WILD TURKEY 101

The availability of bourbon whiskey continues to be elusive in my part of the world. Therefore, every chance I come across of getting my hands on an iconic brand of  bourbon I try and get myself a bottle. Recently while returning from one of my travels abroad I spotted a shelf in a duty free store occupied by bottles of Wild Turkey 101. I was aware of the iconic status of Wild Turkey 101 among bourbon drinkers as a daily sipper and hence without giving it too much of a thought I paid for it and got it packed.

In the year 1869 the Ripy brothers built a distillery near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky on the site of another old distillery where they began to produce bourbom. Then with the advent of Prohibition came a few hiccups for the Ripy family. After Prohibition the Ripys started selling the bourbon produced at their distillery to wholesalers who bottled them under their own brands Austin Nichols being one of the many at that time. 

Austin Nichols began to bottle Wild Turkey in 1942. For almost 30 years after introducing the brand Wild Turkey, Austin Nichols continued to only bottle bourbon purchased on the open market under their flagship Wild Turkey brandname. The majority of this whiskey was purchased from the Ripys’ distillery near Lawrenceburg. In the early 1970’s, Austin Nichols acquired the distillery and re-christened it to the Wild Turkey Distillery.

The brand name “Wild Turkey” is believed to have been born after an Austin Nichols executive named Thomas McCarthy, took some bourbon samples on a hunting trip. It’s needless to mention of course, that they were out to hunt wild turkey. The bourbon became so popular with his companions that they continued to ask him for “that wild turkey bourbon.”

Today Wild Turkey has achieved an iconic status among bourbon drinkers from around the world and has a wide array of expressions. Apart from the Wild Turkey 101 they offer Wild Turkey 81, Wild Turkey 81 Rye,  Wild Turkey 101 Rye, Wild Turkey Rare Breed which is a barrel proof blend of 6, 8 and 12-year-old whiskies, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit which is a single barrel 101 proof bourbon, Wild Turkey Longbranch, a 86 proof bourbon aged in oak refined with Texas mesquite charcoal, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17 Year and Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades.

Wild Turkey 101.

At 50.5% ABV the Wild Turkey 101 packs quite a punch and brings that expected heat with it. I have tried it neat and on the rocks and I’ll have to admit to be more inclined towards the latter in terms of preference. Having said that, if I have a rich meal then I’ll reach for the bottle and more myself a neat one. Here’s my take on it.

Colour: A deep and rich auburn. 

Body: Medium to full bodied.

Nose: Spicy, pepper-y with a bit of anise followed by toffee.

Palate: Vanilla, baking spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, sweet nutty caramel toffee.

Finish: The sweet spiciness and heat lingers on for quite some time.

Wild Turkey 101.

Pairing: In my opinion it would pair rather well with some good quality 80% dark chocolate or a rich dark chocolate dessert.

SHRIMP CHILLI WITH BLACK RICE

It’s been quite a long while since I posted a recipe. I’ll have to put it down to good old fashioned laziness for the long gap. I was traveling a bit as well but using that as an excuse would only be fooling myself. Usually, I am a healthy eater (I do make room for a treat every once in a while) and mostly stick to safe and easy to make healthy recipes. But from time to time I get this calling from within to experiment with flavours and ingredients. More often than not I try and incorporate healthy foods in my diet like chia seeds or millet flour or avocado and recently I had this urge to use the latter as a part of my meal rather than a standalone food to be enjoyed by itself.

Mexican ingredients are not always easy to come by but this recipe called for smoked paprika and cumin. I always prefer to use fresh whole roasted cumin which I then ground into a fine powder over packaged cumin powder. And one day while roaming the aisles of a local super market I came across a container of quality smoked paprika which I wasted no time in acquiring. Avocado on the other hand, although expensive, has increasingly become more widely available in local and super markets in this part of the world. A dear uncle of mine who lives in the mountains of northern West Bengal always manages to get some unique local ingredient for me each time he visits me and this last time he landed up with a bag of organic black rice. So I rustled up this slow cooked Mexican inspired shrimp chilli with black rice.

INGREDIENTS:

  1. Black rice – 30 gms. You can substitute black rice with regular or brown rice or even quinoa.
  2. Black beans – 30 gms. You may substitute black beans with red kidney beans.
  3. Shrimps – 100 gms. Washed, deveined and cleaned. 
  4. Avocado – 50 gms. Thinly sliced.
  5. Tomatoes – 50 gms.
  6. Tomato puree – 0.5 cup.
  7. Garlic- 1 pod. Finely minced.
  8. Onion – 1 small or 0.5 medium, finely sliced.
  9. Smoked paprika – 0.5 teaspoon.
  10. Roasted cumin powder – 0.5 teaspoon.
  11. Dried oregano – 0.5 teaspoon.
  12. Fresh parsley – For garnishing.
  13. Regular olive oil – 2 teaspoons.
  14. Seasoning as per taste.
  15. Chilli flakes as per taste. (Optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. If you are using black or brown rice then soak them for 30 mins. This results in softly cooked rice. Skip this step if you like your rice with a little bite to it.
  2. The beans ideally must be soaked for at least 30 mins to let them release the nitrogen. Pre-soaking the beans also cooks the beans faster.
  3. In a dutch oven or deep pot take the oil and let it get warm.
  4. Sweat off the garlic and onion. Once the aromas release add in the tomatoes.
  5. Next strain and add the beans and rice. 
  6. Add the smoked paprika and ground cumin. Mix well so that the spices are evenly distributed.
  7. Now pour the tomato puree.
  8. Add 1/4 cup of water and cook on low until beans are soft and mushy. It should not take you more than 30 mins.
  9. Increase the heat and cook off the liquid content to achieve the desired consistency.
  10. Season as per taste. Also add chilli flakes and mix well.
  11. Pour into a bowl and set the avocado atop.
  12. Finally garnish with a bit of parsley.

CLYNELISH 14


The Clynelish 14 does not come by as easily as some of the other Highland whiskies in this part of the world. One of the major whiskies to be used in the Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve blend, Clynelish 14 has a long history of ups and downs. The site of the original distillery built in 1819, was next to the current Clynelish distillery. According to Michal Jackson’s, The Malt Whisky Companion the original distillery was shut down in 1968 as the new Clynelish distillery was completed in 1967. For a short while they ran simultaneously as Clynelish A and Clynelish B but it wasn’t financially viable to keep both operational at the same time. The original distillery was once again reopened  in 1969 and renamed Brora Distillery. A peated whisky was distilled on this site to cash in on a shortage of Islay whisky which was caused by a drought on the island.

Brora Distillery was mothballed in 1983 but the whisky is now one of the most rare and highly sought after whiskies in the world, costing approximately one thousand US dollars a bottle. This however, is my take not on the elusive Brora but the rather underrated Clynelish 14. 

The Clynelish 14.

Colour: A bright golden yellow hue.

Body: The whisky appears to have a light to medium body.

Nose: Notes of herbaceous flowery aromas followed by a sweet citrus fragrance.

Palate: Slightly sweet and malty with a hint of smoke.

Finish: The sweetness maltiness fades on the palate to make way for saltiness. Slightly oaky spiciness with a dry finish.

The Clynelish 14.

Although I haven’t had the chance of give it a go myself but due to some of the maritime notes of the whisky I feel the Clynelish 14 will pair very well with a smoked salmon dish. One may also consider pairing it with any other firm fleshed sea fish. In the meantime here are some of my other whisky reviews, please do give them a read.

COOKING CLASS – SAIGON

My second foray into discovering Vietnamese cuisine hands-on was in Ho Chi Minh City or as the locals like to call it, Saigon. The cooking class was again booked through Cookly and I picked The Vietnamese Cooking School as it was not only highly rated but also offering a sizeable discount.

Unfortunately my Uber Moto driver was a bit technologically challenged and misread his Google maps and I reached the venue approximately 10 minutes late. However, Chef My was waiting seemingly patiently right in front of her school. She was gracious enough to brush off my apologies and took me up to her cooking studio and introduced me to my fellow cooks. I was extremely glad to note that the group would comprise no more than four people including Chef My herself. That would predictably lead to a more intimate and interactive cooking experience.

The ever smiling Chef My.

Soon after I had freshened up I was poured a tall glassful of ice cold jasmine tea. Meanwhile Chef My begun with her introduction to the class by talking about the most important Vietnamese cooking ingredients and how each of those could be used in different dishes. She also spoke about how she likes to change her menu for the classes around according to the season and freshness of ingredients available in the neighbourhood markets. The menu was conveniently chalked down on a blackboard displayed in a corner of the room.

The menu for the afternoon.

She begun with the dipping sauce for the Net Rice Paper Fried Spring Rolls with Pork and Mushroom. She directed us to follow her step by step so that it would be easy to follow the recipe and technique. Of course most of us could not match her speed and precision but she patiently took time out for each  of us and helped us wherever and whenever she deemed fit. The dipping sauce was easy enough but rolling the rice paper to hold its shape seemed a bit more challenging. 

Few of the primary ingredients of the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce.
The delicate work was made to look easy by Chef My.

While talking about the different kinds of rice papers she demonstrated how a a net rice paper should ideally be rolled. Although my rolls weren’t as firm as hers, I did manage to save myself the embarrassment of soggy and loose rice paper rolls. Soon after the rice paper rolls were deep fried in vegetable oil and then Chef My showed us a culinary trick of adding more texture and freshness to the dish by wrapping the rice paper rolls in crisp lettuce leaves.

Apparently, my roll weren’t too bad for a beginner.

Next she moved on to the Lotus Stem Salad with Prawns and Pork. She showed us how to cut the lotus stems to achieve uniform shape and size such that the flavours remained consistent through out he salad. Chef My also explained the significance of rice vinegar during the washing process to retain the colour and crispness of the lotus stems. This was possibly the easiest of the dishes that afternoon.

The ingredients for the Lotus Stem Salad.

As it turned Chef My’s assistant was gracious, kind and warm as the instructor herself. She continued to clean the cooking stations as and when necessary, bring new ingredients as the dish demanded and pour endless refills of the refreshing iced tea. While Chef My stepped out on to her neat balcony and started four coal barbecues she invited us to devour the Net Spring Rolls and Lotus Stem Salad that we created.

The lettuce leaf wrapped Net Spring Rolls.
The fresh Lotus Steam Salad with Prawns and Pork.

Back in the kitchen it was time to start marinading and minced beef with lemongrass, garlic, soya sauce and sugar. Then came the challenging bit of stuffing the lolot leaves with the marinaded beef, rolling them and getting them to hold their shape without tearing. Lolot leaves, Chef My told us was a unique Vietnamese ingredient and resembled the betel leaves in flavour and texture. On my part, after decimating a couple of leaves I managed to get them right. Well, right enough to serve the purpose.

Step 1 – Decently rolled lolot leaves, skewered.
Step 2 – Barbecue in progress.

Finally it time was time for the part I was keenly looking forward to. Grilling the leaves on the charcoal barbecue. The leaves needed to be turned frequently because they cooked really quickly and could easily be burnt which would lead to a charred mess with undercooked meat inside. Once again, I managed to avert any disasters and retained the edible form of my lolot leaves. 

Step 3- Ready to eat grilled lolot leaves stuffed with beef.

It was soon time to eat my own handiwork, which as it turned out wasn’t half bad. However, Chef My had a pleasant surprise in store for all of us in the form of chilled flan with Vietnamese coffee. That was not all, she presented each one of us with a personally signed recipe booklet where the recipes of that afternoon were enclosed. It was this warm and touching side of Chef My that has left a lasting impression on me.

Chef My’s parting gift, chilled flan with Vietnamese coffee.

So if you’re in Saigon and a cooking class is on your agenda do log on to Cookly and look for Chef My’s The Vietnamese Cooking Class. I can give you my word that you won’t return disappointed.

LAPHROAIG 10

Laphroaig distillery is a single malt Scotch whisky distillery from Islay. It owes its origin of name after its location and proximity to Loch Laphroaig on the south coast of the Isle of Islay. The meaning of the toponym is widely believed to be ‘broad hollow by the bay’. Founded in 1815 by the Johnston it was closely held by the family for almost 140 years after which the distillery and brand changed hands a few times until final ownership rested in the hands of Beam Suntory a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings in 2014. The Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales was awarded to Laphroaig by His Royal Highness The Price of Wales himself during his visit to the distillery in 1994.

The distillery on the coast. Source: laphroaig.com

Like most other whiskies from the area Laphroaig owes its flavours and aromas to the rich peat which is used to halt the germination process of the malted barley. The water comes from their damned reservoir which drew water from the Kilbride stream. The climate and the vicinity of its warehouse to the coast goes a long way in imparting unique flavours to the whisky. It has been one of my favourite whiskies for quite a few years now. Here’s my take on it. 

Colour: Bright gold.

Body: Full bodied.

Nose: Strong smoke and the salty sea air.

Palate: Sweet, salty and smoky.

Finish: The sweetness makes way for the saltiness while the almost medicinal smokiness lingers even after the whisky has been swallowed. 

The bright golden dram of the delicious Laphroiag 10.

Pairing: I have on occasions paired the Laphroaig 10 with smoked salmon carpaccio and smoked salmon mousse for the first course of a meal. Also one of my all time favourite pairings is the Laphroaig 10 with blue cheese. You can also read some of my other whisky reviews here.

COOKING CLASS – HANOI

“Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me.” – Anthony Bourdain.

Having watched many a show by the great man I have come to understand that the best way to discover more about a place’s history, culture and people, is through food. Food of a place is shaped by it’s history, is a part of it’s culture and these finally go on to impact the life of the people. Therefore, I always make it a point to eat only local food when I am travelling to certain place. However, when I was in Hanoi, Vietnam a few months ago I decided to take that one step further. I wanted to venture into a kitchen to know more about the food that I was eating and visit local markets where locals purchased their fresh produce from. And that’s when I found out about Cookly.

I reserved a cooking class clubbed in with a market visit on Cookly’s clean and crisp website. One can assess the quality of a class based on conveniently provided ratings and reviews. Pay using a credit card or even Paypal, easily and hassle free. I picked a class at Hanoi Cooking Centre, which not only was rated highly but was also located relatively close to my accommodation. Since the class started at 09:00 hours I took an Uber Moto and reached the location by 08:40 hours. I was glad to note that the cooking centre was situated in quiet residential neighbourhood which meant that there was unlikely to be too many sellers trying to cater to tourists. 

Hanoi Cooking Centre seemed to be a professionally organised place with a reception, comfortable waiting area, clean toilets and a spacious restaurant situated on the first floor. While I made the acquaintance of my fellow cooks I was offered and served hot Vietnamese tea.

The cafe cum waiting area.
Pic. courtesy Hanoi Cooking Centre.

Sharp at 09:00 we were met by Chef Le Dinh Hung. An articulate and well informed man, he gave us an overview of Hanoi’s food scene. He also told us about how food served in homes could be different from the widely available street food and the food served in restaurants.

Chef Le Dinh Hung, instructor and guide rolled into one.

After the brief introduction he took us for a stroll to a typical Vietnamese fresh produce market. The market for me was a revelation. All sorts of meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables were being sold openly without any refrigeration whatsoever yet not a single fly seemed to be buzzing around and no putrified odours overwhelmed my nostrils. Chef Hung told us how a typical Vietnamese prefers to buy only fresh ingredients and is averse to storing meat, fish and vegetables in refrigerator. He told us about various qualities of rice and what role they play in everyday home cooking. He proudly told us about the variety of fruits, vegetables and seafood. Finally he wound up the market visit by buying freshly slaughtered but cleaned chicken and headed back to the class.

Fresh meat and fish being sold abundantly in the local market.
Everything from fruits and vegetables to sauces and dried good were all a stall or two away.
Freshly slaughtered chicken. 

