The best meals of 2017 – Where and what I ate

How you begin the new year sets the tone for the rest of it…

It’s true. I started 2017 with a langar at a Gurudwara in New Bombay, wishing for  equally great meals in the coming year. And what a fabulous food year it was. I traveled to various cities for food. Took a trip to Pune to try the famous Bedekar misal and loved it, went to Surat to eat the locho and visited the ponkh market, traveled to Indore (done that twice this year already) and found another food city to fall in love with, took a solo trip to Calcutta and Meghalaya (where I ended up making some most amazing friends), traveled to Goa to learn sourdough which became one of the most brilliant experiences of 2017, traveled to Indore (again) and ended the year with a trip to Srilanka. Apart from all the good food I ate at these places, there were umpteen fabulous meals cooked by my mother, a couple of trips to Lucknow that involved loads of chaat, and some amazing beef curry/fish curry and rice meals at Chetna (PositivityAngel’s) house. Don’t think I can be thankful enough for this year.

I am an atheist, but somehow going to a Gurudwara doesn't feel like I am confirming to any religion. The idea of following a teacher and learning from his/her experiences sounds more logical to me than blind faith. Also, what fascinates me is their self-less service and the feeling of giving back to the community. Eating at a langar with people from different casts, religions and financial backgrounds and accepting your food with a feeling of gratitude is a humbling experience. So glad to start my food journey this year with such a beautiful meal. I hope the food that I eat this year helps me connect to my roots and make me aware of the efforts people put-in to put that food on my table. Also, here's a big thankyou to all the people who came into my life this past year, taught me new things, gave me new experiences and motivated me to be better than myself. I don't know whether all of you will be part of my journey onwards, but I will always cherish and value those times, learnings and experiences. Wish you all a very happy, healthy and successful new year. #NewYear #gratitude #CircleOfPositivity #Happy2017 #gurudwara #food #langar #feelinghumbled #thankyou #HappyNewYear

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A comprehensive guide to eating chaat in Lucknow

Log bohot chatore hote hain,” (people really love to eat chaat) overheard outside chaat shop. Aur Lucknow ke log to kuch zyada hi chatore hote hain (and people in Lucknow even more so). The chaat of this city turns you into one. I think the word chatore must have been coined in Lucknow seeing the love people have here for chaat. It comes from the word chaatna or licking cause you will definitely want to lick clean your plate of chaat, and it’s a socially acceptable practice. The evening plans in Lucknow are made around eating chaat. Shopping is fun here cause you can take a quick chaat break. As a kid my only reason to accompany my mother for shopping was a post shopping treat of pani ke batashe and hot aloo tikkis. For the uninitiated, chaat is sold mostly in the evenings so don’t come to Lucknow expecting to eat chaat in the middle of the day.

Dahi chutney ke batashe at Jain Chaat

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Mushroom and Cheese Tortellini – Calvin & Hobbes: The Literary Kitchen #16

“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

– Bill Watterson

There are two kinds of people, one who’re Calvin & Hobbes fans and the other who haven’t read the comic at all. About a decade ago, a friend bought a volume of Calvin & Hobbes comics which I read cover to cover; I have been a fan since then. For the uninitiated, the comic is about a 6 year old boy Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes created by Bill Watterson; as far as Calvin is concerned the tiger is real. The comic is a satire taking pot shot at politics, the consumer culture of America, rat race and life in general. Much of it is creators own thought process and in that quote above he has pretty much summed up his idea of life and success.

So what’s this post about? What’s the connection between Calvin & Hobbes and food? Calvin hates food. Not just hates it, he is disgusted by pretty much everything his mom cooks. Most of the times the nonchalant mother doesn’t pay attention to his over the top attempts to avoid food and sometimes she pretends that the food is actually goop from outer space or stewed monkey brains to make him eat (yeah, for some strange reason Calvin digs the idea).

So, the recipe here is Tortellini stuffed with mushroom and cheese and tossed in lemon, butter, and sage sauce.

