Monday, 9 November 2015

Travel Diaries - Breakfast @ Hot Breads, Pondicherry

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Back in the days as a kid, I'd visit my grandma who lives in Coimbatore. In the heart of R.S Puram; there was this lovely bakery dishing out some delicious breads, savoury eats and pastries. Not sure if it even exists now, the memories this place lingered in the back of my mind. On my first visit to Pondicherry, I was sure that my very first meal there had to be a french meal that'd involve crossaints, pastries and coffee to wish for the least.

Passing through canal road, Hot Breads was a random find that brought back old memories to the forefront. Since this visit,  it's been a regular joint that I visit on arriving at Pondicherry. This might be an understatement because in reality; the first place of visit on arriving in Pondicherry for this hungry soul is always Hot Breads.

It's an a-la-carte cafe cum bakery. They serve up some delicious eggs made to order, gourmet breads to accompany, croissants - both classic and with a twist, danish, coffees, desserts and a lot more. One can choose to dine in here or take food to go. The place is nothing fancy without any thrills from frills. The food here too is soul satisfying.

While there might be better places in Pondicherry for breakfast; in its segment it's hard to not fall in love with Hot Breads. It's got good food freshly baked as replenished, nice service, centrally located and is pocket friendly and worth every penny. Over numerous visits, I've eaten a lot and still love going back there for more. Here's what been relished over the course of various visits to this place:

Any day Breakfast - Omelette, Toast & Orange Juice
Chocolate Danish
Spanish Omelette
Cuppa to kick start the day
Hint of added sweetness
The Pastry Counter

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Wish-Dish: Gundappa Donne Biryani

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I wonder why sometimes the neighbourhood joints take miss for elongated periods of time. Grabbing a meal here has always been a delight especially when what's offered is fresh and really hot; hot enough to burn you fingers should you dive into it in haste.

I'd like to visit this place more often that I do and was exactly the point I was making to a friend as we dined here late in the night. By late in the night on a weekday means 11 PM in Bangalore. I hope now nothing more needs to told about late nights.

Anyways, bringing focus back to the food, Gundappa Donne Biryani is a hole in the wall place located literally next door to where I live. Their starters are fantastic and their pulav as may be called chicken / mutton is spicy and delicious. Clearly not the very best I've had but trust me - 'Really high on the satisfaction quotient'.

On this evening, I was delighted to see a platter displayed which comprised of pulav surrounded by possibly a tasting portion of every starter this hole in the wall offered on its menu. No more time was needed to make a choice; Mutton combo it was. What came as a part of it was an enviable site - super hot pulav, chili chicken, kaima ball in a wonderful curry, guntur chicken, pepper chicken, chicken kabab, mutton keema vada, a gravy, hard boiled egg and a perfect accompaniment - raw sliced onion.

I will not say more except for, "The complete meal was polished off in no time." Here's leaving you with a picture which speaks and conveys possibly more that my words will.

Price: Rs. 180

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Travel Diaries: Things to do in Lugano, Switzerland

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Lugano situated to the south of Switzerland is the 9th largest city of Switzerland and is located on the northern edge of lake Lugano - A beautiful setting indeed surrounded by mountains. Wonderful climatic conditions coupled with an even interesting geographical layout, Lugano has over the years there has been a lot of tourism and visits from prominent celebrities.

For those looking to head to Milan; Lugano is a stone's throw away (well, not literally). This post is not about where to go from Lugano but about what you can do while you are in Lugano:

1. Mounte San Salvatore:
You've got to be up there in person to sense and experience the panoramic views and the greatness of being on Top of Europe. The summit is accessible by a funicular railway which operates every half an hour. The journey to the top or to the base is about 10 minutes.

Alternatively, for those who love hiking can also opt for this more to reach the summit. At the summit there is a museum, a restaurant and spots to get a 360° panoramic view of the Ticino region.

