is an important part of Georgian social culture, even listed in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia. While Georgians celebrate festivities with a festive supra, called a Keipi, there’s also the tradition of a sombre supra that’s held after burials, called a Kelekhi. Traditionally, in every supra, there’s always a toastmaster or the Tamada who initiates the toast, irrespective of the size of the supra. On this day, we were in for nothing less than a Supra, with our guide Giorgi taking the role of the toastmaster. Actually, he would be the toastmaster almost on all our lunches, excepting the dinners as he took leave of us after a whole day’s sightseeing. Rewinding on his first toast at our first lunch in Georgia at Kvareli in the Kakheti region, in his exact words – ‘Welcome to Georgia once again Ishita, and this time with family! My job as a host is to make sure that I am responsible for your wellbeing here and that I can show my beautiful country as much as I can!’


Eggplant with walnut sauce


Rice with Chashushuli, slow cooked veal curry


The Pkhlovana Khachapuris arrive at the table, cut into slices – more like pizza slices


Steaming hot Khinkalis… Lil Z waiting for Giorgi to teach us how to gorge on these beauties!


The Bearded Biker handing over the freshly grilled trout

It was almost 4pm by the time we had our lunch, but what an incredibly memorable lunch. The rice with Chashushuli was the first to arrive at the table, along with the popular starter of eggplant and walnut sauce. The Chashushuli was hot and steaming, and just off the flame and reminded me of Mangsher Jhol, the Sunday goat curry that’s a speciality in most Bengal homes – the one that is cooked in a pressure cooker – a light gravy full of strong flavours pouring out of the tender and delicate pieces of meat. The outer crusts of Pkhlovana Khachapuri was crispy and flaky while the cheese and beetroot filling inside stood out in taste. Was this then the Georgian vegetarian version of our Bengali Moghlai Porota – soft fried crispy parathas with a filling of minced meat, egg and onion? The plate of khinkali was definitely the showstopper, that too it arrived like a tantrum-throwing-diva begging us, the onlookers, to wait anxiously so that the dumplings of love would cool down a bit to unravelling of the secret treasure inside! The freshness of the trout was incredible – soft flaky flesh dismantling effortlessly from its bone. About the barbecued pork – the Georgians seemed to have mastered the art of barbecuing the meat and made them consistently good across the country – tender and flavourful. The Bearded Biker opted for local beers with his lunch, while I opted for Georgian wines or Lagidze, the local flavoured soda lemonade. The locally brewed country vodka Chacha or the spirits that were often available by the roadside kiosks were so interesting (and potent) that it’s a topic that I may revisit in a separate post.

The Kavtaradzes’ kitchen was busy and yet we received such a warm welcome to see what went on inside the kitchen of a Georgian family style restaurant – and this will probably make that afternoon a memorable one. We could feel the love streaming inside. The beautiful Georgian grandma running from one side of the kitchen to the other, tending the Pkhlovana and stirring the khinkalis, the owners personally supervising to the diners, chopping vegetables if required or flipping the Pkhlovana if it was getting over fried, everybody was synchronised and glued onto each other in this random madness. And we were glued onto our food!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Make way for Khinkali

Apart from our food memories, another thing that will always stay in our memories are the insane giggles surrounding our anticipation of Khinkalis … as Lil Z mimicked the song from Disney’s movie Aladdin substituting Prince Ali with Khinkali, throughout our Georgia trip…

Make way for Khinkali! Say hey! It’s Khinkali
Hey! Clear the way in the old Bazaar
Hey you! Let us through! It’s a bright new star!
Oh Come! Be the first on your block to meet his eye!
Make way! Here he comes! Ring bells! Bang the drums!
Are you gonna love this guy! Khinkali! Fabulous he!
Khinkali Ababwa…

PS: Our lunch at Kavtaradzes Khinkali cost us approx 120 GELs for the five of us, including our drinks. Giorgi organised our visit to the kitchen. We had a fabulous travel guide in Giorgi Orjonikidze (email: giorgi.orjonikidze@gmail.com; phone/whatsapp: +995 577479947) whom I would like to recommend personally if you are travelling to Georgia. 

