Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Review: Johnny Rockets – An All-You-Can-Eat Heaven

It's all about the burgers at Johnny Rockets

It’s all about the burgers at Johnny Rockets

Walk into the Johnny Rockets outlet at DLF Promenade in Vasant Kunj and you think you’re transported to the Archie comics world. Right from the juke box at the door, the seating style at booths and the counter, the Pop Tate-styled old fashioned diner hats on the servers and the smell of hamburgers – it seems you’ve actually stepped into an old-fashioned American diner, right out of Riverdale!

The specialty of Johnny Rockets is their commitment to fresh produce and no short cuts. When they say their shakes are dairy based, they mean it. The burgers are cooked fresh and customised accordingly. Thick and rich, they pair beautifully with the hot burgers that come to your table fresh off the grill. Eating at Johnny Rockets is definitely where good times roll.

Hello chocolate shake!

Hello chocolate shake!

Johnny Rockets has recently come up with a winner. They have started an ‘All-you-can-eat buffet’ (priced at Rs 449 for vegetarians and Rs 499 for non vegetarians without taxes, per person) which is a complete steal. For the amount, the whole Johnny Rockets menu is open to you – starting with shakes, pre-appetizers, appetizers, salad of the day, burgers and dessert —and is unlimited! If you have the appetite, eat to your heart’s content. It’s such a jaw dropping promotion that people find it very hard to believe. “We get calls to ask if it’s actually true,” I’m told as I munch on the appetizers. I’m partial to tater tots so guess what I indulged in the most out of all the different appetizers laid out in front of me.

Spoilt for choice! Which one to gorge on?

Spoilt for choice! Which one to gorge on?

Small portions of chicken wings with a barbecue sauce, chicken poprocks with a peri peri dressing, spicy sausages accompanied by ranch were placed in front at first as I slurped the thick chocolate shake. Then came crisp onion rings and tater tots. More milkshake and more bite-sized appetizers kept me going as the staff at Johnny Rockets burst into dance much to the amusement of other patrons. Camera flashes were instantaneous as we all clapped along!

I guess Onion Rings make for good photo ops!

I guess Onion Rings make for good photo ops!

It was now time for the main course aka Burgers. Take your pick from chicken, vegetarian, lamb and tenderloin and six variations. Think hard, not too much though as there’s always a possibility of seconds if the stomach allows. The best burgers are the no nonsense ones so I chose the simplest – tenderloin patty, caramelized onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese all tucked into brioche buns aka Route 66. Personal recommendation: always go for Brioche for more flavour and eat it while it’s hot.

The Route 66

The Route 66

The burger was spot on. Perfectly grilled patty that paired beautifully with the Brioche buns while the cheese, onions and mushrooms enhanced the flavour. I wish the glutton in me had more space so I could eat another but alas, the appetite does decrease with age. Or so I’m told!

A gentleman comes up and stares at the menu card. “It’s unlimited?” he questions. It didn’t seem to register that the whole menu was open to him at a nominal price. “Really? Ok then get me this and this. Don’t get any of the vegetarian ones… This and keep repeating,” he orders pointing to his chosen dishes.

For the ones with sweet tooth, delicious brownie with ice cream

For the ones with sweet tooth, delicious brownie with ice cream

By the time I could barely finish my brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce, the gentleman in question had wolfed down two burgers and was on his second shake, asking the staff to repeat the starters! I was very envious of his appetite!

A very very happy food blogger aka Me!

A very very happy food blogger aka Me!

There is no nearby expiration date of the All-You-Can-Eat offer at either of the Johnny Rockets outlets. So what are you waiting for?

Ambiance: 4/5
Food and beverage: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Value for Money: 5/5
Where: The All You Can Eat promotion available only at DLF Promenade (Vasant Kunj) and Ambience Mall (Gurgaon) outlets
Follow Johnny Rockets on Facebook

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Review: Elation

Nachos

Nachos

As a friend and I enter the famed Greater Kailash (GK) M block market on a Sunday morning, the place wore a deserted look. Usually buzzing with chirpy teens, middle-aged ladies with designer bags and sellers asking you check out their wares; the market seemed sleepy, yet to wake up from slumber on a winter morning.

Finding our way to Elation seemed easy enough. It’s located near Starbucks and the entrance is from behind the market. Taking the elevator up to the second floor, Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t stop the feeling’ greeted us as we walked through the door. It’s a pretty cozy place with comfortable indoor seating and dim lighting. However, it being winter in Delhi, we chose to sit outside on the balcony. This is literally the only time one can! They also have seating on the terrace which makes it perfect in this weather.

Delicious cold coffee

Delicious cold coffee

With beer and cold coffees ordered, we buried our faces in the menu card. Elation is a synonym for happiness. Good food is always a catalyst for such emotions. The variety of food Elation offers its patrons are extensive and honestly, I enjoyed every dish we tasted.

A big bowl of Nachos topped with cheese, handmade salsa and sour cream made an entrance. The salsa delicious and sour cream perfect, the nachos would be top of the line with a bit more cheese. Cheese makes everything better!

The sweet chilly garlic fish bites were delicious. Crispy bites tossed in the sauce and served on a white plate, it made for good photographs and the taste matched up to expectations.

Chicken ham and cheese sandwich with fries

Chicken ham and cheese sandwich with fries

We ordered the chicken ham and cheese sandwich and the recommended baked chicken sandwich. While the former came accompanied by fries (always a winning combination), the latter is what I enjoyed more. The baked sandwich is filling, well seasoned and one piece is enough to gorge on for a meal.

Gorgeous baked sandwich, a must try

Gorgeous baked sandwich, a must try

The Elation Special Wrap is definitely what I’ll recommend among the starters or finger food. It’s slightly on the sweeter side but with crispy chicken and mayo generously slathered inside, I could eat it all day provided of course I consumed nothing else!

