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A Thousand Years of Fusion

Parsi Food, the words evoke images of Dhansakh and Patra ni Machhi in most people’s minds. But there’s much more to the cuisine of this much beloved community epitomised by philanthropy and eccentricity in equal measure. The Parsis arrived in India as refugees from Iran, a little more than a thousand years ago and first settled on the Gujarat coast. Legend has it that the leader of the earliest groups went to meet a local chieftain to seek asylum. The chieftain showed him a bowl brimming with milk and said his land was like that bowl, with no room for more. The leader of the refugees sprinkled sugar into the milk and said, like the sugar, he and his people would not only blend into the milk but would improve it too. And thus the Parsis remained in India, and not only did they blend in, they certainly added plenty of sweetness to the land.

A Rich Food Heritage

 Traditional India : Children - Enfants Parsis

In Iran their diet included plenty of meat and wheat, punctuated with a profusion of fruit which was also dried to last through the year, pulses, herbs, a few spices, saffron, onions and garlic. Bread was a big component of the meal and they were skilled bakers. In India they found an abundant variety of fish, fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, a wide range of spices, and coconuts. Most of modern Parsi cuisine that we see in India is a result of a fusion of Persian with Gujarati and coastal dishes, with influences from British cuisine, along with a dash of Portuguese thrown in.

There was no Dhansakh in Persia, nor was there any Patra ni Machhi. However we see Persian ancestry in the Pullaos, and in various other preparations that use dried fruit like apricots, raisins, currants, and saffron.

Evolving Classics

Thus were born classics like Patra ni Machhi that uses coriander and coconut, the vividly red Parsi curries that use coconut, dried red chilies and poppy seeds, the Patio which uses vinegar, red chilies, tomatoes, and is garnished with vegetables like drumsticks and baby brinjals, Lagan nu Custard which is a classic British egg and milk custard with cardamom and nutmeg added to the mix and topped with nuts and dried fruit, to name a few. There was no Dhansakh in Persia, nor was there any Patra ni Machhi. However we see Persian ancestry in the Pullaos, and in various other preparations that use dried fruit like apricots, raisins, currants, and saffron.

Parsi Prawn Patio_1000

Navroze, the ‘New Day’, is the first day of the New Year and brings with it hope for a new beginning, celebrated with feasting and family outings to plays and concerts.

Festivals and Celebrations

August is a month of celebration with three important days – there’s Pateti, Navroze, and Khordad Saal. Pateti is the last day of the year and is a relatively solemn occasion where one reflects on the deeds of the year gone by; taking stock of the good and bad one has done, and resolves on doing better in the forthcoming year. Navroze, the ‘New Day’, is the first day of the New Year and brings with it hope for a new beginning, celebrated with feasting and family outings to plays and concerts. Khordad Saal is the day of the Prophet Zoroaster’s birth. All three days are marked with visits to the Agiary (fire temple) and plenty of good food.

An invitation to a Navjote (initiation) or Lagan (wedding) is quite coveted, for the guest is guaranteed to be wined and dined in style. In the old days a wedding feast menu featured mutton dishes from start to finish. The menu featured Aleti Paleti (pan fried offal in a spicy gravy), Bhaji Dana ma Gos (mutton cooked in fresh greens and peas), Khattu Gos (mutton cooked in curd) and a sumptuous mutton pullao or plain rice accompanied by Masala ni Daar (spicy daal). Mhowdi, a liqueur made from the mahua flowers, would be served in little silver cups called ‘fuliyas’.

Parsi Chicken Farcha_1000

The Wonder that is Eggs

The advent of poultry farms and broiler chicken has changed the Parsi diet considerably. Eggs have always ruled the roost in Parsi kitchens and there is an endless variety of egg preparations, the most well-known being ‘Sali per Eeda’ or eggs on straw potatoes. Kasa per Eeda or eggs on something is an entire chapter in Parsi cuisine where eggs are steamed on top of a variety of bases. The base could be leftover vegetables, a simple mix of onions, tomatoes, and spices, a piquant kheema, or something as decadent as clotted cream! Fish also gained popularity and today, no Parsi feast is complete without Patra ni Machhi or Sahs ni Machhi made with pomfrets, the Parsi’s favourite fish.

