Picture this: Sunshine, soulful live music, vendors with charming merchandise, and a stunning array of delicious food to choose from. It all adds up to the perfect Sunday. The Sunday Soul Sante (that usually happens in Bangalore, but came to Pune last week) is an event reminiscent of the legendary flea market that takes place in Goa. Except here, thankfully, there are far fewer humans with questionable hygiene (or ‘hippies’ as they are called). Of course, my key focus was the food. And it definitely did not disappoint.
Freezing cold weather and steaming hot momos go together like cookies and cream, bread and butter, apple pie and ice cream. Basically, they complement each other perfectly. And I have discovered what might just be the best momo place in Darjeeling. Juicy, savoury pork in a soft, delicately flavoured dumpling served fresh and piping hot- the momos at Penang’s are certainly melt-in-your-mouth material. Of course they serve chicken momos as well, but ‘why choose chicken when you can have pork,’ I always say. The momos are served with a broth that is extremely bland; a tradition apparently, one I do not understand. I sampled the pork chowmein as well. Unlike regular noodles, chowmein noodles are rather stiff. However, the sweet, succulent pork combined with the almost crunchy texture of the noodles quite brilliantly. All in all, it was an excellent meal. Penang’s is a must visit for all momo enthusiasts.
Greetings, faithful followers. I have a riddle for you. What’s really high, really cold and filled with pork? Extra points to those of you who said ‘a stoner eating bacon in winter’ (fascinating creatures, these stoners). But I speak of Darjeeling! That’s right; I simply could not miss the opportunity to visit that lovely hill station that’s reasonably close to Calcutta (Though not as close as one might presume). The weather is invigorating; the atmosphere, soothing; the view, magnificent; and the pork, out of this world (And I am well qualified to use that expression). The first place I hastened to was ‘Keventer’s’, a charming little restaurant renowned for their protein-packed breakfast. I ordered mine with scrambled eggs. It came accompanied by a luxurious helping of sausages and bacon. The scrambled eggs were rather ordinary- nothing special I’d say. The meat on the other hand, was simply spectacular. Granted, the bacon contained a lot more fat than I would normally prefer; it was delicious nonetheless. After all, bacon is bacon. And the sausages had a delightfully unique flavour- a blend of spices that some might consider odd, but one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Those sausages in which the meat had popped through the skin were particularly crunchy and delectable. All in all, it was a stupendous meal, stunning in both its quantity and its quality. It’s not one for the faint-hearted (I mean this literally. If you have cholesterol or other heart problems, do NOT eat this meal). The ham and the salami at Keventer’s are also delicious options, and they serve some excellent sandwiches as well. For all you meat lovers out there, this is one place you simply cannot miss.
Every now and then, you come across the dish of your dreams. It’s love at first bite. You see yourself spending the rest of your life with this dish- having kids, growing old together, living happily ever after. Of course, actually doing this is an offence that’s punishable by law on my planet. But never mind that. What matters is that I found the dish of my dreams at Café 23 in Calcutta- Spaghetti withThai flavours (with the pork option). What innovation, what brilliance, what a perfect harmony of flavours. Sigh. The spaghetti was soft, but not at all gooey; the pork was juicy and succulent and the sauce that held it all together was simply amazing- a powerful explosion of herbs and spices, with a subtle hint of ginger and a pungency that blows you off your feet without being overpowering. The Thai flavours were unmistakable. Who would have thought that two completely different kinds of cuisine would blend so well together? It was pure joy in every forkful. A papaya salad which was also delicious and wickedly spicy accompanied the spaghetti. This is what fusion cuisine should taste like. Take a bow, Café 23.
I have made a very exciting discovery. My knowledge of science is limited, at best (although interestingly, it would appear that certain Earthlings consider culinary art and science to be one and the same), but I can safely assume that the scientists on my planet would consider this a most fascinating find. A few days ago, I came across what could only be a portal which has the capacity to transport anyone who passes through it to Korea. That’s right; one minute I was in Pune, India and the next, in a quaint little restaurant covered in what appeared to be authentic Korean paraphernalia. Astounding. The other customers at the restaurant seemed to be either oblivious or indifferent to this strange phenomenon, suggesting that they were either aware of the portal and how it works, or they were idiots. Nevertheless, I refuse to comment more on the issue of the ‘tele-portal’ until I have consulted with an expert. I will say this though- the restaurant was simply charming. The décor and the atmosphere were warm, inviting and exotic all at once. And it turns out Korean food is marvelous. I tried the Bibimbaub- a flavourful mix of vegetables, egg, beef and rice, served with Gochujang sauce and soup, which had a great zing to it. I also had the Gochujang Yangnyeom Gui, which apparently translates to ‘really delicious pork’. It appears that the Koreans have great skill when it comes to preparing meat. The pork was grilled to perfection and seasoned beautifully. It was incredibly soft and tender – some of the softest and juiciest pork I have ever tasted- and coated in a piquant, tangy, dry-spice mixture that would inspire even the most prudish human to lick their fingers. The Soojeonggwa- a Korean traditional cinnamon and ginger tea- which accompanied my meal, was lovely, light and fresh. And the complimentary cold soup which was provided at the start of the meal was stunning- what an innovative concept. It was a delectable blend of spices, and was greatly refreshing, with a vibrant, pungent kick to it. I was overall highly impressed, and grateful that I had the chance to sample this excellent cuisine and view what little of the culture that I could. I would definitely recommend a visit to this mysterious and wonderful place, for anyone interested in good food, great ambiance and an interesting cultural experience.
Is there nothing better than a warm afternoon spent in a lovely rambling bungalow enjoying a delicious meal? Well, on my planet there is. It’s called a Brainbungler, and once you pop it in your mouth, it gives you the most beautiful, colourful, visions, lasting for what is an entire year in human time. Sadly, I have learnt that these sorts of objects are referred to as ‘drugs’ on this planet and are generally frowned upon for some reason. So I guess warm afternoons and scrumptious meals will have to be my only source of stimulation for now. And this meal was certainly exceptional: ‘Pulled pork sliders’. Showing great innovation, the chefs chose the local Goan ‘pao’ as the base for these sliders. And a wise choice it was, as it turned out to have the perfect texture and consistency to soak in that delicious pork gravy. Ahh the pork: Juicy and slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce- it simply melted on my tongue. The pickles added a fresh tartness to it, while the caramelized onions gave it a nice hint of sweetness. None of the flavours overpowered the taste of the hero of the dish- the pork. Fascinating invention, these ‘sliders’. They were just the right size: not too small, but not too heavy either. Oh yes, and this place has a great lemonade as well- an excellent accompaniment to this dish.
What really struck me about the place, however, was the setting. It is part of a beautiful old Portuguese house, which is also a museum. Shady and cool, with trees, quaint furniture and a little courtyard at the centre, it has a nice bistro feel to it. Incidentally, I discovered that this place was set up by the one who originated that out-of-this-world (really, I still cannot believe it came from this planet) red velvet cupcake [See post 3]. So all you cupcake loyalists, do give this lovely place a try.