DIY on Asian griddles

Going out to eat in Japan is a pantomime. Visit an authentic Japanese okonomiyaki restaurant; here actions speak more than words. An okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) course begins with asssorted bowls of ingredients like shredded cabbage (the Hiroshima version has par-boiled soba noodles), chopped up bits of raw seafood, juliennes of gari (pickled pink ginger) and katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna) flakes aka bonito being placed next to you by a courteous server. In front is a stainless-steel teppan grill sizzling away producing aromas more complex than a Japanese dictionary.

Instructions come in the form of animated gesticulations by the server. She urges: mix all the ingredients with a thick slurry of refined wheat flour, beaten eggs and water and place the sum total on the lightly oiled teppan. She stands by like a sentinel, making sure you coax the mixture into a circular shape with the help of two tiny, metallic spatulas. Once it is grilled to perfection on one side, you’ve to flip the pancake and cook till the other side is equally crispy and golden brown. Once ready, aonori seaweed flakes, and additional katsuobushi are sprinkled all over it. Lashings of special okonomiyaki sauce, made from tomato ketchup-soy sauce-Worcestershire sauce-honey and the sweetish Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise, anoint the final product with edible goodness. This delicious DIY savoury pancake dish, perfectly named okonomiyaki, translates from Japanese to English to simply mean “as you like”. The running joke in Japan is that you get the best service at an okonomiyaki restaurant. Because you do it all yourself!

To further improve your Japanese culinary powers, more DIY options exist. Like the highly fun-to-prepare shabu-shabu. Onomatopoeically named for the swishing sound that emanates from the dashi stock (made from bonito flakes, konbu or kelp, mirinor rice wine and soy sauce)-filled pot when thin slivers of meats like pork and beef are swirled around, this preparation is best enjoyed with a group of friends. There is Chinese cabbage, shiitake and enokitake mushrooms for vegetarians. Once cooked, the meat pieces are dunked into a bowl of a yuzu, a citrus-based ponzu sauce or goma (sesame seed) sauce and chased down with morsels of rice.

Over to Thailand next. Similar to shabu-shabu, a Thai suki is another Asian DIY-style communal dish found at almost every street-food market from Bangkok’s Yaowarat market in China Town to Chiang Mai’s famous Night Market. To prepare a suki, diners place slices of meat, a few bits of seafood such as prawn and squid, pork balls and assorted veggies in a pot of lemongrass-flavoured broth bubbling away at the table. Once cooked, the meat or veggies are dipped into a bowl of spicy suki sauce, called namchimsuki in Thai, first.

Willy Wonkas on a Roll

Creating chocolate is an interesting mix of art and science. Precise temperature management in tempering, and achieving ingredient harmony for texture and taste are crucial. So is artistic flair. A small band of chocolatiers today are taking the humble nibs from the cacao tree, native to the Amazon rainforest, on a unique magical journey.

In around 2021, co-founders Amritanshu Agrawal and Priyanka Gupta of Chandigarh-based chocolate firm, Mozimo Cafe, set out on a quest for the ultimate chocolate. To them, chocolate symbolised art, exploration, and beauty. Over two years, they scoured markets worldwide. Deep in South India’s cocoa plantations, they bonded with sustainable growers, selecting heritage-rich beans. With cutting-edge machinery from Europe, they sought to craft an unparalleled artisanal chocolate experience. “Chocolate became our gateway to the global craft movement, blending techniques, fine beans and innovation,” says Gupta.

Ruby Islam

Some believe single-origin cacao beans are akin to grapes from a vineyard, resulting in chocolate that mirrors the soil and vintage, much like wine. While this holds true at times, beans marked as single-origin from places like Peru or Trinidad may actually originate from various farms within the area, each with unique terroir. “Historically our association with chocolate is with industrial chocolate made from bulk cacao. These beans are harvested and processed keeping solely productivity in mind. Flavour is not a concern,” says Ruby Islam, Head Chef, Manam Chocolate, Hyderabad. Manam, she insists, is made from ‘fine flavour’ beans, where the bean travels through a process that optimises flavour. “We try to isolate beans to not only single origins, but also to single farms so as to express the unique complexity,” she adds. At the café you can witness live artistry unfolding—from the vibrant workshop to the busy live kitchen replete with a chocolate aging cellar, where cocoa magic happens.

Twenty-year-old Digvijaya Singh always dreamt of being a chocolatier. This Udaipur boy was hooked on to the idea of bean-to-bar chocolates. Soon he started experimenting in his kitchen and today he is living the dream with his handcrafted chocolate company, Saraam. His first batch made with cacao sourced from a farm in Puttur, Karnataka, was launched in December 2021. A year later, he paired his chocolate with ber or the Indian jujube. “It was an instant hit,” says the maker, who later used sitaphal or custard apple for another concoction. He now sources beans from a farm in Idukki, Kerala, which he pairs with a variety of native fruits.

