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48 HOURS IN MUSCAT

THE CULTURAL HOTSPOT OF THE REGION, MUSCAT IS A POTPOURRI OF TRADITION, HERITAGE AND MODERNITY WOVEN TOGETHER SEAMLESSLY TO GIVE THE VISITOR AN UNPARALLELED EXPERIENCE BY BINDU GOPAL RAO It…

THE CULTURAL HOTSPOT OF THE REGION, MUSCAT IS A POTPOURRI OF TRADITION, HERITAGE AND MODERNITY WOVEN TOGETHER SEAMLESSLY TO GIVE THE VISITOR AN UNPARALLELED EXPERIENCE BY BINDU GOPAL RAO

It was my first visit to Muscat and Oman and I went with an open mind. I suggest you too do so as this city will surprise you with the many things it has to offer – from food and museums to shopping, culture and more.

DAY 1

A mix of heritage, history and shopping – there is so much to see and do in Muscat on your first day here.

7:00 AM
BREAKFAST AT THE SHERATON HOTEL

Start your day on a good note as you tuck into an elaborate breakfast at the Courtyard restaurant at Sheraton in Muscat. Set in the tallest building in Muscat, this breakfast is extensive with local Omani, Indian and Continental choices. An array of fresh fruit and vegetable juices, cut fruits and even soft idlis are served for breakfast. Do try the local delicacies especially the kaboos (a local bread) with ful medames (a curry made with rajma-like beans with vegetables). Wash it all off with a fresh kahwa, an Omani coffee mixed with cardamom powder and you are ready to go.

9:00 AM
VISIT THE GRAND MOSQUE

The Grand Mosque

An ornate and beautiful structure, the Grand Mosque is a fine example of Islamic architecture and is one of the few mosques that allow non-Muslims inside its precincts. There are of course specific timings and a list of rules which includes being fully clothed, covering your hands and legs and women need to also cover their head. The interiors of the mosque are ornate and covered with intricate mosaic work and carved wooden doors, beautiful carpets and large chandeliers. There are separate prayer halls for men and women as well as ablution areas. The mosque covers an area of 4,16,000 square metres and is set amidst well landscaped lawns and gardens.

11:30 AM
VISIT THE AMOUAGE PERFUME FACTORY

The Amouage Factory

Amouage is one of the most highly rated perfumes in Oman and as you enter the factory, you are greeted with a whiff of fragrance that draws you into the world of perfumery. One of the staff members will take you on a quick tour where you are taken through the entire gamut of processes that shows you how the flowers or the raw materials go through various kinds of processing where their essential oils are extracted and distilled and how the perfume is made and finally packed. Interestingly, the men’s perfume bottle caps resemble the traditional khanjar (knife) and the women’s perfume bottle caps resemble the dome of a mosque. A range of unisex perfumes are also available and you can buy perfumes at the in-house store too.

1:00 PM
LUNCH AT THE RESTAURANT AT CHEDI

Chedi Muscat Dining Restaurant

The Restaurant is a fine dining space with ornate chandeliers, curved Omani arches and contemporary seating with live piano music and large bay windows. There are four open show kitchens where Western, Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian food is prepared and paired with award-winning wines. I suggest you try their chilled Mezze selection for starters as it comes with hummus, smoked eggplant, tabouleh and stuffed vine leaves served with an assortment of local breads. Also check the quinoa salad — a delectable mix of roasted vegetables, fresh herbs, Yarra Valley Feta and toasted pumpkin seeds. The Phad Thai Kung made with fried rice noodles, prawns, bean sprouts and dried radish is another dish you must try.

4:00 PM
VISIT THE PALACES

Al Alam Palace

The Al Alam (meaning ‘The Flag’) Palace is the ceremonial palace of Sultan Qaboos. This is one of his six  royal residences and has a history dating back to 200 years. It was built by Imam Sultan bin Ahmed and has a beautiful gold and blue facade. You can see the royal insignia and the khanjar symbol on the gates. The palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens. It is not open to the public but you are allowed to take pictures outside the gate. The other palace that you can see is the Al Bustan Palace now a A Ritz-Carlton hotel that is again in a large green space among the Al Hajar mountains and the Oman Sea. A private beach is part of the property that is currently undergoing renovation.

5:00 PM
PHOTO-OP AT BARR AL JISSAH

This is a beautiful cove which is also where you will see a clutch of luxury private boats parked. Surrounded by tall beige cliffs, you can see the stunning marina with sleek yachts in the pristine blue waters where ancient dhows used to sail in the past. It is a beautiful sight to see the water framed against the Al Hajjar mountains here. The rocky coastline is a photographer’s delight especially around sunset when the water changes to a warm hue. Naturally this place is a favourite with locals and tourists alike.

6:00 PM
VISIT THE CORNICHE AND SHOP AT MUTRAH SOUQ

Muttrah Souq

The waterfront corniche in Muscat is the place to be especially after sundown. If the Sultan is not using them you can even see his personal private yacht parked here. The waterfront has a beautiful path to enjoy a nice walk too. Opposite to the corniche is Mutrah Souq, the oldest shopping market in Muscat with a labyrinth of stores in its little lanes. This is where you can find local souvenirs, clothes, silver jewellery, incense and more. While you are shopping do take a moment to admire the beautiful ceiling of the souq too.

8:30 PM
DINNER AT KARGEEN

End the day with a true Omani meal at Kargeen where they make the best lemon mint drink – an instant refresher. Incidentally kargeen means little wooden cottage in Omani and this place is well laid out amidst greenery with traditional Omani décor that is as enticing as the food itself. The restaurant prides itself in ensuring traditional food is not forgotten. While you are here do try the Zatar Cheese Lebnah bread that is light and fluffy. They also serve a large number of refeshing and fresh salads and my vote goes to the in house special Kargeen’s salad made with lettuce, avocado, tomato, cucumber, greenpepper, mushrooms, red cabbage, celery and pomegranate tossed in a special dressing. For the main course try the delicious Omani specialities like the Omani Shuwa, Mandi Laham, Boram and Biryani Dajaj and do not forget the desserts especially the delectable Umm Ali.

DAY 2

Explore the cultural aspects of Muscat and take a trip down memory lane through its museums while indulging in some retail therapy.

7:00 AM
BREAKFAST AT GRAND MILLENNIUM

Breakfast atGrand Millenium

The Taybat Restaurant here offers a lavish buffet of international delicacies for breakfast that includes a salad bar with lettuce and condiments and dressing for you to create your own customised salad. Assorted cut fruits, bread, cereal, local foods and also a variety of dates will leave you spoilt for choice. And if you want something else, the attentive staff is always around to help. Do try the special coffee and tea here.

8:00 AM
GO DOLPHIN WATCHING

The Gulf of Oman has so many dolphins that it is impossible to believe. If you head in the morning to the DMC (Destination Management Company), you can book a boat for yourself and head to the seas where you will be treated to a great show by the dolphins as you head into the deep seas. In fact you might be concerned that you have not spotted any dolphins close to an hour in the trip but they appear magically jumping in and out of the blue waters and if you are lucky you can spot several hundred of them.

11:00 AM
SHOPPING AT THE MUSCAT GRAND MALL

This mall has a good mix of indigenous and global brands across all categories that make the shopping experience quite a pleasure. Also you can look around for some great deals so that the shopping does not burn a hole in your pocket. With over 150 stores, you have a wide range of top brands to choose from.

12:30 PM
LUNCH AT MUMTAZ MAHAL

If you have been missing Indian food, head to the Indian specialty restaurant Mumtaz Mahal that serves delectable North Indian fare. There is a lunch buffet usually laid out that is pretty extensive with soups, salads, starters, main course and desserts. Non vegetarians will drool over the Garlic Tandoori Fish Tikka and the Gun Powder Tandoori Prawns. Do try the delectable Gulab Jamun and Carrot Halwa to end this filling meal on a sweet note.

3:00 PM
VISIT THE AL ZUBAIR MUSEUM

This is a museum that gives you a good insight into the history, culture, tradition and art of Oman and is all part of a private collection. Colourful goat figurines greet you on the outside. The museum is well laid out and the separate sections over the two levels house various sections. These include The Khanjar, Male Attire, Jewellery, Female Attire, The Household, Swords And Firearms, Stamps, Coins And Medals and The Manuscript Room.

