Friday, May 12, 2006

Destination: New York City

Maki of "I was just really hungry" (I certainly identify with that feeling!) is hosting an exciting event called Food Destinations. The challenge is to answer the question: "If my favorite foodie came to town, where would I take her/him?"

Which is certainly a huge challenge for me. The problem with living in the legendary Gotham City is that everything that had to be said about it food-wise has already been said. Or has it? Well, I fall into a certain demographic: an Indian vegetarian graduate student who has been living in NYC for half a decade. This means that the places I eat out at are veggie-friendly and super super cheap. Well, for what its worth, and in no particular order, here is my NYC foodie list:


Very New York Eats ...If you visit NYC, don't leave without tasting these three foods. They have one thing in common...CARBS baby, yeah!

1. Bagels: Much much more than simply a doughnut-shaped bread, bagels are traditionally boiled before being baked. A good bagel is chewy without being stodgy. You can find many great Bagel places in the city. Choose from a huge variety of bagels (sesame, poppy seed, plain, onion, jalapeno or the "everything bagel" ) and a myriad of cream cheeses (my two favorites are walnut raisin and vegetable). The picture above shows a sesame bagel with walnut-raisin cream cheese. V once ordered a jalapeno bagel with strawberry cream cheese, and now he wonders why everyone at Bagelworks (our local bagel place, where they make 'em right on the premises) gives him scared looks.

2. Thin-crust Pizza: There are entire blogs devoted to the noble search for good pizza in NYC, so go look for good options there.

3. Cheesecake: My personal favorite has got to be a tiny cozy bakery called "Two Little Red Hens" at 85th street and 2nd avenue. To my delight, a favorite blogger of mine loves this place too! Cheesecake is very easy to mess up (too sweet, too dense, too pasty...) but this bakery does it right.

Globe-trotting On The Subway... NYC is blessed with extraordinary diversity. For the royal sum of $2.00, you can hop on the subway and go visit the ethnic enclaves of Russia (Brighton Beach), India (Jackson Heights) or Greece (Astoria). So the next on the list:

4. Think of a country, any country that you like to visit, and then go eat in a restaurant that serves that cuisine. The internet is a wonderful resource for finding restaurants in NYC. One of my favorites: Ghenet for Ethiopian cuisine...there is something wonderful about getting together with friends and having a communal meal, Ethiopian style. Another good place for big group lunches is the self-explanatory Vegetarian Dim Sum House in Chinatown.

In the mood for Indian?...Try these (all of these next three restaurants are in the Murray Hill area of Manhattan, now informally referred to as Curry Hill):

5. Gujarati Thali: Show-casing the cuisine of the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, Vatan has some crazy decor, with the fake village scenes and all, but the food is amazing, and with the "unlimited" thali (multi-course) meal, you have to roll home at the end of the filling meal.

6. Southern Indian: Chennai Garden has impressively authentic South Indian fare (certified by V, who is Tamilian and M, who is a Kannadiga, so you don't have to take a Marathi girl's word for it). Try the "Gunpowder Masala Dosa" if you dare!

7. Indian-Chinese: You have to try this strange mingling of two very different cuisines. Every Indian I know gets regular cravings for Gobi Manchurian. And when that happens, it is Chinese Mirch to the rescue! Apart from favorites like Hakka noodles, try the crispy okra, which is not "authentic" Chinese-Indian, but addictive all the same.

Random foodie things...

8. Picnic in Central Park: Drop into any one of Manhattan's superb food stores: Zabar's, or Whole Foods, or even Gourmet Garage if you are a budget gourmet like me, and buy a baguette, a wedge of Brie, some fruit, kettle cooked potato chips and some fresh cookies, smuggle a bottle of wine into a bag, and go off and have a picnic in Central Park. Central park is the backyard of the whole city, and a great place for watching New Yorkers during their time off.

9. The Herb Garden at The Cloisters: This is an unsual one, but it is so worth trekking uptown and taking a look at The Cloisters, the medieval collection of the Met. The medieval herb garden is very cute, and the whole place is very charming. Foodie stuff apart, the unicorn tapestries are simply stunning (I was actually speechless for once in my life).

10. Hot Chocolate: To end the list on a sweet note, don't miss the hot chocolate at City Bakery (Union Square). I don't even like chocolate to be very honest, but that thick creamy hot chocolate is absolutely divine. If you happen to visit in February, it will be VERY cold and you will need hot chocolate anyway, so we are lucky that City Bakery conveniently has a Hot Chocolate Festival that whole month!

What can I say, it is a cliche, but I *heart* NY!

