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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Pudding of Love | Mum-In-Law’s Special Caramel Custard

Again a folder full of unpublished drafts – each draft vying for equal attention. How could this delicious wonder remained lying in the folder – all because Mum-in-law wasn’t sure about the proportions of this recipe. Like most recipes of hers. And like most mums of her generations. No ifs and buts, no guessing… the measurements have to be perfect. And hence, the perfect recipe for a perfect pudding, oozing out love – the motherly love. The love that went into the making of her epic pickles and the same love that went into the hours of standing and finally goading the neighborhood Phuchkawala for the recipe of the perfect Phuchka! Everything needs to be perfect. Unlike my kitchen where everything is experimental – random recipes, fusion cooking (ex – Shondesh Pudding, Rasgulla Macapuno or Mustard Mashed Potato) and a lot of traditional cooking with a non-traditional approach and cheat methods (Bhapa Mishti Doi or Mustard Salmon). This pudding is very special… everytime Ma turns it upside down from the bowl in which it has been set, it settles lovingly into a swirly pool of caramel sauce. And as the knife slices through the pudding, the caramel sauce drips down the summit and tears through like love gushing out like lava. Ma, I so want this creamy caramel pudding – I mean, #rightnow!

Kolkata’s Club Culture

Interestingly, although this Caramel Custard Pudding can’t be described as a part of traditional Bengali cuisine, it has to be included if we discuss the ‘cuisine in Bengal’. It reflects the legacy left behind by the Colonial Raj as can be found in the menus of all the British clubs that are still an intrinsic part of Kolkata’s heritage. During the British Raj, these clubs were instituted by the British with the purpose of providing sports, entertainment and a familiar environment to the British people who had left their home shores and were working in these colonies. Initially meant only for the ‘white skinned’ people and select Indians like the Maharajas, gradually these clubs started giving out admissions to prominent Indian personalities and select families. Even today, the membership to some of these clubs are quite a coveted matter – for example, The Calcutta Club,  Bengal Club or the Tolly Club. And to this day, the menu in the ‘propah’ club sections of some clubs are very Continental, and served in a style befitting the Raj. And Caramel Custard Pudding duly signs off a prestigious club dining experience with panache!

Caramel Custard Pudding in Indian Cuisine

The Anglo-Indian culture has had a very strong influence in many regional cuisines in India and the Cream Custard is perhaps, one of the those most popular recipes to have been adopted whole heartedly. While in Bengal it was the Anglo Indian influence that brought in Caramel Custard, elsewhere in India, specially the coastal areas of Western India, it was due to the Portugese influence – for example, in Goa, Daman and Diu. The Caramel Custard has formed a huge part of the Parsi cuisine – the Laganu Custard that is so famously served during Parsi weddings (a great sample of it in Dubai is at Kebab Bistro) – reminiscent of a thick crust over our regular custard, the preparation of this dish is quite elaborate. Milk is boiled along with sugar until it is reduced to half. When the mixture cools down, eggs are beaten into it along with dry fruits and added nutmeg flavour. This is then baked to form a thick golden crusty surface. The Caramel Custard also has its versions in Mangalore, Goa and in many places in Western India, quite naturally amongst the Anglo-Indians. When we visited Goa last time, the one dessert that always reigned supreme amongst all the other desserts was definitely the Cream Caramel. It is there, that I realised how good Ma makes it, and also how easily it can be made at home.


Caramel Custard Pudding

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Category – Dessert; Cuisine type – Anglo-Indian

Ingredients

1 lt full cream Milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs

For caramelising sugar
2 tsp sugar

Method

  1. Put 1 tsp water and 2 tsp sugar in a flat bottomed pan. Heat it and let the sugar burn. Take off from fire and cool.
  2. Boil the milk and reduce it in 3/4. Add sugar and boil again for 15 minutes, stirring continuously. Cool it.
  3. Caramelise the sugar.
  4. Whip 2 eggs in a separate bowl and mix into the cool milk. Pour the whole mixture into the caramelised bowl. Cover the bowl with a aluminum foil and place this on a larger tray filled with water (1/2 inch deep). Steam or bake the entire thing in a preheated oven for 20 minutes (350ºF or 175ºC). Let it set and cool in the fridge.
  5. While serving take a bit of care to pour it upside down on a deep but a flat bottomed dish.

