Go Goa with Indian Zing’s Goan Inspired Christmas Menu – a Review

A short walk from Ravenscourt Park Tube station, this Indian restaurant is at the end of a high street with far too many restaurants n close proximity to each other. But clearly Indian Zing seems to be favoured over the others as a few minutes after we strolled in there late on Monday evening it was heaving with hungry customers.

I was invited to review the Christmas Menu and seeing Pork sorpotel, Pork Vindaloo and a Turkey Jalfrezi on their Goan Christmas Menu, I couldn’t turn down a week day trip to a part of London that is not quite on my way back home from work.

We were greeted warmly by the maître d’ Rahul who got us a ‘welcome drink’ shortly after we were seated. This warming soupy broth of tomatoes, coriander and some other secret ingredients was just what we needed on a chilly evening.

While we selected our wine and starters, we were pleasantly surprised to have the owner-Chef Manoj Vasaikar stroll in for a chat. Like us he is a Maharashtrian from Mumbai and I guess one the reasons we immediately warmed up to him. Of course it is Chef Manoj’s down to earth demeanour that puts one at ease from the word go. The love for food and his passion to serve fresh food cooked using quality ingredients carefully sourced becomes evident as he shares the inspiration behind the new Goan Inspired menu and as we chatted away a small part of me seemed to drift away from the conversation to a pristine white sands beach in Goa.

The fact that we were seated in a restaurant which has beautiful Indian artefacts and carved wooden pillars  (an extension of the influence of the Chef’s Indian background and love for things Indian) may also have had something to do giving me the feeling that I was in India not London on a cold, rainy winter evening.

First up came the starters :

  • Goan vegetable cutlets (Almomdegas) – Exotic vegetable with Goan herbs and spices, pan seared. Served with red Goan chutney and baby cress
  • Pork Sorpotel  – A pork pickle mellowed with a distinct flavour of dried red Goan paste marinated in Palm vinegar. Served with sanna (a steamed rice cake).
  • Sun Dried Shrimps and Fish Cutlets – Small shrimps, seasonal fish with fresh herbs and spices, root vegetable with semolina seared on hot pan. Served with roasted coconut chutney.

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One bite into the shrimp and fish cutlet had me oohing and aahing and of course greedily craving for more 😉 While for hubster the Sorpotel hit the spot. The tangy pickle flavour combined with the fiery Goan paste is cleverly balanced by the palm vinegar while the steamed rice cake – Goa’s answer to bread, manages to cut through the spice really quite nicely.

I could happily have had lots more of the shrimp and fish cutlets and continued sipping on aromatic red which the maître d’ kindly picked out for me. Cabernet Sauvignon, Les Templiers, Vinde Pays a red wine from France with blackcurrant and blackberry flavours with ripe balanced tannins – perfect match with our starters.

While Chef Manoj left to go check on his guests at his other rrestaurant Rahul continued to fuss over us and we left it to him to bring us his favourite picks from Indian Zing’s Goan themed Christmas Menu.

By now the festive spirit had us in it’s grips and hubster and me happily reminisced about all things Mumbai, when was the last time we visited Goa and other such happy memories. I was in Std 5 when my parents took my sister and me to Goa for a long vacation and I still can never forget the meal of steamed rice and the fresh catch of the day we all shared at a cute little beach shanty. Of course time has a way of erasing bits and pieces from your memories, something like old photographs in family albums that begin to fade and fray at the edges but the essence of the moment always stays captured somewhere in that picture. That is why food like what we were about to eat brings with a rush of memories, familiar sights and sounds tumble out of old hidden chests in your memory bank…

When Rahul arrived with a huge tray with 4 mains, plain naan, steamed rice and brown rice pulav we couldn’t wait to get started.

I had to taste the Zing’s Turkey Jalfrezi with Caramelised Cranberry first though and it is a fabulous marriage of east meets west with perfectly cooked diced turkey which has been marinated in a rich spice mixture served in a thick gorgeous onion, pepper and tomato gravy sauce topped with scrumptious caramelised cranberries.

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Hubster on the other hand dug into the Pork Vindaloo, a traditional  Goan delicacy, heavily spiced and usually fiery, this dish to me is Goa on a Plate. A hand me down from the Portuguese influence on Goan food , Indian Zing’s interpretation results in a dish of melt in your mouth soft pork dish in a rich sauce of  slow cooked spices which penetrate through the meat giving it an intense depth of flavour, almost like eating a juicy meat pickle. Mop this up with plain naan – makes a superb combination I say.

Seafood lovers that we both are, we were happy that Goan fish Ambottik was part of the selection of dishes we were sampling. Best consumed with plain boiled rice this fish gravy is seasoned with kokum which gives it  fabulously tangy almost sour flavour and the spices give it that familiar coastal curry flavour but with a dash of Goan red chillies. Not for the faint hearted though this is a fiery one but a true Goan dish , do not hesitate to order this. I highly recommend washing this down with several glasses of Gamay, Duboeuf Vin de Pays a Red wine from France, a lively red with a full aromatic character of crushed fresh berries,  which is slightly chilled to balance spicy food. ( I noticed that the wine menu had a Sauvignon Blanc from Sula Vineyards in  Nashik from Maharashtra state in India and I almost immediately wanted to order us a bottle to take home but have decided to go back and savour this wine on a relaxed afternoon some day soon over a meal of fish curry and rice – ummm)

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We ate spoonfuls of Caldinho de legumes in between greedy mouthfulls of the Ambottik and rice. A  green herb curry with a gorgeous combination of vegetables and mushrooms smothered in cashew nut gravy this is flavoured with a virgin extract of coconut milk and topped with wafer thin roasted almonds. Absolutely delightful this is a fabulous accompaniment to most of the mains especially the Turkey Jalfrezi. Frankly we couldn’t get enough of this green veggie coconut goodness.

