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Preview: Traveller's Tales

Traveller's Tales

My first impressions, musings, and lasting impressions of food & places around the world!

Updated: 2017-11-09T07:50:50.714+05:30


Planet Goa


Now that we had tasted the freedom a road trip to Goa gave us, it was inevitable we would try this again. So it was just five months later, we were packed on a wintry Pune morning headed out to our favorite Indian beach once again. Given our experience, I would strongly urge people to try and get to Goa right after the New Year's celebration and party hordes are gone.  The weather is every bit as desirable and the beach-side shacks are open. Yet, the prices are down when peak season ends on January 2nd.This time, we decided to try out a newer resort, Planet Hollywood, not because we really wanted a Vegas/movie themed resort, but rather because of its splendid location.  Unlike our last trip when we camped within reach of the capital, this time we were amidst the quieter beaches of South Goa.Planet Hollywood is another new resort that has come up in the last few years on a clean stretch of beach to the north of Majorda.  Uttorda beach on which it is located until now was best known as home to the popular seafood shack, Zeebop. We repeated our journey to Kolhapur, Pearl Hotel and a sumptuous dinner at Dehati.  However, from Kolhapur we took a different route for South Goa.  The road to Belgavi turned out to be another scenic route - this time through deep jungles and ravines.  I think we drove almost 30 kms through a narrow road through a protected national park without meeting another vehicle on the road.  The only signs of human habitation were the tasteless posters - every one of them had a specific wild animal lying in a  pool of blood with a warning to drivers not to speed since there may be animals crossing. We passed through Belgavi mid-way and stopped briefly to pick up a pack of Kunda, which I had heard was a popular local sweet.  It was about noon when we arrived at our resort. Having a car is a boon when in South Goa, especially if you want to explore more than the beaches themselves.We dived into our 'Goa routine' of morning beach walks and breakfast buffets followed by long sessions in the pool. One one day we drove down to Fish Ka, a tastefully decorated shack near our hotel.  We savored some fresh catch of the day grilled different ways with glasses of wine.  The fish was fresh and the ambience of the evening even better.One another day, we drove the long stretch to Panjim to repeat our dream lunch from last time at Mum's Kitchen.  This time too was perfect!That evening we walked down the sandy stretch to Zeebop, a large beach-side shack.  This is where we were treated to this trip's stand-out dinner.  The fresh sea-bass grilled whole in tandoori spices was so good, it still makes me salivate!We returned to an old favorite in South Goa, Martin's Corner. They still haven't lost their touch. In addition to savoring several favorite dishes, we also discovered a new one: Caldin made of okra and cauliflower - two veggies we have never cooked together before.Before we knew it, it was time to drive back.  Goa during early January is still crisp and cold during early mornings but fairly warm during the days.  The tourists are mostly gone and the beaches are less crowded.  There isn't a better time of the year to vacation here than this. [...]

Ambling Through Mumbai


Cities that have been a melting pot of cultures and attracted a steady stream of immigrants through the ages are the best ones if you are a foodie. Food moves in along with people bringing a variety of new cuisines and cooking styles even as completely new ones are created as the old melds with new. New York, New Orleans, Hong Kong and Kolkata all owe the richness in their food scene to this simple fact. So does Mumbai! In this teeming city of millions, there is always a new delightful place waiting to be discovered, no matter how many times you have visited this grand old city before.As I moved from my jet-setting corporate life to that of a local entrepreneur, one of the nice things it let me do was discover street food, small local restaurants and other places I would rarely have the time to find and visit earlier.  As I (re-) discovered, there is a lot more to food than Michelin stars!Bengalis have long been migrating to Mumbai given the similarities these cities share right from the time of the British Raj. The two most important port cities of that time, both Mumbai and Kolkata employed a large number of immigrants from other parts of the country and even the surrounding region. Among the more recent restaurants serving Bengali cuisine to its people is Kolkata's Bhojohori Manna.  Quirkily named after a popular Manna Day song from the 70s that talks about a mythical chef, this restaurant now has two outlets in Mumbai.  I decided to visit the one in Oshiwara.An elaborate Bengali meal followed that included fish with mustard sauce, slow-cooked mutton in rich spices, a dish of banana florets, and palm sugar ice-cream.  I returned here again during my next trip and pretty much repeated the entire meal but with the fish replaced by a dish of tiger prawns in a coconut sauce.On one day, after a long day of meetings, we sat down at tiny little Janta Bar at one end of swish Pali Hill.  This place barely shows up on Google Maps, but is quite a delight.  The best way to describe Janta Bar is to say this is like a 'daru-ka-adda' but with posh people trooping in.  In other words, a low-end gentrified Indian bar.  It was a warm day, so the pitcher of chilled beer was a welcome sight.  The tawa mutton we had ordered was excellent too!We strolled to the other side of the road for dinner.  Jaihind is another one of those unassuming eateries that dot cities in India, but with fantastic food.  The local sea-food thali was amazing with crisply batter-fried fish, spicy gravy and fresh solkadi drinks.La Pain Quotidian is another place I happened to have a business lunch in. This upscale boulangerie is a part of a global chain run by French-Belgian baker, Alain Coumont.  The name is Our Daily Bread in French, and they specialize in simple, elegantly made pastas, salads, breads and pastries.Finally, during one of my trips here I walked the few blocks from my Juhu hotel to the once-iconic Prtihvi Theater.  Built by the 'first family' of Bollywood as a celebration of the performing arts, it is also home to Prithvi Cafe, a haunt for many aspiring artists during its heydays.  Even today, this is a is a wonderful place to chill out with one of their popular rolls and milkshakes.Finally, Mamagoto in Bandra, an expanding chain of Asian restaurants that combines a Asian staples with a casual, fun vibe, without taking itself (and its cuisine) too seriously. Everything tasted nice enough, even though I am quite a traditionalist when it comes to Chinese food. [...]

Surf, Sand and Seafood


The Grand Hyatt in Goa is a new 5-star entrant in this vacation city. Located within the capital city on a quiet bay with its own private beach, this hotel is a great option for those who wish to have access to the many dining spots within the city even as they reside in a luxury resort. We loved strolling the clean and quiet beach, which would be strewn in the mornings with capiz shells, unique to this stretch of sand. We would head back to the resort for breakfast.  The hotel has an elaborate buffet with live counters to satisfy most taste-buds.  Our room was fantastic too and had an outdoor verandah with a whirlpool where we could relax in the late evenings when the night fell.What was different this time was our access to restaurants in the city.  We rarely ate a meal within our hotel. We would drive down to a different restaurant in town every day for lunch and dinner.  Panjim has a lot of delightful places for foodies and exploring them was a highlight of this trip.  The best food experience during this trip clearly goes to Mum's Kitchen.  A popular place with both locals and tourists alike, this upscale eatery specializes in authentic local cuisine.  The interiors are a delightful meld of wood and hand-painted tiles. Local kitchen ware and pots adorn the walls.  The Fish Fofos, mildly spiced fish roundels crumbed and deep fried looked more interested than they tasted.  However, the Mussels Rava Fry was a delight to taste.  The best dish of the day was the amazing Goan sausage pulao, distinctly spicy and fragrant the way only the best Goan dish can be. Another great place we ate at was Black Sheep Bistro. This modern Goan restaurant specializes in a Goan-influened global menu designed from fresh, locally sourced ingredients and very popular with well-heeled locals and visitors.Clearly for the best dining options in town, being near Panjim helps! [...]

