Indian cuisine is one of the richest in the world offering endless flavors, aromas, colours and ingredients reflecting India’s rich and complex history. You can taste and enjoy so many varieties of the cuisine in dhabas, bazaars, chai shops, top restaurants and hotels, lassi stands and train stations. Here we will get your taste buds ready for a wonderful food journey through India.

The Jana waterfalls story

The Incredible Story of The Jana Waterfalls: From Zero to 150,000 Tourists Annually

If you’d ask me why I love travelling,I would say it’s because I am crazy about the stories. Travelling allows us to be exposed to stories all the time. Eventually, when we look back at the colorful mosaic of our journeys, the story is what holds all the pieces together.  It is the glue.

A story is a medium of communication and engagement with the local culture. It makes you listen. It reminds you that what you see are real people with real voices. In other words,they’re not just objects on the other side of our camera lens.

Sometimes it seems that recalling stories (or listening to them) is a little bit like browsing a huge photo album. You just scan them, page after page, mechanically.

But there’s the BANG factor…

There’s always an Image lying in the massive pile thatclicks those buttons and forces us to stop. It’s almost irresistible.It gets straight to the heart.

Hearing stories is just the same. Sometimes, very rarelythough, you get to hear a story thatclicks those buttons.

But that is exactly the kind of story I heard when I was at Jana waterfalls in the KuluValley in Himachal Pradesh.

So, here’s the story of a successful entrepreneurship in the dense forest of the Himalayas.

A Poor Himachali Farmer Who Had Cracked the System (Big Time)

When I first came to see what all the fuss about Jana waterfalls was about, I was awfully disappointed. I just couldn’t figure out why this place attracts so many people when there are much more impressive waterfalls in the Himalayas…

I was wandering around a few Dhabas (local restaurants) near the waterfall trying to understand, looking allover to find out what else was there. When I realized that there’s nothing more, I finally sat down to have a lunch in the Dhabaright next to the waterfall pool.

Man, the food was damn good!

That was a relief. I didn’t come all the way just for nothing.

I got a lead. The first piece of the incredible story of the Jana waterfall puzzle wasrevealed in my mouse.  It was a local festival made of forest herbs that had been picked up in the woods and put on my plate.

When I was having a chat a few days later with Mani Ram, the guy who owns the Dabha,I asked him how he was able to prompt this place to become such a successful tourist attraction.He mentioned the food tweak.

Other people mentioned Mani Ram’s persistence as the main reason for the success of the Jana waterfalls as a tourist attraction.

A start up in the dense forest of the Himalayas – The story of Jana waterfalls

A start up in the dense forest of the Himalayas – The story of Jana waterfalls

So here’s how a Himachali Farmer Succeeded Where the Sharpest Folks in the Industry Sometimes can’t…

Twelve years ago, Mani Ram was a farmer. Like many other Kullu farmers, he had a little apple orchard and small pasture fields for his cows.

But then he decided to change the course of his life.

He managed to pull off what the sharpest folks in the tourism industry are all craving to do, and that is to create a new tourist attraction. It took him 12 years to bring approximately 120,000 annually to Jana waterfalls. He anticipates that next year the number will rise to 150,000 tourists.

You can imagine that Mani Ram never graduated from Harvard Business School, he never worked a single day in a travel agency company to learn some tricks,and he had not even a single rupee in his pocket for an initial investment.

If he would have come to the bank to get a loan for opening a restaurant in a place where bears and leopards are the only potential customers, I assume that he would have been kicked out the door.

He didn’t even have the time to work full time on his ‘Jana waterfalls’ because he was so occupied in his daily war to survive. All the people in his village thought Mani Ram was crazy to pursue his vision.

What Was in Jana Waterfalls Before You Started the Whole Journey?

“Twelve years ago,Jana waterfalls was just a spot where local farmers from Jana (the nearby village) came with their herds to rest. It was all jungle.”

Jungle is a general term used all over India to describe uncultivated land. In this case, it’s a dense pine forest whichis very typical to the lower parts of the Himalayas.

“It was also a place for people to stop the on the old road from Naggar, the ancient capital of the Kullu district, to the famous Bijli Mahadev temple,” he continued.

Okay… how, then, does a farmer who is working so hard to make his living decide to open a ‘start-up’ in a place where there is simply nothing there?

“See,” he said “from time to time I used to see some foreign tourists trekking on this route going to visit Bijli Mahadev temple, which is 24 km away and above Kullu City. Although I wasn’t able to speak with them because I don’t speak English, it was obvious that some tourists do come here.”

“One day a group of five Western people had stopped by the waterfall pool. They had been trekking from Bijli Mahadev. We had a bit of a talk. Suddenly one of them told me: ‘You know, Mani Bhai( brother,) if there was a small Dhaba for the passers and goers it could have been real nice’.”

I didn’t take it seriously at the moment he mentioned it. The genius of his suggestion struck me later on.

It wasn’t an easy decision. We had absolutely no time to commit to such a project. You know, we were very poor. We were ‘Ketibadi’.