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While we sat down quietly trying to get all that food down into our tummies, I was reminded of how every year my father used to bring a rich plum cake which we would hungrily devour after our big Christmas day dinner of home made biryani and lots of snacks and special fizzy drinks for all the kids in the family. And if we were lucky Baba would also give us Bebinca – a sweet flour multi-layered cake, which he always got back from his frequent trips to Goa (Indian Zings menu has Goan Bebinca though I was more inclined to sample the spiced pudding so we gave it a miss)

No Christmas menu is complete without a showstopping dessert and Indian Zing’s spiced exotic Christmas pudding with spicy brandy custard is the perfect ending to a festive feast. All we needed now was a warm bed and the day off work the next day … 😉

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I only wish I was going back for more of Indian Zings Goan themed food especially would love some on Christmas day but I guess my friends and me will just have to make do with what hubster and I manage to make.

If you haven’t already called Indian Zing to book a table, then grab that phone and let Rahul book you in for a feast you won’t forget.

*With  thanks to Humayun Hussain and Indian Zing for the invite. No monetary compensation was offered for a positive review .All opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Find the menu here follow me on Zomato

Indian Zing on Urbanspoon

Dinner at The Brasserie , Tower Guoman – a review

On the day of the Mens Singles Final when Djokovic won  the match against Roger Federer ,I had an invite to go dine with a few fellow bloggers at The Brasserie at the Tower Guoman. I must admit the match was so engaging that I was glued to the tv and only in the game that I was just to nervous to watch so I dragged myself out and kept pestering a dear friend of mine in whatsapp till she gave me updates of almost every move on the court …. I was hoping that Djokovic would win and also hoping that the match would end before I hopped onto the tube and lost network… Lets just say that all invisible divine forces were with Djokovic ( and me )that day coupled with his awesome performance, just as I was about to get into the tube… there it was..,… message I was hoping to see on whatsapp…. ‘He won’… which led to a very comical impromptu gig on the staircase by me watched by bemused passers by…heck a good win deserves a dance ..at least ! Bonus points to all those who also watched this match to oogle at Boris Becker …teehee

After that I needed a refreshing drink and just as I was settling in the beautiful area  just outside the Guoman, an open air bar  and siping my cocktail gazing up the Tower Bridge was perfect. Chilled Prosecco, Cocktails and Mocktails flowed while we chatted up with the manager who also had dinner with us later .Meeting my friends after Food Blogger Connect was fun and camera lens choices, food photography ,the Wimbledon final results and the stunning view dominated our conversation. Before long the rain decided to play spoil sport and we were ushered inside to our huge table at The Brasserie.

I took the seat the far end of the end but the view from any where inside is just as brilliant , it’s the first time I was so close to the Tower Bridge and you can be guaranteed you will have the best seats in town at The Brasserie with superb views of Butlers wharf thrown in.

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The table was neatly laid out with our special menu for the evening there and fresh bread , warm and just out of the oven with 3 different dips arrived.

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Our rustic bread selection with truffle oil and olive oil.

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To go with our Rustic Bread selection we had the smoked paprika dip – the bright orange one and my fav of the 3, one with chives in the middle and a plain one which I found a tad too salty.

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I choose to have the Grilled Vegetable and Goat Cheese Tart to start off my meal with – it sounded very appetising – Tomato olive salsa,balsamic reduction,pine nut,sekura cress – hummm yes please.

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The thin crisp  pastry base was not one bit soggy or eggy, the grilled Manchego cheese ( a cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the manchega breed) tasted great in combination with summery veggies like asparagus and grilled peppers and the salsa was very good ,I loved the taste of the olives and hints of fennel, the cress made the whole dish so fresh not just to look at but to taste too.

The Head chef Kamaldeep Singh (left) and his colleague decided to take us through the process of how the new menu was created , the origin of ingredients and basically make us hungry for more!

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Madeleine seated next to me choose the other option as her first course :Peppercorn Cured Beef Carpaccio – Manchego cheese , home cured tomatoes,charred artichokes,mizuna and micro cress. I was avoiding red meat that so was very happy to photograph her dish and ask how it tasted but equally satisfied with my light tart.

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The carpaccio was hammered thin and artichokes placed over – it looked great, to find out in her Madeleine’s own words what she thought of her dish go check out  her review here.Very happy with my first course, I expected the second course to deliver and impress me a bit more. Must say my Pan-Fried Fillet of Sea Bass served with diver scallop,caper crushed potatoes,mixed bean salsa and ‘sauce vierge’  did not fail to do so. It looked amazing and I had to photograph it from various angles – we food bloggers!

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But  this was simply delicious and worthy of praise for more reasons than one – made using farmed sea bass responsibly sourced scallops, a lighter than most sauces that usually accompany a fish main the scallop sat one a delicious pea puree and cream base.

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The mixed bean salsa tasted great with the morish caper crushed potato, the cress balancing off the dish in a subtle way.Nayna my vegetarian food blogger friend chose to have the Spinach and Ricotta Raviolli made with heirloom tomato salsa and served with freshly made basil cream sauce , to read her views go onto her blog here.Our first wine of the evening accompanied the first course , Vidal sauvignon blanc from New Zealand , aromas of gooseberry, passionfruit and guava lead into a palate that exudes tropical and passion fruit flavours.

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After that very satisfying sea food dish ,we moved onto the next course , I stayed away from red meat again and the Garden pea,mint and pecorino cheese risotto was fabulous for me , I love my rice and many a times I really need some to complete my meal and make it me feel full, maybe a psychological thing but coming from the coastal side of western India ,fish curry and rice is our most staple everyday far.One of the staff members asked me where I was from and when I said Mumbai, pat came the next question which I was sort of expecting – was the sea bass as good as the Pomfret, well no! For me pomfret is the king of  all fishes on this planet – but its a matter of what taste one has grown up with and our method of cooking is also so very different. But yes Sea Bass , Salmon and Basa are my favorite buys,best eaten fresh on the day of purchase ,hate frozen fish,tastes muddy and weird in curries especially.

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The  pecorino cheese added a subtle tangy taste to this very morish and filling risotto, its easy to get this dish so wrong because often the seemingly easier to make dishes are the toughest to produce to perfection . I am a great fan of the risotto that my elder sister hubby makes , he is a trained chef but now a very busy and senior marketing head honcho so it’s very rarely that we meet and even more rarely that I get to eat the risotto he makes. Ah sweet nostalgic family moments, only truly good food can bring on such an attack for me.. 🙂

By now the light had really faded and my risotto photo and all that follow look terrible!

