Ganpati Bappa in Pune is the true definition of larger than life.

Ganpati Bappa Moriya!

Image courtesy: Dekhnews

Image courtesy: Dekhnews

 

Punekars bid goodbye to their favourite Elephant faced God- Ganpati, Ganesh, Vinayak, Pulaiyaar, Ekadanta, or whatever name you want to use to address him. This Ganesh Chathurthi has been a significant time in my life because of how I was tested. But I’m going to save that for later.

If I was in Chennai, I would’ve woken up to my mother (in all probability) yelling at me for sleeping in (read as sleeping till 8 or 9 a.m) and me hustling to get out of bed. I’d quickly shower, wash my hair and get dressed and rush to help my Father make Kozhukattai, all while hungrily eyeing the hot and crispy vadas my mom was making as the divine smell filled the entire house. My sister and I would join hands and say a prayer that we learnt back when we studied in the same school together and we would then fall silent as we prayed for each other’s health, success and joy.

This year's Ganesh Chathurthi spread at home.

This year’s Ganesh Chathurthi spread at home.

After lunch, and our prayers and offerings,  we’d all gather around and watch a hit movie that was being played on Sun TV or Vijay TV. Most probably involving Rajinikanth ( <3 ).

*Deafening whistles and screams* Image courtesy: Indiannerve.com

*Deafening whistles and screams*
Image courtesy: Indiannerve.com

I felt miserable and alone when I woke up to cloudy skies at Noon this year, on Ganesh Chathurthi. I spoke to my mom who seemed preoccupied and slightly distant on the phone. There were puja celebrations happening in the recreation and wellness center of our campus as well, but I felt so poorly motivated to actually be a part of them. I’d taken a trip home only recently, but somehow that day I missed home more than ever..

Then we were handed an assignment by our professor to go to the city and cover Ganesh Chathurthi celebrations in Pune. I was reluctant to, but I did go, and when we went, I was speechless at the grandeur of celebrations left me stunned, finally lifting me out of the misty gray dullness that had enveloped me over the few days that followed Ganesh Chathurthi’s first day.

Ganpati Bappa in Pune is the true definition of larger than life.

Ganpati Bappa in Pune is the true definition of larger than life.

As I roamed the streets, I understood for the first time in my life, what the phrase ‘larger than life’ meant. There was festive splendor everywhere and I couldn’t take my eyes off the sights and sounds. It was so invigorating to be part of that crowd and report.

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Found outside a pandal: If you can throw a coin into that pot in the middle, then all your desires will be fulfilled.

Make a wish.

Make a wish.

On the last day of our reporting assignment, I felt like we had come around to a full circle. It had been almost 4 or 5 days of continuous shooting. Those days were filled with fun, despite the hard work and running around we had to do. We were walking on a narrow footpath on a busy crowded road when we chanced upon a small shop that sold sweets and (of course) modaks.

Yay! Modaks!

Yay! Modaks!

My friend and I eagerly dug in as a huge smile spread across my face. It was like tasting something my dad had made. I smiled kindly at who appeared to be the shop owner and told him this was the best modak I’d had in a while and that it reminded me of the ones I ate at home. The outside was soft yet firm and on the inside was jaggery and coconut. I took my time in relishing and eating the dish as never before had a sweet dish come so close to what we eat back at home.

That’s when I realised… Home is not a place that you leave behind. Home is everywhere, if you look hard enough. Home is in the same blue skies and the shining sun that warms your face. It is in the people, whose hearts you happen to touch merely by the virtue of you saying hello. You can never leave home behind. Home is somewhere you carry in your heart.

11 East Street Cafe: My first restaurant review

Being an armchair traveller has helped me experience many things. One of them is to roam the streets of London, guided by an ever enthusiastic Rebecca Bloomwood of Shopaholic fame. I have Sophie Kinsella to thank for helping me feel the squelching mud beneath my feet in the rain or to sip some tea with kit kats in a cosy little apartment.

Little did I know that I would get a chance to experience London, in our very own, Pune Maharashtra. One day, when I was in (arguably) one of the most British areas of Pune- Camp, I chanced upon a red bus. This bus wasn’t taking me to some part of Pune and it most certainly didn’t have any Marathi script or writing on it.

A closer look revealed that it was part of a bigger set up.

I was in the area to get my phone repaired and I honestly had no intention of going anywhere new, but the huge double decker red bus lured me in and honestly, I just couldn’t resist. I stepped in and I was in awe of what I saw. The sound of the fountain’s trickling waters had such a calming effect, in addition to the sunshine that was streaming in. The cobbled stones beneath my feet and strategically placed streetlights transported me to a different world. Seeing signs of ‘The Cigar Shop’ and ‘Marks and Spencer’, I smiled to myself, knowing that my transition to another world was complete.

