indian superfood

Exec Digital is a new digital-only magazine that randomly dropped into my in-box earlier this month. Although more geared toward “executives” – whatever that means – it nevertheless features an interesting pastiche of travel, food and lifestyle writing. One piece in particular really struck me where it counts: the belly. Chef Gurpareet Bains’ favorite curry houses around the globe made for a quick read yet left me with a fistful of notes-to-self for future reference. You can read it below or catch it in situ HERE, courtesy of the folks at Exec Digital.

International House: The Best Curry by Gurpareet Bains

Gurpareet Bains, chef to A-listers and royalty, author of Indian Superfood and most recently winner of the 2011 Chef of the Year ‘Curry Gong’ at the English Curry Awards, takes a breather from his book tour to share a select handful of his personal favorite Indian restaurants dotted around the world.

Devi, New York, USA - Average $60 per head

Only in the last few years have dapper Indian restaurants started popping up in New York. And although it is most definitely the pioneering days of curry in the US, New York just had to deliver in style…

Devi is America’s only Michelin star Indian restaurant, and accordingly worth a visit. Chefs Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur are sure to whip your taste buds into a frenzy with traditional Indian home cooking fused with the bold flavours of the new world.

I’m salivating just musing over fond memories of the grilled scallops with roasted pepper chutney and bitter orange marmalade, and the signature Tandoori lamb chops with pear chutney. Or for something a little more traditional, how about Phool Makhanee Kee Sabzee (lotus seeds and cashews in a creamy sauce) or the all-time-favourite, and must have Indian street food, Bombay Bhel-Puri?

With an ambience akin to an old worldly Rajasthani boathouse palace, this is the place to entertain and astonish. Be sure to invite your Indian business clients to a dinner at Devi. Deal done and dusted!

Cinnamon Kitchen, London, England - Average $60 per head

With London widely recognised as the curry capital of the world, restaurants on this side of the pond have a mighty high bar to aspire their standards upon – and the Cinnamon Kitchen doesn’t fail to astound. Right in the heart of London’s financial district, the Cinnamon Kitchen is located in a courtyard abuzz with activity. Start with a Cinnamon Spiced Martini in the Anise Bar, sipping it just to the left of the main dining room.

When you’re ready, the main dining room is a converted warehouse with 20 foot ceilings that reverberates a debonair ‘007’ style.  With an exceptional wine-list, a flawless brigade of staff and most importantly, award-winning chefs Vivek Singh and Abdul Yaseen on-hand, you’re really in for a spectacular night.

The menu is short; instead, it focuses on a select few dishes that they get right every single time. Although the meals are presented in an aptly contemporary fashion, with subtle hints of fusion, the food is truly Indian at heart. To start, I’d recommend the Fat Chillies with Spiced Paneer or Hyderabadi Lamb Mince.  As an entree, try Scottish Angus Fillet with Masala Chips or Seared Sea Bass with Kokum Curry and Rice (kokum is slightly sour, although less so than tamarind). The dessert menu is as equally as spectacular – so remember to leave room.

Dhaba, Claridges Hotel, New Delhi, India - Average $30 per head

Dhaba specializes in Punjabi Highway Fare. In the Indian state of the Punjab, locals consider highway eateries – better known as Dhabas – to serve up the best food…and they are absolutely right. It’s rather a kind of street food for people on wheels, who miss home cooking.

Dhaba’s menu is comprised of many traditional family recipes handed down generations. Try something suitably rustic, and typically Punjabi, such as Baingan Ka Bharta (spicy barbecued eggplant), Dahl Makhini (lentils slow cooked overnight, until rich and silky), and accompany this with flaky Tandoori Rotis and some of the more familiar suspects such as meat kebabs and  balti curry dishes – and you will be eating just as heartily as any Punjabi farmer. If you’re not sure what to order, or if you want to try a bit of everything, go for the Thali, which is the chef’s taster menu, and is very much the avant-garde thing to do.

But at Dhaba, it’s not only about the food. The ambience is also of the classic rural highway eatery, complete with a truck fresco, rustic interiors and waiters dressed in traditional Punjabi dress. There is even a thatched ceiling and walls replicating the irregular mud painted texture of a village hut. An old wireless belts out golden oldies from the silver era of Indian cinema, putting the final touches on a perfect evening. 

