Onam in God’s own country

Many years ago I found myself in Kerala during Onam. Did you know that it is a 10 day festival? The atmosphere in Kerala during Onam is simply so festive! It is like Diwali here. Almost every brand has a discount offer, shops are aglitter and everybody is on a buying spree.

Rasakalan

I spent Onam with a Malayali family to get a real taste of the festival. Onam is celebrated to re-welcome a much loved king to Kerala. Legend goes that Mahabali was a fine king who ruled over Kerala many centuries ago. During his rule, abundance and prosperity was the norm. Everybody was happy, so much so that they forgot the gods! This angered the gods and Vishnu came down to correct things. To cut a long story short, Vishnu managed to banish the king to the underworld(patal lok), but granted his wish, that once a year he could come to visit his people for 10 days and that day, things in the land would be as he left them. Hence there is an ambience of happiness and festivities for these 10 days.

Mathanga_Erisery

There are three highlights of Onam, which is most fascinating. Onam boat races, which appealed to the sport lover in me. I was lucky to be at the Ramada Alleppy during a Masterchef shoot. The property faces the Punnamada backwaters, this is where the boat race is held. The pookalam or the highly creative and beautiful floral rangoli outside every doorstep that appealed to the creative person in me and the elaborate sadya on the plantain leaves which appealed to the food lover me!

Aviyal

The novelty and joy of eating piping hot food and so many items on the leaf is unsurpassed. The items range from curries to dry vegetables preparations to pickles to chips and papad to the lip smacking payassams. Truly a feast fit for a king! There is a sequence for the food served. First comes the pinch of salt, the chips, the banana, the tamarind and ginger chutney (puli inji), the pickle (usually lime or mango) and the sabzi, usually French beans with carrot with a garnish of fresh coconut, pachadi (raita) and huge papaddums. This is followed by sumptuous curries like the olan – a mild curry with a coconut milk base and with vegetables like white pumpkin and brown eyed beans, sambhar – the universal favourite, kaalan – a sour, coconut curry with yam and raw plantains amongst other vegetables, errasseri – a roasted coconut based curry, aviyal – a mixed vegetable curry and of course piping hot and spicy rasam. The meal started with a spoon of ghee on hot rice along with a small helping of plain, unsalted dal. By the time I finished this sumptuous meal my shirt buttons were popping, still I didn’t let go off the palpayassam, thick, creamy, milky with fried nuts! Heaven in God’s own country!

Pal_payasam

I have another Onam trip to Kerala on my agenda and hope it materializes soon! Meanwhile, if you have Malayali friends try and snag an invitation to a Onam sadya, soon!

10 most expensive ingredients in the world

Caviar is next on our list of the most expensive ingredients in the world, after Kopi Luwak, Matsutake Mushroom and Yubari Melon. Caviar is associated with high end parties, opulence and the good life. What exactly is caviar? It is nothing but fish roe (eggs) that are salt-cured. Its look is quite inviting – tiny black pearls. It has an exquisite flavour coupled with a smooth texture!

Not all caviars are exorbitantly expensive. So what are those varieties and what makes it oh-so-expensive? Sturgeon caviar from the waters of the Caspian Sea is the real stuff. And the Almas Beluga caviar is the most expensive as the Beluga sturgeon spawns only once in 10 years! A kilo of it can easily sell for £25,000. Oh, by the way, ‘Almas’ in Russian means diamond!

#4 – Caviar

Call it a pleasurable treat or a status symbol, caviar has long been a delicacy inspite of being one of the most expensive things to eat. Caviar, as mentioned above is made by mixing unfertilized fish roe with salt. Sounds simple, isn’t it? No, the process is quite delicate and requires skilled hands to handle.

So, when it is an ingredient this exotic, there are certain rules that have been set by connoisseurs to even consume it. To experience the nutty, buttery and creamy flavour/texture of caviar, one must eat it absolutely raw with just a dash of salt. Make sure to slowly roll the eggs inside your mouth and bite-into to get that burst of flavour. Also, if you can have it from a crystal glass, there’s nothing like it! Besides this, just to jazz it up, some restaurants serve it as a combination with cream or butter and also on thin pancakes or bread.

