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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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:

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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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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A Riot of Colours | Kolkata Kaleidoscope

Holi… a riot of colours. It doesn’t have to be Holi to bring on a riot of colours in the city which has raised me. Kolkata. Perpetually on a roller coaster. Perpetually on a riot of colours. Millions of colourful memories occupying gigabytes of memories in the computer. Hundreds of unwritten posts. It is impossible to capture the city in all it’s essence but the images that constantly haunt me are the images from it’s streets, markets, strong faiths (make shift temple under a banyan tree, or in the dashboard of a taxi), decadent buildings, people, the stiff nosed club culture… a riot of colours… and the evening ice lolly indulgences from the ice cream vendors. This post has been inspired by the amazing blogger and friend Sarah Walton aka The Hedonista’s last year’s post on Holi… where she has captured her travels around the world through different colours – yellow, blue, red, green and pink. I had put it down in my diary as a must-do-a-similar-kind-of-a-post. But as most resolutions are to be broken, most checklists also remain unchecked – I couldn’t conjure up my travels through a single post. I closed my eyes and all that came to my mind was Kolkata in a kaleidoscope. For those who are not initiated to Kolkata at all, I would suggest that you book the ‘Confluence of Cultures’ walking tour with Ifthekar Ahsan and his Calcutta Walks (a few pictures in this post are from the my walk) which will take you though the different cultures and the communities that have influenced Kolkata through the ages – from Chinese, Parsi, Armenian, Muslim, Marwaris, Biharis… more and more colours than you can ever imagine. No special Holi recipes like the colourful Kulfis this time. Instead, I am capturing Kolkata, the city that I grew up, through a riot of colours, keeping food pictures to the bare minimum – as otherwise, the post would naturally tilt towards food. Here’s wishing happiness and colour into your lives… Happy Holi Everyone!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Colour on People

Colour on the walls

Colour in motion

Colour on the walls

Colour of food (a mini preview)

And then there is the Kolkata Police

and the Five-Star street saloon

and then the rains.

Last but not the least, the colour of heritage – Howrah Bridge!

PS: Recipes in this blog that will sweeten up your Holi…

Bhapa Mishti Doi
Firni or Ferni
Gulab Jamun Rabri
Gajorer Payesh/Carrot Pudding
Kulfis | Celebrating The Colours Of Holi!
Rôshogolla/Rasgulla
Semaiya Kheer/Vermicelli Pudding
Shondesh/Sandesh Pudding

Disclaimer: 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.

An Island Not Too Far Away… Zaya Nurai

I look my best when I’m totally free, on holiday, walking on the beach. ∼ Rosemund Pike

A 24 hours of refreshing break (that seemed almost like an eternity) in an island not too far away… this could well have been Maldives or Seychelles or Mauritius (but without the 4-6 hours of flight time and then 1 hour of boat ride, and perhaps another 3 hours of wait in between)… this is Zaya Nurai Island, situated along the azure blue waters of the Arabian Gulf, a 10 minutes boat ride from Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. It’s not too often that a break culminates in such a long hangover, with every minute spent on the island flashing back in slow motion and transporting us back to our staycation. Abu Dhabi has more than 200 natural islands – most of them quite obviously untapped. ‘A slice of paradise in the UAE’, wrote fellow blogger Samantha Wood aka Foodiva and her instagram feed blew my mind.

The February edition of Foodemag had kept me neck deep in work and I hadn’t planned for any holiday during the Z-Sisters‘ half term break. The wanderlust in me made me absolutely restless – and this was totally calmed by Zaya Nurai. Serenity and blue waters pervaded all around. The cool sea breeze, the love seats almost sunken into the green grass, the sunlit verandahs of the Nurai Terrace (the all dining terrace restaurant), the beautifully presented food from a still evolving menu and the very very polite staff (reminds me of the warmth of our vacations in Srilanka). Not many places that we have visited have left such an impression or a manic urgency to return (definitely not a luxury resort). The last time this kind of a feeling flooded in was when we had visited Chitwan in Nepal. When I think about it, the only visuals that keep coming back to my mind when I think of these places are the people working there and nature engulfing us every minute of our stay – and in every way. It’s the same feeling in Zaya Nurai. Let my pictures take you through…

The Island

The sunrise and our private beach retreat

The Food

And Back to The Island

What are the things that you should do in Zaya Nurai before you leave the island?

Wake up to capture the sunrise – until and unless it’s the East Coast, we mostly get to see sunsets by the sea; Step onto the white sand infront of your private beach retreat – how many of us actually do that in the UAE even though we are surrounded by the beautiful shoreline? Have you ever swam with dugongs and dolphins? There are estimated 3,500 dugongs who call Abu Dhabi their home and a big number of them have called Zaya Nurai their home! Forget buffets in this idyllic island life, an à la carte menu with regional inspiration is waiting for you that showcases local artisan produce (from local farms in Al Fallah), sustainable line-caught fish, and biodynamic wines. Zaya Nurai, once it is fully operational (it’s still in it’s soft opening now), will be proudly inducted in the gradually growing list of the Eco Resorts that we’ve visited so far. As Chef Avinash and Carl Stockenstrom (Executive AM Culinary –  FB) added… in the future, they would be sourcing many of ingredients from their own organic vegetable garden and living herb wall (yes, seeds have already been implanted now). With a Burger Bar and an International fine dining restaurant yet to open (named Olive), there will be more temptations for me to return here… the Goat Cheese Salad that had been the repeat orders (lunch – dinner – and the on the next day lunch) along with the Black Cod Meniere (lunch and the next day lunch). Not that the 24 hours marinated soft lamb cheeks ordered from the room dining menu was any less delicious. Or the breakfast that followed the sunrise, enjoyed on our sundeck – Buttermilk Pancakes, Swedish Pancakes, Eggs Benedict and a Shakshouka. But still! We need excuses to come back… for the French toast (strong recommendation from Samantha – French toast and the sundeck!) that we hadn’t ordered this time or the lamb rumps that weren’t available (the resort is still in its soft launch) or the Burgers that would be served once the Burger Bar opens (I have already read them on the menu!). Big Z writes too writes about our stay in Nurai, her focus is on the villa and the fun the Z-Sisters had (although her introduction seems to be a take off on mine!). Both the memories of our landing and leaving the island are captured by the same picture – Eldodie (above) from Zaya Nurai waiting at the jetty to welcome us and see us off (I think making sure that we have left the island!). Nor can I forget the image of Natalie, the Hotel Manager, running in her heels and jumping into the speed boat to say goodbye. Soon I am returning to Nurai with a group of friends to spend the day*… is a day enough, did you ask? A quote I found on the internet today perhaps says it all… A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in. Be it for a day… but it’s Nurai calling!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

