The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Great Kabab Festival at Casa Kitchen till 2nd August

Kebab sounds like a good starter to a hearty meal and connotes meat, fish or poultry only, and never anything vegetarian to me. But when Casa Kitchen sent an invite to sample their kababs in The Great Kabab Festival, their monsoon event, I was not in two minds as I am pretty open-minded as a foodie and wished to explore the vegetarian side to kababs. Kabab is a popular segment among vegetarians and I wanted to have a taste of it. I have a fond old memory of vegetarian kababs at a Marwari friend’s wedding and they didn’t really feel like vegetarian.

As it happened last time in the summer food festival of Casa Kitchen (Read this post), it was an exclusive bloggers’ review of the festival in the evening, and Mr Shantanu Lahiri, Chief Advisor to the hotel Casa Fortuna (where Casa Kitchen is housed) and Mr Swarup Ghosh, GM, Casa Fortuna greeted me. Indrajit had turned up first as usual.

The Great Kabab Festival pitches the popular pairing of kabab & beer, which is a foodie’s favourite in monsoon. The restaurant has a high street location and watching the rain sitting next to the glass wall overlooking the busy AJC Bose Road in the afternoon sounds tempting. To make it even more so, they have an offer where you get a beer on order of every 2 plates of kabab. The festival started 1oth July and will continue to tickle the taste buds of the gourmet till 2nd August. After two successful years, it has been stretched over three weeks this year.

There are 12 kababs on the menu- two varieties in paneer, two in potato, two in vegetables, two in peas and one each in mushroom and American corn. I liked the fact that a mushroom variety is kept on the menu for foodies who wish to explore beyond the familiar. I feel the F&B circuit of Kolkata is not kind to the fondness for mushroom, so it’s always a challenge to find mushroom dishes in the restaurants.

There were a special mustard chutney (milder than mustard sauce) and a yoghurt-based coriander chutney to go with the kebabs. And the kababs were being served on clay plates on a bed of salad set on a designer handi (earthen pot) which looked nice.

I was offered a mocktail called Zed Garden. Sweet and a little tangy, good to start with. We started with Peri Peri Paneer Tikka. It is supposed to be fiery hot as peri peri is a chili from south China notorious for its hotness. So the idea was not to use it in actual but to make the dish spicy and hot so as to justify the name. When the festival had started the dish was like that, but it was modified later as the customers found it too hot for comfort. I and Indrajit found it a little less spicy for our taste though and told it to Shantanu and Swarup. Now it’s a dilemma for every restaurant- whether to make such a dish in a way that suits majority guests’ taste or while doing that, also keep a provision to tailor it to an individual guest’s taste which is different from the majority.

 Peri Peri Paneer Tikka

It was followed by Hare Mattar Ki Tikki. Mashed green peas flavoured with chef’s special spices and tawa-grilled with desi ghee. The fine combination of spices mixed with good amount of ghee, elevated by the innovative fusion of cheese at the centre hit the right spot for my palate.  I also liked the Kale Chane Ki Kabab (Mashed dry peas stuffed with herbs and grilled on tawa, tikki syle) that came next, though I’m not fond of this variant of pea. Swarup shared the experimentation that went behind it. First they tried to make it on skewers using generous amount of ghee. It came off as it was so soft. So it had to be pan grilled. Initially the size was larger, which was brought down on guests’ feedback.

 Hare Mattar Ki Tikki

 Kale Chane Ki Kabab

Peshawari Paneer Tikka was served next. Marinated with cheese and stuffed with pineapple. As paneer doesn’t appeal to me, I found it better than Peri Peri Paneer Tikka thanks to the cheese.

 Peshawari Paneer Tikka 

My drink was finished. Took a next one- a tangy orange drink called Tropical Summer on house recommendation and my preference for the taste. Good one, and the sips in between helped register the variety of tastes that followed.  

 Tropical Summer

I was looking forward to the mushroom kabab and it was served next. Named Badshahi Khumb, it’s char-grilled button mushroom stuffed with cheese and Indian herbs. The filling had raw onion pieces mixed with chili and the dish was baked with cheese, so the cheese embracing it at places was visible. Loved the succulent mushroom with mildly spiced filling which paired brilliantly with the cheese. Easily the highlight of the evening for me and goes as my top recommendation. Little wonder it is the second most ordered dish (after Peri Peri Paneer Tikka) in the ongoing festival.

