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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

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

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

BTW, 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, Twitterand Pinterest.


You may like the following posts:
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! @nomsville on Instagram

Sally Prosser, My Custard Pie: As much as it sounds clichéd, it will have to Ravi’s! Why did I celebrate my 40th birthday at these metal tables on the pavement by a busy road at an unlicensed restaurant ? It wasn’t just about having a rather severe midlife crisis (over 10 years ago btw before you start wishing me happy returns!). A friend first took me to Ravi’s in 1994 and insisted on their aloo paratha and chicken tikka on the bone – which I still order now. Recently, we went with visitors, as we always do, to this taxi driver’s cafe in the heart of Satwa. We tore piping hot roti with our fingers, dipped spoons into fluffy rice and steaming bowls of deeply savoury comforting Pakistani food. The couple next to us on the table were making appreciative mmmms and aaaahs. This is no hidden gem, they were tourists who had found it on TripAdvisor. “We just had to come to Ravi’s”. It’s hard to say why this place has gained such a following when there are hundreds of restaurants serving similar excellent Punjabi food in a no-frills way in Dubai. But we return again and again for the Chicken Achar, the Chicken Ginger, the Channa Daal, Palak Aloo, Paneer Masala and yes, that Chicken Tika on the bone. Rose water scented rice pudding in plastic tubs sent us back off into the bustling streets with smiles of contentment. @mycustardpie on Instagram

Samantha Wood, Foodiva: I’ve lived in Dubai for 18 years and have eaten my way around this emirate endless times, so if I was leaving, the last thing I would want is to dine out. I would save the dining for new experiences in my new home. Instead, I would order in Rossovivo’s classic Neapolitan pizza (provided I wasn’t moving to Italy!) OR oysters/ prawns from Market & Platters (which has since closed and is due to open in a new location) or Lafayette Gourmet, and crack open some very nice champagne with close friends – or I would hire a chef to cook at home. @foodiva on Instagram

Sana Chikhalia, Sana on Food: I would like to indulge in some good Mandi from Bait Al Mandi. @sanaonfood on Instagram

Sarah Walton, The Hedonista: I love the vibe of the Anatolian restaurant Rüya, it’s regional cuisine and I’ve watched chef Colin Claque’s Dubai career for the duration of my Dubai tenure. (Chef Colin Clague has been at the helm  of the best of Dubai’s fine dining spots like Zuma, and later the stunning Qbara). @thehedonista on Instagram

Sharon Divan, Pickle My Fancy: I will go back to Al Mallah in Satwa to have a shawarma and their chocolate milkshake, or Shish Tawook at Al Safadi in Sheikh Zayed Road. Now that I think more of it – the restaurants I would go back to are the discreet ones, – the ones you know of only if someone has told you about (or if they are no longer ‘hidden’ gems) or you chance upon. If there was a restaurant (not sure if you can call it that) I would go back to in a heartbeat would be Bu Q’tair but in its old avatar. We had heard about it, but in those days with no GPS (almost 14 years back), we never seemed to find it and once we did, there was no stopping us. Some of my fondest memories have been eating food out of the small cafeterias in Deira (my first neighbourhood when I moved to Dubai) – shawarma (surprisingly, each one manages to taste different) and so affordable at Dh 1 only, a chicken kadhai and roti which my husband used to bring home for dinner from a small Pakistani joint in Al Ras when we did not have a functioning kitchen in our first home. Over the years, I have also enjoyed the delicious yet simple food at Bhavna, specially when I missed my home cooked Gujarati food and at Al Ustad Special Kabab or popularly known as Special Ostadi Restaurant (both in the Meena Bazaar area). Or perhaps, before I leave Dubai, I will finally make it to Ravi Restaurant in Satwa (14 years and still have never eaten there) and learn what the hullabaloo is all about! @picklemyfancy on Instagram

{Read about both the old and the new avatars of Bu Q’tair in IshitaUnblogged, and do watch my Youtube video which has had 100,000 views!}

Yi-Hwa B. Hanna, Into the Ether: Definitely Single Fin Cafe at Surf House Dubai – Surf and SUP School. I’d go early, then have their Dawn Patrol breakfast burger on a jet black bun (truffled scrambled organic eggs with manchego cheese and a side of crispy bacon – it’s simple, but so damn good), stay there talking to friends and listening to good music – maybe, have a singalong if someone has a guitar and the weather’s good outside. Then I would go out for a nice long paddle off at the Sunset Beach and stay out to watch the sunset from the water before coming back for a strong Americano and a frozen acai bowl made with their homemade granola. Yes, this would be an all-day affair! My choice of this place is not particularly because of the food, although I do love it – non fussy but honest, fairly priced and tasty food, but because of the memories and the vibe there. The place feels like a second home to me and the people there – from the staff to the community regulars – are like family. Also because of the proximity to one of my happiest places in this city – Vitamin Sea! I think anyone who knows me will agree that this is where I can be usually found as it encompasses a lot of what I’m about and assuming that they share the same values that I do, these are the places/people/things I’d absolute miss the most after leaving Dubai. @yihwahanna on Instagram

Shawarma in Dubai

Shawarma pangs for those who have already left the UAE shores 

Francine Spiering, Life in the FoodlaneI would repeat what we did when we left – a tour of Old Dubai with Frying Pan Adventures, so I didn’t have to choose which restaurant or cuisine. Another place would be the fine dining restaurant Pierchic, for it’s scenic location: Pierchic.

{Read about my Arabian Pilgrimage food tour  with Frying Pan Adventures that I did long time back and the more recent Sharjah food walks}

Mafaza Haleem, Explored By Mafaza: I would love to visit the places that I haven’t been to before rather than the places I’ve already been to. As someone who moved out of Dubai recently, I am missing all the good food that Dubai has to offer, specially the shawarma. Honestly, I’d love to visit #morisushi one last time because I love the sushi there. @exploredbymafaza on Instagram

Priyanka Bhattacharya Dutt, turaturi.com: I can tell you as someone who has already moved out and relocated to India. Had I known I would never taste good shawarma again, I would have made sure I ate a shawarma sandwich everyday before leaving!

Shiyam Nagarajan, foodnflavors.com: My last meal in UAE was in Bombay Udupi in Ajman. I love the idli and sambhar dipped in a fragrant puddle of sambhar and the palak dosa. The Dubai equivalent of the restaurant would be Venus. @foodnflavors on Instagram


Memories and moments are what people move cities with… while we started our Dubai journey in 1999, we shifted base to Frankfurt for two years in 2004. We had several farewell parties at friends’ places (everybody seemed happy to be seeing us off, even gifted us so many Dubai souvenirs – the sand art and the framed khanjars), visited all our favourite hangout spots (one favourite spot was the Coffee Beans and Tea Leaves opposite Jumeirah Beach Park – none of them exist now), even drove to the Nalukettu restaurant in Ajman to have our favourite crab curry by the beach! Was there any particular food or a restaurant that we missed and talk about while in Frankfurt? I don’t think so. There were always some associated memories that would haunt us. For example, my daily walks by the creekside throughout my first pregnancy which made that area so precious, the occasional drives to the Palm Strip Mall on the Jumeirah Road for the Häagen-Dazs strawberry cheesecakes (there weren’t so many malls around or so many franchises of popular brands in every locality – imagine six Starbucks in one block!), the late night chai encounters by the small cafeterias on the Jumeirah Road (admitting coyly that we ordered from inside ether car, but no honking promise!), and the hours and hours spent under the solitude and bliss of white canopies at my beloved Basta Café. Cities change just like us humans, but the emotions and the soul remain unchanged and that’s what we have realised in our so many years of Dubai living. The memories of celebrations are etched in the mind forever. And tastes and flavours add in brightening those different moments. That’s why I return to Scoop in Outram Ghat everytime I visit Kolkata – they serve the sundaes from my childhood! For all of you who have been reading this, what is the strongest food association of a city that you have? And if you have been living in Dubai for a long time – think camel years, which will be the restaurant where you will have a last gig in? With mindless giggles all along!

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 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.


Here are a few of my friends’ write ups that might be of interest if you plan to dine out in Dubai:
Where to take visitors to eat in Dubai – on a budget by My Custard Pie
FooDiva’s 30 favourite Dubai restaurants (2017)
Why is Ravi’s butter chicken the best? by Esha Nag in Friday Magazine

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Bijoya celebrations with sindoor khela with IshitaUnblogged

Shubho Bijoya to all | Immersing in the bond of food and love

For the wise man, every day is a festival ∼ Plutarch

Shubho Bijoya! The five-day long Durga Pujo (wiki at your service) evokes a sense of pride, love and communal solidarity among Bengalis, in whichever part of the world they have chosen to call their home. For me, Dubai has been my adopted home for the the last few years and we celebrate it in our own non-ritualistic way. In my childhood, Durga Pujo was all about the excitement of school holidays accompanied by new sets of clothes designated for each ‘bela’, so five days of pujo meant ten sets of new clothes – one for each bela… morning and evening. Much later it became my chance to officially roam around the city 24×7 with my squad, the Bearded Biker being one of the squad members. The essence of the goddess’s arrival on earth – her monumental fight against demons and putting the faith back into humanity – that good always necessarily triumphs over evil, lost its significance to our search for the best phuchkawala in town who would still be willing to serve us at an ungodly hour of 4am. This, in turn, would invariably lead to the eternal fight for supremacy between North Calcutta and South Calcutta (yes, before the city was rechristened as Kolkata) – the para/locality battle of global importance – as if the verdict on the phuchka and the double egg double chicken roll determined the fate of a para. What could have been my purpose of dressing up in those days (much before the matured feminist principles set in –  dressing up for one’s own self)? To attract boys from my hood? from other hoods? show off the best curves? earn an ego flattering tag of being quite a chick… I simply can’t remember now. Today this would have probably tantamounted to garnering a couple of ‘likes’ on social media! But the fact remains – the five days of Pujo every year, are still one of the most amazing days of my life… closely followed by the remembrances of a chaotic Holi… and the long wait culminating in the surreal feeling of attending the midnight mass in St Paul’s Cathedral as we ushered in Christmas. An earlier writing of mine talks about my childhood in Kolkata, a city which raised us to celebrate all the festivities that every religion had to offer. A festival was for celebrating and immersing one’s self in its being… irrespective of the religion. I was born a Hindu, but never told to be one. I worshipped Hindu deities, but never asked not to worship anyone else. I have gone on a Ramadan food trail in Kolkata with the same veneration as I have gone pandal hopping during Durga Pujo. Today when we celebrate Durga Pujo at home, it’s hardly the rituals that I want to bring in perspective, specially for the Z-Sisters. It’s the emotions… emotions of being a Bengali, a Kolkatan and finally being in love with the kaleidoscopic life that only a city like Kolkata can bring.

And for a Bengali, that colour of love is quintessentially red and white.

Bijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's homeA Bengali lady adorned in traditional red and white sari and holds a puja thaliBijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's home Bijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's homeBijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's homeBijoya celebrations with sindoor khela at IshitaUnblogged's home Bengalis in Dubai

Whether it is the nine yard draping of a traditional sari, the shakha-pala adorned by the married Bengali woman – the white bangles made from conch-shell and the red bangles made of red corals, or the smearing of the red sindoor/vermilion on the forehead, the vibrancy of the red and white combination that I have grown up watching, is quite addictive. You may want to try out new things, but come Bijoya Dashami… the duotone outdoes all the others in the colour wheel. This year too, we ushered in Bijoya with a small gathering at home, a day earlier on Nobomi to coincide with our weekend. The menu was traditional and consisted of fish fry and mochar chop for starters (I also intended to make some aam paana vodka shots, which I forgot!) followed by the mains – beguni, potol bhaja, luchi, aloor dom, iliish maach bhaja, bhoger khichuri (a bit different from the khichuri recipe I have on my blog), mangsho, tomato khejurer chutney. Desserts consisted of notun gurer payesh, malpoa and a rum cake (courtesy friends) and signing off with the signatory paan. The requests pouring in from friends were endless – if the menu had mansho, then there had to be luchi and the luchi had to be phulko or perfectly puffed up (and if you still don’t know my obsession with it, read my ode to phulko luchi), begunis had to be crispy and hot, preferably not pre-fried. The same went for iliish maach bhaaja. Calcutta Fast Food in Sharjah very kindly took up my delicate proposal of ‘part-catering’, if there can be a word like that. A small live cooking section was arranged outdoors in the garden for frying the fish, mochar chop, beguni, luchi, ilissh maach. The sequence in which these needed to be fried also required some serious attention (and strategy) – the first two in the above list were to be served as starters, and the rest had to be doled out almost simultaneously during the main dinner. Not to forget the delicate balance of not frying too much too early on, or take the cue that the oil in which the iliish maach was fried wasn’t the same for frying the luchi!