Driving to Goa


Goa is clearly our favorite vacation destination within the country.  From the time we moved to Pune, we have made several trips to this idyllic beach paradise where time seems to slow down even as the rest of India continues in its mad rush.Note: Yup, I am back on the blog again, making up for lost time! :) Until now, I have always chosen to fly to Goa rather than take the road, with the aim to squeeze in as much time within Goa as opposed to spending some on travel.  This time we decided to do drive down and even take a break at Kolhapur.  While this meant investing two days of our vacation time to the travel itself, the journey was worth the effort and time.We started on a bright sunny morning from Pune and in an hour had crossed the city limits as we sped down the Pune-Bangalore highway towards Satara and Kolhapur.  It was amazing to see how fast Pune had grown in the last decade.  Areas that were just rocky hillocks were covered with a  maze of apartment complexes and shops.  The highway was well-maintained and it was an easy drive to Kolhapur. We had decided to stay the night here at Hotel Pearl.  Pearl brought back memories of hotels I stayed in during the 80s and early 90s. The staff was friendly and helpful.  The restaurant on-premise served very good 'Indian-style' tea with some snacks and we were quickly refreshed.  We decided to take an auto rickshaw to the famous Mahalakshmi temple.I was fascinated by the temple. Built by the Chalukyas in the 7th century the temple still looks amazing.  The dark stone pillars and the inner structure of the temple have weathered these long years so very well.Kolhapur reminded me of Pune like it was in the last 90s - less crowded and with little traffic. That night we decided to gorge on Kolhapur-style mutton.  What better place to do that than Dehati?Dehati is a relatively new restaurant with a more upscale ambiance than the previous go-to places for Kolhapur mutton thalis.  While they price their thali higher than others, they provide a better quality experience too. We gorged on the fiery but delicious mutton dishes with the freshly made bakhri breads. I was so full by the time we left, I could barely walk back to our hotel.We got up early the next day and were on our way to Goa even before the sun had risen.  The front-office attendant and guards were very helpful and insisted on cleaning our car before we drove on.Soon, we had to turn off the main highway and into the narrower road that would wind its way past Amboli ghat. While the road on this stretch is a little more tricky with unexpected and un-marked speed breakers, it also is the more picturesque. The remote villages, the winding road, and the cloud-kissed top of Amboli ghat is sure to excite the most jaded road warrior - especially so if you are here during the rains when everything around is verdant and green with little streams and waterfalls all around.We stopped on the top, eating freshly made Maggi, pakoras and tea as we watched the sun thin out the mist over the surrounding hills.  Finally, we were back winding down the slopes on our final stretch.  The vegetation began to change, the backwaters and coconut palms got more dense and then we were in Goa.Vacations are best when you do them slow! Taking the time to stay at Kolhapur, let us enjoy the entire time of the road so much more. [...]

Introducing Pal@table


Dear Readers, as many of you have noticed my blog has not been as active as it used to be once.  This is the reason why! I have been completely involved in something exciting. Palatable is a labor of love for fellow foodies and social animals, the next step to realizing the true potential of tech and smartphones in helping take our social life and food experiences to the next level.  Hope to see many of you try the app and let me know what you think.  Cheers!

Asia Box and Jimmy Hu


Food and cooking styles from Persia and countries in the west entered India from the time Arab traders began landing on our shores. On the other hand, cuisines from the Far East got in only recently; the earliest among them, Chinese. The Chinese have been traveling to India since Buddhism began entering their country, but their food made its way to our shores only during the heydays of the British East India Company. Immigrant Hakka Chinese made their way to Calcutta whose port afforded them plenty of jobs. They brought with them their noodles, soups, sauces and woks. Chinese cooks soon opened eateries here, learning quickly to combine their sauces with local vegetables, spices and produce, even learning to adapt their menu to suit local tastes.As my generation knows only too well, Chinese cuisine went on to become a huge hit. Bastardised dishes such as Manchurian became popular through the length and breadth of the country, even as the two countries locked horns for long periods due to war and politics.  No childhood memory of mine can be complete without Chinese Egg-drop Soup, Chow Mein, Chilli Chicken or Hakka Noodles in them.Thai food, strangely, did not make it here until very recently.  Strange because of how familiar Thai food is to the Indian palate with its spicy sauces and rice-based dishes.  Until the 90s, it was difficult to come across restaurants that served Thai, Vietnamese or Malay food.  That is being rapidly rectified now. In Pune, when Malaka Spice began serving Pan Asian food several years back, they were the only one in town to do so. Now, Asian Box in Koregaon Park is only the latest to bring Pan-Asian delicacies to foodies here.  Having heard so much from those who seem to adore this place, we decided to pay a visit on a weekend.On a pleasant day, this place can be quite nice.  Most of their seating is outdoors and the menu quite exhaustive.  We ordered a selection of Thai, Malay and Burmese selections as we guzzled down chilled beer.The Satay Ayam made of succulent chunks of chicken marinated and grilled with spices was quite good. The Thai Lettuce Wraps with minced chicken that had been wok tossed with basil and red chillies was very good.  The only unfortunate thing was the chef had overdone the salt considerably, thereby destroying an otherwise excellent dish.  Hopefully, this will be a one-time occurrence.With the daughter with us, it was inevitable that she would notice and insist on the Tempura Prawns. She loved it, but then she would have no matter how ineffective the chef! ( Lies... btw this is ‘The Daughter’ ).  No surprises, the wasabi wasn’t exactly the kind I am used to.The most memorable dish of the day was clearly the Burmese Khao Suey. Like the menu promised, the dish was a fantastic combination of noodles, Burmese curry and a variety of condiments with which to garnish the dish.  Both on the eyes and the palate, this dish was a winner!Overall, Asian Box is a good choice when you are craving Asian food. Jimmy Hu brings another twist to Chinese food.  Most Chinese food in India comes in two varieties: the the heavily localized street food variety at street corners and more upscale places that serve ‘authentic dishes’ in surroundings designed to evoke the real deal, but also spiced up for Indian tastes.  Jimmy Hu fits into neither category. They have created a bar/lounge that is both contemporary and youthful, but with a Chinese menu. What makes them stand out is how well they execute these dishes.Both the Hakka Box and the ClayPot rice with Chicken and Fish at Jimmy Hu have quickly become our favourite. We come here even when we aren’t in the mood for alcohol. I wasn’t too surprised then when I learnt the owners are the same ones who brought us The Brooklyn Shuffle and Bombay Bronx - two other restaurants with a youthful vibe, eclectic decor and an eye for quality when it[...]

Dravida’s & Peter Donuts


Dravida’s Bistro is a welcome addition to Pune’s food scene.  Where most restaurants that serve Indian food tend to focus on oily dishes that can leave you feeling heavy and lethargic, Dravida’s has filled its menu with home-style South Indian food with a contemporary twist. The focus is on the use of fresh vegetables and healthy grains. What surprised me the most was the price-point.  For the food on offer and the casual but upscale ambiance I am sure many would be willing to pay higher.Dravida’s serves only vegetarian food but that has never been a problem with me. Does that surprise you knowing how much I enjoy my meat? Actually, South Indian foods is special because it is comfort food and brings back memories of my childhood days in Mysore; this is the one kind of cuisine for which I can gladly go vegetarian.Dravida’s has a few other unique things in its menu.  They allow you to customise almost any dish to your taste.  For example, a dosa can be specified by size (small, medium, large), type (regular, rava, etc.) and filling (traditional, mixed veg, paneer, etc.). The one thing that has been my favourite for lunch is their Create Your Own Basket option, which allow you to create a custom thali by choosing your own variety of rice, breads, and options from a menu of vegetable starter and gravy preparations - all available in small or large sizes.  It is a rather unique concept, but one that works very well.  Another thing I love is their Degree Coffee sourced from Kerala.The restaurant is located in City Point on Boat Club Road.  Try them also for their organic juices and the elaborate satvik thali on weekends. If there is one thing they should continue to focus on, it is faster and more efficient service. They are a little short of waitstaff which can be a problem if you are in a hurry. Cafe Peter Donuts is another place to hangout over coffee, pastries or even something more substantive.  Large and airy, this place recently opened opposite Symbiosis in Viman Nagar.  There is no way you can miss the bright red cafe with its large glass windows when you are driving by.We tried a few of their dishes, which were served fast and efficiently.  The Chicken Stroganoff and Thai Green Curry were both pretty good especially if you were looking for a fast meal. Their donuts were good too - not surprising, since Koreans tend to be serious about their baking.I was curious about so many Korean run places opening up in Pune lately (London Muffin, another favourite place, is also run by Koreans).  Turns out the couple who own this one visited India once, loved the country and on a whim decided to move here and set up their own restaurant.  The day we went to Peter Donuts, the restaurant had just opened and a lot of people from the local Korean community were in attendance. I hope we will continue to see more of this phenomenon.  India was once a magnet for global travellers; I hope we can make this country attractive from global immigrants once again! [...]

