Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The foodie trails to Jodhpur


Diwali of 2021 , we decided to go to Jodhpur on a family trip, COVID restrictions were just easing up, it was school holidays, great weather as well, and we had not been on a family vacation in 2 years, and so my parents, brother, my husband and Shreysht, my son, all of us met in Jodhpur.

How to get there? Jodhpur has an airport, which makes flying into the city easy. But you can also take a train, or make a road trip to Jodhpur. The roads too are excellent because of Golden quadrilateral of National highways. We came in by flight from 3 different cities, and then travelled within the city in auto rickshaws, and drove to Osian in a hired, all travel options available.

Where to stay? We stayed in an Air BNB property in Old Jodhpur city , it was an old haveli property called Casa de Jodhpur , with 5 rooms. You can book each room individually, and then I would recommend you take the Maharani sa or the Yuvraj sa rooms. We chose to book the entire 5 rooms, and have the whole haveli to ourselves, which made safety and covid precautions easier for us, also we had the privacy of the entire terrace to ourselves.

There are many hotel and hostel options, and if you want a good mix of night life plus heritage experience, I would suggest look for hotels around the step well, or Turji ka Jhalra. Pretty close to the Clock tower and the step well, it offers arty cafes to chill, nice shopping options, and some of the best views of the Mehrangarh fort at night, as well as the blue city , the Umaid bhavan at a distance.

What to visit?

So we had about 4 days and this is what we did

Day one on arrival we went to Pachetia hill – this is the most instagrammed stretch of Jodhpur, a walking street, lined by blue walls, and coloured paintings on both sides, The entire stretch is a photo op, and once you reach the top, the view of the city is amazing, we happened to go here on Diwali night, and every house was lit, this also leads to sunset point, so it a good idea to head out in the evening for Pachetiya hill. There are 2 temples on the way, and they add to the cultural walk aswell.

Dinner was near the step well .

walking the streets of Jodhpur 

Day two we covered Mehrangarh fort, Jaswant Thada and the behind side of Mehrangarh fort, where all the blue houses are , called Navchokiya- Mehrangarh fort has three cafes, we ate in two of them, one for breakfast including samosa, dhokla and mirchi vada, and another for lunch of mutton thali and dal bati churma . would definitely recommend the lunch café- it clean, hospitable, and good quality. After lunch we headed to Jaswant Thada , about 1.5 km from Mehrangarh fort, we completely forgot to see the batman movie shooting place, but it is fairly close by, so ask about it at the entrance of mehrangarh fort. The ziplining is also available, and is 90 minutes long, we didn’t do the ziplining , but I hear it is exciting.

We spent the evening and dinner at the step well area again.

picture at mehrangarh fort

Day 3 we went hired an Innova and drove to Ummaid bhavan palace the current residence of the king Gaj singh 2 of jodhpur, part of it is a hotel, and not for tourists, a small section of the museum is open to tourists, followed by Mandore gardens ( a beautiful garden filled with The garden is a part of the more massive Mehrangarh Fort, and also houses the famous Hall of Heroes and the temple of Three Hundred Million Gods. The garden also has a Government Museum, which is full of artefacts and old relics. 

The most striking feature of the garden is the gorgeous cenotaphs or 'dewals' that can be found spread all across the Mandore Gardens.

Mandore is 9 km from Jodhpur, and while here I would recommend going to Bal Samand Lake palace. The palace and the lake is closed to outsiders, not staying or dining at the Bal Samand lake palace resort. But, the lake and the palace grounds are truly worth the visit, and we had a gorgeous meal of laal maas and Rajasthani chicken tikkas at the Bal Samand on day 4 .

Now, back to Day 3 when we drove onwards from Mandore to Osian (70 km away) for a camel ride in the dessert, and a meal at a local dessert village home. The village people were extremely hospitable, the camel ride was the most exciting part of our holiday. The reason why this dessert trip is different from the ones in Jaisalmer or Jaipur, is that these are not staged or fancy, they don’t have music, and rajasthani dancers, it is more real and raw, with us having raw peanuts, from their farms, we saw them feeding their cattle some bajra rotis, my son played with the village kids, and we sat around a bonfire in their house courtyard. It was like a slice out of their everyday life. The food of fresh bajra rotis, ker sangria from the nearby trees, and ghee from their cattle was a hearty heartful meal.

meal at Osian village home 

Day 4 – We had been going on daily breakfast trails, discovering the local snacks, but we went to Janta sweet house on the ghanta ghar road for breakfast, and it soon became our favourite. On day 4 we did all our shopping, some of the nicer shops, and government sanctioned handicraft stores are in this area. We bought leheriya suits, lehengas, kurtas, jodhpuri jutis, and mirror work hand bags. Colourful leheriya and bandhani duppatas, and even Rajasthani puppets. Day 4 we went to Bal Samand lake palace for lunch , and had a lovely time discovering the gorgeous palace gardens and lake. The evening was again around the step well area.

picture at Bal Samand Lake palace

food with royalty, pictures at Mehrangarh cafe, in Mehrangarh fort

Day 5 – we ate breakfast at Janta sweethome, and did some last day shopping, packed Ghevars for home from janta sweets, a custom that almost everyone visiting jodhpur does. And then headed for the airport. Take satleast 2 hours at the airport, since the serpentine queues and limited staff at the airport.

