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April 2013  
 
 
Special Reports


In this Issue
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 



In this issue we will focus on Delhi with its delicious Mughlai cuisine and imposing architectural marvels.

 

We would like to begin with a short note about hot food and spicy food. Contrary to popular belief, Indian cuisine is not meant to be hot. There are a great variety of herbs and spices used in Indian cooking. These may add flavor, aid digestion, have medicinal properties, or just bring color to the food (usually it's a combination of a few qualities).

The types and flavors of herbs and spices vary as you travel from one place to another within India. Just as anywhere else, there are people who cook and eat really spicy food; however, almost all Indian restaurants will ask for your preference while taking your order. If they forget to ask you, please do let your waiter know.

The cuisine we have chosen this month is called Mughlai. The word Mughlai is an adjectivization of the word Mughal, one of the greatest and longest ruling dynasties of India. Recipes for some of the dishes mentioned here are included in this issue.

The Qutub Minar - towering above New Delhi’s skyline

Most visits to India start with Delhi and explorations of the capital are typically divided between New and Old Delhi. We begin our culinary and tourism experience with Old Delhi.

You start your day with a brief stop at the Raj Ghat to pay your respects to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of Modern India. The Raj Ghat is the site of his cremation and now houses a dedicated memorial to the great leader. You then travel a very short distance to two of India’s most impressive Mughal era monuments - the amazing Red Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the equally impressive Jama Masjid (India’s largest mosque).

Your culinary crusade then kicks off at the Mughal Durbar Restaurant in the Chandni Chowk area. The mouthwatering buttered naan (leavened Indian bread) is freshly baked and flavored with aniseed. It tastes best when piping hot and will melt in your mouth making it the perfect accompaniment to the large variety of curries available here.

An essential dish is the popular tandoori specialty – Tandoori Chicken. The word Tandoori is again an adjectivization of the word Tandoor – which is large clay oven used widely in the sub-continent. Living up to its name, the chicken is marinated and then cooked to perfection in a Tandoor. Finish your delicious meal with the ever-popular Seviyan (vermicelli cooked with milk and sugar).

After your lunch at Chandni Chowk, head across town to the other end of Delhi and embark on an adventure of a different kind as you explore Delhi’s monuments ranging from the medieval period to the magnificent architectural legacy of India’s British Imperial period.

 


Mughlai - the cuisine that sustained an empire

Arrive at the incredible Qutab Minar and explore the 287 foot high tower. It was built as a symbol of victory by Qutub-ud-din-Aibak, an Emperor of Delhi during the reign of the Slave Dynasty at the end of the 12th century. In the vicinity of the Qutab Minar stands the almost mythical Ashoka Pillar. It is amazing how this large 5th century pillar casted solely out of iron has not rusted at all in 1600 years, despite exposure to the elements coupled with the extremes of Delhi’s weather!

Head back towards Delhi’s center and drive through the Diplomatic Enclave. The areas dubbed, “Lutyens Delhi” includes the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan, that was designed and built by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens in 1931. It is the state residence of the President of the Indian Union and has over 350 rooms.

Close to Rashtrapati Bhavan is the Parliament House, a domed, almost circular structure nearly a kilometer in circumference, where the bicameral legislature of India, the world’s largest democracy, meets for its sessions.

Less than two kilometers away is the famous India Gate, a beautiful war memorial constructed along the lines of the Arc-de-Triomphe in Paris and honors Indian and British soldiers who died during World War I. The monument also houses an eternal flame in honor of India’s war dead.

Next on your culinary trek will be the Jantar Mantar Observatory located next to Delhi’s bustling commercial center, Connaught Place. The monument is built in inspiration of a similar design built by Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur in 1719. Despite the age of the concept, the Jantar Mantar Observatory is still remarkably accurate for its astronomic calculations.

After exploring Jantar Mantar, you are driven to neighboring Connaught Place and treated to your next delicious Indian meal. The Delhi Durbar restaurant’s design and ambiance evoke memories of a Mughal court. Indulge your palate and choose from a wide variety of succulent vegetable, chicken and lamb delicacies that are counted amongst the house specialities here.

New Delhi is home to a plethora of remarkable monuments, including the Purana Qila (Old Fort), Humayun’s Tomb, and the Bahá’í or Lotus Temple. All these monuments are definitely worth a visit if you are spending more than one day in Delhi. At quite a distance from all the aforementioned monuments, the uniquely shaped Bahá’í Temple silhouetted against Delhi’s skyline has become synonymous with Delhi, much like Sydney’s famous Opera House.