*You can avail this special offer that is valid until April 2015: A Day pass that includes speedboat transfer, complimentary welcome drink, infinity pool access, beach access, 3-course lunch menu with selected beverages priced at AED 350 per head. A Friday Brunch with day pass day at Nurai costs AED 450 rising to AED 650 with champagne. Nurai Island is the most exclusive private island of Abu Dhabi and has been conceived by Zaya’s Nadia Zaal to provide an exclusive sanctuary with limited, ultra-luxurious front estates, water villas (for private ownership) and 32 beach retreat villas as a boutique resort, all which comes with state of the art facilities. For more info on Zaya Nurai, visit the website… www.zayanuraiisland.com

Disclaimer: Room rates at the Beach Retreat villas start at Dhs 3,500/night and a meal for 4 would vary from Dhs 350-800 (doesn’t include alcohol). Please check for special promotions on their website. We were graciously hosted at Zaya Nurai. However, 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, Twitter and Pinterest.

My write up in February 2015 edition of FoodeMag:

Related articles:
• Meet the team: Zaya Nurai Island in Abu Dhabi {Hotelier Middle East}
• Heritance Tea Factory Hotel – Nuwara Eliya, Srilanka
• Machan Paradise View in Chitwan, Nepal – Gift Wrapped & Preserved For Each Tourist!
• Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa | A Twitterati Lunch
• Desert Islands Resorts By Anantara | Cooking Spicy Prawn Harra By The Beach
• Six Senses Zighy Bay, Oman | Appealing To More Senses Than Six!
• Sense On The Edge @ZighyBay | Slow Life, Sustainable Menu & Fattoush Recipe
• Koh Klang in Krabi, Thailand | A Photo Essay of An Island Life

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Abhijaan 2015 – Bengali Film Festival In Dubai | Atanu Ghosh’s ‘Ek Phali Rodh’

10547949_767922429955091_7645965812603643677_oEvery morning my wake up tweet to the world is – Good Morning! What is your food and travel story today? But for the last few blogposts, it has been film posters. Not ordinary film posters, but Bnegali film posters… director’s notes and so many uncut shots from the movie locations. no change of profession… just a bit of shout out for the Bengali film festival that’s happening over the weekend, from the 5th-7th February, 2015 at the Knowledge Village. The last minute panicking and checklists have already started for the organisers of ‘Abhijaan 2015′, the 2nd Bengali Film Festival Dubai. My objective has been to introduce the films that are being screened with some behind-the-shot stories and thoughts from the Directors themselves. The film festival showcases 7 Bengali films with English subtitles – Chotushkone (Srijit’s Mukherji’s masterpiece thriller, starring stalwarts like Aparna Sen, Chiranjeet Chakraborty, Goutam Ghose, Kaushik Ganguly, Parambrata Chatterjee), Teenkahon (Bauddhayan Mukherji’s debut directorial venture starring Rituparna Sengupta, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Ashish Vidyarthi), Byomkesh Phire Elo (Directed by Anjan Dutt, starring Abir, Saswata, Usashi), Bharate (directed by Anindya Ghosh, starring Rituparna Sengupta, Arunima Ghosh), 89 (directed by Manoj Michigan starring Saswata Chatterjee, Raima Sen and Shataf Figar), Ebar Shobor (directorial venture of Arindam Sil, starring Swastika, Saswata, Abir) and Ek Fali Rod (directed by Atanu Ghosh… starring Dhritiman Chatterji, Ritwik, Aparajita). While more info and snippets of the movies can be found in Facebook, grab your tickets now from platinumlist.net/tickets & itp.net/tickets.

Talking to ‘Ek Phali Rodh’ Director Atanu Ghosh…

THE POWERHOUSE CAST: Never before, I had so many of my favourite actors working together, as in Ek Phaali Rodh. Since I became a filmbuff, I longed to see Dhritiman Chaterji on screen. Pratidwandi, Jodubangsha, Aakalaer Sandhane, Kaahini and many others had such a lasting impression. As we got introduced, his brilliant mind and wide interests left me charmed and I was elated when he agreed to play the social scientist. For his young researcher, I needed someone with enormous flexibility and Ritwik Chakraborty was the perfect option. Quite sensational, Ritwik lends a unique edge to a character using his reactionary power, sharp intellect and improvising skill. Rarely, we come across such actors who can work wonders with a combination of intuitive skills. Now, Ritwik needed a working partner to create ‘mock’ crisis on the streets. And I was lucky I did not have to step out of Ritwik’s house to find her! Aparajita Ghosh Das combines effortless ease with fluid expressions, and the remarkable chemistry she shares with Ritwik comes as a bonus. For her fiancée, the flamboyant singer, I had no second thoughts beyond Jisshu Sengupta, who has the rare blend of striking good looks and a very sensitive acting form that can work wonders in a layered script. He lives the moment in camera. Never pretends. The complexities of an author, blind since birth, needed deft handling and the effort Tota Roychowdhury put into the role is incomparable. His willingness to push his capacity to its limits has given us memorable performances in Chokher Bali and Angshumaner Chhobi. Now. I had a powerhouse principle cast on board. But I still needed another brilliant lot to play the no-less-important cameos. I craved for those who keep us glued to the screen even within a very short time span. Thanks to these actors who have enriched the film in that capacity with their glowing presence – Rudranil Ghosh, Arunima Ghosh, Dulal Lahiri, Barun Chanda, Bodhisatya Majumdar, Arindam Sil. All said and done, keep your eyes open for two young debutants who are bound to steal the show – Mahua Halder and Aritro Dutta.
making_1 copy making_2 copy making_3 copy making_4 copy making_5 copy making_6 copyShare your emotion related to the film Ek Phaali Rodh: It’s a film very close to my heart. I was quite hooked on by the issue of ‘Bystander Effect’ and wanted it to serve as the springboard for the concept of the film. Besides, it gave me an opportunity to work with some of my most favourite actors. The form of the film, combining fiction with non-fiction, use of hidden camera and CCTV footage is quite new for me. The music by Joy Sarkar also turned out to be quite captivating. So, it’s an exciting package.

