Kayastha Khatirdari pop-up

How do you describe a meal that you’ve wanted to experience for the longest time? Well, one can only try. Skeety’s special meal was at food writer Anoothi Vishal’s well-known Kayastha pop-up aptly called Kayastha Khatirdari which she prepares along with her family at home, showcasing food of the community. The evening kicked off with a round of drinks to warm up to old friends and make some new ones. And what else can you do but enjoy when you are in the company of a lawyer, a quizmaster, a home chef, a tea sommelier, an architect and many more such. The meal hosted at the newly launched Delhi Pavilion (erstwhile Baywatch) at WelcomHotel Sheraton, Saket.

The amuse bouche was kulle ki chaat. A trademark of Old Delhi chatwallas, this version is how it is made at homes by Kayastha families (with distinct use of smaller chickpeas). A cucumber was hollowed and stuffed with the chickpeas, lemon juice and the notoriously famous chat masala that the Old Delhi kulle wallas use. An individual platter of aptly portioned starters was made up of Mangode or moong dal pakodis, Kalmi Vadas and Vegetarian Shami Kababs. With every morsel, Skeeter tasted a different note. Mangode came with an added punch of whole coriander; one has to taste it to believe what a simple addition can do to the humble snack. The Kalmi Vadas that Skeeter is used to in her plate of chaat in Old Delhi, is not a patch on what she ate at Kayastha Khaterdari. These were crisp and stiff on the outside revealing a semi-soft interior on biting. They were not-excessively oily from all the frying, neither tough on the tooth. It Skeety could go on about the texture, but they tasted superlative too. They were spiced to perfection and the lentils combined with the spices complemented with the correct frying technique and temperature, made them a delight to the senses. The star of the appetizers, however, were the Vegetarian Shami kababs that melted in the mouth and had a supreme meaty flavour, derived from lentils again. These were delicately spiced and salted to perfection. Although Kayastha food has a lot of meat based preparations, many Kayastha ladies eat vegetarian fare and these preparations are their inventions/ adptation of meaty dishes to vegetarian ones.

Skeety was already in a food wonderland when there was an onslaught of platters mounted with Bedmi Pooris and bowls full of Urad Dal. The Bedmi pooris were again different from the ones we’re used to. Skeety has seen many a cook make this and the general preparation goes like this: Bedmi flour (coarsely ground) dough is filled with a thumb impression of the pitthi (spiced stuffing made with dal and coarsely ground spices again). At home, we call it pitthi poori as well. The maharaj who used to come home or even the halwais Skeeter encounters in Old Delhi quite often have this fast yet rhythmatic movement of filling them with a thumb of pitthi, rolling them and dunking in a hot wok of oil. The joy to watch them puff up is something else. Skeeter being Skeeter would only take those that puffed up like a balloon. Anoothi’s Bedmi pooris were a revelation: soft, thicker than normal and smeared generously with the pitthi and not just a thumb in the center. They went so well with the homemade pickles (green chilli two ways and tangy karonda pickle) that you’d not need anything else to gobble  them down with.  But there were the kacche kele ki machli, a mock non-vegetarian preparation of raw bananas, cut like fish which was interesting; kathal ki sabzi or jackfruit, a very homely and unique preparation and the Urad dal that had a tiny yet strong hing tadka sitting somewhere on the top of the bowl underneath slivers of golden fried onions. Thought it seemed like a simple dish, to do the Urad Dal right is an art; and this comes from not-an-urad-fan, so there! There was a matar-ki tehri too. The meal ended with a quiz that had the guests bundling up in teams and there was makhane ki kheer (lotus seed pudding) and lauki ki launj (a barfi made from bottlegourd) to end the evening on a sweet note.

