+ Srilankan Lamprais cooked at home

For the love of Lamprais… and Srilanka

Cooking Srilankan Lamprais at home… what a delicious and elaborate tribute to the country where we set up our first home – Srilanka!

Srilankan Lamprais cooked at home

On the day of Guru Purnima when one pays homage to their gurus or teachers, I wanted to pay homage to a country that has taught me a lot – Srilanka! I cooked Lamprais and Deviled Prawns at home, both very popular Srilankan dishes… delicious and elaborate tributes to the country where we set up our first home. Lamprais is a rice preparation where Kaha Bath or yellow rice, along with Lampara meat curry, fried plantain cooked in coconut curry, Wambatu Moju or an eggplant preparation, seeni sambol, fish cutlet and others… all are delicately wrapped up in a banana leaf and cooked in an oven. A Dutch-Burgher influenced dish, Lamprais is a reminiscent of the Dutch colonisation of the island country. Cooking the Lamprais was much more time consuming than I had originally expected with so many things accompanying it. Digging into the lumped rice by hand was mandatory, at least in our home!

Srilankan Lamprais cooked at homeCooking Lamprais is quite elaborate as there are several accompaniments with lumped rice

Srilankan Deviled Prawns cooked at homeSpicy deviled prawns – Srilankans love their spices and I don’t think a Srilankan dish can ever be spicy enough!

My Srilankan Sojourn – the pre digicam and smartphone era… does anyone even remember the era?

I landed in Colombo in January 1998, a few days after our wedding. This was my first trip to a foreign land and Colombo didn’t disappoint my idea of how ‘abroad’ looked – imported cars, beautifully marked roads, supermarket isles with neatly stacked glossy products, branded clothes and everything that I had imagined. What I hadn’t imagined was the intensity of the tropical lush greenery and verdant landscape, or the eternally smiling friendly faces – quite a contradiction to the regular army checkpoints at roadsides, where we were stopped frequently to show our identity cards. Carrying our passports with us became as natural as carrying our wallets and handbags – even to the neighbourhood grocery. The country was in civil war and waking up to news of bomb explosions far and wide was as normal to us as waking up to the birds’ chirping in our garden. S had been living in Srilanka for a while and was quite used to the on going situation. I found it rather disturbing initially. It was also difficult to explain to our parents back home during our weekly calls that we were – safe and doing fine. After the initial panic buttons were switched on for a while after such unprecedented events, I realised that life bounced back to our familiar understanding of normalcy pretty soon.

Ishita B Saha and Subir Kumar Saha in Colombo


Our house at Rosmead Place in ColomboThe beautiful staircase in our home at Rosmead Place – taken from both inside and outside

My 1st lesson in Srilanka … home is wherever the heart beats happily.

We lived in Rosmead Place in Colombo 7, a heavily guarded prestigious neighbourhood that housed a few embassies and residences of political dignitaries. Our house was beautiful and pretty huge. Much like the Magistrate’s House in Alipore, the house that shaped my childhood and honed my creativity, the house at Rosmead Place contributed to shaping my youth. It soon became my creative dream pad. S and his colleague, who became our close friend, were put up in this house at Rosmead Place by their office. Each had a bedroom to his own on the first floor with an attached bathroom, while they shared the rest of the house. The ground floor was a single unit – an open kitchen giving way to a living cum dining space. Our bedroom and the corridor leading to it, overlooked into the living room space below from above, much like an inner courtyard. The alcove windows with its wooden blinds overlooked a lush garden that encompassed the entire stretch of the house. Even before I moved in, our house had become a cool hangout spot with the wonderful Srilankan friends that the two boys had made in their initial year. Effectively, I invaded a boy zone and was welcomed whole-heartedly into the gang. Not a single chore was delegated to me. Cooking to doing the dishes post-dinner, everything was off my job list! Grocery was a fun outing together to the popular supermarket chains like Keells and Cargills Food City. The only designated chore for me, was supervising the cleaner who came once a week. He spoke in Tamil and didn’t know a word of English. I didn’t know a word of Tamil. I decided to converse with him in Bengali. Guess what? It worked!

Sketch of our garden in Rosmead PlaceMy painting of our garden which thrived on its own, fed and nurtured by short afternoon rain showers

My purpose in life in those days was just to find out my purpose, which has changed its direction and flowed with the ebbs and tides of my life over the years. Quite naturally so!

I sketched and painted quite a lot. I slept occasionally during the days and dreamt during the nights. Once in a while, I cooked and while the boys were at work, I thought of ideas to innovate on our cooking techniques. To this day, the kitchen in our Srilankan house has been by far the largest kitchen we have had in our married journey so far, with the least number of gadgets. Not to mention our cooking skills, which were also at the lowest level. Fish wrapped in banana leaves and placed on a hanger, which was then set on a bucket filled with water with an immersion water heater… that was my genius kind of an idea for cooking steamed fish. We saved on the gas too! I haven’t ever shared this with anyone… I sometimes pretended that I owned the house, and similar houses in our posh neighbourhood. In a way, it was true. S and I set up our first home here, in spite of the fact that we were sharing it. The concept of ‘mine’ or ‘ours’ hadn’t crept in yet. When we got married, I didn’t have any particular notion or expectation of setting out ‘our own home’ or a separate home. My only reason to get married was that it allowed me to hang out more with S. I didn’t have to return home at a given time or rebuked for the long telephonic conversations late at night. In fact, S kept all the phone cards that nurtured our cross-country relationship through the year before our marriage when we were living apart – it’s quite an impressive stack!

My 2nd lesson in Srilanka … to intuitively ‘feel’ ingredients. Much like the different colours that went into a painting in different proportions and mixes, it was the same with ingredients. There was no right or wrong in cooking, nor only one technique. Like an artist continually evolving, a cook too, evolves.

I started making our meals occasionally, with the intention of helping out the boys. My first culinary bible in those days was a simple cookbook that my mum-in-law had gifted to both S and me, lovingly signed “Cook happily & Eat merrily”! The cookbook –N.I.A.W. (National Indian Association of Women) Cookbook was a compilation of recipes from different cuisines around the world. The recipes were simple, easy to follow and there were no pictures. This is the cookbook I most refer to, even today. Those days, I didn’t have much experience in cooking, except making instant noodles or scrambled eggs. This was quite typical of most Bengali families in my known circuit when “porashona kora/studying” superseded everything else in a child’s life, especially for girls. I didn’t fear cooking, nor was I ever anxious about a dish turning out wrong. My principle was simple – if following a recipe, cream custard turned into a sorbet in my next attempt, I presented that smartly as a dish I had planned it to be! There was always something to learn from an experience and that was the great fun. Any dish that I liked soon became my culinary reference point, be it cooked by my mother, mum-in-law, friend or relative or I would come across while travelling.

In course of time, cooking became my favourite subject for experimenting and connecting to people, known or unknown.

Mum-in-law cooking potol that she brought from Kolkata

My parents-in-law dressed up for a formal dinner. The kitchen has always been our happy space!

My father and S in Mount Lavinia hotelAt the heritage property Mount Lavinia Hotel for a sundowner with my father

With my mum-in-law on our trip to GalleWith my mum-in-law on our trip to Galle

When my parents-in-law visited us, our kitchen soon became the focal point for all our hangouts and late night chit chats. We ‘binge-devoured’ on traditional Bengali meals cooked by mum-in-law. The first episode of the subsequent future seasons of her carrying potols and other typical Bengali food items in her suitcase when Ma visited us in different cities where we set up home, started from our Colombo days (here’s a story of food, love and good memories travelling in our suitcases)! I accompanied them back to Kolkata to celebrate my parents’ 25th anniversary on the condition that my father would drop me back to Colombo. We wanted everyone in our families back home to visit us in Colombo – such was the charm of the island and the house that we called our home!

My 3rd lesson in Srilanka… to grace kindness, humility and faith on a daily basis.

Our Srilankan friends showered us with immense love. Every person we met, was friendly, kind and smiling. While at home, we were surrounded by giggles and laughter, we were surrounded by joy in spite when we stepped out. This was despite all that was happening in their lives. We heard from how the civil war and the conflict in Jaffna affected the people. Every family had some incident to share that was a result of the conflict. Amidst all these conflicts however, what struck to me was how they had an unflinching faith and hoped for peace in their beloved island.

