Bombay Howrah Dining Car priya barve masterchef asia home restaurant

From India To Singapore, Here’s How This MasterChef Finalist Is Sharing Her Culture Through Food

Why does mum’s food taste best? I’m sure anyone would agree that their mother’s cooking is finer than any Michelin-starred restaurant could ever be. It might be one of the greatest mysteries on earth, but a good reason could be the age-old tradition of passing down cooking secrets from mother to daughter.

Growing up in India, home chef Priya Barve ate most of her meals at home. As a result of this, she spent a lot of time in the kitchen watching her mother and grandmother prepare traditional Marathi cuisine.

That, she tells us, probably sparked her initial interest in food and cooking – she still holds memories of those days close to her heart:

When my mom used to make chapatis, she would always leave a small piece of dough for me to roll out, so the first thing I cooked was a coiled piece of dough!

The catalyst for her love of cooking, however, was her marriage to Aniruddha – also a food-enthusiast – and their subsequent move to Hong Kong. “[Moving to Hong Kong] exposed us to a lot of new cuisines, and that’s how the passion started growing,” she explains.

Cultivating her cooking skills, Priya has dedicated a lot of time to her trade:

Like with any skill, practice is the most important thing. And since we enjoy cooking, practising it is always fun. But we do research a lot when it comes to recipes and techniques and our sources are endless! Youtube videos, Pinterest, recipe books, blogs, and so on – it’s best to keep an open mind when it comes to food.

Hopping aboard the dining car

Experience Indian Culture In This MasterChef Finalist's Home Restaurant

The Bombay Howrah Mail (now the Mumbai Howrah Mail) is the name of a superfast express train that runs between Howrah Junction and Mumbai CST in India. It is also the inspiration for Priya’s BonAppetour dining experience, The Bombay Howrah Dining Car.

The superfast train was a common childhood link for Priya and her husband Aniruddha. The couple now reside in Singapore, but back then, Priya would “travel on the train to Nagpur to visit my paternal grandparents, while Aniruddha and his family would travel all the way to Kolkata.”

Although the pair did not actually meet on the train, this idea brought them together and connected them with their homes back in India. This is an experience that Priya wants her dinner guests to enjoy as well.

Going pro with a home restaurant

Bombay Howrah Dining Car priya barve masterchef asia home restaurant

Passion turned into profession for Priya and her husband as the couple decided to open up their own home restaurant in Singapore. Commercialising her interest and skill in cooking was something Priya and Aniruddha had long considered.

Although opening a restaurant seemed to be the obvious answer, the practicalities of such a project reared their ugly head, and it became evident that this venture would be too expensive. They ended up finding a better way:

I began to research innovative ideas on food, and stumbled across the concept of supper clubs in Europe. I loved the idea of hosting people at home because it felt more unique as an experience than going to a restaurant. And that’s how I started developing the concept for our home restaurant.

Thus, the Bombay Howrah Dining Car was born on BonAppetour. The aim of the dining experience was not only to make delicious delicacies, but to introduce guests to the history and stories behind two cities close to our hosts hearts: Mumbai and Kolkata. India’s cultural variations are also represented through the chosen dishes of this dining experience, with a focus on the Maharashtrian and Bengali communities.

Bombay Howrah Dining Car priya barve masterchef asia home restaurant

Inviting the world into their home has so far been a rewarding experience for the couple, who Priya admits aren’t necessarily very outgoing. The first few times were especially nerve-wracking, but eventually they got comfortable hosting guests, and even enjoyed it:

At first we were quite nervous about having people over […] But meeting people has been one of the most rewarding parts of our experience. We also love when our guests compliment us about our food and creativity – it pushes us to continue to improve with every dinner we host.

Bringing the MasterChef experience home

Priya takes great pride in hosting dinner parties in her Singapore home. From printing off little menus for her guests, to relaying the story behind each dish they are eating, she tells us that success lies in these little gestures.

This is something our BonAppetour hostess picked up during her time on Masterchef Asia 2015 on Lifetime, where she took part as a contestant. Priya got to connect with other foodies and learn from them in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. There, she learned how to be more conscientious in the kitchen

“[The most important lesson I picked up was] food presentation, or plating,” she says. “Indian food is meant for communal eating, and therefore I’d never really thought about presentation as such. As long as you garnish a dish with coriander, coconut or nuts, it was fine.”

But the moment you have to think about serving for one person, plating is really something you have to think about. I would almost say for some dishes you work the dish back from how you might plate it, because then you start to think of other elements that will be needed to complete the dish.