Anglo-Indian cuisine is the distinct cuisine of the Anglo-Indian community. A lot of dishes are derived from traditional British cuisine, but which has been modified by the addition of Indian-style spices, such as cumin and red chillies. Fish and meat are often cooked in curry form with Indian vegetables. Anglo-Indian food often involves use of coconut, yogurt, and almonds. Roasts and curries, rice dishes, and breads all have a distinctive flavour. Some well-known Anglo-Indian dishes are salted beef tongue, kedgeree and of course the mulligatawny soup. More here in Wiki.)

The bowl Ma uses to make her Caramel Custard does give the unique shape to her pudding – and I wish that I had thought of capturing that. It does in effect lends the charm to the undulations and the topography of her Custard – the geographical dynamics of it. But then, not everything can be attributed to geography. Like, how she carries Potols/Parwals or the red chillies that grow in her garden – all wrapped up, packed and finding some space in her suitcase, when she visits us here in Dubai. In fact, the amount of food that both the Mums (my own Mum and my royal mum-in-law) brings for us, deserves a separate post by itself. From fried fish to bottles of Ghee (Jharna, a particular brand of Ghee), from Nolen Gurer Shondesh to Rasgulla –  oh, please let’s keep that for another day – for a long epic post of ‘love flying all the way from Kolkata alibi food’. For today, it’s the Caramel Custard that deserves all the attention – the pudding of love that she creates specially for her children, and for which I had been waiting for her to come back to me with the perfect measurements for her perfect recipe. And it is by destiny that my post coincided with the Mother’s Day in the UK!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: All pictures have been taken by me unless mentioned otherwise. Please note that this post is not 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 lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. You can catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Related Recipes:
Shondesh/Sandesh Pudding
Notun Gurer Payesh/Rice Pudding & Remembering My Dida
Gajorer Payesh/Carrot Pudding… Happy Diwali!
Bhapa Mishti Doi and A Food Safari of Bengal

Related Reads:
Anglo Indians {Wikipedia}
Creme Caramel {Wikipedia}
Club Culture of Calcutta {IndianProfile.com}
Vikas Khanna’s Cream Caramel recipe {SAVOUR MUMBAI: A CULINARY JOURNEY THROUGH INDIA’S MELTING POT}

Gingerbread House and Gingerbread Macarons | Merry Christmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas everyone! While a festive wine is being mulled for the next post with Prague captured during Christmas, this one captures our experience with the gingerbread houses and the gingerbread Macarons that filled up our dining table – for a while! One Materclass down and basking in the glory of having decorated two gingerbread houses – one in my Masterclass with Chef Alannah Doe of Address Marina and the other in a gingerbread house decoration competition where the Z-Sisters had been my mighty assistants, I am still fumbling. I am an accidental, experimental cook – a creative person of the abstract genre. I am filled with envy when I see beautiful well crafted gingerbread houses with perfect thin icings and coloured candies sticking delicately to the roofs and walls. Mine is all about asymmetry. There’s snow falling all over the ceiling just to cover up the dodgy joints of the roofs and walls of our gingerbread house (above). At the end of it all, it doesn’t matter. When the Z-Sisters saw the one that I made in my Masterclass, they hugged me and shouted out loud – ‘You are the best, best and the best’, ‘This is so awesome’, ‘Yours is the best, Mummy!’ and the last shriek which jerked me slightly but had a happy ending to it – ‘Your Macarons are monstrous but are so fabulous’! Mummy’s ego restored and dignity intact, I walked out with my head held high, inflated too with praises from my mini cheer leading team echoing all around.An Introduction to Gingerbread: Gingerbread was brought to Europe in 992 by the Armenian monk Gregory of Nicopolis. He left Pompeii, to live in France. He stayed there 7 years, and taught the Gingerbread cooking to French priests and Christians. During the 13th century, it was brought to Sweden by German immigrants. Early references from the Vadstena Abbey show how the Swedish nuns were baking gingerbread to ease indigestion. It was customary to bake white biscuits and paint them as window decorations. The first documented trade of gingerbread biscuits dates to the 17th century where they were sold in monasteries, pharmacies and town square farmers’ markets. In Medieval England gingerbread was thought to have medicinal properties. One hundred years later the town of Market Drayton in Shropshire, UK became known for its gingerbread, as is proudly displayed on their town’s welcome sign. The first recorded mention of gingerbread being baked in the town dates back to 1793; however, it was probably made earlier, as ginger was stocked in high street businesses from the 1640s. Gingerbread became widely available in the 18th century. The pictorial journey of my gingerbread house… Considering the fact that Li’l Z had been eating most of the candies and jelly beans that were supposed to have gone onto the decoration of our gingerbread house, we managed to do pretty well. Our roof is intact, so are the walls and there are also a few candies sticking to the wall. Yes, the snow fell a bit more heavily on our house (further below) than other houses but that may have to do with Mummy trying to cover up her inability to draw stable icing lines rather than meteorological forecasts.The following gingerbread houses are the type of houses that I am envious of, not because they belong to the other contestants but because of the symmetry and precision in the decorations… And these are the ones that are my type of gingerbread houses – only the heavy snowfall part, and not the brilliant roof decorations and the perfect drippings of icing coming down the roof and the doors. These had been prepared by the pastry chefs of the hotel and not the contestants (otherwise I would have had a pangs of envy attacks once again!)…