By now I was excited and looking forward to the main activity that was getting my hands dirty and cooking with all those beautiful ingredients. The menu of the day comprised of banana flower salad with boiled pork and shrimp, spring rolls with shrimps and omelette, classic dipping sauce, traditional ginger chicken and sweet corn and coconut soup. Once again the meticulously organised approach of the classroom impressed me. Each participant was provided with one’s own apron, cleaver  and a bowl of water. We were offered a complimentary drink of water, lime juice or beer. Once everyone settled down we got down to business.

The first item that Chef Hung started with was the dipping sauce. According to him that would give the sugar, an important ingredient of the sauce, the maximum time to completely dissolve in the fish sauce and lime juice. Next up was the chopping and washing of an uniquely Asian ingredient, the banana flower. I took my time to julienne the banana flower as demonstrated by the patient Chef Hung and then soaked them in the bowl of water with a bit of lime juice in it.

I then moved on to chopping the omelette into bite sized pieces, slicing the other ingredients and then lastly butterflying the boiled shrimps. Then came the chicken which I had as per the instructor’s direction seasoned and marinaded with ginger earlier. The marinaded pieces of all the participants were then handed over to him and he then he began to show us how the chicken was to be cooked.

The ginger chicken cooking process starts in a deep pan.

While the chicken cooked in its own juices Chef Hung demonstrated how to fold the rice paper for the spring rolls. This according to me was the most delicate step of the entire cooking class. If rolled too tightly the rice paper would tear and if it was too loose the roll would not only appear clumsy but could even open up. After giving it a couple of goes I managed to start rolling the rice paper such that it would look like a spring roll. In the roll went the shrimp, sliced omelette and pineapple, some rice noodles and fresh lettuce. At this stage Hung really took a lot of interest and patiently saw to the fact that each one us could roll the rice paper as neatly as possible.

The best looking fresh spring rolls with classic dipping sauce.

Once everyone was done with the spring rolls Chef Hung moved on to the sweet corn and coconut soup. The surprise came when I learned that it wasn’t quite soup as we know it but a dessert instead. Sweet corn kernels boiled in coconut milk with sugar and pandan leaves, the ‘vanilla bean’ of Asia, until it was transformed into a thick custard. 

The sweet soup. Sweet corn being cooked in coconut milk with pandan leaves.

As the ‘soup’ cooked Chef Hung transferred the almost cooked chicken into a traditional claypot to demonstrate the final touches to be applied to the dish.

The final touches being applied with the ubiquitous kaffir lime leaves.

Finally under Chef Hung’s instructions each of us proceeded to plate our banana flower with boiled pork and shrimps which was dressed with some of the classic dipping sauce, fresh coriander and mint leaves and peanuts to add some crunch to the dish.

The banana flower salad plated by yours truly.

We were all congratulated and given an apron and recipe booklet each as souvenirs and very warmly ushered upstairs into the restaurant where we were to be served our own handiwork. Although cooked by amateurs the food turned out to be deliciously authentic, possibly because of the able and patient guidance of the accomplished Chef Hung.

The rather elaborate spread for a mouth-wateringly delicious Vietnamese lunch.

So that was how I dove into the world of food in Hanoi and had an experience to cherish for a long while to come. And I have Cookly and Hanoi Cooking Cemtre to thank for it. If you’re travelling somewhere and are interested in learning more about the place’s food and cooking do check out Cookly.

ABERFELDY 12

Located on the outskirts of the town of the same name in central Scotland, Aberfeldy was founded in the 1890’s by the Dewar family as an extension of the namesake whisky brand. Thus it is categorised as a Highland whisky. Although Aberfeldy lies within close proximity of two lakes Loch Tay and Loch Tummel it relies on the Pitilie Burn, a freshwater stream running alongside the distillery. It remains the sole distillery in Scotland to use the waters of the Pitilie Burn.

Though Aberfeldy’s claim to fame lies in it being the largest component in all of Dewar’s blended whiskies some of its expressions have gone on to win awards and accolades in recent times. Apart from the 12 year old Aberfeldy also has a 16 and 21 year old expression each. Of late Aberfeldy 12 year old has been a highly sought after single malt scotch among the below $50 category. Again due to the limited options available in India I picked up this bottle from a duty free outlet. Below is my take on it. You can also read some of my other whisky reviews here.

Aberfeldy 12.

Colour: Golden yellow.

Body: The whisky appears to have a medium body.

Nose: Fresh fruits like apples and pears are forthcoming making way for a bit of honey.

Palate: Hint of vanilla, citrus fruits and sweet honey. Goes down smoothly.

Finish: The sweetness lingers on the palate for a while and is replaced by a hint of spiciness and finishes dry. 

Aberfeldy 12.

I am yet to pair the Aberfeldy 12 with anything but it seems like a good whisky to go with some smoked salmon or hilsa, a local delicacy. I am more inclined to experiment with the latter but that’s a story for another time.

JAMESON CASKMATES STOUT EDITION

The world’s most popular and largest selling Irish whiskeys come from the distillery of Jameson. Originally, one of the main distilleries of Dublin Jameson is now distilled in Midleton, Cork County in south-west Ireland. Established way back in the year 1780’s when a Scotsman, John Jameson married into a Scottish family from in Dublin and became the manager of one of the family owned distilleries. Since then traditionally Jameson whiskey continues to be a blend of rich pot still whiskeys and grain whiskeys. Also till this day Jameson follows a triple distillation process which they claim makes it twice as smooth as other whiskeys.

In the year 2015 Jameson launched their Caskmates collections, a Stout edition and an IPA edition. The distillery partnered with local craft breweries to facilitate an exchange of ageing barrels. Apart from their regular and Caskmates bottling-s Jameson also offers Black Barrel, 18 Year Old Reserve and Signature Reserve. The Caskmates editions were launched in the year 2017 in India but are not easy to come by even in premium stores thus making them a challenging acquisition. I picked up mine from an airport duty free store. Here’s what I think about it.

The Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition.

Colour: Bright golden amber.
Nose: Fresh fruits reminded me of pear. Hints of spice.
Body: A medium bodied whiskey.
Palate: Initially feel sweet on the mouth followed by the chocolate-y and coffee notes of the stout. Hint of hops.
Finish: Long and sweet. Really enjoyable.

THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – VI

The the distillery of Dalwhinnie is located in the heart of Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands. At an altitude of almost 1,100 feet above sea level it is one of the highest distilleries in all of Scotland. It’s proximity and access to the wonderfully clear and fresh waters of the Allt an T’Sluic Spring contributes a great deal towards the flavours of the whisky. Being located in an overlapping region of Spey and the Highlands there has been considerable debate over the years about whether Dalwhinnie should be classified as a Speyside whisky or a Highland one. Interestingly, the distillery is one of the few in Scotland that continues to use wooden worm tubs to this day.

Dalwhinnie 15

The Dalwhinnie 15 is most often seen along with the Lagavulin 16 from the island of Islay, Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowlands, Talkiser 10 from the Isle of Skye, Oban 14 from the Western Highlands and the Cragganore 12 from the Speyside region as a part of it’s owner, Diageo’s Classic Malts Selection.

The six Classic Malts.

The distillery has a range of official bottlings, with it’s signature single malt being the 15-year. Additionally, the distillery also offered a 20-year old, a 36-year old expression which have now been discontinued and succeeded by the no age statements Winter’s Gold and Distiller’s Edition. A large percentage of the single malt distilled at Dalwhinnie is also used in the Diageo owned Buchanan and Black & White blended whiskies. Here’s my review of the Dalwhinnie 15:

The Dalwhinnie 15.

Colour: Bright gold.
Nose: Dry, aromatic herbs followed by a bit of peat.
Body: Light to medium body
Palate: Vanilla, sweet honey and fruity.
Finish: The lingering fruity sweetness gradually makes way for hints of spice and peat ending with a malty note.
Pairing: I have enjoyed my Dalwhinne 15 with a creme caramel on a couple of occasions. I also quite like it by itself.

THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – V

The distillery of Cragganmore is located in a village called Ballindalloch in Banffshire in north-eastern Scotland. Founded in the 1860’s the distillery was built by Mr. John Smith a very experienced and renowned manager in his days on a leased land near Strathspey Railway Station. Along with their flagship 12 year old expression the Cragganmore distillery also offers a double matured Distiller’s Edition finished in port-wine casks without any age statement.

The six Classic Malts.

The Cragganore 12 is most often seen along with the Lagavulin 16 from the island of Islay, Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowlands, Talkiser 10 from the Isle of Skye, Oban 14 from the Western HIghlands and Dalwhinnie 15 from the Highland as a part of it’s owner, Diageo’s Classic Malts Selection. You can read more about my other whiskies reviews here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/category/httpeatsiprepeat-comexperiences-2/whisky-reviews/.

Cragganmore 12:
The distillery was built in the Strathspey region, close to the river salmon which remains its main source of water to this day. However, its unique, relatively short flat top stills is what sets the whisky apart by imparting distinct properties to its nose and taste. Here’s my take on in:

The Cragganmore 12.

Colour: Bright gold.
Nose: Floral and grassy followed by a bit of vanilla.
Body: Medium bodied but well rounded.
Palate: Generously malty, sweet honey and a bit woody.
Finish: The maltiness and sweetness linger on for quite a while finally ending with a hint of smokiness.

RAMZAN IN KOLKATA – II

If you haven’t read my first post on Ramzan in and around central Kolkata’s Zakaria Street you can do so here http://eatsiprepeat.com/ramzaninkolkata1/. Once you have had your fill of kebabs, fried fish and fried chicken I would suggest that you get down to the very important business of devouring haleem at the soonest.

Haleem is basically a meat stew where the meat of cow or goat is slow cooked with spices, lentils and grains like wheat or barley or rice or a combination of grains. The texture of the haleem available in Kolkata is like that of thick lentil broth with chunks of meat found here and there. As far as haleem in Zakaria Street is concerned you have plenty of options to choose from. Once you head back towards Zakaria Street from Adam’s in Phears Lane you are likely to first come across Islamia Hotel. In my humble opinion the best haleem in this area is undoubtedly found here with the right balance fragrance and spice. Another place that serves excellent haleem is the Zakaria Street branch of Aminia. Here you can also find haleem cooked with offal like cow’s tongue and brain along with meat.

The delicious haleem from Islamia.

If that is not your ‘bowl of haleem’ head to Sufia, another crowd puller situated bang opposite the Nakhoda Masjid, where you can find another delectable bowl of haleem. There are also relatively smaller players situated opposite each other one called Bombay Hotel and the other Zeeshan. I have found their output to be quite inconsistent, really delicious on one day and over or under seasoned the next day. However, the phirni (rice pudding) at Bombay Hotel is a well kept secret. All of these places also have their own biryanis but since that is something which is available all round the year I prefer to skip that during Ramzan.

Sufia, Kolkata.

As I mentioned in my previous post all over Zakaria Street you can find vendors selling different kinds of breads, sewai (vermicelli), dates, fresh fruits and dried fruits. My favourite vendor is the one who sets up a stall each year opposite Taskeen. His breads are always soft to the touch and fresh. Pick up the layered bread known as bakarkhani or the sheermal with cherries, nuts and seeds sprinkles atop that has a texture akin to regular white bread. Neither of the eateries will stop you if you walk in with your own bread to dip into your bowl of haleem.

The bakarkhani (forefront) and sheerman (background).

Once you’re done with haleem and bakarkhani you will be spoiled for choice as far desserts are concerned. There are many Shahi Tukda sellers all over Zakaria Street and having tried many of them I wouldn’t recommend any of them. Head over to Haji Alauddin in Phears Lane for a wide variety of halwas, jalebis and gulab jamuns.

Jalebis, Haji Alauddin.

You can also opt to pop in to Taskeen again for a glassful of lassi falooda which is essentially a cool mixture of thickened milk flavoured with saffron, yogurt, nuts, vermicelli and sugar.

The silky smooth lassi falooda from Taskeen.

Before you head home don’t forget to take back some deep roasted or light roasted lacha also known as sewai which are nothing but thin strands of semolina noodles which are usually cooked with sugar and milk and enjoyed as a dessert.

Sewai or lahca.

Despite the heat and the maddening crowd you will go back home a satisfied soul with a bittersweet experience because the feasting for the day has come to and end but in probabilities you’ll be back to indulge another day, if not then definitely the next Ramzan.

RAMZAN IN KOLKATA – I

The holy month of Ramzan (or Ramadan) as most of us are aware is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is widely observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting. This act is also recognised as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The fast begins at dawn and ends at dusk. The last meal before beginning the fast is known as Suhur and the one that breaks the fast is known as Iftar.

The Iftar meals are generally quite social affairs and are consumed in groups which usually comprise of family and friends. Although the Muslim community here in Kolkata is spread out all over the city certain pockets and neighbourhoods have a higher density of Muslim population than others. One such locality is Colootolla, located in central Kolkata. An offshoot of Central Avenue, a narrow alleyway called Zakaria Street is where all the action takes place during Iftar. Food lovers frequent this narrow street during the month of Ramzan to explore the innumerable joints located in and around the area. While some of them are permanent establishments, there are also many traders selling desserts, fruits, dried fruits and breads who set up permanent stalls only during this time of the year.

The ‘Special’ Dry Fruit Mix available all over Zakaria Street.

Whenever I’m at Zakaria Street I make it a point to start my evening at Taskeen. One of the permanent outlets Taskeen is renowned for their marinaded double fried chicken dish called Chicken Changezi. They claim that the recipe of the marinade originated way back in Gengis Khan’s time. I am admittedly no one to question or refute their claim but like many others I am definitely a fan of their signature dish. If you happen to be there this is a must try. You buy your chicken by the weight specifying the cut, pay for it, show them the receipt and the chicken goes in to a huge wok of hot oil. After a while the large piece of chicken is brought out, hacked up into smaller pieces and then fried for the second time in another wok. Once done its served with a sprinkling of their own mix of chat masala

Crispy & spicy on the outside moist & juicy inside – the Chicken Changezi.

Also available in Taskeen and other temporary stalls are immense pieces of marinaded freshwater carp. These too go through the double frying cooking technique. Although I quite enjoy eating fish I find the prospect of having to work too hard to pick out fish bones while eating in a crowded place quite off putting. As a result of this I haven’t tried the fish yet but if you’re up for it who am I to dissuade you.

The marinated carp.

If you’re thirsty after you’ve had your fill of Chicken Changezi you can grab a lassi from Taskeen or if you’re feeling adventurous enough head over to a sherbet wala, a trader who sells a rose flavoured drink which is essentially nothing but ice, water and some rose flavoured syrup. Be warned however, that the sources of the water maybe highly questionable. Having said that though, I have had it several time and have had no trouble at all.

To drink or not to drink?

Now would be a good time to move on to some delectable kebabs. If you’re a chicken lover then you may give Delhi 6 (a permanent outlet) a go for their chicken kebabs. If you’re a beef lover like me then two hole in the wall joints should be on your list. The first of them is Dilshad’s Kebabs. This can be difficult to find but if you ask around for the CESC building and look around a bit you can find Dilshad’s shop. Obscure as the place may appear the kebabs Dilshad Bhai grills are unbelievably delectable. He serves dahi kebab (beef marinaded with yogurt and spices), malai kebab (beef marinaded with spices and the yellowish fatty outcome that results from heating whole milk), kheeri kebab (cow’s udder), the gurda kebab (kidneys) and the suta kebab (kebab held together by a string). My favourites are the malai kebab and the kheeri kebab followed by the gurda kebab. The latter two may not be available always but the other kebabs are quite easily available. My suggestion would be to skip the suta kebabs here and try the remaining kebabs with Dilshad’s generous sprinkling of desi ghee atop.

Dahi, khiri and malai kebabs (clockwise).Pardon the poor quality of the image.

