"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)

food

Madras Mix

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The omnipresence of snacks;
in this case meat or vegetarian “cutlets”, puri, vegetarian samosas and meat samosas,
with a choice of spicy pickle accompaniments:

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Pictures taken by the roadside in Chennai


Our Daily Bread

For the duration of our stay in Ladakh, all the meals tasted remarkably good.
Whether their appeal was coloured by the many hours we spent outside, in the cool of high altitude, is difficult to judge.
But freshly baked, Ladakhi naan breads are pretty close to heaven!
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Picture of a typical bakery taken in Leh, Ladakh.


Night And Day

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Initially, arriving back at our guest-house, we failed to notice there was no electric power.
But as the darkness grew ever denser, it became very apparent.
Not only were we unable to read, the temperature had begun to plummet.

There was little to do other than listen to our anxious host attempting to start his petrol-powered generator.
Once light was regained, he invited us to join his family in “the kitchen”: a large, gloriously warm room, heated by a wood-stove.

Suddenly, we were en famille with four generations of Ladakhis:
the owner’s grandmother with her beads and prayer-wheel, oblivious to our presence and perpetually focused on another world;
his mother supervising the cooking; his wife serving us hot and delicious food;
the host himself, along with his brother, joining us for supper;
the youngest generation, fluent in English and busy on the internet.
All of us, seated on mats and cushions.
The room warm and welcoming, but without even a single chair.

When the meal finished, a gas-stove was taken up to our bedroom.
The generator continued to give lighting for almost another hour – but there was only ice-cold water for washing.
We disconnected the stove’s gas cylinder, turned off the light switches, then buried ourselves under several layers of thick blankets..
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At seven o’clock the next morning we were awoken with a large pot of hot Tibetan tea: an infusion of tea-leaves, butter, sugar and salt.
Thirty minutes later, a single bucket of hot water arrived.
Though the bathroom was so desperately cold that we could only stand on its freezing floor if wearing shoes, it was finally our chance to wash!

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After shamefully hasty ablutions, and having dressed as quickly as possible, the warm kitchen again awaited us,
along with an amazing breakfast of freshly cooked, hot pitta breads, butter, local apricot jam and steaming cups of coffee.
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Pictures taken in the Namra Guesthouse, Tingmosgang, Ladakh.


Maundy Matters

Alter-boys precede some of the twelve young men who wait to have their feet washed.
(Picture taken in Holy Cross Basilica, Fort Cochin)
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Kerala Maundy bread, made from unleavened rice-flour flavoured with onion, garlic and salt. Before eating, it is dipped in a bowl of sweet coconut milk and jaggery sauce.
This represents the bitter-sweet nature of Maundy Thursday.
The small cross is fashioned from a Palm Sunday leaf.

Dalila came with Shaji and their sons, Fabian and Stefan, to deliver the bread she had baked for me, late on Maundy Thursday.
Anu and Stefan, can just be glimpsed in the background.
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 maundy [ˈmɔːndɪ]
n pl maundies
(Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) Christianity the ceremonial washing of the feet of poor persons in commemoration of Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet (John 13:4-34) re-enacted in some churches on Maundy Thursday
[from Old French mandé something commanded, from Latin mandatum commandment, from the words of Christ: Mandātum novum dō vōbīs A new commandment give I unto you]

(From Collins English Dictionary)


Fast Food

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Cooking banana fritters in Fort Cochin


A Cornish Supper

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Temple Tourists

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After a promenade in Pondicherry it was time to start the journey back towards India’s south-western coast.
Thanjavur was our overnight stop.

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A south Indian breakfast provides more than sufficient calories to fuel the rigours of temple tourism. But should hunger overwhelm the pilgrim, spiritual snacking is permitted.

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On The Road

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A long journey lay ahead of us.
Leaving our hotel in Belur early, we decided to take breakfast on the road.

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On my first visit to India, any thought of eating in one of the countless, road-side restaurants induced emotions ranging from a tight-lipped “I think not” to something verging on hypochondriacal terror.


Their cleanliness and décor can prove challenging to a Western eye.

But I have since learnt that the food served is invariably tasty, cheap and safe!
As expected, breakfast in this establishment was far better than any we had eaten in our tourist-class hotels.

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Back on the road, there was little to do but observe:

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Take lunch:

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Then observe once more:

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While the scenery changed:

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Until finally we reached Hampi,

Our hotel,
Cool showers
And cooler beers. 

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Reasons To Be Happy

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This weekend, Hindus all across the world celebrated Holi.

Although in Kerala Holi is a relatively low-key event, packets of brightly coloured powders were on sale along the roadside.

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But I had my own celebration.

My cousin from the USA was stopping over

And she came bearing the very best sort of gifts:

Cheeses!

A deliciously mature Oregon cheddar,

Canadian Brie

And, just for Holi, a rich-looking, blue cheese.

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The first picture in this post depicts Radha celebrating Holi, Kangra, India. Date: c. 1788. Source: Victoria Albert Museum, London. In India this image is held in the public domain.


