Product Experience: Karappuram Neera

If you have been reading this blog regularly, you would know what a big, big, big fan of neera I am. In what seems like a lifetime ago, when I was residing at Ahmedabad, Appa and I would sneak out of the house on cold, cold winter mornings, bundled up in layers of warm clothes, in search of neera – the sap obtained from a variety of palm trees, including coconut palms and toddy palms. We would gulp down mouthfuls of the sweet nectar in ecstasy, in spite of the neera being utterly chilled. Back then, we would get it only in the winter months, only chilled, only sold for immediate consumption there and then in glass tumblers, and only early in the mornings. Apparently, any exposure to sunlight causes neera to ferment and turn into alcohol, a big no-no in Gujarat. Sigh, do I miss those days or what?!

Not even a single winter has passed, in the six years I have been in Bangalore, wondering why neera cannot be available here, in this city. The OH loves the drink too, and we would have loved the chance to sip at it every once in a while. On our visits to Pune and the rest of Maharashtra, we have taken the opportunity to gulp down copious amounts of the beautiful, cool drink.

Having said that, you must understand when I say I was thrilled to bits to learn, recently, that neera is now available in Bangalore, in packaged form, from Karappuram. I got in touch with the person in charge of marketing it, immediately, and was even more thrilled when he said he could deliver samples to my place. He was sweet enough to turn up the next day with a couple of bottles of the neera, as good as his word. We were advised to have it chilled, for it to taste its best, and that is just what we did.

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Verdict: I thought Karappuram neera had a beautiful palm flavour to it, and was wonderfully sweet and refreshing. It did have a slightly more acrid taste to it, as compared to the fresh neera I am used to, but it is definitely the closest thing. It was wonderfully fresh, there are no doubts on that count. The husband found it just as good as fresh neera, no difference at all. We are definitely rooting for this product!

A bit about Karappuram neera:

Karappuram neera, made from sap tapped from the Karpagam island in Kerala (where coconut water and the said sap are the sweetest, apparently, as sweet as sugar water) is presently available at Cash Pharmacy, St. Marks’ Road. It will soon be available at Namdhari’s too. The firm is currently in talks with a number of stores across Bangalore, in attempts to make it available even more readily.

This neera is pasteurized after extraction, to stop it from fermenting into alcohol and to give it a longer shelf life. It comes packaged in little bottles of 200 ml, priced at INR 40 each. Yes, the price is slightly high as compared to that of the same quantity of other packaged drinks available today but, I am told, the health benefits of the neera far outweigh those of any other commercially available drink. Also, there is a huge amount of effort involved in extracting the sap from the palm trees and, I am assured, the price barely covers the cost of extraction, pasteurization and packaging.

I am told that the packaged neera has gotten the approval of the Coconut Development Board, and all other food- and government-related approvals are in place. Apart from the pasteurization, there is no other processing done on the neera – meaning that you get it as good as freshly tapped from the palm trees of Karpagam. There is no added sugar, either.

I am also told, in detail, of the several health benefits that neera possesses – a low Glycemic Index, no cholesterol or fat, an abundance of iron and calcium, a high amount of Vitamins A, B and C, and several curative properties, all of this backed by meticulous research by various institutions of repute.

I understand that neera is, slowly and gradually, gaining foothold as a health drink and as a major ingredient in cocktails and mocktails. The ready availability of packaged neera will go a long way towards further strengthening this foothold.

Other products:

Apparently, Karappuram is also engaged in the production of neera vinegar and neera honey, healthier alternatives to the chemical-loaded vinegar and not-so-natural honey available in the market these days. These products are not readily available in Bangalore yet, but hopefully, they will soon be. I am told they have received rave reviews from the few who have used them, as has the neera. I can’t wait to try out the neera vinegar and honey now!

Disclaimer: I was given sample bottles of Karappuram neera free of cost, in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Maharashtrian Beetroot-Onion Raita

We were served a beautiful, beautiful beetroot and onion raita while dining at Hotel Shreyas, on our recent trip to Pune. The colour of the raita was simply gorgeous, and the taste too. It was something new to me – for I have never used beetroot in a raita before. I was told it was a simple dish very commonly made in Maharashtrian households, and I knew then and there I wanted to try it out and make it a regular fixture at our meals, too.

A couple of days ago, I looked up some recipes on the Internet for beetroot and onion raita, and most were the same, calling for the same ingredients. I followed the crux of these recipes, with a couple of little variations of my own. The raita turned out just as beautifully coloured and tasteful as it had in Pune, thrilling me to bits!

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Here’s how I made the raita.

