Hahn’s Kitchen Dishes Out Exceptional Korean Fare

Bringing Korean cuisine to Indian palates while maintaining the traditional flavour, Hahn’s Kitchen has taken Gurgaon by a storm. A venture by Ms. Cho opened in collaboration with Lite Bite Foods, it is his humble attempt to introduce the city to Korean food with a congenial and subtle establishment. The minimalistic ambience and homely vibe eliminate any resistance associated with an unknown culinary adventure and the earthy interiors embellished with tea pots, sake jars, and bowls, lend the restaurant a quintessentially Korean vibe.

The service is on-point in terms of well-informed staff, though the language becomes a barrier when explaining your preferences or looking for recommendations. However, it is a small obstacle and there is nothing a bright smile can’t fix and at Hahn’s beaming smiles are offered at all times!

Korean food is synonymous with kimchi but Hahn’s is taking the journey to deeper cities, introducing the clean, strong flavours of the cuisine without relying on the crunchy fermented cabbage (as delish as it is). Bibimbap is another signature dish representing the cuisine in the country outside it’s own but a step away from these classics lie some extraordinary dishes waiting to be discovered and relished.

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Kicking off the meal, Prawn Tempura (Kansyo Saewoo) instantly had my senses heightened with perfectly crunchy panko-coated exterior and prawn cooked just right in the centre. Served with sweet and sour sauce, it’s safe to say the dish was pièce de résistance with absolutely no oil dripping whatsoever. Next in was a repeat order of this dish but an error in communication ended us up with Prawn Tempura Sushi (Ebi Tempura) and what a beautiful error it was, for I couldn’t be more glad about it! The tempura crisp even inside the sushi had the table captivated. The size though much larger than usual California rolls was well justified considering the interior filled with prawn, avocado, and nori. Topped with a light drizzle of aioli, each bite (I just couldn’t fit it in my mouth at once) was happily relished. Pair the sushi with refreshing Hahn’s Kitchen Special Mocktail and your love for watermelon will grow by a multifold.

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Moving on to main course, beef bulgalbi is not to be missed. Melt in the mouth, the perfectly cooked meat is of supreme quality and the expat chef assures is imported to maintain authenticity. Thinly sliced, the caramelised pieces have a rich soy flavour with a hint of garlic and ginger. The meal is rounded off with some fresh fruits on house and even though I would have loved to see some desserts on the menu, it’s a great way to finish off the meal on a healthy note.

Boasting of a meat dominated menu, take your palate on a journey culinarie to Korea at Hahn’s Kitchen!

Disclaimer: The review is not sponsored and in no way biased or influenced. 

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Ginger Ale VS. Ginger Ale Original

Disclaimer: Random banter ahead, because that’s what Lebensmittel Perspective is for (along with knowledge about anything related to food). 

I was always a root beer fan until one of my friends introduced me to this short, stout green can of Ginger Ale from Schweppes and before I knew it I was hooked! I loathe summers and every summer, I drink a ton of calorie loaded drinks including bottles (yes, not glasses) of Iced Tea, Flavoured Lemonade, Flavoured Catch Soda and many more.

Ginger Ale is simply carbonated water infused with Ginger Flavour. Not all companies use real ginger for flavouring. However, Schweppes does list “Natural Ingredients” on their drinks. Another version of Ginger Ale is Dry Ginger Ale, sold by schweppes in a red can, it is recognised as a Canadian creation and is often referred as Canadian Ginger Ale. It is more pale in colour and used as a mixer for alcoholic drinks.

After giving it quite some thought, I analysed the Nutritional Facts of all these drinks and as it turned out Ginger Ale has more Energy and the lowest fat and sugar content. Now, I had a valid reason to drink Ginger Ale everyday! Then suddenly my beloved drink disappeared from the market and instead came a long,slim can like the other coke and pepsi cans, Original Ginger Ale (flavoured). Not giving it much thought, I tried it out and it wasn’t the same as said by everyone else! At least to me it wasn’t.

The Nutritional Facts of both are same, the ingredients are same, so I couldn’t contemplate why they were different. Original Ginger Ale is manufactured in India, while the short, stout can Ginger Ale is manufactured in Middle east. Hence, even the price difference. The Indian version costs Rs.50, while the Middle East one costs Rs.95 . Why would people be willing to pay extra for the same amount of quantity (300mL) of the same product of the same company ? Flavour.

Well, contrary to what most people feel, there is a significant difference in flavour (Maybe not extremely significant but enough to make me not like the Indian version). GingerAle has a clean, sweet, soft ginger flavour at first but leaves a slightly sharper pungent flavour as you drink. On the other hand, Original Ginger Ale has more sharper and pungent flavour. It’s not as soft on the palate as the other one which is the major reason I prefer the short stout can.

Yes, I know this is quite a lame post, but it doesn’t harm to know a few simple factoids about extremely random things. Now when someone brings up ginger ale, you have a plethora of facts in the arsenal, and not just – yeah I like it or yeah I don’t.

Saluti!

Veg Gulati Will Make You Forget All About The New-Age Restaurants!

If you have grown up visiting Pandara Road, you already know about Gulati’s. Living in Delhi, it was a place I visited quite often and while I don’t remember much about the food, I do remember everyone gushing about it (I was quite young at the time). So, when I got a chance to visit Veg Gulati, I was more than delighted. Having discussed about the place last night with my father and armed with stories about how it was established, I set out to learn everything there was about this iconic place.

