Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In conversation with David Rocco- Dolce India style

David Rocco, the Italian who was born in Toronto, and has been the host of superlative shows such as Dolce Vita, and Amalfi Getaway, is in India for the shooting of the second season of his Dolce India. David, the man with the million dollar smile and unaffected demeanour is even more charming in person.

In a whirlwind turn of events I found myself in a freewheeling interview with David Rocco, if I was mesmerised before, I came back even more enchanted.

Here are a few excerpts from our chat. (I couldn’t bear to edit it, so here is the unabridged version)

We started with a few icebreaker questions
Word associations. ‘give me the first word which comes to your mind when I say these words.’I said.
David rocco: Ok , but I have just gotten up and a bit sleepy still, so don’t hold the answers against me.
 India –Crazy
Italy- Crazy too
Pasta – One and only
Olive oil- The best
Ghee- Fattening
Chillies- Love
Cheese- Always
Family- Love
Favourite pasta-Fusiili

David Rocco had come down to Goa to shoot the second season of Dolce India, and I asked him his thoughts on Goa. He said that it’s like no other place he had been to, and he couldn’t compare it to any other place in India. The mind set, the energy and the food here is distinctly different from the rest of India. The flavours here are more European and yet uniquely Indian as well.

The previous day he had experienced the Goan favourite drink made from cashewnuts- Feni. Now I know that Feni at best is an acquired taste, it is a strong local alcohol, and David had had not 1 but 3 shots of feni. ‘ Just straight up, not with any of the wimpy stuff like softdrinks.’, he said. (I am impressed)

I asked him what his favourite sea food was, and he said clams and mussels. That came to me as a surprise after all they have so little meat to work with, but David replied that less is more. And truly David Rocco is the less is more kind of guy, his food is always about simple, clean flavours, and that is what has endeared him to so many people world-wide.

We went on to discuss his favourite Italian and Indian cities, Rome was a clear favourite, but when it came to an Indian city he hedged around not wanting to hurt sentiments, but conceded that he loved Delhi because he has a lot of friends there and to him connecting with people matters as much as the food that he eats and the places that he travels to, and of course Mumbai for its vibrancy. He spoke about the lack of restoration of historical places in India, and how beautiful parts of our history slowly decays in India. With Rome managing to maintain their heritage with monuments and scuptures almost 2000 years old, we truly have a lot to learn from the Italians. (as opposed to the Pantheon which was built somewhere in 27 BC, the Tajmahal was built in just 1632 AD)  

So having sampled some of Indias best cuisine, and back for more, what was his favourite Indian dish? You won’t believe it, but it’s the humble dal. Lentils. And he loved Sambar, the spicy, tangy dal made in south India, which he had sampled in Chennai. He infact loves Dal so much that he even attempted it back home, therefore when I asked him if he had ever used his nemesis from Last Dolce India show the all famous ‘ghee’ or clarified butter in any of his recipes, he said he had used a tiny amount to fry onions for his dal. He prefers his extra virgin olive oil, and feels a lot of Indian recipes can substitute Ghee with olive oil, a move which a lot of health conscious Indians are doing.

 Did he have any favourite Indian Ingredients, I asked, and he came up with Kasturi methi both fresh as well as dry, and mustard seeds and mustard oil. Mustard oil, he said, had a very strong flavour and if not used properly could overpower a dish, but when used sparingly to cook fish, it could be a winner. ( and the Bengali in me nodded away in agreement theek bolechho guru!

If you’ve ever seen David Rocco on television you are bound to wonder at his amazing level of fitness, considering he is surrounded by food all the time. David didn’t consider himself fit ‘Haah!!’ but did concede that the Indian hospitality and their way of showing their adoration through food was starting to take a toll on him. ‘a few days back I had 4 dinners in one night and at each of the places there was an array of delicious food, and I am aware that Indians get offended if you do not eat their food.’ 4 dinners is a tall order even for a man who enjoys dinner. When asked which was his favourite meal of the day breakfast , lunch or dinner, he had said dinner and that he hardly ever had breakfast. Even through our interview, he sat eating just a small bowl of mangoes. ‘But I run, I love marathons, I put on my headphones and just head out. Running is a stress buster, a release for me.’

What else makes David Rocco tick, apart from food and travel? He answered with interacting with people, but we all know that interacting with people can be quite tiring especially pesky interviews, so I wasn’t settling for any patronising answer. Turns out that he loves music.  He has picked the eclectic pieces of music for his show too. I always wondered about the rustic , folksy music that played in Dolce India season 1 and thought it was someone from post production who added the ‘Indian flavour’ , never knowing that there was an Italian chef who listened to Punjabi folk songs in his free time.

