Phir bhi dil hai hindutani @ We.Desi

If you like to eat and live in the City of Kolkata you are spoilt for choice nowadays. Lots of new place are opening up and one of them is We.Desi. I was invited as part of a Bloggers Table when they opened in September but regretfully was unable to make it due to work commitments. Thereafter they diligently kept in touch and I finally went across a couple of weeks back for dinner.

We walked in and I loved the quaint and quirky interiors done up in Black and White. Arrestingly striking and quite unique. The big fan on the wall mesmerized me. Shivangi Bhambani introduced herself to us and she came across as extremely warm and so we settled down for a nice chat. An M Phil in Economics who has opened a restaurant that has loads of Desi Swag and showcases food from around the country. It was such an interesting combination that I was immediately intrigued. Shivangi’s spouse Nikhil was her biggest support and is the Managing Director of Shehnaz Hotel Pvt Ltd and We.Desi is a part of the group. The little touches like the original newspapers displaying important historic headlines that are decades old, the block printed pictures on the walls and all the little special touches created a pleasing ambience.

Those of you who know me know I have both studied and worked in Delhi and Gurgaon and I have a soft spot for the place and the food. We started our dinner with Palak Chaat and Bread Pakora which was specially ordered on my request. The Chaat was plated up in a little street push cart or “thela” and the Bread Pakoras in a typical aluminium Dabba (box), the kind we used when we were kids. Both were delicious and I was happy munching away on them. We.Desi has these great Cutting Chai Set Meals which consist of your choice of pakoras ,rolls, kulchinis, vadas and so on served with unlimited cutting chai. What I would call fun dining! The Vada Pao which I tasted on a later date was really good too and I will definitely go back for more soon. The Palak Chaat and once again the Papdi Chaat which I sampled on another day were both very good. Then came the wonderfully plated Talwari Murgh Malai Kebab which certainly lived up to it name. Delicious, Juicy and melt in your mouth Chicken Kebabs plated uniquely on a mock sword (Talwar). We gobbled it down in record time.

Our main course followed with a super Amritsari Kulcha served with the Chutney that had a lovely tang to it and thanks be to the minutely chopped onion in it texture as well , this was as close to the original as I have had in Kolkata and I loved it. The Laccha Paratha was also excellent and both the flatbreads paired perfectly with the Purani Dilli Degh Mutton, Murgh Methi Bharta and Chicken Tikka Masala. Delicious and I truly felt I was back North. But the Mutton Khichada was yet to come and was comfortingly good. Add a drop of ghee and some lemon, some coriander and the browned onions and get lost in its rustic and robust flavors. They also served us a lovely Papad Platter (another weakness of mine) and I was happily satiated with my dinner. Suneha had a bad cold and they made her a lovely hot toddy that soothed her throat and she raved about it long after the meal was over.

Dessert followed and both the Chia Seed Phirnee Pannacotta and the Nolen Gur ka Sandook came beautifully plated. The Pannacotta was nice in terms of the flavor but it was slightly too dense, I enjoyed the texture of the Chia Seeds. The Nolen Gur ka Sandook was quite different. A huge Nolen Gur Sandesh covered with squares of dark and white chocolate to give a checkered design. Not too sweet and something that was a nice foil to the meal we had just eaten.

Another concept they have “ desified “ and which sounded really good was their Curryaki Meal Concept where they have a separate counter like a Teppanyaki Counter manned by a Chef who serves up a set meal consisting of Soup / Salad / Curryaki (option of Subz,Paneer,Chicken or Prawn) , Dal Tadka , Tawa Rice and Dessert. It’s a fun interactive experience for a group and the Chef prepares your meal right in front of you.

I really enjoyed my evening at We.Desi , if you like North Indian food don’t miss out on a meal here. I will certainly be back specially for the Talwari Murgh Malai Kebab and the Chicken Tikka Masala both of which were very good not to forget the Amritsari Kulcha.