Preparing for a Feast: Paysam

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Every festival in India is a feast for all the senses.

And in Kerala, every feast finishes with paysam.

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Vast cauldrons and trays of the dessert are prepared.

In Kannamaly the church hall is used for its storage.

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This paysam will be given as part of the free meal but can also be purchased

As a “take-away”

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Preparing for a Feast: Profane

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Preparations for the feast of St Joseph also involve food:

Quite a lot of food.

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Vegetarian curries and rice will be prepared in almost industrial quantities

To feed people of all faiths and denominations.

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Elegant Eating

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My son and his wife are still with me.

The evening climate is warm and welcoming.

Our garden supper, in an elegant restaurant, was the excellent end to a gentle day.


I opted for a rich, cheese and tomato, home-made ravioli.

“The children” both settled on “fisherman’s dream”, a medley of sea-food, served on basmati rice, with a coconut-based, curry sauce.

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Their chosen dessert: miniature chocolate samosas, accompanied by fresh mango coulis.

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Celebrating with a seafood supper!

They are jet-lagged.

They are exhausted.


But they are here!

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They have put behind them the frustrations and disappointment of their cancelled Christmas visit.

They are trying to forget the staggering inefficiencies of Air India and the total indifference of their ground staff.

They are coming to terms with being marooned for eight hours in Mumbai, with no one apparently interested in helping them finish the last leg of their thirty-six hour, booked and confirmed, flight schedule.

My youngest son and daughter-in-law have arrived from Washington DC.

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Now is the time to relax and celebrate.

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During supper at Oceanus Restaurant, a leisurely five-minute stroll from my home, all the tensions and uncertainties that bedevilled their journey slip away.

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Lunch Is Served

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With three guests staying,

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Dalila, Shaji and Anu were busy all morning in the kitchen

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Preparing Malabar fish curry, tomato fry, prawn curry, ginger curry, fish fry and Kerala rice

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A real feast of a lunch, to be enjoyed on the roof terrace.

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Butchered

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Sometimes walking late at night

I stop before a closed butcher shop.

There is a single light in the store

Like the light in which the convict digs his tunnel.

 

An apron hangs on the hook:

The blood on it smeared into a map

Of the great continents of blood,

The great rivers and oceans of blood.

 

There are knives that glitter like altars

In a dark church

Where they bring the cripple and the imbecile

To be healed.

 

There is a wooden block where bones are broken,

Scraped clean– a river dried to its bed

Where I am fed,

Where deep in the night I hear a voice.

 

“Butcher Shop”  by Charles Simic

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To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.”

Tacitus ( 55 AD – 120 AD)

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Café Lite

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Sunday morning called for another breakfast at the Sri Krishna Café,

A sensual feast of taste, smell and colour.

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With just un soupçon of people watching, on the side.

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The Pleasures Of Food Shopping

I love Kerala food.

This is probably just as well. Outside of the tourist restaurants, there is little else to eat.

Increasing age brings a somewhat jaded palate. Kerala cuisine, with its abundant use of local produce such as cardamom, black peppers, ginger, garlic and coconut, is an excellent restorative to the fading sense of taste. Dalila, my cook, can always tempt me with her amazing dishes.

But there are two things I miss:

Bacon:

and European cheeses.

Both have fiercely strong tastes. They are almost pungent.

Here bacon is unheard of.

The locally available cheese is processed and bland, having a slightly plastic taste and consistency.

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Last week I came across an article in The Hindu, one of India’s national English language newspapers.

It featured “Gourmet House”, a local shop specialising in imported foods.

They sell European cheeses.

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This morning saw me riding pillion on a friends motorbike, across to the mainland. I carried a small back-pack.

Stepping into Gourmet House, I felt like a child walking into in a toy-shop at Christmas.

Here was everything I had missed and many items I hadn’t even dreamt of missing.

Half an hour and Rs. 2,250 ( £30 or $50) later, I emerged.

At home I unpacked my luxuries:

Fine blackcurrant jam, Scottish marmalade, sliced pepperoni, Lee & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, pickled gherkins, back bacon,

and cheese.

Mature English cheddar, Red Leicester, French Camembert and Danish Blue.

Combining these culinary treasures with the excellent local bread I have recently sourced, my future lunchtime snacks may be more gourmand than gourmet.

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With thanks to John, my dear brother-in-law, for pointing me to this clip.

(The cartoon is taken from “The New Yorker”)

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They’re Loving It?

Until recently, a fast food snack in south India might consist of

Vada, usually served with coconut chutney

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or pazaham pori.

But times are changing.

There is new competition.

And this is its shape:

The McAloo Tikki Burger

Described as:

“A totally vegetarian sandwich, with regular bun, a crispy, breaded spicy potato and vegetable patty, eggless tomato mayonnaise, two slices of tomatoes and shredded onion.”

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“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the two shall meet”

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Many Indians see the cow as sacred. It is believed to be a symbol of both the earth and idealised motherhood, representing perpetual generosity which asks nothing in return.

