Editor’s Picks: Best of TravelDine’s Food and Drink 2021

Traveldiners have gone out of their way to ferret out interesting, intriguing, eye-opening stories on food and drink. My pick of the ones I loved reading and discovering. 

Epicureans? Gastronomes? Or food obsessed. Err…Food and drink obsessed? 

Call us what you may. 

No matter how you slice and dice it, food and love are inextricably tied. And seemingly, food and uncertainty—about how life will roll in a world changed by something named as innocuously as the C-word.  

All through 2021, when we swung between ecstasy (“Everything is open now. We are back to normal!”) to some despair and a faint hope by the end of the year, food, and drink, have defined our lives. Dalgona coffee, anyone? Or would you want to attempt baking that banana bread? Ghost or cloud kitchens, home deliveries and even, “fine dine experiences at home” were spoken about as effortlessly in the year gone by, as your favourite café and restaurant once was. 

We, also, have taken note of the whimsical trends with barely-there staying power. We have reviewed restaurants and reported on territories marked by the rapidly multiplying army of restaurateurs, bakers, home chefs, food brands, packaged foods, spirits and wine brands, bartenders…phew! 

But there is more to food, and drink, writing than just what is trendy and cool. Food and drink produce emotions, memories, and feelings of nostalgia. Call it a rather (Marcel) Proustian effect, who wrote about how a long-lost memory of food, a smell, a taste, can evoke nostalgia, and the kind of writing that takes you back to that place of childhood or your teens, in his book Swann’s Way

To me, the most visceral kind of food writing is one that stirs memories, emotions, or wonder, one that allows me to discover things I never knew. 

Here is my best of best list of food writing, from whimsical to deep dive, that Traveldine produced in 2021. Enjoy the ride. 

Discover, explore, experience

Poha: The Quintessential Indian Breakfast

So, what’s new to discover about poha? In this full-of-facts article, columnist Madhulika Dash told us about how what we gulp down quickly as a nutritious breakfast has so many layers of history. The fact that it was sustenance food for soldiers, that its ancestry is as old as that of Lia and murmura, that it was part of the Ahom Kings diet in Assam, that it is a great winter food (who knew!), and that, across the country, it exists in several different parts of the country in myriad forms. Read it here:

Read now: Poha: The quintessential Indian breakfast

Poha 1
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The Indian Classic: Butter Chicken

This beautiful article delved into the heritage of the one Indian dish that every food lover in the world knows of or has tasted at least once. And to think it began life in a humble bazaar of Peshawar, in un-partitioned India and soon replaced the creamy and spicy Mughal curries. I call butter chicken the food of Partition that the Punjabis brought with them during the Great Migration to post-partition India. 

Read now: The Indian Classic: Butter Chicken

Butter chicken
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India’s artisanal cheesemakers 

Small batch cheese is the gourmet flavour we most love. The article by contributing writer Prachi Joshi went behind the scenes to draw a portrait of the fromagers behind some of India’s artisanal cheese brands. Who would have thought that a brand named Begum Victoria would serve up 100% vegetarian cheese? 

Read now: Artisanal cheese makers are changing the way India eats cheese

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The Tangra Project

Here is another one of my favourites, a journey of discovery couched as a review. Chef Vikramjit Roy, one of Indian cuisine’s poster boys and among my favourites, has created an eastern and northeastern cuisine fantasyland at his Delhi restaurant. Written evocatively by Traveldine’s food and drink editor, Amit Dixit, the article tells me as much about the menu at The Tangra Project, as it does about his love for the food of Kolkata. Here is where I learnt about Radha Tilak, fragrant rice entwined with the folklore of the Vaishnav sect. 