Picantos & Wadeshwar


Mexican food has taken a surprisingly long time to get to Pune. I have never quite understood why.   Indians traveling to the USA during the 90s when there were few Indian and South Asian restaurants in that country quickly found themselves at a Taco Bell or something similar that served the basic Mexican fare of tacos and burritos. That was the nearest they could come to spicy fare that was familiar to their taste-buds when they craved for some comfort food.  Now, we have so many eateries in town serving Italian, Mediterranean and Thai, but nary a place that serves Mexican. Until now.Picantos Mexican Grill in Viman Nagar brings to town a taste of Mexican in a quick serve format. While those looking for something very authentic or upscale may balk at their offerings, I have to say they do a very good job for the price.We loved their Spicy Chicken bowl, which comes with fried beans, rice and some really spicy chicken. I have to warn you about the heat level in their spicy options - they are quite fiery! My wife and daughter liked the charmaula chicken burrito.  They also seemed to enjoy the tacos, even if the shells weren’t exactly how we like them.  I guess the quality of the fillings made up for it.We had ordered a Tres Leches cake and Churros too. These were ok, but not particularly memorable.  The churros tasted alright, but they haven’t gotten the shape right.  As for the Tres Leches Cake, I am not sure the fault is entirely theirs.  Having tasted some of the top-notch versions, it was inevitable I would inadvertently compare with those.  But again, like I said earlier, for their price point, they do a remarkable job.Wadeshwar serves a local version of South Indian fare and has been quite popular. They recently opened an outlet in Kalyani Nagar.  On a whim, we decided to see what they had to offer.  Like restaurants in their space, Wadeshwar, was a neat and clean place offering a variety of dosas, wadas, and idlis during the morning hours.We tried what they say are their most popular dishes:  Molgapodi Idlis and Ghee Idli. Both these dishes are created with mini idlis.  The former is tossed in a dry spice mix while the latter is dipped in hot sambar with ghee.  We liked both, even if they weren’t too different from what you would get at a Kalyani, Vaishali or a Madhubani. I guess, every place has their fan proclaiming how different these places are.  I for one, don’t find one that is particularly special compared to the others.  For the record, I also think Vaishali is grossly over-rated! :) [...]

Classic Rock Coffee and Bombay Bronx


Classic Rock is unlike any other coffee place you would have been to, unless you have visited one of their outlets in the United States.  It is like being in a backstage lounge of a rock concert.  They are as much known for the variety and the quality of their coffee roasts as for the usually cool and funky ambiance. Bombay Bronx is the newest answer to our city’s never-ending quest for new watering holes and they have done a fabulous job of carving their unique identity already.Classic Rock is a relatively newcomer in a highly competitive space.  With just two outlets in the United States, they quickly expanded to cover select locations in the Middle East and South Asia, before expanding further into the rest of the USA.  Pune became their first opening in India, and also the first to serve alcohol in addition to coffee.  My wife and I ventured into Classic Rock on a Saturday evening when the night was still young.  There was a small cover charge, but that was for the Weekend Flea Market that was set up within the open area next to a small amphitheater that had a live band playing rock.  Classic Rock turned out to be a fun place but only if you didn’t go there on a weekend expecting to settle in with coffee. During these evenings, the place gets rather crowded with young people looking to guzzle beer as they enjoy the live music. Not quite like a coffee shop on those days! While Classic Rock’s USP has been the coffee, their Pune location is better known for their live gigs and other specials (such as when they got a Master Chef celebrity to host a cooking themed event).  Bombay Bronx too wears different hats on different days.  Open only during the evenings on weekends, it caters to patrons looking to chill out over their favourite poison, they also have a weekend lunch buffet for families with their kids who can dig into some rather well-made food. What makes Bombay Bronx unique is the very innovative Bombay themed interiors. Amitabh Bacchan looks down upon you from the iconic poster from Deewar that adorns the bar area. You walk past an area re-created from seats and overhead handles from local trains that are so much a part of Mumbai’s daily life. There is even a Dhobi Ghat area and one that celebrates the famous dabbawalas. Creepily, the toilets have a red light on top with a signboard that says Kamathipura! However, Bombay Bronx is not all high-concept without substance.  Their cocktails and their bar food are exceptionally well-chosen and well executed.   They have some interesting Mumbai-themed cocktails and the cool thing is they give you a tasting flight of their most popular ones so you can try them all and then order the one you prefer.  Like many other bars in Pune, I found the alcohol content in their drinks on the lower side.   We ordered the Dongri Galli Thali which puts together some of their popular food items into a platter.  This was exceptional and every item was extraordinary.  The chicken roll, chicken baida roti, mutton sandwich and bhuna mutton with paratha were so very good!  While this a great choice for those looking to de-stress with alcohol in cool surroundings, it can be a great option for teetotallers just because of the bar food alone.  Given that this lounge comes to us from the same guys who brought Brooklyn Shuffle, WTF! and Jimmy Hu’s, we shouldn’t be surprised. [...]

Food Story and Zamu's


For those who never tire of kababs and curries, Pune now has one more excellent destination. Food Story on Boat Club Road brings to you the delectable fare perfected by Nawabi families of Hyderabad in upscale surroundings. For those who prefer good food with a casual old Pune vibe, Zamu’s continues to be a great choice. Lip-smacking sizzlers and Parsi delicacies like Dhansak make it to the table just the way they did 16 years back when I moved into Pune, albeit in surroundings that have undergone a makeover.Food Story has a rather understated appearance from the outside. However, the luxurious interiors in white, antique silver and purple detailing exudes regal elegance and invites you to to sit back and take your time relishing every dish.  The menu has several unique dishes of Nizami heritage in the meat-lovers section, but there are surprising innovations in the vegetarian section too.My first experience was during a week-day lunch, when they have a fixed Executive Lunch menu that allows you to try a few of their kababs, curries, breads and biryani at a very reasonable price. This quickly became a favourite with me. Among the rather interesting creations from their menu is the exquisite Shikampuri Kabab, a refined version of the better known Shammi Kabab - just like the Kakori Kabab is to a more ordinary Sheek Kabab.If you do try their a la carte menu, you may want to check out the Haleem, a festive time favourite and rarely on restaurant menus in Pune. The Patthar Ka Gosht and Gosht Dacha are other unusual dishes I recommend. Their biryanis and dal too have variety rarely found elsewhere in Pune.Having eaten here multiple times, I can also say the quality of their food and service stay consistently top-notch. Give it a try, you won’t regret it!  Chef Shaikh Arif Ahmed has succeeded in executing a menu that is both intriguing and delightful at the same time.Only a couple of block away from Food Story is Zamu’s.  This restaurant has been serving its patrons since much before this area developed into an upscale restaurant hub.  I was introduced to Sizzlers only when I came to Pune, and this was one of my favourite places for that, and it still is.During Parsi festive days, Zamu’s is filled with Parsi families celebrating with their traditional food. On other days, this is a great place to hangout with friends over beer and a sizzling plate of meat and accompaniments.  They now offer a 3-Step Sizzer which allows you to customise your Sizzler plate in a hundred different ways and is the best way to sample this local comfort food. I love the Chicken Gregory combined with stir-fried veggies, fries and burnt-garlic rice along with pepper garlic sauce.  Another more traditional sizzler, is the Masala Chicken Shashlik.  If you care for a starter, try their old favourite, Mushrooms in Garlic sauce and remember to keep some space for another of their old favourites, the Caramel Custard.As for their Parsi fare, this is the place to sample a Dhansak with a mutton gravy.  It is completely delicious but be aware the serving is a very large one.  A perfect dish for a lazy Sunday lunch that is guaranteed to make you want to nap right after! [...]