5:00 PM
CATCH A SHOW AT THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE

Located in Shati Al-Qurm district of Muscat, the royal opera house is one of a kind in the Middle East and reflects contemporary Omani architecture. The opera house has a capacity to accommodate upto 1,100 guests and has a concert theatre and auditorium. Set in formal landscaped gardens, the opera house is home to luxury restaurants and an art centre for musical, theatrical and operatic productions.

8:00 PM
DINNER AT AL LOOMIE

A curious mix of Omani fusion food, Al Loomie is quite a winner. There are separate dining rooms named after different cities in Oman and everything here from the table runner to the cutlery is sourced locally. The food itself is delectable with winners like the Signature Shew Salad made with lamb marinated in traditional spices with chef’s Shewa mix, cabbaged and dressed with an a Loomie vinaigrette.

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PASS THE PARMESAN PLEASE

MATURE OR BLUE, SOFT OR HARD, CREAMY OR FANCY, CHEESE IS ONE OF THE MOST BELOVED AND CONSUMED FOODS AROUND THE WORLD. BY NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR Everyone loves a good…

MATURE OR BLUE, SOFT OR HARD, CREAMY OR FANCY, CHEESE IS ONE OF THE MOST BELOVED AND CONSUMED FOODS AROUND THE WORLD. BY NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR

Everyone loves a good cheese. Humans have been obsessed with it ever since we discovered curdled milk was both good to eat and could be made to last. Now there are around 2,000 different varieties of cheese — from the aged gouda to stringy mozzarella. But there’s so much more you can do with cheese than just chop it up on a board and pair with crackers. You can sprinkle it on top of your steamed veggies, grate some on your pasta or stuff it in ravioli. Whatever you choose to do, cheese is simply delish in all forms.

It is also nutritious and can be incorporated into almost every meal. So it is no surprise that cheese is one of the most popular foods in the world. But although most of us eat cheese frequently, there’s probably a lot about the smelly stuff you didn’t know.

NOT ALL CHEESES ARE CREATED EQUAL

Good cheeses comes from good milk and this can vary from cow, buffalo, goat, yak… and so on. The major difference between natural and processed cheese, according to Tina Chinoy, owner of ABC Farms, one of India’s leading cheese producers, are whey and emulsifiers. “Natural cheeses have the whey pressed out of them while processed cheese do not. The processed variety also contain emulsifiers which help them be more shelf-stable and extend the cheese life,” she explains. Then there is the artisanal variety made with good quality milk and in small batches. This results in a much tastier, healthier product.

Talking of health, cheese has a bad reputation for being fattening. But it’s not all bad news. As a dairy product, cheese is a good source of calcium and Vitamin D which are essential for healthy bones. It’s also rich in other nutrients such as zinc, phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B12. If you’re worried about the fat, varieties like parmesan, mozzarella, ricotta, cottage cheese and feta are the leanest cheese varieties. “It’s great for building and maintaining lean muscle. Many athletes love cheese for this very reason,” says Rounak Shah, a fitness trainer.

THE TASTE TEST

(Left) Bocconcinni with olives,basil, olive oil and herbs; (right) Buffalo Milk Mozzarella used in Caprese Salad by ABC Farms

There is an overwhelming variety of cheese on the supermarket shelves — some dirt-cheap and others rather pricy, some branded, others not. Though the general rule with regards to cheese (as with most things in life) is the fact that you get what you pay for. But thankfully there are a few helpful pointers.

“Before you actually taste the cheese, squeeze a small piece under your nose and then slowly take in the aroma. Since cheese is a dairy product, one sign of bad cheese is an `off’ smell. Depending on the type of cheese, this scent can be of spoiled milk, ammonia, or even of a refrigerator or freezer. Also check the rind and appearance of cheese. The small crystals in cheese suggest that the cheese is matured and aged. Soft cheeses are as spongy outside as inside. Semi-soft cheeses have a certain suppleness, but are not as supple as soft cheeses. Finally taste it to determine if it’s sweet, sour, bitter, savory or salty,” suggests chef and author Reetu Uday Kugaji.

THE RIGHT PAIRING

Taking great tasting cheese and whirring it into a dish with competing flavours may be the ultimate gourmet blasphemy. The right cheese can play a leading role in adding richness and texture to dishes. “Pick hard and aged cheese for au gratin. For stuffing go for brie, camembert or blue cheese as they have a tendency to melt quickly and blend perfectly. Strong flavored cheeses are the best for fondues. For toppings the best cheese are the ones that can crumble quickly and can be shaved easily like ricotta, feta and parmesan,” suggests Kugaji.

According to cheese consultant Aditya Raghavan cheddar is a great cheese to go in sandwiches. “Feta’s strong, briny flavour is excellent to complement sweet fruits. Watermelon-Feta Salad is slowly becoming a favourite salad the world over. Soft goat cheese has a strawlike flavour which makes it ideal with tart fruits like berries. Goat cheese dipping sauces pair great with seekh kebabs while a mild ricotta is great to be dolloped on top of a hot bowl of pasta to add creaminess,” explains Raghavan.

COOKING WITH CHEESE

Be sure to treat the cheese kindly during cooking. “Be gentle with heat. Too high a temperature or too much heating time can make its proteins tighten up, squeezing out both water and fat,” says Kugaji. If you’re shredding your cheese before cooking with it, be sure to do so while it’s cold, lest it turn to mush. This goes for hard cheeses, as well. Fresh and soft cheeses may not need to be shredded at all. You can just crumble them with your fingers, she adds.

WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW OUT

Knowing when your cheese has reached the end of its life is sometimes trickier than it seems. Each cheese ages differently and therefore spoils differently. But mold on cheese isn’t always something to worry about. According to Raghavan hard cheeses like Gouda and Cheddar aren’t easily penetrated by mold and can be used after cutting away the moldy part. With fresh cheeses like ricotta any mold is a sign of spoilage and should be discarded. But if you’re not sure what type of cheese you have or what to do if it grows mold, the safe course is to discard it.

STORING CHEESE

The shelf lives of cheeses vary from cheese to cheese. Once opened, hard cheeses like cheddar and Swiss will stay fresh for up to six months in the fridge, while softer varieties like ricotta and Brie will hold up for about a week.

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MY TOWN – SRINAGAR

Our ongoing series in which we look at various Indian cities through the eyes of SpiceJet staffers eyes of SpiceJet staffers. This month, Tabasum Sofi, Security, Airport Services, holds forth…

Our ongoing series in which we look at various Indian cities through the eyes of SpiceJet staffers eyes of SpiceJet staffers. This month, Tabasum Sofi, Security, Airport Services, holds forth on Srinagar

Connection to the city:

My association with Srinagar is very old, having been born and brought up here.

Best thing about Srinagar:

There is a sense of oneness here. Togetherness among family members is still deep-rooted. People of Kashmir are known for their warmth and hospitality. Even tourists are considered as part of the family. Apart from its cool climate, Srinagar is also one of the most scenic places in India, thanks to the tall mountains surrounding the valley and its world famous lakes.

Favourite eating place:

We Kashmiris are famous for our traditional cuisine (the multi-course wazwan; Tabak Maaz, prepared from lamb ribs; and harissa, a wintry, mutton dish). Shamyana restaurant is my favourite eating place. It is a foodie’s delight, located next to the picturesque Dal Lake on the stunning Boulevard Road which makes it all the more beautiful. Nobody serves the renowned wazwan like them. Their Wazwan Thali is one-of-a kind, with multiple varieties of non-veg served in the traditional way.

Local attractions:

Srinagar has rightly been called paradise on earth – it has the largest number of tourist attractions compared to any other place. The world famous Dal Lake is in the heart of the city and is known as Srinagar’s Jewel. Nigeen Lake, Nishat Garden and Shalimar Bagh are also worth visiting. Srinagar’s  beauty cannot be described in words; one needs to visit the place to experience the magic in the air. There are a number of places worth visiting like Pari Mahal, Hari Parbat, Sri Pratap Singh Museum and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden, among others.

Recommended places nearby:

I would suggest Pahalgam, just 86 km away, for its stunning scenery, fresh water streams, river rafting and para gliding. Dachigam Wildlife Sanctuary, 22 km away, is the home of the Hangul, or Kashmir Stag. Himalayan Black Bear, Leopard, Common Palm Civet, Jackal and Red Fox can also be spotted here.

