Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Culinary Chronicling Internships with Rushina

Summer Culinary Chronicling Internships with Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal (May-July 2021)

Author, teacher, culinary chronicler and owner of culinary consulting firm A Perfect Bite Consulting, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal regularly offers internships. Currently we have openings for interns to assist in upcoming projects in Indian Culinary culture. 

These internships are designed to give selected candidates hands-on experience in live projects while also opening opportunities to gain deeper knowledge on regional Indian cuisines and sharpen their writing, content and communication skills. The program includes training workshops in the basics of researching cuisine, food writing, social media content development and more. Deserving candidates may also look forward to gaining long term mentorship from Rushina.

Candidates must have;
- A fair grip on writing. 
- Attention to detail
- Basic understanding of social media
- Desire to upskill in researching, writing and chronicling on food
- Good communication and social media skills
- Keen interest in discovering and documenting regional Indian cuisines
- Keen listening skills

The duration of the internship will be 60 Days. On successful completion, candidates will receive a stipend and a letter of completion/recommendation.

To apply:
Write to us with a brief note on why you feel you are suited to the role, along with a copy of your CV by Sunday, 9 May 2021. Selections and finalisation will take place by 15th May 2021. 

Email to: Rushina@apbcookstudio.com CC: Shivani@apbcookstudio.com

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

{Recipe} Mandua (Ragi or Finger Millet) Hot Chocolate

Finger Millet or Ragi is seeing a revival as a sought after Super Food today thanks to all of its health benefits but Mandua as it is called here in Uttarakhand has been a valued ingredient in traditional diets across India through millennia. Packs a powerful punch in its tiny grains including the highest amounts of calcium and potassium compared to other cereals and millets. In fact it is also said that the protein of Ragi is as complete as milk protein. Its is a delicious way to my kids (and yours) to consume more local ingredients. If you are a cook, I am sure you have made a Bechemel or white sauce using flour or corn flour. The alchemy of the maida in Bechemel, white sauce or even a sweet custard is addictive - that creamy, savoury thickness augments dishes so beautifully, that its hard to beat. 

This was part of a series of recipes I created to use traditional ingredients in contemporary ways for my #PledgeToEatIndian recipe series. I originally created this recipe for Bakri Chhap the Uttarakhand brand of products from Green People India an organization that works to support livelihoods in Uttarakhand. But through this past winter I have used the Mandua from Tons Valley shop for it as well. And I wanted to share it here with all of you because it would be a crime if I didn't!

It has been my experience that if one goes beyond maida and corn flour, many millets flours can bring beautiful texture to and some extremely interesting flavours complexity to dishes that traditionally use maida. Case in point this hot/cold chocolate. You could use maida also but the Ragi not only boosts the cacao/chocolate flavours, it also adds a beautiful nutty, earthy flavour overall. It is a winter dish because the ghee and Ragi make it so, but chill and serve as a cold option in the summer.  If you dislike milk, use only water, it will still work or you can also make it with nut milk. Leave it to cook longer so it is thicker and chill to make a moreish custard over cake or fruit or set in bowls for a lovely pudding topped with some berries or poached stone fruit /pears! 

Mandua (Ragi or Finger Millet) Hot Chocolate 

Yield: Serves 2 | Time: 15 minutes

1 tsp Ghee
1 tbsp Mandua (Ragi) OR any millet/mixed millet flour
1 cup Hot Milk
1 tbsp Unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup Water
1 tbsp Sugar/jaggery/jaggery powder
¼ tsp Cinnamon or other spice powder (of your choice)

In a pot, heat the ghee and add the Mandua or other millet flour. Roast on low to medium heat, stirring constantly, until flour is cooked and gets a toasty aroma. The ghee will also start to separate from the flour and form a shiny glaze on the surface and around the sides (about 5-7 minutes).
Add the hot milk and bring to a boil, whisking with a whisk or fork. As soon as it reaches a boil, bring to a low simmer (or else it will get too thick).
Add the sugar/jaggery, cinnamon powder and cocoa powder and whisk to incorporate well and ensure no lumps form. Once well incorporated, thin out the drink with 1/4 cup of water, and simmer for another 2 minutes. Strain to remove small lumps of Mandua / millet before serving if necessary. Serve hot or cold.

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Sweet History of Honey in India

It struck me when I began researching Indian sweeteners, that Honey is the world’s oldest naturally occurring sweetener! Honey has been a part of the human diet since prehistory.  Honey has been the food of Gods, Goddesses, Mortals, and Immortals through the ages. 

