Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Thanks for stopping by!

I thought that noone is reading my blog, but I actually got a lot of friends calling in and saying that they loved it! One even chose Maheshwar as her honeymoon destination after reading my write up on Ahilya Fort! THAT'S what makes me feel I am not just wasting time here. But, people, when you read my blog, PLEASE leave comments!!! Make it actually look as if something's going on here!!!!

And for a fresh slice of my firang life in Bombay, you can also log on to

A naan to remember

I used to be quite a kitchen goddess and I could whip up a gourmet meal in the matter of minutes. But I have somehow lost this vibe, especially with Indian cuisine. Being a “firang” I am still not used to the long and complicated preparations. My husband had whined and nagged for a very long time for a homemade naan (a delicious, fluffy Indian bread). And when one evening we ordered an Indian meal in, I felt a surge of inspiration and (completely baseless) self-confidence, and headed to the kitchen to make my first naan. However, consider this: we were both really hungry and the food was arriving in half an hour; I had never even read the recipe for naan… What was I thinking? Exactly!!!I opened a book and found the recipe – goodie! I had all the ingredients, down to the yeast! Hmmm. Has to rest for at least 2 hours? Well, let’s just see what happens… I started mixing and kneading energetically. Already during this process I could feel that something was not right, and that the consistency was too sticky. However, not willing to admit defeat, I decided to go further. To put chances on my side, I decided to bake one batch, and roast the other on a tawa. After I finished mixing, I started shaping the separate naans. Yes, the consistency was, indeed, too sticky, and I could not achieve the typical long shape. This was my second chance to admit defeat and call the restaurant to throw in naans into our order. But no! I decided, let’s make “mini naans” instead. Don’t know what this is? Me either!I proceeded to cook the little gooey blobs which, by this time, have acquired a sickly grayish colour. The ones on the tawa obliged a little, but the middle just refused to cook, no matter how furiously I pressed them against the hot surface. The ones in the oven, even after 25 minutes, remained shapeless and too soft, until the bottom finally burnt. By that time, I took out the white flag and decided to break the bad news to my hubby: “No naans tonight, honey!” In a surge of appreciation for my effort, he nevertheless insisted that I bring the naans to the table so that he can “at least try a bite”… Well now you would say – I can’t be THAT foolish! You know about men and love passing through the stomach, etc… But I did bring them to the table. And I have still not forgotten the look on his face. It all finished with a good laugh, but needless to say, he has never asked me to make naans again!
On the picture: THIS is how a perfect naan should look like!

Food for thought

I chanced upon the transcript of a speech Dr Vandana Shiva delivered at Emory University, Atlanta, USA, and want to share an excerpt with those who read my blog.

Vandana Shiva is an internationally renowned voice for sustainable development and social justice. A physicist by training, Shiva is director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology in New Delhi, India. Shiva’s book Staying Alive helped redefine perceptions of women in the developing world; she was the recipient of the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, known as the alternative Nobel Prize, “for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern development discourse,” according to the Right Livelihood Award Foundation. Shiva’s latest book, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace, describes what a sustainable future for the planet could look like, outlining the bedrock principles for building living economies, living cultures, and living democracies. Both activist and scientist, Shiva leads, with Ralph Nader and Jeremy Rifkin, the International Forum on Globalization, a group of intellectuals seeking alternatives to increasing economic globalization by corporations.
She also happens to be one of the most interesting, enthralling and charming people I have ever interviewed for a story on powerful women I did for ELLE India

Eating as an ecological act
I mentioned the billion who are hungry because of not having enough to eat. But the same system is giving us two billion who are suffering another kind of malnutrition, the malnutrition of the wrong kind of food—the kind of malnutrition symbolized so dramatically in that film Supersize Me. Obesity has become one of the biggest killers of our time, and it is totally linked to rotten food. I would call it nonfood. We are eating nonfood. We are eating things that are not worthy of being eaten.In fact, there was a big international cultural congress in Spain, and I had to go talk about ecology. And I had a group of Vedic singers with me, brilliant, beautiful women, who did Vedic chants. And I had been asked to serve an organic meal, so they had carried our organic food from India, and we were going to cook an organic meal. So these women came to me and said, “Can you please give us some of that grain?” I said, “Of course. But why do you need it?” They gave me a word which I had no idea exists. They said, “The food here is abaksha.” I said, “What does that mean?” Baksha means worthy of consuming. Abaksha means unworthy of consuming. Our food has been rendered abaksha.And I think the highest level of ethics is the ethics of recognizing that we are violating our own bodies, we are violating the sacred trust of our lives by bombarding ourselves with food unworthy of being called food. That’s why some of us around the world have said we need to move away from the language of being consumers, because, you know, the word “consumption” came out of tuberculosis in the Middle Ages. It was meant to describe that which kills. And our current food systems do kill. They kill the planet, they kill the farmers, they kill our health.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When noodles save lives