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 on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


OTHER READS
Georgia ~ Tearing a page from the books of art, architecture & history - A travel feature in FoodeMag (my first visit to Georgia with Debbie
Acharuli, Adjarian Khachapuri - Alice Feiring's recipe in FoodeMag
Chicken “Gia” Chkmeruli - Alice Feiring's recipe in FoodeMag
Caesar Mushrooms Cooked In A Clay Dish - Alice Feiring's recipe in FoodeMag
Tkemali, a sour plum sauce - Alice Feiring's recipe in FoodeMag
Georgia | Khinkali - a first taste of Georgian food - by Coffee Cakes and Running
 - By My Custard Pie
Georgia – shopping for food in Tbilisi - By My Custard Pie

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+

A-Z of Bengali Fish

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food ~ Hippocrates

My in-laws left yesterday for Kolkata after spending a month with us here in Dubai. The house seems so empty suddenly, along with the fridge. We had lunch and dinner with all the leftovers from my shashuri – ma-in-law’s cooking…  a few pieces of traditional Bengali fish like Pabda (two more pieces to go), bandhakopir torkari, a cabbage dish, and the summer favourite aam daal – a sweet-sour lentil soup with raw mango. From today, our kitchen will stop showing any semblance to my ma-in-law’s Kolkata kitchen that’s always been aligned to how my shoshurmoshai – father-in-law wants/loves to eat. There will now be pastas and sandwiches with some occasional Bengali cooking over the weekend splattered with the nostalgic reminiscences of how much we overate the past one month. The sadness of their leaving is being compensated to an extent with all the wishes and love that are still pouring in for my birthday (which fell on this Thursday but the celebrations still continue). After a month of eating only Bengali food, with traditional fish preparations holding centre stage, I feel the sudden need to write a post on these lines… A-Z of Bengali fish. It’s also a note of thanks from my side, for the love I get from all of you and how you keep on embracing me unconditionally and repeatedly as a citizen of this world living in this cosmopolitan city, despite my constant proclamations of my Bengali roots.

I am making a home in Dubai …. 3,307 kms away from Bengal, raising two third culture kids and perpetually in a quasi Bengali state of being – I crave for dupurer ghum – afternoon siesta on a Sunday afternoon when all of Dubai are busy getting into the groove of the week with the first working day being Sunday! There’s also the myth (okay the pseudo-truth) that I can never get away from – the Bengali’s love for fish – maach, and sweets – mishti, that I have kind of embraced nowadays. In fact, I have started to relish the curiosity and the talks surrounding these two topics. On the hindsight, I didn’t grow up loving fish as much as I loved sweets. But I seriously – seriously do now, and that’s all because of the two decades of living away from Bengal and also the constant questions and queries that I get from so many people – via emails and messages and DMs – on the topic of FISH. Nowadays, I have started getting whatsapp messages too from strangers, asking for Bengali fish recipes and all that’s related to Bengali fish. ‘Didi, nomoshkar. Apni to Dubai-te onekdin achen. Ekhane Bangali maach paoaa jay/ Hello Sister! You are living in Dubai for a long time. Where can we get Bengali fish here?’ or ‘Please mind korben na eto raate message korchi bole. Ami Meenabazar-e dariye achi. Ekhane kothay Bangladeshi dokan jekhane ilish paoa jay?/ Please don’t mind me messaging so late. I am standing in Meenabazaar right now, where is the Bangladeshi shop here which sells the Ilish?’ From Non-Bengalis, the questions would be more on these lines… ‘Can you share the Bengali fish recipe – I have just bought some Rohu from Lulu!’ or ‘I heard you can have fish from breakfast through dinner!’ Friends, there’s no ONE Bengali fish recipe. And, yes, SOME Bengalis love fish but they don’t exactly brush their teeth in fish oil, although I wished they could (it’s high in omega and good for the skin, hair, heart and eyes), nor do they catch fish in their sleep. Also, we can’t eat fish like the bony Hilsa – the Ilissh, with our eyes closed, as we too are as prone to choking if we don’t concentrate on the fish bones while we eat, as much as any Non-Bengali. But I will let these myths persist. It works towards our advantage and as I say, let’s bask in the glory of our fishy and sweet heritage!

Bhetki Maacher Ghonto
The special bhetki macher ghonto my shashuri made for my birthday – it’s a recipe from my side of the family that she took from my ma over the phone. A nostalgic recipe that ended up in transcending variations of cooking across borders and connecting two families together. 

A conversation started over my birthday instastory where I have shared the Bhetki Macher Ghonto that I had for lunch (above). My day had started with payesh, the traditional rice pudding that ushers in every auspicious occasion for a Bengali… as early as 7:30 in the morning, made lovingly by my shashuri. Dinner was luchi and murgir jhol with aloo. As I hesitated a bit to explain my lunch – my exact words being… ‘Not mentioning the lunch which is a bit complicated to explain ~ ghonto if you know what I mean’, a sudden barrage of comments started pouring in. If you know, ghonto is more like a vegetable ratatouille with pieces of fish, fish head, tails and bones thrown in. I started receiving curious comments on Bengalis’ fish habits.

