Royal Indian Hotel, Calcutta

Biriyani and Calcutta have been going hand in hand since the Nawabs from Awadh set their foot in the British capital. Royal Indian Hotel in Chitpur is more than a century old (110 years) and has made its mark as arguably the best Biriyani and Chaap in the city. For those unfamiliar with the idea of a Chaap, I’d suggest a quick tour of Royal in Calcutta for this divine experience. Mutton Chaap is an item invented by the Mughals, using the ribs of a goat to their best faculty. While most recipes tend to serve the flat beaten Chaap pieces as a whole , Royal has its own way of chopping them with the ribs to bite size pieces in a delectably rich gravy of its own fat. They have begun catering Chicken Chaap as well, which is a gross misnomer as the birds are not blessed with generous ribs that ooze the same taste and flavour. On our previous visit to Calcutta, M and I were determined to try this heavenly pair of Biriyani and Chaap from Royal, still in quest of the best biriyani in our home city.

Address: 147, Rabindra Sarani, Bara Bazar, Calcutta – 700073 / 24A, Syed Amir Ali Avenue, Diagonally opposite to Quest Mall, Park Circus

Contact: 033 22681073, 9903369147

USP – Biriyani, Mutton Chaap, Firni

Decor

Royal is one of those serious no-nonsense no-frills old-school ‘hotels’ which don’t believe in fancy decor. It’s an eatery with heavy wooden tables and straight-backed chairs with just a jug of water on the table. Located in the busiest and congested wholesale market of Calcutta (Chitpur/Barabazar), the restaurant is cramped for space. The floor above has been renovated and added to the restaurant as I’m told. There’s a separate air-conditioned hall with slightly hiked food prices.

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Book Review : The Conspiracy At Meru

Blurb View:

Victory is Temporary the Battle is Eternal’.

Vikramaditya and his Council of Nine have fought valiantly to repel the rampaging hordes from Devaloka and Patala – but Avanti has been brought to its knees. Ujjayini lies battered; its citizens are scared and morale is badly shaken. Meanwhile, the barbaric Hunas and Sakas are gathering on the horizon and cracks are emerging between the allied kingdoms of Sindhuvarta…

The only silver lining is that the deadly Halahala is safe. For now.

Bent on vengeance, Indra is already scheming to destroy Vikramaditya, while Shukracharya has a plan that can spell the doom for the Guardians of the Halahala. How long can the human army hold out against the ferocity and cunning of the devas and asuras? And will Vikramaditya’s love for his queen come in the way of his promise to Shiva?

Review: 

For those who are familiar with my reviews, you already know that Mythology is not my forte. And it is a fact that I had liked the #1 in Vikramaditya series – Guardians of the Halahala. These two facts combine into a solution that I’ve implemented while reading this series – treat it is a thriller. I didn’t get boggled by the fact that I’m dealing with King Vikramaditya and the devas, asuras and super powers. Instead, I tried to ingest the story as a racy over the edge action-packed thriller. And it is safe to infer that the book met all the expectations.

The plot begins exactly where we’d left it in the previous book. The city is in shambles and the king tries to pick up the pieces with the help of his councillors. Each of them has their own story, Kalidasa has strange visions that want to convey some secret to him, Shanku realises her secret super power, and the Acharya has his own issues to resolve. With consistent attacks from the Devas and Asuras, Ujjaini is battered and bruised, struggling to even exist before considering survival. Will they be able to decipher what Shukracharya ‘The Healer’ has in store for them? Will Queen Vishakha regain her health and memories? Will the kingdom of Avanti resurrect gathering all its pieces together?

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Wo(e)men’s Day

Disclaimer: This is just a cynical rant. Troll if you *don’t* like. 

Image courtesy: Womens Web

I haven’t written anything on Women’s Day in all these years of existence, probably for the simple reason that I’m thick enough in the head to believe that anything would change. So, after having frittered away three and a half decades, what did I realise about Women’s Day or International Women’s Day? That it’s mostly a day of SOC (Show Off Chutiyapa) from men and women alike in my country. Yes, women would love the cupcakes and roses any day at work but equal wages would be more welcome. The discounts and spa vouchers are awesome too, but what about freedom of choice?