I must admit Madeleine was very kind and allowed me to have a taste of burnt celeriac which I loved with some of the calvados sauce I scooped it off her plate with from her Confit of Gloucestershire Pork Belly. She enjoyed  my cheesy risotto too.

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The 14 hour low heat cooked pork belly looked so very appetising, the burnt celeriac adding to the earthiness of this dish,the cinnamon compliments the pork  and the savoy cabbage and compressed apple give it a tart almost tangy twist on the side. This was washed down with several glasses of a full bodied Chilean Merlot – Errazuriz , almost opulent with notes of berry and cassis fruit.

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It’s at this point that I slipped into blissful food coma and saw this beautiful rainbow emerge right in front of my eyes… the photo does no justice to the what we actually saw…

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That is us at the table – L- R – Bintu who blogs at Recipes from a pantry, Nicki who blogs at Baking Beardy,seated opposite her is Fiona who writes an award-winning blog – London Unattached,Nayna – who blogs at  Simply Sensational Food her other blog is Citrus ,Spice and all things Nice, and the lovely Madeline who blogs at Kitchen Journeys and documents heart healthy recipes at From the Healthy Heart.

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Was too full by now and the dessert platter served with a large shot of margarita in shot glass lined by sugar , managed to cut the sweet taste that was bound to settle on the palate after cheesecake ,a panna cotta that failed to impress because I was expecting the usual wobble and a refreshing pista flavoured ice cream  – my fav from the selection.

As we strolled out for an impromptu photo session and gazed happily at the beautiful Tower Bridge,I couldn’t help but wonder that though the exterior of  the Tower Guoman leaves one wanting the view of two world Heritage Sites – Tower Bridge and the Tower of London certainly makes up for it!A massive refurbishment project is on the cards too.A few more plus points include a convenient location within easy reach of the financial district, Canary Wharf, the Excel Centre, London City Airport, historic Greenwich, the West End and Westfield Shopping Centre. Also the newly launched menu at The Brasserie definitely warrants a visit. The menu is bold and one where the chefs have really gone the extra mile to hope that if they try ambitiously to achieve the Zero Mile Ingredient mark and grow their own herbs fresh on the terrace garden which is to come alive very soon!

The staff was very polite, genuinely attentive and ensured we had a great evening.

*With  thanks to The Tower Guoman for the invitation. No monetary compensation was offered for a positive review . All opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

The Brasserie at the Tower Hotel on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

CKP Surmai-सुरमई- Curry – Happy Fathers Day Baba

Leaving your home country and more importantly leaving behind your near and dear ones is never easy. I sorely miss a lot of things about my life back home and one of the things I miss most is lazy Sunday afternoons at my parents place. As any typical teenager if you do move out from home during college years you would be better off dealing with moving out your parents after you get married but I never lived away from my parents and it was only after I was married that hubster and me moved into our own place, which happened to be very close to my mum’s !So most Sunday afternoons we would make our way to mum’s and Baba would be helping aai cook our favourite Sunday meal of chicken curry and rice, or sometimes when he was in a mood for seafood he would go Supekar’s fish market and queue up for fresh surmai (Marathi Surmai /सुरमई, Indo-Pacific king mackerel or popularly spotted seer fish-Scomberomorus guttatus),pomfret and my fav fresh prawns ummm!

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This recipe for Surmai/Kingfish /Mackerel curry is his favourite and I love how aai (means mother in Marathi my mother tongue)makes it so very delicious using a traditional hand me down recipe typical to the CKP community (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhu (CKP), is an ethno-religious community of South Asia). We call it Surmaiche Kalvan (सुर्माईचे कालवान) – Kalvan means curry in Marathi. If we were in Pune today I would most certainly have surprised Baba by cooking up a feast for him and aai. Baba this post is for you and for aai thank you for being the most parents any one could ever ask for , the best childhood ever and for believing is us ,for being the strong presence every girl wants her father to be. I love you more than words can say Baba and I miss you heaps and tons!

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Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sized surmai pieces
  • 3 large tbsp coriander – green chilli paste
  • 2 tsp  of ginger – garlic paper
  •  2  tsp Red Chilli powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp Turmeric
  • 4 cloves of garlic cloves with skin on
  • 3 tbsp grated coconut
  • A pinch of Asafoetida/Hing
  • 2 tbsp refined oil
  • Juice of 1/4th of a lime
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh coriander a tiny palmful washed and finely chopped for garnishing.

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Method:

  • Wash the Surmai/Kingfish /Mackerel steaks and marinate the with red chilli powder, turmeric,salt ,ginger- garlic paste,coriander- green chilli paste and set aside for at least 40 minutes.

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  • Heat oil in a saucepan,add a pinch of asafoetida and then add the crushed garlic cloves with their skins on and as they start to brown.
  • Add the marinated fish and toss around in the hot oil for 30 seconds
  • Add the finely grated fresh coconut, stir in enough water to ensure that the curry is the right consistency , not too thick  and cook on a low flame with lid for about under 5 minutes.
  • Fresh fish cooks very quickly , take care not to overdo it.
  • Now add salt as required bearing in mind that when the fish was marinated salt was used.
  • Squeeze the lime juice into the curry.
  • Garnish with finely chopped fresh coriander/cilantro.
  • Serve with steaming hot rice and allow yourself to enjoy this simple yet classic fish curry.

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This is another fabulous recipe that originates from the western coast of India , the Konkan coastline , a beautiful coconut tree lined coastline abundantly blessed with fresh sea food and natural scenic beauty read beautiful beaches with soft sands and plenty of sunshine. A lot of people would also add tamarind paste to the curry but we do not. Tamarind trees are also found in abundance

If you are looking for fresh Kingfish in London the best place to find it is at supermarkets like H-Mart. The Kingfish that you will get here is from the North  Atlantic waters. You can also buy Wahoo steaks from Wing Yip but the taste is not as pronounced and the flesh is not as tender, besides wahoo steaks are bigger and need more seasoning and should be consumed on the same day to enjoy the full taste , I’d say they taste better in a curry than fried and if you do fry them do add a large squeeze of lime after you have fired them. Since the Kingfish belongs to the Mackerel family ,the mackerel will take all these marinade flavours beautifully and works well both fried and in a curry Konkani style.

My traditional CKP surmai kalvan/curry recipe works well with pomfret too.