Srinagar when compared to other cities:

I have stayed in other places like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. But Srinagar is different from all the other places as far as climate is concerned. You won’t find Srinagar’s lovely climate at any other place in India – that is the best part about my city.

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ROSEMARY: THE CULINARY ESSENTIAL

FROM BEING THE “ESSENTIAL” IN ROMAN HOMES AND KITCHEN TO THE “SECRET INGREDIENT” IN CLEOPATRA AND QUEEN VICTORIA’S BEAUTY REGIMEN AND THE MAGICAL HERB THAT MADE TURDOR’S CHRISTMAS FEAST, ROSEMARY’S…

FROM BEING THE “ESSENTIAL” IN ROMAN HOMES AND KITCHEN TO THE “SECRET INGREDIENT” IN CLEOPATRA AND QUEEN VICTORIA’S BEAUTY REGIMEN AND THE MAGICAL HERB THAT MADE TURDOR’S CHRISTMAS FEAST, ROSEMARY’S JOURNEY FROM A MEDICINAL HERB TO A CULINARY ESSENTIAL HAS BEEN PHENOMENAL. BY MADHULIKA DASH

Beer Glazed Prawns

FOR A LARGE NUMBER OF CULTURES AROUND THE WORLD, rosemary is a synonym to celebrations. It takes a smidgen of this perennial herb to perk up any dish – be it lamb, seafood, vegetable or simple potatoes. In fact, it is the interesting flavour profile, which ranges from mint-sweet-to earthy-astringent and then bitter, that makes rosemary such an exciting herb to work with for the chef. Or as Chef Paul Kinny (Director- Culinary, The Phoenix Mills Limited) describes, “A flavour palate that can be re-tuned for an exciting taste profile.”

Agrees Chef Abhishek Gupta (Executive Sous Chef, The Leela Ambience), who uses rosemary infused oil, butters and salt to give his dish that interesting, noticeable twist, without overpowering them. “The thing about rosemary,” says Chef Kinny, “is its flavour strength – it can easily overpower any other herb, including mint, its distant cousin. And like all powerful spices, rosemary too does a great solo performance than in pairs. But that doesn’t mean it cannot pair with any other spice. What it needs is a little mollycoddling. That is where a chef’s ingenuity comes through.”

An excellent example of this is Chef Gupta’s Rosemary and Maraschino Cherries Pound Cake. What makes it interesting isn’t just the slight unconventional pairing of fresh cherries, rosemary and buckwheat, but the subtle sweet, woody flavours of the herb, which makes every bite a delight. The trick to achieve this, says Chef Gupta, “was the rosemary infused oil. This enables you to use very little of rosemary to give the desired effect.”

Infusions, adds Chef Sabysachi Gorai (Owner, Mineroity By Saby), “is a very clever way of using any powerful herb given that it is a slow process of gradually extracting all the interesting aromas from a herb, especially with rosemary that can go from woody to bitter within minutes.” Chef Gorai has been using rosemary to give that interesting twist to his meats, and as a basting in some of his a la plancha dishes. “It works amazing with tubers and root vegetables as it beautifully accentuates that different woody aroma and can just enhance the dish with a light drizzle or basting.” However, the one usage of the herb the culinary wizard is very fond of is in casseroles. “Just a pinch of rosemary (fresh preferably) and you can be assured it tastes brilliant.” For Chef Navin Kumar (Executive Chef, Radisson Blu Paschim Vihar), rosemary is an elevating herb. “Rosemary is a herb that needs to be worked on, but once you know how it plays out, it can be your wondrous spice, especially when it comes to giving certain subtle dishes that extra memory palate.”

Rosemary infused meat loaf

The Roman’s favourite herb works even for Rajasthani cuisine expert Chef Aksharaj Jodha (Executive Chef, WelcomHotel Heritage, Jodhpur) when it comes to retweaking a dish for a certain kind of audience. “Unlike its usual perception of being a difficult herb to work with because of its strong notes, rosemary in fact works with many rustic dishes, relevant to different platters. Take the case of the Junglee Maas – a dish made of mutton, chillies, salt, turmeric and ghee/oil. Add rosemary to it, just a few leaves, and it just turns the dish into a palate fest while effectively masking the slight meat aftertaste. ”

Concurs Chef Deepankar Khosla (Co-owner, Karma Kismet), who even though feels that rosemary isn’t the match for Indian cuisine – “not in the conventional sense at least, can be an interesting herb for interesting interpretation.” For Chef Khosla, rosemary has worked well to up the quotient of Tangdi Kebab. And the reason for this, says the talented chef, “is marination, which is usually spice-heavy and earthy. Here the addition of rosemary – as a fresh herb or in oil – can create a contrast. The festive aroma of course comes as an added bonus.”

dim sum with rosemary

The dual act of elevating a dish and masking the negatives, while creating a new taste profile in a dish, says ChefVikas Seth (Culinary Director, Sriracha), “ is one of the many reasons make rosemary – a herb which till date was known as the European Tastemaker – one of the sought-after spices today for most chefs, who use it in a variety of ways ranging from flavouring a mild sauce to perk up the earthy dishes and even to add that element of surprise in dessert for their cuisine.”

For Chef Seth, rosemary has been a great winter addition to their Mexican roast and for the dumplings, where he pairs it with an interesting assortment of sweet seafood and lamb. In fact, adds Chef Seth, “rosemary goes really well with the starch used in dumplings. It is a matchmaker between meat, tuners and citrusy fruits, especially sweet lime. And thus opens the platform for creating sweet-savoury dishes.”

The lime and rosemary pairing also finds room in Chef Amninder Sandhu’s (Executive Chef, Arth) purely Indian menu as well, but, cautions the award winning chef, “only in the form of experimental dishes.” Case in point: the Beer Glazed Prawns with Rosemary.

“The role of rosemary here is more as a balancer of taste, given that the dish is heavy on the earthy-woody flavour. Of course, what it lends to the dish is bit more than just the aromatic, taste profile – it also ensures that the notes are intact for a long time so the dish is enjoyed from the first bite to the last.” Interestingly, it is the astringent nature of rosemary that not only makes it a darling of the culinary world, but of the bar too. Especially, says head bartender Aman Dua, “when it comes to food inspired cocktail. Like the rosemary-sweet potato whiskey cocktail we serve at Philtre. “Called the Krater, it is an ode to the basic elements that make the earth. It replicates the taste profile of the iconic rosemary sweet potato mash with the smoothness of whiskey.” Adds Dua, “I use dry rosemary to create an exotic flavour foreplay between the sweet-earthiness of sweet potato, and the nutty- floral notes of the whiskey.” No wonder, Sir Thomas More called rosemary the sacred herb of remembrance.

 

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THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS

SOME RENOWNED CHEFS – INDIAN AND EXPATS – REVEAL WHAT GETS THEIR GASTRIC JUICES FLOWING DURING THE FESTIVE SEASON. BY NEETA LAL Scrumptious food is the pivot around which festivities…

SOME RENOWNED CHEFS – INDIAN AND EXPATS – REVEAL WHAT GETS THEIR GASTRIC JUICES FLOWING DURING THE FESTIVE SEASON. BY NEETA LAL

Scrumptious food is the pivot around which festivities seem to flow. It is also the warp and weft of the Indian cultural fabric. Diwali, Dussehra, Onam, Christmas… India is a land of many colourful festivals celebrated by a diverse mix of people. Families bond over food, guests eat off tables groaning under the weight of countless goodies and talented home cooks and chefs bask in the glory of their beautiful creations.

But even as the chefs lay out these tantalising treats, what is it that tickles their own taste buds? Do they have any festive favourites? If yes, what are they? Some renowned chefs — Indian and expats — tell us what gets their gastric juices flowing, what flavours they’ve grown up with and what good food means to them.

MANISHA BHASIN, EXECUTIVE CHEF, MAURYA SHERATON, NEW DELHI

MANISHA BHASIN

I was pottering around in the kitchen from the age of 12 and have not looked back since then. For me, my biggest inspiration (and the world’s greatest chef) is my mother. Before her, my maternal grandmother impressed me by running an immaculate kitchen that fed a gargantuan joint family. Those were the good old days when meals meant entire families congregating around the dinner table, laughing and joking.