PICTURE CREDITS : Suneha Saha

DISCLAIMER : I was invited to dine at We.Desi as a guest of The Management but the views expressed are entirely my own.
We.Desi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Kolkata Market by Karen Anand Third Edition at Taj Bengal

When my friend Anindya who also writes a lovely blog called Pikturenema along with his wife Madhushree called and asked me if I would join in for a Bloggers Table hosted by Karen Anand to showcase her products specially curated by the wonderful Chef’s from Taj Bengal I naturally accepted his warm invitation. I have long admired Karen Anand and loved her delicious products and read her blogs but I had never had the pleasure of meeting her. On the designated day I was there at Taj Bengal where, along with my fellow bloggers we were introduced to our lovely and gracious hostess. She was very warm and made us all feel welcome and soon we were chatting away like old friends and yes the conversation was all about my favorite topic food.

Once we were seated and our beverage orders taken we were given a tasting of the new sauces and conserves that were being introduced by Pune Farmers Market. Wholegrain Mustard with Chili, Tibetan Sauce and Singapore Chilli Garlic Sauce. She also made us sample two Conserves the lovely Alphonso Mango and Fig and Orange. They were all brilliant and we went at them with gusto. I absolutely adored the Wholegrain Mustard with Chilli (its brilliant) and I really liked both the Conserves and would happily sit with the bottles and a spoon and polish them off. For those of you who could not make it to the Farmers Market there is a shop called Velvet Tango on Judges Court Road (9831026799 or 09830013782) where you can stock up on her products.

Then we began an absolutely fantastic lunch. Three delicious soups Forest Mushroom Cappuccino, Cream of Garlic with Enoki Mushrooms and Cherry Tomato Basil Broth. The Mushroom Cappuccino was the pick of the lot and our meal was off to a wonderful start. This was followed by Pomelo, Beetroot and Goat Curd Salad and Olive Oil Poached Prawn, Fennel Confit, Rocket and Picked Tomato. Now most of you who know me know that I am not a salad person but I confess I wiped my plates clean because both the dishes were excellent and made with such choice ingredients that it would be an injustice not to eat every morsel with relish. The prawns were plump juicy and perfectly cooked and greatly appreciated by every one of us.

After this kind of a first innings we were eagerly anticipating our mains. I was torn for choice between the Organic Cochin Vanilla Marinated Bhekti, Quinoa Pilaf, Minted Squash, Agro dolce or the Cumin Crusted grass fed Australian Lamb Rack, Roasted Peruvian Potato and Tamarind Glaze. Thankfully Indrajit was sitting beside me and we decided to share our dishes so we could enjoy both the protiens. That was a great decision because they were outstanding. We were transported by the lamb which was fantastic and the degree of cooking spot on and perfectly pink. The Fish was lovely, fresh, and flaky and went well with the Quinoa Pilaf but the Agro dolce was a tad on the sweeter side and I preferred to have my fish without it. Guilty confession I added a huge dollop of that heavenly Multigrain Chilli Mustard and enjoyed it with my mains. Karen was also kind enough to order an extra portion of the Vegetarian option a lovely Spinach and Organic Ricotta Gnocchi with Wild Pesto which we all liked but shameless carnivore me was bowled over by the Lamb and Fish. The Chef certainly did the Taj Bengal proud.

Dessert was an Organic Lavender and Honey Crème Brulee that was delicate and quite lovely. Even after great proclamations of overeating we all ate dessert! This mega meal was a perfect setting for our interaction with Karen and lots of talk about Food in general. We were also gifted with some of her delicious products and a cookbook. She was kind enough to patiently sign all our cookbooks and pose for selfies and pictures with us. It was fun and by the time our afternoon came to an end we were all looking forward to the Kolkata Market the next day.

