Nov 29, 2012

A Quick Trip Home, but a Feast to Remember

My family has a reputation for not only being food aficionados, but also for preparing some of the tastiest meals in town.  With highly developed palettes and a passion for the culinary arts, cooking isn't just a past time, it's a right of passage.  My recent trip back home proved that again, when my sister stepped up to the plate.  She had never really expressed any interest in anything food related other than eating it, however over the past couple of years, with a big sister like me who is making a career out of food, she finally gave in. 

Sara decided it was time to embrace her natural talents and prepared a feast for the family.  On the menu were crab cakes with a spicy aioli, an herb crusted rack of lamb with a mint pesto, and Parmesan peas with caramelized onions.  Impressive menu, and even more so the confidence to pull it off with out any prior culinary training. 
 My adorable niece presenting her mom's dish.  We are starting them off young these days, with routine lessons on food, flavoring, textures, and ingredients.  Leila seems to be picking things up pretty quickly.  She's already got the developed palatte and is willing to try anything new.  Not too many 6 year olds I know that are as adveturous as she is when it comes to food tasting. 
 Slicing up the rack of lamb cooked to a medium perfection, it seemd to come with such ease.  She's really getting into it, and blew us all away with her time management skills as well as her attention to detail. I am proud that Sara, along with every other member of my family is as enthusiastic as I am about the culinary arts.  We share this passion and skill as a family and enjoy any festive occassion revolving around food.   
 Plating up and the final dish.  This was deifnitly a feast we all whole heartedly enjoyed, and will be remembered forever.  Thanks Sara for your hard work and effort in preparing such a fantastic meal.  Those rich and hearty flavors along side excellent quality of ingredients can be compared to any restaurant meal.  I'm looking forward to my next visit home, and for another gastronomical experience shared by my family and loved ones. 

Mughlai Style Cooking Lesson

Chef Akhtar of the Islamabad Marriot's Dum Pukht Restaurant has been trained in the art of Mughlai style of cooking.  This particular cuisine focuses on flavor development using nuts, creams, cheeses, fruits, and spices.  Staying true to its origins in preparation, execution and presentation, he doesn't stray much from the authenticity of these dishes. 

Chef Akhtar kept me busy for two days, showing me the Ins and Outs of his meticulously organized kitchen.  We explored everything from grilled seafood to biryani, and with no culinary stone unturned, chef Akhtar kept me intrigued by his unique and in depth approach to flavor development without an overwhelming use of spice common in other south asian cuisine. 
Featured below is a  popular item known as Kagzi Kebab, a chicken drumstick stuffed with seasoned chicken mince marinated in a saffron cream sauce. The stuffed chicken drumsticks are then grilled over an open flame for maximum flavor incorporating the smoky aroma of the charred wood complimenting the marinade and natural chicken flavors.

Next on the list was Lababi Kabab, a Mughlai signature style kebab. The base for this kebab is a mutton mince combined with cottage cheese and other aromatic spices.  Once all the ingredients are combined, the tricky part is actually skewering the meet, which requires a certain level of skill and technique.  It can be time consuming, because it is always done by hand, and it must be equally dispersed from top to bottom for the most even cooking.  Chef Akhtar is so seasoned, he could probably do it blind folded, and even informed me, that during banquet and wedding season, they make thousands of these a day!!!

Delicately frying away, we have the Hara Fried Fish. Hara which translates to green, refers to the color of the marinade the fish is coated in.  It consists of green chilli, mint, coriander, and green capsicum, plus all the other spices and seasoning.  The other secret ingredient chef Akhtar  tipped me off on was Ajwain, also known as carom seed or caraway, commonly found in seafood dishes.
Here we have one of my favorites I learned on this cooking lesson, a dish fit for kings called Raseley Jheengey.  This particular dish is unique because of the sauce it's served in.  A white sauce made with sesame, white onion, and cashews which are slow cooked for an hour then pureed with a touch of milk into a creamy delicious base.  The Shrimp are quickly poached in a lime and ginger and then added to the sauce which is sauteed with ajwain, ginger and garlic, chili flakes and finished off with lemon. A flavorful and rich dish suitable for special occasions!
This next dish is my second favorite, I remember enjoying this starter at the restaurant when I last dined there, and the combination of toasted sesame with cream and saffron crusted on the shrimp was just heavenly!  I could've made a meal out of it, but decided I needed to give everything else a fighting chance. Chef Akhtar has really outdone himself on this particular plate from the technique used to the chutney flower on the presentation plate, this dish is a winner all around. 
An interesting approach to a traditional South Indian dish, was chef Akhtar's version of a Dosa.  Unlike the south Indian type, this was made in a smaller crepe like size.  The crepe shell it self is made with a paste of white lentils, coconut milk powder, matray powder (dried yellow peas), rice flour, corn flour and egg, cooked on a griddle pan, then rolled with sauteed spicy vegetables, rolled again and pan fried.  This preparation is labor intensive, but the tasty bites are worth the effort and wait. 
Last but not least, the infamous biryani, which every ethnic contingent in the region claims as their own.  Chef Aktar prepared the Sindhi style of Biryani, which is a balance of sweet and savory using dried plums, cashew nuts, saffron, and chillies.  The biryani he prepared today used a special type of rice known as *Sella, which adds a beautiful color and aroma to the dish.  This had to be one of the tastiest and most aromatic biryanis I have ever enjoyed.  Thanks to Chef Akhtar who stayed true to the dish, and showed me the real way to make such an authentic delicacy. 

