“You can’t think well, love well, sleep well, if you haven’t had a good dinner.”
– Virginia Woolf
Food has always been my first love. My lifelong goal has been to discover different types of foods of national and international origin. So when someone arbitrarily asked me what my motivating passion in life was, I looked askance and replied, “Food, food and more food. “
This immense love for food has taken me from the Great Wall of China to Big Ben in London and even to the United States. Call it my foodie urge or the need to experiment, every time I arrive in a new country I look forward to tasting the varied platters that each place has to offer.
With the pandemic hitting the unsuspecting world, all visions of travel and dining have quickly receded into the past. Now one can only remember and travel vicariously through the phone or laptop. It is pure nostalgia that walks in the past. Waves of nostalgia hit me when I remember enjoying a plate of Khao Soi (chicken noodle soup) at Hann Khao Soi Lovers on a famous food street in Bangkok.
Another heavenly dish is the superbly spiced fried catfish, which I remember gulping down while taking a boat ride down the Chao Phraya River to explore Thailand’s Old European Quarter. The most appealing part of Thai cuisine in Thailand is its warm hospitality. It brings back images of the sun, the sea and the beaches, all served with a smile!
Now let me tell you about the time I watched an episode of MasterChef Australia. It was two o’clock in the morning. One of the contestants had created a dish called Shrimps a la Plancha, where the prawns are pan-fried (a la Plancha) and mixed with tequila and chili ginger and garlic sauce with baked potatoes on the side. It took me back in time to Australia, where I had been for an investor meeting.
I can say with pleasure that I tasted this exquisite dish at the Rocks Cafe. I was so excited and as usual, even at this unsightly hour, I called our chef de cuisine Rajesh Dubey to arrange to have a dish on these similar lines.
My best memories that I will always cherish are those I spent in the UK. This is probably the only place my nose and insatiable appetite have traveled from the alleys of Brick Lane to the shopping streets of Oxford and Bond Street. Also, I love London because I am a pure Calcuttan. The history of these two cities is closely linked. I find Calcutta, with its downpours, wet streets, and emotional and culinary overflows, a close cousin to the city of London.
Leaving Alan Yau’s Hakkasans, Wagamama and Yauatchas on one side, one can venture into the depths of London, like Tooting, and surface the bustling streets of Pakistan – with the tastiest tastes in Lahore, Pindi and Karachi Darbar, to name a few.
London, or indeed the UK, is much more than its image of fish ‘n’ chips. It’s unimaginable, but I found pieces of Calcutta in Soho. The Golden Union Fish Bar makes delicious flaky fish cakes in a light, crispy cover that reminds me so much of our own Fish Orly.
But what took my breath away was the Chilean bar at Sexy Fish, a restaurant in Berkeley Square. Oh yes, I have walked much of the lanes and alleys of London and beyond, to experience the different dishes served.
But before taking my readers further, I’m just waiting for the end of this confinement (it never ends), to be able to travel and open our first restaurant in London, called Chourangi. Everything is ready. Only the cut of the ribbon remains. I also can’t wait to relive London at night at Marble Arch and Edgeware, where Lebanese restaurants like Maroosh, Beirut and Helens await night owls like me with their shawarmas and mint tea to spend the winter nights.
And speaking of shawarmas and kebabs, I just can’t forget to say Ahlan Wa Sahlan. Welcome. You are now in Dubai. When I first landed in Dubai it was in the midst of the scorching heat of June. The mercury has hit an intolerable 49 ° C! I decided to come back immediately the same evening after my meetings. But a cousin of mine, Snehashish, dissuaded me and described the plethora of food available. I started to drool.
I remember the smoky scent of the kebab and the big platters of sheeshtawook at Reem al Bawadi, where you can get the best Arab dishes. Pappa Rotti, an international chain of cafes serving the most delicious rolls oozing with cinnamon and butter, is also available.
This exotic and unique bun at a very high price point reminded me of the little tea stalls in India, which serve sweet buns with kadak chai. However, the Pappa Rotti are of a different class and truly luxurious to eat. These cloud-soft buns with their coffee flavor and dripping sweet butter are a lip-smacking Mexican bread made in heaven!
I have never been a huge fan of burgers. I always thought it was a simple meat patty sandwiched between two loaves of bread with no distinctive flavor. However, when I was in the UK I was proven wrong. In search of a place to set up a new specialty restaurant, I came across century-old St Christopher Lane pub, The Lamb and Flag, and Patty & Bun, which sells some of the best burgers in the world. Contrary to what I expected the burgers were tasty and healthy. It made me change my mind about the concept of burgers.
Like all gourmets, I have a sweet tooth. Something sweet is a must before ending the day. The other day I opened the fridge and voila! What did I find? Caramelized waffles with a drizzle of honey. My favorite. When I took the first big bite, I was transported to London – to the bustle of Oxford Street. There, tucked away in a corner near Selfridges, is a tiny little shop serving the most mouth-watering waffles. The hot, toasted waffles are served with dollops of cream and berries and drizzled with golden honey. I never fail to go to this place on every visit to London.
Since I mentioned Selfridges, I can’t go by without mentioning Lola’s Cupcakes, which you’ll find in the Foodhall. It is the request of my children that I always bring back some. And knowing how delicate the cupcakes are, it’s quite a juggling act to save them on flights.
Well, it hasn’t always been a treat, tasting food from all over the world. There were times that scared me and made me a little suspicious on my travels abroad. Stomach aches don’t matter to me because they can be treated immediately with medication. But my trip to Japan almost killed me.
I am extremely fond of sushi and its variations. Being a foodie, I am ready to try anything. And so, in Japan, I tried the fugu fish. This fish is a delicacy in Japan, but very poisonous. The slightest mistake in its preparation can be fatal. Thus, only specially licensed chefs can prepare and sell fugu to the public.
I wonder if all the delight was worth it. This fish is said to be even more toxic than cyanide. It was pure bad luck for me, because I had to be hospitalized! Fortunately, the quick action of the doctors got me out of there.
Ah! I just lost track of time and have so many more stories up my sleeve. However, I cannot describe to you the agony I feel at not being able to travel. I can only dream and pray that normality will return – to imagine a good restaurant, friendly company and great food. This is what I call happiness!