Some pickle lovin’

Most Indian households have a pickling tradition.

As the cold winters wither away, the sun’s rays warm the land, and raw green mangoes appear everywhere. As one of the most popular choices for an Indian pickle, the raw mangoes undergo a very thorough process to reach their final pickled state.

In my family, my aunts took up the responsibility to make spicy mango pickles.

I never saw that mysterious pickling process. I just knew it was something that took a lot of time to prep, and you had to wait a few days to eat them.

When the mango pickle was ready, I savoured the thick dark green peels and soft flesh of the mango, now completely transformed. Sometimes we had them with lunch and dinner, and sometimes with the mathis or mathris that Punjabis love. They’re a thick, flaky, brittle snack, usually salty, and they go perfectly well with pickles.

You break off a piece of the mathi, dip it into the pickle, then quickly push it into your mouth so the oils of the pickle don’t drip. Then you let the pickle’s juices flow and you bite into the mathi.

This was one of my favourite snacks as a child.

But some time in my 20s, I went on a health streak. And Indian pickles went struck off my list of approved foods.


They were too oily, too greasy, contained too much salt, and were generally extremely unhealthy. At that point, I completely stopped eating those beloved pickles. And frankly, if I wanted to cheat and unhealthy things, there were a gazillion other things to choose from, like chocolates and French fries and pizzas.

Around five years ago, I read The Beauty Diet by Shonali Sabherwal (you can read more on her website).

I loved her explanations of different types of food and their effects on our bodies. Among other things, she introduced me to the toxicity of sugar, the importance of whole grains (jowar, bajra, rajgira) and how to eat a balanced, well-rounded, satisfying meal. One of the crucial elements she recommends: pickle.

No kidding.

Of course, I was surprised by that. But then Shonali wrote about quick pickles and stressed that pickles don’t always need to be oily or salty or spicy, and don’t always need weeks to be ready.

A couple years ago, I had a leftover carrot in my refrigerator and I looked up a quick pickle recipe online. The result was a bright and beautiful carrot pickle, steeped in flavour.

And thanks to that by-chance experiment, I re-found my lost love for pickles!

Too much oil and salt is generally a bad idea, but a quick pickle can taste just as good.

Even in ayurvedic principles of eating, having quick pickles with your meals is advocated. Even nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar recommends pickles (more in this story from Outlook).

Pickles are fermented and are said to be good for gut bacteria because they function work as probiotics. Whatever your reason, pickles made the right way can be good for us. I can vouch for this—I felt quite good when I had pickles with my lunch. I especially felt fuller much longer than usual.

Last week, I tried this quick pickle recipe with cauliflower that was errr… super quick (obviously!), easy and super flexible. I used a bit of regular white vinegar with very little apple cider vinegar, a sprinkle of turmeric (for colour) and a threw in a few pieces of star anise to the jar.

In just a couple of hours, my cauliflower pickle had a delightful sweet-sourish flavour, and the star anise gave it a subtle kick.

cauliflower quick pickle

But here is a version of another quick pickle recipe I’ve tried a couple times, written by the lovely Madhur Jaffrey. The result is always super delicious.


Since I have a refined sugar-free kitchen, I used local jaggery (gur).

Be careful with the amount of spices and vinegar you use because the flavours of the spices are quite strong.

Quick Mixed Vegetable Pickle

(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe).


3 tbsp jaggery (cane sugar)

150ml cider vinegar (you can use lesser)

100ml extra virgin olive oil (or a vegetable oil you like)

1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

400g small cauliflower florets

5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 5cm pieces

225g baby turnips, peeled and halved

2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds, ground in a clean coffee grinder

2 tsp salt

a mixture of 1 tsp chilli powder and 1½ tsp bright red paprika (I use only chill powder)

½ tsp garam masala



Heat a small pan on low flame, and add the jaggery and vinegar. Stir occasionally till the jaggery dissolves. Then turn off the heat.

Pour the oil into a large pan set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add garlic and ginger and stir for 30 seconds.

Add the cauliflower, carrots and turnips to the pan. Stir the vegetables and cook for about a minute or until the vegetables are coated with oil but still crisp.

