29 June 2015

The Food Week That Was - Celebrating The Men That Matter

Last week's food journey was memorable. I re-discovered an old favorite restaurant. And made a new favorite. But over and above all of that, I had two special meals with two special men. Having the perfect dining company accentuates your meal, taking it to a whole new level, and I experienced that two nights in a row. Read on for the full story:

Mamagoto with my Papa:
Really, I am the last person to go around celebrating Mother's/ Father's/ Neighbour's/ Kaam wali Bai's Day. But this year dad and I decided to make an exception to the rule, and actually go out, dine and celebrate. Sometimes you just need a reason to go eat out, and I think this was our reason. Also the rains were making us both mope around the house, and there's nothing like good Asian food to cheer you up. So we decided to brave the downpour and trek up to good ol' Mamagoto for some steaming hot dimsums, and curry.

Mamagoto turned into Papagoto on ocassion of Father's Day which I think was such a cute gesture with a huge Papagoto sign at the entrance. I was back to Mamagoto after a really long time. Sometimes we tend to visit restaurants when they launch, and then forget about these places because of newer places cropping up. The same happened with Mamagoto and me. I had a memorable meal here a year ago when their Andheri branch launched, and somehow the place managed to slip out of my memory.

I really love the ambiance here. Quirky pop art and Oriental anime adorns the room, and adds such colour and life to the industrial, bare walls. The meal we had was delicious, just like the last time. Dad loved the Honey Chicken with Bell Peppers which was the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, and is a comfortable Chinese dish. I particularly enjoyed the Gyozas where plump herbed chicken pieces came steamed and then pan fried. With the perfect outer coating, and a drizzle of chilli vinegar on top, I loved eating this! 

The portion sizes here are huge, case in point the Prawn Penang Curry we ordered. The Street Vendor's Penang Curry bowl where our silky, hot curry came on a bowl of sticky rice making it a meal by itself. I loved the crunch of the peanuts on top, and a squeeze of lime elevates the flavour. A Caramel Sponge Cake topped with Toffee Sauce and paired with vanilla ice cream ended our meal on a sweet note. This is a homely, old school dessert and that toffee sauce is to die for! Definitely repeat ordering this next time around too.

24 June 2015

My 'The Bombay Canteen' Experience

I visited the much talked about The Bombay Canteen four days ago. Yes, I know I am late to the bandwagon, especially since everyone rushes to review a new restaurant seconds after it has just launched. Some how I am always weary of those reviews since initial teething problems need to be taken into consideration. My The Bombay Canteen visit was long overdue, for some reason I was never in Lower Parel during meal hours. Having gazillion dining options in and around Bandra makes one lazy.

I had read and heard such wonderful things about The Bombay Canteen - impeccable food, innovative menu, comforting ambiance, and an ever smiling staff. I went and experienced all those things for myself. My The Bombay Canteen experience was filled with lots of hits, a few misses, making for an overall above average meal. I decided to do a review of the place initially, but I later realized nothing I say or write will make a difference to the popularity of The Bombay Canteen. It is a hit, immensely popular, and will do well irrespective of what we write about it, akin to a Salman Khan blockbuster if I may.  

The Bombay Canteen is here to stay. Here is my take behind this eatery's unprecedented success. And why I think we need more such innovative dining out options in a city like Mumbai which is open to experimenting with what's on their plate. 

The Desi Connect: 
Hats off to Chef Floyd Cardoz, Top Chef Masters Season 3 winner, and culinary director of The Bombay Canteen for sticking true to his roots, and ours too with the largely India inspired menu. It's Indian cuisine, served with a twist. Gone are the heavy cream laden gravies, and kebabs that we've grown to associate with Indian food. The menu here is a perfect amalgamation of Indian dishes yet served with a contemporary, international flare. The menu is experimental without trying too hard, yet grounded in comforting flavors.

Take for example the Pork Thepla Tacos we tried which feels so wrong yet tastes so right. Thin slivers of methi thepla, come filled with the most delicious, succulent pork gravy, making it something every staunch Gujarati will roll their eyes at. Another case in point was the Seafood Bhel - finely julienned vegetables, teekhi meethi chutney, sev as garnishing, and prawns! Such a beautiful way of experimenting with a classic favourite - where plump prawns intersperse your every bite. Sadly our bhel was lacking calamari that afternoon, which I'm sure would have elevated the dish further.

This trend is seen throughout their menu, in everything you order, right from their cocktails, to their 'Chhota' snacking plates, to the 'Bada' main courses, and their desserts. Where else do you get to see a 'Jackfruit Tan-Ta-Tan' - a twist on a conventional Tarte Tatin, or Tandoori Pork Ribs replacing the chicken. Full marks to innovation, indeed.

