My last visit to India was in 2007, a year after Chand and I got married. Each Christmas since, when we close down the restaurants, we pick a different destination to visit.
A lot of our itinerary is based around food and restaurants. We have literally flown into Oslo for one night to make a speedy stop at Maaemo - I guess we are food tourists.
Last year we changed the concept of our 9-year-old restaurant Sidart to progressive Indian. With two restaurants now offering Indian cuisine we decided it was time to revisit the Motherland and introduce our children to India and its culture.
We landed in Delhi on Christmas Eve and headed straight for Indian Accent to meet acclaimed Chef Manish Mehrotra. It's the only Indian restaurant to make the top 100 in San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants and is voted the best Indian restaurant by Conde Nast Traveller and Tripadvisor.
In Indian culture, you never darken someone's door empty handed. So we presented Chef Mehrotra with a special hand woven kete filled with some of our Auckland favourites including Best Ugly Bagels, Clevedon buffalo cheese, Hallertau beer, golden kiwifruit, Maori potatoes and sourdough and lamb chops from our own restaurants.
It was such a pleasure to share them and discuss our mutual passion for fresh ingredients and Indian flavours. Our hosts pampered us in return with a tasting menu showcasing some very unique Indian produce such as "gucchi" or morel mushrooms.
Our palates journeyed through various regions, eating puchkas (pani puri) from West Bengal, pepper crab from Kanyakumari in the south, Punjabi Doda burfi made into a treacle tart and a Rajasthani daal.
Each mouthful was an explosion of flavours. Chand and I were blown away. Indian Accent and Chef Mehrotra definitely set the bar quite high for the rest of our culinary journey.
Continuing our holiday with the kids, we explored our hometowns of Chandigarh and Pune, revisited some old favourites and discovered a few new ones. In Chandigarh we found Farzi Cafe, a casual modern Indian restaurant reinventing traditional classics in a playful, fun way. In Pune we tried local street food "Vada pav" (Indian potato burger) with the kids and went to Arth, a high-end restaurant using charcoal and tandoor to cook.
In Mumbai we enjoyed local pani puri in Bandra, dosas in an Udipi (a local South Indian restaurant) and pav bhaji, buttery bread with mashed spiced vegetables.
India is a sensory overload and so is the cuisine. We came back with our bellies full and our minds inspired. I was reintroduced to so many forgotten flavours and ingredients, intrigued to be eating classic local street food for one meal and beautifully crafted modern Indian, in an upmarket restaurant environment, for the next. All had one common element: they were delicious.
I highly recommend picking the mind of a local expert or researching cities you plan on visiting. There is so much to do, see and eat and you can't miss out on anything.
- Sid Sahrawat is the executive chef and owner of Sidart, Cassia and Sid at the French Café
Pav Bhaji (pav means bread, bhaji means vegetables). This dish was created by street vendors to satiate the appetites of Mumbai's poor working men.
Pav Bhaji Masala is a spice blend that can be bought from Indian grocers.
3 medium potatoes
1/2 cup green peas
2 large red onions, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped capsicum (approx. 1 large)
1½ teaspoons Kashmiri red chilli powder (or less)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon readymade Pav Bhaji Masala powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons oil plus 2 tablespoons butter
Butter for serving
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander leaves
1 lemon quartered into wedges to serve
8 dinner rolls or buns, for serving
1. Boil the potatoes and peas, drain and mash coarsely. Set aside. Heat oil in a pan and add three quarters of quantity of onions. Saute till light golden in colour. Add ginger-garlic paste. Stir-fry for half a minute. Add pav bhaji masala, turmeric, chilli powder and chopped capsicum and stir fry for a minute.
2. Ensure you've finely chopped the tomatoes. Add tomatoes, salt and cook on medium heat for three to four minutes, stirring continuously or till oil separates from the masala.
Add mashed peas, potatoes and 1 cup of water. Bring it to boil and simmer for 10 minutes, pressing with back of the spoon a few times, till all the vegetables are completely mashed and blended together.
3. Heat half of the butter in a thick-bottomed pan. Slice buns horizontally into two and pan fry in butter for half a minute, pressing two or three times or till the buns are crisp and light brown. Garnish the bhaji with chopped coriander leaves, remaining butter and serve hot with buns accompanied with remaining chopped onion and lemon wedges.