Category Archives: India

Delicious India

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Well, we got home to Adelaide after 4 fabulous weeks away. I promised a blog about some of the fabulous food we ate on our way around India and Malaysia so here we go. Some pictures may already have been used in other posts.

First day in Delhi we spent with the lovely Lachan, an Autorickshaw driver who dropped us off at a restaurant in New Delhi. We has some naan bread, a chana (chick pea) masala and an eggplant and potato dish. We were pretty amazed at how fresh the naan bread was everywhere we had it.

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On day two we ate from a street cart in Old Delhi near the Red Fort and Bazaar area. It was surrounded by local tuk-tuk and cycle rickshaw drivers. The cook was preparing each bit of chapati bread freshly. He looked clean as did the customers. The dish was a simple, spicy Dahl with a bit of onion and pickled vegetables. And that bread, freshly rolled out then dropped in oil till it puffed and browned. Then it was cooled a minute on some paper and served.

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A yoghurt is a big part of the diet in India and was readily available in most places we travelled. A Lassi is a slightly sweetened yoghurt drink, sometimes blended with fruit and sometimes plain. I found it a nice filler during the day between meals or instead of dinner if we’d had a late lunch.

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The food at an eatery inside the bazaar costs about ten times more than that prepared on the street carts and is only slightly more substantial. Both were very cheap. The equivalent of about 12 cents on the street and about $1 inside the bazaar. It’s was a little more filling and the bread was a paratha, filled with veggies and cooked on a hot plate rather than in oil.

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In the small town of Orchha we spend a few hours doing a cooking demonstration with the wonderful Vandana. This charming and industrious woman has taken her passion for cooking and made a business of it. She contributes to her family income and also employs her sister-in-law sometimes as a kitchen helper. We helped with some peeling and chopping too.

The dishes prepared and eater were all vegetarian. Cumin potatoes with spinach, eggplant, dahl, biryani, homemade chapatti bread and a spicy dipping sauce and crunchy veggies.

We also learned how to make proper Masala Chai. It was great in India and I hope next winter to brew up our own batch from time to time as Vandana provided us with a copy of all the recipes!

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Ten of our 20 days in India were spent with a small group from Intrepid Travel. On our final night together we had a feast of vegetarian dishes, rice, bread and Butter Chicken.

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Beer and a Paneer (like a firm cottage cheese or haloumi cheese) tikka masala are perfect partners in Mumbai’s humidity. One night we has the same with chicken instead of Paneer.

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One of the few meat meals we ate was at a shish kebab joint in Mumbai where the meat is cooked outside on skewers over coal and the bread rolled out and cooked over the bottom of a wok-like pan. The bread is called a rumali roti and is delicious and pliable for grabbing the meat and dipping in the plate of spicy sauces and raw onion. And did I mention it was dirt cheap?

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In Udaipur we had some memorable meals but the afternoon snack of beer and pakoras was a real treat from the rooftop of our hotel, sitting alongside the refreshing pool and looking over the lake and the town. The ones pictured are mixed veggie on one plate and Paneer on the other.

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I have already sung the praises of a Parsi restaurant in Mumbai called Brittania where we were served by the original owner’s son, Boman Kohinoor. Boman is a charming and chatty 80-something year old. Here we ate a wonderfully tasty and zingy Berry Pulau with Chicken. Desert was a perfect caramel custard.

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Somewhere along the way we has garlic naan bread that was literally studded with garlic. There was enough here to keep a heap of vampires away!

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I urge you to go to India at least once in your life. Don’t have too many notions about how it will be. Also don’t go expecting a relaxed and luxurious holiday. India is a fabulous, mixed up, noisy and thoroughly visceral experience that will amaze you at every bend in the road!

Cheers!

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Mumbai Part 2

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I have really not said enough about the wonderful food we ate in India. In Mumbai you can get just anything from pizza to veggie burgers and all of the Indian regional specialties.

One of our favorite meals was on our last day. I had read about a Parsi restaurant (Parsi people came from Persia many years ago) with the unlikely name of Brittania founded in 1926. Their specialty is a Berry Pulau with barberries imported from Iran. The founder’s son is an octogenarian who takes your order and poses for a picture with you if you like. He speaks perfect English and is so sweet.

We also enjoyed a few snacks and beers at the famous Leopold’s cafe and ate Shishkebab and Rumali Roti at a place called Bademiya where everything is cooked on coals out front in the street. Due to technical difficulty I can’t upload any of Roo’s photos from Bademiya’s.

Here are some snaps I could get!

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Berry Pulau

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Caramel custard

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Paneer tikka masala

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Drinks at Leopold’s Cafe

Mumbai Part 1

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Mumbai, Bombay, call it what you will. The locals still call it Bombay. Perhaps because it’s sited on a long narrow peninsula, the tourist areas are near enough to the water to get a cooling breeze. This means it’s less smoggy than Delhi. The air feels much cleaner and the skies are bluer.

