Friday, 30 January 2015

A Culinary Journey through the regal past of Hyderabad @ Cubbon Pavilion - ITC Gardenia, Bangalore

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I was in Hyderabad for the long weekend of Republic day. My line-up for food exploration was set and little did I know that this would extend on even after my return to Bangalore. The extension was by no means an ordinary extension; it was an exclusive 'Meet and Eat' invitation with Master Chef Kunwar Rani Kulsum Begum.

Born in the Hyderabadi royal Salar Jung family and married into a royal Awadhi family, she clearly has exposure to the best of the 2 most wonderful worlds - Hyderabadi and Awadhi. You don't need to be a foodie to know what this means!

Hyderabadi food is no ordinary food and when the food comes from the kitchen of Master Chef Kunwar Rani Kulsum Begum; it clearly spells 'Experience Royal'. With over 6 years of effort into crafting and mastering the royal Salar Jung recipes, she brings them to Bangalore to showcase them at ITC Gardenia's 'Cubbon Pavilion' till 1st Feb, 2015. To me it clearly means, 'Dawat-e-Khas - A Culinary Journey through the regal past of Hyderabad'.

Having arrived early I witnessed the lids on the buffet counter go open. In no time the aroma of various preparation filled the air. I took a quick sneak peak at what's on offer and settled down right away with a platter of kebabs and a glass of lovely red wine.

In a short time, we were joined by master chef Kunwar Rani Kulsum Begum for dinner. Over a wonderful meal comprising of a lot of vegetarian and non-vegetarian delicacies like kebabs, salan, haleem, pulao and more; we interacted on various topics which included her childhood, her food, biryani vs pulao, Hyderabadi vs Awadhi cuisine, food nuances in a royal family, evolution of the Hyderabadi food scene and more.

Over to my meal, the flavors were exquisite, meat really tender and succulent, gravies very rich and the spread in a word - 'Lavish'. The buffet spread offers cuisines from world over and it is the Indian section that is dedicated to Dawat-e-Khas - signature preparations by the master chef herself.

I really looked forward to the mains and when I did get to it, I hit it off with her signature preparation 'Haleem. Haleem was really light in color, mildly spiced allowing the flavor of the meat to stand out, the consistency was really rich - a result of the royal cooking techniques. The richness came from the use of high quality ingredients, dry fruits and meat. Top it with fried onion lime and voila 'A meal by itself'. It was a haleem like no other I've eaten before.

I also tried and loved the 'Lasooni jhinge';  a semi gravy preparation of shrimps, tomato, garlic, mustard seeds, shahi jeera and loads of curry leaves to bring out the flavor. Turai murgh again a semi gravy dish was bang on attractive in flavors. 
Lasooni Jhinge
Turai Murgh
I also tried the Fish kofta salan which was creamy in texture, rich in flavor and had a nice tang to it. The fish kofta was moist and flavorful. This preparation I best enjoyed with the very simple steamed rice.

What had me stunned this evening was the Mutton Hapsi Pulao. It was an excellent fragrant preparation with the mutton melting in my mouth. The rice used was a nice long grained rice and the spice blend along with the sweetness coming from saffron and some secret ingredients had me dumb struck for a moment. With the last weekend spent in Hyderabad over multitude of excellent biryanis, this clearly surpassed each of them. Now come to think of it, biryanis in Hyderabad versus this hapsi pulao; the pulao clearly wins for me.

There was a wonderful spread of vegetarian food as well both as a part of the buffet on the whole and also specific to Dawat-e-Khas segment. Here's a pictorial representation of the same.

For dessert, there was again a large spread but what I did try was just the Dawat-e-Khas section. With all the food downed, even an attempt to try the dessert seemed a task; but I had to. There was Thuli which was a nice and sweet halwa preparation, ande ki lauz, kala jamoon and a meethi pakodi which was a gulab jamoon baked with rabdi.

It indeed seemed like a food festival and with master chef Kunwar Rani Kulsum Begum one thing is for sure - She takes her food festivals very seriously and ensures that not a single dish is repeated over the span of the festival being hosted. This means over a span of 10 days of the food festival - 
 - There will be 1 biryani and 9 pulao each for vegetarians and non-vegetarians dished out. Guess what! All of these of Hyderabadi cuisine. Did you even know if 10 types of pulao/biryani existed in Hyderabadi cuisine?
 - In the mains too, there will be at least 40 different vegetarians and non-vegetarian dishes offered.

Why should you go?
 - All of the above reasons, and
 - If you think you have eaten a lot of Hyderabadi food and enjoyed it; it's time you re-evaluate your experience with some real Hyderabadi food from the royal kitchens of Hyderabad.

The buffet is priced at Rs. 1750 plus taxes and charges. Aptly named 'Dawat-e-Khas', this festival is on only for a short duration till the 1st February, 2015 at ITC Gardenia's Cubbon Pavilion. Do visit and take a culinary journey through the regal past of Hyderabad.

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

Thursday, 29 January 2015

FoxLifeIndia: Launch Party of a new TV show - 'Tales from the Bush Larder'

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It's rarely that I spend hours together watching something on television and when it does, I usually spend my time watching food and travel shows. Talk of Kenya and one can't help but think of the wild. Even for me who first thinks of food, it's the wild that fills my mind when someone takes the name Kenya and this is the case only until very recently when I met Chef Kiran Jethwa for a short interview of his soon to be aired TV show - Tales from the Bush Larder.

