Kashmir ki Kali

about Malaji Pada, Vasai, Maharashtra, India 1 comment:

I managed to extricate Sunanda from the clutches of a set design job only minutes before midnight on Valentine’s day, but that did not stop me from taking her to Kashmir.

Driving along the Ahmedabad highway past Dahisar, we were wondering which of the dhabas lining the road were worth stopping when, among village scenes, a castle and some vaguely Keralite structures we caught sight of a houseboat. It turned out to be Poush (whose sibling Kong Poush used to be close to my house in Oshiwara). Apparently, "Poush" in Kashmiri means flower; close enough to kali for me to put on a Shammi Kapoor act. This kali is a large, elaborate affair with multiple houseboatish structures, a lawn and even a section with air conditioning.


The place is definitely romantic, if noticeably on the cheesy side. divan-style seating that allows you to cuddle up, lots of sheer curtains and bright fabric and fake flowers and other such romantic touches. And its much too brightly lit to be a seedy makeout place. Plenty of women among the patrons, too, not just brooding bunches of half-drunk men.

Kashmiri food is as rare as Kashmiri handicrafts are common. I’ve always wondered where all those people who run the hundreds of Kashmiri emporiums in every corner of Mumbai eat - its unlikely they all make a daily trek to Vasai - but there’s hardly any Kashmiri food to be had anywhere (and that’s not just Mumbai). Poush was, therefore, a bit of a find. The hot saffron kahwa was quite lovely, the Kashmiri classic goshtaba more than passable, especially when combined with the saffron batta – rice. The rather exotic-sounding starter - kokur kanti (apparently chicken pieces flavoured with herbs, roasted and stir fried with onions and tomatoes) - was a disaster of undercooked ingredients; we hope that was merely the cook having a very bad day. Of course, unlike the Goregaon outlet with its pristine Kashmiri menu, this is a highway stop so punjabi items abound and there’s even a peek of the odd chinese.

Krishna Garden Resort
Maljipada, Vasai
Mumbai, Maharashtra 401210
+91 98 21 213232

Cuddling up on a divan in the curtain-enclosed booth of a fake shikara, looking up at the large white halogen that served as the moon, sipping exotic saffron tea and rolling off names like goshtaba to the turbaned waiter – there are worse ways to spend a Valentine’s

Breakfast in Bread

about Dhanraj Mahal, Colaba, Mumbai 5 comments:

An early morning concert at the Gateway left me with a fast to break. Just was we were trying to get into the new Moshe next to Indigo Deli, crowds across the road attracted me to a sign hanging off the newly painted Dhanraj Mahal. Wonder of wonders, Le Pain Quotidien – a one-time favourite from New York - was now occupying the former Henry Tham space.

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Now Le Pain Quotidien may have started in Belgium, but their original New York outlet at Madison & 85th was a regular stopover of mine. The communal bench meant there was usually free a place to sit, then there were lots of people to chat up, newspapers, good coffee, great food. The simple, modern decor was appealing, the breads outstanding and the menu simple, unfussy and light on the pocket but satisfyingly delicious. In short, Le Pain was a particular favourite of mine – sort of a perfect neighbourhood place (though it was some distance from my actual neighbourhood). It had already started expanding when I left New York, and is now everyone’s neighbourhood boulangerie with a generous 27 outlets in that city alone. Yet, of Le Pain Quotidien’s 100+ outlets, a mere two are in Asia. There’s one in Tokyo, and Mumbai is graced with the only other one there is.

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I’m quite a fan of combining breakfast and bread (as at least one of my earlier posts will tell you). I rarely have bread for breakfast at home (primarily to avoid getting chubbier than I am) but every once in a while, given the right encouragement, I’ll plunge into a bread-orgy for breakfast. As you can well make out from the title - there’s a good reason for me to be excited. The awkward name (even they admit its easier in Belgian) does nothing to disguise the place’s focus on bread. Pain (pronounced ‘pan’ for the unfrenched) means bread, and the chain was started by a baker of note. Le Pan Quotidien means ‘the daily bread’ and Mumbai’s outlet is no different – large boules of bread are displayed all over the front glass and back wall. Other bakery products such as muffins and cupcakes are everywhere. An open kneading station and a nice large wood communal table makes the whole thing resemble a baker’s kitchen; it is an elaborately constructed and effective illusion.

