Aam Pana or Green Mango Drink (above) is one of the most famous coolants for Indian Summer. The mango concentrate can be very easily made at home and stored for much longer than the summer months themselves. So, adapting the drink to combat Dubai summers perhaps seemed the most obvious thing to do. Taking cue from the last article which touched upon the subject of Locavorism and fresh local produce in UAE, this post jumps straight into the subject of sustainability in Dubai with the opening of The Change Initiative, Dubai’s first sustainable store and it’s restaurant and café – The Taste Initiative. And it is here that I got inspired to twist the traditional Aam Pana, make them frozen and use them in table water as a healthy alternative to bottled flavoured drink!

My previous article touched upon the current hot food topic right now – Locavorism in UAE or the movement towards supporting the fresh local produce. Dubai too has woken up to realise that sustainability is the key to long-term growth. Lot of positive developments are taking place in sustainability – not only agriculture but energy, water, lifestyle and also waste management. A few days back, The World Energy Forum concluded in Dubai where world leaders had gathered with the goal of creating a roadmap towards safe and sustainable energy accessible to all.

The Taste Initiative

A sustainable restaurant & café serving breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner as well as light snacks and exquisite coffees during the store-hours

Opening Hours: 8am – 9pm Sunday to Wednesday; 9am-10pm Thursday to Saturday
Location: The Change Initiative marketplace, Al Barsha 1, Sheikh Zayed Road, near Ibis Hotel opposite Wellington School
Tel: 800-TCI (824); Or, you can visit their Facebook Page and Website

The Taste Initiative, Dubai’s first sustainable store has just opened its doors with many novel concepts that may inspire people to integrate sustainability into their day-to-day lives. While attending the preview of it’s café & restaurant, a whole lot of ideas deluged my mind which we could incorporate easily at home. Frozen Aam Pana or Green Mango pulp in water with herbs (above)… is just a small idea inspired by the restaurant where we were served special ‘House’ waters with infusions of frozen fruit pulps and herbs in them. Initially, the water seems flavoured with the fruit pulps in them. Gradually a strong taste seeps in as the pulp melts. At the end, the water tastes absolutely divine – sweet and flavoured and absolutely fresh as they are being served from glass bottles into glasses made with recyclable materials – No plastics! Very simple, yet heavenly. I hope the simplicity and the beauty of it has been captured in the slideshow below.

What makes The Taste Initiative special? To start with – a lot of things. The menu focuses on organic produce and serves food that is mostly locally sourced – less carbon footprint! The kitchen uses energy saving appliances – induction oven, LEED certified refrigerators (achieving a LEED certification is perhaps the best way to demonstrate a ‘green’ project), and LED lighting (read here) for the whole restaurant! The waste produced from the restaurant is recycled and a dewatering device is used to extract water from food waste – thus reducing the volume of the waste, which is then composted in Bokashi bins (read here). The need for chemicals is eliminated in the entire restaurant by using plant-based Ecover cleaning products (read here) are used in the entire restaurant – No chemicals!

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What do you eat in a sustainable restaurant? ‘Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures’… declares the cover of the menu. In other words it meant that it didn’t require us to remain self-sustainable only on fresh air and solar lighting. Mark Taquet, the Head Chef does conjure up a whole array of gastronomical delights and doesn’t merely depend upon lofty ideas and concepts – a big scorer in the entire conversation! While the menu on one side focuses on healthy options like a variety of granola served with yoghurt, soups and fresh salads, it also offers interesting quiches and sandwiches, noodles, pizzas, breads, signature main courses and not yes, hold your breath – tempting desserts like the Citrus Cheese Cake, Chocolate Ganache Tart, Scones served with fresh cream and much more! The butters and jams are all home-made so are the freshly baked loafs.