 Badshahi Khumb. Photo courtesy Casa Kitchen.

Vegetable Shami Kabab and Chilli Makai Sheek Kabab arrived. The first one is exotic minced vegetable patty, tawa-grilled and stuffed with cheese. It was good. I was waiting for the corn kabab as well, as mushroom and corn are the only two things I look forward to in vegetarian food (if at all) on dining out. The Chilli Makai Sheek Kabab was minced American corn and chili flavoured with dry herbs. It was tiny bits of corn grilled in minced vegetables. It tasted average to me. I felt the taste of corn didn’t quite come out.

 Chilli Makai Sheekh Kabab. Photo courtesy Casa Kitchen.

My pick: Badshahi Khumb, Hare Mattar Ki Tikki and Kale Chane Ki Kabab. The kababs cost Rs 340-365 each plate (six pieces on an average) without taxes.

We wrapped up with a good chocolate mousse with molten chocolate at the bottom as its USP.

By the way, Casa Kitchen makes an excellent Dal Makhni which, as Indrajit vouched for, is amongst the best in town. Will talk about it another day.

So if you like kababs in its vegetarian variety or would like to explore it, plan a visit to Casa Kitchen in the next few days.

The Great Kabab Festival
10th  July to 2nd August
12:15pm – 3:15 pm & 7:30 pm – 11:00 pm
Cost for two- Rs 900  approx+ tax

Casa Kitchen
234/1 AJC Bose Road
Kolkata 700020
For table reservations call 033 40218050 or 8017088003.

#vegkebabKolkata #Goodvegfood #VegfoodKolkata #Monsoonfood

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Ask Me Foodies Meet-up

Ask Me is the newbie in online local search space. It differentiates itself by marrying deals, classified ads and e-commerce along with a dial-in service on a single web platform called It calls itself “A disruptive new age consumer brand” which “Helps users to have access to hyper-local information 24X7”.

As food is no. 1 search category on Ask Me and happens to be a wonderfully interactive topic, to create buzz the Ask Me team has been holding meet-ups with local foodies in various cities, starting with and Jaipur. The Kolkata leg, which was the thirteenth in the series, was held on 12th July at The Corner Courtyard. A large bunch of foodies (food bloggers, Zomato reviewers, members of Facebook group Kolkata Foodies etc) gathered to attend it on the Sunday afternoon.

To make it effective, the event was designed with was more of a mix of interaction and interesting contests than one-sided brand talk. The innovative décor of the venue (recreating an old house with courtyard, where it was actually held, decorated with bookracks and nice wall pieces, with old world charm all over it) helped make it informal and let the audience feel at ease. Randeep Kaur, Senior Manager Marketing (who sent out email invitations herself) helmed the presentation and she kept joking about making the ‘boring’ presentation ‘short’. Well, boring it was not; on the contrary, colourful and informative in a precise manner.

Let’s see what’s in Ask Me for a visitor. It’s primarily a local search service, so you can search for anything like contact details of mobile phone and electronic goods dealers, salons, professional institutes, restaurants and clinics. To engage with its target audience, it has built communities of popular topics- Fashion, travel, wellness, education, gadgets and weddings. They are packed with useful information and interactivity. For example the Fashion community lets a member create lookbooks, upload blogs, images, contextual videos; Travel talks about Bollywood travel destinations, i.e. locations where popular Hindi movies were shot, travel deals; Education has expert hangouts and Wedding has planning tools. It is also a deal aggregator, so you can find select deals from various sources featuring. Visit the site to find out more.  

The site lists more than 2 lakh restaurants & food joints and is present in more than 150
cities in with over 5.5 million listings. They claimed that there are many cities which were yet to have a Zomato and footprint.

To hook foodies they have soft launched a Food Ambassador programme (It’s not yet launched online). Here a foodie can write 10 fresh reviews and get a meal voucher for two and refer foodie friends to get bonus vouchers. He/ she can keep writing and getting meal/ shopping/ movie/ spa vouchers. Cool, no?