And this is true of India too. There are countless references of honey as the elixir of life, or the 'sap of the sun,' in myth and legend. Lord Indra, Vishnu, and Lord Krishna, were all called Madhava, meaning ‘ones born of nectar.’ The twin horsemen, the Asvins, who are revered as the lords of light, carry a whip dripping with honey known as Madhukasa and ride in a chariot known as Madhuvahana, or "honey-bearer," and the honey that drips from their whip was believed to prolong lives. Honey has always been associated with love and romance, so it comes as no surprise that Kama, the god of love carries a bow with a string made of bees. And the Hindu pantheon even has a Bee Goddess named Bhrami, who according to some scriptures, is said to reside in the heart chakra, emitting the buzzing sound of bees, that is often imitated in Vedic chants, representing the essential sound of the Universe!

Early Hindus considered honey the food of gods. Some schools of Hinduism, like the Satapatha Brahmana taught that honey was "the supreme essence of plants" and that eating it was like absorbing the essence of the Vedas. It is no surprise then that it finds its way into rituals and ceremonies. Even the Ramayana reveals elaborate descriptions of apiaries and bee gardens or ‘Madhuvana’.

But these attributes of honey are not purely mystical. Archaeological evidence in rock and cave paintings, references in the Vedas, Hindu epics, and other scriptures from the subcontinent, from ancient recipes to age old medicinal preparations, all tell us sweet stories of honey consumption in India. 

Archaeological evidence traces the consumption of honey in India all the way back to the stone age. Rock paintings that are estimated to date as far back as the Mesolithic or earlier periods between 15000-11000 B.C.E. found in caves and shelters in Central India depict crudely drawn semi-circular beehives, in some cases surrounded or covered by bees, and even scenes of honey being harvested from nests of wild bees. From our stone age ancestors to today, honey has found mention in various visual, written, oral and practiced records of Indian culture.

Scenes that have been replicated by tribal communities with animistic cultures through the ages, who have, for centuries, collected wild honey from forests, consuming it for its immunity boosting and medicinal properties. While honey was collected from the wild and is a practice still alive today. Over time, as humans evolved and settled, the consumption and requirement of honey grew creating a necessity to produce it, and hand in hand with this evolved a history of beekeeping and apiculture.

K. N. Dave, a scholar of Vedic practices, observed that Vedic Aryans, initially considered that the knowledge of bees and bee-behaviour was a primitive practice associated with hunter gatherer tribes of the time, they eventually began to study the social behaviour of bees and practice beekeeping, going on to build artificial hives for bees to inhabit. And honey became an essential requirement. 

The Rig Veda, written around 2000-3000 BCE contains many mentions of bees and honey by its Sanskrit name, Madhu. Interestingly Madhu is etymologically identical to the Greek methu and the Anglo-Saxon medu and one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages was a fermented mixture of honey and water, called mead! But I digress, Ayurveda also prescribes the use of honey in hundreds of different ways, including for healing and cleaning wounds, for fighting infections, and as a preservative base for other medicines. 

With the ever-growing requirement for honey, bee keeping also evolved through the centuries with innovation resulting in log hives, pot hives and wall hives becoming common practice in different parts of India. In fact, there are also accounts of hives built into the walls of houses so that the bees could access them from outside and honey could be harvested from inside!  In the late 1800 and early 1900s, western methodologies such as movable frame hives were introduced, and formalised bee-keeping associations were formed in India.

Even outside of Vedic and Hindu culture, science has recognised the medicinal, antimicrobial and immunity boosting properties of honey. Today, more than ever before, we have realised the importance of bees in keeping global food, agriculture, and environmental systems from collapsing. And with this realisation there have been incredible movements to preserve vegetation, traditional honey harvesting and bee-keeping practices around the globe. Simultaneously, we see an ever-growing range of wild, single flora, and medicinal honeys becoming available, all to be used in new and creative ways! 

Until then, here is a simple but lovely recipe I created inspired by references I found to an ancient honey-based snack called  Madhulāja (मधुलाज) or “honey mixed with puffed rice” in the Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa while researching this post. Not surprising as the legendary city of Ayodhya was also called the land of milk and honey... In fact, this is a combination still eaten in many parts of India. I remembered the Assamese Akhoi Gur Aru Cream (puffed rice, was topped with cream and served with liquid jaggery) that my friend Gitika Saikia once served for dessert at a pop-up at my studio years ago. Over time the honey has been replaced by jaggery in many versions.

Kheel Honey Bowls inspired by the Mabhulaja of old

This makes a lovely light breakfast, snack or light dessert bowl. You can also add raisins or other dried fruit, roasted Makhana (Foxnuts) and peanuts or other toasted nuts to the dry mixture for variation. 


4 cups Kheel/Lai/Kurmura

½ cup Sesame seed

½ cup Flax seed

4-6 tbsp Cream, chilled

½ cup Saffola Honey


Heat a kadhai and individually dry roast the Kheel/Lai/Kurmura until crisp. Transfer to a plate to cool. Toast the sesame and flax one by one and add to the thali. To assemble, divide the toasted kheel/lai/kurmura into 4 small dessert bowls. Drizzle with the cream and honey and serve immediately or the puffed rice will get soggy. 