Here’s some trivia that might interest you:

  • One of the oldest known delicacies – Russian tsars, ancient Romans and Greeks, all have consumed it!

  • Easily perishable, caviar can last for more than a day if well refrigerated.

  • It is also called the ‘food of love.’ Caviar contains zinc which is known to increase levels of libido!

  • Caviar can be heard – when the roes are rubbed against each other, the sound is similar to that of a ‘cat’s purr.’ How cool is that?

And now a list of some of the dishes from around the world that are pricey because one of the ingredients in it is caviar. Check this out:

  1. A burger named ‘Le Burger Extravagant’ from Serendipity 3 in New York.

  2. The very desi curry that goes by the name ‘Samundari Khazana (Seafood Treasure)’ from Bombay Brasserie in London.

  3. The ‘Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata’ from Norma’s in New York (this one contains 10 ounces of Sevruga caviar – $65 per ounce!)

  4. The Florette Sea and Earth Salad from Hempel Hotel, London.

I would definitely suggest you to give it a try if you get a chance. After all, such moments in life are priceless!

We will continue with our top expensive ingredients, till then please share your experiences with the posh foodstuff. And spread the knowledge by sharing and leave your valuable feedback. We love it!

10 most expensive ingredients in the world

And we are back with the #3 most expensive ingredient in the world, after the Kopi Luwak and the Matsutake Mushroom. This one’s a little tough to believe, because it’s a melon! Yes that’s right, a melon!

Melon

The Japanese Yubari Melons – perfectly round and smooth skinned, these hybrid melons are exclusively produced in the small Japanese town of Yubari. This pretty much explains the price and that’s why we rank it third on our list of expensive ingredients!

#3 – Yubari melons

Popularly known as “Dream Melons” these perfectly cultivated Yubari melons are Japanese in origin. Crossed with two cantaloupe varieties, these melons turn out to be distinctively tasty and orange-fleshed putting it in the category of uniquely expensive fruit. So, the next time you think of gifting something unique and expensive, consider these melons! A sure shot healthy gift!

Where do I come from?

The melons, as the name indicates are grown in Yubari. This small town in Hokkaido produces a limited number each year. Best produced in volcanic soil, this melon is an outstanding combination of Spicy Cantaloupe and Earl’s Favourite. This hybrid melon comes out perfectly and proportionately sweet and delicious. And that’s why it tops in the kingdom of melons.

Melon Pudina Cocktail

Worth it?

With the high price comes great taste and texture. The amount of care and maintenance that goes into the cultivation of this fruit is surely worth the price. The standard Yubari melons at the Japanese departmental stores range between $50 and $100. The superior ones are often auctioned in Japan at prices as high as $26,000 and more.

Yubari today!

Being such a big trend, this luxury fruit is now found on the shelves of most food stores in Japan, by virtue of being incorporated into various food products.

Some packaged stuff that you see when Yubari melon is on the shelf:

  • Yubari Melon Gummy – Well oh well! Who doesn’t like gummy bears and especially when in the pricey melon’s flavour?

  • Jelly – Yubari Melon jelly? Must try!

  • Kit Kat – Chocolate and the melon! Intrigued!?

Melon Slush

Here are some melon favourites of mine which can be easily done with these beautiful Yubari melons too. Like a refreshing Watermelon and Papaya Salad, a cool Melon Slush or go a little desi with Melon Pudina ka Cocktail or my very own Sago and Melon Kheer! The trick lies in just replacing musk melon with this one.

Watermelon and Papaya Salad

So, now on whenever you visit Japan, make sure to try this ‘Dream melon’, or if you can’t afford the fresh ones, try the foodstuffs with this melon flavouring.

As we continue listing our top expensive ingredients, you are welcome to share your experiences and feedback regarding the same. And don’t forget to share and leave a comment!

To keep moving, is the mantra!

What happens when you receive immense gratitude and respect from people across the globe? There are expectations and a constant need to innovate things in and around you. That’s exactly what’s happened to me – it kept me working towards coming up with new things in and around the culinary world.