My mother and grandmother’s typical Punjabi recipes had a great impact on me in my formative years. Diwali meant sweets and then some. The aroma of besan (gram flour) getting slow roasted for our family’s Signature Burfi (a must for Diwali) and the pounding of elaichi (cardamom) seeds filled the air. Those delicious smells bring back fond memories for me. Gajar Halwa was another family favourite. In a true division of labour, all kids were allotted the task of grating mounds of carrots. These were then slow-cooked in milk for hours to get that perfect creamy taste and balance of flavours, and then finished with slivered almonds.

Diwali vacations in grandma’s house were bliss. We would be pampered endlessly that would result in a few added pounds. But we didn’t care. Those days people hardly went out to eat. Spending time with friends or relatives and celebrating together at home wasthe done thing. Be it numerous cups of tea or sherbet (sweet drink) or an elaborate multi-course meal. For most womenfolk, the conversation during festivities centred around food and expansive menus. I was a keen observer of all these discussions. And I can say that while I’ve learnt enormously from books and conferences, it was my mom’s kitchen that gave me my first informal induction into the larger world of pots and pans.

In retrospect, I’d say my grandfather too played a sizeable role in developing my culinary interest. I was often an apprentice to him. He taught me how to choose the best recipes and ingredients for each occasion while from my mother I learnt the virtues of patience. And from both of them I learnt that no matter how few ingredients you may have, if you put love, passion and hard work into your creations, you can never go wrong. I call this “Soul Cooking” and my guests appreciate this approach a lot.

IVAN CHIEREGATTI, EXECTUIVE CHEF, HYATT REGENCY, NEW DELHI

IVAN CHIEREGATTI

Festival time back home in Italy was a time when flavours from my mother’s kitchen would come alive and fill the house. Christmas, especially, was a family favourite and most of my nostalgic smells and flavours are rooted in that holiday. My all-time favourite Christmas recipe is Panettone, a type of Italian sweet bread loaf. The dish is extremely close to my heart as it ties together my entire childhood and life back in Italy in a fond remembrance. The dish, much like myself, hails from Milan. I’ve spent most of my youth in Milan and it is also the city where I mastered the art of cooking and hospitality. As a young boy, I remember my house smelling of orange candies around Christmas — a smell that is characteristic of Panettone.

My mother would bake fresh Panettone every few days to entertain guests who visited our home during the holidays. As soon as the baking process started, all of us in the house would gather around the kitchen, waiting eagerly for the bread to rise and land on the table. We had an unlimited supply of the sweet bread— it was a house speciality and a staple in our home. The sugary smell of candied oranges would fill me with happiness for it marked the onset of Christmas time and more importantly of celebrations.

The conversations, laughter and sense of bonding that came with good food are forever embedded in my heart. I try to recreate the same warmth in my own kitchen time and again. I still share a very special bond with my mother, who played a pivotal role in inculcating in me a love for Panettone. A seasoned baker herself, she was my first guru.

RAYMOND SIM, MASTERCHEF, R.E.D, RADISSON BLU MBD, NOIDA

Raymond Sim

As a Singaporean, my favorite Christmas and Chinese New Year dishes revolve around seafood and different meats. Mayonnaise Prawns is a dish very close to my heart. When mom would make it, the house would be redolent with its richaroma. Apart from this, Mala Fish — finger cut fish cooked till it is golden brown in colour — is another family favourite. I also love Crispy Honey Noodles in dessert which is a delectable amalgamation of ice cream and crunchy noodles. This dish sparked off my interest in experimenting with different ingredients and textures which has really helped me develop new dishes.

However, my all-time favourite dish for Christmas is duck stew. It was prepared by my father with his own secret recipe. The ingredients — apart from that one secret ingredient which I’m afraid I can’t disclose — include water, soya sauce and Chinese herbs. The dish was labourintensive and involved simmering all the ingredients with duck for hours. But it tasted heavenly and to this day I still miss that excitement when dad would cook the dish with so much love for us during Christmas. Ours was a big family and I had seven siblings. My father was a street hawker in Singapore and despite being the youngest, I would tag along with my father to his roadside stall and help him out. I was really impressed by my father’s meticulousness while cooking and the satisfaction on his face after preparing a good dish. This inspired me to take up cooking and become a good chef myself. From the family stall, I slowly graduated to working in restaurants and hotels in Singapore and now I’ve been at Radisson Blu for 14 years. When I am at home with my family in Singapore, usually during Christmas and New Year, my wife does all the cooking and indulges me with all my family favourites.

VELUMURUGAN, MASTERCHEF, DAKSHIN, SHERATON, NEW DELHI

VELUMURUGAN

Kerala Style Raw Mango Fish Curry, or Meen Manga Curry cooked with raw mangoes, spices and green chillies is my favourite festive dish. It is a must in my house in a Kerala village during Onam. My love for the dish is rooted in my childhood when I would eat raw mangoes with salt. My grandma would often make Meen Manga during the harvest season. And I would eagerly wait for her to finish making the dish, so we could all dig in.

Meen Manga is an authentic South Indian dish with robust flavours and its heady aroma brings back fond childhood memories. In South India, fish curry is a festival staple, especially during Onam. It has a distinct and lingering flavour and tastes delicious. The tang in the curry is usually from tamarind paste or juice. However, the best taste comes from combining the seer fish with raw mangoes especially when the fruit is in season. My mom used to try making different types of fish curry with tamarind, coconut milk, curry or spices. But my favourite was the one she made with raw mango. The piquancy of mangoes combined with fish pieces, coconut paste and spices, makes this dish so special. Any type of fish can be used to make this curry, but it should be fresh. One can also use Kora (Indian Salmon/ threadfin) or sardines (mathi) and barracuda (sheela). But for me seer works best for Meen Manga.

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A KALEIDOSCOPE OF JOYS

THE SOUTHERN STATE OF KARNATAKA HAS MANY SURPRISES UP ITS SLEEVE AND THE BEST WAY TO DISCOVER THIS IS BY ACTUALLY VISITING THE DIFFERENT PARTS TO EXPERIENCE THE MYRIAD CULTURES,…

THE SOUTHERN STATE OF KARNATAKA HAS MANY SURPRISES UP ITS SLEEVE AND THE BEST WAY TO DISCOVER THIS IS BY ACTUALLY VISITING THE DIFFERENT PARTS TO EXPERIENCE THE MYRIAD CULTURES, FOOD, SIGHTS AND MORE. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO

The diverse elements of the state that was formed on November 1, 1956, incidentally celebrated as Rajyotsava Day has a royal connect too. Well, this was always the State of Mysore that was renamed as Karnataka in 1973. The state itself has a motely mix of ancient temples, beautiful mountains, scenic beaches and amazing wildlife. In fact this is why the Tourism department has aptly branded the state – ‘One State Many Worlds’. A pioneer in ecotourism, the state has the second most number of nationally protected monuments in the country, second only to Uttar Pradesh. In fact the state is also emerging as a medical tourism hotspot courtesy its alternative therapy centers as well as holistic health units. Well, most recently Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal checked into a naturopathy center in the State to treat his chronic cough. Likewise Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla Parker- Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall has been here several times for holistic healing sessions! This apart the state is home to several important cities like Mysore, Mangalore, Hassan, Coorg, Bijapur and Shimoga, apart from the capital Bengaluru.

RING IN THE FESTIVITIES

The stunning elephant parade during Mysore Dussehra

Think festivals and you instinctively think of Deepavali and Dasara. While these are also celebrated with much pomp and gusto in Karnataka, there are also several unique festivals like the Karaga – said to be one of the oldest festivals (dating back to many centuries) of the state celebrated to honour Goddess Shakti. Held annually at the Dharmarayaswamy temple in Bengaluru in March/April, the nine day festivities derives its name from an earthen pot in which the Goddess is invoked and a grand procession is held in her honour. There is a fire-walking ritual on the last day which sees frenzied activity where the participants are immersed in devotion. Interestingly the person who carries the Karaga has to undergo rigorous rituals including being confined to the temple with a diet of milk and fruits as the pot he carries is a symbol of the Goddesses’ power. In fact his wife becomes a `widow’ and hands over her mangalsutra and bangles to him and he wears the same in the procession. The Karaga bearer is surrounded by many turbaned, bare-chested dhoti- clad Veerakumaras with uncovered swords which is significant as in the event that the Karaga trips and falls, they are supposed stab him. However, till date this is has never happened. The couple remarry post the festival and the Karaga is immersed in the salt water pond from which it was brought originally.