One of my earliest memories of David Rocco was his dinner time show ‘Dolce Vita’ in which he used weird and wonderful toppings on his pizzas. It was the first time that I had seen someone use apples, figs and walnuts on a pizza, and I’ve always wondered what his favourite Pizza topping was. Nutella, comes the reply, and I’m thinking this man really does have a sense of humour. After some thought though bufala and tomatoes is his answer. ‘I have used exotic items like truffles on pizza, but my all-time favourite is a classic- the timeless combination of buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes.’

Having travelled extensively and tasted so many cuisines, did David like to mix and match cuisines? I asked him his choice, fusion food or a purist? Purist he said. He added that he liked to experiment and in fact had stepped out of his comfort zone during last season of Dolce India, while still maintaining the core essence of the dish. I do remember that during his last visit to India, even when a fellow food blogger had returned his dish of risotto saying that it was ‘raw and undercooked’ David had stuck to his conviction that authentic risotto should be served ‘Al dente’ and with a bit of bite.

The essence of David Rocco is difficult to put in printed words, simply because his gestures speak more than his words. The way he uses his hands to emphasise a point, the tilt of his head, and the lopsided grin when he decides to take a chance on something and says ‘sure why not’ , or the far off look he gets when he is recollecting fond memories. One look at the man and you know that he was made for television.

A man who is an inspiration to many, and has a fan following in almost every corner of the world, who inspires David Rocco? My kids, he answers. And you know it in the way his eyes light up, as he talks about them. ‘I am in awe, I am amazed at their strength , their courage, their ability to go up to anyone and talk to them, make friends, be open to new experiences.’ He is travelling with his two young daughters and his wife on this trip to India.

Coming to the end of our chat, I ask him about the picture of the cows on the beach in Goa that he had posted on Facebook. ‘Honestly, nothing shocks me, even the cows on the beach, it was more for the sake of my followers that I posted it, but I have eaten in langars (communal eating in gurudwaras which are places of worship), and travelled on camel carts, I have seen so much of India now that the culture shock doesn’t exist.’

So what was that one AHA moment? That one moment in India which would stay with him, and the answer quite frankly, will stay with me forever.

 He spoke about the butchering of a goat by a young boy that he witnessed in Rajasthan. The immense care, love and respect with which the boy did it, showed the respect which he felt as he sacrificed a living animal to feed himself and his family. “Many people who eat meat, get grossed out when they see animals being sacrificed, it’s hypocrisy, it’s like not acknowledging the animal and treating it like any other inanimate food item.” He spoke about young children watching the sacrifice, and how it heightens our respect for what we eat.  

I thanked David for the wonderful time, and he had one final question for me. “I have one last question for you, how did you manage to meet me?” And I answered, “Well David, you will just have to read my blog to know the answer to that.”

So here it is.

It was the night before the interview, a balmy full moon night. My husband and I decide to eat in the roof top restaurant of one of the city hotels to enjoy the moonlight. On our way I said “You know yesterday they showed a recipe on David Rocco’s show which was made only with green chillies and besan, maybe I should try it.”( I was just trying to get a rise out of my husband, who hates green chillies in his dish.)

Just then the elevator opened, and out walked a man who looked surprisingly like David Rocco!

‘I’ve been watching too much television’ I thought. ‘I am hallucinating about David Rocco.’

I wasn’t aware that he was in India, let alone in Goa. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the guy whom I watch every night on television would be standing in front of me.

Thus, I dismissed the man as a doppleganger. 

But over the course of dinner I couldn’t shake of the fact that he did infact have an uncanny similarity to David Rocco. I asked the hotel receptionist if a David Rocco was staying at the hotel, and CAN YOU BELIEVE IT, HE SAID YES!!!

What followed was a mild case of hysteria, and a frantic search for the man; I was just looking to have a small tete tete.(Being an avid foodie, food blogger, and a reporter for Food bloggers association of India FBAI, I couldn't pass up this opportunity)

My husband and I spoke about destiny. If we had not decided to come to this restaurant, if we had taken 5 more minutes to park the car, if we had gotten onto the other elevator, we would have completely missed David, without even the knowledge that he had been in town!  
 But the night wore on, and even as we finished dinner, I had not managed to meet David Rocco.  
The next morning I received a mail from Dawn, David Rocco’s manager that he would be pleased to meet me.

 And the rest is history.

Carpe diem This interview was not just about meeting David Rocco, but also seizing opportunities, and accepting that there are forces of destiny at work which are beyond our understanding . Life gives us surprise gifts every day and many of us are too scared or too preoccupied to open the gifts.
David Rocco was enndearingly honest and even though he must have given a thousand interviews before, he didn't seem jaded, in fact he was buoyant and engaging just like his television persona.I left the meeting thoroughly charmed.