    Chef of the Month
 


Senior Sous Chef Neeraj Tyagi is an expert of Mughlai Cuisine and has won several accolades. He has over seven years of experience working with some of the biggest chains in the Indian hospitality industry. He is currently working at the Claridges Hotel. Given below are two of his favorite recipes.


Kalmi Kebab
(Marinated Chicken Drumsticks)

 

Utensils : 2 mixing bowls

Consumption: preferably same day Serves 4

Ingredients

(All ingredients are easily available at any
Indian grocery store in the U.S.)

Chicken drumsticks – 2.65 lbs
Salt – 0.8oz.
Ginger garlic paste – 1.2oz.
Lemon Juice – 0.75 fl. oz
Plain yogurt – 4 oz.
Yellow chili powder – 0.6 oz.
Mustard oil – 0.89 fl. oz.
Roasted chana (garbanzo) powder – 0.8 oz.
Green cardamom powder – 0.4 oz.  Javitri (mace) powder – 0.2 oz.
Garam masala powder – 0.4 oz.  Saffron – 0.02 oz.


 
Preparation:

1. About 2 hours before you begin preparing the kalmi kebabs, put yogurt in thin muslin cloth; tie on the handle of a faucet and leave to drain.

2. Mix salt, lemon juice and the ginger garlic paste together to a smooth consistency for marinating.

3. Place the chicken in a bowl and coat with the marinade prepared above. Set aside for one hour.

4. Transfer the (drained) yogurt from the muslin cloth into a bowl and mix it thoroughly with the yellow chili powder, roasted garbanzo powder, green cardamom powder, saffron, mace powder and garam masala powder.

5.  Now coat the chicken with the yogurt marinade and leave aside for another hour.

6.  Heat grill to medium-low and put chicken drumsticks on skewers.

7.  Grill chicken drumsticks, turning as necessary, until fully done.

8.  Serve with sliced onions and mint sauce* (Mint sauce recipe listed below).
 
 

Phirni
(Traditional Rice Pudding)

 
Utensils
: 1 large pan for boiling milk, 1 ladle.

Consumption: preferably same day.
Serves 4.




Ingredients

Milk – 30 fl. oz.
Coarsely ground rice – 4 oz.
Sugar – 4 oz.
Saffron – 0.02 oz.
Almonds – 4 or 5 (coarsely chopped)
Pistachio nuts – 5 or 6 (slivered)

 

Preparation:

1. Boil the milk over medium-high heat.  Lower the heat to medium-low and allow milk to simmer for 5 minutes.

 2. Add the coarsely ground rice to the milk and let it cook for another 6 minutes.

 3. Now add sugar, saffron and sliced almonds to the milk-rice mixture.

 4. Keep stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.

 5. Take the pan off the fire and allow to cool.

 6. Pour into a serving dish, decorate with slivered pistachio nuts (as pictured) and refrigerate until chilled.

   
 

Mint Chutney
(Mint Sauce)

 
Used as a dip or accompaniment with a large variety of Indian food.

Utensils: Blender and container for mint sauce.

Consumption: Can be refrigerated for about 2 days in an airtight container.
 

Ingredients:

1 cup coriander – cleaned, washed and    drained.
1/4 cup mint leaves - cleaned, washed  and drained.
Green chilies – 3 (stemmed)
Lemon – ½
Salt - to taste
Water – 2 to 3 tablespoons

 

Preparation:

1. Chop the coriander and mint leaves coarsely.

2. Put all the ingredients in a small blender.

3. Blend till smooth, adding very little water if required.

4. Remove with a rubber spatula.

5. Store in airtight container until required for use.
     
 
 Resort of the Month

The Oberoi, Gurgaon

The Oberoi Guragon Hotel is an exclusive luxury property located in the prime business and shopping district of Gurgaon in the New Delhi National Capital Region. The hotel is conveniently located at a 15 minute drive from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. The hotel is also within easy reach from the New Delhi city centre, major sightseeing attractions as well as most of the entertainment, shopping and recreation hubs in Gurgaon city.

Featuring the most spacious accommodation in any business hotel, the 202 guest rooms and suites are designed with a host of innovative features. The rooms feature landscape windows that bathe every room with abundant natural light, offering a view of the serene reflection pools and immaculately landscaped gardens. A 24-hour personal butler service and private heated swimming pools in select suites are just some of the unmatched features that set the Oberoi Guragon aprt from other luxury hotel properties in the Indian capital.

On the culinary side, The Oberoi Gurgaon offers a range of gourmet experiences that encompasses the best gastronomical delights from around the world. Featured restaurants include an all day dining restaurant featuring five interactive show kitchens and alfresco seating on teakwood decks extended onto the reflection pool.

