48 Hours in Addis Ababa




In many ways, Ethiopia feels like the crossroads of antiquity—it has an almost Breughel-esque landscape of flatlands, cupped by amphitheatres of hills; it is the cradle of civilisation, where the first band of homo sapiens sprang from; it is the land of 700-year-old churches chiselled from a single rock in Lalibela; a country that follows a pre-Gregorian calendar; and it is, of course, the birthplace of coffee.

But Addis Ababa, its capital, feels quite different. Founded by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu in 1892, it's a fairly modern city, as chaotic and trafficked as any major world metropolis. Boasting of everything from cool contemporary art and medieval ecclesiastical crafts to Ethio-jazz and an ancient coffee culture, it's no wonder that Addis Ababa is the pulsing heart of the country.

Day 1


If Ethiopia is the El Dorado of coffee, then Tomoca is probably its Golden Fleece. Born in 1953, it is said to be the city's oldest surviving coffee company. The coffee is slow-roasted onsite, and busloads of locals and tourists come to sip on it, then trundle away with bags and bags of freshly-roasted beans.

Ten minutes away by car, Ethiopia's National Museum is a monument to the country's primordial past, home to one of the country's most famous inhabitants — 3.5 million-year-old Lucy. You'll find a cast of her bones on the basement level. Upstairs, the dimly-lit museum is populated by a motley jumble of Ethiopian art and artefacts, including a massive wooden throne belonging once to Emperor Haile Selassie, and pre-Axumite fertility statues that hark back 2,600 years ago. It's an excellent introduction to the country.

Addis Ababa_002

Another five minutes away, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, venerated by orthodox Ethiopian Christians as the highest-ranking of Addis' four Orthodox Christian Cathedrals, is an extraordinary building cupped by a copper dome and girdled by statues and bright gardens. Within the gardens lie the graves of some of Ethiopia's finest, including Meles Zenawi Asres, beloved ex-Prime Minister, Lieutenant General Merid Mengesha, and Sylvia Pankhurst, British suffragette and Addis resident. Within the Cathedral lie Haile Selassie and his wife, interred in grand graves.

Next up, a jewel box of a sanctuary, with its colourful murals and mosaics, the St George Cathedral is where Haile Selassie was crowned emperor. Inside, you'll find a clutch of religious paraphernalia, including scrolls, crosses and holy parasols.


Ethiopia prides itself on being the only African country that never once buckled to the Western world. Consequently, throughout our travels in the country, we were told constantly about the covetous Italians who muscled their way into Ethiopia (twice) but were met at every stage with opposition. Even so, the Italians did occupy the country from 1936 to 1941, and in their wake, left a rather large culinary footprint—Italian food and Italian-style coffee is available almost everywhere. Ristorante Castelli was built by an Italian soldier who loved Ethiopia too much to leave; the restaurant is famous for homemade pasta and is constantly filled with chattering locals and foreigners.

After lunch, go to nearby Merkato, a warren of wriggling alleyways, with vendors hawking pyramids of everything from frankincense to fruit. Wade carefully through the maze of gritty, messy, higgledy-piggledy shacks, and you may find treasure. However, you may also find that your pocket has stealthily been picked. Stay sharp (and take a guide with you)!

Late Afternoon

The coffee-drinking ceremony is at the heart of Ethiopian life, a ritualised ceremony that can take up to two hours. Enjoy it in the cool climes of the Hilton Addis Ababa lobby.


Refuel at Dashen with a plate of kitfo (spiced minced raw beef) and lamb dulet. Once you've appeased your growling appetite, lie back and enjoy the vibrant tunes of the Dashen Band. Then dance away the night at the historic Ghion Hotel's African Jazz Village bar.

Day 2


Go for a run at Meskel Square, site of many demonstrations and festivals. Then, to ease your sandpapered throat, step into the Kaldi outlet on Airport Road; it's the Starbucks of Addis Ababa and offers (wobbly) WiFi as well. Apart from coffee, Kaldi also offers fresh juices, including guava, pineapple, avocado, mango, and papaya, and a variety of eggs and pancakes for breakfast.

Addis Ababa_003

Perched high above the city on a hilly outcrop, Entoto Maryam Church is delightful but alas, usually closed to the public. Next door is its museum, pillowed with dust and feebly lit, but still worth a walkthrough if only for a look at Emperor Menelik II's crown. Fondly regarded as the founder of modern Ethiopia, Menelik defeated the marauding Italian army in the Battle of Adwa and, together with Empress Taitu, founded the new capital city of Addis. His palace (a hop away from the church), however, is singular in its simplicity; it is a sparse, single-storeyed building. The big draw of Entoto is the vista—a grand panorama of Addis Ababa below.


At Gusto, you can dine on fine Italian fare. Try the Tpetto Di Anitra Al Vino Rosso E Marmellata Di Cipolle Rosse, a hank of duck breast wallowing in red wine sauce and onion jam. Finish with cannoli, with a shiver of chocolate laced through it.


Addis Ababa's garden-hemmed Ethnographic Museum makes an excellent after-lunch pitstop. It is a repository of Ethiopian cultural history, offering chambers brimming with religious icons, crosses and diptychs, anthropological artefacts and, most charming of all, the rooms occupied by Emperor Haile Selassie and his Empress (including his blue bathroom).

Addis Ababa_004

Stroll over to the Yekatit 12 monument, a tumulus rising dramatically from a traffic island, testament to the thousands of Ethiopians killed by the Italians in 1937.

