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Western dishes, Hindi mein

I often scroll through peevish threads on social media about bastardizing food and (dis)honoring authenticity, often in semantics. A food blogger sighs over gratuitous descriptors like ‘Greek yogurt and Persian cucumber for a  Raita Sauce’.

While I am not going to brood over localizing recipes to convey essence of a foreign cuisine, I can’t deny the twitchy indignation in my gut when I see the ‘lentil stew, seasoned with turmeric and spices finished with a tempering of whole spices flash fried in oil’ byline for a Dal at an Indian restaurant, celebrating Indian cuisine, in an Indian city.

Contrast this with the sweeping assumptions that American fast food chains make about their prosaic Hamburgers and frothy Lattes. I confess to sheepishly spending a minute or two skimming images and pronunciations, before placing my order at fine dine Italian restaurants. Something seems amiss to me, if Indian restaurants and hotels are spending so much letter & ink highlighting the nuances betw…
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A guide to eating out in Anna Nagar, Chennai

Back at Amala Mess, one of Anna Nagar's best kept secrets. A Karaikudi family has been serving no-frills Chettinadu food for close to two decades. The fare is not doused in oil nor lit up with spice, and your stomach certainly rest easy after the meal. I love their light Surra Puttu (sort of Shark meat bhurji) and toothsomse Chicken roast. #pursuitofyummyness A photo posted by Amit Patnaik (@patnaikamit) on Jun 22, 2016 at 6:25am PDT Anna Nagar West, Chennai - 40: The very first address that acquainted me with the city I’ve called home since 2013. 

I have a faint memory of being driven under two huge arches, abutting the naked pillars of a half-finished flyover. Barring this eyesore, Anna Nagar is unusually well laid out for an Indian locality with wide Avenues, leafy Main Roads, and logical nomenclature for the streets. My only gripe with Anna Nagar was its seemingly drab offerings for dining out.
While Mylapore and Triplicane had classic Madras Tiffen centres and Messes, ECR had th…

In pursuit of Chennai's best Dhabas

Note: An edited version of this post originally appeared on the cover of The Hindu Metroplus, Chennai edition on 14.04.2016. You can read it here:

Ever since I moved to Chennai in 2013, it’s been a joyride for this Delhi-boy. I was thrilled to have a bevy of great food around me - from breakfast at Tiffen centres and ‘Hotels’ to legit dining options for cuisine from around the world. However, if there was one bland note in my journey, it was the taste of home - I was born in Punjab and spent my formative years in Delhi. For over two years I have searched the nooks and crannies of Chennai for places that could capture the essence of a Dhaba - flagbearer of food from the North. Maybe it’s in the semanticsNo one worth his Desi Ghee should misspell a Dhaba as Dhabba. Maybe Dhaaba, but certainly not the metaphorical conduit of disgrace. Semantic sensibilities aside, I have (empirically) been…

Gwalior Food Guide - Part 2

I roamed through gullies and bazaars, basking in the pleasant winter sun, to find the best eateries in this underrated city of royalty, history and some really good food.
Petha Gilori at Panchhiraj, Phalka Bazaar I was prancing down Phalka Bazaar with an exploratory insouciance, on the lookout for the famous Ratlam Namkeenwale near Kailash Talkies, when I passed by a large, bright shop with a colourful display of Pethas. I stopped in my tracks. The name - Panchhiraj seemed familiar, perhaps an offshoot from the Panchhi Pethas of Agra - said to be one of the finest purveyors of these sugar-dipped ash gourd sweets? I stepped in.
The origin of the petha is often linked to the Mughals; suspiciously wild accounts trace back the petha to either, the royal kitchen of Shah Jahan who the ordered the formulation of a novel sweetmeat to motivate and energize his army of Taj Mahal masons, or, to the court of Jahangir who is said to have been besotted by the sweet elegance of Nur Jahan and her offeri…

Gwalior ka Mela - Khajala and giant Papads at the Gwalior Trade Fair

Note: This post is reprised out of my memories in the winter of 2014, spent in Gwalior.

About a month ago, I noticed a hive of activity in the otherwise sleepy city of Gwalior - bemusing if catchy, announcements  welcomed you to try everything from a Car to Chaat Masala at the annual Gwalior Mela.

Soon, almost everyone was talking about it. I learnt that the fair was started nearly a century ago by the Maharaja of Gwalior, to promote trade in the region and is regarded as one of the biggest trade fairs in India. Locals tell me that up until a few years ago, all goods sold at the fair were exempt from sales tax.

The mela is indeed huge; with stalls spread across the sprawling mela grounds, you need a good 5-6 hours to see it all. Everything from cars to kitchenware and horses are on sale here.

An insider told me about leather jackets from Kashmiri leather stalls. Kashmiri leather is regarded to be of very high quality - grass fed lambs, grazing the Himalayas yield some of the best hide…

Bakerstreet in Pondicherry and the Galette of Kings

I have been away from home ever since I left for Bombay in 2010, and that's the last time I brought in the new year with my family. My folks were quite resolute on not letting that trend continue into 2016, and so I was joined by my parents and younger brother in Chennai.
I found myself at an Army New Years party after nearly a decade (I am not much of a NYE party person), I was unsurprised to note that the mess food tastes exactly the same, as it did all those years ago. In fact, the menu items hadn't changed a bit either! No matter which part of the country you're in, the Officers Mess shall always have Dal Makhni, Kashmiri Pulao, Raita, Chicken Curry and Ice cream on the menu!
En route to Pondicherry,  we stopped by for a tour of Mahabalipuram’s Shore temples and headed over to Santana for lunch. I foolishly parked my car right under the restaurant in the narrow lane, by the beach. After a while, many cars piled up behind mine, and by the time we came out, I couldn't …