Click on the button for the round up of "Food Destinations" ...thanks, Maki, for hosting this event!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Warli Paintings

I can't help sharing some lovely art-work with you. For the most part, this is a non-food post, but there is a food connection, I promise!
The story is that my parents have a big old water-tank in their backyard. Left to itself, it is a bit of an eyesore, with three large cement walls exposed to the garden. So my parents creatively treat the three sides as canvases and everyone who is so inclined is invited to paint their own masterpiece on the canvas. Made with oil-based paints, these art-works last for a few months till the elements beat them down.
Last month, my parents invited my aunt, cousin and sister to be the artists (the former two are actually professional artists, the latter is a finance wiz-kid but a born artist all the same). They were inspired by some very lovely tribal folk-art of Maharashtra, Warli Paintings made by the Warli tribe. These folk artists use rice flour paste as their medium (see the food connection!) to make simple plain white line drawings that are transformed into astounding visual imagery with sheer creativity. Read more about Warli art here.

Here is what the three artists in the family came up with (to see the pictures up close, click on them to go to the flickr site where you can view them at a larger size):

The first side depicts daily village life. A little hut with busy inhabitants, girls skipping rope, daily chores of fetching water, whimsical depictions of flora and fauna:

The second side depicts dancers and musicians at a wedding party. Notice the string of mango leaves at the top? Those are considered very auspicious during Hindu celebrations.

The third side depicts a wedding scene...the bride and the groom riding a horse, being trailed by more revelers.

How do you like it?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Jihva For Mangoes, With a Side of Ambe Dal

Oh, it is so nice to be back and blogging again! I just got back from a whirlwind trip of India, exhausted but happy. I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to all those wonderful people who left comments full of good wishes on my last post. I read and cherished each one of them but unfortunately never got the time to reply to each one.

I was so excited to come back and read about Indira's brand-new food blogging event: Jihva for Ingredients (JFI) where each month, we will focus on an Indian ingredient. I was even more excited to read the theme for this month: Mangoes! After all, I just got back from India where it was the very peak of mango season. This is just the perfect event for a first post after my blogging hiatus!

My parents' backyard in Kolhapur is dominated by a huge, old mango tree. Every summer, this tree sags under the weight of hundreds of wonderful alphonso mangoes. At the beginning of summer, the raw mangoes are used to cook a variety of dishes, and preserved in the form of many delicious pickles to be relished throughout the year. This year, the kairis (raw mangoes) were used to make "chhunda" a sweet-and-sour mango relish (I returned from my trip bearing two bottles of this delicious sticky stuff). Last year, the tree produced a huge crop of mangoes and there were a lot left over even after they were shared with neighbors, friends and acquaintances. My ever-resourceful parents managed to find a fruit-canning factory and to persuade them to can some of these mangoes. So lucky me, I also brought back two cans of mangoes with me.
Here is a picture of the backyard mango tree, taken from the window of the upper-floor bedroom that my sister and I shared when we were kids:
Can you spot these in the picture?
1. Branches of a coconut tree (a neighbour of the mango tree)
2. Branches of a "chikoo" tree (the other neighbor of the mango tree)
3. Two ropes...these are part of a little swing that hangs from the mango tree

For the "Jihva for Mangoes" event, I chose a typical Marathi dish called Ambe Dal. In the summer months, when the sweltering heat overpowers the afternoons, people are not often in the mood for hot tea. Panha, the mango drink that I wrote about in the A-Z of Marathi food, is often served in place of tea at afternoon events during these months. The traditional snack that accompanies the panha is this ambe dal. A cool, spicy, tart relish, ambe dal provides a great counterpoint to the sweet panha. Dal-Panha events are something to look forward to!

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the ambe dal to show you. The reason: I left the camera with V in India (he was to return this week but is facing some visa processing delays) so until he gets back, I have no camera! I had a choice between blogging sans pictures or not blogging at all, and I thought I would go ahead and blog and insert pictures at a later time.

Edited on 5/2 to add: I do have a picture to show you!!! My wonderful parents in India actually made ambe dal and took this picture and mailed it to me so that I could share it with you :) How sweet is that! Thanks, Aai and Baba for this fantastic picture!

ambe dal

Ambe Dal
Serves 2-3 as a snack, Preparation Time: 15 minutes (not including soaking time)
1 cup chana dal (split Bengal gram, available at Indian grocery stores)
1/2 cup raw mango, peeled and grated coarsely
2 tbsp minced cilantro
2 tbsp grated coconut
pinch of sugar
salt to taste
For tempering:
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 curry leaves
2 red chillies, broken into pieces
1. Soak the chana dal for 4-6 hours, then rinse several times and drain.
2. Grind the chana dal into a coarse semi-dry consistency.
3. For tempering, heat oil, then add the rest of the ingredients. Add tempering into the dal and mix well.
4. Add the salt, sugar, mango, cilantro and coconut into the dal, mix well and serve.

I can't wait to see all the amazing mango recipes that everyone comes up with. Thanks, Indira, for hosting (and being the brainchild behind) this wonderful event!