I was blessed to indulge in fulfilling travel to parts of Europe and India in November and December. Here below are eleven meals that stuck out enough to warrant a plug to people I knew. Every meal chosen below and the comments behind them are from a vegetarian. So, obvious disclaimers. Here we go –
Meal #1 is the protein rich heavy vegan breakfast at Heathrow Terminal 5 at a restaurant called the ‘giraffe‘. Fake meat sausage, baked beans, eggs and the whole shebang. Filling and just the re-energizer after a cross-continental flight and the immensely unfriendly security procedures at Heathrow. Cost of meal is around USD 10. I rate it 4 stars out of 5 for taste and value especially considering it is an airport meal.
Meal #2 is Tofu Satay in an Indonesian restaurant in the vicinity of Van Ostadestraat in Amsterdam. Indonesian food is ubiquitous in Holland and the food didn’t really thrill me. While the presence of rice warmed the cockles of my South Indian heart, it was not as flavorful as it could be. Still, great meal on a cold wet Dutch day. I rate it 3 stars out of 5.
This is from a restaurant dedicated to Cous Cous right opposite the Centuurban tram station. The menu has only three items – Veggie Cous Cous, Chicke Cous Cous and Seafood Cous Cous. It has one wine pairing for each. The portions are also not particularly plentiful. And it costs a fortune. Almost 24 USD including taxes. But it was one of the best meals I had on my trip. Flavorful veggies, the smell of saffron and slow-cooked Cous Cous made for quite the unique experience. 1 star out of 5 for how expensive it was but 5 stars out of 5 for taste.
When in India, these packets of Alu Bhujia (shown above) were my energy bars. They were ubiquitous, cheap and apparently very free of all the things that make Alu Bhujia unhealthy. I carried these with me on hikes, planes and plain old sight-seeing trips. 5/5 on all factors and 6/5 if the labeled nutrition facts are actually correct.
The Lakshmi Mishtaan Bandaar (LMB to locals) is a must-stop sweet shop in Jaipur. It is frenetic at all hours and serves out many pounds of fresh sweets and savouries every hour in a very clean and sterile space. The service is absolutely stellar for how busy they are even if the women taking the orders hear the same questions a hundred times a day. The dish above is their specialty and called Doodh Feeni which makes it a milk based sweet. I do not know a lot more about it but it was delicious enough to be a meal for me by itself without ruining my stomach in ways I imagined it would. 5 stars out 5 on all counts and a must-visit if you are within 200 miles of it.
The other sweet I gorged on for my carbohydrates in Jaipur was the above – Paneer Ghewar. This too was a uniquely Rajasthani milk-based concoction that tasted great while not harming my digestive system in any way. 4 out of 5 for taste and 5/5 for value. I am mainly putting it in here so as to make you go to Lakshmi Mishtaan Bhandaar in the old Pink City.
I was lucky to be in Chennai for the famed Kutchery season and enjoyed not just the music but also the food from the canteens that accompany the various auditoriums across South Madras (h/t to my friend Sury). One of my favorites from a very long list of yummy meals was this tiffin above of Chettinadu Idlis at the Mylapore Fine Arts club. The molagapodi, chutney and sambar accompaniments all were immaterial to the experience which is very rare for an Idli or Dosa. I give it 5 stars out of 5 and 6 out of 5 if the level of hygiene practised by the cooks here was better than what I think it was.
The Rajdhani chain of restaurants serving Gujarati and Rajasthani Thalis is very popular in Indian metros. I end up visiting one everytime I go back. I am glad they have maintained their quality even after a lot of expansion and enjoyed their spread in their Pacific Mall New Delhi outlet very much. The service here too is spectacular and the waiters do not let you have an empty plate for more than a minute. This is a seven course meal with some thing for every palate and a truly special experience. 6/5 on all counts!
Mumbai, while being the single favorite city I visited on my trip was generally disappointing on the meals front. I blame it more on my choice of places than the city. But the one meal that did stand out was the buttery rich Pav Bhaji that I had two of at Amar Chaat house opposite the far end of Chowpatty beach. At USD 1.5, this was a steal and the best Chaat I have had in a long time.
A catering crew led by one Mint Padmanabhan prepares the food all day for the thousands of people who visit the famous Music Academy in Chennai during the Kutchery season. Most patrons claimed that this crew had a down year but my lunch experience was quite the opposite. I had their full meal at lunch (there really is no half meal or express meal. a meal is a full meal right?). Right from the bitter gourd chips to the Vatha Kozhumbu to the Sambar to the Pineapple rasam to the caulifower curry to the Pudina rice, the meal was real and spectacular. The cost of the meal was about 3 USD and makes it a 5/5 from me on all counts. The service here is not very good and the crowds make it so that you’re always under pressure to finish your meal and move so some one else can take your place under the Shamiana tents. But for this food, I’d put up with it. Like I did.
Annalakshmi is a volunteer-based vegetarian restaurant in Chennai. Apparently it has been around for a long time but this was my first visit. It was a great vegetarian thali that had a wonderful cocktail of North and South Indian dishes. They do serve 4-5 courses that make it a really filling meal but they’re also on the pricey side. The service is excellent but the demand is high making this the one meal on the list that needs to be planned days ahead of time. 5/5 again and a must-visit for me the next time I am back.
I also enjoyed several Saravana Bhavan meals that I didn’t capture very well in my vault. There were also several forgettable meals. I wouldn’t go back to any ‘Barbecue nation’ in India in spite of their excellent service. That’s just not to my palate. I also did not take well to anything in the Amsterdam Red light district (insert obvious joke here) and pizza or salads in India in general. But the 11 meals above will be ones I will try to revisit the next time I am within 200 miles of these places.
Any restaurant or meals you want to mention here that you think I missed out on in Amsterdam, Brussels, Jaipur, Chennai, New Delhi or Mumbai?