What to eat in Jodhpur ? 

Jalebi – Motu Jalebi wala , old city

Dhee ke kachori – Narayan mishtan

Gulab Jamun – Chaturbhuj Gulab Jamun

Samosa and mirch vada – Shahi samosa

Malai Ghevar, lassi, chaas, pyaaz kachori and dahi chutney samosa (dahi chutrney absolutely anything ) – Janta sweet home

Rajasthani thali – mehrangarh fort café – they give a non veg version of thali with mutton /chicken, 3 types of rotis like makki , bajra and plain roti. Also the shahi thali at Bal samand lake palace . Ker sangria, gate ki sabji, lasun chutney and bajra rotis are what marks a complete Rajasthani thali.

Dal Bati churma – no visit to Rajasthan is complete without the dal bati churma.

Kabuli – While Rajasthan has a rich Rajput food culture. Kabuli, is a Mughal Rajasthani cuisine, hailing from Kabul , Afghanistan, a rich vegetarian biryani, with nuts, and dry fruits, and redolent with spices. This dish is super delicious, extremely filling, and has some interesting history. If there was ever a concept of vegetarian biryani, this would be it.  

Special mention to mirch vada – combine the Maharashtrian vada pav, vada with it’s spicy potato mix, and the mirchi bhajji, long green chilli, and you have a green chilli, stuffed with spicy potato, covered in besan and deep fried. The mirchi vada, appealed to the Punekar in me !

 Laal Maas – the laal maas ( red mutton) was even more difficult to find than the blue houses in Jodhpur, a lot of places were pure vegetarian, and a few others had dubious versions of laal maas, we liked the one from Open house café , near Turji ka jhalra, and the one at Bal Samand.

laal maas and rajasthani style chicken curry, at bal Samand lake palace

Last words – Spend time walking the streets, of Jodhpur, also wear colourful clothes as well as blues to match the walls, the weather is dry and hot, so hydrate yourself often.  Want to see more ? d=follow the hasthtag #thefoodietrailstojodhpur to see reels/posts and more , also I have an instastory highlights on Jodhpur on my Instagram @thefoodietrails , so go check that out.

laal maas ay open house cafe, near the step well

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

In pursuit of Hampiness : Goa to Hampi road trip

It has been almost a year since I stepped out of my home state of Goa, since the COVID pandemic. I’ll agree that there are worse places to get stuck at home, than Goa, and yet, the wanderlust bug finally crawled under my skin, and I was ready for our ‘first vacation since lockdown’, and we decided to go to Hampi.

Hampi is a place in Karnataka, a neighbouring state, and about 360 Km from my place, that is about an 8 and a half hour road trip.

Reasons why I chose Hampi as my first vacation spot.

-        It is not too far, and I didn’t want to yet take a flight out anywhere, haven’t been on a flight in a year, and I am still warming up to the idea of ‘non essential plane travel’.

-        The fact that it was our own car, gave me much comfort in terms of cleanliness, and travelling with a kid.

-        Hampi is not a place, it is a vibe ! Ok, I had heard this phrase so many times before, that I had to roll my eyes at it, until I actually saw Hampi. Hampi is definitely, not a singular place, it is an entire sprawling space filled with 3000 ancient ruins, dating back to the 14 th century , spread over 4100 hectares of land. And because it is a UNESCO world heritage site, nothing can be built, destroyed or removed from here. You can literally climb the highest mountain here and yet see nothing but ancient civilization, no modern buildings, malls, or structures around. ( pictures, posts, and reels, and videos on @thefoodietrails Instagram page)

-        Hampi has these cool stone hills, I can’t explain, it looks like nature constructed these giant , stone cairns. A cairn is the stacked pile of stones, you can find them in Leh Ladakh, or in Hawaii, or just about any place with flat stackable stones. People believe that stacking a pile of stones, helps wishes come true, so, imagine an entire area filled with giant natural cairns, that’s what Hampi reminded me of. Not to mention it is easy and fun climbing these rock structures.

-        Hampi has some amazing temples and structures to visit, it has a religious side, as well as a leisure side, with rock climbing, treks, boating in a lake, and walks in paddy fields. So, a well rounded vacation spot with much to do.

-        And finally, it was a short trip of just 2 days for us, as we could not afford a longer vacation.


Now, that you are convinced that Hampi is worth visiting, here is my itinerary, which I meticulously planned and executed.

-        We left on a Friday afternoon, after I had finished my morning OPD clinic. We set out at 2 pm, should have reached by 10:30 -11 pm , but we stopped at Hubli for dinner, which was 5 hours away from Goa, and reached Hampi at 1 am that night, since we could not find a dining destination in Hubli. We finally ate at Kamat’s near the bus stand in Hubli.

-        Hampi has a river run right through, and most of the temples, structures of visit, as well as the main town is on one side of the river, the other side is also known as the island side, and this side has the Sanapur lake, the Anjaneya hill temple, and the cottages . we stayed on the island side, which is prettier, more fun and chill, has a night life which is absolutely missing on the temple side, not to mention alcohol and non-vegetarian food, which is looked down upon on the Temple side of Hampi.

-        Now the only way to cross to the island side is via ferry ( closes at 5 pm , starts at 7 am) , or the bridge which is 40 min drive away.

-        Next morning Saturday – we parked our car on the island side of the ferry, crossed over to the temple side via a extremely short ferry ride ( cost rs 20 per person), and hired a day trip auto rickshaw.

