My Gastronomical affair with Jaipur

22.10.2017:

It was noon by the time I completed my visit to the City Palace, Jantar Mantar and the Hawa Mahal. Am hungry! Jaipur is not only famous for its palaces, architecture and bazaars, but also for its rich cuisine and hospitality! The streets are filled with roadside ‘tapris’ selling hot chai and doodh-jalebi and the restaurants selling their famous kachoris and ghewar. The other day when I asked my auto-wallah to suggest me a good place to have my lunch, he asked me to go to ‘LMB’. Frankly, I don’t know what this LMB stands for! :-p

When searched over the internet, the search will throw a list of famous restaurants of Jaipur like  Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar (LMB), CM Karodia Namkeen and Gopi Kwality Sweets at Raja Park, and bars and cafes like Anokhi Café, Polo Bar at the Rambagh Palace hotel and Chaandi at the Hilton Jaipur. This is from where I recognized that LMB stands for Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar :). Soon after coming out from the Hawa Mahal, I saw a street hawker selling hot pakoras on his cart and I bought some pakoras. They were served hot with a spicy green chilly and mint chutney. I strolled through the market lanes surrounding Hawa Mahal eating those hot pakoras! 🙂

The streets around Hawa Mahal are also good for shopping. And to my relief, LMB is also near to this Johari Bazaar. I took a tuk-tuk to get dropped at this famous eatery and the tuk-tuk wallah charged me Rs. 10/- from Hawa Mahal. The entrance leads us into the sweet section of this franchise and a further doorway leads us into the restaurant. The restaurant was dimly lit with moderate furniture and the staff are in their traditional headgear! They gave me a warm welcome and placed a high priced Menu Card. The restaurant is a vegetarian one and they serve the typical Rajasthani food along with continental dishes too!

Ofcourse I know that no trip to this beautiful city would be complete without having an elaborate Rajasthani meal and LMB offers one such incredibly authentic meal. Also equally famous is the Marwari thali, which includes bajre ki roti, dal bhati churma (which is composed of a lentil curry, mopped up with a bhati – a roundel of stuffed flour that’s baked in a charcoal fire or oven), pyaz kachori and other local varieties. But the quantity would be too much for me. So I chose a simple menu – Bajre ki roti with paneer makhani.

There are few other restaurants like the Chokhi Dhani, a village a little outside the main city, which offers an ambience akin to a typical Rajasthani village and fair, complete with thatched roof huts, bangle and jewellery sellers, camel rides, elephant rides. Customers are served traditional Rajasthani recipes prepared in pure ghee in a manner similar to the locals and make the guests feel the true heritage hospitality. Though the people at my hotel suggested me this option, I dropped this from my list as I was running short of time! 😦

Having had my lunch, I returned to the sweet shop 🙂 The first dessert which I picked up was the Rasamalai – it’s yummy! The others to follow are the raj kachori and mawa kachori. Finally before leaving the place, I got some Rasa Malai packed 🙂 I have left out a lot more stuff which I would be trying the next time I visit Jaipur! 🙂 My bus is waiting to drop me in Delhi!!

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Food for thought #26

“True love is not blind, but sees all the faults and does not mind!”

 

“Each man is master of his own death, and all that we can do when the time comes is to help him die without fear of pain”

 

“There was no innocence more dangerous than innocence of age”

 

“To discover the God within, we have to go beyond our slice of reality and appreciate the hunger and fears of those around us”

 

“The one who offers food is divine, the food that is offered is divine, the one who receives the food is divine, the one who consumes the food is divine. Everything will surely become divine to one willing to expand the mind.”    – Bhagavad Gita

Agatti Island – The Gateway to Lakshadweep!

16.01.2017:

Imran took us to our accommodation and informed us that we would go out for lunch in another hour or so. I excused myself for a shower while uncle and aunt were discussing things with Imran. The underground water is pumped into the tanks on top of the houses which will be serving the daily purposes. Never ever try to open your mouth while taking a shower unless you are a big fan of salt, b’coz the water here tastes too salty! The government of Lakshadweep however provides the localities desalinated water from the desalination plant which is located on the eastern side of Agatti Island.