 

♥ ♥ ♥ Lil Z created a cute hand written menu (left) which, I forgot to place along with the food. She is still upset with me and nothing can compensate this, not even posting it on my blog now because the moment is gone – it is a three-fold card with intricate design of a hand holding the card and the fingers wearing glittery rings. That brings me back to an issue that I seriously suffer from – always forgetting to serve something that has been created specially for the guests, for example, the chutney which is always left waiting in the fridge!

Traditional Bengali dinner specially created for the Pujo Bengali Aloor Dom Bengali Fish FryBengali Mutton Curry with Aloo             Notun gurer payesh

The Bearded Biker leaves no stone unturned for me to materialise a menu. So a few days earlier, after office, we dashed off to the Backet Supermarket in Rolla in Sharjah, the Bangladeshi wholesaler for Bengali fish and foodstuff. If it had to be iliish, it had to be from the Backet, he said. We decided that we would provide the iliish maach and the mustard oil for frying them, for our part-catering. A 12kgs Katla fish was dangling in our way and was way too tempting but we stuck to our list – for once! The special rice used for making bhoger khichuri and the payesh – the chinigura, which is a good substitute for Gobindobhog and the potol also came along with us from Backet. So did the special gondhoraj lebu, the Bengal lime which has a similar aroma to Thai kaffir limes. Salimbhai (below), helped me to choose the perfectly rounded aloo for my aloor dom and the barrel shaped perfect potols. He also promised that the iliish would taste heavenly and it indeed did so. Although, our need for Bengali fish is adequately met at Mefroze in Karama or from a Bangladeshi shop in Bur Dubai most of the times, this dinner needed to be special. After all, the preparation for a special celebration and it’s anticipation is in a way, a subtle infusion of love and warmth into the moments we create for keepsake memories.

Backet Supermarket in Sharjah Frozen Hilsa available in Backet Supermarket in Sharjah The scraping of scales of Hilsa in Backet Supermarket in Sharjah Salim Bhai in Backet Supermarket in Sharjah

The only time when fashion has to complement food in my blog, is during Pujo. As more and more metropolitan cities in India (and all over the world) are moving towards homogenisation, people are opting out of traditional wear in their daily lives and choosing to wear clothings that are convenient, practical and fuss free. And rightfully so. Festivals and special celebrations are becoming once-in a while special occasions that deserve special adornments. I am hoping that these pictures from my personal album reflect the richness of Bengali culture, despite being diluted in our adaptation at foreign shores. My brother also shared a picture of my Ma and Baba dressed up for Bijoya Sammelani (below) and this was my social media newbie Baba’s first pujo update on Facebook wishing everyone! I also dug into my archives for a picture of my mum-in-law during pujo… she hasn’t yet learnt to take a pujo selfie this year, hence no real evidence of her participation in the pujo. Big Z was a year old in the picture, taken at Iron Side Road in Kolkata, the residential complex where we lived for many years after we shifted from the Magistrate’s House. The stark redness of the sindoor, the crispness of the new saris, the beats of the dhol/ drums from the pandals, the early morning chanting of the priests, and the endless wait for the narkel narus/coconut truffles after the pushpanjali was over – I can feel everything vividly in my senses even today… wherever in the world I am. My brother has been updating live (on social media, of course) from the different pandals that he’s been visiting. I am sharing one of the theme pujos that caught my fancy (do check out his instagram handles @streetbizz and @inbitsnpieces capturing the eclectic world of street vendors and their pursuits). He writes: ‘Modern man’s self obsession with mobiles, is reflected in the theme of this North Kolkata Pujo capturing the attention of the selfie crazy instagram & snapchat generation’. I am sharing a gallery of his beautiful images. And while we are still on the subject, my friend Meher’s write up in Gulf News… ‘Tame that shrew called social media‘, makes for an interesting read.

As I sign off, wishing you all a life filled with happiness, prosperity and peace, my thoughts are with all those people affected by the incidents in Las Vegas today … or Barcelona a few days ago… or the quakes in Mexico… or the stampede at Elphinstone Road Station … or… or… the list is endless. How can we pledge for more tolerance? How can we nurture a non-judgemental society that is more compassionate, kind and respectful than it’s previous generation – and that cares for every fellow human being, irrespective of his/her religion, sexuality, ideology and geographical origin? And I beg you not to ask the nittygritties of my religion (a few challenging remarks have started pouring in recently). For I know nothing. I don’t have a particular religion. All I know is that I have embraced many things from many religion and many philosophies that have resonated with me… I chant Buddhist mantra and seek solace in praying the rosary, soak in the muezzin’s call for prayers and shut my eyes in veneration as I offer flowers to the deities in temples. And I derive the same sense of worshipping when I cook for my family and friends… and try to bring a few hearts together to sew a few good memories!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Pssst: I have been shortlisted in the Top 10 list in the BBC GoodFood Awards ME 2017 under the ‘Food Influencer’ category. Do cast your votes for me to win!

Image credit: My friends – Bireswar, Soumitro, Nilanjana, Sumana; my brother Aveek and myself

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.

 

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Chittoda's Dokan in Dacres Lane with BBC Travel Show UK

Dacres Lane | Introducing Kolkata street food in BBC Travel Show UK

Good food is very often, even most often, simple food. ~ Anthony Bourdain

I believe that the heroes of each para or locality in Kolkata are… the phuchkawalas, jhalmuriwalas ~ the saviours of the city’s delicious street food culture. Just like Dilipda in Vivekananada Park, whose phuchkas have marked almost my every adolescent escapade, be it a breakup or a disastrous school report. Hail, rain or storm, you can find these unsung heroes everyday at their designated places feeding hundreds of dissatisfied street food addicts. Dissatisfied, because you will never find a satisfied customer when gorging on street food. There is always a feeling of something missing – either the salt or some spice, or the tanginess in the tamarind chutney or the crispiness of the phuchkas. And this eternal dissatisfaction leads to regular visits to one’s favourite roadside food stall. There is also this eternal trying to get hold of the ‘secret formula’ that goes into the customised ‘bite’ dictated by an individual’s taste buds. While I like to believe that the secret of not falling sick when you eat on the streets is to ‘believe’ that there’s nothing wrong with the food, there’s a bit more of logistics that one needs to adhere to – avoiding old dips and chutneys or making sure that the water used is safe. Also, sticking to popular places or those which are crowded makes sense, where the food turn around is prompt. Last year around this time, I had the honour of presenting Kolkata’s street food to Benjamin Zand for the BBC Travel Show (the link above opens up to the Kolkata episode). August in Kolkata is dedicated to the rain gods and is definitely not the best time to showcase dips and chutneys, specially from roadside food stalls and that too to westerners. However, fate had other things in store for me. Keith Wallace, director with the BBC Travel Show shared his brief with me… “we’ve had loads of suggestions for the street food in Decker’s/Dacre’s Lane, and we’re looking for someone who can tell us what all the food are, but also give us tips on food safety/hygiene, as I guess many westerners would be anxious about trying street good in India. It would be great to allay fears AND show off the street food”. And I did the honours!

Presenting Kolkata's street food by presenting Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane with BBC Travel Show UKBenjamin 'Ben' Zand is a British-Iranian journalist and filmmaker for the BBC Travel ShowBenjamin ‘Ben’ Zand is a British-Iranian journalist and filmmaker for The BBC Travel Show

Keith Wallace, Director BBC Travel ShowKeith Wallace, Director BBC Travel Show

Presenting Kolkata's street food by presenting Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane with BBC Travel Show UKPresenting Kolkata's street food by presenting Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane with BBC Travel Show UKI was initially asked to wear a sari which I felt would be a bit too much considering that we were going to showcase street food. I did however resort to a kurta embroidered in traditional kantha-stitch, just to keep the Kolkata and the Bengal story going.

To be honest, Dacres Lane wasn’t my first choice for showcasing Kolkata’s street food considering it now faced a bit of dilapidation, although one can’t deny the fact that this stretch was still a heritage in the city’s street food landscape – a decaying heritage much like the city’s personal story. The show was based on social media suggestions and Dacres Lane outweighed all the other options. On the destined day, the rain gods thankfully didn’t play foul and we managed to taste all the signature dishes in the legendary Chittobabur Dokan. This entire lane off Esplanade is still strewn with restaurants and food stalls dating back to more than five decades with Chittobabur Dokan holding centre stage. We had their signature fish roll, ghugni, chicken stew with toasted pauruti and also the monsoon special khichuri combo. The latter priced at a mere Rs 25/plate and comprising with a runny khichuri, beguni, a cabbage torkari, papad, chutney and payesh is testimony to the fact that the Bengali sentiments for khichuri is more than just a tummy satisfying meal. It is commendable that all these sentiments were being upheld in the Khichuri served here, even though it had a humble pricing. Chittobabur Dokan is an eating hole in the office district and still boasts of a few regular diners who have been visiting the place for the last 40 years! Ditch the air-conditioned seating in Suruchee, a modern day expansion of the original food stall further down and opt for the outdoor benches in front of the original one instead. You may have to balance your lunch on the steel tray, but do concentrate on the simple flavours of the food. The stew screams comfort and deliciousness. The light gravy may look bland, but it’s strong in flavours, specially the piece of papaya and carrot that comes in a plate with the generous piece of chicken or the mutton. It’s humble and comforting and even the not-s0-overcooked-but-just-rightly-done papaya explains why regulars have been flocking here during the lunchtime for decades. This is as good as a tiffin brought in from home. Coming back to the legendary fish rolls – once you bite through the bread crumbs and a subtle layer of kashundi, the fish filling breaks easily into flakes, as is desired from a fresh catch of bhetki (and not its substitute basa). Ignoring an occasional car hooting through the narrow lane through the crowd or the rain water held by the tented ceiling above (in case it rains) may be difficult for some, but these things find their own steam and balance in cities like Kolkata!

Fish roll and pauruti toast in the legendary Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres LaneFish roll and pauruti toast in the legendary Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane

Chicken stew and pauruti toast in the legendary Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres LaneChicken stew and pauruti toast in the legendary Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane

The khichuri lunch at Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres LaneThe special monsoon combo – khichuri lunch at Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane

Chai-making in Chittobabur Dokan is a constant storytelling. More than 400 cups of chai are made in a day and once washed, each cup and saucer goes under boiling water.