Homemade Gingerbread

Ingredients
For the Gingerbread
250g Honey
150g Sugar
50g Egg
38g Milk
25g Oil
7.5g Bicarbonate of Soda
20g Gingerbread Spice*
525g Soft Flour

Method of Preparation
• Melt the honey and sugar together until all the sugar has dissolved.
• Mix all the flour, gingerbread spice, bicarbonate of soda in a bowl and add the honey mixture.
• Once it has cooled slightly, add the eggs and finally the milk and oil.
• Knead until a smooth dough is formed, then allow to rest for 2 hours.
• Roll out to the thickness you would like and brush with milk before baking.
• Depending on your desired texture, bake at 160 C for 12 minutes.

* Gingerbread Spice can easily be made at home using the following ingredients: 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoons ground allspice, 1 teaspoons ground cloves, 1 teaspoons ground nutmeg

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Macaron or Macaroon? Well that has been a confusion for me ever since I chomped into a Macaron, or was it a Macaroon? While Macaroon is toasted desiccated coconut combined with egg whites and sugar to form a frothy meringue then baked to a nice golden colour. They are crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. The Macaron is on the other hand made from ‘TPT’ which stands for Tant pour Tant in French. Translated, this simply means equal quantities in reference to the icing sugar and ground almonds used as the base of a Macaron. This is then mixed with a meringue of one’s choice – French, Swiss or Italian, piped and baked. It forms a nice shiny shell with a small rise and a little foot at the bottom. Traditionally, the two are then sandwiched together to form a Macaron! From my experience, the making of Macaron is no less than rocket science. Well definitely not for passionate bakers but definitely for me for whom sticking to proportions and following instructions accurately, is a chore. Plus, the rocket science part of it which involves the understanding of the molecules that would ultimately result in that perfect Macaron. If you don’t believe me, please check out my 15 seconds video on Instagram of Chef Alannah explaining the logistics of the molecules in the culinary backstreets of the hotel.

Gingerbread Macarons

Ingredients
For Macaron Shells
600g Sugar
160g Water
220g Egg White
Brown food Colouring
600g Icing Sugar
600g Almond Powder
10g Gingerbread Spice
220g Egg White

For Cream Cheese Frosting
250g Sugar
100g Water
125g Egg Whites
500g Butter
440g Cream Cheese

Method of Preparation
Macaron Shells
• Boil 160g water and 600g in a saucepan until it reaches 121 C, let it cool.
• In a blender, whisk slowly 220g of egg white, add sugar and increase whisking speed until meringue has cooled down. Once cold add your desired shell colour.
• Mix sugar and ground almonds with the egg white to make a paste.
• Once the meringue is cold, fold in 1/3 roughly and then carefully fold the remaining 2/3.
• Take a tray and a non-stick mat or greaseproof paper, ensure both are dry.
• Pipe small circles onto the mat and leave to rest for 5 minutes then bake at 160 C for 14 minutes.
Cream Cheese Frosting
• Whisk egg whites on slow speed.
• Bring the sugar and water to boil and allow to cook until it reaches 121 C.
• Pour mixture slowly over egg whites whilst whisking and turn the machine up to full speed. When this mixture is just warm but not cool, slowly add small pieces of soft butter whilst whisking, continue whisking until smooth
• Soften cream cheese and then mix with the butter cream