It was a bright Sunday afternoon on the terrace of Taj Bengal which was where the market was held. Wonderful arrangements and a great turnout. I reached mid-afternoon and the place was absolutely buzzing. My friend Ritika was kind enough to accompany me, she is a wonderful person and spoils me silly and it was absolutely lovely to spend some time with her that day. The first place we went to was Karen’s Pune Farmers Market where we bought some of her wonderful products. That’s always a good thing to do because they tend to get sold out rather fast.  We went on to have an absolutely lovely afternoon at The Farmers Market which was a runaway hit. Some of my favorite stalls were Karen Anands wonderful one. The Living Free stall had some lovely Cheese and yes I tasted and picked up some. Calcutta Stories had the dish of the day for me Pork Boti Kebab and a Roast Pork Bao that was delicious. The Churos from Bodega were sinfully good and the Berry Pulao at The Grid a treat. Hakuna Matata had an excellent Nolen Gur Cheesecake. Mumbles Lab , Cakes by Pooja and Souk were other stalls that had some very nice food on offer. Zomato and Easy Diner both had stalls there. Zomato had a Beer Drinking Competition which was a great success. But I was delighted and amazed at the quality of what the stalls had on offer and Ritika and I came back with a couple of bag fulls of stuff each rather happily. Met lots of friends and had a lovely time.An afternoon well spent and those of you who did not make it missed out on a lovely day out.

I am looking forward to the next Farmers Market already, Thankyou Karen for your graciousness and warmth and Anindiya for the lovely invitation that made it all happen.

DISCLAIMER : I was invited as a guest of Karen Anand and Taj Bengal for the Bloggers Table but I visited the Kolkata Market by Karen Anand in my personal capacity , the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

 

My Big Fat Belly

Passion is the word that I would most associate with Aakarshh and Adarsh Bhargava. I first met them at Streets of India at Swabhumi a few weeks back. I had heard a very positive buzz about My Big Fat Belly or BFB as they refer to it. I liked my interaction with them and I promised to visit soon. A few days later I was on Zomato and bookmarked them and I immediately got a call from them inviting me over. We fixed up for dinner a few days later and boy am I glad I did!
What followed was a feast fit for a carnivore like me…. Adarsh was waiting for us when we reached. I loved the décor, very edgy and yet very chilled. It’s a small cozy place. The ceiling made with old windows was lovely and the light fixtures all made with recycled industrial junk were charming. Some quirky artwork and solid rustic wooden tables with catchy foodie phrases on them made for a very chilled out vibe.


Aakarsh entered shortly after we reached even though he was quite unwell and I thought it was a very kind gesture to take the trouble to be there despite being indisposed. We all chatted and then the food rolled out. Our meal began with Sausages in Chef J’s Signature BFB Sauce. We opted for the Pork Sausages and with one bite I was delighted. These were not sausages out of a packet but lovingly made in house by BFB. They were tasty and had just the right texture and we were very happy with the dish. The BFB sauce was a great pairing and it enhanced but did not overpower the great flavor of the sausages. We were also served up with a lovely refreshing Iced Tea and a Watermelon Mojito (Virgin).
Next up we sampled the BFB Bruschetta Platter (Vegetarian) with three types of Bruschetta’s on offer – Italian Tomato with Parmesan Cheese , Shitake and Button Mushrooms with Truffle Oil and lastly Spinach ,Corn and Ricotta Cheese all of which were really good and rather filling. They were plated on a garden trowel which I thought was a great way to present the dish. A sample of their various house sauces and dips were also put out for us to taste and they were all good but I especially liked the Garlic Aioli, Strawberry Chilli and Thousand Island.


Then followed their Pizza which they call Bellizzaas and believe me they are bellissimo. We had one called The American and it was brilliant. Italian Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella Cheese Blend and Pork Pepperoni drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I loved that the ingredients were so well showcased. I am going back for dinner tonight with friends and I will most definitely be ordering it again.