-        A day trip Auto rickshaw, will take you to all the popular destinations, make a pit stop for lunch, and drop you back at the ferry point by 5 pm. I would recommend starting your day trip at 7:30 , after you have seen the temple elephant Lakshmi have her daily ceremonial bath, which is quite close to the ferry point itself. The ferry point is right on the banks of the Virupaksha temple, but our guide said NOT to start with the temple as our first day trip destination, since mornings are extremely crowded at the temple.

-        So here is the circuit that we took for our sight-seeing, if you plan to do it without a auto, and drive yourself around.   

 Krishna temple, Narasimha and Badavalinga complex, underground Shiva temple, Watch tower, Lotus mahal complex with the elephant stables, Nahanavami dibba complex with the pushkarni , lunch break, Vittala temple complex with the stone chariot and king’s balance, ending at Virupaksha temple and surrounding Hampi market.

We started at around 10 am and ended at 5 pm.

 ( we paid   Rs 1500, which included a tip for the driver and guide)

-        Once we crossed back to the island side, we had planned to catch the sunset from sunset point on top of Hanuman temple, but they were close at 5 pm, because of a recent Cheetah scare, and so we headed to Sanapur lake.

 You can get a Coracle ride (cost Rs 900 to 1200 )

-        Hills and treks: There are two major hill temples, one is on the temple side known as Matanga hill, it is lovely at sunset, but since it was on the temple side, and we had a ferry at 5 pm, we had to miss this one. The other is the Anjaneya temple hill the birth place of Hanuman , on the island side, great for sunrise , but recently opens only at 8 am, so we went there post 8 am on Sunday.

-        Sunday – we drove down to the Sanapur waterfall before breakfast, a hidden little spot, back for a breakfast, and headed to Anjaneya temple and climbed 575 steps to the top. Climbing the Bajrangi temple, on Valentine’s day, with highly energised bachelors from Bajrangi dals chanting jai shri ram; I found it really cute. For those not in the know, Shri Hanuman, or the monkey God, is the patron God of bachelor men. 😊

Where we stayed ?

I had booked a home stay, but they called to say that they were sold out, and I had to get my money refunded from goibibo, and last minute rebooking of places. Luckily we found a lovely cottage on Agoda. It is called Tutti cottages. There are many cottages on the island side. Also, nice hotels too. Chooses wisely since after 6 , Hampi is a mostly in your stay place. Our place had a jam session, and bonfire night on Saturday night, and we had Pizza and thukpa . the breakfast place was among paddy fields, so idyllic. The rooms are very basic , blow away bamboo cottages, but shreysht had a blast thinking that we stayed in such makeshift homes ( just like in three little pigs story).

What to wear ?

It is fairly cold at night, and considering the weather and wind enters our porous bamboo cottages. Also the days are sunny. We went in February, one of the nicer times to go. And yet, I would recommend hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, something that covers your shoulders and knees ( some temples insist ) and good walking shoes. The first day, we walked 16000 steps on my fitness tracker !

The next day we walked up 575 fairly steep steps.

When to travel ?

Definitely November to February, or and if there is any music or cultural festival in Hampi. Some people have travelled in the rains as well, but I suspect the islnd side is closed, especially these cottage huts, and the rocks might be slippery to climb. Summers scorching, rains torrential, so avoid those months.

Return :

On Sunday, we just did the Anjaneya hill temple, drove to Hospet. We had plans of a fancy lunch at this lovely place called Evolve back, but you need prior bookings for meals here, and it is a place for guests only.

We stopped to spend an hour discovering the Tungabhadra dam at Hospet, and it is highly recommended, they have a massive Dam project, with light and fountain shows in the evening ( we went in the afternoon), children’s park, a Japanese garden, and it has a Rs 30 parking charge, and a Rs 20 bus ride up the hill ( I think it’s called vaikunth hill) , it is all very massive and magnificent.

Summary itinerary

Friday : leave Goa for Hampi, stop at Hubli

Saturday : day trip of Hampi , temple side .

Sunday : 3 hour sightseeing of island side Hampi, lunch at Hospet with visit to Tungabhadra dam, drive back to Goa.

A 2 ½ day round trip.

Instagram posts : How we made a travel journal of our trip for a 5 year old. Pictures and posts of what we ate, and fun reels of our travel. @thefoodietrails @Shrasesbyshreysht 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Journey within; the only kind of travel itinerary during the Covid 19 lockdown

It started with our Summer vacation to Turkey getting cancelled as a contagious virus was doing its rounds , and very soon domestic flights got cancelled and even getting out of our own houses to take a walk around the neighbourhood was fraught with dangers of contracting Covid 19.
Since all roads leading outwards were closed, I decided to take my wanderlust to the next level, I decided to take the Journey Within. I had heard marvellous tales of how it looked, the galaxies of the soul, the ocean of treasures waiting to be discovered. I was excited!