All the recent news about adulteration of honey had me worried. Especially the part about added sugar as an adulterant. Post some research and talking to experts and otherwise, I finally zeroed in on Saffola Honey for daily use because it's tested using FSSAI parameters as well as NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) test and has been proven to be free of any adulteration and specifically has no added sugar. Stay tuned as we explore the myriad ways in which honey is used as an ingredient in the next post. This series of recipes with Honey are sponsored by Saffola Honey.

Sources (click on links to access):

Planet Bee Foundation, and Ayla Fudala. “The Sacred Bee: Ancient India.” Planet Bee Foundation, December 2017

Mathpal, Yashodhar. (2015). Newly Discovered Rock Paintings in Central India Showing Honey Collection. Bee World. 65. 121-126.

Kadam, Sanchita. “History and Development of Apiculture in India.” Notes on Zoology,

Dr. Kshirsagar, K. K. “Bees and Honey in Ancient India.” Ancient Indian Wisdom.

Announcing Sweet Explorations - A New Culinary Discovery Series

A deep dive into natural, traditional sweeteners in the Indian Kitchen.

If you’ve been following my work for any length of time, you will know my predilection toward deep dives into all topics, food; ingredients, recipes, history, the science behind food, culinary traditions, are all fascinating to me. There is nothing I love more than sinking my teeth deep into a topic and studying it thoroughly from all perspectives. Most recently the subject I have been obsessing over is of course, #SpiceChrosniclesWithRMG, my Lockdown project in which I have been using the Instagram LIVE option to deep dive into the Indian way with spices. In fact that is what has inspired this particular series.

As I explored the world of spices, I realised that, like with any cuisine, that the building blocks of flavour cannot stand in isolation. Any ingredient may have a dominant flavour, but will be bolstered by the others. This is especially true when it comes to Indian cuisine. For some reason we always focus on spices, thoughtlessly, perhaps, conveniently, attributing the with being the most diverse flavour reporters in the Indian kitchen. But, take a moment to widen the perspective and the value of each flavour family - sweet, bitter, sour, salty and hot becomes. And each of these families has a lot of members!

Lets start with sweet. The sweet taste is of course the most loved, and with reason. As humans we evolved a genetic conditioning to gravitate towards sweet-flavoured foods. Sweet foods (along with fatty ones) were sources of rapid energy. Over generations both our primate and hunter-gatherer ancestors learned to seek out sweet flavoured food , discovering a multitude of naturally available sweeteners, adapting them into our diets and with time creating ways to produce larger and larger quantities. 

When it comes to India, we are perhaps one of the cultures with the sweetest of sweet tooths! “Muh meetha karna,muh me ghee shakkar,” “kuchh meetha ho jaye,” are all familiar phrases that remind us that sweetness holds the highest regard In Indian culture. Not to mention the fact that the extraction of sugar cane juice from the sugarcane plant, and the plant’s subsequent domestication both took place in tropical India and Southeast Asia. India also went on to invent the manufacture of cane sugar granules from sugarcane juice, figured out refining them. No wonder then that no ceremony, auspicious occasion, or a new beginning can be celebrated without something sweet to mark the occasion and bring good fortune even if it is a simple morsel of Gol-Dhana, Gud-Channa or Dahi-Cheeni!

In fact say meetha and one will envision halwas, Kheer and Kesari Bhaat, Undai and Laddoo, Pithas and Paayesh. With Mithai sweet is the primary flavour. But that said, sweet flavours are present in our food in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways! Be it in the natural sweetness of certain fruits, vegetables or starchy foods we cook, or in our sweet chutneys and murrabbas. But also the sweet notes added to dishes; that dash of jaggery with kokum in Gujarati Daal or Maharashtrian Aamtis, that bit of sugar in so many Bengali dishes, the gur or sugar added to balance tartness of the tamarind, tomato or mango in chutneys and pickles such as North Indian Shaljam pickle, Mumbai Imli chutney, Maharashtrian Kairi Methamba or Bengali Tamatar Chutney.. 

Unfortunately sugar being cheap and accessible, it has become the primary form of sweetener in Indian kitchens. Which is sad, because the variety of traditional natural sweeteners, that sugar side-lined, added so many shades of sweetness to Indian cuisine!  

Long before sugar we had honey, first foraged, then farmed, also fruits and flowers like Monk fruit and Mahua, then came seasonal and regional forms of molasses and jaggery.  And eventually sugar in organic and then refined form as we know it today. In fact the love for sugar has led to options of sugar made from coconut, stevia and more! But that’s a whole other blogpost. Right now, me being me, I’ve jumped down that rabbit hole, that is traditional sweeteners in the Indian kitchen via a brand new series of blog posts called Sweet Explorations in my favourite medium, the old fashioned written word. Join me over the next few weeks as I going to explore natural, traditional sweeteners in Indian home kitchens chronologically from the perspective of history, culture, nuances of usage and varied applications for taste and flavour. 

