If you haven't already got your fill of writeups romanticising train journeys, congratulations, you've come to the right place. I ...

Love Letter To The Railways

If you haven't already got your fill of writeups romanticising train journeys, congratulations, you've come to the right place. I have probably stated hundreds of times my love for train rides, but seldom have I ever penned it. How could I? Words never did justice. It is one thing to proclaim that you love railways and allow the other person through it to gauge the intensity condensed in that statement by your being during the journey, and it is an entire ballgame altogether demonstrating that emotion while sounding genuine and not overly pompous in written words. I'd be lying though if I said I never tried writing on the railways before. The truth is, I have attempted numerous times. But also dripping with the truth is the fact that each time, it ended up in complete failure. Tonight, I am giving it a go once more.

Winter mornings, sleeper coach, and a piping hot cup of tea: Isn't that all one needs?

Years ago, when my mum held my hand in one hand and a suitcase in another hand and embarked on a cross-country rail journey, along with my dad and uncle and little brother, I had no inkling of what was coming. Within hours, a little me found herself at home in the AC coach of a train scheduled to snake through every goddamn railway station imaginable for at least the next forty-eight hours. It was super hard to kill time, honestly. And the fact that I had no boardgames on me to keep myself occupied, like the other children in my compartment did, was crushing. Somehow along the way, I found solace in the window and the breathtaking landscapes it allowed to be viewed. 

Fast-forward to a similar train ride six years later, and a suitably older (Read: 12-year-old) me crawled down from the upper berth one morning and slid into her mum's lower berth and sandwiched herself perfectly in the already cramped space to breathe some fresh air through the sleeper coach's open window and ended up witnessing one spectacular sunrise. Maybe this was when I fell in love with rail journeys, or maybe this was when the feelings which lay dormant for quite a lot of years throbbed. And since then, despite the copious amount of journeys, those feelings haven't escaped me. I am the same dreamy-eyed kid, who found herself feeling at home in a train fourteen years ago, every time I board a train (albeit better armed with long journey travel hacks). And this, I pray, never changes, both to the Old Gods and the New. 

Culture is the colour that fills a land. And to soak in that colour is why people travel. At least, I do. Anyway, it is an accepted fact t...

The Amritsar Dessert Dash

Culture is the colour that fills a land. And to soak in that colour is why people travel. At least, I do. Anyway, it is an accepted fact that the best way to experience a culture is through its food. Hence, it should come as no surprise that when I was in Amritsar last month, my belly forgot all its bounds. With only a couple of hours in my hands to savour a slice of Amritsar in that tightly packed itinerary squishing in all the must-sees within a day and a half, I was determined to make the most of it. Thankfully, the mission was accomplished, and with it, my love for Amritsar cemented.

The Golden Temple, Amritsar

Curious to retrace my steps for an unforgettable dessert crawl through the distinctly captivating bylanes of Amritsar? Read on...

1. Shri Krishna Misthan Bhandar

The phirni of dreams...

After a failed attempt at entering the Golden Temple on the first day of 2017, I spent a better part of the morning prancing around the Golden Temple complex. Though many stops punctuated my act, the tastiest one has to be this little shop tucked away in a corner near the Mata Shri Longa Wali Devi Ji Mandir. The aroma of freshly fried puris and masaledaar chole from this food joint wafted through the nippy air as I stood there cursing myself for forgetting my wallet in the hotel (brilliant, I know). So when I was back in the vicinity after a stop at the hotel a few hours later, I headed here right away. Sadly, the breakfast (read: puri-chole) hours were up and I had to force myself to pick something else. Now, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I ended up having the smoothest and lushest phirni ever! So good was this phirni that the friend accompanying me, who was cynical about it at first, gobbled up the entire content within seconds after the first bite!  

Price factor: Rs.15 per phirni.

2. Gurdasram Jalebiwala

Perfect jalebis ever. See, no dripping sugar syrup!

