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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Banaras : A love note

This blog post is dedicated to all those people who have asked me to guide them through Banaras,  those who have called me for directions while sitting in Banaras , and to those who don’t  know that the total number of days I have spent in Banaras, in all my life , are  a mere seven. Unfortunately, I presumably have managed to see a lot of Banaras (so people think) in this little time.

To disappoint many, I have only seen what I can call “the tip of the Iceberg”. Banaras is a way of life, and I have to confess my love for the city through this blog post. Let me begin with my opening line, which will make some people really mad at me, I HATE THE MALAIIYO! And I am not going to make this another orgasmic saga of love of malaiiyo!  So if you are expecting that, here is your chance to run away. Don’t say I didn’t warn you !

I have to thank Mystic Yoga, for introducing me to Banaras. The first time I went to Banaras, it began with the Sankat Mochan Temple. And I, as always, finished temple visit in a few minutes and started eating. What was supposed to be a quick snack, began with corn roasted on coal, then moved to a sharbat, and then to the lovely laal peda (which I conveniently forgot to offer to Hanuman Ji) and ended with some chaat.  Well let’s not get into the nitty-gritty’s of timelines, or I am sure to bore you down.

Again,  like in most of my stories , I know of two types of people who are visiting Banaras  , One , that likes to stay around Dashashwamedh Ghat ,  and the second,  that like to stay around Assi Ghat . I am the second type.  I mean I love the hustle and bustle of Dashashwamedh and also the sights and sounds of Vishwanath Galli, But I’m not really too much of a religious person. I like the soul of Banaras, its dedication, its belief system and its sincerity. Also I feel that Assi Ghat is more “ME” in many ways. Like, I like the morning aarti more than the evening aarti. I know the Dashashwamedh aarti is hypnotic and again people won’t like this comparison. But when you see the salutation that the sun receives every morning, at Assi Ghat, how the city embraces the morning with Vedic chants and the aarti is followed by a beautiful morning raga recital, you will fall in love.


Another reason I love Assi, is that right after the morning aarti and the music recital, I can head to Lanka Chounk and be the first customer of Pehelwaan lassi. They make the best kachori according to me in Banaras! And the dahi they make is blissful. If you haven’t had the dahi jalebi for breakfast, you have missed a great deal.


So after waking up at 4 am, and then eating the kachori for breakfast, it is very important that you take a small 2 hour nap. It is like a mark of respect to the kachori. It should be allowed to play with the cholesterol levels of your body and an important job like that should not be disturbed. So after the breakfast, and the lovely slumber, it is time for some sightseeing. I usually like to spend a couple of hours walking around in Banaras.  Just me, the camera, and some food thrown in here and there, is what I call heaven.

The Vishvanath Galli is a photographers dream comes true. Wherever you look, there is a frame waiting to be discovered. And, also I’m astounded by how oblivious the locals are to a city, the photographers from all over the globe want to photograph. Well, the Vishwanath Temple area is one of the most densely populated parts of Banaras, and also the oldest city hub. All the Bengali babus of the erstwhile Raj used to come here. The paan masala shops whose name signs are still written in Bengali will vouch for this. Not many people know that if you hunt, you can find some stunning Itter here. The beli and the kaala gulab are better here in Banaras, as compared to the Oudh and shamama of Luknow.

Another lovely place to go to is a Sardarji Achaar Papad Wale, in the Kachauri Wali Galli. Please don’t be expecting lovely kachoris here, it’s just an erstwhile name. The galli is a shortcut to Manikarnika, and all you see are dead bodies passing by every two minutes. So I just decided to switch my reactions off and entered the Sardarji Shop. Banaras is home to the best Stuffed Red Chili Pickle and also some stunning Aloo ka papad. Also, I was amazed to taste some interesting pickles like, Jackfruit, peppercorn, and eggplant. Do buy the oil free whole lemon pickle from here. It’s under-rated but is a brilliant cure for acidity. 

