Saturday, September 19, 2015

Time Travel to Shahjahanabad at Le Meridien Gurgaon


Jumbish makun, ba-adab, ba-mulaheza hoshiyaar, Zille Ilaahi tashreef laa rahe hain!
Humne ba awaaz e buland farmaya ki Saahib e Alam Osama Jalali tashreef laa rahe hai. Jahanpanah ne Mazhab o millat ki parwaah kiye baghair khud muktaari ka eilaan kar diya hai.

Un ke dastarkhwan ki zeenat aur khumaar mein doobi huyi iss tahreer ko aakhir tak padhiye.Tareekh gawah hai ki is nacheez ki zubaan maazur hai. Waqt ka taqaza hai ke aaj hadd e adab muqarrar nahi, bayaan ho!

Jahan panah ke iqbal ka suraj hamesha chamakta rahe.  Zayke ke Insaaf ke iss muqaddas tarazu ki qasam , ki chunki aaftaab ki raushni duniya ke har goshe ko aalam karti hai. Beherhaal inhe tajposhi se ataa kiya jaaye!

You might think I have gone stark raving mad. But no, I feel like a queen. A minor Mumtaz Mahal. I have just time-travelled to Shahjahanabad and back. Food can have that effect on you. I know in my last post l was rambling on about health food. But if there's something I love more than food it is history and heritage. I love old songs, old buildings and old movies. Yet how detached we have become from our heritage, living in our bell jars.

What is the great Mughal dynasty to us today? The imagery created in some epic movies or the dull leaves of our school history books that failed to make history relevant in our day to day life. I had actually felt ashamed when I read 'The City of Djinns' by William Dalrymple. That a Britisher could have been so passionate about a city we commuted through everyday, often taking it for granted. We drive past the great monuments, often scarring them too. Many of us wouldn't even be able to name the Mughal emperors in the right order. Recently a road in Delhi named after one Mughal emperor was renamed, amid much ado and rather spurious logic.

Yet there is hope. There are people still who hold on to our heritage with a dogged dedication. They are able to peal off the layers of  the past shrouded in mystery and mystique, and replicate it with conviction and convention. They use all their resources and abilities to court tradition, to woo vintage, to document decadence. Osama Jalali is one such name who along with his mother and wife has mesmerised diners to an authentic taste from the Delhi we almost know nothing about-Shahjahanabad.
Fish Shammi
4 tangy chutneys
I visited the Shahjahanabad food promotion at Le Meridien Gurgaon. After a week of disciplined exercise and sensible food, every person deserves a little allowance on weekends. The buffet looked inviting and the beautifully designed A la Carte menu had its own aura.

I sampled some kebabs from the buffet. Surprisingly the vegetable kebabs such as 'Kathal ke Kebab' and 'Mushroom Kebab' stood out amidst non veg ones such as 'Qeeme ki Goli'. What stole the show were 4 enchanting chutneys- Onion, Cranberry with a hint of saunth, mint chutney and an outstanding pineapple chutney.

The chef recommended 'Fish Shammi' that was simply melt in the mouth with a predominant desi ghee aroma.

Delectable kebab starters

Nihari with Sheermal and Khamiri Naan

Next in the main course the person attending to us suggested the classic Nihari with Sheermaal and Khamiri Naan. It was outstanding and tender. I still found myself drifting towards the buffet. Surprisingly none of the buffet dishes tasted like typical buffet dishes. The veg section had very interesting variety such as Chane ki Daal ka Bharta, Maas ki Dal(Dry Urad Dal) and Karele ki Chidiya. Even the ubiquitious potato in Jalali's hand transforms into sublime Aloo ka Bharta. Mughlai Paneer had a smooth white gravy with subtle achari flavours. Masale ki Machhi & Hari Mirch Qeema were particularly good in non-veg.

Amidst all this I really didn't have the heart to try Biryani which I am sure must be good. A very nice vegetarian rice option was Qooboli, rice cooked with lentils. I focussed on relishing the unusual. I have to comment that the vegetarian variety and taste exceeded my expectations.  

Gosht ka Halwa

Aloo ka Zarda

Dessert offered staples such as Shahi Tukda, Aloo ka Zarda and Gulathi. But the most stunning dish was believe it or not, 'Gosht ka Halwa'. If not told in advance you can never guess that this smooth dessert garnished with fine pistachios is indeed a non-veg preparation. Very rich and lavish, I could have a few spoonfuls but a must try.


