S.A.A.G, the South Asian Association for Gastronomy conclave and tasting Afghan cuisine at Eau de Monsoon, Le Meridien

Last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of sorts, the reason why the blog was not getting updated as regularly as I want. The good thing is that I got to meet many people from various places, discuss and learn a lot from them and of course taste some great food from diverse geographical destinations.

Two weeks ago I was invited to be a panelist for a session on 'Healing Foods' at the S.A.A.G. (South Asian Association of Gastronomy) conclave which brought the first Food for Thought Fest to Delhi, bringing culinary diversity of the SAARC nations to the grounds of India Habitat Center. The conclave had a Thought Fest that went on for two days (17-18th Oct) at the lower level of Stein Auditorium, there were sessions, presentations and discussions about food and gastronomy culture from all SAARC countries.

The other part of the conclave was a Food Fest that was held at the Silver Oak grounds, stalls of all these countries were put up with lip smacking food being served for all at very reasonable price and there were cooking demonstrations too. The conclave was actually managed really well and all the sessions were well thought out and planned. The line of speakers was impressive, we got to learn so much about the culinary traditions of our neighboring countries which have had influenced each other since time immemorial.

Imagine food stalls form Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Srilanka and India being served at the same venue, being cooked in the most authentic manner. We had a wonderful time tasting almost everything through the day. Chapli kabab from Afghanistan, Garlic mutton and mustard chicken from Bangladesh, Bhutanese rice and chicken served in an earthen plate and a buckwheat bread with mushroom curry and cottage cheese dumplings made of buckwheat from Bhutan were the highlights for us.

foods from SAARC nations

This was the very first SAAG conclave and I am hoping I will be able to attend and participate in it every year. The founders Maneesh Baheti, Sonali Anand and Adwaita Kala made a wonderful effort, it was a great learning experience for all of us.

The first session was about the origin of Biryani and we got to listen to Chef Manjit Gill, Ramika Ahmad from Afghanistan, Saman Nayanananda from Srilanka, Alpana Habib from Bangladesh, Kesang Cheodon from Butan and Bharat Basnet from Nepal. Moderated by Gautam Anand, this session was quite interesting and we got to know how a meat based dish is made in Nepal that stays well for 2 weeks and how Biryani is called pullaow in Afghanistan and Srilankans have a biryani which is close to Tamil biryani.

My session on the first day (Soul Food: Food that Heals Emotionally and Physically) was with Vinita Dawra Nangia, Karen Anand, Chef Manisha Bhasin and Rubina Khan from Bangladesh, moderated really well by our own Ruchira Hoon. It was a great experience exchanging notes on what we find healing on an emotional level too apart from the food ingredients that help us heal.

panel discussion at SAAG

panel discussion at SAAG

panel discussion at SAAG

The second day too I was invited to be a speaker in a session on Edible insects (Biting into Bugs :Eating as an Adventure Sport) and as you can understand it was a fun session with Asma Said Khan, Sujan Sarkar and Sneha Lata Saikia. Asma is very scared of insects and can't think of eating them, I have myself not tried many but I don't find them repulsive. Sneha Saikiya who was moderating the session comes from Assam where silk worm pupae and honey bees are normal protein rich foods.

panel discussion at SAAG

We talked about how insects and bugs may ensure food security for so many populations across the world and how eating only local sources of food was life saving for so many tribes around the world. I also learnt that the body fat of Cockroaches is used to treat asthma in Bangladesh and in north eastern states of India too. This could save lives however gross it may sound.

Imagine what an invigorating discussion we had over this topic.

Interestingly, Sri Lankan Chef Saman Nayanananda works at Serena Hotel in Kabul and he held an Afghan food festival at Hotel Le Meridien and we got to taste some of the authentic Afghan dishes cooked by an Afghan Chef who was specially flown in. Eau de Monsoon did a wonderful job in presenting the Afghan Menu.

We tasted a nice noodle soup with vegetables, Badanjan Burhani, Lamb kababs, Qabooli, Afghan fish fry and a vegetable curry that tasted exactly like our Indian home style curries.

Afghan food

We loved the fish fry, the lamb stew cooked with potatoes and Badanajan burhani a lot but the show stopper was this Naraji pullaow that was essentially a chicken biryani with bitter orange peel. I had never had a Biryani like this, the bitter orange peels were treated so well that the bitterness enhanced the rice grains and made it very aromatic. This biryani will be remembered for a very long time, thanks to the Afghan chef who is such a gentle soul.

Afghan food

The desserts were also done really well. The Afghan Maleeda looks like a cake crumble with pistachio and cardamon flavours, the Afghan Baklava is richer and more moist and the Afghan rice pudding is almost like Indian kheer. Any Indian would take to these desserts quite comfortably.

Afghan food

They serve a nice Paan shot at Eau de Monsoon which is quite interesting. I would have liked some Gulkand in it probably but it is a very interesting way to present paan at the end of a meal.

Chef Kesan Choedon from Bhutan also brought Bhutanese food to Le Belvedere at Le Meridien and we went on the taste that too. I am always intrigued about Himalayan foods and Bhutan has been inaccessible for outsiders for a very long time. How could I not go and sample Bhutanese food?

More about that in the next blogpost. Stay tuned.


  1. Thank you for a brilliantly written and visually expressive blog on Food For Thought Fest 2015. We look forward to welcoming you back on 23-24 Dec 2016 at The Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi.


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