Buffet Spreads and How to Try Them

If you follow my blog posts, you will know that I am a foodie of sorts. I may not want to eat the same thing over and over again, but I do like to taste everything on offer. This is primarily why the buffet style of dining is the best for me! Buffet lunch spreads let you try everything on a blanket charge. And contrary to what most diners might think, opting for buffet over a la carte at a fine dining restaurant works out much cheaper.

Continental and Indian fare in a single helping!

Continental and Indian fare in a single helping!

The theme for today (as you clearly must have guessed) is buffet spreads. We will now explore all the wonderful cuisines you can try, all at once, if you are lucky! 😉 There are hundreds of buffet restaurants in Mumbai, and this is where I have done most of my food sampling. In this city, you will find almost every cuisine – South Indian, Maharashtrian, Malwani, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Gujarati, Tex-Mex, Italian, Greek, Thai, Chinese, Arabian… and the list seems endless. So much variety and quantity should not intimidate you if you are not a foodie. There are a few tricks to navigate a buffet spread and get the most bang for your buck.

A spicy buffet spread from the South

A spicy buffet spread from the South

First and foremost, pick buffet for lunch. Lunch is when most of us are at our hungriest best. If it is a lazy Sunday, most likely, you will have skipped breakfast. This naturally means you will have more appetite for your first meal of the day. The other advantage is that you always have the option of doing without dinner if you have eaten too much at the buffet lunch. A dinner buffet may sound more romantic and appealing on Friday and Saturday nights. But you might end up with a lot of discomfort while sleeping if you have been a glutton. Lunch buffets give you the time to walk off the excess calories through a simple round of shopping or walking about in the evening. This is even better if you have eaten at a fine dining place in mall and don’t intend to head back to your car immediately.

Say "moshi moshi" to Japanese food at Global Fusion

Say “moshi moshi” to Japanese food at Global Fusion

The next trick is to keep your servings small. The lesser you scoop up at each junction, the more variety you get to taste. Remember that buffet is not a system that encourages you to eat mouthfuls of your favourite dish. Instead, it introduces and urges you to try new preparations. Besides, taking a smaller helping means you won’t be wasting too much food in case you dislike a dish.

Try authentic Bengali preparations at Bijoli Grill

Try authentic Bengali preparations at Bijoli Grill

Most buffet restaurants in Mumbai serve multiple cuisines in a spread. This means, you get to try multiple varieties of the same course and learn the differences among the cuisines. Appetizers, for example, will have some Indian pickles, South East Asian noodles, Italian breads, Arabian dips and Mexican fries in the same zone. Be careful, however, in your enthusiasm of tasting it all, do not mix the items of one cuisine with another. Else, you end up with a mishmash of several items that lose their original flavours. A buffet lunch gives you the luxury of taking multiple helpings. Try one cuisine at a time. This will not overwhelm your palate, and help you remember the distinct taste of each dish or cuisine.

Texan and Mexican dishes are best had at Chili's

Texan and Mexican dishes are best had at Chili’s

All said, my final advice to you will be to forget all the rules I’ve stated above and have a fine time with your friends. Buffets should make you happier, regardless of what, how much and when you eat. They don’t call it “fine dining” for nothing!

Kolkata with my Eyes Closed…

We experience so many sensations when we visit a place. Some dazzle us with their visual appeal, some delight us with their melody, some flatter our taste buds with their strong or subtle flavours. And then there are those that refuse to leave us when we have long left the place. Today, I’m going to talk about some sensations that have attained a state of permanence in my subconscious. And most of these are deeply linked to the distinct scents they carry.

Of all the smells that my olfactory faculties sense, those originating in Kolkata remain the most powerful. Last year, my mum and I booked our tickets, packed our bags, and set off to “the city of  joy”. Here’s the first meal that greeted us:-

A full Bengali meal

A full Bengali meal

The inviting aroma of warm mung dal drew me out of my room and I decided I should unpack later. Before me was a large plate full of Bengali delicacies. Food so flavourful is eaten with hand! The hot meal was spiced with asafoetida and turmeric, but there was a perfect balancing element – the sweet dish. The blood-red tomato-chutney was subtly sweet and tempered with black sesame seeds. But my favourite dish was mishti doi, the famous pink-tinted yogurt which is sweetened with khejur-gur (date-jaggery). Served in a small earthen urn, mishti doi always manages to tranquilize me with its delicate scent of succulent dates that mixes with the smell of  baked earth.

Horse-carriages from an era bygone

Horse-carriages from an era bygone

Kolkata feeds not just your body but also your mind. On our way to Victoria Memorial, we walked past a string of royally embellished carriages drawn by handsome Arab stallions and English thoroughbreds. I don’t know what the 18th century smelled like, but to me it smells like fresh paint blended with hay from horse stables. This unusual odour is so potent, it makes one dream of the times one only reads in History textbooks.

Human cart

Retirement? What is that?

When one thinks of the olden times, one cannot help but notice old age. I walked around the streets to find several rickshaw pullers awaiting their customers. Quite a few amongst them were well past their middle age; their hair, a snowy shade of white; their salt-and-pepper beard, more salt and less pepper. In the damp air, I smelled their spirit and strength to carry on with work and let age only remain a number.

The 'sisters' at the annual procession

The ‘sisters’ at the annual procession

Kolkata is full of noises – the bleat of a cycle-rickshaw horn, the holler of a bag-seller, the ringing bells of a tram, the creaking of a rickety State-bus and the constant shuffling of feet. But I found peace amidst the noise – several nuns (from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity) walked quietly through the streets at their annual procession. If peace has a smell, it’s most certainly that of starched cotton.

Nepalese momos in Calcuttan streets

Nepalese momos – Calcutta’s street surprise!

This city can start feeling like home in a few days. The Albanian Saint Teresa stayed back in Kolkata for many years and so have people from various other countries. The intermingling of different tongues has also brought about a revolution in the Bengali food circuit with the introduction of many cuisines. The momos, every other Bengali’s favourite, are actually from Nepal. For only 20 rupees a plate, these momos are a steal! The stuffed, steamed dumplings come with a spicy dip and a bowl of piping hot soup. I take one long whiff of this street food and my brain instantly declares Chinese! But I bite into a tender momo and know this is definitely not Chinese.

The Bangali puchka

The Bangali puchka

Once enamoured by a street-snack, I can’t help but dig into some more. I reach a puchka-stall and order a round of serving. The ellipsoid puris are like nothing I’ve seen before! These flour-crisps are bigger and longer than the regular spherical puris one sees in the rest of India. The smell of tamarind in the puchka-water makes me ask for another round of puchkas!

Ever been invited for a Bengali tea break?

Ever been invited for tea at a Bengali’s?

Eating in Kolkata doesn’t only happen outside. In fact, it mostly happens in the homes of the locals. The snack-spread in Bengal is slightly different from the elaborate lunches and dinners. Tea time is an intimate moment of reflection and discussion on all matters that affect the world. Friendships are forged over the aromatic Darjeeling tea or the malty Assam tea with some sugar-coated biscuits on the side. Bengalis drink tea like a European would wine. Tea is first tasted with the eyes as one discerns whether the colour is strong or translucent. The teacup is then brought to the nose to appreciate its aroma. It is finally sipped and gulped with some knowledge of the flavour.

I can distinctly smell Kolkata when I close my eyes, every fragrance becoming clear to me. Do you ever notice the smell of a new place? Has any place left a scent in your soul?