Away from the bedlam of car horns is the Addis Fine Art Gallery, home to some of Ethiopia's finest contemporary artwork. This is the ideal place to shake off your post-meal slump. If shopping floats your boat, then  it is onwards to Salem's Ethiopia, purveyor of stylish (and ethically-produced) clothes, accessories and home decor; the focus is on empowering the local craftspeople and supporting their indigenous art. End the evening with a jaunt to Ariti Herbal Products for essential oils, frankincense, and medicinal herbs.

In the gloaming, hopscotch across to the Addis Ababa Railway Station for a look at the statue of the Lion of Judah, fabled for centuries as a symbol of Ethiopian royalty.


At Yod Abyssinia, dig into shiro (chickpeas, onions and spices, cooked until it all collapses into a spicy, smoky puddle) and doro wat (nubs of chicken stewed with spices until they turn silky-soft, then tossed with creamy boiled eggs), spooned up with injera, thin like a dosa, faintly sour and spongy. Then pour yourself some tej (honey wine) while watching musicians and dancers perform on its stage.


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popcorn crawford market


Sour cream and onion, Manchurian, peri peri, and more – the humble butter popcorn gets an exciting makeover at Mr. Vinay Thari Jayswal’s stall in Crawford Market.

Vicky’s Popcorn, Near Dharamjyot Electricals, 79, Kerawala Mansion, Mangaldas Road, Lohar Chawl, Kalbadevi, Mumbai 400 002


I was in the middle of my usual 5 p.m. hunger pangs when my colleague offered me her popcorn. "Try it,” she said, “it's sour cream and onion flavoured." Two minutes later, my nose was dusted with the seasoning as she tried to pry the packet away from me.

I was in the middle of my usual 5 p.m. hunger pangs when my colleague offered me her popcorn.

The source of this magical snack was Mr. Vinay Thari Jayswal’s 40-year-old stall in Crawford Market (located at the beginning of the lane next to Bata). Of course, I visit for myself. The first thing that catches my eye is the signboard on his cart – Vicky's Popcorn and Yeh cheez badi hain mast mast (10 points for the Bollywood cheesiness). Displayed below that is the array of flavours on offer: caramel, cheese, sour cream and onion, chilli cheese, chilli tomato, Manchurian, Szechuan, and chatpata. 

Since cheese and caramel popcorn are longer a novelty, I go with three others: sour cream and onion, Manchurian, and peri peri. He promptly scoops plain popcorn into a transparent plastic bag, sprinkles in a generous serving of the flavoured seasoning, and shakes it all together into utterly, butterly deliciousness. Oh, and each of the variants costs only 30 rupees. When I ask Mr. Jayswal which is his favourite flavour, he smiles. No answer. They’re all unique, he tells me.

Well, that settles it. If he can't pick, why should you?

Feature photograph copyright Brent Hofacker  –



12 Hours In And Around Walthamstow




Walthamstow lies conveniently at the end of the Victoria Line, giving easy access to Central London. It’s flanked by Epping Forest — the largest green space in London — to the East and the Walthamstow Wetlands to the West. Having gone through a transformation in recent years, “#awesomestow” (as it’s known by Twitterrati) certainly has a lot to offer.

9.00 a.m.

Once you alight at Walthamstow Central station, you can either go straight into Walthamstow Village, the oldest part of present-day Walthamstow, or walk down Hoe Street, which divides the area smack down the centre between the Village and the slightly edgier part of Walthamstow (which also includes the acclaimed market).

Hoe Street has had a host of shops, restaurants, and yoga studios open up in the past few years. If you want to grab a quick coffee and toastie for breakfast, head to Today Bread, the local sourdough bakery and café. A five-minute walk from the station, the café is located in a historic post-war building that previously hosted a bank and council offices. They lay huge emphasis on shopping and eating local, and to that effect, the cheese for their famous cheese toastie is sourced from Buchanan’s, an artisan cheesemonger in Mayfair. And if you like their sourdough breads, you can even try your hand at their bread-making course.

Avocado Sandwich with Poached Egg - sliced avocado and egg on toasted bread for healthy breakfast or snack.

If you fancy walking the length of Hoe Street for a hearty veggie or vegan breakfast, try Buhler and Co. They serve up classics like avocado on toast with poached egg or feta, a vegan fry up which includes fried corn and polenta cake, Portobello mushroom, smokey bean spread, and parathas. If you’re looking for a community vibe, try the vegan Hornbeam Café, which prioritises sustainable and low-cost living.

Today Bread, 6-10 Central Parade, 137 Hoe Street, London E17 4RT. Phone: 07957 158184

Buhler and Co, 8 Chingford Road, London E17 4PJ. Phone: 020 8527 3652

Hornbeam Community Cafe & Environment Centre, 458 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London E17 9AH. Phone: 020 8558 6880. Closed Mondays.

11:00 a.m.

Make your way to one of Walthamstow’s greatest treasures, William Morris Gallery. A short walk from Hoe Street, the gallery explores the legacy of textile designer, craftsman, poet, novelist, and socialist William Morris. Explore his life through the rooms of the house or have a look at some of the collections on display. The house, called “Water House” when William Morris lived there, leads to Lloyds Park that hosts the annual Walthamstow Garden Party by the Barbican.