But how does one take that journey within? There wasn’t a flight or a train schedule I could refer to. There were, however, multiple travel agents, waiting to take me on this wondrous journey.
First I tried the easiest route to self discovery; sleep. It was a journey I had taken many times before, and with a few expert tips from the sleep experts via Ted Talks and articles on the ‘power of sleep’, I was sure to unlock the secrets of the soul through sleep. The secret, they said, lay in the deep sleep, and the slow spindle sleep, and the REM sleep, and it was a matter of tapping into the Theta and Delta waves, to ride the journey to Neverland. So, I started sleeping with Binaural beats. Binaural means related to both ears. when music of two different frequencies is played in either ear, for example a 200 hz, and a 210 hz, a new frequency is created within the inferior colliculus , at 10 Hz. This frequency is not actually heard in the music, but is created within the body and the brain, due to the disparity in the frequency. Binaural beats are supposed to cure everything from anxiety to insomnia, and promote a sense of bliss.

the journey within, quarantined travel blogger

Youtube, my preferred travel planner, next suggested, I try Chakra healing.Chakras are the centers of life force or energy within the body .We have 7 Chakras in our body, starting from the root chakra meant for grounding and safety, to the highest chakra which was a direct connection to the universal spirit. There were multiple ways of balancing the Chakras, from guided meditation, to visualising the colours red, orange, yellow, green, sky blue and purple for each of the chakras, to listening to singing bowls and meditating with crystals, and intentional chanting. Words like ‘I am safe, I am life, I am will, I am compassion, I am creation, I am awake and I am .’ Chakra meditations on Youtube were as short as 7 minutes with 1 minute for each chakra, to ones which were 7 hours long with 1 hour each for each Chakra. I found the 35 minutes a day, spending 5 minutes per chakra was the most sustainable practice for me.

colourful vistas, on my journey within

From a journey which required me to sleep, to a journey within which required me to sit still, I then moved to a soul-travel option which required me to actually move.
The idea was to move from your mind and brain to a more visceral, more intuitive energy, which required the body to take over. Shamanic shaking ,or quaking was the exact opposite of thecalm relaxation of the previous two,, here words like ‘ecstatic expression’ and ‘heightened arousal’ were used. It was more difficult than the others, I realised, since here, it expected me to do something. I saw that my mind wandered less. There was no scope of the mid to wander, when your arms were flapping like a bird, your hips gyrating and your feet stomping to a primal African beat. I pranced like a monkey on sugar high, and all things considered , while I am not sure what insights I got about me, I felt elated.More reading suggested that shaking has been a form of connecting with a higher being, among Oshoites, Caribbean shakers, bushmen, shamans, Australian aborigines, Japanese Seiki Jutsu.  
From the ancient Indian wisdom of balancing Chakras, I decided to try the ancient Chinese wisdom of balancing my masculine and feminine energies, namely my Yin and Yang. Yin the feminine powers and the Yang ,masculine powers, reside in each one of us. it is a dynamic equilibrium, never still, sometimes we are the receiver, sometimes the giver, sometimes the intuitive , other times the logical. I relised, just like the chakras, if the Yin Yang energies are not in balance, then it leads to discord in the physical and mental state of the person, but also discord in the relationships with the outside world. Balancing yin yang meant doing a lot of internal questioning, journaling, some qigong exercises, and nutrition.

balancing the masculine and feminine 

I know at this point you are wondering if I found my Moksha in the times of Covid 19 quarantine. What I do realise is that going on a spiritual journey, is about the actual practice. Just the way you cannot travel to Italy, via a food and travel show on Tv, or via scrolling through your instagram. In the same way, your journey within, will look and feel different from the journey of other holistic healers.

From all of these I also realised , that the journey within, like all other travels, is not about the destination, it is about the journey. With no end goal, infact with no idea what the final destination looked like, I had merely decided to try various lanes, and tracks and wooded pathways ; all leading inwards. How much deeper could I go? Which path seemed the best one? Which one would take me there? How would the outside world look once I reached my final destination of soul searching? I didn’t know all the answers, and maybe tour guides in the form of gurus and masters might help me get there faster, but to find your own path, as Robert Frost said, might make all the difference. One thing is for sure, there is not just one way to the destination, and the journey too is as beautiful as the destination.

Which ones do I still do  now? I do them all, I have found that each of the different meditative states, whether it is sitting in stillness, or listening to music beats, chants, or movement based meditation, or even meditation in sleep, each of them brought either calm, or insight or elation or relaxation. And each have a place in my life. Also, we are still in lockdown phase, and I have decided to keep searching for new eclectic pathways to the Journey within.   

Thursday, October 17, 2019

First timers guide to Ziro Music Festival

One fine day, while browsing through Instagram, I saw a sponsored ad about the Ziro music festival. And in less than a month from that click bait, I found myself travelling for the very first time to North east of India, for my very first camping trip, the very first time I was carrying a back pack, and the very first time I was attending stay on site Music festival.

Ziro, is a village in the valleys of Arunachal Pradesh . To get there one must reach Guwahati, then take an overnight train to Nagarlagun ( train leaves Guwahati at 9 pm and reaches Nagarlagun at around 5 am) and then a 5-6 hour journey along bumpy winding roads through hills and valleys, until you see fields of golden rice fields ready for harvesting.

Bumpy roads, picturesque views . Nagalagun to Ziro

The very first glimpse of Ziro; breathtaking.