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Vangyache Bharit- वांग्याचे भरीत (Baingan ka Bharta) (Smoked Aubergine)

I have noticed that I have become a bit more inclined towards celebrating festivals after coming to London , maybe its out of being homesick during festive times and also to ensure that I remember the traditions involved I guess. ‘Makar Sankrant’ is  a Hindu festival celebrated by my community ”Maharashtrains” with great pomp and enthusiasm as it heralds the season of Harvest. Similar to this festival is Lohri which is celebrated by the Punjabis in the North of India, Pongal in the state of Tamil Nadu , Uttaryan in the state of Gujrat. One festival so many names and so varied ways of celebrating! Its not only in India that this festival is celebrated it’s also welcomed in Nepal, Sri Lanka ,Cambodia and Laos amongst others!

My mother always used to make a smoked aubergine vegetable dish called Vangyache Bharit – written in Marathi as – वांग्याचे भरीत on Makar Sankrant so I decided to make it too for Sankrant this year which was on the 14th of Jan’14. We also exchange small ladoos made of sesame seeds and jaggery called ”Tilache Ladoo” and wish each other by saying ”tilgul ghya god god bola” (तिळगुळ घ्या गोड गोड बोला) It means that we shall forget and forgive any past bitter exchange of words and start afresh with this sweet offering and only speak sweet words of love.

The recipe is modified in various regions of the state of Maharashtra and also the variety of vanga/eggplant/aubergine or brinjal as we know it in urban India, is different in various parts of the state and in various states of India, of course differing due to climate and soil .Aai ( meaning Mother in Marathi language – my mother tongue) always looked for the light green vanga or eggplant with white stripes  on its skin which she rightly said tastes way better than its darker purple skinned cousin.

Aai’s recipe which I will share now is how we have always made this dish at home. There are several variations and styles depending on which part of Maharashtra you hail from and also various sub-cultures and availability of local ingredients and palates.I guess what makes this recipe so special is that it brings back happy memories of childhood, festivity ,celebration and the unmistakable smoky and rich vanga (eggplant/aubergine) taste with the crunchy red onion and a slap of hot spicy green chilli mixed in between ,all balanced so well with the various masalas that go into this bharit ummm!

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Image Credit click here 

Serves:2 -as a main with chapatya(Marathi for Indian Naan Bread also called chapatis in Hindi)

Preparation Time :15 minutes

Cooking Time:25minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 large vanga/baingan/eggplant/aubergine
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2-3 green chillies
  • 5-6 large cloves of garlic
  • a few mustard seeds
  • Cumin/Jeera
  • Garam Masala – 2 heaped tsps
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of hing/asafoetida
  • Turmeric – 1.5 tsp
  • Red chilli powder – 1.5 tsp
  • Oil – 3-4 large tbsps
  • Coriander/Cilantro to garnish

Method:

  • The beauty of this dish lies in the deep and rich smoky flavour of the eggplant , I would love to use charcoals and do this bit on a open rustic fire but well I make do with my hob.You could use the oven  but it will take much longer but directly on the hob – though a bit messy , it’s quicker! Roast the eggplant completely turning it on the side and moving it up an down so you don’t miss any bits.

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  • Allow this to cool and then charred skin will come off easily.

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  • Mash with your hands in a smooth mass of soft cooked ,smoked eggplant.

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  • While the eggplant is smoking on the hob , finely chop one large red onion.
  • Skin the garlic and use a mortar pestel to smash the green chillies with the garlic
  • In a  dry saucepan ,add the oil and after it is hot , add a pinch of hing/ asafoetida  and mustard seeds , as the mustard seeds begin to pop add the cumin seeds and the garam masala powder and  the finely chopped red onion and stir it often till it turns colour and is still crunchy to taste.

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  • Now add the turmeric and red chilli powder
  • Then stir in the ”thecha”(Marathi for the green chilli and garlic mixture) and saute’ till the raw garlic becomes one with the mixture.Vary the green chillies depending on your personal tolerance of heat
  • Reduce the flame to a low and add the eggplant mash into this mixture and stir well so as to ensure equal distribution of the onion and all other flavours.
  • Cook with lid for under 5 minutes.
  • Garnish with finely chopped coriander/cilantro.
  • Serve with hot chapatya or steamed rice and dal.
  • We also enjoy this cold , cool the dish completely and serve with a generous helping of set curd/yogurt.
  • My aai didn’t add tomatoes to this and at times used some goda masala as well as it has dry grated coconut which can really alter the taste.
  • For Baingan Bharta add one finely chopped tomato as well after the onion has been fried.

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I found some very interesting variations to my recipe here are a few :

  1. For a recipe using Tamarind try this 
  2. For beautiful photos and an open air fire used to smoke the eggplant see this
  3. For a recipe using freshly grated coconut try this

I am adding this recipe into the Made with Love Mondays blog link love started and hosted by the lovely Mark aka Javelin Warrior – very interesting to read how that name came about !

Made with Love Mondays Resized Badge

 

Just linked up to In my Veg box with Onions as the theme for April’2014 hosted by Tina who blogs at The Spicy Pear and created by Nayna who blogs at Simply.Food and CitrusSpice . I wasn’t able to download the logo for April but here’s a general logo that Nayna uses.

 

 

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Escape the Urban Jungle, go adventure ”Eco-camping” at Panchgani.

It was in the Dec of 2010 that my two closest girlfriends and I decided that we must some place fun to mark the end of era and celebrate my fresh start. I had resigned from my full-time job in vibrant Mumbai and was joining my husband in London, taking a plunge of faith so to speak.

Camping at Eco Camps,Panchgani was the last thing the old me would have done, but am so glad my friend P chose the place and helped me get over a long time silly fear of doing anything remotely adventurous.The barbecue that night was thanks to S and her skills. We were very close and bonded even more that night. Waking up to see lush green mountains and see a beautiful valley wake up with us was something I shall never forget.The river Krishna flows near Panchgani and the Dhom lake near the village of Wai can be seen from the Eco Camp Site.

We walked into the village and found a quaint old shop and had some strawberries and cream, the street is dotted with street vendors selling strawberries by the dozen and fresh carrots. My mother in law went to Kimmin’s Boarding School and Panchgani and we walked to the road where the school is, the quaint old red and cream brick building was enough to take me back in time, on a nostalgia trip to my school in Mumbai, the beautiful stone grey building, the carefree school days, we grow up too quickly don’t we?

