The Verandah in The Forest

One of the modest pleasures life still affords is a short train ride through the post monsoon countryside of Maharashtra. Green fields surrounded by the low craggy hills of the Western ghats, the day cool and bright and, if the ride is early enough, a little nip in the air.

Hot tea in miniscule cups served at regular intervals and the occasional vada pau during the many, many stops that happen on a long distance train. Friendly chats with fellow passengers amidst the quiet inquisitiveness about family and home, to be shared and forgotten the moment one alights.

Just such a journey happened recently on the way to Matheran , aboard the Sahyadri Express which meandered its way through the small towns and villages on the route to Mumbai. We got off at Neral to take a cab up the steep and winding road to Dasturi, the last stop for cars, as this little hill station is probably the only place in India which does not allow vehicles in an area that covers a few square kilometers. What a blessing!

Toy train tracks to matheran

From Dasturi we took a fifteen minute train ride on one of the three famous toy trains that still run in India. As old as I am this was still a delight. Most of the passengers were transported back to childhood  and many allowed themselves to reveal their joy. This made for a happy excursion. The rail tracks stood two feet apart and the train chugged shakily along, up the hill, as breathtaking views of the valley below passed us by.

The final destination for us was a good two kilometer walk from the station and this was made comfortable by having a slightly built woman porter, by the name of Lata Kadam, carry my overloaded friend’s  backpack for her. Map of Matheran and Bar house

We made our way through the lanes which were being repaired and which were consequently rocky and dusty with the typical red stone and mud of the area. A short while later, with the aid of just one signboard on a completely deserted pathway , we walked into The Verandah in The Forest. It was, appropriately, hidden amongst the trees. 1-DSC04257

This large bungalow, once and still known by the locals as Bar Cottage, is precisely what the name suggests. A huge verandah backed by rooms. No swimming pool, no children’s playground, no gym, just a verandah overlooking a forest.

And it was enough. The Verandah

Tables and planters chairs are laid out at decent intervals so residents can lounge in peace reading papers or books. Morning tea is served here. Masala chai or a choice of teas  or coffee . Neemrana’s own roasted coffee. Breakfast and lunch is served here. A buffet for both.  Cereals, choice of eggs, juices and toast plus their rather good jam for breakfast. Lunch consists of a selection of Indian dishes , mutton curry, a couple of vegetables, rice and chapathis. This is a fixed menu as is the dinner and no a la carte is served at The Verandah. A plated meal is provided in the evening and it is Continental food . A soup,. A starter, a mains of vegetables, pasta and meat or fish, and finally a dessert. It is a sit down dinner with candlelight . Very atmospheric and romantic.

You can hear a bee buzz here. It is so quiet. Most people who come to stay, respect the silence and keep their voices down. There is a small garden with hammocks and rope chairs to laze in. It is easy to fall asleep. 1-1-DSC04309

The central  drawing room has  high ceilings , with ventilators at the top that allow a fine light to shine inside during the day and is lit with lamps in the evening. This is the place to come to when one is feeling convivial. A carom board is at hand to while away the hours, and several  illustrated tomes about the Parsis who are presumed to have lived in such places after the British left our shores.

The rooms are large with four poster beds and teak furniture of that vaguely colonial kind. Heavy, not particularly beautiful but strong and comforting.

All the pictures that line the walls, in each room , along the verandah and in the living rooms are genuine old etchings with some reference to the place and its history. The rooms and suites are names after distinguished gentlemen of the time. One of the most luxurious is Elphinstone, another of note is Petit and Peerbhoy is nicely situated along the verandah.

Staying here takes you back to a time when conversation and contemplation  were amusement ,  and gentle activities filled the day. Walks and horse rides are all  there is to keep one busy, if anyone feels the need to be busy here.

The Verandah in the Forest is a perfect place to relax. Just a few things would add to the experience. A game of croquet could be organised on the lawns, a few board games could be provided in the drawing room and the menu could do with an overhaul.

When so much care has been taken with the building and its interiors and there has obviously been such respect for history , a little more imagination would help in approaching the meals.

I suggest a breakfast more Indian in choice…. Millets, ragi, pohe ,sabudana khichadi or lapsi rawa could form the “cereal” options. Egg bhurji or masala vegetarian omelette for course two. And the juice could be more local….coconut water or nira .

Lunch could again reflect the area…Maharashtrian or Konkan . Forget the palak paneer and ubiquitous Punjabi mutton curry, gobi alu, the bhindi fry,and that dry, nasty,  rosogulla. Why not a jowar roti, pitle, amti, bhareli baingan,arvi  or the local yams, kachumber, kokum juice or buttermilk ending with basundi or shrikhand.

The sit down dinner is a lovely idea and the menu could be less “continental” and more “colonial”.All those old Indianised “British” dishes like the khansama used to make.

Mulligatawny soup, Shepherds pie, Russian salad,  caramel custard, blancmange or trifle ending with coffee in the lounge. There are so many other possibilities.

A little wine from our very own Nasik vineyards to accompany the meal would not go amiss either!

Its time boutique hotels like this took more time and trouble over the food. It could make a great experience- unforgettable.

