Wednesday, 26 January 2011

India adventure part 2

We arrived in the coastal state of Kerala on Tuesday evening after a fairly painless flight from Delhi. We managed to share taxi with a German couple from Frankfurt, to the Fort Kochi area where we wanted to stay. When we all got out of the car one and an half hours later there was a scene to be seen! A marching political parade. There were drummers and elephants and literally a fair few hundred people holding flags and walking in line. We fought our way through this crowd after some hellos and waves and took the short ferry ride across the water for 2.5 Rupees which is around 3p.

Surprisingly most of the hotels and home stays had very Christian references and we realised we were in a heavily Catholic area, probably developed from the Portuguese influences. We settled in Green Woods Bethlehem with the lovely Sheeba and her husband, who fussed over us from the word go. We were taken upstairs for tea and fruit and the very green and warm surroundings on the roof were more like the India I had been dreaming of. No hassling tuk tuks and touts only green palm trees, bamboo roofs and jungle book noises. The south of India is much more to my liking.

For breakfast we were served more delicious fresh pineapple, sweet banana and a huge slice of sponge cake. I could not put my finger on the taste  but I knew I had had something similar before, so I asked Sheeba for the recipe, which she gave me off the top of her head. The secret ingredient was yogurt!  Of course! I used to make a yogurt cake when I was growing up and this is what I as trying to remember.

We headed out into Fort Cochi and Sheeba's husband recommended that we visit the Chinese fishing nets. These were some amazing structures on the north coast and there were half a dozen slowly lowered into the fairly polluted sea and then heaved back out. There were not many fish being caught. We were ushered onto one of the huge nets and the crew thrust a couple of live fish in our faces, then a rope each for us to pull. We hauled the net out the water and eagerly awaited our catch, but there were about 3 small mullets in the bottom. Not great.

Along the same road there were a number of fishmongers selling baby sharks, huge king prawns, fish and squid. We plucked for two very large blue scampi and a couple of squid. We paid and then a man took us down the road to his restaurant to cook them up with some ginger on the grill.

He also allowed us to watch as he cleaned and prepared the shellfish, and literally ripped the skin off the squid. The kitchen area was certainly not up to any kind of standard, with a cat eagerly waiting to catch any tip bits from the floor. Luckily, we could see the food was fresh and piping hot when we were served it fresh from the grill and we tucked in with some lemon rice.


Indian Adventure

Well we arrived in India just over two weeks ago for the second leg of our extended holiday from work. So far we have had a wonderful time exploring Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in the north and are looking forward to heading to Jaipur this evening.

Both Tom and I are serious curry lovers and we were both very excited about the prospect of eating it and some new tasty treats everyday, but as is to be expected this did diminish very quickly and we have been pleased for the odd pizza, or Chinese dish instead which are very readily available in most of the tourist restaurants.

One thing which has struck our attention are the signs commonly displayed in restaurants asking patrons not to spit. There are certainly some rotten looking places, especially the butchers and canteen style huts where twenty or so Indian men wait to be served a huge portion of rice and veg on a paper plate. Rubbish surrounds most of these stalls and a fair few dogs and rats too. Needless to say we have stuck mainly to restaurants in the guide book.

I want to fill you in on one or two of the best food experiences so far, so I will start with our first thali lunch. We had this is a small restaurant in Mumbai called 'Anubhav'. We were ushered into a back room which turned out to be the air-con area, although it was not that roasting hot and I was surprised to find that this room was filled with only men, indeed was the entire restaurant but I don't think I was too bothered by this as none of them seemed to be, although I could feel a fair few inquisitive stares to my left.

The thali lunch is a platter of small curry dishes including dhal, soup, bean curry and other curried vegetables, served with a small roti bread and lastly a portion of rice to soak up the left overs. These were widely available all over the city and were very tasty and filling and cheap too.

When the waiter brought us our bill, there was a small dish of colourful mixed grains. We had no idea what to do with it but the man gestured to take a spoon full which we did and my GOD!! It was like eating a scented Christmas candle. The sugar shells were filled with aniseed and cumin grains and incredibly once the initial shock had subsided, there was a refreshed pallet waiting to emerge!

The second amazing discovery, was a masala dosa. I have never had one before, but it was delicious. A large very thin and crisp savoury pancake filled with curried vegetables and potato and served with a masala sauce.  We ate this on an evening in Mumbai and enjoyed it immensely. We went back to the same restaurant the next morning for breakfast and as the owners recognised our loyalty we got into a lively conversation about cricket, well I kind of smiled and nodded while Tom and about 15 waiters jested!

After leaving Mumbai we headed north on the train to Ahmedabad. We tried some of the food which was served by a man shouting up and down the train and it was ok, pretty grim actually- a very oily curry and a couple of soggy chapatis. When Tom had finished his he went into the vestibule to ask where to put his rubbish and the man told him to throw it out the train. He was of course shocked but the man stood there staring at him, and I imagine him making a small wimpering sound as he dropped it out the door. I later went out and put mine in the bin in the hall!

We also had an amazing treat in Ahmedabad. We didn't really like the city due to the very narrow streets filled to the brim with pollution spewing rickshaws. Plus, I think there were very few tourists who visited the area so we seemed to be stared at a bit, sometime in a sinister way but mainly pure curiosity.
We managed to find the one haven, where I think every other western person was hiding in the heritage home of a local family 'House of MG'. It had been turned into a very fancy hotel, and we decided to treat ourselves to a rooftop dinner, hoping we would escape the noise and fumes.

We had a literally divine pumpkin soup served in a rustic mug and some couscous cumin starters along with samosas served on a plate made from molded leaves.

Our eating hands were washed by a man with a pewter water jug and we were then politely and quietly served our thali dishes one by one. It was all very civil and we felt as though we were back in the colonial period when we were each given a single rose flower. We felt a little overwhelmed, but then the ice was broken by one of the candle lamps spontaneously smashing on an empty table.

It was truly lovely though and made us feel slightly less grotty after a rough day.

More to come.....

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

ho ho ho

What a marvelous Christmas this has been, I really enjoyed spending time with friends and family and managed to chow through three Christmas dinners a salmon and leek pie and a fair few left over buffets! Good job I am going to be lugging my backpack around India for the next month so that I can burn off a couple of thousand calories!

On Christmas day, we all worked hard (well mainly my Mum and Nana) to prepare a perfect roast, although my Mum had ordered a large and strangely male chicken for the meat eaters and I had a breaded Quorn burger which was exactly what I wanted. I <3 Quorn the vegetarian roast dinner saviour!

Laid out on my Grandmother's best tableware was a feast of sprouts, swede and carrot mash, roasted rosemary potatoes, leeks in white sauce, cranberry sauce, gravy and best of all two kinds of stuffing, sage and onion and chesnut and cranberry both homemade might I add! Stuffing is my favourite part of a traditional roast, and my mum's is absolutely amazing! We whizz up about 4 slices of bead into bread crumbs, add some little knobs of butter, a large teaspoon of sage, one large chopped up onion and 1 egg plus some warm water to bind the whole lot together. We then bake the mixture in a heat proof dish in the oven for about 25 mins.

Mum and Nana ready to eat!

Me and Victoria

My wonderfully tasty Christmas lunch.

On top of that there was the usual evening buffet for the utterly disgraceful, and we ate lunch left overs and a multitude of cheese. This year I made some homemade onion marmalade. I cut up an entire 2lb bag of red onions, cooked them in butter and added brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and syrup and salt and pepper to taste, oh and dashings of red wine to reduce! This keeps for ages in a sealed jar and goes so well with a cheese board that no one should be without it at Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year for 2011