Open around the year, it is best to buy a return fare ticket of the funicular railway (unless of course you have other plans) as the deal works really better. For a year round timetable, please visit here.

2. Swiss Miniature, Melide:
Get a glimpse of all the goodness Switzerland has to offer at one place and in a miniature form. Swiss Miniature is a special attraction covering 14000 sq mtrs of land and houses replicas of the best of Switzerland like famous buildings, mountains, castles and cathedrals, and has over 3500 mts of rail network, funiculars and cable cars in motion.

Miniature is at a distance of 7 minutes by train from Lugano to Melide. However, holding a Swiss Travel Pass for a week, we decided to ride the waves. Boat was our mode of transport to the Swiss miniature.

3. Promenade:
Lugano has a beautiful and a long winding promenade. Walk along the path and soak in the views and elegance of the city. With the temperatures being great through out the year, this experience can be enhanced by walking the promenade with a Gelato in hand.

4. Shopping:
Lugano offers the very best in shopping. Via Nassa is the historical street with sophisticated stores and brands offering the best they have. The street is about 270 meters long and houses jewellery, clothes, antiques, perfumes, liquor, pastry shop and a lot more.

5. The Alprose Chocolate Museum:
Got a sweet tooth? Love chocolates? Then a visit to Alprose Chocolate museum is worth it all. Sample as many varieties of chocolates as you like, learn the history of Swiss chocolate and witness the making of the chocolate end to end. Not enough? Buy chocolates for dear ones at home and may be also some to go with a nice Single Malt or Scotch whisky! Cheers!

Here's more information on the visiting hours, fees and hot to get there.

For the adventurous ones and those who love outdoors, Lugano is a paradise for hiking and cycling trails. What are your options? Will be up in a later post.
Additional Information:
Temperatures - Yearly average low of ~9°C to a high of ~17°C

Friday, 23 October 2015

#TravelDiaries - Places to Stay in Pondicherry

In the past two years a holiday destination that I've frequented the most is Pondicherry. The count stands at 5 visits. Why not? It's a quaint little place to experience cultural diversity, easily accessible from Bangalore for a weekend and has the needed ingredients for a perfect weekend get away for either family, friends, couples and the likes.

Have you been to Pondy (affectionately called so)? If no, it's a destination that i'd highly recommend for a weekend or may be even a long weekend. It's just not coincidence I've been here pretty much every quarter (if I may exaggerate). A prime factor that decides how you spend your weekend in Pondy and the memories you carry back is the kind of stay you choose. You may either choose to stay in the city, or away from it.

My 5 visits have had me check-in to a different property with each offering diverse or different experiences. What remains common among the 5 stays is that each one was a good experience. This post is my recommendation of where to stay in Pondicherry and what you can experience and expect from it.

1. Dunes Eco Village & Spa

Our very first visit had Puja and me stay at Dunes Eco Resort. It was a long weekend and we were booked here for a 2 night and 3 day stay. The resort as the name suggests was an eco resort and was spread on an expansive land with access to the beach. The words 'expansive land' might come to suggest the fact that the resort was located far away (about 16 kilometers) from the city on the Pondicherry - Chennai ECR.

Various room types are available depending on how close you want to be in contact with nature. A plush 4 star property offers various activities like wellness therapies, yoga, spa, and many other forms of indoor and outdoor activities. A stay at such resorts usually spell 'relax and rejuvinate' and are meant to cut you off partially if not completely from what you can do when you stay in the heart of Pondicherry. Even with a two wheeler on hand (available on rent), commuting between the resort and the city itself seemed like a task.

Stay here for a relaxed and lazy holiday away from the city in a world of its own. If you are looking to explore and live in the city, this clearly is not a place. Auroville is the closest popular attraction.

2. Anantha Heritage Hotel

Located to the west of the canal, as the name spells, this is an 18th century heritage Franco-Tamil villa property with just 7 rooms. A stay here in true sense does justice to the tagline of Pondicherry Tourism - 'Give time a break'. Prime attractions of the city are all within a 2 kilometer radius and the railway station and bus stop are under 3 kilometers away.