The Music festival itself is an open air music festival, with a day stage and a night stage. The day stage begins at 2 in the afternoon, but you have local talents who perform through the morning from 11 am onwards. The night stage begins at 6 pm and goes on till around 10 pm or slightly later.
Once you reach Ziro , you have three stay options of stay . Hotels, of which I noticed the Ziro Palace Inn was the closest , situated a mere 4 minutes from the festival venue. The second is homestays, of which there are few but I met some fun , feisty and enterprising young Arunachali girls and boys, who I hope can change the Homestay scene in years to come. And the third, most popular stay option is camping. In camping too, you can choose to pitch your own tent, the PYOT area is again 5 minutes from the festival venue, you can watch the stage from your tent ! or for newbies like me, you can opt for pre organised camping experience . ours was called Experience destination.
Life is nothing if not a series of adventures.

The first timers guide to backpacking.
Soon after I booked our trip to Ziro, i realised I had never packed a back pack before. I read a lot of blogs on how to pack a back pack, what to pack for a camping trip , how to hoist a backpack on your back, and how to take off a backpack without injuring yourself. I  decided to do some back strengthening exercises for added measure, I mean to carry all that weight on your shoulders ! 
So here's what I learnt . 
1. Along with back exercises, do some core strengthening workout.
2. This particular blog was very helpful on how to pack a back so as to have the centre of gravity right in the centre of the backpack. CLICK HERE
and can I add my two camping essentials - a battery charged power bank , and micellar water ( i didnt need to wash my face for 7 days. micellar water has micelles suspended in soft water, and removes dust, grime, makeup, and keeps skin 90 % hydrated without any facewash or rinsing! save water guys, also if its good enough for the french it's good for you. It doesnt cost much google it)
3. Having been to Ziro, i can attest, carrying a backpack is not a hundred percent necessary. You aren’t really required to hike with your backpack. The journey is from Guwahati airport to Guwahati railway station, then a train journey, then a car journey, and the car drops you almost to your campsite. The walk would be a mere 5 minutes to your tent. and then the bag stays in the tent up until you leave. if you are ok hauling a small suitcase and a small carry bag, for 5-10 min you should be fine . Infact some people were carrying suitcases which were smaller than our backpacks ! 

First timers guide to staying in a tent.
My first thought s when I entered my tent was - Boy am I glad I don't suffer from claustrophobia ! Ours was what is called a three man tent, but there is NO WAY three grown men would be able to be comfortable in there. And in the tent were our backpacks and, as the clothes and other paraphernalia started to unravel, the place got smaller. Here's what I learnt from my first tent experience.
1. It gets fairly dark in a tent. Carry a torch, or better still, carry the battery operated lamp for 360 degree lighting unlike a torch which gives light only in one direction. For more charm carry battery operated string of lights to hang inside your tent. ( especially if you plan to spend quality time in your tent) We just came came to sleep in our tents in the wee hours of the morning, not having cozy cute tents meant we spend more time hanging around the common area and made more friends. 
2. I wouldn't call myself particularly queemish , but , the fact that my backpack had been lying on the floor of the train, under a sleeper class bunker during the journey, and now lay inches away from my face - had me tossing in my sleep. There is no way out of it, your backpack , your muddied shoes , all of it will be within a space smaller than a queen size bed, and shall be shared by another person and their belongings. So, I highly recommend carrying a foldable waterproof shoe bag, in which you can pack up your shoes and keep outside the tent ! Beware of leeches and such, so see that the shoe bag ( even a dustbin bag works ) is closed tightly. For the backpack too you can cover with a sheet, to cordon off the area you sleep from the area that has your belongings. Having all of it hidden behind a clean sheet will make the tent look bigger too. Here's another suggestion - carry a one man tent, which is a really small tent, pitch it near your tent and put ALL your belongings in there ! 
3. Keep your tent dry at all times ! it really rains a lot at Ziro during the music festival time. having foliage or undergrowth around our tent kept the ground really dry around our tent ( unlike other campsites) something like pine needles and bamboo don’t absorb water and keep the area really dry , apparently it’s because they are are taxonomically grass , was what one of the veteran campers explained). Just lay down some foliage around your tent. 

acting all boss babe outside our tent, when in actual, I really dont think I can repeat this 'once in a life time experience'.

First timers guide to Ziro.
The neighbouring villages and town is a treat to walk around. 
We went on a Village walk and it was the most magical day. 
We walked through golden paddy fields, fringed with dark green pines , topped with purple hills in the background and a sky which was a pantone cerulean. And it was all around, 360 degrees , no picture can do it justice, not even Panoramas. And then it started to drizzle, and the clouds came down. Stunningly beautiful ! 
We went to the home of an Apatani tribal woman. I think my happy vibes rubbed off on her and she wanted me to sing with her. We sang Lucky Ali's Oh Sanam , since Lucky Ali would be performing later that evening at the Music festival. 
Don’t forget to visit the weekly market, which happens only on a Saturday , where vendors from neighboring villages come set shop for a day. 
They also have fishing in paddy fields tours but I didn't want to need to have a bath, so avoided that. Also bicycle rides and ATB rides from town . 
They have some beautiful view points and even a lake with Boating nearby. 
The walk through the fields in the rain is surreal

Simple , but so hospitable. The Apatani village woman even gifted me a pumpkin as a gift.

a slight 6 km detour, took us to the lovely sico lake.

Boating at Sico lake.

