Pork Phing from Kunga restaurant in Darjeeling
Destinations, Food, Guides

A Nostalgist’s Guide to Eating in Darjeeling

The only true downside of eating everything under the sun is that sometimes even renowned institutions can leave you in a state of tepid dissatisfaction. Heavy blows, if you have not only spent countless nights pondering on what to eat in Darjeeling but also obsessing on menus to figure out what to order and then fantasised about the flavour profiles of individual dishes. My first foray into taking a bite out off the high street of Darjeeling cuisine turned out to be one such misadventure. Debanjan, my co-traveller on this trip who puts up with my questionable dining choices was pretty pleased with Ara by Bellevue when we walked in on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Chic with upholstery that can be described as urban hip, Ara is the newest gastropub to open its doors to the people of Darjeeling.

I started to question our choice after my first spoon of the American Chopsuey we had ordered. The Indianised version at Ara was a scalding hot gravy containing some vegetables and shredded, broiled chicken. It was thickened with cornstarch and marred by too much soy sauce. The gravy is to be poured upon the bed of deep fried crispy noodles and the 5-year old in me found the perfect opportunity to play with food, twirling the noodles to coat them in the tangy gravy. Unfortunately, the fun ended there. The acidity of raw tomatoes was overpowering and the flavour profile was a singular sour note. Heartburn aside, this meal made me reminisce about the very first, and satisfying, meal I had had in Darjeeling three years ago.

The American Chopsuey from Ara by Bellevue

The American Chopsuey from Ara by Bellevue

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House Lepchajagat
Destinations

Lepchajagat: A Story of Change

Ab to zamana badal chuka hai,” says Pashang Tamang with a wry smile when over a cup of chai, I ask him if the kids these days prefer to pick their own partners. Times have changed but even in the last decade, the Lepchas were part of a close-knit community in which marriages were arranged strictly between families with the same surname i.e. within the same sub-caste. The formal consent of the families was the first impetus behind starting a conversation between a man and his wife-to-be but tourism has sunk deeper into the social fabric of the Lepchas than can be gleaned from a night at one of the numerous homestays in Lepchajagat. As the Lepcha teenagers of today text each other about their dreams and desires, Pashang still looks somewhat unsettled at the thought of a Tamang marrying a Gurung.

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Darjeeling Mountains Tea Estates
Destinations, Photo Essay

Field Notes: Darjeeling

দার্জিলিঙের সাথে আমার প্রথম পরিচয় গানে গানে। স্কুল জীবনের শেষের দিকে যখন বাংলা ব্যান্ডের গান গুলো সবার মনে ঘাঁটি গাড়ছে, তখন আমাকে দায়িত্ব নিয়ে বিগড়ে দিয়েছিলেন অঞ্জন দত্ত। তার কথাতেই প্রথম খাদের ধারের রেলিংটা, তার কথাতেই প্রথম মেঘ করলেই ইচ্ছে করে ট্রেন টা ধরে ফেলি। তার আগে একটা পোশাকি পরিচয় হয়েছিল, অবনীন্দ্রনাথের বুড়ো আংলা পড়ার সময়। টুং, সোনাদা, ঘুমের কথা পড়তে পড়তে বাবার কাছ থেকে শুনেছিলাম দার্জিলিঙের গল্প। বয়েস বেড়েছে, অভিজ্ঞতা বেড়েছে, তার সাথে পাল্লা দিয়ে বেড়েছে পাহাড়ে যাওয়ার নেশা।

Darjeeling Scenes

প্রেম, কুয়াশা আর দার্জিলিং

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Destinations

Finding Love in Fontainhas, Goa

For nine months, all we had were Skype and WhatsApp to bridge the invincible time gap of 12.5 hrs that stood like a wall between us. In the excitement of seeing each other after so long, we hurriedly planned a short trip to Goa when I returned to India over summer. What I had failed to consider was the fact that two weeks prior to departing the US, I had taken my first shot of Depo-Provera and now my hormones were fucked up to the point that I was behaving like a raging maniac at the drop of a hat. I was oscillating between calm and angry every few hours. I felt bloated all the time. The fantasies that had kept me alive were replaced by technicolour dreams of how to plan the funeral of my libido. Add to that frustration, my digestive enzymes had declared a strike which meant I could hardly put any of the food I was craving for almost a year into my mouth without any fear of repercussions. Thus, after a romantic date at one of Goa’s best restaurants, we walked home except that our walk in the sea-tinged night air was anything but romantic; I was rambling inebriated and clutching my stomach, sweating profusely as we desperately searched for the nearest loo.

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Chops being made at Kalika
Food, Guides

How to Navigate a Telebhaja’r Dokan

Of course, this world and its people will impart a lot of education to you. But have you ever, on an evening stroll, wondered what to do about that sondhyebela’r khide? Have you ever felt that pressure of impressing your Bangali premika with a thesaurus like knowledge of chop, cutlet, and peyanjis? Has the Herculean responsibility of arranging the finger food for a murimakha and adda session ever been bestowed upon you and you have no clue what to do? But no more worries! You, dear seeker, have come to the right place. Read on to find out how you can be a chop expert too and be ready for the next renaissance, the industrial revolution that is chop shilpo!