Priya is not only looking to share yummy fare, but she is also sharing a part of herself. A love of food is a common thread that links vastly different communities around the globe, and she wants her guests to feel connected to her past in South Asia by tasting her childhood-inspired dishes.

The Bombay Howrah Dining Car is the perfect passage to India, and it starts in Singapore. All aboard!

Priya’s favorite recipe

Since I have a sweet tooth, I enjoy making desserts the most. One of our favourite dishes is a steamed yoghurt and condensed milk pudding.

  • The recipe is basically equal cups of yoghurt and condensed milk with ½ tsp of vanilla essence.
  • Whip the mixture till smooth and then pour into containers of your choice.
  • Place it in a large flat pan with water that comes up halfway to the containers.
  • Cover and steam for around 15-20 mins.
  • Insert a skewer to check that the pudding is firm, let it cool and then chill for a couple of hours.

Simple and absolutely delicious!

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Discovering The Ultimate Comfort Food In Hong Kong With Peggy And Angelica

Discovering The Ultimate Comfort Food In Hong Kong With Peggy And Angelica

Congee is the mother of all East Asian comfort foods. It can be featured in an exquisite banquet, be a lunch to soothe a busy day, or be the ultimate staple food to nurse the sick back to health. Hong Kongers have perfected the art of making congee and created an entire genre of the rice gruel dish, complete with distinct recipes and a list of must-have side dishes. There is a special charm dining into a congee meal in a private home, and we were glad to be invited by Peggy and Angelica to lunch during our stay in Hong Kong!

Peggy, the lady of the house, is passionate about eating and cooking healthy. While being proud that Hong Kong is home to an exciting spread of cuisine, she believes home-cooking is a much healthier option and is determined to share her own home-cooking with her family and friends. So she partnered up with her long time friend Angelica, and often invited guests to her home for a hearty meal.

Peggy welcomes BonAppetour team into her home

On a Saturday afternoon, we made our way to Tin Hau, a small district in metropolitan Causeway Bay that is known for its temple of the same name. When we entered Peggy’s apartment, we found it to be spacious and comfortable. To our amusement, there was classic Cantonese songs playing in the house. What a great way to create a “true local atmosphere”!

Pan-fried radish cake

While Peggy and her helper worked to put together the last few dishes for lunch, Angelica told us the work had actually started the day before. The radish cake were home-made, and Peggy had to start steaming them a day prior to our lunch to get it ready in time.

Our friendly hosts setting up the table

Our friendly hosts decked the dining table with food while we sipped on our tea. Peggy had prepared congee cooked with dry pak choi and salted pork bone for our meal that day. While most Hong Kongers have savoury congee on its own in restaurants, congee is served with a number of side dishes in a home setting.

Cantonese congee, served with a myriad of side dishes

So Peggy also prepared stir-fried mushroom, beans and pork, stir-fried choi sum, steamed meatballs, pan-fried radish cake (which she steamed a day before), and some extra stir-fried hor fun (rice pasta) with meat and vegetables.

Delicious spread of Cantonese dishes

There seems to be another ritual in Hong Kong when one eats congee – always pair it with pickled vegetables and preserved eggs. Peggy and Angelica prepared some pickled vegetables, pickled ginger, salted duck eggs, century eggs, and fermented tofu for us to eat with the congee. It was delish.

Congee is not complete without preserved vegetables and eggs

Peggy said on other days she would teach her guests how to pickle ginger, and gave them jars of their work to bring home. She then showed us the specific type of ginger required for this job – fresh young ginger that is only available during the summer period.

Inez, our co-founder, guides Peggy through the BonAppetour platform

After our lunch, Inez, co-founder of BonAppetour, took the opportunity to explain how our platform works and guided Peggy through the registration process.

A picture with our friendly hosts

It was a really enjoyable and pleasant evening. Our hosts are truly a power pair – whenever Peggy is busy in the kitchen, Angelica would chat with us to make us feel at home. Anyone looking for a truly Hong Kong-style hospitality should check out Peggy and Angelica’s Cantonese Lunch in Causeway Bay!


A Dumpling-Making Experience on Aberdeen Island with Edith

A Dumpling-Making Experience on Aberdeen Island with Edith

The best way to learn about a culture is to taste it. In Hong Kong's case, culture is a steamy, gastrorgasmic feast of custard buns, dumplings, rice rolls and egg tarts. Working as a community manager for BonAppetour, I visited this dim sum wonderland to meet our first few hosts, and was fortunate to be invited to dine with several of them.