Welcoming you to the property is a wonderful courtyard where you can spend time playing a game of chess or two and listening to the traditional music being played in the background. If you were to believe in the tagline of Pondicherry Tourism - 'Give time a break' this is one place to stay. In no time does it successfully manage to make you travel back in time to the 18 - 19th century.

The staff is warm, courteous and attentive. A stay here includes complimentary breakfast which is a soul satisfying mix of south Indian classics and continental dishes all made fresh to order. The best way to explore or move around is by renting a two wheeler.

Stay here to experience the calm, elegance and comfort of living in an ancient 18th Century heritage villa. You are conveniently cut off from the city when in the villa at the same time also conveniently placed in the vicinity of the popular attractions and places of interest.

3. Laila's County Hotel

A hotel property located at the north end of the canal road. Not the best location in terms of the street lighting and cleanliness, the hotel is otherwise located in the very heart of Pondicherry with Promenade beach just a stone's throw away from here. The rooms and bathrooms are ambient with modern upholstery and fittings needed to elevate the experience by a notch. Prime attractions of the city are all within a kilometer radius and so it the railway station. The bus stop is quite accessible too and is around 3 kilometers away.

The hotel houses a coffee shop and also has a roof top restaurant and bar. Breakfast is complimentary and the hospitality is warm and comforting. A nice hotel indeed for a night's stay.

Stay here if your focus is to extensively stay outdoors and explore the city and end your day in a room that offers modern room fittings and basic hotel amenities. Of course proximity is the key.

4. Hotel Sunway GRT Grand

Coming from the famous GRT group; Sunway GRT Grand is a part of hotels and resorts from GRT Hotel Group. This hotel is a 4 star property located 3 kilometers south of the railway station and away from the prime attractions of the city of Pondicherry. Ideal for a families with kids as the property is vast and has amenities that cane enjoyed best by both adults and children. 

Promenade beach and other attractions are at a distance of around 5 kilometres from this hotel. The comforts and the luxury at this hotel makes for a pleasant stay. 

Stay here if your family includes children and you want to enjoy being in the city of Pondicherry with relatively easy access to popular attractions of the city.

5. Richmond Hotel

Our most recent stay was closer to promenade and in the historical and quaint white town of Pondy. Primarily a French colony historically, this part of town is picturesque and perfect for the early morning and evening strolls. Beautiful French architecture, restored heritage properties and the grid like streets can have you mesmerized enough to forget the upcoming Monday blues.

The hotel has quaint rooms on the first floor and the ground floor houses more larger and spacious rooms. Richmond hotel is entered around the Promenade beach, restaurants and cafes of the White Town making it an ideal location for those wanting to live in white town and explore what this french segment of Pondy has to offer.

Stay here if you'd like to explore the White Town in depth and soak in the french culture, architecture, food and history.

Do visit the wonderful city of Pondy - 'Give time a Break'

Friday, 9 October 2015

Care for a Bubby Bento or Sushi?

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My neighborhood is known to host some of the best hotel properties of Bangalore. I may sound over-confident but that doesn't change the equation. Very recently, I visited this beautiful and sophisticated Pan-Asian rooftop offering tucked away in possibly one of the most expansive hotel properties in Bangalore. Driving into the property itself is an absolute pleasure. This rooftop restaurant is also an apt place to lounge and soak in the wonderful weather Bangalore has to offer especially around this time of the year.

You possibly have guessed it by now, "I am speaking of none other that 'OKO'". I love the concept of Bento meals which offers personalized portions of multiple meal courses allowing you to explore a cuisine of interest. Going a step ahead, sometimes it also allows for customization of what goes into the Bento meal. 