Time Travel:
I would return to The Bombay Canteen because of how deeply nostalgic it made me feel. The rainy Saturday afternoon Bee and I visited, we were greeted by old Hindi classics playing on the speakers. Very few fine dine restaurants consider Hindi or Indian music worthy of being on their track list, and this was such a surprise. While Mukesh crooned on the speakers, Bee sang along with him, the rain pitter-pattered outside, I couldn't have asked for more!
We spotted such miniscule details in the ambiance of this 'canteen', it truly took us back in time. It gives off an Irani cafe feel in so many ways, and this Irani was thrilled. Old school, vintage tiles and stained glass patterns that perfectly off sets the industrial look walls, the vibe is genius. 

You'll see small knick knacks around that will remind you of your school canteen, especially if you are a 90s kid. The bar has Thums Up and Energy Milk bottles on display along with the usual alcohol bottles. The menu comes filed in what looks like the cover of an old attendance register. Our Canteen Tiffin Box - mustard chicken curry, maska pao, crispies, and sprouts salad - came in a stainless steel dabba that looked like a dabba I took my lunch to school in. And don't forget to spot the little counter on your way out that has Phantom candy cigarattes,  Wibs slice bread, Frooti, mawa cake peeking out at you, inviting you to take a trip back in time. 

Paisa Vasool:
This canteen may not be priced like your office canteen, or like the canteen from your school days, but it is pleasantly priced. We paid Rs. 1800/- for a meal for two, including a beer, and 'ghastly' taxes as they mentioned on the menu. Considering how assorted taxes, and charges have butchered up our bills, the pricing at The Bombay Canteen was a pleasant surprise. Also keeping in mind how other find dine, fusion Indian restaurants in the city are priced (will refrain from taking names here), the pricing here falls perfectly in the middle bracket.

The service is also warm and smiling, with Executive Chef Thomas Zacharias personally chatting up the diners. I wish he had come spoken to us that afternoon so we could tell him what a wonderful 'experience' we had. Our food was decent, but there was so much more that adds to eating out. Dining has become an 'experience', and The Bombay Canteen gave us a fun lunch we loved.

(The author dined at The Bombay Canteen anonymously and paid for her own meals. The views are purely her own.)

The Bombay Canteen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

10 June 2015

Three Things I Learnt From My Late Grandfather - And So Can You!

I lost my paternal grandfather a year ago. It was a difficult time. Even though we did not stay with my grandparents, I was particularly fond of him. We spent extended summer holidays with my grandparents at their home in Dahanu, during which I got to understand him closely and love him even more. There are so many memories that I have of him. The way he used to call me 'Madam', his nickname for me. His love for wrist watches and how he used to observe everyone's hands to see what watch they wearing. That old, white ambassador car with curtains on the windows that used to drive him to and fro. 
I could go on and on. I am writing this post to share with you'll what a wonderful man he was. I learnt a lot from him - big things and small. But here are three pointers that he taught me, which I'm keeping with me for life. And so should you.

1. The Importance of Discipline
My grandfather loved his routine. When I lived with him during my summer holidays, I began to learn his time table by heart. He woke up at his fixed time, had his meals at a fixed time, went to his shop and got back at his fixed time. His time table was always adhered to, and very rarely could anything or anyone alter his routine. 
I began to realize the importance of discipline and staying true to time very early in life. He taught me to single handedly focus on a given task at hand, with unwavering attention, letting nothing else distract you. Because he was just like that. Nothing could distract him from his morning paper reading session or his evening exercise schedule. Time was time for him. He adhered to it very strictly. And somewhere so do I. I owe my punctuality, fixation to rules, and love for time tables to him. 

2. The Value of Education
My grandfather dropped out of school to run a family business at a very young age. But he understood the importance of education. Every time he would speak to me on the phone, his first question was inquiring how my studies were going, or whether I was attending my college lectures properly. When I started working at a reputed hospital later on in life, he was extremely proud of me. I got a feeling I was achieving milestones in life which he somewhere was unable to.
He always continued to motivate me to study further and aim higher. I remember telling him at the age of 25 that I wanted to pursue my doctorate. (One of my many whims. I never got around to actually pursuing it.) While most others told me I was of a marriageable age, and needed to focus my time on finding someone and settling down, he was the only one who gave me a thumbs up, and told me to go for it no matter how many years it would take. I remember his words of wisdom from time to time. In his Parsi Gujarati dialect he would say,'Money is here today, gone tomorrow. Good looks will stay with you while you are young, and disappear later. What is in your head, what you learn, no one can take away from you.' I'll keep his saying with me for life, and even pass it on to my children someday, in hope that they too realize what the power of education is.