For suta kebabs you simply must visit Adam’s. Located in Phear’s Lane, it may also be difficult to find but any local would be able to point out the place fairly easily such is the popularity of the place. Minced beef is marinaded with a secret blend of spices, ginger, onion, garlic and raw papaya paste and then grilled on a sheekh or skewer. The most interesting part of the kebabs is that no binding agent is used to hold it together. It is all held loosely together by a string. The perfectly grilled kebab is served on a paper plate with chopped onion and chillis and simply melts in the mouth. The propreitor Salahuddin cites raw papaya as the reason for this. Fortunately, this is also a permanent shop and Adam’s suta kebabs can be devoured all year round. you will have to pull the string out before eating the kebabs but it is completely worth the effort. Delicious is probably too less an adjective to describe the suta kebab. Another must have.

The melt int the mouth suta kebabs.

Now for the Ramzan special delicacies. But to know more about them you’ll have wait for my next post. Till then Eat Sip Repeat.

THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – IV

The distillery of Oban is situated in a town of the same name but interestingly the small coastal town began flourishing and came up after the distillery was built in the late 18th century. With its two pot stills, it is one of the smallest functional distilleries in Scotland. Oban is renowned for its 14 year old expression but also offers a Distiller’s Edition bottling, which they finish in Montilla Fino sherry casks before bottling. An 18 year old limited edition expression and a rare 32 year old edition are also available. In December 2014 Oban had introduced a non-age-statement expression, called the Little Bay.

The Oban 14 can most often be seen along with the Lagavulin 16 from the island of Islay, Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowlands, Talkiser 10 from the Isle of Skye, Cragganmore 12 from Speyside and Dalwhinnie 15 from the Highland as a part of it’s owner, Diageo’s six Classic Malts Selection. You can read more about the other whiskies here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/the-six-classic-malts-i/, http://eatsiprepeat.com/the-six-classic-malts-ii/ and http://eatsiprepeat.com/the-six-classic-malts-iii/ .

Oban 14

Oban 14 is one of the two whiskies from the Scottish Highlands to feature in Diageo’s. However, since the distillery is situated on the western part of the region it is widely identified as a whisky to hail from the Western Highlands. The distillery’s close proximity to the sea has a big role to play in the flavours imparted by the conditions helping it to identify its own distinct identity. The face that it is distilled in pot stills also influences the final outcome of Oban 14. Here is my take on it.

The Oban 14 Y.O.

Colour: Deep gold.
Nose: Citrus-y and fruity sweetness followed by hints of smoke.
Body: Full bodied and rich.
Palate: Rich honey, sweet dry fruits like figs and apricots which gradually make way for some spiciness and notes of smoke.
Finish: The sweetness and smoke are linger on for a while finally getting replaced by a dry, oak woodiness.
Pairing: I enjoyed my Oban 14 with a 80% dark chocolate. Sip the whisky, savour it for a while and then take a tiny bite of the chocolate. I found that the rich cocoa brought out the sweetness of the whisky even more.

EVAN WILLIAMS SINGLE BARREL VINTAGE BOURBON

Good quality bourbon whiskey is rarely available in India so when I had the opportunity to get my hands on a bottle of Evan William’s Single Barrel bourbon whiskey I could not let it go. When my aunt was flying in from Toronto, Canada and she offered to bring me a few bottles of whiskey one of my chosen whiskies was the Evan William’s Single Barrel.

So, what is single barrel whiskey? Single barrel whisky is a premium category of whiskey in which each bottle originates from an individual barrel, instead of whiskies from various barrels being blended to achieve uniformity of colour and taste. The whiskey from each ageing barrel is bottled separately. Usually each bottle comes with a distinct tag or label mentioning the barrel number and in most cases the dates for the commencing and conclusion of ageing. Since no single barrel can be the same it is thought that each barrel contributes some distinct characteristics to the final whiskey hence rendering the bottled content of each barrel as unique.

Evan Williams, a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, is distilled at the Heaven Hill distillery in Louisville, Kentucky but bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky by the same company. Evan Williams is one of the largest selling brands of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskies recognised as one of the world’s best selling whiskey brands.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon, a multiple Whiskey of the Year award winner is bottled after select barrels meet their high standards and sealed with a black wax dip. As is the usual norm, the bourbon is vintage dated i.e. each bottle is bears the date it was put into oak barrels, the year it was bottled and the exact serial number of the single barrel that the bourbon was bottled from.

According to the tag the bottle I had went in oak in 2009 and was bottled in 2017. Here is my take on it.

Colour: Bright golden amber.
Nose: Burnt or charred oak with abundance of caramel.
Body: A rich full bodied whiskey.
Palate: Spicy with hints of fruity citrus notes. Luxuriously sweet.
Finish: Warming oaky finish lingers on.
Pairing: I enjoyed paring my Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon with a quality 70% dark chocolate. The chocolate seemed to enhance the sweetness and richness of the whiskey

The Evan William Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon 2009.

Cheers!

THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – III

One of my personal favourite whiskies is the Lagavulin 16. The distillery itself is situated in its name sake village of Lagavulin on the island of Islay, Scotland. The distillery is known widely for its 16 year old expression with an ABV of 43%, despite having a 12-year-old cask strength variety, a distiller’s edition finished in Pedro Ximénez casks, a 25 year old and a 30 year old expression. Lagavulin is produced by United Distillers & Vintners, which has been owned by Diageo since the early 2000’s. It is marketed under their Classic Malts umbrella. As a result of this Lagavulin 16 can be seen alongside Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowlands, Talkiser 10 from the Isle of Skye, Cragganmore 12 from Speyside, Dalwhinnie 15 from the Highland and Oban 14 also from westren Highland.

The Six Classic Malts.

Lagavulin 16 from Islay

Like most other whiskies to come out of Islay the Lagavulin 16 too is renowned for its deep smoky flavour. However, it must be acknowledged that due to its distinct sources of water and peat the whisky distilled by Lagavulin is markedly different from its equally well known Islay counterpart distillery Laphroaig. Here is my take on it.

The Lagavulin 16 Year Old.

Colour: A deep amber gold.
Nose: Intense smoke followed by notes of sea.
Body: Full bodied and rich.
Palate: Bold flavours of peat-y smoke, rich and gentle sweetness which makes way for sea salt and oak.
Finish: Deep peat and smoke linger on for a quite a long while after which a bit of salty seaweed settles in.
Pairing: I enjoyed pairing Lagavulin 16 with pungent and creamy Danablu (blue cheese from Denmark). The peat and smoke work really well with the sharp pungency of the blue cheese.

PORK MEATLOAF

One of my favourite things to cook is a meatloaf. Cooking a meatloaf comes with a few advantages. Firstly, it is really easy to cook. You just have to acquire and arrange all the ingredients in an orderly fashion, mix them together and cook it in the oven for the right time at the right temperature. Secondly, it can be extremely flexible, meaning that it can be cooked with any kind of meat you like, with any topping or sauce of your choice. Lastly, it is hassle free because most of the cooking takes place in the oven. So if you have guests to entertain or other things to do at home you can easily pop it in the oven, go about doing your stuff and by dinner time a delicious meal will be ready.

My version of the delicious meatloaf.

My favourite version of the meatloaf is the one I cook with finely minced pork topped with a sweet and tangy homemade tomato sauce. As I mentioned before cooking a meatloaf offers a great deal of flexibility. It can be made with minced beef, pork, lamb or even a combination of multiple meats. However, the only important thing to note is that you should get your butcher to make the mince meat in a ratio of 80:20 i.e. 80% lean meat and 20% fat. This will ensure your meatloaf remains moist, juicy and flavourful. If your mince meat comprises of too little fat it could end up as a very dry end product. Feel free to experiment with the toppings. One of the most convenient and popular toppings is plain tomato ketchup. If you’re feeling indulgent you can even use bacon. You may also opt out of a topping and make a sauce instead which maybe tomato based, mushroom based or even a homemade barbeque sauce. Here’s my favourite recipe:

INGREDIENTS:

For the meatloaf.
1. Pork mince at a lean meat to fat ratio of 80:20 – 1 kg.
2. Eggs – 2.
3. Milk – 1/2 cup.
4. Fine breadcrumbs – 1 cup.
5. Garlic cloves chopped into fine pieces – 6 – 8 cloves.
6. Fresh parsley chopped.
7. Salt and pepper to taste.

For the topping.
1. Fresh and ripe medium sized tomatoes – 5, peeled and chopped into pieces.
2. Fresh garlic paste – 2 tablespoon.
3. Onion – 1 medium sized.
4. Chilli flakes – To taste.
5. Salt, pepper and sugar – To taste.

DIRECTIONS:

Meatloaf.
1. Spread the mince meat on a large container making a crater in the middle.
2. Break the two eggs into the crater and mix it in evenly.
3. Next add the milk and breadcrumbs. Mix evenly. The eggs and breadcrumbs will help keep the loaf nice and firm which will help it to hold its shape.
4. Then add the garlic and chopped parsley and ensure that they are well spread out throughout the minced meat.
5. Finally add the seasoning. Be sure to taste a bit of the mixture so that it does not turn out to be under seasoned when cooked.
6. Mould the meat in the shape of a long loaf of bread in a baking tray.
7. In a preheated oven bake the loaf at a temperature of 180 deg. celcius for 30 mins.

Topping.
1. In a saucepan take about 1 tablespoons of olive oil.
2. Chop up the onion. On low heat begin to brown the chopped onion. Make sure the heat in low during the entire process. This will allow the onion to caramelise and the sugars of the onion to break down. But do not allow the onion to turn black which would mean that it has been burnt.
3. Remove the onion and allow it to cool down. Once it has cooled down blitz it up into a fine paste in grinder.
4.In the same saucepan take a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic paste.
5. Once the garlic is a little cooked add in the tomato.
6. As soon as the tomatoes take on a saucy consistency add in the brown onion paste. This will add a nice char-y sweetness to the topping.
7. Add the seasoning and a pinch or two of sugar. Let the mixture reduce to a thick sauce. Check for seasoning and finally add the chilli flakes.

Final touches.

1. Once the meatloaf has finished baking bring it out carefully. At this point you can stick a knife into the middle to check if it has cooked through. If it goes in smoothly and comes out clean you’ll know the meatloaf is done.
2. Carefully spread the thick sauce evenly on the top surface of the meatloaf.
3. Put the meatloaf back into the oven for ten minutes on broiler mode and turn up the heat to 200 degree Celcius.
4. After ten minutes the sauce will have become a charred, sticky, sweet and spicy topping.

The charred sticky goodness atop the meatloaf.

5. Let the meatloaf cool down a bit and then begin slicing.

All ready to dig in.

6. Enjoy your meatloaf by itself or with veggies on the side for a wholesome meal.

BIA HOI

Recently I returned from my second trip to Vietnam where like most other south east Asian countries street food is king. Street food here is cheap, delicious, hygienic, and mostly healthy with generous portion sizes. For example, a bowl of pho, a noodle soup with chunks of beef and some veggies thrown in for good measure would cost between $3 to $3.5 or Rs. 200 to Rs. 280. A bowl of fresh cut tropical fruits served with roasted coconut shards, condensed milk and plenty of ice would cost somewhere between $1 to $1.30 (Rs. 65 to Rs 85). Drinks like coffee, tea and even juices and smoothies come with a very low pocket pinch. Things are much the same with beer. Known as bia in the local language, a can of beer in any eatery would not set you back by more than $0.8 to $1.30 (Rs. 60 to Rs 80).

Although the variety of street food is extensively diverse and one can choose from a variety of meat, seafood, snails and even bugs the only type of beer widely and easily available are lagers. More or less each major city has its own brand of beer but they do not really differ a lot in terms of taste and texture. In Ho Chi Minh City you can find Bia Saigon, Huda in Hue, Larue in Hoi An and Bia Hanoi in Hanoi. These lagers are all light beers with an ABV of not more than 5% thus making them really refreshing drinks in the hot tropical climate. Usually served in bottles these beers are best enjoyed really cold. However, if you were to visit an eatery in a market or a street-side stand you might just be handed a bottle of room temperature beer and a mug full of ice so you can pour yourself a beer on the rocks. Although this ends up diluting the beer to a certain extent it makes for a fun experience. The real fun though, lies in an even lighter beer.

Beer on the rocks!

Known as Bia Hoi this beer is as local as it gets and at an ABV of 2-3% getting drunk on this is almost an impossibility. This golden-yellow coloured beer is brewed on a daily basis in small batches, matured for a very short while and distributed to various joints throughout the city where they are stored in stainless steel containers. A glass of Bia Hoi usually costs no more than VND 5000 to 10000 ( Rs. 16 to 30 or $0.3 to $0.5).

A barrel containing Bia Hoi.

A rectangular metal container for Bia Hoi.

Available all over Vietnam, it’s popularity and demand in Hanoi is unparalleled compared to other Vietnamese cities and towns. It is mostly found in places that serve only Bia Hoi and some bar snacks to nibble on. Such places are almost always infested by locals. Many people down a glass or two when they are on a break from work but it is more popular as a social activity. Locals love to get together after a long day’s work to sit and enjoy glass after glass of this beer while they have a good time. In fact there is also a narrow alleyway called Bia Hoi street that is choc-a-bloc with bars and cafes that serve this beer. Since this entire alleyway is very popular among tourists most of these places end up overcharging customers and serving subpar food.

Bia Hoi joints are often hidden away in plain sight like this.

One afternoon in Hanoi when my better half decided to embark upon a shopping expedition I took the opportunity to excuse myself from her company and parked myself in an obscure looking local bar hidden away in plain sight. Before I was barely seated and could fire up Google Translate on my iPhone to decipher the local menu a glass of beer was plonked in front of me along with a chit of paper which would help the waiter keep a count of the number of beers served. One glass of beer would result in a mark on the paper. As I sat on a tiny plastic stool on the pavement that is synonymous to Vietnamese street life with a gentle afternoon breeze blowing and sipped on the beer I realised that things could not get any better in that particular moment. I was wrong.

Bia Hoi and the ubiquitous chit of paper.

Having decided to cut short her expedition my wife arrived to join me. That meant I could order a snack for the two of us and I was rather intrigued to know what pig’s ears would taste like. I managed to down another beer before the pig’s ears arrived on the table. Since it was a really light beer it tasted nice, hop-y and smooth only as long as it remained cold. The moment it got warmer the highly carbonated refreshing beer would make way for a flat tasting and unappetising beverage. So there was no way I could allow my beer to get warm. The pickled pig’s ears salad meanwhile had begun to delight me with it’s distinct chewy and crunchy texture. Soon we both lost track of the flow of time and that of beer.

The delicious pickled pig’s ears salad.

As the sun began to set and the shadows got longer the streets began to get crowded and the place started to fill up with groups of thirsty locals. It was evident most of these large groups were out to enjoy their evening. Upon enquiring from one man I learned that Bia Hoi would just not cut it for them and they would be having a shot of local rice vodka each when all the members of the group emptied their glass of beer. They would call it a night only when two such bottles would be polished off between the three of them.

Local friends!

My wife and I did not stick around to see whether the trio finished their two bottles of vodka for we had other sights to see, other places to explore, other foods to eat and other drinks to sip. But that evening, during the course of our other culinary adventures all we could talk about was how much fun Bia Hoi was. So if you happen to find yourself in Vietnam do look up a place that serves Bia Hoi.

CARDHU 12

One of the main reasons I enjoy this beautiful whisky is because I have an inherent sweet tooth and this single malt is without a doubt on the sweeter side. The distillery was started by whisky smuggler John Cumming in the 1820’s. Initially known as Cardow until it’s name was changed to its current form in the 1870’s by Elizabeth Cumming, Cardhu is located on the north eastern region of Scotland known as Speyside. It was in great demand in those days by Johnnie Walker and Sons who used the spirit in their blends. Later Elizabeth Cumming sold the distillery to them under the conditions that the Cumming family would continue to run the distillery on a day to day basis. This arrangement continued until the Second World War broke out when wartime restrictions made it difficult to source barley. Cardhu, now owned by Diageo, began distillation again in 2006.

