17 December 2016

Fantome Bar Exchange

Conveniently located at South Point Mall, just behind my home base in DLF's Phase 5, I noticed Fantome Bar Exchange a few weeks back while detouring past the mall due to the never-ending metro line construction. Just opened 1 1/2 month back, I finally dropped in a few weeks ago for some drinks with a girlfriend before heading out to an event. Once settled however, we didn't leave. The ambience was inviting and the music selection was good, but not so loud as to be off-putting where we couldn't sit and conversate. (Note to bars in Gurgaon: Knock it off; you don't all have to try to be a dance club. If you are a pub or a family restaurant your music should never be so loud that I have to shout to the person sitting across from me.)

Wanting to catch up with another friend in the vicinity, I suggested we meet at Fantome to see if it would be as charming as the first visit. I also wanted to try some of their handcrafted beers this time around. Verdict = nice ambience, good service, and pretty good pub grub.

02 December 2016

Hungry Expat's "Indianized" Stovetop Scrambled Eggs

Inspiration for my next "Indianized" dish came quickly today. I am a huge fan of breakfast for dinner which is why I took my leftover "salsa" concoction from my baked potato and Indianized myself some dinner out of it. Scrambled eggs are another favorite of mine and super quick and easy.
3-4 eggs                              1/4 c milk                           2 tsp butter 

For some pizzaaz one may also add some cheese and cilantro and definitely salt and pepper, but they're pretty bland the traditional way, even with a side of bacon and toast.

01 December 2016

Hungry Expat's "Indianized" Best Baked Potato

Growing up, baked potatoes were my go-to meal because they were quick and easy and required pretty much zero level of skill to make. An American baked potato, while filling, comprises of very little and is easily cooked:
potato                            butter                        sour cream                   cheddar cheese              salt                            ground black pepper

It was also common to spice it up a bit with the ever popular Bac-os (for those of you uninitiated in American imitation food - that is bacon flavored "bits" made out of soy or some such) or chives. If you were really ambitious, you could also cover lightly in olive oil and dust with sea salt for a better baking result, but I rarely exerted that little bit of extra effort and opted for the quick and dirty microwave.

30 November 2016

Mixing Indian flavors with American tastes

I've had a parade of visitors since we moved to India almost 2 1/2 years ago. Most of my guests are expats who have/are living abroad or friends of friends who are frequent travelers, but recently my parents ventured over as well as one of my besties from the US. This is when I realized that not everyone loves Indian food as much as I do (I do miss my weekly sushi and the variety of different cuisines in my diet, but I also happily eat Indian for the majority of my meals daily). While many expats and frequent travelers love to immerse themselves in the food and culture of a new place, many Americans can't handle all of the richness and flavors. (I have a test case of a Polish-American expat (aka Buffet Queen for long-time readers!) coming to visit this week to compare - she grew up on barely any black pepper and can't handle spicy, but she has lived abroad for many years - we'll see how much Indian cooking she can endure.) 


I think the reason that I love Indian food so much is because it's made from so many familiar flavors. I grew up in Texas eating a healthy amount of Tex-Mex and Mexican food for as long as I can remember, and those flavors of cayenne, onion, chili peppers, cumin, bell peppers, garlic, and coriander/cilantro, amongst others made Indian cuisine feel a little bit more like home. That said, there was an article on WaPo last year discussing the science behind what makes Indian delicious, and it was mostly because they combine flavors completely differently than we do in American food. Another aspect of it is the fact that Indian food isn't just a few dishes, it's literally thousands of different meals (not that our cook realizes this ... I need Curry Delight back in the kitchen). 

So all of this led me to think more about how India "Indianizes" American foods and how the US "Americanizes" Indian foods to meet individual taste expectations. Sometimes this is done successfully resulting in deliciousness (visit The California Boulevard in Gurgaon to experience a delightful fusion of flavors) and sometimes it ends poorly with an over-masala-ed mishmash of seasonings or a weird, wannabe bbq sauce/Ranch dressing. So my plan is to take my favorite American dishes and "Indianize" them. While I'm no expert on flavors, I'm hoping I can't screw up this experiment too badly since Indian food is supposedly all about combining things with nothing in common. First up is baked potato. Check back for how I changed the traditional bland American version into a more flavorful dish using Indian spices!