If you have ever driven through Ladakh, you know how high altitudes make you feel exhausted and craving something warm, squishy and soft. And Ladakhis have found the perfect comfort food - a noodle soup!!! Whether it is simply noodles added to meat stock and meat pieces, or mixed with veggies, or just humble makeshift Maggie, a bowl of those always does the trick.

Ladakhi soup for the soul

I had read about Ladakhi tea (a mix of green tea, buffalo milk, butter and salt!) in a magazine, and hoped that I will have thousands of opportunities to taste it during our Manali - Leh road trip. But contrary to all logic, people just scoffed whenever I asked about it at cafes or tea stalls. I could not understand for the life of me why - and I guess the reason is that this potent mix is only drunk in traditional Ladakhi households. It was really a stroke of luck that we got invited into one such home, and I would have driven all the distance from Manali to Leh only to experience this! At Alchi monastery (a couple of hours drive from Leh), we stopped for a bite at a restaurant. My lovely mother-in-law, who had been here before, chatted up the owner and said she was disappointed that the last time she came she did not have the opportunity to see the old house adjacent to the restaurant. “But this is my family’s home,” he answered. Obviously, it was not opened to visitors. But to Gurtaj’s biggest embarrassment, my mom-in-law asked for “just a peek”. The owner thought about it calmly and nodded: “Visit the monastery and come back…” We did, and on the way back we were already thinking of ways to excuse our nosiness and get back on the road. However, as we reached, the owner said: “Please, come, my mother is making tea…” Extremely touched, we followed him into the house, as he showed us into the biggest kitchen I have ever seen. The giant room contained ceiling-high shelves lined with huge brass vessels and utensils; an enormous old style iron stove; a sitting corner with a low divan covered with Ladakhi carpets. Next to a window, a diminutive wrinkled lady, impeccably dressed in her Ladakhi colours, was vigorously beating something in a tall, hand-operated mixer. This is when I knew that I will finally taste Ladakhi tea!!!! And braced myself for the experience. My mother-in-law smartly declined, saying that she can’t have butter. But I was all too happy to be a guinea pig! The lady first steeped the leaves, then poured them in and out of the mixer, until the butter, salt and milk were well-blended. And she poured a steaming cup each. At the first sip, my taste buds were completely confused: was this soup? Or green tea? Or a hot milkshake. The mix of salty and tea flavour was truly unique. I could not even decide if I liked it or not, but the how, strange liquid flowing through my body definitely had an invigorating effect. I nodded in approval at our hosts. And decided to just think of it as soup. I had it to the last sip… The lady was really quiet, and just saw to us without fussing and making a conversation. It was quick, but elating, to be a complete stranger accepted into these people’s home, and being treated to a rare delicacy.

Snails and chocolate

Yes, it's official - I COULD sell my soul for an escargot (meaning "snail", a French flaky baked roll, also known as pain au raisins), a croissant or a pain au chocolat (no, it's not "a pain" this one, the word means bread in French!!). Here I was, sitting in Pondicherry, in the midst of a leather factory, pouring rain outside, and savouring all the above (with second helpings), brought especially from the Auroville bakery by Dilip Kapur, owner of Hidesign (

There is a particular bakery in Auroville (, an international "unity in diversity" township close to Pondicherry, where all these delicacies are wiped out by 8.30 am. And I know why!

The Pondicherry on the cake

Last week I went to Pondicherry ( for Hidesign's (maybe India's best leather bags brand) annual new collection preview. We stayed right on the promenade, at owner Dilip Kapur's Promenade hotel, but on the first evening we went to have dinner at the very exclusive (and exquisite) Le Dupleix hotel. This is where the former governor of Pondicherry stayed, and the structure still bears some of the original cherry wood pillars from his original residence. But what really got me was the few pieces from Le Sage's personal tapestry collection adorning some of the corners! THAT's history!!!