Read now: Celebrating indigenous ingredients at The Tangra Project

Tangra project
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The delicacies of Eid-ul-Fitr

Did you know that in some parts of India, and some families, the milk is served on side with the sheer kurma or sewai, and not used in the cooking process? Or that some biryanis are stewed with curry leaves? Discover more: 

Read more: The delicacies of Eid-ul-Fitr

Sheer khurma
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UAE’s Al-Mukhtar Bakery

I cannot end my discovery segment without mentioning a short, sweet story by Caroline Felicia D’Almeida about this quaint little bakery in Sharjah, and the Levantine delicacies it serves. I marked it as a stop if ever I get an opportunity to travel to the emirate. I could imagine the aroma of the manakish after reading this bit of writing: “An uncontested favourite flavour of mine is the Sojok, which consists of minced meat, garlic and spices as the toppings. Such is the boldness of flavours that it easily carries through its container as well as the bag it comes in.” 

Read now: Flavours and heritage course rich through UAE’s Al Mukhtar Bakery

Al mukhtar
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Decoding Onasadhya with Chef Regi Mathew

I am an Onasadhya freak, I go looking for the feast every time I am in Kerala, but this is the first time I read what exactly constitutes the multi-layered, complex meal. And to have it form a Master Chef like Regi Mathew made it even more special.

Read now: Decoding Onasadhya with Chef Regi Mathew

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Drinking our way through 2021

Matters of the spirit 

I read this one with trepidation. I am a lover of bars that are decadent, dimly lit, with sink-in plush sofas, and music under control. That bars were among the worst to be hit during the pandemic, not being seen as an “essential service” spelt death knell for many. Traveldine’s columnist and Tulleeho’s co-founder and CEO, Vikram Achanta, asked a rather pertinent question. It does track the demise of some great bars in luxury hotels. But there were markers that some great bars have replaced the ones that were let go. Read about them in:  

Read now: Matters of the spirit: Can five-star hotel bars bounce back?

Long bar
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The Negroni Explainer

We were split on this one. Are Indians interested in a Negroni? Is it considered a niche drink? And yet, we went ahead with a Negroni special, of which this one was a lovely guide to everything you want to know about this classic drink.

Read now: TD Negroni special: The explainer

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Embedding videos into your digital edition not only adds value but can increase time on page and article engagement, they say. I say, there is no better storyteller than a well-made video, and here are my picks from Traveldine’s several videos, many of them masterclasses.

Old Delhi heritage sweet shops

This is great storytelling in the form of a video. While the narrative is helmed by Amit Dixit, the video takes us through a labyrinth of gullies in Delhi to bring us stories of sweet shops that have existed from way back in time…atmospheric, gritty, and so street style. 

Read now: India@75: The heritage sweet shops of Old Delhi

Ether chocolates

In complete contrast, is this great masterclass on how to make fruit and nuts barks by one of India’s finest bakers, chocolatiers and fun guy, Chef Prateek Bakhtiani. I loved every minute of the joy and verve he infuses in his presentation.

Joel Scholtens Lindsay’s kissed by winter Christmas cocktails

Right on my top of fun videos to watch is The Blue Bar, Taj Palace, New Delhi’s Liquid Chef, Joel Scholtens Lindsay’s masterclass on sparkly Christmas cocktails, which I believe can take you through all seasons. 

The Table@10

And not to forget one of the first video stories we did, by Traveldine’s go-to-video guy, Yash Shinde, who shot The Table, and the two wonderful people behind it, Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf so evocatively in this video.

The recipe bible

From the several hundreds we brought to you from India’s best chefs, here is my pick of the favourites.

Rasmalai Mousse by Chef Rajesh Shetty

Imagine a deconstructed rasmalai mousse with flavours such as cardamom, saffron, pistachio, and strawberries. You know what I mean? 

Read now: One chef, one recipe: Deconstructed rasmalai mousse by Chef Rajesh Shetty

Gondhoraj Lime Cello Mascarpone, Chef Dhruv Oberoi

Gondhoraj Lime Cello Mascarpone, Chef Dhruv Oberoi and a mascarpone trifle with the home-grown Gondhoraj Lebu. Need I say more? 

Read now: One chef, one recipe: Dhruv Oberoi makes Gondhoraj lime-cello mascarpone trifle