3. The Joy in Eating
My 'bomas' loved his food. Part of it was because he was married to a wonderful cook. So many memories from my Dahanu trips were rooted around food, and my granny's cooking. I remember the extravagant meals we would share, and how my grandfather would relish them. I remember wanting to eat 'Feast' ice cream, it having just launched in the market. The next day, a crate of Feast arrived home and I spent the entire summer eating Feast. Having said that, I never ate Feast ever again thanks to the overdose I had that summer.
He was extravagant and liberal when it came to feeding people. Crates and crates of alphonso mangoes, dozens of tender coconuts just picked from the trees in our front yard, and baskets of chikoos were a common summer sight, and we relished them together. He had a peculiar way of eating his food. He would mix his rice, dal, vegetables, meat, and achaar all together for the first five minutes of his meal, and then go on to eating it. I would always pick at his style, and he'd reply 'Pet ma jai ne baddhu mix thavanu che', which translates to 'it's all going to go get mixed in the stomach in any case'. Now I've started to mix my dal rice and veggies together too, and every time I do that I think fondly of him.

My grandfather was a self made man and always taught his children and grandchildren the value of money. Inspite of us having cushioned comfortable lives, we were always taught to spend wisely and intelligently. I remember sitting across my grandfather at the dinner table every night, while he did his 'hisaab' or daily accounts where each rupee was to be accounted for. I was taught to do small chores around the house, in exchange for which I would receive a shiny bright coin to spend. He also loved travelling in his youth, and fondly spoke of his trips to Disneyland and Germany. 

8th June 2014 is when I lost my grandfather. 15th June is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. It's saddening to know that 50% of the elderly in our country face exploitation and abuse in some form in our country. (Source: Helpage India) Let us learn to respect, and value the elderly. Let us learn from their experience, walk on the path they show us, because there is no teacher like time. This post is to thank my late grandfather for teaching me so many important life lessons. And for my grandparents, who I continue to learn from every day of my life.

5 June 2015

Trailing Through Tuscany

One of the many reasons I love the power of food is it's ability to make you travel. One bite of a dish and you are immediately transported to bustling cities or calming coastlines or old school villages - depending on the origin of that dish. I have never been to Tuscany, or Italy for that matter, but was looking forward to a foodcation at Prego, The Westin Mumbai. Their ongoing 'Tuscan Trail' at the hotel's famed Italian restaurant, Prego, is where I would board my flight to Tuscany's hearty and simplistic fare. I've had a spectacular meal at Prego previously, and I could not wait for this one to begin. 

A wonderful evening filled with warm company, delightful conversation, and freely flowing wine - but the food was the real star here. Executive Chef Rahul Dhavale excitedly chatted with us about his newly conceived menu highlighting the best of what Toscano has to offer - Farm Fresh local produce, truffles, sea food, meats, soups, cheese, steaks, ethnic pastas & wine inclusions. Cuisine from Tuscany is simple and hearty with the produce being highlighted. No overdose of cheese, no addition of unnecessary spices, and definitely no overcooked pasta here - everything is as authentic as you can get. I've never really been to Italy, but I'll take his word for it.

I started off my four course journey with the Panzanella - a Tuscan summer bread salad. The traditional Panzanella has tossed vegetables with chunks of soaked bread and tomatoes. This modern rendition was a single piece of bread, soaked in a luscious tomato sauce, with vegetables artistically arranged on top, with a drizzle of olive oil. The cucumber foam on the side was a refreshing twist. The Panzanella was a lovely start to the meal, and I can't wait to go try the real deal in Tuscany.


2 June 2015

Lanka Diaries: Must Do

Here's my second post of my Lanka Diaries series. I just cannot seem to get over the vacation I had. Hoping you have read the last one featuring the best of Sri Lankan food and where I found it. (Read it here). Lanka is so raw, beautiful, and untapped - it has everything from surly mountains, to bustling cities, to pristine waters, to clear blue skies. It has the potential to become THE next tourist destination. But I sincerely hope it does not. I rather prefer a quiet, less commercial holiday over a fast paced, 'touristy' one. 

In this post I jot down my 'Must Do' recommendations while considering a holiday in the land down south. Remember this does not even cover a fraction of the actual list. This is just a list of the some of the stuff I did there, and enjoyed so much; so I thought I'd share the love. There are only so many hours in a day, after all.

1. Feed a baby elephant at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
A half hour drive from the main city of Kandy in the Central Province lies a quaint little town known for it's elephants. The elephant orphanage in Pinnawala is known for having the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. Over here you can see daddy, mummy and baby elephants in their natural habitat prancing around, or even bathing in the nearby river. The elephant bathing happens only at a particular time during the day, so make sure you research that beforehand because it is quite an experience. We went during elephant feeding time in the evening, where the grown ups were munching on leaves and branches. The babies on the other hand were being bottle fed (awww). Pay a little extra and get to bottle feed a baby elephant yourself. Don't forget to touch the little fellow's wrinkly, tough trunk while you're at it. Accompanying elephant stalls try and sell elephant rides to you but we didn't do that. These gentle giants are supposed to be admired from afar, not ridden.
Guaranteed: Maternal instincts towards the little one as you see him gulp his bottle down, and holds your hand with his trunk asking for some more feed.

Lover's Tiff
The Latest in Elephant Headgear
The Adjoining Oya River

Watcha staring at?