Desi Delights


Sweet lovers have not had it so good in Pune. You have several sweetmeat sellers that conjure up the most delicious classic Rajasthani and Bengali sweets. From expertly made burfis to an authentic ghewar, from fluffy roshogollas to palm sugar sandesh and kheer kadam. You no longer need to trouble friends travelling from Delhi and Kolkata; you can have them all - right here in Pune. For those with a taste for Western delicacies, say a cheesecake or a creme brûlée, you have several great choices too. However, this post is not about these classic desserts, but the ones that have been  crafted and perfected by our street vendors over the years.Among the most well-known is the Kulfi-Falooda.  If you are near Pune Railway Station, head straight across the street to Shiv Kailash for a taste of Pune’s finest.For a more elaborate creation, head to Falahaar in Viman Nagar and ask for their Gulkand Falooda. Layers of ice-cream, falooda (vermicelli, soaked basil seeds and tapioca pearls) flavoured intensely with rose petals make for a heavenly post-dinner treat.Finally, who in Pune hasn’t heard of the Mastani, the city own proud creation.  A local sundae, Sujata Mastani’s version is the most famous one here.  Named after the famous queen, the Mango mastani is the clear favourite of their patrons.  While they have several outlets in the city now, their shop in Sadashiv Peth in the old city is where it all begun.  They use the French Pot method for their ice-cream sundaes but without the use of eggs.  The Mango Mastani is intensely flavoured with saffron and topped liberally with dry fruits.  A true indulgence, Puneri style!For fruit lovers, Falahaar has a few interesting treats up their sleeve.  Foremost is the Jaman Shots and during season, Sitaphal with Cream.  Try some of these pure desi desserts and I bet you will be hooked! [...]

A Tale of Two Bakers


German Bakery in Pune has been a favourite haunt for foreigners, hippies, and expats ever since the early 90s when most outsiders came to this city to get away from the stress of modern urban life.  When I first visited this place at the turn of the millennium, it was teeming with maroon robed inmates of the nearby Osho commune.  And so it continued until that fateful day in February 2010 when terrorists exploded a bomb here killing 17 and injuring over 60 people.Today, German Bakery is open again, albeit in a new avatar. They have also taken over another restaurant on Law College Road. The German who started these restaurants and gave it their distinctive name no longer runs them. What continues is the easy-going vibe.  While the expats and tourists have moved to other newer cafes and bakeries that now dot Pune, these places continue to be a magnet for young students and local hipsters.German Bakery was opened in 1989 by Klaus Gutzeit who left Germany in the early 70s to follow the hippie trail to the subcontinent.  He arrived in Pune after living for several years in Nepal and Goa, where his breads, especially the German Pumpernickel, had became popular with travelling foreigners.  As Pune began to grow crowded in the early 2000s, he sold out and went back to the Himalayas.I happened to find myself in the German Bakery on Law College Road recently.  While there is not much German about the bakery - other than the few German words that adorn the counters - the atmosphere is chilled out and makes for an excellent place to work or just relax for a while.  The food too is pretty good: breakfast items, sandwiches, pizzas and a sprinkling of snack items just right for the students that frequent this place.Overall, I think this German Bakery is even better than the original one, and nice to see something like this - a step up from the Vaishalis and Roopalis - coming up (finally) in this part of town!Fast forward to 2012.  Another European baker moves into Pune and opens shop.  This time a Frenchman. Brice Poisson’s La Bouchee D’or on Boat Club Road is probably among the best bakeries in Pune today. Unlike German Bakery, this isn’t just a lounging place for the expat community but one where you come for the excellent breads and pastries on offer.For those who are looking for authentic French baguettes and other high-quality breads, you need look no further.  This is also heaven for those with a sweet-tooth.  I am completely hooked onto the decadent, rich croissants he turns out every day: the almond-chocolate and the pistachio are my favourites.  Tarts, eclairs (try the passion fruit), mille feuille, and much more - they are all memorable.We have come such a long way since I first moved into Pune. Coffee, breads and pastries those days were a pale imitation of the real thing. Now, you are spoilt for choice!  Expat and Indian bakers have upped their game so much even as the city’s tastebuds have evolved.  Now I get my cupcakes from Forennte in Koregaon Park, muffins at London Muffin, multi-grain bread from The Flour Works and croissants and eclairs from La Bouchee D’Or.  Doesn’t get much better than this! [...]

Fish Curry Rice and Nisarg


I have heard of Fish Curry Rice for so long and yet been unable to try it due to its location and the lack of parking. This week I was finally able to sample what many say is the best seafood restaurant in town. Fish Curry Rice brings local coastal cuisine to its patrons in its real form  without the adornments and embellishments of the typical restaurant fare. This is in fact the next best thing to home-made food! They best way to sample Fish Curry Rice is to choose one of their seafood thalis. We went with the Special Fish thali.  This thali came with a fish fry, a fish in local Malwani gravy, a dry prawns dish, and other accompaniments to complete the meal.  In the fish dishes, we had pomfret, surmai and bangda today. The fish, like we expected, was absolutely fresh.  Every dish had a distinct taste and flavour making for a very pleasing lunch experience.We had visited their Law College Road restaurant, which continues to be no-frills but is tastefully decorated with old Marathi film posters. The service is fast, efficient and the check easy on the wallet.  It is no wonder, this restaurant comes listed in The Lonely Planet as must-visit food place.Those who live near Karve Road argue that Nisarg is the place to go if you like seafood.  So off we went to try that one too (but on a different day!).Nisarg is clearly more up-market with a larger seating area.  The restaurant would be in the same category as Gajalee (which I have reviewed here earlier).We ordered some fish tikkas followed by a gassi with the local rice-based bread - a Malwani version of the appam. Overall, the fish was good as were the preparations.  While the service was quite efficient, I think Gajalee has an edge.  However, all said and done, if you are in this part of town and craving for seafood, you can do worse than drop in here for a very satisfying meal.With both local and Mumbai-based restaurants now courting Pune’s seafood lovers with their renditions of Malwani and Konkan cuisine, you have enough places to choose from now. Equally important, these restaurants are spread out over different areas and you can find something good close by no matter where you live. [...]