Revellers brave the rain during Mysore Dussehra

This apart, the Hampi Festival is another annual affair that celebrates the birthday of famous poet Purandaradasa. The festival has dance, music, puppet show and fireworks as part of the festivities. Likewise the Pattadakal Dance Festival that takes place in January every year is an ode to different forms of dance and also has a crafts mela that showcases the traditional arts and crafts of the state. Ugadi is the New Year of Kannadigas and the nine day Dasara festival is celebrated with a display of dolls at home, a tradition unique to the state. If you are in Bengaluru in November, you can also witness the Kadalekai Parishe or the annual groundnut fair near Dodda Ganesha temple, near the Bull Temple at Basavanagudi.

The controversial Kambala is an annual festival celebrated in the South Canara district of Karnataka that involves a traditional buffalo race. Likewise, Naga Panchami, Ganesh Chaturthi and Makara Shankranti are celebrated with great gaiety.

GASTRONOMY CALLING

The popular bise bile bhath

Karnataka’s cuisine reflects a beautiful story of the state. If you are looking for traditional food, you can have a typical breakfast of idlis served with mildly spiced coconut chutney, chitranna or lemon rice, puliogare or tamarind rice and khara pongal. Of course the famed bisi bele bhath is a one pot meal made with lentils, rice, vegetables and freshly ground spices and is an absolute must-try when you are here. The best part is that this is a great example of a balanced diet rich in proteins and carbohydrates.

A bowl of kosambri

A typical meal includes Kosambri, a salad made with cucumber, sprouts, and grated coconut and seasoned with mustard and green chilies; Palya, a vegetable preparation made with parboiled vegetables, grated coconut, green chilies and mild spices; and Gojju, vegetables cooked in a spiced tamarind curry. The meal will also have Tovve, a mildly seasoned dal curry; Saaru, a rasam; Huli, a thick broth of lentils and vegetables cooked with ground coconut, spices, tamarind and special spice powder. Another rice dish, vangibath, a spiced rice with eggplant, ragi mudde or steamed ragi dumplings served with soppina saaru (a light rasam made with fresh greens) are also well known dishes.

Likewise when you head to the South Canara district you get to experience a mix of authentic vegetarian Udupi food as well as coastal delights like those made with white meats including local fish, crab, prawn, and squid preparations marinated with coconut, ginger, turmeric and local spices. Bhatkal for instance is home to Laun Miriya Mhaure, a fish preparation cooked in a red chilli masala while Ankola is known for Kotte Roti, an idli-like preparation that soaks up the curry. And while in Mangalore do try the Neer Dosa, a crepe made with rice batter and Kori Roti, crisp wafers made of dry rice and fish and prawn chutneys and pickles. And if you are in Coorg, the Pandi curry or the pork dish is the most famous alongside other pork based delicacies that will entice your palate. And to wash it all down what better than the best fresh filter coffee made with beans from Chikamangalur or Sakleshpur as well as masala majjige, buttermilk with ginger, green chili paste, and coriander.

WATER MATTERS 

Jog Falls, one of the highest plunge falls in India

Karnataka is home to many waterfalls and if you visit them in the right season (post monsoons) it is a great experience to see natural water gushing down in its full glory. The Abbey Falls in Coorg, located about 10 km from Madikeri in the Western Ghats in the midst of thick coffee bushes and tall trees entwined with pepper vines, can be accessed via a short walk on the hanging bridge that takes you very close to them. Likewise the small but magnificent Achakanya Falls is a fascinating sight in the monsoons. Surrounded by lush greenery all around, this waterfall is hidden being located within the dense forest range of Western Ghats and a trek will take you to them.

The Alekan or Alekhan falls located around 18 km from Charmadi Ghats in Chikamagalur can also be reached via a tough trek along a 90 foot drop. The Apsarakonda Falls in Honnavar taluk of Uttara Kannada descends from a height of about 50 feet to a natural pond formed below and you can witness some magnificent sunsets as well thanks to the endless stretch of the Arabian Sea. For a simpler experience head to the Balmuri Falls, a famous picnic spot about 18 km away from Mysore, on the way to the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam. The waterfall is smaller compared to most falls. Barachukki and Gaganachukki are two waterfalls situated near Shivanasamudra in Mandya district created by the Cauvery that runs down a 75 metre gorge before it divides into two branches that flows around the island of Shivanasamudra. They are very easy to access.

Among other falls in Karnataka the noteworthy ones include Barkana Falls, Shimoga; Benne Hole Falls and Burude Falls (both in Karwar), Chunchanakatte Falls, Mysore; Chunchi Falls, Mekedatu; Dabbe Falls and Hidlumane Falls (both in Shimoga), Dondole Falls, Ujre; Godachinamalki Falls and Gokak Falls (both in Belgaum), Hebbe Falls, Kallathi Falls and Honnamma Falls (all in Kemmanagundi) and Iruppu Falls, Coorg. Of course the most well known falls are the Jog Falls about, 8 km north-west of Sagar town. This is where the Sharavati river flowing over a rocky bed about 227 metres wide leaps from the chains of the ghats. The water has four distinct falls, presenting a sense of transcendent grandeur and sublimity and are rightly named as Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Rani.

EXPLORE YOUR WILD SIDE

Wild elephants in the Bandipur National Park

If you love wildlife, Karnataka has an enviable set of national parks and sanctuaries that are home to several species of animals and birds. The state has a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It has a recorded forest area of 38,720 sq km which constitutes 20.19 per cent of the total geographical area of the state. This is where 25 per cent of the elephant population and 20 per cent of the tiger population of India reside. The Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks, part of the Nilgiri biosphere and Kabini, are great places to sight these animals. You can also spot other animals like leopard, wild dog, sloth bear, hyena, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, four-horned antelope, gaur and wild boars. At Kabini, you also have the option to take a boat safari where you can see the marsh crocodile, monitor lizard and a variety of water birds. The common langur, bonnet macaque, jungle cat, slender loris, leopard cat, civet cat, mongoose, common otter, giant flying squirrel, giant squirrel, porcupine, jackal, mouse-deer, hare and pangolin are also found in these parks. You will need to book a safari at the offices of these parks in advance and typically there is an early morning and later afternoon safari that is conducted. The Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on the banks of the River Kali at Dandeli in North Karnataka and also happens to be the second largest sanctuary in the state. This is a natural habitat for tigers, leopards, black panthers, elephants, gaur, deer, antelopes, crocodiles and a variety of snakes, apart from avian species like the golden-backed woodpecker, crested serpent eagle, white breasted kingfisher, grey hornbill, great pied hornbill and Malabar pied hornbill. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area and a tiger reserve, situated amidst Western Ghats in Chikmagalur and Shimoga, is rich in wildlife with diverse range of flora and fauna. The Anshi National Park in North Karnataka has semi-evergreen and evergreen forests and a rich bio diversity as well. If you are in Bengaluru, stop by at the Bannerghatta National Park that is a combination of a zoo and national park and has safaris that take you through a tiger zone, bear zone, leopard zone and more. The Kudremukh National Park in Dakshina Kannada is home to the Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, dhole, golden jackal, lion-tailed macaque, sloth bear, gaur, sambar, spotted deer, barking deer and more.

HERE IS AN ENVIABLE SET OF NATIONAL PARKS AND SANCTUARIES THAT ARE HOME TO SEVERAL SPECIES OF ANIMALS AND BIRDS. THE STATE OF KARNATAKA IN SOUTH INDIA HAS A RICH DIVERSITY OF FLORA AND FAUNA

LUXURY JOURNEYS

The Golden Chariot allows you to explore Karnataka in style

If you have a week and want to explore Karnataka in style, hop on to the Karnataka special luxury train the Golden Chariot that will transport you to the lap of luxury taking you on the only luxury train in South India. Named after the iconic stone chariot of Hampi the train is done up in majestic hues of purple and gold and has 18 coaches, 11 of which are reserved for guests. Named after the various dynasties that once ruled Karnataka, each coach has four rooms equipped with a TV and an attached bathroom. Apart from Wi-fi, the train has a gym, spa, business centre and control room so it is like a hotel on wheels!