FoodFood Lounge 2

I have been constantly trying to raise my bar – be it with my epic show ‘Khana Khazana’ on television, restaurants across the country and on foreign soil or range of ready-to-use masalas, pickles and chutneys. Done my bit for women empowerment with ‘Wonderchef’ cookware (solely run by women!) and fulfilled my dream of running a 24×7 food channel ‘FoodFood.’ And I must say with each step, the appreciation and love from people just kept increasing!

Live Demo

Into the stimulating world of culinary, food today is not just limited to taste and smell, but goes beyond perfection. People today, want to enjoy cuisines served with great presentation that is much more enhancing and brings sheer pleasure to eyes. After all, you eat with your eyes first!

Keeping in mind this evolving trend, it was just the right time for me to foray into a segment. And what better platform could I’ve possibly got than the Homedécor, Gifts & Houseware (HGH) Trade Show 2015 to finally venture into this direction. In collaboration with Trinity Kitchenware, the SK Brand will be now responsible in actively seeking licensing alliances with manufacturers, retailers, e-tailers and traders in the Lifestyle Houseware category. Also, Sanjeev Kapoor branded Table and Kitchen Linen and Cutlery products aim to bring the much-needed freshness into this aspect.

The Wonderchef Stall

Hence, day one, i.e. July 14, 2015 was marked by the official launch of Sanjeev Kapoor’s ‘Tangerine’ range of lifestyle houseware products in a grand press conference. Wouldn’t have been possible without the love and support of my fans, followers and the ones who have always believed in me! The SK Brand promises to enhance your entire kitchen experience and bring life at ease – from cooking to the way you present your food!

Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana Range of Chutneys

With this and lot more, we wrapped-up 3 days of engaging and exciting things at the show! As always, kudos to my team who put-up a great show! Everything from food demos to Wonderchef products to SK Restaurants to FoodFood’s Lounge embraced the show with their presence. Efforts by my teams at different verticals are definitely paying off!

Chef Anupa Das at the Live Demo

Under the guidance of Chef Anupa and team, we quite easily managed to add a tadka of food with our ‘Live Demos’ of International Delicacies. With this, Wonderchef’s Hurom Juicer was the star – people just drooled over the fresh detox juices that it made in a jiffy! For the health conscious, an array of micro greens were also displayed which we used in our salads and juices. The main aim was to educate people and encourage them to use these tiny-greens (that can be easily grown at home!) to retain nutrition in their everyday food. Besides this, Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana range of chutneys spiced-up the bland breads and salads! Response was massive, a big shout-out to all those who made it possible!

Sanjeev Kapoor range of lifestyle houseware products 1

From health to cuisines to kitchen gadgets, tools and concepts, the HGH 2015 notably covered all the aspects associated with the culinary space. With this power-packed event, I am definitely looking forward to the next one!

Keep innovating!

10 most expensive ingredients in the world

Back to the list of the 10 most expensive ingredients in the world.

Ever dreamt of a fungus with a price that touches the sky (almost!)? Yes, it’s the Matsutake mushroom a.k.a the ‘pine mushroom’ from the Pacific Northwest as well as Japan. And that’s why we are putting it at the second spot just after the rare ‘Kopi Luwak.’ The fact that Japan actually imports these mushrooms from other regions that produce them explains them being in great demand inspite of being uncommon and costly!

#2 – Matsutake mushroom

To begin with the basic facts – these mushrooms dwell under the base of Japanese pine trees that are 20-60 years old. Possess a texture that’s meat-like with a robust and spicy flavour (makes them great with chicken and fish). The health benefits are not less – rich in vitamins and proteins and low in fats. According to the Japanese Guidebook, the approximate cost of Matsutake mushrooms in 2014 was $1000 (INR 63630.45) per pound. Though there are cheaper varieties available in Northern California, Canada, Oregon, Idaho and along the Washington coast.

Mushrooms

Fungi as gifts!

Talk of mushrooms and sensitivity! The Matsutake is such an important mushroom for the Japanese that it is often gifted in wooden boxes in a ceremony to celebrate autumn. These are also common as wedding and corporate gifts. In fact, it is believed that the ones that are collected to be sold in the markets of Japan should never be trimmed.

Mushrooms1

Less is more!

