Dubai – Holding Its Own While Embracing The World

The warmth of a cosmopolitan city extends beyond the weather and almost always fills the hearts of those who live there. Dubai is the most liberal city in all of United Arab Emirates’ and the entire Gulf region. With more than 80 percent of the population being expatriates, and with a steady flow of European, American, Canadian and Australian immigrants each year, the city’s irresistible charm knows no bounds for all these people who call it their home.

Dubai – A potpourri of palates and pockets

Dubai, Ramadan, cultural differences, food, nightlife, sheesha, hookah, emirates, United Arab Emirates, UAE, India, Indians in Dubai
Traditional tea and dates in Dubai

Islam is the state religion and yet the city welcomes people from all religions and nationalities. The rich culture of the city is best reflected in the plethora of options available to satiate myriad tastebuds. And these come with prices to suit different pockets. Undoubtedly, the city spoils you for choice.

When I first moved here four years ago, I considered this assortment of cuisines a luxury (partly because I have spent a few years of my life in Brisbane which, at that time, had very very limited options for vegetarians). I still consider it a luxury even today when I think of the range of cuisines available in India at affordable rates. I often wonder how the Udupi restauratn around the corner from my home does good business in spite of two more joints in the neighbourhood. Even while taking a stroll through the downtown boulevard, I cannot help but notice how the outdoor tables are almost all taken – on a weeknight.

Dubai, Ramadan, cultural differences, food, nightlife, sheesha, hookah, emirates, United Arab Emirates, UAE, India, Indians in Dubai
Sheesha, or hookah, is an integral part of local life

The average working class spends a lot of time outdoors, with the day starting much earlier here than in India. Most often than not, my husband finds parking only on the two top levels at 7:45 am. Meetings are scheduled over breakfast at 8:00 am at coffee shops within the office premises. I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that more meetings happen over meals, irrespective of the time of the day, than in meeting rooms. Evenings see a lot of the young professionals (single and/or childless) socialising over dinner and drinks in restaurants, sports bars and pubs.

Sheesha is an integral part of the local life here, with several fine-dining restaurants dedicating area for Sheesha lovers. The Emiratis prefer enjoying their meals and Sheesha in the company of same sex friends and/or relatives. Glamorous Arab women sport a Sheesha and a mocktail with the same elan as their male counterparts at late night outings.

The women are painting the town red

Dubai, Ramadan, cultural differences, food, nightlife, sheesha, hookah, emirates, United Arab Emirates, UAE, India, Indians in Dubai
Dubai is the most liberal city in all of UAE

Dubai has a ladies club that, along with a few other places around town, regularly hosts events only for ladies. Thursday night spas, Friday brunches and high-tea on Saturdays – all for the charismatic and classy womenfolk of Dubai. Play-area for children have become quite popular with mothers, allowing them to enjoy their cup of coffee with their gal-pals while they drop off their children at the adjacent play area – all for a very paltry sum. And there are other play areas that offer salon and spa services for the mothers too. A place that understands the locals’ comfort levels and caters to them is more easily accepted.

Eating out during the Holy Month

Dubai, Ramadan, cultural differences, food, nightlife, sheesha, hookah, emirates, United Arab Emirates, UAE, India, Indians in Dubai
Everyone must observe the rules of eating out during the holy month of Ramadan in UAE

During Ramadan, all the residents must obey the law which demands that during daylight hours when the Muslims observe their fast, one cannot be seen eating or drinking in public places or any commercial establishment. Offices provide a separate area for employees to have their water and meals. While most of the restaurants will be closed, small eateries in malls that would be open with a temporary enclosed area so that its patrons are not seen eating. Iftar (the breaking of the fast) and Suhoor (the last meal in the morning before commencing the fast) buffets hosted by the city’s top restaurants are as lavish as your imagination can stretch; and yet a small joint offering perhaps a local cuisine will also have an Iftaar and Suhoor special. During Ramadan, the hospitality industry works harder to lure customers and make their meal times special.

There’s something for everyone

Dubai, Ramadan, cultural differences, food, nightlife, sheesha, hookah, emirates, United Arab Emirates, UAE, India, Indians in Dubai
Wild camels desert safari in Dubai

Evidently, religion plays a vital role in the social interactions of the residents here. But in spite of that, Dubai offers flexibility to those belonging to another faith. Most importantly, it allows for the growth of other cuisines as the locals themselves love to eat out and experiment with food. Barring the few cultural adaptations that one must make, Dubai has a near-ideal social setting for the wandering soul.


Top 4 Wine Festivals In India

There have been many attempts at organizing wine festivals in India in recent memory. Sadly, most have fallen short on expectations on various fronts. However, as the demand for wine increases, irrespective of the various bans and the emerging socio-political landscape of the country, wine festivals in India have caught the fancy of the public. Here are the top four wine festivals in India that one ought to visit.

