India - Food & Travel Guide

Hotel Deals in Goa and Rajasthan

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="511" caption="Goa and Rajasthan"]Goa and Rajasthan[/caption]

It’s the season for deals in India, as it is all around the world. But if you are planning to travel to India this season, be sure to stretch your dollar—hotel tariffs are being offered at a discount, food and beverage prices, even in the best of restaurants, have never been cheaper and shopping is at a discount too.

Goa and Rajasthan are two of the most popular destinations in the country this time of the year.

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Hotel Deals in Goa and Rajasthan

Goa and Rajasthan

Goa and Rajasthan

It’s the season for deals in India, as it is all around the world. But if you are planning to travel to India this season, be sure to stretch your dollar—hotel tariffs are being offered at a discount, food and beverage prices, even in the best of restaurants, have never been cheaper and shopping is at a discount too.

Goa and Rajasthan are two of the most popular destinations in the country this time of the year. With the world in recession and the travel industry being badly hit, both these places offer very good options for travelers. Then, there is Agra, with the famous Taj Mahal, but much else, that I recently visited and getaways in the Himalayas. The bonus? You will also be far from the madding crowds since, this year, both the destinations are far quieter than in the past. Indian hotels in general are far more magnificent, spacious and imbued with a sense of local history than similar hotels in Europe or America. Also, guests can look forward to much more pampering and lavish dining experiences that don’t just highlight the local culture but also offer the best of international dining—from Brazilian grills to Thai or Chinese food to French or Italian food that’s become quite popular in India. Having said that, here are a few options that you may find useful.

Goa: February is still a salubrious enough time to visit the beaches. It is cool enough and besides, you may be able to participate in the colourful Goa carnival (with a Brazil-style parade) that takes place this month. There are some great tariffs available at hotels. The Cidade Goa, for instance, that is situated in south Goa, and is one of the oldest, sea-facing properties is offering a 2 night stay (with breakfast) for just under Rs 15,000 ($ 300). The Taj, one of India’s biggest chains (the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai was recently attacked by terrorists), has announced its own “packages” unsusual for this time of the year—these rates are more off-season type. At Fort Aquada or Taj Holiday Village or Taj Exotica, you can stay for 2 nights for slightly more than Rs 25,000 ($500). But obviously, there are many other cheaper B& Bs and inns too, often run by local families who will cheerfully extend all their hospitality to you. Seven years ago, holidaying in Goa with my husband, we stayed at Mrs Fernandes’ in Panjim (Goa’s capital and a good base if you want to travel by car or motorcycles or local buses to different ends of the island) and the experience was blissful. A cheerful matron of 50 plus, Mrs Fernandez let out rooms in those days for about $10-20 a night, spacious enough with good baths, and would send up generous portions of cheese toast and coffee for breakfast. Goa is full of big and small restaurants where you can eat out inexpensively on the spicy local cuisine that mixes Portugese and Indian influences—Pork vindaloo, prawn curry and rice and a cheap, sweet “wine” native to the state is staple—and we obviously tried out a new place every day. On the day, we were to leave, a very hurt Mrs Fernandes told us, “but you haven’t tasted my food at all.” So just before taking the car to the railway station, we asked her for a simple meal of spicy egg curry and coriander rice. It was awesome.

Agra: In November 2008, we decided to take a short break in Agra, just about 200 km ffrom Delhi, where we stay, because, well, luxury hotels were offering such fabulous discounts that we couldn’t resist checking in. We chose the Jaypee Palace hotel for our two night stay that came to just about Rs 10,000 ($ 200) with breakfast for two. It is a lovely hotel, sprawling and Mughal-inspired with the luxury of space. There is a spa and an entertainment centre (with a play area for small kids that my daughter found much to her liking) and llocal kathputli (puppet) performances in the evening, along with local craftsmen like bangle sellers paying you a visit in the hotel corridor. The hotel also has a new restaurant called Paatra, roughly translated as a plate made of leaves on which feasts (and temple offerings) were served in India in the old days. This serves food from the Punjab and Pakistan and from northern India, including Delhi and Agra. You can pair your grills and curries with new world wines and listen to ghazals, primarily love ballads, in the evening.

Rajasthan: The most colourful of Indian states and also one that offers you a royal style of hospitality. Luckily, discounts are on offer at all the hotels.  Cities that you may like to visit  here are Jaipur, the capital, the “gems” town, of India, where much of the gemstones exported and used to make jewellery in the country are cut, polished and set. So, you can buy great quality emeralds and sapphires and tourmalines… Then, there is Udiapuur, with a great lake in the centre, famous for antique furniture, Jodhpur, the dessert city, with a fort where the royal family resides till this day and Ajmer, the site for one of India’s holiest sufi shrines, the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. The emperor Akbar is said to have walked all the way from Agra (his capital) to Ajmer to seek the saint’s blessings for a son and heir. 9He was obliged!) If you are seeking spirituality, this could be the place for it, as also if you are seeking a novel musical experience: The qwwali, as a form of musical performance, has no Western equivalent. Energetic and lively, verses are sung out (often made impromptu) to a common refrain. And the sufi singers, when they get into their elements and sufficiently lost in the magic of music may even dance in a trance (if you’ve ever seen a Turkish dervish, it’s the same thing). It’s easy to lose yourself too. You can base yourself in Jaipur and then travel all over the state. Rajvilas, a fabulous luxury hotel, one of India’s finest and most opulent—with open air baths—has some great prices going though you may have to bargain a little bit while making a booking. Last I checked, a room was being offered to a relative for Rs 14,000 a night, under $ 300. The smaller hotels and inns (Jaipur Inn, Park Pride etc) will be much cheaper for about Rs 2,000-3,000 a night ($ 40 upwards).