Ketibadi means literally “farmers” in Hindi. But it means much more. About 80 percent of the population resides in rural areas, and they rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. Household food insecurity and poor nutrition are basic problems in these areas where about half of the children under five years of age are malnourished.

Most of the rural households have little or no access to primary health care, education, safe drinking water and sanitation.

“Working in the fields leaves you almost no room for new initiatives that are not directly concerned with survival,” he continued.

At the beginning, I opened just a small hut and my wife made food for those who came in. She’s a great cook!

The incredible food in Jana waterfalls

The magic of the Jana waterfalls. Absolutely delicious!

What did your friends in the village think about the fact you were opening a Dabha?

He smiled.”They thought I had gone crazy!”

“But I kind of connected the dots.”

The dots? I asked

“That my wife is a great cook; that there some people coming here and we can rest everyday in the same spot- near the Jana waterfalls – thus we can earn some extra rupees while we’re there.”

Were you thinking at that point in time that the Jana waterfalls would become such a big tourist attraction in Kullu?

“Absolutely NOT! We were focusing in one thing and one thing only- feeding the few who came with all the heart. Serving the best food we could. And still, this is what we do.”

The Power of Words-Tweak

“In the beginning, we were just serving the best food, which was natural for us since it was the only food knew how to make. It’s a traditional food, and most of its ingredients are being are grown here in this area. The herbs we’re using are being picked up from the woods above us.

But then we realized that what was obvious for us was an attraction for them. And it was all summed up in one phrase – Local food.

Once were aware of that, the number of visitors rose dramatically.

“Actually, as you have noticed, the waterfall is not the center of attention here. It is the local food that we make. But ‘Jana waterfalls’ is a far better title that will bring people to this place. Still, sitting and have lunch right next to the waterfall is great experience like it has been for many years, even before the locals had have come here.

Mani Ram may not have been to business school, but he sure can add the numbers and accurately analyze every single component in his business.

He knows exactly how many have visited the place each year. He knows the annual growth curve. He can tell you also how long they stay on average. And, he knows what should be done to get more tourists to come.

Jana waterfalls in Kullu valley

“It’s all about the road conditions,” he says. If the government would have invested money in the roads, then more private cars could have get here easily. Before the elections they keep on promising, but afterwards nothing really happened. It’s all up to us.”

Now in Jana waterfalls there are a few more Dhabas, some local fabric stalls, and taxi services to and from Jana from the nearby village of Naggar. There’s even rock-climbing attractions for those who what to challenge themselves. 

“The big change,” Mani Ram says, “had happened 4-5 years ago. The numbers jumped from 40,000 tourists a year to 100,000 the next year.

The word about our local food is widely spread now. People are integrating the Jana waterfalls to their vacation holidays in Kullu Valley and Manali way before they even come to the region.

And what is the secret for this success?

Whatever you do- do it with all your heart! (And of course, it’s important that God will help you a little bit…)

What about the future? Where do you see this place taking off to?

Here, he points his finger toward a beautiful meadow just next to the water stream.“I want to build a camping site for the trekkers. With a nice campfire in the center of it. What do you say, ha?!”he asked me.

Frankly, this guy knows ten times better than me what is the best thing to do. So the only possible answer I could have said was – “For sure!” It is looking amazing, though.

And do you know how many trekkers are coming here? That was a rhetorical question, because after 45 minutes of conversation with Mani Ram I had already figured out that there isn’t a single piece of data he doesn’t know about.

“1000 a year” he said. “But next year there’ll be more.”

So now you know the story of Jana waterfalls. You know that when you get there, you’ll get a super local Himachali dish made with love.

And you will also know that that there’s always a story out there!

Ordering food in a dhaba

The mystery of food ordering in an Indian restaurant

There are many types of places where you can eat in India, ranging from street food stalls to fancy elite restaurant . In this post we will be talking about a type of restaurant which is far from fancy and it is commonly known as the Indian Dhaba — a local restaurant for common people.Ordering food in India

However, even within Dhabas, there is a wide variety wherein some serve very basic food at cheap prices and others have melded into more sophisticated restaurants, reflected in the prices as well. Here, as I said, we are after the lower range Dhaba which will most likely be, regardless of travel budget, come across while traveling in India. If not, you should certainly seek one out. They serve great and authentic food, it’s cheap and above all it’s an amazing experience.

A chronicle of a failure foretoldOrdering food in Indian restaurant  

The following scenario has happened to me more than once, so I consider it to be a chronicle of a failure foretold. Nevertheless I think it’s important to share this conclusion with you. This conclusion comes exactly the opposite of what you all know; that is to go to restaurant when you are hungry or about to be. In India, you must go to the restaurant when you are absolutely full. Actually the best time to go is when you have had the last bite of a healthy meal.

Say you just arrived to a restaurant exhausted and starved from a long day of exploration. You have just ordered Sabzi with rice (A typical dish in local Dhabas) expecting to get a plate of rice, and a plate of cooked vegetables gravy and chapattis (flatbread) in just a few minutes.