Elation wrap

The Elation wrap

With the mains taking a bit of time, the chef sent chicken lollipops to the table. They were tasty but our focus was the mains.

First up, chicken Aglio-e-olio. It’s always a crowdpleaser – spaghetti tossed in olive oil and garlic. I must say it was well seasoned and fresh off the pan and absolutely delicious. The roast chicken breasts in peri peri sauce with mash and sautéed veggies hit the right spot. Spicy and tangy, it paired well with the mash.

Spaghetti

Spaghetti aglio-e-olio with chicken

Fish and lemon butter sauce

Fish in lemon butter sauce with mash and veggies

The last dish on the table was the grilled fish with lemon butter sauce, again accompanied by mash and veggies. I simply loved it. The sauce was not too lemony and not too buttery but just well balanced. The fish was grilled to perfection while the mash was creamy and delicious. I ate all the crunchy vegetables because it was drenched with the sauce making it delectable!

PS: For all the hookah lovers out there, Elation serves a variety of flavours. So what are you waiting for? Go check out the place!
PPS: With Christmas and New Year round the corner, check out Elation’s special offers.

Elation is located in GK 1 M Block Market, near Starbucks. Cost for one Rs 750/-
To enjoy a 20 % off on your total bill from January 1-21, 2017, please reserve a table through this link on DinerPlus 

I wrote this post in collaboration with DinerPlus. If you enjoyed what I wrote and want to try Elation, please book through the above mentioned link as I will get a small commission. As usual, I only recommend what I loved.

Review: Dawat – E – Awadhi at Edesia

As I reach Crowne Plaza Today in Okhla, my stomach growls in anticipation. I love Awadhi food and with their all-day dining Edesia promoting a month-long festival called Dawat-E-Awadhi, I was about to indulge in an evening of rich and glorious slow-cooked delicacies. My mouth was watering.

Making my way up the elevator into the first floor, Edesia beckoned on the left. The 24-hour restaurant serves patrons various cuisines but their month-long Awadhi food festival is the centre of attention. Big handis (deep and wide-mouthed vessels) line the buffet counter. For Rs 1900 (plus taxes) a person can indulge in a fantastic Awadhi dinner. Children can enjoy the feast for Rs 1000 (plus taxes).

Non veg appetizers

Non veg appetizers

Two appetizer platters arrive on the table. The non vegetarian options have melt-in-your-mouth Galouti, delicious and tender deep fried chicken, miniature Shammi kebabs and Kathi rolls. The vegetarian one has stuffed Paneer Tikka which is rich and creamy, and meatless versions of the others. I would definitely recommend the deep fried chicken, Galouti and Paneer Tikka. They were my favourites.

Check out their tawa section because the options change everyday. While I tasted Tandoori Pomfret which was the star that day, they do serve raan and other such specialties. I preferred the tawa chicken more than the fish but then again, I’m not partial to pomfret.

Tawa counter

Tawa counter

Tawa chicken and tandoori pomfret

Tawa chicken and tandoori pomfret

Now came the time for indulgence. To be honest, I don’t do buffets because like most, I tend to overeat. But with experience and practice I’ve found the right path – take tiny tasting portions! The Awadhi Mix Dal was so tasty. Different lentils and ghee make for a perfect combination on a winter night. The vegetarian fare includes Paneer Shahi Pasanda, Subz Makhanwala and Palak Mushroom Malai. The paneer is soft, the mixed vegetables have the right amount of spice with an after taste of butter while the mushroom and spinach combination hits all the right spots. Then comes the Awadhi Dum Aloo. Small potatoes in a rich gravy is best eaten with buttered breads.

Mixed dal

Mixed dal

Dum Aloo

Dum Aloo

For hardcore non vegetarians, I would definitely recommend the Shahjehani Karele ki Nihari. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined liking meat with karela (bitter gourd). The meal just melted in the mouth while the bitterness of the karela was enough yet not overpowering. The quality of the meat was superb and it was interesting to chat with executive chef Sudershan Bhandari on the unique combination! The Noorjahani Murgh was extremely rich and creamy while the Zaffrani Fish Curry in a red gravy was spicy enough to give a balance.

Nihari with Karela

Nihari with Karela

Creamy luscious chicken

Creamy luscious chicken

Zaffrani fish

Zaffrani fish

The rice section has three handis – steamed, pulao for the vegetarians and of course the famed Mutton Biryani for meat lovers.

Mutton biryani

Mutton biryani

Every rich meal deserves a richer ending. While the dessert section is inviting, the deep fried sweet Jalebis are perfect to pop into the mouth. Made in front of your eyes, you consume the intricate handiwork of the chef while the sweet syrup leaves its mark on the white plate. I could barely move despite those tiny tiny portions!

Tiny hot piping jalebis

Tiny hot piping jalebis

The Dawat-E-Awadhi is on till November 30, 2016. Go taste the wonders of Awadhi cuisine at Edesia. You won’t go home hungry, I promise.

Where: Edesia, Crowne Plaza Today New Delhi in Okhla Phase 1

Review: Royal China

Table setting in Royal China

Table setting in Royal China

The elevator doors opened, I stepped inside and pressed on the 16th floor button. The contraption hurled upwards and my empty stomach churned with the sudden shift in momentum. “It’s the anticipation,” I thought. I love Chinese food and when I had the opportunity to review Royal China, I simply jumped at it. To relish a favourite meal and take in a breathtaking view of the city alongside, it wasn’t really a difficult decision to take.