Note: Much has been spoken about the singara, the Bengali cousin of the samosa, and though we love it immensely, we are giving it a break from this article.

What is a Telebhaja?

Broadly, there are two types of telebhaja: one that is breaded and fried like croquettes and the other that is dipped in chickpea flour batter before frying.

What is a chop? Simply put, the English equivalent of a Bangali crumb fried chop is a croquette. During the Raj, the breaded and fried croquette was given a Bengali makeover to please Englishmen dining in the homes of the Bengali elite. The primary difference lies in the layer of mashed potato and the use of spices and the fact that a chop is a gazillion times more tongue-tickling than any croquette!

Okay. So, what’s a cutlet? The basic difference between a Bangali chop and a cutlet (pronounced: kaat-let) is the shape. Chops are more rounded and ball-like while cutlets are flatter. Then there are the fish fingers…aahahha! Not cutlets but similar in style.

In the list of batter fried telebhaja, we have beguni, kumroni, and the much loved peyanji. Then there is the fuluri that sounds exactly like it looks: a round, fluffy deep-fried delight. A fuluri differs from other telebhajas in that it contains no vegetables; it is just fried, well seasoned batter. Then there’s the kobiraji with its lacy covering of fried egg. The North Indian pakora is our bora that we eat with dal-bhaat. From paatpata’r bora (fritters made with jute leaves) to the ubiquitous dal’er bora (lentil fritters), no Bangali meal is complete without them.

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Seattle Skyline
Destinations, Guides

How-to City: 36 hrs in Seattle

Seattle embodies everything that the Pacific Northwest is famous for. From pristine outdoors to excellent museums, a lively arts scene and delicious seafood, Seattle has something for everyone. There’s always something new happening in Emerald City. Recently, it was ranked the 4th most hipster city in the world! However, make sure you carry your raincoat for Seattle is notorious for year-round drizzly weather.

Olympic Sculpture Park | 7:30 AM

Start your morning in Seattle at the Olympic Sculpture Park, an open-air park with monumental sculptures. If you prefer starting your day with a run, head over to Myrtle Edwards Park across the street. Nothing feels more rejuvenating than a morning run along the waterfront! Both offer stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, the Puget Sound, and the Seattle Skyline with the iconic Space Needle piercing the purplish skies.

Pike Place Market | 8:45 AM

Join the Market Walk with Seattle Free Walking Tour (and tip your guide generously) or let the aroma of freshly cut flowers, smoked salmons, baked goodies, raw seafood, spices, or coffee lead you around. There are enough samples to count for breakfast and if you are still hungry, walk into any of these places for a sumptuous breakfast!

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Fields of tulip at Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Oregon
Destinations, Photo Essay

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Woodburn: In Photos

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn, Oregon was my introduction to flower farms. Rows and rows of bright blooms swayed in the gentle breeze under a sunny spring sky. The effect is euphoric! Watching their beauty, their undeniable elegance it isn’t difficult to imagine how tulips became a symbol of affluence and luxury, and ultimately the cause of what is known as the Tulip Fever that gripped Holland in the 17th Century. However, recently the Smithsonian ran an article that debunked the madness that is associated the Tulip Fever. Stories of sailors being jailed for eating a bulb, bulbs selling for the price of mansions, the whole country spiralling into economic ruin are all over the place but how much of it is true?

Tulips are native to the valleys of the Tien Shan Mountains and were cultivated in the gardens of the Ottoman rulers as early as 1055. The bulbs first made their way across the Mediterranean Sea as gifts to European travellers by Turkish royalty. In an era when fascination with exotic objects, especially those of oriental origin, was the rage in Europe, Dutch traders set their eyes on tulips. Particularly of interest to them and to botanists like Carolus Clusius were “broken bulbs”— tulips whose petals showed a striped, multicolour pattern rather than a single solid colour. The effect was unpredictable (later it was found to be caused by a mosaic virus) and as botanists tried to find ways to reproduce those patterns, demands for “broken bulbs” shot up. Economist Peter Garber writes, “Since breaking was unpredictable, some have characterized tulipmania among growers as a gamble, with growers vying to produce better and more bizarre variegations and feathering.” With high demand and bulbs selling for astronomical prices, people from all strata of the economy started entering the tulip trade. Some buyers were ready to pay obscenely high amounts for some bulbs but when some buyers “couldn’t pay the high price previously agreed upon, the market did fall apart and cause a small crisis— but only because it undermined social expectations.” The author of the article mentions that contrary to popular belief they found no mention of anyone going bankrupt or drowning themselves in canals as a result of the tulip craze.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival is held at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn, Oregon. Around 80 varieties of tulips in shades ranging from dazzling to pastel paint 40 acres of farmland from mid-March to mid-April. They have been growing tulips since 1974! Apart from the gorgeous flowers, there are hot air balloon rides, a fall gift shop, and a wine tasting room. If these do not fulfil your Insta-lust, there’s also a steam tractor and a bright pink tractor! And lots of cute pets. There are rides and games for children as well as food stalls. The farm sells cut flowers and bulbs. If you are looking for a similar experience in India, visit the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. Immerse your soul in 29 acres of tulips in numerous shades in the first two weeks of April.

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