So without further ado, lets begin our sweet explorations. Since one of the first and oldest naturally occurring sweeteners, used by humankind was Honey, (alongside fruits and certain vegetables) it is only natural our journey begin with its sweet notes! Please join me, over the next few weeks to learn about honey in the Indian context. And do leave comments if you have anything to share about sweeteners.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The kitchen detox - when “That Day” finally came...

My look when the spouse decided we needed a picture of this momentous day! 
You know ‘that day…’ the day you will get to ‘one of these days’, at some designated indefinite time in future? That day, when you will finally find the time / inclination / energy / mind-space / memory or a bit of all those to get certain tasks of your checklist? That day, that basically, may never come… ?

Those tasks, that just keep going to the bottom of the list, the ones you promise to get to one day, with appropriate equivalent butter-wouldn't-melt-in-your-mouth excuses, based on who you’re lying to (mostly yourself and in my case the spouse)… I’ve got so much to do… I forgot… I am too tired... The kids ran away… dog ate my homework… lost my kitchen….

In case the last has you confused, the last refers to a specific item on my checklist. Cleaning my kitchen was a task I had been procrastinating over for years. So at the beginning of this lockdown, it was very virtuously added to my check-off-bucket-list-item-during-lockdown (along with writing books, planning new projects, kick starting book club etc…)

In spite of a few ‘gentle reminders’ from the spouse, and my own conscience ‘That day, remained elusive. I had work stuff to get done… I was walking 2 hours in the house every day AKA… I hate being told what to do…

Although, to be fair, when I made my lockdown bucket list, it was through rose-tinted glasses using a golden fountain pen and perfumed onion skin paper. Because in all the ceremony of it, I hadn't factored in juggling work from home, household chores, and cooking twice daily – for my bhooka janta of 2 kids!

20 days into lockdown (we isolated on the Ides of March) on 5 April, ‘That Day’ still hadn’t arrived! I was inching towards it s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y, I promise... On the 5th, the spouse, in a fit of frustration, reorganised our kitchen cupboards (moving things around to consolidate stuff; flours together, baking stuff in one place etc…).

And, in a strategic, rather diabolical move, he also left a pile of things he didn’t know what to do with, slap bang in the middle of my living room, in front of my cavernous pantry cupboard, its doors gaping wide.

Ignoring it was impossible since it was in direct line of sight from my designated work/dining space. Not to mention, sweeping was a huge pain in the arse! So yeah, big cupboard-maws silently reprimanding me incessantly, finally did what nothing could for years! 

Hallelujah, “THAT DAY” arrived!

And this past weekend, on 11 April, I 'Mary Kondo-d' my kitchen... (Somehow 'RushinaMunshawGhildiyal-d' just doesn't sound as bad-ass!) 

Now, this was to be an under-the-radar black ops exercise in small, quiet sorties (so I wouldn’t earn a specific kind of look from the spouse.) But it quickly escalated into a 12-hour purge and clean of the entire house! BONUS!  

At this point, I’m feeling supremely satisfied with myself. The spouse-points score card is looking a-m-a-z-i-n-g (because I'm so bad-ass I even cooked dinner after all that). My cluttered, chaotic kitchen is now a clean, organized, (almost) zen-like oasis of a space. And grandiose plans to NEVER LOSE CONTROL of it again!

I have a COMPLETE inventory of food items in my home. I’ve resolved to check before I buy. Note to self, (and you) I will NEVER-BUY-ANOTHER packet of Garhwali Jakhiya (I’ve hoarded a life-time supply) OR Irani Zaresht berries and Limoo Omani (excavated packets of these going back 6 years in my freezer!). I also have an all new Cooking Bucket List! (Amazing how lists spawn for us Virgos!)

Seriously though, this purge and clean has been a kind of detox! It’s like my kitchen, brain (and life) have been put through a sort of de-fragging! Storage space has been optimised and space for new things has been freed up!

I am rediscovering cookbooks, favoured ingredients and favourite recipes, figuring out ways to making the most of everything and use up stuff that’s been lying around for ages. But, most importantly, I’m filled with things I want to do going forward! Observations and ideas for blogs. Stories, articles, even books I want to write… and so much more!

In case you are feeling stuck, like you are not moving forward, consider making ‘That day, TODAY… and check off a task from your procrastination bucket list of life… I highly recommend it!’

Monday, December 02, 2019

It’s a Wrap – Saying Good-bye to APB Cook Studio

This is a bittersweet post to write...

Bitter, because endings are always sad. Sweet, because endings make space for new beginnings…
I’ve been writing this post for a while… in fact, for more than a year now. Not knowing how to say 
things, sometimes because the words were just so hard to put out there! But a time comes when the inevitable will happen… and that time is here... 