Much said, what we come to now is the taste and preparation of this pricey fungi. There’s a thumb rule when you are handling these – ‘less is more.’ As the flavour is pretty unusual, people often take some time getting used to it. But once the palate is developed, try these fungi the following way:

  • Sautés and tempura fries, as this the best way to have Matsutake mushrooms. This way the odour literally vanishes!

  • Apart from the above, use these in dishes that have loads of butter or cream! These pair well with them.

  • Dry these out, powder and flavour your dishes with it.

  • Traditionally, these can be used alongwith Japanese rice wine ‘sake,’ kelp and soy sauce to cook meals.

  • For best results, don not overcook! Keep it simple and serve when they are still firm.

Mushrooms 2

Store wisely!

You won’t find the Matsutake in Indian markets in large quantities even today, and especially if you want the fresh ones. So, make sure if you get your hands on these, preserve them well to keep them for longer. To preserve, you can either freeze these after dicing or slicing. Or just wrap them whole in aluminium foils, put in plastic bags and freeze.

As of now, the best thing that you could do is go search for these and try dishing-up some cool recipes. For keeping it real simple, try a Matsutake Mushroom Chowder or probably a Matsutake Mushroom Risotto! It’s time for me as well to get my hands on these and try dishing-up something desi with these. Innovating as always!

Till then, if you really manage to create a marvelous Matsutake dish, do share the recipe alongwith the images with us. We will be more than happy to receive them!

As of now, we shall wrap-up our list of the most expensive food ingredients in the world. Watch out for the next one in this series…

And of course we will be waiting to know from you about your expensive experiences with food and ingredients.

10 most expensive ingredients in the world

Food is a basic necessity of life, but some of these foods are not really what you would call basic. Right from coffee beans processed in the digestive tract of a wild cat to delicate spices grown only three months in a year – in this series of blog posts we tell you about food ingredients which are sought after for their exclusivity and the beautiful magic they create in your food, but also burn a huge hole in your pocket.

#1 – Kopi Luwak

The first ingredient on this list is something that most of us can’t begin our days without, yes coffee, but not just any ordinary coffee; we are talking about Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive and rarest coffee. The reason why it is numero uno on this list is not just because of its sky high prices, but because of the very interesting process of creating it.

It might be the world’s most exclusive brew ever, but its making does have a kind of repulsive charm attached to it. Exclusive to Sumatra in Indonesia, these coffee beans are processed in the weirdest way which gives it a slang – cat poo coffee.

Civet cats, which are raccoon like wild cats play a very important role in the production, final taste and aroma of this coffee. These cats feed on the sweetest and best coffee cherries from plantations, but are unable to process the beans which then come out along with the excreta. These beans are then collected, cleaned, roasted and processed to give you a coffee that costs around 40,000 Indian rupees per pound.

This process of picking coffee beans might seem gross but it is what gives it its brilliant flavour, musky aroma and also takes away much of the acidity that coffee is associated with. The reason for the fabulous taste of this coffee is because the cats pick out the best coffee cherries. Also, when these beans pass through the digestive tract of the civets they blend with enzymes that add to its characteristic taste and smell. The painstaking and rare method results in very small quantities of final processed coffee – just about 500 kilograms a year; the rarity is what puts this coffee on the list of most expensive ingredients across the globe.

The impeccable taste and high prices of the kopi luwak coffee, comes with its share of cons. The popularity and profitability of producing these coffee beans resulted in industrialization of the process and poaching and caging of the wild civets. This cruel treatment of civets faced much flak from animal rights activists and coffee loyalists alike. Not just is the breeding horrible for the wild cats, it also alters the taste of the coffee because the cats are often fed only the coffee cherries.

So if you ever get a chance to have a cup of kopi luwak make sure it is guaranteed wild. Also beware of the fakes as there are plenty in the market.

This very interesting story of the kopi luwak coffee is the first of the 10 out of budget ingredients on our list. Going forward we will share with more interesting stories, anecdotes and trivia on the most expensive food ingredients in the world! Watch this space to find out what’s next.

Let us know how you liked this post and also tell us about the most expensive food you have eaten!

Leave a comment below!

Gaggan – Touching the culinary sky!

Quick question. Which is Asia’s no. 1 restaurant?

