That Gut Feeling!

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I was watching the movie Kahani 2 last night ((no spoilers, so keep calm and read on!) It’s the much awaited next edition, not sequel, to one of the finest Bollywood thrillers of our times. A recurring dialogue in the movie revolved around ‘gut feeling’ and its importance. And although in this instance it related to instinct, I couldn’t help thinking about an interesting conversation recently with the bubbly and amazingly fit Deepti Dadlani (DeeDee) of Phoenix Group regarding the actual gut, our stomach.

We were  sitting around a polished wooden table at 212 All Good Cafe, the soft gold lighting and the all-wood interiors making our end-of-the-day, traffic-weary faces look much more cheerful than we felt. The conversation was around the whole philosophy of healthy eating, the much-needed addition and popularity of health food cafes in the city like Sequel, Kitchen Garden and Bombay Salad Co., and the big ‘S’ wordSustainability, both for the environment in terms of responsible sourcing, as well as for the cafes and their ability to extend the happy curve beyond the initial instagram-driven surge. Yes, I am all about double- meaning words today, aint I?  ;)

img_0586And soon we were talking about the gut, and how it’s one of the most tortured parts of our body. It’s true when you really think about it. We are good friends with our taste buds, always pampering them. We take extremely good care of our outside appearance in terms of skin and hair. But when it comes to our gut, we kind of take it for granted, expecting it to do its work unfailingly, uncomplainingly, and when it bulges out from under a dress or over the denim belt in protest, we subject it to even more stress by not eating!

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So what IS healthy eating really?

Is it about replacing all your grains, vegies, eggs and dairy with organic options? Even if you can afford to, and they are REALLY certified organic, no. Is it about switching to vegetarian/vegan food only? Not if you are a non-vegetarian and have grown up eating meat and dairy protein all your life. Is it about cutting out carbs completely from your diet? No, and I have it on good authority that it does NOT help beyond a certain point. The list goes on and on with the ‘No’ diets – no sugar, no salt, no oil, no chocolate, no food, no air… You get the drift!

img_0585The trick is actually tricky. Because there IS no ‘one size fits all’ program that will make you lose weight, shape you up, keep you healthy from inside out and make you look and feel good every day. The trick is to pick out those few good things from all the above that work best for your work-life balance, your lifestyle and the most important thing, your soul.

And I was pleasantly surprised to see that the team at 212 All Good Cafe, right from owner Romil Ratra to always-happy Chef Paul Kinny to dynamic DeeDee to our well-informed and smiling server Joss, believes in my philosophy of not depriving oneself of the things one loves to eat, but making small health-forward adjustments, and opting for better gut-friendly options that make you feel less guilty at the end of a meal.

And that was evident in almost everything we tried at the table, from the super-fresh crunchy French Bean and Edamame Salad, to the next-level up from your Mom-made sprouts bowl – the beautifully ‘chatpata’ Adzuki Bean Salad, to the pretty-pink Beet Hummous Toasties to the light n leafy Pulled Pork Salad to the lovely country-style Chicken Roast to the simple classic Grilled Trout with Mashed Peas. Even the cocktails like Hibiscus Gin and Tonic, Aperol Spritz and a cleverly-crafted Penicillin that definitely belongs in the city’s Hall of Fame Cocktails were made with house-made cola, tonic, fresh-squeezed fruits! Some things that are endearing here are the dehydrated tomatoes (I finished a whole bowl of these with sea salt and olive oil!), the Jowar taco shells, the Buckwheat Spaghetti and the house-infused Gins. And although I liked the idea of using Tender Coconut in the Pad Thai and Jaggery in the Pumpkin Pie, it just didn’t work for me.

But honestly the menu has so many good, clean, guilt-free, re-imagined options of otherwise spicy, rich and palate-killer dishes, that I would definitely want to go back and try more, especially the very tempting breakfast fare… In fact, I have a gut feeling that it will be soon… One No-Egg Omelette for me please!  :) 

 

Top 5 Foodie Places That Should Be on EVERYONE’S Dubai-Abu Dhabi Circuit

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On a zippy, super-short trip to Abu Dhabi/Dubai? Call yourself a street-savvy gourmand? This is how you should be eating and drinking your way around town. So loosen your belt, and get ready for a whirlwind food trail through the two most exciting cities in the UAE!

Abu Dhabi… where everything is gold and shining! 