Even the traffic seems more orderly and actually stops for red lights. There are no tuk-tuks downtown so none of the incessant honking. I really like it here. Dare I say, I could live here.

We spent a few hours on our first day getting oriented with a driver, going to some of the sites in the Fort and Churchgate areas as well as Colaba where we are staying. Our guy Raj took us to the Dhobie Ghat, a shanty-town looking neighborhood where everyone is involved,in the business of laundry. It was the most incredible sight seeing all of the people scrubbing and beating and wringing and hanging the laundry for clients from the local tour guide to the big hotel chains. There were ironing rooms and big industrial spinners and kids and cats and grannies. A real community affair.

Next day we hopped a ferry to Elephanta Island to visit the caves there which are dedicated to Shiva. They date back to about 600-635AD and were listed by UNESCO as World Heritage in 1987. The main cave is an excavation of about 40 meters square (about 130 square ft) and is supported by massive pillars with fluted columns topped by bulging cushion-like top bits (technical term!). There were monkeys about the place, romping and preening and stealing packs of chips off small children. Cheeky monkeys…

Here are some pics from our first two days:

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At the big laundry – acres of drying clothes

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Fishing boats

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The main cave with huge pillars

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Pillar with Ganesh carving

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Big Shiva head and carved dancers

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Preening monkeys

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Religious and other icons for sale

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Enjoying a fresh lime and soda water (which may or may not have contained gin) at the end of a hot day

Back in Rajistan

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I often comment when traveling that I could live in the place I am visiting. In the first two weeks in India, there were many places I liked, but it wasn’t until I reached Udaipur on Lake Pichola in southern Rajastan, that I actually uttered the words.

The white city is full of winding lanes and beautiful shops with textiles and miniature paintings depicting lovely landscapes, religious icons and animals. The elephant, horse and camel were most common as well as the occasional tiger or peacock.

Most of the main sights are walking distance and the city is much more walkable than other cities we have visited. As much as we have enjoyed the cycle rickshaws and tuk-tuks it was nice to use our own steam.

We spend a long afternoon in the City Palace meandering the labyrinthine hallways and beautiful courtyards. Later we hit the water for a ferry ride that stops at Jagmandir Island where you can stroll the park-like grounds of a little hotel and get some photos looking back to the mainland.

Warning: this place is thoroughly addictive.

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Painted wall panel, City Palace

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Little window

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The City Palace carrier pigeons had a reasonable standard of accommodation

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A cool courtyard for a hot Rajistan climate

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A entryway to the palace with glass roof decorations

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Can you see me in the palace mirror?

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Looking out from the palace to the lake and city below

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Ghat near the footbridge. All sorts of things go on here besides just laundry.

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View of al fresco dining at Ambrai. We had a lovely evening meal there one evening, sitting right on the corner with a great view.

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Welcoming elephants at the hotel on Jagmandir Island

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Looking back at the City Palace from the ferry on a perfect Udaipur day

Fast paced Varanasi

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They say people either love it or hate it. But I’m not so sure about that. Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world and it has definitely seen better days. It has sights and sounds like no other place in India. It is a pilgrimage site for millions, it throbs with life and death and is right in your face. Th pace is slightly slower on water but even there, as soon as the boats pull together to view the ceremonies at the various ghats, the touts get onboard trying to sell you something.

We went on the river at sunrise and at sunset to see the Hindu faithful making prayers and devotions. And we visited a Buddhist Stupa and temple at Saranath about 10 Kilometres away.

Here are a few of the images that we captured.

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Ganges boat and offerings of flowers

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Roo contemplating the ghats (steps leading to river)

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The ghats in the mist

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Roo captured this example of fan-forced cooking

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Kids jump on and go boat to boat selling trinkets and flower offerings to tourists

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The Buddhist stupa at Saranath

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Devotees in meditation at Saranath

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A monk with his Blackberry

Orchha to Khajuraho

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The small town of Orchha is a quiet respite from the noise and pollution of the bigger cities in the north. After Agra, Orchha was a soothing balm. Plenty to see but not much traffic, nor too many touts. Our accommodation was a heritage property with lovely grounds, alongside a wide rocky river.

One day we went to a fortified palace in the morning then attended the evening service at a Hindu temple. Next day we went to see the old cenotaphs along the river, built to commemorate the dead. And we briefly walked through an abandoned Hindu temple.

In Khajuraho we spent a few hours wandering the large park-like grounds of the western group of temples famous for their erotic carvings before an overnight sleeper train to Varanassi.

Here are some images.

