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February 2013  
 
 
Special Reports


In this Issue
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 



In this issue we will focus on the culinary wonders of Mahabalipuram and Chennai in South India.

 
Let us begin with a short note about the Chennai/Mahabalipuram area. Chennai is a large city on India's East Coast that used to be called Madras. Although it is India's fourth-largest city, Chennai itself does not hold much that is of interest to a foreign visitor.

Just south of Chennai is the laid-back coastal town of Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram is an enchanting ocean-front city in India’s southernmost state Tamil Nadu. This city is home to the Dravidian civilization. The Dravidian civilization is considered the oldest culture in India. The people from this region are believed by historians to be the direct descents of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

Breakfast at your hotel includes a diverse sampling of both Tamil and western cuisine. After breakfast you begin your day with a guided exploration of the ancient port of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This affable coastal town is world famous for its 8th century Shore Temple and other historical marvels.

Mahabalipuram was the second capital of the Pallava Kings of Kanchipuram, the first Tamil dynasty after the fall of the Gupta Empire. The massive rock sculptures carved into softly sloping hills, monolithic temples, ancient manmade caverns with incredible sculptures and the world’s largest bas-relief in stone, all combine to make Mahabalipuram a living museum.

Vying with this splendor is a beach with the picturesque Bay of Bengal. The famous Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) Temples, the Penance of Bhagirath (also known as Arjuna’s Penance), the Shore Temple, the massive bas-relief Descent of the Ganges and the eight Mandapams (Shallow halls carved out of sheer rock) are all located within this small coastal community.

After your exploration of the splendid monuments, enjoy a Tamil lunch.
  
Indian cuisine is classified into six tastes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. A Tamil meal will satisfy all these tastes. For those wishing to eat in typical south Indian fashion, a banana leaf will form the platter for the feast. The food layout on the leaf is done systematically.

The top half is reserved for numerous accessories like pickle, salt, chutney and vegetables. The vegetables are diverse, and include anything from gourds to carrots and cabbages. The lower half of the leaf is for rice. Rice may be plain white rice, ghee Pongal, Lemon rice or Tamarind rice. Crispy Appalam or Papadam wafers also form a part of this delicious banana leaf lunch.

Use your time in the afternoon to explore your ocean-front resort and surroundings. The afternoon is a great time to walk 50 yards down the beach to mingle with the local fishing community and their colorful wooden boats.

You will see a variety of activities going on - many of the fishermen are returning from their work and they are going through the processes of pulling their boats up on the beach and organizing their nets and other gear.

Fish are put into plastic bins weighed right on the beach. Now the negotiating takes place. You will witness women repairing nets, boats coming ashore and heading out at this time of day. Photo opportunities abound, including the famed 8th century Shore Temple only a stone’s throw away.

Once you have finished your beach stroll, head back into town for a delightful dinner sure to please even the most sophisticated palates.


 
The cooking techniques of this region are characterized by the use of rice, legumes and lentils. Chefs in Mahabalipuram maintain distinct flavors, which result from of a variety of spices like pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coconut, curry leaves and tamarind. Tamil dishes call for elaborate preparation techniques and the methods used by cooks and chefs in this region have been the same for many centuries.

The vast coastline is rich in prawns, lobsters, pomfret, tuna, clams etc. therefore, seafood dishes are common in restaurants throughout the coastal cities. Mahabalipuram is well known for its fresh seafood. Mahabalipuram dishes contain an array of tiger prawns and fresh lobster seasoned to perfection and served with a multitude of seasoned vegetables and rice.

The most famous items on the typical Tamil menu are Idli (rice cakes), Dosa (paper thin pancakes of lentil and rice flour), Vada (a spicy, deep fried doughnut shaped snack made of lentils and eaten with coconut chutney) and Pongal (a mash of rice and lentils boiled together and seasoned with ghee and cashew nuts). These items are served with side dishes like Sambar (a tasty lentil preparation) and Coconut Chutney. In Tamil Nadu the Vada is traditionally a part of the breakfast menu, but due to its popularity it is available in most restaurants throughout the day.

