30 August, 2015

The Spice Island Flavours at Dakshin, ITC Windsor

As someone who takes keen interest in experiencing various cultures of the world through food, the ‘Spice Island Flavours’ festival at Dakshin (ITC Windsor) was a very unique food experience. As a part of their ‘Kitchens of India’ campaign, ITC introduced me to a unique set of flavours from South India. Brought to us by Priya Bala, the festival focuses on the culinary style of people from the Tamil community who were moved to Sri Lanka during the British Raj to work on the tea plantations. After settling there for numerous decades, civil unrest in the region had them moving back to India. This community brought with them a style of cooking that blends the Sri Lankan style of cooking traditional south Tamil Nadu flavours.

While we waited for the appetizers to arrive, we munched on some south-Indian style crisps with four flavourful chutneys. The chutneys offered familiar tastes of coconut, tomato and more and made for a good start to the meal. Naturally, I had to exercise extreme discipline not to make that my meal altogether. 

The first two appetizers were the Khaima Somasi and the Devilled Prawns. The former is a variant of the kheema samosa with minced lamb, served with tomato chutney. While this dish was deep in familiar territory, the new flavour came from the Devilled Prawns. Tossed with onions, chilli and a piquant sauce, the dish had a delicate blend of tanginess and spice that opened up my taste buds to an evening of perfectly balanced spices. I’m normally used to prawn dishes from this region to be high on spice which I normally cooled down with a cold beer; so this flavour was quite new and did not set my tongue on fire. A dish I would definitely recommend.

Khaima Somasi and Devilled Prawns

Devilled Prawns
Before we hit the main course, we were served mini-uttapams in two varieties, one was savoury and the other was sweet and was made from bananas. I’ve never tasted the latter and thoroughly enjoyed dipping it into the chutneys.


For the main course, we were served Idiyappam with a coconut milk. Accompanying this were three side dishes. The first was the Erachi Curry which was a mildly-spiced lamb stew. I wasn’t a big fan of this particular dish as the flavours didn’t do anything to peak my taste buds. This was compensated with the Chicken Badun. The chicken was quite tender and the taste of pepper dominated the flavour. I’ve had a variation of this dish before in Tamil Nadu, but this packed a much bigger punch and the gravy was a good combination with the idiyappam and the rice that was served. The third and final dish of the main course, which was the star of the meal, was Anasi Perattal. This dish is a pineapple curry cooked with spices like cinnamon, lemon grass, a bit of fennel and chilli powder. Cinnamon is one of those spices that can overthrow all other tastes in your mouth when into a dish. The moment I popped a spoon of the dish into my mouth, the combination of cinnamon and the citrus taste of the pineapple hit me like a ton of bricks, in a good way. There’s a very subtle bit of spice that remains on your taste buds once the pineapple goes down, but the taste of the cinnamon lingers for long. I shamelessly asked for a second helping of this dish. 

Chicken Badun

Anasi Perattal

Dessert comprised of two dishes. The first was the Watalappam, a coconut milk and jaggery custard. I didn’t particularly enjoy this one for personal reasons. I’ve been moving away from consuming a lot of sugar in my daily meal by eliminating it from my coffee, tea, juices, etc. It’s been this way for eight months now. Hence, the jiggery in this dessert was too sweet for my taste buds. The second dessert was a simple yet elegant dessert. The Kiri Pani, a thick yogurt served with palm and jiggery honey was the fireworks to the end of a great meal. Not too sweet, this simple mix cleansed the palate completely and left me with a fresh taste in my mouth. This dessert was the second best part of my meal after the pineapple curry.


Kiri Pani

Priya Bala

‘Kitchens of India’ continues to bring new flavours and the ‘Spice Island Flavours’ festival is definitely something anyone looking for new tastes and experience should try out. My pick for the meal would have to be the pineapple curry, the Kiri Pani dessert and the Devilled Prawns. Kudos to Priya Bala for introducing a larger audience to these flavours.

25 August, 2015

22 August, 2015

Chumbak launches a new flavour!

You might have been a little surprised looking at the title of this post for a couple of reasons. First, Isn’t Chumbak an accessories and home décor brand and what does it have to do with ‘a new flavour’? Your second question might be, what is Nikhilesh doing writing about a home décor brand on his blog? Isn’t the boy all about food and music?