There are two ongoing series on the site-

In the Food section, there is 1000 Best places to Eat- Food experts Rocky and Mayur visit various restaurants and food joints across the country to pick names for the list of 1000.  A member can upload a video review of a restaurant. If it is liked by them, the member gets a chance to meet them.

The travel section has none other than Vir Sanghvi helming The Great Indian Safari where he brings to you choicest travel destinations in and abroad which appeals to various travel needs (annual vacations to weekend gateways) and all members in the family.

The audience got served a constant supply of a no. of finger foods (mostly veg though) and mocktails during the meet, including thin crust pizza slices and chicken satay which I liked.

The cheerful emcee engaged the audience in between sessions. The topic of favourite street food and its location expectedly fetched the highest response and it had to be wrapped up as it seemed endless. I was a little amused as some of the names weren’t street food/ drink, like Doodh Cola at Balwant Singh’s Dhaba or kochuri at Putiram.

Big reviewer on Zomato and food blogger Rajdeep talks as another big reviewer Rounak looks on

Presentation over, chef Chayan and Surojit from the restaurant took us through a session on food plating which showed how to present food in a house party. It was followed by two rounds of a food plating contest participated by audience members.

Food plating session on

Food plating contest- round 1

Food plating contest- round 2

A plate in the contest

Another interesting contest came up next where a participant had to taste a soup just prepared by the chefs and list out its ingredients. Those with most no. correct entries won.

It ended with a small buffet with live pasta (vegetarian again!) and cakes (cheesecake and chocolate cake). I, like many, loved the cheesecake and polished off a few. It just flew off the plate whenever it was refilled.

 The cheesecake

Overall an engaging meet-up where I met new foodies and foodie friends and had a good time over food. Looking forward to the online experience.

#Askme  #AskmeFoodiesMeetup

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Iftaari at The Lalit Great Eastern

Eid Mubarak!

It was a long-standing wish to be invited to an iftar party. So when The Lalit Great Eastern invited to Iftaari- its special iftar dinner buffet, I was happy that the wish was finally going to be fulfilled in style.

It was a dinner hosted every Friday during Ramadan which concluded yesterday. The venue was Alfresco, the all day multicuisine restaurant at lobby level. What makes the long-shaped Alfresco stand out among other five star restaurants in Kolkata is its ceiling made of glass, which makes for a comfortable seating in a daylit environment. It was a bloggers’ only invitation, and as usual I saw Indrajit Lahiri had turned up first.

An extensive spread was laid out in a long U-shape. It had welcome drink (Rooh Afza Thandai and Malaidar Mango Lassi), dry fruits, assortment of sprout, cut fruits, salads (including Fattoush Salad, Aragula and Feta with Citrus Dressing, Moroccan Beef Salad with Papaya-Bean Sprouts & Sweet Chili Dressing and Lamb Sheekh Kebab in Cucumber Cups), starters (Crispy Chilly Vegetables, Cheese Balls, Mutton Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka) a mezze bar, soups, chaats, breads, main course and dessert. Chaats included Palak Patta Chaat, and Aloo Anar Ki Chaat besides common ones. There was a live counter dishing out Haleem with Sheermal, Pao Bhaji (Keema & Veg), Ghoogni (Lamb Chunks & Veg) and Jalebi with Hot Kesaria Milk. The entire spread was made by selectively mixing some items from various cuisines off the restaurant’s dinner buffet menu with special iftar preparations.

We went to the soup table and started with Yakhni Gosht Shorba with bread from the bread counter displaying a wide range including sweet and savoury varieties. The thin soup was delicious and set my palate for a long haul. The Arabian Chick Pea Soup, which is a lentil soup, didn’t score much with me.

The bread counter

We were served the assortment of chops after this. It aimed to recreate the experience of the friend treats dotting the roads during Ramadan. There were Pyaji, Alur Chop, Dal-er Dawra, Dim-er Chop and Meat Ball Chop. The Pyaji was rightly made and the Dal-er Bawra was decent. The Alur Chop and Dim-er Chop didn’t taste bad, but they were nowhere close to the street variety (which is indeed a challenge to match up in a five star setting).