All of your earlier films, dealt with social and psychological and social issues, we guess there won’t be any exception regarding EPR as well. Please throw some light on the plot: The film takes off from the issue of Bystander Effect – the socio-psychological phenomenon where people do not offer help to strangers in distress. A social scientist (Dhritiman Chaterji) is working on it and as part of the research, he engages Swagato (Ritwik Chakraborty) and Anwesha (Aparajita Ghosh Das) to create mock crisis on the streets of Kolkata. The aim is to analyse human behaviour and derive conclusions from them. Suddenly, one day, they come face to face with some acute crisis which takes them off-guard and they cannot decipher whether its ‘mock’ or ‘real’. After that, there is lot of high-voltage drama, suspense and quite a bit of emotion coming in.

‘Bystander effect’ is the underlying theme of the movie. Why did you choose such a topic and do you intend to spread any kind of awareness in the society about such human emotions and conditions: The topic is quite alarming. It all started with the public murder of 28-year-old Kitty Genovese in New York in 1964. 38 people watched the young woman getting stabbed and killed on the street and yet no one chose to raise alarm or call the police. It shook the nation and the world at large and rocked our faith against each other. Exactly fifty years have passed since then and there has been numerous incidents happening in different parts of the globe. Though the issue is very sensitive and raises fundamental questions about human behavior, the aim of the film is not restricted to creating awareness. I strongly believe the film stands on its own intending to satisfy viewers as a work of art exploring human emotion, drama and suspense.

What kind of research did you have to do in order to create an entire feature film around it ? The most cinematic aspect of Bystander Effect research lies in the use of ‘mock’ crisis. All over the world, social scientists hire small-time actors to enact scenes of crisis on the streets. And that is what turned me on to create a feature film around the subject. Quite a few books as well as Youtube videos gave me a theoretical know-how and then I met a few social scientists and organizations who were working on this issue. I always enjoy delving deep into the basic reality before designing its fictional representation.

In Rupkatha Noy we saw you presenting Soumitro Chattopadhyay so beautifully, and in EPR you have cast Dhritiman Chattopadhyay who is also a very experienced actor and an industry veteran, your experience of working with Dhirtiman sir? I have been waiting for long to work with Dhritiman Chaterji. For quite sometime, we used to catch up whenever he came over to Kolkata from Chennai (where he stays now) and I really enjoyed those enlightening sessions. That is how, we started sharing a bond and Ek Phaali Rodh was the best thing to have happened after that. Apart from being a very experienced and accomplished actor, he is a brilliant mind with varied interests and charming personality. Interacting with him is always a pleasure.

You have repeated Tota Roychowdhury, Aparajita Ghosh Das (Chakraborty), Arunima Ghosh (Abby Sen) and Jisshu Sengupta in two of your movies, do you think these four actors are underrated in Tollywood or some consider them as unlucky for Box Office success as well? Do you intend to break this jinx? This custom of branding an actor as unlucky for Box Office is utter nonsense. Some actors never get their due and that has happened throughout history. We should acknowledge their talent and passion for acting. No use lamenting as to why they never got the adulation they deserve. Jisshu, Tota, Arunima and Aparajita have proved their brilliance time and again in cinema or television and they are some of my most favourite actors. I would go on working with them irrespective of how they are branded by the industry.

Ritwck Chakraborty is now the budding Star Actor of Tollywood, your directorial views on Ritwick, the actor? Ritwik is sensational. He can give a unique edge to a character by using his reactionary power, sharp intellect and improvising skill. Its not common that we come across such actors who can work wonders with a combination of intuitive skills.

Joy Sarkar during the music launch of Ek Phali Rodh said that after working with you, working with other directors becomes a little difficult as no one gives as much freedom as you do… We would like to know why do you always choose Joy Sarkar for the music in your films? I like film music to be spontaneous and varied. Joy has this rare capacity of blending simple melody with intensity of expression. Besides, he loves to experiment and is never bothered about dictates of the market. In that way, we share a common vision. I have worked with Joy in three films (Rupkatha Noy, Ek Phaali Rodh, Abby Sen) and in each of them, he has developed a different musical expression.

Such a complex psychological behavior as the Bystander Effect forms the theme of your film, do you think the audience is ready for such complex topics, more from the comprehension point of view? There is nothing complex in Bystander Effect. You see a stranger writhing in pain on a street. The question is, whether you will help him or not. As simple as that. Besides, none of my films are difficult to comprehend. Basically, I conform to a simple narrative style.

Currently what subjects are you reading and researching on and what can the audience expect next? I am working on some subjects but it is too early to tell about them. It will be something entirely different. Can assure you that?

The Bengali film industry at the moment is said to be going through a slack period, do you think EPR, just like Srijit Mukherji’s Chotushkone, will act as oxygen for this wilted industry? Certainly, I do have quite a bit of expectation regarding EPR. The subject is new, the treatment is not common, the cast includes some of the best names, and there is a lot of drama, emotion and suspense ! I think the audience would like it.Ek Phali Rodh--Pitch-1

A synopsis of Ek Phali Rodh… Film-maker Atanu Ghosh deals with a unique theme that has not been seen on Indian cinema before…. the “Bystander Effect”.. Mock Crisis Scenarios VS Real-life Crisis.. starring Dhritiman Chatterji, Ritwik, Aparajita… Being a talented director, Atanu has created a beautiful relationship tale out of it… hope you have got your tickets already for #Abhijaan2015!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Tickets for Abhijaan 2015 are available at platinumlist.net/tickets & itp.net/tickets. Listen to SUNO 102.4 from 30th January until the 7th February and watch Zee Network for more updates.Abhijaan 2015 - Bengali Film Festival Dubai

Disclaimer: While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. All pictures have been shared with me, courtesy Atanu Ghosh and are protected by copyright. All content provided by Atanu Ghosh. You can catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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Abhijaan 2015 – Bengali Film Festival In Dubai | Anindyo Ghosh’s Bharaate