Craft chocolatiers are not complaining at the sudden rise in good-quality Indian cacao. “I like to combine flavours that are innovative and complement each other,” shares Dr Chef Parvinder Singh Bali, Director School for European Pastry and Culinary Arts, Delhi.

Priyanka Gupta

MOZIMO’S CHOCOLATE PIE

BY PRIYANKA GUPTA

Base

● Chocolate Oreo biscuit: 50 gm

● Unsalted butter: 25 gm

FILLING

● Cream: 70 gm

● Milk: 35 gm

● Unsalted butter: 10 gm

● Milk chocolate 45%: 30 gm

● Dark Chocolate 60%: 80 gm

GARNISH

● Oreo biscuit: 20 gm

● Powdered sugar: 5 gm

Method

● Remove the cream from the biscuits, crush them. Add soft butter to it and line it in a steel bowl

● Boil cream and milk together, add butter and chocolate and mix well and pour in the steel bowl

● Keep it in the refrigerator for two hours and garnish with powdered sugar and Oreo biscuits and serve

Care for a bite?

Calm in a teacup

Sri Lanka is slowly becoming the traveller’s cup of tea again. After Covid-19 hit tourism, it is banking on its signature teas to bring travellers back. The Pekoe Trail, a 300-km walk through the central highlands is the enticement. The introduction to the 22-stage trail, which can also be customised to suit time demands, is the brainchild of adventurer Miguel Cunat says “The trail combinees history and nature. The villages are alive with living heritage. From the plains, a minutes later you cross into a forest, where the feel is completely different. There are layers of stories here.” The trekking route begins from the Hanthana Mountains near Kandy and makes its way to the hill station of Nuwara Eliya, often called ‘Little England’ on account of its colonial bungalows and misty climate. On the way lie aromatic eucalyptus forests, undulating hills carpeted in lush green tea plants, flat plains, and Adam’s Peak, a 2,243 m-high mountain topped by a Buddhist shrine.

Malik J Fernando, Chair of Resplendent Ceylon, the only Relais and Chateaux-accredited resort collection on the island, says, “Conditions were ideal to grow what became the world-famous Ceylon tea, with multiple elevations imparting different characteristics,” he says. A network of scenic railroads was developed together with banks, insurance companies and the Colombo port to support the industry in the central highlands,which are resplendent with emerald fields, twisting roads, and gushing waterfalls.The first segment which was opened in 2021 winds its way through an eclectic cluster of hill towns, tea plantations, remote villages, sanctuaries, viewpoints, forests, and cultural and historical locations. The trail is supported by the EU and the United States Agency for International Development. Fernando calls it an innovative “slow travel” experience. It connects 80 hamlets and villages, until now rarely seen by foreigners, and showcases life on Sri Lanka’s tea estates and reveals how tea production has shaped the country’s landscape and history. It passes through Scotsman James Taylor’s Loolkandura Estate, the first plantation in Sri Lanka, old tea factories and colonial bungalows. Railway tracks wind their way along the hillsides. On the way, there is authentic food and drink available in local restaurants for travllers seeking indigenous experiences, stays in village homestays to get a feel of local culture firsthand, and also support other community-owned businesses.

Slowly but surely, the Pekoe Trail is helping Sri Lanka’s tourism industry get back on track. “The upcoming high season looks to be the best since 2018. Sri Lanka is back on all the ‘best places to travel’ lists,” Fernando says. It is tea time in Ceylon at last.

A rum affair with tiki cocktails

“Additionally, the Indian palate appreciates the balance of sweetness and complexity found in these cocktails,” believes Badh. Rum is a colonial hangover, pun intended, after the British officials started a distillery in Kasauli in Solan in Himachal Pradesh in 1855.

The newly launched Hawaiian-themed restobar Waikiki at Mumbai’s Peninsula Grand Hotel has the apricot rum-based zombie, the coconut rum-based Island Grog (beverage manager Deepak Singh Koranga’s personal favourite) and the white rum-based Tiki Puka Puka.

“Among the array of tiki cocktails on our menu, my personal favourite is ‘The Secret of the Lost Lagoon’. It is a blend of premium rum, maraschino liqueur, Campari, pineapple juice, passion fruit syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice. All these create a harmonious explosion of flavours,” says Souvik Bhattacharya, bartender at The St. Regis Goa Resort’s Susegado, Seafood Grill & Bar.