The cow is not worshipped as a deity but figures frequently in Hindu iconography both as Krishna’s favourite animal and Shiva’s vehicle. In some ways, the cow holds a place similar to sheep in Christian symbolism.

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With India reluctant to view the cow as walking hamburgers, perhaps it’s not surprising that McDonalds went for the vegetarian option .

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Sea Food

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Fast Food at Café Krishna

It is Sunday.

I have no cook and four mouths to feed for breakfast.

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We set out by motorbike

and by auto.

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Sri Krishna Café is always busy.

The waiter, despite his unnerving tremor, is friendly and helpful.

We choose

Masala Dosa

And Onion Oothappams.

Then greedily, we all follow our meals with Vada

And, of course, chai (tea).

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The food is delicious.

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The bill is totalled up:

Four  two-course breakfasts have amounted to 130 Rupees (less than £2 or $3)

Money well spent!

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Plat du Jour

Dalila and Shaji, the husband and wife team who look after both me and my home, work from Monday to Saturday. On Sunday they take a well deserved break.

Fortunately, before leaving on Saturday, Dalila stocks up the fridge with pots of freshly prepared curries.

Generally speaking, I would rather go out, or without, than enter the kitchen. So on Sunday morning Sumant, my bright (B.A. Hons.) and eager, resident houseboy, turns his mind to feeding us.

Since working for me, he has mastered the cooking of rice and chappatis. Today a friend makes an early visit, to broaden Sumant’s skills.

First: onions, garlic, curry leaves, ginger and green chilli are chopped.

Lentils

are washed

and salted.

A little of the diced vegetable is added

while the rest is fried with mustard seeds in coconut oil.

Then the two parts are united, chilli powder is added, and the mixture boiled for a little longer.

Meanwhile, chappatis are being prepared:

The master-class is almost finished.

Breakfast is served:

Dhal and chappatis, with freshly pressed papaya juice.

The Kerala alternative to a full English breakfast.


Gone Fishing

Fish is a vital part of the Malabar diet,

And fishing a major local employer.

As well as the boats which catch fish, crab and prawns from the coastal waters,

Cochin uses large, ancient cantilevered nets,

Thought to have been introduced by the Chinese in the fifteenth century.

Even the name Cochin is said to mean “like China”.

Sadly, fishing stocks have never fully recovered from the tsunami of 2004.

But every morning fishermen are to be seen bringing their catch ashore,

Mending their nets,

And raising the Chinese fishing nets,

Then, as the catch is sold in the nearby market

The fishermen

Relax


Enjoying their Bounty

The word Kerala means “Land of the Coconut”

Coconut palms grow along our coast

 

The backwaters

 

And even cast their shadows in the city.

 

In the cooler climes of Europe, coconut palms have always appeared exotic:

“The Taste of Paradise”

Here in India, advertisements for coconut are instead for grooming products.

Coconuts require regular harvesting if you are to avoid head injuries.

 

A coconut palm grows in my front yard.

It is remarkably fecund, producing well over two hundred coconuts a year.

Through the rumblings of our May-time thunder storms, I often hear loud resonating thumps:

The sound of coconuts tumbling to the ground.

On opening the front doors yesterday Sumant, my houseboy, found several newly fallen coconuts.

A little later Dalila, the cook, arrived.

She took the coconuts through to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

Then promptly returned to announce:

“Sir, We have produced twins!”

 

 

 

 

 


The Four Horsemen and Me

The previous two postings were an attempt to beguilingly dangle my size 44 chappaled feet out from the restriction of electronic purdah.

“For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones burned as an hearth.
My heart is smitten and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.
By reason of the sound of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin.
I am like a pelican on the wilderness,
I am like an owl of the desert. I watch and as am a sparrow, alone upon the roof.”

Well, maybe not exactly.

Whilst I travelled in the States, four horsemen of the apocalypse briefly visited my home and body.

They left business cards.

In their wake, strong tropical storms had brought down trees, cables and my defences.

Shaji. Dalila & Sumant, my trusty staff, have overseen the slow reopening of communication channels between myself and my public.

The internet cable is now intact; the wi-fi router again controls local airspace; the mobile phone is accepting at least some of my text messages.

Although the digital camera may still languish in a technician’s workshop; its screen perpetually frozen on New Mexican vistas; my chest now produces only moderate volumes of green sputum – the club class freebie offered to frequent fliers with sufficient air-miles.

Shaji, Dalila and Sumant  respond to my indisposition with well rehearsed efficiency. My agent was consulted for advice on how to interpret the ka-ka entrails; physicians’ opinions, western, ayurvedic and “homoepathic”, were offered but declined.

I start myself on anti-pyretics and the antibiotics that happen to be at hand – more suitable for Dengue or diarrhoea than a chest infection – but broad-spectrum and surprisingly efficacious.

Following some days of semi-hibernation, a diminishingly productive cough, and indifferent appetites, I arise, sleek and slim-lined, renewed and reinvigorated. Not, perhaps, a butterfly of tropical exotica, but firing on three cylinders and in the mood for a malabar fish curry.