Brooklyn Shuffle - Restaurants In Pune

Situated in the up market Koregaon Park area, Brooklyn Shuffle Diner is fortunate in its location. It is part of the lovely “Sanskruti” complex on the seventh lane, set amongst three old style bungalows and a large and pretty garden. The restaurant is welcoming and attractive. A large parking lot adds to the appeal considering the space crunch in Pune and the ever looming threat of “traffic police” trawling quiet roads, ready to haul off your car, never to be seen again.


The décor is eclectic. Red and blue rexine covered sofas and black and white checkerboard tiled floors, reminiscent of a 50’s American diner, is mixed with white brick walls decorated with baseball bats and mitts and a large picture of Billie Holliday. A cheerful outdoor seating area comprising of what looks like a reading room is interspersed with details like a vintage Leica camera and other references to the era.

It is all very hipster and smart yet comfortable and pleasant at the same time. The clientele seems to match. A modelling photo shoot is in progress as we seat ourselves in the large, high ceilinged room overlooking the gardens.

The menu

Brooklyn Shuffle 3

Burgers, Subs and sandwiches are the main attraction on the menu. Grilled corn, potato wedges, Spanish omelette, chicken nuggets and fish fingers, those olde familiar favourites form the opening section. Some interesting Burgers listed are with combinations such as mushroom and brown rice, paneer and oats , a Moroccan chicken burger and a lamb burger marinated in cumin and spice and served with feta cheese and yogurt. Among the subs the Vietnamese Banh Mi style chicken sub and the Prawns Po’ Boy sub sounds mouthwatering with deep fried maize battered prawns in a remoulade sauce nestled in a soft roll.

The sandwiches

The sandwich menu has 11 classic choices. Vegetarians can choose from Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, the Roast Pepper and Bocconcini , the Three Cheese Toast or the Veg Brooklyn Club . Non vegetarians have a larger choice- familiars like Roast beef, Egg and chicken, Turkey, Ham and Cheese amongst others.

My companions, all the way from Brooklyn, New York, U.S. of A have been here before and order their favourites, the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and Ham and Cheese. I go for the Veg Brooklyn Club . Our orders come charmingly arranged on individual wooden, painted trays, with French fries in a metal bucket, onion rings and a tossed salad on the side. The sandwiches are generously sized and we have to manouevre them into our mouths. The filling for the Club is a mixed vegetable mash made of carrots, potatoes, peas and garbanzo beans in the first layer and cucumber, onion and tomato slices in the second layer. It reminds me a bit of a cutlet filling with green chutney spread on the toasted bread. The Ham and Cheese has back bacon and a slice of cheese and is a bit dry. “It would benefit from a dash of sauce” says my fellow diner. The Pulled Pork sandwich is polished off and pronounced “good” with the caramelized onions, but “just a trifle soggy”.
Brooklyn Shuffle 3

The onion rings are perfectly crisp in the Panko batter and juicy inside, the French fries outstanding and while the menu states that each order is served with coleslaw, we get a tossed salad with a few leaves of iceberg lettuce and sliced black olives and a balsamic vinegar dressing. Nothing to write home about.

Signature /vegetarian:

We are told that the most popular sandwich on the menu is the Roast Beef served with mayo and French mustard.


The bread is freshly baked in house, every day. Whole wheat and white for buns, rolls and sandwiches. All the other ingredients are locally procured including the cheese, ham and bacon.


The watermelon juice I ordered was a little thin and watery. I would have preferred a thicker more textured drink but there are not many to choose from. The menu could do with some smoothies besides the ubiquitous tea and coffee.

Insider tip:

Try the baked cheesecake for dessert. It is “Just as good as ‘Juniors’   in Brooklyn”, says my friend, who adds fervently, at the end of the meal, “If I had to take people out for lunch I would bring them here!”


390 Sanskruti Lifestyle Complex, Opposite Post 91, Lane 7, Koregaon Park, Pune 411001.Tel : 8657419724


11.30 am- 11.30 pm


Sandwiches between Rs 180-280. Meal for two Rs 1000


Quality: 8

Choice: 5

Provenance: 7

Atmosphere: 9

Value: 8

Originally published in BBC Good Food, India

The Modern Myth of Superfoods

The term Superfoods entered the dictionary in the early twentieth century. In the 60’s and 70’s it was frequently used in conjunction with the word “cultural “. Cultural superfoods, by definition, were those foods which were a community’s main source of calories because of which they acquired a tremendous religious, cultural, historical and mystical hold on particular societies acquiring a semi divine significance to its people.

Often these foods, generally staples, were cultivated and ingested to the exclusion of other nutritious foods and unless supplemented with other foods , led to malnutrition in the immediate population as proved by Derrick Brian Jeliffe and his wife Eleanore Patrice, experts in the field of infant and cross cultural nutrition. Thus rice in South India, Steamed Plantain (Matoke) in Buganda, Wheat bread in Europe and  Maize in Central America, having this socio religious significance, were classified as Cultural Super foods. *1

Today the usage is somewhat different.

Click through to learn more...