That’s how our Sabzi with rice case study begins:

1)      You may be proud of yourself having successfully made your order properly, now the ball’s in the waiter’s court. You have done your part; all you need to do is lay back and wait for the great food to come and finish another perfect day.

2)       After awhile, you may realize that there are no signs for salvation and the food is yet to come. It’s your turn again to make a reminder that you are alive and hungry. Once you have successfully made your note, it would be good idea to browse the camera’s photographs in order to kill the time.

3)      When you are just about to lose your patience the waiter will come with a plate in his hands — that would probably be the chapatti.  A message of hope just arrived and now everything looks promising. Unfortunately, what I’m about to say is statistically backed up not only by my experiences, but by many others’ as well- the chapatti slices stand for themselves. Seemingly you should have dipped them in the vegetable gravy (in an ideal world), but apparently, you may find that it has nothing to do with the rest of the dish in terms of timing.dhaba_ordering food

4)      Even the strongest person cannot resist the temptation when he/she is so hungry. I can assure you that it will be consumed long before the vegetables, gravy and rice appear.

5)      Once you finish eating the chapatti, you may feel mild relief mixed with some self-disappointment for not being able to wait for the entire meal. But rest assured; it wasn’t a fatal mistake as you’ll see as your meal goes on. Think of it as a small victory in the whole doomed campaign.

6)      Now it’s time for the rice. A few minutes or so after you eat all the chapatti slices, a plain plate of white rice is in front of you. With no chappati and no vegetable gravy around you are about to have another rough dilemma. To eat or not to eat? the chappati was certainly not enough to fill you up but it’s pointless to eat just plain white rice without the vegetable gravy . You are forced to wait again. Slowly, slowly the rice will de disappear and you’ll become totally full.

7)      Guess what? This is exactly the time when the vegetable gravy finally shows itself.

That’s it – the house always wins!   

Murphy ’s Law in action, right in the middle of Indian restaurant           

murphys lawNow, having all figured out how to avoid the above scenario, determined to improve your odds for enjoying the great Indian cuisine in local style, you decide to take action. Knowing that it may take so much time to eat, this time you won’t be coming as hungry as before. However, for some reason Murphy is always ready to stick his nose in — especially where not welcome with his first Meta rule: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”. When you are not expecting the food to come so fast and you have got some tiny snacks to get through the long intervals between plates, hocus pocus! The entire dish comes right away with everything in it, the whole nine yards. Even with extra Dahi (yogurt) on the house.

So here you are with a full scale meal in front of you, but unfortunately, you are not hungry…

Again, the house always wins!

 

Have you ever been to India? Sound familiar? Feel free to leave a comment 

Chili fields in India

Red Magic on a White Plate – Varq Restaurant Delhi

1) Aperitif: Food for thought 2) Main Dish: Varq Restaurant Delhi 3) Dessert 4) How to reach There (map)

Usually we do not encourage you to explore India by spending a lot of money. We believe that India can offer great travelling opportunities without needing to splurge, making it enjoyable even for those who want to travel on a budget. This post is somewhat different though. Today, we will be introducing a restaurant in New Delhi that is far from being low budget, at least by Indian standards. Why is it worth the extra money?

First, the food is outstandingly delicious, and that is always a good reason. Everyone needs a treat once in a while, and giving yourself a tasty meal in a nice restaurant can be counted as one of those treats! The second reason is that the food on your plate represents another face in a constant dialog between India and the west. It has become a domain for discussion of India’s attitude towards its own tradition and the changes India is willing to accept for itself and its place in the world.

The discussion between Indians about tradition and globalization can be seen everywhere; in cinema, arts, politics, literature, and the economy. It just becomes slightly more interesting and easier to discuss when it gets on your plate! The menu at Varq can be considered proof for an elegant reconciliation between many contradicting elements shaping India’s search for self identity in the modern world. This delicious lesson in globalization and food fusion will cost couples approximately $130.00 for a full meal.

Chili fields in India

The red life source

Aperitif: Food for thought 

The question of the authenticity of Indian gourmet cuisine is a big issue among food critiques and bloggers, yet almost everyone agrees that Indian elite food has gone through many changes. The most evident transition of traditional food per se to fine gourmet started 20 years ago, not in India but in London!

There were few challenges though that Indian cuisine was facing. The biggest issue was presentation: How to convert “bowls of brown goo” –as put by some critiques- to gourmet food presentation. The second challenge was to overcome the issue of spices, and more over, how much they were used. This is a tough one to deal with.

So let’s put some spices on that one…

Indian food is defined almost culturally by chili and masala (mixture of spices), and is famous for its spicy hot taste. Chili is a trade mark of India (not only as food) but as one of the major source of life for many Indian villages for centuries. As pointed out by Mahatma Gandhi during the struggle for independence, the life in India’s villages represents the very soul of India.  In his touching book Discovery of India, Nehru, India’s first prime minister, felt that the Indian sentiment, which is crucial for nation building, lies in the villages.  With spices being the core source of existence for these villages, it is easy to see why separating India from its spices is almost unthinkable.