BharateOne more day for ‘Abhijaan 2015′, the 2nd Bengali Film Festival Dubai which is taking place from the 5th-7th February, 2015 at the Knowledge Village. It is an amazing feeling it is to see the tickets being sold out and seeing the event gather momentum and gaining popularity. From a small little idea brewing over some friendly get togethers, to a full fledged event with actors and directors flowing in for the event… I am a very proud Bengali at this moment. This year, Abhijaan 2015 also showcases 7 Bengali films with English subtitles – Chotushkone (Srijit’s Mukherji’s masterpiece thriller, starring stalwarts like Aparna Sen, Chiranjeet Chakraborty, Goutam Ghose, Kaushik Ganguly, Parambrata Chatterjee), Teenkahon (Bauddhayan Mukherji’s debut directorial venture starring Rituparna Sengupta, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Ashish Vidyarthi), Byomkesh Phire Elo (Directed by Anjan Dutt, starring Abir, Saswata, Usashi), Bharate (directed by Anindya Ghosh, starring Rituparna Sengupta, Arunima Ghosh), 89 (directed by Manoj Michigan starring Saswata Chatterjee, Raima Sen and Shataf Figar), Ebar Shobor (directorial venture of Arindam Sil, starring Swastika, Saswata, Abir) and Ek Fali Rod (directed by Atanu Ghosh… starring Dhritiman Chatterji, Ritwik, Aparajita). While more info and snippets of the movies can be found in Facebook, grab your tickets now from platinumlist.net/tickets & itp.net/tickets.

Talking to Anindya Ghosh on his film Bharate…

Fun facts/interesting facts from shooting your film: The film was shot in Nov-Dec 2013 and hence I do not remember all the fun moments or the facts that vividly. But there are two incidents I remember, which we used to have a laugh over even much later. During one of the song sequences, there were couple of montages showing Arunima and Rajdeep kissing. Arunima was quite comfortable but Rajdeep seemed to be in some sort of discomfort and was taking some time to become free. After 3 or 4 takes, I was telling him from a distance (where the monitor had been placed away from the zone of the shot and where I could not be seen by the actors) that he was becoming stiff during the shot and needs to loosen up. While I was explaining that, he was listening to me alright but was looking outside the window which appeared to me in the monitor as if he was not paying attention. And I blurted out suddenly “Rajdeep please focus on the woman in front of you instead of the ones in the balconies of other apartments in the neighbourhood”. This made the whole unit burst out laughing and poor Rajdeep was so embarrassed. Another funny incident I recall was my second assistant director used to always refer to all romantic montage sequences as “love making sequence”. And Arunima used to get quite shocked at this since she knew exactly how many intimate sequences were there and it was quite a surprise to hear about extra unknown sequences popping up. After a while she realized what my assistant meant. But the ultimate was while shooting some outdoor romantic shots in the Kolkata Maidan area where again this assistant referred to it as a “love making sequence” and Arunima blurted out “even here in a public area” and everyone started laughing!

Something about the actors starring in the film: The three main characters in my film are Tiasa Sinha (Rituparna Sengupta), Rimi Dutta (Arunima Ghosh) and Bikram (Rajdeep). I feel they gave their very best within the time and budget constraints we had. Rituparna and Arunima are extremely seasoned actors and the film will portray that facet of theirs to the fullest. This was the first time I was working with Rituparna and found it quite easy to communicate to her what I wanted. Arunima has been working with me in various television projects for the last 12 years and we understand each other. Rajdeep’s character was not an easy one to play since he was a victim of a situation that is no fault of his. And he delivered what was needed. He was meant to be like a ping-pong ball being hit around by Rituparna and Arunima and he did that to perfection.

Challenges or unexpected circumstances that you have come across: The main challenge of this film was the budget and hence the time frame within which it needed to be completed. The film was shot in 14 days. I was not completely happy with the North Kolkata house where the film was shot. A slightly bigger house would have given me a much better option to play around with as far as the shots were concerned. But that was the only house that fitted our budget. An unexpected circumstance was Rituparna getting late on the last day of the shoot since her daughter had suddenly taken ill. It was an outdoor day shoot and by the time we started, we had very little time to take all the shots before the sun went down. We managed somehow.
DIRECTOR STILLS 01 copy DIRECTOR STILLS 02 copyDIRECTOR STILLS 04 copyDIRECTOR STILLS 05 copyBHARATE WRAP UP PARTY 02 copyBHARATE WRAP UP PARTY 03 copy

A synopsis of Bharate… Director Anindya Ghosh’s Bharaate is a simple story of a couple who take an unmarried woman as their tenant. The story could have been this simple and straight. But you will have to watch Bharaate to understand the layers that unfold and the thrills within this apparently simple storyline…. the depiction of the storyline on screen manages successfully to create suspense and promises to keep you glued till the end…. if the theatrical trailer is to go by. So grab your tickets now for #Abhijaan2015!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Tickets for Abhijaan 2015 are available at platinumlist.net/tickets & itp.net/tickets. Listen to SUNO 102.4 from 30th January until the 7th February and watch Zee Network for more updates.Abhijaan 2015 - Bengali Film Festival Dubai

Disclaimer: While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. All pictures have been shared with me, courtesy Anindya Ghosh and are protected by copyright. I haven’t edited Anindya’s conversations. lest it cuts the spontaneity. You can catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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Abhijaan 2015 – Bengali Film Festival In Dubai | Arindam Sil’s Ebar Shobor

Ebar Shobor, Arindam Sil

It’s a great initiative for ‘Abhijaan 2015′, the 2nd Bengali Film Festival Dubai which is taking place from the 5th-7th February, 2015 at the Knowledge Village, to bring in Bengali movies that are absolutely hot off the oven. For example, Arindam Sil’s second directorial venture – Ebar Shobor. It released in Kolkata just yesterday and last heard, is being declared absolutely phenomenal by the movie goers. This year, Abhijaan 2015 sees a fabulous line up of 7 Bengali films with English subtitles – Chotushkone (Srijit’s Mukherji’s masterpiece thriller, starring stalwarts like Aparna Sen, Chiranjeet Chakraborty, Goutam Ghose, Kaushik Ganguly, Parambrata Chatterjee), Teenkahon (Bauddhayan Mukherji’s debut directorial venture starring Rituparna Sengupta, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Ashish Vidyarthi), Byomkesh Phire Elo (Directed by Anjan Dutt, starring Abir, Saswata, Usashi), Bharate (directed by Anindya Ghosh, starring Rituparna Sengupta, Arunima Ghosh), 89 (directed by Manoj Michigan starring Saswata Chatterjee, Raima Sen and Shataf Figar), Ebar Shobor (directorial venture of Arindam Sil, starring Swastika, Saswata, Abir) and Ek Fali Rod (directed by Atanu Ghosh… starring Dhritiman Chatterji, Ritwik, Aparajita). While more info and snippets of the movies can be found in Facebook, grab your tickets now from platinumlist.net/tickets & itp.net/tickets.