(The Kayastha Khatirdari festival is on at Delhi Pavilion till 27th November)

Mr Choy, Khan market

Replacing The Kitchen in Khan Market is Mr Choy, run by the very people behind the popular eatery Townhall in the same vicinity. If their experience in the industry is anything to go by, Mr Choy already promises tall, delivers those promises, and how! I’ve visited Mr Choy twice in a  week at different times of the day and have come back impressed. The only bummer being that the tables are placed too close for comfort. They can surely do by removing a table or two for some breathing space and still have people queuing up for the grub.


The dimsums

For your meal, begin with an assorted dimsum platter which they call the snackbox. Plated in a no-fuss, old-fashion steel tiffin box on top of a banana leaf, the simple presentation ensures the focus is on the food. There are six dimsums in a portion, so you try all and order the next portion on the basis of what you like. Our Veg assortd snackbox contained a piece each of: Vegetable dimsum in kinchin sauce, Green beans and celery, Four seasons, Assorted mushroom, Tofu Bok choy and the Bok Choy roll. Skeeter’s favourites were the vegetable dimsum in kinchin sauce and the Assorted mushroom. The Vegetable Sticky Rice and Cheung Fun were ordered separately. While the Sticky Rice was decent, though not great, the Cheung Fun failed miserably as it came dunked in soy from the kitchen and fell apart on the very touch of the chopstick. Pouring soy at the table could salavge the Cheung Fun for them.

The drinks
If you, like me, are fed up of the calorie-laden, insipid beverages on offer in most Delhi restaurants, the Minty Chang and Bitter Lemonade will have you asking for seconds. Minty Chang comes with muddled mandarin chunks, kaffir lime leaves, lemon, a hint of sugar, topped with soda. The Bitter Lemonade is constructed with Kaffir lime leaves, tonic, angosutra bitter and lime juice and stands true to its name. Both the drinks go well with most of the menu, especially the dimsums.
Small plates
When you’ve had your share of dimsums, move on to the small plates. The Sauteed Enoki, Shimeji, Shiitake, Eryngii With Garlic And Fried Glass Noodles is a haven for fungi lovers like yours truly. The subtle flavours infused in this dish coupled with just the right amount of garlic, bring out the flavours of the assorted mushroom so well that I was almost heartbroken after I polished it off. The portion is good enough for it to be labelled a small plate and with that variety of fungi, it is good value for money. 

Asian noodles (Meal in a bowl)
These are rather meals in a jar. I tried two of them. The Mr. Choy Special has Filipino and Chinese style rice and flour noodles with black bean sauce. While these were nice, the Raman Style noodles make for a better order. They are actually Ramen, either misprinted on the menu or they are called Raman elsewhere in the world. A quick google search failed to help. Vegetarian Ramen noodles are fun, fun, fun! The Japanese style soupy noodles with a soy and miso  base with oodles of vegetables make for a complete meal, stuff that I call comfort food. The portion is not super large as usually the Ramen elsewhere goes. Go grab some!

Mr. Choy Special noodles

Ramen noodles

For the full menu and prices, click here. An average meal is approx Rs 1500 for two people.  

Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu

Tucked between the nondescript shops of Adchini is a small restaurant called Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu. As you climb up the stairs, you get a whiff from the kitchen and experience the kind of pang you get when you enter your favourite aunt’s kitchen. A tiny yet comfortably spaced dining hall makes you feel you’ve dialled a wrong number. It almost seems like you’ve entered someone’s private space. You stare into a wooden crockery stocked cupboard, some yesteryear pictures neatly framed and an antique clock. The white/cream curtains behind, remain drawn. The sunlight trickles in and slightly warms up the air-conditioned room.
That’s the idea behind Kainaz Contractor and Rahul Dua’s Parsi Bhonu. Kainaz belongs to the Parsi community and was born and brought up in Mumbai. With Rustom’s, she brings to Delhi, food that is found nowhere but in her house as well as that of her relatives. The food speaks and here’s how! 
Greeted by a complimentary plate of Parsi Saria or fried sabudana and onion chips, we ordered Pallonji’s Soda, Raspberry  flavour (Rs 60) and Raspberry iced tea (Rs 120) to start with. The Pallonji’s soda is available in Mumbai’s famous Parsi cafes and is imported to Rustom’s from that city. Pallonji’s is quite sweet on its own but goes well with heavily spiced food. The Raspberry iced tea on the other hand was refreshing. On another visit, I even requested the same with Soda and my customised drink was heaps better than Pallonji’s.