Shekhar and I opened APB Cook Studio - a perfect love story of a kitchen in 2012. Now, 7 years down the line, it is time to close it. (I must share that it’s been incredibly hard to put these words out there without crying.)

And then, yesterday, my friend Kiran Manral tweeted, "It's the last month of this decade. What has been the best thing that happened to you in the past ten years?"

And the answer that popped into my head was… APB Cook Studio!  And just like that, so many things became easier... to say... to do... to move on...

Opening day for the family!
7 years ago we embarked on a journey that was APB Cook Studio – India’s first hands-on kitchen studio, a place where we could inspire to cook. It was a crazy idea we dreamt up, and went on to build, putting everything we had into it... literally one idea and one learning at a time. It was scary, it was beautiful, it was mad, and it was beyond my wildest dreams of what I thought I would do in life!

Like all babies, our APB Cook Studio grew, into everything we wanted, and things we never dreamt it would be... a place of learning, experimenting, inspiration, craziness, people, friendships and most importantly love.

And with it I grew as well. I left behind fear, grew in confidence, learned my weaknesses and how to work around them (that’s WIP), I stumbled, fell, got up, brushed off and moved on, I've cried bitter tears of loss, hurt, and insecurity, and I've laughed, loved and been loved. And I have evolved. But as I’ve grown, my life has come to feel like that proverbial skin, that begins to feel too tight... 
For a while now I've found myself drawn in other directions. As I discovered my strengths and abilities, I found I have bigger ideas, even some crazy ambitions that I wouldn’t even have aspired to think about at one point.... and I want to give them wings.

First official picture!
I have a bucket list of things I want to tick off before its time to move to the kitchen in the sky…. study, learn, create, write, continue to grow. I want to do more in the space of documenting food, especially Indian food... I have books waiting in my head to be written. There are places I want to explore, and people I want to meet. I’d also like to be a person that helps change happen, rather than be a bystander lamenting…

And NONE of this could have been without APB Cook Studio! The me I am, today, is because of this journey I have travelled. APB has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. It has been my life!

Lines from a poem by my favourite poet Robert Frost, from the poem the Road Not Taken come to mind…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference....

Life is about evolution and it is time for me to turn the page on a new chapter, to pass the baton on to other people who are doing be wonderful, wonderful work in the space of Kitchen studios so I can give flight to other ideas….
That said however, this is by no means the end. A Perfect Bite Consulting, the parent company that owns the studio and been responsible for some fantastic things in the last decade (the Godrej Food Trends Report, Flavour Conference, Culinary Chroniclers Conclave, Glenmark Pshtik Rasoi to name a few public projects, but there is also lots of path-breaking work we cannot talk about due to NDAs.) APB Cook Studio will now function as a Food lab, Test Kitchen and Food Content Studio, a place of food inspiration where I will take forward my ambitions to study, document and experiment with food. And I will also continue to do the things I love, consulting, content development, teaching, writing, cooking classes and curating food events. There is lots of exciting things cooking in 2020, expect to hear on all that….

The wind beneath my wings...
But, just now, its about a final good bye to our APB Cook Studio as we all know it, here at Srishti Plaza. Come December it will pass into the intangible space of memory, of all of us who have lived it, and loved it.... Thank you to every single person that has been part of the APB Cook Studio journey, for a moment, or longer, Shekhar and I would like to say thank you. And invite you to please join us at APB Cook Studio on 8 Dec 2019 for the APB WRAP-UP! 
Shekhar and I we will be cooking, baking and doing all the mad things we always did with all of you that want to join the fun! Our doors will be open from 12:00 – 7:00, do drop by any time for one last shout-out, to all the fantastic times, wonderful memories, amazing friendships and every beautiful story we have cooked up over the years!

I will leave you with these lines from another poem, by Robert Frost because he always has the words I need when I do not have them...

From Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening.

....The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Thank you, again, for everything. 


PS. To keep up with my activities, the best place will be here on my blog, also My Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter

Friday, October 25, 2019

Amrita's Sharad Thaali and some #Foodle Inspiration

A Foodle after a long, long time!

Inspiration to create can come from anywhere…  and also catch one TOTALLY by surprise... A beautiful meal I recently ate, got me inspired to #Foodle again. And I thought that something this momentous deserved a blogpost too, so… here we are!

I have a lot happening in my life, and off late, I've made some big decisions, had some sad things bring me down. I took time out, used the pre-Diwali time to de-clutter; my home, my life, my emotional and creative mind-space and just rejuvenate. I'v actively sought out people, and things that make me feel happy. And it all seems to be bearing fruit already!

Last Sunday I finally made it (been wanting to go for ages) to my friend Amrita’s most recent pop-up. Themed on the Sharad Ritu or Indian Autumn this was a seven-course Ayurvedic lunch, using seasonal ingredients sourced from local markets and farmers and took place at the all new The Classroom by La Folie (which is pretty cool too BTW).