Right outside Kachauri Wali Galli is where people eat the Malaiiyo! I can’t stand that dessert. This is a Foamy milky dessert, flavored with cardamom and saffron. Since Childhood, Milk has been a sore point of contention, and I have never come to like it. So the malaiiyo, in spite of its light airy texture, isn’t my cup of tea (or mithai). I found my calling in the old moiras (halwais) in Vishwanath galli. The pedas, stuffed parwal, and different halwas stole the show for me. The star was what was recommended by the locals. It looked like an off white mass (not very impressed by the looks). But my mommy told me not to judge a book by its cover, so I took a bite. And whoa! It was amazing. Very  very sweet, but yummy. It’s called Magdal. It’s like a dal ka halwa, only ten times better and much less greasy. Well I was almost dead. Walking around Banaras with seven kilos of pickle in one hand and eating to the heart’s content with the other can be very tiring. So I suggest another short nap before the evening aarti.

One of the best ways to enjoy the Dashashwamedh evening aarti is by boat, but if you want to really click some aarti, the Tulsi Ghat aarti is really nice (but it’s not regular) see the Dashahwamedh aarti during regular days, instead of festivals, you will enjoy it much more. After the aarti, the shops at the ghaat start shutting, so it a great time to bargain. Do pick up some granitite chillums for all your friends who dope, makes a great gift, and weed and bhang isn’t a “HAW- WALA" subject in bears, its "Baba Vishwanath ka Prasad ". Now tell me, how cool is that! And what makes it better, there are government registered shops for it! And what is the best way to find these shops – Chat up with the lovely chatty "auto-wale-bhaiya". The friendly neighborhood auto-wala will take you right up to the shop for a small tip! So once you have had the stuff, there will be munchies. No better way to fill up than Kashi Chaat! The house special, Tamatar chaat is a crowd pleaser. Please leave your cleanliness hang ups at home , or be stoned out of your wits and just focus of the yummiest  ( I do the first one ) . Recommendations? Tamatar ki chaat, poha, tikki, gulab jamun, kulfi. BLISS !

Once the local fare of Banaras is taken care of, we can move to the other fun things to do in Banaras. One must walk the stretch from Assi Ghaat to Dashashwamedh Ghaat . You can also do it both ways . Believe me , it  feels spectacular . You can end up getting in touch with all emotions during this walk , from love you see in the eyes of newlyweds  , to devotion  of the people towards Ganga . From the sorrow in the eyes of the mourners of the deceases , who are praying for the salvation of the souls of the departed to the innocence of young children taking a plunge and enjoying themselves .

Another lovely thing to do is to drive to the Ramnagar fort . It is across the Ganga and takes about 45 minutes to reach . It is the erstwhile residence of the Family of the Kashi Naresh . Although the museum is in a  very sorry state, it still will give you a good idea about the Regal Lifestyle of the Kashi Royal Family . The beautiful Palanquins , ornate furniture and  regal clothing yearn for some attention. Photography is strictly prohibited , but spending a few hours here is like a read through a story book .

Some shopping is a must in Banaras . I always end up buying lovely dhotis here . Also , good paan masala, agarbatti and chunky junk jewelery, are worth spending on .Little carved granite boxes make great souvenirs and also sarees , how can one forget that . And if Doing all this doesn’t build up an appetite ,then you are in the wrong city ! One can always repeat the kachori cycle . But Banaras also has some lovely hidden gems . The IBA Café in Shivala is an absolute surprise package . Amazing Japanese and oriental food is on offer . And they make beautiful ginger lemonade . The Thai curry (mind you , CHICKEN) and the cheese cake are better than some of the restaurants in Kolkata .

The Pizzeria Vatika is a lovely place on Assi Ghaat that serves Wood fired pizza , hand make ciabatta and some scrumptious Apple pie . And the apple pie crust is the best  I have ever eaten . Right beside it is a small café called the Ashish Café  that is never empty. Humble floor seating , low tables , and brilliant homemade multigrain bread , house peanut butter and some organic honey ! Banaras is home to a lot of expatriates , some  who settled here and taught their culinary traditions to locals . The accommodation is more pocket friendly and clean , thus it is home to some good , Italian , Lebanese , Korean eateries . Banaras , unlike many think , is also a cultural melting pot . Most of the Banaras Weavers are Islamic and thus the non-vegetarian food you get at the street side eateries around Shivala is actually brilliant! I have had some stunning fried fish and kebabs here .