To Sum it Up

While the Parsi loves proteins more, there is quite a variety of vegetarian recipes in the repertoire – much to most non Parsis’ surprise. Granted, most vegetable recipes have some meat added ‘to make it palatable’ but there are plenty of completely meatless vegetable preparations too, no doubt the result of intermingling with local communities and the sheer abundance of vegetables in India. The cuisine today is a wonderful mix of original Persian preparations with strong local influences starting in Gujarat, going south along the western coast as they moved towards Bombay and beyond, right down till Goa. A thousand years of fusion has resulted in a unique cuisine that celebrates local produce and ingredients and yet holds on to the rich culinary heritage of the land of its origin.

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Reviews

Amazing Grace – Bringing God’s Own Country to Nerul

It was one of those days when the husband had a sudden day off and I wasn’t in the mood to cook. We set out to look for lunch with the caveat that we’d go to a restaurant we’d never been to before. You know how it is… you get comfortable with that familiar handful of options and then get lazy, never going elsewhere. And slowly ennui creeps up and nothing really appeals any more. So we drove off into the afternoon sun, seeking new horizons…err, new flavours really!

I’d heard how Nerul had many interesting restaurants and decreed that we had to conduct our explorations for the afternoon in Nerul. After driving around we chanced upon Grace Restaurant – Food from God’s Own Country. Tucked into a line of shops that housed everything from a country liquor bar to a couple of general stores, Grace restaurant looked quiet and unassuming. We strolled in to a spotless space, well lit, and saw a couple of groups of young men, a family, and a bunch of office execs seated at different tables. Many of them looked like they were from God’s own country. And that was quite heartening. Like a stamp of approval, if you will.

We found ourselves a table and settled in to partake of a good meal. The ambient smells from the kitchen behind us were delicious and seemed to bode really well. We glanced at the menu but since we’re not so familiar with Keralite food beyond appams, stew, puttu, etc., we decided to ask the proprietor for recommendations. A very helpful gent, he helped us choose a lavish meal and was happy enough to describe the various dishes so we had some idea what to expect.

In a matter of minutes our table was covered in food. We had the Duck Mappas (250), Chicken Stew (INR 150), Appams (INR 10) , Porottas (INR 10), Beef Roast (INR 150), and as a last minute addition when we discovered they also serve pork – Pork Fry (INR 125). We eat out a lot and I have to say this – it was after ages that our mouths were watering insanely as the dishes were placed on our table. Talk about anticipation!

As the food arrived I was a little thrown to see the appams – they weren’t bowl shaped with the thin crepe like edges and the beautiful spongy dome shaped middle. These looked like little uttapams sans toppings and garnishes. But they were delicious! Paired with the mappas and the stew, the appams were perfect.

Suriani Appam

The stew was different from what we expected too. Yes, it was loaded with fresh green chillies, curry leaves, and was a white coconut based gravy – but it was a thick gravy, not the delicate milky one we’ve eaten everywhere else. Oh it was lovely. The mappas is similar in flavours but has plenty of turmeric and a variation in the spices used. The gravy also had ground curry leaves that left pretty green flecks. I’m not so fond of duck so I just had one little piece, but the mappas gravy was finger licking good.

The Pork Fry was sheer poetry on a plate. Fatty chunks of pork stir fried with onions, garlic, tiny bits of lethal green chillies, and of course fresh curry leaves. Clean no nonsense cooking with good ingredients, a simple dish cooked exactly like it is in most Keralite homes. The Beef Roast (carabeef) was very good too, just  chunks of roast beef smothered in a spicy sauce. We had both these dishes with Porottas, hot off the griddle. It’s a good thing this restaurant is a few kilometres away from where we live because I can totally see my husband sitting there nearly every day scarfing down a porotta or three with a portion of fry or roast, his nose buried in a book, and an aura of deep content glowing gently around him.

