One more feather in the cap!

Master Chef Sanjeev Kapoor

Can’t believe it was just in June 2012 that the Sanjeev Kapoor fan page on Facebook became a 4 lac fans in count. Well, one more reason to cherish – the Facebook page just touched the 5 lac fans count! Super thrilled!

First and foremost, kudos to my entire team for putting in an incessant effort, day in and day out, because of which this has been made possible. And obviously a bigger thanks to all my fans, followers, viewers and food lovers for showering such constant love and respect on me and my endeavors. This really is a boost for me and keeps me going on and on! Definitely promise to keep on bringing more and more creative and new recipes for one and all.

All for the love of food!

Till I write again.
Sanjeev Kapoor

Sare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara!

Sare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara keeps resonating in my ears – more so when I step out of the shores of our beloved country. And it is so very true. I have travelled far and wide and believe me there really is no other place quite like our India. During each of my trip abroad, I have always longed to get back no matter how interesting and enjoyable the trip may have been.

And let me refresh everybody’s memory that the most unique thing about India is that we got our freedom without waging a bloody war with those who were ruling us. We are indeed the pioneers in non violence movement and ably led by Mahatma Gandhi we got our freedom without resorting to violence in any form. Of course there was blood shed, we did lose quite a few of our brave men in the process but we did not pick up any weapons in our arms. Our only weapon was our firm resolution to get back what was rightfully ours. And the names of these brave freedom fighters are written in golden words in our history.

Finally on 15th August, 1947 we became rulers of our country from being ruled for almost 200 years – I mean we became a free country. And on 26th January 1950, India became a republic. And since then we celebrate this day each year with much fanfare and patriotic fervor.

Here, I would like to ask how many of us know the actual meaning of republic. Becoming republic means that the constitution of India came into force and India became a truly sovereign state.

When I was schooling in Delhi, Republic day meant getting up at the crack of dawn, getting togged up in warm woolens and going to Rajpath to catch a vantage point to watch the republic day parade which draws people from not only all over our country but also from our neighboring nations. Also, for one more reason that the food available in this area is simply exotic. The marvelous eateries at Pandara Road near India Gate and the ever-so-enthusiastic ice cream vendors at India Gate – I did not miss an opportunity to get my favourite flavour, even if it was winters!

The function starts with the President of India hoisting the Tricolour in the presence of various dignitaries from various countries and of course thousands of Indians who brave the cold winter morning to watch this entire splendor. And then begins the parade which starts from Rajpath and proceeds along Vijaypath where different regiments of Army, Navy and Air force march past in all their finery and decorations. This is followed by NCC cadets from all over the country marching, children from various schools performing, beautifully decorated floats from representing the various states of India – all which showcase the diversity and richness of our culture. And all through this the President stands in attention taking salute and giving salute.

Today, it is not often that I get a chance to watch the Republic day festivities in person but I do try to catch it up on the National television. Thanks to the live telecast, children of today who are not in Delhi, are kept abreast with our history and culture.

Here are the links to some republic day special recipes…

Tricolour Sandwiches

Tiranga Paneer Tikka

Shaam Savera

The Kumbh Mela

Every 12 years throngs of people flock the city of Allahbad, to attend what is said to be, and I’m quoting it. “The world’s most massive act of faith”. The Kumbh mela. I, for one have been really lucky to have been able to see this incredible phenomenon. In 1989, 24 years ago when I had just about begun my career as a chef working with the ITDC at Hotel Varnasi Ashok, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the team that catered to the food needs of the array of people that come to visit the Kumbh mela. I can assure it was an experience of a lifetime.

There is no evidence of a specific time or era during when the tradition of the Kumbh Mela began, but the legend dates back to the time during the Samudra manthan, when the gods and the demons had to churn the sea so as to obtain amrit or the nectar of immortality from the sea. When this pot of nectar emerged from the sea, the gods escaped with it. What followed was a fight between the devas and the asura’s that went on for 12 days ( equivalent to 12 human years! ) As the gods tried to protect the amrit from going into the hands of the demons, four drops of this nectar fell at four different places namely Haridwar, Ujjain, Nasik and Prayag ( Allahbad). Ever since it is believed that these places have developed a mystical quality and anyone who has a dip in the rivers in these divine places, washes away all his past sins and is eligible for liberation from the cycle of rebirth. During the Kumbh mela the piety of this snan is increased a hundred folds.

The kumbh mela is called so, as this sacrament started because of the pitcher of nectar and kumbh is another name for pot/pitcher. It is held every three years in each of the places mentioned above. The Kumbh held at Allahabad is considered the most sanctifying because it is the place of confluence of the three sacred rivers of Hindu mythology, the Ganga, theYamuna and the Saraswati. This has earned Allahabad the title of “Thirtharaja – the king of holy places”.

