Posts Tagged With: food
Indians with UAE residence visa now get ‘visa on arrival’ in Armenia. Best ever travel news of 2017!
Its July 2017 with an upcoming August-end Eid break and in typical fashion, we have planned travel with no clue on where to go, what to do. And then comes this piece of news that we validated several times over – twice from the Armenian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, from Tripadvisor forums and Google only to be reassured that it was indeed true!
With my love for Georgia still not lost, I was looking forward to see how Armenia would be different, considering how much both countries have in common geographically and culturally. To be honest, my expectations weren’t that high but I was pleasantly surprised.
A landlocked country, Armenia has an identity of its own but with strong influence of its neighbours. For a start, almost all signs are in Armenian and Russian and while 98% of the population are Armenians, most of them speak Russian as a second language. The architecture, particularly the churches with conical domes are very similar to those in Georgia, reflecting Orthodox Christianity. The food, like Georgian cuisine, is an eclectic mix of Soviet, Middle eastern and Western influence and needless to say, this warrants a separate post!
The weather is extreme with hot summers and icy-cold winters. End- August was still hot in the capital,Yerevan (37 deg C!) but I was told that it was much hotter earlier that month. Thanks to this and with toddler in tow, we couldn’t walk around much but with what we did, I must admit Armenians (the women in particular!) rank very high in appearance! *whistle*
Our trip was over 4 nights; we had booked two nights in Yerevan and like in the past, left the rest to be decided impromptu. As Yerevan reminded us of the Dubai summer, we eventually headed to Dilijan on Day 3, a so-called spa town an hour away. A sleepy place, Dilijan was pretty in parts, but if only the weather had been more considerate, I’d have loved to spend all 4 days in the capital.
There is only as much as you can do with a toddler who is just learning to talk (which translate into screams at every opportune moment) and walk (which means, he doesn’t want to be strapped and if left loose, decides to go on his own trip). And so we had to don the role of responsible parents and manage his mood, food and sleep patterns which meant considerable time was spent within the the confines of hotel room. Of course, we foresaw this and wisely stocked up on every brand of Armenian beer thus enjoying our in-room sampling sessions!
So this is what babies do to you! I was told, forget travel now that Young is here and they were right. Well, almost.
I have had, what I term ‘travel starvation’ in the last year. Our only two breaks were back home to India, both family/occasion related. Being full-time working parents, we have been very lucky to have family support for the baby and now a nanny, however with visa restrictions and other commitments the year has passed within the confines of the emirate.
And so, for the time being, lets e-explore the beautiful country of Sri Lanka that we travelled to exactly a year ago. Oh! How I remember this evening that day in chilly hilly Kandy, sipping on a Lions’ while the boy had just latched on to the bottle! At 6 months, he was the best baby a parent could have travelled with. Maybe we waxed a little too eloquently about it and today, it is a different story altogether.
As with most countries that we have travelled to, typically for a week, we touched 3 cities. Ideally, I’d have liked going to a few places off the grid but with baby in tow, we stuck to more popular ones.
Bentota was the typical beach-holiday goer’s place, sun-soaked, lazy and where life slows down a little. The beaches of Bentota, were no doubt, beautiful, and the weather, although a bit warm for my liking was rainy and a welcome change from the desert heat. I particularly loved our day trip to Galle, the UNESCO world heritage city south of the country with imposing Dutch architecture, quirky cafes and ambience that a day trip can do no justice to.
Kandy was a last minuter to the schedule – as first-time traveling parents, we were a little paranoid about how he’d endure the road trip uphill- downhill but took a chance and had no regrets. Kandy reminded me of the colourful and busy ‘hill-stations’ of Southern India. We visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which hosts the ‘tooth’ of Buddha. Alongside this was the International Buddhist Museum, a wonderful display illustrating Buddhism from across the world.
Colombo was a typical asian capital city – noisy and busy yet vibrant in its own way. We just spent a day there and splurged on the Galle Face Hotel, a historic colonial hotel facing Indian Ocean. And shopped a wee bit on some great quality but super cheap clothes!
And food! Rice-heavy and plenty use of coconut, it was very similar to back home (i.e. Tamil/Kerala cuisine). Try the string-hoppers with curry – they are worth every bit of your rupee!
Buddha is of course, omnipresent.
In all, Sri Lanka offers a bit of everything and a country that can be easily explored over a reasonable length of time on an inexpensive budget.
We are planning the next vacation. Which is exactly a month from now. And nothing has been done as yet.