Royal China is located in Eros Towers, Nehru Place, just beside Satyam Cinema Complex. On the top-most floor, it offers a calming view, away from the hustle and bustle of chaotic Nehru Place. The interiors are calm and soothing, the music playing in the background blends in and you immediately feel comfortable. Opt for a table near the glass windows because on a clear day the view of the Lotus Temple and its surroundings are lovely. The table is set with crisp linen, sauces that act as condiments, and chopsticks as menu cards are handed over with a warm greeting as you sit down. There’s so much to choose from!

Royal China has branches in Mumbai and Pune. I had been to their Mumbai branch years ago and remember absolutely loving every bite. Would this time round be just as good? Let me tell you right now, it was. Even better I might add. If you enjoy Chinese and you’re in Delhi, Royal China should be a must-visit. Right from the time you enter till the elevator transports you back to the ground floor, the staff looks after you, making sure you enjoy a lovely meal.

Royal China offers patrons an a la carte menu of course but those with a fixed idea of wanting to try a bit of everything, I would suggest try the Tasting Menu. It’s available for lunch (Rs 1550/Rs 2100 with alcohol) and dinner (Rs 1800/Rs 2500 with alcohol). They also have Set Meals on the lines of Seafood Gourmet (Rs 1950), House Dinner (Rs 1750) and Vegetarian Dinner (Rs 1500). They are best known for their dimsums. So, if you’re in the food to gorge only on different dimsums you can think of, definitely order the Unlimited Dimsum Menu (Rs 1750/Rs 2450 with alcohol).

The Lychee and Strawberry Martini is a delight to start the lunch with. Having grown up on James Bond films thanks to a fanatic father (who plays Bond best is a debate that rages every time I go home), I always end up ordering a vodka Martini (not in a deep champagne goblet though!). It was the first I tried a variation and was suitably impressed.

Set against the backdrop as seen from the 16th floor

Set against the backdrop as seen from the 16th floor

I like to try small portions so I ordered the Tasting Menu. It’s enough for two people and one gets a taste of what the fine-dining establishment offers. First came the appetizers. The Fried Soft Corn Curd with a mint and coriander sauce, Crispy Seaweed and Chicken with Dry Red Chilly. The Corn Curd is melt-in-your-mouth divine while the Seaweed is crisp as the name suggests. A big thumbs up to the two. The chicken is very good but I loved the vegetarian options more.

Chicken with Dry Red Chilly, Fried Soft Corn Curd and Crispy Seaweed

Chicken with Dry Red Chilly, Fried Soft Corn Curd and Crispy Seaweed

A full plate!

A full plate!

Then arrived the Roast Pork Puff. Take one bite and the puff flakes the right amount. The stuffing is on the sweeter side and the seasoning is spot on. It’s a good thing I stopped at one, else I could continue and fill up my stomach with just those tiny puffs.

Flaky puffs filled with roast pork

Flaky puffs filled with roast pork

Royal China’s stars are dimsums. They come in all fillings, shapes and sizes. Three bamboo steamers were placed on the table. As I lifted one lid, the steam escaped and left behind a gorgeous aroma of fresh dimsums. I have to say I’m biased towards dimsums because I can live on them. Every meal can be a dimsum meal, seriously I kid you not. Anyway I digress. The first steamer had Chicken and Chive, the second Chicken with Vegetables and the third Siu Mai. All three were juicy and tender as you popped them into the mouth.

Chicken and chives, chicken with veggies (background)

Chicken and chives, chicken with veggies (background)

Orange in colour but delicious in taste

Orange in colour but delicious in taste

Sui Mai

Siu Mai

The Crispy Aromatic Duck starred in the third course. The duck was golden and crispy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside. It’s best eaten rolled inside a soft and steaming pancake with cucumbers, scallions and hoisin sauce. The duck in all it’s glory is shredded by expert hands in a matter of seconds. Then the sauce is spread on the pancake, the raw vegetables are placed on a side. The meat is added last and the pancake rolled up. There was nothing else to do except bite into it. The duck lived up to it’s visual temptation. Crispy and soft; the sauce and the vegetables combined perfectly for my taste buds to go into overdrive mode.

Crispy aromatic duck with its condiments (Before)

Crispy Aromatic Duck with its condiments (Before)

Crispy Aromatic Duck (After)

Crispy Aromatic Duck (After)

By the time the main course arrives, I’m already stuffed but when there’s Chinese food, the motto is never say never. Bowls containing Egg Fried Rice, Vegetable Hakka Noodles, Sliced Fish in Black bean sauce, Stir Fry Vegetables and Chicken in Chilly Oil fill up the table. My chopsticks couldn’t decide what to dig into first. The fish was so soft and the black bean sauce perfectly harmonised. It paired well with the noodles. The chicken was spicy and tasted wonderful with the fried rice. My favourite, however, was the stir fry! If my stomach allowed, I would have nibbled on them all day! Sigh… if only.

A full table filled with main courses

A full table filled with main courses

I love my plates full! This time with fried rice, noodles, fish, chicken and vegetables!

I love my plates full! This time with fried rice, noodles, fish, chicken and vegetables!

By this time, after a Martini refill and stuffed to the brim, the Banana Toffee with Vanilla Ice cream was a perfect way to end the long lunch. The ice cream neutralized the sweet and the taste buds ended on a high.

Banana Toffee and Ice cream

Banana Toffee and Ice cream

I would definitely recommend Royal China if you like Chinese or specifically, suffer from dimsum cravings like yours truly. Good food, great atmosphere and a wonderful view, what more can one ask for?