The food verdict – The House waters are an absolute delight. Fresh, aromatic and rejuvenating. The Crumpets we tasted seemed almost fresh from the oven and came with home-made peanut butter, strawberry jam and lemon curd served on the side. Personally I am not a great fan of peanut butter, so I’ll reserve my comments here but the lemon curd was superb – light yet creamy, sour yet sprinkled with slight sweetness. We also ordered The Full Initiative – egg and bread of one’s own selection served with Portobello Mushrooms, beef bacon and vine tomatoes. The mushrooms were perfect – meaty and flavoured, tossed lightly in oil, sprinkled with herbs. Definitely high on the scores! We also enjoyed very much one of The Taste Initiative sandwiches that we had – the Goats Cheese, Confit Tomato & Basil.

The Sweet Verdict – We were told that the Cheesecake and the Carrot Cakes were on of their specialities. However, we ended up ordering a Strawberry Tart. The Coconut Macaroons that we got to taste as ‘starters’ were simply fantastic – crunchy yet not too crumbly, sweet but not too sweet! Yes, my Bengali sweet tooth was adequately satisfied.

How much does it cost you to eat in a sustainable restaurant? This is by far the most nagging question that keeps on lurking behind. I would say that the prices fare pretty well considering  the freshness and organic quotients that have been infused into the menu. The House Waters are priced at Dhs 12/-Dhs 16/ (for short and tall respectively), so are the regular fresh fruit juices. You’ll get you dessert within Dhs 22/. The priciest tag comes at Dhs 60/ for a signature dinner meal of Pan Fried Sherri, Cashew Nut & Lemongrass Quinoa. You do have an interesting array on the Menu like Roasted Asparagus, Fried Eggs & Aged Parmesan; Grilled Chicken & Chilli Peanut Satay or Prawns with Thai Green Curry Sauce with further plans to add more to the spread.

The final verdict – Freshness is guaranteed. So is great taste. And it definitely has the guilt-free, feel-good factor that whatever went inside the tummy is all healthy and going to add some sparkle into my aging eyes. But can I bring the Z-Sisters here for a Friday brunch or will we enjoy our meals while Li’l Z strolls loiters around? There is enough space to laze and enjoy your meals but I like the feel of a little bit of a cozy ‘visual’ seclusion when I’m having my meals unless I’m in a food-court or consciously dining on a boulevard-sitting with onlookers passing by. I’ll also be worried with the little ones running around and knocking off a few things from the store area while I focus on my munching. A small glass or any innovative visual separation from the store would calm my nerves and make me settled into a more relaxed environment.

How did it all start? Many of us think most of the times that sustainability is a subject that belongs exclusively to researchers and environmentalists. But we as individuals can do our small little share to contribute to a greener future by making small lifestyle amendment. After all, ‘We all need to make an effort to preserve the planet and the sooner we realise that this is the only home we have, the sooner we will begin to take steps to clean it up and keep it that way’!… read here.


Business Bay district and the Burj Khalifa - at nighttime

How sustainable is the concept of sustainability in a place like Dubai?

Egged on by a brilliant post from Chef and Steward on the Top food trends in Dubai & UAE my earlier post dwells on local fresh and the Friday market in Fujairah.A lot of us from Fooderati Arabia are touching upon these pertinent issues. Sally writes about honest food and fresh ingredients in her blog My Custard Pie. Francine in her Life in a Food Lane has been writing about all the experiences she’s been gaining in Slow Food on her travels. Francine had been with me in The Taste Initiative and was telling me about her particular interest on sustainable food.

Which brings me to the entire logistics of sustainability in Dubai. How far is local sourcing sustainable? While I do support fresh, local produce, a worrying question is also triggered off  – while trying to produce things locally and organically in a place like UAE where the weather is absolutely harsh for as much as four months in a year, are we not better off importing fresh produce? What is the trade-off between the carbon footprints spent air-freighting fresh produce vis-a-vis trying to produce things probably in a very controlled farm environment? It’s ironical that while ‘locavorism’ and going organic is suddenly a topic of hot discussion, when a few years back these were but the most natural thing to do!

An entire series of conversation follows Chef and Stewards’ earlier post and I’m taking the liberty of including that here with the conviction that it will benefit the reader immensely… Arva brilliantly writes about hole-in-the-wall ethnic eats of old Dubai in her blog I Live in A Frying Pan while Sarah is The Hedonista.