Benaras or Kashi, is considered the oldest existing city in the world, and it never fails to astound me. I have developed a special bond with Dev Deepawali , The city’s most celebrated festival . This is the time Banaras is decked up like a beautiful bride . Fifteen days after Deepawali , on the night of Karthik Poornima,  Dev Deepawali  is believed to be the day on which gods descend on Banaras to celebrate the festival of light . Three Days before that, the city welcomes tourists for the Ganga Mahotsav . The ghaats are lit up with millions of oil lamps and the sight of the full moon amidst the sparkle of fireworks is breathtaking . The weather is perfect and the water levels are low, The city shines in splendor.

Whoever visites Banaras, I feel, leaves a bit of themselves there. Or perhaps take a little bit of Benaras with themselves. It could be a breath of incense, an echo of chants, a mouthful of flavors to remember for a  lifetime, or maybe just a few pictures to treasure. But when you feel like coming back again, just remember, that there is a little bit of Banaras in all of us, just waiting  to be explored .

Har Har Mahadev ! Har Har Gange !

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Light Summer Indulgence : Apple Yogurt Cupcake

It's the middle of May and we all are sick of the sticky heat already. But we do crave that sweet endnote at the end of the meal. Is it only me, or do we all feel like biting into that sinful cupcake and the eat half only because the butter cream gets difficult to swallow after  two bites. The greasy lining on the palette can get very nauseating. I chose to eat a fruit or a chilled iced tea to replace dessert most of the time. But at times we do give in to temptation and buy that pastry or cupcake. I end up feeling very guilty about it.

So, what if I tell you that I'm going to share a recipe of a diet cupcake with you? Would you believe me ? I'm not joking ! Imagine, soft , flavorful, and with a frosting too ! And would you believe, it uses very simple ingredients too... 

Apple  Yogurt Cupcakes

Cake Batter (yields 12 cupcakes)
Whole wheat flour 2 cups
Olive oil ½ cups
Yogurt ¾ cups
Apple grated 2 large
Cinnamon powder ½ tsp
Salt 1 pinch
Baking powder ½ tsp
Baking soda ½ tsp
Eggs 2 nos
Honey 4 tbsp /artificial sweetener

  • ·         Beat , eggs, honey , oil, yogurt  till mixed well
  • ·         Add the apple and mix well
  • ·         Sift together whole wheat flour , cinnamon , salt ,baking powder, soda
  • ·         Gently fold into the batter
  • ·         Divide into 12 lined muffin cups
  • ·         Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 25 mins

For frosting

Hung curd 1 ½ cups
Honey 4 tbsp
Cinnamon powder 1 tsp
  • ·         Beat hung curd , honey and cinnamon till mixed well
  • ·         Pipe over the cooled cupcakes
  • ·         Serve chilled 
Hope you will enjoy these yummy yet healthy cupcakes . Looking forward to feedback  !

Cheers to good Health !!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

When Life Gives You Wings

When life gives you wings... 

There are two types of people in the world.  First,  ones that love chicken  breast pieces and the others that like the leg pieces .  But there is a special sub sect, that I feel , has risen above these two and evolved into a finer,  more refined , chicken lover. It is the ‘ wing lover’. I know people who hate wings because  there is so little flesh or  too much bone,  but for me,  it's totally worth the effort.  The tender juicy meat  under the lovely layer  of skin, even the thought makes me go weak in the knees. I confess,  I have this relationship  with wings.  In true sense,  it is my comfort food.  

Coming to the basics.  I'm a chef  and I first check out how well I can cook that cut of poultry.  The whole wing can be divided into three parts.  The drummette,  the wingette,  and the tip.  The drumette is the part that attaches the wing to the breast.  It's a single thicker bone which when fringed gives us the much adored lollipop ( which I personally  detest) .  Next is the wingette,  which is the most beautiful  part of the wing.  Less tendons  make this little strip of flesh , trapped between two thin bones,  absolutely  moist and juicy.  The Tip is usually the part that people discard or throw into stock,  as it is gelatinous  and does not have too much meat.  Also, it tends to burn very fast.  But if you are a rustic  wing lover like me, you will cook the wings intact. 