03 November 2016

Giruz Bakery and Cafe

I recently had the opportunity to visit Giruz Bakery at Baani Square (Sector 50) for lunch and bread tasting during their soft opening. I have been eagerly awaiting their opening as there is a dearth of unique bread shops here in Gurgaon. I can easily find white or whole grain sliced breads, but few groceries offer speciality breads more than just a baguette or croissants, choosing to focus more on pastries than the wide array of tasty bread options. I previously tried L'Opera (at Galleria Market in DLF Phase 4 of Gurgaon and Hauz Khas Village in South Delhi) and the DLF Phase 5 Club bakery (on the ground floor of the main building near the central sitting area). L'Opera was hailed by my French friend (living in Bangalore with even less options than here) as fantastic and a much needed reminder of home. They have an excellent selection of pastries, specialty jams, and an array of teas, if you're into that kind of thing. The baguette and croissants are both quite good - their website boasts of several additional options that I have never seen fresh in the shops, but that could just because I don't make it over early enough to indulge. My parents loved their chocolate pastry.
Post-sightseeing snack at L'Opera Hauz Khas
I've only bought baguettes from the Phase 5 Club, and they were fine. However, their website also lists a number of bread options, most of which are gone by the time I stop in. I clearly need to prioritize my bread shopping! My problem is that I don't eat baguettes nearly fast enough and by nature they go stale and hard almost immediately. However, I learned from Giruz that in order to avoid wastage you should immediately freeze whatever you won't eat within the day. You can then later defrost piece by piece and they're just as fresh. 

What I didn't realize when I dropped into Giruz's bakery was that they also have a small cafe. I visited during their taste testing phase so they did not yet have a set menu and I was treated to a wide array of dishes they were testing on customers. Full disclosure: I did not pay for this meal (I did purchase my breads and cakes though); the owner is a friend who invited me for taste testing. I did not receive any compensation for this review and she did not ask me to write this - she just knows I love fresh bread and hopes I'll become a loyal customer.

Baani Square, while most consider it "out of the way" since it's not on Golf Course Road and is closer to Sohna Road, it's actually quite conveniently located next to the Hilton Garden hotel on Vikas Marg near Hibiscus and Nirvana Country. I live in Phase 5 and it's a short 10 minute drive most times of the day. There is a vast array of restaurants in this small shopping arcade. Other than Giruz, I've visited their fast food version of Lebanese food, Lub Lub (also quite good). I've also heard good things about The Spice Lab and Big Wong, but can't personally vouch for them. Giruz is located on the ground floor central section opposite Big Wong. They are a small and cozy cafe, with smart French country decor. If you still find it daunting to venture over yonder, Giruz also offers delivery options.

I started with vada pav, the pav, of course, was made fresh in house. It differs slightly from the traditional version in that the pakora, while still made from fried mashed potato batter, seasoning, and curry leaves, was not drenched in oil like most fried foods here. The sauces add another twist, with a topping of red chili sauce and a green coriander, ginger, garlic, and onion masala chutney. 
Fresh vada pao
Bruschetta on a French garlic bread baguette

Next up was some bruschetta on a toasted French garlic bread baguette. As this was their time to experiment with tastes and recipes, the chef added a twist of some chopped up olives to the traditional tomato and basil drizzled with olive oil which didn't strike my fancy since I despise olives (weird since I adore olive oil), but was good overall. Both crunchy and savoury with not too much oil or topping that the bread becomes soggy. My friend was not thrilled with the addition either, so I imagine if you order this dish today you'll get a more traditional version.