And a few knowledgeable Bengalis asked, how was I so sure that it was a ghonto and not a chyachra. For the uninitiated, these are complicated terms in Bengali culinary dictionary – preparations as different from macerated fruit to a poached one. I replied saying that my thamma (paternal grandma) used to make this ghonto and my ma picked it up from her. Since it’s my favourite, my ma-in-law who is visiting us, learnt the recipe from her over a long ISD call and made it for lunch – skype is banned in the UAE currently, hence the final product ended up being a very expensive ghonto. So, I know… this was a ghonto. Period!

Shorshebata Iliish or Mustard Hilsa
Shorshebata Iliish or the Mustard Hilsa, one of the most epic dishes from Bengali cuisine – with absolutely no filter! I often chat to my family how the food in my book should look like (if and when it materialises)… should it be stylised or should it be kept just like this… simple and homely? The poll feature in @instagram has been amazing in that sense and thank you for giving your verdict… 87% of you want to see the food like this… ready to attack!

With all the conversation relating or leading only to fish over the last one month with a freezer overflowing with Bengali fish starting from Aar to Bhetki to Chingri to Ilish to Pabda, stocked from the Bangladeshi supermarket (do read my post where you will get an idea to what extent we can go to get the right fish) … thanks to my shoshurmoshai who travels with a menu and routine that he is used to in his Saltlake home, I decided that this was probably going to be the best time to use my (fish) information overload. Also, the protagonist in the bone of contention between my shashuri and shoshurmoshai most of the times, is also the fish – what fish to cook – for lunch and then again for dinner, what preparation and how many pieces she should assign for him. At the dining table, our conversation then would revolve around whether the particular fish that has been cooked here, would taste better and fresher than the one he buys in the fish market and Kolkata. Don’t forget the prices – whether the dirhams spent here was worth the rupees that he generally spends back home. However, the Z-Sisters had the final say – apparently, our Dubai home apparently smelt like Saltlake when their Oma-Dadai when here! Kudos to Bengali fish bought in Dubai then… also, the A-Z of Bengali fish post couldn’t be avoided any longer.

Parshe Maacher Jhaal
Pabda Maacher Jhol

A bit of a dig into my family history here… the preparations and availability of fish in Bengal in India and in Bangladesh is quite different. While my family is based more in Epar Bangla – the Indian side of Bengal, hence termed part-Ghotis and the Bearded Biker’s family is predominantly Bangals originating from Opar Bangla or Bangladesh, the fish preparations that we both have grown up eating are a bit different. My experience of fish eating had been limited to Rui, Iliish, Bhetki and Chingri and my marriage introduced me to a wider variety of fish and fish preparations. While we – the Ghotis can boast of a few iconic preparations like the Chingri Malaikari, the Bangals, as I discovered via my shashuri’s cooking, have a magic wand when it comes to cooking any fish. A simple fish gravy in black cumin paste from Opar Bangla can alone compete with all the elaborate fish kahlias and shorshebatas from Epar Bangla! As an ode to my heritage, here’s the list, A-Z of Bengali Fish and the best possible preparations for that particular fish… admitting that these are only the few where I have had the good fortune of laying my fingers on the fish bones, hence a few alphabets are still sitting empty.

Ilish or Hilsa
Ilish or Hilsa cooked in a light gravy of turmeric, black cumin and chilli with pumpkin. Sometimes, the pumpkin can be substituted by cucumber or eggplant – a preparation that I wasn’t familiar with before my marriage.

A-Z of Bengali Fish

A: Aar – less bones, delicate and very fleshy; Calls for a turmeric-black cumin gravy with aloo and slit green chillies, garnished with fresh coriander leaves.

B: Bata, Bhetki, Basa – While Bata is a long bony fish to be cooked in its entirety in the traditional mustard preparation with a tempering of nigella seeds, Bhetki is a well sought-after Bengali fish and versatile. One of its signature preparation is the Bhetki Paturi, where fillets are cooked in steam in a thick mustard and chilli paste while wrapped in banana leaves. Bhetki fillets are also coveted for the fish fry with an outer covering of breaded crumbs. Basa is one fish that is looked down upon by the Bengali fish snobs as a cheaper substitute for Bhetki fries, so beware!

C: Chitol, Chingri – It’s almost a dying art to scrape the flesh off the main spine so that they can be made into fish balls for the signature gravy – Chitol Maacher Muitha; also the Peti or the abdominal section of Chitol is exceptionally oily and calls for a gravy made with ginger, chilli, turmeric and white cumin. Chingri or the Prawn has many variations – depending upon the size. Galda, Bagda, Chyapra etc. Galda Chingri is the giant fresh water prawn and is most popularly used in the signature preparation – Chingrir Malaikari, a prawn preparation in coconut gravy. Bagda is the Tiger Prawn also used for Malaikari preparation while the Chapra is the smaller variety (both fresh and seawater) that goes well in a spicy fried preparation or as Chingrir bora or spicy fried balls.