Traditional dinners, or Thalis, are served on a banana leaf or on a steel plate lined with a banana leaf and consist of a sampling of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The staple diet consists of steamed rice, which is served with a variety of vegetable dishes like Sambar, Rasam (spicy pepper and tomato soup) and Kootu (thick vegetable gravy). Meals are accompanied by crisp Appalams (crispy deep fried lentil wafers) and the delicious Appalams go well with rice and Sambar.

The diversity of flavors, textures and spices are a pleasant treat for the taste buds. The end of the meal brings dessert, which is normally Payasam (a dessert made of rice or lentils and richly garnished with nuts) or Kesari (a pastry made of granular rice, cashew and saffron) or sweet Pongal.

The grand finale for any lunch or dinner is the Paan, which is a chew made of numerous spices and betel nut. Paan has the tendency to turn the mouth red. Those adventurous enough to try it should be wary of dyed teeth as an after effect.

To travel across India and not immerse yourself in its rich culinary diversity is to merely scratch the surface of what India’s cultural heritage offers. The cuisine varies with every passing mile. Each place has its regional delicacies and culinary claim to fame.

The food might require getting used to, especially the spicy preparations, but that’s part of the adventure called India. Easy Tours of India has partnered with top Chefs across the length and breadth of India to share a few of their timeless secrets with you.

 
    Chef of the Month
 

 

The modest demeanor of Vijay Kumar, the Executive Chef of Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay, Mahabalipuram, belies the success and accolades he and his team of chefs have garnered. Vijay trained under a variety of Chefs including: Mooroogen Coopen, Trainer and Member of the Mauritian Culinary Team, French Chef Azay, Chef Raman Naik and Chef Rajah Pillai. Besides a comprehensive knowledge of Indian cuisine, under these master chefs he learned plating, competition planning, confectionary, and Creole, fusion and herbal cuisine. Under Vijay, the Radisson Blu team was runner-up in the 2012 South Indian Culinary Challenge and was awarded 30 medals in a variety of categories.

Given below are a few of the recipes from his vast repertoire of dishes delicacies and desserts.

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Vetrilai Vazhanaaru Madicha Kola Mamusam:
(A Lamb delicacy.)

 

Utensils:

1 Thick-bottomed Pan
1 Medium-sized Pot
1 Steam Basket
1 Mixing Bowl
1 Serving Dish


Ingredients:

Betel leaf – 1.5 oz. (40 gm.)
Lamb mince – 7 oz. (200 gm.)
Turmeric – 1.5 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Coriander seeds – 6 tbsp. (30 gm.)
Garlic – 6.5 cloves (20 gm.)
Ginger – 10 tsp. (20 gm.)
Chili whole – 30 gm.
Peppercorn – 3 tbsp. (20 gm.)
Cumin seeds – 1.7 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Curry leaf – 5 tsp. [ground] (10 gm.)
Plantain Pith - 2

  

Padampuri Murg

Preparation:

1. Heat thick-bottomed pan adding turmeric, coriander seed, and chopped garlic and ginger.
2. Add the whole chili, peppercorn, cumin seeds, curry leaves and some oil for roasting.
3. Grind roasted ingredients and lamb mince together in a mixing bowl.
4. Make small balls out of the lamb mince mixture.
5. Wrap the lamb mince balls with betel leaf and tie with plantain pith strings.
6. Steam the balls and serve hot.

 
     
 
 
         

Lajwaab Paneer Tikka:
(Cheese Tikkas.)