Chai in Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane with BBC Travel Show UKPresenting Kolkata's street food by presenting Sharma's in Dacres Lane with BBC Travel Show UKThe famous lassi at Sharma’s in Dacres Lane (just beside Chittobabur Dokan)

The Recce… a day earlier

When I am in Kolkata, I am spoilt rotten by my dear friend Milon who makes sure that all my desires on my Kolkata food bucket list are ticked off. Be it the Icecream Sodas, one of my childhood favourites that used to be available at different clubs in Kolkata and manufactured by Bijoli Grill and now almost extinct (he gets me cartons of bottles straight from the Cotton’s factory) to Mitra Cafe’s fish fry, his contribution to my food story writing is immense. Coming from a bonedi family in North Kolkata, he’s got his pulses in the city’s food scene like no other friend of mine. Whether it is to suggest the fusion Bengali restaurant Bohemian or bringing signature items from popular centenarian restaurants over to his place for dinner so that I don’t have to run across the different restaurants, Milon is on real adrenaline when it comes to food. On my recce to Dacres Lane before the actual shoot, he even lent me his father who has been diligently having his lunch in Dacres Lane for the last few decades. Although a real foodie, my friend refused to join us in our lunch explorations lunch in these roadside food stalls (his aristocratic demeanour prevents him from doing so, I think). Meshomoshai very generously guided us through his favourites from this place sharing his few decades long stories. Although there are many new restaurants which have mushroomed along this stretch, his loyalty over Chittobabu’s Dokan hasn’t swerved a bit. His favourite from the menu is the Diamond Fish Cutlet, which required pre-ordering – and for which we will have to revisit Dacres Lane again.

The legendary Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres LaneThe nephew of the legendary ChittobabuThe nephew of the legendary Chittobabu. He runs the business now and is pretty adept at handling media and camera.

Presenting Kolkata's street food by presenting Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane with BBC Travel Show UKSumitava Saha aka Neil, our nephew and photographer assistant (left) and Mesho (middle)

Sumitava Saha aka Neil, my nephew and photographer assistant

Meshomoshai having his regular lunch of chciken stew and paurutiMeshomoshai having his regular lunch of chicken stew and pauruti

Presenting Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane to BBC Travel Show UK
Do watch the full episode to see Benjamin in my city wresting in a traditional aakhra, visit the kaleidoscopic Kolutola bazaar, play football on the streets in a North Kolkata ‘para’ and more.
Milon, Sumitava thanks for helping me with the recce (Milon, for lending your gracious dad for our lunch exploration), Amit and Rupanjali for sharing some amazing clicks; and finally Keith and Benjamin for embracing my city!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Presenting Kolkata's street food by presenting Chittobabur Dokan in Dacres Lane with BBC Travel Show UKThe fully loaded groupfie with Keith Wallace and Benjamin Zand of BBC Travel Show team and Amit Dhar and Rupanjali Chatterjee who had been the most helpful fixers for our Kolkata story

Pssst: I have been shortlisted for the BBC GoodFood Awards ME 2017 under the ‘Food Influencer’ category. Do cast your votes for me!

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 friends’ write ups on Dacres Lane:

King Fish Biryani

Press The Freaking Publish Button with This Freaking Fish Biryani!

I don’t like looking back. I’m always constantly looking forward. I’m not the one to sort of sit and cry over spilt milk. I’m too busy looking for the next cow.Gordon Ramsay
King Fish Biryani
King Fish Biryani

Hello – Happy New Year to all of you! I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon Ramsay in October last year and found the above quote of his very compelling, specially for the state of mind I am always in. I am telling myself to absolve the essence of the quote into each and every cell that I have in my body. Otherwise, I will be doling out explanations that I think I owe to my readers and and myself… how could I write more than 30,000 words across 60 articles in 2016, but not a single word for my blog? Or why could I post more than 530 posts on my Instagram (@ishitaunblogged) but not a single image in this blog! I travelled to 4 different countries, eaten in more than 30 new restaurants, interviewed more than 20 chefs – a few with the Michelin fame, encountered several delicious moments – all of which deserve a space here. It’s not that I haven’t had the time – writing is all that I have done in the last year. Didn’t a single word or an image make the cut for my blog? I have lost count of how many did actually – all because I have been FREAKING OVERTHINKING! The only thing that I have realised is that the blog is the life line for my all my creative juices and it has to continue, no matter what. It started off being such a fun space depicting my Dubai life, my Bong heritage and my travels elsewhere. What happened? Dear Ishita… be Gordon Ramsay, and look for the next cow – or fish if that pleases your Bong soul! Debbie, my blogger friend (aka Coffee Cakes & Running) and editor at FoodeMag (the food & travel emagazine that I had cofounded and now edit, an oft repeated info in case any of you are joining me in my blog space for the first time), left me with the ultimatum – “Press The Freaking Publish Button before this midnight.” I promised her I will. “So what are you going to write about?” she asked. I answered: “A Freaking Fish Biryani!”

Sniffing into fresh herbs and greens and brightly coloured fruits, I plopped up random stuff in the grocery this weekend. I danced in excitement when I saw a promising loot on the iced shelves of the fish section. I cooked up a few recipes in my head – all in flat thirty seconds of crossing the grocery aisles. The way I tugged at Big Z’s sleeves, it seemed like I was at a fancy grocery for the first time. Well, the first time after many weeks for sure, for the #BeardedBiker (that’s S formerly, but now transformed into this new hashtag permanently, much to my dislike) has taken away the grocery chore from me. Two reasons – One, I was proving to be more expensive and two, there was more wastage. The Z-Sisters of course had a way of manipulating me into buying stuff that we either didn’t need or were so much in excess of our needs that they regularly overshot their expiry dates and had to be thrown. “Please Mummy, please please please, can you buy some….?” Lady M too would tell me to add things randomly at the last minute, or minutes after the bill had been paid. “I forgot to write down…” These things don’t work with the Bearded Biker. No more apparent wastage. The part about my conscientious wife’s dented ego – well, I forgot about it soon as it worked to my advantage – no more last minute tweaks in the grocery list for flavoured gummies – and visibly cheaper grocery bills, fuller tummies, ampler time and more energy for my fingers to type!

Gulf News Fun DriveGulf News Fun Drive; Image credit – my friend Sneha

Meditation… Freaking Meditation anyone?

Everywhere I have been reading about the power of Meditation. The more I read, the more frustrated and irritated I become as I stumble on my path to traditional Meditation. That’s where friends come in – they twist and tell you things that’s convenient for you! According to my friend and wellness practitioner Tanuka (aka Soulight Tanuka on Facebook), Meditation is doing any activity which doesn’t make you think of anything. Cooking for me is then, Meditation, otherwise my mind is full of nonstop chatter! Result of my meditation on last Saturday  was this ~ FREAKING ~ Fish Biryani. Although the Bengali soul longed for Hilsa and all I could remember was the taste of the Hilsas from my last Kolkata visit, I have to admit that these King Fish steaks did a remarkable con job. Just because it was still the weekend and just because the Bearded Biker was back home after bashing the dunes in GN Fun Drive and just because he had put in a request for a King Fish Biryani many moons back – it had to be this fish Biryani on the menu. A Fish Biryani request coming from a Biryani loving Bong came as a bit of a surprise, because since time immemorial, a Biryani for a thoroughbred Bengali, had always meant an Awadhi Biryani (here’s a recipe of it from my blog)!

Bengali Hilsa Curry
During my Kolkata visit this time, my Mum-in-law’s ‘Shorshe Bata Iilish’ or the Mustard Hilsa was so subtly spicy and sublime, specially when she poured her love, thick mustardy love!

In the last few years that I have visited Kolkata, I felt that the Hilsa didn’t taste quite special. Glad that in my last visit, every Hilsa that I tasted, whether fried or cooked in gravy, had been supreme. And for those who vote for the Kolaghat Iilish, the ones shown here are from Diamond Harbour. The Hilsa is a perfect rainy day companion so, if in Kolkata Let it rain…

Freaking Fish Biryani

  • Servings: 5
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category – Main Course; Cuisine type – Indian

Ingredients

2 cups Basmati rice
5 steaks of King Fish
1/2 tsp coriander powder
4 green cardamoms
2 half-inch long cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
2 tsp garam masala (the Bengali blend – a mixture of an equal proportion of powdered cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaf)
2 tsp fresh garlic paste
1 tsp fresh ginger paste
1 cup low-fat yoghurt
2 tbsp of ghee*
1/2 cup white oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 chilli, chopped finely if you want it spicy
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional – for garnishing)
salt to taste

Method
  1. Soak the rice in water for some time and drain out. Spread the rice grains thin over folded newspaper and let them dry.
  2. Mix coriander powder, turmeric powder, Kashmiri chilli powder, salt, ginger and garlic paste in yoghurt and marinate the fish steaks in the paste for thirty minutes. Heat oil in a flat pan and fry the fish steaks on both sides until the fish is almost cooked. Pour the remaining of the marinade and let it cook for a while.
  3. Heat oil in a flat pan and fry the onions until they become translucent. Set aside.
  4. Heat ghee in a deep, flat bottomed pan. Throw in the bay leaves, cardamoms, cinnamon sticks. Stir in the rice for a while. Add 4 cups of water (exactly double the amount of rice) and salt as per taste and cover with a lid. When the water starts to boil, cook in the lowest seam. Once the rice is cooked al dente, place the fried fish steaks on the surface along with the cooked marinade. Spread the fried onion. Splatter some ghee around the pan and put the lid back. Switch off the cooker by 5 minutes and remove from fire and let the Fish Biryani cook in its own seam.
  5. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve it FREAKING hot with a chilled Raita!

*The ghee that most Bengalis prefer to use is a bit strong in flavour and has an acquired taste (and preferably a brand called Jharna Ghee). It isn’t available here even in most Bangladeshi shops and hence travel back in our suitcases from Kolkata! You may also use any other brands of ghee or butter. Just so that there isn’t any more added confusion or disruption in your gastronomical thoughts, this tried and tested recipe doesn’t really belong traditionally to any region and has been developed in our kitchen – with great success!

Seabass stuffed with Green Peas, Coriander & Garlic GarnishingSeabass stuffed with Green Peas, Coriander & Garlic Garnishing

At 6:45pm on Saturday, I got a sms from the Bearded Biker that there’s been a 600 Dhs RTA fine… a second one of a similar value within the first half of January in this new year… in the same Oudh Metha road. I couldn’t figure out WHY THE FREAKING HECK? I could have bought myself a new geeky gadget for myself with that money – any that can detect these radars and caution me beforehand? I also missed out the opportunity of a weekend afternoon siesta that the Fish Biryani lunch so deserved as an immediate follow-up. All this because of the ridiculous amount of time spent in MOE to collect my annual acquisition – a new pair of geeky glasses from my regular opticians. This also brought me to the realisation that the amount of money spent on my glasses ever since my childhood, just to make my thick glasses somewhat decently thin (I know similar fate awaits me in other aspects of life too), would probably have bought me a fairly oversized diamond ring, in which case bigger sizes wouldn’t matter. The mushiest and the most touching moment amidst all these unfair interludes of life ? Big Z declaring that she will forego all ECAs in school this term and her thirteenth birthday too that’s due in May end (not very soon but fairly soon, according to her and for which she has been counting days from the very next day after she turned twelve – bless her), in order to compensate the unexpected expenditure arisen from my fines. Her kindness melted my heart and while I have put her offer on hold now for a more pressing emergency in the future, I am seeking the next best and the most economic intervention possible – let my Bearded Biker do the weekly groceries. In the meanwhile, I am concentrating more on the menu to cook something delicious daily – it was a smoking hot Seabass stuffed with Green Peas, Coriander & Garlic Garnishing that I cooked the very next day. But first things first, without much OVERTHINKING (which I am capable of, in various intensities) and with less than two hours to go for the Cinderella hour, I have to press the FREAKING Publish Button and I hope that you try out my FREAKING Fish Biryani – it’s fairly FREAKING easy!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: Looking back if I must (although Gordon wouldn’t approve of it), but looking down I mustn’t! It was only last week that I had an unique dining experience with Dinner in the Sky.

Only FOOD can lure me up there – 50m above sea level, harnessed up in a seat and hanging from a crane!

Disclaimer: I had a media invite for Dinner in the Sky. 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.

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Travelling Green

Travelling Green | Also With Kids!

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

Rafters' Retreat, Kitugala, Srilanka
Rafters Retreat – Kitulgala, Srilanka: Many scenes in the ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ were shot in Srilanka. Most of them were at Kitulgala including the last scene where the bridge explodes. This is the place that inspired me to start my own travel blog.

