An Ode to Bread…

I walk into the kitchen. The smell fills the air. Warm, like a hug after a long tiring day. Comforting, like a mother’s caress. And I’m home…in the truest sense. Bread is one of those things that isn’t just about the end product, but also about the process, journey, effort and love that go into making it. I’m not talking about the cheap bread that comes in a plastic bag, I’m talking about the real deal. Freshly baked, homemade bread. I recently took a baking class, where I learned how to make various bakery and confectionery items. But my favorite classes were always about bread.

There’s something almost sensual in the way the dough is kneaded. Like you can take flour, yeast, water, sugar, and eggs, and literally dance around with it, while it incorporates into a dough that’s as soft as a baby bottom. It’s not just the hands that are at work while you knead dough, but your entire body. Mentally, you can let go of all your frustration, and embrace the art of patience and love. There is nothing more comforting than the scent of freshly baked bread wafting through the air and teasing your senses. Nothing. Until you taste it. If you get it just right… you can glimpse heaven.

Source:https://adventuresinshaw.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/cheesy-bread-inside-view.jpg

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Reconnecting with my roots…

I’m sitting on the back steps of the house. It’s raining, pouring all around me. As I look out over the fields I can see the brilliant contrast of rural life and modern technology. To my right I see the field, filled with coconut trees and cows grazing, an old fashioned well, almost 60 years old, and on my left a brand new highway. So many changes over the past years, it’s hard to wrap my head around it. And as I sit on those back steps of this house, I know that this may very well be the last time I will ever live here again.

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This week I had a chance to reconnect with my roots, on a trip to my state of origin, Kerala. It is a small coastal state in India, and my family still lives there today. The house? My grandmother’s. One thing I have always admired about her is her fierce independence. It doesn’t hit you in the face immediately, but it’s there. It’s been ten years that she’s been living alone in this house, that’s almost about to disintegrate, with it’s crumbly walls, broken doors and tiled roof. My grandmother always says to eat fast, because there’s all kinds of bugs inside, and they might fall into your food before you can eat it (believe me, I learned that lesson the hard way). But despite all these difficulties it’s our home. And it always will be, because it is a tribute to history, memories, and generations that have grown up here. Even mine. A simple life, with simple people, that’s what village life is to me. Easy.

My grandmother works for the temple, singing a special prayer every day, something only a member of her caste can do, according to ancient tradition. Afterwards, she sits near the ‘sharadi” or the man responsible for making the flower necklaces to adorn the idols in the temple. This is where I have sat, and learned the ancient art of necklace making, a few years ago. The Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple is extremely famous throughout Kerala, something that puts this village on the map. As we head back home after the morning’s work, my grandmother smiles and says to almost everyone passing by, “This is my granddaughter, my daughter’s daughter,” with a smile on her face. I can’t help but smile at that, because another thing about village life: everyone knows EVERYONE.

Source:http://transcontinent.co/images/kodungallur-temple.jpg The Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple, a landmark. It is said that the sixth avatar of Vishnu (Parasurama) created this temple in the wake of terrorization by Daruka, a demon. Eventually he constructed the temple and the goddess killed Daruka. Bhagavathy is believed to be strength. No one really knows when it was made, but it’s been there for centuries.

The house has become difficult to live in. It’s literally breaking down in front of our eyes. She’s tired, and so she has decided to move to a better house, one with more stability. It’s a decision I can respect, but as I sit on those steps in the rain I wonder… will I ever get this again? In this world where skyscrapers and apartment buildings appear within a blink of your eyes, it’s rare to see an old house with huge fields, greenery, and a whole lot of tradition to back it up. In this race for power, status, wealth, and prestige, we sometimes forget our roots, where we come from, and how to appreciate the smaller things in life.

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So this week I reconnected with my roots. I said goodbye to technology of any kind, and embraced the rural life. And it was so worth it. This village won’t ever be the same, and development has hit it hard. This is the story of many villages. It’s helped so many people, but I can’t help but feel that we’ve lost a little tradition along the way.