Veg Gulati boasts of a warm humble vibe which makes it feel more like a family abode than restaurant. It was lunch hour and all tables were filled, except one corner table reserved for us, which we would have lost if we were even 5mins more late (you should probably be prepared for waiting on most days). The place was bustling with families gossiping & eating at the same time, waiters serving and everyone smiling, there was a sense of simplicity in the surroundings. A narrow path led us to the table and while the place is quite cramped, it all blurs away once the food hits the table. Ironically enough, this nostalgic place felt like a breath of fresh air.

After being introduced to Mr. Praveen Gulati (owner of Veg Gulati and son of Mr. F.C. Gulati, founder of Gulati’s chain, I began to understand just how this brand represents everything food & family. It’s a place you visit for a cozy dinner with family, to enjoy an experience which makes you all feel close, and not for theatrics or ambience. The interiors are done by Mr.Gulati’s daughter and the social media is managed by his son, making it completely family owned & run. They have everything written in Hindi & English, owing to their respect for the national language and the fact that many old age people cannot read English (intent on making everyone feel equal and to be able to read the menu & order for themselves).

We are usually reluctant of visiting Mughlai and North Indian restaurants, thanks to the generous amounts of cream, ghee and heavy feeling later, but this one might just surprise you. Mr. Praveen himself visits the vendors to ensure they get premium quality vegetables & other ingredients which are fresh, even the purees are made from scratch in-house. When they decided to include soy chaap in the menu, he searched the whole city to ensure that it is 100% soy with no traces of maida. Though ghee is more traditional, they have shifted to Fortune refined oil because of demand and ensure that it’s used with a judicious hand. All ingredients are fresh and flavourings are avoided, overall making their food a much more healthier choice when opting for this cuisine. One thing I can assure as a customer, no matter how much you stuff yourself (because I sure did) you will not be leaving with a heavy feeling in your tummy forcing you to hit the bed.

Pure, Delicious & Divine – the board outside reads and Mr.Praveen stands by it. Every day the food is first offered to god as bhog and then tasted by him & the chefs, before serving. The cutlery is steel and even though most restaurants have evolved to bone china, Mr. Praveen quotes “bone china isn’t pure and we can’t tarnish the purity of our food by serving it in impure plates.”

After long discussions about the restaurant, we moved forward to eating and boy, was I excited! First in, dahi kebabs and they looked scrumptious, fried yet not oily. A beautiful crust outside broke into smooth creamy centre as I drove a fork through it. The flavour was uniquely sweet, sour and salty at the same time. Made with hung curd and not cream, these had me mesmerised; I could probably gobble a whole serving alone.

Next up, tandoori stuffed mushrooms. I am not a huge fan of mushrooms but was pleasantly pleased with these. Infused with tandoori spices and filled with cheese in the centre (not loaded, just a tiny bit) I quite enjoyed their smoky flavour.

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For Main Course, we opted for soy chaap masala which melted in the mouth and paneer afghani, which I absolutely cannot forget. Both stellar dishes, they stood out for balance, with spices that sing on the palate instead of overpowering. Accompanied by chur-chur parantha (a healthy version of Amristari chur-chur naan) I forgot all about the surroundings while blissfully gorging till end.

Ending with kheer infused with gajar and ghiya, I was in love. Not overly sweet, it was like health gods blessing on the combination of rice & carrots. Served in steel goblets, it looked just as royal as it tasted.

Overall, Veg Gulati feels like a ray of sunshine in a city drowning with theme restaurants, “gastronomic” food, “fusion” cuisine, modern twists and more often than not average pubs & lounges. I for one am extremely tired of everyone trying to revolutionise food by creating absolutely random things in the name of gastronomy. A watermelon topped with feta cheese is lauded whereas, a wholesome bowl of dal, made with a much more intricate process, is obliviously ignored. Such are the times. Simplistic food has just…disappeared. Thus, every once in a while, a visit to Veg Gulati is much needed, to guide us to our roots and remind us of how majestic our cuisine is (or can be, if done right).

Disclaimer: The review is not sponsored and in no way biased or influenced. 

Featured Image Courtesy: Veg Gulati 

Veg Gulati Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Coastal Cuisine At Zambar To Take You On A Journey

In the past year, coastal food has become quite a rage in Delhi. New restaurants popping up, cafe’s including coastal dishes on their menu’s, it seems like the city has taken a liking for it. Zambar was one of the few restaurants ahead of the game, enticing people to take their palate on a coastal journey with an ambience that could lure anyone in.

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My first visit to Zambar was shortly after it opened in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon and I instantly knew it would be a hit. However, through the years it had a little ups & downs but I had a feeling it would make a comeback. A food tasting for their new menu, confirmed it. The interiors showcase the cuisine through decor, with artificial kettuvalam or houseboats signifying the waters of Kerala, beautiful green plants all around, and a recently revamped section that has soothing colours of blue inspired by the sea. Accepting Delhi’s love for open kitchens they have introduced see through glass to satiate the curious souls.

The expansive menu displays South Indian cuisine in its full glory, with dishes from Kerala to Sri Lanka to appeal to your palate. The new additions by Chef Ventrimurugan Natesan embody his journey as a chef in South India and eating his food, you will experience a journey of your own.

Beginning with amuse-bouche, the pineapple rasam will awaken your palate with a soft kick of chilli and sweetness from the pineapple. The addition of fruit in this traditional drink is appealing, with added sweetness that contrasts the sourness from tamarinds well. Paired with appalam (traditional south indian papad) it is the perfect start for a South Indian journey.