Kerala Pork Fry

We ended the meal with a portion of Paayasam. This one had thin slivers of roasted coconut, cardamom powder, and plenty of black sesame seeds.

After this mega meal as we chatted with the proprietor, we asked about the appams and the stew and why they were different from what we’d encountered earlier. He said they followed the Syrian Christian recipes and this is how their food turns out. Subtle differences in what we tend to think of as one single cuisine – Kerala, just like other states, also has regional variations, and we’d just had the good luck to taste one.

Not only is the food really good the prices, if you’ve noticed, are very reasonable, making Grace Restaurant an attractive option for the palate and the pocket.

Would I go back to Grace Restaurant? I already have.

Grace RestaurantShop no 13, F-2 Type Building, Opp Bank of Maharashtra, Sector 3, Nerul East, Navi Mumbai., Tel – 9869206251

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Reviews

Crumbs! Baking Bread in Indian Kitchens Made Easy

For some reason making bread at home has always seemed challenging and even frightening to many of us. I was certainly scared of yeast and was sure that it wouldn’t work for me if I tried. So I didn’t.

Then I met Saee Koranne Khandekar on Chef at Large and she assured me that yeast was not an enemy at all, in fact, it could be a very good friend. And with her help I baked my very first loaf of bread. That moment, when I took that loaf out of the oven and stared at it in wonder, I felt triumphant and stupid at the same time – triumphant that I had made bread right there in my own kitchen and stupid that I had feared it for so long!

I have never encountered a book that explains all this in the Indian context

The reason many of us fear bread making is probably because we don’t see our mothers, grand mothers or aunts making bread at home – at least not the yeasted varieties. We’re all so used to buying bread from bakeries and shops we don’t think we could easily make it ourselves. For those of us who contemplated making it, the recipes were daunting – unfamiliar flours or the need for fancy equipment made bread sound difficult. Most recipe books written by Indian authors dealt with Indian breads like rotis, naans, kulchas, parathas, etc. till Crumbs! Bread Stories and Recipes for the Indian Kitchen came out. This book fills a big gap in the Indian recipe books space making breads, both Indian and International, seem easy and doable in our home kitchens.

Buy Now – INR 293 on Amazon!  

 

What’s In the Book?

Crumbs! takes you through the basics about bread – Its history, the kinds of bread, etc., and then demystifies yeast, proofing bread, oven temperatures, kinds of flours, the tools required, the techniques and methods of bread baking, and a section on troubleshooting where Khandekar explains what to do in the little crises that can happen while baking bread.

I have never encountered a book that explains all this in the Indian context and bits like the Proofing Time Guide for Your Climate – a tabulated guide that tells us how long to prove dough in the different climates we have around the year – are a godsend. The detailed explanations of terms like APF, strong white flour, etc., in easy to understand language and with examples will make even a first time bread baker more confident.

The recipes cover basic breads, international favourites, artisan breads, classic Indian breads, unleavened Indian breads, and there’s a bunch of ideas for what to with leftover bread. Since most of us eat our bread with some accompaniment or other, Khandekar has also included recipes for nut butters, chutneys, flavoured butters and jam. The recipes are simply written and technical terms have been explained in detail. Each recipe is preceded by general information about the bread. The book is interspersed with illustrations explaining kneading, folding and shaping techniques making it really easy for the reader to understand and follow. There’s also a bunch of colour photos in the middle and black and white photos scattered in the rest of the book showing the different breads in the book.

For the more experienced or adventurous baker Khandekar has given a step by step guide to making a sour dough starter, and many tips on how to care for it.  The instructions are detailed and there is a great sense of ‘don’t worry, it’s not that hard’ in the instructions which I found very reassuring.