According to Amrita,"Everything can be Ayurveda if you apply the principles correctly, and make it something we can relate to." Ayurveda says that the Indian monsoons, leaves a lot of Pitta or heat in its wake. "The sun is directed on us and Pitta is high all around, in nature, and in us." To counter this, Ayurveda suggests Pitta balancing foods. "The premise is simple. All creations are made of 5 elements including humans. These elements vary in different people based on our own dosha and prakriti (nature). We can balance our doshas with diet. Sharad is when we need immunity building foods, it is the perfect time to incorporate and acclimatize to foods that will come into season in the winter."

In keeping with this philosophy, her Sharad menu she was  made up of grounding, cooling foods, using seasonal ingredients such as Kashmiri Apples, Sitaphal, Baalam (a large Indian Cucumber indigenous to parts of India), fresh Singhada (Water Chestnuts) supplemented by indigenous grains and wild greens and vegetables from the Sahyadris, supplied by Triple OOO, Vrindavan and Offerings Farms. The meal stared with a chatpatta Green Apple Panna. Then came six courses served up with stories by Amrita.

Vanvaas was the first course, and it was dessert! No I'm not kidding! "Ayurveda recommends dessert first, as it is the hardest to digest. This plate is inspired by Ramayana and the way Sita, Ram and Laxman ate during their legendary Vanvas (exile). Sita was sad and refused to eat but loved Sitafal which is also cooling so there is a Spiced Sitaphal Cake, and it is said that while she was captive, Indra sent her Payasam, so there is a Black Rice Payasam inspired by that and a smidgen of Chavanprash to represent the Sanjeevani Booti.” Whipped coconut cream, kand chips and crisp poha finished the plate. And I ate it all for once! Because it had all the good stuff. I was not terribly enamoured of the Chavanprash bit of it, but the rest of it, especially that Sitaphal cake was worth every footstep I counted later!

The next course was "Kand" inspired by root vegetables. "Earth colour foods and root vegetables make us feel grounded. Whole foods, especially roots and tubers offer maximum energy, in fact they have been survival foods in times of famine and drought throughout the world. Roots actually root us." I have to say that, that bowl of earthy, chewy Farra (a rice pasta from Chattisgarh) inspired gnocchi, made from Karanda (as the tribals of Sahyadris call air potatoes) topped with browned ghee and something tangy I couldn’t identify, was my absolute favourite course!

Then came Baalam a course meant to hydrate the system. "Baalam kakdi are giant cucumber that are in season now, there are two main types, one form Jhaaba and another from Sailana, they are soft and sweet (unlike regular cucumbers) and super hydrating. Ideal for people of pitta dosha but also fab for this season when pitta is high. With the diced cucumber there is beetroot and pumpkin and on the plate are also bitter Bhrahmi and sour Sorrel (Gongura) leaves with a dressing of coriander and buttermilk on the side." The light and refreshing salad was ideal as a precursor to our next course.

The Diwali Gujiya Course, in which Gujiya shells made of Khapli Gehu and jowar, were customised with fillings based on individual doshas of the diners and served with teekha and meetha chutneys. (We had each been asked to fill in a form that would determine our doshas earlier). Based on the same, those with a Vata dosha got a badam and paneer filling, those with a Pitta dosha, got a filling of pumpkin and greens. And those with Kapha dosha got a filling of greens and mushrooms! (Mine was the Pitta option, a crisp casing filled with a moist filling of pumpkin and greens that was so good that it did not need any of the accompanying chutney.)

Next came the Sharad Thaali. The main course made of seasonal produce, cooked into dishes Amrita remembered from her childhood. Fresh Singhada (water chestnuts) cooked into a dry subzi with bhuna masala, Pakoda Kadhi with wild Taakla bhaaji in the pakodas, Beet Raita, Charred Guava Cachumber, Chana Dal Pulao, Jowar Roti, Green Veggies Masala Puri and Sabudana Papad. I loved the beautiful colours and textures on my plate and the guava salad, kadhi and raita were so good I  asked for seconds of them all!

Rounding off the meal was Mukhwas, a signature offering from Amrita, a paan leaf topped with a delicate, subtle coconut water jelly, crunchy fennel seeds, dry rose petals and a drizzle of sweet Gulkand. Rolled up, it all came together into a perfect end to a beautiful meal.