Bandra Wine Festival

The Bandra Wine Festival is organized in the month of November in Mumbai. The two-day festival promises lot more than just wine and attracts people from all over the country. However, it has been facing some problems off late, with the last installment of the event getting postponed by over 3 months. That apart, when it does happen, do not miss out on the fun it offers with grape-stomping championships, art exhibitions, dance and music, and of course, lots of good food.

The Pune Wine Festival is a replica of the Bandra Wine Festival and is organized by the same people, therefore, it gets a mention here with the note that ‘if you’ve been to the Bandra Wine Festival, you’ve been to the Pune Wine Festival as well’.

wine festivals in India, Taj Wine Festival, New Delhi, Taj Mansingh, IVFE, Sula Fest, Grover Fest, Bandra Wine Festival, Pune Wine FestivalSula Fest

Sula Fest has perhaps been the only one of the lot that has had a good track record of being on time every year. Each year in the month of February, Sula Vineyards in Nashik transforms into a hotspot for the hottest bands and live music, along with some of the best wine and good food. However, the Sula Fest is and always has been more about music and performing arts than wine. wine festivals in India, Taj Wine Festival, New Delhi, Taj Mansingh, IVFE, Sula Fest, Grover Fest, Bandra Wine Festival, Pune Wine Festival

Grover Fest

Grover Vineyards, the other big name in the Indian market organizes its own wine festival in Bangalore in the month of February. It is not as old as the Sula Fest, but attracts an enviable list of performers and crowds to the event grounds. 2016 marked the second edition of the festival and we hope there will be lot more before prohibition takes over the country for a foreseeable future.

Taj Wine Festival

Taj Mahal, New Delhi, organized its own version of a wine festival this year with over 50 wineries, making it one of the biggest wine festivals that actually focused on wine. Of course, there can’t be wine without food and celebration, however, all that was very limited and restricted only to a select guest list. The Taj Wine Festival saw the Navy Band playing at the Gala Dinner attended by the luminaries of the wine industry. Given all that, it remains more of an industry event rather than a real wine festival in the truest sense. But it is the first of its kind for the national capital and one hopes there will be more to come that will attract more than just the industry folks or the most serious wine connoisseurs.

wine festivals in India, Taj Wine Festival, New Delhi, Taj Mansingh, IVFE, Sula Fest, Grover Fest, Bandra Wine Festival, Pune Wine FestivalAlthough, only the Sula Fest has been an annual affair for quite some time now, others are trying to emulate the same. In spite of the efforts by organizers, a lot remains to be done in order to attract the masses. India is far away from organizing something like VinItaly anytime soon, but these independent wine festivals leave us with a ray of hope that things might just change for good in the future.


Kashi Calling!

Banaras as a destination has fascinated me for a very long time. All I knew of Banaras before visiting the city was what I’d seen in movies like Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and Masaan. So one fine day, we dusted off our travel gear and embarked on our Kashi Yatra. Banaras is known for its thugs and we were two women travellers visiting the city for the first time. We’d been warned against criminals in the streets, in every nook and corner of the city. I have my set rules for travelling that I stick to and have never faced any problems as such.

  1. Keep things simple and avoid attracting unnecessary attention
  2. Do not wear or display jewellery or prominent branded accessories
  3. Always try to blend in
  4. Experiment with the local cuisine

We reached Banaras after a 90 minute flight from Delhi and were welcomed by the sight of rain-washed lush green surroundings. We quickly reached our hotel in Nadesar, considered a hub of good hotels in the region.

architecture, Banaras, chaat, history, kachori, kashi, lassi, panChaats, kachoris, lassi and more

Banarsi food has always been the subject of much conversation. Soon after dumping our stuff at the hotel, we headed to our first stop, a local chaat shop named Deena Chat Bhandar. With tempting sights and sounds of food surrounding us, we gorged on Gol Gappas, Tamatar Ki Chaat, Palak Pakodi Chaat, Dahi Kachori Chaat and Gulab Jamuns. Our next stop was Ram Bhandar at Tatheri Bazaar with its thick, round, crisp, juicy and sweet Jalebis that are quite different from their thin Rajasthani counterparts. We also tried kachoris at this shop; actually a poori stuffed with peethi (lentils soaked in water overnight and cooked in dry spices) and served with a small portion of hing (Asafoetida) flavored  aloo sabzi. A little down the road, while roaming through Tatheri Bazaar, we came across a shop with no name but an exceptional lassi that can only be described with words I have yet to learn. It was creamy, mildly sweet, topped with a layer of thick cream and its appeal enhanced with a splash of rose water. We ended our first day in Banaras on a sweet note with Malai ki Gilori at Raswanti Sweets.

