28 September 2015

SodaBottleOpenerWala - Nostalgia. Heritage. Bhonu.

Disclaimer - This is not a review. It would not be fair to review places or things that are sentimentally close to your heart.

Being a Zoroastrian Irani, I feel proud of my community's contribution towards evolving the cultural landscape of a city back then known as 'Bombay'. Irani cafes or restaurants are what initiated the dining out concept in colonial Raj. Irani restaurants were among the first community spaces that threw open their  doors to people of all caste, creed, religion and socio economic status alike, and served them copious amounts of chai with bun maska. You could be a British Army cadet, stock market babu, or a roadside vendor - an Irani restaurant would serve you equally and generously.

The journey of the Irani restaurant has been beautiful and colossal. What started off as a single Irani gentleman selling chai to officegoers from his 'sigdi', which later culminated into restaurants that served Parsi dishes and bakery products in addition to the humble chai. And then there is SodaBottleOpenerWala (SBOW) which is attempting to redefine the Irani cafe experience, without altering the sanctity of what an Irani cafe should be. Modern yet quirky, idiosyncratic, and nostalgic - dining at SBOW, which has just launched at Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), tugged at my heartstrings because it is a beautiful attempt at trying to preserve the dying legacy of Irani restaurants.

Restaurateur AD Singh took his concept of a modern Irani restaurant to Gurgaon, New Delhi, Bangalore, and Hyderabad before returning to the homeland where it all began. As I dined there on the preview night, a bit skeptical about how a Mumbai Irani themed restaurant would fare in a city where the original Mumbai Irani restaurants already exist, I couldn't help but draw parallels between the two - the old Irani restaurants 'then', and SBOW 'now'. And it is within these similarities, and differences that lies the charm of Mr. SBOW.

The Look:
Then: Large spacious rooms, high ceilings, and cramped within that  space - glass paneled tables with red chequered table cloths. An Irani cafe was an extension of the owner's home, and the steel Godrej cupboards and wooden showcases with curios was proof enough. The sound of the fan whirring above your head while you tucked into melt-into-your mouth mawa cakes, made up for the sweltering heat.

Now: I spent half an hour just absorbing the microscopic details that have gone into creating the Instagram worthy ambiance of SBOW by architect Clement and Sabina Singh. The basic framework of an Irani cafe exists - wooden tables and chairs, red chequered tablecloths, mismatched lamps, 'bannis' selling confectioneries, and vintage tiled flooring for you to click your feet against. In addition, you'll also find a large mural of the wall from Merwan's, a Royal Enfield gleaming proudly at the entrance, and a toy train that chugs across the perimeter of the restaurant's ceiling. Portraits of Parsis adorning the walls, and a smattering of assorted curios give the place a far more homely vibe.  And then there's the blackboard listing out the establishment rules, a common sight at The decor perfectly encapsulates the old and the new, is a beautiful amalgamation of an Irani restaurant and a Bawaji home, and this remains the most cherished aspect of my meal at SBOW that evening.

The Bawa OCD for cleanliness extends to the toilet too.
Rules for eating at my restaurant

22 September 2015

Three Reasons to Dine at Olive Bistro, Goregaon

It's sad how scarce the fine dine options get once you travel past Andheri. The launch of Olive Bistro in Goregaon's Oberoi Mall serves as an oasis in the middle of a scorched desert. It is a breath of fresh air to Mumbai residents who live beyond the Andheri Line Of Control. Why should SoBo-ites have all the fun?

Olive Bistro (OB), is the modern, casual bistro version of Bandra's Olive Bar and Kitchen that arrives in Mumbai after making a mark in Pune, Hyderabad and Delhi. The vibe here is fun, quirky and a contrast of colour as opposed to the white washed older sibling, that is Olive. The food here is comforting, deli fare with modern elements. I spent a Sunday afternoon there leisurely checking out the place, tasting the menu, and enjoying what Olive Bistro has to offer. It was a perfectly beautiful Sunday brunch - how Sunday brunches should be. Here are three reasons why you should consider checking out Olive Bistro -

1. Looks Do Matter -
The minute you walk through the glass paneled walls that separate OB from the pandemonium of the mall, get prepared to be taken aback by how beautifully the space has been done up. You'll be greeted by an old matador van, spruced up by graffiti, which will serve as a space to dole out live pizzas from. Then there's that spectacular looking chandelier made out of pretty bone china plates that you can't help but ogle at while secretly hoping a plate doesn't land on your head during dinner.

16 September 2015

An Open Letter....

