Spoons & Sneakers https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com Dipali Bhasin Sun, 20 Jan 2019 05:46:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 138693097 Neung Roi – Delhi’s Best Restaurant Serving Authentic Thai Cuisine https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2019/01/19/neung-roi-delhis-best-restaurant-serving-authentic-thai-cuisine/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2019/01/19/neung-roi-delhis-best-restaurant-serving-authentic-thai-cuisine/#comments Sat, 19 Jan 2019 16:35:39 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?p=3002 For years, the iconic “The Great Kebab Factory” – the North Indian restaurant in Radisson Blu, Mahipalpur, has wowed guests by serving melting-in-the-mouth kebabs. In a delirious state of hunger, I have driven miles for a meal. A bite of the delicate Galouti Kebabs and the repetitive pleasure of dunking my khameer roti into a bowl of creamy “Dal factory” before popping it into my mouth has been an experience. An attainment of nirvana albeit momentarily. But today the story is neither about the dals, kebabs nor the Nawabs.

Since the last five years, Neung Roi, the specialty Thai restaurant in the property has been making waves. Winning awards since its inception including a yearly recognition by the famed Times Out Guide, Neung Roi has made splashes in print with positive reviews from food critics, the Thai Embassy and the tourism board as the best Thai restaurant in India.

The Cuisine

The Thai MasterChef, Chef Orawan Piyapaisanskul is at the helm at the restaurant and she presents soulful food from the four regions of Thailand.

Chef Orawan

Ian cuisine from the North East Region of Thailand: Fresh and brightly flavored savory salads form the backbone of Isan cuisine and they find their place in the menu.

The Lan Na Cuisine: Located in Northern Thailand, Lan Na region has been known as the ‘Kingdom of a million rice fields”. The traditional Thai style of cooking a Lan Na cuisine epitomizes the pleasure of eating contrasting flavors – soft and crunchy, sweet with sour and spicy with mellow.

The Southern Thai Cuisine of the Kra Isthmus is influenced by both Hainanese and Cantonese cuisine and uses liberal quantities of coconut and turmeric.

Central Thai: With its proximity to Bangkok, the food embodies a diverse range of locally available produce and complex layering of hot and salty flavors in its cuisine.

My passport proudly boasts of a crazy number of stamps of Thailand. A decade long business of bridal wear ensured that I make the frequent hop overs to procure the silks and laces that the country of smiles is known for. In the process, the food and culture of the place slowly seeped into my system and I have searched for restaurants back here in Delhi, that served authentic dishes true to the spirit of Thailand. Neung Roi seemed promising.

The Interiors

The calming, cascade of water at the entrance sets the mood right as one walks in the restaurant. Huge, bulbous lights that drop midair from the ceiling illuminate the expanse of the restaurant and define the modern, chic interiors. An elaborate floral decoration of orange lilies brightens the place. The flurry of chefs in the open kitchen catches my eye just before I’m led to my table.

The bulbous ceiling lights add character to the interiors at Neung Roi

The food fanfare begins!

The Miang Tham is a one bite wrap of pickled tea leaf stuffed with coconut, ginger, garlic, lime, and unsalted peanuts. Popular in both northern and central food, it set off the meal as an amuse bouche.

The Aa-Haan-Riak- Naam or the appetizers consisted of Gai Phad Prick Plow ( Stir-fried chicken enriched with the flavours of the spicy chilli paste), Goong Phad Prick Katiem ( Jumbo Stir-fried prawn, all plump and coated with chilli and garlic sauce), Porpia Phad Thai (The crisp Phad Thai spring roll with chilli sauce is a vegetarian’s delight) and Chormoung (Steamed Thai flower dumpling filled with vegetables).

Special applause for Chormoung – the Royal Thai steamed dumpling in the shape of a purple flower. The beautiful purple color that makes it exquisite is derived from butterfly pea flower water.

Porpia Phad Thai
Chormoung dumplings

Thai cuisine uses a lot of mangoes in their cuisine. As believers of Feng Shui tradition, for centuries, the Thais have grown mango trees on the south side of their house. They believe this brings prosperity to the family. In Neung Roi, the Yam Hed Khem Tong Krob uses fresh mango with a crispy enoki mushroom salad. Yam Talay is a refreshing seafood salad with lemongrass, shallot and spring onion. Every mouthful of this spicy seafood salad offers a texture of flavors or better said a taste explosion.

Can Hlak (Main Course)

Seeing the name Pla Rad Prick in the menu got me excited. The spicy crispy fried fish is simple to make and uses a few ingredients. In Bangkok, there’s this fancy street restaurant in Silom, right opposite Lebua that serves the best Pla Rad Prick. With a portion of Jasmine Rice and a few drops of Sriracha in the extra fish sauce that we ask with the dish, I have had many candlelight dinners chatting and laughing with my man. The dish in Neung Roi bought back memories of those cozy evenings. The ginger, chili and tamarind glaze made the fish just perfect.

Geang Kiew Wan Pak – The green curry (Pic Courtesy: Neung Roi}

The first brush that most Indians have with Thai cuisine is usually via the curries – the green, red and yellow curry. The Geang Khru Gai Yang (grilled chicken with yellow curry and herbs) and Geang Kiew Wan Pak (mixed vegetables in green curry with eggplant and kafir lime) were smooth and rich.

Packed with fresh ingredients and zesty spices, stir-fried kale with morning glory, bok choi, soya bean sauce, garlic, and pepper or Phad Pak Kiew  was toothsome and a healthy option.

The Desserts

Every nook and cranny of Bangkok sells Khao Niew Mamoung or Sticky rice with fresh mango and coconut milk and on every visit, it’s one dessert I eat ample of unapologetically. I love it so much that I went to Chef Leez cooking school last year to learn the process along with a few authentic Thai dishes. However, I was a tad disappointed with the dessert in the restaurant. Not that there was anything wrong in the sticky rice or the coconut milk but the mangoes were sour and that was a letdown. Perhaps, the summer season will be a better time to order this dessert.

The sticky rice mango and the Porpia Kluay Hom Thod

What then one should order is the Porpia Kluay Hom Thod or the crispy banana fritters with fig and honey ice cream. It was finger licking, groovy good and highly recommended.

Neung Roi is an exceptional restaurant that serves bona fide Thai cuisine with beautiful interiors to make dining an experience. Each and every ingredient is bought from Thailand and therefore this is as authentic a Thai cuisine one can get in Delhi. Next time you get a craving, look no further. Simply head to Neung Roi.

Disclaimer: I was invited by Little Black Book to be a part of the Insider Table for tasting at the restaurant. The views and opinions of the post are mine and are in no way prejudiced.

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Solo In Salzburg : A Travel Tale (Part I) https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2019/01/16/solo-in-salzburg-a-travel-tale-part-i/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2019/01/16/solo-in-salzburg-a-travel-tale-part-i/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2019 19:01:26 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?p=2958 Featured post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

This is the first ever guest post on my blog. In a 3-part travel series on Salzburg, Karan Bhasin writes about his one day hop over to this city in Austria, Europe that is known for its baroque architecture, Imperial history, and craggy Alpine terrain. Karan is an avid traveler with a passion for writing. His narrative style is au naturale and tone young.  
*Reader Discretion is Advised: A few expletives below*

“Yeah, I’ve heard it’s beautiful. You should go there if you have the time,” replied the Chilean girl.