So lets get down to business.  I'm compiling a list for my fellow wing lovers who end up eating those horrid red drums of heaven and never get chance to enjoy the bliss of eating regular chicken wings.  Top seven favorite wings of the city. 

Peri peri wings : Barcelos  

Firstly,  full mark to this place to be one of the very few outlets to serve wings uncut.  So the three parts are intact as God wanted them to be.  The chicken  is skin on,  and is fire cooked, so no thick batter.  I always chose the Supa Peri,  but you can have a milder sauce. The wings are moist and delicious.  

Smoked  and Grilled wings  :  Chili's 

This is the perfect wing for people who don't like spice and also like to give the sugar loaded barbecue  a miss. It is  plain, simple,  juicy,  and unadulterated  bite of heaven. Again,  it's grilled so no battery or flour.  The skin crisps up well  and they give huge portion sizes.  

Jerk chicken wings: TGIF 

If chicken wings aren't  enough,  why don't we just put them on skewers and alternate them with pineapple,  grill them with a spice rub and just fly  with the first bite.  Again a non fried variety,  the skin is beautifully textured and the smokiness is class apart.  

Chicken Wings with  Wine Jus : Irish House 

The comfort of a Sunday roast chicken with the fun of wings, it's like a match made in heaven.  This is another star. The meat is tender as it's slow cooked and the jus is spot on. This is very comforting and a soothing to the taste buds. A great combination  with a sangria. 

Ghost Chili  Wings : My Big Fat Belly 

If you like it hot, this is the one. They have three grades of heat on offer .  Soft juicy wings tossed in bhut jholakia chillies  from Nagaland.  I love heat and this baby can make you sweat.  And of you are man enough,  they have a wing challenge.  Spicy food lovers will love this.  

Barbecue  Chili Wings : The Fat Monk 

Another spicy food favorite. They have four variants in wings but the barbecue  chili  is my pick.  The smoky flavors of Barbecue  are blended with  with dalle  chilies  from the north east.  It is an absolutely divine combination .  Coming from the same house as The Blue Poppy,  this is a sure winner.  

Sticky Korean Wings : Hoppipolla 

This is my favorite  sweet sauce of the city. The portion isn't huge,  but the black,  soy based,  caramelized sweet sauce just hits the right notes.  I don't drink and I just go to a bar to eat the wings.  They sometimes top it with spring onions and sometimes with sesame.  Both taste good.   

Well those are  my top picks for wings in the city.  I'm also sharing a recipe of my home cooked honey roasted wings,  zero oil and absolute  winners at all my parties.  


For water glaze 
Chicken wings 1 kg
Honey 6 tbsp
Water 2 cups
Cinnamon powder 1 tsp
Salt to taste

For marinade 
Honey 3 tbsp
Cider vinegar 3 tbsp
Cayenne pepper 3 tsp
Pepper 3 tsp
5 spice powder 1 tbsp
Garlic paste 1 tbsp
Fish sauce 1 tsp

 --Heat all ingredients for the glaze and bring to a boil 
 --add the chicken wings at last and bring to a boil 
 --strain and cool under a fan 

--Mix all ingredients for the marinade and microwave for 30 seconds  
--rub it on the air dried chicken wings and keep aside for an hour 
--Cook on a grill in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees Celsius 
--cook for 45 mins covered and then 15 min uncovered


This compilation was made for The Tekegraph - T2 ,  The original link to the article is
none of the above listings  are sponsored and all pictures are clicked by me . 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pondicherry : Peace , Palette , Paradigm

So it was that time again. I usually take short trips with my yoga friends from Mystic Yoga , from time to time. I was  all excited about this trip even before it got announced officially . Hailing from a punjabi family , you  are never expected to go on a holidays that can be described as  “ tranquil” “peaceful” “holistic” . So as children we usually went to places that were associated with “fun”. Thus, such holidays were a rare occasion . And in our busy lives , we don’t really tend to think of such vacations  either. Thanks to Mystic, I have been able to catch up with myself over the years now . A long weekend in a remote hill station  or in the outskirts always helps to refresh the soul .