Get the heat down to low and add the ground mustard, salt, chilli powder and paprika mixture and garam masala. Stir and mix for a minute or two until the vegetables are coated in the spices.

Pour in the jaggery-vinegar mixture and stir. Take off the heat and allow the pickle to cool.

Transfer the pickle into one or two clean jars and place in refrigerator.

You can enjoy the pickle immediately, though it can last for up to three weeks in the fridge.

The year of badass women in films

I’m tired of watching timid women in films, in whichever language they may be. I’m tired of them playing second fiddle to male protagonists, and I’m especially irritated with the stereotyped, hollow and misguided projections of “modern” women in Indian films (Alia Bhatt in Dear Zindagi, Sonakshi Sinha in Noor).

But 2017 has given me some hope. I’ve seen women kick bigtime ass in films, I’ve seen women who won’t take no for an answer, and I’ve seen women who won’t let others decide their destiny.

Like this one:

Gal Gadot playing Diana in Wonder Woman

And these:

Ramya Krishna playing Sivagami in Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion

Anushka Shetty playing Devasena in Baahubali: The Conclusion

Taapsee Pannu playing Shabana in Naam Shabana

*Cue applause.*

And here is why I love them:

They fight. And how.

They fight, and not just physically. Not just by kicking or punching a villain, or by cutting off a perverted man’s hand. They fight society’s expectations, and they fight to save other’s lives. And, even better, they fight for themselves.

Naam Shabana fighting

I loved watching Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman taking down the bad guys, and Taapsee Pannu as Shabana extracting revenge. The immense satisfaction I got from seeing their toughness just blew me.

They are self-centred, but selfless and loving too.

Hurray for multidimensional women. They exist around the world, but very rarely on screen.

Whether it’s Diana (aka Wonder Woman) or Devasena from Baahubali: The Conclusion, they are clear about what they want- learn to fight, be a better archer, hunt down a kiiller. And they will do whatever they can to reach those goals.

Wonder Woman

But that doesn’t make them bitches.

Because they still care about people. They fight to protect their kingdom, to protect their country and to save humanity.

They have men in their lives.   

How many times have we girls heard the line, “Men don’t like women who are too ambitious or career-focused, so don’t be so driven”?

Sorry folks, but just because we like to do “unconventional” things doesn’t mean we can’t fall in love or have a man interested in us.

Thankfully, the men in these films are more in touch with their masculinity and like to see women fight. They cheer them on during a fighting match, and share their own skills with them (remember the three-arrow hold in Bahubali: The Conclusion?). And thank god for that.

Baahubali 2 archery

Because yes, there are such men in real life too and the world needs to see them. Not all men want their wives or girlfriends to be damsels in distress or be totally dependent on them.


All these films have their flaws in their treatment of women characters, especially in their relationship with male protagonists (and that’s a blog post for another time).

Nevertheless it’s refreshing to see such wonderful roles for women in popular cinema in Bollywood and Hollywood. It’s even more awesome that audiences are watching and accepting these films.

Maybe the time will soon come when film makers won’t have to rely on big-ticket male actors to attract audiences, and have women do some REAL stuff on screen. Stuff that is mostly confined to men.

It’s too early to celebrate path-breaking female characters on the big screen. But there is some hope…


From hours to minutes: How I book the right hotel quickly

I remember the time I was planning a trip to Spain in 2011. Booking air tickets and drawing up a rough itinerary were the easy parts. Then I had to book my hotel rooms.

I agonized over dozens of hotels in Barcelona, Sevilla and Madrid. I looked at so many options across so many websites, so many blogs and so many travel portals that it took me days to decide the hotels. If I had spent as much time in preparing for my college exams, I would have aced them all.

Anyways, when I finally selected the hotels, I promised myself I would never spend so much time on figuring out hotels for my trip. Of course, hotels are a very important part of my visit to a new place. I want comfort, I want easy access to public transport and I want to be safe.

But spending days, or even hours on hunting hotels? Sheer waste of valuable time.

Wora Bura Resort Spa Hua Hin

(Wora Bura Resort & Spa in Hua Hin, Thailand)

For my next trip, I tried to be a bit more systematic. I cut down from several days to just a single day on hotel research. But that was still too long.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And when planning my holiday to Italy in December 2013, I was also planning my wedding (!) and so, I had very little time to ponder over hotels.