For dinner, we were a mixed bunch of journalists, the models and performers for the show, Dilip and his German wife Jacqueline. And the 4-course sit down dinner was an attempt to revive Creole-influenced Pondicherry cuisine (for those who don't know, this city was a French colony, and still has a very strong international influence. Auroville, an experimental township close to Pondicherry, is comprised mainly of foreigners, to promote "unity in diversity" - We were all sitting in the whitewashed courtyard of the hotel, under the motherly branches of a humungous mango tree.

So, all ingredients were purely Indian, but the flavours and combinations - completely and exotically a la Creole.

The vegetarian starter was a Mille Feuille (spelt on the menu Mille Fille - or "a thousand daughters", something never to wish to a staunch Indian, haha!) filled with a veg pancake and delectably baked with some cheese. I loved the interesting bean garnish. As a non-veg starter, a fish coated with unrecognisable spices was staring at us with an olive eye.
I relished the clear soup with delicate whole spinach leaves and barley boiled to perfection. Health food par excellence!!! Could have only eaten that!
As a main dish, I should have ordered veg - a delicious ratatouille served with an Indian roti. The vegetables were well-cooked but crunchy.

And for dessert, finally - a smoothe sago cream with coconut chunks - so perfect and so sinful. Well, I love creamy desserts, so maybe I am biaised...

But by far the best part of the evening was the impromptu performance by Honduras jazz singer Wanny Angerer. Far from a conventional beauty, she had everyone enthralled with her awesome voice and sensual dancing. Men watched her bleary eyed, and women wondered "is it the wine or what?" You can hear her sutry voice sing "perhaps, perhaps, perhaps" ("quisaz, quisaz, quisaz"), on

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sweet Gujrat!

I have been craving a Gujrati thali for a very long time, so today we headed for a Sunday lunch at Chetana (, something of an institution in Bombay, and greatly located at Kala Ghoda. It's always packed, but we were lucky to get a table quite fast.

The very first time I came here was maybe 10 years ago, when I was working at The Afternoon Despatch & Courier. My then colleague and now Vogue India editor Priya Tanna took me here for a "safe, typically Indian" thali lunch. She also promised minimum spices, but at that stage, when I was still an Indian food novice, even "moderate" meant sniffling into my napkin throughout the meal. I had not returned ever since. This reminds me, I have to thank Priya for many pleasant moments I had while I was doing The Afternoon internship!

So here I was, ten years later...

I grabbed the menu straight from the door, but luckily my confusion and hungry mind were put to rest with a waiter coolly announcing "only thalis today", which is what we came for on the first place! So here was our choice: the classic Gujarati Thali; Multicuisine Thali; Rajasthani Thali; Health Thali (!) consisting of soup, salad, vegetables cooked with no oil and brown rice and a Classic Thali. I felt my mind deviating and considering the healthy version. I asked the waiter what was in the different thalis, and I think after the sixt dish mentioned I lost count. So Gurtaj reminded me to stick to the purpose - a quintessential Gujarati Thali (while he ordered the Multicuisine Thali, which had several Punjabi preparations in it)

From the moment we ordered, service started like a well-orchestrated ballet. This is not your usual restaurant where the meal comes and is laid out in front of you. Here, there were 4-5 different "guys" responsible for 4-5 different "tasks". One brought the samosas and dhoklas (a spongy mustardy cake), another brought the vegetable dishes (one was an unrecognisable mish mash, another was an awesome combination of spinach paste and chickpeas, third was baby potatoes in coconut-based gravy), third brought the sweet dal (which finally brought this typical sweetish Gujarati taste I so craved) and of course the sweet kadhi (OH the sweeet kadhi!!!!!!!!! A very thin white gravy with mustard seeds and curry leaves floating inside); fourth brought breads and papads (and splashed a generous spoonful of clarified butter on top of them - Gurta's horrified expression spoiled the fun of it!!!); fifth brought phulkas (fried breads) and sixt (phew!!!) came around with chaash (yogurt drink with rock salt and other spices). YES, ladies, I had all this on my platter and no, of course I could not finish it! I polished off the kadhi and dal, and just about picked on the other food, plus a try of Gurtaj's aubergine dish which was amazing. And strangely I really enjoyed the dessert - a srikant (thick, yellow and creamy like custard).