While having an Indian passport is a lot better than many others, it is still a long-drawn application procedure if you want to visit countries around the UAE’s proximity. I have a deadline of 2 days for looking up a list of countries offering visa-on-arrival for Indians and rounding up on the shortlist. Watch this space.
Next comes the quintessential question of how you want to visit a new place. As a Tourist or Traveller?
Yin is the tourist. He believes that with a steady job and limited vacation time, one should fly non-stop and not necessarily on a low-frills flight. ‘2 vacations a year is what we can afford so splurge’ is his mantra. Yin is Mr. Organised and would want his tickets and schedule well before he embarks on the holiday. The idea is to check in to a well-known hotel, not necessarily luxury, but one that has a pool, gym and the works. With a 7 day timeframe, he prefers an itinerary of possibly 2 small countries, flying through the popular and key cities (oh yes, a low fare flight should be fine here), spending a couple of days in each, eating/drinking at a nice restaurant and heading back. If he had his way, it would be taking one of those customized packaged tours during the day and spending the evening sipping over a malt and reading a book. His goal is clear: Only 1 week so make the most of it, have a good time, and importantly, do not compromise on comfort.
Yang is the traveller. Her idea of a holiday is to spend no less than 2 weeks in exploring a small country. But then she cannot afford to get fired from her job. She will spend days monitoring flight sites for the cheapest fare (that said, she likes an expensive direct flight too with the gourmet meal n drink, I mean who doesn’t? If it were free, that is). She could spend weeks researching Bed & Breakfasts and home-stays, eventually taking off with little or no bookings and driving Yin crazy in the process. She doesn’t like an itinerary and wants go with the flow (whatever that means). But don’t get her wrong, she’s done her bit of research and has a general sense of what lies where, what’s good to eat (but indeed) and a few badly mugged up phrases in the local language. If she had her way, she would tailgate those bunch of backpackers with a college tour guide and then loiter around on her own and get lost (which she is excellent at), head to a nearby cafe and chat up with someone over a drink. Her goal is clear: 1 week, no need to rush, just soak up the culture and people and find a local family that serves authentic vegetarian food (oh, the hypocrite).
While I, and the intellectual world in general (club them both if you wish) is biased to the traveller, I don’t see the tourist as having any less fun. The important bit is that both are out there to see a new place in their own way, to take a break from their hectic work-home schedules and to have a wonderful time. Result: both are happy. No conflict.
Unless the tourist and traveller decide to holiday together. They say that Yin & Yang although distinct, show a balance between two opposites with a little bit in each.
In this case, if there’s one thing Yin and Yang love doing, it is sipping malt and watch the world go by.
As for the rest, as I earlier said, watch this space.
For many Indians, Bombay is the city of dreams, of hitting a jackpot and making it big or losing it all and barely surviving. It is far less complicated for me. It is the city where I was born before I moved elsewhere, a city that I visited every summer during my childhood and a city that, despite its chaos and madness, has a special place in my heart for all the memories it holds.
And it was with this nostalgia that I visited Bombay to bring in 2015 and after a gap of 5 long years. It was just as I expected it to be – buzzing with people, a lot more traffic and pollution, old colonial bungalows replaced with 10-storeyed buildings and vendors selling street food with old haunts still intact (on a related note, the father thinks that it is the pollution that lends extra kick to Bombay’s street food. I try to take that with an extra pinch of dust, oops salt).
So after a night of revelry on New Years Eve, I spent a quiet day catching up with cousins and helping them get over my surprise visit. By sunset, it was time to head out for a long drive from the city to town (as the local’s say) and after an impressive route (impressive because of a new link road, pot-hole free as of then) we reached Marine Drive. This is a long stretch of road also known as Queen’s Necklace because, when viewed at night from an elevated point anywhere along the drive, the street lights resemble a string of pearls in a necklace. Some more driving around town to show some of the city’s landmarks (Gateway & Taj of course) to a cousin’s friend and we finally headed back home not before stopping for an absolutely gorgeous chocolate milkshake at Bachelorr’s (their strawberry shake aint too bad either!).
This post is meant to be about ‘Bombay – the city’ but it is clearly gravitating towards ‘Bombay – what I ate’. Uh oh. You may stop now if you wish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Day 2 was a lunch-out with the family and since I was allowed to decide, Burmese was the flavour of the day and we headed out to ‘Busago’ a small resto in Bandra that served excellent kaukswe. One of my fav’ areas in Bombay, Bandra is a quirky suburb mixed with Christian/Parsi old-timers, Bollywood celebrities & yuppies and is a great place for shopping and food (street-side, high-end and in-between). It brought back memories of many a summer evening spent on Linking Road, haggling with vendors, buying pairs & pairs of super-cheap shoes and stuffing ‘selves with chaat.
