Monday, September 28, 2015


View of Leh from the road to Khardungla pass
The summer season in Leh, Ladakh is in full swing now with foreign nationals and Indians alike traversing the regions to soak in it's spectacular beauty and experience a journey that is unique and second to none. Whether you are traveling across Ladakh on foot, on a bicycle, on a motorcycle, by bus or taxi, there is an element of adevnture around every corner and it makes for an exciting holiday. 
Local women selling fresh greens at the Main market street
Trekking in the high altitudes for a week had dwindled our appetites and we entered Leh hoping to gorge on the warm and delicious momos and Thukpas (Tibetan noodle soup). The streets in the main market are were lined with local women selling fresh greens and vegetables from their gardens to a range of dry fruits, nuts and dried herbs. There is a wide variety of restaurants to choose from and one can be overwhelmed by trying to pick the right place for a meal. Wood-fired pizzas, bakeries serving leavened bread in its multiple forms and Tibetan cuisine are the most popular among travelers in Leh. 
Wood-fired pizza at Bon Appetit
Most restaurants offer a wide range of teas on their menu. Travelers arriving in Leh from lower altitudes are recommended to sip on a lot of tea as it aids in the acclimatisation process. Honey-Ginger-Lemon tea is the most favoured whereas my personal favourite was the peppermint tea. The Open Hand Cafe on Library road is a great place to start your day with a cup of freshly brewed coffee or a cup of tea. They have an extensive breakfast menu and also prepare packed lunches for road trips. The staff here are warm and friendly and my friends took a special liking to the outdoor courtyard seating area at this cafe.
Sabagleb stuffed with chicken filling at the Tibetan Kitchen
One must try the traditional Tibetan dishes during their stay in Leh. Chopsticks Noodle Bar on Fort Road serves good momos, thukpas and tasty Chinese dishes. The Tibetan Kitchen, off Fort Road came recommended for authentic Tibetan dishes by our trek guide. We had to wait for half an hour to get a table for dinner when we visited, which in itself speaks volumes of the food served here. Sabagleb (Tibetan bread stuffed with a filling of choice) and Mutton Shepta (mutton stir fried with onion, capsicum and glass noodles) were delicious at the Tibetan Kitchen. The following day, we dined at the Summer Harvest Restaurant, also on Fort Road to taste a few more Tibetan delicacies. The traditional Tibetan steamed bread, Tingmo and the Aloo Phing Veg (stir fried vegetables with galss noodles) was a perfect combination. The Kashmiri dishes like Rishta and Goshtaba along with naans are also worth trying here. 
Aloo Phing at the Summer Harvest Restaurant
Almost every street in leh has a German bakery or two. These bakeries typically sell cookies, croissants, cinnamon rolls, brownies and doughnuts along with coffee and tea. The All-day Breakfast Cafe, Yama Cafe and the English bakery on Changspa road have a relaxed vibe and one can spend hours reading a book or planning an itinerary for the rest of the trip. My friends and I picked Bon Appetit Restaurant, off Changspa road for our celebratory dinner after completing a strenuous trek. It has a scenic setting overlooking the valley and a limited but delectable menu. The salads, pizzas and Khow suey were memorable and we left the restaurant with full bellies and happy smiles on our faces.
No trip is complete for me unless I shop for food souvenirs to bring back home and share with my family. Ladags Apricot Store at Zangsti, Leh is the perfect destination for food souvenirs. The shelves are laden with apricot jams, dried apricots, semi-dried apricots, Himalayan salt, honey, organic herbal teas and dry fruit bars. Yak cheese from one of the bakeries will put a smile on the faces of the young and the old alike back home. Now that I am back after my trip, I look forward to sipping on herbal tea from Leh and reminisce about my days in Ladakh among the majestic mountains... 

The above writeup got published in The Hindu Metroplus. Use the following link for more:

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dumplings with the men in blue in the land of Down Under

If you are an ardent fan of the ‘Men in Blue’ and find yourself in the land of ‘Down Under’ in the next few weeks trying to follow their prospects in the World Cup and a connoisseur of all things tasty, you are in for a real treat. Every word of what Gary, George and Matt of Masterchef Australia-fame tell us on the show is true, read on to find out more. 

The freshness of the greens and other vegetables is phenomenal. Even in the most unassuming little towns, one can expect to get a healthy and crunchy salad. The reverence with which they treat their meats and seafood is also exceptional. A chef will happily talk about a particular farm from where he sourced his beef or lamb. Or he will point you to the ocean right in front of you and tell you the day's special seafood was caught there that morning. The adventurous at heart should definitely try getting their hands on a Kangaroo steak, Crocodile sausage or some Emu meat.

Stalls in Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne
Melbourne is a melting pot of many cultures and cuisines. Asian cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Vietnamese restaurants vie for your attention on the busy streets of Melbourne. For a dim sum lunch of steaming heavenly dumplings try the Crystal Jade restaurant or the Shark's Fin Inn on Little Bourke Street. For cocktails and Vietnamese hawker-style food, head to Rice Paper Scissors on Lierpool Street. And for the globally-trending Peruvian cuisine, head to Pastuso, down the ACDC lane. A Peruvian dinner of seafood Ceviches, Quinoa salad and pit-roasted meats will definitely hit the right spot. The bustling Queen Victoria Market (QVM) is a great place to spend a morning browsing through the various produce. Outside food is allowed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground and one can stock up a fine picnic basket at QVM before heading to a cricket match.If you are feeling homesick and craving for some Indian food, head to Chilli India in Melbourne Central for good dosas and piping hot Hyderabadi Biriyani.

Dim sums galore, the tiny treats that stole my heart...
The vibrant restaurant and bar scene in Sydney is a testament to the claim that it is the food capital of Australia. A dim sum lunch at the Banquet dining hall of Marigold restaurant by Hay Market or a Greek inspired dinner by the chef's table at The Apollo restaurant in Potts Point will not leave you disappointed. Dinner by the window at the Sydney Cafe is also a fitting way to take in the Harbour views and the city lights around Opera House. Despite sounding touristy, a glass of Champagne at the Opera Bar in Opera House is a great way to kick start a fun evening with family and friends. A live band and a breath-taking view of the Harbour Bridge adds to the experience. 

For a taste of Masterchef Australia dishes head to Adriano Zumbo's store in Balmain, Sydney and bite into one of the 40 different macaroon flavours. Alternately, make a beeline to one of the six stores of celebrated gelato chef Nick Palumbo's Gelato Messina to taste his cool creations. Kylie Kwong's restaurant, Billy Kwong at Potts Point comes highly recommened for an evening out with drinks and dinner. And for a fine dining experience, make a reservation at Sepia - Restaurant of the year 2015, run by award-winning chef Martin Benn who set a pressure test in Masterchef Australia season # 6.

Although an expensive affair, the dining scene in Australia is second to none. The presence of such diverse cuisines and the freshness of the produce is worth giving your taste buds a whirlwind treat while watching the Men in Blue stomp the opposition.