If you’re in the mood to shop instead, head to Walthamstow Market, the longest outdoor street market in Europe! From Monday to Saturday, you’ll fine fruit and veg and household goods on sale. But come Sunday, it transforms into a farmers’ market with the best local produce on sale like organic eggs, artisanal cheeses, cooked sausages, and more. Skip to the close by Wood Street Indoor Market, in the shape of a horseshoe, which is filled with antiques, second hand books, old magazines, and other knick knacks.

William Morris Gallery, Lloyd Park, Forest Road, London E17 4PP. Phone: 020 8496 4390

Lloyd Park, Forest Road, Walthamstow, London E17 4PP. Phone: 020 8497 3000

Walthamstow Market, E17 7AH

Wood Street Indoor Market, 98-100 Wood Street, Walthamstow, London E17 3HX. Phone: 020 8521 0410

12.30 p.m.

After a long, relaxing walk at Lloyds Park or an amble at the markets, you will probably want to sit down for a bite to eat. There are plenty of options in Walthamstow, especially if you’re craving some rustic sourdough pizzas. Hop to Sodo, which lies in a former warehouse, or the more popular Yard Sale Pizza, for a bite. If you’d like something more substantial, Walthamstow High Street has plenty of options. You can try Turtle Bay for Caribbean food or Yum Yum E17 if you’re in the mood for Thai, and finally finish off with pancakes from Creams for dessert.

Sodo, 21 Hatherley Mews, Walthamstow, London E17 4QP. Phone: 020 8520 1244

Yard Sale Pizza, 105 Lower Clapton Road, London E5 0NP. Phone: 020 3602 9090

Turtle Bay, The Scene Cleveland Place, 269 High Street, London E17 7FD. Phone: 020 8520 7839

Yum Yum E17, 202 Hoe Street, E17 4BS London

2.00 p.m.

What better way to digest that lunch than to wander around London’s largest green space? Epping Forest covers a large part of North East London and Essex, including Walthamstow, and you can take several walking trails to explore this beautiful, largely untouched area. Mill Plain, especially, offers fantastic views of the London skyline.

Walthamstow Reservoir_001

If you want to explore nature but not wander in to the deep thickets of a forest, you could make your way towards the Walthamstow Wetlands. Hailed as Europe’s biggest urban wetlands, this reserve is important for all sorts of wildlife and wintering and breeding birds. Whichever one you choose, you’ll be right in the lap of Mother Nature.

Epping Forest, North East London & Essex

Walthamstow Wetlands, 2 Forest Road, London N17 9NH. Phone: 020 8496 2115

4:00 p.m.

As you make your way back from Epping Forest or the Wetlands, you have the choice of going to Walthamstow Village (to know a little bit more about the history and heritage of Waltham Forest in Vestry House Museum), or you could wander into the neon wonderland that is God’s Own Junkyard, an unassuming warehouse filled with old vintage movie signs. Situated in Ravenswood Industrial Estate, it’s probably the best place to be for evening drinks. There’s also a café inside the Junkyard if you’d like a pick-me-up while chilling on their sofas.

Vestry House Museum, Vestry Road, Walthamstow, London E17 9NH.

God’s Own Junkyard, Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, Walthamstow, London E17 9HQ. Phone: 020 8521 8066

7.30 p.m.

Now is when Walthamstow well and truly comes alive. There’s been a surge in bars and breweries in the past few years in the area, and if you’re already at God’s Own Junkyard you just have to step out and enter Pillars Brewery that is best known for its lagers. You can also go around the corner to Wild Card Brewery, a microbrewery that as among the first watering holes to set up shop in Ravenswood Industrial Unit.

Gin Tonic Cocktail with slice of lemon

If beer isn’t your thing, head to Mother’s Ruin Gin Palace for a whole variety of hand-crafted flavoured gins. It’s a definite favourite among the Stow locals! For something fancier, Mirth, Marvel, Maud is one to check out. Set in a Grade II listed building that was once a famous cinema frequented by Alfred Hitchcock, it’s the perfect place to kick back with some lip-smacking cocktails.

Mirth, Marvel, Maud, 186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London E17 4QH. Phone: 020 8520 8636

Wild Card Brewery, Unit 7, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, Walthamstow, E17 9HQ. Phone: 020 8935 5560

Pillars Brewery, Unit 2 Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, Walthamstow E17 9HQ. Phone: 020 8521 5552

Mother’s Ruin, Unit 18, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall St, London E17 9HQ. Phone: 07905 484711

9:00 p.m.

End your fantastic day with a truly delicious meal. Walthamstow has plenty to offer when it comes to dining, and it caters to a good range of budgets. If you’ve had one too many to drink and want something greasy and hearty to soak up all that alcohol, head to The Castle in Walthamstow Village where you’ll be served classic pub fare with a side of charming community vibe. Dogs and babies welcome. If meat is more your thing, go forth to Gokyuzu, a Turkish restaurant serving mixed grills and an array of mezze (for a large group, definitely get the mixed grills platter). For something more European, you will find Spanish tapas at Orford Saloon. But if you’re looking for some really good modern British food, go to the original Eat 17 in the Village that was started by two brothers from Walthamstow.