What I liked even more about this book is that it’s not restricted to recipes only but there are stories – evocative narratives that take you to the author’s childhood encounters with bread and her later experiences in bakeries and with bakers. You get a glimpse of a day in a Goan bakery as they churn out piles of fresh Poee, a peep into the innards of an Irani bakery in Mumbai, stories of hot bhakris eaten with salt in a humble hut long ago, and much, much more. It is quite evident just how close to the author’s heart bread in all its forms is, and in this book she shares her love for this staple in its myriad forms, quite unabashedly with her readers.

Buy Now – INR 293 on Amazon!  

 

The Verdict

If you like bread – eating it, baking it, or simply reading about it, Crumbs! is written for you.

Here’s a recipe that I tried from Crumbs! with slightly tweaked ingredients for flavouring the bread. The original recipe uses sun dried tomatoes and olives while I used fresh basil leaves and with sun dried tomatoes and garlic too.

[ultimate-recipe id=”71234″ template=”101″]

 

Buy Now – INR 293 on Amazon!  
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Reviews

Turkish Food Fest At The Four Seasons, Mumbai

The Four Seasons Mumbai hosted a Turkish and Mediterranean food fest this week and I was invited for a Chef’s table preview event. Turkish and Mediterranean food – I had visions of kebabs and kofteh, mezze, tagines and of course, Turkish Delight, Baklava, and coffee. I looked forward to an evening sampling delicious fare and learning about the cuisine of that region. This food fest was organised in collaboration with Turkish Airlines which is celebrating 10 years in India.

After pre-dinner drinks we took our seats at the two tables set up for the preview at the venue, Cafe Prato. Having been to a few food fest previews, I expected an overtly Turkish theme reflected in the decor, if not across the entire restaurant, at least on the tables. Apart from a few typical Middle Eastern glass and metal lamps I saw nothing special. Anyway, we were seated and I browsed the menu. It looked good.

Turkish start to the afternoon

Prato, Four Seasons Mumbai, Turkish Airlines, Turkish Food Festival, Mezze platter, Baklava, Kebabs, KoftehMezze platters arrived. There were 10 guests at our table and we were given two platters between us all. Each platter had six little bowls with assorted mezze. I noticed that one side of our table had received a platter of pita breads quickly got over shared by four or five people. No bread on our side. Since the mezze was sent out in minuscule quantities each guest took a bare teaspoon each. In the mean while Gavurdagi, a salad, arrived. No bread yet.

The menu mentioned a braised artichoke starter from the Imzir region. It never arrived, though I asked for it twice. Someone plonked bowls of soup around the table, Tarhana soup. It was cold. Maybe it is supposed to be, I don’t know. I would have liked to know what to expect. The chefs did come out to explain what we were eating after every course was served, so that didn’t help.

Eventually, the bread arrived. I got one half of a pita and never saw any more bread. The offerings on the mezze platter were quite good, the muammara was exceptional.

Second course

Manti or Turkish ravioli – tiny ravioli, about the size of your thumbnail, served with a tomato sauce and topped with yoghurt sauce and spiced oil arrived. We were served about a tablespoon of the ravioli each. I was a little perplexed at the meagre (bordering on stingy) portions being served. You need a decent portion to taste and understand flavours and textures – more than a teaspoon or tablespoon for sure.

Wheat Balls stuffed with lamb ragout in tomato sauce – there were four of these to be shared on a table of 10. By now I was hesitating to serve myself for fear of taking too much and leaving the others starving.

Main course

Prato, Four Seasons Mumbai, Turkish Airlines, Turkish Food Festival, Mezze platter, Baklava, Kebabs, KoftehMost of us eagerly awaited the Eight Hours Cooked Boneless Lamb Shank. Two plated portions arrived. This dish looked like a dessert, it was that beautiful. It had multiple elements involving a jus, a puree, a creamed eggplant, etc. Once we’d finished taking photographs the servers proceeded to scoop out hunks of the dish and plonk them on our plates. To think that they spent eight hours cooking the lamb, and more time getting the other elements together and plating it all up so beautifully, only to serve it in this awful fashion! Needless to say I couldn’t make much sense of the dish or its elements.

