24 June 2017

Five Reasons to Visit JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa

A good hotel is so much more than plush interiors, comfortable beds and delicious food. I love hotels that go above and beyond the conventional route, to create memories and experiences that the guest rarely forgets. Which is why I fell head over heels in love with the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa property. The hotel has a soul that resonates strongly within the walls, and positivity that reflects on the faces of their smiling staff. 

I was visiting JW Mussoorie as a part of the Culinary Soujourn of Garhwal organised by the property in association with Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal of the APB Cook Studio, to discover more about the region of Gahrwal and their cuisine. (You can read more about the trip here.) Promoting the local Garhwali cuisine is just one of the many initiatives the hotel has undertaken. They want to help promote the culture of the region and the hidden beauty of Garhwal, all under the 'sustainable tourism' bracket. Any hotel that truly practices this form of responsible tourism - generating income and employment along with alleviating any deeper impact on environment and local culture - is a must visit in my opinion. In case you are looking for more reasons to visit, here they are. Read on!

(Image Courtesy: JW Marriott Mussorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa)

1. The Food - A Multicultural Experience

We were there on a culinary soujourn, so it's only fair that I mention their food first. Usually, five star hotels manage to wow guests with the world cuisine on offer, but rarely do they get their regional dishes spot on. At the JW Mussoorie, they take extra care in showcasing Garhwali food and bringing it to the forefront. Credit here goes to the Food and Beverage team that includes two lovely local women from the nearby village, who have been employed by the hotel to train their staff and cook meals for their patrons.
A must have at the property is the Garhwali thali, available on request at the JW Cafe - their all day dining restaurant. The thali is a wonderful way to acquaint yourself with a few popular Garhwali dishes, with the mountains around you for company. I love that they manage to do rustic dishes like the Kandli Ka Saag - a vegetable dish made from bichoo ghaas aka stinging nettle, with just as much elan as they do a thin crust pizza. The breakfast spread here is mighty impressive, especially because they rustle up local favourites such as Gehat ka Paratha (stuffed horsegram parathas), Aloo Swala (thick aloo puris), and Urad Dal Pakodas. Ask nicely and they'll even throw in the recipes for you to replicate at home.

Want a break from the local cusine? (Though I wouldn't see why.) Teppan is their in-house Pan Asian restaurant, where you can not only gorge on delicious sushi, but also watch some live theatrics at the teppanyaki counter. Or else, nibble on some grills, while you nurse your cocktail looking out at the Northern Garhwal range of mountains from the classy Trout House Grill and Bar. Don't forget to sip on their famed Hot Chocolate at Perch - a tea lounge that offers a panoramic view of the mountains - with a book and your thoughts for company.

We were lucky enough to indulge in a beautiful Garhwali Fusion meal where the chefs used local ingredients infused with modern cooking techniques. When a kitchen churns out genius dishes like Stinging Grass and Pinenut Kebabs or a gateaux made out of the local Bal Mithai, you know you're in for a gastronomic treat.

Garhwal on a Plate

23 June 2017

My June Food Favourites

The monsoons create havoc outside my window as I type this. A strong urge of piping hot bhajiyas and hot chocolate envelope me, and I cannot help but wonder why no baarish ka khaana is being listed out in this post. Nevertheless, July is coming up and a lot of deep fried foods and steaming beverages shall be consumed. Until then here is a round up of my June food favourites - dishes, restaurants and events that made the cut.

1. When you can't decide between coffee and dessert - Starbucks's Summer Beverages FTW!
What I love about Starbucks is that they keep reinventing their menu, introducing newer drinks keeping in mind seasonal specials. Their indulgent drinks on offer currently are the Coconut Strawberry Bliss Frappuccino and the Roasted Marshmallow S'mores Frappuccino. The former was an interesting blend of tropical coconut and citrus strawberries, while the latter was a creamy vanilla coffee interspersed with marshmallow chunks. Not a fan of sugary coffee drinks? Try their Cold Brew instead - a strong Kenyan brew served over ice.

Available at Starbucks outlets all over the country.