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The bread-omlette-tartine-salad menu is what I remember from NY, but there are some Indian flourishes – a polenta upma, a tea-flavoured lassi, a masala omlette. The bread basket comes with five very European-style breads in it – particularly a a pleasing walnut and apricot and a very fine crusty but not crumbly baguette. This is easily the best hard-crust in the city. The other breads are also excellent, though Mumbai’s breads have improved too and Moshe or Theobroma can hold its own on the soft wheat bread.

The last bit of surprise was the outstanding lemon tart. This is also the best in the city; a buttery, zesty, sweet lemon curd filling resting on an unobtrusive tart base. My previous winner was Le 15, but this has easily supplanted it.


Give us today our pain quotidien… Amen…

Kakori II

about New Delhi, India 2 comments:

My obsession with these ultra-soft kababs that have martian craters named after them have been documented repeatedly in this blog, but luckily more places continue to appear at regular intervals to add my my supply of stories.

The droolworthy picture above is from Sanjiv Khamgaonkar’s article in CNNGO about Mumbai’s best Kabab. Guess who won? One of the votes was mine.

My first kakori ever was in Delhi, appropriately attached to one of my earliest uses of an expense account. This was the Dum Pukht, ensconced suitably expensively in the Maurya Sheraton. Kakori is not traditionally Delhi food; old Delhi and the Jama Masjid area, chock-a-blok with the smell of cooking meat, will nevertheless leave you completely kakori-less. Hence, a decade later and many non-kakori trips to the capital later, I’m in Delhi and Sunanda gushes at me about how she had a great kakori experience on a midnight forage with her crew. It does not take much for her to convince me to repeat it; that very midnight, much expensive scotch later, I’m found poking my head out of the car on Lodhi Road and ordering away.

The place in question was Aap Ki Khatir, not too far from lots of tombs – Humayun, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Mirza Ghalib – all dead mean of distinction. A small dhaba-like outlet on the side of a big wide road amidst a bunch of auto-repair shops, Aap Ki Khatir already sported imitators on either side (one called Aap Ki Pasand) and nearly every review google found for me screamed that it was the best kakori in Delhi. You didn’t actually sit at the eatery – service is usually carside and food is eaten either inside or propped up against the bonnet.

The much awaited kakoris duly landed up, and were indeed quite as melting as one was promised. Some very nice barras were also ordered and consumed before we made our merry way back home. A little research also told me that the person who started it was a former alumnus of Al Kauser that not so long ago was your best bet for a kakori that did not require an expense account.

I and Sunanda thus planned to visit Al Kauser next. I was told that our best bet was RK Puram market, but on actually getting there things turned out to be more confusing that anticipated. Al Kauser seems to have cashed in on its popularity, morphed into a chain and (possibly to make itself idiot-proof) now calls itself Al Kakori Al Kauser, sometimes just plain Al Kakori. Or maybe they’re all different; sometimes its hard to tell. Al Kauser shares the same address as Al Kakori, and there’s a mega one on the Gurgaon highway (next to that humongous Shiva statue) that is definitely a branch (we called up the RK Puram Al Kauser to confirm)

Next option was Khan Market. We were looking for Khan Chacha, but the original has apparently gone the way of the dodo so we did some more calling, got more recommendations and landed up instead at Pandara Road with Gulati Non Veg (there’s a Gulati Veg right next door). As the name suggests, Gulati is soundly Punjabi - tandoor is scattered all over the menu and the dal has ma attached - but its also got a decent-sized foot in the Mughlai boat. Faced with a huge menu, we plumped for that boon for the undecided - The kabab platter. Apparently the platter usually avoids the kakori but the waiter informed us that kasturi was absent so instead, kakori would be served - on a platter, as it where.

Map Channels: free mapping tools

Gulati kakoris were not up to the previous night’s exhalted levels but certainly very good - soft and melting and tasty enough. The galoti (I wonder if anyone calls it the gulati galoti) was similarly verging on great, but not quite tipping over. The burrah (grandiosely called the Barrah Akbari) was definitely grandiose – better than last night and seriously thinking of challenging big daddy Karim’s.  The dal makhni was nice too, but the garlic naan blew us away.