The Cardhu 12 year old.

Speyside whiskies normally tend to be either on the grassy-floral-dry side or the sweet-fruity side and as mentioned before Cardhu falls into the latter category. Cardhu is very popular for its well balanced smooth silkiness. Moreover, it comes in a beautiful decanter like bottle. Here is my take on it.

Colour: Beautiful golden-amber hue.
Body: On giving it a swirl the whisky appears to have a medium body that clings to the glass.
Nose: Aromas of apples and pears are very prominent once the whisky begins to settle down.
Palate: Sweet pears, honey and just the bit of smoke. It truly is a well balanced whisky and goes down smoothly.
Finish: The sweetness lingers on the palate but makes way for the hint of smoke. Very enjoyable.

Smooth, fruity and sweet sums up Cardhu 12 year old.

Due to its balance I felt the whisky could be as perfect as an aperitif as a digestif. If I had it as an aperitif I would add just the bit of water to make the whisky a bit more delicate and rounded whereas as a digestif I enjoyed it neats. But as we all know there is no tried and tested formula for drinking whisky so you may even try it in a quality cocktail. Slainte!

LOT NO. 40

It’s been a while since my last post. It’s been even longer since my last whisky post. Very recently I came across an article on liquor.com on Canadian whisky. It was about how Canadian whiskies are making a strong comeback statement and leaving a mark in the world of whisky. According to the article the Canadian whiskies had lost their way from the mid 1990’s onwards but are now making their presence felt like never before.

Apparently Canadian authorities are not so rigid with the guidelines laid down for distilling whisky. Distillers mostly distill and blend different grains separately and are later blended together as mature whiskies. Therefore at a single given point of time there are many different styles of whisky available to choose from.

As far as I was concerned rye whisky for me was untested waters. Or whisky. Rye whisky is difficult to come by in the Indian liquor stores. So when I had a rare chance to get my hands on Lot. No. 40 I could not pass up the opportunity. Lot No. 40 is a 100% rye whisky distilled, blended and bottled by Hiram Walker and Sons, Canada. This means that the whisky is a blend of many rye grain whiskies and although there is no age statement anywhere on the bottle reports state that they are for possibly 7 – 8 years.

Although I had read about the whisky before when I cracked the bottle open I managed to do so, most fortunately, without any expectations. I was thus ready to embark upon my adventure of rye whisky.

LOT NO. 40, RYE WHISKY.

Colour: Rich amber/ copper.
Body: On giving it a swirl the liquid seems to have a medium body that clings to the glass.
Nose: Fresh grain, sweet spiciness. Upon settling in the glass aromas oak and wood become more forthcoming.
Palate: A bit of sweet baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg followed by strong notes of outer crust of a dark coloured bread with a dry oak-y finish.
Finish: Has a bit harsh but very enjoyable finish with a lingering pepperiness and the notes of bread crust.

Over time the aromas opened up more and even more so as I added a few drops of water to my whisky. I must say, my first rye whisky was without a doubt one that I cherished and continue to enjoy. But I am yet to figure out what I could pair it with to make the experience a more wholesome one. Till I manage to do that keep eating, sipping and repeating.

MADE FOR EACH OTHER – III

It had been quite a while since I had the chance to experiment with pairings. The last time I experimented I paired a Knob Creek Small Batch 100 Proof with Alluvia 100% dark chocolate. You can read more about it here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/made-for-each-other-ii/. In that same post I had expressed a desire of pairing a brandy with the same chocolate. So since I had some solitude and time on hand this last weekend I decided to fulfil the desire to experiment with a cognac that Santa Claus (in the form of my father) got me last Christmas and some of the leftover 100% dark chocolate from my trip to Vietnam in February of last year.

REMY MARTIN VSOP WITH 100% DARK CHOCOLATE

Cognacs are generally more expensive than whiskies and even more so in this part of the world because of all the duties they attract. The Remy Martin VSOP is a cognac both my father and I enjoy from time to time especially after a rich and heavy dinner. For the uninitiated, cognac is nothing but a brandy that hails from the Cognac region of France. It is distilled from grapes which are used for making wines. The kinds of grapes that do not yield drinkable wine but a very dry and acidic variety are distilled into cognac. These varieties of grapes are usually very good for distillation and then subsequent ageing. The distilled spirit known as eau de vie is then aged in oak casks which are made from oak trees from Limousin, France. After this they are blended or married. The term VSOP stands for Very Superior Old Pale which means that the youngest cognac in the blend has to be aged in the oak casks for a minimum of four years. All cognacs from the house of Remy Martin are Fine Champagne cognacs i.e. the cognacs are a blend of distilled spirits or the eau de vie from Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions of Cognac, France.

The Remy Martin VSOP, gifted by my father last Christmas.

So much for cognac, now for the result of my experimental pairing. I had had a dinner of baked pork loin with seasonal veggies and was in the perfect mood for a tipple of cognac. I poured the Remy in a cognac snifter and let it sit for a while. I held the glass at the base of my palm, gave it a twirl and gently sniffed in the sweet fruity aromas that the cognac gave off. On sipping I found myself appreciating the sweet and silky spirit which continued to linger on my palate for a while after I had swallowed it down. The time was ripe I felt to bite into the chocolate. As expected from prior experience the chocolate was devoid of any sweetness and creaminess tasting like rich earthy cocoa.

Alluvia 100% dark chocolate .

Upon my second sip of the cognac I found that the elegant spirit tasted silkier and sweeter. More luxurious. The sweet fruity notes seemed to coexist now with a spicy tingle on the palate. I was expecting the profile of the chocolate to now become bitter. On the contrary the previously gritty earthiness gave way to creaminess. Of course when I refer to creaminess I do not mean as creamy as a 55% dark chocolate but use it in a more relative manner. The more I sipped the cognac and bit into the chocolate and let it melt slowly in my mouth I appreciated the chocolate bar’s lack of cocoa butter because I felt that presence of cocoa butter might have contradicted the smooth silkiness of the cognac. Gradually the intense earthy cocoa developed into woodiness with hints of nuttiness.

The Remy Martin VSOP with the Alluvia 10% dark chocolate turned out to be quite an experience.

The experience of the experiment was heightened by Duke Ellington playing in the background and the gripping novel that I was reading. It is in ways like this that one tends to enjoy food and drinks with all of one’s senses primed to receive elements of the external world and let them each affect the mind in a way that it feels like a single memorable experience.

WHAT IF?

I am without a shadow of doubt a self proclaimed sweet-tooth. I love most things sweet be it puddings, cakes, Indian sweets, candies and even fruits. It is almost as if I can never get too much of them. But I do realise that added sugars in the form of desserts and candies are nothing but empty calories and having made a particular lifestyle choice a couple of years ago too much sugar doesn’t fit into my scheme of things anymore. Moreover, consuming too much sugar ultimately leads to insulin insensitivity which in turn leads to the silent killer disease we all know as diabetes. But I have often let my mind wander to the realms of an imaginary world where too much sweets and desserts wouldn’t necessarily be bad for you.

In the month of January many Hindu communities cerebrate a festival on the occasion of which traditional sweets are made at home. Without delving too much into the nitty gritty of the festival itself let me tell you about a particular dessert which is a part of the Bengali kitchen during that time of the year. The local name for it is Rangaloor Pooli. Although each household may have their own recipe it is basically a sweet potato dumpling stuffed with sugar and milk which by heating is reduced to a drier form of ricotta. The dumpling is then deep fried and soaked in jaggery syrup till the stuffing is moist and has absorbed the flavours of the jaggery. I have often wondered what if this juicy and delicious dessert had all the goodness of a sweet potato and the milk. What if the body could use the carbs from the sweet potato and the protein from the milk? Wouldn’t it be fun to be eat something so indulgent yet so nutritional?

What about the Traditional Christmas Pudding? How wonderful would it be if the eggs that bind the pudding together could be as nutritionally beneficial as a soft boiled egg? What if all the goodness of the spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg could be made use of by the body than just their mere flavours? Would not that make our bodies as cheerful as our moods are at that time of the year?

The Christmas Pudding with brandy flambé.

We all know about the goodness of lemons, how the citric acid in it acts as an alkaline cleanser in our bodies and how the vitamin c in it helps in strengthening the immunity system. But what if the lemon cream in a lemon and dark chocolate layered cake had all those benefits? And what if the dark chocolate sponge had as much anti-oxidants as a couple of cubes of the dark chocolate itself?

Lemon and dark chocolate cake slices.

Calcutta is famous not just for its roshogollas (cottage cheese dumplings fried in sugar syrup) but also for its sandesh. Sandesh is also made with cottage cheese and sugar but it is never fried. Other flavours and flavouring agents may or may not be added to it and most sweets shops have their own secret recipes. The most famous and highly regarded ones can be found in and around the northern part of the city each having their own variety and collection. But what if the sandesh too had all the goodness of the cottage cheese which is rich in protein and healthy fats?

The famous Kolkata sandesh.

What if sugar itself in any form whatsoever was beneficial to our bodies? What if sugar helped build and maintain muscle like proteins? Would it be half as fun as it is to treat yourself to a sinful dessert after a healthy meal? Would the term ‘guilty pleasure’ have any relevance in the dictionary? Food is not all about nutrition and calories and good health. From time to time food needs to be fun, it needs to be enjoyed, it needs to be relished and it needs to be sinful. That is not to say that a good steak or a bowlful of oats cannot be enjoyed or that there aren’t any healthy desserts out there but if you’re a sweet tooth like me who leads a balanced and healthy life but enjoys a cheat dessert once in a while you would know where I am coming from.

THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – II

This post is a continuation of my previous post titled THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – I. If you haven’t read that yet you can find it here http://eatsiprepeat.com/the-six-classic-malts-i/. The Classic Malts were first introduced by United Distillers and Vintners (now property of Diageo) as a bundle marketing strategy comprising of six single malt whiskies from five different regions of Scotland and one sub-region. They are often displayed together in bars and liquor stores. The six whiskies are Glenkinchie 12, Talisker 10, Oban 14, Cragganmore 12, Dalwhinnie 15 and Lagavulin 16.

The Six Classic Malts.

Talisker 10 from the Isle of Skye:
One of my personal favourites is the Talisker 10. In the 19th century there were around seven licensed distilleries in the Isle of Skye. Today, there is just the one. Talisker. Unlike Islay, Skye is not a very fertile region as a result of which most of the barley is brought in from eastern Scotland.

The only functional distillery at Skye.

Colour: Brilliant gold.
Nose: Peat-y, a bit of sea water and sweet
Body: Full
Palate: Rich dried fruits, hints of smoke, malty and finishes with a spicy peppery
Finsih: Lingering sweetness, spicy pepper and warming

The Talisker 10.

Due to its long, sweet and warming finish I enjoy it more as a digestif. I like it neat but you may of course consider adding a dash of water if that warm finish is not for you.

THE KOLKATA NIHARI

One genre that I have consciously avoided writing about on my blog is reviews. I have always written about things which have meant something to me or about memorable experiences that I have had or recipes that I have tried my hand at. Although this post is about a particular place I would still like to believe it has more to do with the experience of going to and eating at this place.

Sufia in Kolkata has existed for ages. To be frank, though I have visited Sufia numerous times in the last few years it has never occurred to me to dig up its past. One of the primary reasons why I never got around to investigating Sufia’s past is how busy it is at dawn. And visiting a place at dawn during the winters is possibly the second reason why I never bothered to find out more about its history. Sure, Calcutta doesn’t get as cold as other parts of India but the temperatures are at their lowest around pre-dawn to dawn and sleeping under a warm and cozy blanket is a much more enjoyable proposition at that time as compared to waking up. A delicious bowl of Nihari is probably one of the two things in life that I would gladly wake up for before sunrise.

Sufia, as busy as ever even at dawn.

The word Nihari originated from the Arabic word ‘Nahar’ which means ‘day’. It is a rich meat stew that is served at daybreak. Many sources point out that the dish Nihari, originated in the Nawabi kitchens of Delhi and according to some other sources it originated in the royal kitchens of the kingdom of Awadh. As far as I am concerned though, the mere mention of the word Nihari transports my mind back to Sufia, Kolkata.

Sufia, Kolkata.

A visit to Sufia needs to be planned at least a day in advance. An early dinner the night before and turning in well before your usual bedtime certainly helps. Getting a friend or another fellow early riser to accompany you to the restaurant would be a good idea. If you don’t manage to convince anyone to leave his or her bed at the crack of dawn to join you then don’t fret too much because an empty place beside or across you won’t remain so for very long. Once there you’re surely going to savour every moment of it.

On the second morning of 2018 my brother and I decided to satisfy our souls and appetites and pay a visit to Sufia. Sufia is situated about five and a half kilometres from my house which under normal circumstances would be about a good twenty five minutes drive away. But before the sun has risen and the entire city is asleep it took us ten minutes to get there. We were greeted by the dawn call to prayer from the Nakhoda Masjid opposite which lay our destination.

As expected we were met with the familiar sight of the place bustling with people. Some were waiting outside in groups to collect their food in stainless steel containers to take it back home and some were just getting themselves seated. Without wasting any time we quickly slipped into the restaurant and found ourselves a table. Although the place was done up and refurbished before Ramadan 2017 if you have any inhibitions with regards to cleanliness and hygiene then leave immediately else prepare yourself for a memorable culinary journey.

Rows and rows of stainless steel containers waiting to be collected by their respective owners.

At that time of the day the only food available at Sufia is the Nihari and the only choice that you have to make is whether to devour it with tandoori roti (flatbread made in a typical tandoor oven) or with daal puri (deep fried flatbread stuffed with crushed lentils). Both of us went for the tandoori roti to accompany our Niharis. Now as far as I am aware the only kind of Nihari available at Sufia is the traditional beef Nihari. The waiter nodded his acknowledgement and within a couple of minutes we found on our table two steaming bowls of Nihari. A rich and spicy stew with a couple of chunks of really tender almost melt in the mouth meat. Upon inquiring on a previous occasion I was told that the meat is cooked on a slow fire since the previous evening, a process which ends just before the dawn call to prayer rendering the meat soft as marshmallows.

The delicious bowl of Nihari.

Chunks of meat so tender that a mere spoon cuts through them.

As a result of this Sufia’s cutlery collection which probably does not include forks but only spoons serve the purpose just fine. It cuts as easily through the meat as it would go through a bowl of pudding. The way I go about it, as do most other people, is by first squeezing a slice of lime into the Nihari to help cut the rich oiliness, then tear a small bite sized piece of the soft roti, dip it into the bowl of stew, take a tiny spoonful of meat and let the flavours unfold in the mouth. The roti which had soaked in all the spicy flavours of the stew combines beautifully together with the tenderness of the meat. Once swallowed the palate is left with the subtle heat and tanginess making you want to go back to the bowl of Nihari.

The tandoori roti in my opinion pairs better than the daal puri.

Although it is not my cup of tea the daal puris are another popular pairing with the Nihari.

From past experience I haven’t been a big fan of the daal puri with the Nihari as I feel the palate is overwhelmed with the rich oiliness of it all and gave the daal puri a skip, but to each his own, my brother went all out and devoured two. The usual way to end this meal is with an Irani cha, a sweet milky tea but neither my brother nor I are fans of milky tea so we didn’t bother ordering it. As we paid for the meal and stepped out on the street it felt as if for the last twenty odd minutes we had ceased to realise the world outside. It was just after dawn and amidst the inconspicuous chirping of birds coupled with the conspicuous silence brought about by the absence of incessant honking two satiated souls went back home with bellies full of Nihari.