Arva: On the case of locavorism, I’d love to see more discussions about (1) local vs. organic – I used to use the terms synonymously, until I realized that local was not always organic (2) what is ‘really’ sustainable. While I love the idea of being as close to the source of food as possible, there is research [Food Production in the Middle East, Tony Allen] that shows that in some cases, importing is actually a better solution than stressing Middle Eastern land or water resources in trying to use them for local agriculture. I don’t know what the right answer is, I just think more research needs to be done to take complete stock of environmental losses and gains from scaling up local farming efforts in the UAE – before determining whether ‘local’ is truly sustainable. Sarah initiated this thought through her excellent post on whether local tomatoes were better for the environment than imported – she found that local ones were better … and I do think a larger scale effort needs to be done to review this along similar lines.

Chef and Steward: … There are local farms that actually use well-water to irrigate and very conservative methods to utilize water and reduce temperatures in their greenhouses. I had a farm visit with one, Al Shuwaib that employs an agronomist from Jordan who pretty much has very basis but effective methods. Farming in the Middle East has been going on for centuries, from the Persians right up to now and places like Israel, Oman and Jordan have thriving industries, so much so that they can also export in the region and beyond. It is harder to farm in the UAE but not difficult and it doesn’t have to be with costly desalinated water.

Arva: Great to know about the use of well-water. It’s exactly these kinds of informational nuggets that really help further the discussion. To be clear, I’m not arguing against local, I do think it makes sense, just not across the board. Moreover, at the scale it’s being done right now in the UAE alone, the question of large-scale environmental impact from local agriculture may not really come into play. But at a more macro, regional level, I’d love to hear more conversations where we talk about which crops/livestock make sense to grow/rear locally (maybe they are already happening & I’ve missed them). I’m admittedly somewhat skeptical of a hard-line ‘pro-local on everything’ stance – so while I do hope the locavorism trend grows, I also hope that it focuses on the nuances I mentioned earlier over time.

For instance, while I completely agree that farming has been going on in the Middle East dating all the way back to Mesopotamia, the demand for food production today is much higher and taxes the land and water resources in ways that cannot be compared to centuries earlier. The next level of ‘locavorism’ conversation needs to focus on what types of crops will provide optimal returns to scarce water resources in the region (except Turkey, where it’s been found that self-sufficiency can actually be attained in a sustainable, feasible way).

Also, to the point of Israel & also of exports, quoting from A Taste of Thyme (a collection of research essays written by prominent food historians): “National recognition that the significance of Israeli agriculture was emotional and symbolic, rather than economic, came in early 1991 when the advice of the water technocrats was heeded publicly and it was announced that Israel would cut its annual water allocation to agriculture by 50 per cent. It was recognized that Israel could no longer export scarce water, which is what is was doing when it exported irrigated agricultural products such as citrus and avocados.”

Taking an excerpt from FooDiva’s recent review on The Taste Initiative into the conversation… ‘Thanks to the advancement of UAE farming initiatives, we have a growing choice of local produce here and I will always opt for local first, with organic second. If I can get both given some of the local farms are now certified organic, then even better.’

Interesting and a very relevant conversation that was! If I go back to my childhood, as far as I remember, growing up in Kolkata, every thing that Mom would cook would either be fresh from our own gardens or brought from the local farmers. In-fact the first time we bought some ‘hybrid’ vegetable – some super red capsicums, we were so excited! Dubai does need to move towards more and more sustainable living if it’s going to project itself as a city of the future. At the same time this has to trickle down to all financial brackets and the different trade-offs should be weighed very cautiously.