Ambiance: 4/5
Food and beverage: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Value for Money: 5/5
Where: 16th Floor, Eros Towers, Nehru Place, New Delhi
Follow Royal China on Facebook and Instagram

Review: Piali – The Curry Bistro

I recently went to Piali the Curry Bistro for lunch. I was pretty hassled that afternoon as my day was just not going according to plan (and I’m a planner believe me. I even have a notebook to jot down the day’s proceedings). Cut to three hours later. I have a big smile (all teeth showing sorts) plastered on my face, my stomach way too full and having forgotten everything worry-inducing. That’s the effect the the four-month old restaurant in K Block Connaught Place, Delhi, had on me. I had one of the best meals there and I can’t wait to go back soon to try new things on the menu.

It’s a small restaurant, just a 70-seater, but extremely warm, cosy and inviting. It has a fine dining space, a lounge and a bar. One of the few child-friendly places, as the name suggests Piali the Curry Bistro, the restaurant serves up delicious curries from around the world. From different parts of India to Sri Lanka, Myanmar to Thailand to name a few. They specialize in curries but their appetizers range from Mumbai’s street food to Singapore’s satays. An amalgamation of sorts, they wet the appetite for the second course fragrant curries which are accompanied by rice or breads.

Delicious cocktails

Delicious cocktails

The Chapli (left) and the Galouti

The Chapli (left) and the Galouti

Jaffran Prawns and more

Jaffran Prawns and more

Accompanied by a friend for this review, we started off with Piali the Curry Bistro’s signature vodka-based cocktails – Sex on the Beach and Aam Panna. Feeling refreshed, we waited eagerly for tasting portions to arrive. And arrive they did. The Chapli Kebab (pashtun style minced kebab) was tastefully seasoned while the Galouti Kebab (a vegetarian version with mushroom and singhare) was literally melt-in-your-mouth. I’m a hardcore non vegetarian but I would have gladly had second helpings of the vegetarian galouti. Then arrived spicy Jaffran Prawns with Curry Leaf. A big thumbs up to the prawns as we dipped them into the sauce.

Corn Tempura (left) and Sindhi Chole Tikki

Corn Tempura (left) and Sindhi Chole Tikki

Chicken satays with peanut sauce

Chicken satays with peanut sauce

Mumbai's Dhabeli

Mumbai’s Dhabeli

Corn Tempura and Sindhi Chole Tikki left us floored. We were licking our fingers long after the plates had been removed. Had we been eating at home, we would have licked the plates clean. People can stare when you do it in public so we refrained! Biting into the Chicken Satays reminded me of my frequent visits to Singapore and I was transported to East Coast Park where delicious satays leave the mouth watering. Dahi Batata Puri and Mumbai’s famous Dhabeli rounded off the first round.

For the mains we chose to taste Khao Suey from Myanmar (a coconut based soup with noodles and garnish), Green Curry with sticky rice from Thailand, Ambul Thiyal (a spicy fish curry from neighbouring Sri Lanka), Martaban Meat (tender pieces of lamb cooked to perfection in an earthen pot) and being a Bengali, Daab Chingri (prawns in coconut curry served inside a coconut) was a must have.

Ambul Thiyal or spicy fish curry from Sri Lanka

Ambul Thiyal or spicy fish curry from Sri Lanka

Martaban Meat with butter rotis

Martaban Meat with butter rotis

Yum Daab Chingri

Yum Daab Chingri

Khao Suey with condiments

Khao Suey with condiments

Thai Green curry

Thai Green curry

The Martaban lamb was so tender the meat fell off the bones as I dug into the gravy with butter rotis. The Daab Chingri was perfectly cooked and the gravy paired well with steamed rice. The Ambul Thiyal had just the right amount of spice and the fish ever-so-soft. The green curry was fragrant while the Khao Suey was rich, a meal in a bowl.

Despite our stomachs giving us hints that it was ready to burst any moment, we couldn’t help but take a quick bite of the signature Pineapple Halwa. Decadence in a bowl is a better way to describe the delicacy! It’s a must try when there.

Pineapple Halwa

Pineapple Halwa

Ambiance: 4/5
Food and Beverage: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Value for Money: 5/5
Where: K Block, Connaught Place, New Delhi

Guest Post: A Tale of Two Biryanis

The magnificent Biryani

The magnificent Hyderabadi Mutton Biryani (kachchi)

Only a few weeks ago, I undertook the seemingly herculean task of making a Bakr Eid biryani. Up until then I had just been an avid fan and a diligent consumer of the preparation. Have biryani, will eat. I don’t discriminate when it comes to the nawabi delicacy. Still, gun to my head, I would side with the Hyderabadi and the Murshidabadi variety. On this particular occasion, I decided to bet on the former.
I chose the Kacchi biryani recipe, consulted friends who were in the restaurant business on the correct way, went through a dozen web videos and recipe charts, memorized it and recapitulated it in my head again and again and then some. In stark contrast to my paranoid planner mold, my partner is more the take as it comes kind. However, I literally force fed the recipe to him and even revised it with him, night before Eid. He did his best to keep a straight face and I managed to not lose my cool.
As with everything too well-planned and rehearsed this biryani was doomed from the very start. The supposed aged long-grain rice, crumbled to the slightest duress (much like kheer rice) after its 30 minutes in waterbath. Then the mutton did not tenderize, in spite of the measured portions of unripe papaya. And the best of the lot, the sealed dum mold cracked open midway. Total sabotage. Long story short, I was staring at a resounding failure on a day when six expectant stomachs were counting on me rather hungrily. I can’t even begin to start counting the lessons learnt. But those are for me till I risk the next attempt.
I was especially heartbroken because the homesick me wanted to recreate a childhood memory. One of my fondest. That of a perfect, homecooked pot of biryani. As meals go, for me, biryani constitutes the start and end of perfection. Biryani meant summer holidays. Biryani meant festive. Biryani meant family. Biryani meant Sundays.
Growing up we were a wildly happy bunch. And Sundays for no rhyme or reason made us happier. And when we got too happy we cooked biryani. So my first memories of a Sunday cook were filled with aromas of onions slowly caramalising to a crispy sweetness, rice boiling in whole spices, meat stewing to juicy tenderness and fat potatoes being prodded and poked, baked and crackled with the intimacy reserved for old friends. It was like a montage right out of a lovely French film. Such beauty. Such visual generosity. Such homely warmth. We were smiling from our stomachs. All guts and glory. What went behind the scenes was another story.

