Do you plan your upcoming vacations around destinations that are known to serve the best food? Do you believe that the best way to understand the culture of a new place is via the regional food favorites? Do you strongly feel that the best souvenirs you can take back home are those of the edible kind? If yes, then Wandering Foodie may be the answer.
Two engineers – Rahul Patil and Vinod Sarma- gave up their boring desk jobs, to combine their love for regional Indian food and travel, resulting in the ingenious Wandering Foodie concept. Currently limited to two destinations in Maharashtra – Nashik and Alibaug – the concept emphasizes on learning more about a place, by travelling there, and tasting traditional local food. Food that is made using traditional methods, by home chefs, and with local produce – it doesn’t get more authentic than this!
I spent an action packed, food driven, two day Nashik trip centered around the eventful itinerary created by the Wandering Foodies. Having been to Nashik previously, my experiences pertaining the local food and drink scene were limited to missal pav and Sula wines. Post my Nashik trip with Wandering Foodie, I learnt there’s so much more.
I learnt about local Khandeshi cuisine, which originates from Northern Maharashtra, known for combining local farm produce, with the fiery trademark ‘kala masala’. I learnt more about this theekha dhamaka ‘kala masala’ – a dark masala which renders it’s colour and smoky taste to the spices and dried onions that are roasted black into this preparation. I learnt about other boutique vineyards and the booming wine scene in Nashik; wines that can be paired with local Khandeshi food just as effortlessly. I spent a morning walking around Nashik’s oldest and first wine plantation, followed by an enriching cooking session on the very same farm.
Here are the highlights of my trip, moments that made the entire experience worthwhile:
Pairing Indian wines with traditional Khandeshi food, in the middle of a farm.
Situated under a canopy, while the sun shone above my head, and green foliage everywhere I looked, my rumbling ravenous tummy had no clue what lay ahead of us. We started off tasting all three wines individually – a Vallonné Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, a Fratelli Sette Red, and a Sula Late Harvest Chenin Blanc dessert wine – understanding and appreciating the nuances of all three. The real magic happens when the aesthetic Khandeshi thali is brought out, and the wine-food pairing begins!
Course one was a mildly spiced, but full of flavour varan batti – hard wheat bread dunked in dal, with a Vangyachi Ghotun Bhaaji – boiled and pounded ‘baingan bharta’ type preparation paired with the Rosé, bringing out flavors of this subtle course. Round two was a fiery, succulent mutton in kala masala, that when combined with the red wine, caused a wasabi-esque spice explosion at the back of my throat, and elevated the umami-ness of the meat. Round three was a ghee laden, delicious puran poli, with a saccharine sweet dessert wine that when combined acually helps cut down the sweetness of both participants. Magic in my mouth!
I have been to commercial wineries previously, but never really gone walking into the vineyards, or understood how smaller, boutique wineries work – which is where we landed up next.
Learning more about wines at the Vallonné boutique winery.
The blazing October sun blaring down our backs could not deter us from walking around the backyard of this picturesque, yellow bungalow. This was no ordinary backyard; this backyard grew the choicest of wine grapes that were conducive to growing in Indian climate and terrain. Since it was off season, the grape babies weren’t born yet, but it was still fun trekking around the vineyard understanding the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of grape cultivation.
This was followed by some ‘Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Spit’ right in the chilly fermentation room where we got to sample the entire Vallonné range. During the tour I learnt there’s something immensely magical and cocooning about being in a room filled to the brim with wine barrels. And something humbling and exciting about seeing the entire process of wine making – from grape to glass!
Driving into no man’s land, on roads which are barely wide enough for a car to pass through, and grape plantations for miles in front of us – getting lost in the tiny village of Ozar was an adventurous start to day two!
Visiting Nashik’s first grape plantation and learning to cook Khandeshi food on that very same farm.
We city folks tend to take the small things in life for granted, including farming and the complexity and processes that go into bringing a single ingredient onto your plate. Walking around a farm that morning, looking at a blossoming baby pomegranate, or a tiny tendril of developing table grapes, and how the poor rainfall this season is affecting farmers and indirectly going to affect us all to – there were so many thoughts chasing through my head!
This was followed by an enriching cooking session where we learnt how to prepare our favorite Khandeshi dishes from the best teachers one could ever as for – moms! I learnt to make a finger lickin’ chicken in kala masala – spicy, heaty, and oil laden – perfect to be mopped up with some pav or bhakri. The star of our lunch was the fiery Missal Pav made with kala masala, and drizzled with ‘tarri’ on top. Zanzanit!
There is something immensely satisfying about eating a hand cooked meal overlooking a lush green farm, bees buzzing over your head, and the sound of birds chirping from afar. The entire Wandering Foodie experience made me appreciate the entire ‘farm to fork’ journey, made me appreciate the hardships a farmer takes to bring food to our plate. I went back home clutching packets of ‘kala masala’ to my chest, and couldn’t wait to get cooking with them. I went home filled to the brim with knowledge about a new cuisine, and a different sort of life. That’s the joy of travel!
Check out wanderingfoodie.in for more information. A huge thank you to Rahul and Vinod for being such gracious hosts.