Travel Green if you want to keep on traveling.

Tips for Green Travel

I am not an environment expert. This is my green quest (or should I say green surfing over the internet?) to learn about Responsible Travelling. The objective is to learn green travel tips and ideas that are easy to apply and share with you and also gift them to the Z-Sisters so that they may continue travelling and exploring the world we live in. For what I read and understand, with the overload of information that I have right now is that, we are living in a very environmentally fragile space and we need to be aware of our surrounding environmental issues, the harmful effects of human activity on the biophysical environment. This post has links to sites that provide easy tips and suggestions to holidaymakers like me – who have good intentions but don’t know where to start or how to start. Read on for more ideas on accommodation, food and travel for a guilt-free Green holiday.

Talking about ourselves, our family has been an ‘easy environmentalist’ – conscientious but not very conscious, hence this quest. We have tried to travel green as much as is practical, booking ourselves into hotels and resorts who follow the green policy. I believe that an Eco-Resort is available for everyone, for all budgets. But not always everywhere. We are proud that the list of the eco resorts that we’ve have had a chance to visit so far, is gradually increasing – but these have been a bit on the high end kinds. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that a part of the money that we spent on our holiday, will most probably find itself re-generating something meaningful and empowering someone, somewhere on this planet, not just pay wages to people employed in the travel industry.

There has never been such an urgency as it is now to Travel Green. Counting carbon footprints (what is carbon footprint?) as well as currency notes while on vacation and thinking of alternative green ways (please don’t demand fresh Cheese air-freighted from France, when you are in a remote place in Mongolia!) while traveling is the only way to make sure that we can still go on vacations when we turn grandparents and our children turn parents. What would you do when holidaying options on earth cease? You could still book tickets on the Virgin Galactic to travel to the moon. The potential cost of such a holiday would be only $100 million – the cost of a single ticket to the moon. Of course, with a refundable deposit of $200K!  [Virgin Galactic flight to the moon]

There is only one checklist for Green Travel – Is your environment being cared for?

It can’t be that difficult. We care for our children. We care for our homes. As humans, we have experience in care-giving. Surely, we can care for the environment too. All it takes is to believe that we can care or if push comes to thrust – we have to care, there is no other option. And you can travel green with kids. They have no idea about the colour of your travel!

Myths that block our minds about Green travel:
– It’s not comfortable and cannot be luxurious
– It’s more expensive
– It’s not child-friendly
– It’s only for those who are into adventure sports and nature lovers
– There is no urban type of a holiday destination – it must be in the tropical jungles or the forests or some wildlife sanctuary
– It requires extensive planning
– It’s meant for backpackers only
– It’s meant for environmentalist and not geared towards common layman like you and me

Remember – it’s only about making certain choices – choosing the right hotels, the right travel operators, making some background studying on the travel packages, choosing the right food (you can sacrifice the food that you are used to and opt for local variants or products of the country you are traveling for a few days). Choose the right travel options – and look out for Green destinations and Green accommodations.

Note: GREEN tour packages exist on every continent for all age, interest and family composition!

Following are some easy and simple green links so that your Green Quest doesn’t become an ordeal. From different destinations, to different holiday types to various type of accommodation you will find them all.

Interesting sites/blogs on Green Travel:
Greenty; Greenty’s Blog – Gives you wonderful options of Eco Resorts and Eco Hotels in Asia, Africa, Europe, Caribbean, Latin America and North America.
Your Travel Choice – Eco-destinations, responsible travel tips, climate change and tourism and more.
Responsible Travel – From Adventure holidays, Beach Holidays, Family Holidays, Wild-life Holidays, Walking Holidays and more from various destinations in Asia, Australia & Oceania, Africa, Europe, South America; Luxury hotels to Unusual accommodation – you will get everything and anything of your choice here. They promise to provide ‘the world’s best responsible and ecotourism holidays.
Eco India; Eco-India’s Blog – Eco-Parks, Eco-Tours, Eco-Resorts/Lodge, Eco-Activities, Eco-Places in natural reserves in India that preserve the environment and conserve endangered species.
Eco Luxury Retreats of the World – A collaboration of the best luxurious retreats in the world ‘that are ecologically and socially responsible with all what represents excellence in hospitality services and authentic experience, demonstrating that the two can go hand in hand.’ Did you think that Eco Resorts cannot be expensive? You may want to check in into one of the retreats enlisted here.

Readings that might make you believe in Green Travel:
What is Responsible Tourism?
Green Travel Tips – How to leave nothing but a footprint in your travels
Principles of Ecotourism
Sensible Travel Can Save The Environment
10 Myths of Responsible Traveling
Global Warming

Do share your thoughts on eco-travel and travelling green, specially if you have been living in this over pampered, over-indulgent sand pit! Or have you already been taking small measures that can add up to be a bundle of green travel ideas – practical and sustainable in the the long-term?

Unblogging it all,

Yours Ishita

Disclaimer: All illustrations have been developed by myself. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent, excepting the resources that I have used. This is not a sponsored post and while you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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New Bu Qtair | A Revamped Dubai Institution In Video

Things do not change; we change. Henry David Thoreau

Bu Qtair, the Dubai institution, has a new location now. A shift of 100 meters from one side of the road to the other – an upgraded location – a sea view along the fishing harbour. There are no more plastic chairs around and you are seated in posher-than-plastic cane chairs by the sea. Although the old charm of porta cabin is gone, a few things haven’t changed – the dining experience in terms of the charmingly harrowing long waits, the overdone crispy fried fish (my opinion, you might beg to differ), and the throbbing crowd. More on my latest blogpost… Bu Qtair In A New Avatar.

It was time to make a new video on the revamped Bu Qtair. Hope you all like the video of new Bu Qtair‬ as much as you liked my video on old Bu Qtair as it pushes beyond the 91K+ views on You Tube that the latter had made! Here’s presenting the video of the new Bu Qtair!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. This is not a sponsored post and while you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Al Fannah | How Deep (Fried) Is Your (Fish) Love?

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. ∼ Maimonides

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The painted walls are supposed to resemble an aquarium at night when viewed from outside the glass window

The above quote might be true, but you know what – perhaps not applicable to Dubai. As long as we are living in a city like Dubai… let someone else fish, fry them and feed you the fish. So, here’s our new find (almost budget find) – Al Fannah – that has my blogger friend and confidante Coffee Cakes and Running and myself drooling. Located inside the Umm Sequimm Fishing Harbour and the Dubai Ports and Customs Authorities, our hunch is that this hidden gem is soon going to be the next ‘Bu Qtair‘ in town, alibi some fairy lights, melamine plates, steel cutlery and queue-less waits. Also with better fish and a lesser bill (Dhs 10 less for each item off the menu as compared to Bu Qtair). The concept is very much the same – you go upto the counter, select your fresh fish, pay by the kg for the shrimps or by the piece for the big fish, tell them whether you want your fish fried or grilled (the latter is clearly not possible in Bu Qtair) and wait at your table.

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The fried shrimps with fish curry, just waiting for the Malabari Paratha to dip into it

Al Fannah needs attention by itself, not because of where it stands in the race against Bu Qtair. To clear things from the start, the restaurant doesn’t have any intention to compete. It so happened that discovering Al Fannah also had the strings of the word ‘Bu Qtair’ attached to it… on our last visit to Bu Qtair as we were heading out, somebody randomly handed in a flyer of this ‘new restaurant which also served similar fried shrimp and fish’. It looked pretty in the evening – with fairy lights and bright blue walls that gave it a glow like an aquarium from the outside. So, on a random afternoon, Debbie and I wanted a new find – a budget find – to cheer us up. The thought of a great Dubai weather, al fresco dining and good sea food prompted us to Al Fannah… and we were bowled over!

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The Biryani rice – fragrant and flavourful. My suggestion – go for the Fish Biryani!
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The make shift plastic table cover that already switches on our hungry mode
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The same shot sans the plastic table cover – either which way, the glory of the fish doesn’t lessen

The food: We gobbled up two (or may be three) bowls full of fish curry dipping in the pieces of soft Malabari Parathas; a rough 750 gms of fried shrimps pre-marinated in their ‘secret’ spice (I know the secret spice is a clichéd one but I will probably have to go all the way to Kerala to get this secret one); a kg of Sheri deep fried to perfection – soft flakes tearing into our fingers. I also fell for the Biryani rice that our server Shiraz, promised would be ‘bohut acchaa‘ or too good. While I thought that the latter would only make a great prop for my instagram and probably walk away with me in a parcel, destiny clearly had a different intention. For it was cleary too good! If you are a rice eater, my suggestion would be to actually order just the Fish Biryani – it costs Dhs 12/plate – the quantity of rice is quite adequate for two and it covers a sumptuous fried fish (about 9 inches long)… until and unless of course you want a bigger fish to make yourself happy. Service is prompt and the staff attentive – as expected in similar casual dining places. And the food reaches the table steaming hot… well, what can I say? I am clearly sold!

The story: We chat to Younus, the brother of the restaurant owner. He is pretty conversant in English and tells us how the local partner has fishing boats, so the fish that is served here is fresh, local catch. It is quite evident from the location of Al Fannah (inside the Dubai Ports and Customs Authorities’ premises) that the owner has vasta/connection. He also has experience in F&B industry with a line up of other restaurants around Bur Dubai and Al Barsha. While Younus chats with us, the owner walks in and looks at us a bit suspiciously. Younus tells him that we are from a magazine – I guess that from a few random words from their conversation. What is interesting about these self-made entrepreneurs is that their behavior to their customers are consistent – irrespective of whether the latter happens to be media or not. No frills and bonus love in anticipation that you might actually be helping them by some word of mouth. This reminds me of the little story of Musa (again of Bu Qtair!)… when I went to give him a CD of a video that I had made on Bu Qtair (which had become quite popular on You Tube), the first thing that he asks me is whether I would still be paying for the coke that I was drinking!

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The fairy lights adorning the al fresco dining once the sun is down

It was quite obvious that I had to return soon to Al Fannah with the Z-Sisters and S and amidst the fairy lights and cool sea breeze we did return… very soon. Not many places in Dubai warrants me to come back. And also because my job as the Editor of FoodeMag dxb requires me to try out new places all the time – big (like the last one that visited) and small… and that means returning to a place is an opportunity lost to eat out at a new place. For one thing, Al Fannah is not for those on the look out for a romantic hotel set up, but a cute and modest one by the seaside (with artificial green carpeting under your feet while you dine al fresco and humble fairy lights – colourful ones!), but there will surely be fresh delicious seafood to bind your hearts. I do hope that the place becomes popular without the need to diversify their menu with other popular Indian dishes – Chicken dishes as Shiraz mentioned – or the Indian Chinese that they promised to serve me on my next visit.

Which is your favourite budget haunts in Dubai – without mentioning the clichéd Bu Qtair or Ravi’s – where you have to dig in with your hands? That brings back to this picture borrowed from Debbie where I am digging with my hand – not manicured yes, but it’s bringing back all my memories of deep (fried) fish love from our new find!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

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I am digging with my hand – it’s bringing back all my memories of deep (fried) fish love… for the first time I don’t care about my non-manicured hands!

More info on Al Fannah Restaurant. The google coordinates are approximately 25.15167, 55.19766 and the direction can be found on my google map >>

Also read Pickle My Fancy’s review.