Chicken Reshmi Kebab

Chicken Reshmi Kebab

I took the longest time to fall in love with my plate of food. I don’t really know what it was about my childhood that deemed mealtimes as merely a four-time necessity to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible. Not surprisingly those four times were the most dragging part of my day that required stories, threats and coaxing on my late mother’s part. Quite a task considering taste buds and appetite were never my strong suit as a kid. Gritty woman, she did get every mouthful to its designated destination, sometimes prying my jaws open with a spoon, if and when needed. At least I remember it that way. I salute her a thousand times every day as I now run after my finicky toddler at mealtimes.
But the summers were different. Summers at Grandma’s. The only time when food was something more than just a daunting routine. The only time when food turned into something more festive. Not suggesting a change of heart towards meals though. (I still hated those rude, unwarranted intrustions into my playtime and daydreaming). It was the hoopla around food. The sights, sounds and aromas.
My mother was the eldest of five sisters; all married with two kids apiece. That made my grandma’s ancient two storied house a veritable epicenter of boisterousness. Ten cousins in all shapes and sizes seeing each other once a year generated enough revelry that could literally bring those wooden beams down. A little insight into what food represented in my family. From where I come, a man’s character and likeability was plainly shown in his palate and his plate. If you nursed a healthy appetite you were pretty much golden. And that required  at least three additional servings/helpings at the table. Yes three was just about ideal. Anything less than that was considered an insult to the food and hospitality. (So if you happened to find yourself saying, ‘No thanks’ after the first helping, consider yourself judged forever). I have actually seen some of my uncles with superhuman capacity for food and abyss for stomachs who wouldn’t shy away from five or more helpings. I kid you not. But of course, each of those addendums (or the very suggestion of it) were to be politely declined at first. Till the host piled the ladle-full on the plate, that is. It was one of those joys you couldn’t deny the host. This joy of love demostrated in terms of vertiable forcefeeding. You could literally see the eater’s hand defending the front of his plate in a mock protest with due shyness but abandoning it at the behest of the host’s greater will.
Now considering that my Grandma was fond of all her sons-in-law, one can imagine the quantity of food prepared and the chaos and clamour surrounding it. She took an inhuman amount of pain and pride in her food. Not joy so much. Never actually.  The kitchen was her cross and her crown. I guess when you have been doing something for five decades it becomes second nature and the spark of it as an accomplishment fades. Or maybe she lived in times that saw culinary brilliance as a prerequisite rather than a cause for applause. Every plate of food she put up had a beautiful narrative to it. But it went largely untold. I can’t even imagine her telling anyone about making a brilliant pot of stew or taking a picture of it. It would just about embarrass her perfectly. She lived years before the validation or gloating of social media invaded our kitchen counters and table tops and poked it’s nose right into our food plates with the ‘Like’ buttons.

Mutton Shami Kebabs

Mutton Shami Kebabs

To tell you the truth I have really never seen my grandmother anywhere outside her kitchen except when she slept next to me at night. Her frown was chiseled on her forehead and with her horn rimmed glasses she was the matronly masthead, the epitome of domestic dictatorship presiding over all things dead or alive entering the four walls of her kitchen. Trespasser were prosecuted. Her penchant for perfection was characteristic of her generation. She didn’t budge an inch from her recipes (all handed down through generations). So while the summer holidays were fun for us kids, Grandma with ten hungry children and five set of parents had her task cut out.
Work, always, started a day before. Everything was shopped early morning from the local bazaar. The trusted family butcher (you just needed to tell him what you were cooking and the rest was his job), the spice seller, the vegetable woman – all those people who were part of my childhood and unknowingly made so many of my fondest memories- would instinctively know what to suggest when told about Grandma’s feast.

Soya Chop, for the vegetarians

Soya Chop, for the vegetarians

And so would begin the grand undertaking. Under the watchful eyes of Grandma. With my mother and aunts played minions. Since Sunday biryani could never mean just biryani, there was a separate meat dish or two, a few vegetable preparations, sweets and salads on the menu. And everything was made right from the scratch. There was peeling, chopping, cleaning, grating, mixing, grinding and dozen other processes undertaken, while abundant gossip and tea broke the austerity. Rows of sun-kissed spices, saffron steeping in a now golden milk, sheets of wet muslin and a beautiful langour covering everyone. Kids were left alone with a simple brief. ‘Go play. Don’t disturb.’ (I was 13 when I was first allowed to set foot in the hallowed space only because I was making my first dish ever- green banana koftas in gravy) Now, while on regular days this would be a God send, these happy Sundays made us crave for the grown-up attention. Resultantly, one or two of us would loiter around stealing a peek, taking in a whiff and hearing a bit of gossip before we were chased out of the circle with an earful.
Once the prep was over (and we are still around 9 in the morning), the shiny brass and copper cauldrons and pots (all big enough to fit two of us five year olds inside) would come out. It was an alfresco event, our biryani. The fire was lit on the terrace and each of the ingredients would be carried up. No longer able to hold our curiosity, we would run amok, knowingly risking being swatted along with the flies.