HOLIDAY SPICED RUM

Another year has passed by and another holiday season is upon us. And no holiday season is complete without spiced rum. A couple of years back I happened to be attending a Christmas lunch party at a social club and they were serving a drink in small tumblers. The brown effervescent liquid with a few whole spices languishing at the bottom of the glass intrigued me and upon inquiring I was told that they were tiny glassfuls of rum punch. I had read about rum punch before but I had never ever thought of making it at home. That particular year I gave it a go, infusing the rum with the spices on gentle heat. The heating would invariably result in a bit of the rum being lost due to evaporation which as far as I am concerned is not quite desirable. The next year I tried the same thing again but this time I innovated and added a few elements that remind me of winter. I squeezed in a bit of fresh orange juice, grated a bit of orange zest and a bit of ginger to add some heat. While doing so definitely added flavours to the rum but the undesirable loss due to heating and subsequent evaporation persisted.

Another holiday season is upon us.

This year though, has been different. I have tried my hand at several spirit infusions throughout the year most of them being rum infusions. While not all of them have been successful there have been a few that were resounding successes. You can browse a couple of them here http://eatsiprepeat.com/pumpkin-and-spice-infused-dark-rum/ and here http://eatsiprepeat.com/pineapple-and-coconut-infused-rum/.

Old Monk maybe enjoyed all year round but it has a special appeal at this time of the year.

So when the holiday season set in I decided to infuse good old Old Monk dark rum with spices that I love using during winter namely, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, mace, cloves and cardamom. The results have been overwhelmingly enjoyable. The rum took on the flavours of all the spices, retained all of its original notes and since there was no heating involved in the process no rum was lost. Give this simple recipe a go and I assure you won’t in the least bit be disappointed.

Holiday Spiced Old Monk!

Ingredients:

1. Old Monk Very Old Vatted Rum – 1 bottle x 750ml.
2. Cinnamon (whole) – 1 stick broken into several smaller pieces.
3. Star Anise (whole) – 2 – 3 pieces.
4. Cloves (whole) – 12 – 15 pieces.
5. Green cardamom (whole) – 5 – 7 pieces, lightly crushed such that the pods open up.
6. Mace (whole) – 3 – 4 pieces. Once again tear up the whole spice into smaller pieces.
7. Nutmeg (whole) – 1 piece. This too will need to be broken up into tinier bits.
8. Freshly squeezed orange juice – 2 – 3 fruits. Retain the skin to use the zest later.
9. Fresh ginger – 1 – 1/2 inch.
10. Soda – 1 – 2 bottles. It’s useful to keep them handy in any case.

The Monk dressed in holiday cheer.

Directions:

1. Unseal your bottle of Old Monk and carefully pour into the glass bottle.
2. Then one by one add in the whole spices.
3. Seal the bottle and give it a good shake for about 20 – 30 seconds and then let it do its work in a dark and cool place.
4. Give the bottle a gentle shake every day. After three days taste the infused rum. By now it should have taken on the flavour of the spices.
5. On the third day add in the ginger and the orange zest. Seal the bottle and give it a gentle shake.
6. By the fifth day all the flavours should have now come together in the bottle of rum. Give it a taste. If you think you could do with a bit more flavour feel free to keep the infusion for one or two more days. Anything beyond that and you run the risk of overkill and destroying the entire bottle of rum.
7. Strain out the elements.
8. Pour the rum out in a punch bowl and stir in the orange juice and let it rest for a while.
9. Pour yourself 60ml or 2 fl. oz. of the rum mixture in a small tumbler and top it up with soda.

Finally the rum punch is ready to drink.

Now sit by your Christmas tree with the drink in hand and spread some good cheer. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – I

The Classic Malts of Scotland were first initiated as a bundle marketing strategy by United Distillers and Vintners which was later acquired by Diageo, until recently the largest distiller in the world. The original six single malt whiskies which came to be known under this umbrella were Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowlands, Talkiser 10 from the Isle of Skye, Lagavulin 16 from Islay, Cragganmore 12 from Speyside, Dalwhinnie 15 from the Highland and Oban 14 also from Highland but classified as originating from Western Highland for differentiation’s sake.

The Six Classic Malts.

All of these are as good whiskies as any other quality single malt of the world but at an early stage of my whisky drinking days the tag of Classic Malts of Scotland seemed to fascinate me. Once, when I was at a bar with my father I spotted the above mentioned six whiskies displayed together at the bar counter under banner Classic Malts of Scotland. I had tasted some of them before but I had never read about this term and later that evening consulted my whisky guide and learned about the information I shared with you above. In a six part series I will share my take on each of them.

Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowland

The Glenkinchie 12 is distilled in the lowlands region which is southern Scotland about 15 miles from Edinburgh. It was a relatively unknown name until the United Distillers’ Classic Malts branding strategy came about in 1989. It is one of the only three active distilleries of the region.
I happened to taste this after having tasted all the other Classic Malts and in my humble opinion its best had as an aperitif.

Picked this beauty up last Christmas.

Colour: Bright golden
Nose: Aromatic heather, a bit of vanilla and citrus
Body: Smooth but light and delicate
Palate: Sweet and citrus-y
Finish: Herbal and dry. Not lingering.
Pairing: I enjoyed my whisky with slightly salted almonds owing to its light body and dry finish.

CHIA PUDDING TWO WAYS

Chia seeds have become one of the most popular food items in the health community. They are packed with nutrients and benefits. Moreover, they are easy to digest and maybe added to our diet in a variety of ways. Be it in cereals, smoothies or yogurt they may even be added in breads or even had raw. They are not only rich in fiber and protein but are also a very good source of healthy fats, namely, omega 3 and many other dietary minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.

Chia seeds maybe tiny but they pack a punch.

I love adding them to my diet and I tend to consume them almost on a daily basis. Very recently I thought of adding them to some milk and yogurt and making a pudding. I ended up making two different types of chia pudding, a refreshing, zesty and tart version and a rich and decadent one. Find my recipes below.

Lime and avocado chia pudding
To really enjoy this one make sure the lime is really fresh and juicy and the avocado ripe.
Ingredients:
1. Juice of one lime. Retain the skin for later.
2. Half of a ripe avocado.
3. Low fat yogurt – 1/2 cup.
4. Low fat milk – 1/4 cup.
5. Honey- 1 tablespoon. You may of course add more or less as per your taste or even use sugar.
6. Chia seeds (whole) – 1 tablespoon.

Directions:
1.Mix the yogurt, milk and avocado together. You may use a blender or even stir it manually. I would suggest that you experiment with both to discover which texture you enjoy more. I liked the smooth blender version over the hand churned one.
2. Add the juice of the lime followed by the honey. Give this mixture a buzz in the blender.
3. Finally add the chia seeds and stir the mixture well to distribute the seeds evenly throughout the pudding otherwise the seeds have a tendency to stick to each other and form lumps.
4. Now grate a bit of the lime rind for that fresh zestiness. Be careful to not overdo this as it will end up giving the pudding an unsavoury bitter aftertaste.
5. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours or preferably overnight.
6. Garnish with a wheel of lime.
Serves one.

Coffee and cocoa chia pudding
Ingredients:
1. ¼ cup cold brewed coffee. If you find instant coffee more convenient, by all means go with it. Maybe 1-2 teaspoons.
2. ¼ cup low fat yogurt.
3. ¼ cup thick coconut milk.
4. Freshly grated coconut- 1 teaspoon.
5. Cocoa powder – 1 teaspoon.
5. Chia seeds (whole) – 1 tablespoon.
6. Honey- 1 tablespoon.

Directions:
1. Mix the coffee, yogurt, cocoa and coconut milk together. Once again you may experiment with the blended and hand churned version. With this one I found the hand churned version to be smoother than the blended one as the blended one tends to get a bit frothy on top which was not what I liked in my pudding.
2. Add the honey and mix well.
3. Now add the chia seeds and stir the mixture well.
4. Refrigerate fot at least a couple of hours or preferably overnight.
5. Finally garnish with a bit of grated coconut.
Serves one.

The refreshing lime and avocado chia pudding and the decadent coffee and cocoa chia pudding.

That’s how you can enjoy your dessert without any guilt and eat healthy too.

TYPICAL HOMEMADE CHICKEN CURRY

Cricket has been an integral part of my life since I was a boy of ten or twelve especially the five day format, where the players after playing for two hours take a forty minute breather. This is called the lunch break.

During our school vacations my father, brother and I would play the beautiful game amongst the three of us and Baba on finding his enthusiasm waning would urge us to take a break for lunch as the cricketers conventionally do. Of course, we didn’t relent that easily but when we did we demanded Baba arrange for us the same menu that the players were offered. He convinced us that since the cricketers had to take the field again after the break they would have a light but filling lunch and the standard menu was chicken curry with rice. Being kids, we had no reason to disbelieve an elder so that’s what we ended up having for lunch on most weekends.

The light and delicious chicken curry.

Chicken or mutton (goat meat) curry with steamed rice remains a firm favourite across many a Bengali household. Comfort food, as they say. Till this day, before indulging in our weekly gully cricket on Sundays my brother and I keenly look forward to lunch only for this chicken curry never failing to share a nostalgic anecdote or two at the dining table.

Here’s what still gives us comfort, nostalgia and satisfaction.

Ingredients:
1 medium chicken – cut into curry sized pieces or as per convenience.
2 tablespoons of mustard oil
2 medium onions – ground into a paste
4-6 cloves of garlic- ground into a paste
1.5 inch ginger – ground into a paste
Turmeric powder – half a teaspoon
Red chilli powder – half a teaspoon
Freshly ground garam masala – a pinch
Two medium potatoes – peeled and cut in four quadrants
A quarter of a medium raw papaya- peeled and cut into same size as the potatoes.
Salt to taste.

Directions:
In a wok heat the oil on a medium flame. Once the oil is hot enough add the ground onion, once that takes on a whitish pink hue add the ginger and garlic paste. Let the condiments cook until they release their aroma. Then add the chicken pieces and start coating them with the paste. When the flesh turns white add the turmeric followed by the garam masala. Mix it all well and then add two cups of water. Now add the potatoes and raw papaya. Add the salt. Cover the wok and let it simmer for 25-30 mins. By now the chicken will have been cooked and the potato and papaya pieces would be soft enough. If not then cook for 5-10 more minutes but chicken usually cooks quite fast.

The delicious golden chicken curry with steamed brown rice.

Serve with steamed rice and enjoy your ‘lunch break’.

WHEN IN ROME IV

With my wife I had in the previous three days seen a lot of ancient Rome’s history and architecture. Not just that, we had eaten our way through Rome thanks to the great Anthony Bourdain. All of our big meals were had in places situated far away from the touristic hubbub and frequented by locals. You can read more about them here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/, http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-ii/, http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-iii/. But we had saved the best for the last.

On our fourth day we had another typical Italian breakfast of cornetto and caffe and a sweet bread of some sort and set out for the Foro Romano (Roman Forum). Thankfully, luck was on our side and it was a bright and sunny but relatively cool day. Since we were in a laid back state of mind the thirty minute walk from our hotel to the Forum got extended to a three hour stroll dotted with caffe and gelato breaks.

The sprawling ruins of the Foro Romano.

Entering the Forum and walking on the same surface as some of Rome’s high and mighty emperors like Julius Caesar and Nero was an experience that we cherish till this day. To have stood on those ancient cobblestone pathways and the same slabs of marble on which only time had left its mark feels surreal even today. The Forum being thousands and thousands of years old had rendered some parts inaccessible but many of the monuments, temples, shrines and other well preserved antiquities seemed timeless. Some of the artefacts and buildings drew gasps of awe from many a people. The Arch of Titus, the temple of Romolo and the church of Santa Maria were some of the ruins that existed in a much better condition than the others. We took our own sweet time in the vast sprawl of ruins and by the time we had walked up to the Pallatine Hill it was almost dusk. Like the rest of the day we took it easy and soaked in the amazing 360˚ views from the hilltop. We left the Foro Romano using Rome’s oldest thoroughfare the Via Sacra ending up right in front of the Arch of Constantine by the Coloseo.

The Arch of Titus.

The view from the Pallatine Hill.

Betto E Mary
After 70 minutes in public transports and a twenty odd minute walk we reached Betto E Mary. Our first impression from the outside brought us disappointment. The entire trattoria had a deserted look with the chairs upturned on the tables, not a soul around the place. Would it be the second Bourdain visited eatery that we would find closed? But on my wife’s insistence we stepped in to inquire and were relieved to be greeted in broken English by an all in one chef, maître d and usher clad in dishevelled attire and a stained apron with a pen and notepad in a makeshift pocket. We were taken all the way to the back of the trattoria into an open courtyard and seated at a rustic looking table with two benches on either side. I excitedly began looking forward to my meal while my wife expressed her apprehension about the same.

Most people think of pizza or pasta or both when they think of Italian food. While those maybe two of the most popular foods around the world Italian cuisine however, has much more to it. Gelatos, Panini sandwiches, fishes like anchovies, tuna and sardines, a huge variety of sausages and cured meats (think prosciutto), an equally huge variety of cheeses (Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fontina etc.), aromatic breads and even the popular risotto are just few of the easily available and widely consumed Italian foods. The story of my last meal in Rome though is of a food which has lost its popularity over the years but remains an integral part of Rome’s peasant style of food.

I discovered these pickled anchovies in one of the many trattorias in Rome.

The reason I write ‘my meal’ is because the wife had chosen not to go for what I had in mind. However, even I had no clue that I had a surprise in store for myself. When the friendly owner arrived and sat down by my side to explain their menu, they didn’t have a formal printed menu card, and how they cooked their dishes. I informed him clearly what I wanted to eat after hearing which he expressed surprise. I still remember him asking me, “My friend why do want to eat the tripes (the cow’s stomach) when I have better things on the menu?” When he saw that I was insistent he countered me with an even more heightened sense of insistence that he would bring me something better than tripes and that is when he surprised me by exclaiming he would get his signature Roma Mix, a platter which would contain not just tripes but also ox tail, veal tail, veal thyroid gland, lamb lungs, heart, liver, kidney, intestines and rectum. All of these he explained further would be grilled and then finished in herbs and sauces. Some of them would be cooked in fragrant rosemary and garlic sauce and some in a rich tomato sauce. And because I ordered the Roma Mix he said he would throw in a small jug of house red wine to go with my platter.

The adventure of the Roma Mix.

I am sure most of you are crunching up your nose in disgust and cringing as you read what I ate for dinner that night but I honestly enjoyed that meal as much as any other memorable meal that I have had in my life. Besides Tony Bourdain wrote in one of his books, “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” The various textures of the offal and their respective flavours were nothing less than a ride in an amusement park. The tripes were chewy and rubbery having a floral aftertaste, the thyroid was a cross between a liver and a fleshy chunk of meat, the tails were like thin strips of meat on bone, the liver, lungs and kidney had their own distinct crumbly and mineral-y textures, the intestines were again chewy but unlike the tripes not rubbery and the rectum was soft and fleshy almost identical to the texture of a scallop. Only the heart was as close as it could get to being a piece of meat. The two sauces in which he finished the various meats were delicious to say the least.

As we finished our last meal in Rome and commenced our long journey back to our hotel we felt a twang of sorrow in our hearts. Our time in the eternal city of Rome that had given us memories and experiences to last a lifetime was finally over. Early next morning as we bought our cornettos and caffes and hopped on to the train that would take us to Napoli we concluded that Rome is where the heart is.

WHEN IN ROME III

On our third day in Rome we woke up early and decided to go and join the queue at the Vatican. If you haven’t yet read about our previous two culinary adventures you may read them here http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/ and here http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-ii/ respectively. Enroute to the bus stop we grabbed another typical Italian breakfast of ‘cornetto’ and ‘caffe’. Thankfully, the queue was not a very long one and it seemed to be moving ahead at a relatively fast pace. The St. Mark’s Basilica was a bizarre mix of opulence and tranquillity abuzz with a constant humming sound that one comes to expect in a crowded place. After spending a good two hours looking around at various statues, crypts, sarcophagi, frescoes and tombs we were glad to exit the church to find a fountain gushing with cool and clear water. It was one of those moments when one realises the value of the smaller things of life. After quenching our thirst to our hearts’ desire we decided that the time was just right for a gelato.