Everyone else too refreshed themselves and were now ready to go for lunch. There are no big restaurants or hotels except few small ones to provide food in the island. However, the resorts which will be accommodating the tourists who opted the tourism packages would provide them with food, but they don’t provide for people like us who came through some known people in the island. There are only two modes of transport here in the absence of public transport like buses. Either we should go by an auto-rickshaw or ride a bicycle or go by a bike or car if we own one! Jamaal, a locality who works for Imran quickly arranged us four bicycles as aunt has insisted for them 🙂

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We started riding our bicycles on the narrow concrete roads paved through the coconut grooves and Imran informed us that one should pre-book the meals in advance if they plan to eat it from outside and he booked them for us! Thanks to him, I am really hungry 🙂 . After like a km ride, we reached the Hotel Al Mubarak. It is a small house which has got two partitions, most likely like the family partition and an ordinary one where in which people sit for a tea and a crunchy vada. The owner of the hotel guided us to the family partition and we comforted ourselves at a table. Imran order 3 vegetarian meals for uncle, aunt and me while he ordered himself a non-vegan.

The meal is simple. They served us some white rice, with Avial (a preparation with all varieties of vegetables), thoran (mix of boiled green gram and coconut), sambar, curd and a papad. The non-vegan meal consists of fish curry and fish fry instead of our green gram thoran! The food tasted good. Done with our meal, we cycled back to our room and laid down for sometime before setting out to explore the island. After a good sleep of about 2 hours, we ventured out to see the beauty of the Agatti Island.

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Agatti island is 10 km long and 6 km wide at the broadest point. Importantly, the only airport which serves the entire archipelago is situated here. This is also the transit point for the people who choose to go to the island Bangaram. We chose the bicycles again and started following Imran who is guiding us. The island is absolutely peaceful as there was no much traffic for that matter no big motors like trucks, buses and lorries etc. Mostly all the people here uses bicycles, some motor bikes, others auto-rickshaws and a car here and there! Limited tourist infrastructure here makes for an unusual but good experience. A ride of around 3 kms took us to the port officer’s office from where one can get the ship tickets for his/her voyage.

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There is a long bridge which connected us to the jetty from the island. At the entrance of the bridge, there is a board warning us that collection, destruction or selling away any kind of corals and turtles is a punishable offence under the Wildlife Protection Act and we made a mental note of it. This is the eastern jetty where the cargo ship ‘Sagar Yuvraj’ is loading off the barrels of diesel which is the source of generation of electricity in the island. Agatti has one of the most beautiful lagoons in the Lakshadweep archipelago. The lagoon on the island side and the deep blue sea on the jetty side is a postcard scene! One can see the desalination plant from here.

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The jetty was full of activity. People sitting on the walls talking among themselves and wishing the others who passes by, while few people were fishing with their fishing rods, probably for a fish or two to cook in the evening, and the crew of the ship off-loading the barrels of fuel and people like us clicking photographs and doing all crazy stuff! In all, the life in island is simple. Everyone knows everyone else in the island and it’s like a close-knitted family 🙂

A night in Proddatur – The “Second Bombay”

11.12.2016:

18.10 hrs – We were waiting in front of the entrance of Belum Caves for a vehicle which could drop us at Kovelakuntla, so that we can catch us an onward bus to reach Proddatur. My brother Vijay lives there and I wanted to pay a visit to him! After a long wait, a bus came and we got into it and reached Kovelakuntla. The conductor of the bus suggested us to get down there and get an onward bus to Jammalamadugu from where we can get good number of buses to Proddatur.

18. 35 hrs – We were dropped at the Kovelakuntla bus station. We were feeling damn hungry and looked around for some food. The best part of Andhra Pradesh is that one can find a lot of make-shift shacks or carts mushrooming on the road-sides selling hot pakodas, bajjis and other street food. We found a cart where hot mirchi bajjis were being fried and I took some of them while Bilal took some aloo pakodas. While in the coastal region of Andhra, the mirchi bajjis will be slit and some onions will be stuffed into them, here they were cut into pieces and some chat masala was sprinkled over them! Nevertheless, I loved them 🙂 🙂