A frame from the movie Mirch Masala

A frame from the Mirch Masala

A straight forward example can illustrate why chili might be hard to remove from Indian cuisine, as a principle and as a mark of identity can be seen in the Bollywood movie Mirch Masala. The story is about chili growers in a small village, in pre-independent India, who are being suppressed by the British colonialism, taxes, and humiliation. It may be accidently that the movie plot revolves around a village of chili growers, but it could also reflect something else: deeper concerns to the Indian sentiment. The same sentiment that Gandhi, like many others after him, thought is rooted in the never ending fields of India, often painted red with chili; a sentiment which links India to its past, to its traditions, and to its ability to maintain a self-ruled way of life. The village symbolizes these values, and diverting from these values can violate the core of identity.

That is a definitely a big challenge for modern Indian chefs. Combining the imperatives of a modern, sophisticated, yet subtle-tasting cuisine with the rough chili taste that preserves self identity will ensure that India’s cuisine can move forward without losing its core roots.  Modern chefs must be near magician to get these conflicted poles into a untied dish, but somehow, they manage to pull it off!

For those of you who wonder how the movie ends, you probably guessed right…the tax collector appointed by the British commissioned officer gets bitten like hell by the villagers who used the only weapon they knew – Chili!

It may explain even in the slightest why the breakthrough in Indian elite restaurant scene had to develop in London and not India. In 2001, Atul Kochhar from Tamarind restaurant in London, became the first Indian chef who received worldwide recognition for his work, and was the first to get a Michelin star. He later went on to receive the same recognition for his new restaurant Benares in 2007. Later on other Indian chefs began receiving Michelin stars, such as Vivek Singh, and NY based Vikas Khaana (who is in People magazine’s exclusive list of the Sexiest Men alive!)

Atul Kochhar the first India chef who received a Michelin star

Atul Kochhar the first India chef who received a Michelin star

Criticism about the food in Indian restaurants in India is mostly about the issues mentioned, and most of these chefs have that criticism in common; however as Vir Sanghvi -one of the pioneering Indian food critiques-noted:

“London may have had a historical importance in the development of Indian food, and its chefs may have made some valid contributions, but the future of Indian food lies in the same place as its past – in India itself.”

This is where we get to the Main Dish of the post

Main Dish: Varq restaurant Taj Hotel, Delhi

Varq is the Hindi word for foil. Edible pure silver is often used in Indian cooking as a garnish, adding a shiny touch to dishes. Varq is used both in savory and sweet dishes. Varq is also the name of one of the best Indian restaurants in India, and it is the Taj Mahal Hotel’s flagship restaurant. It is said that same way that varq enables a shiny touch to Indian sweets; Varq restaurant provides a shiny attitude to Indian elite cuisine.

Varq restaurant in Delhi India

This is the places where integration of world cuisines is happening. Hemant Oberoi, India’s best known chef, has managed to bring the east and west together without sacrificing each of their special identities and styles. With new techniques and innovative approach, he has created a perfect mix between western style food presentation and authentic Indian flavors. The menu is a rich accumulation of Indian recipes. Varq retains the traditional Indian method of cooking, while using exotic ingredients like sea bass, sand crab, black cod, morels and Iranian berries.

Hemant Oberoi, Varq's chef

Hemant Oberoi, Varq’s chef

Varq restaurant Delhi  might be the most famous of the new wave of Indian restaurants, but there are many others which have followed its path. Indian Accent, also in New Delhi, is run by Manish Mehrotra, a chef who originally specialized in Thai food and who has lived in London. Mehrotra’s food is authentically Indian but his style is as smart as anything the London chefs can dish out.

Dessert:

Three words: Gulab Jamun cheesecake. Normally I don’t chose Indian desserts if I have the option, as their texture isn’t enjoyable and they’re just too sweet; however I do love the big fuss around the sweets in India but I’ll leave that to different post. In the meanwhile, try the Gulab Jamun cheesecake. It is absolutely lip-smacking, and you’re guaranteed to love it!

After having the Varq experience in New Delhi, you will have a whole new understanding of Indian food and cuisine. You will even have a better outlook the great street food India has to offer.

 

It’s recommended to make reservations to make sure you can be seated in a timely fashion.  For reservations, contact the restaurant directly:

1, Mansingh Rd, New Delhi (see the exact location on the map)

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We will be happy to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comments and suggestions for future articles!

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Coconuts of south India

Who Else Wants to Try South Indian Food?

What is Thali?

All over India north to south you will see thali on every menu and this traditional all you can eat meal served in compartmentalized plates is an absolute treat and every tourists dream. It features an array of breads, rice, vegetarian dishes, daal, pickles, curd and dessert and differs in every region and state that you visit. It is usually very affordable, allows you to taste many dishes at one sitting and because it is all you can eat you never go away feeling hungry. So you are probably wondering how south Indian thali is different to any other thali you can eat in India?