Dolce Vita means the good life, and it doesn’t get better than this.

Even as David shoots for his second season of Dolce India, you can watch season 1 on Foxtraveller at 9 30 pm on thursdays and fridays. (If you havent been following it already)

A few more interesting Blog posts on Italy rome and my travels.

my top three places for pizza, pasta and gelato in rome

the splendid MSC cruises and Tunisia

The splendid MSC cruise and Barcelona

the splendid MSc cruise and Genoa

The fantastic collection of fridge magnets we have managed to hoard from our travels

Monday, April 14, 2014

tradition with a twist- bengali payesh

Festivals in India are filled with customs and traditions. Now, whereas customs can be tiresome at times, traditions are the stuff of memories. Religious and social customs follow the dictats of the society, while traditions foster family bonding and bonhomie. Traditions, like having a hearty home cooked meal surrounded by friends and family, the card games at Diwali, or the pandal hopping at Durga Puja, or the egg hunt on easter, the gifts under the tree at Christmas, are the stuff which get written about in country ballads, or as facebook status updates many years later. Traditions are a bond with the past, a time to bond in the present, and the stuff of reminisce for the future.If customs are what we HAVE to do for society, then traditions are what we LIKE to do for our families. I am not a big fan of customs, but I love traditions...

Last year for the kerala new year Vishu, I was delighted to be part of a traditional malyali meal and you can read about it here, this year as a new bride, I celebrate my first Bengali new year, or poila boishakh. As a Bengali married to a Goan, living in Goa, it’s that much difficult to keep traditions alive. Things that I took for granted for so many years, like the new clothes on noboborsho (new year) or the nolen gurer payesh ( rice pudding with date jaggery), which used to miraculously appear for the new year celebrations, were actually planned in advance by my mother.
Gosh! Now the baton has been passed to me! If I don’t pull up my socks and planning my noboborsho celebrations, the coming generations may NEVER know what it feels like to get up on poilaboishakh with the anticipation of new clothes and sweet payesh!?

These thoughts sent me on overdrive to make some Bengali payesh. I asked mum for the recipe and then wondered about the date jiggery. Traditionally Nolen Gur, or date jaggery is used as a sweetner in the rice payesh, it gives it a warm brown colour, a rich dry fruit flavour, and a mild sweetness unmatched by white sugar.

I read many online recipe blogs on the same Bengali payesh recipe, and saw so many of the ‘probashibengalis’ (non resident Bengalis, like me lamenting the fact that they cant make the payesh because of the absence of date jiggery, because its only available in west Bengal , or select outlets, and that to only in the winter.
thick and creamy khejurer payesh.

So here is my take on the Bengali payesh, tradition with a twist, and I call it the probashi Bengali payesh (as opposed to the Bengali payesh)

You need :
2 litre whole milk (yes, I thought since I am going to make payesh I might as well feed all my friends, family and colleagues)
1 cup brown sugar/caramelised sugar (for colour as well as sweetness, I used this instead of white sugar)
3/4  cup white rice soaked in water for 30 minutes
5 or 6 pitted dates soaked in warm milk(dates are available in almost all groceries in any part of the world, my substitute for the traditional nolen gur)
5 cardamoms
2 bay leaves
i did it with dates !


1.      1 Boil milk with bay leaves and crushed cardamom.

2.      2 Once milk comes to a boil, put on simmer, add the pre-soaked rice, and stir continuously for about 30 minutes. (yup it’s slow cooking at its best, I tried every trick in the book to hurry up the cooking, but it seems when making payesh there isn’t any short cut to success). If you turn up the heat too much the milk tends to burn, and I wasn’t in a mood to waste 2 litres of milk so stir I did.

3.       3Once the milk starts to thicken, add the brown sugar.

4.      4 Whisk the dates soaked in milk in a blender until smooth and without lumps, add a few cashewnuts in the blender for added creaminess.

5.       5Add the date mixture right in the end of the cooking once the milk is thickened and almost half the original amount.

6.      6 The brown sugar is less sweet than white sugar and adds a rich brown colour to the payesh along with the dates.

7.      7 Garnish with raisins, and almond, and a sprinkle of cardamom powder, and you are good to go.
The raisins swell up overnight adding another element of sweetness to the dish.