Born to an English mother and an Indian Father, Chef Kiran Jethwa is a 3rd generation Kenyan. A chef and owner of Nairobi’s premier seafood restaurant, Seven Seafood & Grill; he traveled the world over to broaden his palate and professional abilities. His streak with success is not just limited to food and his restaurant but also with athletics on the Rugby field. He has played rugby not just at school at college level but also represented his nation on the same. 

Apart from food and rugby, he loves the game of cricket but is quick to get back to the topic he loves most - Food. Extremely enthusiastic of his soon to be aired (in India) TV show, Kiran says, "Kenya isn't exactly known for it's cuisines; instead it is the incredibly fresh, organic and unusual ingredients that are a main stay. " The TV show shot around beautiful landscapes focuses on the source and use of Kenyan ingredients and cooking techniques. 

Apart from the interview, Kiran also demonstrated the preparation of smoked lobster, toasted coconut, crispy limiri all stuffed in between a soft and juicy steamed bao. It was deliciously mind-blowing to say the least. Now having eaten some of his preparation at the launch party hosted at Shiro's Bangalore, I eagerly look forward to the show being aired on television.

With 3 seasons already shot and the first having been aired on Zuku sometime mid-September, watch out for it's India Premier -  

Show - 'Tales from the Bush Larder by Chef Kiran Jethwa
Channel - Fox Life India (@FoxLifeIndia)
Days - Every Thursday and Friday
Time - 20:00 hours (8PM IST)
Start date - 29th January, 2015

Friday, 23 January 2015

When I met the Rockstar of the World of Cigars

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For me who does not smoke any form of tobacco; relates cigars as a style statement of the rich, classy and sophisticated celebrities, big business tycoons and the likes. Talk cigars and my mind draws images from classic English movies where cigar in many conversations lead me to believe the notion 'Cuban for cigars' - Not true. Apparently, not a single Cuban cigar has been rated as the top 5 cigars (Year 2014) of the world.

In an industry (cigars) built on name, recognition and reputation; its really rare to find a man who has attained exceptional heights and built a business empire of $ 30 million which he started out with little if not no knowledge off. His passion for cigars has his business produce 16 million cigars each year, employs 3500 people and owns huge tobacco plantations in Nicaragua and Honduras. What makes it even rarer if not impossible is to find a man who was originally a lawyer and out of passion for cigars set an empire that has grown this massive. 

Rocky Patel, the man and the brand itself are gaining popularity and recognition world-over. Some of his cigars have been consistently rated really high at 90 + out of a 100 by authorities on cigars. End of December 2014 also saw the cigar 'Rocky Patel Royal Toro' bagging the 5th place in the world for the 'Best Cigar of the Year 2014' by Cigar Aficionado.

Travelling around the world for 300 days of a year, Rocky Patel is an advocate of his cigars and believes in giving his customers the experience of meeting the man behind their favorite cigars. Honoring his belief, Rocky Patel was here in Bangalore for an evening of Cigar and single-malt whiskey pairing which was hosted at the Leela Palace by Cigar Conexion - the exclusive importer  and distributor of finest hand made and machine made cigars in India.

Most of the evening was spent interacting with Rocky Patel who not only spoke about how he got started in the Cigar industry but also about the nuances of cigar, art of smoking a cigar and lots more. Ask Rocky Patel what makes his cigars the class apart they are from the rest and he is enthusiastic to share a very details that go into it's making, right from sowing the seeds, harvesting, treating, fermenting tobacco leaves, wrapping, binding all the way to packaging. All through this process, the ingredients and the activities go through rigorous quality control to make each cigar in a box taste exactly like it's supposed to consistently.

For this evening, what was also ensured is that each one of us had more than sufficient supplies of cigars - 'Rocky Patel Vintage 1990' and 'Rocky Patel Decade Cameroon'. Ranked twice among the top 25 cigars of the world, I tried the former which was very smooth right from the first puff and through the duration it lasted that evening. The evening was elegant and involved loads of learning, interactions, food, drinks and most important of all - 'Cigars'.

Over the course of the evening, it was quite interesting to learn how a cigar gets its characteristics. Being a wine-lover, here's how I could relate cigars and wine:
- Like a good wine, a good cigar to can take a long time from soil to a packaged state. In this case, the Rocky Patel cigars took about 5 years.
- Like wines gets its character from the oak barrels they are stored in; likewise a cigar too gets its character through the process of it's making - smoking, heating, fermenting of tobacco leaves.
- Like wines can be made from grape varietals, likewise Rocky Patel cigars are made from various blends of tobacco.
- Like geographic conditions impact the end result of the grapes and ultimately the wine, likewise good tobacco and cigars too are highly dependent on geographic conditions.

The list can go on and this evening has only made me more curious to learn more and also try different cigars. For now, I have a 'Rocky Patel Decade Cameroon' that I carried back home with me to try. 

If you are in India and would like to give cigars a try too or even buy cigars you love, do visit the website of 'Cigar Conexion' where you can purchase either singles or a box based on your need. 

Caution! Smoking tobacco is injurious to health. Smoke Responsibly.