Banana leaf

Often your food will be served on a banana leaf in the South

South Indian Thali

South Indian Thali differs from state to state. What you will find in the southern states of Kerala will differ in Karnataka and likewise for Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. However as a general rule south Indian food uses a lot of coconut, rice and the dishes are primarily vegetarian. Non vegetarian dishes usually use seafood and chicken.

A typical south Indian thali is often served off a banana leaf or on a thali plate decorated with a leaf. Interestingly, if you are visiting a family the banana leaf can say much about the family it says which community they are from, their status, wealth and even where they originate! The leaf is spilt with the top the dips and the lower part the rice and in the middle fried items.

However usually in a restaurant it is a little more simple and the South Indian food is served on a thali plate.

The South Indian Thali Plate

So you are probably wondering what a typical South Indian Thali looks like so here goes:

Typical South Indian thali

A typical South Indian thali. All you can eat affair with lots of flavour and a real treat for the traveller. Photo by CulinaryTours

Here is a guide to the thali plate:

  • Rice (a staple of south Indian food)
  • Spicy potato (this is a popular item that is used to fill the masala dosa)
  • Pakora ( fried vegetables)
  • Kootu (coconut and lentil stew)
  • Poriyal or Kura (Dry vegetable curry)
  • Paruppu (spicy lentils)
  • Sambar (a vegetable dal)
  • Rasam (a tamarind dal flavoured with seeds)
  • Thogayal (chutney made with coconut and other herbs are often added such as coriander)
  • Payasam (rice and milk pudding)
  • Curd (to cool the palate)
  • More kulamba (cooked yoghurt curry)
  • Buttermilk chillies (fried chillies with a thick buttermilk coating)
  • Bread (often a papad or poori)

South Indian Culinary Schools

As mentioned food in the south differs from region to region so here is a quick overview when you are travelling of the differences between the tastes of the beautiful south Indian food that you will come across:

Kerala

The food in Kerala displays the influence of a variety of cultures. It is where Islam and Christianity came  to India and is also the home of Ayurveda. Fish is very popular and the staple foods are rice and tapioca. Due to the diversity of the region there is a large range of both vegetarian and non vegetarian food and due to the state being on the coast there is an abundance of fish and it’s tropical location means coconut and spices are a staple.

Andhra Pradesh

The food is usually vegetarian but along the coast seafood is eaten. Rice is a staple and vegetables are flavoured with coconut, spices and fresh herbs. They use both spices and chillies heavily in the food and curd is eaten to cool the palate. Dessert is often payasam (rice and milk pudding) or sheer khurma (delicacy with dried fruit and nuts)

Karnataka

Fish and coconut are dominant ingredients used in Karnataka and each within the state have interpreted these ingredients in their own way. You will find when you eat a thali that there is usually kosambari pickle, palya, gojju, rice with ghee, thoyyee, chitranna, curd rice, raita dessert.

Tamil Nadu

The staples are vegetarian and reliant on rice. Food is eaten off a banana leaf containing rice, vegetables, curd, pickle, rasam (tamarind dal with seeds), sambar (vegetable dal), nariyal ki chutney (coconut chutney). The food is spicy, oily aromatic and tamarind, asafetida are used to sour the food while mustard seeds and curry leaves are popular.  Much of the population of Tamil Nadu are vegetarian but those that are not eat a lot of fish and will eat varuval which is a popular dry dish of onion and spices with either vegetables, chicken or fish.

So go thali your way around South India it is a treat on the tastebuds

Map of states of South India

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Idli and Vada

The Secret Tastes of South Indian Food

Snack Food with a Difference

vada pav native to the state of Maharashtra

The vada pav is a variation of vada. It is a very popular and famous roadside snack food of Mumbai. Thanks to cuminandcardamon

Snack food in South India is just a treat to the senses. I always look forward to tiffin which is an old British term that is now used in the South for the snack hours between meal times. Where ever you happen to be there is always an array of tasty savory snacks usually made from rice flour combined with lentils. Each dish is served with Sambar which is a south Indian daal, Chutney made from fresh coconut and often Rasam a tamarind daal.  A real treat for the hungry visitor.

So here is a guide to some delicious south Indian food all of which must be tasted at least once. With so many places to visit in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu your trip there would not be complete without enjoying these tasty snacks.

best of India- Food in India

Best of India

Dosa

This has to be my favorite snack food in India. The best way to describe them is a thin savory pancake made from rice and lentil flour and shallow fried in a pan. When they are stuffed with spicy potatoes they are called masala dosa. Dosa has been a staple food of the south for centuries and can even be dated back to the 5th century. So this takes

Idli and dosa

Idli and dosa eaten off a banana leaf. enjoyed with sambar and chutney. Thanks to TastyAppetite

on a new meaning of a recipe being handed down from generation to generation. Like most foods there have been adaptions and today you can find so many different versions of the dosa such as the paneer dosa, butter roasted dosa, rava dosa, tomato dosa, paper thin dosa and the list goes on.