To be very honest it was not a culinary experience, but it was definitely a cultural / social one: first, the way the food was served, with all the waiters constantly circulating around and serving seconds and thirds (to whoever miraculously COULD have seconds and thirds), a guy who was obviously the owner, looking on like a hawk. What made things even better was the pleasant attitude and big smiles on the waiter's lips. It was also cool to watch the great Indian joint family indulging in their favourite weekend sport - eating together. Whole Qualis-loads of Patels, Mishras and Shahs came and went. One family had even brought a barely couple of weeks old baby, fast asleep in her candy pink blanket. Everyone was joyously chatting, enjoying each other's company and the calories!

In all, a really different experience in the middle of Bombay - which I think should be put on the compulsory itinerary of each tourist! A big, tasty bite of real India!
The very very generous thalis were priced from Rs 210 to 370.

More information on Gujarati cuisine can be found on
And here are some curious facts about Gujarat sent to me courtesy Mr Rakshit Gor from VVF. Some of them sound like science fiction, but worth reading:
1. Gujarat is one of the most prosperous states of the country, having a per-capita GDP 3.2 times India's average.
2. If it was a nation it would have been 67th richest nation in the world above many European and Asian economies like China and Ukraine .
3. Gujarat holds many records in India for economic development: · 20% of India's Industrial Output · 9% of India's Mineral Production · 22% of India's exports · 24% of India's textile production · 35% of India's pharmaceutical products · 51% of India's petrochemical production 4. The world's largest ship breaking yard is in Gujarat near Bhavnagar at Alang.
5. Reliance Petroleum Limited, one of the group companies of Reliance Industries Limited founded by Dhirubhai Ambani operates the oil refinery at Jamnagar which is the world's largest grass roots refineries.
6. Gujarat ranks first nationwide in gas-based thermal electricity generation with national market share of over 8% and second nationwide in nuclear electricity generation with national market share of over 1%.
7. Over 20% of the S&P CNX 500 conglomerates have corporate offices in Gujarat. 8. Over 35% of the stock market wealth of India is with Gujarati People.
9. Over 60% of Indian Population in North America is Gujarati. 10. An average income of a Gujarati family in North America is three times more than the average income of an American family.
11. Gujarat is having the longest sea shore compared to any other Indian state
12. Gujarat is having the highest no. of operating airports in India (Total 12).
13. India's 16% of Investment are from Gujarat.
14. Gujarat is having highest no. of vegetarian people compared to any other state in India.
15. The first ALL VEG PIZZA-HUT was opened in Ahmedabad
16. Ahmedabad – the commercial capital of Gujarat is the seventh largest city in India.
17. Surat is the fastest growing city in the world.
18. Gandhinagar is the Greenest Capital City in whole Asia.
19. Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad(IIMA) is Asia's 1 st and world's 45th ranked management college located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
20. Gujarat is the safest state as the Crime rate of it is 8.2 which is the least in India even after considering 2002 communal riots, stated by India Today 2005 report.
21. Gujarat is having least crime against women among all Indian states (excluding Goa) where AP is 1st, Delhi is 2nd , Bihar is 3rd ,Zarakhand is 4th and UP is 5th.
22. Ahmedabad which is the seventh largest city in India is the lowest in crime rate among all Tier-I and Tier-II cities of India as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report.
23. Ahmedabad is ranked 2nd in Real Estate - Ahead of Bangalore,Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai & Delhi. 3rd in Policy Initiatives - Ahead of Bangalore, Chennai, Calcutta, Mumbai & Delhi. 4th in Manpower - Ahead of Bangalore,Chennai, Mumbai & Delhi

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Still in a food coma...

Kandahar restaurant at The Oberoi is something of a legend… And a favourite with generations of Mumbai’s business fraternity. Gurtaj and I re-visited it for a feast of quintessentially Indian flavours, and took the time to savour, have a conversation, and relax, for a change...
The welcome sound of gentle classical strings and tabla waft through the corridor as we approach Kandahar. With its impeccable reputation and many years of pleasing Mumbai’s most discerned palates, we are already expecting only the best. And once again, The Oberoi doesn’t fail to deliver a special experience.
While the restaurant’s decor is not outstanding, the grand view of the sea and Marine Drive, and the smooth, professional service more than make up for it. And of course, passing by the glass-front kitchen works up a Herculean appetite, and the imagination goes wild in anticipation of the flavours to come.

We totally let chef Narayan Rao take over the dinner selection, and it was the best decision possible!

