Three friends and the food they love


May 2016

A little basket of Thai condiments


Every street restaurant table in Bangkok has this little basket of condiments called Khreuang Puang.

This basket usually contains 4 key ingredients – sugar (naam tam sai), fish sauce (naam plaa), chilli powder (phrik pon) and fresh chillies in vinegar (phrik dong). There are the most common but there can be other variations also.

Everyone has their own way of using them and their own ratio to mix these and put them over a plate of noodles. And Thai food isn’t quite the same without this little basket 🙂


A restaurant frozen in time…

The next time you are in Mumbai, spare some time to go to Ballard Estate in South Mumbai and savour some excellent Parsi and Irani food at Britannia & Co. Dig into their famous Beri Pulao – an indulgent rice dish served with bilberries from Iran. Tuck into the rich Salli Boti – mutton cooked with apricots soaked in vinegar and topped with potato shoestrings. Enjoy their soft chapatis with kheema – spicy mutton mince with peas. Wash it all down with the very pink  Raspberry soda and end on a sweet note with their Caramel Custard.

The third generation of the Kohinoor family still manages the restaurant and the decor at Britannia & Co. hasn’t changed much, probably since the restaurant first opened. Red checked tablecloths covered with glass and the classic wooden Irani chairs. But it is charming and well worth the trek to the other end of the city.



The magical realism of Hoi An



My sister and I had never done a trip together and given my love for Vietnam and her desire to see it, we decided to brave a holiday together. We decided to cover Ho Chi Minh city, as we would be flying there from Singapore. And then looking for another place to visit we chose Hoi An. You have to fly to Da Nang and then take a 30-min taxi ride to the city and we got to our hotel from an outer road by the evening. So far we hadn’t seen the city, so not wanting to waste time we changed and made our way to the centre of the town.


You may wonder why I am elaborating our arrival in such detail. This is because my first impression of Hoi An would dazzle me and become my lasting impression of the town and possibly of Vietnam. By the time we got into the city centre it was dusk and the lights had come on. Picture a town made up of ochre yellow houses, tiny streets, Vietnamese lamps hung in the doorway of every single house and in clusters on the bridge across the river, the sight of brightly coloured boats moored by the river bank and a cool breeze in the air.

I felt like I was experiencing magical realism. I have never been so moved by a town as I was by Hoi An. And I could see my sister was equally taken in. We spent most of that first evening just walking and soaking in the town, not wanting to miss anything. Later that night I called Aniruddha, who must have wondered if my sister and I had a little too much to drink since I was literally gushing about Hoi An.

Like all of Vietnam, the food in Hoi An was equally good. We sampled the local specialty, the white rose dumpling, which is a shrimp dumpling made from translucent white dough and shaped to look like a rose. Near the bridge, we chanced upon a food vendor selling spring rolls. Her set-up was simple. She was grilling pork skewers on a little charcoal stove and serving them on a large metal platter with a basket of fresh lettuce, a small plate of rice paper sheets and a sweet chili dipping sauce. You had to make your own rolls and pay as you ate. So my sister and I squatted on one of the stone benches and right there in the middle of the street, with traffic and people walking by, we gorged on one of the best meals I have had in Vietnam.


I highly recommend a holiday to this beautiful little town – truly one of the most special places I have been to.


A Bali favourite

On our first trip to Bali, we stayed in Tanjong Benoa, around resort central in Nusa Dua – and the best feature of our resort was that it was right next to the best restaurant we ate at, in Bali and is still among my all-time favourite restaurants.

Bumbu Bali is a labour of love of Heinz von Holzen – a chef who has taken it upon himself to showcase authentic flavours of the Balinese kitchen and create a home dining experience. The moment you step into the restaurant, the decor, aromas and the warm welcome of the staff immediately connect you to the atmosphere and vision Chef von Holzen is striving to create.

Then begins the gastronomic joyride of your life. Smoky, perfectly spiced, melt-in-your mouth satays that arrive at your table on their own little grill, succulent pork in sweet soy sauce, braised beef in coconut milk, roast duck in banana leaf, and finally beautiful, delicate local desserts. Waddle home with twice the amount of food in you than the recommended limit, laze around with a book for the afternoon, take a walk or go for a run in the evening if you can bear it. Repeat. Yep, I could get used to that.

Bumbu Bali offers two more things we have to try out on our next visit – a cooking course that starts with a morning market visit and seems to be quite exhaustive and hands-on; and the Rijstaffel – which translates to Rice Table. It is a monstrous meal that the Colonial Dutch seemed to have devised to kill friends and family with. I think I counted a mere 16 courses on the menu and Priya (literally) didn’t have the stomach to take that on. Think Shoggy and I will need to take the Rijstaffel on, together.


Discovering Jakarta

Work takes me to Jakarta very often, but it would have been unfair to say I knew the city as all I ever do is traverse the familiar circuit between the airport, office and hotel. Jakarta is like most other Asian cities – densely populated with insane traffic and a frenetic pace of life. But for me, Jakarta was like being back home. Well almost. Words and names reflected a strong Indian influence. Sandya, Dewie, Ratna sounded like friends I knew back home. I paid for things in Rupaiya. Bahasa was the national bhasha (or language). The grocery stores looked like our kirana outlets. It felt good to be back.

To learn more about the city, Aniruddha and I decided to spend a weekend in Jakarta. Our hotel was located on a food street called Jalan Pecanongan. Our attention was caught first by a murtabak stall with many people waiting to be served. Murtabak is a stuffed pancake or fried bread which can be eaten on its own or with a hearty chicken or mutton curry. We queued up in front of a stall and watched mesmerised as they prepared the delicious looking murtabaks. After laying out a generous helping of batter to make a rather thick murtabak, the cooks went on to lather liberal amounts of butter, condensed milk, chocolate sprinkles and, wonder of wonders, cheese on to the pancake.

As we felt our arteries reel with shock at this calorie overloaded murtabak, we opted for a milder chicken stuffed version and proceeded to demolish it rather quickly as we searched for the next food stall. The national dish of Indonesia, Nasi Goreng, was next on the menu and came with an accompaniment of some excellent spicy chili sauce, prawn crackers and an amateur musician. Music, I have grown to realise, is very popular in Indonesia, and most street restaurants and street corners have budding artists strumming away to anyone who cares to listen.

Taman Fatahillah, is a public square in the older part Jakarta. Being a public holiday we were lucky to witness a local procession which included a band of musicians and two giant puppets cavorting around the square much to the delight of the young crowd gathered there.

But the best part of the square is the charming Café Batavia. Step inside and you feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine, taking you back to the colonial days in Jakarta. The 19th-century restored building has some of the most delightful interiors I have seen, with old-fashioned tables and wooden chairs, a live band every night and every square inch of its walls covered with photos and Art Deco posters.

We also visited the National Museum to gain an appreciation of the history of Indonesia, its people and culture. The museum building is quite nice but the artefacts and overall displays could do with improvements. We checked out the Flea market at Jalan Surabaya which turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Lots of little knick knacks and we managed to secure a wonderful coffee grinder made of Dutch porcelain and rescued from a Dutch ship. We went to Sunda Kelapa, the old port area of Jakarta and admired some old schooners that were anchored there.

And we rounded up our short weekend with more food. A meal at Lara Djonggrang restaurant. Some fried tempeh or fermented soyabean cake – a popular street snack and a must-have with a green chili on the side. And Pisang goreng or banana fritters which turned out to be a sweet relief from tourist activities.


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