D:

E: Eilish… see I!

F: Foli, Fyasha – Foli is more like Chitol while Fyasha is very bony. The former is tasty in a light turmeric, cumin and coriander gravy with vegetables like potatoes and snowpeas thrown in along with bori – fried lentil balls. Like many other Bengali fish, Like Foli, Fyasha is also a small fish that can be cooked in a mustard gravy.

G: Galda Chingri (see Chingri above), Gurjali – Interestingly, Gurjali has been referred as Indian salmon and is brilliant in a traditional mustard gravy with a tempering of nigella seeds.

H: Hilsa… see I!

I: Iilish – The fact that Ilish takes over three alphabets – E for Eilish, H for Hilsa and I for Ilish is not surprising as Ilish is indeed the celebrity Bengali fish. A topic for political debate involving two countries – India and Bangladesh – whether the Ilish from the Padma river in Bangladesh is better than the Ilish from the Ganges and vice versa. No fish has ever been commercialised so much or catapulted to such heights. Come monsoons, hotels and Bengali restaurants in Kolkata are flooded with Hilsa festivals where traditional recipes jostle for space along with fusion recipes. Amongst all the different recipes that exist, the ones that I love are the traditional ones – definitely the epic shorshebata or mustard fish preparation (I have a recipe for a similar preparation in salmon that praises to carry the same legacy), the patla kalojirer jhol – gravy made with black cumin and red chilli paste with either cubes of cucumber, or eggplants or pumpkin thrown in. I also can’t resist having simple fried Ilish with shada bhaat and Ilisher tel – steaming white rice with the oil that has been used to fry the fish pieces. My dida or maternal grandma also used to make a Ilisher Ombol, a sweet and sour chutney with Ilish in light tamarind and turmeric gravy with a tempering of mustard seeds. My ma has a signature recipe of a Ilish Maacher Raita, a yoghurt raita with Ilish, to be savoured cold. And of course, there is the Bhapa Ilish or the Steamed Hilsa, prepared wrapped in banana leaf.

J:

K: Katla, Koi, Kajli, Khoira – Katla comes from the family of Carp much like Rui, but in bigger size. Katla is used in the famous Kalia preparation, a rich oily preparation. Koi is famously prepared as Tel Koi in a mustard oil gravy, or as a Jhaal prepared with mustard paste and a tempering of nigella seeds.

L: Loite – Loite has different names and pronunciations in different parts of Bengal and is also known as the Bombay Duck in Mumbai. I Although there are recipes where Loite is cooked in a curry, I prefer the way my ma-in-law cooks it – Loite Maacher Jhuri… it’s time consuming and the end result is shockingly meagre in volume as compared to how it appears at the start. The constant stirring of the soft textured fish along with turmeric, red chilli, cumin and coriander lets the water from the fish to evaporate out and the mixture becomes crunchy and real spicy.

M: Mourola, Magur, Mrigal – I grew up hearing that tiny sized Mourola is good for the eyes but the way we have always had it probably defined the purpose… deep fried in oil! Magur is a kind of a catfish and small pieces of Magur cooked in a light gravy made with turmeric and cumin is considered a coolant. Mrigel is quite bony and cooked in a dense mustard gravy brings out the fine taste of the fish.

N/O:

P: Parshe, Pabda, Pona, Punti, Pangash – Parshe is best served in a jhal preparation in a mustard gravy, while Pabda can be cooked in a light jhol or a hot jhal, depending upon the size. Pona comes from the same family as Rohu and can be prepared in a similar way while Chara Pona, is the baby Pona and makes a very good light curry with potatoes, green papaya, green banana and Boris. Punti is one of the more popular small fish and is cooked in a jhaal, the dense mustard gravy. Pangash tastes amazing in a Dopiaza preparation which is not a traditional Bengali preparation. The Dopiaza is is a Middle Eastern preparation with a large amount of onions cooked in a thick tomato gravy.

Q:

R: Rui – Rui or Rohu is definitely the most popular fish used for day-to-day cooking and is available with ease. For example, this is the only Bengali fish that are quite easily available in regular Dubai supermarkets like Lulu or Carrefour. Rui is quite versatile and fleshy, and can be cooked in almost all the Bengali fish preparations that one can think of … jhol, jhal, kalia, doi maach and more (refer below for the definitions). A light gravy preparation of Rui with potatoes, cauliflower and green peas brings back memories of my Dida’s cooking – a nostalgic dish conjuring up the winters from my childhood.

S: Shingi, Shol, Shorputi – Cooked up in a light stew with seasonal vegetables like snow peas, eggplants, potatoes (but, of course), Shingi Maacher Jhol act as another coolant with high therapeutic with high nutritional quotients. While I have tasted Shol in a kalia preparation, there’s also a popular recipe where its cooked in a gravy with raw mangoes. Shorputi again, is another variation of Puti and can be cooked in a jhal or a jhol.