I’ll answer the second question first. Yes, my blog and ‘expertise’ (cough…..cough) is limited to food and music. I do not claim, nor do I want to claim that I know anything about things like interior decoration, fashion, technology and so on. So why am I writing about Chumbak? This brand, that to me was synonymous with funky India-centric designs for phone covers, coasters, baggage tags and more, has been very quietly growing their inventory to encompass a much larger range of products such as home furniture, art and more. As a part of this larger campaign, titled #MakeHappy, the brand has tied up with Milano, a dessert bar in Indiranagar to launch its own flavour after an online poll. The purpose is to associate all things happy with the brand. And what can make people happier than ice cream (or gelato in this case)? Well I could name a few things; cold desserts are definitely high up on that list.

Thankfully, the larger audience chose some of my favourite flavours, which are mint and chocolate. I was invited to try out the flavour. I’m assuming that the helping of ice cream I got was according to my size because it was very generous and I had to discipline myself to not over eat. Topped with sprinkles and chocolate sauce, the mint is mild yet adequate enough to bring about a refreshing taste in the mouth after the chocolate. Overall, it’s a fairly mild taste but is quite refreshing. 

I shall be going back to Milano to try out the other flavours. As far as extending their brand beyond their known accessories, apparel and home décor, this is an interesting extension by Chumbak. Do check out this flavour and some of the goodies at the store. 

PS: There is this particular wall-art which is yellow with the silhouette of a Tiger with stripes. You can buy that for me. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of framing it.

The 10 Best Songs to End a Concert

This is a post I had written on another blog of mine that I came across and thought it might make a good share...

As a budding guitar player who does the occasional show in his spare time, the one thing I've come to respect is the Holy Grail of every show known as ‘the set list’. A set list can make or break a band's performance. While a band might have great music, it can all be undone by a poorly planned set list. Typical problems such as spending too much time changing tuning between songs, changing instruments, too many long-winding guitar solos followed by an even longer drum solo and an overly poorly laid out puzzle of songs can make the best band lose their audience. 

I’m always of the opinion that the closing song of a set is the most important song of the evening. While that doesn't mean you play whatever you please until the last song, the closing song is that song by which a show is ultimately judged. It is the last chance you have to give people a kick or a high, a last chance to leave them with an emotion they will never experience again. People go home and talk about the concert to their friends and the last memory they will have about the show is that one closing number you put your heart and soul into.

Before I get into a poetic mood about set lists, I've put together a list of what I feel are the best  ten closing songs in my mind. Before you come marching to my house with pitchforks, please note that this is just my personal opinion. Don’t send me email saying stuff like “You don’t know anything… this is mainstream music… ‘Metal Puke’ by ‘Acid Vomit’, a Turkish underground goth metal band is the best way to close a set” (PS: I made the song and band up, I don’t think either exist). Please don’t graffiti ‘Down with Metallica…Long live Mustaine’ on my house. Also please do don’t send the severed head of a bass player by post. 

Anyway, here are the ten best closing songs in no particular order.

10. Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd

This song, that starts off slowly with easy to sing along lyrics with the expansive guitar solo at the end that can go on for hours, was the easiest choice for me. Having ended many weekends at the bar with the DJ playing this song, I've always come out wanting to listen to it again.

9. Rock and Roll All Nite by Kiss

Wait, wasn't this the band that said they would never do a disco song? This song by Kiss is especially great when doing smaller venues or even acoustic sets. It’s a song that remains in your head thanks to the extremely easy lyrics. For a good many years, I didn't know any of the other words other than the chorus. It helps if you can do the Gene Simmons tongue thing.

8. Killing in the Name of by Rage Against the Machine

Find me a rock/metal enthusiast who doesn't like to scream ‘F**k you I won’t do what you tell me’. One of the best anti-establishment songs written, this song is bound to get everyone pissed off and high. 

7. Every Breath You Take by The Police

Ending a concert does not always have to be a musically heavy song. An emotionally heavy song is great too. While I've only seen one band do a brilliant cover of this, Sting’s version from the ‘All this time’ is a great sing along and gives a lot of scope to introduce the band to the audience before you walk off stage. 

6. Train Kept A Rollin by The Yardbirds

This is a great song when you have way too many guitar players on stage. It gives a lot of space for generally messing around the fret board. Originally by The Yardbirds, this songs serves a lot of lead guitar players with an avenue to show off.

5. Tubthumping by Chumbawamba

While this song is more apt for a crowd of football supporters whose team just lost, it still makes a great sing along with all the positive reinforcement of ‘getting back up again’. This is probably the one misfit in the list, but still is an awesome song.

4. Hallowed be Thy Name by Iron Maiden

Extensive guitar solos and riffing with Bruce Dickinson hitting those ungodly high notes at the end gives any warm-blooded metal head one hell of a rush. I've seen this live, and it gave me a much better kick than the booze I was having. The intro is also a great piece for people to sing and clap along, before all guitar hell breaks loose.