Disclaimer: The bill for our lunch was Dhs 110 for two persons which also included water and diet cokes, while the bill for our dinner was Dhs 350 for 5 persons (admitting that we did overeat!). This isn’t a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Quique Dacosta | When Food Becomes An Enigma

Each person is an enigma. You’re a puzzle not only to yourself but also to everyone else, and the great mystery of our time is how we penetrate this puzzle. ∼ Theodore Zeldin
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Smoke, rose petals and mystery – that was the beginning of our evening at Enigma
enigma
ɪˈnɪɡmə/
noun
noun: enigma; plural noun: enigmas
  1. a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand.
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Fois Gras – a classic Quique Dacosta dish that is now celebrating 15 years

Difficult to understand, yet beautiful and stimulating to the senses… mysterious yet slowly revealing like a poetry… that is how I will describe my experience at Enigma. Did I comprehend it? Will I go back to it? Will I recommend it? For now, one thing is certain, this is a first of a kind of a dining concept that Dubai (and the world for that matter) has ever witnessed. Set rightly in the opulence and grandeur of the newly opened Palazzo Versace Dubai, Enigma is introducing a concept of rotating menus along with its chefs four times a year, each chef being renowned internationally. The menu is confidential the secret menu is revealed as the evening unfolds amidst drama (and theatrical performance of food, if I may add) and each dish tells an untold story. A seating has to be pre-booked and reserved online against payment (www.enigmadxb.com) – definitely something that the Dubai diner isn’t used to.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Quique Dacosta’s quirky palate cleanser in the midst of drama

A day after the first season was launched, a select few of us had the opportunity to witness what can be regarded as Dubai’s first avant-garde dining experience. Opening the first season was the untold story named ‘Vanguard from Qique Dacosta, whose avant-garde eponymous restaurant in Dénia in Spain has three Michelin stars and is currently listed at number 39 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Interestingly, the restaurant in Dénia will remain shut as his entire team will now be based in Dubai until April.Conceptualised by Patrick Robineau, the hotel manager of Palazzo Versace Dubai, each pop up at Enigma is intended to be “an exceptional dining experience that people crave and yearn to keep up with, just like other highly desired commodities.”

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Didier, the restaurant manager with Quique for the last decade, serving a guest with passion and as he partakes in narrating the story behind each dish

As we walked into the restaurant, the first thing that struck us was that the tables weren’t set up. This was interesting as I had just been told of the million dirhams Versace crockery that graced the other restaurant in the hotel – Vanitas. As Didier, the French restaurant manager and confidante who has been working with Quique for the last decade explained later, the entire experience at Vanguard was supposed be like an art revealing in front of the diner – starting with a blank canvas. Once the diner walked in and was seated, that’s when the colours would start splashing on the canvas and the culinary performance begin. The menu is shrouded in secrecy and I will let that be, instead I will take you through my interview with Quique that followed a day after the dinner. This will probably reveal a part of how Quique creates sheer art and story though his food – while keeping the enigma intact. Since the menu is a secret and there are many complexities to the dishes, it is advisable to let the team know about any food allergy and preferences so that an alternative is already thought of. What did I think of the menu? As I told on air the next day… I want to keep it a mystery as Quique would probably want it to be that way. But textures, fruity flavours, interesting play of colours, dramatic presentation mark the dishes. Yes food plucked from inside a rose, a sudden switching off of the lights or trying to figure out the real edible charcoal amongst a plate full of real charcoal – there are too many twists and surprises that need to be experienced by your self!

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Quique Dacosta is instagram savvy and maintains his own social media accounts
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Quique Dacosta adds his final touch to the dessert. The pine branches are leftovers from Christmas following his ‘no wastage’ principle

My interview with Quique Dacosta therefore starts on a different note from fellow blogger and friend Foodiva‘s interview, having already experienced Quique’s food. Interestingly, we were both seated at the same table during our dinner at Enigma, and I think that her interview gives a different perspective to Quique while my write up delves more into Quique’s food. (My questions are in bold).

∼ Our dining experience the other day was more like a theater which probably holds an excitement for a first timer. Will it still hold an enigma for a repeat diner if the menu doesn’t change much? It’s like seeing a good movie twice – the first time when you watch it, you are surprised. The next time when you watch it, you can focus more on the details and you will always discover a new element that you wouldn’t have probably noticed in the first time. Obviously, it’s a movie that we have just started so the next time onward you will probably understand and appreciate a little bit of the ‘behind the scene’ effort and the concept. The menu may change a little bit and you might find a completely new menu or there might be a surprising twist to the dish same dish. The second time since the ‘setting’ is familiar, the diner will actually appreciate the food more and we promise that there will always be some twist and surprises.

∼ Your instagram feeds suggest that you have been sight seeing a bit and have also visited the spice market here. Are you planning to incorporate local spices in your menu? We went to the spice market and came across such amazing variety of new ingredients that we will certainly incorporate in our menu here. Just like we brought a few herbs and spices in our suitcases here, we are also going to take back a few ideas along with spices and introduce in the menu in Dénia.

∼ The Quique Restaurant in Dénia is focussed on sourcing things locally. Although the local farm movement is evolving here, how do you transplant an idea from a place which is organic to its origin to the artificial environment of Dubai? It really depends upon the quality of the produce and where we are. We try to deal with this in the most pragmatic way. We try to obtain the best produce depending upon where we are. It really doesn’t matter whether a tomato comes from Abu Dhabi or Italy or our farm in Dénia. What really matters is the taste and the flavour and the quality of the tomato.

∼ We tasted almost 10 dishes – are these dishes already there in Dénia or they are new to Dubai? (after a bit of discussion between Quique and Didier, the final verdict for the number of courses turned out to be 14!) If there are two complex elements in a dish, we consider it as two dishes instead of one because of the effort that goes into making them. The menu that we are serving here comprises of three historic ones – ‘The Living Forest’, the Gazpacho and the Fois Gras (the latter celebrating 15 years of conception!); four dishes from the last season in Dénia – the Rose, the Leaves, Charcoal and the Rice and the rest is specially created for Dubai. I want to add here, that although we have kept the classical dishes pretty much the same as we would serve in Dénia, we have tweaked here a bit in some dishes, for example, in the fois gras – while in Dénia we add rum and coke, here we have added some lychee components as we didn’t want to create any dish with alcohol.

∼ Each dish seems to have a beautiful story, but is there a sequence as to how the story is being told? Not really. But we have been trained to look for balance in the dishes in terms of flavours and quantity and our main intention was to have a progression of flavours. Although there wasn’t any sequence to a story but I would describe it as a music album where all the songs have its own little stories and all the twelve songs together make a concert album which is complete in its own.

∼ Do you fear that many restaurants are now replicating you – the avant garde concept, molecular gastronomy or complex presentations in their dishes? What is the future of this? I mean, this was the futuristic cooking… now what… what is the future? There are many chefs who are using avant garde technique as a way of seeing their own style of gastronomy. They don’t have to make copies as there is so much to do in the world of gastronomy. What is the future? I don’t have the crystal ball! What does YOUR crystal ball say? We have customers travelling from all over the world to see what I am doing, understand my emotions. All their waits and travels are worth the unique experience that we provide and that can be the only future – constant creative innovation that creates a diner’s curiosity.

∼ Did you actually come to Dubai before or try the local food? Did you work out in your mind what will work and what will not? No, I haven’t been but not because I didn’t want to. And in a way it was good because the Dubai diners would actually get to experience the original Quique Dacosta food rather than a menu that has been influenced by a prior visit or experiencing the local food. Specially after having visited the Spice market, I doubt whether it would be possible not to let them influence the menu I may create henceforth! So, it wouldn’t be exactly be a Qique Dacosta menu but an adopted Dubai version of a Quique Dacosta menu. Having said that, what I can tell is that if the diners want a my restaurant here in Dubai, then I will still have to get everything from outside. The only possibility right now to get Quique Dacosta food is to visit my restaurant in Dénia. But an easier way would be to try out my food during the time I am here!

∼ What inspires Quique Dacosta? For example, painters have inspirations and having experienced your food, I can say that you are no less than a painter (interestingly, last year Quique Dacosta was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Miguel Hernández University for his exceptional culinary artistry). What inspires you to paint the way you do, in a plate? Products send you messages. Yesterday, for example, we tried different kinds of peppers and some lemons that I had never seen before and they were interesting that I was excited. When I set my hand on some produce which seem perfect, an idea is immediately formed and inspiration begins.

∼ What inspires Quique Dacosta? For example, painters have inspirations and having experienced your food, I can say that you are no less than a painter (interestingly, last year Quique Dacosta was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Miguel Hernández University for his exceptional culinary artistry). What inspires you to paint the way you do, in a plate? Products send you messages. Yesterday, for example, we tried different kinds of peppers and some lemons that I had never seen before and they were interesting that I was excited. When I set my hand on some produce which seem perfect, an idea is immediately formed and inspiration begins.

∼ What does Quique Dacosta cook at home? Or does he cook at all? I am not at home too often and mostly working in the restaurants or travelling. However, I have got two kids and I try to keep everything simple, basic and traditional, of course with a bit of a professional touch! I use lot of vegetables and make soups – specially the very popular Spanish fish soup with vegetables.

∼ Is there any childhood comfort food that haunts you often? I am not like someone who is in need of comfort food and have been busy working since a very young age in reinventing the art of gastronomy.

∼ In the age of social media, how do you maintain the mystery element, the enigma of your food? I know how secretive you are about your menu and didn’t give me the printed copy of the menu, lest it’s revealed. Or do you want people to actually share? It’s obvious that I want the diners to be surprised when they come to the restaurant. Everybody has got his/her own thoughts, words and experiences. For example, when a music album comes out, you still want to go to a concert to watch your favourite singer or a band. Why is that? It’s because the experience is very different and touches some additional senses. Everybody needs to experience a beautiful sensation in person. Even though you may google different places and countries, you still make travel plans and visit those places. Why do you go to a museum when every image is available today in the internet? If you go to a museum it stimulates your sight, if you listen to music, it stimulates your ears, but food touches all your senses. So even if one has an idea of how a dish might look, it is still a different experience to actually smell it, touch it and finally taste it. And the emotions are bound to be different for every person as not everybody perceives everything in the same way!

∼ Curious, is Enigma a romantic venue at all when all the focus is in the ambiance and the beauty of the food rather than in the partner? It is definitely the most romantic venue. There is so much magic happening all the time – for example, it was only last night that a couple fell in love while they were relaxing in the terrace after a magical dinner, waiting for their coffee to come and today they are together! It’s a place for romance to bloom as each dish is created with a lot of passion, beauty and has an element of seduction. (and yes, I remembered now Quique Dacosta describing the dessert that we had tasted earlier as erotic!)

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Watching ‘The Living Forest’ come to life at our table amidst emanating smoke – this is one of the classic Quique Dacosta dishes that is going to be in the Dubai menu

While my partner and I loved the evening that had so much of poetic nuances, mystery and mastery, attention to detail – starting with the movie that was being projected on the wall behind me (Fritz Lang’s 1972 silent movie Metropolis set in a futuristic urban dystopia and other such appropriate movies)… I did feel that the staff probably didn’t have a taste of much of what was being served – everyone seemed to be in awe of the huge name that was attached to the chef at the helm of the kitchen. My favourite dish was the rice dish that I thought I heard that there was duck in it, while clearly it was the pegion who was having its last say here! Do read another friend and fellow blogger The Hedonista’s tryst with Enigma.

What is your take on a dinner where the menu is shrouded in secrecy? Are you comfortable and excited to be led by the course of the evening and let your senses guide you or would you rather be at the helm of your own choices and like to wait in the table knowing what is in the plate that is being brought to you?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

A lot of beautiful visuals, forms and textures playing in my mind that night... starting with the dramatic dining experience at Enigma... Quique's mastery in mesmerizing the diner... to this incredible chandelier in the lobby which was created in acrylic and not crystal, I was told!
A lot of beautiful visuals, forms and textures playing in my mind that night… starting with the dramatic dining experience at Enigma… Quique’s mastery in mesmerizing the diner… to this incredible chandelier in the lobby which was created in acrylic and not crystal, I was told!