How do they compare with the exalted Dum Pukht variant or Kakori House of my previous post? I personally think Kakori House wins, but there are differences in approach. The fancy gourmet kitchens of Lucknow’s richest nawabs were all about blending spices till you could not make out where one flavour ended and another began. The spicings can be very complex, sometimes over a hundred ingredients are involved – spices, aromatics, condiments, multiple stages of smoking. The result is supposed to be like a flowing river of taste, individual flavours delicate and indistinguishable but merging into a complex glorious whole. The other school is more about combinations of distinct flavours – think aloo chaat where the aloo, the curd, each different chutney can be tasted separately, but combine in wonderful ways.

For the first school (of which I am a fan), Kakori House produces the best product – beating Dum Pukht, Al Kauser and I’m told Salim’s. For the second school, Aap Ki Khatir, with its more distinct meat and smoke flavours and less complex spicing, overtakes Gulati and most other kakoris on the list. Maybe I’m just biased, but happy at last that I found a kabab in Mumbai to beat Delhi.

An Accidental Bhojan

about Gaiwadi, Kalbadevi, Mumbai 1 comment:

A mistaken turn led us deep into Kalbadevi today and since it happened to be lunchtime, a visit to Shree Thakker Bhojanalay seemed in order. Some basic idea of the location led us part of the way, but finally a little genie from google maps nudged us to the doorstep of 31, Dadyseth Agiary Marg, Kalbadevi. Dodge the Shiva statue at Adarsh Hotel, withdraw some money at the Union Bank, figure out which of the row of non-descript doors is the right one, climb up a flight of stairs and you’re at the elaborate wooden doorway of the bhojanalay.


Thakkers is hard to find, but no one can accuse it of being undiscovered. The walls tell you about their long repeated lists of foodie awards and their coverage by every newspaper that could find a critic to go vegetarian. I must say though, that Thakker by and large lives up to its hype. I haven’t been here since my  last couple of visits over a decade ago – and the memories of what I ate are faint but on the impressive side. I must say that I wasn’t disappointed; the stream of food that progressed was as generous and as flavourful as any I’ve ever had. Ghee flowed generously and some individual items (such as the warm puran-poli or the dal pakoris with sweet sauce) could have launched a thousand ships. While walking out stuffed we noticed the menu card for the Sunday thali, and I must say it looked even better.


Definitely off the beaten path, this one, and a rare argument in favour of vegetarian.

Mexican Closer to Mexico

No comments:

My post on our local Mexican boy Sancho’s set me thinking about the closest I got to Mexico. That would have been the rather lovely city of San Diego, quite literally on the Mexican border (it’s so close, the local tram system ends in Mexico).

San Diego in 2005 was boomtown, with property prices going skywards and general well being oozing out of the economy. It was, in general, a great dining city – the downtown full of nice restaurants that never seemed to be very crowded. And while at the start of my blog San Francisco introduced me to the adequately authentic budget tacqueria, it was left to San Diego to give me my first real taste of both hole-in-the wall and high-end Mexican food.

First the hole in the wall – actually a shed attached to a parking lot and car workshop right behind my workplace. Prominently signed in bright red, Taco Express is a pair of cheerful women and an old man behind the counter that used to open only for lunch. They served us soft tacos, quesadillas and general Mexicana that, while not on any Michelin list, was cheap and hugely satisfying. I stumbled upon it by accident, but most recent reviews seem to put it at the top of the budget taco places in San Diego.

Not so far away as crows fly, on a street named after out very own India was Indigo Grill. The distance in cuisine was considerably more – Indigo Grill came with fancy seating, a name-brand chef and a hefty price tag aimed more at the hip than the crowd. The food was uniformly good, and occasionally outstanding. Chef Deborah Scott did not confine herself to Mexican dishes (the restaurant advertises as “New Western Cuisine” and even sports the odd tofu or kaffir lime) but there is enough Inca in there to satisfy. Familiar names like tamales and tortillas find mention on the menu. Plenty of other dishes survive substantial brushes with things from south of the border such as the pipian and jalapeno topping a baked brie. And some of the best things come free; the thick, flame-toasted country bread slices or the vanishingly thin, fennel-sprinkled beetroot chips.