Pyaji, Dal-er Bawra and Alur Chop

Meat Ball Chop and Dim-er Chop

We moved to the live counter. Started with ghhogni- the lamb variety, to have a taste of the famous Bengali mangsher ghhogni. I must say they got it right. A non-spicy, homely variety with generous lamb chunks. It was followed by haleem. Now this was an entirely different experience from what I have had so far in Mughlai restaurants of the city. A mash of mutton and several varieties of dal- pungent and extremely oily and spicy. It was bliss taking it in small spoonfuls with sheermal as my nose was sweating. Haleem was definitely high on my list of expectations from an iftar dinner and this one was one of the highlights of this dining experience. Sous chef Anirban Sinha met us at the table. He shared that this was made Lucknow-style, and they made it by cooking the dals and meat chunks for as long as twelve hours, as a result of which the meat and the dals get mixed form a mash.

Haleem with Sheermal

By the way, the haleem had a vegetarian variant, and Anirban insisted we try it. Honestly speaking, we did it with apprehension but was pretty impressed once we had two spoonfuls each. We never knew veg haleem existed anywhere. This is cooked for a shorter period and had some definition, unlike the mash that the mutton variant was.

Next I picked up pao bhaji (keema version). It was low on spiciness, hence I didn’t take it beyond a two-three spoonfuls.

Time for mains. Went to the mains counter and was surprised to see biriyani in only vegetarian variety. The only non-veg rice preparation was Khichada. It was the dry kind of khichdi that you get on a certain day in the week in mughlai restaurants. I am not fond of it as dry khichdi is not my kind, though it was well made here. I took Nihari and Afgani Meatballs in Herb-roasted Tomato Sauce (Chicken). The second one’s taste didn’t appeal to me, more for the tomato sauce. The Nihari tasted great, with sizeable mutton pieces in thick, generous gravy. Polished off the first serving with butter naan (Roghani Naan and Peshwari Naan were available) and had a repeat. The soft and succulent meat came off the bones easily and I savoured the bone marrow (a rare indulgence) from a few pieces. Just one point here, it was not the popular form of Nihari found in Kolkata, for instance in one of the best names like Sufia.

Front: Afgani Meatballs in Herb-roasted Tomato Sauce and Khichada. Back: Nihari


I was almost full with provision for a small serving of dessert. But the dessert counter made me change my mind. A brilliantly curated range including Anjeer Halwa, Phirnee, Semiya Kheer, Khubani Ka Meetha, Dry Fruit and Fresh Cherry Tart and Baklava. The last dish was a pleasant surprise to Indrajit and Anindya, my blogger friends, as it was not available in Kolkata. Baklava is a well-known middle eastern pastry made with a think, flaky, open crust filled with nuts and honey. The Phirnee was low on sweetness and consistency, the Semiya Kheer was okay, but I was bowled over by Khubani Ka Meetha (A dry jelly-like preparation with khubani) and quickly finished a second helping. The Anjeer Halwa soaked with ghee and studded with dry fruits drew the perfect end to a hearty meal.

Semiya Kheer 

 Anjeer Halwa

The dinner buffet cost Rs 1550 plus taxes and made a strong case for it on value for money aspect apart from the merit of the offering. Trust The Lalit Great Eastern to come up with more such offerings in future.

It was nice meeting fellow bloggers Poorna Banerjee, Anindya Sundar Basu and Manjari Chowdhury (apart from Indrajit) and have a relaxed chat.  This has become a routine affair in the past few months thanks to preview and review invitations pouring in from restaurants, seeking out food bloggers’ take.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Good Vegetarian Food of Calcutta group meet on blogging at The Chutney Co.

She kept on saying, “Please have your food first. It won’t taste as good if it gets cold. You can shoot later”, fully knowing the photographs shared on social media would benefit her new restaurant.

We were served a platter at the meet of our Facebook foodie group and some of us who blog and share pictures on social media were busy shooting the food first habitually. And the host wanted us to concentrate on the food first.