We were informed by the serving staff that the portions are heavy and we should order to our appetite. We went ahead and ordered the egg-free version of Soya Pattice (Rs 225). A portion contains two pieces. I bit into a crisp layer followed by a fluffy potato mash in which were hidden the spicy soya granules. If this is not comfort food I don’t know what is. The pattice comes without the usual accompanying condiments and are a welcome change as they are good on their own.
We picked the Dhansak Veg combo (Rs 395) from Rustom’s combo specials for the main course. The Dhansak or spiced masala dal is a Parsi staple and comes with caramelised rice topped with onions and vengna kababs (eggplant kebabs) and a side of kachumber salad drizzled with Parsi cane vinegar. Though this wasn’t my first experience of having dhansak at a restaurant, it definitely was the best. It was a robust preparation, not too thick and very unlike the dal we are used to eating up North. It went well with the slightly caramelised rice and the vengna kababs were one of their kind. It was my first taste of kebabs made from eggplants and if you are an eggplant lover like me, chances are you’d love what Rustom’s serve. Rustom’s may have the distinction of being the only ones in Delhi serving them. If you know of more such places, do tell me! I ate them with a Malai na Parantha (Rs 80) which was soft and tasted something like what you’d carry in your school/office tiffin. Nothing exceptional there, and no need either. A parantha is a parantha.
The Caramel Custard (Rs 225) was a delight. Light, and not too sweet with a perfect caramelised top, this beauty held itself with elegance. The Lagan Nu Custard (Rs 225) studded with nuts and raisins with a hint of cardamom was a delight too. It was heavier than the Caramel Custard. It is meant to be so as Parsis tend to make it for special occasions like birthdays, weddings and such. I paid a special solo visit to Rustom’s to try this one and it did not disappoint. 
My only regret: if one has to taste more from the menu one has to go back two/three times. I am going back to try their other vegetarians options and update this space. The staff at Rustom’s are helpful, interactive, non intrusive and well-informed. On my way out I picked a packet of Dhansak Masala to help me cut my dhansak making time at home to a great degree. Rustom’s also stocks pickles, Parsi cane vinegar and more. Go pick!  
Address:
Aurobindo Marg – 94 A/B, Adchini, Aurobindo Marg
New Delhi 110017
Phone: 011 33106450

Radish cress, Microgreens

While I spoke about Red Cabbage cress in my last post here, I laid my hands on a tray of radish cress from Krishi Cress who grow them at a farm in Chattarpur…It is such a pleasure to pluck these tiny greens from the tray, wash and just throw them in salads, soups, sandwiches and so much more! An edible garden at hand…what more can a food lover ask for? Freshness and flavour! 
Radish cress will make you feel you are eating radish without actually eating it. Radish cress has sharp, pungent notes. It accentuated my Labneh and tasted great in a no-oil tomato-apple broth.
Below, I photographed the young and wilted greens. My tray lasted me one whole week lending an opportunity for many a experiments in the kitchen.
The no-oil sweet tomato and apple broth was enlivened with the sharpness of radish.
Trays of Microgreens at Krishi Cress ready to be delivered to restaurants on demand.
Radish cress sits pretty on the dining table.

Shiv Sagar, Delhi (Aye!)

