Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Expat Life: Food Club Master Class At Kempinski, Ajman

BBC Good Food Me's Editor Sudeshna Ghosh
As a member of BBC Good Food Middle-East’s Food Club, I was invited to a cooking masterclass at Kempinski hotel in Ajman last evening. Usually, most interesting events like this tend to happen in Dubai and I end up not going all the way. When I heard that this one was closer to home, I jumped at the chance! 

Welcome Drink: Mango Lassi
The event was held at Bukhara, Kempinski’s Indian restaurant which serves up delicious north-west frontier fare. Sipping on our chilled glasses of mango lassi, we got to learn 3 recipes from Chef Manoj Aswal.

Chef Manoj Aswal of Bukhara, Kempinski, Ajman
He started off with a very innovative Dahi Ke Kebab with raw mango and onion chutney. When I heard the name of this dish, I assumed that the chef would be marinating pieces of meat with yoghurt (dahi) before grilling them into kebabs. However, he totally surprised me by making kebabs out of yoghurt itself! One would imagine that the yoghurt would disintegrate and fall apart, but he added a secret ingredient to avoid this - roast and ground lotus seeds! Really different!

Veg Starter: Dahi ke Kebab

This was followed by the ubiquitous Chicken Tikka, which was served with raw papaya relish. The chicken was tender and juicy. Scrumptious! Chef Manoj explained how we can incorporate the trademark smoky flavour of tandoori cooking at home, where most of us don't own tandoors. Want to know how? Simply ignite a piece of charcoal, add a dash of ghee (clarified butter) to it, place it in a heatproof ramekin and place the ramekin into the bowl of marinated meat. Cover and let it sit for about 30 minutes to allow the meat to marinate and the flavours to infuse, before proceeding with the cooking process. Voila! 

Non-veg Starter: Chicken Tikka
The demo was wound up on a sweet note with a tasty and crispy Saeb Ki Jalebi. We were given samplings of the 3 dishes – my favourite was the dessert, but the other two were pretty good too.Chef Manoj Aswal was very helpful in addressing our queries and shared several tips and tricks for cooking Indian food. The dishes demonstrated were simple with the perfect balance of traditional and contemporary flavours.

Cooking away!
All participants were given goodie bags which contained a copy of BBC’s Good Food Middle East magazine, a jar of raw papaya relish, printed recipes of the 3 dishes and a bright red coffee mug, which proudly proclaims, "I'm a foodie!". I am definitely going to try out the dishes at home and I am indeed looking forward to more such great events! If you are around the Ajman area, do consider dropping by Bukhara for a mouthwatering Indian feast. I'm sure you won't be disappointed!


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Lazy Minimalist

Pic credit: Sigurd Magnusson (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

A friend has recently bought a new house and is in the process of decorating it. She is busy putting up sweet family photos on the walls, placing beautiful antiques in strategic corners and hunting for one-of-a-kind knick knacks to add to the décor of her new home. I must say that she has a good eye and fine taste from what I have seen and her home looks lovely – cozy, stylish and welcoming. I looked at all the pictures and then I looked at the walls in my house. Stark.

My walls are painted a neutral cream colour. Apart from that, I have not put up any photos or paintings and neither have I beautified the house with carefully selected artefacts. Strangely, whenever I used to dream about my perfect house when I was growing up, I always imagined that I would do it up with classy décor. However, thinking back to all the different houses that I have lived in from the time I started staying away from my parents’ home, I notice one similarity. I did not do any sort of personalization to any of my homes. Of course, the basics are there – furniture and the like - and I like things clean; but beyond that, zilch. The only exception being our bedroom door, which has stickers of Disney characters that the previous occupants left behind and I haven't even bothered to remove.. If we were to move out tomorrow and a stranger drops by I doubt if they would have any clue as to the kind of people who were living there – except perhaps for a faint smell of Indian food and a misconception that we are parents, maybe?