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So while my Macarons took the shape of make-1-get-another-1-free-attached-with-the-first-one, or even 5 pieces together (above), as Big Z said they were ‘monstrous but fabulous’. I also managed to make a trendy one with the letter ‘I’, for IshitaUnblogged, naturally! Megalomaniac? No way but I definitely needed something to bruise my ego after seeing the devastation of my precious gingerbread house (below), in 2 minutes flat. A reader tweeted ‘Seems like your gingerbread house has been hit by a typhoon!’. Oh yes, typhoon indeed, generated by two pairs of monstrous little hands. Before signing off, just a small note – I’d love it if you hopped onto my last post to read my foodie diary in the historical city of Prague… street food to fine dining and a Christmas winter wonderland thrown in between, as it appeared in BBC GoodFood Me magazine. And wishing you all a Merrrrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas once again!

Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: The Masterclass at The Address Marina cost me Dhs 350 including all the materials and I got to keep the gingerbread house. For the Generation Creation brunch however, we were guests at Mazina. Please note that this post is not 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 lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.

A rainy day in Prague

Prague On Your Plate | Article In BBC GoodFood ME

Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling. ∼ Edna Ferber

Christmas Market in Prague

[Note: Article mentions pork and alcohol]

This is a foodie’s diary in the historical city of Prague in December… and a Christmas winter wonderland thrown in! It’s December and it can’t be but Christmas in the air. The December issue of BBC GoodFood ME carried an article of mine which traces out my culinary journey of Prague – from street food to fine-dining and all the way to the Christmas markets to an exclusive restaurant that I had visited while I was in Prague. I dined all alone there – my first dining experience in a Michelin star restaurant, because my bunch of travel girl buddies who had accompanied me, preferred to spend their money on shopping and sightseeing rather than dining here. Apart from my article, the December issue is filled with many more festive ideas, Christmas recipes or simple ideas to brighten up this festive month. So do get a copy off the shelf and here’s a peep into the article with excerpts that has been published in the magazine and some additional photographs thrown in from my personal album, in addition to the ones that I’ve shared with the magazine.

A guide to eating in Prague

A guide to eating in Prague

I checked the weather forecast of Prague before landing there from sunny Dubai in December. It was going to be 0ºC with occasional cloudy skies and maybe a bit of rains. Well, practically everything that a Dubai-ite desires for – snow, clouds, rains and… Christmas! This trip did warrant shopping for real winter clothes, not the fancy warm sweaters that we strut around in Dubai winters. So with overcoats and mufflers, leather gloves and snow boots, I was ready to roam around Prague, in the midst of what many would describe as the most beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe. Before I landed in Praha or Prague, I had a weird notion that Czech food consisted only of Goulash borrowed from Hungary, that had to be guzzled down with Pivo or the Beer. Home to the famous Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, the Czech have a rich tradition of brewing and Beer tours with a visit to a local brewery is a must. The receptionist of our hotel apartment who also doubled up as a city guide during the day, told me to taste Guláš or Goulash cooked in the Czech style, in small family run restaurants from one of the lesser-known alleys around town. Her suggestion also included Sausages that hung temptingly from the roadside mobile kiosks and the traditional home-cooked Czech food served by the locals from make-shift food stalls, which are set up in the heart of the city during the weekends. Not to forget the traditional home made sauces, which accompanied the wild games that were served in some of the well known restaurants flocking the New Town. The list went on and soon I wished that I had lost the ‘thing to eat’ list. Having Goulash on my tasting-wish-list was good enough because I would soon be tasting Goulashes of all price range, from different categories of restaurants and cooked following different family recipes.

I was staying in Václavské Náměstí or the Wenceslas Square (above), one of the main squares in Prague. Tourists flocked this square all the time, relaxing on the wooden park benches that lay here and there, chatting to friends and lovers and clicking ‘Facebook-worthy’ pictures in front of the flower bushes that lined the boulevards. Staying here soon proved to be a blessing. A witness to many historical events, demonstrations, celebrations and public gatherings, this square was a part of the historic center of Prague – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Interestingly, during the Middle Ages, the square was used originally to accommodate horse markets. Wenceslas Square taking the shape of a long rectangle and not a square, resembled the Parisian Boulevards. Drifting into comparisons or drawing up parallels between the various cities I have travelled or lived in, is a favorite pastime of mine. I haven’t spared pulling up or down any city in the world or pitted them against each other. Definitely Prague was not to be spared. These are the most sentimental travel moments of mine.