Chapter I: Chilly in Vienna

My friends and I had decided to go out for a drink with some Chilean hostel mates in Vienna. DonauTechno had the privilege of our attendance that evening. The graphics on the walls of the club were ever-changing with whatever mood the projectors were in that day, and retired aerial cable cars
were modified to make private smoking rooms or, if you and your company needed them to be, kissing booths. With the DJ playing some good techno music and a lot of local brew in tow, all that was left was the conversation.

My first view of Mirabell Palace

She and I had been discussing our ‘where beens’ and ‘where tos’ as we were exploring Europe and had converged in the Austrian capital. To be honest, her trip did seem to be ‘greener on the other side’, even if I was the one going to Graz soon. My friends and I were on a three-legged journey through Prague-Vienna-Budapest. I had decided to bookend my holiday with some solo traveling. So I was all ears on any recommendations to make my European adventure even more exciting before heading back home.

The decor and music took a backseat as my brain now focussed on the next task at hand, Salzburg. Where is it? How much will it cost? Is it worth a day trip? ‘Trainline’ for the train tickets, ‘Visit a City’ for what to do there, and many chugs of beer for liquid courage, I now had a day trip planned to Salzburg a day before I had to catch my flight home.

Excited now for a 6th city I had managed to squeeze in after solo day trips to Munich (for Oktoberfest, beer dictates a lot of my travel plans it seems) and Graz, I was brought back to the music, projections of dinosaurs on the walls and further conversation. I took a huge gulp to finish my beer satisfied that no day, nay moment, on this trip would be wasted. That I would return home a seasoned traveler, having seen and experienced so much. Wanderlust quenched.

Looking on to the Pegasus Fountain from the Dwarf Garden

A week later

“Fuck. My. Wanderlust,” I thought as I crammed my phone, wallet, mini battery pack, earphones, and a pack of gum down the many pockets of my cargo pants. Still groggy from a measly 3 hours of sleep, I opened the room door and heard my American hostel mates shuffle in their beds, their sleep disturbed from the chaos that ensues when one wakes up very late for a very early morning train.

With infrequent public transport this early in the morning, very expensive cabs, and no time to wait for an Uber, I launched into a twenty-minute sprint to the Hauptbahnhof (literally translates to ‘central train station’). I don’t mean to brag, but I did beat the train to the station by ten minutes. Except now my body was full of adrenaline and completely awake, and my plan to catch a few winks on the train was in tatters. Followed by a couple hours of very frustrating and unsuccessful attempts at trying to sleep, I reached Salzburg, quite irritated and tired.

“Seriously, fuck my wanderlust.”


Chapter II: A Marbelous Plan

At Salzburg Hauptbahnof, I sat down at an outlet of Anker, a popular Austrian bakery chain, and got myself a cappuccino and Käsekrainer im Schlafrock (literally ‘cheese sausage in a dressing gown’). It was 8:50 am and I had around 11 hours to explore this city on just a few hours of sleep, some coffee and a fancy sausage roll. As I sat in my chair, taking the last few sips of my hot beverage, I started to fill with dread thinking of the long day ahead of me, regretting why I always go all ‘carpe diem’ on myself while I am on holiday. Dreaming of the warm bed and lazy day in Vienna I had just sacrificed, I was brought back to a bitter realisation. I had only spent 10 minutes in its train station, but I was already hating Salzburg.

One of the many brazen statues and manicured parterres at Mirabell Gardens

I mustered whatever brain power I had left, and decided to let my past self’s planning dictate my actions while I just followed along not unlike an android. I opened ‘Visit a City’ and the first stop was the famous Mirabell Palace.

As Google Maps held my hand and guided me to the Palace, I realized I really didn’t feel like being a tourist today. Before I started exploring any city, I usually read up on its history, understood the role of any famous place in the city’s life, and would make a set-in-stone checklist of things to see or eat. I usually took it upon myself to experience every nook and cranny of a city before heading home without any regrets. Rushing through museums, galleries, parks just so I can cross them off a list, even though after a while they start to look the same. Not today though, today I just wanted to be lazy and roam about at my own pace. Thanks to fatigue and an unjustified hatred for Salzburg, I decided to let go of my usual enthusiasm and curiosity. My past self expected me to run through Visit a City’s 2-day Salzburg itinerary in half a day. I now looked at my list with fresh, albeit tired, eyes. I wrote down the names of five places that looked worth my time and energy. I set some personal rules: explore every place at my own pace and whim, appreciate them without bias and distraction, and lastly no phone unless something warranted a photograph or google search to quench my curiosity. As these thoughts dissipated, I put my phone back in my pocket and looked up to see large packs of people spread around in a courtyard, I had reached my first destination.

The Pegasus Fountain

Mirabell Palace is located in the Altstadt (literally ‘old town’) district, or Historic Centre of Salzburg, the area in which I would be spending most of my day. As I entered the Palace grounds, I was immediately greeted by an immaculate parterre at the centre of which was an impressive fountain that featured a Pegasus statue. Beyond the parterre, I could see a hint of the rest of the palace gardens, the Historic Centre, and towering above them, the final destination of my day, the Hohensalzburg Fortress perched on top of Festungsberg.

The Pegasus Fountain

As I was exploring the parterre and the adjacent ‘Dwarf Garden’, I was distracted by a placard near the Pegasus fountain with the words ‘Marble Hall’ and an arrow pointing at a closed door. I used my first self imposed rule and opened the door leading to an empty hallway with more signs inside eventually guiding me to possibly one of the most beautiful staircases I had ever seen. I didn’t care if it was a journey to nowhere, I was going to venture regardless. These stairs deserved to be climbed. The balustrade had sculpted children, or putti, laying around in different poses while alcoves in the wall housed life-size mythical characters. As I made my way up the Donnerstiege (‘Donner Stairway,’ named after its sculptor), I finally found myself outside the fabled Marble Hall. A stanchion stopped me from entering the hall and admiring its opulence from closer, but even from the sidelines it was clear why this hall is a famous venue for concerts, Mozart used to performed here, and many, many weddings. The whole room, more ornate and regal than any I had seen so far in my travels, was lit bright by the sunlight coming in the windows giving it a golden-yellow hue. All alone, I took my moment, the warm sun, the beautiful art and architecture, the quiet, made for a relaxing moment. I felt my irritability ebb. Maybe Salzburg was growing on me.

The Donnersteige
The spectacular balustrade

Or maybe not. The Palace’s main gardens are arguably its most popular feature and even this early into the morning it showed. My peace and quiet was short lived, now replaced by the hullabaloo of hordes of tourists around me, as usual a lot of them Chinese. And I have to give it to them, they were impeccably dressed in their OOTDs, hair all done up, equipped with their tripods, selfie sticks, and Instagram spouses to get that perfect picture to inspire envy.

Does this place look familiar? It was seen in a famous movie.

I will admit, I was a bit underwhelmed by the gardens. Maybe it was all the tourists, or my weariness, or the fact it was the third palace whose gardens I found myself in. I didn’t feel the need to spend much time here. As I took my pictures before leaving, I overheard some tourists singing ‘Do Re Mi’ from the Sound of Music. Completely oblivious as I had never watched the movie, but found out later, the gardens are well featured in the song. This clip is a good foot tapping tour of the Palace gardens, including the Pegasus parterre and Dwarf Garden.