Having read all the Amritsar food recommendations on the internet, I was acquainted with this name but wasn't totally psyched about checking it out. Reason? I absolutely dislike jalebis. They are sickeningly sweet and super messy with all the sugar syrup dripping everywhere. But when I had only 15 minutes left before leaving for my bus to Chandigarh and Zomato showed this iconic establishment in the vicinity, I made up my mind to try it out. And it did not disappoint. Honestly, the jalebis at Gurdasram has changed my opinion of this sweetmeat forever. They were perfect in every sense- perfect level of sweetness, perfect texture...I can go on and on! If you are a jalebi-lover, you shouldn't miss this mecca. And if you are a jalebi-hater, you cannot miss this mecca.

Price factor: Rs. 20 per serving of jalebi.

3.  Raja Kulfi Wala

The deceivingly rich matka kulfi.

On the way to catch the Chandigarh-bound bus, I managed to squeeze in one last stop in my dessert run: Raja Kulfi Wala. The night before, on a random walk after the hotel-arranged dinner in the bid to find Ahuja Milk Bhandar, we made a pit stop at A-One Kulfi. The kulfi at A-One was all sorts of decadent and delectable. (They put an additional serving of malai over their kulfi, guys!) Hence, I did not expect much from Raja Kulfi Wala and ordered a matka kulfi for the sake of it. Although it was a tad bit sweeter than how I like my kulfis to be, it was super rich and creamy and a perfect end to my dessert adventure in the land of Amritsar. 

Price factor: Rs. 30 per matka kulfi.

The old clock at CST station took no liberty of speeding past to 11.30 pm as I waited there, getting flanked in each direction by stranger...

Travelogue: Into The North

The old clock at CST station took no liberty of speeding past to 11.30 pm as I waited there, getting flanked in each direction by strangers, for the Amritsar Express. Contained in this sea of anonymity, forty were the ones I was going on a 10-day long trip of a lifetime to the mountains with, on a day's notice. 'Nervous' shall be the word people would use to define the state of being of a person in that very situation. But honestly, all my nervousness vanished and indifference took over as soon as I arrived at CST for the days ahead.

Long-distance train journeys are a chore, generally, yet every time they end up being an adventure worth recalling. This one was no exception: from finally understanding the game of cards to almost missing the train at Itarsi, everything 90s happened during the rail yatra which concluded at Ambala Cantonment. Packing light was the biggest favour I did to myself on the trip, and that I realised as I glided past the 40 and into our bus with my sole backpack.

The bus zoomed past my new environs on butter-smooth roads. I would be lying if I said I wasn't in the awe, for I never anticipated streets this charming in North India. Typical Mumbaikar thing, I know. The first halt on our tour, Chandigarh, arrived in under an hour. For those not in the know, Chandigarh is the first modern planned city in India and an absolute delight. During my time there I ate my way through the Sector-22 market (Chandigarh, your streets rock. Your street food? Absolutely not, sorry!), saw an impromptu bhangra dance party on the road (something I saw more of as the tour progressed), explored the famed Rock Garden, and kicked-back at the man-made Sukhna Lake.

There isn't much to write about the tourist attractions in Chandigarh as they happen to be more of leisure spot for locals instead of wow-inducing spectacles for sightseers. But I am not complaining because, for a person from Mumbai, the entire city is a sight to behold! The cleanliness factor is outlandish and so is the orderly conduct of the city. Frankly, I liked the city enough to want to clamour for an additional few days there, but when the hills call you just go. Yes, our next stop, nestled in the mighty Himalayas: Manali!

After a night-long roller-coaster ride on the serpentine mountain roads towards Manali, the dawn of the new day brought spell-binding views of the rising sun and the glistening greenish-blue waters of the river Beas (or Vyas, if you prefer that). So mesmerised was I of the setting I was in that I kept myself perched firmly on the window-seat, basking in whatever my eyes could see for over 4 hours! No kidding.