*Many a people have the misconception that Sella Rice is a different variety of Rice. This is not so, Sella is a Rice Milled differently i.e. the Paddy (Raw Material) is steamed and then dried for milling. The yellow color, which it adapts, is because of this process. The color can be also be darkened according to the requirements. Any rice can be milled with this process basmati or non- basmati rice. The advantage of this rice is that on post cooking each grain separates out perfectly hence it is widely used in preparing Biryani or Pulao (

The Dum Pukht restaurant is a landmark at the Marriott and Pearl Continental hotels in Pakistan.  It produces a variety of tasty dishes with a range of flavors, ingredients and textures.  The chefs are not only trained, but have competed against India in the Food-istan challenge, making their country proud. If you ever take a trip to Pakistan, no matter which city you visit, you will have access to this unique cuisine.  Come and check it out. 

Nov 27, 2012

Okryu-Gwan, Unique North Korean in the UAE

When someone recommended this restaurant to me, I immediately perked up!  I had enjoyed some delicious South Korean food, but never any delicacies from the North.  It was a journey trying to locate this hidden gem, but once we found our way, it went from good to great very quickly.

Hidden in the side streets of Deira close to Deira City Center, we were guided to Okryu-Gwan by the enthusiastic staff anxiously awaiting our arrival.  As we approached, the ethnically clad waitstaff lined the front of the restaurant smiling and welcoming us to their humble and quirky eatery.  Upon entering the room, we couldn;t help but notice the sounds of the Kareoke machine echoing throughout the rest of the quiet restaurant.   We were informed by the delightful staff, there were private rooms if we were interested in partaking with the joyful act of Kareoke. Since food was on the top of our agenda, we politley declined.....for now!

A couple of things to take note of when eating in this restaurant is the decor and eclectic table ware.  Surrounded by random vases of fake flowers, plus murals and paitings of cascading waterfalls and horses galloping away into the sunset, we couldn't help but notice a small stage set-up towards the back of the room.  My friends and I inquired about the dated musical equipment (i.e. keyboard/synthseizer and drum set. It felt as if we were in a time warp from the 80's).  The staff informed us they have live music on Thursday evening, sadly, we were there on a sunday.

Moving on, we realized we were so in awe of the aesthetics of this restaurant, we hadn't even looked at the menu.  First things first, an order of Kimchi was a must.  It arrived in this "Italian" themed plate, giving this funny little restauarnt even more character!
The next item, isn't somethign I would normally order, but it did seem to appeal to my lot of friends, who enoyed the sweet and tanginess of the prawns in ketchup sauce.  Presentation was decent, and the dish wasn't bad, but I am adamantly against anything made with or consisting of ketchup, it's one of thos artificial tastes that lingers on my palatte, but in all the wrong ways. 
Below we have a picture of something that resembles Japanese maki rolls, however the Korean version is known as Kimbap.  Filled with shredded beef and pickled vegetables, the balance of flavors and textures worked for me, and it was the perfect little size!

By Definition compliments of Wikipedia:
Gimbap is derived from the Japanese futomaki (lit. "large rolls") style maki-zushi sushi rolls[1] and became popular among Korean people in the modern era,but differs in the way the rice is seasoned and in the fillings. In sushi, relatively large amounts of sweetened rice vinegar is added to the rice and sesame oil is traditionally not used, as it is in gimbap. Korean gimbap generally does not contain raw fish and is prepared with sauteed beef, sausage, ham, fish cake, or crab stick. Unlike Japanese maki, gimbap is usually not served with wasabi soy sauce or sushi ginger, but is sometimes dipped in kimchi brine
I am a sucker for anything in dumpling form.  It usually packs a lot of flavor into a small well proportioned package.  These Yaki Mandu* were fried egg dumplings, and between the seasoning and spicy dipping sauce, I think I single handedly cleared that plate.

*'Mandu' means 'dumpling' in Korean and Yaki Mandu (also known as Gun Mandu) are the golden fried parcels filled with delicious east Asian ingredients like rice noodles, cabbage, tofu, eggs, toasted sesame oil, spring onion and seasoning. You will love biting into these crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside parcels of yummy goodness! (source:
This was by far the prettiest dish served, it's called Mul-naengmyeon, a chilled buckwheat noodle soup. 
The noodles are made with buckwheat and starch. Served in a chilled beef broth with pickled radish, sliced Korean pear and a hard-boiled egg. It is often served with a side dish of vinegar and mustard.  I love the presentation as well as the components, but it's somewhat of an aquired taste.  I am so use to having a warm broth served with delicate noodles, trying it cold, throws everything off.  But don't get me wrong, I would definitely go back for more.....
Lastly we were served some Korean style ice cream.  It was creamier than I am used to covered with chopped strawberries and a fruity syrup, It was a nice little taste of sweetness, but I couldn't have more than 2 bites. 
Overall the experience at Okryu-Gwan was a unique one.  Between the flavorful food, friendly staff, optional Kareoke, and 80's like decor, I think it's safe to say I will return to this hidden gem. I was fortunate enough to bring an adventurous lot of friends, and it really made all the difference.  If you do manage to make your way down, bring a group of foodies with a sense of humour, you will leave the restaurant with full bellies and tears in your eyes from all the food and laughter this place can bring.