I have eaten dosa all over South India and so many have been fantastic but one of my favorites that stands out has to have been during my stay in Munnar. I think I must have been pretty hungry that morning before my jeep trip to Kumily but I ate at a popular vegetarian restaurant called Suravana Bhavan after a recommendation. The place was crowded but the dosa I ordered was served quickly on a banana leaf with a really tasty and fresh sambar and chutney.

Idli

Idli now I don’t know why but I find this to be quite a quirky snack. It is very popular and can be found on all menus of the south and there is no surprise here that it is also a very old food from around the 10th century. It has changed since then though. It used to be fried but today this snack made from rice flour spiced with pepper and asafetida and resembles in shape a small disc is steamed. It is a very light snack and is usually served with sambar and two types of chutney.

Uttapam

Uttapam one of the foods of Southern India

A tasty uttapam made with onions, tomatoes, green chillies and coriander. Thanks to RumblingTummies

Another one of my favorite foods of the south is the uttapam. It can be described as a vegetable pancake usually with onions, green chillies, tomatoes and coriander and enjoyed on the side with sambar and chutney.

Vada

This is another very old snack food and some say possibly the oldest in India originating in Tamil Nadu. Resembling something that looks like a doughnut but tasting very different. They are eaten as snack or at breakfast with sambar and chutney. Like the dosa there are so many variations of the vada that it is almost endless. The most popular is the uddina vada but then you have the masala vada, bonda vada, keema vada and vada pav to name only a few.

Bonda

aloo bonda (Cook curry nook)These are deep fried balls made from gram flour and potatoes and is sold by street vendors for snacking. There are also sweet versions which are very similar to doughnuts. Savoury bondas are often spicy and can be filled with vegetables and are usually served with fresh lime juice.

 

South Indian food is a wonderful blend of flavors, seasonings, colours and fragrances and is a perfect way to enjoy the vibrancy of the south

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Fruit Juice poster

The Freshest Juice of Agra

Char Rang Ka juice

The Taj Mahal, Agra

The Taj is not the only experience to be had in Agra

We have a surprise for you.  Agra is not only the Taj Mahal! Can you believe it?

After a long time living in Agra and having the pleasure to have met many tourists who annoyingly were ignoring the essence of the less beaten touristy areas of Agra, I have decided that I must publish a series of posts dedicated only to this amazing city.

Unexpected taste of the city

This post will be the first one to provide you with unexpected tastes of the city, a different side of Agra. For a long time many tourists found Agra to be a boring place which provided no interest except of course the Taj Mahal. Agra has become totally underestimated only because it hosts one of the greatest monuments in the world. In my opinion the Taj in all its wonder is the magic of the city but also its curse. There are countless hidden spots all over the city that are kept in the shadows due to the Taj and its beauty.

Getting out of Agra as quick as possible

I know from personal experience that many interactions between foreign tourists and the local people in Agra (mainly in the Taj area) can be quite unpleasant and for that reason many tourists just want to get out of Agra as soon as they have seen the Taj.

Exploring the City

I was lucky enough, yes lucky to have studied and lived in Agra so I got an amazing opportunity to explore the city extensively. I have much to share on what to see and do, places to eat and other great treats the city offers.

Ok before we begin, don’t get me wrong it’s not that I do not like the Taj Mahal on the contrary I think it is really one of the peaks of human creativity and that is something I will never underestimate. The problem I have with it is the symbol that the Taj has become. I personally don’t like symbols because they tend to cover the smaller things and make you look up instead of down for the great stuff that is just under your feet.

Fresh fruit

Try the Char Rang Ka juice whilst in Agra

Char Rang Ka juice has to be tasted in Agra

But now let’s get to business. The first place I would recommend you to go to is no less than the well-known and distinguished establishment called “Char Rang Ka juice”. In English it means “Four Colors Juice”

What could be better than to start the day with a fresh juice, the nectar of gods before hitting the road?

The highlight of Agra

I open my highlights of Agra with this place because for a long time it was the starting and ending point of my tours in Agra. Secondly after drinking this shake I wasn’t the same person (hope this reason is convincing enough). Thirdly, in Indian Mythology there is a famous story about the Devas (Gods) and the Rakshas (demons) who fought each other over a liquid (Amrit) which enabled the one who drinks it to live forever. Do you understand my point?

The Taj Mahal of Juices

Very few people in Agra do not know this place or have ever heard about it. This is the Taj Mahal of juices. The big cold jars are divided into four different kinds of fruits (Banana, Pineapple, Papaya, Strawberries, Melon, Orange etc.). You choose which juice are poured into your glass and what is created are four accurate layers, four colors, four tastes, four heavens in a hot Agra day! You don’t need to be rocket scientist to figure out why this fine establishment is called four colors juice (or four color shakes).

The good things in life are the simplest

Stall Agra

A local street stall in Agra, India

Do not expect to find a fancy shop or a sophisticated fruit boutique because the “Char Rang Ka juice” is a very simple wooden stand with a very old juice extractor located in the middle of Sanjay Place in Agra.  But the juices there are no doubt yummy! If the Taj Mahal is known to be Sangmarmar ki Kavita (in English: poem of marble) than there is no doubt that the Char Rang Ka juice is a fruit ki Kavita.