T: Tyangra, Tilapia, Topshe – Tyangra is great for a Jhal chochori – with fried Tyangras cooked in a spicy non-gravy preparation. Tilapia is an import and has been adopted affectionately into the Bengali fish dictionary and serves up brilliantly in a Shorshe Jhaal, the spicy mustard preparation. I have grown up seeing my parents and their friends serving Topshe fried in whole, in a gram flour batter sprinkled with either nigella seeds or posto – poppy seeds, as a starter to accompany their Sunday gin and vodka lunch parties, and I can’t seem to remember if I’ve ever tasted Topshe in any other way!

U/V/W/X/Y/Z:

Aar match prepared in a light gravy with turmeric and cumin
Aar prepared in jhol, a light gravy of turmeric and cumin with potato and fresh coriander leaves

When fish names can be so many, fish preparations must match up to the number… so we have ghonto and ghyat, chachra and lyabra, jhol and jhal. If this is of any interest to you, here you go…

Fish is still cooked daily for main course in most traditional Bengali household. Shorshe Maach/Mustard Fish is one of the most popular fish preparations and has found quite an acclaim outside the Bengali home, but it is not the only fish recipe in our pescetarian portfolio. Bengali cuisine is famous for it’s various fish preparations – and there is a lot going into the fish gravy on whether it should be called Maacher Jhol or Maacher Jhaal. Maacher Jhol is where the gravy of the dish is made with ginger, turmeric, cumin powder, green chillis (the ingredients vary from one region of Bengal to another) and Jhaal is where the gravy is hot and spicy and made with mustard paste, turmeric, chilli and other spices. Then there is the Doi Maach, the yogurt gravy with tomatoes and onion, and the Kalia, a rich oily gravy with a lot of prominence of onion, garlic, tomatoes and garam masala – once the mainstay of a wedding buffet. Fish oil, skin, bones, head and tail – everything can go into a dish… while fish head is considered auspicious and is served to the new bride as she is welcomed into her newly wedded family, the rest of the bony remnants also find their holy space into various delicacies either for special occasions or for a daily casual dish. Kata chocchori uses up the kata or the fish bones along with one or more varieties of vegetables or leafy greens cut into longish strips. In Chhyanchra fish head, bones and and fish oil are cooked along with different vegetables and appears more like a soft ratatouille. And then there is the Ghonto where chopped vegetables are cooked in phoron and spices with fish head and fish bones. Muri-ghonto is a particular delicacy where rice is cooked with fish head and bones. We don’t spare Daals too, and the tastiest one is Maacher Maatha diye Moong Daal, where fish heads and bones spruce up a dense moong daal, the yellow lentil soup. While all the above may sound a bit complicated for the uninitiated or even for many Bengalis, the expertise in determining whether a dish is a chyanchra or a chocchori and whether a gravy is a jhaal or a jhol, hits all Bengalis suddenly like puberty and adolescence… but it will definitely happen once in their lifetimes. For some, it hits earlier than others!

Kata fish cooked in a light gravy
Katla cooked in a light gravy – jhol with potatoes, to be supplemented by steaming white rice. My shoshurmoshai still uses a similar plate made with Kansha, or bell metal, a hard alloy used for making bells and related instruments. Ancient Ayurveda attributes the use of different utensils to extract different nutrients and eating in a kansha plate or drinking water in a kansha glass has been an age-old tradition. Although I have inherited a few of these in my kitchen, I use them sparingly for a one-off photo shoot, succumbing to the demands of the modern day dishwasher!

Like any other cuisine in this world, no Bengali fish recipe is sacrosanct and no one recipe is better than the other. The usage of garlic, onion, tomatoes in some fish preparations may feel like a modern interpretation but if you dig in, you may find that they are as intrinsic part of a traditional recipe in some other region in Bengal. What perhaps remains sacrosanct is the use of mustard oil in a Bengali fish preparation and the use of fingers for bhaat mekhe khaoa – to mix the rice in the delicious fish gravy. If you refer to the picture above, you will realise how there can never be another option! Regional variations have co-existed through times and recipe evolutions can be contributed to geo-political changes that have shaped the history of Bengal – from the undivided Bengal of pre-independence India to the one that is now partitioned by the borders of India and Bangladesh, post-independence. My list here is not comprehensive, and it cannot be as my knowledge is limited by what I have tasted in the kitchens of only a few families – my father’s ancestral home in Naihati (very ghoti), my dida’s cooking (again ghoti as she was from Bhatpara), my ma’s very own style of cooking as she picked up recipes from both Naihati and Bhatpara, my ma-in-law’s cooking which has been influenced by her mother and reflects the Bangal way of cooking… and finally every other Bengali family that I have had a meal with – from the shores of California to Singapore, and from the time we made a home in Frankfurt to all the true-blue Bengali homes that we have visited in  Kolkata.