Coming back to the Aam Pana or the Green Mango Drink

In my last few posts I have been talking about my Aunty who’s visiting us from Kolkata and has been cooking up quite a conventional cooking storm in my non-conventional kitchen. I have been documenting everything – starting from recipes that crossed the borders of Bangladesh during the Partition and entered the Bengali kitchens on the Indian side of Bengal. You may read this dichotomy of Bengali emotions in an earlier post, Mango Lentil Soup/Aam Dal – The Summer Combat! A little excerpt follows below from that post…

The story of ‘This Side and That Side’ or the dichotomy of Bengal

This is an interesting aspect of Bengalis which calls for a lot of controversy and has given rise to many a literary or intra-family debates. When India attained her independence in 1947, Bengal got divided into two parts – one part falling into India and the other part falling into Pakistan which was known as East Pakistan. in 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh when the later seceded from Pakistan.

A lot of families were scattered between these two portions (if I may borrow the term from food terminlogy!) of Bengal.

For a Bengali residing in the Indian portion of Bengal, Bengal in India is Epar Bangla (Bengal on This Side!) and a person hailing from this side is colloquially referred as a Ghoti.

And the portion of Bengal that falls in Bangladesh is Opar Bangla (Bengal on That Side!) and a person whose ancestors originally hailed from ‘that side’ is termed as a Bangal.

Bengali is spoken in both sides but the dialect and the accent differs drastically. So does food habits and cultural orientation.

I am a Ghoti but my husband is a Bangal. The fish dishes cooked in my in-laws’ place are very different from what I have grown up eating. So are some of the Dals cooked. Aam Dal is eaten here at the end of a meal and not in the beginning of a meal as other traditional Dals!

There is a major debate as to who are better cooks. I love eating good food – whether it is from this side or that side or from the middle. I have incorporated both the styles of cooking in my life and in my opinion there’s no point getting into a debate as to which side cooks better. Simply enjoy both as that will give you more options in life!

Map Courtesy – Web (though I take the credit of a drastic make-over!)


Frozen Aam Pana/Raw Mango Pulp Drink

Category – Drinks & Beverage; Cuisine type – Traditional Bengali, Indian

Following are the characteristics of all recipes doling out of our little hands, big hearth
♥ Easy to cook
♥ Regular canned products off the shelf may be used (However, we advocate using fresh products)
♥ Goes well both as a regular or party dish
♥ Children can easily help in making the dish (My two little sous-chéfs are aged 8 and 3 years!)
♥ And lastly, guaranteed to be tasty!

Aam Pana or Green Mango Drink is a great summer combat and is made in most regions in India. The Bengali Aam Pana is however a bit different in the sense that the green mangoes are first smoked (right below) and then the pulp is taken out. So while the taste of the mango is intact the smoky smell is strong and lends this drink an unusual charm. While in other places in India, the green mangoes are boiled and then pulped.

Serves 6-8 persons (maybe less if they happen to be sweet-toothed Bengalis!)

Preparation time – 2 hours 15 minutes maximum (Boiling/Smoking the Green Mangoes and then pulping – 15 minutes; freezing – 2 hours)

Kancha Aam/Green Mango – 4
Sugar – 1-1/2 cup or more (depends upon individual preference. Also see the alternative method of preparation – if you want to boil or grill the Green Mangoes)
Rock Salt – 1/2 tsp
Giner Powder – 1/2 tsp (there’s no Ginger in traditional Aam Pana. I like to add Ginger for it’s medicinal properties)
Bhaja Guro Moshla/Roasted Cumin Powder – 1/4 tsp*
Green Food Colouring – 1/2 tsp (You may avoid using this but then sadly the Green mango pulp is really not green at all even though we would like to believe that!)