Roadside mobile kiosks in Prague

My friends having a hard time choosing the sausages
A variety of Czech sausages in a roadside kiosk in Prague

Flanked by restaurants of various kinds, a few belonging to hotels which were probably very famous once upon a time, this place was a foodie’s perfect paradise. The roadside kiosks lining both sides of the historic boulevard sold almost everything - from souvenirs, snacks, drinks and papers to branded bookstores and retails chains, all very fashionably housed in the surrounding old buildings. The roadside mobile kiosks (at that point in time, highlighted in my food itinerary with a thick fluorescent marker) with the hanging Sausages, lined up the boulevard at 500m intervals from each other. In effect, my dream where I just had to hop from one kiosk to another, munching on different kinds of Sausages – small and big, was about to come true. The largest and most popular markets during Christmas are held in the Old Town Square and the Wenceslas Square. The former was just a 10 minutes walk away from the Square. Staying here meant that I was in effect living inside the Christmas market. Kiosks looking like wooden huts with sloping roofs, lined the Square, selling traditional handmade artifacts and glassware, scented candles, wooden Christmas decorations, beautiful hand-embroidered lacey table cloths and traditional costumes. Aroma of food drifted through the air. The farmers sold fresh juices and country sausages, hams, traditional Czech food throughout the day. In the mornings, they arranged their counters, unpack their goodies and I made a mental note of what I was going to be eating from these kiosks. After the whole day of touring around the city, when I came back at night, I saw them pack up and close their shops. Festivities lent a different magic in the air – strangers would feel close too. There were shopkeepers who had come from far away – I would befriend them, click their photos and try to know about their daily lives. For them, Christmas brought in a lot more hard work and stress, but the magic in the air eased them all.

My temporary adopted Czech Momma

Caramelised onions and sausages 

Since the day I arrived, I had already eyed a particular road stall and the vivacious lady behind the counter soon became my temporary adopted Czech Momma (the lady to the left in the picture above), eager to feed the hungry bystanders with her double XL dose of caramelised onions (above) over the mammoth sausage she handed over. Every time we passed her by, she invited me to join the long queue. Naturally, I did end up in her kiosk more than anywhere else. In return for such hard work, I did get to gorge on her delicious Sausages at various odd hours. Such was her magnetic charm, or was it the caramelized onions (I am yet to figure that out), that I ended up buying bottled mineral water at double the supermarket prices from her. Because, unlike Dubai, the supermarkets are not open 24x7, nor are there small neighborhood grocery guys who’ll come running to deliver small contingency needs from salt to water.

Sausages in roadside kiosks in Prague

These (in)famous sausage stands do chip in long after the supermarkets and restaurants have closed down, feeding hungry tummies of the night-club-returning crowd. Famous or infamous, I realized that the sausages are the ones that attract the most attention, followed by the caramelized onions. And they hand snootily in their many avatars – dark meat, white meat and red meat; the Bavarian, Italian or Polish sausages – both spicy and non-spicy. Cupped up in between toasted or untoasted Chléb/Chleba or Rye and jutting out of the bread like a banana boat, these giant-sized Sausages with over generous amounts of caramelized onion smothered over these - and behold - a new love saga with foot-long Czech Sausages just about begins.

The beauty of Prague gradually dawns upon the onlooker. Voted to be one of the ten most beautiful cities in Europe, I have to admit that Prague doesn’t seem like that at first glance. The architecture of the buildings reflect the changes that the city and the region’s history has encompassed. Scenic boulevards line the Vltava river and along the main roads and squares within the city as well as the car-free historical town center. There is a decadent charm in the city’s demeanor. Unaffected to a large extent during World War II, Prague had remained sheltered till the fall of the Iron Curtain. History of a region shapes its cuisine as well. For centuries, the Czech cuisine had remained influenced, borrowing its Schnitzels and Strudels from Germany and Goulashes from Hungary. But there is a vast treasure trove of unique Czech dishes that are slowly coming out in the limelight. A slow walk through the city of Prague reveals exactly that. The streets throng with cafes and restaurants, the most unassuming restaurants serving the heartiest traditional Czech meals. Boards outside the restaurants proudly declaring ‘Traditional Czech Meals available’, are abundant.