[quote]When in Banaras, shop for Aloo papad and stuffed red chilli pickle at Vishwanath Gali. Also, don’t forget to observe and experience the two things available all over the city – cows and chaats![/quote]

architecture, Banaras, chaat, history, kachori, kashi, lassi, panRich in history and architecture

The next morning, we planned a visit to Kashi Vishwanath Temple which is one of the holy Jyotirlingas of the Hindus. After visiting the high profile temple with its high profile security, we made our way to Kal Bhairav Temple. Interestingly, Bhairav is also known as the Kashi ke Kotwal – the constable of Kashi.

architecture, Banaras, chaat, history, kachori, kashi, lassi, pan
Sadhu in Banaras

Sarnath, our next stop has a museum that is a treasure of artifacts ranging from the 3rd century BC all the way to the 12th century AD. The structures of Sarnath Stupa and Thai Temple are beautiful beyond words and a visual treat for travellers seeking architectural wonders. The huge statue of Buddha in the Thai Temple is breathtaking in its splendour. The Bodhi Tree, where Buddha used to pass on his teachings to his disciples is a serene place that the soul of city slickers like us desperately seek.

We were lucky enough to experience aarti at Assi Ghat in addition to the splendid demonstration at Dashashwamedh Ghat, without which no visit to Banaras is complete. One falls short of words trying to describe the beauty of rituals and the well-coordinated movements of the priests.

[quote]We loved Assi Ghat where young BHU students were singing and playing guitars, taking us back to our college days![/quote]

High hopes from Banarasi paan

Having heard about the Aghoris who live and meditate at the cremation grounds, but alas, we couldn’t find any. With one remaining order of business – find a Banarasi paan – we set out to find the best there is in the streets of Banaras. How could we leave Banaras without eating a Banarsi paan? Having heard so much about the famous ‘Paan Banaraswala’, we expected the world. As with everything else that can be overrated, the Banarasi paan of Banaras was as good as any in Delhi or Mumbai and turned out to be unremarkable to hold on to its reputation.

architecture, Banaras, chaat, history, kachori, kashi, lassi, panBanaras is an eclectic collection of religion, culture and tradition, of which food is an inseparable element. The city is ancient – even a random walk along a random street yields gems that no modern city can match. Street-side history apart, the museums and well preserved ancient structures offer plenty for the curious to visit. So if you are looking for an interesting cultural experience, easily accessible from Delhi, with complete with history and food – Banaras is the destination for you.


Oktoberfest: When the Germans Take Over the World

The Germans are often considered emotionless and curt. Well, so am I, but then, there is a difference between reality and our perception of reality. Come September, all that goes with the wind as the anticipation of Oktoberfest grips the world. It is no longer ‘a German thing’. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and luckily, there’s a lot of pie or rather, beer.

The story goes that Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig, who later became King Ludwig I, married a pretty princess on 12th October 1810. As kings are, he invited the whole town to join the celebrations in the fields in front of the city gates. Those fields were later known as Theresienwiese or ‘Theresa’s meadow’, after his wife (that’s one lucky fräulein!). There was horse racing, wine and beer tastings and all things that medieval folks used to do for fun outdoors. The king was so impressed that he decided to continue it as a tradition for the city, and thus, Oktoberfest came to be. Since then, each year, from mid-September to the first weekend of October, the festivities have continued.

Fast forward to today, it was around the year 2000, when the Doordarshan era was finally over and the public in India was exposed to television programming from across the world, that most Indians first came to know about the phenomenon that is Oktoberfest. The massive pavilions that accommodate hundreds of thousands of people, the beer, the pretzels and the bratwursts, the organisation and logistics that go into the largest Volksfest on the planet were all quite new to the Indian audience.

Although we have been late by, say, about two centuries, as with all things considered ‘cool’, Indians have adopted this German festival with much fervour. It will be too early to get excited at this point; we are nowhere near the scale of the real Oktoberfest in any way, but we love to showboat, nonetheless. Oktoberfest has excited the palates and the imagination of the people and everyone wants to be seen doing what ‘ze Germans’ do. Few have actually been to the real thing and even fewer are aware that of the only six beer brands officially served at the Oktoberfest, in keeping with tradition, only one is available in India – Paulaner, and it is hellishly expensive, especially in states such as Haryana. Each tent at the Oktoberfest grounds serves a particular brand of beer, and only a few have some wine and coffee available.

Regardless of the prices and traditions, beer is beer, and there are some good ones in the Indian market. Even if we consider those as the staple at Oktoberfest celebrations in India and let the willing and able enjoy with what is available in the market, we still fall short on a lot of other aspects. Crowd behavior is one. With a large percentage of the population believing in drinking to get drunk and behave in a rowdy manner, it poses serious challenges for the organisers and authorities to control such people. Another big concern is the government policy towards alcoholic beverages. The government has often displayed signs of, and hiding behind clueless and baseless and dumbfounding cultural and religious excuses that do not seem to be going anywhere soon.