Chicken in creamy gravy

Chicken in creamy gravy

The cooking part was tricky. Of course, there was the rice to be prepared, then the meat to be prepared, then the layering and the final Dum. But ‘tricky’ lay in handing over the ladle to one of her sons-in-law each of whom claimed to know more than the next. To quash the cacophony Grandma ended up squatting under the canopy monitoring and bringing in a much needed restrain as everybody got a chance to stir the pot. There was always a fight about how much of water to be added. But I guess they reached a consensus when Grandma punctuated the flying arguments with one of her coughs. As we neared lunchtime, the aromas wafted through the whole house and garden and I bet the neighbourhood. It wasn’t unusal for one or two neighbours to drop in claiming they ‘happened’ to pass by.
Rows of food in shiny brass and copper utensils, embroidered sheets running from length to length of the room. After a day of regimented exercise, this meal could stretch till evenings at times. Slow, easy, filled with conversation and anecdotes, laughter and such copious amounts of bonhomie. Sitting there listening to it all, food was the least of my thoughts. In fact, it would be years before I started to revel in the succulent, melting pieces of meat or draw happiness in the alchemy of ghee or rejoice the versatility of potatoes in the magic rice. Till then all I cared about was the happiness at being a part of it all. It was my carnival.
I was relatively cheered up when friends dropped in with Eid biryani the next day. A little more when my Maasi made the same biryani and the usual accompaniments I set out to make and promised me a cauldron full during her next visit.

Maria Bilkis is a Mumbai based writer, visual artist and committed foodie. Follow her journey as the amateur food writer and new mommy learns the ropes in her tiny kitchen on Instagram and Facebook

Review: Twist, Cyber Hub

Good food makes one feel beautiful!

Good food makes one feel beautiful!

I love Spain. I do. The laid back atmosphere, the vibrant culture and most-importantly – tapas. The small plates shared among friends after a hard day’s work is a wonderful feeling, simply a way of life there. Twist, a new restaurant in Cyber Hub (in Gurgaon), has a very interesting concept. They serve tapas but with Asian flavours. Now, I’m extremely partial to tapas. Gorging on them every time I visit Spain, I do tend to overdo it. And comfort food for me is anything pan Asian. Believe me, my sister often goes insane when we try and pick a restaurant for dinner because I tend to visit pan-Asian places much too often for her liking! With Twist combining two of my favourites, a weekday afternoon lunch was absolutely a win-win situation!
It’s barely been about two months since Twist opened it’s doors but it’s already garnered a fair share of patrons. The casual ambiance makes one feel at ease walking in. While the fine dining area is impeccable, the bar side is more laid back. Plus, the outside seating area, so beautifully decorated with wooden tables and gorgeous greenery, immediately takes one back to European cafes.

To eat...

To eat…

... And to drink

… And to drink

As we were seated, two delicious looking mocktails made their appearance – Lady Twister and Volcano. The former with guava, cranberry and gingerale while the latter with pomegranate and rosemary. Both tasted very well with the appetizers which began making their appearance one after the other. First the Shrimps with a Twist with a mayo dip. Then arrived the Crispy Calamari. Both were delicious and hit the right spot. Let’s not even get started on the chicken wings. The marinade was perfect and every bite left us wanting more. Rarely so have I had good tofu. When the Tofu Crunch in its sesame dressing glory came on the table, our chopsticks almost in sync went forward to grab one. Absolutely melt-in-your-mouth! The Orchid Mushroom, a house specialty, was good but slightly hot for the tastebuds. And lastly, the chicken dumplings rounded up the starters.

Pretty mocktails make for a pretty picture

Pretty mocktails make for a pretty picture

Ok, the Shrimps with a Twist doesn't let you stop at just one!

Ok, the Shrimps with a Twist doesn’t let you stop at just one!

Crispy Calamari is always a crowd pleaser

Crispy Calamari is always a crowd-pleaser

 

For the vegetarians, Orchid Mushroom

For the vegetarians, Orchid Mushroom

Stacks of tofu...

Stacks of tofu…

Wings anyone? Damn delicious I swear!

Wings anyone? Damn delicious I swear!

Lift the lid and the steam escapes! Hot dumplings left behind!

Lift the lid and the steam escapes! Hot dumplings left behind!

With so much already consumed, we barely had space for anything else but hey, never say never to food is the motto isn’t it? So out came the panfried noodles with chicken tossed in black pepper sauce to make us drool even more. Though the menu tells patrons to order 2-3 dishes as the serving sizes are smaller in comparison to other restaurants (the tapas concept), each are perfectly shareable between two!

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Noodles and chicken

Dessert is always needed after a meal. And the perfect chocolate snicker bar with vanilla ice cream was the perfect way to end a great lunch. All in all, I had a wonderful time at Twist. It had great food and that’s what I look for in every restaurant I visit. It’s a great place for working lunches but is more popular for dinners. I would surely be back again!

A whole lot of chocolate to end the meal! Rich and decadent!

A whole lot of chocolate to end the meal! Rich and decadent!

Review: Food Festival at Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav, IGNCA

Anyone hungry?

Anyone hungry? Just look at the variety!

As you enter the gates of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the colourful posters immediately catch your eye. People mill about as traditional music can be heard over the PA system. There are men dressed in traditional outfits beating drums which everyone gathers to hear while men in stilts entertain the young ones. The smell of delicious food wafts through to tickle the nose. Above all, it’s a festive atmosphere and a perfect way to spend a winter afternoon in Delhi.

Indian thalis are an absolute delight!

Indian thalis are an absolute delight!

The second edition of the Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahostav is being held at IGNCA near India Gate. Organized by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, it’s a 10-day extravaganza to celebrate culture, food, heritage and the diversity of the country. “Can anyone walk in?” asked my auto driver as I was paying him. I nodded in affirmation.