You can book into Quique Dacosta’s Vanguard >>  www.enigmadxb.com.
Until 12th April, 2016; Dinner only and closed on Sundays
Price/Guest: AED750/person on weekdays and AED850/person on weekends

Disclaimer: I had been an invited guest at Enigma and I had the opportuntiy to interview Quique Dacosta as I will be writing a special feature on him for FoodeMag dxb. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

Eating Up Sharjah With Frying Pan Adventures – Part 2

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

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Nothing can be more true than the above quote and that realisation dawns even more on a tour with Frying Pan Adventures. I had recently been on a #savourSHJ trail organized by Frying Pan Adventures in collaboration with Heart of Sharjah. Arva Ahmed, the founder of the former and Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi, Head of Events for Heart of Sharjah, take us through the heritage and glorious tales of Sharjah’s past. While the first part of my journey (lasting almost two and a half hours… Immersing Myself Into The Heart Of Sharjah – Part 1) is a walk through the restored heritage sites of historical Sharjah, in the second part of the trail it was all about smells and sights of alleys and crowded markets. In a nutshell – eating up Sharjah!

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Leaving Heart of Sharjah and strolling into the old souq

Heart of Sharjah is the largest historical preservation and restoration project in the region. Planned over a 15 year period, to be completed by 2025, it seeks to revitalize the heritage district as a vibrant cultural destination by unraveling a glorious past – restoring historical buildings, constructing new structures following traditional Sharjah architecture and transforming them into hotels, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and markets, where the current generations and the future generations can experience Sharjah’s cultural and social fabric.

And… Frying Pan Adventures seek to uncover and share the rich and authentic fabric of culinary experiences that Dubai has to offer by walking you through the back alleys and feeding out of delicious and tasty eating holes.

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Mohammadia Cafeteria in the Old Souq has been there for the last 30 years

Mohammadia Cafeteria: Leaving Heart of Sharjah to explore more of the city, our first stop was Mohammadia Cafeteria for ‘sambusa in samoon’, a fusion experiment that have stood the test of time. Deep fried vegetable samosas that have been crushed, are placed into a hot dog bread mercilessly with the ultimate drizzle of a hot chili sauce. The price of this amazing concoction doesn’t surprise me – Dhs 2 for almost a footer. But what surprises me is the shattering fact that Arva throws at my face – Samosa didn’t seem to have an Indian passport – but originated from the Middle East where it was called sambosa. As evidence, she takes out her smartphone and reads out excerpts from the pages of history! A dose of Masala chai later, I am on my mission to find out the brands that go into the making of this over sweetened delight – Alokozay, Lipton and Brookbond and sweet condensed milk from American Garden as the sweetener (surprisingly not Rainbow Milk as the latter is the secret ingredient in most cafeteria chais in this region). Fatima tells us how the owner of this 30 year old cafeteria started off by going from one home to the other with a basket on his head, frying  sambusas and putting them in samoon  to make fresh sandwiches.

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An inscription in gold from the pages of Quran

Goldsmith alley: We are guided along the Wall of Sharjah made with coralstone and that dates back to the 16th century AD. A lot of restoration work is in progress and we walk past Al Hisn Fort and Sharjah Institute for Theatrical Arts towards the Goldsmith alley. This alley is lined with small workshops of goldsmiths and gem cutters. Most artisans are from Kolkata and I strike up conversations in Bengali and am explained how busy they are making silver prototypes before the final jewellery is made in gold. An inscription from Quran hanging on the wall catches my attention and the beauty and profundity of the translated message as one of the goldsmith explains to me outshines the gold plate.

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The gas fuelled huge tandoor in Mohd Hanif Bakery resembles a raging volcano
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Tandoori naan stuffed with aloo – the happiness is in the stuffing and the slather of Dalda

Mohd Hanif Bakery: Our next stop was at this Afghani Bakery in Al Mareija – an eating hole making its presence felt by the aroma of their sheer heaven stuffed Tandoori naans or flat breads! Tremendous heat emanating from the huge gas Tandoor is compensated by the naans clinging with all their life inside the walls of the tandoor – so as to be cooked with love and tenderness followed by a slathering of Dalda (I checked… not ghee, Dalda is a popular brand of hydrogenated vegetable oil used in India) before it is eventually served to the hungry onlookers – us!

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The man at the counter at the sweet shop is unperturbed with all the chaos that surrounded him with colourful sweets, innumerable questions and flash bulbs

Al Rolla Sweets: Still in the same Al Mareija area, our next destination is a Gujarati sweet and snacks shop where Arva has already made her final selection for us, after having done several tasting sessions. Here we taste the saffron flavoured peda which is more like a milk fudge made with khoya – a thick reduced form of milk, ghee or clarified butter and refined sugar!

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Salmiyah Nuts which has been here in the heart of Zam Zam market for the last 40 years

Salmiyah Nuts: ‘This is of the bounty of my Lord’. An acknowledgment of this eternal truth is probably all it takes to turn something ordinary into a legend. Salmiyah Nuts today is a Sharjah heritage and an institution that has been in existence for the last 40 years. Set in the pavement by a parking lot surrounded by high-rises, this is where traffic comes to a stand still in the evenings as the shutters roll up. The kiosk cum street shop turns into a culinary destination with people queuing up to buy delicate chickpeas coated in different flavours – both sweet and salted. Ali, the founder of Salmiyah Nuts started his business 40 years ago when he would sell special baby chickpea brought from Iran in his wheel barrow. Eventually the municipality confiscated his cart and the Sharjah Ruler built this kiosk  for him which resembles a fort. Although there is a sense of pride, Sadat Anwar, Ali’s son has no arrogance and serves all customers humbly. He does make a reference to the fact that their roasted nuts are not only popular amongst Sharjah residents but also ministers and dignitaries.

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Zam Zam restaurant which is very popular with the Afghans and the locals
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Kulfis that resemble a work of art in Cafe Khezana
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Kulfi served with Falooda and Rabdi

Cafeteria Khezana: Our last stop is the 15 year old Pakistani cafeteria for deliciously divine thick and creamy Kulfis. While others opt for Kulfi sticks that are judiciously divided into two (one half for each health conscious group member), I opt for the Kulfi and Falooda version – the one that is made even richer and calorie-laden with the addition of creamy Rabdi and a thick sweet syrup made with Basil seeds. Overwhelming and intoxicating – this rich crowning dessert is neither for the fainthearted nor the artery clogged heart! Caféteria Khezana seems to be popular with its savoury chaats – a street snack variation from the subcontinent – but that’s for my next visit.

As we walked back and our tour was nearing the end, stories never ceased. Arva and Fatima told us how the entire area would be restored into heritage sites as underneath most of the high rises lay the foundation to the original city of Sharjah or the ruling families’ homes. Among other interesting things, Arva showed us a circular structure – probably the only round wind tower in the region. We also learn about Sharjah Institute for Theatrical Arts that is now a popular cultural venue for drama shows, drama training and theatrical workshops.

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A Gujrati lunch thaali in… well, Arva wants to keep the venue as a surprise!

The day had been full of delightful surprises -knowing about a new place and sharing a few hours (few 5 hours!) walking with like minded people. If there wasn’t any mention of a proper sit down meal, it was not because we didn’t have one , but because it’s not going to be part of the next trail that you might be booking into. Instead, what you will have is the one pictured above that my friend Mita tasted and certifies (the above picture is borrowed from Arva – although all the other pictures have been taken by me, but on her borrowed camera!). Signing off – no other day can be more apt than today to keep my promise of writing the sequel of #savourSHJ trail… Frying Pan Adventures completes three long years TODAY… of adventure and exploring the heritage reeking back alleys of a city which is leaping each day to ‘tomorrow’ taking more than exponential steps – amidst the garb of poshness and modernity. May the Frying Pan continue to sizzle!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

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Sangetha Swaroop (of Gulf News), Afsha Ahmed (The National), Sally Prosser (My Custard Pie) and Arva Ahmed… all walking back to the start point

You can book into #savourSHJ trail from Frying Pan Adventures
Next Dates: Thursday, January 28
Duration: Approx. 4.5 hours
Price/Guest: AED 299.00 inclusive of 8 stops featuring 1 restaurant for brunch, 1 old-time sandwich cafeteria, 3 sweet stops, 1 bakery & 2 beverage stops

Disclaimer: I had been a media guest along with my favourite foodie companion Sally Prosser of My Custard Pie and others in this trip with the transport provided by Careem. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. None of the outlets mentioned here have sponsored this post. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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#savourSHJ with Frying Pan Adventures

Immersing Myself Into The Heart Of Sharjah – Part 1

You don’t stumble upon your heritage. It’s there, just waiting to be explored and shared. ∼ Robbie Robertson

#savourSHJ Trail with Frying Pan Adventures and Heart of Sharjah

The last time I went on a Frying Pan adventure, the tour duration lasted 4:23:01 hours and I have been burning calories ever since. Although it’s taken me two and a half years to hop on another adventure with them (blaming it partly to the dairy of the Z-Sisters), all the different tastes and flavours that I tasted on my first trail are still intact. This time my adventure was to Sharjah, an emirate that is very close to my heart. By Dubai standards, that means literally another continent – hence the lure of a discount and the comfort of a Careem car transfer to those booking into the tour! With a city where each geographical pocket is so segregated and unfamiliar to the residents living in another locality (Karama seems like a journey to the moon for a Marina resident, or a Bur Dubai dweller wilts trying to figure out where Muraqabbad street is in Deira), the #savourSHJ trail organized by Frying Pan Adventures in collaboration with Heart of Sharjah, is a gorgeous eye opener to the heritage and tales of the glorious past that has shaped the Sharjah of today. It is also an opportunity for the beckoning tourist or the resident to discover more of what the UAE has to offer, apart from the glamourous tourist spots flickering on travel channels. This is the first part of my journey – not a short one if you look at it, considering that it must have been at least two and a half hours of walk through 200 years of history!

Wall of Sharjah made with coralstone that dates back to the 16th century AD
Wall of Sharjah made with coralstone that dates back to the 16th century AD

Heart of Sharjah is the largest historical preservation and restoration project in the region. Planned over a 15 year period, to be completed by 2025, it seeks to revitalize the heritage district as a vibrant cultural destination by unraveling a glorious past – restoring historical buildings, constructing new structures following traditional Sharjah architecture and transforming them into hotels, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and markets, where the current generations and the future generations can experience Sharjah’s cultural and social fabric.

And… Frying Pan Adventures seek to uncover and share the rich and authentic fabric of culinary experiences that Dubai has to offer by walking you through the back alleys and feeding out of delicious and tasty eating holes.

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Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi, Head of Events for Heart of Sharjah

The culminating result? A 5-hour long incredible visual journey into the bustling alleys with bricks of history and explosion of my senses with mesmerising tastes and colours. Tales of people, tales of places, tales of nostalgia. We were led by the storyteller extraordinaire – Arva Ahmed, the founder of Frying Pan Adventures who has spent her childhood in Sharjah. She was joined in by Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi, a local born in the very Heart of Sharjah and who has seen the changing face of the city like no other. We started on our journey at the Discovery Centre with our newly acquired knowledge of the area – how a reverse urban planning (almost) was about to take place with the demolition of high rises that surrounded the historic area and rebuilding and restoring of the entire area with buildings and structures that reflect Sharjah architectural heritage.

In Majlis al Shaabi, the traditional majlis for the elderly,, patience is a virtue at the Dominos table!
In Majlis al Shaabi, the traditional majlis for the elderly, patience is a virtue at the Domino table!
 Fashion fades, only style remains the same. ∼ Coco Chanel
Fashion fades, only style remains the same. ∼ Coco Chanel; Nothing can be more true than the young-at-heart elderly men who frequent the Majlis al Shaabi

Majlis al Shaabi: Our next stop was Majlis al Shaabi, a traditional majlis cum recreation club for the elderly where dominos and cards were the only things that were meant to be given any form of attention, followed by kadak chai! The little conversation that we had with the gentlemen in the majlis was interesting and strewn with nostalgia and sadness that engulfs in remembering a bygone era. Dr Hussain Al Muttawa, one of the regular visitors to the club and a retired professor now with a doctorate from Michigan State University in USA, lamented how things had been so different before. He spent most of his mornings here ‘discussing things’ and went home only for lunch, sometimes staying upto late at night. ‘My wife is also old, so what can I do at home? So I come back to my friends here.’ A non-stop flow of over sweetened kadak chai provided these men with the energy and vigour that was probably needed for winning the rounds of cards or dominos. Losing wasn’t really an option here, as we soon realised when a ‘loser’ broke into a conversation that exceeded all acceptable decibel limits!