I came back feeling pampered and indulged to the core, even if a tad bit guilty. Had a warm cup of green tea at home and promptly set my alarm for a 6 am trip to the gym. It was a unique experience, royal to the core and decadent. Do drop in at Le Meridien tomorrow if you can for a date with Dilli 6. That will be all.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dial in Your Inner Chef

All it takes is a BMI (Body Mass Index)analysis at your local gym to get the foodie in you running for cover. As the fat and fat percentage of your body, clearly defined, is handed over to you with a diagram clearly pointing out where your stubborn fat is stuck, you begin to look at life a bit philosophically....with a sigh. Thanks for reminding!

Visceral fat, water content, muscle ratio, BMR-figures that can traumatise you. Mine even revealed a 'Metabolic age' that was years beyond my real age! That is when you silently pay repentance for the orgiastic feasts of the last year or so.

I went through this phase a few months ago when I started looking at all chefs as some sort of 'Agent Provocateurs'. You evil evil people! You cook these irresistible delights and lure us, unassuming food critics into wreaking such havoc with our hormones. It doesn't help that we have some rather goodlooking and fit chefs floating around these days, who themselves ooze health, fitness, perfect skin, perfect smiles et al but feed you with the most sinful food surreptitiously. When do they manage to go for rigorous 2 hour workouts between conceptualising menus, cooking, signing copies of their books, hosting TV shows and being judges on culinary competitions?

So a Korma would make my inners curl, I would hallucinate about LDLs and HDLs floating around in the curry, doing a Gangnam style teaser for me. A MDH wouldn't translate as 'Moong Dal Halwa' but 'Mera Dil Halal'! Ha! I went off food-critiquing for a while. Now if only tasty food could be healthy or healthy food could be tasty(Bland oats porridge anyone?)

The Inner Chef team with nutritionist Lovneet Batra and Chef Nishant Choubey

Last week I attended an 'Inner Chef' event. Back from my UAE sojourn, it was the first food event I attended. I honestly went with a clean slate or shall we say clean plate? The Inner Chef office hosting the event had a certain lightness of being to it. Bright Sunday morning, a bunch of people in animated chatter, low white table laden with salads, juices, paninis and more and people helping themselves to it in a free, casual style. One look at the table and one could see colour, health and vitality, fresh greens, light coarse breads, cold pressed juices. Inner chef promises to revamp your eating habits with some TLC. Speaking at the occasion Lovneet Batra, ace nutritionist emphasised the value of raw foods in our diet. Chef Nishant Choubey, Executive Chef, Dusit Devarana, further elaborated what are the precautions to be kept in mind while using raw greens in salads. Commenting on the spread, he said, " The food tastes amazing, it has the versatility and pureness." The brainchild of entrepreneur Bal Singh who returned from Australia and felt an urgent need for better and healthier eating options in Delhi and immediately decided to fill the gap, Inner Chef promises quality and health.


Neha Jain, the perfect host


On display were new items that were unveiled from their ready to eat menu-four vegetarian salads: Caesar Salad, Raw Papaya, Raw Mango Salad and Broccoli Peach salad.
Two non-vegetarian: Chicken Caesar Salad and Herbed Grilled Chicken Salad with Cold Pasta.
The paninis included Grilled Chicken with Mustard Sauce, Mushroom Melt Panini and
Spinach and Corn Panini
A juice- Apple, beetroot, carrot is complimentary part of their combo boxes.

There were also three light desserts on display:

Chocolate Crunch Muffin, Lemon Cake and Blueberry Muffin.

I loved each and every item.

Their other products are 'Ready-to-cook' meals which are imaginatively curated, all the ingredients chopped, portioned and packed and sent to your doorstep so you can conjure up an impressive meal yourself.

So next time you are at your work desk, getting tempted to order that samosa or greasy burger nearby, take a deep breath and let the moment pass. Or if it is one of those evenings at home, when you are too tired to figure out what to cook and where to begin? Type 'Inner Chef' on your laptop or phone. Browse their wonderful website and order in health. It is literally health in a bowl!