Ingredients (serves 2,  as a side dish):

1 medium-sized beetroot, boiled, peeled and cut into small pieces

1 medium-sized onion, chopped finely

A large bowl of curd, neither too watery nor too thick, a tad sour, whipped for a few minutes

1 teaspoon oil

A pinch of asafoetida

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 green chillies, slit length-wise

A few stalks of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

Method:

  1. Combine the curd, salt to taste, slit green chillies, chopped beetroot, chopped onion, and chopped coriander leaves in a mixing bowl.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan, and add the mustard seeds. Allow them to splutter. Switch off the gas, and add the asafoetida to the hot oil.
  3. Add the mustard-asafoetida tempering to the beetroot and onion mixture in the mixing bowl.
  4. Mix everything well together. Let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes before serving.

Simple, right? I can’t get over that purplish-pink colour either!

If you haven’t ever tried out this raita, let me tell you you are seriously missing out on something great! I hope you will make this at home too, and that you will love it as much as we did!

On A Culinary Trail In Pune, Maharashtra

The OH and I have been craving for a vacation for oh so long, but nothing seemed to be budging on the travel front. Due to some reason or the other, we weren’t able to plan even a short holiday. Recently, this changed, though, when we decided that enough was enough and that we would head on at least a weekend break, come what may. After much thinking over, we decided to visit Shirdi over the last weekend, with a break in the journey at Pune. We wanted to take Bubboo to the Shirdi Sai Baba temple, and thought we would make the most of the one day we had in Pune. We went ahead and did just that and, I am happy to say, we had a nice trip, in spite of the few hiccups that we had. Finally, a little part of the wanderlusting soul of mine is happy!

Now, we have been to Pune once in the past, when we took a break on our way to Lonavala and Matheran. This time too, Pune was a stopover for us, but we were determined to head to some of our favourite spots in the city and indulge in some culinary delights. We had a bit of guidance from a couple of our relatives who have lived in Pune before, and we also had some insights from some lovely foodie blogs we discovered about Pune. We also had our own Pune memories to fall back on. This time around, our one day stopover in Pune became a sort of culinary trail – we had a taste of some of Pune’s (Maharashtra’s, rather) specialty foods from some of the best eateries that the city has to offer. There is so much to do (eat, actually) in Pune that it is not possible to do all in a single day. This city deserves a trip of its own – the next time around, it is a trip to Pune and Pune alone that we will plan, and it will not be just a stopover.

Let me tell you all about the gorgeous food we hogged in Pune (and all the lovely food we admired but didn’t eat, too!) now, OK?

Breakfast at Tatyo’s, Deccan Gymkhana

This little eatery is located right next to Cafe Goodluck, one of Pune’s oldest Irani cafes (sadly, we didn’t know that then, and didn’t visit it!). Tatyo’s sells a variety of on-the-go foods, including the famous Marathi Kanda Poha, Sabudana Wada, Dhokla, Satyanarayan Sheera, Upma with Maharashtrian-Style Podi, Samosa, Aloo Kachori, and a variety of chaats.

We were super confused about what to order and what not to, but finally decided to go for a plate each of Kanda Poha, Dhokla, and Satyanarayan Sheera. Everything was just beautiful, freshly and perfectly cooked and spiced, and priced very, very reasonably. I loved the peanut-green chilly chutney and podi that the Kanda Poha was served with! The Dhokla was spongy and just the right mix of tangy and sweet.

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Kanda Poha at Tatyo’s
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Dhokla at Tatyo’s

Breakfast – 2 at Wadeshwar, FC Road

Our next stop was at Wadeshwar on FC Road to get some idlis for Bubboo. We ended up ordering a plate of Kothimbir Wadi for ourselves, just because we hadn’t sampled this particular Maharashtrian delicacy before. For the uninitiated, Kothimbir Wadi is nothing but coriander fritters in a chickpea (besan) batter, usually steamed first and deep-fried later.

Wadeshwar has a lovely selection of food and drink that we would love to try out (Lemon Lassi included – I haven’t found that anywhere else!), but we were already stuffed to the gills with the food from Tatyo’s, so weren’t up to anything more than Kothimbir Wadi and a cup of tea each.

I loved the presentation of the Wadi but, honestly, it wasn’t something we loved. The tea wasn’t up to the mark either. The OH echoed my thoughts. That said, Wadeshwar is one of Pune’s most famous joints, known mostly for its South Indian food. Maybe, the next time around, we will choose a different genre of food here.

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Kothimbir Wadi at Wadeshwar

Neera at a roadside stall

This time of the year, when winter is just about to end and summer is all set to begin, you find foods from both seasons at the places you visit. Pune was no exception. We came across hundreds of roadside stalls across the city, selling Neera, also called Sweet Toddy or Palm Nectar. Considered a winter specialty, Neera is a delightful drink that is loaded with nutrition.

I have beautiful memories of going to Neera stalls with Appa in Ahmedabad, early in the morning, before the mercury levels soared and the drink would start fermenting. I couldn’t resist grabbing a glass of Neera from one of the roadside stalls in Pune, on the go while visiting some tourist spots, and it was just as refreshing, just as delightful as I remembered.

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Grabbing Neera at a roadside stall

Masala Tak by the roadside

Summer is fast taking over India, and Pune is gearing up to meet it head-on. At least, that is the impression the streets of Pune conveyed to us. We came across stall after stall selling masala tak (buttermilk) and summer street delights like raw mangoes.