It sounds simple but, for a working girl, all that slow cooking takes time. I thought I would finish cooking payesh in my lunch hour, but the milk was nowhere nearly as thick as it should have been, I put it in the fridge, and reduced it after my evening shift. So in all practicality I cooked it in two sessions, and I am happy that even in my busy work schedule I managed to recreate a small bit of my culture and helped carry the warm glowing torch of tradition.

shubho nobo borsho!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Foodie book review : Planet Goa Wine and Dine

Planet Goa is a popular monthly magazine covering the Goan hotspots and the monthly happenings of the state, so when they decided to come out with their selection of Goa’s  culinary best, it truly demanded a reading. Goa with it’s myriad hues of cuisines was truly in need of a comprehensive guide to its various eateries. Sure there is the times good food guide, but Goa has a diverse eating culture from five start cuisine to beach side shacks, from bars and discotheques which also serve snacks to sit down dinner places, to places which are open all year round to the places which mushroom during the ‘tourist season’ of November to April, and such diversity requires an indepth analysis of the food scene of the state. So, is planet Medias’ Wine and Dine book the answer to the wine and dine scene of Goa?


1.The beautiful cover of the book: it’s a rich maroon with a few forks and spoon silhouttes along a border. I liked that they hadn’t chosen a particular dish to grace the cover picture. This book mentions in a place that Goan food has become synonymous to sea food, and that has marginalised the lesser known but equally tasty vegetarian and other meat preparations. Atleast the cover of the book seems impartial.

2. A brief introduction to the Goan cuisine at the beginning of the book: a section called food files written by a host of eminent writers, foodies and even fitness expert delves into the veggie delights, world cuisine , wines and desserts of Goa. It even has a section with the Goa food dictionary. Interesting, especially for the tourist population.

3. A small write up of the owners of the restaurants accompanied each review: A sweet gesture which gave a face to the places and introduced the people behind the ventures.

4. important information about the restaurants: As mentioned earlier not all eateries are open all year long. Infact we had once gone to a popular greek restaurant in Vagator in the pouring rain, only to reach and find absolutely nothing and no one at the site. The book mentions important things like places which accept only cash ( a lot of famous places especially in the northern sea shore do not accept cards), which places have valet parking, which ones have home delivery, and also phone numbers for reservation.

5. A few recipes: Its always exciting to have recipes in a restaurant review book, it’s like the free toy in the cornflakes box. There are a few sweet dish recipes and I wish they had included a few more basic Goan recipes like Khatkhate, a simple fish curry and xacuti.

6. Beautiful quotes on food: gorgeous pictures of food interspersed with quotable quotes by Julia Child and Oscar Wilde make this a coffee table book. It’s something to browse through and feel inspired by all the epicurean delights.

the delectable pictures in the book

a few interesting recipes

Sea food at its best !!


1.No titles to the pictures: A book on food is in a large part about the pictures, and this book has a large number of delicious pictures, but none of them have titles. Is it a garlic butter prawns, or a honey ginger glazed one, the pictures do not mention. If the food is indeed from the restaurant mentioned then I’d like to know what to order if I like the way a particular dish looks.

2. Some write ups are too pretty: Some of the restaurant reviews are so full of wonderful adjectives, it reads like an advertisement rather than an impartial review. There is a particular review in which they mention how the soulful sufi music serenades us while we tuck into our food. I have been to the mentioned eatery and we were treated to the Bollywood music from Jab tak hai jaan and the album played three times !!! We actually asked them to turn the music off.

3. The book is not a fun read for vegetarians: At one point in the book they mention that they would like to break the myth that Goan food, or food available in Goa is  not vegetarian friendly, but the book has a quote on page 178-vegetarians and their Hezbollah like splinter faction, the vegans are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, Anthony Bourdain . That might not be the best way to win vegetarian readership.

4. A lot of the pictures look the same: all the pictures had a lovely white background and gleaming white plates, none of them had the restaurant insignia, which made me feel that the pictures were taken in a studio and may not be representative of the food available at these eateries. Yes for a book of this standing the pictures could not have been candid shots taken in poor lighting in the restaurants itself, but a mention of the name of the dish and the restaurant would have given it more credibility.

5. No pictures of Bebinca and Dodol: In a whole article on the desserts of Goa, there were pictures of cheese cakes and none of Bebinca and dodol which are indigenous to Goa, and a popular souvenir that many tourists take back home along with packets of cashew nuts.

Yes, the book could have been better represented. I missed seeing a few of my favourite places in the book, while I found a few interesting ones. Ofcourse it is solely the discretion of the authors of the book, who have done a commendable job of bringing a slice of Goa in the form of a delectable book.
This is the kind of book you can curl up with on a rainy day in Bombay, and dream about the sunkissed beach shacks of Goa, or as a gift to someone visiting the state, it is also a handy reckoner for locals. On days when I am in a dilemma where to eat, I can just close my eyes, flip to any page on the book, and make a reservation for the restaurant on that page. This book can make eating out in Goa fun!