Lebensmittel Insight:  Rasam is a South Indian soup served in glasses, prepared with tamarind juice, tomatoes, chilli and other spices. While it usually precedes the meal, it can also be eaten along with rice.

If you are in mood for something a little more filling, the country style chicken soup with egg drop is ideal. Served at the right consistency (not too thick, but not fluid like rasam) it has a beautifully creamy flavour with strong hit of South Indian pepper. The shredded chicken melts in the mouth while gently caramelised onions lend the slight sweetness, much required. Overall, it’s one of most beautifully balanced dishes that showcase how Chef Natesan has incorporated South Indian flavours in modern dishes.

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Moving on to appetisers, the vegetarian section left me underwhelmed with potato cafreal and vegetable stuffed poppadums – both dishes showcased stellar flavours but had flaws in execution. Potato cafreal wooed me with a strong mint, coriander flavour and soft hints of chilli, but the potatoes were undercooked and I would have loved to see them crispy. Irrespective, the freshness from herbs was an absolute delight and something to remember. Vegetable stuffed poppadum’s is Chef Natesan playing with his curiosity and creating a dish that while representing what he wants, does not have the finishing touches needed. Decoding in simple terms – the flavours are there, a beautiful dip that accompanies the papad, but technique is lost and the poppadum comes out drenching in oil. If he can manage to perfect technique, I believe it will be a sell-out dish in North India.

Lebensmittel Insight: The origin of cafreal can be traced to the Portuguese colonies in the African continent who introduced it to the Goan cuisine (it’s beautiful to see how the interaction between people from different regions results in such beautiful creations)

The non-vegetarian section was a bit more intriguing with more traditional dishes like Sri Lankan kotthu roti. Flaky parrotta stir fried with chicken and egg, it was slightly on the sweeter side but absolutely ravishing. It was my first encounter with kotthu roti and I was mesmerised. Slightly chewy roti, melt in the mouth chicken, creaminess from egg, it all just came together in one spoonful. Next up, the kingfish riechado. I am not going to pretend & judge it, since I am not a big fan of fish with skin on and centre bone intact. However, if you want to experience coastal food in its true form, that’s how its served – with skin charred on the edges, large pieces on the plate. So, dig in and enjoy the beautiful citrus flavour and flaky fish.

Lebensmittel Insight: As lame as it may sound, I first heard about kotthu roti on Tv and my curiosity sensors went off, so I was really glad to be able to try it. This Sri Lankan dish is made with Godhamba roti (a type of Sri Lankan roti similar to parrotta) and served as a filling street food. The name literally translated to “chopped roti” in Tamil.

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Main Course was kick started with chicken stew and I was instantly bowled over. A light, creamy curry with hints of black pepper and sweetness of caramelised onions, it reminded me of the country soup I had in the beginning of the meal, but in a good way. Paired with soft appams, I could devour a bowlful of it. Next in, Achamma’s lamb curry made with Chef Natesan’s grandmother’s recipe from Kerala. The mutton simmered in coconut milk was falling apart. The strong dominance of spices (without being overpowering) sang on the palate and paired with flaky malabar parrotta, I was happy as a clam to finish it on my own. For vegetarians, puttu & kadla curry from Kerala is an intriguing choice. While the rice cakes and chickpea curry wasn’t my favourite, I assume it would please people having a better affinity with chickpeas.

Lebensmittel Insight: Appam is a soft South Indian pancake made with rice batter & coconut milk with extremely thin edges and slighting thicker centre in the shape of a bowl. Whereas, malabar parrotta is a layered, flaky roti with crunchy exterior and soft interior, boasting of a slightly chewy texture.

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Dessert course is always my favourite and at Zambar even more! The coconut jaggery pudding is something I can never forget. Flawlessly smooth pudding, I was later made aware it’s also called nolen gur mishti doi. This dessert is truly must-have. In fact, skip out a little on main course if you have to and also try their tender coconut ice cream, the refreshing flavour with soft bits of coconut, I could have a pint (or two) of this. Payasam here is just as smashing and if you like this sweetened milk preparation, go all out and order a serving. The more the merrier when it comes to desserts.

Overall, Zambar has a few standouts that can leave you a happy camper while dining here and a few traditional dishes that require a more evolved palate in terms of coastal cuisine. However, there is something for everyone and desserts which will leave you with a smile on your face.
Zambar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cooking Like A Bawa – Review (5/5)

Writing a review takes it’s own time. You have to go through proper tasting sessions, make notes, register all the flavours, decode the ingredients and then bring it all together. It’s even more tough when you are doing it for spices, because how exactly do you review spices? Well, this time I had to.

Continuing the 5-series blog with Shelley Subawalla (owner & founder of Zarin’s Secrets), I ordered a bunch of products from chutneys, bhakras to the 4 signature Parsi spices (Dhansak Masala, Curry Masala, Sambhar Masala & Dhana Jeera), I have been talking about ever since the series began. Now, I had the monumental task of reviewing these spices by cooking the dishes and understanding what flavours were at play. However, I faced challenges I wasn’t expecting – Did I cook it right? How can I know what it’s actually supposed to taste like?

Well, I couldn’t. I can’t. But maybe that’s okay, because this review is for a cuisine I am extremely new to, it’s for products which are not easy to review, it’s based on my cooking skills rather than the chef’s in a professional kitchen and most importantly I am sharing an experience from the kitchen which anyone (non-parsi & not an expert cook) would face with these products. So, yes it’s not going to be the same. It will be unconventional.