Don’t say just cheesesteak

Insta cuisine is eccentric at best and downright ridiculous at its worst. The ‘Everything is Cake’ trend is a beguiling social media trick of fantasy and reality: imagine you’re looking at a flower pot packed with mud and blooms in the middle. A hand with a knife appears. Flower pot murder isn’t even Agatha Christie’s domain. It is epicurean legerdemain: the knife plunges into its clay victim which isn’t clay, mind you. It is chocolate. And the metaphorical blood is coffee mousse, coffee ganache, espresso chocolate cake, buttercream and vanilla ice-cream.

This dessert is the pride of 1906, a fine dining restaurant in the sprawling Longwood Gardens, Brandywine Creek Valley just outside of Philadelphia. The main course has roasted beets, braised savoy cabbage and a juicy crab omelette. Philly, best known for its cheesesteak—a power-packed sandwich of beef, provolone and onions—usually is not a star in the gourmet galaxy of the East Coast, especially with New York as a close neighbour. But if you go beyond this epic sandwich, many surprises are guaranteed.

Shock and Awe: Take Vedge, for instance. The restaurant highlights local vegetables. Rutabaga (a root vegetable) becomes a fondue served with pretzels; chioggia (a garden beet) is salt-roasted and served with an arepa pancake and a smidge of black garlic; the cauliflower gets a ‘Chicken 65’ upgrade with a tangy spicy sauce; carrot is cooked rillette style (similar to a confit) and placed on pumpernickel toast; and rhubarb becomes a cheesecake with a sweet pea ice-cream.

Elsewhere, the Garden Restaurant at the Barnes, which looks out onto its blooming namesake, serves a comforting seasonal sweet corn and pumpkin squash soup; roast chicken paired with spring vegetables, herbs and horseradish beurré blanc; and a grilled salmon with puy lentils and sweet pea.

A 13-course journey in Mumbai’s Bandra

Décor: Cupped in toasted woody tones, and warm amber, the intimate restaurant brings in 12 teal hip seaters at the sole table, with an informal bar. The counter has been upcycled from a wooden bar top from The Bombay Canteen.

Service: You can expect warm, genuine, effortless service. The playlist sets the vibe easily, with numbers pulled in by Hussain from his personal stack.

Price: At Rs 5,000 plus taxes per head, this is not really easy on the pocket.

Timings: Wednesday to Saturday, 8 pm onwards. Below 18 years not allowed

Papa’s at Veronica’s, Bandra West, Mumbai

India’s gourmet pet food market booms as owners splurge on exotic treats

“There has been a significant increase in demand for gourmet pet food. Pet owners are treating their furry friends like family, since they have more disposable income to spend on their beloved wards. People are becoming savvier about pet nutrition, and look for high-quality ingredients,” explains Dr Shashank Sinha, CEO, Drools Pet food, a company that prides itself on making real, clean pet food which includes vegetarian, non-vegetarian and vegan options. This shift can be accredited to the rise of smaller nuclear families where pets are viewed as valued members, leading to a shift in mindset in pet parenting. “Millennials, are at the forefront of this trend, and are spoiling their furry companions with premium pet products and services,” he reveals.

On Raksha Bandhan day last year, Rani Singh was seized with the desire to pamper her golden lab bro Scotch. She ordered special treats from Paw Petisserie, an exclusive pet bakery. The order included customised edible Rakhi cookies made with peanut butter, which Scotch absolutely adores. They came with special Rakhi-themed decorations, making the memory extra special for Singh. Once Scotch had polished off every last tasty cookie, Singh gushed, “This was the ‘bestest’ Raksha Bandhan ever.”

Yashika Arora, the founder-CEO of Paw Petisserie, believes the outlet’s popularity is because everything is made with pet-safe ingredients. Patrons choose from exotic delights like chicken or mutton ice-cream, different flavours of jams, doughnuts, brownies, breads and salami. However, their most sought-after items are their chicken jerky and mutton chips. “Universally popular ingredients are chicken, peanut butter, yogurt and mutton. Pet parents love our products because everything is human-grade. Even the colours used as decorations for cakes and cupcakes are made from fruits and vegetables,” she shares.

Dozens hospitalised in Moscow with rare food poisoning after eating salads ordered online

MOSCOW: A suspected outbreak of a rare and extremely dangerous food poisoning in Moscow left more than 120 people seeking medical help and at least 30 in intensive care, health officials said on Monday.

The patients were admitted to hospital with suspected food-borne botulism, a life-threatening condition that attacks the nervous system and can cause respiratory failure and paralysis.

Russian authorities said the toxic outbreak came from salads distributed by a popular online delivery service, which on Sunday temporarily suspended its operations amid a criminal investigation.