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Palace Cappuccino at the Emirates Palace with Real Gold flakes!             PC: diningandnightlifeabudhabi.com

  • Deliciously tender and smoky Mixed Grill Platter (Shish Tawouk, Arayes, Seekh Kebab and Lamb Chops) at Lebanese Mill
  • Wholehearted Mutton Biryani, and squishy Wine Leaves at Lebanese Flower (Zahrat Labnan)
  • A high-energy, entertaining Teppenyaki dinner with fire, knives and food theatre at Benihana
  • Palace Cappuccino topped with REAL GOLD Flakes at the Emirates Palace
  • A Mai Tai (or three!) or the potent Tiki Puca Puca, with peppy live Mexican music at Trader Vic’s

 

Dubai… where everything is sky-high and buzzing! 

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  • Mixed Grill Platter and Avocado Milkshake (hold the cream) at Al Mallah
  • Best Shawarma at Aroos Damascus, home-style Lebanese at Al Safadi
  • Pocket-friendly, Michelin-star (an oxymoron that actually exists!) gorgeous Asian fare with amazing dumplings at Din Tai Fung at the Mall of Emirates – don’t miss the ‘science lab’ with chefs huddled over a table, secretly conspiring (it sure looks like!) and folding delicate dumplings intricately by hand by the hundreds 😯
  • A walk through the Spice Souk nibbling at candied nuts, Baklavas and dates with heady whiffs of aromatic spices
  • A drink or two at the hip and cool Barasti Beach Bar at Le Meridien

And a bonus for those deprived souls in serious need of their Beef fix – a simple, classic, squelchy-cheesy Burger with Milkshake and Chilli Fries at Johnny Rocket… because you really want to!

 

Got more time on hand? There’s a lot more where these came from! 

So… ready for Round Two?😉

Pssst! A special shout out to Chef Vikas Seth who I think was testing my bingeing limits with his never-ending list of favourite food haunts. Chef, I am still alive and kicking, no thanks to you! 😈😈😈

No Ordinary Weeknight Dinner, This!

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Most weeknights you just want to throw things together for a quick dinner, don’t you? I know because I do! And that’s why I have taken the concept of meal-in-a-bowl to another realm ;) But sometimes an inspiration fuels your creativity and something artistic, elaborate and truly special starts taking shape, steering you gently away from that done-to-death meal-in-a-bowl!


My inspiration was the afternoon I spent a few weeks ago with world-renowned Nobel chefs Mark Phoenix and Fredrik Forsell, cooking a classic Swedish meal of Baked Salmon Puck, Saffron Aioli, Fennel and Carrot Crudités with White Wine Vinaigrette, and Shallot Croutons. Yes, I know, that’s some serious inspiration, considering the Nobel Banquet Dinner in Stockholm, Sweden feeds 1500 Nobel laureates, students and the royal family every year, is a lavish multi-course affair spread over 4 hours, and costs nearly a million US dollars! Phew!

img_4020So, I decided to flex my hair muscles, dream big and put my kitchen, and my cooking skills, to the test. My dish last night was a slightly tweaked version of the Nobel chefs’, simply because not everything was available or accessible. Let’s just say the demonetisation situation and its bundle of woes right now in the country is not very conducive to food lovers 😤

The Baked Salmon Puck I made was tied together with Garlic Chives, and that my friends, is so fiddly that it’s infinitely tougher to achieve the ‘puck’ shape compared to the broad and sturdy Leek stalks the chefs had us use. For the Crudités, I used sliced Baby Fennel, Orange segments and Caper berries. For the white wine vinaigrette, it was fresh Dill instead of Chives. Nothing exciting left at Magazine Street Kitchen‘s new bakery in Bandra meant I had to improvise there too, but imagine my pure joy when a Diwali hamper revealed a pack of Swedish Knäckebörd crisp rye bread. I could have asked for the Supermoon, right?😉

So the only  thing that remained exactly the same was the Saffron Aioli, made painstakingly by hand! Aaaarggghh! And for the heart of the dish? No compromises there either. Picked up some lovely, fresh, pin-boned and filleted Atlantic Salmon from Godrej Nature’s Basket on a sudden happy splurge, and it tasted of the sea… as it rightfully should!

The outcome?

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F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S!!! 

Of course, the credit goes to Chef Mark and Chef Fredrik who came up with such a clean, fresh, simple yet power-packed dish so full of flavours and contrasting textures, and so pretty to look at. But I dare say the chefs would have been proud of what I slogged at, plated up and then went on to lick clean in minutes last night. Proud enough for a Nobel prize? Now that’s pushing it!😉