The Castle, 15 Grosvenor Rise E, Walthamstow, London E17 9LB. Phone: 020 8509 8095

Gokyuzu, 42D Selbourne Walk, Walthamstow, London, E17 7JR. Phone: 020 8520 2998

Orford Saloon Tapas Bar, 32 Orford Road, Walthamstow, London, E17 9NJ. Phone: 020 8503 6542

Eat 17, 28-30 Orford Road, Walthamstow, London E17 9NJ. Phone: 020 8521 5279


Growing Up In Bombay




It was the year 1991, and after 10 years of battle, my mother had won. My father left everything in Hisar. With help from friends and family he started a small transport business in Bombay. Soon after, he managed to buy a tiny apartment in a new residential colony called Lokhandwala. Our conception of Bombay, built over multiple summer holidays, was always of Santacruz. So, as we got in the taxi from Bombay Central after our chair-car Rajdhani journey — sitting at an awkward angle for 16 hours, brimming with excitement over our new life — we were in for a heavy surprise. Well, more a shock.

It was mid-June, and Bombay was railing with the first big wave of monsoon showers. The taxi passed through Mahim and shortly afterwards crossed Bandra and Santacruz. Beyond this was a territory I had never heard of. My father allayed all building fears. “Just another 5-10 minutes, and we’ll be there”. Ten minutes passed and soon turned to 60. My mother and I knew now that this was not Lokhandwala in Andheri. We were going to stay in the new Lokhandwala in Kandivali East. A vast barren suburb at the edge of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with a large Mahindra Tractor Division factory and the second largest slum colony after Dharavi — Hanuman Nagar.

The new buildings, imitating the skyline of Singapore and Dubai, emerged as towers in the smack middle of nowhere. We could climb to the 21st floor of the tallest buildings for the suburbs at that time and not even see Andheri. We were really far. We were not in Bombay. We were trapped. We were fully cheated by my father.

As time went on, we settled into our new life. Every wing — the alphabetic A, B, Cs each with its own Otis elevator — was an independent microcosm of pan-Indian diversity. While we were the new immigrants to Bombay, old 'migrants', who sold and separated from family homes in South Bombay, also moved to Kandivali with their share. The old guided the new in the ways of Bombay. We each found our mentor to the great city, and mine was Murtaza.

After two weeks of struggling in my Marathi class in school, Murtaza finally deigned to sit with me. He opened his note book and let me copy the entire test. He had a neat, cursive way of writing in complete contrast to my scrawl. We soon began to sit, travel to school, do our homework, and spend all our time together. Despite our handwriting, we had much in common. We both did not like sports. We loved hanging out with all the girls in the school. We loved talking for hours and dreaming of the future — away from Kandivali. They were our formative years; we were teenagers teeming with hormones and new feelings we didn’t know how to communicate to each other. We just knew that, however different we were to the world outside, we were the same to each other.

Murtaza’s mother was from a small village in Rajasthan and mine was from Haryana. We ate vegetarian, and his mother made the deadliest shami kebabs. I ate my first non-veg meal in his house, and Murtaza learned to make the perfect rajma from my mother. We were both deeply attached to our mothers as we watched our middle-class fathers struggle with life. His father had lost his small corner shop in Kuwait after the Iraq invasion and was trying to reinvent the magic in Kandivali, while mine was struggling on his own. We loved our fathers, but they offered little hope to us then for the future. Our future had to be away from Kandivali and hopefully together.

The new buildings, imitating the skyline of Singapore and Dubai, emerged as tall towers in the smack middle of nowhere.

Until then, Kandivali shielded us with an enormous sense of community. Lokhandwala was our little bubble. We went to tuition at a Jewish-Konkani woman’s house, played carrom with our incredibly handsome Cantonese-Indian neighbour, celebrated Ganpati with the entire building, and played and won every dandiya contest. In that way, Murtaza had helped me graduate into a Bombayite. I began to celebrate everyone’s festivals as mine. He taught me how to get excited for Christmas, Diwali, and Id. It was only when my grandmother came to visit me for the first time, and asked me why I was hanging out with a Muslim person all the time, that I foolishly realised that Murtaza and I as Muslim and Hindu carried a bigger weight then everything else that happening to us as teenagers.

My grandmother, who had witnessed the partition first hand, was forever terrified of the other and carried that fear her entire life till she came to visit us. But for Murtaza and I, teenage priorities took precedence over all else in the world. We had an action plan to escape our lives: pass with the best marks in school, get into Xavier’s, score an advertising job, move to Bandra, and find love, or maybe many lovers.

Just like my grandmother disapproved of our friendship, Murtaza’s father, now doubly scarred by the Bombay Riots, where they spent a week hidden inside a neighour’s flat, had a totally different escape plan for him. With a year still left for us to finish school, Murtaza’s father packed him off to Kuwait. I had never felt a sense of loss before that. He left in a cab for the airport one rainy night. My face was wet, but there were also tears. I knew I would never see him again. Except for advertising, I crossed everything off our list, albeit without him.  I lived our life for both of us. Sometimes you just have to.

Kandivali for me is the memory of my teen years, where I grew to be a strong person. So strong that while I managed to challenge and come out of all my demons, I buried the very memory itself, and Murtaza with that. I secretly stalk him on Facebook now, just as I secretly look up from my Kindle when my car crosses Kandivali on the Western Express Highway. And each time, I notice with great fascination and love, how Kandivali flourishes. And I hope so does Murtaza as a grown man with his wife and children.

Feature photograph by Superfast1111 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


On an Offbeat Trail in Zurich




On the shore of its eponymous lake — where it meets the river Limmat — is Zurich, a city that wears many hats. The town centre, or Altstadt, is a zoetrope of historic buildings, churches with tall steeples, majestic clock faces, boutiques, and restaurants. Beyond the old town is the chic and contemporary bustling financial centre. Zurich’s cosmopolitan neighbourhoods, trendy shopping centres, vibrant nightlife, and excellent local transportation all make it one of the most liveable cities in the world. Given its eclectic nature, there is a lot to explore in Zurich beyond its famous landmarks.

