This time last year I was a glum girl. I’ve always loved travelling but given I had just moved to a new country and jumped from job to job until I found my fit, taking a long enough break became next to impossible and before I knew it, it had been 1.5 years since I had been to the airport – a depressing record I was most eager to break.
Which is why I promised myself that 2015 would be the year that I set a new habit. I decided to go somewhere different every month and eat my way through each holiday. I was relatively successful at my goal and while I didn’t manage to get time off to go every month, I did explore 12 new places and more importantly the amazing food they dish out there!
So, while everyone’s posting a list of the best restaurants that launched or the best recipes they tried, I thought I’d do a round with a difference – here’s a list of my favourite meals at the twelve destinations I visited this year!
Lassi and Paratha on the way to Corbett
I started the year with a short visit to the Jim Corbett National Park as part of an annual retreat at the job I worked at. While the food we had at the park was pleasant, what blew me away was the Lassi and Paratha we had at a dhaba stop in Uttar Pradesh. Our parathas came with 50gm cubes of butter each and the Kulhad lassi was so thick that you couldn’t drink it, it had to be spooned in. Forget about the great scenic places this state has to offer, I’ll be going back just for the parathas!
Kheema Pav at Ahura
Ahura is another highway stop but with the food they dish out they deserve to be a destination by itself. We stopped here enroute our annual pilgrimage to Udvada and their Kheema Pav was a revelation. Ahura also does a great omelette and an Akuri if you’re an eggetarian. My only regret was not having a plastic box in which I could pack some of this Kheema home.
Chocolate Walnut Fudge at Coopers, Lonavla
If you’re a Parsi, you know that visiting Coopers is a rite of passage and if you want to find us endangered species all huddled in a group then this little joint in Lonavla is a good bet. The signature dish at Coopers is their Chocolate-Walnut fudge and each time I eat their fudge its special because it brings back memories of my grandpa who was a stickler for ‘eating the right thing from the right place’.
Toddy in Bordi
I had the pleasure of discovering more about my Parsi roots this year with the Return to Roots program (they are accepting applications now!) and the bit I enjoyed most on the trip but of course, was the food. I discovered the joy of Toddy – the naturally fermented juice of the date palm tree – when we landed in Bordi. We paired our toddy with the signature sweet-sour Parsi dish Saas nu Gosht (mutton cooked in white sauce) while hearing tales about other tasty toddy dishes like the Toddy Bhakra and a Drumstick Toddy Curry!
Gulkand Ice-cream in Navsari
I’ve eaten a lot of ice-cream this year but I’ll still pick an ice-cream made of natural fruit flavours or one that’s made in a sancha any day over a Gelato. I discovered Yazdan Cold House and their Gulkand ice-cream while all the others in our return to roots trip were busy visiting the Atashbehram. Navsari is full of small shops run by the various Kolah brothers and this little joint in the main market is a must visit. I loved the fact that my ice-cream was not too sweet and that I could actually bite into the tiny rose petals embedded into the ice-cream.
Octopus Skewers in Guangzhou
Finally got to visit the airport later in the year when BawaGroom and myself headed off to Guangzhou, arguably the food capital of mainland China. I ate a lot of food in Guangzhou from weird soups to delicious dim-sum but what I ate all 6 nights I was there was the octopus skewers! These tiny seafood bbq places are dotted around the city and the crispy yet chewy octopus on a stick was just the best appetiser I could find
Frog Legs in HongKong
My mission in Hong Kong was to eat the strangest things I could find and my dream came true when a friends brother took me to MongKok to try Frogs Legs. These were different from the french style of cooking and came as a stir fry along with spring onions, peppers and chilli. From the first bite, I fell in love with the succulent meat of the frog legs and enjoyed every bite to the end. Now, if only I could have thighs that skinny, my life would be complete!
Gaai Daan Tsai at Lee Keung Kee, HongKong
When I told people I was visiting HongKong they suggested I try the egg waffle. My mind threw up an image of mini boiled eggs stuffed in a waffle and I decided to stay away. But my curiosity was piqued and I gave the Gai Daan Tsai a shot at the Lee Keung Kee stall in North Point. Made in the shape of tiny eggs (hence the egg waffle name), the waffle is brittle on the outside yet fluffy on the inside. On a food walk with Eating Adventures, I later learnt that Lee Keung Kee is one of Hong Kong’s best places to chomp on this snack and that the owner Mr. Lieu who started selling street food more than 30 years ago now has an Gai Daan Tsai empire spanning seven stores.
Bananas in Caramel Sauce in Goa
Probably one of the simplest desserts I’ve had this year was the Caramel Bananas at Venite, a small goan-portuguese place in Panjim, Goa. When I ordered it I had images of flambé bananas or something fancy but this place focuses on flavour rather than drama and what we got was a tiny round plate filled with caramel with banana slices dunked in. I was amazed that something so simple could taste so good with the sweetness of the banana offsetting the bitter caramel perfectly. The only thing missing was a generous scoop of vanilla ice-cream!
Puranpoli with Katachi Amti in Nashik
Puranpoli has to be one of my favourite Maharashtrian foods. But, I’ve only ever had it as a dessert or at tea-time instead of our standard Dar ni Pori. That changed when I went on a weekend trip to Nashik with the Wandering Foodie on a mission to explore Khandeshi food and Puranpoli was part of the main course! This deliciously sweet roti came paired with a spicy and sour amti that is made of the water left over from making the dal stuffing and a chilled sweet dessert wine. The combination knocked our socks off and I proceeded to not only eat 3 more but also learn how this dish is made with the founder, Rahul Patil’s mom and it was the highlight of my Nashik trip
Ghee Roast in Coimbatore
In the later part of the year, we catered for our first outstation party in Coimbatore where between BawaPapu and myself we cooked 9 courses for 60 people! After the meat overload, I wanted to have a very simple breakfast and we headed over to Annapurna for their signature dish, the Ghee Roast. This crispy cone of a dosa is so laden with ghee that even just a sada Ghee Roast is enough to fill you up. Ofcourse, I am a glutton so I had the Masala Ghee Roast and was amazed at the pillow like consistency of the mashed potato – very unlike the Mumbai one. Annapurna also makes THE best sambhar in the city so make sure you stop there if you’re heading to Coimbatore soon.
Pomfret Fry at Alibaug
A big thank you to all of you that have been following my writing and my work in the kitchen this past year – here’s to an adventurous 2016 as well!