02 May 2016

The California Boulevard

As Gurgaon's InterNation's ambassador I get to plan fun events and culinary adventures for our members each month. I like to keep it fresh and try to find a new spot to host my monthly events so I usually identify a new place or take suggestions from members then approach the manager/owner about our organization and mission. Now that I've been doing it for almost a year I sometimes get invitations from some restaurants that want to work with us. Yesterday was one such day. A friend who is a new activity group consul for InterNations and has a background working with restaurants in the area wanted to meet with The California Boulevard and combine forces to host a duel activity group dinner. I am fully aware that because of the special treatment I received when dining with the PR head and having the chef prepare us some of his favorites I had a very different dining experience than most. Full disclosure, I did not pay for my meal, and I am hosting a future event at their location, but they also did not ask me to write this. I miss writing and this just happens to be the most recent place I've visited and had a sit-down meal rather than just an array of appetizers. Also, I have attended a previous event at this location and paid at that time.

I visited The California Boulevard's Gurgaon location in Sector 29. It is known for its fine dining and Hollywood-inspired theme ambiance. It prides itself on the California "experience" and making fine dining available for all. And it appears that is something they are achieving, for a Sunday afternoon, there were a surprising number of guests in the restaurant.

The servers were well-trained in being available, but not hovering. The meal commenced with a waiter putting a silver bowl with a small white square in front of me. He then poured water over it and voila! I had a small wet wipe for my hands. It was a much nicer presentation than a finger bowl with nothing to dry your hands on. Not a novel concept, but something different from most restaurants I have eaten at in India. While our hostess ordered a variety of bitings for us, I did get a chance to look at the menu and was quite impressed by the selection which is apparently going to grow in the next few weeks with a new menu being launched. One thing I didn't get to try, but will definitely order next time is their cheese fondue. I love fondue (who doesn't love a pot of molten cheese?!) and didn't even know that there was a restaurant offering that option in Gurgaon.

We started with their version of a Dilli ki Chaat nibbler. I'm used to it looking like this:

Photo credit
But theirs was a light and airy appetizer that you could eat several and still feel like you have room for your main course. It was a great start to the meal and fun twist on a traditional Indian snack.

Crunchy spinach leaves with yogurt, tamarind, and mint chutney

01 February 2016

Experiments in Paleo: Cauliflower Curry Soup

A couple of weeks ago I was the sickest I've been with stomach issues since moving to India, and I've found that I feel better when I cut out certain foods. For the last few months I was a little lax sticking to paleo (read: too lazy to cook something separate for myself); however, I still managed to follow the gist of it, mostly. I was never on the hardcore paleo bandwagon, I just can't bring myself to cut out dairy, and I really don't understand why I should as long as the products I'm eating are not overly processed. Did our ancestors not have cows to milk? I'm pretty sure Indians have had yogurt since the beginning of time. Also, cheese. The main takeaway on dairy for me is that I'm choosing fresh cheeses rather than mass produced, processed cheeses that seem to stay "fresh" regardless of how long they sit in the fridge. I continue to steer clear of sugars (pretty easy for me considering how sickly sweet I find most Indian desserts), but I did allow some of the grains I so love back in my life. I even ate pasta one day and it was glorious. However, instead of slipping back into old habits, I maintained a healthier relationship with them, and instead of having the ever-present Basmati rice on a daily basis, I chose gluten-free parathas or rotis instead. I did allow myself some toast or crackers with tea or a sandwich on occasion, but bread is no longer part of my daily diet. In an effort to get back on the paleo wagon properly, I am kicking February off with another cauliflower creation.

I found this recipe for "Easy Curried Cauliflower Soup" on the All Recipes app last month when my friend was in town visiting. We gave it a shot with a few modifications and it turned out delicious. As winter is ending, but there's still a bit of chill in the air, I thought I'd make this for dinner tonight before it gets too hot to properly enjoy.

Cauliflower Curry Soup

1 tbsp ghee
1 red or yellow capsicum/bell pepper
1 red onion
3 carrots
garlic cloves (to taste)
1 head of cauliflower
32 fl. oz. vegetable broth or chicken stock
~2 tbsp yellow curry powder (or to taste)
~1 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
Salt and ground black pepper (to taste)
Cream/sour cream/yogurt (to taste)
Parsley/cilantro (to garnish)