Discovering Srilanka


Colombo… the starting line

In the course of the year, I explored Colombo and Srilanka as and when S’s work permitted. While the city was new to me, S already had his favourite spots, which he proudly introduced me to. Ice cream sundaes at the dessert parlour Carnival in Galle Road, my first ‘food court’ meals at Liberty Plaza Food Court, tuk tuk rides to the seaside promenade Galle Face over the weekend (here’s my love story on tuk tuks!). The tuk tuk drivers would mistake S for a local and charge us the regular fare. On realising that we weren’t, they would start renegotiating! On our occasional visits to the lakeside Buddhist temple Gangaramaya, I learnt to emphasise on faith rather than any particular religion. Leaving spirituality aside, the material girl in me loved visiting Odel, the famous Srilankan department store. A short walk from our house, I loved the scented candles, colourful sarongs or their eclectic range of accessories. Every product on Odel’s self seemed to reflect the characteristics of the island and that really inspired me.

Bentota and Galle – the seduction of coastal Srilanka

Galle, situated on the southwest coast of SrilankaGalle’s colonial past is reflected in the architecture of its houses and fortifications

Turtle Hatchery near BentotaMany endangered species of turtles have been nurtured at the Turtle Hatchery Project at Bentota Beach

Our first trip out of Colombo was to Bentota, a laid back seaside town on the southwest coast. We stayed at the Serendib Beach Hotel, a causal beachfront property designed by the world famous architect Geoffrey Bawa. The architecture was characteristic of Bawa’s signature style – simplicity and a blend of the surrounding landscape. Our room on the ground-floor overlooked the serene sea through a grove of swaying coconut trees. Beach barbecues, grills of fresh catch by the table – specially King Fish, watching the locals scaling up coconut trees to tap toddy, sunsets over the sea, late night strolls by the beach and… watching one day old turtles in the nearby Turtle Hatchery – these are just a few of my favourite ‘Bentota’ memories from a long list. A day trip to the Galle situated on the southwest tip of the island, completed our first trip outside Colombo. Built in 16th century by the Portugese colonists, the old town of Galle with its historic fortifications, is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Galle’s colonial past was reflected in its architecture and magnificent fortifications. The Portugese had arrived in the 16th century, the Dutch in the 17th century and subsequently followed by the British in late 18th century. The Portugese styled white-washed houses city exuded an old world charm. The Galle Lighthouse, standing tall on the fortification rampart, was one of the oldest in the country and still in use.

Kandy – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an alluring ancient capital

Ishita B Saha and Subir Kumar Saha in front of Kandy Lake Kandy Lake is encircled with a decorative white parapet that resembles clouds. Built in early 19th century, there are many folklores associated with the lake

Perehera, a spectacular procession held annually to pay homage to Buddha’s sacred tooth relicKandy Esala Perahera or The Festival of the Tooth is a spectacular procession paying homage to Buddha’s sacred tooth relic

In August, we took a trip to Kandy, situated three hours away from Colombo amidst the scenic hills of Srilanka. We had booked into a B&B run by one of S’s colleague’s grandparents. The sacred city of Kandy comprising of The Temple of the Tooth Relic was another UNESCO World Heritage site. When we visited the temple, it was still reverberating from the damage left behind by a militant attack earlier in January, the same year. The shrine housed the relic of the tooth of the Buddha and was considered one of the holiest temples in Srilanka. We had planned our trip to coincide with Kandy Esala Perahera or The Festival of the Tooth. Held annually in July or August, the Perehera is a spectacular procession held annually to pay homage to Buddha’s sacred tooth relic which is carried in a golden casket by an elephant. We queued for hours so that we could watch the mesmerising procession standing in the first row. Elephants dressed up in ornamental garments, local folk as well as traditional Kandyan dancers, drummer dancers, fire dancers and many such heart stomping show-stopping activities were part of the procession. We walked the entire circumference of the picturesque Kandy Lake, a manmade lake with an island in the middle. Built in the medieval era, the lake was encircled with a decorative white parapet that resembled clouds. A beef preparation with kankun (water spinach) that we tasted in a restaurant that overlooked the lake and the simple breakfast at the guesthouse with homemade jams and Kiri Peni, a dessert made with curd and palm sugar treacle, still linger on my tastebuds.

Sinharaja – of hikes and forest trails

Hiking in Sirigiya forest in SrilankaA small break while hiking in the rainforest. My need for wearing those long, thick football socks? Bloodsucking leeches, of course!

Dense rainforest in Sirigiya, SrilankaThe dense rainforest in Sinharaja National Reserve is home to many endemic species and sixty percent of the island’s endemic trees

Posing in the Srilankan highwayPosing on the highway – nothing is more exhilarating than outstretched hands without any inhibition

We went on a hiking trail once with the gang to the dense rainforest in Sinharaja National Park. Recognised as a World Biosphere Reserve as well as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the experience was thrilling. Gushing waterfalls and breath-taking views of the forest cover from vantage points made for several gorgeous photo-ops. A subsequent visit to a gem factory and museum at Ratnapura later, opened our eyes (literally so) to the various gemstones that the emerald shaped island was famous for. Those were the pre-digital smartcam days, hence limited captures only after several contemplations! One of my favourite pictures from our Srilanka albums is when our friend’s car broke down. We stood across the highway holding our outstretched hands. And a not-so-favourite moment? The leeches that kept on gnawing at us all along the forest trail!

Revisiting Srilanka – Bentota on repeat mode and hey you, digicam… you are so welcome!

View of Indian Ocean in Bentota in SrilankaView of the Indian Ocean from Taj Bentota

Senaka Senanayake's work in Taj BentotaSenaka Senanayake’s signature style – bright hues depicting Srilanka’s flora and fauna

Origami activity in Taj BentotaBig Z with her origami art

When we planned our first vacation beyond the annual Kolkata visits after Lil Z’s birth, our first choice of destination was obviously Srilanka. So off we headed back to the island in 2011. With the Z-Sisters accompanying us, we were exploring a different Srilanka this time – alibi a luxurious vacation mode. Naturally, Bentota had to be the first stop. We booked into Vivanta by Taj, a far cry from our humble holidays in our first years of marriage. Not that it seemed to matter in those earlier days of travelling. Perched on an elevated cliff with a stunning ocean view, Taj Bentota provided us with some precious moments – a mile long stretch of Bentota’s classic golden beach, origami activities, stunning ocean views and authentic Srilankan food. The other truly memorable experience for me was witnessing the work of Senaka Senanayake, one of Sri Lanka’s best-known artists. Several brightly hued canvases depicting Srilanka’s flora and fauna that are so characteristic of the artist, hung on the wall of Taj Bentota – a priceless collection indeed. We also visited the Kosgoda turtle farm nearby, as we wanted to share the experience of holding one-day old baby turtles with the Z-Sisters.

Kitulgala – a riverside rendezvous, an epiphany and the inception of my blog

Rafters' Retreat in KitulgalaKelani River in Kitulgala… most of the scenes in the ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ that were shot in Srilanka are in Kitulgala

My 4th lesson in Srilanka… life always comes back in full circle. In doing so, it gives one ‘cues’ to the direction that leads straight from your heart. Grab them!

After the sunny seaside, we were headed to the scenic Hill Country of Srilanka. We stopped for lunch at the riverside ecolodge Rafters’ Retreat in Kitulgala (here’s my write up). The gushing Kelani river and mountainous forests brought back memories of my trip with the gang from a decade back. It was a similar landscape in Ratnapura where we had stopped impromptu… to bathe in Kalu Ganga! The riverside stop in Kitulgala this time, was momentous in my life. It was like an epiphany and my blog was born. Here’s an excerpt from my first blog post, written nine years back…

Re-visiting Srilanka was more than just a vacation. It was as if, we were searching for our own roots. A decade back we had stood by the banks of the Kelani river, letting our eyes wander into the woods. Now a decade later, the four of us were standing at the same spot. As if one circle of life just got completed.

Rafter's Retreat, Kitulgala, SrilankaKitulgala is one of the wettest places in Srilanka with two monsoons in a year

Rafters' Retreat by the Kelani River, Kitulgala

The empty bench by the Kelani River (in the picture above) seemed symbolic. With the beginning of the second circle with the four of us, I wanted to unblog them all. The surrounding greens, multiple shades of green reflected on the Kelani river and the empty bench beckoning me – this was predestined to be the first post of my blog IshitaUnblogged, all the way back in 2011!

