Month April 2019

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Eat like the locals in Portugal!

Slow travel through the country of red roofs

In 2015, I took a holiday to Portugal. It will always stay with me as I quite simply enjoyed a slice of Portuguese life. I didn’t travel around ticking off things on a check list but took it slow and explored the food, culture, history and music like the locals would. To put my whole two weeks of food in Portugal, into one blog post, may not be doing it justice. With this piece I want to get you to eat like the locals in Portugal!

Always on a food trail

While travelling, the food of the country is integral to the experience for me.Hence, important for me to eat like the locals! Portugal is a meat lover’s paradise, the smells and tastes all much lighter and juicier than India. In Portugal it is more about the cuts of meat or fish than the spice. It is about the taste sneaking up on you rather than something you cannot miss- in one word ‘understated’ a trait that I think is wholly European.

My Portuguese welcome!

I was lucky to have a friend who was based in Lisbon, who I could travel a with. Mark is born and raised Indian, however, I feel he is someone who is versatile. Not because he knows the history and facts of the place better than most of us, which is true, but because he has a heart that connects. After travelling with him to different countries, I realise he has a genuine ability to fit in rather than stand out. This makes people more open and brings to your table new experiences. When locals know you are there to soak it in and not to analyse or compare they become your friend.

If you miss The Pastel de Nata, what did you eat in Portugal. The Portuguese love their sweets and this is their most important one.
The Pastel de Nata

But coming back to the food. As soon as I landed Mark gave me the Portuguese welcome. I started my culinary adventure with ‘Pastel De Nata’ the most important sweet of Portugal. And the Portuguese love their sweets! They start off their day with different cakes and strong coffee. The ‘Pastel De Nata’ is a Portuguese egg tart pastry. Having a sweet tooth, it didn’t take too much to convince me, to try this and the other Portuguese sweets for breakfast.

Agape in Portugal!

As I started my journey, I travelled with a group that was from around the world. We had Mark’s flatmates who were originally from different islands near Portugal, and two German girls who were backpackers. All of them students on various forms of break, meant my travel was quite budget. And therefore we were definitely watching what the locals were eating. 

The best place for local cuisine in Lisbon, are places called ‘Tashka’s, equivalent to our local Udupi joints. Found on every corner, Tashka’s are basic places with affordable, authentic, food. You can even stand at the counter top and have a meal for half the price of being served at the table! Also beware about eating the accompaniments like bread and butter that come to your table. They are charged for and the waiter will not tell you. You may start missing the Indian service after this.

The Beef Bitoque  is eaten on a daily basis by the locals in Portugal
Beef Bitoque: The rice hides a bed of beef

For my first dinner in Portugal I tried ‘Beef Bitoque’. The dish consists of rice, veggies and potatoes with a nice beef steak at the bottom, commonly eaten by the locals. The Portuguese eat veggies and potatoes with everything. As we went through our culinary journey we had ‘Bacalhau’ or the salty codfish which is the national fish of Portugal, an acquired taste (I didn’t acquire it!). I tasted the Alheira which is a type of Portuguese sausage, made with meats other than pork usually vealduckchickenquail or rabbit and bread.

More local dishes to try

I also tried the Fibras do porco or Pork fillet again accompanied with rice, veggies and potatoes. Not to forget the beef burger buns to eat on the go. They were so good and as cheap as two Euros. An equivalent back home, would be Frankie’s but of course sans the masala. These burgers are smaller and the bread is like our local ‘pav’. The cool part I discovered, you will find guys selling them late at night, in the party district, once the pubs close down and people are heading back home. It definitely makes a perfect midnight snack!

Some special Portuguese dishes!

Carne de Porco a Alentejana is pork with clams Alentejo style. The sublime combination works making it a meal highlight.
Carne de Porco a Alentejana

One day when the students were exploring on their own and we were feeling quite rich, we tried the most delicious Carne de Porco à Alentejana. We ate this at a beautiful outdoor café in downtown Lisbon that had views of the city. Literally translated the dish is Pork with Clams Alentejo Style (this means coming from the Alentejo region). I could never think of that combination. But it certainly does work! Lightly flavoured but succulent pork, with fresh clams that seemed to be just picked, this was definitely a meal highlight.

 Portugal's famous Chorizo Assado a pork dish , with a smokey and peppery flavour.This dish should not be missed.
Chorizo Assado

And of course you cannot leave without tasting the Chorizo Assado, not to be missed, when in Portugal! The Pork sausage is cooked with spirit, and comes to your table with the flames rising up. This gives it a smokey effect, definitely improving the flavour. Peppery and flavoursome, we ate it at an outdoor garden area, at the LX factory accompanied by Portuguese beer, which was indeed a fitting end to my sojourn through the country. I am certain that anyone who wants an authentic dining experience in Portugal can start with these dishes. I hope I get to go back some day to explore some more. Viva Portugal!

