It's been 2 1/2 months since we landed in India, and we've had plenty of adventures, culinary and otherwise. A very quick round up here, to be expanded on in subsequent posts.
Mumbai (Part 1): No baby steps here. On our first night in Mumbai, Uncle Waris and Aunty Samina take us to Chowpatty Beach, where Aunty Samina physically stuffs street vendor bhel puri and kulfi (Indian ice-cream) into my mouth. I kinda wish I was Catholic, just so I could cross myself.
Above: Aunty Samina preps another spoonful of Chowpatty Beach snacks to shove my way; swatch surfing at Crawford Market
The next day I'm taken to the labyrinthine Crawford Market, where I lose track of how many sets of fabric my mum-in-law buys to make salwar khameez and saris. She keeps asking me to pick one out, but when I finally do, I'm tsk-ed at and told "only village girls wear that".
Our friend Nish takes us to our first cricket match, the one where Sehwag bats 293 against Sri Lanka. (I wish it meant more to me than it does.) It takes me a while to follow the game, mostly cos I'm distracted by the stadium samosa sellers. Apparently samosa prices are set at games. I -- along with my entire section -- watch entranced as a stadium official gives a vendor a royal bollocking when the vendor gets caught overcharging. I can't tell if the rules really matter here or if that vendor didn't get his bribe arrangements sorted out.
I discover utterly heavenly Hyderabadi fish at Trishna in Colaba, but stupidly fail to order the restaurant's signature butter garlic crab. Maybe it's a subconscious ploy to come back.
Pune: This entire town seems hell bent on self-improvement, going by the billboards for educational institutions, ashrams, teeth whitening and colon cleansing. This one below is hands-down (pants-down?) my favourite.
Mangalore and Karasagod: We stay with Bab's Dad's old pal from medical school, and relatives from his hometown. A string of extended family visits ensue. Each stop (up to 5 a day) involves, juice, chai, fried samosas and meat/fish/veggie cutlets, assorted pastries, and most delicious of all, a string of delightful stories about Babs's Dad, whom sadly passed away long before Babs and I met. I manage to cajole our hosts to share a few recipes, such as
- Aunty Sara's Kerala Fried Chicken
- Aunty Chandra's Wake-Me-Up Coconut Chutney
- Aunty Ayesha's Kerala-style Spinach, and
- Cousin Sajida's Pathal, Red Chutney, and Banana Cutlet.
I predict that while in India Babs and I are doomed to fatness, and bliss. I hold my ground, now even more so, having sunk in due to the extra weight.
Bangalore (Part 1): This is Babs's Mum's home turf. More family visits, a ton more food -- including 2 test dinners for Bab's Boxing Day family reunion cum belated wedding reception -- and more recipes, including Aunty Shaistha's incredibly tasty Khara Seeve (rice noodles with lentils). I fall hopelessly in love with the fruits and vegetables at City Market.
While my parents are in town we make a day trip to Mysore, where you have to learn to be at least as aggressive as the local cows if you want to chow down on Hotel RRR's very popular biriyani.
Hyderabad: I get invited to my first full-scale Muslim-Indian wedding, where I get backstage access to the wedding kitchen. Woohoo! In between wedding events I find out how to eat well while the city is on strike, and follow the adventures of a bonafide scapegoat.
Cochin and Allepey: We manage to score a lovely houseboat and homestay experience, then join in on some very early morning Chinese-net fishing and auctioning action before returning at lunchtime to hunt and haggle for a delicious seafood meal at Vasco de Gama Square. During more humane morning hours, we discover a breakfast of champions at Fort Cochin's Kashi Cafe.
Ghana (?!): After a quick visit with Babs's uncle in Calicut, we take a one-week intermission from India to go party with some dear friends in Accra celebrating their mother's 60th birthday. The birthday girl's energy on the dancefloor sets an extremely high standard for fabulousness at 60.
Amritsar: And we're back in India for a whistlestop tour of the north! We start in Amritsar, where I'm very much moved by the volunteer kitchen of the Golden Temple, and very much tickled by the India-Pakistan daily border closing ceremony.
New Delhi: Between visiting another of Babs's uncle and catching up with an old friend from work in Singapore, I get saag-savvy at Delhi's INA market. We were perversely hoping to contract the supposedly ever reliable Delhi-belly in order to lose some of the weight we've gained in India, but we fail abysmally, even after scarfing some of the city streets' most famous jalebi and parathas.
Agra: We were pretty agra-vated when we woke up silly early to beat the crowds to the Taj Mahal, only to be thwarted by fog so thick you could make bricks with it. So while I touched the Taj Mahal, I sadly failed to see it in all its glory up close.
Above: This is usually the famous spot to pose in front of the Taj Mahal. Hmph
Above: This is about as good as it gets that morning, in between 2 rolling clouds of fog
Jaisalmer, Jaipur and Jodphur: Jaisalmer was by far the highlight of our Rajasthani jaunt, with laid back friendly people, a colourful desert festival complete with a camel polo match, and an excellent little organic cafe with a view.
Mumbai (Part 2): We're back to kick off a week of wedding festivities for friends Nish and Shloka. Days involve the haunting of various Colaba Causeway cafe-bars, a triumphant return to Trishna, and dance practice for the Sangeet (a wedding event where family and friends put on song and dance items for the wedding couple). We could do a lot worse for dance studio locations than Nirbhay's stately sea-facing apartment.
Goa: We spent 2 days in Goa at Nish's co-ed stag do. All I will divulge is, drag as a dress code is a fabulous way to break the ice.
Coorg: We trek up into the hilly coffee estates of Coorg for the wedding proper, where we are completely blown away by the hospitality of Nish and Shloka's families. I'm pretty sure I drank more Johnny Walker Black Label in the 3 days than the rest of my life put together. The choreographed dance items went great, the unchoreographed after-party dancing went even better.
Above: The wedding couple amid a sea of guests
Bangalore (Part 2): A final 2 days hanging out in Bangalore with Bab's Mum and her extended family, revisiting favourite local eateries such as Ritchies and being unable to resist the city's Chinese food offerings.
I'm sad to go even though I'm ready to move on to the next part of our voyage. I'll be back in India sooner or later. It's heartwarming to know that I now have people here, be they family or friends, both old and newly found. Plus there's so much of this vast incredible (yes I said incredible -- the country's tourist authority is not kidding about this) country to see. Someday I'll make it to Kashmir. And Calcutta. And Chennai. And a tiger reserve. And Nagaland, a curious place where all the Indians look like... me.
Above: Spot the Indian
In the meantime, onward to Singapore for Chinese New Year!