3. Hey Jude by The Beatles

Probably the most cliched closing song ever with which to end a concert, but it never fails to get an audience singing together. And who doesn't like The Beatles?  

2. Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd

4 words…. David Gilmour’s guitar solo. Enough said. 

1. Rockin in the Free World by Neil Young

This has always been one of my most favourite songs to end gigs. It works for both acoustic and electric sets. It has all the settings of a great song with ample room for guitar players and drummers to show off solo-skills. It has the most important ‘sing-along’ feature and the general message of how despite everything in the world, we can still keep rocking on. This is sure to get any audience  happy. I fell in love with this song after I heard the Pearl Jam version. Incidentally, they too end a lot of their gigs with this piece.

I'd like to know what you think of this list and look forward to comments on what you feel would make a better closing song. Just want to remind you, no death-threats please. I have enough cholesterol flowing through my arteries to kill me. 

Guest Column: Deccan Chronicle

In the column that appeared in the Deccan Chronicle on 28th July 2015, I wrote about how bands are going beyond just playing songs to integrating a large element of theater into their live acts. 

Guest Column: Deccan Chronicle

In the article that appeared in the Deccan Chronicle on 11th August 2015, I wrote about my expectations for the upcoming Bacardi NH7 Weekender festival.

15 August, 2015

Poush – The Essence of Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine, Cubbon Pavilion at ITC Gardenia

As a part of the ‘Kitchens of India’ theme, the Cubbon Pavilion at the ITC Gardenia is featuring a menu that brings food connoisseurs the flavours from the kitchens of Kashmiri Pandits. As far as Kashmiri food goes, I’ve only had the Wazwan-style of cooking; I was quite eager to taste what new flavours and experience the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine was going to offer. 

The festival, titled Poush - The Essence of  Kashmiri Pandit Cuisine,  kicked off  at a gala dinner accompanied by music from the valley. A few cocktails and starters down, everyone got into the spirit of the evening with most of the crowd singing and dancing along to Kashmiri folk songs. Without saying, there was no dancing from me. I reserve that splendid display only for the baarat at weddings. Without digressing further, I’ll stick to writing about the food. I just want to point out that the pictures of the food were not taken by me and were provided by the hotel's photographer. I wasn't able to take any owing to technical difficulties.

Driving the food festival is Chef Suman Kaul. I was able to spend some time with her to understand what to expect from the evening and a lot more about how the cooking style of the Pandits is different from the more familiar Wazwan-style. It turns out that the Kasmiri Pandits community are among a handful of Pandits in the sub-continent who eat meat as a part of their tradition. No beef though. (I’m very tempted to write a nasty quip on some states banning beef, but…). A big difference between the Wazwan-style of cooking is their emphasis on lamb as opposed to goat. The use of onion and garlic is almost non-existent in this style of cooking.

After downing a few very tasty Whiskey Sours, we kicked off the main course. Naturally, I gravitated to the non-vegetarian section first. I kicked off with a helping of Moush, a spicy minced lamb dumpling with some rice. It was love at first bite. With the bitter-citrus taste of the Whiskey Sour still hanging around my taste buds, the spiciness of the lamb worked some absolute magic. More than the gravy the lamb was cooked in, the actual minced dumpling had some spectacular flavour of spice and saffron coming through. Another blogger and I were commenting that we should have had this dish along with our drinks.  I showed appreciation for the dish in my own caveman-style, with a lot of grunting as I chewed down every morsel and went back for a second helping. 

Next up was the Naine Yekhenie – lamb cooked in a yogurt gravy with a mild hint of saffron. Kudos to the chef on the tenderness of the lamb. I initially did not read what the dish was because the chunks of meat looked fabulous and called out to me. As I ate away, looking at how easy the meat came off the bone and the lovely pink colour of the meat, I complimented the chef on the excellent chicken. This was a big faux pas. Chef Suman was polite enough to inform me that most Kashmiri Pandits consider eating chicken to be an insult of sorts. Lesson learnt. 

To give my tummy a break from all the meat, I tried some of the veg spread.  I sampled the Chamman Qaliya – a soft paneer cooked in a Kashmiri-style yellow gravy and the Kashmiri Dum Aloo. The flavours were not particularly mind-blowing to make me want to go back for a second helping. However, the Nadur Yakhne - lotus stem with Yoghurt was a very interesting dish. I’ve always had lotus stems in a pan-Asian style and this was my first time in an Indian style. The stem was soft with a light crunch and a hint of cardamom coming through with the gravy. While I was not completely sold on the dish, it did enough to make me go back for a second helping.