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Then the burgers followed and that was what I was waiting for all evening. Regretfully there are very few places in the city that make a good one. The Ultimate Lamb Juicy Lucy with add-ons of Bacon and Sautéed Mushrooms was served and I fell in love! It was the best Burger I have had in Kolkata and I would tell all those who like their burgers to go and try this out as soon as possible. The patty was melt in your mouth delicious and I absolutely loved it. It was served with Onion Rings and French Fries and we polished it all off. Next up was another winner, The Big Bong Burger. A pulled lamb filling with kosha mangsho reduction, a fried egg and cheese sauce. I love burgers and I love kosha mangsho and this was an absolutely perfect jugalbandi of the two.

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By now all I wanted was to go home and dream happy food dreams but wait…. there was more … dessert was due. We were served up a Squidgy Brownie with Ice-cream which was lovely. The brownie was actually squidgy and not dry at all. Despite all our protests we polished it off rather quickly.

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It was a lovely evening filled with lots of great food made from fine ingredients and no compromises on quality. Conversation was about food, food and more food which suits me just fine. Chef Joseph Gomes was kind enough to show us around his small but spotless kitchen. A special shout to Chef J and his team for such a wonderful dinner. The Bhargava Brothers told me something that rang true about BFB, they said it was a small place with a big heart and that sums it up perfectly.

Picture Credits : Suneha Saha
DISCLAIMER : I was invited for dinner as a guest of The Management but the views expressed are entirely my own.
My Big Fat Belly Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Paranthe Wali Galli

When one of your dear friends happens to be a very talented Chef and you’re a foodie it’s always a happy situation to be in. Rahul Arora is as passionate about food as I am, has already gifted Kolkata with Bon Apetite the Café (Salt Lake and Hazra) and Café Pranah (Ballygunge) both of which I frequent and wholeheartedly endorse. Naturally when he told me he was starting Paranthe Wali Galli I was thrilled. Having grown up in North India I am totally seduced by a good paratha and with Rahul at the helm I knew I would not going to be disappointed.

Our foodie group the Kolkata Food Fanatics of which Rahul is an integral part was given the singular honor of being the first customers. Some of us had been given a sneak peek to the quirky bright restaurant and I was lucky to be one of them! The décor is quirky, kitschy and a whole lot of fun, just like Rahul himself! A special mention to the wall of framed photographs all shot by Rahul himself and the crazy funny sayings all over the walls conceptualized by Rahul again. The day of our scheduled dinner came and we all trooped in for what we knew would be a wonderful feast. So you have a cozy restaurant filled with twenty people who are your foodie family and the feast begins! Golgappe Bombs were served as soon as we were seated in two varieties Dahi Puchka and Nachos Bomb , both were very good but the Nachos Bomb was my pick , lovely flavors and you could not stop at eating one ! We were also offered two drinks each and over the evening I tasted the Gulabi Gulkand Lassi , Motichoor Lassi and Masala Thumbs up all of which were great. They also had a Hajmola Lemon Tea on offer which I did not sample but everyone who did seemed to enjoy.

Then the onslaught of Parathas began and we were blown away. We started with the Olive Jalapeno Paratha which was different and delicious, it has a nice hit of heat so those who like spicy food will enjoy this one. This was followed by Aloo Methi Paratha and Achari Paneer Paratha which were both really good and polished off in no time. Then came the showstopper, the Cheese Paratha filled with melted cheese which oozed out when you cut the paratha and left me in absolute bliss. If you like cheese as much as I do then please go eat this one very very soon! The Dhania Mirch Chicken Paratha followed which was really good. The interesting thing was that instead of the usual mince they used a shredded chicken and I liked the texture it gave the paratha.

These deadly parathas were served with curd and a fantastic pickle and onion combo that Rahul has created and goes fantastically with them. This was followed up by some delicious chicken wings served up in an old style tiffin box and some paneer skewers both of which were rather good. As you can imagine we were quite stuffed by now but the rice combos and dessert were still to be served. We were served up some herbed rice with helpings of Rajma, Kadhi, Chicken Curry and Egg Curry all of which were excellent and felt like they had been cooked in Grandma’s kitchen. My only complaint was that I had no space left to do justice to them.