Continue reading "The Modern Myth of Superfoods" »

Messing in Mussoorie-at the Carlton Plaisance

Finding good food during travel seems to have become as much of an adventure as deep sea diving , involving  research, exploration, and discovery, while risking little else but cash and intestinal well being.

Which is why anyone and everyone, those with taste buds and those without, are on the same adventure trail, exclaiming about every meal  on SMS, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Enthusiasm is generally in direct proportion to the amount paid for such detection. The vada pau rarely gets the same flowery praise as the French croquette especially if said croquette is served in "French owned" restaurant , even though it might be equally deep fried to death.

The question is ...what is so pioneering  about  "discovering" a fancy restaurant, one which is heavily advertised and has million of reviews to back up claims of excellence? The real taste revelation is more and more to be found in peoples homes ,where food is prepared with care, and sometimes even better, with love.

So how do you find this on your travels? In India where relatives abound, it isn't as difficult as in other countries, though the tradition of asking people over to a meal is slowly fading and  becoming a thing of the past. You might be still be lucky. Mostly it is serendipity . You are mysteriously drawn to places and people which promise the palate surprise, comfort and delight.

Such fortunate happenstance occurred when we plumped to stay at the Carlton Plaisance in Mussoorie recently. I say 'plumped' because, with just a little  scouting online, I found the site "still under construction".The description of the hotel was intriguing, promising a bit of history, ( A Chateau built in the late 1800's )  a bit of garden, and a good view.


What we found was a rambling old house, eclectically furnished, with a delightfully shabby air. High ceilings , ventilators and dark interiors reminded me of my many childhood homes. A parlour filled with (now very non kosher) stuffed animals  and deep sofas, a high table, permanently set with linens, crockery and cutlery in the centre hall from which doors led out to large suites and the kitchens.

The better suites had a pretty gallery which once looked out to the hills in the distance but now looked out to a cement structure, which may have been a water tank. Water shortage is a problem in Mussoorie  and we were sparing in our use of it during our stay. The platform on top of this structure ruined the view but closer to our rooms were very pretty flowers, glimpsed through the window panes , hyacinths and daisies which bloomed cheerfully in the sun.



Once in a while monkeys thundered across the tin roofs and were chased off by the staff. For the rest, even though the Company Garden road passed 100 meters away , we remained unassailed by other noise, chiefly the incessant honking of cars, which is a feature on all roads leading to, away and in Mussoorie, reaching high decibel levels near the Mall Road

What made the stay so good was that every day we ordered our meals in consultation with the cook , Kalam Singh, ( what was in season, available , tasty)  and and he made  it as simple or as elaborate as we wished , fresh and on time , calling us to the table when all was ready. We felt very much at home.

Everything tasted good, with a homely type of tarka, not swimming in oil or smothered in spices. In the course of our stay three preparations stood out. The Nepali Anda Aloo Achari, a mustardy dish with a creamy texture, the Pepper Chicken ,unlike any other chicken I have tasted to date,  and the Achar Dal.

In spite of petitioning him thrice, Kalam Singh did not deign to share the recipes , smiling mysteriously and fading into the depths of the kitchens. Usman , the genial, friendly and  always helpful Major Domo, kept his secret .

Now the only way for anyone to taste all that good food that is to go spend a pleasurable week at the agreeably laid back Carlton Plaisance while getting a glimpse , albeit dim, of an era long gone, like the promised (pale) view of hills.



10 Years and Millions of views later

Ten years have passed since I first began writing this blog . Several hundred posts, a  second career in food writing and a cook book later I can say I have finally learnt a respectable amount about cooking and food. It has been a great culinary journey so far.

Here is my first post from April 2005-




Circumstances made mine a life of constantly being on the move.In the years of crisscrossing the Indian continent several memories have remained firmly planted in the mind. Smells, sounds, pictures,tastes, feelings.Some mishmashed together like kedgeree, some clear and separate as grains of basmati rice.

One recurring memory is of the little cottage in the back of the red tiled bungalows we used to live in. It was the cook's cottage, the khansama's kitchen which was joined to the main house  by a long, narrow and roofed open corridor. From here, all sorts of interesting smells curled out to catch  our childish noses as we played in the vast, dry gardens where red and pink hollyhocks would strive to grow taller on spindly stems and trees contributed the main brushstroke of green on an otherwise brown canvas.

When we arrived in a new place the cottage sometimes resembled the black hole of Calcutta. The room had not been whitewashed with chuna , a lime paste and the woodfired chulah had blackened the ceiling and walls so much that you could write on it with a finger and a negative image  would appear.

There were clues to the cuisine of the house's  former residents. A smudge of masala, a leftover bottle of paste, a whiff of an unfamiliar spice used so regularly as to seep into the old teak cupboards in the corner of the cottage.

Just a few days after moving in, all would have changed. The walls would be washed to a brilliant white, the cupboards lined with clean sheets of newspaper and the shelves familiar with the shine of  our own pots and pans. The chulah would be lit and the glow of the fire could be glimpsed from across the divide, from a vantage point in the pantry. We would get a clue as to what was going to be on for lunch.Familiar smells would fill the place and we knew we were home again.