We grabbed a few glasses of masala tak on the move, from different stalls. Everywhere, it was priced between Rs. 10 and Rs. 15, and was fresh and cool and lovely. I would highly recommend this to you, if you visit Pune this time of year.

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A roadside stall selling masala tak and laddoos

Maharashtrian Thali at Hotel Shreyas, Apte Road

Hotel Shreyas is one of Pune’s best eateries, serving only Maharashtrian Thali for lunch and dinner. We headed to the hotel for both lunch and dinner, and were served a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous thali that included a whole lot of delicious Maharashtrian Brahmin food. I absolutely loved the food here – the aamti and kadhi specially. Priced at closed to Rs. 300 per head, the thali here is a lovely experience, one that I would absolutely recommend.

Each thali here comes with unlimited servings and one sweet dish of your choice. The OH opted for the modak, which was brilliant, and I went for the basundi, which was equally delectable. Make sure you have plenty of space in your tummy before you visit, though – the thali is quite heavy.

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Maharashtrian Thali at Hotel Shreyas
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The sinful basundi at Hotel Shreyas

I badly wanted to try out the Aam Ras, Amba Poli (mango pooran poli) and the Amrakhand (mango shrikhand) here, but my stomach didn’t permit me to. 😦 Well, all the more reason to visit Pune again, right?

Gawping at the chocolate bouquets at Brugge, Aundh

Brugge is a beautiful chocolate shop with a few outlets in Pune, that you absolutely should not miss out on. The specialty here are the chocolate bouquets, which are perfect for gifting. They have chocolate bouquets of all shapes and sizes, and to suit most occasions. The prices are on the higher side, though. We went into Brugge in Aundh just to gawp at the prettiness of it, as we did on our last Pune visit too, at the Dhole Patil Road outlet. 🙂

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The Brugge outlet in Aundh
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A chocolate bouquet for sale in Brugge, Aundh

Actually, we didn’t go into Brugge just to gawp at the chocolate bouquets – we went there to rediscover their Chocolate Shots, which we had had on our last visit and fallen in love with. The Chocolate Shots are little glasses of warm, gooey, liquid chocolate that are absolutely divine and will have your heart racing in the good sort of way. Sadly, we were told that the Aundh outlet doesn’t sell them, but that we could find them at their Dhole Patil Road branch. We didn’t have the time to head to Dhole Patil Road, but if you are there, I would urge you to stop by at Brugge for the shots, and gawp your heart’s content at the chocolate bouquets there, in the meanwhile.

Pani poori with ragda at Ganesh Bhel, Aundh

Bangalore has street-side carts selling paani poori with a ragda-like dry pea gravy, but the ragda served with pani poori in Pune is something totally different. The ragda in Pune is bland, just a warm and salted dry pea gravy, which allows the flavours of the paani to come through. We decided to sample some pani pooris at Ganesh Bhel in Aundh, because the ragda looked so different from the one available commonly in Bangalore. We weren’t disappointed.

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Pani poori with ragda at Ganesh Bhel, Aundh

I am not a big fan of warm pani pooris, but these ones were just perfect. The paani was a mix of spicy and sweet, unlike the usual only-spicy paani available elsewhere.

Mastani at Sujata Mastani, Aundh

We were told that our culinary pilgrimage in Pune wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t have a Mastani at Sujata Mastani, one of the most famous ice cream parlours in the city with over 15 outlets. We stopped by at the Aundh outlet, where I had a highly-recommended Mango Mastani and the OH opted for a Rose Mastani.

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Sujata Mastani, one of the oldest ice cream parlours in Pune

If you are wondering what a Mastani is, let me tell you that it is a rich milkshake with ice cream. The Mango Mastani was absolutely heavenly. The Rose Mastani was good too, but after the Mango Mastani, we didn’t have the eyes (or the tongue! 😛 ) for anything else.

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Rose Mastani and Mango Mastani at Sujata Mastani, Aundh

Solkadhi in a packet on the Pune-Shirdi highway

En route to Shirdi from Pune, we stopped at a restaurant (whose name I am unable to recall now!) for tea and snacks. I noticed them selling packaged Solkadhi (a Goan-Konkani specialty drink made with coconut milk and kokum). It might not be the authentic deal, but I have got to try it out, I said to myself. I couldn’t leave without sampling it, considering that we have visited parts of Maharashtra and Goa so many times, but never had Solkadhi.

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Solkadhi in a package

The OH and I did buy a packet of Solkadhi each, but sadly, we didn’t fall in love with it the way we had thought we would. It isn’t really our kind of drink, apparently. Or, maybe, we should try it out at a different time, in a different place?

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And, with that, we come to the end of our Pune foodie chronicles – only the foodie chronicles from Pune, mind you! 🙂 There is a lot more from the trip coming up on the blog soon. Stay tuned!