RUNNING BETWEEN OCTOBER AND MARCH EACH YEAR, THE GOLDEN CHARIOT TRAIN OFFERS TWO ITINERARIES, THE SOUTHERN SPLENDOUR AND THE PRIDE OF SOUTH. NAMED AFTER THE VARIOUS DYNASTIES THAT ONCE RULED KARNATAKA, EACH COACH HAS FOUR ROOMS EQUIPPED WITH A TV AND AN ATTACHED BATHROOM.

The Golden Chariot has been named after the iconic stone chariot of Hampi

Running between October and March each year, the train offers two itineraries, the Southern Splendour and the Pride of South. The Pride of Karnataka offers you a sneak peek into the diverse sites of the state including heritage, history, architecture and wildlife. This includes stops at the heritage city of Mysore, a wildlife experience at Kabini, a visit to the historical sights of Tipu Sultan’s summer palace and tomb in Srirangapatna and Hassan where you can see the unique 57- foot monolithic statue of Bahubali in Shravanbelagola as well as the sculptural marvels of the Halebid and Belur temples. You also visit the UNESCO world heritage sites Hampi and Pattadakkal as well as the caves of Badami as part of the week long itinerary. The food is another highlight and the mix of local and international cuisine on board will whet your appetite.

TOURISM INITIATIVES

The Mysore Palace is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Karnataka

Tourism minister Priyank Kharge and his team ensures that there is something new all the time, The Tourism Department of Karnataka has recently launched Prathama (Pravasi Thana Mahiti) an online management information system that will collect, collate and disseminate information relevant to tourists. The website hosts the list of tourist destinations, hotels, resorts and home stays, facilities for tourists and more. In fact the government also dedicates each year to a specific aspect of tourism and 2017 has been declared as “The year of the wild”. The tourism department will also be opening 12 eco trails in the Western Ghats and reduce the movement of unauthorized trekkers here. Likewise the famed annual Dasara festivities at Mysore are offered as a package that includes accommodation, meals, sightseeing and events at the Palace.

In fact the Golden Chariot has a special run at this time too. The tourism department has also curated royal walks to enable tourists to explore the heritage-rich city of Mysuru. It is creditable the the department is instrumental in promoting destinations in a unique way through events and festivals that showcase the potential of the destination and this is what makes Karnataka a place like no other.

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THE ROAD TO MANDAWA

A SMALL TOWN IN THE SHEKHAWATI REGION OF RAJASTHAN, MANDAWA IS FAMOUS FOR ITS OLD BUT STILL ATTRACTIVE HAVELIS WITH THEIR COLOURFUL FRESCOES. BY GITIKA SAKSENA I find myself on…

A SMALL TOWN IN THE SHEKHAWATI REGION OF RAJASTHAN, MANDAWA IS FAMOUS FOR ITS OLD BUT STILL ATTRACTIVE HAVELIS WITH THEIR COLOURFUL FRESCOES. BY GITIKA SAKSENA

I find myself on the road to Mandawa. The last stretch of the six-hour-long drive from Delhi is spectacular; a smooth velvety road cuts across an arid grassland. Twisted skeletons of dry Acacia trees add character to the landscape. We enter the busy chaotic main road in town. Among the nondescript bylanes, the glorious past plays peek-a-boo. Colourful frescoes on the walls, ornate wooden doors, deep wells marked by pillars — the town invites travellers to its famous havelis and beckons them to peel through the dusty layers of time.

RADHIKA HAVELI

Radhika Haveli

This haveli has been completely restored and is now a hotel. Getting off the car, I am greeted by walls of lime and mud, embellished with beautiful traditional paintings. The main entrance is crowned by two stone elephants paying obeisance to an idol of the Sun God. Thick colourful borders demarcate rectangular panels with paintings of floral motifs, elephants, men and women in traditional attire, et al. As I walk past the boundary wall on the right, I discover ever more interesting designs including a British man riding a Penny Farthing-esque cycle (a type of bicycle with a large front wheel and a much smaller rear wheel). A flight of steps leads us to the inner courtyard of the double- storeyed haveli. The art inside is stunning, with contiguous stretches of panels running across the four walls. Mural artists, locally known as ‘chiteras’, were commissioned by the Marwaris to paint the facades, the columns and walls in the courtyards, even the inner chambers of the havelis. Natural colours mixed with cow urine were used to enhance the life of the frescoes. Initially influenced by the Mughal or Persian schools, the designs later drew inspiration from the Jaipur school of art after the decline of the Mughal empire.

JHUNJHUNWALA HAVELI

Mandawa attracts a lot of French tourists with a keen interest in art and architecture. As I walk down a bylane, a gaggle of kids follow, imploring me in impeccable French to choose a guide among them. ‘A golden painted room’ – a sign outside a haveli piques my interest and I step inside the courtyard of the Jhunjhunwala haveli. A small contribution made to the resident family, and I have a ticket to step inside the room. With all the windows shut, I widen my eyes to adjust to the low light. A gold leaf painting of Lord Krishna and his gopis on the ceiling is the show stopper here.

CASTLE MANDAWA

CASTLE MANDAWA

The Mandawa fort was built by Thakur Nawal Singh. Now called Castle Mandawa, a section has been converted into a hotel. The story of Mandawa starts in 1755, when Thakur Nawal Singh decided to fortify his trading outpost . A Rajput royal, he ruled over Nawalgarh and Mandawa towns in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. Caravans on the Silk Route were passing through Mandawa, and it was necessary to assert control. Trade prospered and soon, the Marwari merchants and moneylenders from neighbouring regions in Rajasthan set base here. They built beautiful havelis to mark their growing affluence.

THE NAWALGARH TWINS
Do visit the neighbouring town of Nawalgarh, 28 km away from Mandawa, and explore the well-preserved Poddar and Morarka havelis. They have retained their old glory. The frescoes here can be broadly classified into three styles: decorative (including floral designs, flowers, leaves, birds, horses, etc), portraits (of gods, kings, soldiers and public figures like Jawaharlal Nehru and Swami Vivekananda) and descriptive (with scenes borrowed from mythology and anecdotes – an army of soldiers and elephants, a couple in a hot air balloon, a lady listening to a gramophone, et al). The incredible aspect about these frescoes capturing scenes from Europe is the fact that the artists had never been to these places. They imagined them, based on the anecdotes shared by the Marwari merchants who had travelled abroad.

THE CHOKHANI DOUBLE HAVELI

My next stop is an interesting haveli, one which is however, not in the best of shape. Built for two brothers, it has two identical wings, and thus named as the Double Haveli. The havelis of Mandawa were built to suit the needs of the business and household. They were walled on all four sides, with the open courtyards bringing in light and ventilation. The rooms had thick wooden ridged doors, with imported Belgian glass fitted in semi-circular cavities at the top. The outer courtyard was meant for visiting traders, where the value of the deals were negotiated. The inner courtyards of the havelis were meant for family members.

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KNOW YOUR SAMOSAS

UNKNOWN TO MANY, THE HUMBLE SAMOSA COMES WITH A RICH HISTORY, HAS NUMEROUS VARIATIONS AND IS ALSO POPULAR IN MANY COUNTRIES ABROAD. BY AARTI KAPUR SINGH Lets get this straight…

UNKNOWN TO MANY, THE HUMBLE SAMOSA COMES WITH A RICH HISTORY, HAS NUMEROUS VARIATIONS AND IS ALSO POPULAR IN MANY COUNTRIES ABROAD. BY AARTI KAPUR SINGH

Lets get this straight at the very outset. The ubiquitous samosa – our very own popular snack at every railway station, every city bazaar and every canteen – was never ours. Yes, it is true.

Be it an evening chat with friends at the street corner khoka, or a sophisticated business meeting in an air-conditioned room, the call for a samosa remains a constant. But the neatly folded, tightly packed savoury goodness that we thought belonged to India actually travelled here all the way from Central Asia centuries ago. But thanks to its amazing appeal, it cleverly adapted to the local’s tastes and happily settled among the foodies of South Asia (yes, it is even popular in China and Korea) and became a staple offering.

From Egypt to Libya and from Central Asia to India, the stuffed triangle with different names has garnered immense popularity. Originally named samsa, after the pyramids in Central Asia, historical accounts also refer to it as sanbusak, sanbusaq or even sanbusaj, all deriving from the Persian word, sanbosag. The samosa is claimed to have originated in the Middle East (where it is known as sambosa ). Abolfazl Beyhaqi (995-1077), an Iranian historian, mentioned it in his tome Tarikh-e Beyhaghi.