_DSC0484 copy IMG_7730 copyIMG_7869 copyIMG_7983 copyArindam Sil, Ebar Shobor

A bit of trivia pictures…10386829_382054608630341_2687630163644273569_n1235007_379106028925199_3453801030088827972_n10885284_377287265773742_153151463667803048_n10885063_378583538977448_1069308510513245759_n994444_380251702143965_8685352174905523358_n  1382112_726474180762074_7636552312246498192_n   10408042_373476102821525_5992260750169327645_n 10806284_380879608747841_6528517662458980480_n 10849937_372750326227436_7829698263543705996_n 10898278_381628135339655_2847397341806718926_n10881864_376066255895843_3598141045237227322_n1555417_375246565977812_4911706737224526628_n

A synopsis of Ebar Shobor… This is the second directorial venture of Arindam Sil, after his much acclaimed debut film Aborto. Ebar Shabor is the kind of film that leaves a lingering aftertaste — the kind that makes you crave for a repeat watch. And that too when you already know who the murderer is! What better benchmark can a film set? Starring Swastika, Saswata, Abir… So grab your tickets now for #Abhijaan2015!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Tickets for Abhijaan 2015 are available at platinumlist.net/tickets & itp.net/tickets. Listen to SUNO 102.4 from 30th January until the 7th February and watch Zee Network for more updates.Abhijaan 2015 - Bengali Film Festival Dubai

Disclaimer: While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. All pictures have been shared with me, courtesy Arindam Sil and are protected by copyright. You can catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Related Bengali Posts:

• Spicy Baby Potatoes or Aloor Dum – Kolkata Street Style!The Legend of Flurys Still Continues in Park Street
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Bhapa Mishti Doi and A Food Safari of Bengal | BBC GoodFood Middle East
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Luchi Featured In Ahlan! Gourmet | My Ode To Phulko Luchi! 
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Dilipda’s Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park | Kolkata
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Rasgulla Macapuno | When a Filipina Turns Bong! 

Abhijaan 2015 – Bengali Film Festival In Dubai | Manoj Michigan’s 89

89

No food post? Well, a temporary break to talk about films – Bengali films. After all, films do provide food for thought, don’t they? For all those readers who are joining me in my journey now… here’s an introduction to ‘Abhijaan 2015′, the 2nd Bengali Film Festival Dubai that’s taking place from the 5th-7th February, 2015 at the Knowledge Village. This year, Abhijaan 2015 sees a fabulous line up of 7 Bengali films with English subtitles – Chotushkone (Srijit’s Mukherji’s masterpiece thriller, starring stalwarts like Aparna Sen, Chiranjeet Chakraborty, Goutam Ghose, Kaushik Ganguly, Parambrata Chatterjee), Teenkahon (Bauddhayan Mukherji’s debut directorial venture starring Rituparna Sengupta, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Suman Mukhopadhyay, Ashish Vidyarthi), Byomkesh Phire Elo (Directed by Anjan Dutt, starring Abir, Saswata, Usashi), Bharate (directed by Anindya Ghosh, starring Rituparna Sengupta, Arunima Ghosh), 89 (directed by Manoj Michigan starring Saswata Chatterjee, Raima Sen and Shataf Figar), Ebar Shobor (directorial venture of Arindam Sil, starring Swastika, Saswata, Abir) and Ek Fali Rod (directed by Atanu Ghosh… starring Dhritiman Chatterji, Ritwik, Aparajita). While more info and snippets of the movies can be found in Facebook, grab your tickets now from platinumlist.net/tickets & itp.net/tickets.

So what is 89 all about?

The film is about a 26 year old psychiatrist Dr. Purba Bannerjee who comes to terms with her identity by exploring her past. Dr. Purba Bannerjee, a psychiatrist has an unexplained trauma that has been haunting her since her childhood. A chance encounter with a terrorist introduces Purba to an anti-terrorist inspector, Anup Bhargava who helps her confront the cause of this problem… What happens when Purba’s search for a cure brings her face to face with her nightmare… an unstable but intelligent serial-killer, Sabyasachi Pal? The film canvases a myriad range of emotions through the elements of obsession, hatred, mind-games and a hidden underplay of numerology. It shuffles through time, trauma, psychological warfare, murders and finally retribution. Chatting with the director of 89 – Manoj Michigan. WHY 89?

Two genres excite me the most – Comedy and Thriller. With Damadol, I ventured into situational comedy and after that I wanted to make a gripping thriller… my inspiration being Hollywood thrillers like Seven, The Call, Shutter Island etc. These films were edge of the seat gripping thrillers where the script was the winner. That is what I hope I have achieved with 89… The Script leading the film to its conclusion.  I have always believed that the market of a film totally depends on two things in that order. One is the packaging where the story, the way it is presented and its characters living it, makes a viewer decide whether it is a good film or not. Second is the marketing, promotion of the product that tempts the viewer to go to the cinemas to watch it once. There is a risk with this genre… but no risk..no gain I guess. A good psychological crime thriller will always keep the viewer guessing, questioning, analysing the turn of events that it unfolds. The moment it becomes predictable, boredom sets in. With 89, I hope, will not give the viewer a chance to look at his watch while viewing the film. Saswata, Shataf and Raima did not move while I was narrating the script to them for the first time. And they loved it.

While my previous post covers Teenkahon, this post captures some behind-the-scene angles of Manoj Michigan’s 89. You can join me over Twitter for all the films conversations that are happening right now. RAIMA AND MANOJ 89 copyMANOJ AND RAIMA 89 copyIMG_3449 copyIMG_3386 copyIMG_3720 copyIMG_3234 copy

Here’s the Director’s note… I have always wanted to make a gripping thriller with the usual elements of a haunting background score, morbid lighting and a mysterious feel of the characters. But the challenge was visualising a story to excite me…a screenplay that intelligently unfolds the story through layers of time and events. I did not want to show graphic details of murder, or the act of killing but wanted an underlying subtlety of death throughout the film and at the same time not compromising on the edge of the seat factor without which a thriller becomes redundant. I hope we have managed to reach close to this goal. So with 89, drama and mystery is just one of the ingredients if the film. Grab your tickets now for #Abhijaan2015!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Tickets for Abhijaan 2015 are available at platinumlist.net/tickets & itp.net/tickets. Listen to SUNO 102.4 from 30th January until the 7th February and watch Zee Network for more updates.Abhijaan 2015 - Bengali Film Festival Dubai