Kapila Kathi Kababs


During my college days, I did my summer internship at Kolkata. Among the many things I remember from those days are the street food that were not only easy on the pocket but also a gourmet’s delight. The most popular of them the Kathi Kabab and Muglai Paratha.  When I came to Pune several years back, I discovered Kapila Kathi Kababs, a small ‘hole-in-the-wall’ outlet on Dhole Patil Road that recreated the deliciousness of the Kolkata Kathi rolls and have been addicted ever since.Both the Kathi Kabab and the Muglai Paratha owe their existence to the influence of Mughal cuisine as it made its way into Bengal.  I have mentioned elsewhere how Mughal cooks fled to Kolkata during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.  Among the many things they brought here was their cooking traditions which were soon adapted and absorbed within the local Nawabi kitchens of Murshidabad and other princely homes of the North East.Nizam’s, a restaurant that has been a Kolkata institution from the time it opened in 1932, appears to be the first one that turned Kathi Kabab into a fast food delicacy.  There are many stories that speculate on how the Kathi Kabab came about, such as the one about their British patron who loved Nizam’s kababs, but didn’t want to use his fingers and therefore the kabab was given wrapped to him in a paratha. Others found this a great way to take away the kababs and savour them on their way to work.Nizam’s grilled their meat on long iron skewers in the traditional Indian way, but after demand for their Kathi Kababs began to grow, found it faster to grill them on long ovens with the meat on smaller bamboo skewers.  This is apparently the process that gave this dish its distinctive name.  Kathi in Bengali means stick, so this became the kabab on a stick.Kapila Kathi Kabab moved into a larger place recently (right opposite their original location).  They also open early now: at 12:30 pm.  The unique deliciousness of their Kathi Kababs are a combination of the spicy meat filling, the well-crafted paratha made by frying the leavened bread with a layer of egg on a large iron griddle before rolling up the meat with a sprinkling of freshly chopped onion and mint chutney.Kapila has never slipped up once since I first ate here, but my last visit here was an anomaly.  For the first time, they served me a roll that had been over-fried and the taste underwhelmed.  I hope this is a one-time mishap and not a sign of their focus on growth getting in their way of quality.When speaking of rolls, one must also mention Tibbs of Mumbai which introduced the Frankie, which is what they call their version of this dish.  Not as rich and less oily, the Tibbs Frankie is a reimagined and Indianised Lebanese pita wrap that has found appeal among the more contemporary Mumbai crowd since they opened in the late 60s. The Kathi roll continues to live on in newer forms.  Faaso’s of Pune built their business on a version of this popular Indian fast-food too. [...]

Where Else in Pune?


Where Else Cafe & Bar is another of the new generation cafes that have sprung up in Pune. We got here on a weekday during lunch hours and found the place mostly bereft of customers, but from the large number of bags being readied for home delivery indicated their popularity with patrons that live and work in its vicinity.  The cafe has a bright, youthful vibe and give you an option of outdoor or indoor dining. There were several other things that stood out as we settled in.  I could see several power connectors set up near tables, yay!  Finally, some folks who are willing to cater for those who run around with laptops and want to get some work done as they wait for food.  They also had a section in their menu devoted to traditional Parsi food.  Finally, they have a pet menu section.  This must be a first! I haven’t seen this anywhere else.We ordered the Cheese Jalapeños Bombs for our starters and it turned out to be as decadent and gooey as its name suggests!I opted for the Crispy Herbed Chicken Burger that had a chicken patty topped with cheese and BBQ sauce.  The burger was pretty well executed and served with a side of cole slaw, but was not as outstanding as last week’s burger at Beetroot.My wife’s chicken dish looked very enticing with its accompaniments and she said it was outstanding.  Overall, we were happy with the experience here and expect to be back.Around the corner, right here in Viman Nagar, Sujata Mastani has opened a small outlet.  For those not familiar with this popular Pune dessert, it is an elaborate version of an ice-cream milk shake.  I had ordered the Kesar Mango Mastani which was made with fresh cream, mango ice-cream, saffron and liberally garnished with a variety of chopped dry fruits.  It was every bit as sinful as you can imagine it would be!Mastani happens to be a well-known name in Maratha folklore. She was the second wife of Peshwa Baji Rao a famous Maratha general during the 18th century.  There is a Bollywood blockbuster on its way that should help popularise her story with those not familiar with this part of our history.  Apparently, the name of the Mastani dessert was a tribute to this warrior queen/consort of yore, as a fellow foodie discovered.I have mentioned London Muffin before.  For those who like high-quality breads, pastries and other baked goodies, this place in Kalyani Nagar is a haven. Run by a Korean family, their breads reflect their love for cream and other fillings popular in Asia. I especially like their custard-filled doughnuts, muffins and pastries.  It is also a lovely place to sit outdoors under the trees and enjoy a well-made cappuccino. [...]

Beetroot and Krusty's


Beetroot and Krusty’s are a new generation of Western-style restaurants that are becoming increasingly popular in a city that was dominated by North Indian and Chinese food until recently.  Clearly food lovers in Pune are finally beginning to experiment and cast their net wider when hunting for a new place to eat. Italian pastas are no longer the only European food they want to try! A decade back I would only have Arther’s Theme to choose if I wanted a European food experience.  Now you would be spoilt for choice. Incognito and The Flour Works (among others) brought Western cuisine into the Maratha heartland successfully. Beetroot and Krusty’s are taking this further ahead by combining Western flavors, ambiance and even infusing them with an Indian ethos.Krusty’s has two outlets in Pune; I visited the one at Koregaon Park during lunch hours.  The restaurant has a well-lit, pleasantly upscale cafe ambiance.  The menu is quite substantive with several interesting appetisers, salads, sandwiches and burgers.  On this day, I decided to try the Grilled Chicken Burger and was pleasantly surprised by both the presentation and execution.The burger was served open-face with caramelised onions over the grilled chicken and melted cheese.  The other half had fresh tomato, lettuce and gherkins making for a very appetising sight indeed.  The fries in a wire-mesh basket completed the presentation.  The burger was very filling and completely satisfying.  Good job, Krusty’s!Beetroot Bistro is a more recent opening in Koregaon Park.  Located on the terrace of an apartment building, the place has a nice feel especially in the evening hours when the rustle of the leaves in the trees around and the blue and white paintwork makes for a nice atmosphere.In keeping with my burger craze, I decided to try their Peri Peri Chicken Burger. However, we also ordered a starter of Beer Drunken Prawns first.  The prawns were crunchy and tasted right, keeping our hunger pangs at bay as we waited for our mains.The Peri Peri burger was a delight.  The spicy peri-peri sauce, the jalapeños and the grilled onions enhanced the flavours and tastes of the burger considerably.  A must-try for anyone who is willing to experiment with their burgers and can stand some heat! Peri-peri sauce is showing up in multiple Western menus in Pune now-a-days. Both Krusty’s and Beetroot use it to make some Western staples more interesting for Indian palates. Peri-Peri originated in Africa (and actually meant pepper pepper in Swahili), but is best known for its use in Portuguese and Goan cooking now.  For a spice lover like me, I don’t mind this recent trend at all.  Keep it coming!In other news, Starbucks opened another outlet, this time on F. C. Road. I love to dig into the tomato and mozzarella on Multi-grain bread when I am in Starbucks during morning hours.  Coupled with a hot caramel macchiato to satiate my sweet tooth, this sandwich makes for a perfectly good breakfast!Finally, The Flour Works continues to do all the right things. From the busy tables all through the day, I can see their patrons continue to appreciate the combination of food and laid-back ambiance this place provides.  I tried the Chicken in a lemon and caper sauce which was served with potatoes and a spinach cake and turned out pretty delish. [...]