Let’s go back a bit. I came to know about this Facebook group 'The Good Vegetarian Food of Calcutta' offline. I got introduced to a middle-aged gentleman called Devashis Kuthari in a seminar on blogging at The Park hotel, Kolkata, in May by Abhishek Chamaria. Abhishek was one of the speakers and we knew each other only through Facebook. I had made one of his pictures of the city the cover picture of this blog. Devashis runs his own business but this group is his passion, through which he wants to cultivate and promote various vegetarian foods and food cultures. A point to note is that it is not meant for vegetarians only, but the posts will have to be strictly about vegetarian food. What I found the most impressive about this group was its huge member base (which stood at 29000 on that day) and that it is actively managed. All the posts are moderated by alert admin members and nothing which doesn’t conform to group rules is accepted. We spoke for quite some time and he told me a lot about his group experience, the foodwalks organized, the plans (that includes a group website) etc.

I became a member of the group that night. By that time Devashis had gone through this blog. He suggested that the then last post, on the food festival at Casa Kitchen, which was a vegetarian affair, should be my first post in the group. I did the needful and went on to become an active member of the group- commenting, joining interesting conversations and sharing links of posts on vegetarian food from this blog. The member base has been on a steady rise and crossed 32000 towards the end of June.

I was happy and excited when Devashis invited me to the next group meet on ‘How to do food blogging’, aimed at aspiring bloggers in the group, as a speaker. It was both my first assignment as a speaker on blogging and the first meet of any Facebook group I am a member of. The second session was to be taken by Abhishek- on food photography, for the purpose of blogging and otherwise. Besides being a social media strategist and a blogger, Abhishek is a passionate photographer and he calls his work mobilography since he is a pro at shooting with his iPhone. So I landed up at the venue- The Chutney Co. – the brand new south Indian vegetarian restaurant in Dalhousie area, on the first floor in the Great Eastern Trading Co. building, bang opposite The Lalit Great Eastern, in the afternoon of the last Sunday of June (28th).

The restaurant was full. Since it hosted our meet, we were given a spacious area- an entire hall with tables joined to make a T-shaped seating. About fifteen members had turned up to make it a full house.

My session was to be a spontaneous one. Since I didn’t know the audience and their expectations, I hadn’t prepared a PowerPoint presentation. I started with the basics- what a blog is, what a food blog is like, how and where to start one, what the ideal posts for a newcomer should be like, talking through pictures et al. The audience was participative and kept on asking questions, including those on the technical aspects and micro details (like how to label a post to reflect its various aspects). The most diligent in the audience was Navin Agarwal who took down notes on his notebook besides placing queries. It then moved on to a live demo of starting a blog and making a blog post on Blogger. It was a satisfactory session over good filter coffee.

 The first session in progress. Photograph by Subrata Ghose

As the food was ready, Abhishek’s photography session was postponed. We were served a platter of Molagapodi Idli, vada, Tomato Sevai and Paneer Frito. The first is a steamed idli with ghee and sprinkling of molagapodi, popularly known as gun powder all over. Molagapodi is a coarse mixture of lentils, chillies and spices that is popular as a condiment in. Sevai, I found, was a south Indian take on noodles. It was tangy and spicy rice noodles tossed with tomatoes and curry leaves, which I liked. The Paneer Frito was crisp paneer fingers fried in a batter. All the items tasted good- the idli tasted better with gun powder and the vada was perfectly crisp, with black pepper in it, adding to the taste. The sambhar had a tinge of sweetness which I liked.

Our platter

To go with it were three chutneys. And here comes the USP of the restaurant, as explained by Pooja Baid, the owner and a young entrepreneur of the city, who was hands on in supervising our service and took us through the names and details of everything served (and insisted on having the food hot first as you’ve read in the beginning). Pooja has the success of the casual dining chain behind her.

What makes so many variants of any branded potato chip taste different from one another? After all the chip is the same in every pack. It’s the flavour that creates the difference. Similarly what sets The Chutney apart from other quality south Indian restaurants in town is its chutneys. They have a range of nine and let you choose any three with any dish you take.  The nine is an eclectic mix, starting from the basic white coconut chutney to the tangy raw mango, the spicy peanut and the rare curaikkay (bottle gourd) chutney. Others are a spicy version of the coconut chutney, Mysore Chutney, Coriander Chutney, Spicy Tomato Chutney and Sweet Onion-Tomato Chutney. The chutneys were mixed and matched in serving us so that none got the same three. We happily shared our chutneys to sample more of them. I got the white coconut chutney,  Spicy Tomato Chutney and the Curaikkay (or 'lauki') Chutney. I am not fond of bottle gourd, but I liked its chutney. I also sampled the spicy peanut and the raw mango ones. Liked the former and loved the latter, as I am a mango freak and like it in any form. The wide range of chutneys gives a diner the opportunity to rotate the choice of three on consecutive visits, which will give a different taste experience every time.