Oh and please do get some of these heart-shaped biscuits from this bakery – ROACH, I do have a picture of me posing with the sugar-coated biscuit but err it’s not going up here 😉

It was also the first time ever I was part of a barbecue, we walked into the village at night, found a lady who gave us some deliciously marinated cottage cheese and peppers and shallots and we have some kind neighbours in the tent next door who lent us some hot coals to get the barbie going.

It was a clear night and the brilliant stars seemed to sparkle just to make us girls smile …

Lying down on the grass on a thin sheet and watching the stars, feeling the pleasant chill on our face, it’s nothing like anything I had ever done.

Fast forward to life in London and with a desire to finally get the travel bit of my blog going I wanted to complete the drafts of so many posts but I am so glad I decided to start with writing about Eco Camps at Panchgani. Megan and Andre have been kind to send me answers to my many questions on email. I hope that all those who are looking some great weekend fun drive down to Panchgani the first weekend possible and stay in one of the tents; this is an experience not to be missed. Proximity to Mumbai and Pune are great pluses. Of course, anyone planning an India vacation in Dec- Feb must stay here and give paragliding a go, make your holiday memorable and experience nature’s beauty, nestled so close to the maddening hustle bustle of two big cities – Mumbai and Pune. It’s almost like, well, a secret escape, something so bohemian about the whole experience!

Megan and Andre, you are an inspiration for those taking a plunge, a leap of faith, raring to follow their dreams, so thank you for being such brave achievers .

MJ – That’s an acronym for my name,kinda long writing ”Manjiri” all the time;)

MJ: Why did you choose Panchgani?

 

Megan & Andre: Andre and I had decided in 1997 that we wanted to move from cold Canada to India to raise our kids (who were then 4 and 1).We actually wanted to live in Goa, as  I first met Andre while on holiday in Goa.We dreamt of having houseboats on the river, but after researching a bit we found that it was hard to get permissions and there was too much barge traffic there. My parents told us to go to Panchgani as we already had a family house on land that my grandfather bought in 1922. So we said we’d give Panchgani a try.

 MJ: What inspired you and your husband to start this venture?

Megan & Andre: We wanted to start our own venture, passion and a desire to follow our heart got us here.

MJ: Are there opportunities for adventure sports at Eco Camps?

Megan & Andre: Para gliders with their own equipment converge here from dozens of different countries to practise their flying from Dec to Feb every year. Other adventures to be had in the area is a trek down to the Krishna river, a short one up to the peaceful side of the otherwise crowded tableland, forest walks and visits to waterfalls in the rains. There is also a lovely sunset from the camp.( Oh Yes, I can so vouch for that!)

When practising an adventure sport they must get adequate training and stay safe.

some interesting facts about Panchgani

 

MJ: Do share one of your favourite memories associated with Eco Camps

Megan & Andre: One favourite memory is having a different meal everyday of the week from a different part of the world. This was in the early days when the paragliding guests came in smaller numbers and we used to invite them into our home for dinner most nights and each one took turns cooking.

(How very amazing is that, imagine a room full of guests from different places on this planet together , eating good food, laughing, sharing their life with each other !)

MJ: Do your kids love what you do?

Megan & Andre: Our kids love what we do, and have learnt that turning what you love into an occupation is the way to go. Matthew, now 20 is in training to be a chef, and Arianne 17 wants to be a recreational therapist. Mikey who is 6, still wants to be a fire-fighter -Maybe because of the annual forest fire that comes up our slope every year. This is the one downside to living on the edge in Panchgani, when in the hot, dry summer, all the foliage is burnt by fires coming up from the villages below, burning all things including insects, birds, small animals and saplings in its wake. But we are now used to the annual burning. The fire does remain our biggest challenge but we do concentrate on all the other positive elements of life in this hill station.

MJ: What are the facilities associated with staying at Eco Camp?

Megan & Andre: we have 4 large tents with toilets, a few smaller ones and 2 bungalows, 24hr water, hot water, drinking water. Food is delivered or you could use the kitchens. We have no service, but a fantastic view, some old trees and amazing bird life all around us. It is a 10 min walk into town, but at the same time secluded and quiet.

Touristy things to do while in Panchgani

 MJ: How do you manage to keep the place so well maintained yet affordable?

Megan & Andre: The rates are affordable because we don’t have waiters running around and our focus is not on minting money. We get by ok and are quite satisfied with the number of people who come. We don’t have managers or cooks to worry about either. The staff who we do have is happy people who have worked here for years.

MJ: Any message for young entrepreneurs looking to start out on their own and follow their passion like you did?

Megan & Andre: Young people ought to follow their hearts to do what excites them, keeping the practical side of things in mind as well.

 MJ: When is peak tourist season?

Megan & Andre: Peak season is from Dec to Feb and April – May Apart from those months, weekends are quickly booked, but weeks are free-ish.

MJ: Anything you wish you had done differently?

Megan: I wish I had paid better attention in my Marathi classes in school. i suffer from not being able to ably communicate my thoughts to the locals.

MJ: What DRIVES you to follow your dreams and passion and survive the inevitable challenges one faces whilst running their own venture?

Megan: My husband and kids, the beauty of our surroundings and the thrill of living at the mercy of the elements are the biggest incentives to continue living and working here. Ever since Andre could manage the running of the camp and got accustomed to local ways, I began teaching French part time at New Era next door. It keeps me in touch with what I studied for years to eventually do.

MJ: How does one book a stay at the eco camp?

Megan: To book a stay at Eco Camp call Megan at 9960436352, more info on our FB group “Eco-camp panchgani

The photos below are from a magical time in my life, I so wish sometimes I could open some door and go back and relive those days.

Happy Weekend peeps and when you go to Eco Camps, please do share your experiences with me!

Breath taking view from Eco Camp site

 Lake Dhom from the Eco Camp site

 A typical Tent at Eco Camps

Beautiful Sun Set from Eco Camps at Panchgani

 

Barbecue Time at Eco Camp,Panchgani

 

A retailers delight,Colour Blocking at a local shop in Panchgani!