Mushroom Tortellini, Calvin & Hobbes, The Literary Kitchen

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Food Walk Through North Calcutta With A History Lesson

This post was written for India Food Network

Calcutta is bursting at its seams with history, and that’s not an exaggeration. Walk on the streets of north Calcutta and the mere feeling of tracing the footsteps of legends will give you goose bumps. Every corner tea stall, every snack shop has a story to tell that dates back to India’s independence movement.

Indian Coffee House, Calcutta

When British established the city as their capital and took up central Calcutta to convert it into “White Town”, the local population moved to the northern part of the city. It later became the hub for India’s freedom struggle movement and communism. Shops were built as a meeting point for the revolutionaries.

Kachuri Subzi and Tele Bhaja

One such place is Paramount in College Street, which is now declared a heritage building by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Established in 1918 by Niharanjan Mazumdar, the shop was first known as Paradise, which later became Paramount. It’s said to be the favourite hangout of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the owners still have that chair where Netaji used to sit regularly. As I sit there, sipping on my second daber sherbat – the most popular drink here made with coconut water, ice, syrup and the pulp of coconut, the owner tells me the story behind the drink. It was Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, the founder of Bengal Chemicals, who suggested the recipe to the owner since it was inexpensive and highly nutritious. On a hot and humid day, dab sherbat is a blessing in disguise.

Netaji’s footprints become more evident as I move ahead. At Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, where he regularly ate tele bhaja (Bengali fritters), his birthday is still celebrated every year with free food for all the customers. The most famous snack here – the onion bhajiya – is known as Netaji ki piyaji.

Lebu Cha shop, Calcutta

Atithi, across the street from Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, is where I stop over for some lebu cha – the fuel that keeps the city going. The lebu cha or lemon tea in Kolkata is a hot concoction of black tea, lime juice, sugar and a special spice mix, which gives it its zing. In the midst of the locals getting together for adda – meetup to chat and discuss, I sip multiple cups of cha. I move on to Sukea Street to line up for my evening snack of kochuri-subzi at an old shop at the corner of the street. The humble shop has just two rows of benches where people sit with their plate (made of dried leaves) of kochuri and potato subzi. 

The Indian Coffee House, right opposite Presidency College, still has lingering memories of India’s independence struggle and the rich literary past. While most of the tables are occupied by the young college-goers, you’ll also spot a few elderly men sitting with a newspaper and sipping coffee. And then there are cabins, the dining rooms of the era bygone. Cabins served as private dining areas in the times when it wasn’t usual for women to eat out in public. The curtained dining booths provided them the much needed privacy. A few of such cabins still exist, albeit as tea and snack joints. A few such places are Basanta Cabin and Mitra Café – the latter is where I eat a dinner of prawn kabiraji cutlet – deep-fried cutlets coated with bread and eggs.

What and where to eat:

•    Sweets at Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy at Hatibagan
•    Piyaji at Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, Hatibagan
•    Lebu cha at Atithi, Hatibagan
•    Kochuri subzi at Sukea Street
•    Lebu cha at the corner shop on Sukea Street
•    Daab sherbat and imli at Paramount, College Street
•    Kabiraji cutlet and fish fry at Mitra Café, Shobha Bazaar
•    Mochar Chop at Kalika, College Street
•    Coffee and dosa at Indian Coffee House, College Street

The author went on a food walk with Devashish Kuthari, a foodie and history buff, who also runs a Facebook group called GoodVegFood.

Why Sarafa Market Is The Jewel In Indore’s Nightlife

This post was written for India Food Network

“This is Sarafa market, you will feel a different vibe here in the night,” said Amrita, my friend and host in Indore, as we drove through the tiny by-lanes during the day. In a city where food is a conversation starter, my hopes were high and I couldn’t wait to dive headlong into the street, which has many seasoned food writers swearing by it. I walk in at Sarafa, armed with my curiosity and appetite.

The shops that had gold and silver jewellery shining through their windows now had their shutters down, and the street was lined with makeshift food stalls. Amrita has the itinerary chalked out listing down everything I must try with room for whatever catches my fancy.

Bhutte ka kees and garadu, Sarafa Market in Indore

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