I have been wanting to write this letter since a while. But the fear of getting embroiled in controversy - which I seem to have a knack of doing so - kept me quiet. But experience has taught me one thing, for every ten people who support you and love what you do, there will be that one person who will try and pull you down. You've got to take in in your stride, learn from the criticism and walk on.

It seems to have become a fad to hate food bloggers, diss what they do on social media, and criticize their work in private. Some of the stuff out there deserves to be criticized, but some bloggers work hard to do what they do. This is a heartfelt letter, but in no way am I representing the community. 
Blogging For Kids Under 13: Advantages and Disadvantages
(Image Courtesy www.kidslearntoblog.com)
Dear haters/ trolls,
Anyone who writes for a living, or as a hobby, will tell you one thing...writing isn't easy. For every good post that is churned out, there are hours spent staring at a blank screen not knowing what to put out there. Some of us work hard to generate content. For some of us writing may not come easy. But we try.
It is your decision to read what we post. Feel free to click on the red cross on the top right hand of your screen. Feel free not to click on the link that I post on social media to gain readership. I will write what I like, it is your choice to read it or not.
Yes, the food blogging situation has become dismal. But not all of us are free loaders. Not all of us are doing it for one free meal at a restaurant. For some blogging is their career. They make a living out of writing on their blog, or for other publications. For some of us, including me, blogging is simply a hobby. A hobby that thrills us to such an extent that we stay awake at night pondering over what to write next. And sadly for some of us, blogging has become a means of making a quick buck, attaining a fast road to fame. From the latter part of my community, a sincere heartfelt apology. 
Yes the free meals are a perk that comes with being a food blogger. Similarly are free branded clothes, free beauty products, free gadgets, free travel. You get what I am hinting at.

Dear upcoming food bloggers,
For anyone who has just started to blog, I only ask one question, 'why do you want to do this?' If you are getting into this because you think it's going to be an easy road to becoming a celeb on social media, or for free meals at restaurants that you otherwise wouldn't be able to afford....then it saddens me. Write about food because it's a passion. Reading about new cuisines, trying new dishes, experimenting in the kitchen is something that gives you a high!
Your blog is your identity. Please put up content that you'll feel proud of. It is okay to make mistakes. Hell, even the best of bloggers have done that. It is okay to not know everything. If you did, you would be a judge on Masterchef Australia. But try and gain the maximum that you can. Read up recipes and cuisines on google. Travel and eat new dishes to understand world cuisine. If you cannot, the city of Mumbai has enough to offer. Experiment in the kitchen. Only when you cook, you will realize how difficult it is. It will make you humble, and think twice before criticizing a cook at a restaurant you go to review.
Please do not blackmail restaurants into giving you a free meal. Do not force them to pay you to publish a review.  If they say no plus ones allowed, respect that. Write consistently, and write well. There will be a time invitations will flood your inbox, and you'll have to refuse more invites than you accept.
Most importantly, let us support each other. Help each other to grow, cherish and learn.

Dear PR Professionals,
I honestly have no major grouse from you guys. I have met some wonderful folks, and made some lovely friends among the PR companies I have worked with. We must remember one thing though. Respect. We share a symbiotic relationship. We bloggers must respect you, but only if you'll respect us back,
Do not address mails to me with the incorrect name. (I know there are a lot of Bawi bloggers, and the confusion tends to arise). Do not invite us for events with less than 24 hours notice. It makes me feel like I am a last minute filler in your guest list. Give us time to write a blogpost. Some of us are balancing multiple careers and we may require time.
I apologize on behalf of some members of my community who go back on their contract and do not adhere to the terms that were decided on. Not all of us are like that.

Dear Readers,
For any blogger, the greatest joy they can have is watching a post they have worked hard on gain mileage. Thank you guys for reading what we churn out and loving what we write. In case you don't love what is written....tell us. Feedback - positive or negative - is what keeps us going. Appreciation or criticism, both help a person to learn. 
If some of our posts are promoted, or via invite it is our duty to inform you so that you are not misguided. Your trust and readership is very important to us. We are, because you are.

Lastly, this letter comes from the heart. In no way was it meant to offend anyone. Blogging has given me so much. It provided me direction and passion at a time when I was down in the dumps. The joy and elation when people know you as 'Branded Bawi', and not as 'Zenia Irani' cannot be described. By writing this open letter, I am only trying to give back.

13 September 2015

Burgundy Is The New Black. Burgundy Box - Review

Welcome to the dawn of the intelligent, well-read home chef. A cook that wants to experiment with different cuisines, innovative dishes, and newer concepts in today's fast paced age. Which explains why gourmet recipe kits have flooded the market today, each one offering different dishes, but demonstrating the same underlying concept of empowering the home chef.