The chutneys and sambhar around paper dosa

The attentive host with members enjoying and shooting food. Photograph by Subrata Ghose.

The next on our plate was an extraordinarily large idli. Pooja said it was Tatte Idli. Its preparation is a little different and there’s a backstory. It is believed to have originated on the Bangalore-Mysore highway where a highway vendor chanced upon the idea of setting idlis in plates rather than the customary moulds, as he had to make a lot of idlis quickly. The idli turned out to be not just large in size but super soft and light. It caught the attention of most travellers on the highway and soon nearby vendors started making it. Since we were full having so much after the lunch, we shared the Tattte Idlis. And they were softer than regular idlis. We ended the meal with a piece of delicious chocolate cake each which came from the Piccadilly Square outlet inside the restaurant.

Tatte Idli. Photograph by Subrata Ghose.

 The dessert

Pooja shared her take on the coffee. This beverage down South is not just a quick caffeine fix, but almost an obsession to make every cup perfect. There are housewives who go to the local shop everyday, gets the coffee beans ground just for the day to have a fresh experience everytime. Keeping this sentiment in mind, she took the assistance of the Coffee Board of India to develop a superior blend of pea berry beans that are freshly ground in the restaurant and filtered using the classic South Indian technique.

The coffee bean grinder

The filter coffee, served traditional style.

The Chutney Co. seeks to redefine South Indian dining experience in the fine dining space, by giving the traditional elements a new avatar. Breaking the stereotype, both the menu and the décor promise a fresh experience. One interesting part of the nice décor was snippets of South India artistically handcrafted on wooden platters on the walls. The prices are a bit on the higher side (A dosa comes at Rs 70, masala dosa at Rs 95, plain idli and vada cost Rs 60 each and the sevais- lemon, coconut and tomato- cost Rs 80-90), but they are worth it for the discerning diner.

Handcrafted thematic wooden platters on the wall. Photograph by Devashis Kuthari.

Abhishek’s session followed. He taught us how to frame a picture well among other things, with instances of how not to do it, which helped. As required, he gave us a live demo by clicking pictures of the food served for the purpose of shooting and showed how to bring out creativity in it. It was a useful session, as expected, for me and other members.

 Live demo in food photography session. Abhishek at the centre. Photograph by Subrata Ghose.

One of the members present was the man behind Pabrai’s Fresh & Naturelle ice cream, which is gaining popularity over the last few years- Anuvrat Pabrai, a food technologist with a long experience in hospitality industry. He introduced us to a member much younger to him- a well-known food blogger and one of the top reviewers of Zomato and Burrp- Rajdeep Bhattacharjee. He had a short, informal session where he took us through his blogging experience and the recognitions and opportunities that came his way. It opened new doors before me. I spoke to him post the session and exchanged notes on food blogging and opportunities in it with a promise to keep in touch.

Rajdeep's session in progress. Photograph by Subrata Ghose.

Mr Pabrai (second from left) makeing a point to an eager audience

A word of thanks to Devashis here- the hands on group admin who ensured the members are comfortable and the meet progressed as per schedule. He kept mingling with the members and let them enjoy as they wanted to. The group is lucky to have him at the helm.

 The group admin in animated conversation with the host. Photograph by Subrata Ghose.

One more enriching aspect of the meet was meeting some interesting people. Like Mr Pabrai, who is consulted by the Taj group on their ice cream offering. His Fresh & Naturelle ice cream lives up to its name by mixing real fruits with ice cream and creating innovative flavours in its eight parlours in the city. I’m told his 'Nolen Gur' (jaggery) ice cream is fabulous. Met Vinay Menon, who runs an innovative food home delivery business in Salt Lake- that of home-cooked food, by working with home-based cooks. It will be an experience to stay in the mind for long.

 The groupfie. By Abhishek Chamaria.

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