For starters, a selection of succulent kababs, of course (Murgh Malai and Chicken Tikka). But the absolute highlight was a delicious corn on the cob (Bhuna Bhutta), coated with yogurt and spices, and roasted to perfection in the tandoor. Skewed on an elegant brass holder, it tasted irresistible to the last bite! But what got us munching endlessly was the traditional papad, on which we dabbed some green chilli pickle. All pickles here are homemade, and the chef is particularly proud of this one, a mix of mild and hot chillies and panch poron (a mix of five spices). And there’s another temptation in a jar on our table – a crunchy garlic pickle.

Instead of rushing with the main course, the chef gives us a much-needed break to sip on nimbu pani pink with rock salt (or rather Gurtaj sips it as I HATE rock salt), and the most refreshing thin chaas (a yogurt drink) laced with subtle spices and sprinkled generously with dhania leaves.

What follows is a truly ‘homemade’ meal delivered by 5-star staff. India’s favourite dishes and flavours take centre stage at our table:
- starting off with nalli ghosht (lamb on the bone, slow-cooked in meticulously and almost scientifically layered spices, condiments and yogurt. The gravy is then strained – no wonder it’s so smooth. Every tiny glistening drop of oil looks perfect!)
- elegant brass bowls of black daal steam away (a traditional thick, brown Indian lentil stew, for which several "signature" Indian restaurants claim to have the best recipe. Gurtaj's favourite is Bukhaara's, part of the Sheraton group, but I think this one is excellent too. However, the one we agree upon completely is the black daal at 1000 Oaks restaurant in Pune) . The consistency is thick and generous, tasting creamier with every spoonful.
- Miniature achari aloos gleefully roll on our plates, tasting perfectly with ajwain ki roti
- A green touch is provided by the methi cooked to perfection – just right, still fresh, its colour vibrant, as if it has just been plucked. And we go through a historic moment that evening, when Gurtaj actually eats methi (a very bitter grassy vegetable) - in normal circumstances, I would not even dream of him having it!!!

The chef insists on dessert, although there’s hardly place for any! But we are pleasantly surprised by the restaurant’s invention of a mini dessert platter – three sweet dishes of your choice, served in miniature, on stark white crockery. The chef has selected for us a phirnee (disguised as an elegant crème brulee), a rabdi and an absolutely delicious malai kulfi.

Kandahar restaurant, The Oberoi Hotel, Nariman Point, Mumbai 21. For reservations call (022) 66326210

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The monk who made me dizzy

To me, there's no other drink that symbolises partying in Bombay more than Old Monk rum. To quote an alcohol website:

"A velvet smooth dark rum with a hint of vanilla, it has an alcohol content of 42.8%. Honored the world over, Old Monk had been awarded gold medals at Monde World Selections since 1982. Its a classic 7 yr blended dark rum. With the first drop of Old Monk Rum, the sheer aroma of distilled cane sugar grown in lush green fields of India, stirs up the age old legend. Old Monk Rum is a form of the legendary 'Som-ras' of India's centuries old scriptures--The Drink of Gods and Lords of India."

Well, I can tell you I don't feel like a Goddess at all after last night's session with the monk at Bombay Gymkhana. I always drink it large, with Diet Coke and no ice. I always blame Ferzin and Gilles for getting me addicted to this drink when I was still a "good girl" in France. It's been my favourite ever since, although it is not considered "elegant" and "lady-like" to have rum and coke. For Indians, this is mostly a macho drink.
The only difference between drinking it then and now is that now I need not less than 12 hours to recover. And of course, there's the embarassing memories... Well, I know that as much as I promise myself "never again", I will look for the naughty monk's company again next Friday!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A biosphere called coconut

Whenever in India, if you get thurtsy on the road, if you feel de-hydrated from the scorching sun, the safest, fastest and yummiest fix would be a green coconut!
You will see them being sold all over the place. It will also work if, while running around in the city, you have forgotten to eat. As under its shell, the coconut is a real nutritious bomb (at a recent consultation with a nutritionist, she was speechless when I told her I drink the water of one coconut every morning. It was news to me, but it seems it has plenty of calories!)