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Take a Heritage walk in Mumbai city

Mumbai heritage buildings are largely in Art Deco style. These buildings can be seen around Fort and Marine Drive
The Art Deco buildings at Marine Drive
  1. The Taj Mahal hotel in South Mumbai has an image trademark for the design of its building.
  2. The Rajabai Tower modelled after the Big Ben in England, was added to the World Heritage Sites in 2018. As the story goes, construction of the tower was donated by Premchand Roychand a prosperous broker. It was for his blind mother (and her eponym) and the chiming of the clock tower made her aware of the time.
  3. There are two prominent style of buildings in South Mumbai, Art Deco and Victorian style. Eros and Regal, the last remaining single screen theatres, are built in Art Deco style.

These are just few of the details we learnt on Mumbai heritage, one weekend this April on a Khaki Tour. All thanks to my friend Gargee a history buff and someone who conducts her own walks in Mumbai (stay tuned for details). She wanted a birthday gift we could experience together. 

Why is heritage important

Heritage of a city provides it with an identity and a way of remembering. Hence it is good to know that there are many heritage buildings in Mumbai that are UNESCO protected. It is my hope that my grandchildren will see them one day.

As an Indian, the attacks we have had on our monuments and people, has established that we are living on borrowed time. We need to treasure what we have around us. More importantly we need to make the right choices that we may live in a more equitable world. In Mumbai, itself we are spending crores on structures in the middle of the sea. I think it is more important to use that money to preserve our marine resources. Monuments should not define a generation or be a tick off your bucket list.

Bombay Vintage 

We ended our day quite serendipitously at a place that was serving Mumbai fare. Bombay Vintage a restaurant that as the name suggests, serves dishes from different Indian communities. Since we had a friend observing lent we tried both the veg and non-veg options at this restaurant. While the dishes maybe similar to the fare in Indian kitchens the prices are not. They are normal Mumbai rates which would be approximately 1500 Rs. per head with drinks.

Experiencing Mumbai through its food

Vagerla Channa is a spicy Gujarati style salad, an ode to the business community in Mumbai
The Vagarela Channa Salad

For starters, we had Vagarela Channa(type of legume) SaladGujarathi style– with channa dal, raw mango tempering. This was as Chatpata (Spicy) as the city of Mumbai and just as tasty.

Malabari syro beef fry tempered with curry leaf and roasted coconut is not to be missed
Malabari syro beef fry

We also went with the Mouthwatering Malabari syro beef fry: Roast beef tempered with curry leaf and roasted coconut. This particular recipe is a Syrian Christian invention and it did not disappoint

Parsi Jardalu Salli Boti dish is part of Mumbai heritage along with Mumbai's buildings
The famous Jardalu Salli Boti

For the mains, we had Jardalu Salli Boti(Mutton and apricot with potato sticks),which was apt for the evening given that it Is a famous Parsi dish. On our tour, we received an education about the Tata buildings. This included the exclusively European hotel that Mr. JRD Tata was denied entry to because he was Indian. Story goes that it was this incident that prompted him to build the famous Taj group of hotels. Similarly, we also saw buildings built by the wealthy Parsi Mr. ReadyMoney as well. Parsi seemed to be flavor of the evening.

The Bharli Vangi is a traditional Maharastrian dish and quite tasty
The Bharli Vangi from the Konkan coast

Bharli Vangi (Stuffed Brinjal): Traditional Konkan stuffed eggplant dish cooked in a spiced peanut sauce. However, Gargee who is from the Konkan coast felt that the dish was not true to the recipe but tasty nonetheless.

As a Mumbaikar (native of Mumbai) I love the fact that I am from one of the most cosmopolitan cities in India and feel grateful to be born here where my accessibility and mobility is high. Still I do not want to take for granted the metamorphosis this city undergoes, because tomorrow it may not land on its feet. Hence I hope that this article encourages more people to take an interest in Mumbai heritage and support its preservation. Though it should not be at the sake of the resources themselves. 

Pro tip:Khaki Tours open bus tours is great for travelling with the elderly. As compared to walking tours, it is a pleasant drive around, on top of the bus, even in summer.

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Have an authentic shopping experience in Kutch

The pretty Hiralal Memorial Craft Park (shopping complex) at Bhujodi
The pretty Hiralaxmi Memorial Craft Park (shopping complex)

Recently we had an authentic shopping experience that I am excited to recount. In Feb, this year we visited the Rann of Kutch and shopped for handicrafts. Located in Kutch in Gujarat it is a hotbed of handmade products like jewelry, home furnishing, kurtas etc. The best part is that you can buy directly from the artisans. If you read my previous blog you will know that we lived in Hodka village and bought our goods locally. We also bought products from Hiralaxmi Memorial Craft Park,the Handicraft center, in Bhujodi that sources products from all over Gujarat. 

