Taste Of Banaras At ThreeSixtyOne|The Oberoi Gurgaon


I am a big supporter of revival of regional, traditional cuisine and the use of indigenous ingredients in daily meals. When I came to know about Banaras Ka Khana Showcase at ThreeSixtyOne, The Oberoi Gurgaon, curated by Chef Ravitej Nath along with a dear friend, food consultant and writer Sangeeta Khanna, I did not want to miss this opportunity to taste the flavours of the temple town cuisine. My mother was born and brought up there and we decided to bring to her a part of her childhood and youth as a pre-birthday gift. She turns 84 on 31st March.Exif_JPEG_420

They say, when you strongly desire something the universe conspires to bring it to you. A contest won me ‘complimentary meal for two’ making the whole experience even more exciting.

Our Holi inspired Dinner began with Panchamrit which is offered to the devotees at Hindu temples as a blessing from the Gods. It is also used in many religeous rituals. The whiff of tulsi (Holi Basil) and the correct sweetness of milk and honey in the drink was a perfect beginning to what was going to be an unforgettable experience.  We forgot to take the picture of Panchamrit.

The street food or chaats of Banaras in the Chef’s tasting menu left us longing for more. As we dug into Tamatar ki chaat, Chivda matar, chenna ka dahi vada and sumptuous aaloo tikki accompanied with traditional aaloo papad and the four chutneys the first thing that came to mind was the  hot, sour, savoury notes of each dish perfectly balancing each other. Nothing was too overwhelming. Wadiyon ki chatney was an instant hit.

The sublime flavours enhanced the pleasure of eating. Ma promptly gave her seal of approval as she remembered her childhood spent in the lanes of the holy city exploring these very delicacies except the tamatar chaat.

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Sangeeta later told us how the flavours of Gujrat have influenced the local cuisine and why. No wonder the tamatar chaat made me think of a similar dish sev tamatar.ki sabzi. It is amazing to see how the food has interconnections with so many parts of India and not just the city of Varanasi itself.

I loved Harad ki papdi, fara, bajka, bhapouri and bhabra too. We make Bajka at home and call it Lobra. Long time ago in Banaras, Harad ka golgappa was served  to digest all the fantastic chaat that the chaat bhandars fed you and this Harad ki papdi was a perfect revival of that. Excellent in taste and texture.

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The khus ka sherbat, aam panna were delicious but the thandai with special hand crafted portion and pan cocktail made with fresh pan leaves and lemon won my heart. Nowhere can one find something so fantastic. Both the drinks were simply out of the world.

The chefs had divided street food and main course in two distinct segments and the drinks served with them complimented the food perfectly.

We loved the street food totally. My son had never tasted the Banaras cuisine so it was a  unique experience for him. He loved the moong beans filled aaloo tiki and chene ka dahi vada.

I knew that the banaras ki thali was going to be a big sumptuous affair so we lingered with the pan mocktail reminiscing about the city and its culture.

We got both non vegetarian and vegetarian thalis in main course.

The Vegetarian Thali 

The Breads 

I had the vegetarian Thali and was bowled over by matar ka nimona (crushed green peas cooked with ginger and coriander) , Gular ka chokha, aaloo chokha and kaddu ki sabzi. It was very much the ghar ka khana. Each dish balancing the taste of the other. I found the flat breads a bit hard and one of the littis was under-cooked but the rest of amazing.  The khade masale ka pulav, made with short grain aromatic rice called Zeerabutti, had such a sublime flavour it really blew my mind.

I was surprised to see mom relishing the meal with such gusto as she is a very small eater. The khoya, matar, makhane ki sabzi was a delight. I had never tasted it before but my ma gave it 10/10 in taste. She found it as authentic as it could be. The tempered moong daal was just as we make at home. Delicious, to say the least.  Again, I found that the pairing of dishes was done in such a way that the tastes do not overwhelm each other.

The non -veg thali

Non Vegetarian Thali

The non veg thali had sookha jheenga (dried shrimps), motton kalia and sadi litti among other things and my son loved the shrimps and the river sol in mustard gravy.

I would love to go on about each dish but the festival is still on till 26th March at ThreeSixtyOne, The Oberoi Gurgaon and if you are in or around Delhi/NCR, you MUST visit and indulge in the Rivayat of Banaras.