All the Bombay vs Delhi debate doesn’t work for me. Nor does the Mumbai vs Bombay. Dilli vs Delhi neither. What a Pani Puri with hot ragda can do for a resident of Maharashtra, the Delhi girl in me could not understand in my few years in that part of the country.
When I arrived back in Delhi, I loved what the good old Delhi Golgappa with cold, boiled potatoes and chickpeas and teekha pani did to my tastebuds. In Delhi, for sometime now, I find myself craving Pani Puri, the Maharashtrian way at times, and the Vada Pav very often. If there is any difference at all between the two cities, that I’d readily admit, it is the pricing. Bombay food is cheaper. Period.
When one of my favourite Bombay eateries opened up in Delhi, I decided to give it a try. Shiv Sagar, of Bombay fame has a Janpath address now. #Win

The ambience is welcoming. A Bombay person would easily connect. Start your meal at Shiv Sagar with a pineapple or watermelon juice, as I recommend them for their taste and freshness. Ask for a no-masala version, if you please, else they add it by default. I had a sample of 6 juices they offer on a sci-fi test tube platter, all of which I enjoyed. The sev puri comes recommended too. Papri topped with potatoes, a medley of chutneys and spices, finished with a generous helping of sev and pearls of pomegranate. Street food, the hygienic way, served up on the table. I’d have preferred it a bit more spicy. 

Shiv Sagar also manages to do justice to the quintessential Maharashtrian street food, the Vada Pav. The chilli garlic powder on the side is amazing too! If you are in the mood for something tangy, go for the chinese bhel. It is neither Chinese nor Bhel, but crispy fried noodles tossed in a sweet and sour sauce and topped with onion and coriander. Yum!

Last but not the least, do not leave Shiv Sagar, Delhi without sampling their Pav Bhaji. Doused in butter, it is the nearest you can get to the Bombay version. Other offerings at Shiv Sagar that one should try are the Veg Makhanwala, Veg Kolhapuri, Biryani with Raita and the cheese grilled sandwich. Icing on the cake? They are gonna turn into an all-day dining, just like Bombay. And the prices will make every Delhiite smile on their way out. Very pocket friendly! An average meal would cost about Rs 800 for two.

Le Bistro Du Parc: A french bistro sits pretty in Delhi

The French concept of Terroir is embedded in every brick of the kitchen of Le Bistro Du Parc, a quaint bistro that sits pretty overlooking a park in Defence Colony. Skeeter has struck off another ‘to go’ place on her list by dining at this gem of a bistro. In Paris, everyone has their own favourite bistros where they hop in at ease, select from a limited menu, eat, talk, ponder, proceed. Repeat. The menu changes often and the chefs bank on the availability of fresh, seasonal produce. The basics of a bistro are home-style food, simple drinks like wine, tea and coffee and affordable prices. 
At Le Bistro Du Parc Skeets started her meal with the Organic leak and potato soup (Rs 350 ) with a blob goat cheese and few sprigs of dill. It was picture perfect, temperature perfect and tasted well, perfect! As against an Indian dish where a host of spices come together to lift the main ingredient to another level, in French food, you can get a taste of each ingredient individually.

Moving on to Skeeter’s main course and dessert together, she could not decide which of these stole the show for her. The Vegetable Tagliatelle with carrot mash and basil oil was part of a very pleasant surprise, for it was no pasta, but farm fresh, seasonal, organic, vegetables like carrot, yellow and green zucchini, peeled into strips and plated wonderfully to mimic Tagliatelle, cooked/steamed very lightly to leave the texture crunchy enough for one to bite in. The sweet scented basil oil peeped from between the vegetables to reveal itself and lend flavour to the dish.  Skeeter has never had a healthier dish at a restaurant. The portion size and the quality of this Vegetable Tagliatelle with carrot mash and basil justifies the price tag (Rs 500) absolutely. Skeeter will go back for only this one, on and on. That said, Chef Alexis Gielbaum at Le Bistro Du Parc told Skeeter that they change their menu frequently. So one is likely to go back at Le Bistro Du Parc for a fresh menu and more surprises. It is also commendable to note they have compensated vegetarians (for a limited number of dishes in the already small menu) beautifully by creating star dishes such as the one Skeets mentioned.