When in Rome and if it’s the only thing you’ll eat, although why on Earth would anyone ever want to do that is beyond me, eat your weight in gelato. Most gelaterias have multiple options of cones to choose from but for us on most occasions the humble cup more than served our purpose. In Rome the gelaterias dole out really generous portions at a measly sum of €1. The cup was always so overfull that we could manage to squeeze it only after a relatively fair application of pressure. I could never have enough of the fruity flavours like watermelon, strawberry and fig but the best flavour according to me was definitely the lemon.

Two of my favourite flavours were the fragola (strawberry) and the limone (lemon).

So after a couple of gelatos each we decided on paying a visit to the hallowed Pantheon. Two evenings prior to this we had chanced upon the Pantheon and it was a sight to behold but it was closed at that point of time. This time though, it was morning and the sun was beating down hard which made the Pantheon’s cool interiors a source of immense relief to us. It is the best preserved of Rome’s ancient buildings. We learned this was because the building had been under constant use and still continues to be used as a Catholic church for Sunday masses and rare weddings. The most impressive things about the Pantheon are the oculus at the dome’s apex which is its only source of light and the drainage system below the building that handles all the rain water which the oculus lets in. This architectural marvel speaks volumes of the engineers and architects of ancient Rome.

The famous oculus of the Pantheon

The hallowed Pantheon.

I Porchettoni
By now lunch time was approaching and it also seemed like a good opportunity to use our Roma Travel Pass to get to I Porchettoni. Another of Mr. Anthony Bourdain’s suggestions, this place was situated in one of Rome’s less touristic neighbourhoods which was a bit of a distance away from its ancient centre and famous for its porchetta, one of Italy’s culinary wonders. A deboned whole pig with skin and fat intact is slow roasted on a spit for over eight hours. The result is mind boggling. The owner upon hearing that I was a big fan of Tony Bourdain invited me to sit at the very table that he had taken when he visited I Porchettoni. Although he told me that he offered Tony’s table to all his fans unless it was occupied I was elated to share that very table with my wife. The restaurant was a casual and rustic family run joint and they had been serving the same porchetta recipe for three generations.

Naturally I ordered for a portion of the porchetta and my wife not being a fan of fatty cuts of meats went with a dish of pasta. I was told and remembered from Anthony Bourdain’s show that the porchetta had been roasted overnight and would be served at room temperature with a hunk of fresh and hearty Italian bread. I ordered a Peroni the famous Italian beer to go with my meal. When the plate was set in front of me what stood apart firstly was the aroma of fresh fennel, rosemary and oregano. The next thing that amazed me after I took a bite was the crunch of the skin. It was almost as if I had bitten into a thick piece of potato crisp. And finally the meat itself could not cease to impress me. It was aromatic, tender and most importantly moist. I realized that even though the beer paired really well with the meal it was not really necessary to order one to go with the meat. The friendly owner told me with Italian pride that he sourced all his pork from a particular farm in a village that was an hour’s drive from Rome. There the pigs were treated almost like pets or members of the family and sows and piglets were rarely killed for meat. His team supervised by him slow roasted the pigs in the spit overnight using an age old family recipe. As we finished another memorable meal at Rome and prepared to leave the restaurant he showed me his photograph with the great Tony himself.

A classic Italian combination, porchetta with Peroni.

Tony once said, “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.” I still wonder sometimes if sitting in a family run joint in a residential neighbourhood of Rome eating a wonderfully succculent pork dish while conversing with the passionate Italian owner made the porchetta taste even better.

WHEN IN ROME II

By the first morning we had started to get a feel of the eternal city. Having reached Rome the previous afternoon, my wife and I had dined that evening at Trattoria Cacio e Pepe, a household name in Rome famous for their Cacio e Pepe. Cacio e Pepe simply means pepper and cheese. It is one of the simplest of simple pasta dish which comprises of spaghetti, pecorino cheese from Rome and freshly cracked black pepper. You can read more about that experience here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/when-in-rome-i/.

History is to be discovered in every nook and corner of Rome. We had already been to the Spanish Steps and the mighty Pantheon the previous evening and it was all due to an aimless walk. Without a plan and destination in mind we had set about on foot, walking past many beautiful ancient buildings and simply happened to chance upon the Spanish Steps and then the Pantheon. On the first morning we had a rough idea of what we wanted to see on that day and of course what we wanted to eat. A typical Italian breakfast in Rome comprises of a cornetto which is the Italian cousin of the French croissant, only softer and probably less butter-y, a rusk like bread or variations of typical Italian sweet breads and a coffee. My wife not being a big fan of the espresso went with a cappuccino or caffè latte. I on the other hand had the caffè Italiano, a shot of espresso with just a bit of sugar stirred into it to cut the bitterness. That is one of the thing I absolutely love about Italy; simply walk into a cafe and ask for uno caffè (one coffee) and without asking the barista puts a shot of espresso in front of you usually served with a tiny glass of water and a bowl of sugar. After our breakfast we hopped on to a bus that would stop near St. Mark’s Basilica, the seat of the Pope.

The crowd at the St. Marks square scared us off.

Upon reaching Vatican City the snaking queue managed to convince us in no time at all that we had to leave it for another day. We soon learned that it being a Wednesday the Pope himself had made his weekly public appearance on the balcony of St. Mark’s and we had missed that by a whisker. However, we left with no regrets at having missed the Pope given the sheer number of people that had gathered at the square. It was mutually decided that we would perhaps come back another day and gladly made our way to the Vittoriano.

The impressive Vittoriano.

The Vittorianno is a monument dedicated to the first king of Italy, King Vittorio Emanuele II. This monument apart from being interesting also provided us with much needed shelter from the sweltering heat. By the time we stepped outdoors again the sun had become a bit more oppressive but the first sighting of the majestic Coloseo (Colosseum) made it all bearable.

The first sighting of the legendary Colosseum from the top of the Vittoriano.

We wasted no time and made our way towards it. The closer we got the more surreal the immense ancient structure appeared. Thankfully, there was a really short queue which was moving rather swiftly and in a matter of minutes we were inside the very structure where once a lot of blood had flown. The more we saw and heard on our electronic audio guide the more gooseflesh we got. Despite all the brutality and cruelty that had transpired within the confines of the Colosseum, in the end for me personally, it was a dream come true.

Mesmerized and rendered speechless.

Man vs man, man vs animal and even animal vs animal fights were staged in this arena.

Pizzarium Bonci
By now it was rather late in the afternoon and we were ravenous and I still had four more of Mr. Bourdain’s culinary shrines to tick off my list. So for a late lunch we decided to head over to Pizzarium Bonci. One of Italy’s best kept culinary secrets is its takeaway pizza slices. Pop in to a pizzeria that serves pizza slices, order a pizza you like and walk out with it. It’s as simple as that. In Rome however, they do pizza al taglio. The pizza is baked on large rectangular trays and then sold by weight in rectangular slices in a wide variety of toppings. We availed the same bus as the one that took us to the Vatican and after a breezy ride of about twenty minutes we stood right in front of Pizzarium Bonci.

It seemed like we were in pizza wonderland. They had pizza with anchovies, pizza with proscuitto, pizza margherita, pizza with eggplants, pizza with spinach and even pizza with truffles. It would have probably been easier to count the kinds of pizza toppings that they do not serve. The chef patron claimed to have invented over 1500 different pizzas but that is not all. The bacterial culture or starter that he uses in his pizza dough is from a strain that has been preserved with utmost care and is over 200 years old. We caught a glimpse of the man Bonci himself at the back of the open kitchen and he came across more as an artist than a chef.

Pizza wonderland.

Even at 16:00 odd hours in the afternoon which is way past the Italian lunch hour the pizzeria was brimming with people, not just tourists but locals as well. We managed to convey our order of a slice of pizza each with truffles, procuitto, anchovies and spinach. Our pizzas were sliced and weighed right in front of us and served on a parchment paper lined tray. No frills only pizza. While each topping added its own flavour and texture to the pizza the base remained consistently delicious. Crunchy on the exterior and really soft and airy inside but still had that chewy property that lets the base spend those extra few moments in the mouth not as something that is difficult to swallow but as something that makes you enjoy the process of chewing. It was unlike any pizza either of us had ever had anywhere. I could not decide whether I enjoyed the pizza with truffles more or the one with anchovies but in hindsight it seems that the pizza base was what Pizzarium Bonci was all about.

Pizza al taglio at Pizzarium Bonci.

Later that night we made a trip towards a suburb of Rome for another Bourdain food quest but we were ten minutes too late. The place had closed down for the evening thus making it the only place that I could not tick off my list. Perhaps it was for the best. Perhaps the day belonged to Chef Bonci. Whether or not he uses a 200 year old strain I cannot say but the taste of the pizza there will remain with me for life.

PINEAPPLE AND COCONUT INFUSED RUM

Rum aficionados around the world tend to look down upon the renowned Pina Colada. While I don’t consider myself a rum connoisseur I do subscribe to their views on the Pina Coloda. It’s probably the creamy texture that is to blame more than anything else as far as I am concerned. That being said, I cannot deny that I do love the combination of coconut and pineapple. The sweet and sour aromas and notes of the pineapple works like a charm with the sweet and nutty richness of the coconut. It’s just the creamy base of the cocktail that doesn’t cut ice with me. So I figured that I wanted to play with the tropical flavours of pineapple and coconut. Of course I ensured that the cream had absolutely no part to play in my drink. This is my second infusion experiment with Old Monk rum. If you haven’t had a chance to read the previous one yet you can find it here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/pumpkin-and-spice-infused-dark-rum/.

A juicy pineapple and a big ripe coconut are not at all difficult to come by in a typical fruit seller’s stall and Old Monk rum does have a pride of presence in my bar cabinet more often than not. I cut the pineapple in half and chopped it up in rough bite sized pieces. It is important that you taste the pineapple before the next step. The pineapple I used was not as sweet as I would have liked but it did have a nice and tangy tartness to it. So I put the pineapple on a plate and sprinkled about one teaspoon of caster sugar on it, covered it and let it rest. After a few hours the pineapple got a bit mushier and browner than it was. At this point I tasted another small piece of the fruit and was happy to note that it met with my expected degree of sweetness.

Pineapple bathing in caster sugar. Be sure to check the sweetness before sprinkling the sugar.

I then cracked open the coconut and cut it’s beautiful flesh into long and narrow pieces. On a baking tray I placed the coconut pieces evenly atop a sheet of parchment paper. In an oven preheated to 180c or 350F, I roasted the coconut at 180c for 15 minutes. This should brown the coconut a bit around the edges tasted deliciously toasty. And now it was time for the real fun to begin.

Toasted coconut slices.

In my glass infusion bottle I poured in the rum and then gradually introduced the pineapple followed by the coconuts. I don’t think the order in which you put the fruits in matters to any extent as the rum will be left alone to take on the flavours of the pineapple and roasted coconut. Once I had all elements together in the bottle I sealed it shut and gave it a good shake for about half a minute.

The next day I gave it another shake and let it rest in my bar cabinet. This went on for three days. On the fourth day I decided to give the rum a taste. The rum had now taken on the aromas of both the pineapple and coconut. The latter however, was a bit faint in comparison to the former. Upon tasting my olfactory senses were proved right and the coconut did seem fainter in comparison to the pineapple. A good method of judging whether a flavour has been infused to its optimal point is to take a small piece of it out of the bottle and taste it. If the element still retains some of its original flavours then it still has a bit of a job to do but if it tastes of nothing but the spirit then its purpose has been served to the fullest. My taste test was in conjunction with my previous conclusions and I discovered that the pineapple had done its bit and the coconut could contribute some more to the drink. So I took out all the pineapple chunks from the bottle and left the coconut in, gave it a shake and left it to rest again. On the sixth day I found that the coconut had finally done its bit too. Now my Pina Colada inspired coconut and pineapple rum was ready. Glasses, ice cubes and good company were all that were required in order to enjoy the drink.

My infusion bottle. Infusion work in progress.

Ingredients:
1. Old Monk Very Old Vatted Rum 750 ml – 1 bottle.
2. Half a pineapple.
3. Medium sized ripe coconut – 1.
4. Caster sugar – 1 teaspoon or more. Whether or not the caster sugar will be needed will completely depend on how sweet you would like your end drink to be. If the pineapple itself is juicy and sweet then the sugar may not be needed at all. On the other hand if the pineapple is not too sweet then more than one teaspoon maybe required to sweeten your drink.
5. Freshly squeezed and strained pineapple juice of half a pineapple.
6. Green/ tender coconut water (preferably fresh) – 1 or 2 coconuts depending upon how much water each holds.
7. Glass bottle (preferably 1 l) – It is definitely advisable to use a glass bottle since it is one of the most non-reactive substances known.

Directions:
1. Chop up the pineapple into bit sized pieces. Check for sweetness.
2. If the pineapple is not very sweet sprinkle the caster sugar atop it. Otherwise, skip this step.
3. Break open the coconut and cut its flesh into long strips.
4. Preheat an oven to 180C or 350F. Place the chopped coconut on a parchment paper lined baking tray and roast it at 180C for 15 minutes.
5. Now pour the rum into the glass bottle. By now the pineapple would have become sweet and mushy. Gradually put the pineapple and coconut pieces into the rum filled bottle.
6. Once the bottle is sealed give it a good shake and let it rest in a cool and dark place.
7. Make sure that you taste the drink after at least three days. The rum might get saturated with the flavours of the pineapple within four days. Take out the pieces of pineapple to prevent the rum from getting oversaturated with the pineapple. The coconut might probably need a couple of days more to impart all its flavours into the rum. After about 5-6 days the rum should be ready.
8. Fill a highball glass with ice cubes to its halfway mark. Pour 2 fl. Oz or 60 ml rum and top up with two parts each of green/ tender coconut water and freshly squeezed and strained pineapple juice.

The sweetness of the rum, the tangy sweetness of the pineapple and the nuttiness of the coconut. All in one glass. Bliss!

Now you can put your feet up, let your hair down and enjoy your own Pina Colada inspired pineapple and coconut rum in the confines of your living room. Cheers!

WHEN IN ROME – I

Before setting foot in Rome I had been to Europe a few times in the past. Before Rome happened to me, I had a much stigmatised memory of Europe, cool and windy scenic countryside, picturesque cities with cobblestone pathways and quaint cafes. So when I took the train from Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Aeroporti to Roma Termini, Rome’s central station and finally walked out into the city, I was blown away. I was blown away by the sights, smells and energy of Rome.

We all know about Rome’s rich history, the Empire and its Roman Gods, the Republic and the advent of Christianity, much later there were the fascists and of course who can forget the infamous Silvio Berlusconi. And all that history that was made in between. I had for years had a soft corner for Roman history and architecture. It was always my dream to step on to the Foro di Roma (Roman Forum), the Pallatine Hill, the Pantheon, to see the Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi Fountain), to drink from fountain in front of the Spanish Steps and of course the brutal Coloseo (Colosseum). I had 4 days and 5 nights to soak in the sights and smells of Rome and with my dear wife I lived those few days in a state of mesmerised trance which would intermittently be broken by the odd Bangladeshi ‘dada’ trying to sell us selfie sticks which they pronounced as ‘shelphee ishtik’.

The magnificent Pantheon.

The Pantheon (side view).

Apart from all this of course, I was armed with a bucket list from which I intended to tick off five places that my idol the great Mr. Anthony Bourdain had graced on his many visits to the eternal city. I managed four. No mean feat, given the enormity of Rome.