Yet, somehow, beer prevails. And so does the enthusiasm of establishments and patrons. It started with the first Oktoberfest in Bangalore by Kingfisher in 2005 and has now been picked up by many establishments across the country. Establishments go out of their way to bring a little bit of Germany to their patrons, offering a selection of beers, sausages, pretzels and more. Anya Hotel in Gurgaon had a good selection of beers and offers on beer buckets, along with some good food to go with it, which included schnitzels and bratwurst. 7? Brauhaus on the same stretch of road offered a little closer to home experience with servers and staff dressed in the traditional Bavarian Dirndl for women and men sporting the Sennerhut and Lederhosen.

Some establishments such as Beer Café and The Hungry Monkey are continuing celebrations till the end of October. While a carnival setup may have been absent from the scene in India, most establishments, for the duration of Oktoberfest, organise special performances.

Oktoberfest is proof that love trumps hate every time. In this case, the love of beer has conquered the world for Germany, something that even the Nazis could not accomplish with their force. While heading to Munich may not be feasible for everyone, there are a lot of options within the country to enjoy Oktoberfest. Fortunately, as microbreweries and beer cafés become popular with patrons, establishments are pulling all stops to bring an authentic German experience to Indian shores. So, don’t worry if you can’t make it to Munich, but do learn a few things about how to behave if you really want to be taken seriously as a global citizen and be a part of global traditions such as the Oktoberfest.


You Dim Sum, You Lose Some

While it began as a snack to be savoured with tea, over time, as it gained popularity across the world, Dim Sum began to be eaten through the day from breakfast to dinner. 

Dim Sum is becoming so popular that not just Oriental restaurants but even other multi-cuisine eateries are putting them on their menus. Now, some people know their Har Gao from their Siu Mai but the majority think that dim sum stands for steamed and stuffed rice dumplings. Unfortunate, because the history of these tiny morsels can be traced back to China to about 2000 odd years ago, when it was a delicacy reserved for the pleasure of royalty alone.

Later it was served to the prosperous merchants who stopped at the upscale tea houses of the famous Silk Route and became part of the Yum Cha tradition, which basically meant a tea time ritual. Dim sum is meant to appease the appetite but not satiate it and hence is the perfect tea time accompaniment. Eating dim sum at a restaurant is also called Yum Cha, which means ‘drink tea’ in Cantonese, or Dian Xin in Mandarin, which means ‘touch the heart’.

While it began as a snack to be savoured with tea, over time, as it gained popularity across the world, dim sum began to be eaten through the day from breakfast to dinner. After all, there is no wrong time to enjoy it! In China, dim sum restaurants do not have a menu. They usually have a cart or a section where the bamboo steamers have various dim sum and guests are encouraged to try any of them. Dim sum can be of different types – steamed, boiled, pan fried or deep fried. There is variety in the wrappers, such as the wonton skins or doughy buns. The buns are made with flour, yeast and baking powder and are either steamed or baked.


Selecting dim sum can be quite confusing if you are new to ordering this delicacy. With so many options to choose from, it can be quite bewildering. Here are some of the more popular options to help make things easier:

  • Har Gao or Xia Jiao: These classic steamed dumplings have a translucent wrapper with around 7 to 10 pleats. The covering is made with a wheat starch which gives it extra stretchiness and lends it translucency and keeps it sturdy so that the prawn filling does not come out.
  • Cha Siu Bao: Bao means buns in Chinese. These steamed dumplings are made with a filling of BBQ pork. The dough of the bun is slightly yeasty and dense, which is offset by the sweet and savoury marinade of the pork.
  • Siu Mai or Shao Mai – This is an open kind of dim sum with varied fillings of pork and chicken, chicken and shrimp, etc. It is often topped with roe and can be bland, so try it with the accompanying chili oil.
  • Turnip cake – It is a popular peasant dish made up of a mixture of shredded radish and rice flour as both of these ingredients are found in abundance in the countryside. It is steamed and then cut into square pieces and sometimes pan-fried.
  • Zheng Jiao – These dumplings look like gumdrops with multiple pleats on their top, which is their characteristic feature. They are usually stuffed with a combination of juicy stir fried meat or vegetables and are then steamed.
  • Fun Gao or Fun Gor – They are also referred to as Chiu Chow Dumplings. The filling can have chopped peanuts, garlic, chives, minced meat or diced vegetables and shiitake mushrooms.
  • Chun Juan – Another unlikely contender to the dim sum menu, these crispy fried spring rolls are made from very thin rice paper wrappers. They are dipped, moistened slightly, and then stuffed with vermicelli, stir fried vegetables and meat like prawns, chicken, or pork.
  • Chang Fen – What sets these apart from Chun Juan is that these rolls are made of rice noodles. They can be quite runny as they are made of rice flour and tapioca flour that are both very starchy, then combined into a gooey mixture, poured into a flat pan with holes, steamed into thin sheets, stuffed with mildly spiced fillings, and then served with various sauces.
  • Guo Tie – These crescent shaped dumplings are also called pot stickers, because they are pan fried in a cast iron pan and if not cooked properly in the right mixture of oil and water, then they can stick to the pot literally!