I went back to the non-vegetarian section and helped myself to some Naine  Roghunjosh -  lamb  cooked in a Kashmiri-style hot gravy and Mooje Gaade – fish cooked in raddish. The former had a more familiar taste similar to what I’ve had before with the Wazwan style. The fish was cooked well and flaked perfectly but I did not relish the raddish gravy, that’s mostly thanks to my irrational dislike to raddish as a vegetable. I did want to try out the lamb ribs, but the tray was clean. I’d normally be kicking myself for not trying out the entire non-veg spread first, but I just drowned my sorrows in another helping of Moush and Naine Yekhenie.

I left just enough space to sample the dessert. The Shuftha, a dish made from assorted dry fruits and saffron hit all the right spots and was the best among the desserts in my opinion. Before I hit the road, I grabbed myself a large mug of Kahwah which helped cleanse the palate after an evening of ‘more than usual’ eating. 

The stars of the spread that evening for me were the Moush and Naine Yekhenie. The Poush festival is on till the 16th, so use your Independence Day time-off to go and sample some of the fabulous flavours of Kashmiri Pandit cusine.

10 August, 2015

The Secret Fruit Affair with Zespri India @ ITC Gardenia

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a media event at the Lotus Pavilion at the ITC Gardenia. The only brief I was given was that this was a ‘Secret Fruit Affair’ and I should look forward to a treat that shines as bright as the sun. Other than that we were only told that the high tea menu for the evening would be put together by Chef Yogen Datta and his team using the exotic fruit that was shrouded in mystery.

When the event started, we weren’t told what the fruit was, but were instead served three drinks that had the fruit blended into it. Fellow food Connoisseur Monika Manchanda was quick to identify that the mysterious fruit was the kiwi fruit. A lot of us were a bit disappointed, almost like the ending to a terrible murder mystery novel, but it turns out that while the fruit was the kiwi fruit, it wasn’t the regular green kiwi fruit that we’re all used too. Zespri India launched a new variety of their kiwi fruit which is yellow and is popularly known as the Sun Gold Kiwi. 

Kiwi Cocktails
This was a part of a multi-city launch with the first leg in Bangalore. The rest of the evening proceeded with chefs from ITC showcasing Sun Gold Kiwi fruit flavoured dishes from all across the globe. While the chefs were prepping the cooking area, we got to sample some tit-bits such as bruschetta and fried wantons, all which featured the kiwi fruit. We also got to sample both the sun gold and green varieties to understand the subtle differences in flavour. 


Fried Wanton
First up was the Aglio Olio of Vodka marinated Kiwi and Tuna with Spaghetti. This dish was very mild in terms of the flavours it offered. The citrus taste of the kiwi was lost in the slightly more overwhelming flavour of the cherry tomatoes and the tuna. That being said, it was still a nice summer dish and would have gone fabulously with a glass of red wine.

Kiwi and Tuna with Spaghetti

Next up was a take on the Goan classic, the Kiwi Sasam. I’m not a fan of the original dish, and was not a fan of this either. We make a similar dish at home called koottu, which tastes similar and I have a silly childhood dislike for that dish. While everyone else enjoyed the dish thoroughly, I wasn’t excited. 

Kiwi Sasam
The penultimate dish using the Sun Gold Kiwi was the Kiwi Tortilla with a Japanese Twist. The twist in this case was the spicy Japanese sauces that were used on the base of the tortilla as compared to a regular salsa sauce. This was a very fresh dish loaded with tomato, jalapeno, peppers and the Sun Gold Kiwi fruit. While preparing this took a bit of time (many hungry bloggers to feed), this dish was my favourite among the three savoury dishes that were served. This actually brought out the flavour of the kiwi fruit and had a slight kick with the spicy sauce.

Kiwi Tortilla
High tea was closed with a spectacular European-style Kiwi tart that looked spectacular and tasted even better. While I’m consciously trying to cut down the amount of sugar I take, this dish just laid waste to all my effort to stop desserts after a single bite. I could help myself and quite shamelessly threw away the spoon and used my hands to finish of the tart. I left no evidence that it ever existed.

Kiwi Tart
As far as the actual fruit goes, I did enjoy the more citrus taste of the Sun Gold Kiwi raw when compared to its green cousin. It has a flavour that lies somewhere between passion fruit and mango and is a lot more refreshing.  However, I personally feel the green kiwi fruit packs a little more punch when used as a garnish or in cocktails. While the team of chefs at the ITC Gardenia showed us some of the ways in which the fruit can be incorporated into the food we have, I would have to try a few more dishes before I am convinced that the Sun Gold can replace the classic flavour of the green kiwi fruit. I do hope that ITC Gardenia add the Kiwi Tortilla with a Japanese Twist to their menu. I want to have an entire plate to myself without having to reluctantly share. Do go out and try the new Sun Gold Kiwi at your local market. 