The answer is Gaggan in Bangkok. A ‘progressive Indian cuisine’ restaurant, by an Indian – Gaggan Anand. It topped the new list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. The awards ceremony was at Capella, Singapore.

Incidentally Anand is the first Indian chef to undergo an internship at the famed El Bulli, the influences really shows up in his cooking style.

Along with this influence, Chef Gaggan also draws on his memories of the street food of India and the diversity of its cuisine, marries it with science and technology to create modern reinterpretations of traditional recipes and viola! Asia’s number 1 restaurant is born!

I was in Bangkok last month with my team, and needless to say, ek meal Gaggan mein toh banta hi tha. So off we went, with great expectations and here’s an account of our time there.

The first impression of Gaggan is etched with the décor. Set in a beautiful, white colonial style wooden house, it exudes warmth and we find plenty of it inside too. Gaggan Anand is at the entrance to welcome us.

We chose to sit on the upper level, the crowd was a motley mix of Indians and westerners. I was touched and amused to hear Gaggan Anand talk about how he has followed my journey since he was a child, he actually quoted stories which I had shared on my Khana Khazana shows, way back!

And now for the meal. We opted for the Best of Gaggan menu. A staggering 21 dishes in all.

On the menu wherever there was a non-vegetarian dish, the vegetarians were adequately compensated with an equally good vegetarian dish. Here’s what impressed me the most.

What came first was the Amuse Bouche (Complimentary, bite-sized food portions, served before a meal or in between courses). It was burnt aam panna sorbet with cucumber caviar. Served in a branded wooden box with a wooden spatula on which the caviar rested. Food first impression…rocking!

This was followed by assortment of molecular chaat- Yogurt explosion, edible plastic spiced nuts, white chocolate pani puri, jhal muri cake…In between each course Anand would walk in and explain how and what made him come up with such creations. That’s when we got to know of his connection with Kolkata, the influence of Bengali cuisine is evident in the menu.

What came next like a piece of rock, it was a casing for a soup! The Down to Earth soup as it was called. A simple, yet delicious veg soup with an egg yolk floating in it, it was runny as they claimed it was cooked at 62 degrees. It exploded in our mouth in runny awesomeness!

The next dish on the menu called Charcoal was phenomenal. When it came to our table we couldn’t really see it because it was covered with a cloche which had trapped in all the smoke. The hostess didn’t reveal any details and left it to us to guess what it was, of course she assured us of an explanation later. When I cut into the charcoal it was soft, ate it, it was smoky and it was delicious fish which had all the wonderful flavours of Bengal. We also had a deconstructed samosa, called the Potato 2-some-crispy and liquid, it doesn’t look like a samosa, doesn’t taste like a samosa but has all the elements of one, the chutney, the potatoes and everything else. Delicious!

We decided to take a break, to ease our full bellies, to go have a look at the kitchen. Meanwhile I presented my book The Yellow Chilli to Chef Anand, after a photograph and autograph session we started our tour. Impressed once again! The molecular section was phenomenal. Everything modern and latest. I observed the precision with which each food plating was done, it was identical, hats off to the team, it takes a lot to be that accurate! I saw a drilling machine, it was to make holes in the golgappa. That kind of perfectionism floored me! Applause worthy indeed!

His refrigerator did not have much storage space, which means he gets his produce fresh, everyday. Another plus.

We got back to our food, and it was Land of Lungis for us now, it was one of the dishes mentioned on the menu and had caught my attention right at the beginning. I was looking forward to the drama on the plate. Land of Lungis was a gorgeous lobster claw cooked in Malabari curry and was served with rice. Vegetarian version was called Comfort Food, where instead of lobster, Chana Masala was served with rice. The chana masala was not the best you could get, but then one doesn’t go to a place like Gaggan and expect familiar stuff.

The desserts were grand. Made in Japan was a hit, because it had matcha, a green tea powder as the main ingredient and I like matcha. So it was matcha ice cream and matcha tea cake with mascarpone cream, vanilla salt and fresh wasabi. Unusual yet palate tickling!

Gaggan cuisine is high on impact, yet doesn’t compromise on taste. If you go there looking for the usual butter chicken and choley, you will be disappointed. But if you go looking for a new experience, for the food top restaurants are doing today or for modernity and variety, you are at the right place.