The gardens became popular after the movie “The Sound OF Music”

I wish I was aware of the relevance of the gardens so I could have bid the Palace adieu with a skip in my step while singing the song. Instead, I just exited looking down at my phone to see where I was headed to next. I felt a tinge of excitement as I entered my destination into Google Maps, it was a museum associated with inarguably Salzburg’s most historically and culturally significant character, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Pin for future reference:

The post is a 3-part series of the things to see in Salzburg, Austria. In this post the emphasis is on Mirabell Gardens.

( To be continued in Part II…)

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A Bride’s First Lohri with Til Ke Ladoo https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/recipe/a-brides-first-lohri-with-til-ke-ladoo/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/recipe/a-brides-first-lohri-with-til-ke-ladoo/#comments Sun, 13 Jan 2019 04:30:37 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?post_type=recipe&p=2936 If there’s one thing that we Indians are known for, it is our unabashed love for festivals. We don’t spare a reason or a season to celebrate and the crescendo is not just restricted to our homes but we open our doors and hearts to welcome as many to join in the fun.

The advent of the New Year marks the transition of the Sun to the Northern Hemisphere thus mellowing the bitter chill. Considered as the “Wheat Bowl Of India”, Punjab looks forward to the harvest of their rabi crops. The winter solstice celebrated on the 13th of January as Lohri is a day of revelry for the farmers – a day to chill out and celebrate the bountiful harvest. There are bonhomie, happiness, celebration, and Bhangra.

Even though every Lohri that I have celebrated had bonfires and the propitiation of fire by way of sweets, peanuts, and popcorn, it was the celebration right after our wedding that holds warm, fuzzy memories. The first Lohri for a newly-married couple is a huge thing in Punjabi families. Coming from a fauji background where things are kept rather simple, I was married right into a sau pratishat Punjabi khandaan where celebrations meant everything on a grand scale.

I remember waking up to the clink and clank of cups and pans and the sweet aroma wafting into the room. Bhiru Bhaiya, the family khansama was busy crushing peanuts in a mortar pestle while my mother-in-law or mama as I called her, was stirring jaggery in a big kadai. She was making “Til ke ladoos“. Even though halwais, specially called from Old Delhi were making fresh sweets like gur ka halwa, makhane ki kheer, dry fruit chikki and til ki burfee outside, she wanted to make these herself like she had been doing on every Lohri. By noon, the bawarchis joined in the storm with their cooking. The verdant lawns were covered with shamianas in yellow and fuschia. Strings of marigold and hangings made of glass bangles enhanced the place with the colors of happiness. A bonfire was built in the center of the lawn. By evening the entire house looked resplendent. The party was ready to begin.

Decked in the intricately embroidered fuschia suit and heavy jewelry gifted by my mother-in-law to me, I looked a bride again. Dressed in a dhoti kurta and a deep pink turban matching my outfit, my 6 feet 3-inch tall husband looked dapper himself. The guests filtered in with their gift tokens of blessings. My family arrived with huge thalis filled with sweets, fruits, and dry fruits. Shawls were gifted to all the relatives.

Soon everyone flocked around the bonfire and started singing the “Sunder mundriye” song. Folklore goes that a dacoit Dulha Batti during Emperor Akbar’s reign had saved two girls, Sundri and Mundri, from being sold off in the slave market. Considered to be the Robin Hood of Punjab, he distributed all his loot with the poor and needy. Ultimately after getting instructions from the Emperor, he was hanged to death in Lahore. The “Sundar Mundriye” song since then has got attached to this “Son of Punjab” and the good deeds done by him.

As everyone sang the song with gusto and fiesta, rewari, peanuts and popcorn were offered to the blaze. To the beats of the dhol and the crackling fire, the aunties clad in heavily embroidered silk suits and glittering gold jewelry jiggled their shoulders while two men at some point in time lifted one foot, locked it with the ankle of another and hopped around in a circle doing the bhangra. As the evening progressed and liquor flowed an Uncle displayed his applaud worthy talent of precariously balancing a whiskey glass on his head and dancing. The rest of the crowd cheered.

As a demure bride, I watched all the fun while in my heart I wished I could throw caution to the winds and join the frenzy gathering in their shimmy and go “Ho! Ho!” myself. As if he could read my mind, Sam locked his fingers with mine, gently whispered “Go for it babe” before pulling me into the crowd. It was at that moment where I merged as a bahu with my new family – laughing, dancing and being a part of them. Deep into the night when most of the guests had gone, a few of us sat around the glowing embers. Between passing bowls of popcorn, chikki, til ke ladoos, rewari, peanuts, and chomping on them, I heard family stories and funny anecdotes of Sam’s growing up years.

New beginnings! Yes, Lohri does mark new beginnings for newlyweds. For me, it was not just getting acquainted with the relatives and friends on a casual level for the first time but drawing closer to my new family.

Though we have continued to celebrate Lohri every year since then and nothing much has changed in the way it has been celebrated, every year the size of the bonfire and the number of friends that join in has reduced. In our house too, Bhiru Bhaiya works no more due to his old age and mama passed away a few years ago. With the growing environmental awareness and the need for saving trees the concept of bonfires may soon die altogether. Perhaps, the e-cards or WhatsApp messages will replace friends being present physically. Nothing is constant in this life, isn’t it? Except for this recipe that I hold in my family archives. Thank God, when everything changes the taste of these til ke ladoos and my sweet memories will always remain the same.

Pin for future reference:

Lohri - Til Ke Ladoo
Til Ke Ladoo
Servings16 pieces
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
  1. In a griddle, on a low flame dry roast the sesame seeds till golden. Keep aside.
  2. In the same griddle, dry roast the peanuts till tiny black spots appear on the outside. Remove and allow them to cool on a plate.
  3. Once again, dry roast the coconut powder till golden in colour. Each of these steps will take about a minute or two.
  4. Blow away the outer covers of the peanuts and coarsely crush the whites in a mortar pestle.
  5. Mix the sesame seeds, peanuts, elaichi powder and coconut powder together.
  6. In a kadai, add 2 tsps ghee and the roughly chopped jaggery. Keep stirring on medium flame till it melts. Once it starts boiling, give it a minute and switch off the gas.
  7. Add all the dry ingredients to the jaggery. Rub 1 tsp ghee on the palms of your hands and while hot, scoop about 1tablespoon of mixture and start rolling into even sized balls. Once cool, it's difficult to gather it all together so ensure that the balls are made when the mixture is still warm.
  8. The til ke ladoos are ready to be served. They stay for as long as a month and make a healthy snack treat during tea time too.
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Ta Prohm |The Tomb Raider Temple, Cambodia https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2019/01/10/ta-prohm-the-tomb-raider-temple-cambodia/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2019/01/10/ta-prohm-the-tomb-raider-temple-cambodia/#comments Thu, 10 Jan 2019 18:18:50 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?p=2907 Amidst more than 1,000 temples that dot the Angkor city, the Ta Prohm is a spectacular one, drawing crowds from all over the world to see the tumbled man-made ruins getting slowly engulfed by gnarled trees. It was Angelina Jolie who further shot this temple to fame in the 2001 film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” where she pays a visit to a hidden tomb in Cambodia. The movie didn’t fare well at the box office but it definitely helped the tourism industry boom in Siem Reap.