Meals that are prepared and served with love are the best. We could see how Sangeeta had put her heart and soul in each preparation, going out of the way to procure the finest ingredients to create the original banarasi khana. Hats off to the F&B team of Chef Manish Sharma, Chef Ravitej Nath who recreated this fabulous along with Sangeeta

Now it was time for desserts and conversations with our gracious hostess.

 

As you can see mom had a lovely time reminiscing about Banaras with Sangeeta. They talked about traditions, city heritage, old houses, chawks and gaiyan, old eateries, their childhood and of course the delectable food. I was happy to see my mom enjoying every bit of the experience.

Malaiyyo, a specialty of Banaras, stole the show. Frothy, light as air and delicately tasteful,  it brought back a surge of nostalgia. Ma told that they would get up early morning before sunrise in winter to eat this delicacy which was then served in earthen pot the size of a small diwali diya. We loved the food and we loved the stories.

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The Desserts

Biranji Kheer

Biranji Kheer

The naturally tulsi scented Sankatmochan laddoos and Sri ram Bhandar’s lal peda (especially flown in from Banaras) were out of the world. I enjoyed the hare chane ki barfi which was new for me and the Biranji kheer was a delight. I make it at home but this was ethereal. Adi was bowled over by Malaiyyo.

Three generations in love with the vibrant food and Banaras came home with fondest memories, blissful dinning experience, unconditional love and a bagful of goodies.

I want to congratulate everyone who is part of Rivayat- Indian Culinary Conclave  and Banaras ka khana fest. You have kept the spirit and soul of the cuisine intact. Well done.

Special thanks for the warmth of hospitality by The Oberoi Gurgaon Staff. Thank you Mallika Gowda for your understanding and care.

Those who wish to know more about the dishes that were served here  or want to try making some of them at home, do visit Sangeeta’s blog Banaras ka Khana .

All For The Love Of Books


 

Since some years I had limited myself to specific genres and was missing out on a lot of good books especially the Hindi Literature.So, this year I decided to push myself and expand my reading horizons by taking up the Brunch Book Challenge by Hindustan Times Brunch or HT Brunch.

The deal is to read 24 book by the year end and tweet about them/ write reviews or just share your thoughts about the book with #BrunchBookChallenge and @HTBrunch so they can know your progress and after the completion of the challenge if they pick you up as a winner you get a goodies bag full of books. How cool is that. ) The hashtag also connects you with an ever-growing community of book lovers.

This year the challenge is focused on reading Indian Books. The book could be written by an Indian author or it could be about India.I decided to add some more spice to it by choosing to read regional literature in translation, Hindi Literature and non fiction / creative non fiction. Along with this I have taken the @100BookPact too. This too has a twitter hashtag #100BookPact where you can view what others are reading.

So far I have read 10 books and written their reviews on Goodreads except one which isn’t listed there. I did post my views about it on twitter. Here is the list of my first 10 books. I will update on my progress after every ten reads.

#BrunchBookChallenge

  1. Deja Karma
  2. Tughlaq by Girish Karnad
  3.  Water spirit and other stories by Imran Hussain
  4.  The best crime stories from the 19th century
  5. Of ghosts and other perils Troilokanath Mukhopadhyay (trastated by Arnab Bhattacharya
  6. City of Djins – William dalrymple
  7. Clifton Bridge –Irshad AbdulKader
  8. A life in words – memoir Ismat chugtai (traslated by M Asaduddin)
  9.  Onitsha – JMG Le Cleze
  10. Mr. Majestic- The Tout of Bengaluru – Zac O’Yeah

 

I am still reading the last one. Writing deadlines and a wonderful opportunity to be the guest editor of illustrious Cafe Dissensus Magazine kept me away from reading for some time. When Mosarrap. H. Khan, the editor of this wonderful magazine, asked me if I would like to be the guest editor for the March issue no.(23) with a theme ‘The Book That Left An Impact On Me In 2015’ I said Yes without a second thought. I hadn’t done anything like this before but the challenge was too tempting to let go. Nervousness took the better of excitement once I made the commitment and I seriously began to freak out when the subs didn’t arrive in the first few weeks. I always feel mentoring plays a great role in helping you overcome fears and doubts. Mosarrap guided and encouraged at every step to help me bring out a remarkable issue in a very short time. Producing a magazine is a collaborative effort and I think communication and followup between writers and editors makes the task easy. Magazine editing taught me a lot about reading submissions, editing and submitting my own writing. A big thank you to all those who sent us their submissions at such a short notice.