I have deliberately used all the shots that capture traditional Bengali fish cooked in my kitchen in Dubai. I leave it at this, and am hoping that you will be filling me with more fish names and recipes. I am also curious to check what are the new Bengali Fish words that people have been searching in my blog over the weekend – once someone was looking for a ‘maach-boudi in Dubai’, I don’t really want to translate that here. I am just relieved that no body has called me a maach-didi – a fish sister, yet!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. 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 Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


Read my other fish posts:
Shorshe Bata Maach – Mustard Salmon In This Case
Traditional Bengali Cuisine | All The ‘Slight’ Details

+ Arabian Tea House in Bastakiya

When you finally move out of Dubai… which restaurant would you like to visit for one last time?

What is the city but the people? ~ William Shakespeare in Coriolanus

Here’s to a long weekend in the UAE.. marking Prophet Mohammed’s birthday (may peace be upon him), the Commemoration Day or MartyrsDay and the upcoming 46th National Day. A flurry of shots like the above created for my Instastory – coffee pouring into the special cup, multiple latte art after, until I realised that my Iphone is glitching. Everytime I post, it’s posting from Big Z’s account – perhaps, an invisible nudge from the destiny to chuck social media and return to my blog. Anyway, a long leisurely weekend is always good to collate some thoughts – a bit of reflection on the the current phase of life in general. And that brings me to my life in the UAE… Dubai is where I have spent almost half of my lifetime (until now) and there are too many albums filled with memories – good and bad (as is life’s journey), and I am grateful for the life that my adopted home here has gifted me with. Having lived here for so long and writing a blog that features Dubai in a big way, I also get asked many Dubai-related questions all the time – quite often on other things as well apart from food. Let’s stick to the food related ones. Where do we take our visiting guests? Where do we eat with them? What to special souvenir can one buy buy? Which are my favourite restaurants here and the best place to dine in etc. But the oft requested one, specially after one hears that we lived here for almost two decades (yes, I had landed here around this time of the year way back in 1999) is this one… When you finally move out of Dubai… which restaurant would you like to visit for one last time for a farewell gig with family and friends? Any special dish and any special memory associated with the restaurant or the dish?

When you finally move out of Dubai… which restaurant would you like to visit for one last time for a farewell gig with family and friends?

Not that we have any such plans of moving out of Dubai anytime soon… unless of course, push comes to shove! As a family, we love entertaining at home and go to great lengths to create elaborate menus – traditional or otherwise, and we wouldn’t choose any restaurant over a home treat. However, if we had to choose a place outside of our home, there will have to be two gigs actually – one according to my liking and the other one for the Bearded Biker. Mine would be Arabian Tea House… not specifically for their food but for the many memories built over the years as we hung out with friends. The casual vibe, the canopies fluttering in the wind, the surrounding wind towers of the architecture that once embodied Dubai’s origin etc. And for the Bearded Biker, it would have to be the very popular Ravi Restaurant in Satwa. I asked the Z-Sisters too, they are probably too young to have any restaurant association. Beach, desert, MOE, friend Kirsten’s place… oh stop!