 

Kimmins High School,Panchgani

 

ROACH Bakery

 

Strawberries and Cream!

 

Path leading to the campsite

 

View of the Village below

Panchgani is beautiful !

 

Thank you to my friend Payoshni for letting me use her lovely photographs for this post,  All information in this blog  relating to Panchgani is sourced from here and here – please click on the hyperlinks 🙂

Any comments ?Please post belowor tweet me at @manjirichitnis and hey  join in the fun on my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/sliceoffme 

 

 

Interview with Pune’s leading Fruit Wine Manufacturer

It was on a hot summer evening at home in Pune when dad and me had some Strawberry wine while watching the IPL. Baba told me about how he came to procure the wine one evening at a promotion at a Club in Pune. A wine made in Pune and that too made with strawberries, how very interesting ….Lucky for me I managed to get in touch with the man behind the business who strives to establish a wine culture in Pune, sink your teeth into the chat we had at his bungalow in the heart of the old part of Pune City, the Peths as they are called.

Mr. Akkalpit Prabhune spared some time from his busy schedule to share his story.

This young entrepreneur who manages a full time career in IT makes time for channelling his creativity and passion into promoting his fruity wines .He lets is in on how his passion and vision to introduce a culture of wine drinking using local fruits led to the creation of Rhythm Wines.

MJ: What is the difference between fruit wines and regular grape wines, the composition etc?

AP: Fruit wine is basically wine made from fruits other than grapes. Quality of any wine is determined by the fruit used. Some of the Indian fruits which are suitable for Indian climate and soil which lend a natural aroma & flavor to fruits wines like strawberries, grapes and kiwis are good candidates to make a fruit wine. Fruit wines are lighter and fruitier as compared to grape wines so consumers new to wines can easily appreciate these wines.

”Wines are palate cleansers. Every Bite is a new bite.’’

MJ: Is the technology for making fruit wines different than that used for grape wines?

AP: There is no difference in the process of making fruit wines and grape wine. So there is not much difference in technology. Generally based on the fruits used the crushing equipment will need to modify but after juicing is done the process is absolutely same as grape wine. The advantage with fruit wines is that they require very less time to mature, within 6 months they can be bottled. This also ensures that the machinery is in use throughout the year.

MJ: Why the name Rhythm Wines? (My personal favourite question!)

AP: Sipping wine listening while listening to music is ideal is it not? It lightens us, sets the mood for a pleasant meal, like perfectly set of musical notes with Rhythm…

MJ: What inspired you to get into this business?

AP: I have travelled a lot and have savoured various amazing wines in the course of my travels and I wanted to create wines using local fruits which would help establish a culture of appreciating fruit wines amongst people used to the local flavours and cuisine. Breaking the elitist view towards wine consumption and expanding the market being part of my mission. After studying the existing scenario of wine industry and understanding the importance of fruit wines, I started Rhythm winery in Pune City, Maharashtra with My partner, Mr. Gulu Jagtianey,in 2010, and has successfully made wines from pineapple and strawberry. We received a very good response for our wines in many wine festivals and received demands for wines from apples, peaches and Strawberry. Strawberry variant has just been launched in Pune and Mumbai markets and received great appreciation

”Our mission is to offer best variety of tropical fruit wines suited perfectly to Indian palate and food. We strongly believe that excellent wines are made only from quality fruits which are best suited to local climatic and soil conditions’’

MJ: Where is the bottling plant located?

AP: Rhythm winery is located outskirts of Pune on way to Khadakwasla, Narhe Gaon; It has a existing capacity of about 25000 litres of wine a year. It is proposed to increase this capacity to 50000 litres soon.

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MJ: Where are the strawberries you use sourced from?

AP: Strawberry comes from a world famous region of Panchgani in Maharashtra. Strawberry varieties we use for wine manufacturing are blend of ‘kamaroza’ and ‘sweet Charlie’.

MJ: How do you ensure uniformity in quality of fruits used? As most of the grape wineries have their own grape farms.

AP: We also have contract farming for our fruits. We use specific varieties of strawberries and pineapples.

MJ: Who is the master brewer that you work with?

AP: His name is Dominique Revard and he is a Canadian fruit wine expert who lends his years of experience and expertise to our business.

MJ: Grape wines have just managed to find a foothold in India. Do you think the Indian Consumers will give the same preference to fruit wines as with Grape wines? What is the scope these wines have in India?

AP: It’s easier for local flavours to be appreciated by people, hence we believe that consumers will find it easier to appreciate wines made using strawberries and pineapples as they would be able to identify easily with these fruits vis-avis posh varieties of grapes. Besides Indian Cuisine is high on flavour, spices and our light bodied, fruity wines pair well with Indian food.

MJ: How did you gauge the commercial viability of manufacturing fruit wines?

AP: It is a new concept,hence before manufacturing wines from any fruit, many variants are created and tasted at all stages of wines. Rhythm winery has done an extensive R&D on different fruits and then ventured into pineapple and strawberry. Generally, fruit wines are not manufactured on a very large scale but wineries with a capacity of 30,000 to 50,000 liters can be a viable. Huge amount of marketing efforts are required since the concept is new.

MJ: Which different fruits have the Indian wine producers experimented with for making wine? Mention your take on usage of Kiwi fruit for producing wine.

AP: Pineapple and Strawberry are currently produced by us at Rhythm winery. Lychee wine is manufactured by Lucca winery in Haryana. Dapoli Krishi Vidyapeeth,(Stateof Maharashtra, India) have worked on Kokum and Mango wines. Apple, Kiwi wines are produced in North and Eastern India.

MJ: How do you deal with competition?

AP: Suprisingly, Fruit wines are not being sold commercially by too many players in the wine market. We welcome competition; it always helps expand the market!

MJ: What is the current installed capacity for fruit wines in the market?

AP: Presently there are very few players in fruit wines. Rhythm winery is definitely the leading player in the Fruit Wine Market. In all, 300,000 to 500,000 litres of fruit wine is made annually.

MJ: How will fruit wines benefit fruit growers / wine producers / consumer?