Nuwara Eliya – the misty hills and romance of Ceylon tea

Waterfalls in Srilanka's Hill CountryThe magnificent St. Clair’s Waterfall on our way to the Nuwara Eliya

Misty hills of Nuwara EliyaMisty hills of Nuwara Eliya

Heritance Tea FactoryTwo year old Lil Z picks on freshly plucked tea leaves to make her own version of Ceylon Tea Heritance Tea FactoryThe original machineries from the tea factory have been preserved and are operational, forming aesthetic backdrops in the decor

Heritance Tea FactoryA small tour of the tea museum guided us through the tea making process – from withering to packing

Rolling mountains, rippling waterfalls and mountainous streams marked the landscape as we drove into Srilanka’s scenic Hill Country. Set amidst lush green tea plantations and misty hills of Nuwara Eliya, our stay at Heritance Tea Factory is definitely one of my most unique stays (recalling our experience in my earlier write up). A colonial experience awaited us at this boutique hotel which was once a tea factory during the British Raj, the Hethersett Tea Plantation. The machineries from the original tea factory were still preserved and operational and were cleverly incorporated within the décor of the hotel. These machines were switched on from time to time offering a ceremonial spectacle for the resident guests. The sifting room was now converted to a formal restaurant – Kenmare. Wooden tea cartons held the buffet area serving authentic Sri Lankan cuisine as well as Western delicacies. Apart from Kenmare, there was another restaurant – TCK 6685 (Railway Carriage) Restaurant. It was a theme restaurant, a full-size replica of the actual train’s restaurant from the 1930s. Sitting on its small-gauge rails, the restaurant offered a unique fine dining experience complete with ‘whistle blowing’ and ‘toot-toots’. Food was served served by white-glove clad ‘attendants’ wearing their railway uniform. Our fondest and nerve wrecking culinary memories associated with our stay at Heritance was the formal five-course sit-down dinner on Valentine’s Day, complete with candle lights … along with the tiny Z-Sisters.

Revisiting Kandy – architectural splendour of a holy shrine

The moonstone in Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth RelicLil Z stepping on the moonstone carved at the entrance. Much like a welcome mat, it is a unique feature of ancient Sinhalese architecture

Carvings on wooden door in Temple of the Tooth RelicIntricate carvings on wooden doors

Intricate stone carvings in Kandy's Temple of the Tooth RelicThe stone carvings inside the temple date back to the 17th century

Alfresco painting on the ceilin gof Temple of the Tooth RelicThere are alfresco paintings on the ceiling of the temple. This one depicts a Perehera procession with the sacred casket bearer elephant, flag bearers and Kandyan dancers

Our our journey downhill from Heritance Tea Factory, we revisited Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth Relic and offered prayers. Unlike on our first visit, when the temple and the palace complex was still undergoing restorations after the damages of the 1998 attack, I could completely immerse myself in the beauty of the temple this time. The architecture, stone carvings and the alfresco paintings were intricate and extraordinary. The temple has suffered considerable damage twice from bombings – once in 1989 and again in 1998, but both times it was restored fully as the relic is very important to Srilanka, both culturally and politically.

Pinnawala – sweet call of the wild

Elephants bathing in PinnawalaHerd of elephants gather at the bathing area in Pinnawala

Elephants bathing in PinnawalaA spectacular sight in Pinnawala as herds of elephants of all ages come down to bathe

Bathing an elephant in Pinnawala in Srilanka 

Pinnawala has the largest herd of captive elephants in the world and is known for its elephant orphanage – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Initially built to nurture wild orphaned elephants, the orphanage has now also been breeding. Our lunch halt was synced with the elephants’ bathing time. The terrace at Grand Royal Pinnawala, just opposite the bathing site on Oya River offered a spectacular sight as herds of elephants of all ages came down to the river to bathe. Tourists could also partake in the bathing of elephants and feed them (with feeding bottles… awww!) at a charge. While Big Z loved joining in for the activities, Lil Z was in absolute tears!

Trincomalee – panoramic bays, stiff cliffs and white beaches

Private beach of Jungle Beach by Uga Escapes in Trincomalee A walkway led us to from the deck of our beach chalet to the Jungle Beach Resort’s private beach

Inside Jungle beach by Uga Escapes in TrincomaleeThe resort’s breathtaking landscape scattered with lily pads, stone pathways amidst tropical foliage and vegetation. I also had a tiny snake encounter by the restaurant here!

Fish drying by the roadside in TrincomaleeFish being dried by the roadside in Trincomalee

The view from Koneswaram temple, the classical-medieval Hindu temple complex in TrincomaleeThe view from Lovers’ Leap or Ravana’s cleft at Koneswaram temple, perched up high at 350ft above the sea level

In 2014, we decided to visit Srilanka again. This time, our itinerary had only one place – Trincomalee, in the northeast coast of Srilanka. During the conflict days in Jaffna, Trincomalee was completely cut off for both residents and tourists. Apart from having the finest deep-sea natural harbours in the world, Trincomalee also boasted of one of the most beautiful stretches of white sandy beaches in Srilanka. Hence, our decision to visit Trincomalee, the moment we heard that it had opened up its tourism. We had a wonderful stay at the boutique resort Jungle Beach by Uga Escapes. With breathtaking views of the mangroves from our private deck, our beach chalet was luxurious and had thatched roofs and a vaulted ceilings. A walkway led us to the resort’s private beach from the deck. The resort’s restaurant was nestled around a lagoon set amidst a jungle vegetation. The focus was on fresh and locally sourced ingredients. Along with the typical breakfast spread, we also devoured the  Srilankan offerings like hoppers, appams, dhal and curries. The Kiri Peni or curds was delicious and each day we were served a different variation. A very special memory is our private dining under a canopy of stars – a seafood barbecue against the backdrop of torched flames. We intentionally didn’t make too many plans while in Trincomalee, excepting a short drive to the city and a visit to the Koneswaram temple. A classical-medieval Hindu temple complex, the temple was perched up precariously on a cliff and the view of the ocean and the adjoining bays from there was stunning.

Colombo… once more

Rosmead Place in Colombo 7The Z-Sisters by our favourite staircase at Rosmead Place

Revisiting Carnival Dessert Parlour in ColomboRevisiting Carnival’s for ice cream sundaes

Odel in ColomboOdel, of course!

Navam Perehera is held in ColombWatching the Navam Perehera in the comfort of VIP seatings

Food kiosks line up Galle Face PromenadeFood hawkers and other stalls at Galle Face promenade

Our Srilanka trip was a recap for both of us as we revisited familiar places and showing them to the Z-Sisters. We were also exploring new places. In Colombo, we took the Z-Sisters to our house in Rosmead Place, visited Caravan for ice cream sundaes, ate at the food court in Majestic City and shopped at Odel, of course! We were staying in Taj Samudra where we brushed against some famous cricketers who were put up in the same hotel for an ongoing international cricket tournament. The hotel was located just opposite the Galle Face seaside promenade . Unlike in our Colombo days, the promenade was now lined with hawkers and food kiosks. From the devilled crabs and prawns to pineapple slices sprinkled with red chill flakes, everything looked extremely tempting. Finally, we settled for Kottu Rotis. While on our visit to the Gangaramaya temple, we learnt that a Perehera was being held the next day. Not wanting the Z-Sisters to miss out such an incredible opportunity, we bought VIP tickets that allowed seating… this is also something that we hadn’t known that one could do earlier! The Navam Perehera is held in Colombo on the Full Moon day in February. While we watched the Perehera in the comfort of seats, but alas it wasn’t from the front row as both S and I reminisced our experience of watching Kandy Esala Perehara a decade back!

Srilankan Food – spicy and spicier than thou!