I am very proud of this achievement and grateful to the editor and team of CD for trusting me with such a huge responsibility.

Here is a link to my guest editorial and the content list of the issue. Do please read and leave your views.

I absolutely loved reading Along The Red River , which is a powerful autobiography of the acclaimed veteran journalist, Sabita Goswami, who was the first woman reporter in the North-East to have worked for organisations like AFP and BBC. The book is translated from the original Assamese, Mon Gongaar Teerot by her elder daughter, Dr. Triveni Goswami Mathur, who is also a journalist and an academician.

It left a lasting impression on me and that’s the reason I chose to write about it as my contribution to the Magazine that I guest edited. Those who haven’t read the book, please do. It is available with all online booksellers.

Here is an excerpt from the essay, you can read the rest by clicking on this link 

I believe that the lives of women across the globe are connected with each other and there is a river that runs through them, filling them with strength and calm. This is what Along the Red River did to me. Recounted with poise, honesty and a rare passion, this book is a compelling read. I often find solace and a voice of reason in its pages.

 

I will now resume by book challenge and writing. A few poetry submissions are awaiting decision and some more poems and stories are waiting patiently in the drafts to see the sunlight.

Do let me know if you are taking any of these challenges or if you read my work. Your comments/ suggestions will help me improve.

 

Déjà vu – Dream Diary


I often revisit a dream or sometimes there is a continuation. It may happen immediately in next few days or even after months, years. The place or people may seem familiar from a past dream, giving a feeling of dream  Déjà vu. Let me tell that it is the people or places that I revisit but the dream is not reoccurring. None of the places are familiar in real life.

Here is the first dream that I had sometime last year. I did not log it so some part are forgotten but most of it is still very vivid.

I am in an old building, probably a ruinous house, with some people who seem to part of an organisation or group I am part of. The bare brick walls are plastered with half torn or full posters. I could see something written but could not decipher the language Red and black  are the  prominent colours. The two rooms on top floor where we are have minimal furniture Basically a wooden table laden with papers, books, pens, water bottles, a few glasses and some other miscellaneous things. A few simple wooden chairs an a bed roll in a corner. There is a small stool in a corner with a few bags. The place is dusty and neglected.

The single window in the room, where we are gathered, is small and the dirty glass panes are cracked. The place is very dimly lit and we seem to be very well adjusted to work in such conditions

The faces are tense. They aren’t familiar people from real life but in dream they seem like old friends Apart from the five – six of us the building is empty. It is away from the habitation and there isn’t much vegetation around. To me it seems like an  outskirts of an abandoned desert village.

There is a part of of dream which I have forgotten. Some conversations and other details. They are there as images but very obscure now.

There is firing going on outside so this place is a hideout. We are probably thinking of a strategy to escape.  It is unclear now.

Next image is of the staircase full of wounded or dead people. The firing is intense and I can see men in military combat uniforms. There are civilians too with rifles etc. From the broken areas of walls I can see fires all around.

I am dressed in regular black jeans and a black long sleeve shirt. No other details about others.

I ask a young man to accompany me down the stairs. He seems familiar, maybe my son but not in the dream. Both of us are carrying some sort of a bamboo pole stick with a metal head

I give a thumbs up to the others and we maneuver down the staircase with people crying out in agony.  Dead faces, half open eyes with life ebbing out of them stare at us as we go down the bloody steps littered with severed limbs and dead bodies. A child is crying but there is no sound. Her eyes possessed with an unknown fear. She is lying in the lap of a woman thrown at the base of the stairs. Her head split open.

I pick up the child, cover her in a cloth mask till neck and run out from the hole in the back of the wall. There are men pursuing us but no one shoots

We run through the dark but somehow the path is clearly visible. There is light that we can see but others can’t. And then out of the blue we are attacked. These look like men but they aren’t. They appear and vanish at will. So do we. The young man gives me a signal and I drop the child in a push cart standing by a tree. The cart vanishes. We are surrounded by trees that look like men. They close in on us. There are other people too (humans)  but they are unconcerned of the happenings around them as if they are in some other reality. We use the poles to protect ourselves but the tree mob and the men who had pursued us close in from all sides On a cue the young man with me spins the pole over his head and in that frantic spinning whirl of light I watch him dissolve There is no movement except for the shimmering dust that slowly drizzles to the ground where he had stood. The attackers turn to me. In one quick motion I slip out of my clothes and take position pointing the pole in their direction. It isn’t a wand but it roots them to the ground. I step back one step at a time.