Two Countries for Foodies


Greece and Japan - two nations on other sides of the world, one a proud Eastern culture that has been developing its culture and forming new layers for thousands of years, the other even older and among the first civilisations of the Western world. They don’t seem to have much in common until you see them through a foodie's eyes. Greek cooking was a forerunner to much of Western cuisine and spread into Roman and Egyptian food culture very quickly. It was a Greek who wrote the first cookbook as early as in 320 BC. The Japanese developed their own cuisine in a very different fashion but share the same frugal characteristics of Greek cuisine by using fresh, local ingredients and a light hand to enhance their flavours and tastes.  Even today, Japanese food continues to influence food habits around the world. I attribute the recent trend of eating raw meat in the West to Japan's export of sushi.Greece has been exasperating much of the Western world with their financial mismanagement lately, but feel indebted to them whenever I walk into Evvia at Palo Alto.  I have sung their praises before, but Evvia deserves an encore.  I decided to stick to my favourite dishes here and began with the starter of Octapodaki tou Yiorgou, octopus grilled in the traditional style with lemon, oregano & olive oil.  Octopus has never tasted this good!For my mains, it had to be their lamb chops again. The Arnisia Paidakia is rib-cut and mesquite-grilled lamb chops with olive oil lemon roasted potatoes that they will serve as a portion of four (or a reduced portion on request - they are really nice about such things).  Like I have said earlier, this is probably the best rendition I have tasted of my favourite dish.I ended with the Galaktoboureko, traditional phyllo wrapped vanilla bean semolina custard with pistachio ice cream.  Multi-layered phyllo has been a long tradition in Mediterranean countries with both the Turkish and the Greek boasting the prowess of their women and chefs who mastered these skills and passed them down since hundreds of years.  This dessert at Evvia reminds you why.On my way back from the United States, I briefly stopped by at Singapore where I had a chance to eat at the newly opened Saboten Tonkatsu restaurant within Millennia Walk.  While I have been enjoying Japanese cuisine for some time now, I was introduced to the Tonkatsu only during my recent vacation to Tokyo and Kyoto.  This deep-fried Japanese cutlet has made an impression on me and I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to tuck in one more time!Saboten makes the entire Tonkatsu experience stand out by importing authentic Japanese ingredients and offering prime pork options.  I chose the Iberico Loin Katsu Gozen, Iberian ham sourced from acorn-fed black Iberian pigs in Spain.The pork cutlet comes with aromatic Japanese Uonuma Koshihikari rice,  a heap of chilled juliennes of cabbage that is crunchy and juicy, a house-made Tonkatsu sauce on roasted sesame seeds and a goma dressing for the cabbage.My server made sure I knew that I had to hand-grind the freshly roasted sesame with the pestle and mix it with the sauce to get started.The Tonkatsu was served hot and even came with a Spanish flag on it to certify its Spanish heritage.  The crisp exterior hid an inside of perfectly tender and marbled Iberian goodness that strummed my taste buds the moment it hit my mouth.  The dip and the cabbage were perfect accompaniments to the dish. Overall the meal was a very pleasant experience indeed and another reminder of the many different ways in which Japanese cuisine can co[...]

Hungry in Silicon Valley?


What better place to get hunger pangs than in the Bay Area? This mecca of all that is high-tech in the vicinity of Palo Alto and San Francisco also offers much for both the discerning palate and to  those who just want a quick interesting meal. My recent trip here has been replete with exciting new discoveries in addition to visits to old favorites.Among new discoveries, the highlight this time was Hogwash at Union Square.  They have 30 beers on tap in a place designed for sharing and community. You have to also try their sausages and make sure you ask for their house-made fried pickles with the harissa aioli. Warning: they can be quite addictive!Breakfast time in the Union Square area now always equates to farm:table!  This time I gorged on their excellent egg, ham and croissant sandwich and cappuccino.  I have already written about their out-of-the-world Daily Toast.The Stone Fruit Salad at Lark Creek Steak in The Westfield mall was a revelation.  This dish turned out far more memorable to me than my expensive steak entree. The fresh peaches and plums with the greens and crumbled cheese on them made for perfection.  Not sure if they still have this on their menu; if they do, don’t miss it.The Burmese tea salad I tasted at Rangoon Ruby in Palo Alto was another winner.  As is usual, they craft this dish at your table and it makes for a pretty picture.  Once they have mixed the fermented tea leaf, squeezed lemon juice and thoroughly mixed all the colourful ingredients together, the dish is even more appealing - this time to the palate.A second new discovery from this trip was a small restaurant in Mountain View called Himalayan Kitchen.  Their claim to specialise in Nepalese food got me here.  I found them serving what looked like Indian food on their lunch buffet but with some intriguing twists.  For example, they had Indian-style Chilly Chicken which is usually found in Chinese restaurants in India along with variations on staples from the Indian sub-continent like pakoras, goat curry, etc. No matter how authentic Nepali the restaurant is, I must say the food was completely delectable.  In fact, I thought the tastes and flavours here were more authentic as compared to many other more expensive Indian restaurants that dot the Bay Area.  One funny thing: this Nepalese place is staffed by people from Andhra!  There was not one Nepali in sight here. Finally, even the Sheraton Palo Alto used food to make me happy this time. The lovely lady at the front desk was sorry that she checked me into the wrong room and in the evening I got back to find a wonderful cheese and fruit plate. Yummy! [...]

Sahib Room in Mumbai


Infusing a dose of British Raj nostalgia into an Indian fine dining experience has been done before. Saheb Sindh Sultan in Bangalore is one that immediately comes to mind which tries to recreate the romance of train travel in British India. Oh! Calcutta too crafted a menu and experience to recreate the food experience of Calcutta under the British. The Sahib Room at the tony Palladium Hotel in central Mumbai takes this concept forward and manages to please in the process.I was in Mumbai for an industry meeting.  I stayed at the new and fancy Four Seasons hotel - an example of the amazing (and disconcerting) contrasts that make up this city of dreams. From my room high up, I could see a sea of shanty roofs down below and the grey waters of the ocean beyond that slowly turned to molten gold as the sun set. The distinctive outline of Haji Ali Dargah floated like something out of a medieval fantasy - barely coupled to the teeming mainland by its umbilical cord of a path.As the sky darkened, the lights glittered within the Four Seasons as they readied for yet another night of glamour. A stream of luxury cars made their way past street urchins and into the hotel, unloading Bollywood celebrities for Aamir Khan’s latest box-office bonanza. They were celebrating the success of his movie PK in China.I found myself at Sahib Room on the next day for lunch. Adorned with artefacts and memorabilia that ought to be a hit with British tourists, this place is also a perfect destination for serious foodies who are eager for a hearty meal of kababs and biryani. An interesting part of Sahib Room is their Kipling Bar with its period bar furniture where I tried a non-alcoholic cocktail called the Mumbai Masala made of extract of the kokum fruit, cumin, ginger and chillies.I began with the Subzani Murgh, succulent kababs marinated in pine nuts, basil and dill. I paired this with a Gosht Dum Biryani, which was executed perfectly - the grains of rice just cooked right and fragrant with its dun-infused spices.I ended with the Calcutta Meetha Paan ice-cream. Infused with gulkand, the ice-cream is a good variation on the traditional Indian paan that is served at the end of a fine meal. I do have to warn you that the ice-cream is a little too sweet.Overall, a great place for a fancy Indian dinner at the end of the day when the chandeliers cast their golden glow on the rich furnishings below and transports you to another era for a couple of hours. [...]