Red Samba Rice in Jungle beach Resort in TrincomaleeThe short grained Srilankan rice – both red and white variety, is served for all Srilankan meals! At Jungle Beach Resort

Parippu or Dhal CurryParippu or Dhal Curry is made with red lentils (Masoor dal) cooked in coconut milk and seasoned with spices. At Jungle Beach Resort

Pol Sambol at Jungle beach Resort in TrincomaleePol Sambol is a spicy relish made with freshly grated coconut, onions, chillies and Maldive fish and eaten as an accompaniment. At Jungle Beach Resort

Deviled crab at Jungle Beach Resort in TrincomaleeDeviled crab at Jungle Beach Resort. Our favourite Srilankan seafood preparation is the deviled one – prawn, crab and squidSrilankan food cooked in traditional earthen pots in Heritance Tea FactorySrilankan food cooked and served in traditional clay pots in Heritance Tea Factory

Srilankan Kottu or shredded rotiA food hawker making spicy Kottu Roti at Galle Face Promenade

Sweet Papaya Juice at Jungle beach Resort in TrincomaleeSweet Papaya juice at Jungle Beach Resort

Kiri Peni or curd at Jungle beach Resort in TrincomaleeMango Kiri Peni at Jungle Beach Resort

Once we were introduced to Srilankan food, there was no looking back! The spicy curries, the short-grained Samba rice and red rice, stir-fried shredded rotis or kottus, string hoppers, coconut sambols, fish cutlets, devilled prawns and cuttles – Srilankans loved their spices. I gradually acquired a liking for some of the popular fruits eaten in the island like jackfruits, mangosteens, custard apples and various kinds of bananas. I also had my first taste of Nasi Goreng and the banana wrapped Lamprais. Both these rice dishes captured the heart and soul of this rice-loving Bengali! I also fell in love with Wattalappan – a custard pudding made out of coconut milk and jaggery. When our Srilankan friends dined at our home, they couldn’t believe that there could be any curry that could be made without using red chillies. For that matter, we couldn’t believe the amount of chillies that actually went into making each one of their curries!

 Golden Temple of Dambulla is a World Heritage Site in Sri LankaDambulla Golden Temple, which we visited on our way back from Trincomalee to Colombo. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka

A tea picker in Srilanka's Hill CountryWherever we went, we were met with evergreen smiles – look at the tea picker in Srilanka’s Hill Country!

It’s time to return to Srilanka once again. And when we do, the topmost in our bucket list is to visit Ministry of Crab, the very famous seafood restaurant set up by celebrated chef and restaurateur Dharshan Munidas and cricketing legends Mahela Jayawardane and Kumar Sangakkara. Both the times we were in Colombo, the restaurant was closed as it was Poya or full moon day, considered auspicious by the Buddhists and a holiday in most places in the island. If it happens to be a Poya day once again on our next Colombo visit, I will consider that as predestined. I will happily settle for a food crawl in Galle Face promenade instead… digging into our eternal love – humble street food!

Last but not the least, the life lesson I learnt in Srilanka… life is a beautiful journey. It’s good to flip the album once in a blue moon to remember where it all started (not a full moon this time!). Most importantly to remind oneself, why we start a journey in the first case.

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Here are a few of my articles on my Srilankan sojourn:
Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, Nuwara Eliya
Red tuk-tuks and triumphant rides – Colombo  
Living by the water with sunset as prop – Colombo and the Indian Ocean

Srilankan Lamprais cooked at home


  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: elaborate
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Category=Main course; Cuisine=Srilankan

Cooking Laprais was quite a feat and was elaborate, as it requires preparation of several dishes other. After going through several recipes on the internet, I chose this Lamprais recipe as it seemed most authentic to me along with the recipes of the accompanying dishes of Lampara meat curry, Seeni Sambol, Fish Cutlet, Fried Ash Plantain Curry and Wambatu Moju. To make the banana leaves soft and pliable for making the rice packets, pass them over a flame or grill on low heat, moving them constantly. Enjoy this legendary Srilankan dish!

Wambatu Moju – an eggplant preparationWambatu Moju – an eggplant preparation

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. All meals, stays and other expenses have been paid by us. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Srilanka is very special to me and my intention was to connect to all the places where we have lived, travelled and have good memories. I am sharing some links below that will help you to create similar itineraries when you wish to travel to Srilanka. Please note once again, that I haven't been paid to share these links.
www.srilanka.travel (Srilanka Tourism)
www.srilankan.com (Srilankan Airlines)
www.emirates.com (Emirates Airlines)
 www.iamsrilanka.com (Travel agency based in Srilanka)
www.alrostamanitravel.ae (Travel agency based in UAE)

+ Homemade Lachha ParathaLachha

Lachha Paratha – Love and ghee in every layer

We made Lachha Parathas at home the other day. They turned out to be smoky, crispy and slightly flaky, just like they should be – only a bit less oily and slightly thicker.

Homemade Lachha Paratha

Making the multi layered Lachha Paratha at home was another feat. Much like making Acharuli, the boat-shaped Georgian cheese bread at home. Or perfecting the Awadhi style Kolkata Mutton Biryani. The first time we made the Lachha Parathas at home, they turned out to be smoky, crispy and slightly flaky, just like they should be – only a bit less oily and slightly thicker. No matter how much ghee we poured (or love, for that matter) onto the Lachhas, the layers seem to gulp up all the ghee.

Beef Mughlai

Laccha Paratha with beef Mughlai

We complimented the Lachha Parathas with a pistachio encrusted Mughlai preparation of beef (above), the aroma of which reminded us immediately of Galawati Kababs. Naturally, there had to be a next time for the Lachhas… this time with Galawatis (below)!

Lachha paratha with Galawati Kababs

Paratha – the popular flatbread from the subcontinent, can be compared to fine jewellery. Like jewellery, there are different types of parathas originating in different regions and they come in different shapes, textures, forms and intricacies in design. The basic technique of paratha making remains the same…  unleavened flatbreads made by cooking flour dough on a tawa or the cast-iron griddle, or baking inside a tandoor and mostly followed by shallow frying. The nitty-gritties of making each type, make the parathas distinctively different from each other.

Homemade Lachha Paratha

Homemade Lachha and other Parathas

I love parathas of all kinds. Apart from stuffed parathas, I also love plain parathas – specially when they are fresh out of the tawa, with a dollop of ghee or butter. There are some parathas which are absolute indulgences, namely the Lachha paratha, Mughlai paratha, Dhakai paratha and the soft fluffy ones that go into the making of Kolkata Kati Rolls.

Nothing beats these pleated multi-layered Lachha Parathas though, where the drama unfolds as you rip the flaky ghee-laden concentric layers and dip into your desired curry or a simple hot garlic pickle!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Bread recipes that you might enjoy:
Homemade Bread with Sprinkled Sesame
Cinnamon Rolls

Making Laccha Paratha at home

Making Laccha Paratha at home

Making Laccha Paratha at home

Making Laccha Paratha at home

Making Laccha Paratha at home

Making Laccha Paratha at home

Making Laccha Paratha at home

Laccha Paratha

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print
Category=Flatbread; Cuisine=Punjabi, IndianHomemade Lachha Paratha


3 cups all purpose flour (you can also use 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups all purpose flour)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
3 tbsp milk
½ cup ghee or white oil


  • In a bowl, combine well-sifted flour and salt. Dissolve the sugar in warm water and add into the flour. Stir and mix well. Add 2 tbsp of ghee. Start kneading the dough by adding a bit of water and 1 tbsp of ghee. Knead until the dough is soft.
  • Take palmfuls of dough to roll into smooth balls, with slightly greased hands.. With a rolling pin, roll out each ball into a rectangular shape, spreading it as thinly as you can. Brush the surface of the flattened out dough generously with ghee.
  • Make thin strips onto the flattened out dough with a knife. (You can also make pleats)
  • Gather the strips longitudinally and holding onto one end with your palm, make a spiral like a Swiss roll. Gently flatten the spiral roll into a paratha by pressing onto the with your fingers. Apply some more ghee continuously.
  • Heat a tawa or a pan, pour ghee and shallow fry the Paratha on both sides until it turns crispy and golden brown. Serve hot.

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

+ Chicken machboos at the cultural lunch at SMCCU

Dubai Creekside, Al Fahidi and a cultural lunch at SMCCU

Despite Dubai’s changing landscape, the historic district of Al Shidagha, the traditional Textile Souq along the Bur Dubai side of the creek, the continuing Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (formerly Bastakiya), the Spice Souq and Gold Souq across the creek in the Deira side… all these places have managed to retained their original charm and sanctity.