Edith, our first host of the trip, has graciously invited the BonAppetour team to lunch at her place in Aberdeen. Aberdeen Island, or known locally as Ap Lei Chau (literally duck tongue island), is a beautiful isle off the southeast coast of Hong Kong Island. It is a refreshing retreat from the hubbub of central Hong Kong, and also a great place to check out the fishing harbor and vast view of the sea.

Edith's place is also a brief 7-minute drive away from Ocean Park. Guests who are traveling with their families (or anyone looking for some thrilling fun time) can visit the famed oceanarium and theme park after lunch. Talk about a great location!

Breathtaking view of Ap Lei Chau

That morning, as we alighted from our taxi in Edith's neighborhood, I was welcomed by flowing gusts of wind filled with a fresh, salty scent of the sea. Despite being known as one of world's most densely populated islands, the neighborhood had a laid-back atmosphere that sets the place apart from the busy city central. I liked it immediately.

Edith's apartment was spacious for a Hong Kong house – it has a cosy dining corner decked with books on one end of the living room, and a wall lined with travel memorabilia on the other end. Edith excitedly welcomed us into her home and discussed the menu of the day with us. We would be having pork dumplings, century egg tofu, and lettuce wraps. I was accompanied by Inez, co-founder of BonAppetour, and Jean, a food-loving expat trying out the BonAppetour experience for the first time.

Edith and her cosy dining corner

Part One: Dim Sum Class

Edith asked if we were keen to learn how to wrap the dumplings, to which we enthusiastically agreed. Wrapping dumplings always occurred to me as an advanced culinary art, and I was excited to learn it from Edith.

Edith demonstrates how to fold a perfect dumpling

Edith showed us the ingredients to be used for the pork dumplings, and demonstrated how to season the dumpling fillings. While she was mixing up the ingredients, we chatted about alternative ingredients that can be used and where we could get the similar condiments back in our respective countries.

BonAppetour team learning to be a dim sum master

When the fillings were ready, Edith showed us how to pleat the dumpling into a crescent. Chinese dumplings come in many shapes and sizes, and there are many ways to wrap a dumpling. The crescent shape is often used for potstickers, har gow (shrimp dumplings, a famous dim sum classic), and boiled dumplings. Her movements were clear and easy to replicate. And within minutes I made my first ever crescent-shaped dumpling.

Pleats of triumph

Looking at my row of carefully wrapped dumplings, I thought I was making good progress. That was until Edith told us that she would make over a hundred dumplings in one batch, while watching TV!

Part Two: Cooking Demo

While waiting for the water to boil, Edith prepared the dipping sauces for the dumplings and the tofu dish. She also quickly demonstrated how to make the classic century egg and tofu (a common cold dish in Chinese restaurants) on her small, portable kitchen island.

Edith chopping up some century egg goodness

When the water started to boil, Edith popped half our dumplings into the pot and pan-fried the other half to make potstickers, she also took a while to stir fry a bowl of minced meat for the lettuce wraps.

Pan frying potstickers

While Edith waltzed around her narrow kitchen, she continues to chat about how she planned the preparation sequence so she only had to wash the wok once. She also showed off her deep freezers that she used to store her extra produce and dumplings stash.

Part Three: Bon Appetit!

After the one-hour wrapping and cooking session, we settled down around the table and dined to our hearts‘ content. There is a special satisfaction in eating the food made by yourself.

Our creations

Edith taught us how to wrap the minced pork in a lettuce and gobble it in one go. The lettuce wraps are commonly eaten with roasted duck, but considering that it is difficult for foreign guests to find roasted duck back at home, Edith used pork instead so her guests can replicate the same recipe back in their home countries.

Minced pork for the lettuce wraps

Edith popped the century egg and tofu into the fridge and only took them out right before serving. Her special sauce went very well with the refreshing, organic tofu she got for us. Edith topped the dish with a generous amount of chopped spring onions and parsley, putting the sprinkled-on garnishes in Chinese restaurants to shame.

Home-made side dish that puts restaurants to shame

Edith was a very attentive and bubbly host. The lunch session with her was packed with energy and well-paced. I left Edith's place feeling proud that I have mastered the art of wrapping dumplings. I can't wait to show off the skills when I am back at home!

If you love to try out some Canton food at a convenient location, be sure to check out Edith’s Market Tour and Home-cooked Meal Experience the next time you visit Hong Kong!

Photo credits: 1

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