Interestingly, while tea is generally the preferred brew to be enjoyed with dim sum, few people know that champagne also pairs very well with it! Yes, you read that right. The acidity of champagne compliments the soft flavours of the dim sum. So, the next time you have a champagne party at home, why not lay out an array of dim sum to go with it?! This will surely surprise your guests and be the talking point at your dinner table, in a good way.

Vinita Bhatia with inputs from Chef Rahul Hajarnavis, Associate Director – Culinary, JSM Corporation


Healthy Fasting For Kids, This Ramadan

Suhoor is the most important meal during Ramadan as it replaces breakfast. It helps jumpstart the metabolism and gives the energy that will sustain the devout till Iftar, the meal when they break their day-long fast.

While Suhoor is important for adults, it is even more crucial for kids who observe this rigid fast, as it affects their physical performance and mental alertness during their active day. Now, fasting is usually not advised for children under the age of seven or eight, but those who are older are gradually guided into the principles of following roza, by their elders.

Kids who don’t eat Suhoor may become tired at school and lose concentration in class. Skipping Suhoor also deprives them from getting all their nutritional needs and most of their essential nutrients for their growing bodies such as iron and calcium.

It is important to choose the right variety of food for your children during Suhoor including complex carbohydrates, fiber and lean protein. Complex carbohydrates are slowly absorbed into the body and release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting. These are found in fiber-rich foods such as wholegrain breads and breakfast cereals. Therefore it is highly recommended to have at least half of your grains intake from whole grain foods.

It is important to choose the right variety of food for your children during Suhoor including complex carbohydrates, fiber and lean protein.
It is important to choose the right variety of food for your children during Suhoor including complex carbohydrates, fiber and lean protein.

Whole grains are products that contain all the three natural parts of the grain. The first part, which is called the germ, nourishes the seed and is rich in B vitamins and Iron. The second layer, which is called the endosperm, provides energy to the grain, and contains carbohydrates and B vitamins. The third part, or outer shell of the grain is called bran and is the main source of fiber.

Interestingly, not a single component stands out in delivering health benefits, irrespective of what the TV commercials would like us to believe. Rather, it is the combination found in whole grains which work together.

Whole grains can be found in a variety of cereals, including wheat, oats, barley, rice, and corn. Picking the right types of grain can sometimes be confusing, so if you are picking up a cereal box for breakfast, it is best to always check the label to be sure if a food is made with whole grains.

As a general rule, consider your Suhoor as your breakfast meal consumed at an early timing. Explore healthier food items during Suhoor such as semi-skimmed milk, fruits, whole grain breads, low-salt cheeses and whole grain breakfast cereals, making sure you switch your kids from consuming refined grains to whole grains, which can be as simple as substituting refined cereals with whole grain cereals.

But while your child might be excited about fasting during Ramadan, especially if he or she is doing it for the first time, make it a point to monitor your little one’s well being through the day and be alert for signs of fatigue and uneasiness. Ensure that they get all the essential nutrients through a well-balanced diet during Suhoor and Sehri. And also encourage them through the initial days of fasting, which are the most crucial ones during the month of Ramadan. It will boost their willpower and keep their spirits high.


Selamatan: The Indonesian Thanksgiving

If you have an Indonesian neighbour, and we hope you are privileged enough to have one, then you will be lucky to be invited to a Selamatan at least once. For someone who had the fortune to attend one of them, we can tell you it
was quite an eye opener.

The Selamatan is a thanksgiving meal that the Indonesian family organises for a wish fulfilled or a prayer granted. “Basically it is a time for celebration by people to show their gratitude, whether for the birth of a child or a marriage in the family, the purchase of a house or plentiful harvest,” explains Chef Ridwan Hakim, Executive Sous Chef, Plaza Keraton Luxury Collection Jakarta, who was recently at The Westin Pune.

While it is not compulsory to organise a Selamatan, most Indonesians arrange for one nonetheless to share their happiness with the people they love. They believe that the good fortune will come by praying together and breaking bread together.

Interestingly, this Selamatan is not a tradition that is limited to Indonesia alone. Even Sudanese and Javanese people follow it, though there are slight changes in their customs. For instance, the Indonesian begins the meal with Nasi Tumpeng (rice cones with a side dish), while the Java celebration starts with Gudeg (stewed young jackfruit).