A photo posted by Aditi Pathak (@adi11pthk) on

Manali was...cold! And for a person from the tropics (Me! Me! Me!), it was bone-chilling. So much so that it acted as a deterrent throughout my #ManaliDiaries. The bitter cold kept me confined to the heated hotel room at nights instead of being out in the open, gazing at the twinkling stars. The bitter cold made me trash my decision to have ice-cream for dessert, in order to not freeze to death. The bitter cold capped my capability to wake up before the sun for long walks on meandering paths lined with giant pine and deodar trees. Yet, I need to thank that bitter cold for my newfound definition of cosy- the one encompassing numerous cups of tea, hotel room heater, random conversations, and, being burrito-ed in a thick blanket.    

A photo posted by Aditi Pathak (@adi11pthk) on

We covered the usual tourist haunts in Manali: the same old Hadimba Temple, Vaishist Springs, Mall Road, and Solang Valley. Our hopes of finding snow were dashed by the weather forecast which showed no snow for a week. I was disappointed, naturally. Although all it took for my sadness to wither away was a day at Kullu. After seeing the overtly commercialised Manali town, Kullu was a breath of respite. It was there that I took a walk to remember with no soul in sight but leafless coniferous trees and ground crowded with all the hues of autumn. It was there that I dozed off on a boulder on the banks of the river Beas under the soothing winter sun. It was there that I finally gave in and had my overpriced Himachali Maggi which, for the record, wasn't even Maggi! 

A photo posted by Aditi Pathak (@adi11pthk) on

Kullu was fantastic to me, but the road called again, and there we were, on the highway to Amritsar. Now this leg of the trip was the one I was looking forward the most to. Being the forever hungry being that I am, Amritsar and its food kept calling out to me. And it did not disappoint. The stuffed crispy kulchas, the perfect piping hot jalebis, the luscious phirnis, the glass-fulls of creamiest lassi, and the indulgent kulfis simply stole my heart. I am not exaggerating when I say that I wouldn't mind travelling to Amritsar just for the food! Amritsari people are another aspect of that holy city which made me fall in love with itself. Every individual I made a small talk with exuded a warmth which cannot be paralleled. Punjabi hospitality is not overrated.

A photo posted by Aditi Pathak (@adi11pthk) on

Along with the food trail, the mandatory Wagah Border experience, Jallianwala Bagh, and the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) were ticked off the list too. Honestly, I didn't get to soak in the spirit of these places due to the 'Virar-bound train during peak hours' crowd still they ended up being experiences to cherish! There is a lot more to tell about this trip of a lifetime (yes, I have just touched upon the tip of the iceberg) but let's put a full stop to it right here. After all, I need to end, right?

Note :   Sorry for the lack of pictures in this post. Due to some technical issue, I have lost most of the pictures I had taken. Currently...

Beer Appreciation Workshop At The Beer Cafe

Note: Sorry for the lack of pictures in this post. Due to some technical issue, I have lost most of the pictures I had taken. Currently, I am in the process of recovering the same. I shall update the post with the pictures as soon as I recover them. Cheers.

My tryst with The Beer Cafe dates back to the time I stumbled upon their outlet at Mumbai Airport. I remember being thoroughly confused regarding my order. Fast forward to a chilly evening last month and I exited the brand new outlet of The Beer Cafe at High Street Phoenix, Mumbai armed with extensive knowledge on beer, courtesy the Beer Appreciating Workshop hosted by Mr. John Eapen of Tales Of Froth

The evening commenced with an introductory session quickly followed by an informative talk on beers and lagers and stouts and ales. We were taken through the beer making process and at the same time educated how a single difference in ratios or the source of any of the primary ingredients can drastically change the taste profile and the appearance of the beer (for the uninitiated, beer is basically made of malt, hops, yeast and water). We had the opportunity to sample four different kinds of barley roasts and understand their impact on the taste profiles of the resultant beers. That's not all, Mr John Eapen left no stone unturned to explain us the art of appreciating beer; we learnt how to correctly pour beer into a glass and how that contributes to the overall experience of drinking beer, we also discovered how to rule out the malt used in the beer, the prominent aromas in a beer, and correctly appreciate the complex taste profiles. 