 

SeaFood

Utensils:

1 Medium Pot
1 Mixing Bowl or more as necessary
1 Cheese or Muslin Cloth

Ingredients:

Paneer (cottage cheese) – ~1 lb. (0.5 kg)
Amul cheese – 5.3 oz. (150 gm.)
Roasted gram flour – 1/2 cup (50 gm.)
Hung curd – ~1 cup (250 gm.)
Fresh cream – ~3.5 tbsp. (50 ml.)
Turmeric powder – 1.5 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Green cardamom powder – 2.5 tsp. (5 gm.)
Garam masala powder – 10 gm.
Cumin seeds – ~2.4 tsp. (5 gm.)
Yellow chili powder – 3.3 tsp. (25 gm.)
Black or table salt – 1/2 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Chat masala – 5 gm.
Fenugreek powder – 1/2 tbsp. (5 gm.)
Salt – to taste
 


Preparation:

1. Prepare hung curd by tying fresh curdled curd tightly in a muslin or cheese cloth.
2. Hang the tied sack for draining - wait at least 4 hours to ensure full draining.
3. Take down bundle and press as if making cheese similar to cottage cheese.
4. Cut paneer into 1.5 x 1.5 in. cubes.
5. Place cubes in boiling salt water for 10 minutes.
6. Strain the cubes.
7. Mix Amul cheese with roasted gram flour.
8. Add hung curd into the mixture of cheese and flour.
9. Add cream, powdered masalas, chili powder, and salt to taste.
10. Mix all the ingredients well and mix in the boiled cottage cheese.
11. Place the mixture in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.
12. Skewer cubes and cook them in a tandoor (clay oven), suspension in a charcoal barbecue is the best alternative, at a temperature of 338 F (170 C) [Note: Standard grilling and even an oven can be used; however, these options will *poorly* simulate the taste created by the juice from the cubes dripping onto the hot coals
13. Serve hot with mint chutney and sliced laccha onion.


 
     
 
 
         
 

Porcini-Crusted Fresh Red Snapper with Dry Red Chili

 


Utensils:


1 Food Processor
1 Mixing Bowl
1 Marinating Bowl
1 Charcoal Grill


Ingredients:

Red Snapper – 1
Dried porcini mushrooms 20 gm.
Olive Oil – ~ 3.5 tbsp. (50 ml.)
Grated Parmesan cheese – 1/2 cup (50 gm.)
Ground black pepper – 1.5 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Minced garlic – 3 cloves (10 gm.)
Lemon – 2
Salt – 1 tsp. (5 gm.)
Dry red chili flakes – 10 gm.

Preparation:

1. Place porcini mushrooms in food processor and process until finely ground.
2. Combine ground mushrooms, oil, cheese, pepper and garlic in small bowl.

 



3. Marinate the fish with a marinade made out of salt, pepper, lemon juice and dry chili flakes.
4. Press mixture cheese and mushroom evenly onto all fish surfaces.
5. Prepare charcoal grill for indirect cooking.
6. Place the fish on grid directly over one side of coals and sear, uncovered, 5 minutes or until bottom of the fish is browned. Turn the fish over and place in center of grid directly over drip pan.
7. Grill, covered, until desired doneness.
8. Serve with a wedge of lemon and salad.


 

Mango Panna Cotta with Pistachio Praline
(An Italian dessert bringing together cream, milk and sugar, with gelatin.)

 



Utensils:


1 Medium Pot
1 3 in. Round Mold
1 Mixing Bowl

 

Ingredients:

Cream layer:
Double cream (or additive free heavy cream) – 250 gm.
Castor sugar – 1/4 cup 50 (gm.)
Vanilla bean – 1
Gelatin – 20 gm.
Egg white – 1/4 cup (50 gm.)
Mango Layer:
Mango (Peeled, chopped) – 3
Pistachio Praline:
Pistachio – 1/2 cup (50 gm.)
Castor sugar – 50 gm.


Preparation:

1. Heat the double cream with vanilla bean to lukewarm.
2. Add the mangoes and fold the dissolved melted gelatin.
3. Whip the egg white with sugar and fold into to the mixture.
4. Grease 3 in. round mold and layer the base with pistachio praline and then add the panna cotta mixture.
5. Refrigerate for 3 hours; De-mold and serve with appropriate garnish.

 
 
 
 Resort of the Month

 Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay

Located along the shores of the Bay of Bengal, Mahabalipuram is a 40 mile (65 km.) drive from Chennai. This seaside town is an acclaimed World Heritage site with centuries old historic monuments and temples. Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay, easily the most visited luxury resort, provides accommodations on beach-facing property. Indulge in graceful and stylish rooms, cottages and villas.

