Abyssinian, Chennai

Being a travel buff, the minute I come upon a country I am not quite familiar with, I instantly start reading up on it. This is exactly what I did when I heard of Abyssinian, the new Ethiopian restaurant that had opened doors in the city. Incidentally, Ethiopia was once called Abyssinia and that is how the restaurant earned its name as well.
Situated in the same building as two other restaurants- Meena Tai [Maharashtrian restaurant] and Batlivala & Khanabhoy[the Parsi restaurant], this is the 3rdrestaurant from the brother’s duo Uday Balaji and Vikram Mohan of VM Hospitality.   While chatting with Uday, I came to know they have a test kitchen in Coimbatore where all recipes are tried out. Infact, they set up a farm to grow the Ethiopian grain, Teff but are also exploring other venues to make this happen. When I enquired about how easy or difficult the journey of establishing the restaurant has been, Uday shared the issues they face in bringing in the ingredients, the hassles with customs and other such concerns, which is why it took as long as it did for the restaurant to launch.
Since India and Ethiopia have strong connections from the past, especially with reference to Spices, it comes as no surprise that the cuisines are quite similar as well. The first thing you notice when you step into Abyssinian is the space, there are just four tables, but it adds to the charm. The walls are adorned with traditional Ethiopian musical instruments and scripts, not to forget the quirky the light fittings. The seating is low- chairs and stools and the center table is meant for the platter.  Their menu is quite extensive; all dishes are given their original name with a description to help us understand. They also have a glossary, which helps make sense of what we are served. J
We were there for lunch and it so happened all 4 of us were vegetarians. The eating style in Ethiopia is community style and so you eat from a single plate. This was taking the phrase “a family that eats together stays together” to a whole another level.
Our meal began with Thej, the official drink of this land. Made with nothing but honey, sugar and water, it is allowed to ferment a bit before being served. It was tad pungent but quite nice, and not too sweet.  Next up was a plate with Mandasi [resembles our bonda] but with strong ajwain & garlic flavours and it was served with Abe [coriander green chilli dip].
While we were busy polishing these off, we were served the sou – ‘Adengare Shorba’ – kidney beans that had been cooked with onion and tomato. It was light and simple. 
The staple from this region is Injera- the traditional bread of sorts that is eaten by all. There is no rice in this region [hallelujah, my kinda place].. Injera is made with a grain called Teffa [ which the restaurant is trying to source, but until then Injera is made using Ragi and rice- two variations] . if I were to explain it to you, it is similar to our dosa except it feels steamed.
The plate arrived at our table and there were two big pieces of Injera at the bottom and small rolls of Injera for each of us. And then came the side dishes, I lost count after 4.. Was happy to note they had quite a range of vegetarian options.
We were served
Dinch Wot- curried potato simmered with berbere, garlic and spices – this was a big hit, loved the flavours.
Yedinich Alicha – a stew of potatoes and carrots with onions,fresh garlic, ginger and turmeric. It was semi dry and simple in terms of flavours.
Yatakilt Wot- curried vegetable stew of cauliflower, potatoes, carrot, cabbage, beans with onions and berebere- loved this one as well. 
Yeduba Wot – curried pumpkin simmered with red onions, berebere, garlic and spices – Since I love yellow pumpkin, I enjoyed this one as well.
Indubay Tibs – mushroom sauteed with onions, chilli peppers, tomato and rosemary. Reminded me of the sauté I do at home. 
 Fir Fir – pieces of injera tossed with onions, garlic, berebere paste and Ethiopian Spiced butter- wasn’t a big fan of this, but it kinda resembles the kothu parotta.- this is typically served at Breakfast.
Shiro – powdered chickpeas stew flavored with onions, garlic and peppers- it was mushy and runny like our daal
Azifa – guessing I got the name right- It was a daal of sorts that had brown lentils that had been cooked down with spices and was quite delicious.
Apart from the main dishes, we had three sides that added a nice touch to the side dishes.
Ayib – plain crumbled cottage cheese that added creaminess to dishes. 
Mitmita  – cottage cheese with quit a hit of heat [with a local birds eye chilli, cardomon seeds and salt]
Awaze- This was a sauce made with Berebere and olive oil. It was a hot sauce that you add to increase the heat factor in any of the dishes
Phew, now those names are quite the challenge to remember, right?! That is the joy of trying something new and out of your comfort zone.
We weren’t done yet, now came the trio of desserts 
Kita- Fried Ethiopian Flat bread with honey- this was a big dry for my liking.
Nech Azmud cake- Soft olive oil cakes made with ajwain and served with liberal amounts of honey. It contains egg [quite strong flavour as well] – one of those desserts that you eat a few bites and are done.
Sweet Sambussa- the winner among the desserts- Friend flat bread parcels of sweetened carrots, dates and nuts served with honey – Loved this one…
And to bring the meal to the close came the infamous Ethiopian Coffee that was served with a bowl of salted popcorn. Yep, you read it right. That is how Ethiopians wind up their meal. The coffee is served black into small cups, and you can either have it as it is or add some spiced butter and salt to enhance the taste. I tried both and loved them equally. The butter and salt adds a bit of warmth and cuts the bitterness. 
Oh what a fabulous afternoon it had been. An experience like no other I can say with confidence. I had shared a few pictures during the lunch and was amazed to see that a few friends have tried Ethiopian food across the world and were quite excited we had one option in Chennai and then there were those who wanted to be taken here for a treat… J
One other thing I must tell you is they are planning on introducing an afternoon coffee session where you could be privy to tales about their coffee brewing tradition or just some history about the place and people. Keep a look out for these events.
We were very impressed with the level of knowledge possessed by Eswar, the staff who took care of us through the meal. it apparently took him 3 months to master the names of dishes but he was phenomenal when it came to answering our questions and explaining the dishes. 