Cacio e Pepe
My wife and I reached Rome on a sunny September afternoon and for me it was love at first sight. We found our hotel, dropped our bags in the room and stepped out to bask in the glory of Rome. At the turn of almost every corner there seemed to be some slice of history or the other. We walked without any particular destination in mind drinking in the sights, sounds and smells of Rome. The wide boulevards, the narrow little lanes and the cobblestone streets all had some sort of ancient structure or the other. Some were commissioned archaeological dig sites, some were in ruins and some had been morphed into a modern apartment or office building. The historical charm seemed to exist in every little nook and corner.

A drink of water from the fountain at the Spanish Steps.

I however, kept a keen eye on my watch noting that dinner time was rapidly approaching. By this point in time we had been walking aimlessly around the city for almost two hours but now I had a destination in mind and Google maps showed that it was 4.7 kms away from our then location, a good hour to hour and a half’s walk away. So along the ancient Tiber we walked leisurely enjoying the cool evening breeze. When we reached the family run trattoria which was in a residential neighbourhood, we were glad to observe that tourists were conspicuous in their absence. I knew, thanks to Mr. Bourdain of course, that the place shares its name with one of Rome’s favourite pasta dishes, the cacio e pepe.

The trattoria had very limited indoor seating arrangements so tables were arranged on the pavement under huge rectangular garden umbrellas. We seated ourselves and wasted no time in ordering half a litre of their house wine. It was a rustic fruity red wine but well balanced and not too tannic. I had to eat what Mr. Bourdain had and ordered the cacio e pepe. As I sipped on the wine and waited for the spaghetti to arrive on my table I watched the culinary life of the trattoria unfold in front of me. A huge and hearty Italian family meal was underway on one of the tables, a couple much like us seemed to quietly enjoy their pastas on another table, four men were having an animated discussion over their meals on another and waiters waited tables while sipping on some house wine.

Tony Bourdain at Cacio e Pepe, Rome.

When the waiter arrived at the table with the food my attention was totally diverted to what was put in front of me. Spaghetti tossed in some heated butter and olive oil with freshly cracked pepper and pecorino cheese, served warm. For those few moments during my dinner I felt as if I was in an otherworldly plane. It was undoubtedly the simplest pasta dish I had eaten in my life but the impression it made on me is almost indescribable, as Mr. Bourdain very aptly writes in one of his books – “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.” It was one of those rare occurrences when a meal devoid of any animal protein satiated my hunger completely and that simplest of simple dish of pasta not only filled me up but evoked a warm fuzzy happiness in me.

The simple but delicious Cacio e Pepe.

Italians love eating immense meals and usually order a main course after their pasta which is why our waiter was horrified when we asked for the cheque after the pasta. In reality though, not only was I too full I wanted the taste of that cacio e pepe to remain in my mouth for the rest of the evening. The bite of the al dente pasta, the creaminess of the pecorino Romano cheese and the subtlety of the pepper at the back of the throat had captured my soul. Or had the senses of my soul captured the essence of Rome’s cacio e pepe?

PUMPKIN AND SPICE INFUSED DARK RUM

Another weekend calls for another experiment. This time round I tried infusing dark rum with a bit of spices, a fruit and pumpkin. Now that fall has set in the countries in the west and it’s their season to celebrate the pumpkin the internet is flush with innumerable recipes of pumpkin spiced rum or pumpkin spiced bourbon. So I drew a bit of inspiration from some of those recipes and I decided that I would play around with the sweetness of the pumpkin but since just a bit of pumpkin might not be interesting enough I threw in some other elements to add a few more flavours.

The ingredients platter.

Due to India’s fairly large vegetarian population pumpkin has wide versatile culinary uses and most of them are devoid of all the spices people generally tend to associate it with in the west. But like in the USA pumpkin here is cooked as side dishes, mains and even desserts. I won’t say that I am a huge fan of it but I do eat pumpkin in the form of curries from time to time but I never thought I would ever turn it into my guinea pig and use it in booze.

Nutmeg is a really popular spice when making pumpkin spiced drinks. It is a really aromatic spice with a sweet flavour profile. Since I was already using other sweet elements I substituted the nutmeg with its derivative, the more subtle mace. I totally love the aroma of mace but I have messed up dishes in the past by using too much of mace and that same aroma can get really overwhelming and prevent your other senses from enjoying the meal. This time I ensured that I use just the right amount. Another spice that has a special place in my heart is cinnamon. It also is a sweet spice with a strong aroma so too much of it can easily ill-affect the end result of any dish.

I threw in a bit of apple for its flavour and sweetness. I thought it might bring in those fruity flavours and add another dimension to the rum. And who doesn’t like the kick of ginger? Much as the warmth that ginger brings to the table is loved around the world, it’s spiciness at the back of the throat can ruin any recipe if too much is used. No, that is a mistake I haven’t made in the past or at least not yet which is why the quantity of ginger was just right enough to be able to taste that ginger-y warmth.

The infusion bottle beckons the Monk.

All these elements needed a platform where they could all co-exist symbiotically. And as far as I am concerned only Old Monk dark rum could have brought them together in harmony. Old Monk has somewhat of a cult following in India. I know of people whose choice of poison remains Old Monk and nothing else. On the palate it tastes of caramel and of abundance of molasses and maybe a touch of spiciness. However, in my humble opinion the rum is best enjoyed as a mixer in cocktails.

The Monk with a cult following.

Ingredients:
1. Old Monk Very Old Vatted Rum 7 Years Old Blended.
2. Pumpkin- Washed, cleaned and chopped into cubes. 100gms.
3. Apple- Half of a medium sized apple.
4. Mace- 2 – 3 pods.
5. Cinnamon – 3 – 4 barks
6. Ginger- Roughly chopped into tiny bits, not more than a teaspoon.

The infusion bottle should be left in a cool and dark place for 3 – 5 days.

Method:
1. Pour the rum in a large bottle or container. I used a long bottle (1000ml in vol.) that I have reserved specifically for spirit infusions.
2. Put in the chopped pumpkins after crushing them lightly with the back of a knife along with all the other ingredients mentioned above.
3. Seal the bottle tightly and let it rest in a cool dark place for 3 – 5 days.
4. Try to shake and turn the bottle at least once daily. Also taste about half a teaspoon of the infusion to judge the intensity of the flavours.
5. Pour 60ml or 2 fl. oz. over a few ice cubes and top up with soda and enjoy your ‘pumpkin spice infused rum’.

Time to reap the benefits.

I enjoyed my drink with friends and family over the Diwali weekend and it seemed to be well received by all. Even my wife who isn’t a fan of spices like nutmeg and mace appreciated it. The success of this experiment has already planted some very interesting Old Monk infusion ideas and I am quite looking forward to trying my hands at those. But my first Old Monk experiment is fondly dedicated to one of the biggest lovers of the Monk that I have known in my life who now has to lead a life of Monk depravity. Cheers. Happy Diwali.

A Monk blessed Diwali.

FLAX SEED PARATHAS

Parathas are supposed to be soft, rich and flaky, an indulgent flatbread. But if you’re a health nut like me who has a healthy diet parathas may not get to feature that often in your Indian bread basket except maybe on special occasions. However, you can enjoy these parathas like you would normal parathas with vegetables or meat curries or even daal and achaar (pickles) guilt free. All you need to ensure is that the ghee is not used very liberally and that you throw in some ground flax seeds into the dough mix.

Flax seeds are considered to be a wonder food and have quite a hefty reputation in the health community. Not only are they rich in healthy fats, namely essential Omega 3 fatty acids but also contain both soluble and insoluble fibers. I prefer to buy whole organic flax seeds and grind them as and when I need. Whole seeds are easier to store. They remain fresh and retain flavours longer than ground flax which if stored for too long tends to smell stale and taste rancid. It is also widely advised to consume ground flax seeds rather than whole as whole seeds have a very high chance of passing through our system completely undigested and unused. It has a nutty taste and is too dry to eat it by itself so I usually use freshly ground flax in yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes, rotis and parathas. Here’s how I make my flax seed parathas:

I buy organic whole flax seeds. Whole flax seeds are easier to store.

Ingredients:
1. Wholewheat flour (atta) – 1 cup
2. Flax seeds (ground)- 2 tablespoons
3. Ghee – 2 tablespoons
4. Salt – a pinch
5. Water – as needed
This will yield about 5 – 6 parathas.

It is advisable to use ground flax seed as opposed to whole.

Directions:
1. On a flat shallow container take the flour and start kneading it with 1 tablespoon of ghee and water. Once a dough starts to form add the freshly ground flax seeds and knead for a while longer so as to allow the seeds to spread evenly throughout the dough.
2. Cover and let it rest for about 25-30 mins.
3. From the larger dough pull out smaller spheres of dough (about the size of a toddler’s fist) and begin to flatten it out with a rolling pin. I like round shaped parathas as compared to triangular or square ones which are very popular shapes in a lot of Bengali households.
4. On a non-stick tawa (Indian frying/ dripping pan) add a few drops of ghee from the remaining ghee and start shallow frying the parathas. Make sure that the heat is not too high or the parathas will get burnt on the top surface and won’t cook through.
5. Enjoy the parathas with whatever you like; with yogurt and pickles or with home cooked veggies or daal or meat.

Flax seed parathas with pork curry.

So, now you don’t have to wait for that party or special occasion to enjoy your paratha. Not only do these parathas have a soft and flaky texture they also have a distinct nutty flavour thanks to the flax seeds. Now you can have your paratha and eat it too.

MADE FOR EACH OTHER – II

If you have read my first post with the same title, by now you are aware that this post has nothing to do with corny things or love matches. In case you have missed out on that you may read it here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/made-for-each-other-i/. In my second post under this title I am going to write about another one of my favourite pairings.

Knob Creek Small Batch 100 Proof Bourbon Whiskey with Alluvia 100% dark chocolate
Although I simply chanced upon it, I later discovered that the combination I wrote about in my previous post was a tried and tested one. Blue cheese indeed pairs very well with heavily smoked Islay single malt whiskies. This one however, was a pairing based completely on my intuition, as a result of which the satisfaction derived this time round was much more.

Unfortunately American whiskies except Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 and Jim Beam are quite difficult to get hold of here in Kolkata which is why I seldom get my hands on quality Bourbon. Earlier this year, while on transit I picked up a bottle of Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey from a duty free store in the Bangkok airport. I had of course read about it before and it had featured on my must try list for quite some time. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Knob Creek is produced by Beam Suntory in the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, USA. It is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey which means that at least 51% of its mash must be made from corn. The Small Batch 100 Proof, the brand’s primary expression is bottled at 100 proof or 50% ABV or Alcohol by Volume which is higher than the requirement of at least 80 proof or 40% ABV. Of course, at 100 proof it does retain a lot of fieriness but make no mistake it does carry big, bold and traditional flavours and is surprisingly easy to sip. I sensed some nutty and woody aromas in this beautiful amber coloured whiskey. After taking a sip the rich sweetness hit me immediately followed by generous hit of oak and some spiciness. Despite its heat it has a long and smooth finish leaving a warm feeling down the back of the mouth.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Small Batch.

The 100% dark chocolate which goes by the brand name Alluvia originates in Vietnam and how could I not pick up a 100% dark when I spotted one. It is almost devoid of any creaminess and has an extremely rich earthy flavour profile.

Alluvia 100% flanked by the Alluvia 70%.

Having tasted both elements of my pairing on two separate evenings one evening I suddenly hit upon the idea of combining the two. So I invited my younger brother to join me and I poured ourselves a drink each of the Knob Creek and broke out a few chunks of the 100% dark Alluvia. As is the norm for any pairing, the drink must be sipped first. I sipped on the bourbon and slowly let the warmth recede and then I bit into a chunk of the chocolate. The flavours of Knob Creek do linger on your palate for quite some time after you have swallowed it and that completely changed the flavours of the chocolate. They added to the richness and earthy notes and brought out more notes of cocoa and whiff of bitter coffee. After a while when I went back to the whiskey I was pleasantly surprised to note an enriched sweetness to it. The heat and spiciness were definitely more muted than before. With each sip and bite the entire experience only got richer and richer. Thus I continued with the entire process of eating, sipping and repeating until there were no more eats and sips to be repeated and the memorable evening drew to a close.

Another pair that were made for each other!

I know the 100% dark chocolate is probably not everyone’s cup of tea or bite of chocolate but if paired right it can work very well with whiskies similar to Knob Creek Small Batch. One may even consider pairing it with some VSOP brandy or cognac. That reminds me, I do have some of that chocolate left. It is perhaps time to get myself a brandy. You are welcome to buy me one too.

CHANA DAAL PORK GOSHT PESHAWARI

I committed another blasphemy this last weekend. After having cooked biryani and chaap with pork previously (which is a story for another time), this time it was a daal gosht recipe that I tried my hand at. The result however, was positively delectable.

Daal as we all know are lentils or split legumes and have a staple presence in South Asian cuisine. Daal can be really versatile and maybe cooked in numerous ways. Chana daal is split Bengal gram.

Chana Daal or split Bengal gram

Gosht usually refers to tender meat of an animal, mostly that of a goat. Most gosht recipes are cooked on a slow fire for a long time to achieve the desired consistency and flavour.

To be very frank, I am not sure if this recipe has its roots in Peshawar, Pakistan but I did take inspiration from a Pakistani website. For a long time now I have wanted to cook a meat and lentils dish and this last Sunday I fulfilled my long standing desire. But I did put in my own twist. On a whim I bought skinless lean pork without bones and decided that I would cook the Chana Daal Gosht Peshawari with it. So out went goat meat and in came pork. I will admit though, that darker meats like beef or mutton tend to add a bit more flavour and depth to the dish as compared to pork. However, I believe pork has its own nobility which is why I like experimenting with it and adapting it in different recipes and cuisines. This was another successful experiment.

Here is my recipe.

Ingredients:
1. Chana Daal (split Bengal gram) – 2 cups.
2. Lean Pork (skinless, boneless) – 1 kg.
3. Ghee – 2 tablespoons.
4. Onions – 2 medium pieces, roughly chopped.
5. Garlic and ginger paste – 1 tablespoon.
6. Turmeric powder – 1 ½ teaspoon.
7. Coriander powder – 1 teaspoon.
8. Roasted cumin powder – 1 teaspoon.
9. Red chilli powder – 1 teaspoon. You may of course add more if you prefer it to be hotter.
10. Garam masala – 1 teaspoon. I used freshly ground spice as it lends a completely different flavour to the entire dish.
11. Salt to taste.

Directions:
1. Soak the lentils in water for at least 60 mins.
2. In a wok take 2 tablespoons ghee. Once it is hot enough (make sure it isn’t smoking) add the onions.
3. As soon as the onions turn a translucent pink add the garlic and ginger paste.
4. After the condiments start releasing their aroma add in the pork and begin browning the meat.
5. Once it is brown enough add in the spices one by one except the garam masala. Mix them in well.
6. Until this point I cooked at a temperature of 1000 degrees celcius. Now reduce the heat to low (I lowered it to 300 degrees), add a bit of water, cover and sit tight.
7. After cooking on low heat for about 40 – 45 minutes remove the cover and check the meat for tenderness. It should feel soft to the touch but the centre would probably be a bit stiff still. Now add in the lentils, cover and cook for 30 minutes more.
8. By now the meat will have become tender and the lentils should be soft but firm enough to hold its own shape. You may choose to cook it to the consistency of a daal but I prefer it a bit firmer when cooking a meat dish.
9. Reduce the water and check for salt.
10. Garnish with coriander or slit green chillies or both.
11. Enjoy your Chana Daal Pork Gosht Peshawari with rice, roti or paratha.

My version of Chana Daal Pork Gosht Peshawari.

A WEALTH OF MEMORIES

Yesterday, all over the world Bengalis celebrated ‘Lokkhi Pujo’. Lokkhi is regarded as the goddess of wealth. Since the time I was a small child I have been a witness to my home ‘Lokkhi Pujo’ the chief architect of which until five years ago, was my late grandmother. She would, with great vigour and enthusiasm, make all the preparations from a day before the pujo and then with a deep sense of piety see to the fact that the entire ceremony was conducted without a hiccup. Now the mantle has been more than ably taken over by her equally devoted son, my father.