Their eyes fixed on me

The darkness increase and I dissolve into it.

At this point my eyes opened and for a few minutes I could feel the sand, the dust, the blood , the darkness which was unlike anything. I tried to get up but could not. I must have lay there in that half awakened state for some time. I can’t tell how long but when I finally woke up my body ached and the soles of my feet were dirty. I could feel the sweat and sand on my body which actually wasn’t there.

I never had any similar dream again till day before yesterday. The building seemed very similar to the one in precious dream but not the location. The area was lit with yellow lights. I was walking along the back lane in some old part of the city though the lane was not narrow or winding. All the buildings looked the same as the one in the previous dream. Made of bare red brick  A high wall separated them from the back lane. The wall was whitewashed I was again with my elder son and we were walking along in a hurry Hundreds of people were sleeping on the road Where ever one looked one could see people covered with quilts lying on the road  and the pavement adjoining the wall. I don’t recollect what was on the other side. We walked carefully in the midst of dirty white quilts. The impact of the dream was so real that I could actually feel the warm breath of those sleeping men ) yes, they were all men), the concrete of the  lane, the softness of the white quilt covers on which sometimes I stepped. Only a few half concealed faces were visible. I could sense the rise and fall of the sleeping bodies. It was night and maybe winter but I do not recollect the feeling of cold. All sensory impressions that I felt were of others. We hardly talk till we reach the end of the lane where there is a quiet group of few men.They stand surrounding a wooden stretcher, or bench something flat and elevated on which a man is lying down. My son is a few steps ahead of me As I reach the place I look at the man lying down. He seems familiar. No one I know from physical  life right now.  The man was wearing a plain white cotton shirt  and black trousers. No shoes. He had nicely trimmed beard and mustache. Must be in his mid forties. On his left upper cheek was a gaping wound. Most probably cleaned up as there was no sign of any blood. A man, whom I take for a doctor, was applying some native medicine on the wound. He seemed as if someone had dragged him out from his sleep. No one spoke.  “WTF is he doing?”, I whisper to Adi who urges me to walk on but I can’t. I stare at the injured man. His eyes hold me captive. We look into each others eyes as if our stares are locked. I feel he is trying to convey a message. Adi gets restless and nudges me to move but the eyes of the man do not let go of the hold. There was a surge of emotions I felt in that moment from empathy to rage to warmth to sadness and also love. Adi pulls at my arm and practically drags me from the spot. The eyes plead me to stay but I allow myself to be pulled. As I move away the images begin to blur and we continue to walk , now in the dark.

Though it was just a crossing of a lane and this eye contact with this man, the dream was immensely intense. I still remember those eyes, every fold of the quilts I saw, the air i was breathing, the atmosphere. Strangely there is no focus on the other men , the doctor (let us call him that), even what Adi was wearing etc.

Two things that gave me the feeling of Deja vu were the buildings and the injured man.  It is strange when you feel the warmth of human bodies. I have always felt them in a positive way. No coldness in their presence. Even when they aren’t friendly.

In both the dreams the buildings reminded me of some place I had been before. Like in many past dreams, the area had a desert like feel. Though it was not so evident in this particular one.

Both the time there was a feeling of premonition about someone in need of help. Someone reaching out. There was someone in the previous dream too whom I do not recollect now. Strangely there were no other females in both the dreams. Except that little infant girl.

This time the dream left me with a feeling  of incompleteness and helplessness. A sort of parting that should not have been. A slight feeling of remorse too but I can not say the reason.

This was the first time  I did not want the dream to continue. I wanted to run away from it. Shirking the responsibility I guess. Something alien to me.

What does it symbolize I do not know but those eyes I am not able to forget. Though I do not see them, the thought keeps coming back. Should I have stayed?

“Beneath our waking mind there is another mind that broods and plots the coordinates of symbolic escape toward other experiences.Dreams are those rare things that last a few seconds while also never ending inside our heads. A  space opens to become a volume of the inexplicable and within that space, something not exactly real weaves around itself a palpable web of the truer-real.” A friend wrote few years ago. I miss his presence but I know he is safe and healthy doing what is best for him.