Memoirs From Malaga (Part 1)…

Day 1 in Malaga

Ah! Costa del Sol finally! Got picked up at the airport by a lovely taxi driver named Santiago (very Spanish!) and managed to get a bit of information out of him. Santiago’s family has been living in Malaga for as long as they can remember. According to Santiago, the tourist season starts in April and goes on until October. Costa del Sol is frequented in the earlier months as it is usually warmer than other areas in Spain. Summer starts around May- June, with temperatures up to 35 degrees.

And I had a chance to use my Spanish consisting of:

  • Hola!
  • Como estas?
  • Muy bien!
  • Como te llamas?
  • Gracias
  • De Nada
  • Adios!
  • And food (nachos, burritos, tacos)

I know. How eloquent. But the point is I was willing to learn some Spanish on this trip.

We were staying in a place called Calahonda, which was smack in the middle of two central places, Fuengirola and Marbella. We were able to get accomodation at the Crown Resorts in an apartment with a kitchen, a view of the beach and two bedrooms. After a quick walk to the local grocery store for essentials we spent the rest of the day relaxing, we had no other choice because the lovely weather had turned into a rainy day pretty quickly. Calahonda is populated with a British crowd and is a tourist hotel spot primarily rather than an authentic Spanish area where locals live. There are quite a few pubs and sports bars, which telecast British soccer and cater to English cuisines. If you want to get to the predominantly Spanish areas however, they are just a bus ride away.

View from the apartment on the first day

View from the apartment on the first day

Martin’s Corner… Martin’s Comfort…. Betalbatim (Goa)

I love places that tell a story. When you walk into a restaurant, while on the outside seeming normal or ordinary, you can always find a unique quirk, something unusual. And I just can’t wait to uncover that story.

My final night in Goa, and I finally visited South Goa’s most famous restaurant, Martin’s Corner. Located in Betalbatim, Martin’s is a place frequented by locals, tourists, and celebrities alike. It’s away from the main road, in what seems to be a regular neighborhood, with residential houses all around. The restaurant was actually started by one woman, Ms. Carafina Pereira, after her husband’s retirement (the places is also named Martin’s in his honor). What started out in 1989 as a couple of tables and chairs, where the local kids could hang out and play caroms, and taxi drivers could eat prawn curry rice while their clients ate at high end restaurants, eventually turned into one of the most famous places to eat in Goa.

Long gone are the days when Martin’s was just tables in the frontyard of a house. It has transformed into a beautiful restuarant. Walking into the place that night, my eyes were arrested by all the lights. Red checkered tablecloth, and wicker chairs, with a live singer and colorful paintings all over the walls… and the bar was set to look just like a tavern with glasses hanging around. One wall is entirely covered with pictures of celebrities who have visited the place over the years. The face that stands out to me most is Sachin Tendulkar, India’s star cricket player. He even has an item on the menu, a king crab dish, in his honor. While Martin’s caters to other cuisines (Chinese and continental), it’s famous for what it started out as… authentic Goan cuisine.

There are tiger prawns, lobsters, crab, shark, and varieties of fish (pomfret, kingfish, snapper, modso, and chonok) in varieties of ways, fried in masala, rava, or butter and garlic. You can also opt for your fish to be served in the Indian tandoori style. But perhaps the most reknowned of all the styles must be the Recheado masala, a Goan spice mix that is a perfect compliment to fish. Martin’s also makes one of their signature dishes, which has been there since the time of its inception, the pork fry.

I kept my meal light, having steamed rice with rava masala fried kingfish. Along with that, I enjoyed a vegetable coconut gravy, similar to Kerala’s kadala curry, with spicy undertones, to counteract the sweetness of the fish. It was divine, the fish was just so fresh I could practically taste the sea with every bite. As I swayed to the music I couldn’t help but think: life was good.