Disclaimer: While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. All pictures have been shared with me, courtesy Manoj Michigan and are protected by copyright. You can catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Related Bengali Posts:

• Spicy Baby Potatoes or Aloor Dum – Kolkata Street Style!The Legend of Flurys Still Continues in Park Street
Ramadan Food Trail With Calcutta Walks | As The Muezzin Calls
Yesss, The Scoop In Outram Ghat Still Exists!
Bhapa Mishti Doi and A Food Safari of Bengal | BBC GoodFood Middle East
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Luchi Featured In Ahlan! Gourmet | My Ode To Phulko Luchi! 
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Traditional Bengali Cuisine | In ‘Slight’ Details
Firni or Ferni, Ramadan or Ramzan, Mallick Bazar or Karama?
Momos in Tiretti Bazar | The Last Chinese Remnants in Kolkata!
Dilipda’s Phuchkas in Vivekananda Park | Kolkata
Notun Gurer Payesh/Rice Pudding & My Dida
Rasgulla Macapuno | When a Filipina Turns Bong! 

Countdown To 2015 | Oh My Mulled Wine Over Christmas!

Mulled Wine

Merry Christmas Everyone! Here’s to a sip into a hot Mulled Wine bellowing up some smokey dreams in the air, a sniff into the Christmas chill and freezing hands trembling with excitement inside the gloves… yes, it’s that time of the year when happiness is suspended in bubbles in the wine and stuck in the grease of the Turkey gravy. Well that was our life in flashback when we used to live in Germany 8 years back… when Christmas meant the magical Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas market around Romer in Frankfurt and the aroma of Glühwein hitting the nostrils at all hours… and a real Christmas tree! In Dubai terms, it means searching for the shopping mall that has put up the tallest Christmas tree and peeping into a hotel lobby which has the most gorgeously decked one. It also means that there is fake snow and snowflakes perking up some shopping mall around town (Dubai Marina Mall). We also have the ‘tallest gingerbread tower in Dubai’ – a 11.7m tall tower made by chefs working 432 hours at The Address Marina, using 180kg of flour, 90kg of honey, 570kg of icing sugar! No complaints at all, for December in Dubai is now unquestionably and undoubtedly Christmassy, as compared to a decade back. And I just tasted my first Mulled Wine of the season in a Christmas Market here… The Souk Festive Market at Madinat Jumeirah. The above picture is a testimony to it!   556964_514210681945694_1422567766_nDec2012_Prague_ 140 copyUntitled-1Christmas also reminds me of my childhood in Kolkata, where we grew up celebrating all festivals from all religion. Christmas would mean special rum balls from the very famous Kolkata confectioners – Flury’s (revisted this place during my Kolkata visit this summer). My mother would dress me up in my special gown sewn just for Christmas and we would visit the special candle-lit midnight mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral – one of the oldest structures in Kolkata. Years later I felt the same excitement as I saw my first ‘real’ Christmas tree – a fir tree almost 100 ft long in the Christmas Market in Frankfurt. And sipped on my first Glühwein. I felt the same excitement when Glühwein transformed itself into Svařák on our visit to Prague during Christmas two years back (I have written about it in BBC GoodFood ME). Back at home, our Christmas dinners are complete with Turkey roast, bread pudding and Mulled Wine, the latter prepared sometimes in the traditional way or using a shortcut method with pre-packed mulled spices available in one of the city’s wine stores. Recipe of Mulled wine differs with countries, as well with families. Like a treasured heirloom, some recipes are passed on from one generation to another. Here’s the Czech recipe that I follow… and it can be easily replicated at home (oh forgive the streaks of flash in the home kitchen – it’s Christmas after all)!Mulling WineMulling1763_516609221705840_1095512420_n284934_516609808372448_1852801419_n  227694_516610161705746_1285812505_n

Svařák or Czech Mulled Wine

  • Servings: 5 glasses
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Mulled wine is a usually made with red wine (Port and claret being the traditional choices) along with various mulling spices and raisins. It is a traditional drink during winter, especially around Christmas and is served hot or warm. Non-alcoholic mulled drink can also be made with hot apple cider and juices.

Ingredients
1 lt red wine (usually cheap ones)

Mulling Spices*
10 pieces of whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 of lemon
1/2 of orange
4-7 teaspoons of sugar

Method

  1. Pour wine into big pot, add cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange and/or lemon and heat up (do not boil).
  2. When hot add sugar (should be sweet enough for your taste) and serve.

*Note: The combination of spices varies, but it usually consists of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg; and less frequently star anise, peppercorn or cardamom. It also usually includes dried fruit (such as raisins, apples or orange rind). A “mulled” drink is a drink which has been prepared with these spices (usually through heating the drink in a pot with mulling spices and then strained.

(This recipe has been adapted from here. Enjoy another Mulled wine recipe in fellow blogger Drina Cabral aka Eaternal Zest.)

While the above picture is from my Prague album and I still miss the European Christmas Markets, the Festive Souk Market this time really filled us with happiness and we plan to pop by once again… it’s up there until the 27th of December. The season seems all too glittery and my earlier blogpost chalks exactly that – all the *edible gold* dishes that I could find in Dubai. The Festive Issue of Food e Mag dxb is brimming with recipes, roundups of the best dining venues, chef talk and talks about a winter getaway – an European Christmas market once again – to Vienna! I have been hopping in and out of Sally Prosser aka My Custard Pie’s blog the entire festive season and from the morning today – with all the last minute tips on everything Christmassy – starting with the cheese board that I am preparing for our Christmas dinner tonight to some of the festive cocktails that we will be stirring up. And amidst all the hullabaloo, I am still dreaming of a white Christmas that Sarah Walton aka The Hedonista writes about. And once we settle down after tonight’s party, it will be time to catch up on the dining trends suggested by Samantha Wood aka Foodiva.DSC_9122DSC_9171DSC_9129DSC_9153nextBig Z is making cookies as festive gifts for all our friends this time, with Li’l Z helping in decorating them (I have caught her licking twice into the frosting – apologies!). Nothing brings in more happiness (and chaos) in the house than seeing the two sisters fight over the ‘technical glitches’ that the cookies have been facing. The gifts have already been opened. As I write this post, the Z-Sisters are busy planning for the evening – Christmas dinner is at home. The stocking is already empty and I am keeping Big Z’s note (above) safely in my drawer… lest she forgets. Happiness should be everywhere and for everyone, only that – it isn’t. News channels on the television and newspaper headlines have different tales to narrate. For our children’s sake, can we pray that the New Year will bring a lot of hope and happiness to everyone in the world? Collective prayer works, and so does collective hope… so once again, Merry Christmas Everyone!