I’ve spent most of my years in Bengal, surrounded by middle-class people, not financially but temperamentally. One of my acquaintances believes in getting his college-going daughter married right after graduation because they have labelled her as ‘mediocre’, not having the potential to make it to higher academics or land a good job. Since she has reached the capability of just providing basic education to her future kids, it’s time to get her married to a decent bloke so that her life is ‘set.’ What if she chooses to glide further in academics? What if she doesn’t want to get married? Well, that’s rarely a choice for women in our country. I know just a handful who chose not to get married and I don’t believe that their relatives fail to troll them offline. It has been a hellish journey for me having dropped a degree and deciding to choose an alternate career (read *doing nothing all day*). 7 years later, it’s still about ‘why doesn’t she have a kid, she’s not doing anything anyway.’ The peanuts from home-based freelance work don’t matter until you go out in the sun and still earn peanuts. Middle-class SOC, I’d say.

Take a look at the Bangla television serials and you’d know. It’s still all about shankha-sindoor-swami-songsar-pujo and domestic abuse, not in a way to inspire women to fight back, but airing such violence from women characters in the story. And these screenplays are mostly written by women. If you behave like crabs in a ship, how’d you expect your women folk to reach out and explore the world? This television industry has employed thousands of men and women and I wonder how each of them puts up with the atrocious scenes they have to present. I haven’t watched a single episode where women are encouraged to be financially independent but there’s at least a segment where they would don a saree and fast for their husbands while they bring the other woman home. This commoditisation has become a part of our integral lives and it is quite pukeworthy.

The day women will have a little more freedom of choice, we’ll celebrate every way you’d want to.

P.S. The television is airing Women’s Day wishes from the lady chief minister who had admonished a gruesome gangrape as ‘sajano ghotona’ (staged incident). Happy that.

Malaka Spice, Baner

2017 arrived and made us reminiscent of a recent Thai trip where we stuffed ourselves with gorgeous food. We had heard about Malaka Spice and wanted to try their varied menu of not only Thai but Burmese, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malay cuisine – truly Pan Asian cuisine. What attracted was the fact that they serve a range of meats from Chicken, Mutton, Buff to Quail and Duck. Though we didn’t try too many items, but mostly liked the ones that helped us usher this year with a good hearty lunch.

Address: 1st Floor, Atria Building, Baner Road, Baner, Pune – 411045

Contact: 020 30162339

Check them out on Facebook, Twitter

USP – Pan Asian cuisine, good starters, nice ambience

Decor

Paintings on corridor

Paintings on corridor

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Book Review : Alchemist Of The East

alcofeastBlurb View:

The Alchemist of the East is an enchanting saga of gaining wisdom, following one’s heart and, above all, chasing one’s dreams.
This is a story of Sushyo, a toy maker from Mesopotamia who wishes to travel all over the world and spread the message of peace and joyousness.
From his home in the city of Nineveh, on the banks of river Tigris, he voyages to the land of seven rivers, Melhua.
What unfolds is an adventure of epic proportion with his destiny throwing at him, one challenge after another, probing him in the most frightful manner.
An apocalyptic encounter with the Alchemist of the East prepares him for the road ahead.
As events occur rapidly, the boy finds himself a part of a legacy for which he will have to face up to the ruler of Arianna, Queen Kassandrra, in an epic battle on the banks of river Helmand.

Review: 

I’ve read Aporva Kala only once earlier and the best thing I like about his works is the simplicity in writing. There isn’t a barrage of difficult-to-pronounce words or complicated sentences that send you in a tizzy for the dictionary. While Life…Love…Kumbh was more of a journey than a concrete story, Alchemist of the East is a full grown novel that blends history with mystique.