Martin’s has atmosphere… It’s lively, intoxicating, and happening. But more importantly, it’s a tribute to a journey. A journey of hardwork and perserverance. A journey of a woman who created something huge out of something that started out small. And I think that’s a beautiful story…

From the Shacks of Goa…

A few years ago, when I first started living in Bangalore, street food was my ultimate nemesis. My main concerns were hygiene, tastiness, and fear of stomach diseases. I’d heard enough stories by then from friends and relatives about the hazards of street food. However, over the last couple of years, I’ve started to experiment more with food; try different things, and I’m so glad I did, because let me tell you, the best food is in the smallest places.

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Palolem Beach

Sitting on the beach in Goa. The roar of the waves, and a drink in my hand. The ultimate bliss. Goa is famous for its parties, fun-loving lifestyle, beaches and one more important thing. Seafood. Even hard-core vegetarians find themselves tempted and lured in by the promises of varieties of fish, crab, lobster, prawns… you name it, it’s in the shacks of Goa. Sitting on the plastic chair, with my feet buried in the sand, and the wind from the sea blowing at my back, I ask him what the catch of the day is. To my astonishment he brings me the most beautiful red snapper, grilled with masala and smelling beautiful. As I dig in, I can taste the freshness of the fish, moist and melting in my mouth, first with the spiciness, and then sinking into the tanginess of the lemon, leaving my senses tingling. I didn’t leave very much behind. 🙂 These days, some of the shacks specialize in other types of food as well, such as pastas. While this is not their main attraction, I was surprised to find out how tasty it was. A word about what to pick at the shacks: stick to the catch of the day, or grilled items. Try to avoid curries, and the like, they tend not to be as mindblowing. However, if you are adamant to remain vegetarian (in which case you may be missing out) contrary to perceptions, there are quite a few vegetarian options as well, such as pastas, curries, salads, and various starters, typically mainstream Indian food.

Red Snapper: grilled, with french fries and lemon rice

Red Snapper: grilled, with french fries and lemon rice

The reason I can’t name a specific shack in Goa is for one reason. It won’t be there next year. According to a lovely taxi driver who we met, come monsoon season, and the shacks are dismantled. But, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, new ones are resurrected in the coming tourist season.

If you ever happen to be in Goa, I’d say get out of that hotel restaurant and head to the beach to see what you can find. Number one, you will get to experience authentic Goan cuisine, rather than a mashup of all kinds of food (which is what you would find in a commercial hotel) Number two, shacks are right on the beach. You can spend hours with good company, a nice beer and the waves. Some of these shacks, such as the ones located in the Calangute area even give foot massages.

Goa has long been divided into two. North and South, in that the North is full of party people and the South is generally where people go with their families, the more quiet, relaxed side of the state. Having experienced both sides of the state, I’d say the best shacks in South Goa belong to Palolem Beach (Paradise Beach). North Goa has plenty to choose from as well, such as the shacks in Calangute, and Baga, which is actually part of the same stretch of the beach.

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No matter how many times I go to Goa, I can always find something new, something different, and something memorable. This time, I discovered the shacks. It’s true what they say: the best food really does come from the smallest places. The shack isn’t just a food experience though, it’s an experience of the mind, body, and soul. It can bring people together, creating an atmosphere that you will never find anywhere else…

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My Central Perk (Hole Lotta Love, Koramangala)

I have watched, and fell in love with the show F.R.I.E.N.D.S over and over again, alongside most of the world. Being the person I am, my favorite parts of the show have always been the scenes where all of them are sitting in Central Perk, on that same old couch… same coffee… same company… but new memories each time (and of course food food food, because for some reason, whenever I read a book or watch a show, I’m always curious to see what people have eaten) I never thought I’d find myself one of those, until I did.

Hole Lotta Love, Koramangala, is a small cafe, on the road right past the JNC College. It’s quaint, homely, and rustic. My theory is that it used to be a house, and was recently remodeled into a restaurant. As soon as we walked in, we saw it. Our place. In the corner, away from the rest of the restaurant, a huge comfy sofa, next to a bookshelf and some games.

