Monthly Archives: February 2013

Is Kerala Ready for me….

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Sometime in the next few days I am setting out on the ball ache of a journey that is the route to India from my front door, commencing with a twenty-minute taxi ride, followed by a four-hour coach journey to Heathrow airport, then several hours of tediously waiting around  at that last bastion of transportation and aviation, to then board an aeroplane to then be placed in my holding pen that the airline call a seat, for about Six hours before landing at Dohar which I am reliably informed is in Qatar,  an oil rich nation somewhere on the Arabian Gulf, where I will have to disembark for god knows how long, and then re-board yet another plane, oh much joy, to then  be placed again in an equally cramped, and uncomfortable airline seat to travel for yet another four hours in, yes you guessed it the upright  sitting position that is “Cattle class”.smiley-face-roti

If I am lucky enough to survive this and all being well crashes, delays, and technical hold-ups allowing, I will land in Gods own Country Kerala, sometime around eighteen to twenty hours after I leave my home in the bosom of England; the best part though is that once I get through that ordeal in travel  I get to remain there in Kerala, and yes I can hear myself relaxing already, for a couple of weeks of sunshine, food of the curried kind and the odd beer or two.

Yes Im am being a tourist and have  parked myself in a resort hotel, all mod cons, including air conditioning, scrupulously clean everywhere, swimming pools and a private beach,  the joy of a western toilet, and as much food and drink as I can stuff down all held together by  the hotel staff whose sole purpose in life is to ensure I am HAPPY 🙂

Come on give me a break I’m not a nineteen year old backpacker these days, and although the hotel is the base, and to some extent a place of safety from the jaw dropping extravaganza that is India; it is what is outside the front door that interests me, yep the jaw dropping extravaganza thats why I have put myself through the miseries of travelling cattle class to get there, having spent the last year accumulating the pennies, resisting the vice and temptation of the western world to get to this little corner of heaven for some memories that will hopefully last me the rest of my life..

I may be a grumpy old man, well thats how some define me but I will blog lots while I am there, reporting on my  trips to the restaraunts, toddy houses and food markets that cross my path. I am for all my faults a man of the modern world and will go equipped to blog… laptops and cameras at the ready, hopefully you will join me and mine through this journey and pass some comment as I go…..

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The Western Coast

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The West coast of India is a massive swathe of land that stretches from the state of Gujarat, through Maharashtra, and onwards towards the  wonders of Mumbai, and then down to one of my most favourite places on Earth Goa; it doesn’t end there going on through to the seaport of Mangalore in Karnataka and the historic Malabar region. There is even now a fantastic Railway that runs the entire length, so intrepid travellers can get a view of what some might call the Monsoon coast!India west coast_Map

Within such a vast piece of land the food is of course diverse to say the least, offering a variety of flavours and textures and being coastal the treasures of the sea feature heavily, with fish and coconut predominant in the diet of all the people’s that populate these lands.

That being a given ,one must not forget the wildcard that is the Portuguese whose rule and domination of this coast lasted many centuries, bringing to bear an influences on the dishes, culture and lives of all that it touched. Traditional Goan food which I must confess is the food that I know most about, having spent the majority of my time in India on the particularly beautiful stretch of coastal sand that  reaches a golden finger from Baga to Palolem and is in my opinion unmatched anywhere else in the world. Traditional Goan food is cooked in earthenware pots on wooden fires, this giving the food of the region a unique flavour that is very hard to copy, especially in a western kitchen. Goan food  is however the cuisine that is perhaps the most identifiable to the western palette and as such easiest to get your  head around. Goa is also a large enclave of the Christian faith, another Portuguese influence, and significant in that Christianity does not prevent the eating of Pork and beef as do many of the religions found throughout the great majority of Asia. Goa is also home to the Vindaloo curry that stalwart of the restaurant menu,and is often seen as a pork dish in Goa, but conversely mostly as chicken, or lamb within Europe and the rest of the world.

Another of the great dishes of the region that again features that stalwart of the meat eaters world Chicken is Caril de Galinha (click for recipe), however this is a dish that it is sadly very rare to find on a restaurant menu.

The state of Maharashtra lies in the west of the country and thanks to Bollywood boasts wealth and prosperity that is unknown in most parts of india , the cuisine of the area ranges from the most robust rural dishes through to those most elaborate and regal dishes favoured by the food lovers ofMaharashtra  Pune a city that is considered as the  little sister to Mumbai but the second largest city of the region; with Shrikand (click for recipe) that sweetest and most subtle of dishes being a firm favourite and is considered by many a a good rival to the western soufle, whilst if you want something with a little more clout then get your taste buds round a spicy lamb curry known locally as Mutton Kolhapuri,(click for recipe) fiery and fragrant and definitely not a curry for the faint hearted, and again not commonly found anywhere other than the domestic kitchen…..

Perhaps arguably the greatest city in India rests in this region Mumbai, not the biggest city in India but certainly one of the most cosmopolitan with many International interests all competing for a piece of the action from overseas banks and utility call centres, through to the most humble of street side subsistence farmer selling some excess veg for a few rupees.  The city has growmumbai-slumsn massively over the years with the British influence here since the Raj playing a huge part, with now other multi National interests all clamouring for a piece of the action of a cheap and plentiful supply of workers.  The population of the city runs into millions, from the slums of Dharavi, featured in Slum Dog Millionaire, a massive  conglomeration of dwellings that operates almost as a city in its own right; through to the palatial mansions that can be seen in the better areas of the city.

Street food is Mumbai is the order of the day with so many hungry mouths to feed. In the west we have MacDonald’s on every street corner, in Mumbai they have Pao Bhaji (click for recipe), a deliciously simple vegetable curry served with Bread known locally as Pav, and cheap enough to fill an empty stomach and something that can be found everywhere you would expect to find hungry people better still priced at a level that most can afford, filling and tasty, but if your going to try it leave it til the end of your trip as the health and safety of the kitchen that provides it cannot be guaranteed. There is of course a wide variety of street food available and yes I would encourage you to try, the samosa the bhajis and the chapatis, blindingly delicious if a little risky…..but lets face it a life without risk is no life at all….