Bukhoor or Bakhoor, scented bricks soaked in fragrant oils Bukhoor or Bakhoor, scented bricks soaked in fragrant oils

Today’s post is in celebration of my brother’s birthday. A designer by profession, he’s an artist, a creative soul and capable of capturing the eclectic in things that others would find most ordinary and random. This is a creative and a foodie day out in my favourite places of Dubai, along with two of my most creative buddies with whom I have shared many a creative travel moments – long before lockdown and travel bans. Here’s to Neil, my little brother (not so little anymore) and Rupa, my artist friend and a talented amateur photographer!

Ishita B Saha, Rupa Dutt Chowdhury, Aveek Bhattacharya

Dubai is a city where the landscape is changing by the minute. Despite all the changes, reconstructions and restorations that I have witnessed in almost two decades of living here, there are still a few places which retain their original charm and sanctity. These are the select places in Dubai that I would love any creative person (or any person) to visit… Al Shidagha, the traditional Textile Souq along the Bur Dubai side of the creek, the continuing Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood or (formerly Bastakiya), the Spice Souq and Gold Souq across the creek in the Deira side. All these places can be traced to the 1890s, reflecting the humble beginning of Dubai making the evolution of the city even more breathtaking.

We’ve spent almost two decades in Dubai – the Z-Sisters have been born and brought up here. For me, the kaleidoscopic charm of traditional souqs of Dubai supersede the impressive shopping malls, so does the traditional houses with its’ alluring wind-towers over the glitzy skyscrapers. Hoping that it’s the same for you too!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. We paid for all our meals at Blue Barjeel, XVA Cafe while SMCCU kindly hosted us our FoodeMag team. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Bin Zayed Mosque in Shindagha historical districtBin Zayed Mosque in Al Shindagha constructed in 1964

Historic district of Al Shidagha

I always like to start my itinerary by parking near the Al Ghudaiba Metro station before exploring the traditional houses of Al Shindagha. Some of these houses are converted into museums and spaces for special exhibits – for example, the Architecture Museum (read in my Hidden Gems column) or the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, the historic building and former residential quarters of former ruler of Dubai. For me, the kaleidoscopic charm of traditional souqs supersede the impressive shopping malls any day. The mishmash of items sold at small kiosks or established retail outlets in the old Textile Souq range from expensive regional antiques and artefacts to embroidered cushions, clothing and footwear from the subcontinent, attars or aromatic Arabic perfumes to bukhour or oudhs, incenses and scented bricks soaked in fragrant natural oils, local spices and many such interesting things. Added impetus are always the fresh coconut water or freshly squeezed sugar cane juices to keep one hydrated during the mini breaks! The original plan was to stop at Barjeel Guest House for breakfast but it wasn’t open. Instead, we halted at Blue Barjeel Restaurant by the creek side – another casual eatery that I like to take our guests to. A masala omelette with parathas, a plate of crispy fried falafels and fresh coconut water fuelled us up adequately until our next meal halt – lunch at SMCCU.

Intricately designed traditional doors in Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House, est. in 1896

Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House Traditional wooden windows in Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House

Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House is vast and occupies around 3600 sqm and now a houses a museum

Inside Saeed Al Maktoum HouseThe rooms inside Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House are decorated in a traditional way

Inside Saeed Al Maktoum HouseApart from artefacts, the museum also has many images of old Dubai from the 1940s and 1950s

Traditional Architecture Museum in the historical district in ShindaghaAnother intricate wooden door in the Traditional Architecture Museum

Traditional Architecture Museum in Al Fahidi Historical District in ShindaghaA typical of a traditional Emirati house in the historical districts of Al Shindagha and Al Fahidi

Dubai CreeksideDubai creek, the focal point in Dubai’s trading history. It is a natural sea-water inlet that cuts the city into two parts – Deira and Bur Dubai

Blue Barjeel restaurant by Dubai creekside in Bur DubaiBlue Barjeel restaurant offers a spectacular view of Dubai creekside

Masala omelette at Blue Barjeel restaurant by Dubai creekside in Bur DubaiMasala omelette

Breakfast at Blue Barjeel restaurant by Dubai creekside in Bur DubaiBreakfast at Blue Barjeel – falafels, parathas and eggs

Vendors setting their shops in Textile souq in Bur DubaiVendors setting up their shops in Textile Souq

Juttis or Nagrais sold in the Textile souq in Bur DubaiJuttis or Nagrais, traditional embroidered footwear in the Textile Souq

A spice shop in Textile Souq in Bur DubaiA spice shop selling exotic spices, extracts and dried herbs

Emirati artefacts in Textile souqA window display with artefacts and antiques

A shop in the temple alley in Bur Dubai selling all puja ingredientsA shop in the temple alley in selling fresh flower garlands and other puja ingredients

Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood or Bastakiya as it was known earlier

The Al Fahidi district, on the other hand is a riot of colours and a stimulation for any art lover. Galleries hidden in nooks and sikkas or alleys, traditional houses restored and transformed into cool cafes and eateries, museums showcasing specific interests – the options are far too many along the cobbled winding sikkas of Al Fahidi. After our lunch break with a cultural meal at SMCCU, we briefly visited the Coffee Museum, the Calligraphy House, Majlis Gallery, XVA Art Hotel and Café and a few other villas in this heritage quarter. The SMCCU or the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) offers a range of cultural and culinary activities and initiates both the expats and tourists into Emirati culture. Fathayah Younis, our lovely presenter at SMCCU welcomed us with Qahwa, the traditional Arabic coffee followed by an elaborate lunch spread that comprised of Chicken Biryani, Lamb Machboos, Lamb Margooba, Vegetable Saloona and the divine Leqaimat – the crispy fried golden dough balls coated with date syrup and sesame seeds!

Qahwa, the traditional Arabic coffee made from green coffee beans and cardamom | cultural meal at SMCCU

Chicken machboos at the cultural lunch at SMCCUChicken Machboos at our cultural lunch at SMCCU

Leqaimat, crispy fried golden dough balls coated with date syrup and sesame seeds. Fathayah Younis, our presenter at SMCCU pours date syrup over Leqaimats, the crispy fried golden dough balls

Fathayah Younis, presenter at SMCCU explains the local clothing etiquette and the use of ‘niqab’Fathayah explains the local clothing etiquette and the use of niqab

Fathayah Younis, presenter at SMCCU explains the local clothing etiquette

A display in SMCCU of an old type writer with Arabic fonts

A traditional majlis arrangement in front of Arabian tea HouseA traditional majlis arrangement in front of Arabian Tea House

A photo session in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood in Bur DubaiAn impromptu photo session in progress in Al Fahidi

Artwork from Mawaheb from Beautiful People An exhibit in front of Mawaheb from Beautiful People, a Dubai-based art studio for ‘determined’ adults

Majlis Gallery in in Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood in Bur DubaiThe courtyard inside Majlis Gallery, set up in 1976 by expatriate Alison Collins who fell in love with the unique architecture of Al Fahidi houses

XVA Gallery Art Hotel & CafeThe legendary mint lemonade in XVA Gallery Art Hotel & Cafe

The interiors of XVA Café has art exhibits and specialises in contemporary art from the Arab world and the sub-continent

Make Art Cafe in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood in Bur DubaiMAKE Art Cafe is in partnership with the creative Alserkal Cultural Foundation

Knickknacks in a souvenir shop in Al FahidiPretty knick knacks in a souvenir shop in Al Fahidi

Related links (none of the below are affiliated links):


+ Grilled eggplant in tempered spices

Grilled Eggplant in tempered spices | Big Z turned sixteen

This Grilled eggplant in tempered spices or Tadka Baigan was, as if a modern preparation with a desi soul, just like Big Z.

Turmeric in hand

Big Z turned sixteen… she was merely eight-year-old when my blog started! Today’s recipe is much like her, at least in temperament. Grilled Eggplant in tempered spices… baby eggplants in a spunky tadka of Indian spices. I used a mishmash of cooking techniques… grilling as well as a traditional chaunk or the tempering with whole spices roasted in pungent mustard oil and then poured onto the grilled eggplants. It was a burst of colours as well as flavours.