Consider this:
- Due to its sterility, pH, mineral, and sugar content, coconut water had been successfully used as liquid in intravenous therapy in emergency situations (Wikipedia)
- It is also marketed as a sports drink, because of its high potassium and mineral content, which helps the body recover from rigorous exercise
- During the Pacific War (1941-45) it was used for emergency plasma transfusions to wounded soldiers (
- It has the same level of electrolytic balance as our blood
- Ayurveda considers it an aphrodisiac (!!!)
- It is supposed to improve mental concentration
- Indian traditional medecine uses it in the case of jaundice, urinary stones, skin infections, measles, sun burn, diabetes, and even cancer
- It's a tasty, healthy cocktail in a completely biodegradable 'cup'
- The shell keeps the liquid always cool

The first ever time I had a coconut on the roadside was after one of my many exhausting expeditions to the Foreigner's Registration Office (they drove me mad before making me an honest and legal inhabitant of India!!!). I had asked a friend to accompany me to 'scare' them a bit - Somit Sen, the then crime reporter of The Times Of India. I was so unnerved and exhausted by the visit, that he took me to a coconut vendor for a refreshment. At first, I flinched, as I was still in my "nothing from the roadside!" phase. He noticed, and said: "If there is anything you can have anywhere in the world without a doubt in your mind, it is the water of a freshly pierced coconut." Being the perfect gentleman, he pushed some onlookers on the side, asked the vendor to wipe his knife and pierce the coconut in front of us. Then he pulled out a clean straw from a packet lying on the side. I was so thursty that I didn't need much convincing. I gulped down the fresh, cool liquid, and within the next few minutes I felt lighter, literally rejuvenated! Thus started my love affair with coconuts!

When I was working at Leo Burnett (the office was at Kemps Corner at that time), there was a coconutwalla always standing outside. Daily, the first thing I saw when walking towards the door, was his smiling face. In the morning, he was the only outsider allowed freely beyond the electronic door. He used to come inside with his huge basked and quench our morning thirst. He knew the preferences of each and every one of us - who liked the malai (the meaty part inside the coconut - if you wanted it, he would skillfully scrape it for you and add a small plastic spoon to the order), who didn't, who liked a small coconut, who had a very big 'capacity'. Service at your desk! He would later discreetly come and collect the shell. All that for 12 rupees!

Nowadays, our cook brings fresh coconuts home every morning. I drink it plain, Gurtaj, with a squeeze of lemon juice. After the first few sips, I know there's a wonderful day ahead!

Green coconuts, Rs 15, everywhere around Bombay

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

By The River Narmada I Sat and Relished

On a recent road trip through Madhya Pradesh (according to me one of the least explored states of India, as rich in history and architectural wonders as Rajasthan, just not so well marketed!) by far the highlight of my journey was a stay at Ahilya Fort in the city of Maheshwar. It's on the Narmada river, one of India's holiest water bodies, but also a topic of controversy for a pending dam project which is supposed to displace thousands.

Maheshwar itself is a very old city, famous for the rule of Ahilya Bhai, one of India's "gutsiest" female rulers! She is responsible for making it a revered cultural and religious centre, as well as the capital of Maheshwari weaving.

For those of you who can, get the October issue of Travel + Leisure South Asia magazine where I have written an article on Maheshwar. But here, what I am going to speak about is, of course, what went on at the table!

I was expecting a lot of pleasant surprises, as Prince Richard Holkar is a well-known gourmet himself. He likes to cook, researches food, and has co-authored a book, The Cooking of the Maharajas (to be reviewed soon!) with his ex-wife. Unfortunately, he was not there when we were visiting, but the very able and energetic Kanta Bhai (who has helped bring up Holkar's children, and is now running the show at Ahilya Fort) more than made up with her can-do attitude. She not only served snacks and wine like a true major d'omo, but also made sure each bite was memorable!

As soon as we arrived, we were served refreshing jasmine-scented cold water. It was a big surprise - I had never tasted anything like this before. The aroma and flavour were very subtle and elegant, and not as "chemical" as I expected. Unfortunately they didn't know how it's made, as they import it from Udaipur.
Then, we were served tea and home-made ginger bread, full of chunks of fresh Indian ginger. I could just go on eating it!!!

Before we left for our boat ride on the Narmada, Kanta Bhai asked what do we want for dinner, and luckilly we left it all to her. She asked if I wanted fish, and don't ask me why I said "no" (I guess the mental block of monsoon vs fish), but later on, while cruising the river, I regretted it, when seeing fishermen with their catch of the day. So as soon as we got back, I asked if it wasn't too late to have fish. In true Kanta Bhai spirit, I was promptly told "yes".