Bowls of rice topped with flaked almonds appeared. Some of us wondered if this was a dessert – there was a rice pudding mentioned in the menu. The rice turned out to be savoury and delicious, lightly flavoured from being cooked in stock, and the almonds giving it a lovely crunch. I proceeded to devour it not realising it was a part of the Chicken Beyti. The chicken arrived several minutes later – two tiny morsels of a very bland chicken. It would probably have gone well with the rice but a) I didn’t know it was with the rice b) it came to the table much later.

Somewhere in the middle of all this came the Chef’s Sea Bass Bugulama. Another delicately flavoured preparation with minimal ingredients served on a slice of tomato and one of potato. It was cold and I think that killed the dish.

There was barely any food for the vegetarians at the table apart from the starters, the soup, and desserts. No main courses. Not One.

Prato, Four Seasons Mumbai, Turkish Airlines, Turkish Food Festival, Mezze platter, Baklava, Kebabs, KoftehDessert

Of five desserts on the menu, three arrived at the table. Later we were led to the buffet where we sampled more desserts amid mentions of coffee though none actually arrived.

Simple things that could have helped

When you invite experts to showcase your food, you want to ensure that –

  • your staff is trained right from the basics like refilling water glasses at a table and ensuring they get the drinks they have requested, to replacing cutlery every time they remove the used ones along with plates
  • everything on your menu actually gets to the table
  • you serve individual portions plated well
  • there is food for all your guests, yes, even the vegetarian ones
  • there is enough food on the table

It won’t be wrong to say that the experience at the preview was rather lackadaisical. Some interaction with the chefs would have helped a lot to improve that, but it was overlooked for some reason. Irrespective of that, some of the dishes came out with exceptional flavours, others not so much. The quality of service at Prato, however, may need a complete overhaul.

The Ottoman Cafe Turkish Food Fest is on at the Four Seasons Mumbai from 23rd April till 1st May 2016.

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Featured People

Gitika’s Pakghor – North East India In Mumbai

Provider of unusual feasts

Gitika Saikia’s home-dining venture Gitika’s Pakghor is one of the best known on the home chef circuit in Mumbai. She started hosting meals for food enthusiasts in her home with the view to creating awareness and educating Mumbai about the unexplored cuisines of the North East. She was confident that the exotic and out of the ordinary ingredients would lure the adventurous eaters in the city. It wasn’t just ant’s eggs and silk worms that brought eager eaters to her door, it was the equally enticing seasonal greens and vegetables, smoked pork and other local ingredients that had her events booked to capacity. From Bihu specials to customised menus (like a pork-centric menu for a bunch of pork lovers), Gitika’s Pakghor has made the cuisines from the North East a familiar part of the Mumbai dining scene. Many of us now casually mention how we’ve had ant eggs or silk worms, pigeon meat, goose, or even the elusive Mithun. All thanks to Gitika. 

Gitika Saikia, Pakghor, North East Indian cuisine, Mumbai, Rhea Mitra-Dalal
Jadoh, Photo Credit: Rhea Mitra-Dalal

Fueled by enthusiasm

Gitika started doing pop-ups in restaurants and venues outside her own home in March 2015, making her North Eastern meals accessible to a wider public. Eventually she also did pop ups in other cities like Pune and Kolkata, and also in New York. On being asked what it was that appealed to her the most about cooking food from her homeland for people who have no idea about it she said “The excitement of presenting new dishes, procuring stuff from home and then the wait for reactions to every new dish is something that is unparalleled!” If you were at her table you’d see her excitement- her anticipation as she reveals yet another new offering looking keenly at the reactions from her entranced audience. 