First timers Guide to Ziro Music Fest
So, there were two things on my mind – What do I wear ? and What do I get to eat ?
So, every one will insist on gum boots, because the rains get fairly mucky (We even made up a muck grading system from 1 t0 10, humour helps when you are slipping and sliding through water logged mud ). So, boots. The most comfortable ones were the Decathlon ones , is what I found out from all ziro goers. I ofcourse spray painted mine , and then stuck stickers on them for added measure. The paint didn’t dry completely, so I stuck some of the foliage from around my tent aswell. You can buy boots at the town near Ziro as well, or an Amazon ( as I did ) but, decathlon ones were the best, according to everyone.
Because the boots keep your feet cozy, you can easily wear shorts /skirts , without feeling cold. Carry a shrug/ jacket for later in the evening.
Here I’d like to add a word about the locals – who are absolute fashionistas. They would beat any Instagramming fashion blogger hollow with their sense of style. Think neon pants with Aubergine crossbacks with matching hair, or Maroon sundress with tan coloured boots, even the girl at the help desk wore a white faux fur lined jacket, and olive green pants. These girls were dancing and jumping heels! Such an inspiration.
Boys, get a nice jacket, a colourful muffler (both to wear and to share ), glow in the dark tees with funky messages (always conversation starters).

We went shopping at the local village market, and bought a local shrug, and kajal. 

Now, the food . First timers guide to eating snails, silkworms, frogs and grasshoppers.
First off, let me tell you, that I am all about bio diversity and conservation of nature, I wear Ahimsa saris which are silk saris made with cultured silkworms treated humanely. And, I would never have frogs in Goa (where it is endangered and Government protected, I have tons of posts on NOT eating Jumping chicken in Goa !), but, when in the North East , do as the North East. Let’s start with snails, escargot is fairly popular the world round, we had the ones freshly caught from the paddy fields, by our own campers, so major foraging points there, also talk about farm to table ! They taste a lot like Tisryo, the mussels I had for the first time in Goa, bit chewy. Next up, silkworms, they were my favourite, they taste like the yolks of hard boiled eggs, not the over boiled crumbly variety, but the really nice flavourful , creamy and yet firm egg yolks. Delish! Frogs then, umm, the variety we had were fried to a crisp, and they honestly tasted like nothing, but texturally were just like potato chips, they should have just sprinkled them with some sour cream and onion flavouring, or even chaat masala. Grasshoppers, and what a joy these were. We were actually asked if we wanted to eat them live! Hilarious! Nervous laughs all around, but what’s life without a little adventure. So, while most of the grasshoppers were deep fried, sprinkled with chatpata masala, and served with a side of an amazing smashed green chilli chutney , some of the grasshoppers were tried while they could still move. As the locals explained, they were not actually fully alive, because it’s not like they could hop off your plate, but they moved their legs around. It sounds like something out of fear factor, it felt like something out of fear factor. I had it, and I couldn’t get myself to chew fast enough, so that I don’t feel moving legs in my mouth.
Ah, moving on. Yes, there is normal food for the less adventurous. There was even a Korean food counter – Mahsitssoya, Khamsamida ! I practiced my Hangul. The roadside stalls and multiple restaurants along the path from camp to festival grounds were a treat aswell.
Apong; the fermented rice wine, served in hollowed bamboo glasses. We had so many, it was almosta water substitute.

sun dried and fried frogs.

nothing like paratha and pickle in the hills. campsite food was excellent . experience destination

BBQ pork, served witha a side of Apong

live and fried grasshoppers


chole bhature , campsite food .

lots and lots of momos


First timers guide to leaving your kid at home.
Up until now, I have always been a mom travel blogger, I travel everywhere with my kid. I believe, every place is child-friendly, they may not be parent friendly! As in, it’s fun for kids everywhere, but it’s us parents who can’t handle kids in certain dangerous places. So, here’s what I did to assuage my mom guilt. I left 7 surprise gifts for him, for the 7 days I wouldn’t be there. Simple gifts, from tiffin snacks, to things he could share with his friends. He also enjoyed painting and decorating my boots, and was very proud when I sent him pictures of me wearing the boots. Also, I tried to take videos which I thought he would enjoy, like camping tent ( thankyou peppa pig), hot air balloon, wriggly worms etc, and sent them whenever there was internet. Do not promise that you will call at a particular time, network is patchy, and you don’t want to break a promise you made. When I returned, his first words when he saw me were “ Mama I got Boo Boo ( hurt ) and showed me the scratch on his feet. “ , I replied with “ mama got Boo Boo too” and showed him my blisters and leech marks on my feet. That thrilled him to bits , if you have boys, they will LOVE it! For the next three days he put bandaid on every blister and leech mark. He never once complained about me not being there. Kids, they really are troopers. So, mama, don’t feel guilty for having the time of your life.

the famous yellow boots. Someone actually asked me if they were Thanos' boots. Infinity boots ?

Now, for the last bit- the MUSIC.
I know you are thinking, 2000 words in, she is writing about a music festival, and no word on the music. It’s because I  wanted to keep the best for the last. I think, the one thing that most influenced me about ziro was that I came back with a whole new playlist of songs I listen to now. There was music everywhere, and all the time. Eclectic bands playing everything from Classical Indian, to indigenious musical instrumentals, to psychedelic trance, to genres I had never heard before, bands from Japan , Korea and Lithuania, and then you had the campers having impromptu gigs into the wee hours of the morning, and then mornings when campers would plug in their playlist on the speakers. May be I was in a particularly receptive state, but the universe seemed to speak to me through the music during this trip. And that’s my one tip, keep an open mind. Listen to every genre. I went back and googled most of the artists, and now follow many of their music on spotify, and we are even dancing for a wedding sangeet to one of the Indie bands I heard at the festival. It completely depends on you, how much you take from an experience, just like in life. I was impressed by all the musicians who sang and played their own musical instruments at the camp, so if you do, carry your harmonica, guitar, mandolin.