Grilled eggplant in tempered spices

I also tried out a variation of Doi Begun, the Bengali preparation of eggplant in yoghurt (below). This turned out to be equally amazing, so might keep it for another post. In Doi Begun, eggplants are fried and then cooked in a yoghurt gravy. In my version, I added some whipped yoghurt with spices to the eggplants and grilled them, before adding the tempered whole spices.

Doi Begun

The tadka baigan or grilled eggplant in tempered spices was, as if a modern preparation with a desi soul, just like Big Z. For her birthday lunch, however, she demanded to be surprised. We did manage to surprise her, which is a feat in itself considering that we are staying at home together all the time these days. We celebrated amidst screaming and screeching and zoom parties and cakes and surprises and hopefully everything that our young lady wished for. Do catch me on my instagram stories if you would like to see the feat and the feast!

Big Z - Shrishti Saha

Big Z - Shrishti Saha

Big Z - Shrishti Saha

Do keep safe, stay blessed and may you occasionally burst into colourful and flavourful surprises just like my Grilled Eggplant in tempered spices!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some recipes that Big Z likes:
Homemade Nutty Spreads – Almond, Cashew & Hazelnut

Stuffed Chilli Spring Rolls

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Baby eggplants

Marinated Eggplant

Grilled eggplant

Grilled eggplant

Grilled eggplant in tempered spices

Grilled Eggplant in tempered spices

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Sidedish; Cuisine=Indian

Grilled eggplant in tempered spices



18 baby eggplants
6 green chillies, sliced longitudinally
3 dried whole red chillies
3 bay leaves
5 tbsp black mustard seeds
3 tbsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp turmeric
3 tsp red chilli powder
3 tbsp cumin powder
3 tbsp coriander powder
½ cup mustard oil (stronger the better)
salt as per taste


  • Make a slice in each eggplant longitudinally, keeping the stem intact.
  • Smear the eggplants with salt, turmeric and mustard oil.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Brush the baking tray with mustard oil (or the foiled baking tray if you are using a foil). Place the eggplants in one layer in the tray. Add some chillies in between the eggplants and grill for 10 minutes.
  • Take out the tray and pour a generous amount of mustard oil on top of the eggplants. Sprinkle coriander powder, cumin powder and red chilli powder over the eggplants. Put the tray back into the grill for another 30 minutes or until the eggplants are well cooked.
  • In the meantime, prepare the spice tempering. When the pan is hot, add the remaining mustard oil (leaving aside 1 tsp for a final sprinkle). When the oil is hot, add the whole spices. Start with the whole red chillies, bay leaves and green chillies. Then add the mustard seeds and coriander seeds. Stir in order not to burn the tempering as this will make your dish taste bitter.
  • Add the tempered spices over the grilled eggplants once they are done. Pour 1 tsp mustard oil over the eggplants one last time for a fresh burst of strong aroma of mustard oil.

+ Homemade Awadhi Biryani

Perfecting the legendary Kolkata Biryani at home

The potato in Kolkata Biryani is my favourite part of the dish. In this Awadhi style of cooking, the dum pukht technique allows the the aromatic juices from the mutton to ooze into the fine grains of rice.

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s certainly true in my case, but if I were to be specific about the kind of food, it would be Biryani and Mughlai food. Not any Biryani, but the Awadhi/Lucknowy style Mutton Biryani that we grew up eating in Kolkata. The Bearded Biker’s love for Awadhi Biryani made us hop into Lucknow for an evening, only to eat. His Biryani love has now been transmitted to the Z-sisters and myself too in a big way… so much so that Big Z wanted us to take the first flight out to Lucknow, once her GCSEs got over!

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

If I may coyly declare, I think have perfected the art of cooking the Biryani in the style of Shiraz Golden Restaurant. To celebrate the Bearded Biker’s birthday, we had a chef who used to work in Shiraz Golden Restaurant, come home and cook. The menu was as per his liking – Mutton Biryani, Chicken Chaanp, Galawati Kababs and Lachha Parathas. While the chef cooked everything at home, we ordered the Lachha Parathas from Arsalan (located in Karama), another popular Mughlai restaurant from Kolkata. I learnt from the chef as he cooked, while noting down every single ingredient and technique that went into making each dish. This was a Pakki Biryani where the rice and meat are semi cooked separately and then arranged in layers in a pot and cooked in the Dum Pukht style. As I had expected from Mughlai cooking, the process was elaborate and time consuming. But if you are a keen cook, making the Kolkata Biryani at home would be quite engaging and stimulating. Before this Biryani hangover is over, I promise you that homemade Lachha Parathas and Galawatis are coming your way!

Shiraz Golden Restaurant style Awadhi Biryani

Kolkata Biryani can spark a huge debate – who serves the best Biryani in Kolkata? Did the addition of aloo, potato in the Awadhi Biryani downgrade its status? The Nawabs were known for their culinary indulgence and some argue that they certainly wouldn’t have approved of the humble aloo and attribute it to the financial difficulties of the Nawab in his later years. However, the great-great-grandson of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (Kolkata’s Mughlai food heritage is attributed to the Nawab), thinks otherwise. As this article indicate, in those days potatoes were considered exotic and addition of potatoes in the Biryani was a result of one of the many kitchen experiments that the Nawab indulged in. The addition of aloo was approved heartily by the Nawab and has since then become Kolkata Biryani’s culinary heritage.

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

Royal Indian Restaurant in Kolkata (set up as early as in 1905) always considered aloo in the Biryani, a culinary blasphemy. I remember meeting Gulam Nabi, the head chef of Royal, a descendent of the direct lineage of the khansama of Wajid Ali Shah in my Ramadan food trail with Kolkata Walks. I was told that ‘Royal would die out rather than introduce aloo and deem in their Biryani. A total no no!’. Well, it seems that Royal too had to succumb to the Bengalis’ love for aloo… and introduced the versatile ingredient in their legendary Biryani for the first time when they opened a branch in Park Circus in 2015.

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

Although the Awadhi cuisine has travelled far and wide, nowhere has it settled down strongly as it has in Kolkata. Mohammed Wajid Ali Shah Bahadur (1822 AD-1887 AD), the Nawab of the princely Indian state of Awadh or Oudh (which is modern day Lucknow), was a well-known food aficionado. Kolkata Biryani is cooked in the Dum Pukht style, where the meat, rice or vegetables are covered and sealed in a copper or an earthen pot with a dough of flour. Everything is then let to cook in its own juices on a very slow flame. This Dum Pukht style of cooking can be traced to the Nawabi kitchens of Awadh. Exotic nuts, herbs and aphrodisiacs went into the Dum Pukht meals that were cooked for the Nawabs.

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

In 1857 AD, when the Awadh kingdom was annexed by the British, Nawab Mohammed Wajid Ali Shah Bahadur was exiled to Calcutta (today’s Kolkata). His passion for gourmet food travelled from Lucknow to Kolkata and was nurtured, garnished and fuelled by his special Bawarchis – the Chefs of the Nawab. It is believed that only a handful of chefs with royal khansama or lineage knew the secrets to the authentic Awadhi Cuisine. Each Mughlai restaurant in Kolkata today, however, claims to have one such gem working in their kitchen. While the meat to rice ratio in their Biryani varies, so does the secret ingredients that go into making their Biryani special and unique!

Homemade Awadhi Biryani

Our Biryani nostalgia mostly centres around Shiraz Golden restaurant in Park Circus. The budget for our parties during my college days would allow a packet of Special Mutton Biryani (special would mean an egg in the Biryani), a plate of Chicken Chaanp and a Firni for each person. The menu was always the same – budget was limited but our love for Biryani was unlimited.

Serving the Biryani is an art too. In the restaurant, the Biryani is scooped along the sides of the pan with a quarter plate, digging deep into the bottom layer and bringing up pieces of mutton and aloo with the fragrant Biryani rice. The Biryani rice sporadically erupts into the yellow and white rice, much like fine poetry.