While the Radisson Blu naturally offers many of the amenities of a full-service resort such as a fitness center, spa and Ayurveda therapy center, the resort provides exceptional twists and more unique activities for its guests.

Even more impressive are the truly decadent accommodations. The Sea View Chalets and Villas provide guests with an uninterrupted front-row seat to the Bay of Bengal and a short beach walk to the Shore Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As noted earlier, the Radisson Blu has received international acclaim for its team of chefs. The resort features a variety of restaurant atmospheres for guests to choose from featuring spectacular views of the Bay of Bengal and one of the largest swimming pools in South Asia.
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 News Update
 
 From the Head Office in Delhi

  A renovated Rashtrapati Bhavan opened to public
 

An ornate two-ton crystal chandelier hanging 108 ft. (33 m.) from the roof commands attention as one steps into the circular Durbar Hall, a historic niche in the resplendent Rashtrapati Bhavan. The crystals are gleaming, the bulbs luminous, the floor has been scrubbed, portraits restored, columns of marble and stone polished, and the dome-shaped roof has a fresh coat of paint. Durbar Hall, after long years of not being used is ready to host dignitaries and watch events unfold.
 

Kochi
 

President Pranab Mukherjee’s order to use the space in Rashtrapati Bhavan and to throw it open to the country and its people is being followed by restoring all unused rooms, rediscovering old furniture and artifacts, and positioning them as per the original design.

Recently the Durbar Hall was used for the President’s interaction with delegates of the 13th Conference of Chief Justices of the World.

The new acoustics system and fresh set of paintings of Mahatma Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajendra Prasad and bright wine colored banners with the national emblem are the only recent additions to the room which has a Buddha sculpture dating back to the Gupta Period occupying the pride of place.

The Hall is historic. It was there that Panditji took oath as Prime Minister in 1947; in 1948 Rajaji, the first Governor-General, took oath of office and in 1977 when Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed passed away while in office, his body lay in Durbar Hall.

As part of the ongoing restoration at Durbar Hall, old mirrors that were installed as per the original plan are being reinstated and old photographs are being consulted to locate the artifacts that were installed there.

Restoration is also being carried out at the South Drawing Room, where the Prime Minister used to meet foreign dignitaries who were guests at the Presidential House.

The refurbished and renovated rooms will also be part of the Rashtrapati Bhavan tour.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “A renovated Rashtrapati Bhavan opened to public” – The Hindu

 
 
 From the Agra Office

A Taj litfest to project literary heritage of Braj

Renowned writers like Ruskin Bond and Shobha De, director Muzaffar Ali, humorist Surendra Sharma and scores of literary luminaries from the Braj area will be star attractions at a three-day literature festival to be held here early next year.

It will be unique, different and enriching in many ways. The land of Ghalib, Nazeer, Mir, Surdas and Amir Khusrau has long remained isolated and virtually ignored in terms of recognition of the rich literary heritage.

The festival, beginning Feb. 1 at the sprawling
 
Agra Office
campus of 167-year-old St Peter`s College, is designed to showcase the contribution of the writers, poets and cultural artists of the Braj region.

Ruskin Bond will be here in Agra for three days and will hold workshops for budding writers and students.

The festival will begin with a presentation by Muzaffar Ali on 30 years of his classic movie “Umrao Jaan.” The team is working on presenting something as memorable as the monuments in the city.

Another feature will be discussions on "instant literature" - generated through platforms like Facebook and other social media.

Along with the main sessions, the festival will feature a cartoon exhibition, magazine display, mushairas, theater workshops, art in action sessions and musical shows.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “A Taj litfest to project literary heritage of Braj” – Zeenews

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 From the Jaipur Office

In Rajasthan, a save-trees project grows roots

Rajasthan will soon become the first state in the country to conduct a tree census. Provisions for a census are required by the Rajasthan Trees Bill likely to be introduced in assembly this budget session.

The bill, which has been in the works for a long time, has been given an in-principal approval by the state government.