01 August, 2015

"The Cuisine of the Navaithas" at the Cubbon Pavilion at ITC Gardenia

As a part of their ‘Kitchens of India’ theme, ITC Gardenia introduced the "The Cuisine of the Navaithas" - a culinary treat whose origins date back to the time of Tipu Sultan. A quick history lesson before we get into what was offered on fare; the Navaitha Muslims are an Urdu speaking community from Gingee who were brought to fill the barracks of the British army in the war against Tipu Sultan.  They chose to stay back and resided in what we now know as Shivajinagar in Bengaluru. The flavours that this community introduced are an integral part of the city’s food culture.

We began the evening with a plate of Fried Chicken Kabab. Those familiar with Bengaluru would recognize this particular taste, especially from a lot of smaller outlets in the city. The kabab was spot –on in terms of spiciness and was just lightly over-fried to give it a familiar crunch. We also tried the Brain Tawa Masala. I’m not the biggest fan of brain ( I know some of you just went,” That’s evident since you hardly use what you already have!”), this dish didn’t do much to win me over. The texture was rather mushy unlike some of the other variants I’ve had elsewhere which tend to have the consistency of scrambled eggs. I guess we’ll have to check with Dr.Hannibal Lector on what’s the ideal consistency. The Tala Macchi was not too bad either. Among the vegetarian appetizers, I tried the Jimikand ke Kabab. While the taste was good, the initial attack of ghee was a tad unpleasant.

Chicken Kabab

Brain Tawa Masala

Tala Macchi

Jimikand Ke kabab

Next up was one of the stars of the meal – the Paya Khamiri. The broth in this paya soup had oodles of flavour that hit all the right notes with the pepper taste being just a tad more prominent than the other flavours. The meat on the bone was cooked to perfection; it came off the bone with just a spoon and easily melted in my mouth. Two thumbs up for this beautiful dish.

Paya Khamiri

The main-course was spread over twelve vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. First the not-so-good stuff before I get into what really caught my attention. Being a big fan of prawn, I started off with the Palak Prawn. I wasn’t pleased with the overall flavour and felt uncomfortable with the texture of the prawns which I thought was inconsistent. The Seen Ghosht was a familiar mildly spicy taste that I’ve had before but did not pack the punch I was expecting. One dish that I did enjoy, but had mixed responses across the table was the Mahi Sukha. This fried fish was cooked very well and the outer layer held the right amount of crunch. With a dash of lemon, the citrus flavour with the spiciness of the outer layer was tasty. Others however said that there was no spice on their fish. I guess I got lucky. The Dum ki Tangdi was one of the highlights among the non-vegetarian dishes for me. The chicken leg was cooked perfectly, as was the gravy which tasted almost like a cashew-based gravy but was not.

Mahi Sukha

Palak Prawn and Seen Ghosht

Dum ki Tangdi

The vegetarian section consisted of Tamatar ka dalcha, Besan wale paneer, Soppu saagu, Denta Soppu and other dishes, many of which are quite common to Bengaluru today. Good tastes, but nothing that caught my attention and made me go ‘Oh Wow’. But standing tall above all, was one particular dish that joined the paya on the winner’s podium. This dish was the Soya Lauki. On a regular day, I wouldn’t touch lauki with a ten foot pole. But the flavours that went into this dish muted the taste of the dreaded vegetable and infused some crunch into the same. The main-course ended with some Gosht Timatar biryani. The rice had excellent flavours and had the right amount of spice which was consistent through the meat and the rice. Tender meat and great flavour put this dish on the winner’s podium to complete my top three dishes from the evening.

Soya Lauki

Ghosht Timatar Biryani

I’m not the biggest fan of a lot of Indian desserts (yes yes…food snob and all that), so I had a few bites of what was on the spread. One dessert that did have a very interesting flavour was the Ginger Cream Rossagulla. While I was expecting the cream on top to have a ginger flavour,  it turned out that the juice of the rossagulla held a strong ginger flavour that almost killed the sugary taste of the actual dish. I’m still at odds as to whether this was ethically the right thing to do to an Indian classic like the rossagulla. 

Ginger Cream Rossagulla

Final verdict, I really enjoyed the concept of the entire festival. Food is probably one of the greatest history books one can ever indulge themselves in as it says a lot about the culture of a place. A lot of the dishes offered familiar tastes to someone like me who has been in the city for two decades. My top three picks from the fare would be  the Gosht Timatar biryani,the Soya Lauki and the Paya Khamiri, in ascending order.