Dhansak Masala: The masala in itself is quite fine and used for dhansak.

It is pretty much the signature Parsi dish for all Non-Parsi’s; however, getting my hands dirty in the kitchen I realised how simple it is to make! Combining elements from Parsi and Gujrati cuisines it is rich & amusingly sour (raw mango and a generous lemon squeeze on top do the trick). It was quite fascinating to use lentils, vegetables & red meat all in one pressure cooker and end up with a beautiful concoction of the three.

Result – A relatively simple recipe and a few spices, it worked wonders! Though I wasn’t sure if the curry was supposed to be as thick as it turned out but the subtle flavour of spices enhancing the richness of mutton, it can make for some wholesome meals. It took me a few tastings to accommodate my palate to it, I am used to more robust flavours so it wasn’t my favourite dish from the get-go but if you are someone who likes dhansak you should give this homemade spice a try.

Recommendation (Approved by Shelley) – Pair it will caramelised brown rice and make sure you caramelise the onions slowly until they turn beautifully golden brown.

Curry Masala: The Saturday tradition recipe involves the humble curry masala.

Curry rice is a simple dish with soft coconut and curry leaves flavour infused in meat. I cooked this dish with chicken however, as Shelley says you are free to use any kind of protein you like. Prawns, fish, potatoes, lamb, try your heart out! Pair it with white rice for a perfect meal.

Sambhar Masala: Bright rustic orange in colour, it is slightly coarse as compared to other spices and also quite wet. Used in dhansak as well as Masala fish, it is a spice you cannot miss when prepping for Parsi cuisine.

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Dhana Jeera: I would call this the underdog of spices which out-shined all others. Used in an array of dishes, I tried Salli Ma Marghi and Parsee Kebabs with it.

Salli Ma Marghi is an appetiser infused with a soft bhuna flavour and sweet notes from caramelised onions. Topped with potato sticks for crunchiness, it’s mild flavour can woo over anyone.

Parsee kebabs were a delight to cook. Even though they didnt quite turn out right in shape, the flavour from dhana jeera mesmerised me. While marinating, I could smell the spices suffusing in chicken mince and after removing the plate from top, the strong waft hit me like a cloud of aroma. I loved paring them with chundo but even on their own, these kebabs pack quite a punch!

Recipes: The recipes weren’t detailed enough for me and had it not been for my mother overmatching me, it could have ended up in a disaster. However, if you are someone who cooks Indian food regularly, you can easily sail through by depending on your experience, and tongue.

Packaging: The sealed packaging caused issues because it had to be transferred to an air-tight container and kept away from water. I would prefer if it already came in air-tight jars making the process easier. The normal packaging is a minimum of 250grams but for someone experimenting in their kitchen, that’s a whole lot of masala! A combo of four spices with smaller packaging would be my suggestion.

Overall, I am not legible to comment on authenticity however as a person experimenting with new cuisines I would definitely recommend getting these spices to your kitchen than stepping out for a meal at the restaurant; because in the end it’s not as cryptic as you thought, in-fact Shelley was right “Its just normal” and quite delicious at that!

Disclaimer: Despite containing inputs from the founder, the review is entirely at my discretion and in no way influenced. The products were paid for by me and charged for & delivered in the same packaging as any other customer would receive. 

Taking Parsi Cuisine To The Kitchen – Review (4/5)

My last meeting with Shelley for this 5-series blog was enriched with a lot of laughter and thought. A beautiful morning kickstarted with breakfast together, I questioned her as to what more I can cover about the Parsi food and culture. After a few perplexed looks, she responded: I don’t really know what else there is to cover, you have already written about all the main traditions involving food. While I still wanted to dig deeper, in the back of my mind I knew that the review will probably end up being split into two parts; so it was best just to talk.

As we began gorging on our breakfast while sipping some coffee, Shelley shared some tidbits about the company. Working from home, she is at ease about the pace of growth and since most of her customer base are Parsi’s themselves she is elated about the response. As I asked her about what made her take this step and the motivation behind it, she gave me an answer that felt…right. Kids are now old enough, so I have time for it and I wanted to take this glamorous, cryptic cuisine to people’s home so they can see it’s simplicity. My goal was straightforward: make Parsi cooking easier and approachable.

As we talked more, she shared how Bawa’s have some super quirky habits which are actually a lot of fun. Someone in the family enjoyed eating banana with dhansak, while another person used to eat jam with curd and I was fascinated by how fun that must be! Tea for Bawa’s is often infused with lemongrass (lilichai) and mint (pudinachai) which is more often than not grown at home. As we were on the topic of family traditions passed down, Shelley shared how her mother taught her to fix extra salt with lime juice and always garnish with lots of coriander (now that’s something I can get behind because despite my mother using flour balls to reduce salt, I am squeezing lemon on top of everything)!

The more we talked, the more I realised how similar things are irrespective of different cultures. Punjabi culture for one has so many similarities; my father loves eating malai with bread and we like to spice up our tea with ginger & fennel seeds. Maybe Parsi culture isn’t as cryptic as I first thought (it’s just not very well known) and Shelley’s response of “it’s normal” was finally making sense to me. So after devouring our food & wrapping up the conversation, we parted ways with her handing over my order and bid adieu for the day.

Disclaimer: The review is entirely at my discretion and not in any way influenced or biased. The products were paid for by me and delivered in the same packaging as sent to other customers. 

The packaging for chutneys was in pearl pet containers and surely they work, but I would have preferred glass jars (though I assume that would make it tougher to ship) in comparison. The bhakras came in perfectly air-sealed packets.