“Selamatan is a time for celebration by people to show their gratitude, whether for the birth of a child or a marriage in the family, the purchase of a house or plentiful harvest” - Chef Ridwan Hakim, Executive Sous Chef, Plaza Keraton Luxury Collection Jakarta, who was recently at The Westin Pune.
“Selamatan is a time for celebration by people to show their gratitude, whether for the birth of a child or a marriage in the family, the purchase of a house or plentiful harvest” – Chef Ridwan Hakim, Executive Sous Chef, Plaza Keraton Luxury Collection Jakarta, who was recently at The Westin Pune.

There was a time when the Selamatan feast was organized in mosques and was enjoyed only by men of the village. Today the celebratory feast has moved to the homes and has become a closed family affair to involve the womenfolk and people from other communities as well.

“In the villages, the men are seated in one room while the women sit separately in another room. In the urban cities though, the men sit on one side of the room while the women sit alongside another side of the room,” says Nyugen Razak, an Indonesian national now settled in Pune.

The celebrations begin with prayers together. The host usually does not eat or serve the food, instead overseeing that the guests are taken care of properly.

Pisang Goreng, one of the dishes served at Selamatan.
Pisang Goreng, one of the dishes served at Selamatan.

The main dish is the ornate Nasi Tumpeng, a yellow-coloured, cone-shaped rice dish that is steamed in a container made from bamboo strips. It is served on a banana leaf along with, along with various assortments like Rendang (Beef curry), Ayam Goreng (fried chicken), Emapl Gepuk (fried beef slices cooked in a sweet and spicy sauce), Sayur-Sayuran (assorted cooked vegetables) Sambal Goreng Ati (spicy liver), boiled eggs and other dishes. “The towering height of the rice is to a testimony to the towering greatness of Allah, while the assortments is the host’s offer of thanks for the bounty that the almighty has blessed him with. Usually, the guest of honour at the Selametan has the honour of cutting the top of the
Nasi Tumpeng,” explains Nyugen.

Some dishes are must-haves in the Selamatan feast however, like the Gudeg. “It originally comes from Yogyakarta city in central Java island, and is the signature dish of that city. Made from the young jackfruit, it is stewed with coconut milk palm sugar, galangal, Salam leaf and many other ingredients,” adds Chef Ridwan. Another mainstay dish is the Tempeh, which is fermented soy bean covered with mold. Then there is Kerupuk, which are deep fried crackers that could be made from shrimp, soy bean or bitter nuts.

We asked Chef Ridwan is there are any dos and don’ts that we need to keep in mind when it comes to participating in Selamatan to avoid making any faux pas. He lists out just two –greet the host and don’t take the top of the cone unless you are the guest of honour!


Eat, drink and live with gusto – the Parsi way

If you are fortunate enough to have a Parsi amongst your circle of friends, count yourself lucky. They are full of gusto, willing to live every moment in their inimitable fashion, giving two hoots how people perceive them or mock them for their idiosyncrasies. And that is precisely what makes them so lovable.

But this community did not have it easy always. From escaping from Iran, to seeking refuge in India, to settling in this new country, to imbibing the local culture – this society of refugees had a tough time. However, not only did they succeed in achieving all this, they even managed to carve out a niche for themselves in India’s corporate world as well as become leaders in the country’s philanthropic pursuits.

To herald the Parsi New Year, Sofitel Mumbai BKC organized a 12-day festival titled ‘Parsi Culture to Cuisine Trail’ where it tried to chronicle the journey of the Parsis and some popular aspects of their ethos. A resplendent 1941 Packard Clipper car in mint condition greeted guests stepping into the property and was the perfect photo-op and the excuse to click some random selfies.

From clay installations to wall murals that depict the Achaemenian Dynasty to the battle formations that their commanders formed while fighting their Greek enemies before escaping from Persia, the lobby of the hotel paid a rich tribute to Parsis. The entrance to Pondicherry Café had a vintage Triumph bike which proudly proclaimed that it was ‘Papa Ni Bike’. There were also displays of the elegant Ghara sarees worn by Parsi women as well some Parsi cookery books and literary works pertaining to the community.

Bawas, as Parsis are fondly called, are known for their passion for living life king-size with their incomparable panache. That is why Pondicherry Café was also transformed into ‘Bawajis Café’ for the 12-day festival, with the waiters sporting Sudra and velvet skull caps. Each table had small paper tents with Bawatips with statements like ‘#Face it, all of us are related’, ‘#We will never sell the car, Don’t ask again’, etc. Yup, there is never a dull moment when Bawas are around.

But wait, what is a food festival without food? Well, there is lot of it at Sofitel BKC Mumbai, which has tied up with Ripon Club for this particular event. Those who do not know about the antecedents about this club, it was established in 1884 and today is the regular haunt of most Parsis in southern Mumbai. It still retains the quaint colonial feel of yore and its kitchen is managed by Chef Tehmtan Dumasia and his wife, Shernaz, who are now putting out the Parsi food at the buffet counters Pondicherry Café. The ebullient Chef Tehmtan is more than happy to give guests a guided tour of the Parsi food proffered, so we decided to take him up on his offer.