And the meal was beautiful… nuanced, full of good ingredients, colours, textures and positive vibes. I could gush on about it but that would do it a disservice. The fact that I came away inspired enough to spend 4 days illustrating it, says it all! I’ve known Amrita for years, having followed her journey on lifekirecipe.com, through all her experiments with food, including the OMG Bacon Jam years, going vegetarian years and exploring Ayurveda years. Today as a certified Ayurveda practitioner, she seems to be in her element showcasing Ayurvedic principles for everyday use and her passion shows in the detailing she puts into her cooking workshops, pop-up meals and more. I think she might have found her calling… and I look forward to lots more learning and beautiful experiences curated by her (that hopefully inspire some more foodling too…)

Gyaan and LINKS
Follow Amrita on Instagram

For local farmers follow Offerings Farms , Vrindavan Farm
Connect with Triple OOO farms, call/connect on whassap at 9116666066 of follow on their Website  Instagram 
The Classroom by Lafolie is a state-of-the-art studio for interactive cooking learning and will soon launch Mumbai’s first Bean-to-Bar experience.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Jugalbandi of Chefs - Bomra's at O'Pedro Off season popup

Chef Bawmra Jap of Bomra's Goa
and Chef Hussain Shahzad of O'Pedro, Mumbai
On Thursday I attended a media preview of the 'Bomra's at O Pedro' pop-up. I am told this is the first of many (I hope) delicious ‘Off Season’ collaborations O’Pedro is looking at hosting. (Goan eateries typically shut down in the monsoons and O Pedro plans to take advantage by having them pop up in Mumbai). In this first one, Chef Bawmra Jap brings the magic of popular Bomra’s to Mumbai. When I first heard of it, I was excited to go try Bomra's food. They were on my list after winning in the CNT awards last year. On arriving and settling down however, I discovered, that the menu on offer was not classic Bomra’s but more a jugalbandi between Chef Bawmra and Chef Hussain. Bawmra’s strength is his fundamental grip on Burmese/Asian flavours and Hussain’s his knowledge of Goan/Portuguese cuisine. I love discovering classic cuisines and flavours, but I also find menus like this, where talented food minds get creative, extremely exciting!

Against a background of O Pedro’s happy vibe and the company of some of Mumbai's most interesting food writers, Primrose Monteiro D’souza, Pallavi Mehra and Nivedita Jayaram Pawar along with Chef Hussain and Bawmra made for a memorable meal full of great food and riveting conversation at our table!

Here is what I ate (mostly) and drank (sparingly from others since I don’t have sugar) from a menu of small and large plates.

Rahul, the mixologist kindly made me a no-sugar version of Bomra’s Gin Fizz (gin, triple sec, kaffir lime and Ginger Tincture, egg white and tonic water). I also tasted the other cocktails thanks to my generous dining companions. There was also a lovely Candolim Punch (rum, sesame milk, jaggery, cinnamon and lime) that came with a bowl of fruit. The idea being to eat little mango and coconut then chase it with the punch. The cocktails were nuanced and thankfully not overly sweet. There’s also a Kokum Gose beer on offer for the beer lovers.

Scampi Ceviche by the
 "Ceviche Chef" Hussain
The meal started with a selection of small plates. Happily, for me, the first one was a Scampi Ceviche. I love any of the dishes that belong to the raw cured meat /seafood dishes family, ceviche, tartare, poke, crudo, carpaccio. And (as I told him) I crowned of Chef Hussain, with the ‘khitab’ of Ceviche Chef long ago because he’s showcased so many stellar versions of ceviche throughout various menu changes at O Pedro. The Scampi ‘Ceviche’ had fresh scampi against a backdrop of yuzu ponzu sauce, topped with Burmese coriander, kaffir lime, and mango ginger. The zingy yuzu and highly aromatic, spicy herb combination added just the right liveliness to the dish without overwhelming the sweet soft textures of the scampi. One more leaf in the Hussain’s ‘Ceviche Chef’ in my opinion.

As the next dish came to the table, the conversation between the chefs veered towards eating exotic meats in Vietnam. Snake and crocodile are overrated, we were told, and turtle (although controversial) is delicious but both balked at the thought of consuming snake blood. I’ve eaten a lot of these exotic meats in my time, and I agree, but at that moment, I was to focus on the beautiful and far more plebeian rice paper rolls before me. Shiso, avocado and raw mango wrapped in rice paper, offered bright lively contrast to monsoon heavy skies outside. So subtly delicious on their own with the shiso adding a burst of flavour, they did not really need the killer Passion fruit hot sauce they came with. But the sauce was so good, we unanimously elected to hold on to it to keep dipping into throughout the meal.

Then subsequent dish almost dethroned Hussain as Ceviche king (the technicality that it was a tartare and the fact that he put it together on Bawmra’s direction made the difference.) To paint a picture with broad strokes Tartare are the meat versions of seafood-based Ceviche. Usually containing raw meat finely minced or ground served with assorted seasonings depending on the flavour profile of the meal. The Tartare we were served was literally put together on a whim that morning, so it is not on the menu. B*** was minced with Burmese herbs and plated with smoked marrow on top. It was served with little crackers (of Sago I think) on the side. It will tell you how good it was that while everyone tasted and talked around me, I proceeded to polish off every bite of this dish at our table with quiet concentration. Some things, you might never get again in life, after all!

