Christmas is a big deal in the Irani household. The tree comes out a week in advance, with mom and I decorating it with the same trinkets that I’ve been collecting as a little girl. I still get presents under my tree just as I did as a child, with the exception that I know it’s not Santa who is leaving them behind. And then of course, there’s the rum cake and marzipan that our neighbors and friends so generously send across. Growing up in Bandra has made me a lover of Christmas and all the festivities that come alongside. What are your Christmas and New Year plans?
Christmas came home early this year, when I walked home post work one day to a large hamper from Onesta Confections sitting pretty under my tree. Onesta which means ‘honesty’ in Italian, is the baby and brainchild of Neha Chaudhary. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in New York, and gaining further experience working at the J.W.Mariott, Mumbai; Neha started her own brand of desserts retailing out of Juhu.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve traveled to Pune for work and play, conferences and recreation. Ever since my maternal grandparents moved to Pune over a decade ago, a lot of weekends were spent there with family which included movies, shopping and most importantly stuffing our faces with food so that we’d come back five kilos heavier. Anything lesser, and my grandmother would take it as a personal insult. I was back after almost a year, and this time I was looking forward to trying out my old favorite eating places again. And trying out the newly recommended and read about foodie joints. So in absolute random order, here is my Pune food diary – including the old and the new. (Keeping it short and sweet here. Listing out only my absolute favorites from the trip, along with a few pictures. I could do an elaborate review also, but then that would result in me having to write a book. Any publishers interested? Lol.)
1. Dorabjee and Sons:
Every time someone asks me for Parsi food recommendations in Mumbai, I tell them to take a bus to Pune and eat at Dorabjee’s. My visit this time around, was consistent with all previous times; hearty food, memories, tradition, and the same waiter serving me who has been working at Dorabjee’s since 30 years! This institute of a restaurant, established in 1878 is situated on a picturesque street that screams out – Bawa! This place proves that good food comes first in the restaurant business, everything else later. Go on a Sunday and try out their mutton Dhansak (Rs. 250/-) and Patraa fish (Rs. 200/-) which is unavailable on other days. Round it up with an awesomely caramelized Lagan nu Custard (Rs. 50/-) which transported me back to a Parsi wedding. Jamva Chalo Ji!
Tea rooms are the new coffee shops. It is the latest trend in the city, that aims at elevating tea drinking, from the cutting chai that one has at local stalls to an elaborate, finer affair. Newer tea rooms have been setting up shop all over the city and older ones revamping themselves. The latest tea room to join the Bandra bandwagon is The XVII Tea Room situated on Turner Road. A few friends and I decided to skip our regular evening coffee routine, and meet up over tea instead. Our experience was so lovely, I decided to share it with you’ll. Stick out your pinkie finger, take a sip, and read on.
The rectangular space is done up with purple, velvet upholstered chairs and carpets to match. Opulent chandeliers hang from the ceiling and give company to a hand painted Alice in Wonderland-ish mural complete with teapots, cats, and a girl on a swing. There’s even an adorable pet cat napping at the entrance, who greets you with a meow. Très adorable!
When I think of Indian royalty and the food they must have eaten one dish comes to mind – Biryani. The king of all rice dishes, is indeed a dish made for the kings. I think of meat, vegetables, dry fruits, ghee, spices laden in aromatic basmati rice. But the biryani has humble variants too – the pulaos and tehris – food of the common man. The biryani of Persian origin is such a versatile dish, with each region having their own adaptation.
Highlighting biryanis across the country and showcasing the diversity of this dish is the Jashn-E-Biryani festival at the Neel restaurants in Mahalakshmi and Andheri. Chef Mukhtar Qureshi of Neel, who is a genius when it comes to Indian cuisine, has come up with an exhaustive menu of 12 biryanis (six vegetarian, and six non-vegetarian) that pay respect to this royal food. I got to sample the entire menu and I was left spell bound at not just the biryanis but the minute attention spent at even the accompaniments to each. Without further ado, here goes my biryani trail in random order!
Kareli ka Dum Doodhiya Pulao: (Rs. 885/-)
Appearances can be deceptive when it comes to the looks of this biryani. I was expecting it to be bland, but the rice is immensely flavored with the lamb stock and meat it is cooked in. It comes with the most well-done lamb shanks and spicy lamb koftas, that makes this one amazing pulao! The Gosht shorba that accompanies it was a spectacular meat flavored broth that would go perfectly on a cold winter night!
I love small restaurants with character. Ones with feeling. And a back story attached. Most of these places are run by families and have been in the business for generations. They are the ones that serve hearty food, in a cozy setting without pinching your pocket. One such tiny place we dined at the other day during our escapade into Fort’s by-lanes was The Teapot Cafe.
Situates in a leafy lane, The Teapot Cafe is a tiny, blink-and-miss place. The sign board with a teapot dangling is what led us in. You feel like you’ve entered into someone’s living room when you step inside. Old tiles, couches, mismatched chairs, curios and teapots! Tons and tons of teapots wherever you look. The smiling, bubbly Delna Palia who owns and runs the cafe, apart from pursuing a budding law career told us about her fascination for teapots and how she loves collecting them and receiving them as gifts. So when her father gave her an old office space to convert into a cafe, she could think of no better theme or name for it! The cafe has such a vintage, Parsi home feel to it, except that it wasn’t as clean or spotless.