For Garnishing
Mint Leaves
Roasted Cumin Powder – 1/4 tsp
Salt – A pinch

Method of Preparation
– Soak the Green Mangoes for a while and pat them dry. This will make sure that the sticky substance that oozes out from the Mangoes are gone
– Smoke the Green Mangoes evenly on all sides on fire. (Note: You may use barbecue coals as well. I use the normal burner on an Electric Cooker)
– Peel the skin off and scoop out the pulp from inside
– Purée the pulp in a blender with Sugar, Rocksalt, Roasted Cumin Powder
– Put it in an Ice-tray and freeze

– Pour the frozen Green Mango ice cubes into a jug of water
– Add the Mint leaves, Roasted Cumin Powder to the jug (the amount depends depends upon how strong or mild you prefer your Mint leaves to be. I prefer less of Mint leaves and more of Roasted Cumin Powder) and let the herbs soak in a while to infuse some aroma and it’s herbal benefits
– Initially the water turns out to be mildly flavoured but as the pulp melts the water soon catches the strong taste. Stir it before you serve
– Add ice cubes according to your preference – more if you want the water to be more sweet
– Wet the rim of the glass and sprinkle a bit of Salt before serving

Alternative Method of Preparation
– You may boil or grill the Green Mangoes too. You may add the ‘smoky’ smell by placing the pulp of the mangoes on a plate, setting a small piece of paper on fire on the same plate and covering the entire plate with an iron bowl. The amount of Sugar you want to add depends upon personal preference. Some like their Aam Pana/Green Mango Drink to be a bit sour, while others prefer it more sweet.

*Bhaja Guro Moshla/Roasted Spices
In a skillet or a flat bottomed frying pan, dry roast the Cumin Seeds. Constantly stir for a minute. Do make sure that the seeds are not burnt while it retains a fresh and strong aroma. Grind the roasted Cumin Seeds to a powder in a spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder) and keep in an air-tight container. This Bhaja Moshla/Roasted Masala is used to temper many Bengali (also Indian) dishes like Raita, different types of Chutneys etc.


Waste Can be Art

Inspiration comes from many things. Maybe a small idea or a big one. If you want to be inspired, you’ll be absorbing a spark from here, another spark from elsewhere and light up the entire self. The small inspiration from The Taste Initiative came in the form of freezing traditional ideas (the Green Mango pulp here) and serving them as House waters or a summer drink. The big inspiration came in the form of a huge art work on the wall – a collage of Steve Jobs looming on me till I realise that each stroke was some electrical waste that has been reused as art material. I am still reeling from it!

While more on lighting, illuminating your mind and spirits with Diwali being celebrated tomorrow, right now it’s the small ideas that are brightening up my mind and cooling my soul – frozen Aam Pana/Green Mango pulp!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them please don’t use them. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.


Some of my green posts that you may like reading:
Locavorism, Friday Market & Tok Palong/Sour Spinach Chutney
Machan Paradise View in Chitwan, Nepal
Heritance Tea Factory Hotel – Nuwara Eliya, Srilanka
Rafters Retreat in Kitulgala, SrilankaAl Maha Desert Resort, UAE
Down to Earth Organic

Written by IshitaUnblogged

A Culinary Travel Blog by a Bong Gourmet. From Dubai, Kolkata & the world beyond, street food to fine dining, recipes to chef talks, it pens down experiences. With 2 kids in tow!


  1. Love what you did with this drink. I prefer local and if possible organic produce for the reduction in air-miles, the nutrient content and the taste. However, all is still not cut and dried. Well water depletes the levels in the water table which are at critical levels here in the UAE. The real solution would be to reduce the population living here!
    I agree with Arva that not everything organic is good. In a supermaket this week I saw a new like of frozen organic chicken here. Nowhere did it say anything about how the birds had been raised – so that means fed organically grown food but kept in the same battery conditions that other poor poultry endure….possibly without the use of growth hormones or anti-biotics…possibly.

    1. Thank you Sally for such a lovely and insightful comment. That’s so true. Right now the tag ‘organic’ is a best seller. Lot of products are being sold in the name of organic which logically doesn’t make much sense. I shall include this comment as well:)

  2. I’ve been meaning to review The Change Initiative so appreciate the heads-up. I too am with local over organic produce any day – if we can have both great. Thanks for a very informative, well researched post.

    1. Thanks so much for hopping in! Another interesting aspect in the store is that they are using a lot of solar power as well. I have always wondered why UAE hasn’t utilised it’s abundant solar energy… forgot to include this in the post. Thanks for sharing the post too:)

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