Ravi’s Restaurant, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Average $10 per head

Ravi’s on Satwa Road (near Satwa Roundabout) is an institution, and arguably Dubai’s number one curry house. Set amidst the hustle and bustle of old Dubai, and bounded by spiraling minarets and the haunting sound of muezzins’ calls, this is the place to eat curry.

It’s very much a rough-and-ready diner style restaurant with Formica tables; fortunately, the tacky decor only enhances the experience of Dubai before it became an international tourist destination.

Ravi’s is frequented by the legions of Indian and Pakistani expats living in Dubai – which is always a good sign of authentic food. If you can imagine classic dishes, such as Butter Chicken, Tarka Dahl, Biryani and Naans, all served up in monumental portions, and for just a few dollars – this is Ravi’s!


surgical sojourns

Despite the passage of Obama-care, medical tourism is expected to be a $100 billion industry by 2012.  That’s a lot of people looking to save on the skyrocketing costs of medical care at home  – or recuperate far from the prying eyes of the paparazzi.

For example, nearly 200,000 people a year head to Turkey for eye treatments like Lasik. Lithuania has become the go-to country for experimental stem cell transplants or gastric bypass. Israel is famous for its low-cost cancer treatment centers, while Thailand is world renowned for cheap plastic surgery.  And dental procedures in India can be as much as 10 times cheaper than in the US.

Closer to home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Casa Velas is riding the medical trend by expanding the parameters of its wellness programs to combine elective surgery with a luxurious recuperation.  The AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel and spa works in conjunction with the board-certified, bilingual doctors of Amerimed (a network of hospitals in Mexico adhering to US healthcare standards) to partner on elective surgeries and cosmetic enhancements ranging from facelifts, tummy tucks, and nose jobs to gastric bypass and botox.

Following procedures, the hotel provides a restful retreat for recuperation where patients receive personal attention 24-hours a day from the staff as well as visits from qualified medical personnel to attend to post-surgery needs.  It’s hard to argue with the logic: if you’re going to be bed-bound for a few days or longer, why not splurge some of the savings on an ocean view, room service, and mani-pedi?


wish list: falaknuma palace

Since its construction in 1884, India’s Falaknuma Palace has rarely opened its doors to visitors, save for a few special guests of the Nizam of Hyderabad – the ruling sovereign of the state which remained independent until 1948.  Regular folk, that is, like the King and Queen of England. But all that’s going to change when Taj Falaknuma Palace opens this spring under the auspices of Taj Hotels, one of Asia’s largest hotel groups

Construction of Falaknuma began in 1884, the same year Sir Vicar-Ul-Umra became Prime Minister of the state of Hyderabad. Completed in 1893, this magnificent palace – built in the shape of a scorpion with its two stingers spread out as wings – became the last word in eastern opulence and luxury. Sir Vicar made Falaknuma his home and played gracious host to lavish dinners, hunt breakfasts and visiting European royalty. All the furniture, paintings and other articles were made to order, including a legendary dining table that seated 101 and where – thanks to exquisite acoustics – one could hear a conversation at either end. Sir Vicar wanted to create an ambiance of heaven – the name Falaknuma means ‘heavenly abode’ in Urdu – however, all that opulence led the Prime Minister into financial hell. Since then, Falaknuma Palace has had many masters, from Nizam Mahboob Ali Pasha to Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur. But most importantly, it remained in the hands of one family.

The promise of Taj Falaknuma Palace reflects that significant detail.  The hotel retains the priceless collections of Belgian Osler chandeliers, English furniture, stained glass windows, leather upholstered rosewood chairs, gold and crystal tables, ivory figurines and the Italian white marble fountain at the entrance, for starters.  The library still has boasts the famous carved walnut ceiling (a replica of one found at Windsor Castle) and houses one of the finest collections of the Quran in India.  The ballroom contains a two-ton manually operated organ said to be the only one of its kind in the world.

Set on a hillock overlooking the city, the Falaknuma’s rare blend of Italian and Tudor architecture is considered one of the most remarkable sights of Hyderabad.  Slumdog Millionaire it ain’t.


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