22 February, 2015

Guest Column: Deccan Chronicle

This column appeared on February 10th , 2015. My thanks to Sriram T.T from Skrat and Sandeep Madhavan of The Burning Deck for their inputs

15 February, 2015

Food Mood: Korean Food Festival at Feast, Sheraton Bangalore

It’s always exciting to try out a new cuisine. The experience of new flavours, new combinations of vegetables, meat and spices that one has never experienced before is something else altogether. You go in with a sense of excitement not knowing whether you’ll come out loving it or hating it.  Big thanks to the folks at the Sheraton Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway for inviting some of the bloggers and me to be among the first few people to try out the spread at their Korean Food Festival.

Looking to add to their multi-cuisine spread, Feast at the Sheraton Bangalore is looking to try something unconventional by introducing the flavours of Korea to the Indian palate. Driven by Chef Link Chan Jae Chung and Shane Yun-Gi Hong from the Sheraton Seoul D Cube city Hotel, the meal is designed to be authentically Korean with no tailoring of the taste to match the average Indian’s taste buds. Chef Marty and Chef Link spent some time with the bloggers at the table to explain some of the philosophy and nuances behind the food and give us a glimpse into what is popular in Korea.

Chef Link and Chef Marty
I learnt a lot about the general landscape of food in Korea. Did you know that Kimchi, which is the national dish of Korea, comes in 200 varieties? It’s even shipped in cans across the world. Some Koreans are very finicky about their Kimchi to a point where they would carry their own when they travel. A lot of the Korean food is prepared keeping its medicinal value in mind. The people there are very proud of that – this pride is strengthened by the fact that when the bird flu hit Asia a few years ago, no one in Korea was affected. They say they owe it all to their Kimchi which is had with every meal.

The meal that evening was kept completely authentic to what one would eat in Korea. It was ensured that dishes that did not have the required ingredients were kept off the menu, rather than replace it with the locally available equivalent. I started off the evening with a Korean Spicy Squid Soup. While the spice levels were mild, the overwhelming taste of seafood came through, which may not go down well with a lot of people. I was neutral to the taste.

Korean Spicy Squid Soup
For the main course, I started off with a helping of the Braised Pork Belly with Kimchi. The pork had been put into a pot with the kimchi hours prior to being served. This allowed it to soak in the flavours and have an even taste across both the meat and the vegetable. The pork itself was quite lean and stripped off a lot of the fat. I know a lot of people who prefer a lot of fat on their pork, but this variant was quite alright by me. Definitely one of the must try dishes on the menu. The Sweet and Sour Pork tasted nice although it was outdone by the Pork Belly. The taste was very familiar to a lot of the regular Chinese dishes I've had in the past, so nothing much to write home about.

Braised Pork Belly with Kimchi

Sweet and Sour Pork

We were even served a helping of Korean Mini- Pancakes which were had a very interesting taste to it.The Korean Hot and Spicy Chicken had a nice taste on the outside but was completely bland and tasteless on the inside. I wasn’t sure if this was the way the dish was supposed to be made, but it honestly did nothing for me. This was the weakest dish on the entire menu.

Korean Mini-pancakes

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Another beauty on the menu was the Japachae Stir Fried Noodles. The vegetarian noodles had a vermicelli-like finish and were made out of sweet potato. Mixed with a light soya sauce and vegetables, this dish offered a completely new taste which I enjoyed. I think everyone, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike enjoyed this. We also tried the Kimchi Vegetarian Fried Rice which was sticky rice with a tomato-soya taste to eat. I rather enjoyed combining this with the pork.

Japachae Stir Fried Noodles

Kimchi Fried Rice

I also got to try the Dong Chimi Korean Water Kimchi. I’ll be honest in saying that I’m used to a certain tangy flavour of Kimchi that one gets at most Asian restaurants here. This was one of those new flavours that I didn’t quite enjoy. I also tried the Konguksu which is a cold noodles with soya broth. This dish hit a home run with the taste buds as it was quite similar to kheer, without the excessive sugar obviously. Korean cuisine finds a bit of similarity with Japanese and Chinese cuisine. This was clear from the Korean Kimbap and Guklyonpan wraps which were very similar to sushi. We also got to have some dumplings.

Water Kimchi


Korean Kimbap

The next dish that we had was the Bibimbap. This is a traditional Korean dish made in most households. It consists of a helping of boiled rice with various vegetables, mixed together with a Gochujang Sauce. This sauce is essentially a hot pepper sauce whose potency and flavour varies based on how long it is fermented. Typical households allow this sauce to ferment in earthen pots for at least three years before it’s used. Some of the sauces are known to sit for up to fifty years before it’s used. Who would have thought that even chilli sauces were made to ferment like wine and whiskey? I enjoyed this particular dish very much. The taste was quite spicy and was a complete contradiction to the more subtle dishes that we had had so far. A definite must try in my book.