Dumplings from the North East

Dumplings from the North East

What drew me to the celebrations was obviously the food! With food stalls from all across the country, the festival stayed true to showcasing diversity. From Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, Nagaland to Rajasthan there was plenty on offer for every taste bud at reasonable prices.

Melt-in-your-mouth Galauti

Melt-in-your-mouth Galauti

I began at the Lucknow food stall where melt-in-your-mouth Galauti Kebabs were on offer. One could also taste biryani, parathas and other kebabs from the Awadhi kitchens. From Lucknow, I moved east towards the Bihar stall to gorge on Litti Chokha. It’s caught up in Delhi with many Bihar-themed restaurants springing up but the wheat and sattu (gram flour) delicacy is best eaten on paper plates from roadside vendors.

Litti Choka from Bihar, a delicacy from the state

Litti Chokha from Bihar, a delicacy from the state

The stalls from Assam caught all eyes with skewers of meat and seafood on display. The roast pork and chicken tossed with onions, cilantro, lime juice and spices was absolutely delicious. “We’ve come from Dibrugarh,” said the smiling lady behind the counter as she chopped up the pieces of meat.

Meat and more meat!

Meat and more meat!

Ready to be devoured!

Ready to be devoured!

From the east, it was time to move towards the west. I’m an avid fan of street food and the kind one gets in Maharashtra has me drooling every time I see them on a menu. I just had to taste the Sabudana khichdi simply because I hadn’t had it in two years! The first bite did justice to the long wait. The crushed peanuts, lime juice, spices complimented the sago (sabudana) perfectly, each bite leaving me wanting more.

Dhabeli from the streets of Bombay

Dhabeli from the streets of Bombay

One of my favourite kind of breakfasts!

One of my favourite kind of breakfasts – Sabudana Khichdi

The Hyderabad stall next door was racking up fast business with people ordering plates and plates of biryani and kebabs. With a tummy ready to burst I couldn’t take another bite but my kind neighbours looked at my forlorn face and asked, “Do you want a picture of this?” I nodded and quickly photographed my favourite kind of biryani before they could rescind the offer!
It had been a delicious afternoon, my favourite kind. I love food and when I get a chance to taste diverse cuisines from my own country, it leaves a big smile on my face. India is so vast and beautiful, each region with its own charm that it will take one a full lifetime to taste everything our country offers. But until that happens, head to IGNCA to get a taste!

Oh Biryani my love!

Oh Biryani my love!

How I Learnt to Balance Travel with Technology in Hungary

The gorgeous Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest

The gorgeous Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest

I sat in front of the Chain Bridge in Pest and stared at my phone. It was a hot summer day and being a Sunday in the middle of the tourist season, Buda looked at me invitingly from the other side of the Danube. I was sitting on the party side of the Hungarian capital while the historical hilly portion kept telling me ‘come visit’. My phone had blacked out for the second time during my Eastern European sojourns this summer, absolutely refusing to come back on. And instead of soaking in the historically rich city, I was wistfully gazing at the black screen, hoping against hope to see the start up icon pop up just to ease my racing mind.
How did I manage to get to this point? How did I get so dependent on technology that it seemed impossible to function in the initial panic-stricken moments?
In a constantly evolving world where technology and travel go side by side, can we ever imagine doing things the old-fashioned way? The long phone calls to hotels, going to the Tourism bureaus to check out the brochures, standing in line at the railway stations to book a ticket other than in emergencies, gathering paper maps and neatly folding them along the creases, consulting with the weather forecast in newspapers before a journey, deciding on what books to bring along and the selection of cassettes for the fashionable walkman, buying rolls of film for the camera…
Looking back it seems so long ago. Almost ancient isn’t it? As I staunchly tried to resist major technological changes for a rather long time (I wasn’t on WhatsApp till about two years back which friends called a foolish thing to resist) sitting on a bench along the Danube in Budapest, I wondered if I could balance technology and travel today.
When we make travel plans, applications or Apps are our friends. From the route on the map to where to stay and eat, purchasing tickets to packing according to the weather conditions, reading and listening music to pass time, noting down directions to taking pictures which last a lifetime, everything can be done on one device. And when the device fails, we are at a loss. We panic.
Also Read: Loving Amsterdam on a Budget 

On the bridge

On the bridge

Technology has definitely helped us to be better travelers. We know exactly how long it will take us to reach the destination. Instead of folding sheets of paper, navigation can be done in real time. The best hostel/hotel deals on websites and apps help us fix a budget as do notifications of airfare sales. All it takes is a bit of research to find amazing deals. In fact, I found a lovely hotel absolutely last-minute at a steal near the bus terminal. I wanted to stay around the area thanks to an early morning journey. In money matters, a credit or debit card with net-banking helps with instant transactions instead of cashing in travelers cheques. There’s so much of travel advice on the internet (which also helped finding the hotel in Budapest near Népliget) that helps one decide and focus on how to go about a holiday or even giving everything up for some years to see the world. Careers have been made out of travel blogging and I too had thought would join the bandwagon and live a nomadic life. It is fun I assure you because I’ve met so many of them on my travels around the world. But then there are problems too, like any other profession.
Also Read: 5 Ways to Plan Your First Europe Trip on a Budget

The cars drive on the bridge

A car drives on to the other side

I was in London this summer and to my utter surprise, I found people depending on their phone to navigate the city much more than anywhere else I’ve visited. I was standing at the edge of the Jubilee Walkway at Trafalgar Square and wanted to walk to Hyde Park because the weather was sunny. If you’ve ever visited the UK, you know how rare that is. I deliberately refused to use Google Maps and just asked a passerby if I was on the right path. She took out her phone and of course, Googled it. “Better yet, take the tube,” she exclaimed, giving me directions as to which station to get off at. Do people not notice anything on the streets if it’s not online? I was in London for a week and managed to give correct directions because I was looking up and taking mental images where to turn left or right!
Also read:  Living it up in Paris on a Budget

A view of the Danube

A view of the Danube

But while technology definitely helps, I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost our sense of adventure.
Do we need to know every single detail of a holiday? Do we need maps to tell us the shortest route? Must be depend on food apps to find the best places to eat? Must we note everything down in our phones or tablets and not on paper?
Also Read: Stumbling upon the Royal Cemetery in Bangkok

I can see Pest!