The potato in Kolkata Biryani is my favourite part of the dish. In this Awadhi style of cooking, the dum pukht technique allows the the aromatic juices from the mutton to ooze into the fine grains of rice. Needless to say, it has to be Mutton Biryani and it has to be special… meaning there has to be a stark white egg staring back at me!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Dessert recipes that will complement your Biryani:
Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding
Firni or Ferni - The broken rice pudding

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Kolkata Biryani

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: elaborate
  • Print
Category=rice and meat one-pot dish; Cuisine=Mughlai

basmati rice


4 cups basmati rice, extra-long grained ones (I use the sella basmati, a parboiled variety used to make Biryani in specialised restaurants)
2 kg mutton (10 pieces/kg of meat with bones, as that leave a unique flavour than the boneless ones)
6 medium sized onions, sliced thinly
8 big potatoes cut into halves
8 eggs, hardboiled and deshelled

Whole spices
6 star anise
4 pieces 1-inch cinnamon sticks
6 black cardamoms

2 tsp white pepper, powdered
2 tbsp ginger-garlic powder
4 tbsp special homemade Biryani masala*

100 ml rose water
100 ml kewra water
½ cup alu bukhara or prunes, dried
2 cups white oil
500 gms ghee
salt – to taste
2 tsp sugar
½ cup milk
1 tsp saffron
2 tsp yellow food colouring (This is optional. You may use saffron soaked in milk)
1 tsp Meetha attar or Biryani flavouring

For marination of mutton
500 gms yoghurt
4 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
4 tsp red chilli powder
½ papaya, finely grated
½ cup cashews, grinded into a fine paste
4 tbsp Biryani masala*

*Biryani masala
For 100 gms of Biryani masala, grind together the following:
30gms javitri or mace
30gms cinnamon powder
5 gms chhoti elaichi or green cardamom
25 gms gulab patti or rose petals, dried and crushed
5 gms jaiphal or nutmeg
5 gms cloves

3 cups flour to make the dough for the dum
1 muslin cloth (optional)

For garnish
Dried fruits like cashews and raisins, pan-roasted in slight ghee (this is optional. However, I avoid any garnishing with dried fruits as the Bearded Biker isn’t too fond of it and feels it likens his Biryani into a Pulao)


  • Wash the rice in cold water, drain and spread over newspaper/kitchen towel for 15-20 minutes or until absolutely dry.
  • Marinate the mutton with yoghurt, grated papaya, ginger-garlic paste, red chilli powder, cashew paste and the Biryani masala.
  • Soak the saffron in milk in a bowl. Keep aside.
  • Soak yellow colouring in ½ cup water. Keep aside.
  • Heat ghee in a pan. Add ½ tsp of sugar. Add the sliced onions and fry them till they are golden brown. Set them aside on tissue paper so that the excess oil is absorbed and they turn crispy. Keep aside ¼ of the fried onions for cooking the meat and the rest for using while layering the rice and for garnishing.

For the Mutton

  • In a deep bottomed pan, heat 1 cup of white oil. Add the whole spices. Once the aroma starts drifting out, set them aside and put them in a muslin cloth (this is for those who do not like the whole spices coming into their mouth, while making sure that the aroma is intact.
  • Add fried onions and ginger-garlic, taking care that you don’t burn them.
  • Add the marinated meat, salt and sugar. Cook in high flame for ten minutes until all the spices in the marination gather themselves up.
  • Cover up the meat pieces with enough water. Add the meetha attar, rose water, kewra water and prunes. Let it cook in slow flame until the meat is three-fourth cooked. Try to maintain enough gravy that can be used later while layering of the Biryani.

For the Rice

  • Heat some ghee in a deep bottomed pan. Stir in the rice lightly. Add water till the level of water is more than double the height of the level of rice. Drain off the excess water while the rice is three-fourth cooked.
  • Settle the rice by shaking the pan. Dig in holes into the layer of rice with a back of a spoon. Pour the yellow colouring or saffron soaked milk into the holes.

Layering of the Biryani

  • In the deep bottomed pan (pot or a handi) in which the meat has been cooked, keep the gravy up to the level that covers the meat. Keep aside the rest of the gravy for serving with the Biryani. Layer with a portion of rice and lather generously with ghee. Sprinkle some fried onions and spread some saffron soaked milk and strands of saffron over the layer of rice. Repeat the process of layering twice or until it fills up your pan.
  • Once the layering is done, pour over the remaining of saffron soaked in milk along with a bit of rose water. Add ghee generously around the sides of the pan, so that the Biryani rice doesn’t stick to the pan. Add fried cashew nuts and raisins if you are using them. Sprinkle a bit of Biryani Masala on top.
  • Make a dough with flour and a bit of sugar. Flatten it  and cover the cooking vessel. Seal the top of the vessel with this dough.
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Place the Biryani pan in the oven and let it cook for 10 minutes.
  • If you aren’t using an oven, cook this over a stove top over a slow flame and cook for 15 minutes.
The chef was very adamant that the Biryani had to be served it with a simple light raita made with yoghurt, grated cucumber, carrots and a pinch of salt. Keep the focus on the Biryani and open the seal just before serving. Don’t forget to add the plain boiled eggs.

Kolkata Mutton Biryani

+ Binangkals are deep-fried dough ball coated with sesame seeds and originates from the Philippines.

Celebrating Eid with Binangkal – the Filipino version of Middle Eastern Leqaimat

Binangkals are deep-fried dough ball coated with sesame seeds and originates from the Philippines. They are quite similar to the regional favourite Leqaimats which are traditionally consumed during Iftar in the holy month of Ramadan, but less sweet.

Binangkals are deep-fried dough ball coated with sesame seeds and originates from the Philippines.

Eid Mubarak! I am sharing Lady M’s recipe of binangkal that I recently shared with Khaleej Times. Binangkals, according to me, are the Filipino version of Middle Eastern Leqaimats. In the Philippines, binangkals are popular munchies with tea and coffee and sold at roadside stalls and regular bakeries. Lady M has been living with us for for more than 12 years now. Over the years she has learnt to cook Bengali and Indian food from the internet and my cookbooks and makes the most delicious dishes from all over the world. She has also introduced a lot of Filipino food in our Bengali kitchen. The recipe proportion she follows here is gathered over the internet and from her friend who works in a bakery. I felt that binagkal would be a fitting tribute to the essence of not only the holy month of Ramadan culminating with the Eid celebrations but also living in the UAE, a melting pot of so many different nationalities.

Binangkal recipe

Dubai and the UAE has been our adopted home for the last two decades and now the time has come for us to relocate. Lady M is also moving into another loving family. We are grateful to have her in our lives – she’s been an integral part of our family, another mother to the Z-Sisters, my partner in all our kitchen experiments. We once made a Bengali and Filipino fusion dessert, which is still one of our favourites of all times. No bidding goodbyes please … may we continue celebrating togetherness, cherished memories, inspired food stories, a mishmash of cultures and cuisines wherever we are – with leqaimats and binangkals!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Dessert recipes that you might like making for Eid: 
Semaiya Kheer or Vermicelli Pudding
Firni or Ferni - The broken rice pudding
Moong Daaler Payesh or Yellow Lentil Pudding

Binangkals are deep-fried dough ball coated with sesame seeds and originates from the Philippines.

Binangkals are deep-fried dough ball coated with sesame seeds and originates from the Philippines.

Binangkals are deep-fried dough ball coated with sesame seeds and originates from the Philippines.

Binangkals are deep-fried dough ball coated with sesame seeds and originates from the Philippines.


  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Bread and Dessert; Cuisine=Filipino

Binangkals are deep-fried dough ball coated with sesame seeds and originates from the Philippines.


2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar, powdered
¼ cup corn starch
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
½ cup cream
1 egg
1 tbsp white oil
2 cups white sesame seeds, for coating
white oil, for deep frying (you will require generous amount)


  • In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, corn starch, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, combine cream, egg, oil and stir well.
  • Add the above mixture into the flour mixture and mix it until it forms a smooth dough.
  • Take palmfuls of dough to roll into smooth balls, with slightly greased hands.
  • Coat with sesame seeds.
  • Deep fry until golden. Drain the Binangkals on paper towel to soak the excess oil.
  • Serve hot or cold.

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Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

+ Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread or Khachapuri

Acharuli – Making the boat shaped Georgian Khachapuri at home

The kitchen is the central focal point in our home around which all of us are orbiting eternally… much like the sun in our solar system!