 


The Oberoi Guragaon – setting new standards in luxurious hospitality

Additionally if you wish to go native, there is an Indian coastal cuisine specialty restaurant dealing with everything from the catch of the day to deep sea treasures from around the world. A delicatessen, bar and the country's only exclusive cigar lounge complete what is a world class culinary experience.

Some of the recreational opportunities at The Oberoi Gurgaon include an Olympic size outdoor pool (heated in winter) and the first 24-hour spa in Delhi, allowing you to revitalize your body and soul at any time, day or night.

Space, serenity and Oberoi Hotels' legendary service delivered by caring staff make The Oberoi Gurgaon the first choice for the discerning travel whether on business or leisure.
 
 News Update
 
 From the Head Office in Delhi

The Oberoi Delhi gets national award for best 5-star hotel

The Oberoi group, one of India’s leading hotel and hospitality chains announced that its flagship property in the national capital, eponomously titled 'The Oberoi' has won the National Tourism Award in the Best Five Star Deluxe category.

The award was won in the presitigous “Best Five Star Deluxe Category” as part of the National Tourism Awards, which are considered the industry standard in India.

Oberio Delhi
The Oberoi Delhi – continuing a proud tradition of service excellence and luxurious comfort

The National Tourism Award has been instituted by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India and is the most coveted awards in the travel and tourism industry of the country. The awards are presented annually in various categories to high performers across the travel and tourism industry in India.

The award was presented by the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. Speaking at the ocassion, Mr. Jay Rathore, New Delhi Vice President and General Manager of The Oberoi, stated "It is a matter of great privilege to receive the award from the President of India. The award reflects the hotel's commitment to quality and consistent dedication to guest satisfaction."

The Oberoi is not the first property in the group’s extensive high-end properties to win this most coveted accolade. Earlier, The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur was awarded with the National Tourism Award in 2010 - 2011.

*Elements of the above excerpted with gratitude from “Oberoi Delhi gets national award for best 5-star hotel” published first in the Economic Times , March 18, 2013.

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 From the Jaipur Office

UNESCO team in Jaipur to review hill forts for world heritage tag

The famed hill forts of Rajasthan are inching closer to get UNESCO’s World Heritage Site status. At the moment, seven forts Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Gagron, Ranthambore, Amber, Jalore and Bala Kila are being considered by UNESCO as part of a tentative list of prospective inclusions.

Forts in Rajasthan – a testament to the genius of Rajput military architecture

"The UNESCO team was in Jaipur on Monday to discuss the nomination of 'Hill forts of Rajasthan' for the World Heritage Site status. The 'Hill Forts of Rajasthan' are strategically built in a series and located on the oldest mountain range of the Aravallis or the Vindhyan range in the region. We made a presentation on all the forts and answered all their queries. Later, we took them to the Amber Fort," said Rakesh Srivastava, principal secretary and commissioner, tourism for Rajasthan.

According to UNESCO, the series of seven hill forts in Rajasthan represent the genius of Rajput military architecture in the medieval and post medieval period. The forts built in local stone masonry trace the development of the fort typology and evolution of the Rajput architectural style from the 15th to the 19th century.

Historians and researchers also noted that five of these forts-Chittorgarh, Gagron, Kumbhalgarh, Ranthambore and Jalore-include additional historic layers ranging from the 6th to 10th century, while exhibiting significant structure of the Rajput military architecture of the 15th and 16th centuries as well.

The Amber Fort and Bala Kila Fort on the other hand represent the later phase of a more mature Rajput architectural style. The forts are important records of the political scenario of the period, marked by strife and subjugation from the Sultanate and the Mughal Empire and the friction amongst the Rajput kingdoms ruled by various clans vying for supremacy.

At present only the Jantar Mantar and Keoladeo National Park are two sites from Rajasthan state listed on UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage Site list.

*Elements of the above excerpted with gratitude from “UNESCO team in Jaipur to review hill forts for world heritage tag” – published first in the Times of India, March 12, 2013.

 
 From the Agra Office

Taj Mahal by the numbers…

The story of the Taj Mahal is now obviously legendary; this eternal monument to love was created by an inconsolable Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal.

While details of how the monument was built have been widely publicized there is an interesting set of numbers that add a twist of empirical factuality to this tale of tragedy and timeless love.

The Taj Mahal – a timeless statement of undying love and devotion


- The Taj Mahal was built by over 22,000 artisans and labourers.

- The complex was designed by 1 architect but it took 2 to complete the project.

- It took over 20 years to build the entire complex of which 15 years were required just for the main structure to be erected.

- Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport construction material.

- There were over 28 varieties of precious and semi-precious stones used in the complex.