We were almost rolling off the benches by now but what followed rocked our world! A sinful chocolate paratha filled with chocolate cake and chocolate sauce and then generously topped with white and milk chocolate chips and more chocolate sauce!!! Sighhhhh! Then followed the Paratha which surprised me the most …. Khoya Paratha topped with Condensed Milk! It was an absolutely wonderful jugalbandi and if I had not been so full I would have certainly done a happy dance (which I did in my head instead!)

What a wonderful evening we all had. Thankyou Rahul for taking so much care of us and getting such wonderful parathas to Kolkata. We ended our evening with wonderful mementos from Rahul, a very cute belan (rolling pin) keyring and some kala khatta lozenges to carry home.

There are over 40 varieties of Parathas and 15 different Lassi’s along with lots of other stuff so go ahead and eat your way through their menu. Thankfully they are available on Swiggy as well so I will both visit and order often. Its winter and the Parathas are calling out to me already.

Picture Credit : Suneha Saha


Paranthe Wali Galli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

CII Travel East 2016

How important is it to Market Food so that it is a reason and not a side effect of tourism?

I was delighted to be invited by Anirban Saha of Kolkata Bloggers to be a part of the Panel discussion on Food and Tourism in the East, during The 5TH CII Travel East 2016 which was recently conducted. My co-panellists were Lubna Salim , a food and travel writer who writes for some of the top publications , food and lifestyle bloggers Poorna Banerjee and Dolon Dutta Chowdhury and it was a pleasure to be a part of such an interesting panel.  I did some research before my talk and came up with rather interesting data. The following is a post I have done based on my research because I found it genuinely interesting and thought that some of you might too.

I have enjoyed good food for as long back as I can remember and many of my childhood associations and memories are connected with food. Quite naturally that shows that I love to eat but the underlying point is that food makes a powerful impact on us emotionally and remains a part of our associations and memories for many years thereafter.

One of the best ways to experience culture is through food. It serves to connect us with the place, its heritage and the people around us. It is a diverse and dynamic medium for sharing stories, forming friendships and bonds. Food tourism is any tourism experience in which one learns about and consumes food and drink that reflects the local cuisine, heritage and culture. The concept of travelling to a destination specifically for its F&B product is a relatively recent mainstream consumer trend. Studies show us that the percentage of American leisure travellers who choose a destination based on the availability of culinary activities is over 50% . A leisure travellers is defined as someone who has booked at least one vacation in the previous 12 months. In India too we have seen destinations that use their culinary heritage as a platform for tourism along with their natural or historical attractions like Goa or Lucknow. Research also throws up astounding statistics like 30% of the average holiday spend being devoted to food. Hence it is an undeniable fact that food has become one of the focal points of holidays.

Travel today is not undertaken only due to necessity but for pleasure and leisure. Tourists today want to explore and experience the culture rather than just visit monuments or heritage spots when they go for a holiday. Today every traveler has the ability to instantly digitally share their culinary experiences with friends and strangers around the world via social media across various social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and their Blogs. This increases the public’s awareness of different cuisines and cultures, and it enhances their innate curiosity and desire to experience it themselves. How a place markets and positions itself in its geography therefore has immense impact on the tourist traffic a place will attract. There are many beautiful beaches, mountains or cities across the world. Why then are some far better coveted as tourist hotspots? While it’s never just one factor it is undeniable that food is today one of the prime attractions. Yes we go to Paris to visit the Eiffel Tower but we also go to eat in a bistro and sample the exquisite cuisine. The same holds for places in India as well, Lucknow, Delhi, Hyderabad, Goa are all famous for the food as much for the scenic beauty or heritage they have.