Bhakras – 

A popular tea-time snack in a Parsi households, I was extremely excited about them after hearing Shelley’s stories of her children gobbling them up piping hot. She often called them Parsi doughnuts, so I guess the curiosity was well justified. I had no prior encounters with bhakras but absolutely loved these fried biscuits. The texture was somewhere between a tea cake & a biscuit with a crunchy exterior and chewy interior. Though they felt a little dry to be eaten on their own, I loved gorging on them with my evening tea. Enhanced by an infused saunf flavour, the balanced sweetness won me over.

Chundo –

Quite similar to our usual raw mango chutney, I enjoyed eating this with Parsi kebabs (which you will be hearing more about in the last part). A sweet and spicy mix, the consistency was slightly more sticky. The spices were beautifully expressed amongst the tartness & sweetness of raw mango. I could see myself ordering this again instead of the usual store brought (and preservative inclusive) jar.

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Image : Parsi Kebabs with Gajar Meva Nu Achaar

Gajar Meva Nu Achaar (carrot & dry fruit pickle) – 

While Shelley recommended that the achaar goes with everything, it didn’t really appeal to my tastebuds. It had a tartness I couldn’t point out and lots more ingredients which even though maintained shape, I couldn’t figure out. However, the strong flavour might just appeal to you. I for one felt that the ingredients didn’t really come together and stood unilaterally instead of cohesively.

Chutney (coriander & coconut chutney) – 

Usually used for making patrani macchi, I decided to give it a try as an accompaniment. As soon as I opened the jar, a strong waft of coriander with soft notes of coconut bowled me over. However, the texture was quite pasty so it didn’t really work as an accompaniment to our meal. It did add significant flavour to the combination of cheese and crackers, so if you are a coriander fanatic, go ahead and give it a try. Overall, I love the flavour balance in this chutney though not a fan of the texture; I will probably be using it for different recipes.

So, the flavours are definitely strong and different. However, they have me intrigued. Though I can’t make a claim for authenticity since I am no expert of the cuisine, I am assured that the products are natural, preservative free and fresh which gives me quite a satisfaction and leverage for more experimentation with the dishes. The uniqueness of this cuisine might be new to my palate but for now I am enjoying it.

Review continued in Part 5 with insights into the spices and recipes. 

Read Part 3 here.

Gazing At The Stars Through A Lens Of Traditions – The Parsi Calendar (3/5)

As I dove deeper in the sea of Parsi culture & traditions to learn about the feasts they serve on Navroza (Parsi New Year), I stumbled upon something far more intriguing – the Parsi calendar! While I am aware that most religions have their own calendars and based on some astronomy related to these calendars, every years festival dates are decided, I was far from being aware about the Parsi calendar or how it works!

It all began we me asking about how they celebrate new year and Shelley beginning to explain the festivities. So as I began to inquire more about the dates, all the while blissfully thinking these are some-predetermined dates decided in the ancient era and Shelley suggested we should just take a look at the Zoroastrian Calendar and baffled (just a little), I asked you have a separate calendar? Well, yes we do. It’s the Parsi calendar. I myself don’t remember all the dates so we just refer to it whenever needed. The Zoroastrian Calendar tells us the date for New year and other occasions. I interrupted in between for a classic “inquisitive me” question asking whether they actually celebrate two new years, one on 31st December and one according to the Parsi calendar. Shelley said yes, we do. I responded with the typical star struck shiny eyed look that said, so cool!

The Zoroastrian calendar is a little more complicated and of two types: Shenshai and Kadmi. Shelley follows the Shenshai calendar and that’s what I learn about. In this calendar, a day is called Roj and month is called Mah. Now understanding how a Parsi calendar works can be quite confusing and it took me a while too, but first thing is to stop referring to dates as days instead the roj have specific names. For example, the month begins with roj Hormazd. At whichever date this name falls, is the first roj of the month.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the calendar, let me get into details. The leap years have a very strong influence on it. Every four years a leap day is added to the calendar, thus moving the roj one day back. This has an equally proportional effect on the events.

A person born on say, 24th December 2016 with have roj Avan according to this calendar. Now, after four years it will shift back a day and subsequently the roj Avan and their birthday will now fall on 23rd December 2020. (Once you get a hang of it, understanding these deets is actually fun!) Needless to say once Shelley explained me this, I asked whether she celebrates two birthdays and the answer was yes. I have to admit, celebrating two birthdays sounds absolutely amazing! While, I am aware that there is another calendar my mother often refers to in our culture, I have never been told its name or had the opportunity to celebrate two birthdays so now I was straight out fascinated.

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Image (Navroza Thali) : buzzintown.com

So, after learning about the calendar we circled back to Navroze. One occurs on 21st March of every year and the date remains fixed, it is the spring equinox or the Navroza and means new day. My research showed that it is a festival celebrated by many religions, including Iranians and Persians, where they refer to it as Nowruz. In Parsi culture, the second new year falls in August and while the date often shifts the festivities remain same. Shelley’s family visits the fire temple Agiari and organise a sagan-nu-bhonu lunch followed by some family enjoyment to mark the occasion. There is chalk painting outside the house, especially shaped like fishes and everyone dresses in new clothes. 10 days before new year, special prayers are organised for the souls which have departed; It is referred as Muktal.

