The Economic Times' survey today rated Pune as the #1 city in western India to live and work (Mumbai is #2). As per today's ET, the city tops the list in the earnings category (ie., per capita income, job opportunities, employment growth), as an investment destination, and is the 2nd most favored place to live in.
The survey underlines what we (who live here) already knew! This city with a population of 5.13 million is now one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Of the 100,000 people coming into the city every year, about 30% join the manufacturing sector, while 60% enter new-economy industries (IT, biotech, etc.).
Update, Oct 2008: Pune will soon acquire the status of being a metropolitan city in India. According to an Assocham report on ‘The 7th emerging metro city in India’ it owes its upgradation to a fast development pace in the area of infrastructural facilities, friendly business environment, education avenues and employment opportunities.
The report says Pune has a literacy rate of 80.73%, 26 malls & multiplexes, and 17 star category hotels.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The Economic Times' survey today rated Pune as the #1 city in western India to live and work (Mumbai is #2). As per today's ET, the city tops the list in the earnings category (ie., per capita income, job opportunities, employment growth), as an investment destination, and is the 2nd most favored place to live in.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Two years ago, Michelin began rating restaurants in the USA. Michelin stars carry so much weight in Europe, that losing a star has been known to drive chefs to suicide. The French tyre company has been publishing its restaurant guides for Europe since 1900. Michelin's first guides for the US released two years ago covered New York and the Bay Area. In November they will release their first guides for Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
This year, 27 Bay Area and Wine Country restaurants recieved at least one Michelin Star. Here's the list for those of you who are interested; the ones marked new! made it to this list for the first time in the 2008 Guide.
2009 Update: I have updated the list below to the latest Michelin ratings. While Coi is the only addition to the two star list, Chez TJ lost one star.Murray Circle in Sausalito, Plumed Horse in Saratoga and the Village Pub in Woodside earned their first stars. K&L Bistro, Quince, and La Toque lost their stars in 2009.
2010 Highlights: The French Laundry still the only 3 star, Michael Mina loses a star, Aqua no longer starred. Bistro Jeanty and Martini House lose their stars too. Aziza, Commis, Etoile, La Toque, Luce, Quince, Sante, Solbar, and Ubuntu are new entrants with a star each.
Michelin Three Stars (signifying exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey) :
The French Laundry, Yountville (I am not surprised; you can find a brief mention in one of my earlier posts here)
Michelin Two Stars (means an excellent cuisine, worth a detour) :
Coi, San Francisco New in 2009!
Aqua, San Francisco
Manresa, Los Gatos (My experience posted here)
Michael Mina, San Francisco (My experiences here and here)
The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena
Michelin One Star (meaning a very good restaurant in its category) :
Murray Circle, Sausalito New in 2009!
Plumed Horse, Saratoga New in 2009!
Village Pub, Woodside New in 2009!
Chej TJ, Mountain View (My experience posted here) Lost a star in 2009!
Acquerello, San Francisco
Ame, San Francisco (My experiences posted here and here)
Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford
Bistro Jeanty, Yountville
Boulevard, San Francisco (My experience posted here)
Chez Panisse, Berkeley
Cortez, San Francisco (My experience posted here)
The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville
Fifth Floor, San Francisco (My experience posted here)
Fleur de Lys, San Francisco (My experience posted here)
Gary Danko, San Francisco
K&L Bistro, Sebastopol Lost its star in 2009!
La Folie, San Francisco
La Toque, Rutherford Lost its star in 2009; back in 2010!
Madrona Manor, Healdsburg
Martini House, St. Helena
Masa's, San Francisco
One Market, San Francisco (My experience posted here)
Quince, San Francisco Lost its star in 2009; back in 2010!
Range, San Francisco
Rubicon, San Francisco
Sushi Ran, Sausalito
Terra, St. Helena
Incidentally, Michelin uses inspectors who dine anonymously multiple times in short-listed restaurants before awarding them stars. While ambience, service, decor, cleanliness and general comfort level are also evaluated, the stars are given solely for the restaurants' cuisine.