Tram Museum


Arguably the backbone of the city’s transportation system, trams (and tram hopping) are an intrinsic part of life in Zurich. A great way to learn about the history and development of trams here is the tram museum housed in the Tram Depot of Burgwies. The exhibits on display include the original vintage vehicles that date back as early as 1897. You will also find yesteryear equipment and paraphernalia like ticket punching machines, sign boards, uniforms, sample tickets, and ticket pouches. The museum has interactive activities that allow you to operate a tram car model and feel the components that lie beneath a tram car. With extensive information boards and pictures, a visit to the Tram Museum may be just the ticket.

Sukkulenten-Sammlung Zürich


Everyone loves a low-maintenance succulent, and the Zurich Succulent Plant Collection has a whopping 6000 varieties! For the uninitiated, succulents are a wide group of plants with fleshy stems and leaves that thrive in arid and semi-arid conditions. This collection is representative of close to half the succulent species in the entire world and includes plants native to countries like North America, Africa, Chile, and Mexico. With detailed descriptions within each of the glass houses, the plants, with their amazing spines, thorns, buds, and even flowers and fruits, are stunning! It is here that you can learn about the differences between aloe and agave, as well as the fact that many species of orchids are actually succulents!

Artisanal Chocolatiers

Say the word ‘Swiss’ and someone will say ‘chocolate’, and you’ve probably made your way through the retail brands of Lindt, Sprungli, and Callier. It’s time, then, to sample some gourmet goodies. A champion of sustainability and fair trade, Max Chocolatier is a specialist in hand made chocolate with completely natural ingredients. With offerings inspired by the season, they curate some of the most exotic flavours; think saffron, port wine, black tea, and even tobacco.

Oro de Cacao on the banks of the river Limmat is another speciality boutique. They follow a patented cold extraction process and do not roast the cocoa beans at high temperatures (which can make them very bitter). Their process retains the aromas and flavours of the bean, so they need to add less sugar to sweeten the chocolate. A panacea for the calorie conscious tribe!

The Dolderbahn


Another thrill in Zurich is the 1.3km ride on the Dolderbahnn rack railway. Operational since 1895, the line was originally was a funicular railway before being converted to a rack operation. The line takes you into the forested area of Adlisberg within minutes and, with a steep gradient (almost 20% in parts), you’re treated to some splendid views and beautiful scenery. At the summit, the Dolder Grand Hotel and the Dolder recreation area allow you to relax and unwind before you take the train down back to the city.

Zurich West


Zurich old town is the conventional favourite with tourists, so head over to the hip and stylish Zurich West neighbourhood. Earlier home to industrial establishments, warehouses, and ship building yards, it is now an effervescent quarter with a distinct creative bonhomie. While here, do not miss the Prime Tower, Switzerland’s second tallest skyscraper, and the Viadukt, a refurbished railway viaduct housing restaurants, pubs, and boutique shops within its arches.


Eat, Pray, and Love the Kababs at Farid


farid seekh kabab


Farid Seekh Kabab Centre at Jogeshwari has just one thing on the menu — a seekh kabab/paratha combo. The lack of variety isn’t a deterrent. Farid’s seekh kababs are mouthwatering, it’s parathas soft and flaky, and the restaurant is always packed.

Farid Seekh Kabab, Shop No. 13 Kismat Compound, Jogeshwari (w), Mumbai 400 102.


Farid Seekh Kabab Centre is the budget gourmand’s mecca, housed in what must once have been a public toilet for giants: serial rectangular cubicles pretending to be dining halls, walls tiled up to ye high, a sloping tin roof, and a floor you shouldn’t inspect too closely.

When a band of kabab-laden stomachs staggers out, we are directed to their recently vacated table with a polite ‘Aap log baith sakte hain’. The aroma of searing meat is appetiser enough, and ambient music is provided by the chomps of our fellow diners. At Farid, conversation is superfluous and interferes with one’s appreciation of the only item on the non-existent menu — seekh kabab.

Its arrival is preceded by a procession of accompaniments: quartered lemons, raw onion rings soaked in a spicy green chutney, and more than enough sprigs of fresh mint to spark fears of genocide in the pudina community. The paranthas follow, and are not, much to my relief, the usual leathery, rubbery sheepskins that require iron claws for consumption. They are fresh off the griddle, soft and flaking under my fingers. Bringing up the rear are two seekh kababs, which are slid off a greasy plate onto our soon-to-be greasy plates. ‘Outside food not allowed’, warns a sign on the wall; in a moment, we will find out why every heretic sneaking in manna not produced in the heaven of Farid should be taken outside, set in stocks and displayed to the jeering public of Behram Baug, who may mete out corporal punishment by allowing him to only sniff, but not devour the kababs, as we proceed to do.

First, wring the juice out of a lemon to anoint a tukda of kabab. Tear off a piece of parantha to garb its mortal shell. Line the piece with a few pudina leaves; let an onion ring or two hang rakishly out. Swaddle the kabab in these humble robes, and let it pass through the pearly gates of your mouth.

And from your lips it’ll draw the Hallelujah.