The Valrhona chocolate rocher (Rs 350) ended Skeeter’s meal, oh-so-lusciously that she can stay off chocolate for the next six months just thinking of this one. Go grab a bite!
Meal for two: Approx Rs. 1800.
Address: A 57, 58, 59, Moolchand Market, Defence Colony, New Delhi

A wild and leafy summer: Olive

There’s something about Olive that keeps drawing Skeeter to the place time and again. The ever-inviting ambience? The pleasant and smiling, unpretentious staff? Aye! But more than that the skilled chef! For without good food, a place like Olive at a location like Mehrauli cannot continue to be a crowd puller. Chef Sujan Sarkar bowled Skeeter over with some of his finest creations. He admits that preparing a vegetarian menu which is neck-to-neck with the non-vegetarian one is no simple task. But he takes up the challenge and how! P.S: Chef Sujan Sarkar is sneakingly suspicious of guests that come asking for Pizzas. Agree Olive pizzas are good, but once you move beyond cheese and tomato there’s a whole new world to discover.

Here are Skeeter’s favourites off Olive summer menu. The amuse bouche (above), a pumpkin cracker, slathered with soft goat’s cheese and topped with semi dried tomatoes and garnished with mini sorrel sprouts made for a pretty plate. Up next was the Salt baked beetroot with goat’s cheese, wild rocket leaves, orange and apricot puree. The picture below does no justice to the beauty of the plate and marriage of flavours. In India, we are so used to cooking and overcooking our greens (thing what poor sarson ka saag and palak are subjected to: boiling, pureeing and frying!), that we’ve actually forgotten to keep it simple. Take cue!

The Charred baby gem and summer vegetables came with savoury granola, smoked goat curd, and pickled palm hearts. Fresh, summery and very indulgent. Skeeter could have had many helpings of the charred baby gem, but then there was other delicious food calling out to her. 

A simple palate cleanser: Yoghurt sorbet (below).

On to the mains. There was Fettucine topped in a simple sauce topped with super crisp Zucchini fritters (pic below). There was a decent Green asparagus and broad bean risotto. But what stole Skeeter’s soul was a wonderfully crisscross grilled baby Zucchini and creamy polenta (Pave of Melanzane).

Pave of Melanzane
A summer meal is incomplete without king of fruit: mangoes! A Mille Feuille of mango, in signature Olive style (remember the strawberry one?)took care of that. Mango sorbet with a mango and mascarpone cheese mousse. Yum! And though there was no, and absolutely no space for more, the chef insisted we wait for the baked cheesecake, which was a 5-star dessert! It came with passion fruit curd, some rhubarb bits for decor, chocolate soil and sorbet on the side. Divine!
Mille Feuille of mango

Baked cheesecake

Maharashtrian street food comes to Delhi: Vada Pav

Indian street food never fails to impress. Skeeter tries to record whatever she eats and one of her street food favourite is featuring in Delhi restaurants these days. It is the mighty VADA PAV from Maharashtra. 
For the uninitiated this fuss-free snack is made using a pav(bun) from the ladi pav which is slathered with a red chilli-garlic chutney and a piping hot vada is placed in it. Something as simple as that, served with a fried green chilly tossed in salt. The accompanying green chilly is a MUST. The vada pav is incomplete without it. It is Maharashtra’s answer to all the crappy, tasteless frozen burger patties used in international chain of restaurants.
vada pav in delhi
(On the right: Vada Pav seated in an aluminum pan at Soda Bottle Opener Wala, Gurgaon)
Have the vada pav for breakfast or a meal on the go when in a hurry or as an evening snack. It is simple, tasty and not healthy but worth every bite. It used to cost something as low as Rs 5 in Maharashtra quite a few years ago. 
Skeeter bumped into old pal, the Vada Pav, one afternoon when she went for a very quick lone lunch at Dhaba by Claridges (DLF Place, Saket) and was impressed. It tasted very well but not like the one she used to eat in Maharashtra. The Dhaba Vada Pav costed a bomb (Rs 195) and came with the chef’s special chutney. They serve two Vada Pavs in one portion. So a portion of the Vada Pav plus a soft drink set Skeeter back by nearly 500 bucks, which is a lot, but for want of her favourite snack in the comfort of a mall and sitting in the hometown it was forgiven.
Next, Skeeter came across the old pal again at the swanky Cyber Hub of Gurgaon at a Parsi eatery called Soda Bottle Opener Wala(will write more about it soon). This one stunned the senses and was a winner hands down! For one, it tasted JUST LIKE the one Skeeter was used to having during her days in Maharashtra. The fried green chilli on the side, rolled in salt was perfectly done. It costed Rs 65. There was one pav as opposed to two at Dhaba by Claridges. It came seated in an aluminium pan and just that. An innovative take on plating as rivalled to all the fancy stuff we are used to these days. They did not fancy it up, nor did they provide some innovative chutney, they simply let the food do the talking. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. 
Oh and if you ever go to Maharashtra, do try the Joshi vada pav. 🙂

