When I first envisioned this grand concept of food tours and started planning to create Frying Pan Adventures, this is how I thought I'd structure my life:
Let me give you the hairy inside scoop on how things have panned out.
The moral: Wash the mascara off of your pretty plans, get real, and sleep like a bear before you launch a business.
But I love what I do. (says every sleep-deprived, coffee-chugging entrepreneur whose noble dreams have morphed from building a business to running away to Hawaii and sleeping on the beach. with a pina colada. extra ice please.)
The great thing about what I do is that I meet some really interesting and like-minded people who are generous, accepting of new flavours, and willing to throw themselves into a situation where the menu is bursting with alien-sounding names that might be snake’s blood with curdled lizard tongues for all you know. Suzy from foodieinberlin.com is a perfect example of one such like-minded soul. She met up with me during my North African food tour and then joined me for her first Maharashtrian meal yesterday at Peshwa (which incidentally serves neither snake nor lizard.)
Peshwa cooks up Maharashtrian cuisine, the same kind of cuisine that I developed a fancy for over one mountain-top lunch in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra, and then fell deeply in love with at Manisha’s Kitchen in Dubai a while ago. A major difference between Manisha’s and Peshwa is that the latter does both veggies as well as meat/fish, and the menu is oodles more extensive than at Manisha’s. Flipping through it was like swinging through a jungle of dishes, and it took every bit of resolve to axe away some mouthwatering options and short-list just…10 dishes. And 2 drinks. (to our defence, 3 of those ‘dishes’ were just variants of roti.)
Here’s the plate of Kothimbir Wadi, deep-fried squares of gram flour fritters garnished with coconut shreds. The outsides were well-drained and crunchy at the edges, while the insides were full of gram flour seasoned with coriander and spices. I'm positive I tasted dried fenugreek too, though it's sometimes challenging to dissect subtle herby flavours when the greens have sizzled up in a deep-fryer.
Ever bitten into a pakoda with a thick gram flour coating? Tasted the semi-pasty, semi cakey quality of the inner gram flour crust? Now imagine this starter having a tummy full of that texture. You’ve got to do the token dip in some sweet tamarind chutney or pickled lemon achar, or both…or if you take leftovers home, you could effectively violate the dish by dipping the fritters into ketchup. (guilty as charged.)
I was overjoyed to see Bombil Fry (Bombay duck) on their menu, hoping to stick my fork into some thin creamy fish crusted over with crunchy speckles of semolina. The joy lasted but a few glorious seconds when I was informed that Bombil hasn’t been available in the market for some time now. We settled on rawa-fried Surmai (semolina-crusted and fried kingfish), which was a sad cry from the crunchy fish that Canara a few metres away has spoiled me with in the past.
Moving on to happier things, here’s the Bharli Wangi. Baby eggplants cooked in a rich peanut and coconut gravy, with the prominent taste of freshly ground coriander and the grainy mouth feel of ground peanuts.
The sweeter cousin of this same dish at Manisha’s Kitchen was a hit when I tried it, this more savoury version at Peshwa was a winner too. The only tweak I’d suggest is that they clamp down on the garam masala to mitigate the risk of severe chest burn, the kind that I am attempting to extinguish now as I write this post alongside cups of lemon and green tea.
Their Pithla, gram flour paste, was perfectly seasoned, and a favourite of Suzy who astutely observed that the paste was firming up from liquid to a more molten state as the meal progressed.
The flavour actually stayed good throughout, as well as in the evening when I scooped it up for dinner with tender bits of roti-like Bhakri (there were three options on the menu - Tandula (rice flour), Jowari (sorghum) and Bajra (pearl millet). We got all three of course.)
Now here was a first-timer on my plate: a seasonal speciality called Fansa Che Bhaji, or Cooked Jackfruit.
I’ve never eaten jackfruit cooked in a dish, let alone paired with peanuts, cashew nuts, coconut (sensing a theme here?) While the subtle fruity-nutty-masala tones of the dish didn’t make it the flavour winner on the table, it definitely got brownie points on originality and texture – soft jackfruit fibres intertwined with crunchy nuts.
May I introduce you to the tummy-saver that kept my innards feeling relatively refreshed despite the copious amounts of food? Say hello to the Kokum drink.
Made out of the kokum fruit indigenous to India, the drink was aptly termed as an antacid on the menu. If something saved me from exploding during the meal, it was this cooling potion of sour plum-like kokum mixed with cumin powder and a tad bit of sugar or jaggery.
Another drink that hit the table was Suzy’s Keri Pani (clear raw mango water), a summery sherbet-like drink that will blast your nostrils with a giddying perfume puff of saffron as you bring the glass to your lips (they had generously left at least 3 strands of saffron in one tiny glass of sherbet, a bit of an overkill because it silences the mango flavour to a mere squeak in the background.)
The Bharli Wangi might have been my favourite dish, but then...dessert happened. AND I don’t even have a sweet tooth. You can’t leave a Maharashtrian restaurant without having Shrikhand, so despite the fact that it was totally inappropriate after I’d stuffed myself like a cow, I called out for the hung yoghurt dessert garnished with almonds and saffron (Oh yes, there shall be dessert.)
Puran Poli is a flour roti stuffed with a powdery mash of ground gram flour (chickpea flour) lentils and jaggery, and smeared over with a glistening something that I suspect to be none other than our beloved waist-loving warrior, Ghee.
Two naughty desserts, smacked together into one mind-blowing creamy, powdery, chewy, sweet, tender, yoghurty combo. Just perfect enough to make the cow in you find its second tummy compartment and stuff your face again.
I want to quit being shameless and tell you that I skipped dinner. But I can’t. The truth is that I couldn’t stop thinking about the flavours of the meal, and finally had to reopen the leftover boxes to taste everything once again at night. If I had to compare the two, Manisha’s Kitchen does more homely, healthier-tasting food, and is cheaper on many of the same dishes. Peshwa has a far greater variety (which is very exciting but also downright confusing), non-veggie options, better service (a factor of having more manpower), and WAY more table space (at least 3 times more) so that you’re not falling over into the table next to you. Each has their place in the Dubai restaurant world – and I can only hope that we’ll have more restaurants dishing out authentic Maharashtrian fare down the line.
Let me leave you with this. This entire feast cost no more than – hold onto your chair – about 60 dirhams per person. Or actually about 35 dirhams per person, because the leftovers made it to my dinner table last night, and will resurface for a final demolition over lunch today. Thank you Karama, for keeping things real.
Phone: 04-3795520, 055-5490289, 055-8564661
Take the right turn after Moulin D’Or on Za’abeel Road and drive down. Peshwa will be to your right, just before the T-junction.
View Google Maps link.