Feature photograph copyright Andrey Starostin –



Bar Italia Serves the Spirit of Italy

bar italia soho london


Bar Italia is an Italian café in Soho that has been making excellent coffee since 1949. You can also get paninis, pizzas, wine, and liquor as you watch football on the television at the back.

Bar Italia, 22 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4RF. Phone: 020 7437 4520


And now it's morning
There's only one place we can go
It's around the corner in Soho
Where other broken people go

Pulp, Bar Italia

In the months leading to my daughter’s birth, conscious that I didn’t need the extra anxiety, I quit coffee. When I came back to the cup two years later, I did it in a caf in Dalston. This must have been mid-2013, and at the time I wasn’t familiar with the semiotics of dark grey walls and heavily tattooed — and heavily bearded — baristas. I didn’t make much of the ubiquity of Apple products in a given place. Nor did I pay much attention to a quirky WiFi password or the ’80s music blasting ironically from the speakers. When my coffee arrived, I was surprised by what food writer Jay Rayner would describe with grace and accuracy a year later: “The colour is right. It's coal black and across the surface is a fine, seashore foam of copper-coloured froth, the all important ‘crema’. The taste, however, is wrong. Very wrong.” I thought that my espresso was perhaps defective and sent it back. The second cup tasted very wrong too and I attributed the spiteful flavour to me falling out of love with coffee after a long hiatus. It took me several weeks to figure out this was a new kind of coffee: light roast was the name of the offending blend.

To this day, I would rather drink molten lead than one of these sour insults to the senses. Obviously, it is a matter of taste, yes. And in this matter of taste it is “heads of coffee development” in open plan offices that allow dogs, catering to well-off and caffeinated entrepreneurs of pop-ups and startups, and influencers of the world united in their terrible love for beans that taste like defecated tar who are in charge of deciding what good taste means. And so the sour coffee revolution keeps expanding beyond the confines of hip Dalston. Soon the whole of London — if not the world — will be Sour Coffee Hell.

To avoid the disappointment of this eye-squinting sour nonsense I have recently taken a radical decision: I only engage in caffeinated adventures in Bar Italia, Soho. No, it isn’t practical. And it obviously means I can’t drink coffee every time I fancy one. But at least I get to visit Soho more often.

bar italia soho london

Bar Italia stands in 22 Frith Street. It was opened in 1949 by the Polledri family, who borrowed the money to open it — £50 — from a fellow paesano. Seventy years later, the same family continues to own it. Perhaps as a testament to this continuity the bar looks pretty much as it would have in 1949, ancient till and espresso machine included.

Back at the time of Bar Italia’s birth, Soho was an area of London popular with the Italian community. Soho, with the famous Algerian Coffee Store just around the corner, was the go-to place for those after a good coffee. One and one make two, and the bar was a success from day one. Legend has it that, on the day of the opening, a party was organised on the street with the American comedians Abbott and Costello entertaining the attendees. Since then, it has continued in this trend, becoming a favourite spot for many famous Londoners and visitors: David Bowie, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul McCartney, among many others — including many jazz musicians from Ronnie Scott, just across the road — have patronised and continue to patronise this small café. Those more familiar than me with the world of theatre and television might be able to recognise a face or two in the place as well. Interestingly, this status as a ‘celebrity hotspot’ of sorts was perhaps sealed even before the bar was born: back in 1926, John Logie Bard — the television pioneer — demonstrated his prototype in his lab upstairs, as the blue plaque outside the bar reminds passersby.

bar italia soho london

Bar Italia’s deco and atmosphere really lives up to its name. From the Italian flags, football shirts, cycling memorabilia and pictures of celebrities to the chilli peppers and garlic hanging from the walls, everything is in place to hammer Italia home. The waiters are dressed in white shirts and black waistcoats, much like in your average Roman café. And it isn’t rare to bump into hordes of Italians watching the football on the telly at the back. And if the authentic feel isn’t enough for you, there is the opening to consider: the bar closes at 5 a.m. and reopens at 7 a.m., making it a favourite of late drinkers, early risers, and those who just stayed up all night, natural or chemically-induced insomniacs — a licensing miracle fixed for posterity in the homonymous Pulp song that opens this piece.

It is always reassuring to bump into a piece of London where history hasn’t been erased and replaced by the latest fad. Soho is an area under threat both by gentrification and the CrossRail development. Many of the places that gave it its aura have gone or will be gone soon. Bar Italia hangs on — heroically. May it hang for a long time. Or I will have to quit coffee again.

Photographs by Fernando Sdrigotti


A Guide to the Grace and Grandeur of Mysuru

mysuru mysore palace



Often dubbed the cultural capital of Karnataka, Mysore (aka Mysuru) has always been famous for its silk sarees, jasmine flowers (called ‘Mysore mallige’), bustling markets and, more recently, as a centre of Ashtanga yoga. It has also been voted one of India’s cleanest cities.

Historically, Mysore is synonymous with royalty and resplendence. ‘The City of Palaces’ is steeped in heritage and history. One of the three largest Princely States during the British Raj, it is home to no fewer than 200 heritage buildings — a high density given its area of just about 150 sq km.

If you’re a fan of the architecture of bygone eras, the legends of the Maharajas, and the rich legacy they left behind, you will love exploring Mysore’s noble past.