Party like the locals !

Seeing my increased interest  in Music, my Instagram algorithm suggested I buy a Kalimba, an African musical instrument. Instagram , had suggested I go for Ziro music festival, I think that was a good suggestion, so I went ahead and bought a Kalimba. It’s on its way!
if you wish to read more ( and there's a lot more  - find my hashtag on insta #foodietrailstonortheast )

Saturday, September 21, 2019

How to write about unfamiliar cuisine : Let's write about food

Writing about unfamiliar cuisine : Let’s write about food

In December of 2017, I started a series of posts on food writing for Indian food writers with the hashtag #indianfoodwriting.

I am bringing the theme of food writing back on my blog with this post on writing about unfamiliar cuisine, with insider tips from some of India’s favourite food bloggers.

The Indian food sceneriao in the last couple of years has undergone a slight paradigm shift. We have started exploring a lot of indigenious Indian cuisines, regional cuisines are making a bang with their pop-ups. The other fact is that we are exploring exotic international cuisine, and it is no more clubbed into the broad categories of Continenetal and Chinese, but now we have Italian recipes based on region like Tuscany and Campania, and exotic cuisine like Israeli or Argentinian cuisine.

As food bloggers, we are some of the first to try these cuisines, when a restaurant decides to showcase a new cuisine. A lot of recipe food bloggers are exploring foreign recipes on their blogs. Many food and travel bloggers introduce new and unique dishes to their readers from their travels. So, what are the points to remember when trying unfamiliar cuisine for the first time, and how to write about unfamiliar cuisine?

I asked a few of my foodie friends and this is what we came up with.
Scroll down to the end for easy pointers, for those who don’t like to read too much text. Continue reading for the unabridged version

First, do not tell the chef, or Home chef serving the dish that ‘This is too spicy/sour/sweet.’ Remember, they are the expert in that cuisine, and maybe the dish is supposed to taste that way. You may say ‘ it is too spicy for my taste’, but the first tip I would like to share is –be appreciative of the cuisine, and that way the chef will be more inclined to share more about the cuisine.

Some dishes taste better in their unique combinations, like Thai green curry with Jasmine rice, can you have it with bread/roti/ friedrice? Sure, you can, but when trying an unfamiliar cuisine for the first time, try and have it in the most authentic, old school way it was meant to be had, to get the complete experience of the combination. Disha Khurana from @aperfectfusion shares her process when attending food tastings “ Say you are attendng a Russian food tasting, your key search words on google or Pinterest would be Russian recipes, Russian desserts, and even major produce that grows in Russia too, as most age old recipes are a result of the produce that is available. These help me form a few questions for the chef before hand.”

I remember the first time I went to Rajasthan and tried Dal Batti Churma, I broke pieces of the batti and dipped it in the dal, then ate a bite of the churma. That brings me to the next point that , some dishes have unique ways of enjoying them, like the bati or the ball dough is supposed to be crushed and mixed with the dal. So, don’t feel embarrassed to either ask other diners, or even the wait staff on how to best eat it. From experience, I have seen that the wait staff are hesitant to point out these to a guest. In foreign countries it could be because of the language barrier, and in India too, if you ask the wait staff their standard answer is,“ You can have it anyway you like.” That is not all that helpful is it?

On our trip to Rome, I youtubed the best way to eat pasta, even though India has a lot of Italian restaurants, but is there a particular way to have pasta, twirl it on a fork perhaps, and what is the best way to enjoy Pizzas ? Watching Italians eat Pasta became my favourite travel past time.
So, if you are writing about a particular food, try and find out what is the best combination to have it with, and any unique way to enjoy it.

Food and travel blogger Roxanne Bamboat of @thetinytaster shares “  Research as well as my own experiences play a role in my food writing. If I have been to said country/region before, then I draw a lot from it. Also If I am not sure about something, I make that clear in my writing. I don’t have much faith in Wikipedia, but I trust talking to chefs and other people whose taste I trust.”

When restaurants have tastings for unique food cuisines, many tend to serve it in a thali format, that allows multiple dishes to be savoured, and also the visual appeal of seeing a whole gamut of colours and flavours in one plate, is very instagram friendly and satisfying to the senses. What is nice to remember is that there is generally a sequence to tasting these dishes, just like coursed meals in international cuisine. For example in Bengali cuisine of Durga pujo Bhog,  the tart date and tomato chutney is had after the main course and before the dessert of payesh  , and acts as a palate cleanser. You can have it at the beginning, but the right sequence of eating a meal, helps the food tell its own unique story. And this is something you want to experience first hand to share with your readers later.

If you are travelling to a new place whether within India or outside of India, as food and travel bloggers, visiting the local markets add a fascinating dimension to your food experience in a foreign land. From spices to vegetables, there are many interesting food stories to unravel and share with your readers.