Talking about chaat, a visit to Juhu beach was mandatory. This is an 18-km stretch along the shores of the Arabian Sea, horribly crowded on weekends, and dotted on one end with food stalls. And so we went, said hello to the beach and headed straight to ‘Siddhivinayak fast food’ 😀 Do not miss, and I emphasise, do not miss the Cheese Pav Bhaji, a mouth-watering bun & gravy combo loaded with butter and cheese. Another momentary glimpse of heaven. Try everything else they may offer but ensure that you end it on a sweet note with kulfi (cut into cubes on a paper plate and not the usual cone; that’s the beauty).
On Day 3, we visited ‘Elco’, another street stall that started out a few decades ago and has now found its clientele and expanded, with even a branch in Dubai! Post Elco, there was room for dessert and after all the consumption, a stroll along Bandra’s famed ‘Bandstand’ helped in much-needed digestion.
I spent the evening of Day 4 hogging on Vada Pav’s, the famed desi-burger that continues to give Big Macs and their clan a run for their money. On the last day, I went scouting for Dabeli, another delightful burger that I haven’t eaten in years and surprisingly hasn’t found presence pan-India. After a lot of searching, found a sandwich-vendor happy to give in to our demands!
I took the flight back as one happy, satisfied kid. There was a 10K run in the offing the week ahead of me and I had gained (more than) adequate energy that I needed for it!
Rainy days like this are rare in a desert. And when it rains, everyone and everything gets alive and kicking, traffic included.
My ideal rainy day is to wake up as per routine, decide to skip work, snuggle back into bed and much later in the afternoon, go on a long drive, hunting for ‘pakoras‘ n ‘chai’.
Sigh! Back to reality. I did go to work and returned home to a fridge screaming at me to use its week old vegetables.
Result: Parmesan & Roasted Veggie Salad.
It turned out much better than I thought it would. Warm roasted pumpkins, brinjal (or eggplant or aubergine as you wish to call it), juicy red capsicum (okay, so they are called red peppers) and a local variant of zucchini in a balsamic vinegar dressing along with whole wheat pasta for company. Served on a bed of lettuce for some more colour effect. The star of the dish, however, were the Parmesan shavings – a generous, delicious and calorific contribution to an otherwise healthy dish.
No, those spicy Indian fritters cannot replace Parmesan or Pasta nevertheless, a bowl of this goodness provided a comforting end to a drab cold day.
They weren’t kidding. We ordered a simple greek salad on our first evening in Athens and it was as good as they claimed it to be. Feta cheese, tomatoes and fresh lettuce drizzled with olive oil. How could it be different from what I’d otherwise toss together at home in Dubai, in India or in Timbuktoo? But it sure was different. Was it the freshness of the vegetables, dairy or olive oil? I couldn’t care. It was delicious like never before! Our culinary euphoria in Greece was, frankly, short-lived because after a week, it was challenging to find too many vegetarian options. By the time we got to Mykonos, we were eating ‘greek’ styled Italian food (same difference) and had got tired and fattened by feta. However, Athens helped us discover some wonderful little nooks and corners and the the most notable was ‘Η Κρήτη’, a little Cretan joint tucked away in a side street, something that you wouldn’t notice in passing unless you could read Greek. It had 5 small tables and we were lucky enough to find one available that the 5 of us could cramp into. So why did we choose this place? Foursquare. (I highly recommend that you save this link before visiting Athens because it is that good. The best meal in Greece and the best vegetarian-range-of-options in Europe that I’ve ever come across. After a lot of thinking, we ordered 2 meal combos – each with 5 dishes so 10 in all that would do justice to the group. The waiter enthusiastically offered to replace a couple of meat options with a vegetarian version promising us that it would be as good as the original. Apart from Η Κρήτη, we also devoured good food in a few other random places. Enough now. Allow the below images to speak for themselves.
An almost non-existent and under-rated breakfast option, the ‘Sabudhana Khichdi’ (also known as ‘Sago’) may not mean much in terms of nutrition but a very delectable indian snack, easy to prepare. My earliest memories of it is having it on occasional Saturdays of the month when mom used to do a ‘religious fast’ and I got to enjoy this delicious snack! Unlike other Indian breakfast options, it is not too easy to find across indian eateries but a very popular dish in the western state of Maharashtra.