The Maha kumbh mela takes place once in 12 years. The 2013 kumbh is extra special because a planetary alignment so auspicious happens only once in 144 years. The Allahabad Kumbh mela 2013 began on the 14th of January on the day of Makar sankranti at the holiest of holy places, Prayag, with a loud, colorful vibrant and numinous procession that included hundreds of thousands of people, all waiting to take a dip in the holy waters, to wash away their bad karma. The “shahi snan” as it is called happens in the most organized manner possible. A strict order is followed. The first to take a dip are the famed Naga sadhu’s. The Naga sadhu’s are one of the most fascinating and important elements of the Kumbh mela. They are Shaivaite saints, followers of Lord Shiva, who have given up worldly possessions and reside in the Himalaya’s. The only time Naga sadhu’s decend down from the holy mountain and can be seen amongst us is during the Kumbh mela. Completely unclothed, wearing garlands made of marigold flowers, matted locks of hair, ash smeared all over their body, trishul’s in hand, they make quite a sight as they take a dip in the River with loud chants of “ Ganga maiya ki jai” and “Jai bhole naath”. After the Naga Sadhu’s have had a dip, next in line are the Vaishnav Vairagi’s or the sages who follow Lord Vishnu, and are basically wandering mendichants ( monks ). Then comes the turn of the several other holy men belonging to different faiths and sects of Hinduism. Only then do the scores of pilgrims from all over the world enter the holy rivers and bath themselves with the blessings of all the gods and the saints.

The Kumbh Mela goes on for period of 75 days. During this time, pooja’s and yagna’s are performed on the ghats, offerings are made, the sounds of the conch shell or the shanka’s being blown are synonymous with the rhythmic recital of shloka’s and mantra’s , there is a divine scent from the incense sticks that are lit, dances are performed and drama’s are enacted, saffron colored flags are hoisted as a crowd of people submit themselves to the pious waters, lost in devotion. This is a feast for all the senses at once.

Since the mela is held during the winter months of January and February the temperatures can go as low as 9 degrees Celsius, but the chill does not deter the pilgrims from taking a dip in the icy cold waters and then viewing the sights within the mela. The fact that all motor vehicles are banned from the mela on days of the special snan does not become a hindrance either. Yes. All movement Within the mela happens on horseback, bullock cart on foot or the ever so famous cycle rickshaws. The mela period also sees a high rise in the revenue of the locals. As they set up several stalls selling things of religious importance to handmade artifacts. Thousands of food stalls are also set up. The food during the mela is strict vegetarian. Puri-bhaji, Moongdal Kachori , dryfruit or mawa kachori’s, jalebi, imartisamosa’s, jeera aloo, chaat papdi, Badam doodh and other specials from Allahbad are must try’s. A lot of people even carry their own utensil’s and stoves and cook food along the banks, while others eat food at the tents that have been set up to provide meals to the lakhs of pious men that make the site their home for the 2 odd months of the Kumbh.

On certain special dates like Mahashivratri, Basant panchami, Maghi purnima etc. the significance of the ganga snan increases. The number of people on the ghats are also a lot higher on these days. A rough estimate on the number of people attending this Maha Kumbh mela at Prayag this year is about 100 million. Around 7 lakh tents have been erected, pipelines have been laid to provide drinking water to the pilgrims, 25000 tonnes of food grains made available, temporary bridges have been constructed on the rivers, scores of policemen ( some on horsebacks !) are present to control any law and order situation that may arise, super specialty hospitals have been built, fire security personnel are there 24/7. Lakhs of volunteers offer their services to this holy gathering. The combination of technology and tradition can’t be ignored as GPS tracking facilities and huge Led screens have been installed at several locations at the mela. I read somewhere that the crowds on the important days are so massive that they are visible from space satellites. Whoa ! that is something. While most people visit for religious reasons, a large number of people come just to view the spectacular scenes as the event unfolds. Important people from all walks of life attend this mega event. Even departments at the Harvard University are so intrigued by this sensation that they have taken it up as a topic of research. With numbers and statistics this high the chances of glitches happening are not eliminated. Years ago there was a stampede at the mela, and sometime in the 18th century there was an outbreak of cholera, and there are always instances of people getting lost. However in the recent years there has been no room for criticism directed towards the administrative machinery organizing this massive fair. It is indeed a spectacular feat.

The Kumbh mela offers a magnificent view of thousands of people old and young, rich and poor, gathered together at the meeting point of the holy Ganges, the Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati, to attain the ultimate goal of Moksha. Belief in the supreme power, faith in a tradition that is being carried on for centuries and a chance to be a part of something this splendid draws the crowds to the Kumbh mela year after year and will continue to do so.

Here are the recipe links to some dishes popularly eaten during the Kumbh mela , so you can try them at home and treat your taste buds to some divine food.