The friendly villagers and artisans of Hodka village where we bought handicrafts
The little artists of Hodka village

Gujarati hospitality is legendary, hence In Hodka, where we were staying, the entire village came to show us their products. The children were especially cute. We were set up in one of the villager’s house, in traditional ‘Bhunga’ style and sitting on a charpoy, we could choose from all the products. The villagers offered us tea (which many small businesses across India do) and were made to feel at home. While the artisans maybe exposed to people from all over the world it was refreshing to buy from them. 

Can you put a price tag on art?

I was in awe of the handwork. The local women wear long tunics and skirts completely covered in hand embroidery and mirror work. To say that they are talented is an understatement. 

The colourful handicrafts on display at Hodka village
The colorful handicrafts on display

Apparently, you can put a price tag on art. Here I have a small anecdote to share: The villagers offered us silver jewellery to buy. It was not real silver, however the design was unique. I was pushing my friends not to bargain as I was 100% sure you would not get the same design in Mumbai. I was promptly ejected out of the room. Tell me what would you do in my place?

Handicrafts to buy in Kutch: 

Ladies and gents, while this is not an extensive list, we have you covered. By a quorum of 4 we have divided the products into must buys and optional things you can pick up:

The diverse handicrafts of Kutch
The beautiful handicrafts of Kutch on display

MUST BUYS

Mashru Shawls: The Mashru Shawls look smart and are versatile to wear for different occasions. Besides, Mashru fabric is made of silk and cotton making it appropriate for summer . Available at Bhujodi

Furnishings: One can pick up Bed covers/Pillow covers/Table cloths/ wall hangings all with lovely Indian motifs in good quality cotton.However, beware, one of us tried to wash the bed covers and the color ran.

Khadi material for the boys: The Khadi material store at Bhujodi had affordable material that was also great for the summer. We bought it for one of our fathers and he stitched it into a kurta.

Silver Jewelry:The silver jewelry designs are unique tribal designs and worth the buy just for that. We bought from Hodka village and bargained hard for them.

Bird Whistles: These are available in clay/ceramic and make eccentric gifts. Dip them in water and then use them and it will sound like the chirping of birds. These products were only available at the Rann Utsav.

OPTIONAL BUYS:

Gujarati Shawls: These are in distinct Gujarati style, if you have too many shawls, you can give these a pass.

Handmade toys: We picked up handmade cloth toys like camels and horses that make great gifts for children

Bead work jewelry: Made by the young girls in the village, some of the styles were quite funky . Hence, I had to buy them.

Copper Décor:I picked up a copper wind chime (pictured) from Bhujodi. It was atleast 80% less than what it would cost in Mumbai. It’s currently hanging in my balcony.

Whenever I visit a new place I always search about what things I can buy. It adds to the anticipation of the trip. I would highly recommend the experience of buying directly from the village. But whether you buy or not the whole experience is priceless.

Pro tip:You can bargain. However even at MRP all the products we bought were atleast 50% less than what we would buy from online/Mumbai.

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Take a road trip with ‘Tripling’

Us on a road trip a long time back, Tripling making me very nostalgic.
One of the many road trips taken with friends over the years

Roadtrips as part of growing up

Growing up I took many roadtrips with friends. Once I remember we visited Lonavla, during the monsoon. We ran into these gorgeous guys from the National Defence Academy (NDA), who sadly we never met again. But the weather was beautiful and that lifted our spirits. But this trip is one we keep talking about. Because our friendship was cemented at that moment and many moments later, on similar trips, with nothing but the road and the radio to accompany us. This shared experience continues to connect us many years later.

Indian stories have compelling content

There is no wonder then that one of my feel good shows for the summer is TVF’s ‘Tripling’. Set to the backdrop of a roadtrip the show follows the lives of 3 siblings, Chandan, Chanchal and Chitwan as they navigate life together and in the process, find themselves. They do this mostly while driving around in their car. 

For some background, when streaming platforms came to India, they recognized that there was a market for regional language content. Indian writers were soon developing good content.And my first introduction, was through ‘Tripling’. There is a reason why this is my first tryst with Indian writing for a web series. 

Akarsh (The Tripling writer) has been expanding my cultural universe since a decade. I know him as the easy going fellow who always sees humor in situations, has cool friends and has married my Parsi bestie.  I have a feeling though, going on a road trip with Akarsh would be a little like the series 😉 

Why you need to watch Tripling

But the point is I would want a real-life road trip like this. Always some action, drama and romance. Also, who doesn’t love roadtrips that feature our gorgeous country?  The second season of Tripling travels to Kolkata and Sikkim, just to name a few of the places. And don’t we all talk about taking roadtrips with family and friends. It’s the stuff that dreams are made off.