That’s when I hit upon my formula.

I’ve been following this method since almost four years now and it’s saved me a lot of time, stress and the end result has never been bad (touchwood).

Try it and tell me what you think.

Here’s how I do it.

Step 1: I decide on a budget

I break down the trip’s budget into all sorts of costs—from sightseeing to food. All are estimates, of course, but that works. After calculating all these costs, I arrive at a cost for my hotel stays.

Or sometimes, I just decide the amount of money I am willing to spend on a hotel room per night on that trip, such as $80 per night.

Time taken: 10-20 minutes.

Hotel Kempinski Nay Pyi Taw

(Hotel Kempinski, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar)

Step 2: I pick hotels for that given budget.

I enter the city and travel dates into a hotel booking website. The booking website is usually one I find reliable and trustworthy. My preferences are usually or Once I get the search results, I filter by my budget, and now, I have a (long) shortlist. This doesn’t take long and the list could be anywhere from five to 15 hotels.

Time taken: 10 minutes

Step 3: I look up shortlisted hotels.

If there are too many (long) listed hotels could be dime a dozen, so I also filter out the hotels by the number of stars or ratings. The top ones stay on the list, the bottom ones are eliminated. From this shorter shortlist, I am now ready to research hotels. I look up traveller review sites like Tripadvisor for each hotel, and I especially pay attention to the bad reviews to get a balanced view. I then cut down to three hotels.

Time taken: 15-20 minutes

Step 4: I now have a final list.

With just three hotels on my list, I visit each hotel’s website and look up important details. For example, do they have a swimming pool and an elevator? Is it near the places I want to visit? Will I have access to public transport? How near or far is it from the airport?

Time taken: 10-15 minutes

Art hotel Chiang Mai

(Art Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Step 5: And now, I have a winner.

I go back to my booking site and book. Or, if the hotel offers a “lowest tariff guarantee” I write to them informing them of my travel dates and the best offers I’m getting online. Most hotels respond within a day and they often give me a better rate (this is especially true of boutique and single/ standalone hotels).

I get the hotel I want, they get a paying customer. Win-win all around.

Time taken: 5 minutes (to email), 5 minutes (to pay)

How do you choose hotels for your holiday?


Throwback Thursday: Banteay Srei, Cambodia

This month I’ve been reminiscing about my trip to Cambodia last April. Yes, we did the obvious thing (i.e. visit Siem Reap and explore Angkor Wat), but every moment there was a revelation. Despite the insane heat and the crazy crowds, we made a little trek to Banteay Srei, just outside of the main Angkor temples.

Banteay Srei Siem Reap Cambodia

Banteay Srei may be much smaller than other temples in Angkor, but the intricate level of detailing is astounding. Built eleven centuries ago, the glorious stone carvings in the temple are not just fine works of art but also a journey into past Hindu glory in Cambodia.

Banteay Srei Angkor Wat Cambodia

Stunning stuff.


Lessons from a cooking disaster


I clearly remember the first time I tried to cook something entirely on my own (no, I don’t mean instant noodles). It was a weekend, early 2014. And I had decided to make bhindi (aka okra/ ladyfinger), a simple stir fry subzi to go with rotis.

I had no recipe, so I texted an aunt for help. She mentioned something like “Add this, then add masalas, then cook…” and so on and so forth. I had to text her again and ask, “Which masalas?”. Then I had to crosscheck their pictures online with the spices I already had in the kitchen.

Yep, I was that much of a cooking noob.

(BTW, this my sweet potato and spaghetti casserole. Doesn’t look like a newbie dish, does it?)

Spaghetti sweet potato bake

So I started my first kitchen foray all gung ho and super excited. I washed and chopped the ladyfinger, sliced onions, then turned on the heat, and began the actual cooking.

And I did everything right, just like my aunt had said. Or at least I thought I did.

At the “Iet it cook for some time” step, I left the pan unattended to do some other chores. I was away for just a few minutes. When I came back, the ladyfinger was sticking to the pan.

“Uh oh, they’re getting burnt,” I thought, and then I sought out to use my highly-developed common sense to rectify it.

I added water, of course.