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Go Open The Soda Bottle

Soda Bottle Opener Wala opened to curious anticipation and much fanfare a while ago. Parsi cuisine in Delhi had a distinct novelty and mystique to it. During the initial days, trying to get in on a weekend night was almost impossible. The fact that the surprisingly young and charming Chef Anahita Dhondy, ended up winning many debut awards that year, added to the covetability. We would invariably wind up at Cyber Hub at the end of a hectic week, really hungry and the prospect of waiting for 45 minutes to get a table at SBOW drove us to all other restaurants in the vicinity. I must admit that since I am not really one of those typical, proverbial, name-dropping, pushy Delhiite diners who like to throw their weight around(literally and figuratively), I had to forgo many a meal there.

The odd times I did end up there was at tea time and somehow the snacks, although quaint in an Irani café manner, did not exactly warm the cockles of my heart. The snacks have that stamp of sustenance that have kept busy Bombayiites thriving in between their mad dash to work and back every day. I too always ended up grabbing a snacky bite and thought, fine it is all about fried cutlets and crispy crunchies. But a restaurant experience has many elements to it. I guess there is a right time for everything. The real test of a restaurant is in a complete meal. The setting has to be perfect or the memorable experience eludes you even in the best intentioned of places.

Last week it was one of those Sundays when you are at peace with yourself, feeling lazy and pampered, with no great pressing issues hovering over your mind. If you manage to overcome the need to have the Sunday breakfast of Aloo ka Paratha and drown in an intoxicated post brunch stupor, but instead opt for a fruit and porridge kind of sensibility, then around noon you are just ready to head towards a place such as SBOW.  It was a Soda Bottle Openerwala kind of day, bubbling with possibilities, gushing with gaiety and sparkling with sublime sunshine.

The décor still brings a smile to my face. The grey linoleum flooring, the mismatched, quaint furniture, the tiffins stacked on top of a sideboard, Shrewberry’s biscuits and assorted cookies in thick glass jars that are a vivid vision in the inner memorabilia of anyone who has always been a food loving kid. There is nostalgia steeped in the décor. 

Just reading out the menu loud is a sensory delight. It’s not a menu, it’s a way of life. ‘Irani Wrestler’s Omelette’ and 'Bheeda par Eeda' being a case in point. Konna Baap ni Diwali, anyone? The Bawa world we Delhiites know so little about, shrouded in mystery, Hindi-movie-caricaturised. We have snatches of it saved from some trip to Bombay and strolls in Colaba years ago. I also spent a considerable part of my teens in Amdavad or Ahmedabad where many of our neighbours were Parsis. We did get invited into their genteel, gara embroidered, pearly world once in a while and the food was always amazing.

A tin of fast disappearing Chicken Farcha
So this Sunday I found myself ordering Kolmi Fry(Bombay style Fried Prawns with Onions) and Chicken Farcha for starters with two chilled Foster’s beers on which there was a ‘buy one get one free’ deal going. The red and white check tablecloth could have been my own grandmom’s table on a Sunday or the kind of ghingham we fauji wives invariably pick up from Babina and build a lifetime of entertaining around it. This check makes you feel at home. I was tempted to try the Vada Pav the table next to us ordered. 70 bucks for a vada pav? Not me. But later I see for 70 bucks, two huge vada pavs arrive on a sophisticated platter, complete with a proud green chilli proclaiming an air of authority! The occupants of the table next to us are obviously professionals from Mumbai living in landlocked corporate hub, Gurgaon and for them the Vada Pav is perhaps a rite of passage to feeling one with their grain. I can still postpone it to the next visit.

Kolmi Fry

When our snacks arrive in their upretentious containers, they are hot and crisp. The farcha I have had before and is just a dependable fried chicken. But the Kolmi Fry is something else. Succulent prawns ensconsed in a nest of deep fried onion slivers. Going by the onion rates, I don’t know what I relish more, the prawn or the generous casing of onion cooked to perfection and served with the freshest mint chutney ever.