Khorisa Brings Assam to Pune


Indians tend to be conservative when it comes to food. North Indian and Chinese continue to be the most popular choices when people dine out. South Indian food is popular in the country too, but only as breakfast or snack food. Therefore, the vast richness of our regional cuisines remains unavailable outside of their native regions. It is therefore an event of considerable excitement when someone bucks the trend and brings a new cuisine to town. The moment I heard about the opening of at new Assamese restaurant, I had to visit right away.  Khorisa is Assamese for bamboo-shoot, an important ingredient of this North Eastern cuisine.  The owners seem to have spent a great deal of thought and effort in recreating an authentic dining experience to transport you to the land of the Brahmaputra while you dine.Khorisa is located within Pune’s newest shopping destination: Seasons Mall in Magarpatta City (right opposite Amanora). Bamboo furniture, Assamese artifacts, and a counter that offers an authentic tea experience together gives this place an unique homely charm. The walls with their framed posters of Assamese produce and spices unique to this cuisine was a nice touch, as was Bhupen Hazarika playing in the background.We were given a quick overview and help in making our choices. The owner even showed us the (in)famous Bhoot Jholakiya chillies, rated as one of the hottest chillies in the world.  This, like other Assamese ingredients, have to be shipped by them all the way from Assam.We began with a Haah Mangho Bhoja, a dish of delicately spiced fried duck pieces with bones.  I liked the dish, but those who aren’t used to bones in their meat will need to be cautious especially since the bones are small and can be sharp.The Ou Tenga Diya Dail is a daal made with elephant apple, a souring agent used in the North Eastern states (like raw mango and tamarind used elsewhere in the country).  Actually, seem the simple daal was quite a delight and went well with the duck and rice.The Banh Gaaj Aru Maas, is fish in a thick gravy made of bamboo shoot and other spices.  While I have had a lot of bamboo-shoot in the past, they have been primarily in Oriental cuisine.  The taste of bamboo-shoot with other Indian ingredients seemed a little strange to me; it will probably take some time to get used to this unique combination.We also ordered the Bora Saul, a sticky local variety of rice, which gave the meal a very authentic feel.  The portions here were quite large and we were full when it was time for desserts.We decided to share one eventually: the Mihidana Aru Cream.  Mihidana is a variety of boondi popular in our Eastern states; during my childhood days, I remember looking out for the vendors when our train passed by Burdwan in West Bengal.  They served it here with some cream on top.  The dessert was not particularly memorable, but I loved the rest.Khorisa has quite a large menu.  Now that Oh! Calcutta has exited Pune, this is the only place I can visit for any taste of East Indian delicacies.  I expect to be back for the other interesting stuff I could not try today: preparations made of pork, banana flower, banana stem and more. [...]

farm:table & Tycoon Thai


San Francisco is chock-a-block with interesting restaurants. You could be a few blocks away from a  great little place you would love but not find it.  Technology hasn’t evolved enough to match people with the places they are sure to enjoy. This is specially true of restaurant apps such as Yelp!, OpenTable or Zomato, all of who use crowd-sourced ratings to sort restaurants. Food is a very a personal thing that everyone tends to rate differently. A lover of spicy food can find even a good French restaurant insipid and bland, but even if their taste buds did not vary, one may give a higher importance to atmosphere, price, and/or service quality than another.In a place like Singapore or downtown San Francisco where the density of restaurants is high, you will rarely discover a restaurant more than four blocks away since it gets buried under a dozen pages. I thought I knew all the good places in and around the Union Square area. Yet, when I decided to stay at the Hilton Union Square this month for the first time, I immediately discovered new enchanting places worth writing about. The Hilton borders the infamous Tenderloin neighbourhood of San Francisco.  Most tour guides you will warn of the drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes and mentally unstable that haunt this area during late evenings and night time.  Yet strangely, walk only a block away and you are in posh Union Square and Nob Hill.I discovered this area now thrives at day time and there are several nice places worth visiting, especially during breakfast and lunch.  The two I tried and liked are Tycoon Thai and farm:table.In spite of its rather strange name, Tycoon Thai is unique because of its Laos connection.  Its authentic dishes from the Siamese region have been a big draw for foodies in the know.  I ordered a gai satay and pad mee lao.The chicken satay was made of chicken thighs marinated with coconut milk and turmeric before being grilled on skewers and served with peanut sauce.  The succulent chunks of chicken with the perfectly smoky exteriors made for a uniquely delicious starter.The Pad Mee Lao is a Laotian version of pad thai made of small rice noodles with chicken, bean sprout, green onion and black bean sauce served with lettuce leaves on the side.  The idea is to fill the lettuce leaves with the noodles in a wrap before eating. It just loved it! The other restaurant I discovered is a breakfast place called farm:table.  A tiny little place on Nob Hill, this place is a complete delight!  On one day I ordered the the croissant sandwich with eggs. That doesn’t sound like much, does it?  But it was good enough to draw me in and I was back trying their popular Daily Bread: a thick toast with mascarpone loaded with slices of fresh fruit, honey and garnished with nuts.  Trust me, after that, you won’t want to eat breakfast anywhere else.Please note that this place is really tiny with only a few seats.  However, the food more than makes up for everything else it lacks.  I will be back here every time I am in the vicinity.Who knows what other desirable places are lurking, just out of your visible range?  Time for a new generation of technology to help us foodies get to our destinations I guess. [...]

Dimsums Galore at HK


We are a family of dim-sum lovers. When we decided to book our flights to Japan on Cathay Pacific, I had to give in to the temptation of making a brief halt for a dim-sum tour of Hong Kong.  This island was a refuge for fleeing Chinese from the mainland, first during the Mongol invasion and then again during the Opium Wars when the British wrested this island from the Chinese and made it a strategic military port.  Immigrants from the East and the West brought with them culinary techniques that soon resulted in a medley of tastes and flavors that continue to tempt the palate.The W Hotel at Kowloon became our abode for this brief stay.  The MTR station under the hotel made this a convenient spot for our lunch and dinner trips to different parts of this island city.  First on my list was Tim Ho Wan. Known as the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant, this restaurant now has multiple outlets all over the world.  However, it was in HK that they actually won the star.  We took a ferry to get to their IFC Mall location.  Like at every one of their outlet, there was a crowd of people waiting to get in.We got seated rather quickly to our surprise and having been to their Singapore outlet knew the drill well.  I had already marked out our choices on the little slip they keep at the counter and within a matter of minutes steaming bamboo baskets of freshly made dim-sums had filled our little table. The star of the show came quickly after: the Cha Sui Bao: Hong Kong’s popular pork buns made here with a special twist.  Tim Ho Wan makes his bun with a crisp thin and sweet exterior filled with steaming barbecued pork inside.  It is lighter than the traditional pork buns and exquisite in taste. The other dim-sums measured up too.  The steamed prawn dumplings, the sticky rice in lotus leaf, the pan-fried carrot cake, they all got devoured rapidly!  We ate way too much, but this time no one was complaining. It was a bright day and we had just come down from the peak that afforded us amazing views all around.  All we wanted now was to get back to our hotel and get some rest.It was Din Tai Fung’s turn next.  This restaurant actually grew out of Taiwan into a very popular chain of eateries before making its way to Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries.  However, it was their Hong Kong outlet that won a Michelin Star.  Kowloon was brightly lit up in the evening and the streets were crowded with tourists that had just gotten off a cruise ship.  We were glad to get off the streets and into the air-conditioned interior of the restaurant.In the display-kitchen, we could see the chefs hard at work making those delicate morsels their patrons come here for.  We ordered their famous ‘soupy’ dumplings, the Xiao Long Bao.  I have described their process of making this signature dish during an earlier visit.  We savoured them along with a variety of other delicacies before calling it a day.Finally, I returned to Maxim’s Palace after a gap of several years. Maxim’s is a popular dim-sum restaurant that still serves these delicacies in the traditional manner from pushcarts.  As the waiters push their carts by your table, you can point to the dim-sum you want and they will serve it to you.  Maxim’s is as busy as ever with a large number of people queuing up during lunch and dinner.   When at Maxim’s remember to get the mango pudding at the end; you won’t regret it![...]