What is a DIY gourmet recipe kit? A box that contains the exact measured ingredients, a step-by-step recipe, that helps you create a restaurant quality dish at home. It completely eliminates the hassle of scouting for recipes, narrowing down ingredients, purchasing those ingredients from your nearest market - your personal shopper cum cooking teacher - all packed in one box. Having reviewed and ordered from a number of companies that provide this service - I must say I am hooked! It works perfectly for a career woman like me, who loves cooking but somewhere falls short of the time to do so. 

I recently got to try the Burgundy Box , another DIY meal kit that recently hit the market. They sent over a Chettinad Egg curry kit that I whipped up. What really excited me about this one was that the recipes were curated and created by Chef Ajay Chopra, who believes that 'AnyBody Can Cook'. The Burgundy Box experience was lovely in every way - an exciting recipe, easy to follow directions, excellent quality ingredients and a delicious end product. Here are five reasons why you should consider ordering from the Burgundy Box. And why I most definitely will order again.

1. The Perfect Package - I really loved the gorgeous, 'burgundy box' that was brought home, containing all the ingredients meticulously and individually packed. Small points such as the oil being packed in a spill proof bottle, the vegetables coming in a zip lock bag showed the amount of thought that went into the packing and transport of the ingredients. What I loved was that each individual ingredient was named and numbered, makes it all so easy for the beginner cook.

7 September 2015

Chocolate and Oat Cookies - The Lazy, Easy, and No Bake Version

I was recently inspired by an interesting article I read on one of the social media platforms, which listed beautiful chocolate desserts that could be made in under ten minutes. That very same evening I came home, experimented, and improvised on a beautiful chocolate oats, no bake cookie. I loved the recipe for two reasons:

1. It is the perfect lazy and easy recipe. It requires basic cooking skills, and if you can mix ingredients in a bowl - you can make this! Also it does not require baking. So major win win for people who do not own an oven, or are skeptical about baking.
2. Secondly, and most importantly it is a comparatively low fat cookie version. I've used dates in place of sugar, dark chocolate instead of regular chocolate, and increased the quantity of oats. 

What you'll need:

  • 100 grams of dark chocolate
  • 50 grams of oats
  • 50 grams of chopped, seedless dates
  • A small glass of cashews. You can also use almonds or walnuts.
Yep, that is all. Most of these ingredients you will find lying around at home.

3 September 2015

Sasta, Sundar, Tikao: Aram Restaurant, Bandra east

I have been feeling fairly uninterested to write recently; uninspired, and demotivated. That's the reason why I have been declining restaurant review invitations left, right, and center. And I haven't been out scouting for new food places. It's amazing how inspiration can strike you in the smallest and most unassuming of places, and leave you with the most ingenious ideas. Recently inspiration had been derived from the hullabaloo around the possible closure of Parsi Dairy Farm, which luckily has been stalled for now. Read the post here.

The rumored closure of my favorite Parsi Dairy Farm served as an eye opener, and I've promised myself to go scouting for older establishments, eat at hidden joints, explore heritage eateries; so that I don't lament about them closing later. I recently read Finely Chopped's blogpost about a Gujarati thali place called Aram in Bandra east, and decided to skip the new fancy restaurants in BKC for some good ol' thali.

Situated very close to Guru Nanak Hospital, the amount of times I've been in that area, but overlooked the existence of this place! We trudged up an old winding staircase, in an old looking building; and were taken aback. We were the only diners on a Saturday evening. A large space with open, airy windows that overlook the road; a clean kitchen that you can look into; and plenty of waiters running around to fuss over you!

The food here is homely, and traditional. The 'athanu no dabbo', or the box of pickles and condiments that sits atop every table is proof enough. Reminiscent of Gujarati homes, here you help yourself to the chutneys, 'chundos', and 'achaars'.

Food here is again homely and hearty; simpler than the fare one finds at established Gujarati-Rajasthani thali chains such as Rajdhani, Golden Star and the likes. Start off with the 'kathor' or pulse, and three vegetable variants paired with ghee laden rotis and theplas. Take a break in the middle to nibble on some khaman, or tikkis, and other 'faraal' items. Slurp up some tikkhi dal or mitthi dal - whatever floats your boat. Round it all off with the star of a Gujju thali meal - in my opinion - sweet kadhi with khichadi and tons of ghee. And of course something sweet in the end.