Now, if you know how to cook ladyfinger, you may also know that adding water to ladyfinger spells disaster. Not the “Oh-I-spilt-some-milk” sort of disaster. But Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. Adding water to the Indian ladyfinger while cooking is a catastrophic mistake.

And so… The dish became all stringy and icky and looked like a giant lump of goop. I ruined the first dish I ever cooked.

But I also tasted it. The balance of flavours was perfect, but the texture was slimy and it the little pieces of ladyfinger were as scary-looking as Medusa’s head.

Of course I was upset.  I cried. But then… I tried cooking the same dish a few days later. Did NOT add water.

And the result?


What a relief that was.

Lesson learnt: Ask the right questions. Do your homework. And yes, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Since then, I haven’t let my kitchen disasters get my morale down. I learnt my lessons. And I’m glad I did.

(Here’s an attempt at broccoli soup. Still not perfect!) 

Broccoli soup

And I’ve been learning new lessons every time I go to the kitchen.

But from all the amazing, crucial, important and significant tips, tricks and hacks I’ve learnt about cooking, the most significant ones have been those that I apply to my life as well.

I don’t necessarily live to cook, and I don’t cook every day, but it’s an important part of my life now. I’m proud that I can feed myself, wherever I am.

What has cooking taught you?

Fantastic food: My recent faves

Back to Mumbai means back to noisy streets, crowded trains and endless traffic jams. But it also means dozens, nay, hundreds of amazing places to eat. And so, the last few weeks I’ve been heading to old haunts and new places, relishing my favourite dishes and exploring new ones.

So here are the best food experiences in the last one month.

Best breakfast: The Pantry, Kala Ghoda

We spent a gorgeous Sunday morning surrounded by peace and quiet, and great food, of course. “The kheema is brilliant”, declared S after a few bites. And so was the mushroom, chilli and cheese omelette. Oh yum!

Pantry Kala Ghoda breakfast kheema

Pantry Kala Ghoda breakfast omelette

Best main course: The Sassy Spoon, Bandra

Packed on a Tuesday afternoon, The Sassy Spoon at Bandra had a great vibe and even better food. The star of the show was my main course- zucchini and sweet potato roesti with ratatouille. With refined plating, the right balance of flavours and the goodness of vegetables, this was a truly memorable dish.

Sassy Spoon zucchini roesti

Best dessert: Bombay Vintage, Colaba

Now I’m not a desserts gal at all, but when friends order an weird-sounding dish called jaggery pudding, you know you got to try it. And so I did, and I did NOT regret the calories at all. Topped with ice cream, this dessert was a refreshing departure from cheesecakes and mousses.

Bombay Vintage jaggery pudding dessert

Old time favourite: Café Royal, Colaba

S and I are HUGE sizzler fans and so Café Royal is my all-time favourite. I visit the restaurant on an empty stomach and I polish off my sizzler. Always. Check out my sizzler. ‘Nuff said.

Cafe Royal Mumbai vegetarian sizzler

Friday Films: Chutney and La La Land for food and fashion

Food Film: Chutney

An extra marital affair, small town gossip, an annoyed domestic help and a seemingly-innocent housewife are blended expertly to create the intriguing story of Chutney. As the special chutney recipe is revealed, the home-grown green chillies are not the only secret ingredient we discover. Tisca Chopra’s performance is stellar as she shares her recipe and narrates a sinister tale. Meanwhile, I’m craving samosas with spicy chutney.

Watch Chutney here if you haven’t seen it already.


Fashion film: La La Land

La La Land is a delightful musical journey. Even several days after watching the film I couldn’t get City of Stars out of my head. Aside from the breath-taking view of Griffith Observatory and the Hermosa Beach pier, I was taking mental notes on the costumes. There was none of the sloppy-but-standard jeans and tee combos for the sweethearts. Emma Stone’s chic and flattering dresses in solid yellow, blue, peach and green have given me major fashion goals, while Ryan Gosling’s always-dapper look should hopefully inspire gentlemanly dressing.