19.00 hrs – A bus stopped in front of us and we got into it! The distance between Jammalamadugu and Koilkuntla (other name of Kovelakuntla) is around 70 kms. It took us two long hours to reach Jammalamadugu and luckily we got a bus to Proddatur immediately from there. @ 21.10 hrs – Proddatur is another 25 kms from Jammalamadugu. On the way, we saw so many cement factories like Ultratech, Penna etc. By 22.00 hrs – We were at the Gandhi Road Junction waiting for my brother to pick us up. And there he was, freshly bathed and in his t–shirt and pyjamas, whereas Bilal and I were almost mud-colored after travelling all through the day! 😦

22.10 hrs – My brother took us to the Nirmala Sweets Bakery and Restaurant in the M.G.Road and  told us that it is one of the finest restaurants that serves some fine vegan food. We ordered Vegetable Biryani, Nirmala Special Biryani (Steward’s choice) and also Egg Biryani along with some coke. Food tastes better with coke! 🙂 The food was served hot within minutes and we really attacked it! 🙂 😀 Nirmala Special Biryani was too good. They served it with lots of vegetables, spicy and with some fried potatoes and paneer (Paneer 65 and Aloo 65).

22.45 hrs – We were at my brother’s place. After a quick shower, we settled down to show him our pics of various places so far we visited and jumped on the discussion about our next destination. Trust me, we don’t have any planning or a specific circuit! That’s why I described this as a wild tour! Lol!! We started googling the distances of various places in and around proddatur and it was then I came across a video about Ahobilam! And my brother too told me that he heard that it’s a beautiful and must visit place! So, it was fixed! My next destination is Ahobilam!!

23.30 hrs – I drifted into a deep sleep and have no idea when the guys slept! I need to wake up early also, as my brother has to leave for his field around 07.30 hrs and Bilal should also reach his place early that evening!

The TASTE BUD Encounters…

India – the land of diversity! Diverse in its cultures, religions, landscapes, and traditions. Not only these, but India is diverse in its cuisine too 🙂 . A mixture of flavors and tastes reflecting a variety of cultures and regions. It is like an ocean full of flavors, and culinary techniques. Some call it ‘overtly spicy’, some ‘charmingly rustic’ and some ‘elaborately royal’. With its assortment of spices and aromas, India’s cuisine is best seen on the bustling streets of its cities. From the traditional to the mix-and-match modern, from the saucy to the royal, street food is affordable and fast, satiate the belly and entice the senses.

From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, there is something unique about the cuisine that is served in every region of India making use of spices and pulses local to each state. Be it Dum Pukht Biryani from Lucknow, Fish curry and rice from Bengal or fiery Pork Vindalho from Goa, our cooking uses a rich range of aromatic spices and other simple ingredients. And yet, if one takes a look at what India eats, one would be surprised at the simplicity of the recipes. Say for example the kheer or Khichdi 🙂

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And the long coastal belt of India gives India its favorite tiffin – idli, vada and dosa. The coconut chutney is one among the several relishes in coastal Indian cuisine, including the tomato khatta, curd dips and wood apple chutney. Take Kerala – Appam, puttu and kadala (chick-pea) curry. Tamilnadu – Chettinad food and dosas. Karnataka – It’s Dharwa Peda and Bisi bella bath. Andhra Pradesh – it’s tasty Hyderabadi Biryani and seafood pickles. Mumbai – Manchurian biryani, sushi noodles with masala. Kolkata – eat on the streets without any qualms. Zesty puffed rice for as little as Rs. 5. Lucknow – it’s kababs and biryani.

Mathura – the tasty peda, Punjab – Chicken Tikka Masala and the tasty stuffed parathas. Each of the seven states in North East India has its distinct culinary history and ways of cooking, but the underlying principle remain the same – organic, wholesome and uncomplicated! Oh my God, all this makes my mouth watering 😉 🙂 . And thus, here I am, to share my food encounters of my daily life as well as during my travels.

Hope you enjoy!!!

Travelling in Pune..

Pune – a metropolis surrounded by lush green hills and pleasant weather, was once the heart of the Maratha Empire as the Peshwas resided here and today, it’s known as the ‘Oxford of the East’ due to its numerous education institutes. Pune is also best-known for it’s food and cafes.