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The best part about this place is that they have no Wifi. In today’s day and age we can’t go a couple of hours without looking at our phone, it was like an escape from the world. And the food. Amazing.

Most of their menu consists of breakfast items: varieties of pancakes, waffles, french toast, eggs, etc. They also have all kinds of burgers and sandwiches.

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Bean Burger

Funky Monkey Waffles- Waffles with banana and chocolate chips

Funky Monkey Waffles- Waffles with banana and chocolate chips

The first thing I ever ordered here was waffles with peanut butter and chocolate cream. I’m the kind of person who gets really really really excited about food, and the anticipation practically kills me. So, as the waiter approached with my meal, I’ll be honest, I was disappointed. But the first bite… It was an intense creaminess, with an undertone of the nutty flavour and a good balance between the sweetness of the chocolate, and the saltiness of the peanut butter and the hot chocolate, while simple, was delicious, warm, and comforting. I fell in love again. That day was especially memorable for so many reasons. Good food, good company, and not just that, but I felt like a kid again, and I think that everyone should have that. Everyone should have a place where they can really feel happy. Their Central Perk. And I think I may have finally found mine.

Waffles with peanut butter and chocolate cream

Waffles with peanut butter and chocolate cream

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French toast stuffed with peaches and cream

Things tried and tasty:

Tomato Basil and Cheese Sandwich

Chocolate Smoothie

Bleu cheese and mushroom sub

Chocolate Peanut butter waffles

Lime and Ginger juice

Hot Chocolate

Banana and chocolate chip waffles

Bean Burger

Things to avoid:

French toast stuffed with peanut butter and banana

Prices range between 60- 350 rupees per item

From India… to Belgium

I hadn’t been to the airport in what feels like a century! I was super excited, as was the rest of my family, except for my dad, which is understandable because he travels roughly between 20- 100 times a year. Of course it took about 2 hours in the luxurious economy on the plane to make me wish that we could have gotten there sooner. The selection of movies on the flight was admirable though. Problems began to arise however, when our little airplane packages turned out to be non-vegetarian. Instead, I was forced to eat undercooked rice and daal had frozen into a block. The airhostesses were extremely gracious about the whole affair, so there’s that. Our stop- over happened in two places, Abu Dhabi and Belgium. It’s safe to say that Belgium was easily the one that I was excited about because

1) I speak French, or at least I learned it while I was in school so that ought to count for something.

2) It’s Europe! That would be the first time I ever set foot on European soil. I have a great fascination, or should I say OBSESSION with European culture.

3) Cute people with even cuter accents. Enough said.

When we landed in Belgium there was nothing I could do to contain my excitement. Everywhere was French! The announcements were in French, the people spoke French, and it was amazing. Really. We stopped at this little café for a late breakfast (I think it was breakfast. I had no idea of time once I zonked out on the plane). Waffles with extra whipped cream and coffee…I even tried a hand at French, and it turned out to be successful! As in, the pleasant waiter gave me extra whipped cream. .. and these little ginger biscuits that were full of spice… divine! The Indian in me was especially thrilled to see that they were free!

While we did stay in Belgium a night, there was hardly time for sightseeing, and while that pinched me a little, it somehow didn’t seem so bad, considering the most famous thing about Belgium (non-food related of course) was a statue of a little boy peeing. Apart from that though, I was able to get in waffles, and of course the all time famous Belgian chocolates. A word about the chocolates: they are more expensive that most other chocolates but worth every penny! People recommended buying it outside the airport, but we didn’t have the time.

Traditional Belgian Chocolate Source: http://www.myfeetaremeanttoroam.com

Another thing Belgium is famous for is a beer called kwak. It’s said that when you enter a pub and order a quack you have to leave your shoe behind, because the glasses are unique and people tend to steal them and/or break them. Once you return the glass you get your shoe back. Best part is, Belgium’s legal drinking age is 16 🙂