Whither Hamburger?

Hamburger

Hamburger

Let me say this once again. Hamburger has nothing to do with Ham. It has ground beef in it. Unless of course it is McDonalds in India, in which case it probably has a batata vada between the bun and is slathered in hari chutney (which is not me, by the way. It refers to the green of Mint).

Hamburger originated in Hamburg, Germany. Seems the Prussians used to have something called the Hamburg Steak, which was shredded beef rolled in spices and eaten raw. A few generations later, it appeared in a more evolved form inside a bun in America. And the rest is history.

The best hamburger chain in the world now is Burger King – atleast I think so, by the taste of their stuff. I am seriously hoping they never set up an outlet in India – for the inexorable logic of 1.1 billion of us will inevitably lead to chutney et al. I could weep.

Barasti Bar at the Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina

The Barasti bar in Dubai was recently polled by Worlds Best Bars as THE top bar in the world (the photo above is from their site).  And since I run a site that does ratings, for a living, I know the ‘Best” rating is a bit of a cross to bear. For, being labeled the best restaurant or bar or hotel is like getting a reputation in the old wild west as the ‘fastest gun’. Every cow-poke in the west then wants to have a shoot out with you for the chance to win and attain immediate notoriety. Life can get troublesome.

Anyway, my old project finance friend Anshul (whom I hadn’t met in a long time) decided he would treat me to an evening in the Barasti and so we went. It was a really muggy weekend evening. The bar has an inside area and a nice outdoor patio kind of space facing the Arabian Gulf, all of which added up to a lot of space. Since I live in a country where extreme highs of temperature are the norm, I was not fully enticed by the 40-odd degrees outside and decided to stick to the indoors; air-conditioned, you see.

The booze was fair to good and so was the food, although everything generally took a long time to get to the table and seemed pretty expensive. There was live music and Euro cup on TV. Brits and assorted Europeans overflowed from all nooks and crannies. (This is the biggest change I can see in Dubai; the overwhelming & very visible presence of Europeans).

My verdict is – good, nice atmosphere if you ignore the occasional sensation of a hostel reunion, decent food & booze. Certainly worth a visit if you are in Dubai. But, the best bar in the world. Nah…

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Travel writing & the art of writing about Food

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“we counted fourteen separate hors d’oeuvres – artichoke hearts, tiny sardines fried in batter, perfumed tabouleh, creamed salt cod, marinated mushrooms, baby calamari, tapenade, small onions in a fresh tomato sauce, celery and chick-peas, radishes and cherry tomatoes, cold mussels. Balanced on top of the loaded tray were thick slices of pate and gherkins, saucers of olives and cold peppers. The bread had a fine crisp crust. There was white wine in the ice bucket, and a bottle of Chateauneauf-du-Pape left to breathe in the shade”

” The main course arrived – rosy slices of lamb cooked with whole cloves of garlic, young green beans and a golden potato-and-onion galette

“The cheese was from Banon, moist in its wrapping of vine leaves, then came the triple flavours and textures of the desserts – lemon sorbet, chocolate tart, and creme angalise all sharing a plate. A coffee. A glass of marc from Gigondas. A sigh of contentment.”

Peter Mayle can be irritating. Here I had just finished what most observers would call a sumptuous Sunday lunch and settled down to read his “A year in Provence” and before you know it, I am panting for more food. I must say this for the man. He can bring food alive . Continue reading

A couple of new tourism websites

Here are 2 new tourism websites that I recently came across. Each interesting in a different way.

Smallwander

As its name somewhat elliptically suggests, this is a site about travelling to small towns. Currently it covers only four states in the US. In many ways, this site reminds me of HolidayIQ, since over 70% of Indian destinations carried on HolidayIQ can be classified as small towns. This aspect makes is refreshingly different from the run-of-the-mill travel info sites, most of which give you more information than you need about New York City while not giving you any about say, Damascus, Virginia. I would have liked to see a user-feedback section on this site to complete the experience, but I guess it is early days for the site.