The amazing folks at The Beer Cafe were kind enough to create a customised Beer & Food pairing menu for us so that we get a well-rounded experience. First in line was Praga Pilsner paired with beer-battered Onion Rings. Praga Pilsner is a Czech beer with a deep golden colour and a very smooth but thin mouthfeel. The sweet aftertaste was rightly accentuated by the sweetness of the beer-battered Onion Rings. Next, we sampled White Zen, a popular brew by Gateway Brewing Co., with a thin-crust Italian Pizza. This wheat-malt based hazy beer has an aftertaste which is a reminder of bananas! We were told that White Zen goes beautifully with cheesy and seafood-based dishes, hence, the pizza was an obvious choice.

My face finally lit up when the famed Belgium beer Hoegaarden when brought to the table. Honestly, apart from Murphy's Irish Stout, Hoegaarden happened to be the only beer I knew of in the workshop! This crowd favourite was paired with another crowd favourite: Falafel. The citrusy and coriander aftertaste of the beer went beautifully with the earthy and coriander-laden bites of the falafel. In the midst of washing down the falafels with Hoegaarden, another beer was brought in whose name is still out of my grasp, but which surely knocked my socks off. Google tells me that the beer in question is called Shepherd Neame Spitfire Kentish Ale (phew!). Now this beer is one of those bitter ones- something which everyone might not have a palate for. The bitter taste with a peppery aftertaste was beautifully brought out through its pairing with the BBQ Paneer (Vegetarians, ahoy!). The final beer before we explored my favourite stout was the Indian Pale Ale. And no, it isn't brewed in India. In fact, India Pale Ale are basically ales that are, in comparison, maltier, has a higher alcohol content. It was developed during the British Raj to quench the thirst of the officers posted in the Indian-subcontinent! Now this beer is has a lingering bitter taste, which when paired with spicy foods amps up the spice quotient. We tried the Indian Pale Ale with Chili Paneer and it was delightfully spicy. 

When Murphy's Irish Stout was brought to the table along with its food pairing, aka chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream, I squealed with joy. Why wouldn't I? Two of my favourite things together calls for it, right? Now, Murphy's Irish Stout is a full-bodied smooth beer which by looks can be passed off as a chocolate drink! The aroma is beautiful and reminiscent of caramel-coffee, owing to the roast used. The creamy beer went delightfully with the chocolate brownie and the vanilla ice-cream and made me want to reach for more and more! 

Throughout the pairing session, we punctuated the gaps with the beer gadgets available exclusively at The Beer Cafe. We saw the Sonic Beer Foamer and the SpinChill in action. Sonic Beer Foamer and SpinChill is what you need if you are a beer aficionado, hands down. The former is go-to if you want the foam back in your beer. And the latter is God-sent when you need chilled beer in a few minutes.

Overall, it was a deeply informative session which opened my eyes to the world of beer. Gone are the days of chugging. Beer is the new wine, folks.

Frankly, I haven't come across a single person who isn't fond of pan-Asian cuisine. After all, those delicate dumplings, hearty ra...

Review: Lemon Leaf, Colaba

Frankly, I haven't come across a single person who isn't fond of pan-Asian cuisine. After all, those delicate dumplings, hearty ramen bowls, and zingy curries exploding with umami easily equate to soul food. However, the popularity of this cuisine is, unfortunately, offset with its often disastrous execution. I have had my fair share of shoddy Thai curries, folks. So when I was invited to try out the newly opened Lemon Leaf at Colaba as a part of the Diabetic Food Trail, I was both excited and nervous (for all the right reasons). Thankfully, it delivered what it promised it delivered more than it promised.