Many many years later, I decided that it was time to make it myselt. And it turned out better than I thought it would!
Link to a recipe.
Eat it hot. Best made and had on a lazy Saturday morning with yoghurt and a cup of masala chai,
…or so I’d like to think. But apart from a very feeble cross I made on top of them, they are just plain simple country buns. It’s just that I’m so chuffed about how nicely they turned out, this being my very first attempt with breads. Crunchy on the outside and super soft inside. It aint as ’round’ as it should be but I think that just makes it look rustic! With all the health alerts and brown/wholemeal breads in the market, it has been ages since I have had good ol’ white bread. So this couldn’t have been a better comeback. Yum! (Well, a little self-gloat never hurt anyone, did it?) 😉
I randomly picked up this recipe off the internet since it appeared to be the quickest one and followed it to a tee. Et voilà!
I have concluded that one common thread runs across citizens of every country on this planet. They all claim that their cuisine is the best!
And Georgia is no exception to that.
As a vegetarian, I wasn’t expecting much. Though I must admit that the food (along with everything else Georgian) won me over. Stereotypes at work again. Like I assumed a Germany that served only sausages and potatoes, I imagined a Georgia with Russian styled meat soups and vodka. But I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. For a start, Georgians are proud of their chacha – the vodka-equivalent which they proudly gulp at one go. We tried it once and even the husb’s face changed into a zillion expressions in a matter of 3 seconds. So you can imagine how potent that was!
But this is a post about food and unsurprisingly I have liquefied it. Let’s get back on track.
Georgian cuisine, the way I see it, is a wonderful mélange of food from Europe and Asia with Russian influence. The best way to introduce it is through a Khachapuri. The analogy to this is our very own paratha or naan. So this is a bread, the shape and type of which varies depending on the region it is from. The distinct and the must-definitely-try is the Adjarian or Adjaruli Khachapuri. To me, it looks like a ‘yellow eye’ but is more famously known as a love-boat because of its shape; this bread oozes loads and loads of gorgeousness (read calories) with the amount of butter used as well as a raw egg in the centre! If you ever get around to finishing one, you will realise why I emphasised so much about the importance of walking in this country.
Oh, by the way, I did turn a meat-eater for one meal. The story goes thus: I was told that vegetarian Khinkalis were available (analogy: dumpling/momo). So I happily ordered for some mushroom khinkalis and attempted eating it the georgian way which is to suck out the broth and only after, bite into the whole thing. A couple of days later, over a meal with a Georgian cabbie, I was informed (mockingly, of course) that that there is nothing such as a vegetarian khinkali and the mushrooms were likely to have been cooked in meat broth. Why, thank you very much. End of story.
One very essential and delectable ingredient in georgian cuisine is walnuts. Satsivi or walnut sauce (I find no analogy to this!) is essentially a paste and when smeared on fried slices of eggplant and consumed, can give you a momentary glimpse of heaven.
The other important ingredient is Lobio or Red kidney beans. Cooking this in two popular ways can produce a Lobiani (analogy: rajma paratha) and clay pot-cooked Lobio (rajma dal!). On a day that both of us had an enormous rice craving (georgian food is predominantly bread-based) we found a place that served it and mixed it with steaming hot lobio. Yum!
And then there is Tkemali or plum sauce – I loved the tartness and managed to bring back a small bottle of it!
Of course, there is a lot more of Georgian food since i covered only a minuscule vegetarian portion of it. I only know that the Chakhokhbili that the husb had, chicken-and-boiled egg-in-tomato gravy, looked delicious and apparently tasted great too.
Noteworthy among the desserts is Churchkhela – what I thought looked a bit bizarre and assumed to be some type of kebab. It was well toward the end of our trip that I (fortunately) asked a shopkeeper who told me that they were nuts, mainly walnuts, threaded onto a string and dipped into thickened flour and grape juice and finally dried to give a sausage-like appearance (analogy: halwa?). I bought two made of white and red grapes and while I dint fancy the former, loved the latter!
For more on the cuisine, visit this site I came across.
Recommendation (in Tbilisi):
- Machakhela (one of the few places that’s open 24/7 and a great place to pass time)
- Cafe Kala (I thought the place was pricey but nice ambience and has a few more veggie options than the rest)
- Carrefour – to buy local sauces, yoghurts and chocolates!
- Not sure about other areas but Kote Abkhazi street had tons of shops selling churchkhela