Candelas in the much tonier Gaslamp district was, appropriately, much tonier. Part lounge, part restaurant, all candlelit, Candelas is squarely targeted at sleek couples and sleek couples alone. Chubby. backpacked me getting off a bicycle wasn’t entirely their idea of ideal customer, but they nevertheless plied me some very nice cocktails and otherwise served me enthusiastically. Other visits yielded a very nice wine list. The food, though hard to see, is usually very good – elevated, sophisticated modern Mexican food not meant to suggest any mama’s kitchen. The stuffed squid starter was a favourite, the poblano chile soup worthy of repeat (yes, I really do remember these dishes) and of course, a tres leches to finish.

Still in the Gaslamp, right outside the ballpark was the Tin Fish – a bar and taco joint with outdoor seating that persuaded me to fall for fish tacos. San Diego’s balmy weather makes the outdoor seats at Tin Fish the ideal place for pretty much everything from romantic date to writing the Mein Kampf, but please ensure that any and all activity is supplemented by a generous stream of fish tacos. Tin Fish is a chain that originated in San Diego with an Italian seafood Chef from New York, but they do some of the best fish tacos I have ever had. The place even allows you a choice of the fish in the taco (halibut was my favourite).

My favourite Modern Mexican restaurant in those days was closer home; a short walk from our offices in New York led us to the very fancy Dos Caminos – a chain owned by a corporation that ran restaurant chains (just teaches you not to judge). There are multiple Dos Caminos in New York  but the massive Murray Hill one is the earliest and most often favoured by us. Try some of that incredible guacamole served tableside, ceviche worthy of note, lots and lots and lots of tequilas to choose from and a chipotle eggs benedict that rocked our socks on Sundays.

I last visited any of these places half a decade ago, but the Internet is a wonderful thing. Yelp tells me that Taco Express, Tin Fish and Indigo Grill are still going strong, while Candelas now has a second outlet. Dos Caminos has prospered too, having expanded much beyond the hill.

Sancho Panza

about Khar West, Mumbai 1 comment:

The first real food entry on this blog was about looking for Mexican food in San Francisco. I was still a Mexican newbie in those days (a couple of visits to the late Mexican restaurant at the Taj President notwithstanding), so the imagination stretched to Taco Bell and no further. In the intervening years, saints from up and down California have taught me much about Mexican food, specially the kind not hidden under six inches of Kraft cheddar.

Back in Mumbai, I was back to cheesy nachos for many years. One would have thought that with all those chillies and tomatoes and dhania that Mexicans would outsell their northern cousins, but its very hard to get any Mexican in India, even the cheesy fake kinds. The huge plates from TGIF and the occasional short-lived taco place was pretty much all one could hope for. I was wildly excited by the soft tacos at Taco Fresco, but it turned out availability was their primary claim to fame – think, say, chicken tikka in the Antarctic and how pleased you would be even if it tasted like your kid nephew’s pencil eraser.

It was with some understandable scepticism then that I agreed to be fed fish tacos by the very enthusiastic Chef Victor at this new place called Sancho’s. Now there’s a history to this; fish taco is special. Firstly, its completely off the tex-mex menu, so no self-respecting Taco Bell copy will touch it. Second, its a speciality of Baja California – that bit below California that wags like the tail of a dog. I spent a lot of time in San Diego drooling over fish tacos, and I must say the ones that greeted me here were outstanding. Melt-in the mouth, multiple textures, all the sort of thing that makes drooling idiots out of the coolest of us.

As it turns out, Sanchos makes more outstanding Mexican fish classics – Veracruz with its spicy tomato sauce is another favourite of mine on the menu. Recently, Victor came up with an impeccable rendition of  Pescado a la Talla, a fish wrapped in chillies, mayonnaise and some other secret stuff and grilled inside a banana leaf – it was a revelation.

Fish is not the only thing he does. Beef, pork, chicken, he has it all (he promises both domestic beef and the double-priced imported version that I have yet to try). The regulars - enchilada, burrito, quesidilla, they're packed neatly into his small menu card.

Yes, the place has flaws. His isn’t the world’s best guacamole (be glad he has it at all).  No cabrito (baby goat) on the menu. Only two salsas and six tequilas. The food, however, is authentically Mexican – with all the right chillies and some classic Mexican dishes – quite worth more than a few visits


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