16 June 2017

Five Places to Check Out in Bohri Mohalla For That Perfect Iftaar Feast

Visiting the Bohri Mohalla area or the Minara Masjid area during Ramzan is about more than just food; it is an experience. The lights and sounds are captivating. You cannot help but get drawn into the festivities and camaraderie. It's such a beautiful amalgamation of people from different cultures, religions, and walks of life. And then there's the food. Smells of meat being grilled, malpuas being fried, and masalas being coated. Sights of colourful phirnis and halwas on display, kebabs hanging off skewers, and ginormous tawas cooking up every meat imaginable. 

I wrote these lines back in 2015, when I wrote about another Iftaar walk, which you can read about here. Nothing much has changed in all this time. The vibe at these places during Ramadan and my feeling about the entire eating out experience during this holy month remains the same. Even though most people flock to Mohammed Ali Road and the Minara Masjid area for their share of grub, I have been partial to Bohri Mohalla and the stalls there. There's lesser jostling through crowds here, and the food is just as delicious. Here are my top five stalls/restaurants that you must visit in the Bohri Mohalla area to get your Iftaar feast.

1. Haji Tikka 
For your fix of tikkas, kebabs and seekhs.
Haji Tikka started off as a single man Mr. Haji Ahmed, selling tikkas from a stall on the side of the road over fifty years ago, and now has people flocking to the shop from all over the city for their fix of kebabs. In addition to the street side stall, they also have a sit down joint right next door, where you can eat in peace.
Must Try - The Mutton Seekhs, with pudina chutney and naan on the side. The Khiri or the udder that come perfectly charred and melt in your mouth. The Tandoori Chicken - massive leg piece, the flesh full of flavour. Make sure you order some delicious naan on the side to go with your kebabs.

11 June 2017

Exploring Garhwal - The Food. The Sights. The People.

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. ~ Sir Edmund Hillary

The mountains can be both awe-inspiring as well as overwhelming. Their grandeur can make you feel like an inconsequential speck in the larger scheme of things, which is exactly how I felt driving around in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand during our four-day Culinary Soujourn of Garhwal. I, a self proclaimed beach bum with an exaggerated fear of heights, finally learnt to give in to nature, live in the moment and embrace the mountains. 'Respect the mountains, and she'll respect you back,' my grandfather's saying came echoing back to me.

Garhwal is a mountainous region in the state of Uttarakhand; it's vibrant Garhwali culture has remained overshadowed and underexposed over the decades. Their simple, hearty cuisine and sustainable cooking methods are also lesser known among the larger population; which is why the Culinary Soujourn of Garhwal organized by the JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort and Spa, Mussoorie in collaboration with Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal of the APB Cook Studio was the perfect way to acquaint myself with their culture and cuisine. Along the way I fell in love with a region I knew very little about, a cuisine I had never eaten before, and people we never knew yet they welcomed us into their world with open arms. It was love at first sight. And/or first bite.

Room with a view!
1. The Food

Garhwali food is 'pahadi' in every way: It is greatly influenced by the hilly terrain on which the crops are grown, and the seasonal changes that come with harsh winters and pleasant summers. 

Garhwali food is 'unpretentious': It is cooked using local ingredients using simple techniques, with minimal spices and flavouring. The diet is primarily focused around vegetables and grains.

Garhwali food is 'local': Here vegetables are grown in the backyards of Garhwali homes, and picked out just before mealtime. The many meals we had during our stay here had ingredients sourced right from the gardens and smaller farms. The Garhwalis have been implementing techniques of sustainable farming and the farm-to-fork movement long before they came into vogue.

Garhwali food is 'seasonal': It's heavier in winter and lighter in summer. Winter meals including heavier dals, meat dishes and leafy greens are prepared with the idea of keeping the body warm and satiated for a long time. Summer brings out lighter and easier to digest meal components (such as dals, gourds, buttermilk and curd preparations) that are cooling and nourishing.

Garhwali food is 'predominantly vegetarian': Characteristically, their diet is a grain and cereal based one. Fruits and vegetables add fiber to the diet while meat and fish are eaten in curries or as slow-cooked dishes during special occasions. 