Al Omani Sweet Factory in Souq al Asra

Al Omani Sweet Factory in Souq al Asra: If there was one place in this trail where I wouldn’t have minded being left behind, was our stop at the Al Omani Sweet Factory. An intoxicating aroma of ghee, cardamom and rosewater filled up this small room where four halwai experts sat by the gigantic clay oven with copper vessel – the mrjni, churning out Omani Halwa in equally gigantic proportions by stirring continuously. Four other men acted as assistants in this sweet act – an act I soon realised was a very laborious process. Omani Halwa epitomises festive celebrations – whether it is Eid, Ramadan or traditional weddings and also provided comfort at times of sorrow. It is very different from its namesake from the subcontinent. This is more like a thickened jelly and each pot churns out almost 50 kgs of Halwa. The process of halwa making starts by stirring in water, sugar, flour and ghee. Caramelised sugar, infused saffron, rosewater are added gradually while ladling in the ghee or clarified butter, almost continuously. Once the heady sweet concoction thickens, rich garnishes of apricots, cashews, sesame seeds are folded in amidst further stirring. Ashkar, one of the halwai experts from Kerala, explains, ‘You have to keep on stirring until the Halwa thickens. It is a very hard work as it may take upto 2 hours of continuous stirring to get the right consistency and one has to be always alert as the halwa may burn at the bottom if left without stirring, even it was for a moment.’ I probe further and he tells me the exact proportion of the ingredients that goes into the making of 50 kgs of halwa! Arva intersperses her chats with interesting fillers – like the Omani Halwa that is made for the palace – it is sweetened with figs instead of sugar and tasted ‘heavenly’!

Gulf Antiques. No photographs allowed... seriously? In this day and age of social media?
Gulf Antiques. No photographs allowed… seriously… in this day and age of social media?
Ali in Turath Tobacco Shop
Ali in Turath Tobacco Shop

Gulf Antiques and Turath Tobacco Shop in Souq Al Asra: This is the oldest and the most popular souq in the Heart of Sharjah with a strong history behind it – this was the Asra or the courtyard surrounding which traders from Persia and India traded retail goods that they brought in their boats to the adjoining harbours. Pearl diving had been one of the most important activity in the olden times and this is where the pearl divers met and exchanged notes on their haul. The alleys inside the souq are lined up with shops selling antiques, artifacts and souvenirs. Fatima and Arva lead us to the Gulf Antiques where Mohammed Nassir Al Zaroni, also known as the ‘Antique Man’, has a reputation for stocking genuine antiques, some of which he has no intention to sell. And clearly not to media people like us who overlook the ‘no photo’ posters stuck on the front door and start clicking inside! Set in 1964, this shop is one of the oldest and genuine. Fatima and Arva warns us that the souq is full of shops claiming to sell genuine antiques and one has to be wary of the fakes. Next, we halt at Turath Tobacco shop, one of the first tobacco shops set up in the region. While Abdul Ansari, the owner isn’t around, Ali bin Ali Al Muslin manages the show now and explains how the strong dokha or the tobacco is that go into the traditional smoking pipes called midwak. Ali ascertains very proudly that the midwak isn’t like the western pipes and how he only sells very good quality of tobacco, the price of which could go as high as Dhs 90/kg!

Archaelogical Findings Room in Souk Al Shenasiya
Archaeological Findings Room in Souk Al Shenasiya

Archaeological Findings Room, Dukan Namlet, Ratios Coffee in Souq Al Shenasiya: As we walk around the reconstructed Souq al Shenasiya, we are shown around the different types of shops, both modern and old that grace the souq. These are shops selling traditional abayas, kharaz or the traditional beads, perfumes, jewellery and even households like traditional homeware, pots, decorative pieces and dallahs. This souq forms the most interesting piece in the jigsaw puzzle that connects the old Souq al Arsa and Souq Saqr. The Archaeological Findings Room gives a glimpse of the original foundations of the souq that were excavated after His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council, Ruler of Sharjah, commissioned a non-intrusive radar survey of the area. Our next stop is Dukan Namlet – and this stop initiates an interesting thread of conversation. The young people in the emirate are coming back to their roots and opening up stores that connect them to their tradition or childhood nostalgia, but in a modern way. For example, Namlets – the flavoured drinks in the British Codd-neck bottles, were very popular drinks when Fatima was growing up. The word lemonade got transformed into Namlet and she recalls how they would mimic the sound of a pop and a fizz while eagerly pushing down the marble that was used to protect the fizz. The salted preserved fish at Maleh Al Dar is another example. Preservation of salted seafood is a part Emirati culture – a clever way in which the seafood could be enjoyed even after the end of a fishing season season. And interestingly, the maleh in its new avatar is also appealing to the modern day Emiratis, thanks to modern packaging and creative branding.

The validation of the above emotion can’t be felt more than at Ratios Coffee, a new wave cafe serving specialty coffee owned by Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi. Overlooking the Sharjah Creek, the space is modern yet cozy and what gives it the smell and feel of wisdom is that all the wood that has been used in this space has been recycled from a dhow that has sailed the seas for more than 60 years! It is interesting how coffee preferences are slowly changing in the UAE and people are more conscious of specialty coffee, the various types, the roasting method and also how and from where its being sourced. After all, a small dose of quality caffeine never did anyone harm!

Leaving the Heart of Sharjah to explore the Old Souq
Leaving the Heart of Sharjah through Souq al Saqr towards Bait al Serkel to explore the Old Souq… waving goodbye to the historical past and welcoming modernity

Arva led us through Souq al Saqr towards Bait al Serkel, the 150-year-old building which served as a Missionary hospital in the 1960s. Fatima’s excitement at this stage was really palpable – yes, this was the place where she was born. Places hold memories and that’s the only reason they become special in people’s hearts. Both the storytellers seemed to have been reliving their childhood memories and we continue on our journey further, regaled with their tales. While so far we had been having our cultural halts refuelled and hydrated with beverages like kadak chai, Namlet and a coffee (apart from spoonful of the divine Omani Halwa), what followed in the next half of the trail was clearly an assault on the gastrointestinal juices and our overstretched abdominal linings. We soon left Heart of Sharjah to explore more of the city and to dig into the divine tastes of…

… well, TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2. All I can say right now is that when Sharjah beckons you… please do savour it and follow your heart!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Sayeed Zamzam, myself, Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi (Heart of Sharjah), Arva Ahmed (Frying Pan Adventures), Sally Prosser (My Custard Pie), Afshan Ahmed (The National)
Sayeed Zamzam, myself, Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi (Heart of Sharjah), Arva Ahmed (Frying Pan Adventures), Sally Prosser (My Custard Pie), Afshan Ahmed (The National)

You can book into #savourSHJ trail from Frying Pan Adventures
Next Dates: Saturday, January 16 & Thursday, January 28
Duration: Approx. 4.5 hours
Price/Guest: AED 299.00 inclusive of 8 stops featuring 1 restaurant for brunch, 1 old-time sandwich cafeteria, 3 sweet stops, 1 bakery & 2 beverage stops

Disclaimer: I had been a media guest along with my favourite foodie companion Sally Prosser of My Custard Pie and others in this trip with the transport provided by Careem. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. None of the outlets mentioned here have sponsored this post. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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Bu Qtair Fish Restaurant

Bu Qtair In A New Avatar | A New Year, A New Location

I don’t understand why the press is so interested in speculating about my appearance, anyway. What does my face have to do with my music or my dancing? ∼ Michael Jackson

The above quote stands true for Bu Qtair too. What has the new look of Bu Qtair got to do with the taste of the fish it serves?

The charm is still all in the fish, the fresh fish, the deep fried fresh fish, the deep fried spicy fresh fish. Specially the shrimps, although I miss the old Bu Qtair very very much!

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Bu Qtair is no Michael Jackson. But it is Dubai’s only celebrity-eating-hole that has managed to get international media accolade (featured in CNN Travel, appeared on Emirates Airlines commercial, shortlisted by me in Foodie Hub as one of Dubai’s Essential Eats and more). It is also the only restaurant that requires more than an hour long queue to place an order from a menu has barely five items to chose. Five – including your Lipton chai! It is also one of the ‘hot cakes’ of a subject, on which my earlier blog post and an amateur video have been attracting much traffic consistently for the last two years, so much so that I can seriously consider taking a year of blogging sabbatical. Well, here’s the new video.

So, Bu Qtair has a new location now, a shift of 100 meters from one side of the road to the other – an upgraded location – a sea view along the fishing harbour. It also has a logo. Oh, how I hate the marketing gimmicks that *superbrands* have to fall for. All hell have broken loose on social media – Dubai is reacting as if Bu Qtair has been been exiled across seven continents. And rightly so.

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The old Bu Qtair Restaurant – plastic stools and plastic tables
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Diners queuing up for hours to reach to the front, only to place the order!

What was the big deal in Bu Qtair in the first place?

It was a big deal. I mean think about it… we had a portacabin cum shack (above) existing in the shadow of 7-star Burj Al Arab for the last two decades. In a city where the landscape changes every hour – from blingy to blingiest, from extraordinary to incredible, from modern to futuristic, or where a restaurant revamps or shuts down every week and probably a new reaturant opens every day, this was a big deal. Bu Qtair, attired in its humble robe stood like the rock of Gibraltar in an upscale Jumeirah locality for more than two decades and served 250-400 covers everyday (going up to 1000 over the weekends). Diners would pour in irrespective of financial background and would be seated on plastic stools and chairs, feeding on a basic menu of fried shrimps and other fresh catch of the day – sheri, humour, pomfrets, king fish, alone with Malbari Parathas and a bowl of divine fish curry to dip all these in. The charm was the long wait, the ambiance and the vibe – the excitement on your name being called and the hot food finally arriving at your table. The method was the same – stand in the queue, place your order by choosing your fish, pay your bills and wait for your fish at the table. This was, provided, that you had managed to obtain a seat for yourself and your guest after a long wait. And the best part – it wasn’t really hefty on the wallet (anyone remember those initial days?).

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The new Bu Qtair, situated across the street from it’s previous location – an upgraded and a pretty sight!

What is in store for you now at the new Bu Qtair?

There are no more plastic chairs around and you are seated in posher-than-plastic cane chairs by the sea. There are also some ‘reserved’ tables (the staff told me they were for… the ‘Arbabs‘ and also in case of crowd spillovers!) Agreed, that the humble porta cabin had its charm, specially in a city that has always been besotted by glamour. But honestly, if you look beyond the appearance, nothing seems to have changed in terms of the dining experience – the charmingly (if I may?) harrowing long waits, the overdone crispy fried fish (my opinion, you might beg to differ) and the throbbing crowd. There has been some improvements actually – you now have long benches in a designated ‘waiting area’ and probably a toilet somewhere in the building nearby that houses the fishermen’s accommodation. Plus, you can order Lipton chais while you are waiting in the queue. Yes, I miss the old Bu Qtair and wish that it hadn’t shifted and had a makeover, but I am glad that I felt similar excitement eating in the new Bu Qtair as I used to feel while eating in the old one.

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Is Bu Qtair only for the nostalgic Dubai residents? Will the first timers would also find it equally appealing?