A very satisfying supper later (It was at 6:30 and I was in ‘Britain’- of course it had to be supper), I had a conversation with the manager, who invited me to brunch on Sunday. Being the foodie that I am, I couldn’t resist such a generous offer.

That’s where my next Sunday Brunch expedition took me.

When I entered the café again, I was delighted to hear Ed Sheeran crooning, asking his lady to give him love. That’s what I realized I really liked about the place- their music was a good mix of soulful and upbeat, which added to the experience of the meal.

Crispy honey potatoes

Crispy honey potatoes

The first appetizer we tasted was crispy honey potatoes. I’m normally not a huge fan of sweet things (apart from cravings), but I really liked how the dish came out. The potatoes were tender without being soggy, and the side of vegetables it was served with was just right to eat the potatoes with as they came with a dash of pepper which made for a pretty interesting culinary mix of spicy and sweet. I particularly liked the vegetables as they were crisp and cool, setting off an interesting contrast between the potatoes and themselves.

Lamb Chilli

Lamb Chilli

Next we were served Lamb chilli. I couldn’t eat it for obvious reasons, but my photographer, Dattaraj did. According to him, the meat was tender, chewy with a pretty good amount of sauce. He liked its quantity and  it definitely got his nod of approval.

Cheese stuffed mushrooms- my new favourite dish

Cheese stuffed mushrooms- my new favourite dish

Following that was a plate of cheesy stuffed mushrooms. I’m terribly partial towards mushrooms so I was salivating even before he could finish photographing the dish. My high expectations were not disappointed in the least as I bit into the warm mushrooms and gooey cheese oozed into my mouth. The crumbs were tickling my tongue as I eagerly ate it all up. I’m not a fan of when the flavour of mushrooms overwhelms a dish- in fact it puts me off a little. But this dish was done perfectly. I wasn’t alone in thinking this as Datta also admitted that it was the most delicious stuffed mushrooms he had ever eaten at any restaurant.

Next up on our list was a round of Chicken Piri Piri. Reviewed by Datta, he said that its skin was crispy and the meat was moist as it should be.

Ratatouille Bruschetta- Not too much cheese after all

Ratatouille Bruschetta- Not too much cheese after all

Followed up that was the Ratatouille Bruschetta. Now, this particular dish had a base strongly grounded in tomatoes with a generous amount of cheese on top. I eyed the dish apprehensively as I wondered how I was going to finish it all without the cheese becoming too much for me. Luckily, the chef’s magic ensured that despite the generous topping of cheese, the flavour does not overwhelm the tomato base, nor does it get too heavy. The Bruschetta was topped with a mixture of black olives, green olives with what appeared to be a layer of salsa sauce beneath. The flavours blended together really well to make a really good dish that was definitely worth trying.

Murgh Zaffrani Kebab

Murgh Zaffrani Kebab

The Murgh Zaffrani Kebab certainly looked tempting as it was placed before us. I looked on woefully as Datta relished the dish. He looked slightly surprised as he told me that the kebab was so authentic that he expected it to be the kind of thing that would be served at a proper Afghani restaurant. Coming from a restaurant that prides itself on being British, they definitely take a lot of effort in getting the flavours of the food right.

Being brunch, I obviously couldn’t resist ordering for an omlette and oh, how glad I was that I did. The omlette was a masala omlette that was light and fluffy. It had some vegetables that integrated really well into the natural flavor of the egg and the chillis in it ensured that it wasn’t bland. I don’t think I tasted any vegetable stand alone, but I could tell it made a hell of a difference to the dish.

Pani Puri with a twist!

Pani Puri with a twist!

As part of the chaat counter, we were served Chicken Bhel and Vodka pani puri. I had been eyeing the latter since the day I first read the brunch menu and I was not disappointed. These two outlandish dishes definitely took us by surprise as we dove into the experience of these two strange new dishes.

I’m told that the chicken bhel was innovative in its ideas. It wasn’t something you’d find in a regular place. It was a good mix of spices but the chicken does not overpower the flavor of the dish. There were a decent number of chicken pieces, but the Bhel still managed to emerge as the star of the show.

The vodka pani puri was nothing like anything I had ever tasted. It was a slightly experimental deviation from regular pani puri and it caught me off guard in a good way. When we helped ourselves to puris, there was a burst of flavour that hit you a moment later, and throws you off balance. The flavours interrupted the pace of our leisurely brunch, making me feel, for the first time in the day that I was truly awake.

Surprise mocktails!

Surprise mocktails!