We were blessed that we got to experience three traditional Garhwali meals during our time in Mussoorie - two of these were cooked by local residents in their hilly village homes, while the third one was cooked by the chefs at the JW Mussoorie. All three meals were sublime, comforting and cooked with lots of love.

5 June 2017

My May Food Favourites

The heat in the month of May was absolutely unbearable. All it made me want to do was curl up inside an air conditioned room, and sip on smoothies. Luckily, I got a chance to escape to the hills of Mussoorie, to explore a lesser known cuisine. But more on that in later blogposts. Back home in Mumbai, the eating out was kept to a bare minimum courtesy the excruciating heat. Here is a round up of the restaurants and dishes that made it to my May Food Favourites list - 

1. For those Sindhi Sunday breakfasts - Sindhu Sweets, Khar.
Let the aroma of freshly fried pakwans lead you to Sindhu Sweets, which is located at a two minute walk from Khar railway station. This sweet shop specializes in a few Sindhi dishes such as Dal Pakwaan, Aloo Tuk, Sindhi Kadhi Chawal, and more. Most of these are weekly specials and only available on a Sunday morning.
My favourite is their Dal Pakwaan - chana daal served with a drizzle of chutney and chopped onions on top. This is mopped up with a deep fried, crisp, large puri called a pakwaan. The combination is hearty, satiating and makes for that perfect Sunday indulgence. Skip their slightly overrated neighbour Tharu Sweets and try Sindhu the next time you're in the area.
Contact: Sindhu Sweets, Satguru Shopping Centre, Ram Krishna Nagar, Third Road, Khar West, Khar, Mumbai. Phone: 022 2600664.

3 June 2017

Bombay Bygone - Bandra By Foot

'Once you live in Mumbai, no place else will ever be good enough.'
I feel exactly the same way about Bandra - Queen of Mumbai's Suburbs. Having lived most of my life here, I have seen Bandra undergo a metamorphosis  into the thriving, contemporary suburb it is today. But the Bandra I knew and grew up in was different. It was not the hipster Bandra filled with clubs and high rises we know now. It was slow, lackadaisical and relaxed. It was filled with tiny bylanes and arterial roads flanked with picturesque bungalows on either sides.

The roads now are either dug up or saturated with traffic at all times. The roads then were sparsely covered by automobiles, so much so that we spent summer afternoons playing cricket on the streets. The houses now are modern sky scrapers and high buildings. The houses then were heritage bungalows and ancestral homes. The restaurants now serve modern, world cuisine that encourages foodies from all across the city to dine here. The restaurants then were small cafes run by locals, mom and pop establishments, and bakeries with the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through. 

The only thing constant in life is change, and that holds true for our city as well. But there are still a few pockets in Bandra even today, that are clutching onto the past. You can still find old bungalows, locals selling snacks and condiments, and streets that are picturesque as always in certain parts of Bandra. Which is the motivation behind my #BandraByFoot initiative, where my mother and I take fellow Bandra lovers on a heritage walk to explore Bandra of the yore. 

2 June 2017

And The Butchery Begins - House of Cards, Season 5

'Watch out for each other. And yes, watch each other.'

As Claire Underwood looks chillingly into the camera and utters these words in the first few minutes of the episode, you know the Underwoods are back. And how! Season 5 of the political drama House of Cards re-appears back on the screen after a long hiatus. And House of Cards fans including yours truly, shall remain hooked onto the telly until they binge watch the entire season. The Underwoods have that sort of magnetic pull over you.

Season 4 ended on a high note with the Underwoods making the statement, 'We do not submit to terror. We make the terror.' As Frank and Claire struggle to keep their heads afloat the storm that is the upcoming elections they are so badly losing, you know they shall use every trick in the book to emerge victorious. Not to mention they're reeling under the bad press that came out of Tom Hammerschmidt's expose article. The first episode gives us enough hints that the Underwoods shall remain at their utmost worst and scheming best. *BEWARE spoilers ahead.