Fabsearch

Fabsearch aggregates information about hotels, resorts and restaurants mentioned in top travel and lifestyle magazines, probably making it the first aggregator of such content in the world. A search of places to eat in ‘Bombay’ throws up options selected from articles in Elle Decor, Tatler, Daily Candy & Our Friends. Some of the other publications they seem to track are Harpers Bazaar, Elle, FT, New York Social Diary, Town & Country, Vanity Fair, Vogue, W and Wallpaper. Interesting enough as a concept to see whether it gets traction.

Mallu food at Claypot in Thippassandra in Bangalore

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(A surreal snap of a mallu ‘sadya’, I found on Flickr – click here for the original)

So you are looking for authentic kerala food in Bangalore. And you want a clean, not fancy place that serves you great food and no attitude. Check out Claypot, the tiny little mallu joint on Rama Temple Road in the midst of the crowded Thippassandra locality just off Indira Nagar in the eastern part of the city. Once there, ask for Benny and say I sent you. Should get you a warm smile. Keeping the determinedly socialist approach of the Mallu, knowing a big kahuna will not change anything else at the place for you – the food will remain the same as for everyone else. Which is good, because the food everyone gets is great.

My personal recommendation is to land up for lunch and to get yourself a mallu ‘meals’ (it is always said in the plural – anyone asking for a mallu ‘meal’ is either a serial-killer or a capitalist or both). Ask for a crab masala or prawn ‘thoran’ – if you can handle tons of lovely grated coconut – and mackerel fry. Say thanks to your God and tuck in.

Times Food Guide 2008 Awards and launch in Bangalore

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(Telugu actress – or, Actor as they seem to prefer it – Ileana giving away a prize)

The latest edition of the Times Food Guide, Bangalore was launched over the weekend with much fanfare at the Windsor Manor.  And I found myself in a Page 3 gathering, not my natural watering-hole. For some reason, the good folks who ran this shindig decided that I was to be one of the 20 odd people giving away a prize and so I found myself wedged inside an unlikely group including Kannada actors Ramya & Ganesh , the snooker player Pankaj Advani and Wipro CFO Suresh Senapati among others.

I gave away the prize to Dakshin the south Indian cuisine restaurant at the Windsor. Which was a relief, since I do genuinely like Dakshin. But specialty food in 5 star restaurants is, in general, not for true foodies. Continue reading

Singapore vs Hong Kong

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(Chinchalok egg, a Peranakan/Nyonya dish – photo from Singapuradailyphoto)

The raging question of our times is obviously : Is Singapore or Hong Kong better for street food? Standing on various corners of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong earlier today, I can see the battle to be pretty close. On the whole, my guess is Singapore is a length ahead for two reasons. The first is the fact that Singapore street food offers 4 distinct cuisines (Chinese, Malay, Indian & Peranakan/Nyonya) whereas Hong Kong has mostly chinese (although Cantonese + all other great chinese cuisines are on offer). The other is the wide range of food courts that Singapore offers for hungry travellers. These food courts combine the visual variety of many different cuisines with the legendary squeaky-clean environs of that city state. Yup, one length ahead.

Incidentally, there is a rumour that Michelin Guide is on its way to Asia.

World’s best restaurants

The Restaurant magazine has listed Bukhara at Delhi’s Maurya Sheraton among the world’s top 50 restaurants and the best restaurant in Asia. I have done my rounds of Bukhara & yes, it is a pretty good restaurant; but the best in Asia? Proves once again that nifty ‘selling’ is a key component of such awards.

I consider myself a foodie – for me nothing in a restaurant is as important as its food. Not the ambience, not the location, nothing else. Which is why I believe that the best food in the world is still authentic street food. So, maybe Bukhara does stew its Dal for 18 hours & maybe Bill Clinton could’nt have enough of it. But for an authentic “royal” experience of food in Northern India, I would much rather trawl the streets of Delhi or Lucknow.

Incidentally, India is one among the 15 countries to figure in the top 50 list. France tops with 12 restaurants in the top 50.

Saigon vs Nanking

The Crab Shootouts have not produced a definite winner, although Saigon is ahead by a clear length. Ok – let me explain. Nanking on the 2nd floor of Sigma Mall, is the newest chinese restaurant in Bangalore; on Friday, Priya Bala the Time of India food critic wrote of the good crab dishes being produced by Baba Ling the owner. Since I am seriously working on my career as India’s leading “Crab epicure”, it was a remark that needed a response. Continue reading