Gitika’s Secret Menu Lunch

After her last trip home on a shopping trip she sent me an urgent message saying, “Save the date, I have exciting new stuff again. You have to come!” I dutifully went over on the appointed date for a Secret Menu lunch. Such is the confidence that her devoted patrons have in her, this lunch was another houseful event even without knowing what’s on the menu! We were  in for a treat. There was a smoked pond fish chutney (Rosun Paat aru Hukaan Maas chutney), stir fried baby potatoes (Kon Guti Alu Bhaji), peppery wild buffalo (Mithun Manxoh Jalukiya), pork with mezenga leaves (Mezenga Gahori), pork innards with brinjals (Gahori Petu Bengena), rice cooked with pork blood (Jadoh), masoor daal (Masur Dali), and plain white rice. 

Gitika Saikia, Pakghor, North East Indian cuisine, Mumbai, Rhea Mitra-Dalal
Pork with Mezenga Leaves, Photo Credit: Rhea Mitra-Dalal

As we ate our way through this incredible spread Gitika regaled us with stories of her forays into remote villages and her raids of the local markets, her visits to her in-laws’ village and the new recipes she learned from her mother in law, and of course her adventures at the airports explaining to ground staff why she’s carrying vegetables and preserved meats instead of clothes and gifts like everyone else! 

Authenticity in every bite

There are many home chefs hosting diners in their homes, showcasing cuisines that are otherwise not available in the regular restaurants. What keeps Gitika on top of the game is her constant search for new dishes and ingredients to present at her table. The fact that the ingredients are the real thing from the actual source, and not conveniently available replacements, ensures that diners get to eat the real thing and not an approximation of the original. So when I say I ate Jadoh in Mumbai, I know I ate the authentic dish. And that is what makes me go back for more and more. 

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Reviews

NRI By Atul Kochhar For Foreign Returned Indian Food

It’s not often that I feel like traveling out of Navi Mumbai to check out a new restaurant or cafe in Mumbai or its suburbs. However NRI, with Atul Kochhar at its helm, certainly had me intrigued. Yes, a well known chef heading the operation was definitely a factor but what really caught my interest was his menu – Indian dishes that had traveled abroad and got influenced enough to change into something new – still Indian but Not Really Indian – a new kind of NRI.

The restaurant itself is spacious and well lit, and I was happy to see it quite full even though it was the middle of the week. The space has quite a casual, even boistrous vibe, and I quite liked what I saw. The menus are printed on the paper table mats reinforcing that casual ambience. Nice!

The fare on offer isn’t classified into the usual Starters/Soups/Mains/Desserts but into Hot, Cold, Robata (grills), Tem Pakora (fries, dips, etcetera), NRI Curries, India Waale, and the more conventional Breads, and Mithaiwala (desserts) – an interesting variation indicating that every detail was looked at, at NRI. 

Off to a shaky start

We were hungry at the end of a long working day and I ordered quickly – Chicken Liver Masala on Toast (INR 350), and the Pork Curlies (INR 425) of which I’d heard many good things. Service was very prompt and food was on our table in less than 10 minutes. I expected the liver to be on the toast as mentioned on the menu but it came separately in a pretty compartmentalized serving dish – a generous pile of spiced liver paste with a grainy texture (which I quite liked) and a small stack of very thin baguette slices. This simple dish was a complete winner. The Pork Curlies turned out to be one big curly (a long spiral of sausage) grilled in a barbecue sauce, and the biggest disappointment of the evening. The sausage itself had no flavour whatsoever and the barbecue sauce was, well, very boring. The sausage wasn’t grilled long enough to develop those beautiful caramelised scorched bits on the skin – my heart broke with disappointment.

NRI, Atul Kochhar, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, pork sausage, chicken liver
Grilled Calamari. Photo – Rhea Mitra-Dalal

Seeing our disappointment our server recommended the Grilled Calamari (INR 300), which he swore was something we would really like. I’m so glad we went with his recommendation because this dish redeemed our evening instantly. I’d go back for just that calamari. In fact, the hubby already did.