Unblogging it all… IshitaDSC_9199
Merry Christmas!

Disclaimer: 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.

Khor Kalba & Kalba Corniche | Following The Bikers’ Trail

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My husband is a biker, a late bloomer in that. Like most Bengali boys with overprotective parents, this boy’s passion in wanting to *be one with the machine*, saw the light much later in life. On Fridays, much before the break of dawn, S is out of the house as he joins the other bikers who ride/glide through the darkness along with other bikers – the Harley gang and the newspaper men! They – the Harley gang that is, ride out to different predesignated destinations in the UAE taking routes that are breathtakingly beautiful, seeking out beyond the chrome and the leather, beyond the wind in the face, beyond the harmonious yin and yang of Top Dead Center and Bottom Dead Center, there lies the open road of philosophical exploration (as chalked out in this book that explains a rider’s philosophy). And sometimes, we drive down a route that he has been able to jot down – gifting ourselves with a few hours of a rejuvenating escape from the city of Dubai, my adopted home. Sudden bursts of golden sand interspersed with lush green farmlands, a surprise photo-op as camels cross the streets, mini tiffin breaks at an unknown roadside cafeteria, a discovery of a *meal of a lifetime* in a run down restaurant, shuddering at bikes thundering across the highway, and a heavy numb sleep after sheer exhaustion… these are only a few highlights of each of these drives. Long after we reach home, when I close my eyes at night, all I keep seeing is a kaleidoscopic slow-motion of whirling sands and a drive through a snaky, stony mountainous road –  visuals that I haven’t been able to describe until I chanced upon this drone video.

Zero Gravity. from Airspectiv Media on Vimeo.

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Leaving a sleepy city behind on a Friday morning, we hit the roads following the same route on the last consecutive Fridays. Our destination this time had been Kalba. First, a halt at Khor Kalba where the droopy mangroves form a subtle foreground to the blurry Hazaar mountain ranges and the tune of Adhaan drifting from the far away mosque fades in with the chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves. Much like the cliched proverb, in all these drives, our final destination isn’t as important as much as the journey that it entails. A GPS navigation system will unmistakeably take you to all the final destinations, however the route that we take is what makes our drives so worthwhile – so varied in its landscape, and each halt being contradictory from the previous one. When we are on our own, our first stop is the Ghadeer Saeed Ghadeer cafeteria at Margam – already an hour onto our drive. But if you are driving in a big group, the best meeting point would be a large gas stations while you are still near the city – it gives you the last minute chance to stock up on your habitual urban essentials. The Emarat gas station on the Dubai – Al Ain Highway after you have crossed the Rugby7 stadiums, is a popular meet up point – and if you are an automobile freak, this is where a lot of hot custom built 4-wheelers gather before they begin their drive off road. Here’s capturing both our trips in one long sequence of photos (a discovery of a cute little restaurant called Breeze Grill in a one-star motel called Breeze Inn in our first trip … and an organised barbeque in the latter, courtesy our friends celebrating his son’s birthday)…

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Kalba… the site of Al Gorm and Al HafiyeDSC_7926

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Breeze Grill and Fishermen’s Village…  DSC_7988

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Kalba Corniche and a tea break before heading back to Dubai… DSC_7986

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The direction to Kalba along the Bikers Trail: Hit the Al Ain Road from Dubai; after the 1st Emarat gas station after Rugby Sevens, take the Exit 47 and continue left towards Margam; at the T junction, take the right towards Dubai-Hatta road, continue for about 200m and take the 1st right exit just after you have crossed a row of small shops and groceries; you will come to a small R/A – take right; from 2nd R/A take the 2nd right; then again from R/A take right towards Nazwa; from R/A take 2nd exit which should take you through the Wadi Al Helo tunnel; Take the Maliha-Kalba road and then take the Kalba exit (Maleha road) – this becomes Sharjah-Kalba road. Cut through the mountains. You come to Kalba city… from R/A take left – the 3rd exit; and the next R/A, take the right exit and immediately after there is a exit to the parking lot. Continuing on this route will bring you to Kalba Corniche. To return to Dubai, take the Dubai exit after seeing this board, otherwise you will end up driving to Khorfokan!

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Apart from the first glimpse of the golden sands and the love-lock with camels, a gyrocopter almost landing on us, the other thrills include driving through the 1.6 km long Wadi Al Helo Tunnel on the Sharjah-Kalba road, or finding junk 4 wheel drives along the Kalba Corniche. A decade back, I remember we could actually drive into the marshlands of Kalba as it used to be a very popular picnic spot. But not any more. A depletion of the marshlands and the habitats of a few precious species have now made this area a protected one where I believe a lot of conservation work is taking place. After whiling away here walking on the grass barefoot, trying to fix the kite that dipped into the water, lying down on the mat and snoozing off under the pretext of sunglasses, and a non-stop munching – we drove down to the Kalba corniche. On our first trip, we had discovered a cute little restaurant called Breeze Grill – absolutely a single lady show. Our lunch took an hour to cook, but when it came to the table – fried rice, chicken in oyster sauce, fried squid and grilled whole fish,  there was no looking back – the plates were empty in seconds. A further drive along the Corniche and you will find two more restaurants (written family style) and a few cafeterias serving *strong tree* (actually serves nice Saffron teas).