The book begins with Sushyo, a teenage toy maker from Mesopotamia tragically losing his mother. He embarks on a life altering journey, one that is essential for his survival and evolution as a human being. Sushyo sails on a ship to a faraway land, gets into a confrontation with the Captain of the ship and finally wins his trust. Fate takes him to a gurukul where he meets his calling of toy making. He learns the art and the fine tunings of it. And yet, there’s something else in store for his future, something from his past that suggests he could be the next king of Alexandria. Will Sushyo be a toy maker when he becomes an adult or will e really be the king, defeating Queen Kassandra in an epic battle and avenge the death of his parents?

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Pickles of India

Who doesn’t love a good pickle? The mere thought of a tangy, spicy or slightly sweet pickle makes me salivate at any point of time. Being an Indian, most of our meals are incomplete without a plethora of pickles. I have a habit of choosing the pickles according to my mood. So, one day it is the hot and sour chilli and lemon pickle, followed by a sweet and sour Green Olive pickle made by my mother, or a fiery stuffed red chilli pickle to go with a snack. We’ve been using pickles in more ways than one in Bengal. The residual oil from a hot and sour Green Mango pickle is used in jhaalmuri or to mix up mashed potatoes to accompany daal-rice.

chilli

While surfing for non-vegetarian pickles online, I bumped into the Places of Origin website. They have a wonderfully sorted site with more varieties of pickles than I could even imagine. The classic Pork pickle and Naga Chilli Pork pickle look absolutely delicious. Since we are a voracious fish consuming family, we’re always on the lookout for interesting ones like Prawn and Bombay duck pickles. I’m definitely going to order few of these from the site as they look wonderful and are quite moderately priced.

porkpickle

If you are a little adventurous and want to try to regional pickles of India, there’s a lot in store for you at Places of Origin. I’ve only heard about Ker Sangri pickle from Rajasthan, but never tasted it. Other interesting picks are Gongura pickle from Andhra Pradesh or Mango Thokku from Tamil Nadu to choose from. Oh, and don’t forget to taste my favourite Kashundi from Bengal! It’s a great condiment with fried snacks with the tang of mustard and heat of chillies. If you are a fan of sweet pickles like a few in my family, go for the Chhundo from Gujarat. It’s a sweet and slightly sour pickle made with grated mango and jaggery and is great with paratha or thepla.

I have to admit that I hadn’t even heard about Dates, Turmeric, Chana Methi or Garlic peel pickle until I went to buy pickles online. It is just amazing of the ways you can utilise these pickles with different varieties of food. India has such a rich heritage of pickles from each of its states that is hard to find elsewhere. At Places of Origin, there’s Lemon pickle without oil and Garlic pickle in Olive oil. In case you don’t want too much oil but cannot resist pickles either – try these. They are really unique and brought together for the first time to be available across the country online. And they would also make for innovative and awesome gifts for any occasion with gift packs of 1 kg assorted pickles for friends and family.

Spice up your meals with a little pickle of any variety and you’ll be sure to win hearts all around!

Saraswati Pujo

Writing an article around Valentine’s Day invariably leads to the celebration of love and such stuff. With the advent of Spring comes Saraswati Pujo, technically on the fifth day of the season, called Basant Panchami. Saraswati, the goddess of Arts and Education is worshipped diligently across my part of the world. From miniature clay idols at home to medium sized idols at various schools and finally the larger versions at the barowari (public) pujo, the goddess is more revered than actually loved. I’ve often perceived Saraswati as the lonelier, geeky goddess among others, akin to the bespectacled girl in school, bypassed for prettier ones (like Lakshmi). My loyalties have been and will remain for the ivory goddess, who I believe has lent me the few words that I can write. Retracing to Valentine’s Day bit of the story – Saraswati Pujo is termed aptly as Bengali Valentine’s Day for the past half-a-century. I think it’s barely been 50 years that Saraswati Pujo began to be celebrated in schools around Bengal. The stern iron gates of each mono-gender school would be open to everyone only on this day, creating leeways for teenagers. Each teenage boy, clad in pressed and clean white or yellow Panjabi-Pajama would peer around Girls’ schools in the neighbourhood for saree clad beauties. Thus began an era of seeing each other, diligently asking for prasad, going out for a date in a group and stealing furtive glances.

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