La La Land fashion yellow dress

La La Land fashion peach dress

A boat ride on Inle Lake, Myanmar

A lone fisherman in a conical hat flings his net into the freshwater lake. As the mist clears, I see miniature gardens of brightly-coloured flowers gently floating in the water. For miles, there’s nothing to see except water, a fisherman or two, the Shan hills in the distance, and the unfamiliar flowers and leaves beautifully meshed into the lake’s surface. The only sound is the dull throb of the boat’s diesel motor.

Fisherman at Inle Lake Myanmar

We are sailing through Myanmar’s Inle Lake in Shan State. And the lake is nothing like any other I’ve seen before. It is the lifeline of villages and towns that live by the shore. It’s the means of income and the means of transport both rolled into one. And it’s a unique ecosystem (also a biosphere reserve) with distinct flora and fauna scattered throughout the 116-square-kilometres lake.

Plants at Inle Lake Myanmar

Pockets of civilization appear in the distance. Local Burmese men and women line up for a “shared boat taxi” for their daily commute to the market or places of work. We stop by a market on the lakeside to buy souvenirs. Bargaining is hard in Myanmar, most of the times both you and the seller know that the price is exorbitant, but it’s a question of who is more stubborn. So you win some, you lose some.

House at Inle Lake Myanmar

Further down the lake, houses made entirely of wood appear like islands. Some of these structures have artisan workshops, where local craftsmen weave fabrics from lotus stems (exquisitely soft silk!) and make silver jewellery.

House Inle Lake Myanmar

At one souvenir shop on the lake, I see some women making small souvenirs. They are like any other woman, except their long necks are stacked with brass rings. They are Kayan Lahwi or Padaung women, seated here to fascinate tourists with their exotic neck jewellery and peculiar anatomy. Of course pictures are welcome.

Later, we head to a pagoda just off the lake. It’s like any other pagoda in Myanmar, filled with throngs of Myanmar people praying to Buddha.

After a refreshing drink of fresh coconut water just outside the pagoda, we head back to our boat. The gentle morning breeze has made way for the afternoon sun. The lake is busy, as boats stuffed with tourists slice through the water to explore life on Inle Lake.

Tourists at Inle Lake Myanmar

But we head back to the hotel on the boat and relish the quiet moments of solitude. As I step off the boat, I suddenly have a wish. One only. That the lake is preserved, its animals and birds and plants kept intact for centuries. That we humans don’t destroy the lake’s understated beauty with our ever-present destructive tendencies. I wish. I pray.

Reaching Inle Lake: To visit Inle Lake, take a flight from Yangon or Mandalay to Heho. The airport is 35 kilometres from the lake. The nearest town is Nyaungshwe in Taunggyi District of Shan State, Myanmar.

Sunday Street Stories: Rangoon War Cemetery

In a quiet lane off Yangon’s Pyay Road is a square of lush green grass dotted with trees and flowers that belie the crazy traffic just a few metres away. Few people go there. Taxi drivers wonder why you would want to get off at that strange place.

That strange, quiet, manicured place is Rangoon War Cemetery, with graves of hundreds of soldiers who died in action in Burma during the Second World War. Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the cemetery is a space where race and nationality don’t matter. Indian and African soldiers lie next to their colleagues from Britain, bound together by war.

Rangoon War Cemetery Yangon
This piece of history is not on any tourist map of Yangon. But this place is important. Because it reminds me of the damage that war has caused over the centuries. And the consequences of war affect all of us, no matter where or when we are born.

Rangoon War Cemetery Yangon Burma

Location: Rangoon War Cemetery, Yangon (Myanmar)

Date: December 16, 2016

Device: Xiaomi Mi 5

Sunday Street Stories: Yangon’s Living Restoration

Almost every colonial-era building in downtown Yangon has a spellbinding story to tell, though interest in aesthetic restoration is still fledgling. An unassuming building in Merchant Street now serves as a demonstration of how  a facelift can be done while keeping the original architecture intact.


Taking into account the views of the residents and tenants, Turquoise Mountain set about renovating the building. They trained local workers, used quality materials and did it all on a tight budget. It’s a job well-done, and now there’s some hope that people living in historical spaces in Yangon will make an effort to preserve their inherent beauty. Fingers crossed.

PS- The project managers even restored the little altars outside!


Pictures taken on: July 19, 2016
Location: Merchant Street, downtown Yangon, Myanmar
Device: Nexus 5