If you were to go for the Messob, which is this community style eating and are a group of 4 vegetarians, it would cost you Rs3399 . The restaurant also has tasting plates, curated with a combination of dishes. 

40, Maharaja Surya Road, Venus Colony, Alwarpet, Chennai- 18
[Take right at the end of Kasturi Rangan Road, drive past Tangerine and you will spot this on the right]

Dial 044 42082809 for reservations. 

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/AbyssinianRestaurant/

The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember that restaurants and eat outs sometimes change with time, so does their food and service. So, kindly consider these factors while visiting the places. Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit  🙂

Biryani fest at Spice Haat in Hyatt Regency, Chennai till 10th Dec

Biryani, a dish that is much sought after by many and one that most of us vegetarians only dream about [ cos there is no such thing as Vegetarian Biryani if you were to dig into the history] Here is what I found when I went snooping on the history of Biryani.. Biryani is derived from the Persian word ‘Birian’.  In Farsi, Birian means ‘Fried before Cooking’. 

In the olden days, rice was fried (without washing) in Ghee (Clarified butter) which in turn gave the rice a nutty flavor and burnt the outside starch layer gelatinizing it. Once this process is complete, it is boiled in water with spices till half cooked.
Typically Biryani is made with Goat meat, which is marinated in a whole bunch of spices with yoghurt as well. And then the meat is cooked till it falls off the bone. And finally, in an earthen pot [Handi], the rice and meat are layered, few layers of condiments are added- spices, rose water, ghee and so on. It is then sealed and sat on Coal fire to cook. The process has evolved with time, with influences from various regions adding a twist to the flavours and each region today seems to have their own special kind of Biryani as well. One other point I was told was that back in the days long-grain brown rice was used in North India; while the short grain Zeeraga Samba rice was used in South India. [Another article I read on the net about Biryani]
Coming back to this evening, we were at Spice Haat [Hyatt Regency Chennai] who have come up with a Biryani Carnival of sorts. One that features 5 different kinds of non veg biryani, one veg biryani/pulao and then there is the plain Rice cooked with spices and with fried onions on it as well.  There are quite a few side dishes for the Biryani- both in veg and non veg section, ranging from the Mirchi Ka salan to Egg curry to Kaju mutter paneer, not to forget the array of raitas. 
Being a vegetarian, I made a beeline for the veg dishes and enjoyed them all, including the Rice, it had mild spices and was well cooked, while the rice had a bite to it [I hate mushy rice]. It was fascinating watching the non veg part of the group taste the rice, the meat and share their opinions, As with any dish, biryani too comes with a range of flavours, and how cooking process, the spices used makes a world of difference in the non veg arena.
To wind up the meal, you should check out their dessert counter, they have Kala jamun, tiramisu, other pastries and elaneer payasam as well [which I felt was way too watery and bland, missing the beautiful elaneer flavours]. I did have a south indian filter kaapi before calling it a night. J
The Biryani Carnival is on till 10th December at Spice Haat and is open only for dinner [6.30pm-10.30pm]. Every day the biryanis on the buffet change with one special biryani as well.
Two options are available during this period-
     a)    Buffet priced at Rs1550/- [excl tax] where you get to dig into the various kinds of biryanis apart from other dishes available on the buffet or
     b)    A la carte where you pay for Rs999/- [excl tax] to try one biryani but this comes with two Beers. 
Do call +91 44 61001234 for more information or reservations.
Spice Haat
Hyatt Regency Chennai
365, Anna Salai,

Teynampet, Chennai.