While our conversation moved ahead and I realised that the food remains same on these occasions as before, my face became a little droopy (somehow my face doesn’t seem to have a sense of control). Shelley seemed to notice this and shared a little tidbit to add. The Irani food spread for Navroza! While she does not follow it, Shelley says many people do. Thus, I looked it up and it is as glamorous as it sounds!

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Image (Half seen table) : coloringpages24x7.com

The Irani layout on Navroz is as lavish as it gets. A circular table is covered with sofreh, a table spread that sets in the festive spirit and is considered as the half-seen table. While, the contents on the table vary from home to home, certain 7 items are available on the table which begin with the letter ’s’ or ‘sh’ and each has its own significance. As said by Dr. Shernaz Baji Avari, “The number 7 represents the 7 creations of Dadar Ahura Mazda as also signifies the ‘Seventh Heaven’ or the state of perfect happiness or heavenly bliss in Islamic belief.” The seven significances are: ‘seeb’ i.e red apples, ‘sirka’ i.e vinegar, ‘sharab’ i.e wine, ‘shakker’ i.e sugar, ‘shamma’ i.e light, ‘sir’ i.e garlic and ‘sikkeh’ i.e coins. Each one has a well thought meaning behind it on the table.

Red apples are considered nature’s most wholesome food, while the vinegar represents patience and age. Wine is meant to show a happy and long life, just like sugar represents a sweet life ahead. To signify that your life remains lighted with happiness a diya or candle are placed on the table. Garlic is one the most interesting items on the table and while it might seem out of place, it represents good health since garlic is one of the strongest antibiotics available in nature. Coins are used to usher wealth and prosperity. However, these are not the only things you can find on the table. Often filled with above 15 things, the food includes sabzi, sev, lagan-nu-patru and much more! The drinks include a pink kulfi falooda and gulab jal to make the guests feel invited.

Refer to the Zoroastrian calendar here.

Read Part 2 here.

Navigating The Traditional Lanes: Celebrations At A Parsi House (2/5)

While exploring this cuisine, I also learnt a lot about the Parsi culture, festivals and traditions. Excited to share this new knowledge, I pestered Shelley for every microscopic detail about these celebrations and luckily, she obliged. While there are many celebrations that can be discussed some of the prominent ceremonies that occur in a person’s life born into a Parsi family include, Agarni, Navjote and the wedding.

Agarni is godh bharai or baby shower, hosted when the mother is either 7 or 9 months pregnant. While the reason for the selection of these months is unknown, it is assumed that the ceremony signifies life in the womb. Since, it was around this time that the heartbeat of babies could be heard in earlier times, the month was chosen based on when the heartbeat was heard. Thankfully due to technology it is much earlier now, but the tradition continues. Another peculiar aspect of this ceremony that intrigued me was the fact that it is only hosted for the first child. While Shelley agreed that the second child feels left out because of it, the reason is consigned to oblivion.

Navjote is the thread ceremony, where the child is initiated into the Zoroastrian faith. ‘Nav’ meaning new and ‘jote’ meaning life is referred as the induction of new life. Usually organised when the child is either 7 or 9 years old, the fixation behind these numbers is both of realised but couldn’t answer. A priest is invited to the house on this auspicious occasion and the child (whether it’s a girl or boy) is armoured with a sudrah (sacred vest) and kusti (thread). Before the ceremony, the child is taken for nahan (holy bath) after which he/she emerges in new clothes, usually a white pyjama and shawl over the shoulders. Following the holy bath, the initiate recites the prayers with the priest and takes the pledge of faith, embarking his own journey of life.

A wedding is a grand event and in a Parsi house it is customarily a 3-day affair. Beginning the celebration with engagement, the second day is Aadarni where the groom and bride exchange silver rings, followed by the final day when the wedding takes place. Since, many people decide to remain engaged for longer periods, the wedding becomes a 2-day affair. The main ceremony in itself is quite simple and involves the bride and groom reciting prayers followed by a food and drinks reception. A Parsi bride looks surreal in a white and gold sari, while the groom sports a traditional white robe called dugli and trousers. The attire is completed with a ceremonial black coloured hat.

The food spread for these occasions is more or less similar and known as Lagan-nu-bhonu. The food is served around the table by waiters as everyone sits down and enjoys the meal together, thus being called patra-nu-bhonu (sit down food). Typically it is served on a banana leaf in India, a custom that came around after Parsi families came to Gujrat from Iran.

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Image (Sali-ma-marghi): theallonsy.com

The first servings include the classic lagan-nu-achaar which is a carrots & dry fruit pickle, along with saariyas (fried sago papad) and roti. The second serving is for starters and includes sali-ma-marghi (chicken) or sali-ma-ghost (mutton) which is a masala meat served with fried potato sticks on top. Tareli machi and patra-ni-machi are another commonly served options. Tareli machi is simply fried fish, while patra-ni-machi is fish marinated in coconut & coriander chutney, wrapped in banana lead and steamed. Keema Patties is a Parsi classic you can often find during weddings. The masala mutton mince is wrapped around in mash potatoes and fried to achieve crispy exterior with soft flavourful interior.

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Image (Lagan-nu-custard): Mumbaimag.com

The third serving is the rice course and contains either pulao dar or curry rice. Pulao dar is the parsi version of biryani topped with vegetarian dhansak dal. Shelley emphasises here that, it will never be a non-vegetarian dhansak since that is cooked on a sad occasion. The fourth serving is typically a lagan-nu-stew which is chopped vegetables cooked in parsi spices. The fifth serving is desserts which is either sev, ravo or lagan-nu-custard (baked custard with eggs, milk and sugar).