- 8 varieties of marble from different quarries of Asia were used in the Taj Mahal.

- The Tomb has over 99 names of Allah written in its inscription.

- The cost of the entire complex in 1653 was US$6 Million (320 Million rupees).

- The Taj Mahal attracts over 2,400,000 (2.4 Million) Tourists every year.

- Shah Jahan was the 5th Mughal Emperor of India

- Mumtaz Mahal was the 3rd wife of Shah Jehan.

- She died giving birth to their 14th child.



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 From the Ranthambore Office

Easy Tours customers report higher than usual Tiger sightings at Ranthambore National Park and Tiger Reserve

It has been a great month for Tiger lovers at the Ranthmabore National Park and Tiger Reserve. While Ranthambore is home to a mind-boggling variety of wildlife species including Tigers, Leopards, Jungle Cats, Sloth Bears, Wild Boars, Blue Bull, Chital, Sambar and a huge variety of birds; it is the Tigers that are the most popular draw for tourists to the reserve.

A Tiger frolics freely in pristine wilderness

However not many people realize that a Tiger sighting at Ranthambore is a highly prized event and that Ranthambore is a massive area comprising of 1394 sq. kilometres which is home to a population of 50 increasingly rare Asian Tigers including 23 cubs.

However March 2013 seemed like an opportune time to be at the Tiger Reserve. Over 88% of Easy Tours customers reported seeing at least one tiger sighting during their visit.

Since the inception of Project Tiger in 1973, the National Tiger Conservation Association (NTCA) has worked assiduously to make Ranthambore an international symbol of tiger conservancy and has ensured that tourists from around the world will continue to enjoy these marvels of nature for generations to come.

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 From the Kochi Office

Kerala wins big at the National Tourism Awards

It was a big win for Kerala this month as the state tourism corporation, Kerala Tourism won the Prestigious National Rural Tourism Award. The Project model in the Kumarakom area was the winner of this high profile award. The project aims to link rural communities with the hospitality industry thereby ensuring better community participation as well as greater sustainable development.

Kerala Tourism – netting in high profile tourism accolades

Under the Kumarakom Rural Tourism Project, Kerala Tourism has forged partnerships with self-help network Kudumbashree to sell fruits and vegetables to tourists in kiosks run by its units and with hotels and restaurants in the area to buy produce from the local community. The award was given by the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee at a ceremony at the Vighyan Bhavan in New Delhi and was received on behalf of Kerala Tourism by Mr. Suman Billa, Tourism Secretary, Kerala.

Kumarakom also picked up two awards for Vivanta by Taj in Best Four Star Hotel category and Coconut Creek Farm and Home Stay, Kumarakom for Best Bed and Breakfast Establishment.

Kerala bagged honours in three other minor categories at the 2011-2012 National Tourism Awards as well including the Best Wellness Centre award that went to Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort in Chowara near Thiruvananthapuram.

*Elements of the above excerpted with gratitude from “Kerala Tourism Project wins India Tourism Award” – published first in the Malay Mail, March 23, 2013.

 Easy Tours in the News

Easy Tours of India was just featured in The Hindu, one of the most widely circulated English Language daily newspapers in India.

Given below is a copy of the article that was written by Shonali Muthalaly in the Reluctant Gourmet section.

Nimmi Paul is nursing a tennis elbow when I call. “You won’t believe how painful it is,” she groans. The cause? Non-stop cooking. From 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Nimmi is prepping, cooking and explaining Kerala’s food to tourists.


Culinary tourism used to be niche. Now, as it gets hip to be able to cook cuisine from all over the world, gourmet tours are becoming de rigueur and even the ‘sightseeing’ busloads try and squeeze in time for a cooking class. In 1997, when Nimmi first thought of opening her home to foreign guests, she said nobody really understood what she was doing, or why. “I was passionate about cooking, and it was also a financial necessity at that time. I wanted to do something to support the family,” she said, adding, “But when I tried to sell this concept to travel companies, they said, ‘Which foreigner would want to go to someone’s house for food when they can go to a fancy hotel?’ And none of them want to eat all these local spices.”
Of the 15 companies she approached, only one agreed to help her - Pioneer Travels. “And the only reason they helped was because the managing director knew my father!” says Nimmi. They sent her two tourists. “They were British. They had no idea what to expect. The agent didn’t know. I didn’t know,” says Nimmi. “I finally showed them how to make appam and stew. They were happy. Next year we had four tourists, and slowly we grew…”

This year has been unusually busy. “I have never worked so hard,” says Nimmi. “We’ve already had 1,500 people this season (the tourist season is from October to April ). She does two sessions a day, seven days a week right now. Her clients come from all over the world - America, the U.K., Australia and Japan. “They’re not just here to learn how to make a couple of curries. They want stories about me, and information... about the spices, about ingredients. I show them how coconut is used in different forms in food, so I make a thoran with grated coconut, stew with coconut milk. I’ll do one masala curry - to show them how to use coconut oil and spices. What they love most is my fish and prawn.”