Arabian Tea House in Bastakiya

Arabian Tea House in Bastakiya

In my memory, Arabian Tea House will always remain Basta Cafe, the original name for this cafe restaurant. When we had arrived in Dubai in 1998 (landed I should say, not arrived – we are still trying to arrive in Dubai!), our first rented apartment was in Rolla Road. While the nearest supermarket Citimart took care of our new-to-Dubai desi binges (including Bengali fish and fierce mustard oil), our favourite joints would be the humble coffee shop inside Spinneys in the Golden Sands area or a walk into the art alleys of Bastakiya and take a breather in the Basta Café. It wasn’t as posh and popular in those days but was very quiet, quaint and pretty in its own way. A courtyard surrounded by plotted plants and white canopies shifting from the brunches of Neem trees looming in the background like observant guardians. The white wickers and the sitting arrangements under the shaded canopies, lanterns hanging from the sand coloured walls – they are evident even today. It’s a miracle that Basta Café has still retained its original earthy charm. There have been a few charming additions to the decor now and fortunately the menu has become more encompassing – more touristy, I would say. While previously, you could get only sandwiches, pastas or an occasional lunch grab, now you can actually have a pretty decent Arabic meal. My choice of this venue is not so much about the food, I would prefer Barjeel Guest House any day for the food. In wake of the city’s ever changing landscape, if there is one place that has seeped into my subconscious (much like my friend, colleague and soul sister Debbie, as she has shares later), is the Bastakiya area and the creekside (I’ve written a lot about this area in my Hidden Gems column – the Creekside Cafe, Barjeel Guest House, Coffee Museum, Calligraphy House and others). I can still feel the breeze in this area from different hours of the day – and seasons for that matter in my subconsciousness, the cool nudge during the early mornings, the gentle hot brush during the summers, the chilly nip during the winters… and finally the welcoming one after hours of exhausted walk, either with visitors or on my own. I remember putting my legs up on the charpoy and settling down for casual chats, shisha and some nibbling with friends from decades back – yes, that charpoy isn’t there anymore and an open kitchen has taken over that space now. What do I recommend you eat here? Start off with some regular French fries sprinkled in local Khaleeji spices, the Arabic mezze, dips and salads –  Hummus with meat, Moutabbel, traditional Kibbeh with raw meat, grilled Halloumi, Fattoush and the Arabian Tea House Special Salad consisting of fresh Rocca and other leaves, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, a sprinkle of Sumac and a dressing of olive oil and pomegranate molasse. For mains, I would order a Shrimp Biryani – fine grained rice cooked in Baharat spices, Chicken Machboos or a Saloona Chicken, Tandoori Araayes – Arabic bread filled with minced meat, the charcoaled grilled Lamb Mince Kabab and a Mutfi Fish – sliced King Fish cooked in a tomato gravy with potatoes and Arabic spices. Don’t miss the Leqaimats, the heavenly fried dough balls laden in saffron infused sugar syrup, the Date cake oozing out gooey date caramel and the camel milk ice-cream. Do sign off with a strong Arabic gahwa served with fresh dates, if you can take it!

By the way, you will be served Arabic coffee and Leqaimat on the house, should you choose to visit them today on the UAE National Day! website

  Arabian Tea House in BastakiyaChicken Machboos in Arabian Tea House in Bastakiya

Ravi Restaurant in Satwa

Some clichés have to be accepted as the eternal truth. For example, Ravi Restaurant. Now this is my Bearded Biker’s choice of gig – daily, mundane, celebratory or otherwise. I have asked him many times – what do you like about Ravi Restaurant – The food or the bill, the comfort of basic dining? “I just like it. I like the food – I like everything. I can’t give you so many reasons”. Translated, that means no material for my write up! If a sundowner in a deserted tropical island or raising a toast under a starlit sky in a desert – just the two of us – is my idea of romance (too clichéd? But no roses for me please, opt for lilies and bougainvillea instead and rambling rocks and pretty pebbles that can seduce me to destinations – think Dead Sea or the Mt Everest!), for the Bearded Biker it would have to be a road trip on his Harley, a few beer stops on the way and finally a meal at Ravi. This is exactly what he’s told me, and I’m not making this up at all – am not sure where I fit in romantically here – whether as a pillion or follow him in a car on his road trail! While he has been visiting Ravi’s for a long time now my first visit had been fairly recent – maybe three years back. Debbie and I accompanied a visiting Filipino blogger to this most coveted ‘Dubai heritage’. We ordered quite a lot of the signature dishes from the menu and it left us very unimpressed – the food lacked the punch, and I don’t mean that in terms of spiciness alone. There was no flavour and taste. When I asked the staff, he courteously replied that they had kept the flavours mild as there was gora madam amongst us (punch Debbie for me someone, will you!). Since my first visit that day and until now, I have visited Ravi many times, as the Bearded Biker introduced a different side of Ravi to me – and I absolutely love it. Ravi reflects the very essence of Dubai – everybody is welcome here irrespective of his/her nationality, status – financially or otherwise. Even if the restaurant is crowded, there is practically no wait time – an empty table will always magically appear from somewhere and make way for you. Once seated, chilled bottles of mineral water are plopped up on the table covered with a disposable semi-transparent plastic table cloth, almost immediately. The staff is attentive, courteous and tends to you all the time and if you have been a frequent visitor, there’s no need to even spell out your orders. Early lunch, lunch, dinner, extremely late dinner – service and food has always been consistent. And the best part is the bill – it’s shockingly low. Agreed, it’s not a fine dining setup and you are not exactly munching on gourmet fare, but still Ravi is a Dubai institution and has gained a cult status of its own. Much like Bu Q’tair, and the latter has hiked up its prices in the recent years! If Craig David and other A-listers can visit the humble Ravi and make it their style statement, so can we ordinary mortals! Coming back to the food, what do we order? The Daal Fry and Rogni (butter) Naan to start with, followed by Kebabs, Mutton Peshawari, Mutton Kadhai, Brain Fry (not so much for me) and occasionally the Brain Nihari and the Paya if it hasn’t still run out. Each episode here – starting from waiting for the table, ordering food, to making the payment (note, it’s only cash payment here) – takes about an hour at the most. This doesn’t include the prying time that I need every time I visit Ravi – I peep into the kitchen and ogle at the enormous home made dough kept for the breads and naans (look at the fluffy bread below and you will know why I  do this) and the kabab corner on the other side of the alley, where one can stand for endless hours (provided you can survive the heat from the charcoals) and see how meticulously the marinated meat is put into their respective sheekh or skewers and laid on the grills (see the last picture below).