Friday, October 26, 2007
I was in Redwood City for a two-day offsite meeting at the Sofitel. In addition to those who work in the Bay Area, we had people from Southern California, Virginia, Florida and Canada. In the evening we drove down together to a newly opened fondue restaurant called The Melting Pot in San Mateo. It is part of a national chain, but I have never come across one before.
Dinner turned out to a very interesting experience indeed. For one, the restaurant is located right next to the train station and the rumble of the trains speeding past makes for an unusual setting. Second, the concept of sharing fondue and cooking entrees at the table is a lot fun and different from the usual dinner experience.
Dinner began with Cheese Fondue. The one in front of me was a Spinach Artichoke fondue that was prepared at the table over electric heaters built into the table itself. We dipped fresh breads, green apples, and veggies into the creamy fondue. I actually enjoyed this fondue much more than the one I had last in Grindelwald, Switzerland.
The fondue was followed by a salad. I had chosen the featured Athenian salad which was romaine and ice berg lettuce with ham, pepperoni, olives, and roasted red pepper with a white balsamic vinaigrette sprinkled with feta cheese. Perhaps a little heavier than the other salad selections, but absolutely delicious.
Our entree today was called Pacific Rim. A plate of teriyaki-marinated sirloin, white shrimp, marinated pork tenderloin, breast of duck, breast of chicken and potstickers accompanied by fresh veggies and a variety of sauces. The idea is to cook the meat and veggies on the table on a cooking style of our selection. The cooking style we selected at my table was called the Coq au Vin Fondue a boiling pot of fresh herbs, mushrooms, garlic, spices in burgundy wine into which we dipped our skewers with meat and veggies to cook them. Pretty cool, right?
Our host for tonight had selected the 2004 BV Napa Valley Tapestry red wine which turned out to be a great choice and went well with the cheese and meat.
And the dessert turned out to be equally exciting. Plates of fresh strawberries, cheesecake, tasty marshmallows, pound cake and brownies to dip into some decadent chocolate fondues. The dessert fondue on my table was the Cookies 'n Cream made of dark chocolate topped with marshmallow cream, flambeed and swirled together with crushed Oreo cookies. Another one which featured milk chocolate with crunchy peanut butter was a big hit with the group too. I tasted some Hungarian ice-wine for the first time along with dessert. It was great!
The Melting Pot offers a great alternative to the regular dining destinations when you are out with a group. Private tables, great service, an unique dining experience and a long wine-list are all things that make this place worth a visit.
The Melting Pot is located at 2 North B Street (opp. the CalTrain station), San Mateo, CA 94401. Phone: 650.342.6358
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Dinner at Americas in Houston, my second time here. The day was unusually windy and chilly, and since I was staying at the Hilton Post Oak, the only place I dared venture out for dinner was this restaurant right across the street. The entire block here is being reconstructed and only Hermes of Paris and Americas are open in this block. Americas is the place to go for fine South American dining. The place has a funky interior, very unlike Churrascos which I had reviewed in my previous visit to this city, and which shares the same owners!
I ordered a glass of La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir with my starter, a Peruvian style Ceviche that contained sushi grade seafood served in a carved pineapple. The ceviche was very fresh and tangy and went very well with the wine.
I ordered Churrasco for my entree, an 8 oz medium-rare beef tenderloin; the meat was most tender and flavorful.
I ended my dinner with the The Original Tres Leches, a cake soaked in three kinds of milk. So moist, so wonderful! I highly recommend you try this dessert at least once.
Americas is located at 1800 Post Oak Blvd, Houston 77056. Phone: 713.961.1492
Monday, October 22, 2007
After hunting for something exotic to eat during my last day in Cupertino, I finally found Chez Sovan. This family-run restaurant serves authentic Cambodian food. Cambodian food is similar to Thai but has unique flavors and taste. Initially we were a little unsure if this place will turn out to be a hole-in-the-wall, but the restaurant turned out to be a nice and airy one, with a very homely feel. The Sovan family seems to actually live in the section behind the restaurant, and we could see young kids playing and studying the room behind. Like I said, homely... :-)
If there is one thing you should eat here, it has to be the catfish amok. Absolutely fabulous and unlike anything I have eaten before. This dish is a kind of fish loaf steamed in a banana leaf with curried lemongrass and coconut milk and served piping hot. I loved the taste, texture and flavors: catfish has never tasted this nice!
Before the Amok we had started with Tom Yum soup which was sort of like the Thai version, but contained a lot of veggies, especially baby-corn. We also ordered the Samlaw Curry Moin, a chicken stew with carrots, potatoes, coconut milk and curry spices. This was good too, spicy but also a little sweet from the carrots.
And finally we ordered the Cha Me Kathang, flat rice noodles stir fried with mixed veggies and meat. Quite similar to the drunken noodles we ordered at Krungthai the other day. Again, milder in spice to the Thai version.
Great food, nice atmosphere, completely off the beaten path and great value for money! Portions were quite large and the prices modest. I know I am coming back for that Amok again.
Chez Sovan is located at 2425 S Bascom Ave., Campbell, CA 95008. Phone: 408.371.7711
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Yesterday, a friend and I drove down to Picasso's restaurant for a taste of Spain. This small eatery in downtown San Jose specializes in Tapas and Paellas. Being a Saturday night the restaurant was packed and we were lucky to get our table almost immediately. The walls, no surprise, are decorated with prints of Spain's most famous cubist painter whose name adorns the restaurant.
Like everyone else in the restaurant we ordered Sangria for drinks. Sangría is a wine punch from Spain. The word sangría comes from the Spanish sangre meaning blood. It typically consists of red wine, chopped fruit (in our case, apple), a sweetener such as honey or orange juice, a small amount of added brandy, triple-sec or soda. Interestingly, the locals will never order Sangria in a bar; it is something you will only serve in house parties. So, bar sangria in Spain is aimed almost exclusively at tourists.
We ordered some small plates from the Tapas menu. The Salteado de Champinones y Setas was an assortment of sauteed mushrooms featuring button, shitake and portabello mushrooms flambed in garlic and paprika with Spanish dry sherry. The Pinchitos Morunos de cerdo was a spicy dish of marinated chicken fillet. While the dishes took way too long to arrive, when they did, they were well worth the wait.
We ordered the Paella a la Valenciana for our entree. This is traditional paella featuring chicken, calamari, chorizo, mussels, shrimps and saffron rice. Please note that you can order Paella for a minimum of two people and it takes about 20-25 minutes to prepare. The paella was interesting, sort of like a Spanish version of the Indian biryani but made with parboiled rice.
The verdict? The food is great but the service was extremely poor on the day I was here, with long wait times and an indifferent waiter. For the kind of restaurant this is, the prices are also a bit on the higher side.
Picasso's is located at 62 W. Santa Clara Street, San Jose, CA 95113. Phone: 408.298.4400
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Arya Global Cuisine: Persian, Italian and American says the banner. Hmm, interesting combo methinks as I walk into this restaurant on Stevens Creek and Blaney, Cupertino. Turns out this new eatery has opened only about five weeks back.
The Persian owners ran an Italian restaurant in the Orange County area before they moved to the Bay Area, which explains the rather unusual combination of cuisine they serve here. However, I must warn you that the menu is mostly Persian with some Italian dishes and hardly anything that seems American! The decor is beautiful and classy: the colors, the paintings, the granite, etc. Everything is bright and new right now, as you can expect.
Starters include the Tadig, which is a crispy rice dish topped with three different sauces of Gheimeh (tomato, yellow split peas), Ghormeh (leek , parsley, spinach, coriander), and Fesenjoon (walnuts and pomegranate). Entrees include staples such as the Chelo Kebab Soltani, Lamb Kebab, Baghali Polo which is stewed Lamb Shank with dill rice and Gheimeh Badmemjoon which is made of fried eggplant in a tomato sauce, yellow peas & onions.
I ordered the Kubideh combo: Persian kebabs that are very mildly spiced when compared to their Indian brethren, made of finely minced beef and chicken. These skewers of meat are served with a large amount of buttered Basmati rice and a grilled tomato. The Kubideh was excellent; the skewers were juicy and succulent and spiced just right. In fact, this is probably the best Persian food I have eatan so far.
For dessert I ordered the Tiramisu which is made fresh every day. This too turned out just perfect.
The menu contained other interesting Persian dishes I haven't seen before including stews (Khoreshts) made with minced meat and vegetables that were intriguing, and usually not available in the run-of-the-mill Persian restaurants. I expect to try these out in future trips; this place is within walking distance of The Cypress where I usually stay. Service in this restaurant was very good, so all in all a great addition to the Bay Area dining scene.
Arya Global Cuisine is located at 19930 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino 95014. Ph: 408.996.9606
Friday, October 19, 2007
For some reason, the concept of eating breakfast outside your home hasn't caught on in India yet. In the US, it's pretty common to see people eating out or picking up food on their way to work. The only ones you see at places that open early for breakfast in India are students and retired people. Also, Indian breakfast places are almost always idlis, dosas, and vadas. Therefore it is not surprising that even McDonald's doesn't have a breakfast menu in India.
The last two days were busy and full of meetings held in different locations within the Bay Area. On days like this, I start with a good breakfast, so I can skip lunch if schedules are very tight. Park Place at the Cypress offers good breakfast options, but I prefer walking down to Le Boulanger which is right next door. I highly recommend the Vegetable Medley omtette on sliced sour dough.
After a quick meeting in San Francisco downtown yesterday, I popped into The Flytrap but only ordered a dessert. Also, when I was passing the Virgin superstore I happened to notice a small note that said "Wii available today" and rushed in to see if that could be true (they are sold out everywhere, even on Amazon). The store had apparently recieved eight of them the evening before and were already down to two. Now I am a proud owner of a Wii bundle!
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Another team dinner, this time in lovely Los Gatos. Overlooking the lush Santa Cruz Mountains and the Los Gatos Creek Trail, California Cafe aims to provide "an escape from the outside world". The restaurant has a large oak-shaded outdoor patio and a bright, cheerful interior.
We started with some seared pot-stickers, tuna sashimi salsa, and crispy Italian spiced calamari with glasses of David Bruce 2005 Sonoma Pinot Noir (this wine comes from a winery just up the hill from here). They have a progressive wine menu at this place, where the top of the menu is their sweetest selection and the one at the bottom is their driest. Makes it easy for a guy like me, who knows less about wine than about food!
I chose the salmon-wrapped scallops with crisp parsley potato, apricot jam and seafood dumpling as my entree. Very interesting dish indeed!
I had to leave early, so I didn't wait for desserts. If you are travelling from The Cypress (like I was) to this restaurant, stick to the inner roads.. In spite of the red lights, you will probably make it earlier than if you took the busy freeway.
The food, California cuisine, is good with some really interesting selections on the menu. The wine list is reasonably long too. But it was the service that was really exceptional; our waitstaff was very helpful, quick and knowledgeable.
California Cafe is located at 50 University Ave., Los Gatos, CA 95030. Phone: 408.354.8118
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The team dinner was in Maggiano's Little Italy, a restaurant located in Santana Row, San Jose's new European-style shopping, dining and entertainment destination. A family-style Italian restaurant, the decor is warm and friendly with rich oak-panelling, hardwood floors and crystal chandeliers.
The Bruschetta, Italian garlic bread toasted and topped with a tomato bruschetta relish made of diced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic, was good. But it was the Mozarella Marinara, whole milk mozzarella cheese breaded and fried,topped with provolone cheese and marinara sauce, that was the absolute delight.
Maggiano's salad consisted of iceberg and romaine lettuce, crumbled bleu cheese, crispy Prosciutto, red onions, tossed in their signature House Dressing.
The Fettucine Alfredo was passable, with traditional fettucine noodles tossed with broccoli in a creamy alfredo sauce. The Four Cheese Ravioli was homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese, cream cheese, mozzarella, and provolone filling sprinkled with house cheese, then browned in the oven and served in pesto-alfredo cream sauce with a touch of marinara. Good stuff, as was the Veal Piccata made of veal cutlets, sauteed and served over aglio spinach.
Dinner ended with Tiramisu made from cookies soaked in espresso, coffee liquer layered with mascarpone cheese, dusted with cocoa powder and served with chocolate.
The verdict? The food is pretty good when you are not bothered about the calories. I would recommend this place for an evening with the family or a group of friends. I wouldn't come here for a romantic dinner for two. Maggiano is located at 3055 Olin Avenue, San Jose, CA 95128. Phone: 408-423-8973
Monday, October 15, 2007
Yesterday, a reader of this blog located me at my hotel up after reading I was in Cupertino. Turns out he is a fellow foodie and an Indian history buff, in addition to being the founder-President of a rather interesting startup company! As you can imagine, I was only too happy to accept his dinner invitation.
Over Thai food, he told me about his research tracing descendants of Indian royal families (he recently located two of Tipu Sultan's direct descendants who are now rickshaw pullers in Kolkata!). He also knows William Dalrymple personally since both of them share a love of Indian history.
The new Krungthai restaurant in San Jose is within walking distance of the original Krungthai. This Zagat rated restaurant is very popular with the locals. Since we hadn't made reservations in advance we had to wait for about 15 minutes before they escorted us to our table.
We began with Som Tum, an awesome papaya salad that I will recommend to everyone! This salad captures the flavor of Thailand with fine, shredded green papaya tossed with dry shrimps, cherry tomatoes, ground peanuts, hot chilly with lime and garlic, and served with sliced fresh cabbage. We ordered the salad without the shrimps and medium spicy, which turned out to be a good thing since the level of spiciness was still very good!
We followed this with Kwoey Tiew Pad Khee Mao or Drunken Noodles. A fire-eater's favorite, this dish consists of flat rice noodles stir fried with fresh chili & minced garlic, tomatoes, basil leaves and minced chicken, and seasoned with dark soy sauce. Another excellent choice if you like spicy food.
And finally we chose the Gaeng Pha or Jungle Curry with steamed rice. Simmered in red chili paste with thai eggplant, green beans, sliced bamboo shoots, carrots, sliced mushrooms, baby corn, cauliflower, bell pepper, sweet basil, this curry does not use coconut milk. Very nice and different from the usual Thai curries. We also ordered a bottle of Robert Mondavi, 2005 Merlot which went rather well with the spicy food.
After that dinner, we didn't have space left for desserts. A great evening. Thanks, BJ!
The New Krungthai Restaurant is located at 580 North Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA 95128. Ph: (408) 248-3425.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
As I walked out of San Francisco airport, the sun shone brightly and the weather was nice and warm. I was surprised when my driver mentioned it had actually rained heavily the day before; I couldn't see any sign of rains as we drove to the Cypress in Cupertino. After the long flight, all I wanted was a hot shower and some quiet. So after a quick dinner at the nearby Mandarin Gourmet I was ready to call it a day.
Within walking distance of the Cypress, Mandarin Gourmet has a pretty nice ambiance and quick service. The General Tso's Chicken I ordered, made of chicken breast, red bell peppers and dry chillies in a spicy and tangy sauce, was pretty good. This popular dish in American Chinese restaurants is probably unknown in China! Sort of like Veg Manchurian is in Indian Chinese restaurants.
On the flight I had cut down the drone of the jet-engines considerably by replacing the on-board headphones with my own Bose QuietComfort ones. This is tricky on Lufthansa since you have to perform some acrobatic maneuvers to plug in external headphones. I watched Die Hard 4 and Harry Potter 5 on-board, but the one I really enjoyed was the small-budget Bollywood movie Bheja Fry.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
At The Maratha, Mumbai, I decide to try the highly regarded Pan Asian this time. I have earlier posted about Dakshin and Dum Pukht, two other gourmet restaurants in this hotel.
Pan Asian turns out to be an excellent choice. The massive display kitchens makes for a lively dinner experience, especially for those dining alone (like I am tonight).
The kitchens showcase delectible cuisines from China, Thailand, Mongolia, Korea and Japan. This premier upscale restaurant owes its success to two striking factors, the décor and the authentic cuisine of Chinese Chef Liang. The restaurant also serves a variety of sushi and sashimi.
I choose the steamed Prawn Dumplings followed by Prawn Thai Curry. Both are superb! Very fresh prawns can make a world of difference. The dim-sums are delicious, as is the the Thai curry: a perfect blend of coconut milk, spices, bell peppers, pineapple chunks and large prawns with steamed rice. Today am I pairing the food with a glass of Grover's Cabernet Shiraz.
Dessert consisting of Vanilla Bean ice-cream with Cantonese crisp stuffed coconut pancake makes for a memorable grand finale to a great dining experience.
And fellow Bollywood fans fyi: just when I begin digging into my desserts, in walks Sridevi with some friends. I notice she can still turn heads. :-)
Posted by Shantanu Labels: Mumbai Masala
Friday, October 12, 2007
I am taken aback by the crowds as I enter Pune airport. While the airport has been recently renovated with a larger departure and arrivals area, Pune's growing stature as an emerging center of high-tech companies has kept the airport busy, with new flights being added every other week and ever-increasing air-travellers. With the airport's only runway under maintenance, flights are now allowed during a limited period, making it more difficult to stagger flight schedules and reduce over-crowding.
The new extended parking area for the aircraft is a welcome addition (earlier no more than three or four planes could park here at the same time). On the ground, the Kingfisher girls seemed everywhere (mostly looking pretty and doing nothing!). I think the new Jet Airways uniforms turned out better than I expected them to be when I first saw the ads. The yellow jackets over black tunics look very smart indeed. The jackets come off during service and are back again when they wish you goobye as you exit the airplane. Incidently, I also notice an additional flight attendant on-board which makes for faster service during the flight (this extra flight attendant actually had a seat reserved among the passengers for take-off and landing). With Kingfisher, Jet Airways seems to finally have some competition, and I like how they are responding thus far.
I alight at Mumbai's domestic airport to another surprise, a pleasant one! The spanking new Arrivals hall is bright, spacious, and looks very modern. It's amazing how the airport has been given a face-lift even as record passengers continued to travel through it during this period of renovation. And what a face-lift this is. Completely amazing, if you have seen how the airport was before. The welcome change continues way past the entrance and to the curbside where fountains flow and white steel structures curve gracefully into the night sky. Mumbai finally has an airport it deserved all these years.
I am waiting to see how the International airport develops (renovation is underway now); hopefully it will be even better than the new domestic airport. Change is in the air, even if it comes a little too slowly for many of us. "Be the change you want to see in the world", Mahatma Gandhi's words reminds me and everyone else from a banner as I walk out of the airport.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
It probably won't surprise anyone that London is now the most expensive city to dine in. As per Zagat Survey, the average price of an evening meal in a Zagat rated restaurant is $78 per person. Tokyo and Paris follow close behind with $73 and $ 72 respectively. BusinessWeek provides more details.
Here's a picture of Gordon Ramsey in London. Their $224 seven-course dinner is the most expensive meal in town—and that's without drinks and the 12.5% gratuity. Samplings include roasted foie gras with white asparagus, pan-fried scallops with octopus and parmesan sauce, and roasted duck breast with rutabaga and honey.
The restaurant's celebrity chef has been awarded 10 Michelin stars so far and some of you may have seen him on TV hosting Hell's Kitchen or Kitchen Nightmares on FOX. For other pricey meals in restaurants across the globe, click here.
And here's a look at The Golden Opulence Sundae, the world's most expensive at $1000 per serving, at the Serendipity, New York City. Scoops of Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream infused with smoky Madagascar vanilla are coated in 23-carat edible gold leaf, which leaves a ring of gold dust around people’s mouths. Suffused with bittersweet chocolate and rare chocolate chunks, gold-plated dragets and truffles, the sundae is eaten with an 18k gold spoon and a mother-of-pearl spoon is reserved for the mini-bowl of sweetened, de-salted caviar on top. The utensils stay at the restaurant, but the Baccarat crystal goblet is yours for the taking.
Finally, the $1000 Sultan's Golden Cake at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski at Instanbul. It takes 72 hours to make this edible brick of gold, available by special request. Spiked with apricots, pears, quince and figs that have been marinating in Jamaican rum for two years, and flavored with shaved caramelized black truffles, this 24-carat gold leaf-covered cake is presented in a sterling silver handcrafted cake box with a golden seal.
If you have still have any more money left to pamper your taste-buds, click here for other options.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
That I have a sweet tooth doesn’t surprise anyone in India. Bengal is known for its wide variety of sweets and Bengali meals are incomplete without desserts. I never ever pass up an opportunity to try the desserts during dinner, especially when I am visiting a new place.
Desserts have history. There is evidence of English sweet puddings during the 17th century made of flour, nuts and sugar. Food historians generally agree that custard, the sweet almost pudding-like substance we know today, dates to the Middle Ages. At that time custard was eaten alone or used as fillings for pies, tarts, pastry, etc. Flan -- an open tart filled with fruit, a cream, or a mixture -- was probably the most famous and widely adapted custard dessert in the world. It is important to note that custard was not unique to Europe. Similar recipes flourished in Asia. Note: Gulab Jamun picture by EliBlue and Gajar Halwa picture by Esherman.
Among Indian desserts, there is evidence of Halwa in the 7th century. Halwa is derived from the Arabic word hulw which means sweet. In 7th century Arabia, the word meant a paste of dates kneaded with milk. By the 9th century, it had acquired a meaning of wheat flour or semolina, cooked by frying or toasting and worked into a stiff paste with a sweetening agent such as sugar syrup, date syrup, grape syrup, or honey by stirring the mass together over a gentle heat. Usually a flavoring was added such as nuts, rosewater, or pureed cooked carrots (still a popular flavoring). The finished sweetmeat would be cut into bars or molded into fanciful shapes. Halva spread both eastwards and westwards, with the result that is is made with a wide variety of ingredients, methods, and flavorings. Note: From Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press 1999 (p. 367). Also: Rasmalai picture by Debra.
Sweet shops in India have a far greater variety of sweet offerings on display than bakeries in the West. Many small towns and cities are known primarily for their sweets (Mithai in Hindi). Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, is also known for its Pethas, a unique sweet made from winter melon. Burdwan, in West Bengal, is known for its Mihidana which is rarely found outside this region and the famous Roshogollas of West Bengal are best tasted in the Oriya town of Pahala. The list goes on.
Unlike western desserts which are usually chocolate, whipped cream, or fruit-based, most Indian sweets are made of thickened milk, fresh curd cheese, or are flour-based. It’s difficult to provide a list of Indian desserts that is even close to being comprehensive. Even describing my personal favorites is difficult in a single post.
Kheer is an all time favorite. This creamy pudding is made in a wide variety of ways, with rice, with semolina, or just thickened milk sprinkled with chopped dry fruits. My mother always made this dish at home on my birthdays during childhood and that tradition still continues. Note: Kheer picture by Warina and Phirni picture by lecercle.
Phirni is a variation of the kheer, brought into India by the Mughals, and is a popular dessert after a meal of biryanis and kababs. Made of powdered rice and thickened milk, Phirni is usually chilled in small earthen pots and directly served in them.
Next are the Gulab Jamuns, those delicious soft balls of fried milk solids immersed in sugar syrup and flavored with cardamom, saffron, or rose. In the olden days, Gulab Jamun was made with ‘bhatti khoya’, milk solids that were aged to six months producing a hard, aromatic khoya that was then grated, bound with maida (flour) into balls before being deep-fried and immersed in sugar syrup.
Bengali sweets are mostly made of chhena, ripened fresh curd cheese which means they have to be eaten within a day or two of preparation. A wide variety of delights include the Roshogolla, Shondesh, Chomchom, and the Pantua. Note: Pictures of Bengali sweets above by Danburg Murmur and Debra.
Rasmalai is another favorite, especially with those who are new to Indian sweets. Mildly sweet, these dumplings are made from cottage or ricotta cheese in thickened milk, delicately flavored with cardamoms and topped with crushed pistachios.
Then there are the large variety of Laddoos and Burfis. Made of a variety of different ingredients, these come in various flavors, colors and sizes. I especially love Motichur laddoos, commonly used as religious offerings in Indian festivals, and Kaju Barfis made from cashewnut paste and available in a wide variety of variations. Note: Pictures of laddoos and burfis by Danburg Murmur.
And finally, a dessert from Western India where I now live: the Shrikhand. The Shrikhand is a creamy dessert made out of strained yogurt, from which all water is drained off, leaving the thick yogurt cream by itself. Adding exotic dry fruits like mangos only enhances the Shrikhand’s delightful taste to newer limits.
And so dear readers, like Erma Bombeck once pointed out, “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” :-)