13.11.2016:

20.30 hrs – The bus reached Shivaji Nagar Railway station and we started walking towards a restaurant for having our dinner when Mythri stopped at a pani-puri wala 🙂 . One of the most popular street foods all over India – Pani Puri (called Puchkas in Bengal and golgappe in Punjab). Puris are puffed, hollow dough balls, fried to a light crispiness and filled with a masala of cooked potatoes, peas or chickpeas, and served with pani (water), a sweet and sour, tangy chutney made with tamarind or coriander. We had 5 puris each and walked towards the restaurant.

The first question we asked the waiter is whether they gonna accept debit cards, and the answer was instant, they do 🙂 . We ordered for some jeera rice, aloo mattar and vegetable raitha as well as some coke. Food tastes better with coke :-p . During our train journey from Lonavala to Pune, Mythri booked our bus tickets to Shirdi, while waiting for the food, I reserved a room for us at Shirdi. Online made everything easy. Thanks to red bus and make my trip 🙂 . We have to kill sometime as our bus is only at 22.30 hrs.

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Thanks to the waiter, as they served our food a bit late, so that the pani puris which we had earlier would have occupied a corner in our stomachs and we can fill the remaining with the food we ordered 😀 . The food arrived and we ate at a much lesser pace so that we can sit for more time there 😀 . 21.40 hrs – We finally made a move towards our boarding point which is like a 10 min walk from the restaurant. 22.00 hrs – I made a call to the bus driver to just make sure that we were at the right place waiting for the bus. The bus driver asked us to come to another pick-up point which is like another 5 mins from the point where we were waiting.

22.40 hrs – Boarded the bus to Shiridi, our next destination. Settled down with a blanket covering our faces, I didn’t even notice when our bus moved off 🙂 . A long day.. Wasn’t it??

Gavi – A Eco-Tourist spot

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Gavi is an eco-tourist spot in Kerala which has widely become popular after ‘Alistar International’, the world acclaimed tourism major listed it among the leading eco-tourism centers and one of the must-see places in India. Spread across the beauty of Periyar Tiger Reserve, Gavi is a quiet, beautiful and pristine forest haven.  Located 250 kms away from Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of Kerala, Gavi of Pathanamthitta district offers its visitors activities like trekking, wildlife watching, outdoor camping. So why late? Lemme share my travel tale of Gavi 🙂

The road leading to Gavi is blanketed by tea plantations and pine plantation (which is a rare sight in South India, and is a refreshing experience. We took the route of Trivandrum-Patthanamthitta-Ranney-Mundakayyam-Vandiperiyar-Gavi. The Gavi check post which is located 18 kms away from Vandiperiyar is the gateway to the lap of Mother Nature.

One should be keen in observing the surroundings as this is the only way of spotting wildlife in Gavi. The place is rich in flora and fauna. The commonly sighted animals here are the Indian Giant Squirrel, Lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri Tahr, Bisons, Wild Pigs, elephants and birds like kingfishers and woodpeckers. I was lucky enough to spot almost all of these animals except the elephants. But did get a chance of seeing their footsteps and fecals.. Lol 😀

Places of Interest:

#Pine Plantation: This came as a surprise to me as I didn’t expect such a beautiful place on this route. The windy climate and the mighty pines.. Ground covered with their leaves and seeds.. Sunlight peeping through the gapes and the surroundings adding to the Serenity.. The best place for our body and mind to rejuvenate. And a perfect place to meditate too 😛

# Safari: One can enjoy the sight of the wildlife in their natural habitat through Vehicle safaris to take a glimpse of the endangered species.

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# Boat Ride: Row boating is available at Gavi, on the Gavi dam’s reservoir. The panoramic view from the boat in middle of the waters’ of the reservoir is truly enticing! There is a small waterfall on the other side of the reservoir, which can be reached on this boat and it is some 15 minutes hike. A must visit place see the undisturbed beauty of the Mother Nature.

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# Sabarimala View Point: Gavi gives an amazing view of the Sabarimala amongst the lush green surroundings. This is a 20 min hike from the Gavi Dam and the view of the mountain ranges and the sunset in the evening over these ranges covered with evergreen trees and a blanket of golden color grass is breath-taking!

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# Cardamom Plantation: Gavi is a fertile land and the local’s mastery over the land has blessed the land with vegetation. A leisure visit to the nearby cardamom plantations is a sight to behold. We can see the wilderness of the wild elephants damaging these plantations.