Kavarnas in Prague

Prague has a very unique café culture with each Kavárna or café being a little different from each other. Most of them have history written on their walls with noted intellectuals, artists, thinkers and writers having met on their grounds. A café menu is extensive, serving delicious light meals and desserts. And interestingly most reliable if one is vegetarian.

Knedlíky and Goulash in Prague

Dumplings, oh heavenly dumplings… whether it’s a small family run restaurant) or at exclusive restaurants like the Romantic in Grand Hotel Evropa, dumplings can be culinary subject of discussion. Knedlíky, as they are called, are either made from wheat or potatoes, the brambory. These are steamed and made into large rolls and sliced into smaller dumplings just before serving. Fluffy, light and spongy, the dumplings soak up the meat sauce of the Goulash that it’s served with, like a thirsty traveller gulping down. For a foodie traveller, the culinary journey just begins here. Often, the dumplings are filled with meat or spinach or sour cabbage, with caramelized onions and cabbage served as a Příloha or a side dish. The braised Czech Cabbage definitely isn’t the German Sauerkraut and is usually boiled in a light sugar sauce. Leaving Prague without tasting Goulash is a criminal offense. As our plates full of dumplings are guzzled down with ladles of thick Goulash stew, we are told that the Czech Goulash is very different from the Hungarian Goulash. While the Czech Goulash is a thick stew usually made from beef, onions, herbs and spices, the latter is served more like a soup.

A shop selling traditional wind chimes in the Christmas market

  The Old Town Square in Prague during the Christmas Market

Christmas market in Prague

Christmas market in Prague

The Old Town Square in Prague

The Astronomical clock in the Old Town Square in Prague

The Staroměstské Náměstí or the Old Town Square (above) is surrounded with expensive restaurants and cafés that serve fancy sandwiches and Svařák, the local mulled wine, the recipe of which varies from place to place, as does the price. Wherever I might have been during the day, I would make sure that I was there in the Old Town Square by evening time. Prague Christmas markets are considered to be one of the prettiest and the most beautiful in Europe. Indeed it was. Again, there would be a romantic mental musing of various Christmas markets that I had seen in Europe – Frankfurt, Rothenburg, Heidelberg etc. The decorated Christmas tree with the heritage buildings in the background, definitely stood taller than the others. It seemed more mystical as clouds hovered around it and like a slow motion scene in a movie, snowflakes started drifting down. I stood there, as if I was in a dreamy movie set  - with a sense of déja vu. Hadn’t I seen this all? In fairy tale books and movies?

Trdelink

Shops selling Potato Chips in the Christmas market in Prague

The stalls selling traditional Christmas goodies and Czech cake and sweet pastries like Trdelink (the first image above) flooded the square in front of the Orloj or the Astronomical Clock. This is the heart of historical Prague. To feel it throb, please take a seat in one of the restaurants in the huge courtyard of Old Town Square. As I write down my magical Prague experience, I can almost visualize the souvenir shops selling glittery artifacts and swiveling stars made of Bohemian crystal. I can hear the curly, crispy Potato Chips being deep-fried and almost sniff the oily aftermath left behind in the huge wok. I know that the Lamb will soon be slow roasted over open fire (all the above pictures)!

Restaurant U Ševce Matouse in Prague

Restaurant U Ševce Matouse in Prague

Restaurant U Ševce Matouse in Prague

Done with the Old Town Square! A long sigh and I am back to reminiscing other parts of Prague that deserve equal mention – for example, the Nové Město or the New Town. It boasts of quaint restaurants housed in old architectural buildings surrounding the Prague castle, and usually serves traditional Czech food. A walk over the famous Charles Bridge exudes a typical European charm with clinking of glass, bonhomie and loud chatter over a hearty meal, al fresco table settings, and live music wafting faintly through the air. It was here in Hradčany, that I stumbled into Restaurant U Ševce Matouse (above), a restaurant that once housed a cobbler’s shop, had the most sublime Christmas meal, at the most reasonable price. The restaurant was also known as Mathew the Cobbler restaurant, and Mathew, who owns the restaurant, personally looked after each of us, as if we were guests at his home. and realized that this was one of the most popular restaurants in that area, frequented by the likes of Anjelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (as evident in the above picture). I do have proof to show – I have a picture of myself clicked in front of a framed picture of the famous couple!