The mains win the day

As we thought over our choices for mains we asked our server what he recommended as a must-try. He pointed to the Chicken Tikka Pie (INR 375),  Chef Kochhar’s signature dish served at his restaurant Benares. We needed no further convincing and when the pie was opened the birds began to sing… err no, sorry. No birds sang but we nearly did. Perfectly done flaky crust, succulent morsels of chicken tikka – as Indian as you like and then again, as NRI as you can imagine.

NRI, Atul Kochhar, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, pork sausage, chicken liver
Chicken Tikka Pie Photo – Rhea Mitra-Dalal

The Caribbean Goat Curry (INR 575) served with what they call Buss Up Shut Roti (INR 90) was another hit with succulent pieces of meat and a well flavoured sauce. The show stealer however was the roti – multi layered, soft and delicious. Guests at a neighbouring table had ordered the Nalli Gosht (INR 525) that looked incredibly good. They licked that bowl clean so I’m assuming it was really good! 

This NRI is going places

We might have been quite stuffed but I wasn’t going anywhere without dessert. We asked to meet the Mithaiwala who turned out to be a server bearing a tray of desserts. I was expecting something a little more imaginative, to be honest. We tried the Gondhoraaj Tart and the Maracaibo Chocolate Orange dessert. I found the lemon curd in the tart too sour but the hubby liked it. The maracaibo chocolate dessert was lovely. 

Portions at NRI are quite generous and the prices are surprisingly affordable. The ambience is casual, seating comfortable, and service is friendly and prompt. They also have a varied drinks menu with cocktails and mocktails. While there were a couple of misses, most of what we ate here were hits. All in all, NRI is a great place to meet at after work while you wait for the rush hour crazy traffic to abate, or even for a quick lunch between meetings. It’s certainly a welcome addition to the dining scene in BKC. 

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Romantic Wining & Dining in Mumbai

The more evolved a city, the tougher it is to make decisions like, where you’re going to end up with your special someone on Valentine’s Day this year. So many options, each one making unique offers with special value propositions. What’s a chap to do about a date? Here are a few options you might just like.

Romano’s at the JW Marriot, Sahar

pizza with mushrooms on wooden tableDark and moody interiors, fabulous selection of wine, Italian cuisine, decadent desserts and very discreet service. The perfect setting for a very romantic evening, in fact, this would be a great setting if you’re planning to pop the question!

Grandmama’s Cafe, Dadar

Brown cup with cocoa and marshmallow in the hands of the girl. M

Bright and cheerful, with a mix of hip and vintage accents in the decor, this cafe is where you want to take your date for a special Valentine’s Day treat. Squashy sofas to get really comfortable in, full of light for those perfect selfies, and the best Hot Chocolate to be found for miles, Grandmama’s Cafe is one of the most romantic restaurants in central Mumbai. And it’s easy on the pockets too!

The Sea Lounge, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

Table setting for fine dining

Grab a table by the windows and gaze out into the night – the twinkling lights of the boats and the softly lit Gateway of India make up a picturesque view. This is where you romance the old fashioned way.

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Reviews

Take a Bao at The Fatty Bao

The Fatty Bao in Mumbai is a hugely popular restaurant and earlier this week I found out just why. The hubby and I went to check out their ongoing BaoWow Festival and came back convinced that The Fatty Bao deserves its popularity completely.

The BaoWow Festival celebrates that delicious little Chinese bun – the bao. Packed with a variety of fillings ranging from aubergines to duck meat, there were 13 options to choose from. Since we’d been invited specially for the BaoWow Festival we decided to ignore the regular restaurant menu and try out as many of the baos on offer as we could. The baos are served in pairs so we requested that they serve us just one bao of each sort – I wanted to taste as many as possible without wasting any food. There are five vegetarian baos on the special menu so don’t assume that there’s nothing for vegetarians.

