Expert Speak

Beyond Bhoot Jolokia

On India’s north-eastern frontier, distinct aromas emanate from its kitchens. Of food cooked in its own jus with yam and garden-fresh herbs and tinctured with fermented fish or fiery jolokia abundantly grown in the region. Of the delicate refresh of bamboo shoots in soupy translucent glazes broiled painstakingly for that just right consistency and flavour. Of smoky meats in gingered accents or cooked with banana flowers. Quite like how varied rainbow colours perk up our horizon, the distinct culinary vocabulary from the states of Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal, Sikkim, Meghalaya and Assam adds zest to Indian mealtimes.

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5:10 PM at Gurgaon
Smouldering Hot!

But few can resist the smoky charms of a perfectly seared shiitake or the roguish char on tender kobe, particularly when you’ve watched them expertly tossed over charcoal fire, the flavours coming alive even more when they’re served across the counter, deliciously hot and intriguingly plated on a wooden oar… It could well be the story of how one comes to a Zen understanding of life in its essential moments in a lively bar with friends.

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5:10 PM at Gurgaon
Sal Mubarak!

I remember a friend who, tucking into a deliciously scrambled akoori, remarked, ‘When in doubt, crack an eedu’. She was, of course, referring to the Parsi embrace of eggs in dizzyingly imaginative avatars that incorporates the humble egg into cuisine and culture with equal gusto… from cracking an egg at breakfast to cracking an egg at auspicious occasions such as housewarmings!

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6:25 PM at Gurgaon
Romancing The Frontier

Nothing evokes celebration like a shoulder of lamb with the signature flame-licked char and tandoori succulence and smokiness, so tender it falls off the bone... add a variety of seared kebabs and puffy, blistered nans and you truly have a feast! Such repasts evoke the Frontier romance of travel, derring do and Kiplingesque adventures in the Khyber. Also redolent of the legacy of undivided Punjab and its communal earth ovens, surely they invite contemplation of the heritage of Frontier flavours?

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4:35 PM at Gurgaon
Undiscovered Heritage

Much like how discovery of the monsoonal winds opened up a brave new world to explorers and adventurers of yore, closer home, balmy monsoonal breezes recently revealed a window into our multilayered heritage: In Bangalore recently, I discovered a unique culinary heritage - that of the Nawayath community from Gingee, Tamil Nadu, which has settled in the heart of Bangalore at Shivaji Nagar. As you live, you learn.

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12:15 PM at Gurgaon
Fruity Succour

“Baare aamon ka kuch bayaan hoo jaye
qabile-e-tareef fishaan ho jaaye
Aap bhi aaj hi lutf zaroor uthaye!
- Anonymous

Mangoes, a refreshing diversion in summer, have moved poets into lyric hyperbole and inspired nutritionists to champion them as diet essentials.

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3:02 PM at Gurgaon
The Art Of Teppanyaki

I’d always thought of surprises life has in store for us as a box of chocolates or a brown paper package tied up with strings… That is, until I experienced the way of the iron-born. As chefs diced and set aflame a bespoke okonomiyaki for me, amazing me with their jaw-dropping knife skills, dexterous egg toss and prodigious pyro-magic, I learnt how surprises can dazzle, all flash and fiery and fresh!

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9:15 AM at Gurgaon
Fragrance of the Valley

Legends around emperors’ tables abound, in particular, the royal feasts of Mughal emperor Jahangir, whose table was rich with flavours of Punjab and Kashmir. Sir Thomas Roe, the English emissary of the Queen of England, who had the fortune of being summoned frequently to the court of Mughal emperor Jahangir, described in wonder the court feasts brimming with ‘fifty dishes of meats and rice of all types and a spicy venison dish as the most savoury I have ever tasted’.

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4:10 PM at Gurgaon
An Experience Inspired By Korean Temple Food

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the fox counsels the little prince in the Saint Exupery classic that’s always been within reach ever since I read it as a schoolboy. This thought was uppermost in my mind last evening as a friend recounted his Zen-in-a-bowl experience of sitting down for a meal prepared by monks in a temple in South Korea.

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4:08 PM at Gurgaon
The Tao of Eating: A Fine Balance

‘Eating is the utmost important thing in life’, Confucius once proclaimed and it was not just this sixth century Chinese philosopher for whom the aesthetic and social aspects of cooking and eating were central concerns. Food was an essential enquiry in Taoism too, the nutritional value and healing and therapeutic powers of different ingredients in particular, for it was a firm belief that diet - and the amount of qi in it - was critical for mental and spiritual well-being.

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6:22 PM at Gurgaon
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