While, the menu for lagan-nu-bhonu remains similar during Navjote and Wedding, Agarni is celebrated with food cooked and served differently. First the mother to be is bestowed with Agarni-lu-larvo, a triangle shaped laddu which weighs a whopping 1 1/2 kg! The tip of this laddu is fed to another married women who is not pregnant in hopes that she will soon carry a baby. The other ladies attending the ceremony also receive smaller versions of this laddu as a souvenir. The mithai served on the table is often fish shaped while the spread is usual Sagan-nu-bhonu containing curry rice or fry fish. Accompanied by raspberry soda, these meals are something you should experience at least once!

Disclaimer: In any culture, every person has their own way of doing things. Thus, kindly keep in mind this is the knowledge I have received by one Parsi person and narrates how things are done in one normal Parsi family.

Read Part One here

Featured Image Courtesy: homegrown.co.in

Walking Through A Treasure Of Traditions: Insight Into Parsi Cuisine (1/5)

Parsi cuisine. Everyone becomes just a little more alert when its mentioned, for whatever reason it is a cryptic cuisine which intrigues all. Maybe because the traditions and knowledge is limited inside the close-knit community or because the food is so similar yet different from other Indian cuisines (specially punjabi). While the infamous Dhansak is known by all, the likes of SodaBottleOpenerWala have been popularising the cuisine as a whole.

Until two months back I knew nothing about this community or cuisine. My solitary experience at SodaBottleOpenerWala was less than pleasing and I never dared to go back. Claimed as “authentic” it has set a benchmark for people looking to explore the lanes of Parsi community and food. I on the other hand, never bought it.

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Image: Zarin’s Secrets

Comes into picture, Shelley Subawalla. A Parsi herself, she struggled with the hassle of importing Parsi spices from Mumbai every now and then, later coming up with her own company – Zarin’s Secrets. In order to ease the trouble of all Parsi Delhites, she started selling spices using her grandmother’s recipes. What started as a small business soon blossomed through word of mouth and people were calling from all over India. Oblivious to the fact how Parsi spices differed from the usual punjabi spices, having given an opportunity to learn about the culture and food firsthand from a Parsi, I couldn’t possibly say no!

The first thing I asked her was, how much does food matter to a Parsi person? What is its importance in the culture? Comes a resolute reply, a lot! Does our life revolve around food? No. Do we love our food? Yes. After a few days of different cuisines, we always come back to our curry rice, for its what we have grown up with and it is our comfort food. While I acted like a star-stuck child, awe-inspired from all this new knowledge, Shelley seemed baffled as to what I found so fascinating. She says, this is just normal for us, its how things are.

During our second interview, I had a ton of questions and this was just for part one of the series! So, we began with the basics. The cuisine is astonishingly simple yet different. A few signature dishes cooked on a daily basis and few spurred on good occasions, but most of them are prepared with just 4 signature spices (dhansak masala, curry masala, sambhar masala and dhana jeera) used in different combinations. Each spice is in itself a blend of 10 to 15 spices. (My first thought went straight to the kitchen! Just how organised it would be to keep a few basic spices, unlike the tons we have at our home, because obviously kulcha and channa masala are so different!) These spices constitute the roots of flavour and thus, the cuisine. Undeterred by how nagging it might get, I questioned again as how would she describe the cuisine.  It’s strong for sure, but not overpowering. This answer seemed to describe everything. Not just in terms of flavour, in terms of the significance of food in the culture as well. Food is a big part of Parsi culture, with recipes passed down generations and every family having their own recipes but when asked about the origin, she says, its just followed. Traditions so ancient, the origin is lost on us. How could I not be amused!

Every weekend, Saturday is celebrated with curry rice. A coconut based curry, made with curry masala and served with white rice and kachumbar. The source of protein usually varies and depends on the family’s preference. Everything from potatoes, prawns, fish and meat can go well with the curry. Sundays are reserved for a Dhansak lunch and beer. Traditionally cooked with mutton, it can be substituted with chicken or vegetarian drumsticks for health purposes. The table on a Sunday afternoon is embellished with caramelised rice and kachumbar along with the showstopper Dhansak. While it is cooked on Sunday what is unknown to most, is how Dhansak is actually cooked on 4th day of someone’s death and never, under no sun or moon cooked on a happy occasion. Fish on the other hand is considered extremely auspicious and is the most consumed protein during celebrations. In fact, the house entrance is marked with a fish shaped chaap and the mithai is crafted in the same shape.

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Image: food.ndtv.com

Weekends aren’t the only set staples. Every good occasion is marked by some signature servings and the meal regarded as Sagan-nu-bhonu (translating to good occasion-ka-food). This usually includes steamed rice, arhar dal, fry fish, fry ghost and the classic kachumbar made with onions, tomatoes, green chilli and coriander diced together. The fish is marinated in Parsi masala’s and then deep fried, however considering the new age revolution, now most people prefer baking to frying. The meal is followed by ravo or sev. Ravo is a Parsi version of punjabi sooji halwa, made with semolina; whereas sev is dry vermicelli, caramelised in water rather than milk and loaded with dry fruits, sugar, vanilla, cardamom and nutmeg (also regarded as jaiphal).

Certain other aspects of Parsi culture also shine through in food; like their love for bhakras and eggs. Bhakras, are sweet tea time biscuits (also regarded as a Parsi donuts) made with atta and sooji only to be fried,the entire family looks forward to it. According to Shelley, they can last long in an airtight container, but that never happens because everyone gobbles them piping hot. Shelley inherited the recipe of Bhakras from her grandmother and hopes to pass it on to her daughter one day. Eggs are another Parsi favourite. As narrated to me, they can be cracked open on top of any dish, whether its potatoes, cutlets, curry; eggs make everything better.