The growing number of local culinary offerings being introduced at music and art festivals is a testament to the growing acknowledgement of the importance of Marketing in Food Tourism. These events showcase a wide range of interdisciplinary creative energy, including works of art, music, literature and   reputed speakers. Another interesting point my research highlighted was that only 8% of the focus is on the Gourmet Food so local eateries, heritage restaurants, cooking demonstrations, food trails, food walks and local markets are all of great interests to tourists today. However to attract people to these good marketing is a necessity so people are aware of their existence. Sufficient infrastructure from transport to toilets needs to be developed to support them. For example New Market in Kolkata is a beautiful heritage market but the infrastructure is extremely poor. Yet it’s one of the most visited spots in the city both for tourists and locals.

Let us talk about very own City of Joy, Kolkata is a crucible of cultures and influences beside the rich local Bengali heritage. Turkish, Anglo-Indians, Baghdadi Jews, Armenians, Chinese and Parsi’s have all co-existed in this wonderful city we call home for centuries and their culinary traditions have been interwoven into the fabric of our city. Around the 13th Century the Turkish rules conquered Bengal then the British ruled from the 18th Century, Baghdadi Jews brought bakeries to Bengal and the exiled families of Wajid Ali Shah and Tipu Sultan brought different flavors of Mughlai cuisine. The Chinese developed their Chinatown. Under British patronage the development of these different culinary strands into a distinct culinary heritage thrived. Yet our Jewish Bakeries like Nahoums have hardly received national recognition whereas the Irani Bakeries of Mumbai certainly have. The reason is marketing!

Kolkata is the only city in India to have a China Town yet today the Chinese Population has shrunk to a fraction of the thriving community they once were. Proper showcasing could make Tangra a destination to visit. On a recent visit to Bangkok I visited Yaowarat their China Town. By night it was a dazzling strip of neon but it was the food that was amazing and it was what drew me there. I had one of the best meals of my trip sitting on the stool on the roadside at Rut&Lek with tuk tuks driving past and people standing behind me to grab my stool as soon as we were done. I could hear five different languages being spoken around me and happy strangers smiling at each other over plates of delicious seafood. That is the magic of marketing it draws people from across the globe like bees are drawn to honey, the ambience is secondary to the EXPERIENCE and I know I will go back each time I visit Thailand henceforth.

Personally I would visit Kolkata just for the food …. the variety of cuisines available in small unsung places is bliss for me. But remember I grew up in this city. Most people you talk to are far more impressed by the Delhis or Mumbais. This is because of Marketing, we need to showcase this delicious food of Bengal to the world.

From the Kosha Mangsho , Chingri Malai Curry and Shorshe Iilish , to the Biryani and Rezala , from the Rossagolla ,Sondesh and Mishti Doi to the Chilli Chicken and Manchurian of China Town , from the morning breakfasts at Tirreti Bazar to the heritage of New Market with Nizam Rolls and Nahoums Bakery this state has so much to offer people of all ages and tastes and budgets. And let’s not forget the old colonial clubs like Calcutta Club, Tollygunge Club or Bengal Club which are such an integral part of our city.

It is time to showcase it and put our best foot forward. With media both social and via internet having seeped into the very pores of our daily lives it has become very important to highlight our strengths and convey it to our target audience, to create that excitement and buzz that makes people want to plan a holiday to this region.

What makes a place interesting?

Does it have a story to share?

Has it been made interesting enough to draw visitors?

Will their experience satisfy the visitors?

Will it be good enough to want to make them come back again?

These are crucial questions to ask ourselves when we want to showcase the culinary delights of the East.  Ultimately if the local producers, vendors, F&B Businesses, Journalists and Bloggers join forces, with the support of the State Governments and Ministry of Tourism we can all join hands to help market and showcase the East and get it the recognition it rightfully deserves. It is indeed hearting to see the Government give this topic attention and support and to hopefully develop it to its fullest potential.

 

DISCLAIMER : The views are my personal views on the subject and opinions may differ from person to person. I welcome your feedback and inputs.

PICTURE CREDITS : Suneha Saha