A Trip to Kyoto


Taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto is an experience in itself.  On a good day you can even see the symmetrical beauty of the snow-clad Mt. Fuji as you get a taste of Japanese efficiency. The bullet-train gets you there in less than two hours traveling at a speed nearing 300 kmph. The attendants bow deeply every time they enter and leave a coach. The punctuality, cleanliness and efficiency of these trains reminded me of Germany. Kyoto, like the train journey, is a study in contrasts.  The traditional and the new jostle to impress the visitor. This was my first visit to Kyoto and I quite loved the city.  We stayed at the Monterey Hotel: a small interesting hotel that combines the local Japanese ethos with a little bit of Britain. The hotel was conveniently located within walking distance of public transport, restaurants and cafes.  There was even a cute little chapel within the hotel!A local student had offered to take us around the city.  She gave us a tour of the palace and the temples.  The most striking of these is clearly the Kinkaku-ji temple with its golden facade shimmering as a backdrop to the lake in front of it - one of the most iconic pictures of Kyoto.The Ryoan-ji temple is impressive for its dry, rock garden maintained by monks and its calming peaceful interiors.  The Nijo castle takes you back to the time of the Shoguns; there are several halls where the shoguns lived and ruled from a long time back. I still remember my early fascination with the shoguns from the books I read and movies I watched during my childhood.The large gardens of Nijo castle were celebrating the cherry blossom season and the flowers considerably brightened the atmosphere made sombre by the stark grey of the palace walls. We also visited the Ninna-ji temple which we found interesting with its taller facade and grove of a late blooming cherry called Omuro.  In fact, there is no dearth of great temples in Kyoto. Each of them has a distinct look and feel and many of them are located in surroundings that are no less extraordinary.We took long walks through the streets of Kyoto and walking into unknown restaurants we came by.  We were always pleasantly surprised by the food we ate. Once we found a place advertising tapas which turned out to be such a delight.  Run by two sisters, locals, they turned out some of the most amazing small plates I have eaten. We spent an evening walking through the streets of Kyoto’s famous geisha town: Gion.  While the geisha culture has more-or-less disappeared in most of Japan, there is still some of tradition alive here.  It is here that you most often run into kimono-clad women, but many turn out to be dressed up tourists.  If you are lucky, you may see a maiko, a geisha apprentice, visiting one of the tea-houses that line the road.The temple grounds of Kyoto are often the best place to sample of the local comfort food. The thokoyaki with their octopus filling were quite delicious! Japan’s famous whisky distillery, Suntory, is located very close to Kyoto.  This is home of the world-famous single-malt Yamasaki which lately has just disappeared from shelves everywhere after it won the award of the world’s best single-malt.  They have an interesting history.  Apparently, a few generations a Japanese man went to Scotland, married a local girl and then came back to begin whisky production here.  The rest, as they say, is histo[...]

Ramen, Soba, Udon and More


For those less familiar with Japan, when you think of food you probably think sushi. As you dig deeper, you will discover it is so much more!  Like the French, Japanese are passionate about food and celebrate the wide variety of their eating choices in small and intimate surroundings.  Where they differ from classical French is their Zen philosophy of keeping it simple.  No elaborate sauces for them! They focus on putting together the best seasonal produce and enhancing their natural flavours with delicate sauces and seasonings.We had connected with locals in both Tokyo and Kyoto to show us around their cities.  Our host in Tokyo, an elderly gentleman, gave us much insight into their culture, daily lives and customs.  For lunch, he took us to a Tonkatsu restaurant.  Tontaktu is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet; it was served with a heap of finely shredded cabbage, a bowl of rice and miso soup.  We hungrily wolfed this down with some beer sitting cross-legged on low, traditional dining tables.We did a lot of soups in Japan, and for good reason.  Not only are noodle soups a favourite among all of us, there is so much variety in Japan.  We had even more reason on days when the weather was cold and rainy.Ramen, soba and udon are the three most popular varieties of noodles in Japan. Ramen noodles are pale yellow and thin. They are wheat-based and made their way into Japan from China a long time ago. Soba made from a mix of buck-wheat and wheat flour is brown in color while Udon is thicker, white and made of wheat flour.  Each of them have a very distinct texture and feel.Ramen shops are plenty and everyone has their own favorite.  While miso-based and tonkotsu (pork-bone based) broths are popular, there as as many variations as there are ramen shops.  Nothing beats the taste of a piping hot ramen with a liberal helping of fatty pork slices on a cold chilly day.Soba and Udon too are served in interesting variations.  I had one that was topped with fresh prawn tempura.  There were some really spicy options, such as Onimaru in Kyoto, which dares you to try their most spicy one and survive!  As you can see above it looks lethal and I was wiping my tears frequently as I dug into it!Tempura and Teppanyaki, Sashimi and sushi, Udon and Soba, there is so much you can try.  This time we did not do Kaiseki, a formal multi-course dinner that is elaborate like the Waswan of the Kashmiris.We also tried some of their popular street food at the temples and shrines.  Thokoyaki, a batter-baked octopus served hot, red bean desserts at the Kabuki theater, and large succulent pieces of bamboo-shoot on sticks.One day we walked into a very chic restaurant not knowing what to expect.  However, they completely delighted us with the food.  The squid starter was a sign of good things to come, and the Kobe beef was out-of-the-world with its splendid combination of flavour and silkiness on the palate.  We ended that night with a delightful dessert of matcha tea ice-cream.Next post in this series: A Trip to KyotoPrevious post in this series: A Holiday in Japan [...]

A Holiday in Japan


It was dark when we were finally checked into our room on the 49th floor of the Ritz-Carton Tokyo.  The panoramic cityscape of twinkling lights outside our windows was dominated by Tokyo Tower which looked no less impressive than the Eiffel.  We had landed in Narita more than an hour back on a really cold evening.  Our Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong had been delayed by a few hours.  I wasn’t concerned at all.  Being on a vacation with the family seems to make my irritability and impatience disappear - qualities that show up in abundance when glitches happen during business travel!I have long been fascinated by the Japanese people, from the days when I watched Samurai movies,  through the times when I was introduced to sushi and teppanyaki and more recently when I got more familiar with the rich world of manga and anime.  My young daughter shared this too.  We would have planned a vacation much earlier, but the fear of radioactive leaks from their doomed reactor kept us away for a while.We were going to be in Tokyo and Kyoto for a week. While I have travelled to Tokyo twice before, they were business trips that did not give me much time to explore the city and the culture.Our timing turned out to especially good.  While it was still cold at times, the cherry blossom season was at its peak. We spent a day at Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gardens strolling around and marvelling at the sight of cherry blossom trees laden with delicate and ephemeral flowers that the locals call Sakura.Ueno Park was crowded with groups of youngsters, who had settled under the trees and were celebrating the seasonal floral treat with beer and a variety of street food.  The crowds had also come out to enjoy the warm bright sun that day. We loved Shinjuku Garden more than the others.  This is probably the prettiest garden in all Tokyo. Time seems to slow down as you stroll through its winding pathways, the occasional tea-house, and pretty wooden bridges over shimmering ponds. Fifteen hundred cherry-blossom trees were in full bloom make the central gardens look particularly stunning at this of the year.  That day was cloudy with a cold wind and a slight drizzle, but it only added to the charm. I took my family on a short tour of the tranquil grounds of Meiji Shrine and the tourist-laden Sensoji Temple. We took brief trips in the Roppongi area, Akihabari and Harajiku. The metro station was right underneath our building which was a boon and led to quick short trips to different parts of the city.  My daughter sought out Itoya, a store that specialises in a variety of art papers, pens and brushes - a haven for those artistically inclined.  She came back with a variety of traditional Japanese washi paper, cute stickers and calligraphy pens. If you didn’t know already, Japan is the mecca of all things cute or kawaii as they call it!Harajuku is another place I would recommend for a stroll in the evening. This shopping district is popular with the teens.  The girls window-shopped while I took in the sights.  We stopped briefly for an ice-cream crepe, a rather nice twist on an ice-cream experience:a freshly made crepe is rolled into a cone and filled with ice-cream of your choice.  Speaking of choice, you won’t see more choices of flavours than in Japan.  Ice-creams, shoes or even Kit Kat, they seem to have d[...]