Amba Vilas Palace

amba vilas palace mysore mysuru

Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the stunning Amba Vilas Palace was the seat of the Wodeyar kings. The structure features influences of the Mughal, Gothic, as well as Rajput schools of architecture. The palace was completed in 1912 after the original wooden structure was destroyed in 1897. With three main entrances, it is a mammoth structure that has two durbar halls and several temples apart from multiple courtyards and gardens. Within, it is replete with exquisite stained-glass windows, elaborate ceilings, world class paintings, and ornately carved doors.

The palace is lit after dusk, every Sunday, and on public holidays, and few sights are more compelling. It’s no wonder it clocks more than 6 million visitors each year, fewer only than the Taj Mahal.

Jaganmohan Palace

jaganmohan palace mysore mysuru

Built in 1861 during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, the Jaganmohan Palace served as an alternate residence for the king’s family when a fire gutted the original palace in 1897. Characterized by an ornamental entrance with a beautiful garden, the three-storeyed building has a decorated facade with arched balconies and detailed domes on top.

Once the location of several important events — including the first few convocations of Mysore University and the first session of the Legislative Council of the Mysore state way back in 1907 — the palace has since been converted into an art gallery.

Now known as the Sri Jaya Chamarajendra Art Gallery, it houses several paintings and sculptures, amongst which a set of statues depicting the Dashaavatara and a detailed painting of the Dussehra festival in vegetable dyes are significant. Visitors will also enjoy its enviable collection of rare paintings from several accomplished artists including the famous Raja Ravi Varma. Brassware, coins, antiques, weapons and musical instruments are also displayed in the art gallery.

Lalitha Mahal Palace

lalitha mahal palace mysore mysuru

An elegant structure in pure white, the Lalitha Mahal Palace is yet another spectacular Mysuru landmark. Located a little away from the city centre at the base of the Chamundi Hills, the palace dates back to 1921. It was built by Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV with the objective of hosting the then Viceroy of India. With a distinctly English influence, the palace is set on an elevation amongst perfectly manicured lawns and landscaped gardens. The palace was converted into a luxury hotel in 1974 and is one of the most opulent heritage hotels in South India. A stay here is an ideal way to experience the ‘royal’ life!

Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion

Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion mysore mysuru

The Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion was built in 1905 under the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV for princess Jayalakshmi Ammani. In the centre of the city, it sits within the sprawling grounds of Manasagangotri, the University of Mysore. The architectural marvel is full of iconic columns, carved doors, painted glass, and embellished domes. The building houses three museums of which the most popular is the Folklore Museum, a treasure trove of over 6500 folk art artefacts including masks, headgear, tools, costumes, and puppets.

Heritage streetscapes

Chamarajendra Circle mysore mysuru

The prominent buildings lure you within, but even a casual stroll around the city centre will treat you to some sights that are regal and magnificent. Many of Mysore’s government and administrative buildings are heritage monuments. The Deputy Commissioner’s Office with its arches, pilasters, and an elaborate octagonal dome is a prominent landmark. The University of Mysore’s Crawford Hall features Roman arches and Tuscan columns and is a sight to behold, as is the Mysore City Corporation with its ornamented arches and globulous domes. Mysore Law court and the Oriental Research Institute are also highly impressive structures.

Apart from its buildings, Mysuru also has several stunning roundabouts. The renowned Chamarajendra Circle, built by French genius William Robert Colton, is a case in point. In hues of white and gold, grand brackets and columns support an imposing onion-shaped dome at the circle. It has a statue of Maharaja Chamarajendra Wadiyar carved from pristine white Italian marble in the centre.

Mysore is truly a sight for sore eyes.

Feature photograph copyright Noppasinw – Amba Vilas Palace photograph copyright erhardpix –
Lalitha Mahal Palace photograph by Bikashrd [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion photograph by Pratheepps at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Jaganmohan Palace and Chamarajendra Circle photographs copyright saiko3p –


Beyond Beaches in Mauritius




At the airport, waiting for a flight to Mauritius — a favourite honeymoon destination — were several newlyweds, arm in arm and visibly excited, and me, travelling alone. Six hours later when the flight was descending, I had a bird’s eye view of the island and clear ocean. Honestly, it looked like it was heavily colour-corrected by nature to make it look magical.

I spent my first evening in Mauritius at my resort’s private beach, sipping mojitos as I watched the most gorgeous sunset I’d ever seen. What does a solo traveller do at a destination so romantic? It turns out there is more to do in Mauritius than the beach-related usual suspects.

L’Aventure du Sucre

mauritius l'aventure du sucre

If you want to learn about Mauritius’s history, this is where to go. Mauritius is historically known for its sugarcane production, and you can find sugar factories all over the island even today. L’Aventure du Sucre is one such old sugar factory that has now been converted into a sugar museum. You can learn about the various types of sugar, the making process, the old machinery, and the country’s political and economic history. The museum runs fun exhibitions for kids too. At the end of the hour-long tour, you can sample the various types of sugars made on the island. Pro tip: You will cross acres of sugarcane farms before getting here so keep a lookout.

Aapravasi Ghat

This UNESCO recognised port (ghat) tells the story of Mauritius during British rule. It is said that Aapravasi Ghat was the first port of entry for every Indian who came to the island, and as they got off the boat, they had to climb 14 steps to the buffer zone where they lived before becoming indentured labourers at the sugarcane plantation. A section of the port has been converted into a museum that replicates the story of their arrival. The other half of the ghat remains intact, showing the area where the Indians lived during their buffer time.