Best part of the trip:

For the most adventurous ones who would love to spend a night in the deep forest can stay here in a small tent. This is the most unique feature of  Gavi, camping in the forests. As the dusk stretches into the silence of the night, one can feel the presence of wildlife in the middle of nowhere, an experience that cannot be explained in worlds, but needs to be just experienced.

The KFDC provides good vegetarian food and snacks with the local flavors and one should definitely try this food.

How to reach?

200 kms from Kochi International Airport, 250 kms from Trivandrum International Airport and 195 kms from the Madurai Airport. The nearest railway station is Kottayam (120 kms). Regular buses are available to Vandiperiyar from Kochi & Thiruvananthapuram. There are also buses available from Vandiperiyar to Gavi. But make sure that you reach the Gavi Checkpost before 5 pm.

Pack your backpacks now… 😉

Gandikota – Grand Canyon of India

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Probably one of the least explored places in India. Situated on the rivers of Pennar, in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, and is one of the best places in India. Truly an equivalent to the Grand Canyon.  Gandikota derives its name from two Telugu words, “Gandi” meaning gorge and “Kota” meaning fort. But, why this name? Coz, the river Penna forms a Gorge in this tiny village and there is a fort just on the river side, which is believed to have been built during the later half of the 13th century.

Places to Visit:

# Gandikota (Gorge Fort): It is a stone fort built upon a bill. Guarded by a huge entrance gate that is some 20 feet high and 101 bastions each over 40 feet high, it still remains a very imposing structure. Believed to have been built during the later half of the 13th century AD. Gandikota impressed the French traveler Tavernier, so much that he opined that it resembles Hampi, Vijayanagara in its massive monuments. And the Mukhadwara (entrance) of this fort welcomes us to enter the Gandikota village.

# Juma Masjid: It’s wonderful to see a mosque and a temple in the same complex of that tiny village. It was quite a big one and we can find a “Charminar” here too. Yeah, there is a charminar backside of this mosque. There is a granary just beside the mosque and had a vaulted roof. One can enter inside and see how the kings used to store their food treasures here 😀

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# Ranganatha Swamy Temple: On walking a further from the granary, one can find this temple. The temple is not in a good condition, yet people from the nearby villages come here to offer prayers to the Lord Ranganatha (Vishnu). The temple is located on an elevated platform. But the art on the temple walls has not lost its sheen.

# Pennar Gorge: A few steps further from the Ranganathaswamy temple, there lies thousands of rocks, small and big. Trust me, there won’t be a trace of what you are searching for. One has to take the pain of climbing up and down those rocks carefully, keep a watch on the surroundings and on their own footsteps and hunt for the treasure. After few minutes, one will find the treasure of nature’s beauty. The awesome Pennar Gorge. Stacks of rocks arranged in a perfect manner as if it was a book shelf, a mighty gorge and the river Pennar flowing through it. The beauty was beyond description. It just needs to be captured by one’s own heart and soul.

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# Madhavaraya Temple: While all the above mentioned places are on side, this temple is on the other side. It takes some time to reach this place from the gorge. This is probably the biggest structure among all the ones present in this village. The main sanctum of this temple is also elevated and there are good number of mandapas surrounding this temple. Truly a majestic structure.

Gandikota is yet another majestic creation of the mother nature. For the folks who love going on long drives, the stretch from Proddatur to Gandikota via Jammalamadugu is really a must try. Especially, if you plan to visit this place in the months of December and January, trust me, you will never regret. Coz, the mother earth will be covered with a blanket of sunflowers during this time, just like the below pic. For trek lovers, this place is worth trying as one can trek down the rocks from the fort hill to the pennar river flowing down. Don’t miss the sunrise 🙂

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Wait a minute, what about the food? If you wanna try the desi spicy food of Rayalaseema, you should try out eating Dosas with that Red chilli Chutney in the breakfast and Hot & Sour Soup in the dinner. I bet you will cry 😛

How to reach? 

Kadapa is well connected with the major cities like Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Bangalore by road. One can reach either Proddatur or Jammalamadugu and from there can catch an auto or a cab to drive to Gandikota. And the drive will be smooth as the condition of the roads is too good.

A special thanks to my friend Ruthwik for suggesting me to pay a visit to this place and to my loving brother Vijay for joining me in this beautiful journey.