Being served for lunch at OKO it is called 'Bubbly Bento'; for the bento meal comes with a glass of bubbly to savor. Here one can choose a bento meal being offered for 3 cuisines - Japanese, Thai and Chinese. Interestingly, it is also possible for you to customize the box to include more than one cuisine if you may wish.

Each of the cuisines are available in vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. My Bubbly Bento meal was customized to offer a mix of Chinese and Thai dishes. Here's a look at a wholesome Asian meal:

The above box was a nice mix of the somethings Chinese and something Thai. The soup was 'Tom Yum Kai' was fragrant Thai with Thai spices and exuded distinct hot and sour flavors. Lemongrass, Kaffir lime leave and Galangal were clearly felt and contributed to a lasting after taste. In the salad it was the Thai classic 'Som Tam Thai'. It's a salad that can easily go wrong but when it's right it has the potential to kill your appetite for the remaining cuisines you may have planned for your meal. The flavors were bang with an interesting medley of flavors and textures like sour, chili, sweetness, crunch and so on.

The bento meal also comprised of delicious and succulent 'Szechwan La Ji'; a delicious and succulent preparation of chicken with chili bean sauce. The flavor was distinct and the chicken was melt in mouth. The stir fried Chinese greens were light on the stomach and perfectly blanched to retain the much required crunch. Both the chicken and the stir fry greens were best enjoyed on their own or with the accompanying Thai jasmine rice. 

The meal was enjoyed in the company of a lovely glass of Sula Brut sparkling wine; the buttery texture and the complex flavors of which best complimented the milder Asian dishes. 

I'm in love with sushi and given a chance I'd be more than willing to make a complete meal out of it. Unable to resist the temptation, I gave an assortment of sushi a shot. There was 'Maki sushi' (rolls), 'Nigiri sushi platter' (Meat on a lump of sushi rice) and 'Sashimi platter' (just meat). Describing the ingredients as top quality or fresh will be an understatement and this clearly reflected in the taste.
Maki Sushi
Sashimi Platter
Nigiri Sushi
It was time to call it a meal and having chosen a mix of Thai and Chinese bento, the dessert of my choice was the obvious 'Tab Tim Grob' - water chestnuts in coconut milk with a heap of shaved ice. It's the best way to end a meal at any Thai restaurant and for me it did make for a perfect ending to a lovely meal.

Continuing the indulgence on sushi, Chef Tenzin brought out her signature that was rightly kept for the end - 'Chocolate Sushi'. This was rich and indulgent with a chunky stick of chocolate ganache stick used a s filling and melted dark chocolate to coat the sushi rice. In short it was a burst of richness in the mouth.

The bento bubbly meal is very well priced at Rs. 899++ for vegetarians and Rs. 999++ for non-vegetarians. Here's leaving you with more reason to visit OKO. For table reservations please call +918030527777.
The Lovely Bar Counter
Restaurant Seating

Bon Appetit!

Address: Oko, Hotel Lalit Ashok, Kumara Krupa Road, High Grounds, Bangalore
Phone Number: +91 80 3052 7777

Monday, 7 September 2015

Spice Island Flavors of Tamil Nadu

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Dakshin at ITC Windsor is known to celebrate the rich heritage of the four Southern states of South India. The offering is diverse spanning from Kerala's Meen Moilee, Chettiyar's Chettinad lamb chops, Kori Gassi of the Karnataka bunts and Andhra Pradesh's Mamsam Koora. 

ITC Hotels under the aegis of 'Kitchens of India' has been consistently showcasing the unique and undiscovered cuisines or cooking styles of India. This time around at ITC Windsor's Dakshin, the theme was 'Discover a heritage dived by ocean' but united by History'. At the helm of the Kitchen was Priya Bala - an eminent writer of food and travel, a home cook to say the least. Her food speaks stories of how her cooking skills have been inspired by her childhood in Sri Lanka, cuisine of Madurai and the deep south of Tamil Nadu.