As far as I am concerned, be it ‘Lokkhi Pujo’ or Christmas or Ramadan, it is always about the food. On the day of the pujo the entire household consumes vegetarian. For lunch there is ‘khichuri’ which is nothing but a porridge of rice and pulses cooked together with a bit of turmeric and maybe whole roasted cumin seeds accompanied by vegetables like potatoes and aubergines fried in a chickpea batter. And for dinner there is the classic Bengali combination of ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar daal’ (a thick daal made of Bengal gram garnished with bits of crispy coconut). The dough for the ‘luchi’ is usually kneaded with refined flour or maida. For the last few years I have been giving the vegetarian meals a skip primarily because I am not a ‘vegetarian’ person at all and also due to my fitness oriented lifestyle. This year however, I did have the ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar dal’ as a meal itself for a change and I have no qualms about admitting that I ended up enjoying myself. Since I do not consume refined carbs the dough for my ‘luchis’ was kneaded with multiple high fibre grains.

However, it is not the ‘khichuri’ or ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar daal’ that excites me. The offerings or ‘noibedyo‘ that are arranged and placed in front of the goddess’s idol are the things that have a very special place in my heart. Normally the edible noibedyo comprise of various sweets and fresh cut fruits and having a notoriously sweet-tooth it is the sweets that especially attract me. The sights and smells of these foods tend to give rise to a deep sense of nostalgia and memories within me.

Fruits are a must on the offering platter

As a kid when I could sense that the ceremony was nearing its end I would start pestering my grandmother for these treats. She was an extremely patient person but when it came to me and my brother her patience increased manifolds. Somehow she would hold us off till the end of the ceremony and the first people to get a plateful of the blessed offerings, known as ‘proshad’, were the two of us. She would of course ensure that there would be way more ‘proshad’ than needed so that the two of us could continue to devour those wickedly sweet treats for days on end even after the pujo was long over. The must haves for me were ‘batasha’, ‘kodma’ and ‘mot’. My father doesn’t get the latter two because I don’t eat them anymore but the ‘batashas’ are ubiquitous. All of these are Bengali style hard boiled confectionery. The ‘batasha’ is shaped somewhat like a big tablet and the ‘mot’ came in bizarre fluorescent colours shaped like a temple or a swan or peacock. The ‘kodma’ was usually like a flattened sphere and was undoubtedly the hardest of these to bite into.

Shada (white) and laal (red, more dark brown) batashas were once the loves of my life.

Next up on my list were ‘gnoojiya’ and ‘moondi sandesh’. The former has a distinct shape somewhat resembling a drop with a hollow middle, is made with reduced milk and a truckload of sugar. Although not as sweet as the ‘batashas’ these are still sweet enough to make an average person feel giddy. Lowest on the sweetness index is probably the ‘moondi sandesh’. It is nothing but a hard spherical sandesh. Sandesh as we all know is made with cottage cheese, reduced milk and sugar but the proportion of the cottage cheese in this one is probably lower than usual. Another hot favourite of mine was the ‘chandropooli’. Shaped like a half-moon (chandro means moon in Bengali) it is made with reduced milk, shaved coconut and sugar.

The eternal trio of ‘gnoojiya, ‘moondi sandesh’ and ‘chandropooli’.

There were a lot of other sweet things like dates, ‘aam shotto’ (mango pulp leather) and something called ‘moa’. The ‘moa’ is a roughly made sphere with derivatives of rice and jaggery. It came in three varieties, one made with ‘chire’ or flattened rice, one with ‘khoi’ or popped rice and one with ‘muri’ or puffed rice. Since all these items featured low on my pecking order now my father has almost cut these out of the noibedyo.

The aam shotto (mango pulp leather) makes an appearance in the background.

I don’t eat too many sweets now and my loving grandmother is not physically around anymore but emotions have a way of making themselves felt and last evening I devoured a ‘chandropooli’, ‘gnoojiya’ and ‘moondi sandesh’ each, barely managing to resist the ‘batashas’ for I knew the sense of guilt that I would feel after would be much deeper than the sense of nostaligia within me. Today morning while sipping my coffee I realized that last evening was probably a case of my sweet-tooth acting up more than anything else but thanks to my grandmother, whom I called ‘Amma’, I have a wealth of memories to live with.

LEMONGRASS & BASIL INFUSED VODKA

If there is something that really gives me an adrenalin rush and makes me look forward to the end result it is undoubtedly experimenting with food and beverages. The experience in the end may not always be something to write home about but just the act of eating or drinking the mysterious looking food or bizarre-ly coloured drink really excites me. So, since this last weekend was a rather long one, not that I am complaining, I decided to conduct an experiment that has been on my mind for the past few weeks.

I am not the science nerd type so you can rest assured that you don’t need a laboratory to conduct this experiment. Anyone can do this at home, in your kitchen or even your living room for that matter. The only statutory warning I will issue is to be extremely careful with your liquor so that not a single drop of the precious liquid is wasted.

Here are the ingredients you need:
1. A bottle of good vodka. I bought a bottle of Absolut because I quite like its clean crispness on the palate and also because it’s a moderately priced good quality vodka. Cheaper booze will definitely compromise the end result. You may of course substitute vodka with any other clear spirit of your choice but I prefer vodka as it is easily available and has a neutral taste.

Absolut Vodka

2. Flavouring agents. I love growing my own herbs and using them in my recipes so I chose lemongrass and Thai basil. Lemongrass has a refreshing lemon-y aroma but is quite subtle. The Thai basil has its own distinct flavours and aromas somewhat resembling anise. The important thing to remember here is to use just the 4 – 5 leaves of basil as compared to 8 – 9 stems of lemongrass. You may use just the single flavouring agent or as many as you like but it is important to ensure that all the distinct flavours remain intact.

Infusion begins.

Directions:
1. Absolut comes with a fun stopper so I had to empty it out into another bottle.
2. Wash the Thai basil leaves well and let them dry. In the meanwhile peel the lemongrass to it inner most layer. With a sharp knife cut a few slits into the stem.
3. Now insert these into the bottle of vodka. Screw it tight and give it a good shake and let it rest as the label says on most food products, in a cool and dry place.
4. After a day or two taste the drink. Taste. Don’t drink. You may leave the flavouring agents in for a length of 2 – 5 days depending on how intense you would like the flavours to be. After that the leaves tend to give off a not so desirable flavour.

Now chill and enjoy your drink.

Now comes the best part. Take a highball glass. Fill it up with ice. Pour 2 fl oz (60 ml) of the vodka and top it up with soda. Garnish with a stem of lemongrass. And enjoy.

FRUITFUL

Until about February of 2017 I always thought of myself as a hardcore non vegetarian. Even now, not a day passes by when I do not consume some sort of animal protein or the other. One particular meal in the day maybe devoid of animal protein but that too is an extremely rare occurrence. I always proudly believed that animal protein was my favourtite group and type of food.

Anthony Bourdain once said, “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.” This February, I travelled to Vietnam with my lovely wife. I don’t know what change or mark I left behind there but I know now that something in me changed. Vietnam is a dreamland for street food or food lovers in general and the two of us had an absolute ball of a time trying everything and anything that was within the range of our visual, auditory, olfactory or all of these senses. One day in a particular narrow lane in Hanoi we spotted groups of people huddled together crouching on low stools poring over bowls of chunky and porridge-y stuff. On a closer look we figured that in the bowls were fresh cut fruits, bits of jelly and yogurt. In a separate bowl alongside was crushed ice which, we later learned, one was supposed to keep adding as per one’s preferred degree of coldness. So, soon after grabbing lunch we returned to the same spot.

The Fruit Bowl – I just couldn’t ever have enough of this.

I ordered a bowl of assorted fresh cut tropical fruits like kiwi, dragon fruit, rambutan, mango, watermelon and so on with chunks of colourful jellies and shards of fried coconut. The man serving us, set the bowls of fruits and crushed ice on the miniature table in front of me, unsealed a pack of yogurt and dumped it atop the bowl full of fruits and gesticulated with his hands to explain to us how we should go on to eat it. For me it was love at first ‘taste’ and I ordered another bowl, this one with some black sweet and sticky glutinous rice. From then on I made it a point to scout out this delectable bowl of icy cold goodness in each of the Vietnamese towns we visited.

The Bowl of Black Sweet and Sticky Glutinous Rice with Chunks of Jelly

I had always liked having fruits and they were a part of my diet to some degree or the other. After that bowl of delicacy I realized that fruits deserved not to be liked but loved. I feel that was when the change that Bourdain spoke of took place in me. Today, fruits are an important part of my diet and all this despite being a fitness enthusiast who watches and tracks what he eats. Although I have too many favourites to pick and choose from, I try not to have more than two or three portions in a day. Maybe, in my other posts I will tell you about some of them but I believe that though proteins are the most valuable food group to me due to my lifestyle, fruits certainly are my favourite type of food now. The way I see it, Vietnam certainly was a ‘fruitful’ trip.

PROTEIN AND FIBRE OATMEAL

I know you’re probably thinking that this is going to be a boring read and an equally boring run-of-the-mill recipe. I mean how interesting can oatmeal be? And you’re right. I used to think the same way until I tried this fun
recipe because it can be changed around in any way to suit your mood.

For me this recipe is a treat I give myself on the days I hit the gym. Oatmeal isn’t exactly what comes to mind when thinking of sweet treats but this recipe has just the right amount of sweetness and it’s healthy too. It is rich in protein, carbohydrates and fibre and really good for you.

Oats really is good for you.

Oats is filled with goodness. It is rich in low glycemic-index (GI) carbohydrates and fibre. Low GI carbs digest slowly and maintain a stable level of insulin and the fibre helps to clean out your system and keeps you full for longer. Oats also contains more protein and healthy fats than most other whole grains. It may also help in keeping LDL cholesterol levels under control. Oats is usually consumed in the morning cooked in milk or water as porridge but it is really adaptable and can be used in smoothies or yogurts or even in pancakes and crepes. I love having oats with whey protein powder mixed with a bit of chia and ground flax seeds. Occasionally I also throw in a bit of fresh or dried fruits.

Chia maybe had whole but flax needs to be ground to a powder.

Whey protein of course is a food supplement and is absorbed very quickly by our bodies. Since, protein helps build and repair our muscles I feel it can be consumed by anyone. Both chia and flax seeds are rich sources of fibre and healthy fats.

Double Rich Chocolate

Not only is this meal beneficial but it is also extremely easy to prepare. Most importantly, it is really delicious. Check out my recipe below.

Ingredients:
1. 4 tablespoons of rolled or steel cut oats. This yields about half a cup measure of oatmeal.
2. One scoop of protein powder. I use Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Double Rich Chocolate which has about 22-24 grams of whey protein in a scoop.
3. One tablespoon each of whole chia and flax seeds. Make sure you grind the whole flax seeds otherwise they are of not much value to the body. Chia on the other hand maybe had whole.
4. A few (about 4 whole almonds and 1-2 kernels of walnuts) chopped nuts.

My oatmeal sweet treat.

Method:
1. In a saucepan heat some water. Add the oats and bring to a boil.
2. When the porridge is ready remove from heat and let cool.
3. After about 10-15 minutes add the protein powder, the ground flax seeds and the whole chia seeds and stir well.
4. You may add a few pieces of apples or even bits of raisins and dates. I never add sugar because ON does contain a bit of added sugar but you may of course drizzle a bit of honey or add sugar.
5. Consume immediately or store in the refrigerator to enjoy later.

MADE FOR EACH OTHER – I

I know I know, this corny phrase is often used for couples who are head over heels in love with each other but rest assured I won’t be caught dead writing about that. There are innumerable such combinations from different parts of the world but I would like to share some of my favourite food and drink ‘couples’ who in my humble opinion are ‘made for each other’.

Laphroaig 10 y.o. with Danablu
At the onset let me be clear, the combination of blue cheese and a smoky whisky is quite a popular one and the choice of whisky does not matter to a very large extent but this particular one is my personal favourite and one that I have indulged in most often.
Laphroaig is a single malt whisky hailing from Islay, a Scottish isle and its distillery is right by the coast. The distinction of Laphroaig is that the germination of the barley malt is halted by burning peat, available in abundance on the island, on the level below. The controlled heat from the rising smoke lends the smoky note to the whisky. After the usual processes of mashing and double distillation the spirit is usually aged in American oak barrels and left to age in their cellars for up to 10 years in this case. By the end of its maturation process the smoky spirit has imbibed flavours not only from the oak but from its natural coastal environment as well, giving it a beautiful golden colour and its distinct smokiness, salty-seaweed like taste with a lingering sweetness on the palate.

The distillery on the coast.
Source: laphroaig.com

Coming to the cheese, blue cheese is just a general term for cheese that has cultures of the mold Penicillium added to it, thanks to which, appear the bluish gray veins throughout the cheese. It is usually identified by the bluish veins and its distinct sharp and salty taste with a semi soft texture. Now, I have tasted the Roquefort from France, Gorgonzola from Italy and the Danablu from Denmark and since the latter is the one that is most easily obtainable in gourmet stores in Calcutta it is the one that I have indulged in the most. Here, the Danablu or Danish Blue, is available in well packaged wedges. It is milder than the other blue cheeses and has a whitish edible rind but despite that the distinct sharp and salty taste maybe overwhelming for some. Usually it is served as dessert cheese or as salad dressing.

The most easily available Danish Blue cheese in Calcutta

I had read a lot about pairing good chocolate with good whisky and good wine with good cheese but one day I just happened to chance upon this particular pairing, of course, later I looked up the internet only to discover that I hadn’t quite discovered a revolutionary breakthrough in gastronomy. I was sipping on some Laphroaig and in the same room my father was nibbling on some apricots and Danablu. In between a sip I just took a bit of cheese on a thin cracker and sipped the whisky again and then what happened on my palate was something that I will never be able to forget.

Source: laphroaig.com

The sharp and salty cheese completely changed the whisky. The smoke became mellower and the whisky went down more smoothly with a much sweeter aftertaste with notes of dried fruits. After the whisky, now the soft crumbly cheese began to feel velvety smooth in my mouth. So, I kept repeating this for the next couple of hours savouring and soaking in the magic that was unfolding on my tongue.

The whisky brought out different characters in the cheese and vice versa.

Since that memorable evening, I have returned to enjoy this magical pairing innumerable times because I had begun to believe some things are indeed ‘made for each other’.

HERE I GO

If there is anyone I idolise in the food industry it has to be the one and only Mr. Anthony Bourdain. Sure, I admit he is no more in the food industry and he owes all his fame to his contributions in the television industry but he did start off as a chef in New York City. Just like any average teenager I was picky about what I ate and it goes without saying I received enough brickbats about that but as you know teenagers can be a stubborn bunch and more often than not manage to get their way. All this however, changed after watching Mr. Bourdain on screen. The first time I watched his show the interest for food certainly piqued in me.

Anthony Bourdain, my idol when it comes to food.
Source: YouTube

I began to enjoy a lot more different types of foods. I began to experiment, broaden my horizon as they say. A case in point was fish. It was something I detested. Today in hindsight I attribute it to maybe the fishy smell and the arduous task of separating the tiny bones from the flesh. But magically, suddenly all those excuses ceased to matter and fish began to feature on my lunch plate every day.

Once upon a time I used to be really fussy with food. Now I don’t shy away from anything.

Over the years I have eaten and learned a lot about food in general. And I have learned to cook as well. So beginning from those ‘fussy child’ (as my father would call me) days to my calorie tracker app using days I have decided to express myself on this platform. For the last couple of years my dear wife has been almost coaxing me to start writing a blog and I have been fending her off with spontaneous excuses. So I would like to begin my journey with thanking her, another friend of mine who also provided a lot of encouragement and of course the one and only Anthony Bourdain.