Time and Friendships..

Time changes a lot of things, it changes how we look, how we think and even how we process information. Heck, it changes what we want/desire as well. 
What has also happened over time is the changes in technology , the influx of social networking websites- twitter, Facebook, instagram, pinterest, whatsapp, telegram, hike, and so on.. All of these has made it so much easier to reach out and connect  with. We dont ever need to lose touch with anyone, ever again, as the number of “online friends” grow by the day. There is something wonderful about reconnecting with an old school friend, or finding an ex colleague on one of these platforms. It gives us such an adrenalin rush that we bask in its glory for a while. Now I know a lot of people who show off how many Facebook friends they have or Twitter Followers. While on one side you boast of this, on the other side there are brands who are keen to connect with these very people, cos they seem to have moved to a category called “influencers” [whatever that means…].. But then, what is the point of having so many friends, if you are in touch with a handful on a regular basis? So, it actually looks like having the gazillion friends is not a good thing after all.  What is surprising is that there are quite a few of our “online friends” we haven’t met ever or spoken to more than once.

It has come to a point where when we met someone, the first thing they ask is “are you on Fb?”.. A guy you connect with on a  dating site asks if he can add you in on Fb.. Oh, and I have actually had guys from dating apps find me on Fb and send me messaging asking for a connect.. I mean, WTF~ Why this obsession? I know it sounds like am anti social networking sites, no way.. I love it, and have my moments on it but don’t get this whole “need to be connected for the sake of it” phenomenon…I had recently written another post on how people have become addicted to these apps and I am not really kicked about the whole “being in touch” all the time concept. 

Again, am not saying Social media or online world is a bad thing, just wondering what is the point of it all. Therefore, it seems quite natural that time also affects the relationships we have and the bonds we have built in life. Over the past few years, I have noticed that the number of “friends” [people am close to, in confide in, I meet/hang out with often and of course trust] has dwindled in numbers. But this is a good thing. I am quite happy with the few that am close to, i have around me and don’t really miss the others who were left behind. 
Yes, I do get the occasional message asking if am alright, how come no messages etc, but then those die out with time as well. 
It got me wondering- why does this happen? Is it something that everyone goes through or something that is just me… Within few minutes, I stop wondering and move on in life. 
I guess its just that over time 
our tolerance for drama goes down, 
we stop staying in touch with those who add no value to our lives, 
who have no major aspirations or dreams…. 
And those who drain us of energy with their emotional drama/mess…
It is only fair to me to have people who mean something, who care, and who are true blue friends… Otherwise, I would just be unfair to myself.. Am happy with the 4-5 around, eternally grateful for them as well. So, who is your 5? 

Agasthiyar Falls.. Tirunelveli

There I was in the train, lying on the Side Lower berth, unable to sleep [well cos the 6 foot me wouldn’t fit into that small berth and cos it was lovely and cold, I had left one window open] thinking about how its been ages since I was back in Tirunelveli & Kallidaikurichi… I was travelling with 10 others, including the bride & groom. This was a wedding we had all been looking forward to forever and was kicked that it was finally happening. 
The wedding was set for Friday morning, we reached Tirunelveli from where we made the hour long journey to Kallidaikurichi on Thursday morning. Sitting in a mini bus of sorts with all but the bride [ she had been whisked away home by her mom], we were in for a day of sight seeing. The first stop was Agasthiyar Falls …  The last time I had been here was during a trip from dad’s office [must be a good two decades or so ago]
A bit of trivia about the place – Agasthiyar Falls (also called Papanasam Falls) is located quite close to Papanasam in Tirunelveli district. Infact, what makes it so awesome is that it is on the Western Ghats and story goes that this is the place where sage Agasthya got a view of Shiva in his wedding attire [Agasthiyar could not attend Shiva Parvathy’s wedding in Kailasam and so requested the God to grant him  a view of the event.. pleased with his prayers, Shiva appeared in front of him.] And that is how the place earned its name. 

When driving towards the parking lot, you will cross the power plant that helps generate power for the towns around [from the Papanasam Dam]. It is also known to be a place where people have sighted tigers and leopards [ not a surprise considering it is quite close to Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger reserve] .. 
We had reached the parking lot, the vans were halted, we got out and began making the short walk to the falls. I could hear the water at a distance and wondered how heavy it was this time around. Along the way, we walked across little streams formed by the other smaller falls coming down the smaller mountains. The place is teeming with monkeys, and they make a go for anything that looks like food. So best to keep your belongings close to you, and avoid carrying food items. Heck, don’t even carry your phones in your hand, they just might mistake it for food. 
Since it was off season, there wasn’t a mad rush. One thing I noticed instantly was the wall at the foot of the falls- diving the male and female visitor section. Interesting…. And then ofcoruse the sight of people happily lathering themselves with soap and shampoo, letting it all wash off and float down the river.. kinda wish people wouldn’t do that and pollute the water.. 