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India’s Top Chefs: The Qureshi Brothers

Qureshi Brothers

Qureshi Brothers

Bukhara is India’s most famous restaurant, launched by chef Imtiaz Qureshi almost 30 years ago. As a boy in Lucknow, famous for its Mughal culture and etiquette, Qureshi trained as a young boy under his uncle in one of the small kebabs and curry restaurants, found in crowded markets and by the roads. But soon he began to surpass his teacher and began earning a name for himself. His big break came when ITC hotels, one of India’s largest hotel chains with a tie-up with the Sheraton group, brought him to Delhi, India’s food capital and centre of power to open their most ambitious project yet, Bukhara.

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Thai food in India

Thai Cuisine

Thai cuisine, of course, never became as popular as Chinese food– and its many versions — in India, particularly northern India: A surprising thing, considering that it is hot and flavourful, and thus suited to the Indian palate. But Prakob points out that why the north — Delhi, India’s food capital too—hasn’t quite taken to it is because of the presence of coconut. To that I would add, thin curries and “fishy” flavours — though five-star chefs are careful to use “oyster mushroom sauce”, not oyster sauce. People in Chennai, says Prakob, like Thai food more because “they too have a lot of coconut.”

Even robust Punjabis, on the other hand, will like Prakob’s recipes because as I was once told, his food “does not smell”.

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Recipes for Chicken Satay and Chicken with Cashew Nuts

Chicken Satay

Chicken Satay

Chicken Satay

Chicken breast, 250 g, cut into 5-6 pieces

For the marination

Turmeric powder, curry powder, coconut milk, white pepper, salt, garlic, grated galangal (Thai ginger) and lemon grass, finely chopped

Method

Mix the ingredients for the marinade and marinate the chicken for 4 hours after putting on satay sticks.

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Travelling to India? Stay at the Westin

Westin in Gurgaon

Westin in Gurgaon

I stayed at the Westin in Gurgaon…

Design in hotels, even as far as those fabulously exotic luxury resorts go, must necessarily walk the tightrope between mundane functionality and magnificent opulence that will grab the attention of the increasingly discerning guest. At the fabulously plush Westin Sohna, it sure veers towards the latter -— except that it builds in another contemporary trend into its expression: Green architecture.

As the first Starwood Westin property in India — there are others slated to come up— the Sohna resort is certainly a showpiece; complete with the no-partitions, open bath areas (with clear glass ceilings to maximise views of the nature outside) attached to their plush suites.

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Meeting Gaia Gaja: A Wine Heiress

Gaia Gaja

Gaia Gaja

The world of luxury wines is like the world of luxury cars in more ways than one. Besides the fact that both are controlled by rather small, exclusive, clubs if you like — in a single conversation it would be quite possible to name all the brands dominating either —these are also worlds ruled, quite unequivocally, by men, powerful men. Which is why Gaia Gaja (the first and the last names are both pronounced the same way, are infact the same… but more on that later) is such an exception: A 29-year-old heiress, the fifth generation of a Piedmontese winemaking legend, Gaia is hardly the label-dripping, given-to-excesses stereotype most of us would associate with famous last names a la Hilton.

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My Visit to the Champagne Country

Champagne Country

Champagne Country

Sitting in an enchanted European castle (this one complete with a moat and turrets) on top of a hill, going through a champagne lunch, minding the fish fork from the fowl, etiquette that a French meal necessitates, is the culmination of one morning’s hard labour. We’ve been at the vineyards since breakfast time picking grapes. And I’ve managed to gather almost 50 kg of fruit, enough for about 10 bottles of the bubbly, I am told. If I was to be paid my honest wages, it would have been a satisfactory, even lavish, amount no doubt — unlike, I would imagine, what those boisterous Americans also in our group would earn for being so much more touristy, more chatty and for pointing out last night’s dinner in the chalky soil: Escargots, of course!

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The future of Chinese cuisine?

Q & A with Andrew Tijoe, Singapore-based legendary restaurateur, who owns brands like My Humble House and Club Chenoi

Foie Gras with crispy duck. If there was one image to explain what Andrew Tijoe, executive president of the Tung Lok group, one of the most successful Singapore-based restaurateurs, awarded at the World Gourmet Summit, has done for Chinese cuisine, it would be that. You may have made your acquaintance with his distinctive cuisine, marrying Western many influences with traditional flavours and methods, at My Humble House, now in many different countries, including China and India.

Q. The reaction to My Humble House has been mixed in India.

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India’s most expensive restaurants and party places

Yes, the recession is a bad time to be talking luxury but if you do plan to visit India any time soon — perhaps to celebrate a special occasion like a wedding or a big vacation — here are a few places that you may like to check out

1. Bukhara: For more than a decade, this restaurant has continued to rate as India’s finest. The most recent has been a recommendation in the Singapore-based Miele Guide. Located at The ITC Maurya in New Delhi (it has variants called “Peshawari” where food and setting are much the same across ITC-Sheraton hotels in the  big cities), the restaurant serves excellent grills and food from north-west India and Pakistan.

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Meet Manju Malhi: The celebrity TV chef in London

Manju Malhi

Manju Malhi

You know Madhur Jaffrey, goddess of spice and spicy Indian food, who has done a fair job of selling Indian cuisine to the West. Now, meet Manju Malhi, a star chef in her own right with shows on TV in UK. Malhi’s forte is “Indi-Brit” cooking, easy-to-do Indian food using ingredients available in the supermarkets and no laborious, time-consuming processes please. Malhi developed this style as a result of her upbringing in London where she would constantly be looking at ways to “spice up” the British fare the family ate.

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