Tall trees loom over the ruins of Ta Prohm

The unfolding of the mightiness and magnificence of the Angkor Wat in the radiance of the soft sun rays is an experience not to be missed. After witnessing the exquisite Angkor Wat earlier at sunrise we were next looking forward to our stop at the Ta Prohm. Barely had we stepped down from the tour bus that the strong sun rays hit our eyes. For January, the 9 a.m. sun is pretty strong in Siem Reap. For once, I was glad for our decision of taking the early morning tour of the three majestic temples of Siem Reap – Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon Temple with the popular and highly recommended bus tour company – Siam Reap Shuttle Tours. Sunglasses covering our eyes and water bottles tucked under our arms the tour group followed Kha, our guide for the day to learn all about the wondrous Ta Prohm.

For more than 500 years the Ta Prohm lay abandoned in the midst of wilderness. Trees found their way through crevices, corridors and structures.

History of Ta Prohm

The history of the temple goes back to around 1186. It was built just after Angkor Wat, during the Golden age of the Khmer Empire, or what is now known as Cambodia. The original name of the temple was Rajavihara or the Royal monastery and it was dedicated to the Buddhist personification of wisdom. Ta Prohm was built when the Khmer empire was at its peak and its construction is credited to Jayavaraman VII. Ta Prohm has a traditional Khmer structure consisting of a series of gradually smaller enclosures, the largest of which is about 1000 by 650 meters. The sanctuary is spread around the huge, elevated stone face of Prajnaparamita, the personification of wisdom. It is said that the features of Prajnaparamita resemble closely to the king’s mother.

Why was the temple abandoned?

The capital city Angkor was the biggest urban center in the world in the pre-industrial revolution era. Known for its canals, reservoirs, and channels, it supported the best technology and water management system in that period. However, it is the failure of this sophisticated human technology in the face of extreme environmental conditions that caused hordes of people to shun this place gradually.

Ta Prohm built by Rajavarman VII

Abandoned for more than 500 years Ta Prohm merged with nature. Through its crevices and within its corridors, trees wound their ways. Shrouded in the wilderness, Ta Prohm lay forgotten till Angkor was rediscovered in the early 20th century by French archaeologists.

The beauty of Ta Prohm

A partnership project of Archeological Survey of India and APSARA National Authority, in cooperation with UNESCO, today sees Ta Prohm in better shape. Restoration work has been going on to fit the maze pieces strewn all over the place and to ensure that the structures are not further deteriorated. Nevertheless, a conscientious effort has also been done to maintain its raw appeal.

Centuries-old trees tower overhead, their canopy filtering the scorching sunrays and casting a greenish shroud over the temple. The patched padding made by lichen, moss, and creepers cast their hues on the walls. The eye-grabber of the many twisted root formations is the one on the easternmost gopura or the entrance pavilion of the central enclosure, popularly known as the Crocodile Tree. It is also known as the Tomb Raider tree after it was featured in the movie.

The Crocodile Tree or The Tomb Raider Tree is the most popular tree with its imposing roots and branches spreading over the structure

There’s a haunting feel to Ta Prohm. If it were not the chattering of the insane number of tourists that flock to see it at any point in time, one could actually take a quiet moment to envisage the life of the bygone era. There also dawns a message that despite man’s efforts to stronghold himself against nature, it is ultimately nature that has the last word. Neither the systematic water network nor the heavy stone walls that housed more than 3140 villages could fight against nature’s fury. The drastic droughts and raging floods crashed the existence of humanity in this monument. What remained was the might of nature in the kingdom of trees.

The carvings of the dwarapalakas and devtaas

What makes Ta Prohm spectacular is not just the architectural remains, the inscriptions or the carvings of the dwarapalakas and devtaas but the drama created by the wilderness and it’s imposing presence in the glorious ancient ruins.

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Accenting on Indian Cuisine with a twist : Chef Manish Mehrotra’s new restaurant, Comorin https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/29/accenting-on-indian-cuisine-with-a-twist-chef-manish-mehrotras-new-restaurant-comorin/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/29/accenting-on-indian-cuisine-with-a-twist-chef-manish-mehrotras-new-restaurant-comorin/#comments Sat, 29 Dec 2018 11:05:31 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?p=2834 Indian Accent wears the crown of being the only restaurant listed this year in Time’s top 100 places to visit in the world. And it’s a well-deserved feat too. After all, it has one big kahuna — Chef Manish Mehrotra leading the luxe line-up at the Old World Hospitality group. With his ingenuity, he has reformulated Indian cuisine and placed it prominently on the global culinary platform.

The interiors of Comorin (Pic Credit: Comorin)

The all-day restaurant Comorin, by the same group opened its doors recently in Two Horizon Centre, Gurugram. The brilliant marshaling of long, wooden tables along the length of the restaurant with sleek, clean areas for the concept store, beverage corner, and the bar area offers a space that is beautiful, functional and redolent with an international sensibility.

Comorin, the new restaurant opened by Chef Manish Mehrotra is already creating waves in Gurugram.

Conceptualized by Russell Sage, whose clients include The Montcalm Luxury Hotels, Gordon Ramsay, Tamarind Hotel, Hauser and Wirth; Comorin’s design is as adroit as the menu served within it. Different from Indian Accent which is a confluence of global ingredients and techniques with flavors of Indian dishes, the menu in Comorin focusses entirely on dishes that belong to various regions of our country. These traditional recipes are picked up from homes and local food joint owners. The food then has been reinvented or modified with visual appeal and flavors that the global Indian can relate to.

A lunch with two important people from the culinary world – Maneesh Srivastva of Urban Escapades(extreme left) and the Chef himself – Chef Manish Mehrotra (centre)

In the words of Chef Mehrotra-

“Lot of innovations are done by common people, not by chefs. Taking inspiration from Qureshi Saab in Jama Masjid whose specialty is butter seekh kebabs, we introduced seekh kebabs in butter. Taking the recipe of sweetcorn khichdi that I liked in someone’s house, I added my own twist by putting sem ke beej on top. Sem-aloo ki sabzi is something that was always cooked in winters by my mother. Perhaps in five years, not many would know about sem. So it’s reviving these vegetables on the menu so that people can taste them and know more about them.”

Sweet corn khichdi
Gunpowder Idli
The mutton seekh kebab served in a pool of hot butter with Kashmiri roti

The menu is not just about fading recipes. It includes comfort foods like prawn curry, chicken, chilli dabba gosht, and sarson ka saag. There are nostalgia and sweet episodes of the past knotted with them since they are eaten in every home and created with love.

The mini fried idlis with dry spice podi showered with fragments of golden cashew nuts and served with three chutneys define simple food served with class. The creamy sweet corn khichdi with crunchy fried sem ka beej, a drizzle of chutney and crispy khakhra is my favorite. Throw the calorie-worry out of your mind and twin the Kashmiri roti in seekh kebabs that float in a sea of butter. That’s the way to enjoy it. The Kanyakumari crab claws slathered with butter-garlic masala are so robust with flavors that you want to smack your lips unapologetically. The Green Chilli prawns with black puffed rice offer a dance of textures and impressions on the tongue. The crunch of puffed rice and the subtle chili make this a stellar of a dish. For the dessert lovers, the Gajar Halwa Tart with the smooth, sweet Rabri and the Cheeni Malai Toast are the must haves. Who would have thought something as simple as a Cheeni malai toast that is the easiest dessert ever in the world could find a place in a menu of a restaurant of this stature? But that is what is the Chef’s charisma – taking a classic and spinning it with some class.