Battle with the body – VII

am on a holiday in a different city now. A city that has a reputation of being
ultra cool and the place to be in if you wanna have fun. Well, it beats me but
still the world believes it is so… What do I know, right?!  
today I was at a mall where there were these two girls and a guy walking ahead
of me. One of the girls was on the plus size side, the guy was skinny and the
other girl was petite. I commented to my friend on the dress one of the girls
was wearing that it was pretty and I was tempted to ask where she had bought
it. They soon walked away and we lost sight of them for a while. Eventually, we
went into Krispy Kreme as my friend’s hubby had picked up coffee for us where I
saw the trio seated chatting animatedly.
the table beside them were three guys who were laughing and talking aloud, in
tamil. They were passing comments about the girl who was on the bigger side and
connected her with the guy, saying crass things- about who would be on top, and
if the guy would get crushed under the girl, if they were into threesomes and
so on.  It so happened that I got a call
at that very moment from home and spoke aloud in tamil. One of the guys turned
when he heard that looked at my face and immediately dragged his homies and
they rushed away. He stopped laughing and face changed expression instantly. I
wish I had captured the moment.
disgusting. The trio was oblivious and chatted away in Kannada, which got me
thinking that language too plays such a big role in our lives. If they had
understood these guys or if the guys had commented in Kannada there would have
been a fight [atleast I hope there would have been one]. It hurt me that people
behaved in such a crass manner, without an ounce of compassion towards their
fellow humans.
they just jobless or do they get some kick out of behaving this way? Why does
someone else’s body become a matter of discussion? When did this become the
cool gossip? I was also ashamed that they were tamil….

are people so shallow, so dirty minded? Is it age, or is it their upbringing or
do they think it is cool to talk like this? Beats me…

Koramangala Social, bangalore

It was a place like no other I have been to. I rode the elevator to the 3rd floor, and entered the place and was instantly greeted by nothing but plush greenery and plenty of sunlight streaming in through the glass panel windows above. It was such a breath of fresh air, especially for someone who has been to pubs across the country where most of them are dark and dingy. Infact, you don’t know where you are stepping in most places.
I found my friend seated in a table with a mix of chairs, I chose the sofa and it was damn comfortable. I got a view of the place and the one thing that hit me was the wide open spaces, the funky kitsch furniture, the overhead hanging plug points [you can pull em down if you wish to charge any device] and ofcourse the cool gear worn by the staff, very military style. 

There was a small aluminium bucket of sorts on the table that held the different menus [ they resemble the newspaper], a tissue roll with funky quirky words on it and cutlery alongside the same. I was in love with the place. Not to forget the girls whose company I always enjoy. We must have spent about 4 hrs there, and could have gone on for few more.. When I walked in, friend was drinking chai, there was a tall glass with tea, a small cutting glass with milk that said “cutting” [in hindi]. I instantly ordered one for myself. Similarly, I noticed that most glasses had a hindi word on them [paani=water, and so on]
Now coming to the food and drinks, I loved all that we ordered. I enjoyed my tall glass of Long Island Iced tea [ 500ml that came in a tall narrow glass with a long straw- it was made well] .. As for the food, the presentation is a big part of the experience- the plates, bowls they were served in and the flavours as well [except for the Laksa which I felt was different from what we expected and was tad spicy as well] 
We ordered pretty much everything on the menu, starters to desserts and were happy campers at the end of the meal. We tried the Khao Suey  [which was good,but the sauce felt a lot like what was served in the Laksa], the Paneer in a box [ it was served in a Chinese box with chopsticks], the Bhel puri and ofcourse the trio of desserts – Ramesh Suresh [ deep fried 5 Star chocolate served with vanilla ice cream in a metal box], the date sticky toffee pudding and chocolate explosion of sorts [ forgot the name, it was just an overdose of chocolate]
The damage [the box that contained the bill had this word printed on it..lol] was around 3k, but well worth the price…  The place has options for working, bring your laptop sit and work away; plenty of greenery which adds to the whole charm [apparently the other Social outlets are different and this is the largest of them all- 13000 sq ft]. Spotted quite a few groups with kids and babies as well. 

118, Koramangala Industrial Area, Koramangala 7th Block,
Ph- 080 40515253