“In total 121 people sought medical help,” state news agencies quoted Anastasia Rakova, the deputy mayor of Moscow, as saying on Monday.

“At the moment 55 people are in a serious condition, 30 of them in intensive care,” she added.

The city’s consumer and health watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said on Saturday it was conducting an “epidemiological investigation into suspected cases of botulism”.

And the Moscow prosecutor’s office said it had launched a criminal investigation into a breach of consumer safety standards.

Deputy Mayor Rakova said there was “no threat to the lives” of those who had been hospitalised thanks to timely medical intervention.

According to the World Health Organization, food-borne botulism cases can be fatal without rapid treatment with antitoxins.

Botulism is an extremely rare condition, typically caused by improperly processed food and linked to canned and preserved goods.

It does not pass between people.

The food delivery company linked to the outbreak, Kuchnia Na Rayone (“local kitchen”), said it had identified a “potential risk incident” with a salad that used tinned beans, and it had suspended orders.

There were 82 confirmed cases of botulism across the European Economic Area (EEA) in 2021, the last year of available data, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Discover little Tokyo on the Rhine: Düsseldorf’s Japanese enclave

With more than 8,000 Japanese residents, Düsseldorf has the largest Japanese community in Germany and the third largest in Europe after London and Paris. How come? In the 1950s, growing economic ties between Japan and Düsseldorf led to many Japanese businessmen and their families to settle here. With them came Japanese doctors, hairdressers and restaurateurs, making the Immermannstrasse-Klosterstrasse block a Japanese enclave.

Beyond Little Tokyo is a slice of Japan in the Niederkassel district across the Rhine. Here, the EKÕ-Haus of Japanese Culture comprises a Buddhist temple, a house in traditional architectural style, a tea room, and a Japanese garden. Every year, the city celebrates Japan Day, an all-out Japanese culture festival of food, drink, music, dance performances, martial arts, and cosplay ending with a spectacular fireworks display on the Rhine.

If you have had your Japan fix and are hankering after a cold beer, worry not—after all, this is Germany. A short walk from Little Tokyo is Düsseldorf’s Altstadt or Old Town. It houses several historic buildings, but its main claim to fame is the nearly 300 pubs, restaurants, and bars, all located within half a sq km. Hence it is no surprise that it’s known as ‘the longest bar in the world’. Come evening, you will find hordes of people milling outside pubs, all quaffing beer from short, narrow glasses. Servers balancing trays weave around, replenishing drinks at lightning speed.

The beverage of choice here is Altbier, which literally translates as old beer since it is brewed in the traditional manner by using top-fermented yeasts. The full-bodied, amber-coloured beer is malty and crisp and is served in cylindrical 200- to 250-ml glasses. These are specifically designed to maintain the head, carbonation and temperature. While there are many breweries to choose from, Brauerei Schumacher is the oldest in Düsseldorf and has been brewing beer according to old family traditions since 1838.

Find a table inside (or stand outside) and ask for an “alt”. As you finish one glass, don’t be surprised if another magically appears in front of you and the server puts a tick mark on your coaster. As per local custom, the server will keep bringing you beer until you indicate you’re done by placing a coaster atop your glass. If that’s not Prost-worthy, what is?

‘Bengaluru ordered over 6 million burgers,’ says Swiggy

BENGALURU: Bengaluru ordered more than 6 million burgers over the past year, and has become the Burger Capital of India, says Swiggy. On the occasion of International Burger Day 2024, which falls on May 28, Swiggy has shared the latest burger ordering trends observed over the past year.

Swiggy has seen a significant increase in burger orders, with close to 40 million burgers ordered in the last year alone. A burger enthusiast from Chandigarh ordered as many as 1146 burgers on Swiggy, averaging about three burgers every single day!

Dinner and late-night hours emerged as the most popular times for indulging in burgers, accounting for over 19.5 million orders, Swiggy said. Lunchtime followed with 9.6 million orders, and snack time saw more than 7.4 million orders.

After Bengaluru, Mumbai saw close to 5 million orders and Delhi with over 3.2 million orders was just a little behind in the burger consumption race.

Fries and Coke were the top choices to accompany burgers, while cheese slice and cheese dip emerged as the most popular toppings.

Swiggy on Tuesday also said that its quick commerce arm Swiggy Instamart sold over 2,500 tonnes of mangoes. As the mango season hits its peak, Swiggy Instamart is experiencing an unprecedented surge in demand for the country’s most beloved fruit.

From Bengaluru to Mumbai, mango mania spans across cities with close to a million unique users experimenting with over 14 different varieties of the fruit. Notably, Bengaluru leads with close to half a million orders and a city user spending a whopping Rs 46,588 on mangoes.