AP: Presently due to average storage conditions huge amount of fruits are wasted. As per Food ministry more than 70 % fruits are wasted !Therefore, for those that grow strawberries, pineapples and kiwi supplying to fruit wine manufacturers like us will open up an excellent avenue for business in the processed foods and drink industry and offer more options than producing only jams, jellies and preserves. Wine producers can plan production seasonally and can make the best use of their production capacity. Since fruit wines are easier and lighter to drink, introducing new consumers to wines will be easier to achieve.

MJ: How do you promote your fruit wines?

AP: By participating in wine festivals and trade fairs. Directly advertising wines is prohibited by Indian Excise Laws.

MJ: What expansion plans do you have outside of Maharashtra State?

AP: There is 300 % import duty for goods sold between states in India, the Indian Grape Processing Board – I.G.P.B has also been appealing to reduce these taxes and improve trade opportunities.

MJ: After strawberry and pineapple wines what’s next?

AP: Kiwi Wine is next on the list. In order to support farmers who produce these crops and to aid local entrepreneurs who boost the local economy the government is keen to support ventures like ours. Kiwi is the fruit that we are currently experimenting with and the Himachal Pradesh Government has chosen our company to come up with viable fruit wines, we hope to soon offer them a few samples and finalise on one, they would supply us with the fruit which we will use to create and bottle our new kiwi variant.

Quins

MJ: Is there any export potential?

AP: Indian fruit wines if marketed properly will have a great scope in foreign countries, as these wines will have specific characters and fruits with an Indian origin.

MJ: Where else in the world are fruit wines made / consumed /popular?

AP: Apple wines is been made for centuries and very famous in UK, France and North America. Canada and Australia are leaders in fruit wines and have successfully marketed their wines internationally. Some states in USA like Florida, Texas are famous for their local fruit wines. Presently fruit wines have about 3 to 5% of market share in over all wine market.

MJ: What is the shelf life of fruit wines?

AP: Ideally 2 years from bottling.

MJ: What are Differences in ageing process and storage of the fruit wines vis-avis Grape Wines?

AP: Ageing of up to a year is sufficient. Storage principles are similar to other wines.

MJ: What is the advantage of using screw caps vs cork screws?

AP: Cork screws are used to create complex bouquets. Fruit wines can get tainted with poor quality corks.

MJ: What is the advantage of using screw caps vs cork screws ?

MJ: If one has to buy your wines in Pune and Mumbai where are they retailing?

AP: In Pune our wines retail with reputable retailers like Dorabjees, Ozone and are on the menu at restaurants at Liquid Hut Restaurant, Barbecue Nation, Oasis, P.Y.C Gymkhana.

In Mumbai we have just started out and are making our fruit wines available in areas like Bandra, Andheri and South Mumbai.

MJ: Any benefits linked to consumption of fruit wines as Red Wine consumption is linked to several health benefits.

AP: Amongst the known Health benefits of pineapple and strawberry wines some are:

  1. Pineapple contains bromelain and beta carotene which improves digestion, lowers risk of macular degeneration, improves the quality of vision.
  2. Strawberries are packed with Vitamins & Antioxidants which help increases immunity to bad cholesterol and is  thus beneficial towards maintaining a healthier heart.

It was early evening by then,the slanting sun rays streaming into the terrace room converted into a study, were playing peek-a-boo with the few dozen mangoes which are lying face down on the floor to ripen.

There was a pause as I sipped on my tea and made doodles on my notepad. My very polite host looked around and handed me a bottle of Pineapple Wine, I politely declined but he was rather persistent. On my way home,making a mental note to stop procrastinating and I promised myself to start doing all the things that I have filed away in the recesses of mind as well ‘’to be done SOMETIME, in the future’’. After all, hasn’t this passionate entrepreneur proved that if you have a Dream you must act on it… Yes dreams really do come true… that bottle in my cloth satchel clinking against my bunch keys was proof.

Bottle with glasses 2

Check out the Rhythm Wines website :http://rhythmwinery.com/ , Connect with them on their Facebook page at :https://www.facebook.com/rhythmwinery

Dum-a-Dum Biryani & Kebabs – An interview with an entrepreneur and a passionate foodie.

It was a hot summer evening in Pune, I set out to look for a take away to treat aai- baba to something yum to celebrate a new milestone for mum who was recovering post surgery. Not willing to walk too much I was pleasantly surprised to see this brightly lit signage and a small crowd of youngsters on their bikes outside this place called Dum-a-Dum Biryani

I walked across to this cheery and brightly lit take away, the fiery and tempting aroma of kebabs   wafted around the place.

The place was clean and tidy and the tiny kitchen was buzzing with activity. I ordered a Lasooni Murg kebab and Tangdi Kebab and waited outside, watching the busy main road and the steadily building traffic. Just a few turns away is the Mumbai Pune expressway via Chandani Chowk. A primarily residential area in Pune, it has several educational institutes and IT companies Hence the large student and IT crowd hover around this tiny take away. This young set night disappears by night and mingles with the resident locals and it’s only in the evening when one sees large groups of youngsters with their modern bikes zipping around that one can actually estimate how much of Pune is a composed of this transient population.

This flurry of activity outside Dum-a-Dum keeps engaged in observation and it’s only when I hear my name being bellowed from the counter inside that I snap out of my reverie.

On an impulse I decide to talk to the very busy manager and ask him if the owner would be willing to give me a few minutes as I was curious to know about how Dum – a – Dum came into being.

He readily parts with a name and mobile number and I am suddenly very excited, well after all this would be my very first interview, IF the owner agrees.

Luckily for me, one phone call and a few messages later, I am all set to meet Mr.Rakesh Rajendran, the Founder and C.E.O of this professionally run start-up hospitality qsr firm.

Armed with my new Cannon SLR and a brand new cute blank diary from Either Or at Pune (made by the Doodle Factory), I stroll down to meet the person who will give me my first ever interview.

I get an extremely warm greeting and before we start chatting there is glass of cool and delicious salted buttermilk offered to me. I have written down a few questions I tell him which I will ask him but we get chatting about food and kebabs and well, retail and lo and behold ! He tells me that he too was a part of modern retail in Pune before he decided to turn into an entrepreneur!

Any inhibitions I have of how to conduct this interview are gone with the wind and we exchange notes about the retail industry and the changing scene in Pune. After all only retailers can truly understand and appreciate what it is like to work in the fast paced retail environment in Pune. Food Retail  is a changing dynamic industry which is probably the most challenging form of organised retail .