Just before we dive into all things Lemon Leaf, I would draw some attention towards the Diabetic Food Trail which happens to be a much welcome health initiative presented by Britannia Nutrichoice Essentials in association with Biocon with the objective of urging the food industry to create a healthy and diabetic-friendly menu. A wide array of restaurants in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore, and Chennai participated in this wildly successful instalment of the food trail. Hence, it is safe to say that eating out doesn't have to be unhealthy anymore.

Neatly tucked away in one of the numerous quaint bylanes behind the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Lemon Leaf is the ultimate pan-Asian restaurant you always knew you needed. Nope, I am not exaggerating. For starters, Lemon Leaf is an extremely photogenic restaurant- the chic yet colourful decor paired with a peppy ambience instantly puts you at ease as soon as you step in. 
Left: Chilli Straw Potatoes. Right: Mushroom Yaki

Chilli Straw Potatoes

Firm Tofu With Spicy Miso Glaze

The food, surely, doesn't disappoint. We began our food journey with 'Chilli Straw Potatoes' which happens to be the tastier counterpart of the traditional french fries. Next in line were 'Mushroom Yaki', a delectable mix of grilled Shitake and Button mushrooms on a stick, and 'Firm Tofu With Spicy Miso Glaze'. The 'Mushroom Yaki' was perfect in every sense and packed the required flavours. The 'Firm Tofu with Spicy Miso Glaze' happened to be absolutely melt-in-the-mouth and delicious, but we unanimously agreed that the spice quotient was a bit lower than you'd expect from a dish which is labelled as 'spicy'. 

Roasted Vegetable Dumpling with Edamame

Roasted Vegetable Dumpling with Edamame

Shitake & Scallion Tortellini With Miso Broth And Wakame

Shitake & Scallion Tortellini With Miso Broth And Wakame

Post whetting our appetites with the finger-liking appetisers, we readily placed our order for the 'Roasted Vegetable Dumplings with Edamame' and 'Shitake & Scallion Tortellini with Miso Broth and Wakame'. Both the dishes were pretty good but after the explosive first round of appetisers, we couldn't help ourselves from wanting more flavours from the 'Roasted Vegetable Dumplings with Edamame'.

Center: Crimson. Right: Blush

Whilst waiting for our main course of 'Korean-style Fried Rice' and 'Aubergine, Lotus-root & Water Chestnut in Claypot' to be served, we happily sipped on the inviting mocktails. I loved my 'Crimson'- a cinnamon tea based drink infused with cranberry juice and peach. On the other hand, my +1 swore by 'Blush'- a refreshing blend of lemongrass and passion fruit with cranberry lemonade. Although the drink of our choice differed, we both reconciled on our liking for the delightful drinks menu. 
Korean-style Fried Rice

Aubergine, Lotus-root & Water Chestnut in Claypot

The arrival of the main course broke us out in glee. As the aroma of the luscious curry filled the air we couldn't help but not dig in. In my opinion, the 'Korean-style Fried Rice' was a bit lacklustre on its own. Yet, when paired with the curry we couldn't complain. By this point, you would have guessed how much we loved the 'Aubergine, Lotus-root & water chestnut in Claypot' and how full we were with all the hogging. Hence, the only (il)logical thing to do was ordering a dessert. 

Strawberry Ice-cream

Originally we intended to treat ourselves to 'NYC-style Cheesecake with Miso Caramel' and 'The Dome' (A dome of chocolate mousse and brownie flambeed on the table with dark rum and cinnamon), alas, our stomachs were so tightly packed that we gave up and ordered the 'Homemade Strawberry Ice-cream'. The ice-cream was lovely and didn't leave any room for criticism. However, our hearts are still set on the cheesecake and the dome. So don't be surprised if we visit Lemon Leaf again just to savour them. 

Verdict: 4/5
In a nutshell, if lip-smacking and generously portioned pan-Asian spread at pocket-friendly prices is what you are after, Lemon Leaf is where you need to be brunching soon. 
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