Just as we were about to get started on our main course, a couple of mocktails arrived. An inviting pink watermelon mocktail and an alluring green mint mocktail. They served as a welcome break from the flavours of food that I was slowly getting accustomed to. The pink watermelon mocktail was sweet, and vaguely reminded me of a Jolly Rancher lollipop, but I wasn’t complaining. There were playful hints of lime that came out and randomly tickled my taste buds when I least expected it. It was really refreshing. The lime mint mocktail wasn’t far behind either, and if you’re the kind of person who enjoys sweet nimbu paani, you would most definitely enjoy this one.

We finally made it to the main course, and the first thing I sampled was the vegetable au gratin. Judging from the name, I assumed it would be a dish of vegetables steamed and cooked in a white sauce, but I was surprised when I bit into a pineapple. I certainly hadn’t tasted that before. It made for a rather interesting and unique dish.

Spaghetti with bell peppers in tomato sauce (as expected) had strong tomato accents and because it was spicy, it felt slightly indianised, but I enjoyed the dish overall.

Spaghetti in creamy bell pepper sauce

Spaghetti in creamy bell pepper sauce

I also tried my hand at the Chinese chilli garlic noodles. It wasn’t as spicy as expected which was a relief for me as I don’t like it when spicy flavours overwhelm the entire dish. The dish came together beautifully as a few hot notes still tickled the back of my throat, staying true to its name.

I had the noodles with stir fried vegetables in black bean sauce. I was a little apprehensive of it because I hadn’t tasted it before and I frankly am not a big fan of beans. However, the taste of beans wasn’t an issue at all since they took a backseat to the taste of pepper and ginger. The vegetables were juicy and not soggy, which generally happens to me since I tend to be a slow eater, but the guys at 11 East Street Café definitely get brownie points for a dish that maintains consistency despite my leisurely eating pace.

My photographer was Goan, so I asked him to try the Goan fish curry. He thought that “it was a beautiful renidition of a Goan fish curry, but its not quite the same thing” as it lacked spice. Yet, he pointed out that the quality of the fish was very good as it was white on the inside and it was just the right amount of tender. He went on to call the quality of fish ‘exquisite’ and recommended it to anyone who likes eating fish. As an accompaniment, he ate it with plain steamed rice which he described as light, fresh and refreshing to the palate.

Then came the part of the meal that I was personally looking forward to the most. The Desserts! We were served samples of the desserts on a neat little plate and they all looked so delicious, I was reaching for my fork even before the plate was set down. The first item I picked up was a slice of Banana chocolate tea cake. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever tasted. It was a fun light dish that was the perfect blend of moist and soft. The flavours of the banana and chocolate went together so effortlessly without either overpowering each other making it the most delightful thing I had eaten in a while.

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I was slightly uncertain about digging in to the black forest pastry as I’m not a big fan of them, but all my doubts were quietened when I tasted it. The cake wasn’t too sweet which was a really good thing. The cream complimented the cake and went rather well with the dessert. It was sprinkled with chocolate flakes which tasted absolutely marvellous. Extremely enjoyable dessert.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

The last dish of this sumptuous Sunday brunch was Tiramisu. I was eager to dig in as it is one of my favourite desserts. It was rich and creamy; the sprinkling of cocoa powder on top proved to be an effective distraction, or the dish would’ve been too much of a good thing.

The brunch experience was an overall a wonderful one. The wait staff was friendly and fairly fast (considering the place was quite crowded) and were happy to tend to our needs. The restaurant itself was reasonably cool despite the temperature outside being warm. I would rate my brunch experience at 11 East Street Café in terms of food eaten as follows

 

Appetizers

Dish Rating
Crispy honey potatoes

 

 

 

Ratatouille Bruschetta

 

Cheese stuffed mushrooms

 

4.3/5

A personal bias effectively busted. Good going guys!

 

 

4.6/5

 

 

5.0/5

 

I officially have a new favourite dish.

 

 

Main course

Dish Rating
Vegetable Au Gratin

 

 

 

Creamy Tomato Spaghetti with Bell peppers and sun dried tomatoes

 

 

Chilli Garlic Noodles

 

 

 

 

Stir fried vegetables in black bean sauce

3.9/5

A dish packed with surprises, albeit slightly heavier than expected.

 

 

4.2/5

I’m not a fan of Spaghetti normally, but I quite enjoyed this one.

 

 

4.6/5

Brownie points for not letting spice dominate other flavours.

 

 

 

 

 

4.5/5

Delicious and very well done.

 

Desserts

Dessert Rating
Banana Chocolate Tea Cake

 

 

 

Black forest pastry

 

 

 

Tiramisu

4.8/5

My only complaint? I wish the portion was slightly bigger.

 

 

4.5/5

I’m finally convinced that I actually like Black Forest Pastry.

 

 

4.9/5

The dessert I enjoyed the most.

 

So any time you feel like you need a change of scenery, head over to this quaint little restaurant in Camp to be transported to another country on short notice. Do you have any experiences at 11 East Street Cafe? Do let me know in the comments below!