We started the dessert chapter with some Korean Green Tea. This was a twist on the traditional green tea, with the addition of a lot of spices such as ginger and cinnamon. There were some other ingredients which gave it a milky taste. The Honey Rice Cake and the Baek Seol Ki are traditional Korean desserts, these had no sugar what so ever. The very mild sweetness to both left me without the satisfaction of having any dessert. That was taken care of by the Song Pyon. This was like a sweet dumpling with a nice soft layer on the outside and a sweet filling on the inside. Overall, the desserts were not too sweet.

Korean Green Tea

Baek Seol Ki

Song Pyon

So what’s the final verdict on Korean cuisine? I enjoyed the fact that despite eating so much, the meal did not feel heavy on the tummy, something synonymous with typical Mughlai food. The flavours are very natural and closer to the Japanese style of cooking. The one thing vegetarians do have to look out is the oil that is used to cook a lot of these dishes. Do remember to ask the chef for that same to be cooked in a vegan style so as to avoid the fish oil. That being said, there are more than enough vegetarian dishes for folks to try out. While Bangalore has a few relatively unknown Korean restaurants, this addition to the spread at Feast should help with the promotion of this very tasty cuisine in the city. Some of the flavours were very new. While I did enjoy most of them, there were a few that may take some getting used to.

 If you’re willing to experiment and open your taste buds to a whole new world of possibilities, do not miss the Korean Food Festival happening at Feast at the Sheraton Bangalore at Brigade Gateway. The festival is on till the 25th of February. The buffet is priced at Rs. 1395+taxes for lunch and at Rs. 1545+taxes for dinner. Kudos to Chef Marty, Chef Link Chan Jae Chung and Shane Yun-Gi Hong for bringing this festival to life.

11 February, 2015

Gig Review: Bevar Sea - IndieMarch 2015, Counter culture, B’lore (Pt.3 of 3)

The final act of the IndieMarch 2015 was the Bangalore-based Stoner-Metal band - Bevar Sea. Having been at their performance at the Black Sabbath tribute show last year, I had high expectations. The riffs and the drumming were tight as expected, but the energy of the vocals that drove the last performance seemed to be missing. That being said the band pulled of a good heavy show with everyone in the house head-banging to all the tunes including their covers of NIB, Snowblind and Astronomy Dominion. The band played some of their more well-known numbers like Universal Sleeper and closed the set with their famous Abhishtu. I woke up the next morning and was not able to feel my neck, so I guess that’s a job well done. Looking forward to their second album that Rolling Stone described as ‘mammoth’.

Gig Review: Pangea - IndieMarch 2015, Counter culture, B’lore (Pt.2 of 3)

The second band of the IndieMarch 2015 is one of my new favourite acts – Pangea. This Mumbai-based outfit’s progressive –metal (or post metal) sound is one-of-a-kind and brings together the strengths of the individual members who are also stellar performers with other acts. For the uninitiated, the band comprises of Akshay Rajpurohit,Shadaab Kadri and Kuber Sharma who perfectly blended three guitars together with some high energy riffs that ensured everyone headbanged from the first note right up to the last. Krishna Jhaveri on bass was like the energizer bunny and jumped all around, including getting off stage to play with the audience while not missing a note. And the drums were handled by none other than the powerhouse -  Jai Row Kavi. Need I say more. Pangea was the best act of the evening in my opinion. 

Gig Review: Shepard - IndieMarch 2015, Counter culture, B’lore (Pt.1 of 3)

Having missed all the previous shows owing to work and travel, I was not going to miss the finale of the IndieMarch 2015 series of gigs at Counter Culture. It also happened to be the first gig of the year that I was attending. 

First up was Shepard. I’ll be quite honest in saying that I went online to check them out for the first time, only the previous evening. Their live performance sounds a lot different from what I had heard online. The band was candid enough to admit that someone would comment that their vocals were off as were the harmonies. That being said, they do have an interesting sound that should get better with time. The drumming is especially tight and so are the leads on the guitar. I rather enjoyed their take of the Pink Floyd classic ‘Have a Cigar’. This three-piece ensemble has something going for them but need to work on getting their live sound to resemble what’s on the online recordings. Look out for their upcoming album – Stereolithic Riffalocalypse. (quite a mouthful isn’t it?)

06 February, 2015

Food Mood: Chinita, B'lore

A bunch of friends and I were looking to try out some Mexican food on a Sunday afternoon. Having visited most of the places in our vicinity, we chose to drive up to Indiranagar to try out Chinita. We had heard so much about it from various people. We arrived to find the place packed and two parties waiting ahead of us to get a table. Since we had driven all the way, we decided to just wait. I’m quite delighted that we didn’t choose to go elsewhere.

When we got a table after about twenty minutes, we immediately ordered some Fresh Lime Sodas and I tried the Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate. (Well, we all know my love for Hot Chocolate). While the drink could have been a little hotter, the level of spice with the chocolate was a very interesting flavour. I’m not too sure how many people would take a liking to this drink though.  I’ve tried spicy chocolates before, but this was not as disappointing.  After a night of drinking, this was quite refreshing.