In short, this is an undiscovered cuisine of Southern Tamil Nadu melded with the fabulous, fragrant and famous cuisine of Sri Lanka. Over the course of the evening, it was only getting clearer that food is not just about History but also about geography. We were able to notice similarities and influences of even the South-East Asian countries in this cuisine. 

The menu composed of a wide array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. These were simple home style preparations. In appetisers or 'Prambham' as Dakshin categorises my favourite were 'Fish Cutlets' which were drum-fried parcels of flaked fish in a really mild seasoning. The texture and flavor of the fish was exquisite and a dish that really had 'comfort food' written all over it. Had it not been for an extravagant affair that awaited us, I would have indulged in more of these beauties.

In the mains, We loved the burst of flavors presented by 'Annasi Perattal' a pineapple curry scented with cinnamon and fennel. It was sweet, tangy, had a hint of spice and really robust in flavor. The flavor was addictive and I did not leave the cup down until it was all polished off. There was also a delicious Lamb curry called 'Errachi Curry' which was also nice but the the winner clearly was the pineapple curry.

'Lamprais' was for me a clear winner in meat dishes. It was a delicious banana leaf parcel of fragrant rice topped with curried chicken cutlet, sambol and vegetables. It was a complete meal wrapped and baked in banana leaf. 

What also shined bright was the combination of Iddiypam Kothu with Sodhi; a mild and fragrant coconut curry. This combination was a star.

In desserts, we absolutely loved the simple 'Kiri Pani' - thick yogurt topped with palm jaggery syrup. After a heavy meal, a simple and light dessert like this can only take the dining experience a notch higher. Close second was 'Love Cake' - cashew meal cake scented with rose water and spices.

It was yet another memorable meal at ITC Hotels and this time exploring a unique cuisine or cooking style.

Address: Dakshin, ITC Windsor, 25 Windsor Square, Golf Course Road, Near Sankey Road, Bangalore
Phone Number: +91 80 2226 9898

Sunday, 16 August 2015

POUSH: The Essence of Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine

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Every meal has only thought me and given me more insights into this wonderful cuisine and the culture associated with it. My assumption until very recent was that wazwan was synonymous with Kashmiri cuisine. Not true at all, and I'm so glad that doesn't hold good. Very recently, I was exposed to and learnt about the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine.

Are you thinking 'Vegetarian'? No way; then what's the difference?

Wazwan is a food feast associated with the Kashmiri muslims while Poush is the feast of Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmiri Pandits are also known as Kashmiri Brahmins. While brahmins in other parts of India do not consume meat, here Kashmiri Brahmins / Pandits enjoy their mutton, lamb and fish. This is just not sufficient to differentiate but let's move on.

With this community scattered and the cuisine and it's heritage in danger of passing into oblivion; it is a great initiative taken up by ITC Gardenia under the aegis of Kitchens of India to create an experience and spread the love for this exquisite cuisine 'POUSH - The essence of Kashmiri pandit cuisine'.

Spearheading this magnificent food festival from it's roots is master chef Suman Kaul who hails from the very land known as 'Paradise on Earth'. After having presented the finesse for her cuisine at ITC Rajputana; ITC Kakatiya, Hyderabad; ITC Mughal, Agra; ITC Grand Central, Mumbai and other ITC properties across the length and breadth of India; master chef Suman Kaul is here at ITC Gardenia's Cubbon Pavilion stirring a storm until the 16th of August.

The food festival started with a bang with Area General Manager Mr. Virender Razdan hosting a party to launch this treasured food festival. It was a lovely evening with spirits high both socially and from behind the bar. Appetizers mover around the hall as guests enjoyed sipping on their drinks, having food for company and an experience enhanced by the lovely Kashmiri and Sufi band.

As we began our evening, we knew we were in for a hearty and indulgent meal. Appetizers moved around the elegant Mysore Hall at ITC Gardenia as guests enjoyed conversation over some Kashmiri music, conversations and drinks.