Its a new season of Tripling

While the first season had the siblings travelling together to meet their parents, with all possible madness ensuing. The second season that released this April is equally hilarious. The trio set out to find Chanchal’s husband who has mysteriously disappeared. It is nice to see the characters getting fleshed out in the second season.Of course, it cannot be as simple as that. I don’t want to give away too much information, but, go watch it. It’s an engaging, slice of life series with exaggerated twists and funny dialogues.

Kudos to the writer duo for tapping into the memories and magic that roadtrips evoke. Sometimes all it takes is the open road and your people for everything to make sense again.

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Alluring Rann of Kutch

Rann of Kutch salt pans
The great white desert

After travelling a lot more in India, I realised that my own country was not only affordable but one of the loveliest to explore. The Rann of Kutch is no exception. I remember photographs of friends taken there, quite a few years back. Since then I have always wanted to visit this place. In 2019, I finally got the opportunity.

Think twice before going

The Rann of Kutch is approximately 620kms flight away from Mumbai so it’s quite a trip. The climate is harsh. Since we visited in Feb we had better weather, winter was still around. While it was hot and sunny during the day, the nights were cold. However, we were assured that December was worse.

Given the distance there are two ways to travel to Kutch, from Ahmedabad or Bhuj. Direct flights to Bhuj are expensive though convenient. It is the district capital and close to Kutch. But with a little bit of stretch, you can take a train/flight to Ahmedabad and then a bus to Bhuj and onwards to Kutch. Just to give you an idea coming from Ahmedabad it is half the cost of the direct flight but easily double the time. We exercised the latter option.

Don’t think at all just go

Despite the inconvenience of getting there (especially if you use the scenic route) I realised that Gujarat culture is worth exploring: 

Local Gujarat costume
We tried on the local costume

Gujarat Handicrafts:The one thing that should be on your list to buy is the handicrafts available in the region. They are not as expensive as in the metros. I have dedicated an entire blog to this because the handicrafts are so interesting and diverse.

The whole shopping experience:The best part is that you go to the village from where they are made and shop for the products. It’s a different experience to buy from the artisans directly. Since we lived in Hodka village we went next door and bought some pretty things. They were hospitable and many members of the village came to meet us and offered us tea. It became like shopping from your neighbours.

Bhungas at Vodka village
The Bhungas at Hodka village

Experience the Kutch culture:Most of the resorts are run by locals and they make sure you have an authentic experience. You get to live in Bhungas or circular houses made of mud, with thatched roofs. They are supposed to be structurally stable during earthquakes and climate responsive. The pure vegetarian food is what the locals eat. Here I must relate an anecdote :

Eating Non-Veg food in Gujarat

Our driver happened to be Muslim and we became friends. While complaining about the lack of non-veg food we requested him to take us to a good place for non-veg. He took us up on the offer.In a little non-descript place called Luckys (no relation to our bandra stalwart) we ate some great mutton biryani. The meat was actually falling of the bone as well as chicken and paratha that was lip smacking good. Hence this was the surprise element of the trip, our wish of getting a good non-veg meal fulfilled in a staunchly veg place like Gujarat. Talk about Indian jugaad (flexible approach to problem solving)! 

Last but not least

Evening sets at the Rann of Kutch
Sunsets at the Rann of Kutch

The Landscape: The great Rann of Kutch is a landscape, I had neither seen nor experienced before. You see nothing but white plains (the salt pans) as far as the eye can see. Definitely visit during sunrise and sunset. As this is the time that you feel the impact of the vastness. Everything begins to make sense. The sun rises as if from the ground and it is the only thing you can focus on. You wonder if you walk upto it, can you touch it? No picture or video can do it justice. Watching this scene alone will make the trip worth it.

Vijay Vilas Palace at Bhuj
Love this shot from the Vijay Vilas Palace at Bhuj

Bhuj Attractions: There is not much to see around Kutch with the main attractions in Bhuj.So, the first day as we arrived we travelled back to Bhuj from where our friends were taking their plane. We did some sightseeing at the Vijay Vilas palace and the Mandvi beach. Both places were lovely. There is also a cultural centre at Bhujodi that was not far off where we shopped! More on that later.

Lastly don’t worry about the Rann Utsav(Festival) we missed most of it, but it looked like a big shopping mela. Exploring the villages like we did is something I would choose over that anytime. So as Amitabh Bachhan says hope you guys are encouraged to ‘Breathe in a bit of Gujarat’ with this article. 



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