Aloo Samosa

Samosas were introduced to the Indian subcontinent in the 13th or 14th century by traders from Central Asia. Amir Khusro (1253–1325), a scholar and the royal poet of the Delhi Sultanate, wrote in around c. 1300 CE that the princes and nobles enjoyed the “samosa prepared from meat, ghee, onion and so on”. Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century traveller and explorer, describes a meal at the court of Muhammad bin Tughluq, where the samushak or sambusak, a small pie stuffed with minced meat, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and spices, was served before the third course of pulao. The Ain-i-Akbari, a 16th-century Mughal document, mentions the recipe for qutab, which it says, “the people of Hindustan call sanbúsah”. Samosas were brought to India by various Muslim merchants, and patronized under various Islamic dynasties in the region. In South Asia, it was introduced by the Middle Eastern chefs during the Delhi Sultanate rule, although some accounts credit traders for bringing the fare to this part of the world. Nevertheless, from its humble beginnings — in older days, people would cook the mince-filled triangles over campfire and eat them as snacks during travel — the samosa has come a long way. And after having earned the blessings of Indian royalty, the snack soon became food fit for the king.

Punjabi Samosa

Commonly, samosa is the gorgeous, deep-fried, twisted pack of spicy goodness that oozes with chicken, meat or potato. Few family gatherings or iftar parties are complete without this signature snack. There are few snacks that couple as perfectly with tea as samosa, and the chai-samosa team is probably the reason behind thousands of brainstorming sessions and heated discussions.

The samosa offers you the ultimate tongue seduction. The tantalising taste emanates from the triangular tetrahedral golden-fried pastry, filled with spiced mashed potato and vegetables, or ground minced meats. The varieties available in samosa know no limits. From the regular, meat/potato stuffing to spinach, corn and peas, to sweet halwa or coconut filling, the list is endless. The adventurous few may even want to foray into seafood samosas. Just dip them into chutney of your choice (those who even imagine samosas with ketchup, please reassess your priorities), and savour the taste that has weaved its magic forever.

After its arrival in India, the samosa was adapted as a vegetarian dish in Uttar Pradesh. Centuries later, it is one of the most popular vegetarian snacks in India. In North India, the pastry is prepared from maida flour and houses fillings such as a mixture of mashed boiled potato, green peas, onion, green chilli and spices.

Samosas with red chutney

Meat samosas are also common in North India and Pakistan, with lamb and chicken being the most popular fillings. Paneer is another popular filling in northern India.

Samosas are served hot, and usually eaten with a fresh chutney such as mint, carrot, or tamarind. In Punjabi households, dhabas and street stalls, samosa is served with a chickpea curry called channa.

Another popular variation in Indian street food is the Samosa Chaat. The samosa is topped with yoghurt, tamarind chutney, finely chopped onions, and masala. The contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures are sensational. Street food gastronomes, particularly in Mumbai and Maharashtra, are familiar with the Samosa Paav. This is a samosa served in a fresh bun and it is like an Indian samosa burger. This is also how it is served in Kasauli and Shimla – and the bun samosa available in these hills is a major tourist attraction.

The sweet samosa, known as a Mawa or Gujiya Samosa is also eaten in some parts of India, particularly to celebrate Diwali. In some parts of northern India, varieties of sweet samosas include dried fruit. In south India, samosas are influenced by the local cuisine and they are made with south Indian spices. They are also folded differently and usually eaten without chutney. As well as the familiar ingredients, South Indian samosas may also include carrots, cabbage and curry leaves. In Hyderabad, the samosa is known as lukhmi and has a thicker pastry crust and is usually filled with minced meat. The Goan samosa is known as a chamuça and is made with minced pork or chicken.

Fried samosa with chocolate sauce

In the globalised world of today, the growing popularity of fusion food has witnessed the advent of the pizza samosa, the macaroni samosa and even Maggi samosa. Dessert varieties inspired by Western cuisine include the apple pie samosa, chocolate samosa and even an ice cream samosa. Another innovation is to make the samosa healthier by baking it instead of frying it, and packing it full of fresh vegetables.

The samosa has become so mainstream that it is now sold in big chain supermarkets. It is available as ready meal, as a ready-to-eat snack in the deli section, and as a frozen food item. Frozen samosas are increasingly available at grocery stores in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Samosas are a truly international food enjoyed by millions in various countries (see boxitem). Whether you are travelling to one of the countries, or just sitting in your living room at home, wow your taste buds with the taste of the humble yet fiery samosa.

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MONSOON TREKS AROUND PUNE

COME MONSOONS AND THE LAKES AROUND PUNE FILL UP, THE CITY LOOKS CLEAN AND FRESH AND THE HILLS ARE DRENCHED IN GREEN. THE CITY THAT WAS ONCE KNOWN AS A…

COME MONSOONS AND THE LAKES AROUND PUNE FILL UP, THE CITY LOOKS CLEAN AND FRESH AND THE HILLS ARE DRENCHED IN GREEN. THE CITY THAT WAS ONCE KNOWN AS A RETIRED MAN’S PARADISE, SEES MANY ENTHUSIASTIC TREKKERS SCALING THE SEVERAL FORTS THAT SIT PERCHED ON HILL TOPS ALL AROUND. BY PRANJALI BHONDE

Maharashtra has a rich history of rulers and invaders that saw a lot of forts being build for fortification during the era of Shivaji and the Mughals. And thanks to the presence of Western Ghats, Pune is the focal point for many a trek that are located at over an hour’s drive from the city. So brave the rain and undertake these mesmerizing treks that give you a chance to witness nature at her most beautiful.

KALSUBAI PEAK

Early morning view from Kalsubai

Drive time from Pune: 4 hr 43 min (175 km)

Drive up to: Bari village

Kalsubai is the highest peak in Maharashtra (1646 m) and is popularly called the Everest of Maharashtra. The trek starts at Bari village, 15 km from Bhandardhara and winds its way up through lush green valleys and waterfalls. The trek is a mix of easy-toascend slopes as well as treacherous rocky areas overlooking the valley. The trek winds through paddy fields and a wildlife sanctuary that spreads from Kalsubai to Harishchandragad. The final part of the trek is a moderately steep climb made easy by iron ladders built along the slope. The other route via Indore is provided with stone steps along with iron chains. The highest point, Kalsubai peak (5400 m) is reached after a walk through clouds and rocky terrain. Your reward — gorgeous views of the adjoining forts and a chance to walk in the clouds. This truncated peak holds the Kalsubai temple that has a traditional prayer service every Tuesday and Thursday. Navratri is marked with a fair organized each year at the summit with many stalls being set up near the summit to provide pooja materials to the devotees.

KALAVANTIN DURG

Kalavantin Durg

Drive time from Pune: 5 hr (276 km)

Drive up to: Thakurwadi

Located 276 km from Mumbai, brace up for this amazing one day trek to Kalavantin Durg situated between Matheran and Panvel. This trek starts from the base village at Thakurwadi and presents a brilliant introduction to the flora and fauna of the Sahyadris, taking you through some amazingly stark mountain scenery. The Kalavantin Durg trek is divided into two phases — first an uphill terrain till Prabalmachi from where the trek forks into two — Kalavantin Durg and Prabalgad. The fort is adjacent to Prabalgad Fort between Matheran and Panvel and can be reached by deviating through Shedung from the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway. The trek is fairly tough and is recommended only for experienced trekkers. The Kalavantin trek follows a steep upward climb through rock cut steps that wind their way up to the fort. The trail passes through lush green thickets and narrow valleys only to end in a panoramic view at a height of 2,300ft. The ‘Durg’ was initially used as a watch tower. The view from the Durg is mesmerizing, an undeterred view of the adjoining landscape and spectacular views of the Sayadris. The trek also presents an opportunity of sampling the local village food at Prabalgad wadi and capturing snippets of village life and farm.