www.usevcematouse.cz

Traditional sausages in Christmas market in Prague

Look out for freshly cooked traditional Czech food sold by weight, served by the jovial Czech vendors at makeshift food stalls (above pictures) specially set up for Christmas and Easter around the Wenceslas Square. The variations of sausages and traditional Czech food served here are mindboggling – Paprikový tocenec or the Beef sausages, the Vinná klobása where sausages have been coiled up or the Grilovaný syr, the cheese patties and different dishes of potatoes or the Bramborové - boiled, roasted, mashed potatoes french fries and of course the famous Bramborové knedlíky or the potato dumplings. The star dish of all the potato frenzy must be the Czech Halousky - a smaller but insanely tastier version of gnoccis made with flour and mashed potatoes (the last image above). I am guaranteeing that it is here that you are bound to fall in love with a Bramborové or our very own Potato in its many Avatars. Or may be the Czech Halousky!

La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise in Prague

La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise in Prague

Over the recent years, Prague has definitely come up the food radar, the proof being the recognitions from the Star that matters - the Michelin star. Allegro, located in the Four Season Hotel in Prague (sigh, but the restaurant is closed at this moment), received the first Michelin star amongst all the ex-Communist countries of Central Europe. As of 2012, Prague is home to two Michelin star restaurants – the Alcron in Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel and La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, in 18 Haštalská Street, the latter serving food that I would call art on a plate. La Degustation’s menu has contemporary Bohemian cuisine based on 19th century old school Czech cuisine and has been marked by Anthony Bourdain as one of the best culinary experiences in the world. The Czech menu of Le Bohême is an interpretation of the refined culinary school of Marie B. Svobodová from the late 19th century and is inspired by seasonal and regional availability of ingredients that go into the preparation of each dish. For a serious foodie, dismissing an experience here would have been sacrilegious. So I ended up spending my entire shopping budget on one evening of 'seven course' degustation menu tasting, paired with wine. The experience was almost like watching an opera from the VIP circle. If I can see you frown at that, there is also an eleven course degustation menu on offer, which neither my belly space or budget permitted this time.

www.ladegustation.cz

Restaurant in Prague

The Opera House in Prague

Michelin or non-Michelin, street food or fine dining, café or a restaurant, Prague was an unexpected culinary revelation. With many cultural influences, rich history, heritage, taste variations and intricacy amalgamating in one cuisine, I won’t be surprised if Prague becomes the next European culinary destination. And if it is Christmas then, it is definitely a magical destination too. I hope I’ll still be able to afford my return air tickets once it comes into the ‘hot travel destination’ list!

Mulled wine

Hope you liked my culinary sojourn in Prague as it appeared in this festive issue of BBC GoodFood ME. If you are visiting Prague while the Christmas market is on (12th January 2014), I do hope that you find this article useful. Enjoy the festive season while I mull some wine at home right now, Czech style!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. This is a non-paid collaboration with BBC GoodFood ME. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all my bills on this vacation have been self paid. We flew by Austrian Air via Vienna and it cost us approx AED 3,200/person and we split up the Apartment cost us AED 800 for 5 nights – the cost was split between 6 of us. The food bills accounted for maximum AED 1,000/person. In addition to this, I spent CZK 3450 or AED 620 for the 8-course degustation menu at La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise.

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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The World of Emirati Cuisine And Culture | A Photo Essay