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On our 2nd trip, Big Z brought with her a homemade no-bake Peanut Butter & Oat Cookie Bars (above right, recipe in Big Z’s blog – ahem!). Apparently it had been inspired by our first trip – the green grass, the dates and the earthiness of Khor Kalba. It tasted divine, but more importantly I loved the inspiration and the thought that went into its creation. Sometimes, no plan is the best plan and nothing can be more exhilarating than hitting the roads. Although it will take me a long time to convince myself to pillion ride with S (although he assures me that I will fit in his bike!), I look forward to the Fridays when we drive along a route that he has ridden before. Enjoy the weather in this season and ride on or drive on, as your heart desires. Also sharing a little good news before signing off – I am very happy to have been shortlisted as one of the finalists in BBC Good Food Awards 2014. Today, the blog has become my alter ego. Yes, I blog in my head all the time and every moment – food or otherwise, is captured in text and in photos in a manner that is designed for a blogpost. My iPhoto album is stacked with folders and sub folders and sub sub folders. If I don’t go out for a year, yet I will have topics to write about for the next 365 days of the year. And this even after having my recent Mac crash along with all the photographs that I have been taking over the years. I have also decided not to feel guilty about not having written on so many places that I have intended writing on. And letting myself free in my already cluttered blogging mind as I rewind on this random trip on a Friday!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS1: We did a barbeque at Khor Kalba on our 2nd visit, only to be stopped by an official from Sharjah Municipality saying that barbequing wasn’t permitted here. No cautionary board around… #justsaying!

PS2: In 2012, this 5 km green belt was declared a protected area through a resolution by His Highness Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. And In March 2013, the site was added to the Ramsar list, as a wetland of international importance (the convention is an international effort to protect the world’s most important marshlands.

PS3: Here’s a recount of our Kalba trip from my 13 year old blogger friend Srishti aka srishtiblogs!

Disclaimer: 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.

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#MyDubaiTrip Itinerary For Peeta Planet | A Photo Essay

IshitaUnblogged's #MyDubaiTrip itinerary for Peeta Planet

Back to Dubai after a long summer hibernation in Kolkata and other places in India by jumping into a very interesting campaign. If you have been reading my blog and knows me for long, would know that Dubai for me, means more than just a city of blingy shopping malls and highrises. I have created a Dubai itinerary for the award-winning travel series Peeta Planet and Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) initiative #MyDubai. This unique #MyDubaiTrip campaign showcases Dubai around the world and brings in 12 international instagrammers to Dubai to experience the city according to 12 selected itineraries and these will be filmed as webseries. It’s a great opportunity for me to have a film made on how I want to portray Dubai to the outside world (provided mine is chosen!). To shower your votes for me … click here!

The itineraries have been created by Dubai’s selected social media personalities, including FooDiva and me, and deserve a look in their own rights. How does my itinerary look like?

1) Breakfast place: The Majlis Cafe in the Jumeirah Mosque premise. A hidden gem for sure. Munch on everything made from camel milk – the cupcakes, the date shakes, camelchino, Al Nassma icecream (again with camel milk), white camel milk cheese, creams and also some Emirati gems like Balateet and Chababs. It’s plush and elegant but very serene and is perfect to unwind after a short trip to Jumeirah mosque (conducted by SMCCU). Try the Zattar Chai.

2) Activity/Adventure: Pearl Diving with a team of traditional Pearl Divers and dive into UAE’s trade history and heritage. The Pavilion Dive Centre at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai, organises pearl diving excursions.

3) Lunch place: Seaview Restaurant in Jumeirah (my review here). Stunning views of the Fishing harbour as you sit on the terrace. Reasonable bill, stupendous spread. The restaurant has it’s own fishing boat… so on principle, the fish caught on the day is served.

4) Emirati Culture place to visit: Bastakiya of course… stroll along Bastakiya – explore the various galleries, specially Al Mawaheb from Beautiful People which is an art studio for adults with special needs. Learn to dabble in Arabic calligraphy, stroll along the textile souq, buy *old coins*, take an Abra and cross the Creek to explore the Spice souq in Deira.

5) Emirati thing to do (activity, food etc..): A midnight cafeteria stop. Pardon me, but this is fun and I must unashamedly admit that I have done it many times with my Emirati friends… you have to order chai/juice from a cafeteria post midnight, preferably sitting inside the car. These cafeterias are legendary and if the serpentine queues are anything to judge by, the service impeccable. Whatever one orders – whether it’s a Shawarma or a sandwich or a burger (tastier than any popular fast food cafe, I can vouch for that!) or juice, the right order reaches the right person in a jiffy. Example – Arabian Seashell Cafeteria on Jumeirah Road or Falcon Cafeteria on Al Wasl.

6) Dinner place: Bu Q’tair ofcourse! This is perhaps the only restaurant in Dubai that hasn’t changed over the years, despite it’s soaring popularity and its enormous media publicity in recent times (my review here). The charm of Bu Qtair lies in the contradiction in its location – the sudden discovery of a modest porta cabin selling fried fresh fish on the beach, with the 7-star hotel Burj Al Arab acting as the unusual backdrop. My suggestion – hit the place around 5pm and see the action and the chaos that builds up as night sets in. From an empty courtyard to a crowded *hot spot*, it’s Bu Q’tair. On the footsteps of my very popular video which although an amateur one has had more than 25,000 hits on You Tube… http://youtu.be/o62tjWb4u9U

I love Dubai, and have considered it my adopted home for the last 15 years. We have shifted homes in between, but have oscillated around Dubai. The Z-Sisters have been born here and that probably makes it more special. From an encyclopaedic  earlier post of mine… Dubai, my home for almost the last decade, is a quintessential tourist’s haven. It’s a shame that the only thing that comes to mind when one hears Dubai is Shopping. But, walking through the art alleys of Bastakia and the old quarters along the Dubai Creek, watching the sun go down the beautiful and never ending beaches of Jumeirah, catching the stars in a moonlit night over the desert sky… there’s so much more to Dubai. Dubai is a juxtaposition of extremes – the world’s tallest tower to the old Creek where still the Iranian vessels anchor their moors and trade goes on as it did at the beginning of the history of the city. It’s a vibrant and growing city where expatriates from all over the world are striving to make it a true international city. Modern technology is pitted here against absolute consumerism. Zero carbon footprint is a concept that Dubai-ites are trying to learn after emitting gallons of carbon in the air!

Signing off with a lot of love for Dubai and hoping that your love for my blog will be translated into votes for me. Voting closes tonight at 9pm Dubai time. In any case, do look at the fabulous itineraries that have been created. Dubai resident or not, there are a lot of interesting stuff that will seem absolutely novel and unique. Again, to shower your love and votes and don’t forget to scroll down to see a glimpse of my itinerary in pictures… here’s the link!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: 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 catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Bastakiya…

Majlis Galeery Bastakia in Dubai Bastakiya in Bur Dubai DSC_2200 DSC_2251   DSC_2269Breakfast at The Majlis in the premise of Jumeirah Mosque… DSC_4378 DSC_4387 DSC_4395