Well, besides  all the peace and tranquil mumbo jumbo, I was super excited about the food. A foodie is always a foodie. And when my friends were busy planning meditation sessions, I researched on food and shopping scene of Pondi. They talked about the warmth of the people, I measured the warmth of the pizza oven . They talked about solar energy, I talked about solar power gelato . Who ever knows me well enough, I am all about food . I can talk about food all day, all night and not get bored . Food makes me happy, always .

So  the day began at 3 am, when we landed at the Chennai Airport, and to my surprise, where everything, including the café was shut. I MEAN SHUT! So outside the airport we found a lovely filter coffee stall that came as a blessing post a horrid night flight. And we were set to hit the lovely Auroville. As per their set format, we don’t ever stay in the main city. The resort chosen was the Ashoka. We had beautiful Gazebos on  the beach a little away from Auroville. That day, we got going in the direction of the Aurobindo Ashram, sat in peace by the shrine and enjoyed tranquil silence of the place. This was followed by a lovely lunch at one of the iconic colonial hotels of Pondicherry, Hotel Du Parc. The food was pretty average, so I’m  not really going to elaborate on it. 

This was followed by sitting on the rocks at the promenade. The water seemed as exited about the next couple of days as we were. There is something really playful  about  the Bay of Bengal. It calls you , touches your little toe and runs back, as you step forward, it moves a little further backward, and after a few more times, when you least expect, it envelopes all your senses with its magnanimous presence.  And this is exactly what the  waves were doing. Somewhat theatrical, each waver just lured us and welcomed us to the contrasting  peace of Pondicherry .

The night at the hotel was magical,  the sound of the waves singing you to sleep, was pure healing. Each day began with a lovely yoga session by the beach,  followed by soaking in some salty goodness of the sea and then a beautiful South Indian breakfast at the hotel .

The lunch at auroville will  remain etched in my head for long. A great melange of simplicity, freshness and a lot of love . Auroville as a town is so so positive. Where people from so many nationalities live so harmoniously with each other. Just love those cycles, hammocks, some bakeries, organic grocery stores. Simple happy life. Even the fruits here taste so good, I guess it's because that’s how nature wanted them to grow. Organic.

The frequent trips between Pondicherry, Auroville and the hotel made us stop at various stops. One of them being the Sunday market. Apparently, they say , there is nothing that is not available at this market. Mostly second hand stuff, but I did find myself some really cool MODAK moulds, and interesting back scratchers.  Also found the Red Banana or Kerala Banana, that I have never eaten before, and a tamil cousin of our puchka. The best way enjoy a city is by exploring the street food .

The trip ended with sunset at Mahabalipuram. Much to the displeasure of my guide , I was not even slightly interested in the history of the place . I was busy clicking pics of the food vendors and tasting their fare . A bonus to this was the Mamallapuram Dance Festival . A lovely range of performances showcasing  Kathak , Bharatnatyam and Odissi . The sunset , The temple and culture , perfect way to bid farewell .

 I didn’t even spare the tea stop at on the way to the airport . Adyar Ananda Bhawan was a tea and refreshment . I got myself a bag food of goodies and ended on a sweet note with some Dry fruit halwa .

I fell in love with pondicherry , the minute I read about the food scene . Some of the highlights of what we ate were as follows:

Zuka :

Absolutely loved the chocolates at this artisan chocolate shop. They had those stunning coffee truffle. mildly sweet , and a soft yet robust truffle core that cots our palette like fine silk. They even tempered their chocolate well. Tried the miniatures and the the mouse shaped Chocolate Jerry , bothe were stunning.

This baby is pizza heaven . As per the norms of the trip , we were vegetarian . You will not complain one bit post a meal at this place . I am confessing , it’s the tastiest pizza I have eaten in  my life . Mind you , I have eaten a lot of good pizza . The Sauce was perfectly tart , the seasoning was spot on , and the cheese , oh my , was perfect . A drizzle of chili oil and I was it was “ love at first bite” . The best was the Pesto Spinach Pizza , The freshness of the spinach just stole my heart .

I just fell in love with the grocery store . The chocolate they sell is mainly Mason and Co . But the cheese and the banana chips were crazy . They also serve some delicious baked goods . The Lemon Meringue Pie was like music . The tang of the lemon with the contrast of the meringue made me go silent for a while . They even make brilliant brownies , some of the best I have ever tasted .