The Gajar Halwa Tart
Evoking memories of childhood – The Cheeni Malai Toast

Chef Mehrotra laughs “It’s been easy. People have innovated these recipes, we have just copied them.” Humility, a virtue so rare for someone who has reached heights of success, speaks volumes about Chef Mehrotra. Perhaps it’s this simple, down-to-earth approach that makes him understand the pulse of his customers and accomplish wonders in the gustatory world. Classified into Small, Large and Extra Large portions the menu offers plenty for the nibbler, the hungry and those who want to share, respectively. The extra large easily suffices 2-3 people.

At the bar, Varun mixes up spectacular cocktails using the sous vide
The Elderflower Gin : All prepared and ready in front of me.

Under the vigilance of mixologist, Varun Sharma, freshly infused botanicals in liquor heat up for 90 seconds at 80 degrees Celsius in the sous vide. Some juniper berries, elderflower, black pepper, green cardamom, clove, fresh lemon peel, coriander and 60 ml of gin make my drink – Elderflower Gin– all spunky and alive. With passion in his eyes and the zeal to offer more, Varun stirs up one cocktail after another. Must try the Ramos and Roses Gin Fizz, a wonderful fizz that stands two inches above the glass and needs twenty minutes of hard work to get that razzmatazz on the glass. Comorin also entails a concept store that sells probiotic syrups, coffee powders, mueslis, Kombucha, bar tools, and kitchenware.Comorin shines out, standing tall amidst some popular eateries as neighbors. Homestyle flavors, an unpretentious bar with modern, fun options and a cozy corner for coffee and tea lovers. Comorin has it all. It’s no wonder a couple of days back it received “The Best standout Concept of the Year” by DLF CyberHub. Well! This is just the start, I foresee, there’s more to come. The buzz has only just begun!

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Christmas And A Glass Of Mulled Wine https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/recipe/christmas-and-a-glass-of-mulled-wine/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/recipe/christmas-and-a-glass-of-mulled-wine/#comments Tue, 25 Dec 2018 13:28:24 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?post_type=recipe&p=2840

What is the definition of a good wine?

It should start and end with a smile

-William Sokolin

If there is one post that I am going to enjoy writing about, it’s this one. With a glass of toasty mulled wine by my side and the cheer of festivity in the air, there is no better way to celebrate Yuletide than with some warmth in this ruby glow glass of intoxication.

Last night we ushered in Christmas with our friends and while there were all the fancy labels one can imagine in a bar, it was mulled wine that everyone raised their hands for. We should have expected it. Mulled wine is associated as much to Christmas as is our good old man, Santa Claus.

Mulled wine and Christmas

The Romans are said to be the first ones who warmed the wine to protect themselves from the bitter cold in the second century. Gradually, people started adding spices for two reasons — First, to mask the inferior quality of wine used by using the more aromatic, woody spices. Secondly, it was the perfect concoction for the bitter cold winters providing protection and immunity. The new take on wine started gaining popularity throughout Europe, initially. It then fizzled away except in Sweden where the Swedes fancied it and added their own flowers and herbs. These recipes were given different names though they all fell in the broad category of Glögg.

It was only at the fag end of the 19th century that a connect was made with Christmas and Glögg. Repackaged in fancy bottles with Santa Claus pictures, it swept the European markets. A perfect market entry during winters and festive season sealed its association with Christmas.

Difference between Glögg and Mulled Wine.

Mulled wine is a warm traditional beverage made with red wine and various mulling spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and star anise with a twirl of a citrus rind usually that of a lemon or orange.

The Glögg is a Swedish mulled wine. It is a heady combination of red wine, akvavit, sugar and signature spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bitter orange. Often Sauternes, vodka and brandy are also used. Served in mugs with tiny spoons, blanched almonds and raisins are first put before the glögg is added. (This step is skipped in mulled wine.) Served with ginger cookies this makes the perfect Nordic mulled wine experience.

The main ingredients to make mulled wine are red wine, brandy, orange, star anise, cloves, cinnamon and honey

A quick and easy preparation

While wine is the backbone of this drink, it’s not important to get the most expensive wine for its preparation. Choose from a Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Merlot. While one can play around with the spices the most important ones are star anise, cloves, and cinnamon — something that nearly all Indian kitchens have. A quarter cup of brandy, two tablespoons of honey, the above mentioned three spices and one orange are all that you need. Last night, everybody’s raised hands did ring a bell in my head. Anticipating that the mulled wine could get short for all the guests, we hurried up to get the second batch ready. The preparation is easy and doesn’t take long. Thankfully, it was all warm and ready to be guzzled by the time the first batch got over. Ideally one should let the wine simmer for as long as two or three hours (on a slow cooker or lowest setting) so that all the flavors mingle together but if required even 15 minutes on the medium-low burner would do fine. An extended simmering on the burner may make it less alcoholic, more concentrated, and possibly more spiced.

Mulled wine- A drink perfect for winters.

Isn’t it true that the best things in life are simple and exude warmth and love? They come under the “no-fuss” category. Like a bag of freshly popped popcorn at the movies. A cosy, fluffed up blanket when you’re sleepy. A hot chocolate fudge on a hot, summer day. A big hug by the one you love. And a glass of toasty, warm mulled wine on a dark, wintry night. Try it! You’ll know what I mean. Cheers!

A Winter Christmas And A Glass Of Mulled Wine
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time15 mins
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a pan before setting it on the burner. Keep the flame on medium-high.
  2. Once the wine starts to simmer, reduce the flame to medium-low and cover with a lid. Let the wine simmer for 15 minutes or as long as an hour. Strain and garnish. Serve while still warm.
  3. As options, you could add 2-3 cardamoms, 1" ginger, a grated nutmeg or a vanilla pod.
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A tale of a theatre artiste and life lessons https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/21/a-tale-of-a-theatre-artiste-and-life-lessons/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/21/a-tale-of-a-theatre-artiste-and-life-lessons/#respond Fri, 21 Dec 2018 02:52:28 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?p=2825 The world of theatre is magical. Actors, with every character, don a new attire and enthral the audience in the best possible way. For that short period, they capture the imagination of the spectators and carry them to another era, place,or plot. There’s entertainment, a farrago of emotions — laughter, sorrow, despondency, excitement — and in the build up from one act to another, the audience experiences a detachment from the self and an instant connect with the characters on stage.

To me, as a child, theatre was alluring. I loved the aspect that I could step into different roles and captivate an audience. I would dream of a standing ovation and winning trophies for the school. However,it was my diffidence that never got me to showcase my acting skills in front of the dramatics teacher or class. I would, instead, help my friends with their dialogues and watch them during their rehearsals. As soon as I reached home after school, I would run into my room, bolt the door and then take the avatar of a dynamic actor in front of a mirror. In a well modulated voice and confidence that could scare the lions in a jungle, I would deliver the dialogues with only my reflection as an audience. Damn! I was good. Only the world didn’t know.

The magical world of theatre

With this passion tucked in a corner of my heart, I reached adulthood. By then, I had made peace with the fact that I’ll never perform on stage. Both school days and graduation was over. It was while I was doing post graduation that an opportunity finally dropped into my lap.

During an Independence Day Inter College Theatre Competition, our all girls college decided to enact the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The hunt was on for the role of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer — the commander of the British Indian Army under whose instructions the soldiers started firing an unarmed gathering in Amritsar in the infamous tragedy of 1919. It was a pivotal role. The short listed actors were given a script to rehearse before the final audition. Glancing over it for a few minutes, I borrowed a hat from a classmate and showed my friend how she should perform in front of the teachers when her turn came.

Was it my short crop of hair that caught her attention or my boots and hat or the manner in which I bellowed those lines I’ll never know but the Dramatics Teacher passing by, halted and watched my entire performance. Once the auditions were over, I was summoned for a repeat performance. Later, when announcements were made, I heard the teacher boom my name from the mike. I had bagged the role of General Dyer.

I have often wondered the exact moment when the meek mouse in me turned into a confident actor. It was not easy and it definitely was a gradual process.

  • I started rehearsing in front of the mirror like I had done a thousand times earlier. I watched my expressions and recorded my voice to hear myself.
  • Once I was comfortable with this, I acted out in front of my family and friends. A giggle here, a whisper there would distract me initially but I learnt that I had to concentrate on my character.

“Act as if the audience doesn’t exist.”

  • Mrs. Das, my dramatics teacher would repeat often. Yet many times when the auditorium filled up with a few students, I would get conscious, choke on my own voice, the nervousness drying my throat such that I could not utter a word.

“Breathe!” Breath control exercises not only calm the nerves but also enhance both speaking and singing abilities.

  • I would reach the rehearsals much before time, walk up on stage, imagine the audience watching the play, breathe deep, calm myself and hear my voice in the empty auditorium. Even today, whenever I have to perform on a different stage, I spend sometime alone before a performance to get a “feel” of the stage.
  • Any director or seasoned actor will tell you the importance of silence and collecting your thoughts before a performance. Despite innumerable rehearsals, dabbling lines with the cast helps seal the lines in your head. Gossip and unnecessary chatter is a No-No.
  • If there are two words that I were to repeat for any kind of art form, it would be — “Unleash Yourself.It’s when you throw caution to the winds and it doesn’t matter if you’re being judged or not that you perform the best. For me, these words have given me the final nudge and opened the floodgates of confidence to perform my best.
Unleash yourself ! – A lesson from theatre

Behind the wings I could see that the auditorium was packed. There were students standing on the side aisles due to lack of space. The jury sat in front of the stage — teachers from different colleges — with mark sheets for grading the actors and performances. Like a huge wave, the responsibility of performing well, hit me on my head and made me feel dizzy. I thought I would faint. I couldn’t remember my lines and my throat felt parched.

“Calm! Control! Concentrate!…”

In that fleeting moment of despair, I could hear the voice of Mrs. Das floating in my head.

“ ….You’re the actor. Step into the shoes of the character. Feel the emotions. Go on! Unleash yourself.”

With the air and attitude required of my character as Dyer, I stomped on the stage and delivered my dialogues with conviction and flair recreating the events of that unfateful day. When the play got over, I got a standing ovation and received the best actors’ trophy. My dream finally came true.

Since then there’s been no looking back. Theatre has become an integral part of my life. Not just in polishing my acting skills but enhancing my life skills too. It teaches so much— Play your role well. Use pause and silence judiciously. Stay calm, be in control, concentrate well. Enjoy the applause and the criticism equally. Walk away from unnecessary drama. If there’s passion simmering within you, remove the shackles of fear and reach all out. These are life lessons aren’t they? It’s true then that theatre is life and let me conclude in the words of Shakespeare:“ All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Disclaimer: This article was first written on Medium

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The Only Gothic Theatre In Asia – Gaiety Theatre, Shimla https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/14/the-only-gothic-theatre-in-asia-gaiety-theatre-shimla/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/14/the-only-gothic-theatre-in-asia-gaiety-theatre-shimla/#comments Fri, 14 Dec 2018 21:19:28 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?p=2785 The beauty of theatre is that not only does it provide a creative outlet for the artiste but begets its meaning through narrative and metaphor. It brings a bunch of people together in a certain place where they step into the shoes of another character and through their dialogues entertain, convey thought-provoking messages and join the audience in forgetting their reality for a while.

A theatre performance involves the collaboration of arts. It is, for this reason, that for the past twelve years, it has formed an integral part of my life. Performances on different stages, in different settings and cities, have been both exciting and challenging. Of course, with travel comes the opportunity to try different cuisines and restaurants of a place. Therefore, theatre performances in different cities excite me because it brings forth a confluence of the three passions of my life – Theatre, Food and Travel. This time we were all set to perform on a stage which enjoyed the patronage of imminent personalities – Viceroys, Governors-General, Military Secretaries and Commanders-In-Chief, Distinguished Actors and theatre Artistes. We were going to perform at The Gaiety Theatre.  

The Amateur Dramatic Club now at Gaiety Theatre, Shimla was established in 1837.
The Amateur Dramatics Society (1837)

The Need For Theatre In Shimla

Shimla or Simla, as it was known in the days of the British Raj, came into focus in the year 1863 when the then Viceroy of India, John Lawrence decided to shift the summer capital of  British India from Calcutta to Shimla. However much before that, the British had already started doing a recce of the place that had fancied them due to its climatic conditions. Of course, there was no electricity, phones or televisions in those days and the only way to entertain themselves was by way of playing cards, eating or drinking. During this time the Governor General bought about the idea of theatre so people could get together, eat, drink, rehearse and eventually perform. The Amateur Dramatics Club was established in 1837 by the British Officers stationed at the hill station.

The clean, well maintained auditorium is visited by a cultured crowd of Shimla.

The Governor-General himself acted in these productions. The performances were paid events and the money collected was used for charity. However, it was much later on the 30th of May, 1887 that the Gaiety Heritage Cultural Complex came into existence and became the nuclei of cultural activities in this hill station which was affectionately referred to as “Chota Vilayat” or ” Little England”. The first play staged in the Gaiety Theatre was ” Time Will Tell”.

The Intimate Gothic theatre is resplendant.
The seating areas are marked and were reserved for dignitaries

The Man Behind Gaiety Theatre

The architect of Gaiety Theatre was Henry Irwin, one of the most celebrated architects of his time. He was responsible for the Viceregal Lodge and most buildings in Chennai presidency like the Southern railway Headquarters, the Government Museum and the Madras High Court. 

The Architecture of Gaiety Theatre

The entrance to Gaiety opens from the Mall Road and has an appeal of one of those old cinema houses from the bygone era. It is only when you enter the hall that the jaw drops. The exquisite gold carving, paper mache panels, the mint green walls and deep blue pillars, and the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture clearly speaks aloud the grandeur of an invincible British Empire. The last time it was renovated was in the year 2005 and that was when the paper mache panels were put further making it look more glorious. The acoustics are the finest in design and the voice reaches deep and clear from the stage to the audience without the use of mikes. It is a theatre marked with elegance, detailed Baroque adornment and a Gothic appeal.

The intricate carvings make for stunning interiors of the theatre.
The paper mache panels were added in 2005 when renovation took place.
The lovely colours of deep blue and mint green add character to the hall.

Even though electricity came in 1950, the wires were put in much earlier during construction. Prior to that, kerosene lamps were used to light up the hall.

The seating capacity is a little more than 300 people. The theatre is said to be a remake of the Robert Hall of London. What makes it spectacular is the three separate seating boxes of eight seats each. These were made exclusively for the Governor-General, Commander-In-Chief and the Governor of Shimla. These privileged boxes were where they sat and witnessed many performances. Between the stage and the audience is the proscenium where the musicians sit or if even more are required, they can sit in the basement below the stage much like the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi.

The Performance

The tech (technical) rehearsals mark our entry/exit points, the focus light positioning and the voice check to see if the throw of dialogues will reach the audience clearly. As I soaked in the ambience of the hall, it dawned on me that I stood on the same stage where famous celebrities performed.

One of the earlier performances. The costumes were made in London and would take months to reach Shimla.
The photo gallery on the first floor is a must watch with original photographs of the earlier plays.

Viceroy, Robert-Bulwer Lytton wrote and staged the play ‘Walpole’ here. The founder of the Boy Scouts, R. B. Powell acted in the play  ‘The Geisha’ on this stage and Rudyard Kipling performed in ‘A Scrap of Paper.’ The stalwarts of Indian cinema have stood under these stage lights. The legendary singer, K.L. Saigal made his first public performance at the Gaiety. Balraj Sahni, Prithviraj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher have enthralled the audience in this theatre. Since the army has taken over Gaiety Heritage Cultural Complex, it continues to enjoy the patronage of its officers and soldiers who watch plays and stage at least four productions each year.

The tech rehearsals before the final performance

The hall was jampacked for the show. The jawans and their wives occupied the seats on the balcony. The officers and their families sat in front of the stage. Lt. General Sirohi, also the Executive President of the Club, was our chief guest and sat at the privileged box in front. The play began. I waited behind the curtains for my act. In those brief moments, as I watched the audience, the actors on stage, the Gaiety Hall in its splendour, I was overwhelmed. As the continuum of the past, this was my moment in the present to enthral the audience and entertain them. I would give my best. When else will I ever get the opportunity to perform in the only exotic Gothic theatre in Asia – The Gaiety Theatre, again? With these thoughts in my mind, my arms spread wide I stepped on the stage. It was my moment and time to shine under these arc lights.

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The Tunisian Festival At Taj Palace, New Delhi https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/05/the-tunisian-festival-at-taj-palace-new-delhi/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/05/the-tunisian-festival-at-taj-palace-new-delhi/#comments Wed, 05 Dec 2018 14:54:59 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?p=2747
Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

Strategically located in the vast horizontal stretch of North Africa, Tunisia is a country steeped in history and stunning natural landscapes. Known for its moderate weather and ribboned by a sand hemmed Meditteranean coastline, its food history dates back to more than three thousand years with influences from the Ottoman rule, the colonial French rule and the neighbouring cultures. The Romans, Arabs, Turks, Spaniards, Italians and the French occupied this little nation at some point in history and each culture has left an indelible imprint on the food of the ethnic Berber group and seafaring Carthaginians. Today the Tunisian cuisine has impressions from the French, Arabic, Mediterranean and Mid-Eastern cuisines.

With the melting of cultures around the world, there is an exchange of recipes, ingredients, cuisines all over. Even though India’s spice packed, flavour and fragrance rich food can be found in its regional cuisines, it’s predominantly Thai, Chinese and Italian cuisines that have been accepted in our country and slowly found their way on our plates. However, not much is known about Tunisian food. The ongoing Tunisian food festival at The Capital Kitchen in Taj Palace, New Delhi offers an opportunity to experience the different flavours and dishes from Tunisia specially curated by Chefs Mounir Arem and Mohamed Ali Abouda.  On a special invite from His Excellency Nejmeddine Lakhal, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Tunisia, New Delhi and Mr Samrat Datta, General Manager, Taj Palace, New Delhi I had an opportunity to savour the different delicacies from Tunisia yesterday.

With General Manager, Mr Samrat Datta and Ananya Mukherjee, Director PR and Marketing, Taj Palace



Tunisia’s most prolific starter is the Mechouia Salad which is a refreshing blend of grilled vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and the spicy chilly paste, harissa.  For the salad, the vegetables are crushed and pureed while retaining some texture. A perfect accompaniment to grilled meat, I had mine on a piece of bread and relished it just as much.

The Tunisian Salad

The Tunisian Salad makes an impressive presentation at the buffet replete with the crunchiness of fresh vegetables, olives and capers and seasoned with a vinaigrette to pep up the taste. The Houria Salad has an interesting story to it. The salad is also called “Your mother Angel” and there is a reason why carrots are used. According to the tale, the lady who first made this dish was called “Angel” and since she dyed her hair with henna, it was the colour of carrots. It’s a strange reasoning with no source of validation but the Houria at the festival was served with finely chopped, boiled carrots with light spices and lemon juice creating a perfect balance between sweet and acidity.

The Mosaic salad

The Mosaic Salad is a fun summer salad in colours red, white and green. This pretty salad combines garden fresh vegetables like carrots, boiled peas and potatoes to make it look cheerful. Kalamata olives and boiled eggs make up for the garnishing.


The Tunisians are known for their hospitality and one got a glimpse of it with Chef Mounir. He walked around seeing that all the guests were comfortable and to answer any question about the cuisine. I loved this gesture. For any new cuisine that one is getting acquainted with, it helps if there is someone who can connect the culture and emotions behind it. 

(L-R) : His Excellency Nejmeddine Lakhal, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Tunisia, with Chef D.N. Sharma, Chef Mounir and Executive Sous Chef Atul Upadhyay

“The original Tunisian food is Couscous because it’s Berber and it has more than five thousand years of history. Earlier it was made just to survive but we changed it for special occasions like weddings because it’s a hard preparation.” – Chef Mounir

There’s a reason why the Chef said this. The method is lengthy and laborious. Taking a container with a perforated bottom, it is filled with the Mediterranean grain, couscous and set above a pot of boiling stew. The hot vapours from the stew fluff the granules with the flavours from the stew. Couscous Khodra (A vegetarian version with peppers, potatoes and carrots on top) and Couscous Fish (non-vegetarian sauce) are served in the festival. I have always had my couscous as a salad, to have it drenched in sauce with chunks of fish and chunky peppers did seem new to the palate. Interesting! It’s grainy, simple and soothing. Chef Mounir tells me that in North Africa, making couscous by hand is a tradition handed down from one generation to the other and the method and the ingredients used in North Africa is far different from that used to make it in the South.

Couscous Fish

Tunisia is mostly defined by its coasts so there is enough seafood to satiate the non-vegetarian in the menu. Dishes like Kabkabou Hout (Fish stew), Klaya Alouch (Lamb) and Tchich Karnit (Octopus) are placed centre stage. The Klaya Alouch is a hearty stew with soft lamb pieces. Every bite released the juices and the soaked up flavours. I loved it.  Mildly spiced and more tomatoey in taste, the Tchich Karnit is popular in Tunisia. Octopus or Karnit is cooked with crushed barley semolina, tomatoes, harissa, garlic and onions. 


The Tunisian tagine is like a frittata. It reminded me more of a Spanish omelette with a few extra levels. Tunisian tagine is a dish made with lots of eggs, meat and vegetables. This is a typical homestyle comfort food – nicely spiced and baked in the oven.


An assortment of Tunisian sweets like the Kaak Wark, Makrouds and a pyramid of Baklawa make up for the dessert table. 

It’s not possible for one to travel to far away places to enjoy their food. And that’s why I love the concept of food festivals. It provides an insight into the culinary window of a place whose photos I may probably have seen only in magazines. It provides an opportunity to taste and learn more about a cuisine through interactions with the chefs. If you want to know about Tunisian food this time, head straight to The Capital Kitchen, Taj Palace. The Tunisian festival offers a good and tasty variety of flavours offering the Mediterranean and North African culinary traditions and closes on the 9th December 2018.

(Pic. Courtesy: Taj Palace)

]]> https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/12/05/the-tunisian-festival-at-taj-palace-new-delhi/feed/ 4 2747 Do You Know The Man Behind The First Food Truck In India – Chef Gutu https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/11/26/do-you-know-the-man-behind-the-first-food-truck-in-india-chef-gutu/ https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/2018/11/26/do-you-know-the-man-behind-the-first-food-truck-in-india-chef-gutu/#comments Mon, 26 Nov 2018 21:15:13 +0000 https://www.spoonsandsneakers.com/?p=2726 In his study, “American Diner: Then and Now”, the leading diner expert Richard J.S. Gutman makes mention of a vendor named Walter Scott who in the year 1872 parked his small wagon in front of a local newspaper office. The idea was to serve sandwiches, pies and steaming cups of coffee to journalists and pressmen who worked till the wee hours of the morning. “You can trace the whole industry to him.” writes Gutman. Perhaps it was Scott who saw the niche and opened the first documented food truck in the U.S.A. Since then, the trend of food trucks has gradually spanned to other parts of the world.

Do you know the man behind the first food truck in India?

It was in 1976 when India was in an emergency mode and civil liberties were curbed that a 23-year-old young man, Aroon Narula was running a canteen called Cafe Commune in Lady Sri Ram College with success. Eager to try something different, he toyed with the idea of a mobile van selling Chinese food and ice creams at various locations in Delhi. Aware that an unheard concept as this, in India, would present stumbling blocks he decided to tackle them one by one. He shared his ideas with Sunil Bhandari, a dear friend of his who had a keen sense of designing and roped him in. At a prodigious amount of four thousand rupees, he bought a Dodge, discarded by the American Embassy. With the help of Sunil, he designed an 18 square feet kitchen and made provisions for the basic necessities needed for the operation of a kitchen. Two tanks were installed, one for clean, running water and the other served as a wastewater tank. There was a freezer, an exhaust on the roof of the van, the service counter was made on both sides with fly proofing and the driver seat was converted into a cashier counter when selling food. After the conversions, fittings and changing to a diesel engine, he had spent Rs 23,000 in all.

The food truck was all ready when the stumbling block came. There was no rule or bye-law of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which could enable licensing of such a venture. Still not ready to give up, he knocked many doors till a friend’s uncle who was on a top position in MCD, gave him the necessary documents and he finally saw his dream come true.

On 3rd September 1977, the bright yellow and white painted food truck named “Hawker” opened its counters at the gates of the Art Faculty, Delhi University temporarily, a month after which it shifted to a pavement in front of D school, better known as Delhi School of Economics. A concept like this received positive reviews and crowds thronged around the truck. The prices were reasonably priced and only a limited menu was offered- Chowmein (Rs.6), Chilly Chicken (Rs.30), Chicken Sweet Corn Soup (Rs.4) and an ice cream cone (Rs.10). The final schedule set then onwards was D School till 1:00 p.m, ITO crossing thereafter till 4:00 p.m. and finally from 6:00 p.m till dinner at South Extension. Hawker became a business model for many entrepreneurs thereafter and more food vans selling Chinese food could be spotted at strategic points in Delhi. The money was good, the “meals on wheels” concept rocked and it attracted a lot of media attention. For twelve years, Aroon made “Hawker” a brand that both young and old loved.

The birth of Chef Gutu

The man himself- Chef Gutu

It was in 1988 that Aroon wanted to explore further in the culinary world and away from the food truck business. A food cognoscente and having a deep interest in the innovation of recipes he took over the catering at the Escorts Heart Institute where he ran the hospital kitchen, innovated Mughlai recipes under stringent low calorie, low cholesterol advice of the dieticians. He ran this kitchen for 21 years with a staff of 170 employees under him. Alongside he was involved in projects such as running a bakery and the management of a few restaurants in Connaught Place and Vasant Vihar. With much experience tucked under his belt, in 2010 he became a restaurant consultant. Today, he’s popularly known as Chef Gutu in the food circuit and specialises in setting up new restaurants, bars, hotels and scaling up their hospitality business. He gives advice on turnkey projects, staff recruitment, Food and Beverage control, breakup costs, menu ideas, training existing staff, innovative food, new cuisines and everything that you need for being an entrepreneur.

(To know more about his specialization, press here.)

Chef Gutu and his team cater at premium five-star properties often.

From “Hawker” to “Hawkers” 

Pic. Credit: Anubhav Narula

What happened to the food truck, Chef Gutu? Is there no Hawker? Did you sell it off?” I was curious. I wanted to know.

“Yes, There is no Hawker.” He paused. And then smiled. “Instead, we now have four Hawkers.”

Once he decided to join the Escorts Heart Institute, he handed over the food truck business to his brother. Today, his nephew Abhinav  Narula runs the show. 42 years till date, it is the longest running food truck in our country. The food truck “Hawkers” stands in three different locations in NCR – Hawkers in Vasant Kunj and Priya Cinema, Hawkers Kebab on the Kerb in Vasant Kunj and Hawkers Unforked in Vasant Kunj. The cuisine served is predominantly Chinese though the menu is much more elaborate. There are soups, vegetarian and non-vegetarian appetizers, Kathi rolls, noodles and rice, chicken momos and a wide variety of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes in the main course.

Hawkers specialises in lip-smacking, delicious Chinese food. (Pic Credit: Suyash Jain)

As the conversation was heading to its fag end, images of modern, snazzy food trucks around conjured up in my mind. The Delhi Food Truck Festival will be held in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on the 14th -16th of December in its 3rd season this year.

Will the food truck fever further sweep the city? What, according to you, is the future of food trucks in India, Chef?” I threw one last question at him. His reply left a lot to ponder upon.

The future is uncertain. The municipal bye-laws are not clear on the matter of food trucks/ carts. Dealing with the local municipality and government officials, procurement of licenses like the NOC from the police, FDA license and fire license is not easy. There is no clarity of rules and regulations pertaining to food truck parking. There are more challenges than what meets the eye. The food truck business could be a game changer in our economy where unemployment is on the rise. Yes! it could be a fillip to job creation if only the laws are entrepreneur friendly and enable them to start their own business.”

What do you feel is the future of food trucks in India? Do leave your viewpoint on the comments below.




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