Rhumerie de Chamarel

Most of Mauritius’s history revolves around sugarcane — as do their drinking habits. Mauritian rum is highly recommended, and Rhumerie de Chamarel’s is the finest of the lot. The single-estate distillery is open to guests, allowing you to sneak a peek into the process of making rum. Their in-house store offers a tasting of each of their concoctions, helping you understand the notes of the rum. You can buy a couple of bottles of white, dark, or flavoured rum from here to take back home. There is also a restaurant where you can enjoy a decadent meal while sipping on a rum cocktail (or several).

Takamaka Boutique Winery

mauritius takamaka winery

Mauritius’s weather and geography might not be suitable to grow grapes, but it sure grows lychees in abundance. Alexander Oxenham saw an opportunity in this and developed a formula to make lychee wine. Takamaka Boutique Winery is one of the newest additions to the island, and you can tour the winery and end it with a tasting session. While you might expect the wines to be overly sweet, you can’t really tell the difference between a regular grape wine and a lychee wine. Currently, you can pick from white, rosé, and dessert wine, but Oxenham is working on a darker wine that should be available soon.

The Curious Corner of Chamarel

Curious Corner is an illusion house that will entertain you and also drive you slightly mad trying to figure out how it works! There are mirror-made rooms, a laser music room, and many more mind wrenching exhibits. This is one place you definitely don’t want to miss.

La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park

mauritius 23 coloured earths chamarel

There’s plenty of adventure at La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park. You can fly through the world’s third-longest zip line (1.5km!). I tried it, and five seconds in my heart was in my mouth I wanted to abort the mission, but obviously, once you are out there, there is no turning back. Same with the 100-meter tall suspension bridge and zip lines through waterfalls. A cool, rare, and much less adrenaline-pumping reason to visit is to see bands and domes here that have 23 coloured earths. And if you’re really feeling adventurous, the park’s restaurant serves crocodile meat.

Feature photograph by Olivier Graziano on Unsplash
L'aventure du Sucre photograph by Karsten11 [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
Takamaka Winery photograph by Kasturi Gadge
La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park photograph copyright MNStudio –


Mixology, Mystery, and Martinis at Miss T


miss t colaba


Miss T is seductive, intoxicating, and downright mesmerising. Housed in a beautiful bungalow on a quiet street in Colaba, the restaurant boasts an innovative Asian menu and creative cocktails that showcase fresh ingredients and premium spirits. The ambience is chic, and the vibe is sexy, perfect for #datenight with bae.

Miss T, 4, Mandlik Road, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 2280 1144/022 2280 115


The setting is perfect. We’re in the ‘secret room’, tucked away on the first floor of Miss T. The glimmer from the tea lights bounces off the clear liquid in my mini goblet and multiplies many times over as it reflects on the mirrored walls. The room smells of spiced gin and orange. The conversation swirls around alcohol, entrepreneurs, and puppies.

The drink is the “greatest in the world”, a Gibson Martini prepared by the two acclaimed mixologists sitting across the table. I nurse my cocktail, well aware I look less Brosnan and more Bullock from The Net. I’m wondering if I need to drain my glass quickly before I can get to the pickled onion when Dimi and Meagan* tell me that that is, in fact, the correct way to drink a martini; while it’s still cold.

I don’t need to be told twice.

I bid adieu to the master mixologists and get ready to explore other facets of the mysterious Miss T. Gliding down the stairs, feeling more Brosnan than before, I let the sequinned storks guide me to the ground floor.

Once below, I gravitate towards the lit T-shaped community bar, where Feruzan and Jeremy* hold fort on either side. I join the captivated cluster and watch Jeremy prepare my second drink of the night, a herbaceous gin tipple with a refreshing touch of cucumber, kaffir, and lime. As he talks about the balance of flavours, I notice that the fragrant mixture that fills the glass is just the right quantity. Jeremy uses a tweezer to place a sprig of green aniseed and an edible garnish with a tiger print on the thin layer of foam. This astute attention to detail is the common thread that binds different aspects of Miss T.

The chic interiors evoke a sense of intimacy and set the mood for a sophisticated evening. The spectacular skylight, which streams in diffused light through the leaves during the day, opens out to glowing Chinese lanterns at night. The cosy booths near the entrance can be used as a waiting area but seem ideal for coy conversations and flirtatious knee-touching. The soft lighting, metallic accents, and flickering tea lights at every table create an atmosphere that’s equal parts playful and provocative.

The kitchen runs like clockwork under the watchful eyes of Chef Nikhil, with each plate being executed to perfection. Locally sourced ingredients are used to create Asian dishes with an innovative twist. The crunch of the vegetables in the Vietnamese rice rolls can be heard over the hum of candid conversations. The black sesame ice cream slices through the citrusy flavour of the yuzu tart. I couldn’t possibly eat any more, but my eyes still rove lasciviously over culinary assortments as I walk past a row of occupied booths and tables on my way back to the buzzing bar.

I know it’s the beginning of the end of the night. But it’s also the beginning of a potential long-lasting love affair, one that grows more intense over time and many handcrafted cocktails.

I like Miss T. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.

*Dimi Lezinska is the Beverage Manager at KOKO. Meagan Ashley is a renowned New York-based mixologist. Feruzan B is an acclaimed mixologist and the brand ambassador for Stranger & Sons. All three were present at Miss T for a special event. Jeremy Buck, the Beverage Director at Miss T, leads the team behind the bar and is responsible for creating the unique cocktail menu.

Feature photograph courtesy Miss T