I can see Pest!

Personally, I think it’s wonderful to have so much information at our fingertips. It’s time-saving and very useful when on the go. But on the other hand, I love getting lost in walkways on cobblestone streets, I enjoy stumbling upon little eateries where locals gather and stories are exchanged, I look forward to sitting and reading a paperback somewhere on a park bench, dozing on the green grass, finding a local pool and jumping in, meeting and talking to people from different cultures to share ideas. Nothing ever beats human contact. No amount of using technology can ever replace that.
It’s all about balance at the end of the day. I still use my trusty notebook to jot down addresses and names in case I don’t have wifi to check my phone on travels, I still sit and write down adventures with a cup of coffee by my side and not worry about my laptop crashing and losing all memories. I do use a digital camera and make sure I back up pictures immediately. While I carry mostly cards, I ensure there’s enough cash in hand in case an ATM refuses to dispense. I firmly believe in walking, asking around and checking actual paper maps to locate places rather than use online ones. But when it comes to scoring cheap tickets, I don’t think I’ve been to an agent or tourism bureau in years.
So I stopped panicking. I looked over to Buda across the Chain Bridge. It was a long walk to the other side. I put my switched-off phone into my backpack, took out a paper map I had brought along from the hostel, brushed the dust of the back of the jeans and set off. I was going to enjoy my day without the help of my state-of-the-art phone! It was time to get to know Budapest better.

A view from Buda

A view from Buda

Review: Bagrry’s — Nutritious, Healthy and Tasty

Healthy products from Bagrry's

Healthy products from Bagrry’s

I had never been fond of oats growing up. My grandfather would take porridge every morning for breakfast and tried to inculcate the habit in me. My mother would use oats creatively to get me to eat it. I refused every single time and eventually everyone gave up. I don’t know why I disliked it so much really because I can’t pin point a reason. But then, something miraculous happened. I grew up!
As we grow older, our tastes and habits change. Often we find ourselves enjoying things we had never dreamed we could during our childhood. There was a time when my dress code used to be jeans and a tee with sneakers. Never in my wildest imagination could I even think of dressing up in skirts and dresses. 15 years down the line, I can imagine my younger self having a good laugh to the point when tears roll down her cheeks!
Similarly my eating habits have undergone changes and believe it or not, my day starts with a bowl of oats and sometimes, even ends with it when I feel lazy to cook dinner. If the laziness reaches extreme levels then it’s about pouring muesli into a bowl, adding milk or flavoured yoghurt and maybe some additional berries to give it an extra kick! As you can make out, I don’t tend to follow the breakfast rules!

Cornflakes with almond and honey

Cornflakes with almond and honey

Oats, the old fashioned kind

Oats, the old fashioned kind

Masala Oats, very very delicious

Masala Oats, very very delicious

Crunchy Muesli with nuts and cranberries

Crunchy Muesli with nuts and cranberries

Last but not the least, White Oats

Last but not the least, White Oats

Bagrry’s have been around in the Indian market for over two decades. I recently had the honour to review some of their products and everything I tasted put a genuine smile on my face. While their Muesli (my absolute favourite) is filled with dried cranberries and nuts which you can taste with every bite, the Masala Oats are delicious and have the perfect balance of spice and mild. Don’t even get me started on the Cornflakes. They make one with almond and honey and the taste is heavenly when doused with milk. It’s sweet, yet not the sickening kind, and there is no scrimping on the almond flakes. The Old Fashioned Steel Cut Oats make one of the best breakfast bowls. Cook with milk or hot water, load up with fruits and nuts, even maybe a bit of jam or jelly for guilty pleasure and voila, a healthy well-balanced breakfast awaits you to power start a day. Oats are so versatile that one doesn’t need to have it the way it’s advertised usually. Use it to make cutlets or even chops, they are beneficial and so much healthier than loading up on empty carbs.

Cornflakes go so well with milk!

Cornflakes go so well with milk!

Another view of the cornflakes

Another view of the cornflakes

Muesli served with milk and flowers. It makes any breakfast special!

Muesli served with milk and flowers. It makes any breakfast special!

For muesli on the go, mason jars are perfect.

For muesli on the go, mason jars are perfect.

My favourite way to eat masala oats -in bed with coffee!

My favourite way to eat Masala oats – in bed with coffee!

Bagrry’s tagline reads ‘Let’s put health first’. I couldn’t agree more. The pace at which one consumes junk food on a regular basis is scary. Bad eating habits not only affect one’s health but make one lazy and unproductive. Bagrry’s offers consumers all-natural, innovative and extremely healthy products with no compromise in quality. One can choose from 12 different varieties of Muesli ranging from chocolate to dried fruits and nuts. There’s also a wide range of oats on offer. If you don’t like masala, pick up the usual old-fashioned kind. From high-fibre bran to three kinds of cornflakes to the ‘Oats for India’ range that offers oats for atta, suji and poha; Bagrry’s even offers green tea for the health conscious.
Personally, I would definitely choose Bagrry’s during my grocery shopping trips. I’ve enjoyed each and every product I’ve used and would recommend it to every health-conscious eater out there.

For more information check out Bagrry’s. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram

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