Rakesh tells me that was the head of IT for one of the leading food retailers in the country and has also lived and worked in Chicago for 7 years prior to that.

Well read, widely travelled, he is a self proclaimed foodie and also rather camera shy as I was about to find out.

RR ( shall call him that for ease of expression and shall refer to myself as well simply MJ), tells me that this outlet is one of 6 outlets in Pune and has been operational since Dasheera of 2010.RR tells me that he believes in soft launches hence most of his outlets open on auspicious days and have always received excellent response from the locals . His retail experience has held him in good stead in terms of zeroing in on locations , setting up a system for home deliveries and hiring and retaining staff.

Well it’s time now to ask some questions

 MJ: Silly first question, why the name Dum- a – Dum?

RR: (smiles) Haven’t u heard the song ‘’Dum -a-Dum’’ mast kalandar? Well on a serious note, we started out with the name ‘’Village Kitchen’’ which was quickly vetoed by friends and family. The whole idea of a Kebab and Biryani take away should be a fun concept and has to have a catchy name , hence the name Dum-a-Dum , of course it has to with the fact we offer Dum Biryani on the menu.

MJ: Why a kebab and biryani joint and not any other kind of cuisine?

RR: I conceptualised this format and got a core group of friends who had worked with me in the past and who understood my passion for the hospitality industry to back my efforts by funding this venture.  I managed to convince my friend Tushar Bhole also to actually quit and help start-up this hospitality business.

It was a very well researched decision and was something I was keen on, it also thanks to the fact that I have travelled across many places and always wanted to set up a place where great tasting food and convenience go hand in hand.

MJ: What is your involvement in recipe development?

RR: We have done a lot of research on the best selling kebabs and popular flavours and have worked with my chefs to develop our own unique Biryani flavour. The most popular kebabs that people normally expect on a menu are tweaked. As such we are always looking at experimenting with say a new ingredient or a new rage and are very open to feedback from our patrons as well. I am not a trained chef but have travelled extensively across the north of India and have then with great though come up with the current menu

(Phew! it’s hard work this kebab business I think ,  while I gobble up the lasooni kebab comes from the kitchen for me to devour , what a treat ! Little does one think about what goes on behind the scenes)

Lasooni Kebab Image 1

Lasooni Kebab Image 2

 

RR goes to tell me a little bit about biryani’s and how we develop our liking towards a certain type of biryani which for us is ‘’THE’’ absolutely best biryani ever. Ofcourse it’s to do with where one grows up and has tasted local flavours packed into the meat and rice . The most popular biryani currently on our menu is the ‘’Lucknowi’’ Biryani . To get to a place where we develop a known type of biryani and get the taste upto our liking and then have our customers come back to us and tell us that they ‘’loved’’ our biryani is very satisfying.

We give a lot of thought before we add anything to our menu and since we are a take away only chain, it’s very important that we get the taste right as the only interaction a customer has with anyone representing us our delivery boys and the voice over the phone!

I come from Kerala where I can say that there are at least 7 types of Biryani which are popular and known, there would be as many variations of taste and recipes as there would be regions and local culture.

(So true, I think to myself, food is so much about the place and its people)

My idea is that we should become known as a place that serves ‘’FOOD with a SOUL’’, not just another ‘’regular’’ food take away joint.

By now there is a plate of soft Aloo kebabs called Tandoori Aloo ke Gutkeand Makrana tangdi kebab – a juicy succulent version of Tangdi Kebab (aloo meaning potatoes in Hindi, the ones used here are the baby new potatoes , tangdi meaning chicken legs in Hindi ) , I get busy clicking and try to get the best angels , I request RR to pose with the team but he politely refuses saying ‘’ in this interview the heroes are my team and of course the food’’ Well said isn’t it ?

The Aloo ke Gutke are so tasty, it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted ummmm

Tandoori Aloo ke Gutke

 

Tangdi Makrana Kebab

 

kebabs with chaas

 

MJ: What are the biggest challenges you face?

RR: Finding and retaining good staff, the home delivery ones, who are the ‘’FACE’’ of the brand and are not just delivery boys. We try and ensure that each outlet is like a tiny unit in itself that  runs on a deeply ingrained feeling of ownership in itself .It’s important for me that each employee understand my passion and treats the place as their own. It’s all the more important for me as I have in turn to convey that confidence and spirit to all those who believed in me and have also invested their monies in this venture.

Also managing operational overheads is very challenging.

MJ: Who is your closest competitor?

RR: Well, we like to think that since we are primarily looking to become the best take away chain in the city and country, I would like to benchmark with Domino’s.

MJ: Any new branches opening up?

RR (Face lights up with apparent joy) Yes! One in a big mall in Pune and one in New Bombay .Am really looking forward to the one in New Bombay as compared to Pune, the attitudes and expectations differ.

MJ: Do you serve goat or lamb meat in the mutton Biryani?

RR: we offer both and also offer halal meat, for bulk orders we need a day or two’s notice ahead for large orders. As such we have 6 different Biryanis on our menu and also offer family packs and party packs. The Chicken Mutka Duma Dum Biryani cooked in a clay pot is heavenly and also very popular.

We don’t use any artificial food colours and we use raw paya to tenderise our meat, that gives the meat it soft, succulent and juicy nature, we are quite proud of our creation.

Meanwhile, some regular customers stroll in and RR gets up, excuses himself and goes to have a chat with them.

I find a rare quite moment at the counter and get the smiling team members to stand still for a few seconds, click away, polish off the last of the mouth watering kebabs and wash it down with yet another glass of the chilled heavenly chaas.

I thank my mild mannered host and trudge back home, happy to have wrapped up my first ever interview for my blog!

Now for the details: For heavenly kebabs and Biryani head to Paud Road, next to Reliance Fresh, Bhusari Colony, Paud Road, Kothrud, Pune. The menu can be downloaded from Zomato.com – use the following search string – Home / Pune / Kothrud Area / Kothrud / Dum-A-Dum – Biryani and Kebabs.

Busy Counter

Customer Waiting in the evening

 

Happy Team members

 

Pic of poster in store

 

Kebabs all set to be grilled!