Chef Tehmtan Dumasia from the Ripon Club and Indrajit Saha, Executive Chef of Sofitel BKC Mumbai
Chef Tehmtan Dumasia from the Ripon Club and Indrajit Saha, Executive Chef of Sofitel BKC Mumbai

It is easy to confuse the Chicken Farcha with the Kentucky Fried Chicken, but resemblance is limited only to the looks. The chicken pieces are marinated in spices, then dipped in an egg bath, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried, resulting in a crispy exterior but juicy chicken within. You had best enjoy it, though, when the chef brings it out of the kitchen else it tends to go soggy.

Parsi Mutton Kebabs are quite different from the ones you seen in Muslim pantries. These are tightly packed lamb mince balls that are rolled in crumbs and deep fried rather then marinated and then skewered in a tandoor.

In the mains, we tried the Kid Gosth, which had mutton chunks slow-cooked in a thick gravy of cashewnut and coconut paste. Like most Parsi dishes, this is slightly sweet, so it takes some getting used to. The evening we visited, the traditional Mutton Dhansak was replaced with Chicken Dhansak to provide some variety to the menu, much to our disappointment. But the dal and chicken stock gravy went very well with the caramelised rice, so we got over our disappointment quickly.

We ended our meal with the iconic Lagan Nu Custard, a must-have in any Parsi celebratory meal.
We ended our meal with the iconic Lagan Nu Custard, a must-have in any Parsi celebratory meal.

To ensure that vegetarians did not miss out on the unique flavour of Dhansak, Chef Tehmtan even prepared a vegetarian variant. In fact, there was a fair amount of options for veggie options on the buffet counter, which is actually inconceivable when one thinks of Parsi cuisine.

For instance, there was Patra Paneer, a unique take on the classic Patra Ni Macchi, where large chunks of cottage cheese were covered with green coconut chutney and steamed in banana leaves. Too bad there was no fried Sariya to go along with it and add a bit of crunchiness to it.

There was also Bhaji Dana, a much-reviled vegetable preparation amongst the meat-loving Parsi community. This dish usually features on the wedding menu when there is a good chance that either the groom or the bride’s family members will have it just to ensure that the food is polished off and the caterer’s bill is justified, revealed Chef Tehmtan, else a reasonable Parsi will steer clear from it! This was rather surprising because the creamy preparation of blanched spinach, Amaranth leaves and peas had a nice taste, albeit with a slightly bitter undertaste.

We ended our meal with the iconic Lagan Nu Custard, a must-have in any Parsi celebratory meal. The ones we have had usually were garnished with raisins and pistachios, but this one was well caramelised but sans the nuts. The only letdown of our entire meal was the Sev, where the vermicelli had clumped together, probably because it was left in the chafing dish for too long.

In between the food, we sipped on some fizzy Dukes Raspberry and Ginger soda, a classic Parsi drink if ever there was one. One word of caution though – these are volatile drinks and usually can result in some ear-splitting burrp escaping your mouth, so drink them with care! However, if you have an appetite that is as hearty as those of Parsis, you can do good justice to the lavish spread at Pondicherry Café. Else just drop in to enjoy the quirkiness that Sofitel BKC Mumbai has attributed to the food festival – it will definitely make you chortle with delight.


Garhwali Cuisine

by Jyotsana Baurai Bedi

A recent discussion about native cuisines got me thinking about my Garhwali origins and out of curiosity I decided to research it online. Predictably, the little I came across about the cuisine online read too mechanical to hold my interest, so I turned to another trusted source – my parents. They were more than delighted to see their daughter finally become interested in her culinary heritage; especially my father who has spent a larger part of his youth in Garhwali villages.

Garhwal owes its popularity because it features the ‘Chaar-dhaam’ of the sacred Hindu pilgrimage and hence is known as ‘Devbhoomi’ or God’s Land. The food of the region is simple and earthy in presentation, but heavenly in taste.

Given the harsh and hilly terrain, Garhwalis love their meat and it occupies a place of pride in any menu. During a village temple’s inauguration, all locals are invited, even if they stay outside the state or the country, and more often than not, they make it a point to pay a visit.

At the poojan, a goat is sacrificed in honour of the goddess and the raw uncooked meat is distributed to all the families as prasad. The head of the goat, considered to be the most important part of the body, is given to the Brahmin’s family as a mark of respect.

Food is so deeply ingrained in Garhwali culture that even some traditional songs are themed around it. Take for instance the famous song, ‘Bedu paako baara maasa’, which is about a berry that grows throughout the year.
While cooking, the women often hum songs because they believe it purifies the air in the kitchen and infuses positivity in the food. That could be another reason why such simply prepared food tastes so exquisite!