One can achieve this result in making shakes only when you mix fresh fruits with a lot of creativity, love and doing it for years…

How to get there?

First of all you need to get to Sanjay Place. Any Rickshaw driver will take you there in no time for 80 rupees (Almost from anywhere in Agra).

When you get to Sanjay Place ask anyone where is the “Metro Hotel” (Chilli Intl. rd)

When you get to the “Metro Hotel” just ask: “Where is Char rang Ka Juice?”

You will be only 1 min away. The fruit stand is just at the back of the hotel.

Where spices are grown in India

The Secret of the Indian Spices List

A scenic and spectacular trip to the Spice Hills of Kerala

Set in the lush hills of Kerala, the area around Thekkady in the Western Ghats is a dream for any spice lover. The endless rolling green hills, tropical flowers, winding roads, and misty skies are picture perfect and make for a spectacular journey. The perfection doesn’t end here. As you breathe in the fresh mountain air, the beautiful and delicate aromas of the spices hit your senses and you know you have arrived to the spice plantations of India. Its sheer beauty is captivating and a wonderful opportunity to taste, pick and take home the freshest spices you can find plus impress all your family, friends and your taste buds with your new culinary delights.

Within the  never ending Indian spices list there are numerous spices you can find in Thekkady including pepper, cinnamon, clove, vanilla, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric and curry leaves. Here are our pick of the top 5 spices and some fun and important facts about each in our India Spices list:

Our Indian Spices List:

One of the most well used spices of the world

Spice up any dish with some pepper

Pepper

Did you know that the origins of pepper come from Kerala and is the most abundantly found spice in the area?

In the Middle Ages pepper was so valuable it was worth more than gold by weight and individual peppercorns were accepted as legal currency

Black peppercorns contain a good amount of minerals like                                                    potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, and magnesium

Pepper makes you sneeze because it contains an alkaloid called piperine which acts as an irritant if it gets into the nose

 

Cinnamon

Fresh cinnamon from Kerala

Fresh cinnamon sticks are a key part of the Indian spices list

It is one of the oldest know spices and is mentioned in the bible

The humid, tropical and evergreen conditions as found in Kerala are the best environment for the growth of cinnamon

Cinnamon is used in Ayurveda medicine to help treat diabetes, digestion and circulation

Cinnamon is added to food the world over and is mostly used in the West in sweet dishes but it is used abundantly in India, the Middle and Africa in savory dishes

Aromatic cloves from Kerala

A spice that is used in most Keralan dishes

Cloves

An essential spice of Kerala and Keralan cuisine

Introduced to India in the 1800s by the East India Company

Clove oil can be used as a local anesthetic for toothache

It is a key ingredient of the famous India spice mix garam masala

Vanilla

Plump Keralan vanilla

Beautiful, aromatic vanilla is one of the most wonderful spices of Kerala

Vanilla is a climbing orchid and the priciest spice after saffron

Vanilla is a native plant of Mexico and its name originates from the Spanish word vainilla meaning pod

It is the only orchid that bears fruit

When buying vanilla beans choose the plump pods with thinner skins that are soft, pliable and with a rich aroma

Fresh cardamon from the spice hills of India

A staple spice of most Indian dishes

Cardamom

Cardamom is grown wild in Kerala and the Western Ghats are known as the cardamom hills

Being such an important spice in India it was known as the queen of spices

In the Middle East cardamom is a vital ingredient when preparing a drink of local coffee

In Ayurveda medicine cardamom is used to assist                                                                           digestion and cleansing of the body

 

For a full spice tasting and to see how easily you can arrive to Thekkady and enjoy all its aromas just contact us.

Kerala is not just about tastes but also about dance, performance and rituals 

 

Rough-and-Ready Crowded Indian Dhaba

Indian Fast Food (Part 1)

Indian Fast food Version

Indian Fast food in the mountains Photo By Jonathan Ben Zvi

Fast food in India is an old concept long before MacDonald’s had dominated the world with its huge chain. The Indian version for fast food restaurants are called dhaba. Naturally, most of the dhabas in India are not connected to any chain what so ever and it is disorganized in almost all aspects you can think off. May be this is exactly what makes it so beautiful, colorful and delicious.

Dhabas in the cities

The changes India has been going through the last few years are definitely reflected in the whole concept of the dhabas especially those located in the big cities and metropolitans of India. The somewhat chaotic character of the Indian dhaba  is gradually fading out and replaced by allegedly distinguished western style restaurants. The food is getting more and more expensive so the common people who are the core of the dhabas diners do not eat there anymore. It is no longer the original fast food Indian restaurant and the dishes that are being served are being developed to become more clever, fancy and sophisticated.

Dhabas in rural areas

It’s a whole different story when we move out of the cities into rural India. Dhabas are just all over the place; on highways, on side roads, dirt roads, inside villages, on the top of a mountain and on river banks. Dhabas are the fast food option for most Indians all over the country. It is a place for people to check if the roads are clear and traffic is running smoothly. It is a place where farmers sit together after a long day on the field talking about the weather and crops. Locals are meeting people from the outside listening to news about places that they have never heard before in some cases, but also news from the villages nearby.