Fresh Lime Soda

Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate

We started out with a plate of Veg Quesadilla. I must say that this is one cheesy guilty pleasure. Coupled with the dips (which were the highlight of every dish of the meal), this is a definite must have. The dish meets the right balance of crispiness and softness and the hot cheese just melts in your mouth. We also ordered for a plate of Grilled Corn. This was yet another spicy yet cheesy treat of sweet corn on the cob. Just add a dash of lemon to this and go crazy.

Veg Quesadilla

Grilled Corn
My friend ordered the Burrito Bowl with Grilled Beef. While the Burrito Bowl is the Mexican cousin of our Rajma-chaawal, the beef was grilled quite well and despite being slightly large in size was not overly chewy. The salsa added a nice zing to the dish. We ordered a burrito and some tacos as well. I ordered the Tostadas with the Pan-seared Prawns. While this is a rather messy dish to eat because the tortilla base is very thin, it has a very interesting albeit not-so-spicy flavour thanks to the combination of the red cabbage and mayo. I added some of the spicy Habanero dip to it to give it a little more kick. But that’s a personal choice since I prefer my Mexican food to be on the spicier side.

Burrito Bowl

Tostadas with Pan-Seared Prawns

During our meal, we got to speak to Candice Lock Mirchandani, one of the owners who turned out to have a Kuala Lumpur connection with one of my friends who had joined us, who stays in KL. They got into an intense discussion on why the habanero chillies here are nothing compared to what they get in the U.S and discussed how they could turn the Tex-mex style of the restaurant into a hardcore Mexican styled joint. She even whipped up her spiciest batch of Habanero sauce, to which both agreed fell very short of the usual spicy standards of the chilly that was available elsewhere.

For the dessert, we tried the Flan which was not memorable at all. But the hit of the entire meal was the Chocolate Chilli Cake with Ice Cream. I implore you, dear reader, to head to this place to try this dish over the weekend. While some might find the thought of combing the two distinct flavours into a dessert uncomfortable, this dessert just blew my mind apart. The spiciness of the cake hits the front of your tongue immediately. As you swallow the piece, it is quickly replaced by the nice cocoa flavour of the chocolate on the centre of your tongue. The ice cream is a definite requirement for someone who can’t handle too much spice. This cake was a perfect way to close the meal.


Chilli Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream

Overall, while Chinita is a small restaurant, it’s a refreshing taste from a lot of the larger Tex-mex brands in the city. I am definitely going back to try out other dishes on the menu, but more importantly, to have the Chilli Chocolate Cake. If I had to point out something I felt was lacking, I do wish they would try to go towards the more mainstream Mexican style of cooking and drift away from the milder Tex-Mex style of food. Other than that,  Chinita is my new favourite place for Mexican food.

02 February, 2015

Food Pix: Home-made meal by Arunava Banik

The magic that exists in a home-cooked meal is something unique altogether. The satisfaction of a meal made at home is unparallel. The last weekend, my friend Arunava Banik decided to make an elaborate home-cooked dinner for all of us. I must say, I am thoroughly impressed with the man’s culinary skills. I’ll even go so far to admit that if I was a woman, I would gladly marry him right now.... especially after the brilliant meal he put together.

We had an elaborate meal that started off with some fabulous Fried Chicken. The meat was soft every bite was delicious. And this wasn’t those ready-to-cook meats. He had brought the chicken separately, marinated it over-night and that made a world of difference. For the vegetarians we did have some fries and nachos.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken
As far as the main course goes, he put together a killer spread consisting of Peas Pulao, Daal, Paneer and Bengali-style Mutton curry. The Pulao was very well cooked. The Paneer subji was one of the best I’ve had in a long time with the gravy having a lovely cinnamon-ish taste to it. The paneer was the right balance of soft and crunchy. This dish nearly caused a blood-bath between the vegetarians and us as we too wanted a significant share. But the Mutton Curry... OH MY GOD.... what a superbly made dish. I love having the Bengali-style of mutton curry with the huge potato along with rice. It was just the right amount of spice and pepper to tingle the taste buds, and the meat was done quite well to come of the bone pretty easily. I was in love. I was considerate enough not to take the large serving dish away screaming ‘My precious....’

Peas Pulao

Bengali-style Mutton Curry

Paneer Subji

And just when we were all extremely impressed, Arunava presented his pièce de résistance – Home-made Orange cake and Chocolate Pudding. Everyone took multiple helpings and made near-orgasmic noises with every bite. While the cake was a little crisp in places, the taste was consistent and the orange and chocolate flavours complemented each other brilliantly.

Orange Cake and Chocolate Pudding

Orange Cake and Chocolate Pudding
I don’t know what Arunava is doing wasting his time looking for a mainstream job because he’s got enough talent to open up his own restaurant and serve the world great food. We’re all coaxing him to become a full-time chef. Considering, he already has a blogger friend who has some marketing skills, (wink wink), he can go places.