Delving into an unfamiliar ingredient or spice, can help you write about a particular cuisine better. Be it the different fermented foods of Korea, or the different olive oils of Italy.
Purabi Naha, who shares international food recipes on her blog , and also is an avid traveller shares  “ I gather information from google, old newspaper articles, facebook threads, also watch IGTV and youtube recipe videos. Sometimes I go the extra mile to speak to home-cooks whenever I visit a foreign land. Strangers share the recipe secrets with me happily.”

While ordering at a restaurant serving unfamiliar cuisine, here is what I do. Take a quick look around at the most popular dish ordered at the place, in an Italian restaurant it was this red and white dish, which we came to know was the house special Gnocchi. And while gnocchi has never been my favourite Italian dish, I was glad we ordered it that day. The second tip is to do a quick search of Trip advisor/instagram tags of that place, and see what people have previously eaten there. Look for the asterisk of ‘chefs special’ on the menu itself. While I wait for my meal, I always do a quick read on Wikipedia about the dish, like I did when I first ate Bibimbap. Things like how to mix the dish, any particular order of eating it, what are the best condiments to eat it with.

Many foodies prefer to be surprised by the experience. They love to try a cuisine without any previous pre conceived notions. They let their own tastebuds guide them .  Jade from @thatgoangirl shares “I usually don’t write about a new cuisine, or talk to the chef if it’s the first time I’m trying it. I try and make sense of the flavours , and find words to describe them myself. And then I watch videos, or do a little research on the ingredients, so that the next time I try it, I am a little more familiar. I try not to talk to anyone, because I’m an introvert. If I am writing about the second time I am tasting a cuisine, I mention about the first time I tried the cuisine in my article.”

Sometimes you come across a cuisine which is very similar to Indian cuisine, for me that was Mexican cuisine. The first time I had a burrito, I exclaimed this is just like rajma rice, wrapped in a roti! And that’s exactly what I wrote. Enchiladas were like Indian Gujiyas , and my Dominican republic blog post is all about how similar cuisines from half way across the world are to us. Making unfamiliar cuisine more acceptable and familiar for our readers, is part of a food bloggers job, so drawing on similarities between different regional dishes, or even international dishes is a way to entice your readers to try something new.Vernika Awal from shares “ I make sure to study before a meal… what fascinates me is how in India we all use some similar basic spices in all kitchens and come up with different flavours based on the geography.”

The last point is, about bringing your own identity and life experiences into play while writing about foreign cuisine.  How a Native Australian will write about Australian cuisine, will be very different from a first generation immigrant to Australia, and also from a tourist visiting Australia for the first time. Stay authentic to your palate, because many of your readers , follow you for your take on the food, and not necessarily for a Wikipedia narration of your experience. Mudra Keswani from shares “Bhopal being a small city .. it was extremely difficult to learn new things, it’s when I was doing my trainingwith Marriott that I learnt from people in the food industry. Doing the food tastings, and the chefs explaining the dishes to me was valuable experience.I hosted 8-9 chinese food festivals and learnt that the cuisine is huge in itself, for example Cantonese is very different from Sichuan."

Now, a bonus point. When writing about a foreign cuisine, try and pepper your writing with words and phrases from that language. What is the word for spicy in Malyalam? What is the word for cheesy in Italian? Is there a particular word to describe good Kimchi in Korean ? don’t be afraid to use words like ‘chatpata’ , and ‘masaaledar’ in your Indian writing. In Bengali the pungent flavours of Mustard, that seem to rise like heat  and come out as steam from your ears and your nostrils , is called ‘jhaanj’ . and if all else fails, do not forget to show your appreciation to the chef as well as in your writing, by using the word for delicious in the local language, badhiya hai in UP, to wadiya hai in Punjab, chaan aahe in Maharashtra , to bareh asa in Konkani , to ‘mah sit ssoyo’ in Korean .
As promised here are some pointers.
1.       Don’t be judgemental of the cuisine, go with an open mind.
2.       Read up about the basics of the cuisine, the major industries and food ingredients of the cuisine, a simple google search or even looking at pictures on pinterest or instagram will help you to anticipate what the food will look like, and take better pictures, write better.
3.       If visiting a new place, try and visit the local market, or even supermarkets.
4.       Don’t be embarrassed to ask question. To the chef, to your foodie friends who have tried the cuisine before, or even talking to locals .

5.       Read blogs, see youtube videos , after you have tried the cuisine, or visited a place, or before writing your own recipe, to see what has already been said.
6.       How is the food eaten, what is the best food pairings with it, are there any cultural or traditional customs to the meal/food, any interesting trivia about how the dish was first created. Anything to make the cuisine come alive for your readers.

7.       Use simple, familiar words to describe your experience. Many of your readers /watchers may never have tried the cuisine too, so make it a little more familiar for them.
8.       Stay true to your own palate, if it is not something you would have again, or if it is something which is too slimy, gamy, smelly for you, share your experience, because most of your followers want to know your authentic experience, but never diss a cuisine. Remember to be respectful of the place and people serving you.

9.       If you are attending a restaurant tasting, or writing a recipe, but have visited the place before, or have tried the cuisine before, draw on your previous experiences to make your writing more layered.
10.   Use local words. Unfamiliar words paired with unfamiliar cuisine, adds to the exotic feel of your writing. Also being able to say delicious in the local language will earn you brownie points from the people who served you.

Hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. Do like, share and comment. And feel free to read the other food writing posts under #indianfoodwriting. Lets write about food !