We have been living in the UAE for a long time now. More than a decade – that’s long enough to be able to cook the cuisine of a country one is living in. But alas, that hasn’t been the case. The Emiratis have a closed culture. The UAE’s expatriate population had till now, a very limited opportunity to know about the Emirati Cuisine. Practically impossible for most of us until and unless someone has had the chance to be invited by an Emirati into his/her home. Our previous experiences of tasting Middle Eastern food had been limited to mostly Lebanese food, Jordanian food, Egyptian food and Iranian food. Although, we have been living in Dubai for quite a while, every time a guest would visit us and wished to taste local food, we would take them to probably a Lebanese restaurant. The best Emirati food experience that we have had till date was at the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) a traditional UAE breakfast, followed by a walking tour of the Bastakiya region {you’ll get more information on the SMCCU website}. Our other Emirati food experiences were the occasionally Leqaimats, the golden crisp fried dough balls coated with date syrup and sesame seeds, made by the local womenfolk either at Heritage Village or in the Global Village. It’s only now that a few restaurants have come up {for example, the authentic Emirati food in Al Fanar or the Emirati breakfast in the Biker’s Café}. Recently, the Dubai World Hospitality Championship (DWHC) took an initiative to bring out Emirati cuisine from traditional kitchens and exhibit it to the world. A great learning for the Z-Sisters, who have ‘adopted’ Dubai as their home since their birth. To be able to click pictures of traditional Emirati women (usually, the local womenfolk prefer not to be photographed), tasting traditional Emirati food being cooked by the local ladies and sharing a traditional meal together with them while sitting down in a traditional ladies’ majlis/seating, was an amazing experience. These Bastakiya-like wind-towered houses formed quite an interesting contrast against the modern day architecture of World Trade Centre apartments. While you enjoy the pictures, please remember that although the local womenfolk have been specially educated to brave in front the camera (just like they were educated to wear gloves while doing their cooking!), I still have taken permission from each individual that I have clicked. Come, explore the world of Emirati cuisine and culture through my eyes and my lenses, as Dubai keeps its fingers crossed – 7 more days and we’ll get to know whether it gets to host the World Expo 2020 (grapevine has it that it already has won the bid)!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS1: Post updated as suggestions pour in. Arwa, an Emirati blogger who writes La Mere Culinare, chips in – There’s a new place in Jumairah called Local Bites. Haven’t been there but lots of people have praised it. There’s another place in the building close to Al Mamzar Center in Deira, called Al Khattar. Barzh, another initiative, is an online Emirati-food directory dedicated to educating everyone about Emirati food. Barzh mentions Klayya Bakery & Sweets, an Emarati bakery with an eclectic touch; White Coffee, in Khalifa City, where they serve traditional Emirati food with a modern touch; Fenyaal Cafe in Al Qasba, Sharjah, which serves Arabic coffee and a variety of teas with pastries and traditional Emirati breakfast

Disclaimer: Please note that this is not a sponsored blog and all the opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. The Dubai World Hospitality Championship (DWHC) was created under the directive of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.

Indoors of a traditional Emirati house (left); Emirates Towers at the backdrop (right)
The courtyard of a traditional Emirati home
Local womenfolk cooking in the balcony that surrounds the courtyard
The thin crispy Rgag that can be eaten plain, drenched in ‘Salona’ stew, sprinkled with fish sauce (endless options according to Arwa)
Leqaimat, crispy fried golden dough balls coated with date syrup and sesame seeds. This is one deadly-divine-dessert!
Puffed up fluffy Khameer sprinkled with Sesame seeds, to be had with Kraft Cheese (yes, you heard it right again!)
The Kadak Chai – every Emirati family has an unique way of making this and nobody shares their secret ingredients
Perhaps consulting the recipe App on the smartphone?
Harissa is a dish of boiled, cracked or coarsely-ground wheat and meat or chicken. Sadly, this wasn't ready by the time we had left
Harissa is a dish of boiled, cracked or coarsely-ground wheat and meat or chicken. Sadly, this wasn’t ready when we left
We devoured almost everything that was served inside the ladies’ majlis
Intricate Henna designs on the hands complement the sesame-sprinkled divine Lequimats
Traditional embroidery adorning the pillows and the cushions inside the Majlis
Lequimats all the way (left); the Z-Sisters absolutely thrilled (right)
A glimpse into an Emirati Kitchen
Inside the show kitchen
Embroidery of the Burga worn on the face. This isn’t part of the Islam religion but part of tradition (thanks Arwa!)
Traditional handicrafts from coloured Palm leaves
The cylindrical cushion like ‘thing’ on the stand is called the Talli. And the stand is called Kajoojeh and it’s used to make embroidered neck pieces for the Jalabiya, or the traditional dress that an Emirati woman wears
Memorabilia and nostalgia adorning the wall
Attar or traditional scents, the bottles that hold them are pieces of art too!
Pearl diving has been one of the oldest professions in the UAE
Huge billboards showcasing DWHC’s promise to hold a legacy of tradition and heritage
The contrasting backdrop of the WTC apartments against the recreated traditional wind-towered Emirati houses

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Al Fanar Restaurant & Café | My First Authentic Emirati Food Experience!
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