Matri Mandir :  
First , the aparajita sharbat , light lavender in colour, full of floral goodness , and has medicinal properties. The next was the hazelnut gelato . It was mildly sweet , nutty and made with solar powered freezer . How  cool is that !  

This was followed by some curd rice with rasam and sambhar  and the stunning range of chocolates from Mason and Company .

Sunday Street Market :

I started with some Patti Samosas which were pretty nice and three types of bananas ( I Love Bananas )  The South Indian Cousin of our Puchka , Gup-Chup was quite a surprise . The water looked pretty colourless , but was loaded with flavor , piquant , spicy and had a Kanji like flavor . Simply loved it .

Mahabalipuram :
Well , the couple of hours at Mahabalipuram were like a dream come true. Started an thinly sliced raw mango . coated with chili powder . These were totapuri  mangoes , hence , the skin was thin and they were semi sweet . Next in Line were the Tapioca Chips . Oh My God , they were a riot ! crisp and so different from anything I’ve eaten before . this was followed by tiny gooseberries , they was tossed in a spice mix and tasted brilliant . I also had some sliced pineapple and smoked Palm Roots . and is all that wasn’t enough Some Boiled corn. Very fresh and different from the street food of North or Kolkata .

I am sure I will visit Pondicherry again , this time alone perhaps , Need to be a backpacker and click tonnes of pictures . And as I weave the fond memories of the trip in this story , I long for another few days, a few more dips in the sea and few more slices of that heavenly pizza . Adios !


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Welcoming Spring with Chholiya

There are many signs of spring. Nature has ways of telling us that it is time to change our lifestyle. Change in temperature, change in the time of sunsets,  in the flowers,  in the fruits and vegetables, they all tell us that our bodies are meant to change our eating habits , living habits as time and season. Our ancient scriptures tell us that we should eat seasonal produce, and every seasonal ingredient solves a nutritive purpose in its respective season . yes now we do get certain seasonal fruits all year round, but these hybrid fruits and vegetables don't solve the purpose they intended to do in their actual season .

One such ingredient is chholia , or green chana . this is the pod form of gram . young , sweet , fresh and so different from its brown version. When you walk down lanes of vegetable markets, one sees these vibrant mounds of green chana. unfortunately its a big hit amongst its fans and it disappears as soon as it comes. There is a small bengal variant  which is tender and a rather strong and sturdy patna variety. Both taste very different from each other .   These do not have a great shelf life , so try and  consume them on the same day .

Chholia is also available in bunch form . This is how it actually grows , in pods . as children we used to sit in the sun in early spring and eat these pods. the tender chhola saag is also very tasty . it has this really tender leaf taste , somewhat like morning dew .

I am using both Chholia and Chana Saag and Creating a beautiful recipe. Made a lovely chholia kadhi , in which the pakodas are made with the saag and the chholia is pureed and added into the kadhi. so here goes .


Chholie ki Kadhi

For kadhi

Curd 1 cup
Water 6 cups
2 tbsp besan
Chholia ( pureed ) 1/2 cup 
Red chili powder 1 tsp
Dhania powder 1 tsp
Oil 2 tbsp
Pickle oil 3 tbsp
Onions 2 nos chopped
Ajwain 1 tsp

  • Heal oil and pickle oil and temper with ajwain onions
  • Mix all remaining ingredients together and add the onion tadka
  • Cook till thick ( approx 40 mins )

For pakoda

Pakoda Batter 

Besan 1/2 cup
Onion chopped 1/2  nos
Green chilies 2 nos chopped
Red chili powder 1 tsp
Ajwain ½ tsp
Chopped chana saag 1/2 cup
Pureed chholia 1/2 cup 
Baking powder 1 pinch
Oil for frying 

  • Mix and deep fry
  • Put into the kadhi and simmer till soft

This pakoda batter can be made with soaked daal puree instead on besan and fired on the griddle like a pancake to make a lovely snack that can be enjoyed over a hot cup of tea. Do enjoy this beautiful ingredient  quick it is available only for a few weeks . 

Cheers !