Few Garhwalis can resist the thick, dark brown coloured rotis made from Manduwa (buckwheat or millet grain), which they eat with big helpings of homemade ghee. The other flatbread that is widely eaten in the Garhwal-Kumaon hills is the Gehat Parantha which is best enjoyed with Kulath Daal.

To make this parantha, the daal is soaked overnight, pressure-cooked, mashed and stuffed in kneaded wheat flour with lot of garlic, green chillis, salt and cooked, rolled into flat bread over a hot griddle or tava. The residual water in which the daalis soaked was used to cook other gravies, since it was said to cure kidney and liver ailments. This parantha was a Sunday breakfast staple in my home and was often prepared whenever we had guests over.

A delicious albeit watery version of dal, Chainsu was another staple that was eaten with Bhaat (boiled rice). Homemakers would dry roast urad daal, then coarsely grind it and cook it with ghee, tomatoginger-garlic paste and temper it with Jakhya. The last is a whole spice used for tempering every daal, gravy or vegetable in Garhwali cuisine.

This dish derives its name from the method of its preparation. Pahari mooli (mountain radish) and potatoes are pounded (not cut) with the help of a small pestle called sil-batta. These are then cooked in mustard oil in a kadhai with Jakhya and tomato paste, resulting in an extremely delicious and tangy gravy that is eaten with roti or rice.

In a similar fashion, is Aloo Ki Thinchodi, made with baby potato, where the skin is just scrubbed but not peeled. As a child, I used to find the sight of my petite mom thrashing the veggies on her heavy sil-batta very amusing. And the fact that she had the pestle out meant that she would make her famous chutneys! The whole kitchen would ignite with the aromas of fresh coriander and mint beaten to pulp.

This is a wild bushy grass with thorny leaves that is nutritious, but also causes severe itching, if it comes into contact with any exposed part of the body. I can say this from personal experience when I once fell atop this bush while playing in my village as a child. My mother had to apply mustard oil all over me for days to soothe the itching!

Coming back to the dish, only the tender leaves of this plant are picked for making the vegetable and it is tempered with Jakhya in mustard oil. Garhwalis always cook their greens, especially leafy veggies, in lohe ki kadhai (iron woks) as they believe the iron gets transferred to the dish making it further nutritious.

Bicchu Booti Saag is a wild bushy grass with thorny leaves that is nutritious, but also causes severe itching, if it comes into contact with any exposed part of the body.
Bicchu Booti Saag is a wild bushy grass with thorny leaves that is nutritious, but also causes severe itching, if it comes into contact with any exposed part of the body.

This dish is often eaten for breakfast or as a snack and has a pancake-like consistency. The batter is made of wheat flour with sugar or jaggery and fennel, which is then poured on a hot griddle and cooked on both sides till golden brown. My mother often packed it for my school tiffin and my friends would polish it off well before lunch break. Even now, whenever I meet old friends, they gush about the Chholyaan Rota!


Bhatt is like a small black soybean, and the spicy chutney made from it is a perfect accompaniment to most earthy Garhwali dishes. There are at least 8-9 soybeans ranging from green to off-white, grey and black and in various sizes available in Garhwal. However, it is the small black variety that is said to taste the best.

No food culture in the whole world can be complete without its share of desserts. Garhwali cuisine is no different and the sweets take effort to make but are definitely drool-worthy. One of these is Jhungriyal Ki Kheer, made with Jhungriyaal – a kind of grain – ghee, milk, sugar and nuts. And then there is my all-time favourite, Arsa, a deep-fried sweet patty made from rice flour, jaggery and fennel. It was a must-have item during celebrations like marriage and childbirth in villages.


In olden days, when married Garhwali girls returned to their in-laws after visiting their maternal homes, they were given Arsa along with Suala Roti (a kind of deep-fried Poori) and Urad Daal Ke Pakode to eat during the long journey back home. Why the long journey? Because one could not marry in the same village as inhabitants of a village were considered brothers and sisters. Since Arsa would not spoil during the long travel and also would look good as a gift to the in-laws, the tradition caught on, and this dish became popular during celebrations.

However, this tradition is now dying fast since no one wants to put in so much effort to prepare it when readymade and fancier mithais are easily available. Another Garhwali dessert that is slowly, and sadly, vanishing from dinner tables is Baal Mithai. Made from khoya and jaggery, it looks like a chocolate fudge, and when we were younger and visiting our village, we would return with boxes of Baal Mithai, especially packed from Ram Nagar (of Jim Corbett National Park fame) and Kotdwara.

Apart from these dishes, there are many others like Roat, Rus, Kaphuli, Chanchyya, Bhaang Ki Chutney, etc. It would be impossible to try to write about all of these in one article. But the next time you plan a visit to Garhwal, I strongly suggest you connect with a native before and make a list of restaurants where you can taste the local delicacies. Your trip might just get an unexpected edge.