Teriyaki Glazed Chicken Bao
Teriyaki Glazed Chicken Bao – Photo credit – The Fatty Bao

As we waited for the baos to come we had a cocktail each. I sipped on a Bora Bora (INR 400) which was a delicious concoction of vodka and gin with passion fruit, green apple and coconut water. I’m not a great fan of fruity flavours but somehow I was feeling adventurous – I was so glad I took that chance. The husband had The Fatty Sour (INR 400) which was a blend of raspberries, whiskey, lime, sugar and egg whites. Though it was nice, it wasn’t great.

The first set of baos arrived – Spicy Wild Mushroom and Chickpea Bao drizzled with Chilli Garlic Mayo, and Fried Eggplant Bao marinated in Miso with Khimchi and a drizzle of Sriracha. The mushroom and chickpea bao didn’t impress me much – there was barely any mushroom flavour, the chickpeas ruled the roost. But that fried eggplant bao was sheer poetry! I’d go back for that in a blink.

Then came the Five Spice Fried Chicken Bao with Mustard Mayo and Lettuce, and Teriyaki Glazed Chicken Bao with Pickled Cucumber and Shichimi. The five spice fried chicken bao was quite lacklustre and though the teriyaki glazed chicken one was better, it wasn’t something I’d want seconds of. Maybe I’m biased because chicken is not among my favourite proteins but even the flavours didn’t excite me much.

Chilli Crab and Prawn Bao
Chilli Crab and Prawn Bao. Photo Credit – Rhea Mitra-Dalal

We were served the seafood baos next – Wasabi Fish Bao with crisp fried Sea Bass, and Chilli Crab and Prawn Bao. The crab and prawn bao had a crab-prawn cake with pickled watermelon rind, Asian slaw, and fried garlic. It was nice and spicy and my tastebuds were awake and dancing! A complete contrast from the more reserved and understated flavours of the preceding baos, this one was a killer. Since the hubby is allergic to shellfish I had this one to myself and I wasn’t complaining. The sea bass in the wasabi fish bao was juicy and cooked to perfection but I didn’t get the expected pungent hit of wasabi, which was a little disappointing.

Then the piggies arrived. The Fatty Bao is really well known for its Char Siu Bao made with bbq pork belly, and I was happy to see it on the BaoWow Festival menu accompanied by a Pulled Pork Bao with Curry sauce, crisp Shallots, Cucumber, fried Egg and Kafir Lime. There was a reverent silence at our table as we sank our teeth into the two most perfect baos of the evening. Any restaurant that cooks pork that well gets my stamp of approval.

The Mandalay Bay
The Mandalay Bay. Photo Credit – Rhea Mitra- Dalal

By now we were feeling quite stuffed so we took a break. On the recommendation of our server we tried another cocktail – the Mandalay Bay (INR 400). This had jasmine tea infused vodka with lime juice and ginger ale, served with orange slices. Not only was it a pretty looking cocktail it was also one of the best composed drinks I’ve ever had – the flavour of jasmine, the slight tannic taste of tea, and the citrusy freshness of the lime juice and orange slices just worked wonderfully together. Of the three cocktails we tried this one got the winning vote from both of us.

The final pair of baos – Roast Duck Bao, and Lamb Char Grilled Bao – arrived. Refreshed with sips of Mandalay Bay we dug into the baos. The roast duck bao flavoured with Hoisin sauce, cucumber and scallions was excellent. Succulent slivers of roasted duck meat sitting cosily in that fluffy bao and lightly coated with sauce made for a delicious mouthful. The lamb bao was a complete contrast in flavours with a mint mayo, pickled carrots and a light chilli-tamarind glaze. Another winner.

The BaoWow Festival is on till  14th February 2016 and has baos for everyone – meat lovers, vegetarians, sea food fanatics, porkaholics, everyone! Priced between INR 260 + taxes and INR 380 + taxes for a two piece portion, a bao eating session at The Fatty Bao will not leave you bankrupt.  In fact, you’re going to be saying “Take a Bow, Fatty Bao”!