It is beautiful how the passage of time has progressed but the traditions, even though modified have remained in the community, showcasing themselves in food. For it is the most humble thing that binds us all.

Featured Image Courtesy: Indianexpress.com

Disclaimer: This article is in collaboration with Shelley Subawalla, who generously decided to share information about her culture and food. However, in no way is it biased, influenced or aimed for promotion. It is not sponsored. 

The Overhyped Restaurant – Instapizza

When it comes to pizza, my love knows no bounds! However, there are more places that disappoint, than those which leave you with the classic “pizza euphemism” let alone getting an authentic Italian pizza.  Hence, I stopped experimenting with my pizza and limited it to either Dominos or Fine-Dine Restaurants (Indigo and DIVA being some of the best). In light of all the noise Instapizza was creating, I decided to make an exception. It’s being featured almost everywhere and everyone is raving about it, so even though I tend to avoid hyped restaurants this one I had to try (something about hearing it’s a good pizza, makes you want to take the plunge).

Disclaimer : Aggressively Emotional Article coming your way! Written in two parts, displaying the  encounters with this pizza chain. 

The first experience left me appalled and angry, so it was only after a good few months of letting the anger settle, did I gear up for another round. Sadly, it was just as disappointing and even though I couldn’t try their signature deep dish both times, its safe to say I wouldn’t be visiting them again for it; at-least for the next few months; The first two experiences were just so horrendous!

Order Date: 07/05/16, Saturday 

A weekend order ought to take long, so I had no 30 minute expectations. However, the ordering process itself took about 10 minutes and the order reached me a good 1hour 20mins later which wasn’t good considering I was having a serious hunger pang! Keeping that aside, I was excited because the food was finally here (but not for long).

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The packaging was dull. Serving pizza, they ought to recognise that most of the orders would be for delivery or take-away, so going an extra mile to make it more sturdy and comforting isn’t that unreasonable. The sole “specially baked for” sticker with a lighting bolt, did not cut it for me. It felt very uninspired.

Opening the box, the pizza looked pretty much dead {yes, food can be alive and dead, even though technically it’s (almost) always dead}, I was disappointed. It was cold (no doubt) so after re-heating in the microwave, I got ready to dig in.

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Create you Own Pizza- 

Selection: New York style crust with smoked chicken, chicken meatballs, onions, capsicum, olives and basil.

The crust was chewy and half-way through, it felt like I was torturing my jaw. New York style crust is supposed to be plump on the edges and flattened out to form a thin crust in the middle, so when you pick a slice it almost falls down and you roll it up to eat (the true New York way) however, it was nothing like that. It was thick all over and even more on the sides. A chewy crust is possibly one of the worst things that can happen to a pizza and exactly what happened to this one. The sauce was good, full of herbs but also spices, like an Indian pizza sauce. Smoked chicken had a strong smoky flavour which I enjoyed, however the chicken meatballs were of terrible quality; the casing of the meatballs was chewy and the inside was soft. Onions and capsicum were overcooked. Basil had lost its colour. Olives were definitely one of the best things on it!

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Monster Non.Veg Lasagna

There was nothing monster about this lasagna! I was expecting quantity along with quality, but sadly both weren’t there. The lamb mince was filled throughout but the quality was not good. The pasta sheets were barely there. Lasagna is supposed to be made with bolognese, but this was just lamb mice in a sauce and way too much of it (maybe, thats what they mean by monster). I left it after just a few bites because the quality of mutton was below par and I had no intentions to put my body through any more harm after the jaw breaking pizza.

To sum it up, they unleashed some serious wrath inside me with this ghastly food! Like I say, food is about emotions and it doesn’t always bring out the good ones, definitely not when its this bad.

Order Date: 16/11/2016, Wednesday 

The second time around I wanted to visit the place in person and experience the interiors and service. It’s a small outlet located on first floor Galleria with a sign that’s glaring strong in the eyes and you can’t miss. A limited seating available outside and inside with wooden slabs and bar chairs, it was clear the decor is worn out. Just beside the seating is the cooking counter and storage space which looked less than clean, but no where close to what I hoped.

After placing the order, I observed the chefs who seemed confused. One person opened some package and added chicken strips to a bowl and chucked them in the oven, while another was opening a Del Monte tinned can of red chillies, which he inverted into their toppings bowl. Not the kind of toppings I want! Fresh ingredients are important and while its not possible for all ingredients but it felt like they use almost all canned ingredients. After a 20 minutes wait, my meal was ready and I took it downstairs to go sit in my car and eat. (It was night time and the restaurant was more crowded with their own staff that customers, so I felt it was the better option.)

Margherita Pizza- 

A chewy crust,mediocre tomato sauce, barely there and not good quality cheese, topped with dead pieces of basil. They add basil before putting in the oven which completely destroys its colour and freshness. I have never regretted eating a pizza as much as this one.

Crispy Fried Chicken Fingers-

The quality of chicken was poor, the fingers were extremely greasy, undercooked and had a very thick coating; couldn’t eat them. However, the peri peri dip accompanying the chicken fingers was quite delicious.

Overall, I repent ever visiting this place a second time. Everyone can keep raving about it, but I am definitely not on the Instapizza bandwagon!

Instapizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato