Seoul Food: Hitting the streets in search of Octopus and Silkworms

SK food1_1440_SC

At the Gwangjan market in Seoul, it’s common to find people sitting around these food shacks, munching on beef, pork, seafood, octopus, etc., all washed down with Soju or beer. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

This piece was first published on IndianExpress.com.

Three, Two, One… Kimchiiiii. After a trip to Seoul, now and forever, I am prepared to yell kimchi whenever someone wants me to smile for a photograph, because saying cheese is so passé! But kimchi, that side dish made of fermented cabbage that’s become synonymous with Korean food, is just one of the many dishes of Korea. The streets of Seoul are a crowded palate, where traditional fare coexists with cafes and chicken-and-beer joints, the latter fairly recent imports. Seoul’s streets, in fact, probably have the highest density of coffee shops and beer joints—out of thirty shops, twenty are certain to be these.

 

SK food3_759_SC

(clockwise from top-left) Sweet rice cake covered in powdered sugar; a hot broth with raw meat that’s cooked on the table; tofu cooked without onion and garlic; and shrimp sauce (Source: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

 

 

A Korean plate looks much like it does in the eastern and north-eastern parts of India. There is rice at the centre (sticky rice in this case), and a host of accompaniments, ranging from vegetarian (seaweed, fried or steamed ); nabak kimchi (sweet, pungent watery kimchi that I personally liked); tongbaechu kimchi (traditional spicy kimchi that I stayed away from after the first two times); juk (a vegetarian congée that can also cure a hangover); pajeon (savoury flour pancakes with all sorts of vegetables); dotorimuk (a rather tasteless acorn jelly–stay away), various preparations with tteok (steamed rice cakes made with glutinous rice, glass noodles) to meat (a variety of raw fish; jogaetang (neck clam soup with vegetables; beef ribs; jjukkumi (stir-fried baby octopus), mollusks).

But if you don’t have time for a traditional, sit-down Korean meal, then it’s Seoul’s streets that you should be looking for. So, bring out your brass/gunmetal chopsticks (the Koreans prefer metal chopsticks to the wooden ones popular in China and Japan, though they first started off with silver because of its healing properties), the soup spoon, and tuck right in. Some markets like Gwangjang have many food stalls with a variety of meats, and makeshift seating all around like a bar. They serve Soju, beer and green tea (which is offered as a pacifier should you choke on your food like I did) as beverages.

 

A plate of ‘sattvik’ traditional Korean food available at the many temple stays. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

A plate of ‘sattvik’ traditional Korean food available at the many temple stays. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

Here’s what you can chew your way through on a food crawl to the many hawkers’ markets in the city (Nandaemun, Myeongdong, Gwangjang and Insadong are where I ventured).

Tornado potato: This may not be traditionally Korean, but once you’ve had your deep-fried potato wafers spiralling up a long skewer, brushed in your choice of flavoured powder — onion, honey and cheese — it’ll be quite a while before you pick up your next packet of chips. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one with spliced sausages in between.

Sausage and rice cake skewers: Nibble on different kinds of sausages and rice cakes barbecued on skewers smothered in a traditional Korean sauce.

 

Dotorimuk, a jelly-like dish made from acorn. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

Dotorimuk, a jelly-like dish made from acorn. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

Gyeranppang or egg cake: This snack is made by cracking an egg on a fat piece of cake and baking it. The sweet of the cake and the richness of egg gives it an interesting flavour and texture.

Ttoekbokki: Devilishly hot, this is a hugely popular snack. Rice and fish cakes are dipped in hot and sweet tomato-based red chilli sauce and boiled over a portable stove. It’s best washed down with a bottle of Soju.

20160306_170151

Oysters, butter and cheese: I’m not quite sure what this was called, but it looked delicious. Fresh oysters, roasted over the fire with cheese and chunks of butter, and a slight salty seasoning. The oyster is cooked in its shell and is served with the butter bubbling hot.

Soondae: Korean version of blood sausage, a common variety is pig’s intestine mixed with noodles/rice, barley and pork blood. This is also tossed in red chilli sauce (a favourite with Koreans, it seems) and served hot. An interesting tangy shrimp sauce is served on the side that’s full of tiny shrimps (eyes and everything), should you want to dip your pork for some fishiness.

 

SK food4_759_SC

Makgeolli, a milky white rice wine that’s sweet, earthy and leaves you warm and fuzzy. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

Jjukumi: Baby octopuses are quite popular and you can find them everywhere — stir-fried, battered, roasted or tossed in a red chilli gochugaru sauce before being fried. A bit tricky to eat, they taste like squids, only a bit tougher. Some stalls also offer octopus arms, which are much bigger but taste almost the same.

If food is on its way, can drinks be far behind? There are two local brews to wash down all that food: Soju and Makgeolli. Made from rice, wheat, barley or even potatoes or tapioca, Soju is the most popular drink in South Korea. It’s a clear distilled drink containing ethanol and water, with an alcohol content of up to 45 per cent. As I downed it neat in tiny shot glasses, Soju was more of a checkmark in my list and did nothing to uplift my spirits. What really stayed back with me, though, is the Makgeolli, a milky white rice wine that’s sweet, earthy and leaves you warm and fuzzy. Said to be a farmer’s liquor, it is now gaining popularity among the young city crowd as well. For those who like to experiment, add a dollop of sweet potato ice cream into a bowl of Makgeolli for a delicious float. It’s life changing.

 

A street-food vendor at Myeungdong market. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

A street-food vendor at Myeungdong market in Seoul. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

If you still have appetite for some more, you can finish off with these desserts.

Kkultarae or dragon’s beard or Korean court cake: It’s a mildly sweet bite-sized nugget of fine strands of ‘hair’ made by meticulously pulling a honey-maltose mixture. The filling can be varied, from assorted candied nuts to chocolate.

Hotteok or sweet pancake: This is best had hot. The pancake is filled with a mixture of brown sugar, honey and chopped nuts. Eating it can be quite challenging as the molten sugary centre tends to drip on to your arm and scald it. But totally worth it.

 

SK food5_759_SC

(clockwise from top-left) Hotteok; sweet potato and green tea ice creams, served with red bean sauce; and Gyeranppang or egg cake. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

 

Sweet tteok: This is just a sweet version of the rice cake, with or without a nutty-brown sugary/red bean paste filling, and a powdered sugar coating. Not very sweet, the gooey balls are actually quite tasty in this form. This is also a traditional Korean wedding sweet.

Sweet potato ice cream and red bean paste, though not necessarily together: The Koreans love their ice creams and have some unique flavours, and like other parts of South East Asia, they love a lot of sweet red bean paste (that’s rajma for us) in their desserts. I loved the sweet potato flavoured ice cream and a spoonful of sweet red bean paste with it. The more popular version is patbingsoo, which is a dollop of ice cream on a bed of ice shavings and red bean paste, topped with seasonal fruits.

Despite all this food, my rather tight schedule didn’t let me try the two things I really wanted to — bulgogi, spicy marinated beef strips barbecued to crispy yet succulent perfection and beondegi, steamed or boiled silkworm pupa, which is supposed to taste nutty. Well, maybe next time.

IMG_4623

The author was part of an Indian women journalists’ delegation to Seoul, South Korea.

Advertisements

In the heart of Delhi-6, Haveli Dharampura brings in fine-dining, Mughal-style

HD_lakhoori3_759_SC

Lakhori, the restaurant. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

This piece was first published on IndianExpress.com

The 200-year-old haveli is not that easy to find, as you walk through the narrow bylanes of Old Delhi, though the landmark is pretty popular. It is the Jama Masjid police station.

Probably not the best of places to think about when your objective is to be treated to a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights. But those who respond to the lure of Matia Mahal, Karim’s, Al Jawahar and Dariba Kalan, would happily brave through much more for a taste of Mughal-style meats and treats. It’s an area where you get your hands dirty, that is, with your food — and blissfully too. So, when someone talks about a fine-dining experience right in the heart of Delhi-6, it’s not unnatural to be sceptical.

But that’s exactly what Haveli Dharampura offers. In fact, it’s Indian restaurant Lakhori can lay claim to an array of vegetarian options that would warm the cockles of a ‘green’ heart, while satisfying the meat-eating variant as well. The restaurant presents Delhi diners with an option that may as well be the first of its kind in the Capital — an old-style haveli resort with the food and comfort to match the demands of the ethnic luxury traveller.

HD_food2_759_SC

(clockwise from top) Trio of kheer, Chai biscuit, Dahi Puri, Aloo Gobhi deconstructed. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

As I said, it’s not easy to find the very first time, but once you have, you’re unlikely to forget (the large signages help too, but let’s face it, how long will those survive in Old Delhi). Once described dangerous, the building — owned by BJP member of Parliament Vijay Goel — has been restored and converted into a heritage hotel over six painstakingly long years. In a walk-through organised by the owners and managers, members of the food and travel media community were taken across the three-storeyed building that houses 13 rooms (of three sizes), a spa, two restaurants (Indian and Continental — although only the Indian one, Lakhori, is currently functional), a small art gallery, a terrace with a fascinating view (speak to the managers, and they will point out the Jama Masjid, Red Fort, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, Gauri Shankar Temple and St James Church, all in one panoramic stretch), and those wonderful little stories and passages that old havelis such as this always have abundance of.

We started with a sumptuous meal at Lakhori. Chef Pradeep Kumar and the owners had brainstormed for weeks to come up with a menu of nearly 50 dishes (down from an initial 85, I was told), and we approved of the hard work. The menu stays true to Indian flavours, while the presentation is modern and sophisticated. We started off with a round of bite-sized Cucumber Chaat Canapes (a long cucumber slice roll filled with chaat masala and yogurt), followed by Dahi Puri (gold-gappa puris filled with yogurt and spices, and accompanied with sweet saunt water or tangy jaljeera) and Palak Patta Chaat (spinach leaves covered in chickpea batter, fried with chaat toppings). The Palak Patta Chaat was particularly flavourful, crisp, and the cool yogurt and spices really play well on the palate.

HD_food1_759_SC

(clockwise from left) Palak Patta Chaat, Kadhai Chicken, Kofta Dogala (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

Moving on to the starters, there was a Kadak Roomali Masala (a huge roomali roti baked upside down over the tawa to form a bowl, and sprinkled with ground spices, onions and tomatoes) which would be great with drinks, but since the restaurant is still to get its liquor licence, the dish was a tad bit bland. The veg and non-veg Gilouti Kebabs were just as they should be flavourful and melt-in-your-mouth, the rather exotic sounding Murg ke Paarchey (aka chiken tikka) were spiced well and did due justice to Lakhori’s presence in Purani Dilli.

All this was accompanied by a series of smoothies and mocktails — I highly recommend the Jahan Ara (khus and chilli), Kiwi Strawberry and Lakhori Manzil smoothies and the very surprising Chai Biscuit (this was a revelation for a chai-hater like moi). The Banarasi Paan (had without the straw) is amazing, provided taken in small sips between courses.

HD_haveli3_759_SC

Haveli Dharampura. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

The main course showcased Chef Kumar’s international experience in form of the Aloo Gobhi Mutter Deconstructed, which brought in a mix of textures melding together the very familiar taste of the staple North Indian dish aloo gobhi. Mutton Korma (it’s Delhi-6 after all) may lack the punch of greasy oil and overwhelming spices, but the flavours were all there and would work well for international visitors; and the Kadhai Chicken, tangy, succulent and worked really well with the assortment of flavoured naans (olives, dates and kalonji). But I must mention the Kofta Dogala (cottage cheese koftas with two gravies — tomato and kaju), which was a visual delight (and some might even say, patriotically so, given the current socio-political scenario). The bowl was separated into halves with the green, wrapped koftas acting as the divider, and the flavours complemented each other with the tanginess of the tomato being rounded off by the creaminess of the kaju paste. The fact that the owners are vegetarians shines through in the care with which the veg options have been created, giving the lost vegetarians of Purani Dilli something to look forward to.

HD_mutton korma_759_SC

Mutton Korma. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

After brief moment to drink in the 200-year-old brick-finish lakhoris (as the bricks are called, and which inspires the name of the restaurant), colonial-style furniture and the courtyard with the fountain -later, the desserts walked in. And, in the spirit of greater good, we took a deep breath and dug right in. A trio of creamy kheers (beetroot, paan and fig) and rose-flavoured kulfi (presented in a chocolate cone) were a perfect finish to a modern Mughal Delhi meal.

We dealt with the calorific guilt soonafter by walking up and down three floors exploring the haveli. For those historically and architecturally inclined, each room — named after Delhi’s famous gates like Kashmiri Gate, Delhi Gate, etc. —  talks about the history of its name, some of the mosaics and decorated arches on the windows and doors date back to beyond the 1880s, and are an interesting mix of Hindu-Mughal-European influences prevalent during the 19th century.

HD_kheer1_759_SC

Trio of kheers. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

There are little nooks and cranies on each floor for guests to relax, a small balcony that looks out — well, to not much, since outside here means a VERY narrow, dusty, overcrowded lane that’s typical of the area. But draw the cane blinds and sip your coffee like a nawab, and you won’t even notice it. You can brag about the Old Delhi charm later. The Goels occasionally organise musical and dance evenings featuring Kathak groups. Interestingly, all three levels are visible from both the ground floor as well as the terrace, which gives the audience different vantage points. The evening is when the magic of the haveli would really mesmerise you. Dimly lit, classical music streaming into your ears, the setting of Purani Delhi, food of the nawabs and quaint ethno-modern rooms, there is much to savour.

On the whole, Haveli Dharampura presents a nostalgic experience of Mughal-era Chandni Chowk in modern times. Those who have visited Rajasthan may find much in common, but in the Capital, a haveli resort in Delhi-6 seems to be a first of its kind. It also shows the way forward for other such dilapidated havelis peppered across Old Delhi. But, mind you, the experience comes at a price — but one that’s worth it.

HD_havel1_1440_SC

The courtyard at Haveli Dharampura. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

Tariff details:
Jharokha Rooms – Rs9,000 for double occupancy
Diwan-e-khas Rooms – Rs15,000 for double occupancy
Shahjahan Suites – Rs18,000 for double occupancy

Lakhori
Lunch/Dinner: Rs3,000-4000 for two people, without alcohol
(All rates are exclusive of taxes)

Farzi Café Food Review: Farzified, but not that impressed

Finally visited Farzi Café after hearing so much about it, and the food did pleasantly surprise. From veg to non-veg, it was overall a flavourful experience and certainly not complaining about the potency of the LIIT pitcher.

The ambiance was nice, upscale bistro and the plating was creative and fun. Though they really need to work on their proportions to plate and portions. Service is super duper fast.

The menu is a little limited but you’re sure to find something you like, unless you’re looking at the dessert section, which looked no fun at all.

Overall, a decent experience, good food, not really bang for your buck but can be used as an impression tactic, and the servers with their cool Bluetooth earpieces and rather fast gait give you the feel of being in a spy movie, and something cool is just gonna happen.

12645039_10154150991943268_1961536835241033209_n

Tandoori soy nuggets that were yum, and so was the dip. (Shruti Chakraborty)

 

12508732_10154150991983268_4777246868641404254_n

Yummy chicken drums with a sour cream dip on a truck — both tasty and the drums were amazing. If only they’d served it better and there were 5 pieces and not a measly 3. That cheap aloo namkeen chips just carelessly scattered were really a put off. The truck was fun but underutilised. Regular fries instead of the crappy namkeen would have been wayyyy better. (Shruti Chakraborty)

 

12642434_10154150992163268_2517185495866244577_n

Slow-cooked Lamb shanks and naan — beautiful gravy but the lamb was not falling off the bones as it should have. (Shruti Chakraborty)

 

12647476_10154150992068268_5886149867483619277_n

Prawn Chettinad fried rice — authentic flavours but lacked the spicy punch of Chettinad cuisine. (Shruti Chakraborty)

 

12645175_10154150992333268_2874104857539110311_n

Lovely mouth freshners at the end — paan encased in pillowy sugar candy. (Much better than that horrible firni palate cleanser they served). (Shruti Chakraborty)

Parsi Palates

Anjuman Plate_SC

(From left) Patra ni Machhi, Mutton Cutlet, Salli Boti, Salli per Endu, Raw Mango Salad and Roti

Located in the heart of Delhi, its simple wrought-iron gate hidden by overbearing Delhi Metro construction boards, the expansive campus of the Anjuman Parsi guesthouse is easy to miss, if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Over a half-a-century old, this little-known gem is much like the Harry Potter’s 9-and-three quarters platform — all the Parsis and the journalists working on the Indian Fleet Street (read Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg) know about it, while the rest of us have heard stories. Yet, over the past decade or so, the word has spread — if you want authentic, mouth-watering Parsi/Iranian fare, it’s Parsi Anjuman that you ought to be visiting.

Mrs Bagli and her daughter-in-laws are the ones who manage the guest house, and famous kitchen and the Zoroastrian Fire Temple. Every day the menu is different, and mind you, even if they’re accommodating, the final menu for even a simple lunch for 4-5 people will be decided with inputs from them. So don’t head over there thinking you can order anything from the non-existent menu card. (This is probably why they never printed one.) Orders have to be made at least a day in advance.

Anjuman Salli Boti_SC

The Salli Boti is wonderfully paired with roti

The food is simple, homely and tasty. On the two occasions that I visited this Delhi institution, I tried a number of dishes that ranged from the famous Patra ni Machhi (fish wrapped in green chilli paste steamed in a banana leaf) and Caramel Rice (brown rice with hints of jiggery, raisins and cashew nuts) to the Mutton Dhansak (mutton with a dal-like gravy) and Salli Per Endu (an interesting baked dish of spices, vermicelli and potato juliennes topped with egg). And let’s not forget a Caramel Custard that’s enough to warrant a visit on its own.

The Patra ni Machhi on the day I visited was a tad bit too sweet, but the fish itself was lovely, aromatic, and well-cooked (though my fellow diner said hers was overcooked, and the chilli paste tasted like sawdust. But then, to be fair, she did have some lovely Patra ni Machhi at Anjuman earlier). The Salli Boti (mutton in tomato gravy, topped with fried potato juliennes) paired well the roti. The Salli per Endu could have done with a little stronger flavours, but it just looked amazing (plus, I’ll happily munch down anything with egg in it!). The Dhansak (mutton or any other variant) is delectable. The thick lentil gravy somehow always gives one a wholesome feel — like you’re eating ‘good, nutritious’ food. Between the mutton balls and cutlets, I preferred the latter — it was juicier, and the flavours somehow came out better.

A special mention ought to be made of the fresh salad that accompanies the meals. In summer, you’d even find pieces of raw mango, and the tanginess just beautifully complements a rather heavy meal.

Anjuman_Salli per Endu_SC

The Sally per Endu was a bit bland, but interesting… and definitely pretty to look at!

Though there isn’t much for vegetarians, but the younger Mrs Bagli is most accommodating. You have substitutes for almost everything — there’s Patra ni Paneer, Dhansak gravy, Vegetable Balls/Cutlets, Salli Vegetable (with potato, peas and makhana), Salli per Mushroom (similar to Salli per Endu), and more.  The flavours are pretty much the same as their non-veg counterparts, just lacking the kick of ‘meat’ that we non-vegetarians otherwise crave.

Finish the meal with their stellar caramel custard or its less sweet cousin, a caramel kulfi.

Everything about Anjuman screams Old World, from the plates and cutlery, to the Spartan mess-like cafeteria and Mrs Bagli’s crisply, starched sari held in place with a brooch. If you like Parsi food (or would like to try it), Parsi Anjuman is definitely a must-visit. Just make sure you end up lazing in bed after stuffing yourself, because, honestly, you won’t be capable of much else.

 

Parsi Anjuman (Iranian cuisine)

+91-11-23238615

Delhi Gate, Parsi Dharamshala, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, near Daryaganj, New Delhi

12.30-2pm for lunch, 8-10pm for dinner

Note:

1. Call in at least a day before to fix the menu

2. An order of Patra ni Machhi, Patra ni Paneer, Salli Boti, Salli per Endu, Salli Vegetable, Mutton Cutlet, Veg Cutlet, Roti and Kulfi for 6 people cost Rs 2,250

 

This piece was first published in Businessworld.

The Fasting-Feasting Month

The Jama Masjid is brightly lit up at night

The Jama Masjid is brightly lit up at night

It’s funny how certain events mean completely different things for different people. Take, for instance, the month of Ramzan. For Muslims it’s 30 days of sombre remembrance and spiritual reverence. They fast all through the day, and eat only after sundown and after doing their namaz/maghrib prayer. For me, and there is absolutely no disrespect meant, it’s about “iftaar” — the first meal of the day. This is ironic because it’s never the first meal of the day for me, but then who bothers with technicalities.

But then, given the fancy iftaar parties that grace the numerous Page Threes and Fours and Fives, at least I’m not the only one with the following ‘chemical’ equation:

Ramazan = AWESOME FOOD!

There's nothing to beat the traditional Tandoori Roti and Korma!

There’s nothing to beat the traditional Tandoori Roti and Korma!

 

Traditionally, the fast is broken by consuming dates (because Prophet Mohammad was supposed to have broken his fast with three dates), following which there is a feast of the most delectable kinds of foods, had together in a social gathering of sorts. So, in a way, it’s actually 30 fancy dinner parties in a row!

This makes it all the more imperative for a true foodie to visit the brightly lit gully of Matia Mahal, in front of Delhi’s imposing Jama Masjid as the angled rays of the sun give way to the blue hour. The evening azaan pierces through the air, calling out to devotees who scramble across the vast courtyard of the 357-year-old mosque offering their prayers. Within minutes, though, the same courtyard is filled with numerous picnic spreads.

After the maghrib prayer, there's a whole community picnic, where families spread out to break the day's fast together.

After the maghrib prayer, there’s a whole community picnic, where families spread out to break the day’s fast together.

Friends get together to chat before the maghrib prayer

Friends get together to chat before the maghrib prayer

Step out, and the entrance of the famous Matia Mahal (of Karim fame, among other things) is brightly lit up to rival Diwali, as people call out to each other — wishing them, hugging them, crowds gathering around the various hotels shouting out their orders, the air full of the delicious smells of chicken fry and mutton qorma (that is also SO characteristically Old Delhi), towers of soft and fluffy tandoori rotis grace the countertops, the sizzle of marinated meats being tossed into massive woks of bubbling hot oil, mounds of freshly fried, golden brown, succulent chicken wings glisten in the festive lights — beckoning, making your mouth salivate.

There are different types of tikkas available for your choosing

There are different types of tikkas available for your choosing

Succulent meat balls are freshly fried and served piping hot!

Succulent meat balls are freshly fried and served piping hot!

As you cut through the stream of bodies, adopt the robot pose (both arms on the side with the fore-arm jutting out like an L), keep a lookout for anything and everything that strikes our eye, and triggers the palate in anticipation.

Ideally I would recommend the vegetarians to stay away from this part of town, especially during Ramazan because, let’s face it, there isn’t much to have. Except for the absolutely brilliant Shahi Tukda. If Marie Antoinette had savoured this delicacy, let’s just say, history would have been a tad bit different. Made from the rather proletarian bread, bumped up the tasting order with a generous dosage of ghee and malai and all things nice, these bites of heaven simply melt in your mouth (while the calories head straight down south!). There are, of course, quite a selection of dry fruits, a fusion version of the roti with coconut filling and fresh hot pakoras to choose from as well. Although, be warned that the latter just about lasts 20 minutes after the evening maghrib prayer. So you’ll have to stand ready to jump at them the minute they’re up for sale.

Take your pick from potato, spinach masala, paneer and a host of other pakodas

Take your pick from potato, spinach masala, paneer and a host of other pakodas

Give in to the hevenly taste of the Shahi Tukda

Give in to the hevenly taste of the Shahi Tukda

During this month, Matia Mahal is open till the wee hours of the morning as the smells of haleem waft through the air — the traditional “suhoor” fare, which is had just before dawn. Of course, the festivities keep ascending in lights, choices and decibel levels closer to Eid, but that just means you can pace yourself and your stomach out over an entire month.

So, as-salamu aleikum and bon apetit!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.