I think one of the reasons behind my approach is because I know that this is going to be my temporary home. Since it is rented and we have really not been involved in actually designing or building the home, perhaps I don’t feel that personal connect. Having said that, I do know many people whose houses are so artfully done up despite them being in rented accommodations. Secondly, I feel that more the objects around the house, more the dusting and cleaning involved. And frankly, I am too lazy. I try to avoid buying too many things unless they have a specific use. I guess I would prefer to maintain a minimalistic abode if it means less chores! Plus, when you need to move homes - or as an expat even countries - there is lesser number of stuff to pack or dispose off, which means less work for me. 

What about you? Do you enjoy customizing your home or do you lean towards minimalism?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Creating Happiness Through Travel

If you could take your family or friends to any place on the planet, where would that be and how would you make your trip the happiest one ever?

This post is my entry to Indiblogger’s contest Creating Happy Travellers, in association with

The year was 2007 and it was my birthday. It was a cold, rainy day and I was standing inside Old Trafford, England. I had absolutely no clue about Manchester United and only the most rudimentary knowledge about football itself. Yet, there I was, in the dressing room of one of the most famous football stadiums in the world, thinking, “So this is where Beckham sits,” as he was the only English football player I knew and that too only because of the movie Bend It Like Beckham. I even picked up an outrageously overpriced souvenir in the gift shop and eventually gave it away to a friend because it was not something which held a lot of importance to me.
Me @ Old Trafford, Manchester
Fast forward to 2009. Lo and behold! I found myself married to a die-hard Manchester United fan. The sound of live sports commentary and a cheering crowd became a constant background noise in our house. I sat glass eyed through endless football matches as the husband whooped or cursed aloud depending on how the “red devils” were performing. I got caught in the middle of vociferous arguments about who is going to win, who actually won and who really deserved to win.

I did not miss the irony. Here I was - someone who didn’t care two hoots about football and much less about Man U – and I had gone on a tour of their turf, which hardly meant anything to me to be frank, and here was my husband, to whom the same experience would have been a dream come true. Honestly, if it was possible, I would gladly go back in time and trade places with him, because I know that it would be one of the happiest moments in his life.

In the dressing room @Old Trafford
However, as far as I know, time travel has not yet come of age. But what has come of age are online travel planning websites which make life so much simple and quick! No more running behind travel agents and breaking our heads over our travel plans. 

Having said that, one also needs to ensure that the online travel company that we deal with is trustworthy and reliable. With a number of such ecommerce websites popping up, it is easy to get swindled. One is then left chasing the company and thus begins a never ending saga of calls to their so-called customer service. In the end, what is supposed to become a dream holiday ends up becoming a nightmare instead. This is why it is vital that we do our research and groundwork before zeroing in on any deals. Sometimes, a deal might look really attractive, but remember, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

A close friend recently got married and he spent a lot of time comparing different travel planning websites, to pick a honeymoon package. Finally he decided to go with because he was really impressed with their offers and service. He and his fiancé settled on a lovely honeymoon trip to Mauritius where they had a great time, thanks to Yatra.Com. Everything, including the flights, hotel stay and sightseeing excursions went smoothly and according to plan. They were quite pleased with and strongly recommended them to us as well. I decided to check them out for myself and I could immediately see why my friend was all praises for offers a variety of travel packages to a number of interesting destinations across the world. The website is user friendly and easy to navigate. Whether you are looking for a honeymoon package or a family holiday or something adventurous, rest assured that will have the right options for you! You can plan and book your holiday at the click of your mouse. Easy-peasy!

Old Trafford Museum
In our case, my husband’s sister is living in Manchester. Plus, since I was working in England a few years back, I also have a bunch of friends who would be glad to put us up for a few days. So we don’t really need to worry about booking hotels. And with the current state of the rupee, not having to spend on accommodation is a great plus indeed! I would take care of the visa formalities and go to to book flight tickets to Manchester. Then I would book a personalised tour of the stadium for my husband so that he can take his time to savour the experience. 

Inside the Man U stadium
The English Premiere League has just started. So I would make sure to get front row tickets to a Man U match and give my husband the opportunity to watch his football heroes in action right in front of him. As the crowd erupts into a deafening roar, complete with stomping feet and waving flags, I will sit back and bask in the glory of knowing that I was responsible for creating one of the most memorable moments in his life that he will never forget – even if he gets Alzheimer’s (God forbid!) This will be an experience that he will cherish forever!


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