The bill suggests a yearly census of protected trees by the end of March each year. Stressed is a statewide survey of trees by empowering chief tree wardens to appoint enumerators. Each enumerator will have to record the numbers on the trees in the ward in the same way numbering is done on houses in municipal areas.

 

The tree census has been introduced to ensure saplings are not only planted, but also grow into healthy trees.

According to the bill, planting a tree is mandatory for all plot-holders. Non-compliance results in a fine while observance may lead to a deduction in urban land tax. The bill also places strict clauses on cutting or uprooting trees.

In unavoidable circumstances, the bill has provisions for cutting trees but only after receiving written permission from the chief tree warden of the municipality. When a tree must be cut down, proof of planting a new tree must be shown.

The bill’s implementation will help to increase greenery in urban areas.

For implementation of the act, each municipality will appoint or designate a chief tree warden and tree wardens for a cluster of wards.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “In Rajasthan, a save-trees project grows roots” – The Times of India

 
 From the ETI Wildlife Desk

Portraits of Nature

A black-and-white photograph of a tiger looks intriguing. But color is the ideal medium in wildlife and nature photography.

Another photograph is a black spotted grasshopper in flight. Nature photography is the best way to study and record animal behavior. You can see the position of the legs, and the size of the insect as it readies itself for a take off. A hoopoe landing to feed its chick is another striking photograph. The hoopoe is a diurnal bird and must be recorded during daytime. A dark background would be misleading.

While the growth of wildlife photography among youngsters is good for wildlife conservation, it’s important to not overdo it. Do not unnecessarily disturb animals and if the animal behaves disturbed, withdraw. Do not provoke an animal to get an action picture.

On display were entries of wildlife photographs that made it to the Click Your Pic wildlife photography competition. The theme was Treasures of India and there were more than 300 images from 60 participants across India. The pictures were divided into mammals, birds, and macro photographs of plants and insects.

One of the participants, P. Anand, a wildlife photographer, showcased images of a python devouring a spotted deer, the rhesus macaque, garden lizard, peahen, spider and green vine snake. Other notable photographs included Karthikeyan’s flame-back woodpecker and Mahalingaprabhu’s egret. In the spirit of conservation, the competition photographs were printed on canvas using eco-friendly ink.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “Portraits of Nature” – The Hindu

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 From the Kochi Office

Kochi takes child-friendly route to development
 

City authorities are joining hands with United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) to draft programs to protect children from exploitation, violence and abuse.

The Kochi corporation is keen to implement the child-friendly project which would provide an opportunity for children in the city to voice their opinion and concerns, encouraging them to participate in family, community and social life.
 

According to Unicef officials, the program guarantees every young citizen the right to influence decisions for city development, have safe streets, meet friends and play, spaces for plants and animals, participate in cultural and social events, live in an unpolluted environment, receive basic services like healthcare and education, and access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

There is no discrimination and children from all sections of the society get the benefit of the program.

Unicef will provide technical support to the state government’s initiative by training local officials in effective project implementation. The corporation and Unicef will jointly draft programs to be implemented under the project. The Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) will also be an active participant in the project.

A child-friendly city seeks to maximize the survival and development of all its children by providing optimal conditions for growth.

*Elements of the above excerpted from “Kochi takes child-friendly route to development” – The Times of India

 
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 Festival Alerts
The Desert Festival

The Desert Festival is an annual event organized in the beautiful city of Jaisalmer. This three day festival is held in the month of February and is organized in association with the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation. The Desert Festival represents the rich and colorful Rajasthani folk culture.

During the festival, villagers sing and dance eloquently to the triumphs and the tragedies of the land.

Attractions include traditional gymnasts, mystical snake charmers, entertaining puppet shows and captivating folk music recitals.

Along with this, a number of competitions are held during the festival, including the turban tying competition and longest moustache competition.

It's a fantastic showcase of all things Rajasthani, and is popular with tourists, both Indian and foreign. Besides the food, the music and the cultural performances, there are camel rides, processions, camel polo and even a camel tug-of-war. All of it is held against the backdrop of the awesome Jaisalmer Fort. Nighttime firework displays and the illuminated fort light up the area.


 

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