What do other Dubai food bloggers say?

Aneesha Rai, Om Nom Nirvana: It would probably start at Aroos Damascus for me. Whenever my family goes there, we order the same dishes – the arayes, tabouleh, moutabel, chicken shish kebab and the shawarma plates… it’s a childhood favourite. Then we would head to Feras for the kunafa. Another probale choice would be to go to the neighbourhood restaurant Golden Fork for fish curry and rice. I still can’t make out the origin of the taste, but it’s more like the Kerala style Fish Moilee with a Filipino spice twist! This would be followed by a drive for a Filli chai and then a ‘Shah Rukh’ from Al Mallah (one of the visually stunning fresh fruit juices that the local cafeterias are famous for) – all these remind me of our drives to Mamzar during the winters. And the last would be a horribly awesome ketchup (!) and cheese mini pizza from Caesars – for keepsake school memories. @omnomnirvana on Instagram

Debbie Rogers, Coffee Cakes and Running: Mine is not so much a restaurant, but more of an area. For example, Dubai creek. It’s one of the areas which really sums up ‘traditional’ Dubai for me and is one of my ‘happy places’. Some of my best times have been at various places on or around the creek. Be it the beautiful fine dining aboard Bateaux Dubai, perfect for dinner or afternoon tea, often with visitors in tow, or more casual stops at some of the arabic eateries on the creek. Many of my trips to the creek have been adhoc with no dining plans arranged and whilst walking along beside the creek, the aroma of grilled meats, shisha and cardamon spiced coffee have often lured me into many different places.

My favourite dishes would be a mezze of Arabic classics, silky hummus, fresh tabouleh, smoky moutabel, charcoal cooked meats, all stuffed into fluffy pillows of hot Arabic bread and served with a side of fresh chilled watermelon juice. I’d take dessert at the Arabian Tea House where I’ve spent many an afternoon entertaining guests or reading a book in the quiet courtyard, and would end my evening at the Coffee Museum for a final cup of aromatic arabic ghawa, a modern latte with specialty coffee and a few coffee gadgets to sneak into my suitcase! @coffeecakesandrunning on Instagram

 {My write ups on Bateaux Dubai experience and Coffee Museum}

Lavina Israni, Lavina Israni: I think rather than going out somewhere, I would perhaps organize a feast at home and get lots of mutton biryani from Pak Liyari, along with some Bihari Rolls from Kabab Rolls and a pitcher of delicious lassi from Al Afadhil in Karama. Best farewell party ever! @lavinaisranicom on Instagram

Minna Herranen, Naked Plate: My choice depends on where I am heading from Dubai. I definitely want to eat Egyptian food made by Egyptian chefs so I will go to Grand Abu Shakra in Naif Street in Baniyas. That was my first Egyptian restaurant I have eaten in Dubai over a decade ago. I’d order the Egyptian breakfast foul and falafel aka tameya and eggs with pasterma and real Egyptian baladi bread. After that I’d order mixed grill with extra load of lamb chops and all the possible salads, also mahshi or the stuffed vegetable and molokeya soup. I will sign it off with the kunafa or fatayer with cream and honey. I would also like to indulge in my favorite snacks at the Indian restaurants at Meena Bazaar – bhel puri and pani puri till I drop. Sahtain! @minnahe on Instagram

Sachi Kumar, Where Sachi: I would start my last gastronomic outing in Dubai from Sharjah, starting with Laffah’s signature shawarma. I would then come to Meena Bazaar, have a falafel sandwich from Persian Cafeteria, then a ‘disco sandwich’ from Doha Cafeteria and finally end up at Al Mallah for my dose of hummus and cheese garlic chilli manakeesh. @wheresachi on Instagram

Sadia Anwar, NomsvilleI would brave the heat and stand outside Rangoli in Meena Bazar as the guy at the chat counter sticks out pani puris, one at a time, adjusting the meetha pani (the sweet tamarind water) ratio every other puri (back when Rangoli restaurant had the window) and then finishing it all off with their fresh, sticky jalebis. I have so many memories of my shopping sprees with friends and cousins followed by a Rangoli refuel which was an absolute must. And once we would be done for the day, we would head over to Tasty Bite and order takeaways of their garlicky, pickle-heavy shawarmas on toasted saj. Well, this is making me emotional already!