Making of Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread at home

We cook everything at home – Bengali recipes picked up from my mother or mother-in-law, friends, various blogs and different social media platforms, the multiple cookbooks that I have collected over the years, much of which are signed from the authors and chefs who have penned them… and last but not the least, food inspired by our travels. Ever since we became evolved bakers (we imply the Z-Sisters and Lady M, while the Bearded Biker and I are mostly into hands-on cooking, however elaborate it may be), it was time to transcend beyond simple breads… and boundaries. Making of Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread at home

Making Acharuli, the stunning boat shaped Khachapuri or Georgian cheese-bread at home was highly thrilling. It was a collaborative project between Big Z and Lady M and the outcome was not only successful but soul-satisfying. Khachapuris are cheese-filled breads and are shaped in various ways. Traditionally, the cheese that is used is a regional cheese called sulguni. The acharuli khachapuris originated from the Adjaran region in Georgia. Over and above the generous cheese-filling in each bread-boat, a big blob of butter and an egg yolk sat right in the middle!

Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread or Khachapuri

You can find the Acharuli recipe in www.foodemag.com, the food and travel website that I am a co-founder of. The recipe has been shared by Alice Feiring, an American journalist and author who visited Georgia in 2011 and wrote the book ‘For the Love of Wine’. The recipe uses shredded haloumi as a substitute for the regional cheese sulguni (the author suggests that you could also try mozzarella) and crumbled feta cheese.

Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread or Khachapuri

My family tasted their first acharuli in Telavi, Georgia’s wine region Kakheti. It was my second visit to Georgia, hence already a self-proclaimed connoisseur of Georgian food. Our guide led us through the diverse cultural and culinary heritage of Georgia over lunch in a restaurant that overlooked the beautiful Caucasus range. We learnt about the Adjaran region from where the acharuli originated, lay in the coast of Black Sea and the ethnic group Lazis inhabiting the region were mainly sailors. The shape of the acharuli – the cheese filling and the egg yolk represented the boat, sea and the sun respectively!

Making of Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread at home

If you are confident with your dough-making skills, making acharuli at home shouldn’t be very difficult. Our acharulis turned out to be exactly how we had tasted in Georgia. They had to be eaten immediately out of the oven with the egg yolk staring bright yellow and still intact. The mission, as I had learnt in Georgia, was to make a gooey mess as you stirred the egg yolk in the piping hot filling of cheese. In our case, by the time the entire family assembled at the table, the egg seemed slightly cooked. This turned out to be quite a boon in disguise. As Big Z pointed out, it was better to avoid eating raw food at the moment.

Making of Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread at homeMaking of Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread at homeMaking of Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread at homeMaking Acharuli, the boat shaped Georgian cheese-bread at home

Tasting Acharuli in Georgia

There are many regional variations of khachapuris and one of our best food memories in Georgia are from a roadside family restaurant in Pasanauri, We didn’t taste acharuli there, instead, drooled over another type of khachapuri – Pkhlovana. Filled with salty Ossetian cheese and beetroot leaves, the pkhlovana khachapuris were fried crispy in sunflower oil. We visited Georgia during spring and what a sight to behold all around. Flowers bloomed everywhere, specially cherry blossoms. We randomly stopped to buy sweet cherries, plums, peaches and other fruits sold by the countryside. At Telavi, we made our wishes as we hugged a 900-year old plane tree. The Giant Plane Tree was the oldest plane tree in Georgia and amongst one of the many fauna wonders that the country flaunted during spring.

Saving the best for the last – in our last night in Georgia in Tbilisi, we came across a giant Acharuli in the popular Georgian fast-food chain called Samikitno. It had three egg yolks on top of the generous cheese-filling and had been appropriately named the ‘Titanic Acharuli’! The acharulis that we made at home may not have been as giant as the one in Tbilisi, they could be if we wanted them to be. The successful outcome, however, is in itself a giant step in our evolution in bread making at home!

Hope my food story inspires you to explore or revisit different countries through their cuisines, from your kitchen and home!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

You might like trying out what we've been cooking up at home recently: 
Thai Papaya Salad Recipe
Homemade Bread with Sprinkled Sesame
Stuffed Chilli Spring Rolls
Happy Cinnamon Rolls

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. Our Georgia vacation was self-paid. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

+ Homemade gurer shondesh

Shubho Noboborsho – Makha Gurer Shondesh and other homemade Bengali sweets

You can take a Bengali out of Bengal, but clearly not Mishti – sweets, out of a Bengali!

Homemade Bengali sweets for Noboborsho

Shubho Noboborsho to all of you! Today was a working day and since everybody is either working or studying from home these days, I thought of keeping the Noboborsho lunch menu simple, but special. Li’l Z loves the Bengali prawn delicacy – Chingri Maacher Malaikari and Big Z longed for Bhapa Mishti Doi – steamed sweet yoghurt. She makes me feel quite special every time she declares that I make the best mishti doi in the world, although I must admit that it’s not a traditional recipe but a tweaked one. I decided to make two different preparations for prawns – a malaikari, cooked in coconut milk and a spicy Shorshe Chingri Bhapa. In the latter preparation, the prawns are delicately steamed in mustard paste and green chillies, raw mustard oil poured on top. In addition to the above dishes, I felt it would be pretty fair to have another mishti since it was after all, the Bengali New Year. You can take a Bengali out of Bengal, but clearly not mishti out of a Bengali. On that note, I was pretty bemused with this news from back home – amidst the country wide lockdown, sweetshops have been given permission to keep open for four hours in West Bengal to cater to the Bengalis’ sweet cravings!

We decided on making Dudh Puli, rice flour dumplings with coconut-jaggery filling… all deliciously dunked in a thickened kheer. As it always does in our kitchen (#gratitude),  one sweet led to the other. There was extra filling for the pulis, so that led to some Narkel Narus, the coconut-jaggery truffles. There was extra Gur or jaggery, so I thought, well … why not make some Makha Gurer Shondesh too? I am sharing the recipe – it’s not too sweet and pretty easy to make. Made from fresh homemade chhena (cottage cheese), this shondesh is called makha because it is kneaded until it’s soft. If you have shondesh moulds at home, they make pretty shapes too. From my precious kitchen collectibles, I used a special wooden mould that is used in this part of the world (Middle East) for making Ma’amouls. Ma’amouls are very popular here – pastry with date fillings inside and are decorated by hand or shaped by wooden moulds. Well, isn’t that an inspiring take of my Makha Shondesh on Ma’amoul moulds?

May only good memories and amazing things spill out from the magic hat at all times to sweeten your lives, no matter what!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

You may like trying out some Bengali sweets: 
Moong Daaler Payesh or Yellow Lentil Pudding
Bhapa Mishti Doi
Notun Gurer Payesh
Shondesh/Sandesh Pudding

Gobindobhog riceHomemade Gurer ShondeshHomemade Mishti Doi Homemade Mishti DoiFreshly grated coconut with jaggery Homemade gurer naruWooden mould for making Ma'amoul

Homemade Gurer Shondesh

Makha Gurer Shondesh

  • Servings: 12 pieces
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Dessert; Cuisine=Bengali


1 litre full fat cow’s milk
1 lime, squeezed into juice
100 gms date palm syrup (these are readily available in supermarkets here. Traditionally, however, season fresh nolen gur is used and I too prefer to use the latter if its available)
½ tsp of rice flour (you can use flour)
½ tsp of cardamom powdered, preferably crushed from fresh cardamoms
1 tsp ghee to brush the surface of the mould


  • In a large dekchi or a thick bottomed pan, bring the milk to a boil. Lower the heat and add the lime juice. The milk should separate into chhena and whey.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and pour the chhena into a big sieve (traditionally a muslin cloth is used). Run it under cold water to remove any lingering taste of lime. Squeeze out as much water from the chhena and let it rest in the sieve for a while.
  • Transfer the fresh chhena into a glass bowl. Knead the dough until becomes smooth and soft.
  • Add the date syrup or date jaggery to the chhena and mix it until it blends completely into the chhena.
  • Start making balls of soft makha shondesh by a slight brushing of rice flour in your palms to prevent the dough sticking to your fingers.
  • Brush the shondesh mould lightly with ghee. Place each ball into the shondesh mould (I used a Ma’amoul mould) and flatten them. Take out the shaped shondesh gently from the mould. You may just leave them as round balls.
  • Serve the makha shondesh at room temperature.

The internet today is overloaded with information on COVID-19, do read and absorb whatever is necessary and adhere to the tips and advices that the respective authorities of your country of residence are sharing with you.

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.