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The fortified castle: depiction of a battle with the British

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Colorful house and coke sign

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Colorful house

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Cenotaphs at sunset

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Cenotaph in the morning

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Even Ganesh gets in on the action at Khajuraho

Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal

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For many people, visiting the Taj Mahal is the highlight of a trip to India. Well, it certainly does not disappoint. We visited on Saturday which was crowded as! We were there late in the day so we got to see the sunset and the lovely pastel shades of the winter sun.

Winter is very mild here, ranging from a few chilly mornings of maybe 12 degrees Celsius through to days in the low 30s. It’s not too hot though as the climate at this time of year is very dry.

Before we went to the Taj Mahal we spend some time at the Agra Fort and it was quite impressive.

Pictures of both follow.

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Our animated guide who took us through the fort at Agra

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Inlaid semi-precious stones

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A beautiful clear day for the Taj Mahal

Rickshaws, bazaars and chapatis

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We have moved on from Delhi to Jaipur, the pink city where is is deemed that all the houses in the old city must retain a facade of pale terracotta pink.

Delhi was intense, but there is something more earthy here in Jaipur. More animals (holy cow) roaming the streets, less cars, more motorcycles and cycle rickshaws, dirtier streets. But colours and cooking aromas abound. We went to see a Bollywood movie and had a walk around the bazaar and, of course, a cycle richshaw ride.

The food here is truly wonderful and we have sampled many dishes. Our current favourite is the vegetable kofta curry, balls of veggies bound with potato.

Jaipur is the capitol of Rajistan and the state is famous for the whirl of colours. Outside the old city there are spectacularly colored houses and women in the brightest saris possible.

This is truly some experience.

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Delhi day one

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Well, we got in Sunday night late – about 1145 or so by the time we got to our room. We had been warned of scams at the airport where taxi drivers tell you that you can’t got to Hotel X because it burned down yesterday, or where they say they will call to confirm before taking you to your nominated hotel and they are actually calling a fellow scammer who says that they have no reservation. All to get the driver a meager commission for taking you to their cousin’s or friends establishment. So we pre-booked a pickup with our hotel. It is not salubrious, but it is fine for a few days of sightseeing and in the Karol Bagh neighborhood near two metro stations.

We had a nice sleep in, then an included breakfast. Eggs, potatoes, paratha bread and more were on offer. There was a selection of hot and spicy looking dishes that I could not identify. An Indian man seated next to us was showing around a travel writer from NY and chatted with us when the writer left the dining room. He had a cauliflower filled paratha bread on a plate that the kitchen had just served to him. He asked if we wanted to try some so we did. It was divine. Freshly made flat bread cooked on a hot plate. The raw cauliflower inside is finely chopped up so as to almost be a paste once all warmed through. The whole thing was simple and savory and peppery. Much better than the rather cardboard-like variety on breakfast buffet!

We headed out after brekky, ready to attempt the metro and go to the Red Fort. It’s probably just a few hundred meters to the metro station so we made our way through the local neighborhood which is short on footpath but big on construction hazards, taxis, motorcycles, cycle-rickshaws and auto-rickshaws. One driver had stopped and was outside of his vehicle and greeted us. We were wary of being scammed but he turned out to be a nice guy with good English. We chatted and he told us that the Red Fort was closed on Mondays and he could suggest other places we might want to visit. As we had a few in mind and mentioned them, I guess he figured we were somewhat prepared.

We agreed a price for Humayun’s Tomb and headed that way through the throng of traffic with our new best friend Lakhan. He really is a good driver and decent bloke with whom we ended up spending the rest of the day going on to an Arts India craft workshop, lunch, then India Gate. While discussing our day sitting in the back of the rickshaw, Lakhan spotted the tea boy. So, I had my first chai on the street today and it was nothing like the frothy, sickly sweet blend of stuff I have tasted in Australia and elsewhere. It was just black tea with sweetened condensed milk. It was sweet, yes, but not all fussed up with cardamon and vanilla and frothed milk. This was simple and warming and shared with our charming driver Lakhan – just sitting in the parking area of India Gate surrounded by the touts and the teenagers and the family groups and vendors. It was a lovely moment of peace in little plastic cup.

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Above: External window at tomb

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Above: Foyer doorway at tomb

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Above: at India Gate there were many sellers of snack food. This was grilled spiced sweet potato with sliced star fruit and lime juice, a winter treat on the streets of Delhi. We had just eaten so missed out.

Eye on India

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Just a week and two days from now and we will be experiencing the delights of Delhi.

Research makes me hungry. Been looking at pictures of the spice market and imagining all the meals we are going to eat.

We have an old map and travel documents folder that evoke Old Delhi. But there’s New Delhi and Ancient Delhi and I want to see it all.

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