Walking the streets of St. Petersburg, on Restaurant Day

Under the facade of its cold, gray skies and the uniformly stoic pre-Soviet era buildings, St. Petersburg (SPb) is at least not uptight. There is an air of conviviality as summer has melted away the grim cold winters. It is also after all brimming with enthusiastic people who prove their ability in cooking up gastronomically diverse cuisine by putting up stalls to sell home-cooked food.  I got to see this on display on the Restaurant Day on 16th August, quite the day I landed in SPb.

Crowd milling in front of a food truck
Crowd milling in front of a food truck
A couple sharing a moment during business
A couple sharing a moment during business
An Isreli chicken wrap - Sabich
An Isreli chicken wrap – Sabich

With not much excitement going on in Russian cuisine, the citizens have quickly looked elsewhere bringing in a host of dishes from outside the country, thus making the food scene more exciting. Sure, their beef stroganoff is a killer so is their sorrel soup, but there isn’t much of a diversity because vegetables or pulses are not available in Russia throughout the year owing to the harsh climate.

My buckwheat is better than any other
My buckwheat is better than any other
Georgian food, anyone
Georgian food, anyone

I found stalls, hidden in the alleyways, in front of its ornate, ancient Churches and in old industrial godowns converted into art projects selling Israeli, Mexican, Indian, American (read burgers) and Italian cuisine. Sure, nobody makes money out of this venture because it is a one-day affair. But it provides a platform for closet cooks and people who nurture the dream of opening a restaurant into affordable reality for a day.

Taste my homemade jam
Taste my homemade jam
Homebrewed beer
Homebrewed beer

Restaurant Day has a website and its About page reads thus: “Restaurant Day is a food carnival created by thousands of people organizing and visiting one-day restaurants worldwide. The idea of the day is to have fun, share new food experiences and enjoy our common living environments together. The event is facilitated by a team of volunteers who also maintain this website. All restaurateurs are personally responsible for all actions related to running their restaurants.”

Purple macaroons are 50 rubles each
Purple macaroons are 50 rubles each
Russian pancakes
Russian pancakes

There was home-brewed vodka in flavors of horseradish, orange and various spices. There was even home-made beer and buckwheat ice cream. And vegan is big here in Russia, as I hear. So is India. Each venue had at least one Indian themed stall that sold vegetarian food. One was even called Saregama, though the owner had not much of an idea what it meant other than that it is a name resonates with the idea of India.

Two girls channeling their Indian elements
Two girls channeling their Indian elements
Vegan brownie with banana, avacado et al
Vegan brownie with banana, avacado et al
More Indianness
More Indianness
Happy customers
Happy customers

And I met Big Lebowski. He is now grilling batches of spring onions wrapped in bacon strips at a food stall with his partner. Quite a domestic life, you might think. But the man’s drama of grilling with flair elicited a lot of responses from the patrons and he posed happily between his job for pictures, his black bathrobe whipped by the cold breeze.

Big Lebowski
Big Lebowski

Do you know of a famous Russian dish that I should try? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Walking tours of Mumbai!

Walking tours are a great way to know a city. Walking tours of Mumbai are no exception. You get to know the city from real close quarters. The city’s character, its people and its various layers are peeled in front of your eyes as you walk along its streets. I took a few walking tours of Mumbai when I was in the city recently (some paid, some with the help of knowledgeable friends in the city that never sleeps). Here they are for you.

The Heritage Walk

Mumbai’s colonial past lends itself to a variety of interesting walking tours. I took the one that covered South Mumbai, called the Heritage Mile Walk, conducted by Raconteur Tours. An able handed guide walked me through what is called the Heritage Mile starting from CST terminus along Dadabhai Naoroji Road towards Flora Fountain and touching upon Kala Ghoda, High Court, Mumbai University Building, ending the tour at Marine Drive. There was a lot of historical information, peppered with interesting anecdotes that made the tour likable. Also, I have noticed that when you go on a guided tour – where things are explained to you – you tend to remember details more accurately for a longer duration.

CST as morning traffic chimes in
CST as morning traffic chimes in
An old house in colaba causeway
An old house in Colaba causeway
Bombay when it was a bunch of islands
Bombay when it was a bunch of islands
The BMC building opposite CST
The BMC building opposite CST
A heritage structure opposite Cafe Mondegar
A heritage structure opposite Cafe Mondegar
The Flora Fountain
The Flora Fountain

The Highest Point Trail at Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National park is the green lung in the Northern suburbs of the city. I enrolled for the Highest Point trek conducted by BNHS. A slightly arduous trek that went on for about 4 hours, the trek takes one to the access point from where the Tulsi, Vihar and Powai Lakes can be seen. The trail also provides panoramic view of the city. Sadly though, the day I went on the trek, Mumbai’s smog decided to play spoilsport and I only saw a blanket of smog over the city’s skyline.

The highest point trek
The highest point trek

Bandra Art Walk

The hippest neighborhood of Mumbai, Bandra is where graffiti artists come to roost. Walk along the tiny lanes off Hill road and immerse yourself in the quirky street art that decorates the peeling, flaking walls rendering them a bit of character. Add to that, the recent St+Art festival has left the walls of Bandra’s villages with interesting graffiti and wall art. Walking along the lanes and stumbling upon children indulging in wall art is also a pleasure you can rarely find anywhere else.

Artwork in Progress - Bandra
Artwork in Progress – Bandra
An age old house in bandra
An age old house in bandra
Wall Art - Bandra
Wall Art – Bandra
Street art - bandra
Street art – bandra
Bollywood Wall Art - Bandra
Bollywood Wall Art – Bandra
Wall Art - Bandra
Wall Art – Bandra

Food Walk

The Vada pav city is also synonymous with street food of its own making – the healthy Maharasthrian bakris and the sweet-savory Gujarati farsans are proof. I got to taste Aloo Vadi, Bakris, Dhoklas, Teplas, Muthiyas and many such delicacies. But it is the dying breed of Iranian restaurants that got my fancy. This Keema Ghotala (minced mutton with eggs) is so rich it could trick your system into believing that it is time for your siesta. The berry pulao (that I did not get to taste this time) at Britannia restaurant also comes highly recommended by the city’s connoisseurs.

Kheema Pao Ghotala
Kheema Pao Ghotala

Where are you headed next this year? Leave a comment and let me know.