The Indian Dhaba is an information junction, it is a place where stories are being told. I’m not sure if that was the initial idea of Macdonald’s. The Indian fast food concept is different in nature, people eat stories while  hot dishes are being served in front of them.

The food in the dhabas change from place to place, state to state, region to region. Each dhaba serves different dishes based on the regions cooking style and ingredients. In some places the food is so basic simply because it is located for example far up in the mountains totally disconnected due to poor road maintenance or no roads at all. There you’d probably find food which is based on the local crops and of course rice. Rice is the main traditional food in India and is found everywhere whether it grows in a certain region or not. The Indian government subsidizes rice so it can be available all over India.

Rough-and-Ready Crowded Indian Dhaba

Rough-and-Ready Indian Fast food Dhaba
Photo by Oded Keet

The magic of Indian dhaba

However, lack of resources has never been an obstacle for the dhaba owners. In some dhabas even in the most far flung destinations food can get to a masterful level. It is unbelievable what people can do when they possess tradition, deep knowledge and a long food heritage to make food out of the most basic ingredients. For many of the dhaba owners it is a family business. They continue to make recipes that have been perfected from generation to generation. I was lucky enough to have eaten in a place in Uttarkhand, a simple dish of Chaaval and Rajma (Rice with beans) that I’ll never forget. It was perfection! It was cold outside and I was sitting on the balcony waiting patiently for my ‘fast food’ order looking to the Nanda Devi (the highest mountain in India 7800m) where beautiful smoking clouds rose from its peak. It must have been the most beautiful settings befitting one of my best meals in India. To think that this unique culinary experience was made only from rice and beans….

TO BE CONTINUED…

Great Indian Dhaba to break down the road from Mumbai to Pune

Want to Try a Great Indian Dhaba on the Way to Pune?

By Sannttosh A. Ahuja 

Great Dhaba to stop by on the way to Pune by road

Kinara Dhaba

Indin Dhaba,Kinara Dhaba: The search for great Indian Food

For all of you who intend to hit the road by driving from Mumbai to Pune, here is a fantastic place for you to take stop, eat and really enjoy great Indian food. The name of the place is The Kinara Village Dhaba, and it is located on the old Mumbai Pune Highway in the heart of Lonavala approx. 2.5 hours from Mumbai.

The dhaba gives you a feeling of rural India which is so different from the urban Indian restaurants or even dhabas. However, the Kinara still maintains the contemporary art of dining .Those who do not particularly like to eat with their hands, you have nothing to worry about. This is not an hardcore Indian dhaba.  It is well organized, may be too well…  However, This dhaba will tickle your taste buds because it serves a wide range of mouth-watering dishes delivering the taste of India.

As the name suggests, the entire place has been done up in the form of a village and gives you that rustic feel the moment you step inside. An ensemble of artefacts like the bullock cart, sun wheels, huts, food stalls etc. grab your attention the minute you start making your way towards the khatiya (a bed made of jute ropes tied to a wooden panel used in many villages in rural India, we promise to dedicate a post specially for the Khatiya it is so much more than just a bed!) where you can just chill out.

Like “Time Tunnel” with Tony and Dug, the setting of Kinara Dhaba takes you back in time and gives you a taste of the rural countryside that you otherwise miss in the urban and modernized restaurants in the metro cities.

There is a wide variety of delicious Indian Tandoori & Mughlai food on offer and a few popular Chinese preparations also find its place on the menu which I felt was a little out of place considering the ethnic setting of The Kinara Village Dhaba. The Kesar Jalebi with Rabri is one of my personal favorites and definitely a must for those who have a sweet tooth. The food is tremendously tasty , I really enjoyed the Mughal Chicken!!

For those of us who like to be in ‘high spirits’ with every meal, the restaurant serves carefully selected wines which is any connoisseur’s delight. To add to the ethnicity of the Indian atmosphere, a live performance of ‘Ghazal’ (a lyrical poem in Urdu consisting of five or more couplets set to music and sung in a unique style) is rendered every evening and I found it really beautiful.

Check Out the mega Mastero of the Ghazal musical style  – Medhi Hassan so you can feel the taste of the genre

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwpAPtNzGyA

[dropcap style=’circle’]T[/dropcap]here is a Paan (beetle leaf) Parlour right at the entry gate of the village dhaba which serves unique and juicy paan that is the best that you can ask for after a contented and fulfilling meal. And for all those who forgot to buy the oh-so famous Lonavalachikki (fudge) on the highway, don’t fret…as there is a Maganlal Chikki (famous chain of fudge outlets in Lonavala town) shop right opposite the Paan Parlour.

[dropcap style=’circle’]S[/dropcap]o if you are going from Mumbai to Pune by road you really should visit this place  -it is definitely worthwhile!

For directions &  information see Kinara Dhabha’s Web site and. Also you can check up the Map Below.


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