“The most amazing thing is that after shooting nearly 500 episodes over eight years of continuous travel across India, you still feel that a hell lot of food is yet to be tasted,” admits everyone’s favourite foodie, Kunal Vijayakar. “It’s phenomenal. Every 50-100 km, the masalas and the food change,” he reminds us.

Kunal Vijayakar
Kunal Vijayakar believes that food is a great way to explore a new culture

Vijayakar, along with writer-activist Suhel Seth, tech investor Mahesh Murthy and Financial Times head James Crabtree will speak at Mumbai’s first edition of The Lime Diaries, a popular community travel series by Bengaluru-based startup Byond Travel. This series is focused on rediscovering the lost art of storytelling. With such a well-travelled foodie at the other end of the phone line, we’re tempted to get him play favourites, pick sides and don the culinary guru avatar. Vijayakar, with all his candid humour intact, obliges us.

Vijayakar recalls enjoying fresh fish in Fort Kochi
Vijayakar recalls enjoying fresh fish in Fort Kochi

Excerpts from Kunal Vijayakar’s foodie diaries:
Memorable discovery:
There are so many! But I keep going back to 2007-08, during my first visit to Kerala for the TV show. Fort Kochi came across as this delightful place that celebrated Hindu, Muslim and Syrian Christian food. So, you can choose from Hindu-style vegetarian Sadya, the Syrian Christian spread — where dishes like Goa’s sorpotel is more green than red — and Muslim delights like parottas and b-word (sorry; can’t use the word here!) preparations. There’s Jew Town as well where we savoured fare from some very hospitable families, whose homes we stepped into, without asking even! Plus, if you stroll down the sea-facing promenade, where the Chinese fishing nets are installed, you’ll spot food stalls where delicious seafood is whipped up in a jiffy, straight from the Arabian Sea. It’s a celebration of many cuisines in such a small radius.

cooked straight off the nets. Byond Travel organises experiences where travellers fish with locals and then learn to cook their catch, Kerala style before eating it at a farmhouse.
Byond Travel organises experiences where travellers fish with locals and then learn to cook their catch, Kerala style before eating it at a farmhouse.

A few culinary finds:
In Srinagar, we experienced lip-smacking Wazwan fare prepared by Kashmiri Pandits who are actually non-vegetarian. The Dum Aloo, paneer dishes and the Rogan Josh were to die for. We ate this fare at a home, as it’s not easily found in Srinagar’s restaurants.

Another find was the seafood that’s available around Chilka Lake in Orissa. There are currents in this lake, so it was quite scary as our tiny boat (to catch fish) kept swaying quite a bit! Along the banks, you’ll spot freshly-caught crabs, prawns, the works. These stalls will quickly toss the catch into a wok, as we were treated to some of the most amazing seafood.

Also, while in Orissa, I recall trying the Malai Roll from a stall outside Puri’s famous Jagannath Temple. Milk is stored in huge utensils; a thick film of malai is formed at the top. This is taken out carefully, placed on a plate, rolled with sugar, and served to customers. It’s heaven!

My unsavoury experience:
We were shooting in Kurseong. The area has a huge colonial influence, and is dotted with tea estates. A Nepalese managed the lodge where we were put up. One day, he invited us for an outdoor cooking experience, in the wilderness. He was meant to prepare a pork dish for us. As he began to cook the dish, he started throwing in plants, ferns, stems and leaves that were plucked from around! Haldi and green chillies were the only known ingredients. It was so bizarre, and tasted horrible! It left a bad taste in my mouth.

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