Ahilya Fort has no formal dining room, so a table for three (us and a French architecture scholar visiting on Prince Holkar's request) was laid under a huge tree in the courtyard. Heavy and sturdy thali sets were laid out for us. We were famished!

And there came the food: smooth bean curry, potatoes with fresh coriander stalks, a very light mutton dish, shredded okra (lady fingers), a veg korma (vegetables simmered in an almond-based gravy), and of course my fish, made just like I wanted it - with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper! Absolutely yummy!!!

After the typically Indian flavours, we were served the most surprising and cutest fusion desert - a whole apple, filled with soft cardamom pods and raisins, baked, and served with cream.


After this sumptious dinner, we fell asleep peacefully in our beautiful room, listening to the sounds of worship coming from the ghats below.

Do I need to mention we were given home made brown bread for breakfast the next day??

Rs. 5,500 per night per person, which includes all meals, massages, and a boat ride
For reservations, call (011) 41551055

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


I have to thank my baby cousin Sofie for recommending this one to me! It was an absolutely great read. It is, to quote the author, "a novel in monthly instalments with recipes, romances and home remedies". There are two things I am taking away from this book:

1) The really exquisite parallel between the moods and feelings of Tita, and the food she creates. So, if she is sad, the food turns bitter; if she is crying while cooking, the dessert refuses to set. She is so resentful while cooking for the wedding of her sister and the love of her life, that all guests fall violently sick after consuming the main course. This reminds me of what my mother used to say: "Never eat food while angry, it will turn into poison inside you!"

2) When Tita's sister returns home after several years, she wants to taste her favourite childhood dessert, cream fritters. Living away from home, the following words really touched me: "Gertrudis got onto her horse and rode away. She wasn't riding alone - she carried her childhood beside her, in the cream fritters she had enclosed in a jar in her saddle-bag." Indeed, every time I taste something my mom has made, or something Bulgarian, I feel closer to my family and to the place of my roots.

1 cup of heavy cream
6 eggs

"While she greased the pot where Tita would pour the beaten cream, she [Gertrudis] never stopped talking... "
From the vague description that follws, I assume she makes custard with the egg yolks and cream and lets it thicken in a pan over the flame.
"Once the custard is cool, it is cut into small squares, a size that won't crumble so easily. Next the egg whites are beaten, so the squares of custard can be rolled in them and fried in oil. Finally, the fritters are served in syrup and sprinkled with ground cinnamon."


I devoured this book like an engrossing work of fiction, although it is a biographical, semi-anthropological and historical account of the autror of her childhood in Calcutta, through food rituals. Having gone to study and live in the USA (with a passage through Bangladesh where she finds love!), Chitrita Banerji (now a widely recognised food historian) writes this book, fearing that she may forget the food and customs of her childhood. So she goes on to describe the worship-like relation to food in her family, especially during religious rituals. From the way spices were grinded freshly every morning (the description of the dainty Patoler Ma, the maid, who crushes the spices every morning, but never tastes them, is riveting!), she recalls the taste, smell and texture of food, and throws in extremely interesting commentary.

Some of the mysterious (to me) and mouthwatering Bengoli dishes she mentions:

BATASHAS - "airy, brittle puffs of spun sugar"

NEEMBEGUN - an "addictive starter" of fried crisp neem leaves and eggplant cubes (neem in India is supposed to be an almost miraculous plant, with many medicinal and health properties. Very bitter, its not easy to make it enticing!)

SHUKTO - a dish made of karela, or bittergourd, which they polish off with rice to kill the bitterness

MAACH-HER JHOL - or fish stew that they used to give to kids for breakfast!!

MUITTHA - fried fish and potato balls

SHORSEILISH - fish with mustard

GALDA CHINGRIR MALAIKARI - prawns in coconut gravy

LAU-CHINGRI - Shrimps with squash

DOI-MAACHH - yogurt fish

MAACHHER KALIA - fish in a rich sauce

PUISHAK - leafy greens with small shrimps

I don't have a sweet tooth, but names like sandesh, rosogolla, chhana, paramanno (meaning "ultimate rice"), khoa kheer, made me fantasise of a table full of them, just for me to sample! Just imagine a bowl of fluffy kheer with freshly sliced mangoes - SINFUL!!!

Also, did you know that the typical Bengoli "bandel cheese" was brought in by the Portuguese???

This book not only makes you see food and feel about food in a different, almost reverent way, but makes you want to take the next plane to Calcutta (today so-blandly called Kolkatta) and explore!