Delhi’s hidden gem: Aap ki Pasand tea boutique by San-cha

Old Delhi’s mystical charm draws Skeeter to the kuchas and gallis of this part, time and again. This time around, it was in order to dig another gem. A different one from the chaat, kheer or the bedmi puri kinds. Skeeter’s been visiting Aap ki Pasand tea boutique by San-cha since a few years. When Splenda invited Skeeter for a ‘harmless sweet’ afternoon to her favourite tea shop, she found yet another reason to visit her favourite part of Old Delhi. It is chaotic, it is dirty, but it all emanates from the mind. Once you look beyond such things which usually keep the well-heeled folk from visiting these areas, you discover the underlying charm, which needless to say is quite underrated. We prefer malls over culture. Meh.
A group of eight food and drink enthusiasts gathered to learn a thing or two about tea from the very experienced tea taster Mr Sanjay Kapur who also happens to be the owner of the shop. Skeeter’s been meaning to hear him talk “tea” since a long, long time. And sometimes you get things you ask for without having to bat an eyelid like Skeeter did. Mr Kapur touched upon a few important points which the emerging category of health conscious Indians are curious to know. The average person may however go about drinking his cuppa without having to care much. Skeeter is enlisting a few points touched upon by Mr Kapur for those who’d like to dwelve deeper.

Tea and Caffeine

250mg of Caffeine is the limit beyond which the American Psychiatric Association (APA) draws a line.

How much tea is enough or good?

It can be concluded that the regular intake of five or more cups of tea per day facilitates healthy ageing – Dr H. Weisburger. Institute of Cancer Prevention, American Health Foundation.

The average tea cup

The average tea cup contains 25mg Caffeine. The average cup measures 150 ml approx. The average tea bag contains 2mg of tea.

The black tea or green tea debate

There is no real evidence that signifies green tea to be better than black. In fact, Sancha’s First Flush Darjeeling Black Tea selection which Mr Kapur describes as world’s finest Darjeeling cuppa is very high in anti oxidants. It turns out that the PM took this tea as the Indian State’s Gift to the Emperor of Japan early this year.

We tasted the Masala tea, the ginger tea and the First Flush Darjeeling Black Tea by Sancha. Skeeter quite liked the ginger tea without any added sugar or sweetener. And she is certainly going back for more.

More about Aap Ki Pasand
Locations:
Darya Ganj
Santushti shopping complex
Gurgaon (coming up very soon)

Tasting
Go to the tea boutique and taste your cuppa free of cost and pick what you like.

Recommendations
Besides the First Flush Darjeeling Black Tea, Skeeter recommends the ginger tea and the Jasmine tea pearls (a botanical blend).
Besides, there are several other blends that come packed beautifully, with a very Indian feel to them. They make for a great gift for the festive season or if you are travelling abroad and want to gift a something “very Indian” to your friends and relatives. Take your pick.