In the mains, there were vegetarian classics like 'Nadru Yakhney' - Lotus stem simmered in a yogurt based gravy that was wonderfully flavored with Kashmiri spices; 'Aloev Chamman' - a cottage cheese / paneer delicacy; brought back memories of sharing tiffin box with a school friend who happened to be a Kashmiri. Subtle flavor is the key to making this dish a winner.

There was also 'Dum Aloo Kashmiri' - whole potatoes coated with a healthy dose of kashmiri chilies and cooked in mustard oil. I've heard it's impossible to complete a Kashmiri Pandit food spread without 'Haak'. 'Haak' are Kashmiri greens cooked in a broth that exudes aromatic flavors of the greens, cardamom and various other spices used in the making. Really light and perfectly whets the appetite for more that was on offer.

Moving on to the non-vegetarian section; there were primarily mutton, lamb and fish preparations and clearly not a trace of chicken or egg. This was intentional as chicken and egg are traditionally not the preferred meats in this cuisine. To sum up the experience; heavenly is a word that may just not do justice to the food dished out from the kitchen of master chef Suman Kaul at ITC Gardenia.

It will be disheartening or a sin to sum up the experience in a statement, so here's more about the non-vegetarian dishes:

I started with 'Mousch Aloev' - a dish where succulent lamb dumplings slow cooked over dum in a gravy that is silky in texture and rich in spices. The Kashmiri chili used in the preparation really brought out both the flavor and color. The minced lamb dumpling were perfectly seasoned and succulent; a result of the slow dum cooking.

'Mousch Aloev' was clearly declared my favourite but that does not mean other delicacies were not high up there. It's rare but each one of the dishes on offer were really high up there setting a benchmark on their own. My favourite was short lived. 'Tosch Gaade' was phenomenal and became my new favorite. Perfect tang in the curry coming from the use of tamarind and the fish was cooked to perfect tenderness in a gravy that was rich in spices and consistency.

'Naine Yakhney' involves the use of lamb meat in it's preparation. The yogurt based gravy is flavored with saffron, Kashmir spices, liberal amounts of Kashmiri chili powder, asafoetida and bay leaves among other ingredients.

As I relished the meal, I wondered how on earth a cuisine as diverse and rich as the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine could express flavors the way it did with out the use of onion and garlic in it. Surprised? I was  surprised too when master chef Suman Kaul brought this up saying, "Kashmiri Pandit food does not involve the use of onion and garlic."

Next one needs no introduction; it's Kashmiri, it's delicious; it's 'Rogan Josh'. Classic, ever favorite and down right delicious; mind you with out the use of onion and garlic. I won't say more about this.

There was the 'Yakhney Pulao' which was fragrant enough to mesmerise me and convince me that inhaling the fragrance alone for the rest of the evening was enough to feel content and satisfied. It's never that easy with me so I just dug into it and what a burst of flavors it was!

Desserts were simple stuff but really rich preperations. My pick was 'Modur Pulav' and 'Shufta'. Former being a sweet pulav laden with dry fruits and the latter was a preparation of dry fruits, honey and saffron. Both these desserts were polished off in no time and then followed by a piping hot cup of 'Kahwa' green tea with crushed nuts, strands of saffron and flavored with cinnamon, cardamom and more. There surely is no better way to end a Kashmiri meal than a cup of freshly made 'Kahwa'.

Bangalore seriously lacks a restaurant serving Kashmiri cuisine. Be it Kashmiri Wazwaan or Kashmiri Pandit cuisine, I'm in love with this cuisine that exudes a mesmerising fragrance in every dish it stands proud of. With just a day to go for this food festival, ITC Gardenia's The Cubbon Pavilion is 'THE' place to dine at for the true essence of the the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine that's curated by non other than their only Kashmiri chef 'Master Chef Suman Kaul'.

Address: No. 1, Residency Road, Bengaluru - 560025
Phone Number: +91 80 2211 9898