Cooking classes are especially popular in Kerala, Goa and Jaipur. It’s not just because of their cuisine - after all every part of India has spectacular food. It also has to do with smart marketing, an ability to communicate with guests and offer a host of fringe benefits.

S. Swaminathan, director of Dravidian Trails and the general manager of Austin-based Easy Tours of India says that they have realised that most travellers want to see more than just monuments these days. “They want to see how people live. How they function every day. They want to go to local houses and participate in daily life.” This is why so many cooking courses also include home stays, visits to the local market and meals at the family dining table.

Easy Tours of India doesn’t deal with large groups, so tours are personalised... Their popular independent tours include a ‘culinary exploration of India’ divided into 12, 15, 18 and 21 days. “It’s not all cooking classes,” says Swaminathan. “We take them spice shopping. Send them to a fish market to learn how to bargain… If they’re nervous about doing it on their own, the person conducting the cooking class will escort them there.”

He adds that even though approximately five per cent of the world’s tourists are culinary tourists, it’s definitely a global trend. “It’s a specialty tour. And when I started out in the travel business 25 years ago, no one had even heard about it. But now, even people on general tours want to do something food related,” he says. The trick is to find a balance. “The people on culinary tours, they also do a lot of conventional sightseeing. But we ensure that every day they spend two or three hours doing something food related.” The general tourist, meanwhile, is changing too. “We take everyone to a family home, if not to cook, at least to sit down and eat with the host and hostess. It’s the best way to get an insight into the culture.”

The above is excerpted with gratitude from “The Taste of Travel – The Reluctant Gourmet” – published first in The Hindu , March 28, 2013.

 
 Festival Alert

Teej Festival

The Teej Festival is held during the monsoons in July/August every year and is both a celebration of the coming of the monsoon rains after India’s hot summer as well as a celebration dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.

Rajasthani Jhoolas – swinging in celebration
During this festival of India married women evoke the Goddess Parvati’s blessing to ensure marital bliss.

Since Jaipur and the state of Rajasthan are India’s most arid areas, it makes that the arrival of the monsoon be celebrated here with more passion and gusto than in other parts of the country.

Though celebrations are held all over North India, the city of Jaipur really puts on a show including a colorful procession that works its way through the old pink city for two days. The Teej Festival in Jaipur is known as the festival of swings because of the numerous Jhoolas (swings) that are decorated with flowers and hung from trees. Young girls and women dress in green clothes and sing songs in celebration of the advent of the monsoon.

During the festivities in the city, an idol of Goddess Parvati (popularly known as the Teej Mata) is taken out in a royal procession from the city palace so that the general public can have a chance to pay homage to the Goddess. The procession is an interesting sight to behold with antique gilded palanquins, bullock carts pulling cannons, horse drawn chariots, colorfully decorated elephants with silver howdas, horses, camels, walking bands, and many dancers all proceeding in tow behind the idol.

Eight men dressed all in red carry The Palanquin of Goddess Parvati during the long procession that winds its way through the lanes of the Old City. Local people come in huge numbers and dress in their best traditional clothes. Space is at a premium as people perch on top of buildings, in windows and even climb trees to catch a glimpse of the Goddess. Hundreds of children follow the Palanquin to take advantage of the offerings, showered in the wake of the Goddess, by spectators.

Since the Teej Festival also idolizes Parvati for her devotion to her husband Shiva, it is celebrated enthusiastically by the women of Rajasthan as a statement of upholding traditional family values. The festivities revolve around singing and dancing in praise of Parvati and the rituals allow women to look their stunning best. During this festival of India women pamper themselves, dress up in their best clothes and jewellery and do traditional beauty treatments like elaborate henna applications.

Outside of Jaipur, the Teej Festival is celebrated with equal zeal and fervor all over Rajasthan. Even in remote villages, Jhoolas (swings) are hung from trees and decorated with leaves and flowers. Women and young girls are seen swinging on these Jhoolas, singing traditional folk songs and playing various games with each other.


 

Easy Tours of India
US Office : 12885 Research Blvd., Suite 208, Austin, TX 78750, Toll Free – 888 597 9274
India Offices: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Ranthambore, Varanasi, Cochin, Bangalore, Chennai.