LOHAGAD FORT

Lohgad Fort

Drive time from Pune: 1 hr 40 min (63 km)

Drive up to: Lohagad village near Lonavala

Located 63 km from Pune close to Lonavala, Lohagad stands for “Iron Fort” in Marathi. It is a choice location for trekkers this season for its fairly easy climb. Shivaji Maharaj captured Lohagad in the 17th century, but he was forced to surrender it to the Mughals by the Treaty of Purandar. He recaptured the fort soon after and used it for keeping his treasures. The fort has witnessed several dynasties during its history — Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, Nizamshahis, Mughals and Marathas. Although there are two ways to the Fort, the best is via Bhaja caves that include 22 rock cut caves that date back to the 2nd century BC. The trek up is relatively easy with wild flowers and lush green dotting your path. It’s a climb of 450 odd steps to the fort (1033 m), that is shrouded in clouds and mist during the monsoons. Enjoy an amphitheater view of the Indrayani- Pavna basin and the Sahyadris. There are four doors to the Fort — the Ganesh Darwaja, the Narayan Darwaza, Hanuman Darwaza and the Maha Darwaja. The Maha Darwaja is an architectural wonder with fortified strong walls. Trekkers can choose to hike up to the neighbouring Visapur fort which is connected by a small range.

SINHAGAD

Drive time from Pune: 1 hr 18 min (38 km)

Drive up to: Sinhagad village or Atekar Vasti though there is a motorable road that takes you to the top of the fort.

If you are looking for a trek where you can pack in adventure and fun, this one’s just for you. Located at an hour’s drive from Pune, Sinhagad is a favourite trekking destination for most Punekars. Many trekkers can be seen making their way to the top on any given Sunday, taking in the expansive views of the hills shrouded in green. The fort was earlier known as ‘Kondana’ but after the battle between the Mughals and the Marathas in 1671, it came to be called Sinhagad . There are two ways to trek up to the fort — either from Atekar Vasti or you can drive right upto the forts parking lot. The climb to the top is fairly easy and takes two hours approximately. But as you make your way to the fort, you will be met with two ‘darwazas’- the Kalyan Darwaza and ‘Pune drawaza’. Do not miss out on the ‘Kade-lot’ – the cliff where prisoners were thrown off, ‘Hawa point’ – where the wind will literally blow you off your feet and also the famous cliff edge that was scaled by Tanaji Malusare with his monitor lizard. And while you take in the beauteous views of the Khadakwasla Dam, relax and feast on the crisp ‘kanda bhajis’ and ‘zunka bhakars’ , that have almost become synonymous with the fort.

HARISHCHANDRAGAD

Drive time from Pune: 4 hr 36 min (172 km)

Drive up to: Khireshwar

Harishchandragad Fort located in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra dates back to the 6th century Kalachuri dynasty while the caves around the fort were carved in 11th century. The fort is steeped in history and there are references to it in various Puranas. In the monsoons, the surrounding hills are drenched in green, the withering landscape is revitalised and the lakes fill up. The trek is daunting if you are a novice and is a steep climb upwards from the base village at Khireshwar. You can choose to visit the Nageshwar temple near Khireshwar that has beautiful carvings and houses a 1.5 m long sculpture of Lord Vishnu in the sleeping posture. The trek meanders through ponds, caves and peaks and presents an introduction to some notable places of interest like the Saptatirtha Pushkarni, Kedareshwar Cave and Konkan Kada. As you trek upwards, the route winds through Kedareshwar Cave which houses the Shiva Linga that is completely surrounded by water and is picturesque. The Konkan ‘Kada’ (resembling snake’s hood), inclined at almost 80 degrees, looks down upon Konkan region. If you are lucky, you may spot a circular rainbow from the cliff during the monsoons.

 

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FLAVOURS OF PUNJAB

THERE’S MORE TO PUNJABI CUISINE THAN THE OVER-HYPED BUTTER CHICKEN AND THE PANEER DISHES. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO Even 22 years after seeing Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I can vividly…

THERE’S MORE TO PUNJABI CUISINE THAN THE OVER-HYPED BUTTER CHICKEN AND THE PANEER DISHES. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO

Even 22 years after seeing Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I can vividly recall the song Tujhe dekha to and the beautiful mustard farm it was picturised in. The sight of the yellow flowers amidst verdant greenery has always been stuck in my mind. Imagine then, my joy when I recently went to Punjab to explore the state’s culture and cuisine – and landed there in the midst of the mustard harvesting season. I was treated to rows and rows of unending yellow and green fields that instantly uplifted my spirits on my maiden visit to the Land of Five Rivers.

Say Punjab and the immediate association is of food. As much as it is a cliché, I always think of Punjabis as people who love food. While I found this to be true, I also discovered that there is so much more to the cuisine beyond the done-to-death butter chicken and paneer dishes. It is no coincidence that Punjab has always had a rich food culture. It is said that the Maharaja of Patiala was a food connoisseur who ensured his cooks write out their recipes in detailed manuscripts.

I started my food trail in Amritsar at Pul Kanjari close to the India-Pakistan border and followed it up with a pind or farm visit. The first thing that caught my attention was the amazing array of pickles from carrot and turnip to cauliflower and even quail meat. There were also items like Shikar da Achar and Dehu da Achar as well as amla and apple murabbas – they make for a compelling sight and taste awesome too. While the ubiquitous lassi is always a big favourite, I suggest you try the Kaali Gajar Ki Kanji made with seasonal black carrot, mustard seeds and asafoetida allowed to dry under the sun in a container and fermented for a few days. The tangy drink has a sweet sour taste and is brilliant pink in colour.

The best part is that the inherent nature of the cuisine is simple and focuses on using traditional methods of preparation that retain the taste, flavour and nutrients. The spices are robust and coarsely grounded. They are never pureed in a mixie and it is always about cooking the food slowly and allowing it to cook overnight on a low flame. Gurpreet Singh, Corporate Chef, Punjab Grill, explains, “Most often Punjabi cuisine is synonymous with North Indian cuisine and it is limited to butter chicken, dal makhani and butter naan. However these are not Punjabi dishes at all. There are many dishes that are unexplored. In Punjab it is all about farming and the focus is on seasonal food. So while in Italy you have olive oil, you have mustard oil here. In winters, you have the divine sarson da saag and the ghobi shalgam achaar and makki (corn flour) and bajra (a millet) that make the food special.”

Lal Lobiya

So you have mouth-watering nonvegetarian delicacies like Tawa Tikka (a cutlet cooked on slow heat), Mutton Chaamp (spicy mutton mince cutlets), Amritsari Machchi (a river fish called Singhada cooked in traditional spices), Bhunna Ghosht (a mutton dish) and Charga Kukkad (a pan fried chicken dish). The vegetarian fare is equally extensive. The Methi Paneer (a fenugreek based dish), Gajar aur Gobhi di sabzi (a curry with carrot and cauliflower), Lal Lobiya (a kidney bean preparation) and Harra Cholliya Pulao (a rice dish with fresh green channa) figure high on the list of must-eats. Also, the wadi is a key feature of the food. These are lentils that are soaked, pureed and sun dried and can be used to enhance the flavour of the food – in the curries and even in rice. The variety of desserts is also amazing and the Malpua is made without dipping it in chashni (sugar syrup). Likewise Amritsar has its unique fruit cream and also Ganne Wale Chawal (rice cooked in sugar cane juice). The Khoye De Barfi, Gajjar Halwa and Makhane Di Kheer are also great options to try while you are in Punjab.

Chargha Chicken

The key feature in the cuisine is to keep the food fresh and literally have a farm-to-fork experience. Delving deep into the cuisine, I chat with Rama Ranjit Mehra who is a Medical Practitioner and founder of Ranjit’s SVAASA, a heritage boutique spa haveli in Amritsar. She explains, “Cooking in a handi put on a fire overnight especially the sarson ka saag and maa ki dal is the traditional way of cooking.

Methi Aloo is also famous here and the interesting part is that the potato is cooked with the skin as it is rich in nutrients and is specifically cooked in mustard oil. The old Punjabi folks like food that is served just off the flame. Also, the atta (wholewheat flour) is never put in the fridge. It is always kneaded fresh, first half done and then rested and again kneaded so that the rotis are fresh.”

In fact the aroma of the food cooked in this manner is captivating and the use of pure ghee is extensive. Also, a variety of digestives or churans are mandatory after the meal. So you have the pomegranate or Anardhana Churan that is a must after a heavy meal.

In fact the Yajur Veda (an ancient Hindu scripture devoted to the worship of the gods) has a verse that beautifully encapsulates Punjabi food: “May I prosper through the sacrifice and have plenty milk, ghee, honey and enjoy food with my kith and kin. May I have freedom from hunger and have my bins full of wheat, lentils and all other grains.”

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