Bawmras Jugalbandi Tartare
as executed by Hussain. 
"I just talk, and he puts it together," laughed Bawmra as he spooned some onto my plate. Hussain agrees. "It's like he is here on holiday, having fun randomly throwing ideas at me and leaving me to figure it out!" But beyond the happy banter, are threads of strong mutual respect and intrinsic understanding of the other’s ideas.
Like the Tartare, many dishes on the menu are a result of the unique synergy of food language between these two chefs. Add the catalyst of trips to Vietnam, much hanging out in Goa over drinks, games of SallyBally (water volleyball), impromptu midnight beef stew, liberally seasoned with herbs and flavourings Hussain has flagrantly stolen from Bawmra’s kitchen garden in Goa and we have an indescribable, irresistible mix of food and fun! As we continued to find out.

Smoked Corn Gnocchi
Next came a Smoked Corn Gnocchi on a bed of banana flower ragu and black sesame puree. The ‘Gnocchi’ is inspired by a Burmese dish called Mont Let Po, or ‘snack balls’ found all over the country. The Banana flower ragu and Black sesame puree are Hussain’s addition. The combination was quite lovely, the gnocchi chewy, the ragu rich in texture and subtle sweetness, the sesame puree lending earthy nuttiness. But this and a tofu curry that came later, were the quietest (though no less flavourful) dishes on a menu that in my opinion, was full of far more flamboyantly flavoured dishes.

Char Grilled Quail in Cherry Teriyaki
Char-Grilled Quail Skewers followed. Small barbeque ‘grills’ assembled out of terracotta flower-pots topped with wire frames bearing what looked like doll sized chicken legs (quail look like miniature chicken legs). Quail is ridiculously easy to overcook to dry nothingness, so I was happy to see these had been handled deftly. Brushed with a cherry teriyaki sauce and cooked to smokey perfection they are quickly wiped out by us. (I shamelessly used my high protein diet to snag a couple of extra pieces here!)

Tofu Curry with Pelata (in the background)
The large plates began with Tofu Curry with roasted pumpkin and lotus root chips and Burmese Palatha (Kerala Parotta’s Burmese doppelganger). 

Spicy Rice Noodles
with Shan Tofu Sauce 
Then came delicious Spicy Rice Noodles with Shan tofu Sauce. The noodles tossed with crisp sautéed snow peas, broccoli and crushed peanuts were fantastic, spicy and perfectly balances. That said I found the Shan tofu sauce was redundant. In Burmese cuisine Shan tofu is chickpea flour tofu. And Shan Tofu sauce is chickpea flour sauce. But for a palate that has tasted the more complex flavours of Gatta and Kadhi, the first is a bland version of Gatta, and the second looks and tastes like a bland Kadhi.

The two large plates that blew me away were the Steamed Fish and B*** Curry

I have fond memories from the first time I ate steamed fish years ago, so this option of Steamed Fish in banana leaves with a mixture of Asian herbs with Burmese Junglee Sauce had me excited. I LOVED every bite, the fish was juicy and flaky topped with a combination of herbs, Burmese coriander (that has a flavour of betel leaves) shiso, green chillies, coriander and more was fantastic. But be warned, this one is spicy, even without the fiery jungle sauce and even for a chilli head like me! I had to quench the fire with generous sips of Tom Yum Iced tea (house made Thai spice infused vodka, rum, gin, triple sec, jaggery, lime).

Candolim Midnight B*** stew
Thankfully the Candolim Midnight B**f Stew, also helped settle the burn. It came accompanied with the rider, “availability determines ingredients, number of cocktails consumed determines the flavour...” and it is over bowlfuls of this same stew that much of this menu was cooked up between Bawmra and Hussain. We got a version that included a large marrow bone requiring the rich marrow be scooped out into the curry. Falling-off-the-bone tender meat, tender chunks of melt-in-mouth marrow and a beautiful silky gravy accompanied by a subtly flavoured Coconut & Edamame rice made a supremely satisfying end to the meal for me! 
While I did take a bite of the Lemongrass Crème Brulee, with spiced biscotti and candied ginger that was dessert, it did not ring any high notes for me after that meal.

Coconut Edamame rice with Candolim B*** Stew
Like any great musical jugalbandi, this meal was a fantastic melding of two great chef's cooking philosophies (and quirks!) that came together in a gloriously flamboyant whole of flavours and textures. One of those experiences that one is fortunate to get a taste of but cannot be replicated again. So go get your fix before the festival ends! 

The Bomra’s at O’Pedro menu is available 27 July - 14 Augus 2019. Most of the above dishes will be available on 27/28 July, and a selection will be available post that until 14 Aug. All on a-la-carte basis (starters from Rs 425, mains from Rs 550, cocktails from Rs 550). At O’Pedro, BKC, Mumbai.

With Chef Hussain and Chef Bawmra outside O'Pedro