The Dhansak Dabba

But it is with the main course that the meal exceeds all expectations. Many friends had recommended the Berry Pulao but I thought of settling with the most obvious choice, Dhansak. Since we are a seafood-loving family, I order the Prawn Patio with some Pav along with it. The Dhansak arrives in an old fashioned tiffin(with a few battered edges for authenticity). There is the caramelized rice, rich, brown, aromatic. The kind of rice that was cooked years ago in very classy homes. Each grain of rice telling a story of its own, wafts of sweet cinnamon pervading the crisp brown onions on top. The Dhansak itself has perfectly cooked mutton in a rich lentil gravy with just the right balance of spice and consistency. The zesty onion and tomato Kachumbar salad provides the right crunchiness to the bite of mutton. There are many interesting veg options that I may like to try next time such as 'Breach Candy Awesome Okra' and 'Jardaloo Ma Tarkari'.
Prawn Patio

The Prawn Patio is a refreshing Indian style stir-fry which probably someone would conjure at home in a hurry. I loved the lightness of the sauce and agreeable, piquant flavours. The tangy sauce is something you can dunk your pav and lick your fingers eating. I refrain from ordering dessert for two reasons. One, that I want the sweet intoxication of the main course to linger for a while. Secondly it is a place I definitely want to visit again and again. So there will be a day right for dessert. Its not for very long that you can keep a foodie away from a mawa cake, bawa style. But I'll keep it for a 'feeling low' day.

A Happy Plate!
SBOW is a meal experience that leaves one sated and satiated. It is replete with drama, craftsmanship, research and discovery.

Irani Café culture came to India with the Persians back in the 1950s and today Bombay hosts the most number of Irani cafes, known for their eccentric owners and comfort food. Gradually the tradition of such cafes died down due to the foray of fast food concepts that flooded the country. Probably our kids and their kids would never see them.
Only 25 such cafes are now still in existence.
I am so glad that Delhi has a small sliver of this fascinating Mumbai heritage to call its own!

Meal for 3: Rs 2000 approx

Friday, September 4, 2015

Balushahi with Pistachio Coulis and Orange Blossom Labneh

By Chef Swati Khanna Gulati from

Ingredients for Balushahi
Flour – 2 cups
Ghee – ¼ cup
Baking soda – ¼ tsp
Yogurt – ¼ cup
Sugar - 3 cups
Ghee for frying

·         Mix together Flour, Ghee, Baking Soda, Yoghurt. Make a dough using little warm water. Let bit rest for 20 minutes.
·         After resting time, knead the dough again and make lemon sized balls out of it. Flatten the balls a little and pinch in the centre with your thumb to make depression.
·         Fry them in heated ghee on medium hot flame to ensure they are cooked through.
·         Add 3 cups of sugar in 1 ½ cup water and make sugar syrup of one string consistency. To this syup add few strands of kesar to add colour and ½ tsp cardamom powder to give a nice aroma.
·         Dip the hot balushahis in the hot syrup. Leave each of them in it for about 5 minutes and take out on a plate.
·         Decorate with chopped almonds in the centre
Orange Blossom and Ginger Labneh
500g yoghurt 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons grated ginger 1 heaping tablespoon of honey and 1 tsp of orange blossom. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Place the colander over a bowl. Line it with the muslin cloth.
Add the yoghurt mixture to the cloth. Tie the ends of the muslin cloth into a knot.
Place in the fridge overnight or 24 hours. Transfer the cheese to a serving dish, cover and keep in fridge till ready to serve. Labneh becomes sourer as it ages.
Pistachio Coulis

Unsalted Pistachios          1/2 cup
Betel Leaves                       2
Unsalted Butter                1 tbsp
Cream                               1/4 cup
Honey                               Tbsp
Silver warq                                    1-2

Blanch the pistachios in 2 cups hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and put them in a blender with Betel leaves and puree it.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a pan and add this puree. Cook for a minute and add honey. Stir well.
Tip in cream and cook till sauce like consistency is achieved.
Cool it, and add a drop of rose essence and stir. Decorate with Silver foil.

Plating –up

Take a white plate for the colours to come out vibrantly. Leaving a little border space, make a swirl on its circumference with the green coloured Pistachio Coulis. Place 2 Balushahis in the centre of the plate, one overlapping the other. Spoon some sugar syrup on them to add glaze and sprinkle saffron strands and almond flakes. Dot the Balushais with sweet Labneh quenelles and sprinkle chopped pistachios on the white Labneh dollops. To make it further look glamorous and royal, add the bling of silver foil here and there. Serve for any festivity including Janmashtami. It is bound to leave your guests gasping.