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.