The old Bu Qtair appealed to the Dubai residents mostly for the ambiance, and also for the simplicity in the food – marinated fresh catch of the day served after deep frying, and accompanied by rice or paratha along with a spicy fish curry made with coconut, turmeric, coriander and sardines, and a small plate of salad consisting of sliced onions. Nothing significantly more than this apart from a fizzy drink or a bottle of water. Here was a restaurant in the land of many shopping malls and snazzy restaurants, which was nothing more than an eating hole and that had stood the test of time. Even the first timers used to find the no-frill concept of Bu Qtair novel. What about the new Bu Qtair? There is still a long queue while placing the order inside the rectangular hall which also holds the open kitchen area. Once the order has been placed, it is followed by a long wait outside. Much to my relief – as the number of people waiting outside increased, after having placed their orders, so did the number of cars driving in and parking in the parking lot (just like before). The restaurant staff served the waiting diners simultaneously while they attended to take-away demands. Again, it was a manic rush as the food started pouring out of the delivery window. And when the food reached the table, it tasted exactly the same. Like before, this time too I found the fish (not the shrimps) over fried and there was again the suspicion whether Moosa was recycling frozen fish – implanted into my brains by some of my ethical blogger friends! I believe that there are somethings in life that you need to enjoy in abandon without much thought – for example, a Bu Qtair or a Ravi’s (or an occasional burger at Mc Donald’s) – no high ended discussion on fish sustainability, or judgmental discussion on whether the hype is all worth it. Bu Qtair is a Dubai institution that needs to be preserved the way it is… not-hidden-anymore-but-once-upon-a-time-hidden gem that deserved to  be classified as a fossil and a heritage… only now with an ample parking space and a magnificent view and some comfortable seating!

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5:16pm – The seating inside the new Bu Qtair – quite empty at first and seems large enough to accommodate many diners, which was soon to be proved wrong!
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5:37pm – I don’t know from where this crowd suddenly gathered – much like ants… placing of orders start only at 5:30pm and we had reached the place at 5pm and I was in and out of the room as no one seems to have been there
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Order has to be placed in the same manner – stand in the queue, choose your fish, pay your bills and wait for the fried fish to arrive at your table. And pray that it remains hot!
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Moosa is the culinary head here and has been behind the counter for more than two decades. He is the lead to the *secret* ingredients that makes the Malabari fish curry so divine
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The delivery window – parcels for take away jostle for space along with the orders that would soon be dispatched to the tables of the sit-in diners

Our year-end ceremonial dinner

Debbie Rogers, my confidante and Travel & Features Editor of FoodeMag dxb, the online food and travel magazine that I edit, joined me for a ceremonial year-end dinner at Bu Qtair. We arrived at 5 pm so that we could click some good shots of the food before darkness set in. Thrilled to have got a parking space for our cars in the adjacent parking lot (you have to pay the RTA parking charges if you park outside the campus), we grabbed a table on the outdoor terrace. I went inside the restaurant – a big hall with a lot of tables and seating arrangements, and was told that order will start taking place only at 5:30pm. There weren’t many people around – so I happily went out to click some harbour shots. Around 5:25pm I went back and was shocked to find that there was already a long queue waiting ahead of me. It took me more than 45 minutes to come up to the front of the counter and I placed an order for a kg of shrimps and a big sheri. This time there was an electronic weighing machine instead of a manual one. As I went and sat outside, I realised that it would take another long wait for the fish to arrive at our table. I chatted to the staff, some of whom I had known earlier and I came across a young lad who was helping with serving the food. He introduced himself as Moosa’s son who had been away all this while studying in Kerala. He struggled with his Hindi but was absolutely fluent in English (did I imagine an accent also?) and told me that he intended to help his dad and the new business. He also told me that it was still full everyday, much like before. Our food arrived in some time – smelling strong and delicious and promising the same taste that my tastebuds could remember from my earlier visits. The sheri seemed to have been over fried (like always) but the shrimps were crispy, spicy and satisfying. The parathas were soft (and oily – leave them like this please!) and the fish curry had its signature tanginess to it. By this time, the place was already breaking down with diners and the queue in front of the counter was reminiscent of the old Bu Qtair… clearly the evening had just begun here!

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Debbie Rogers and myself signing off 2015 with a meal together
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Malabari fish curry and parathas accompany the deep fried shrimps and sheri
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Not too less I hope – always calls for a regret later on!
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The secret ingredients going into the fish curry – I am told even the chefs doesn’t know the recipe. It’s Moosa who cooks it everyday!
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Our bill when we dined in Bu Qtair last time (above) – Dhs 155 for 2 sheris and half a kg of shrimps. The bill this time was surprisingly the same – Dhs 155 – for 1 sheri and 1 kg of shrimps. Confused – a tee bit more pricey or is it the same?

And the verdict?

I had my own sentimental reasons for choosing the new Bu Qtair as my first blog post of 2016. This is one place that had remained unchanged ever since I could remember and in my heart I wished that Bu Qtair would succeed in its new innings – a validation of my belief that a cosmetic makeover doesn’t change the integrity of a character. Although I was heart broken when I heard that Bu Qtair had finally shifted and the old charm was gone – I have to admit that I was thrilled that there was still so much curiosity and the taste of the food still remained the same.

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5:12pm – I am thrilled to see that only a few cars are parked outside Bu Qtair while both the indoor seating and the out door terrace seems pretty empty!
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7:22 pm – The waiting area was full, the queue was already 100 people long and most tables seemed to be full.
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7:27 pm – As I was leaving, the queue had come until the gate… verdict? I was glad that we reached there by 5pm so that I had a *mini* wait of 45 minutes to place the order. Nothing had changed!

Signing off… 2015 has been very busy but successful – I have met many people who have inspired me and will leave me inspired for a lifetime to come. There have been moments of introspection too (with tragic like this where I witnessed someone die on stage in an awards night or see a raging hotel on a New Years Eve) which have brought changes in my own objectives and perspectives in life. I have however, managed to rise above all these because I have been surrounded by a lot of love and blessing in the form of my family, the Z-Sisters and my friends- both foodie and non-foodie ones.

Eager to hear how you ushered in your New Year. Here’s wishing you all a very very happy 2016 – bright and safe, joyful and fulfilling and thank you immensely for following my journey – still!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: Do have had a flip though the New Year Edition of FoodeMag dxb and let me know how you like it 🙂

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FoodeMag dxb New Year Edition

Disclaimer: Our bill came to approximately Dhs 175 for 2 persons, including water, two chais and two fizzy drinks. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. None of the outlets mentioned here have sponsored this post. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

The location of earlier Bu Qtair (the new one is just across the street)

Bu Qtair Restaurant: Fresh Seafood Budget Restaurant; Out door sitting and Take away; Opening hours: Saturday till Thursday – 12:00pm – 2:30 pm and 6:30pm – 11:30pm, Fridays open after afternoon prayers.

Location: Umm Suquim 2 (Jumeirah 5). As you are heading towards the Burj Al Arab from Union House, take the right exit at Street 35a, off the glamorous Beach Road. Look out for an Emarat Petrol Station before the Umm Sequim Park which houses a small McDonald’s. Once on Street 35a, approach left when you hit Street 2b and you’ll find the Bu Qtair amidst the boat sheds.

Other articles on the new Bu Qtair:

A first look: Bu Qtair – same, same. But different.

 

Food, Love And Good Memories Travelling in My Suitcase!

Shondesh

Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity. ∼ Robert Morgan

And maybe packets dripping with sugar syrup and home made sauces, fried fish and random biscuits – all stuffed in a suitcase while flying back to Dubai from Kolkata… rephrasing it… flying back to my adopted home from my childhood home. Expats have an amazing way of converting wherever they are living into various folds of manifestation of their roots – bringing back food memories via cans and jars and sealed packets and digging out pockets in the city they are living, which sell them. Sally Prosser, author of My Custard Pie caught me red handed with Potol/Parval and bottles of Kashundhi in my suitcase for her article for the Fall edition of FoodEMag dxb. And I am relieved to discover that I am not the only one and actually have many foodie partners in crime! Well, as much as our suitcases are packed with incredulity, the awards for ingenuity goes to our parents (both original and the law-ed ones!) – can you imagine bringing in fried fish (bhetki maach fillet complete with breaded crumbs) and notun gurer roshogolla (so what if the current debate is on whether roshogolla belongs to the Bengalis at all!) dripping in sugar syrup, wrapped in layers and layers of plastic – all in the name of love? On this love note, let me wish you all Shubho Bijoya and Happy Dussehra… may peace find a permanent place in this world and your hearts!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………October Edition of FoodEMag dxb……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

If you are a Bengali or an Indian living in Dubai, chances are that you will be getting a lot of fresh ingredients and produce – including different kinds of fish in the markets out here:

  • Backet in Sharjah or Deira fish Market source traditional fish, even the exotic ones – like Koi, Pabda, Eilish, Parshe, Chitol and also the most common varieties – Rui/Carp, Pona, Chingri/Prawns. Aar etc. Any fish associated with traditional Bengali recipes, chances are that you will find it. Excepting Bhetki.
  • City Mart in Rolla Street, Bur Dubai flies in fresh fish from Bombay everyday – Aar, Koi, Eilish and Tyangra, the latter when in season. They also stock Bhetki from Bangladesh and is different from the ones that we have grown up eating.
  • Lulu keeps small sized Rui; also Mefroz in Karama and Fruit & Vegetable market.

Spices are available in most supermarkets in Dubai, with a few exceptions like Radhuni that go into Panch-Phoron or the 5 spices-mix. While the fish comes frozen, air packed and sealed from Thailand, I have also found an array of local fish that can substitute for the traditional ones (for example Salmon can be used for Shorshe Bata/Musatrd Salmon with great success). One of the things that cannot be substituted while cooking Bengali fish is the Mustard Oil. Without this, a Bengali fish is absolutely incomplete and only a few brands can do justice to the Bengali kitchen – Tez and PRO – again both easily available in regular supermarkets.

Bengali Sweets… every street in Kolkata has a sweet shop and Bengali sweets are so popular that Indian sweet shops would often have a corner dedicated to ‘Bengali Sweets’. In Dubai there are many Indian sweet shops, but only a few of them have such sacred sweet corners. A small list:

  • Bikanervala (our favourite here is Chinese rasgullas, Indrani cups)
  • Puranmal (Anandmadhuri, Rasmadhuri, Malai Sandwich, Raskadam etc)
  • Shree Gangaur (Gurer Rasgulla, Triveni cup, Mishti Dahi etc)

What comes inside our suitcases? All the ones that have been pictured below and more!

Notun gurer roshogolla

Notun gurer roshogolla

Potol/Parwal

Godhoraj Lebu

Kashundhi and Jharna Ghee

Darjeeling Tea

Red chillies Fried coconut

Mouth freshners

Pabda fish

Mocha

My mum-in-law doesn’t spare bringing in anything that I love eating – starting from bringing in half fried bhetki fillets, fried balls of chitol maach that would later go into gravy to half-cooked mocha/banana blossom flower. Also stuff from specific shops or specific brands – Mithai’s Mishti Doi, Balaram’s Baked Rasgullas, Bancharam’s Baked Mihidana, Mukhorachak Chanachur, Gondhoraj Lebu (Bengal lime which has a sweet aroma much like the Thai Kaffir lime), Jharna Ghee (yes nothing but the brand ‘Jharna’), Kashundi (a pungent mustard sauce) and Five Star (a chocolate from Cadbury that tastes like Mars) – the list is pretty endless! What definitely doesn’t travel with us and I wish that it could – are Posto/poppy seeds as these are banned in this region although Middle Eastern cuisine does have a lot of usage of poppy seeds.

Eager to hear what comes back in your suitcases apart from love and good memories?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: If you are tired of seeing the same table background in the above pictures, here’s a warning – we have got a new dining table after a decade and you might have to bear with that in the oncoming posts!

Disclaimer: The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. None of the outlets mentioned here have sponsored this post. While you enjoy reading the 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.