First off, here is a confession. I have for some strange reason always used the formula of putting up a post when I have a recipe AND a story to back it up because that is the formula that seems to have worked for me the most. More often than not, I find myself with ready recipes (because I cook for a living now) but without a story I find worth telling. So, I always end up putting the post off for later. The end result being, the recipes remain forever pending because stories are not things that can be conjured in the blink of an eye; at least not for me. So, here’s me, deciding to take a step in another direction. I have no story to tell today, but what I do have is this recipe which I came up with last week and instantly fell in love with; a recipe that is going to be a staple in my kitchen; a recipe that had me licking my plate clean both the times I tested it.
This is a hearty chicken curry with some strong North Kerala undertones. The main players in this recipe are coconut, ginger, garlic and green chilies and it may nudge your fancy to know that there is absolutely no red chili powder used in this dish. So, here you go.
Things you will need:
Chicken- 500 grams (preferably on the bone. But if you must get the boneless variety, get chicken thighs)
Grated coconut/ full fat desiccated coconut- 3 tablespoons/ quarter cup
Onions- 2 medium sized, chopped finely
Tomatoes- 2 small, chopped
Green cardamom- 3 pods
Turmeric powder- 1/2 teaspoon
Coriander powder- 3 heaped tablespoons
Ginger- 1 inch stick
Garlic- 8-10 large pods
Green chilies- 6-7
Coconut milk (thick)- 200 ml
Cooking oil (I prefer coconut oil)
Curry leaves- 2 sprigs
Water- half cup
How to go about it:
First, grind the ginger, garlic and green chilies to make a coarse paste. Keep it aside. Next, grind the grated coconut with two tablespoons of water (more if using the desiccated variety) and grind very well into a smooth paste. Keep that aside.
Next, heat (medium heat) two tablespoons of cooking oil in a heavy bottomed wok. Add the cardamom pods and fry for for a minute. Add the chopped onions and saute till they turn nice and brown. Make sure you stay patient and get the onions brown as this is crucial for this recipe. Adding salt to the onions while you saute them helps in getting them to brown faster.
Once the onions are brown, add the ginger, garlic and green chili paste. Saute for a minute. Next, add the chopped tomatoes, mix well and keep the wok closed for a minute or until the tomatoes soften. Once soft, saute the mixture well for another two to three minutes. Next, add the turmeric and coriander powders and mix well and keep stirring until the oil starts to leave the sides of the mixture.
At this point, add the coconut paste and keep mixing for another minute. Add the chicken pieces and curry leaves. Mix well and keep frying the chicken till it loses the pink and starts to seal in the masala.
Add half a cup of water, mix well and keep wok closed for another four to five minutes. Next, add the thick coconut milk, mix well, and let the curry simmer on low heat (with the wok closed) till the chicken is cooked and the meat begins to fall off the bone. Stir once in a while to make sure the curry doesn’t stick to the bottom of the wok.
Once the curry achieves a nice, thick consistency, adjust the salt, turn off the heat, garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve hot. Goes amazingly well with rice, appams, idiyappams and chapatis.
Here I am, sitting in the warmth of my little apartment in Vienna alone, on a cold, dreary Sunday with my mug of oatmeal and almond milk; my staple breakfast ever since I moved to Europe and figured dairy and I could no longer remain friends. I have a long list of things to do and errands to run before I head back home to Kerala, which I jotted down on a flimsy bit of paper staring right back at me almost as if to remind me that I need to buck up. Our yearly trip back home is something I look forward to, all year. People all around keep asking me if I miss living in India and honestly, the answer to that is no. However, what I do miss is the familiarity of the surroundings in my hometown Trivandrum; the joys of living in a home where your mum runs the kitchen; the fact that you can let the child inside you run free for a few, short, glorious days; no responsibilities, no “adulting.”
Anyway, let me get to the point. One question that I get almost on a daily basis is how I manage to “stay fit” in spite of loving food with a passion like no other. Today, given the fact that quite a number of us have health and weight issues or even gastroenteritis issues at very young ages, I am going to let you into one of the basic rules in my mum’s kitchen; a rule that has travelled with me to my own kitchen; a rule I would love for each of your kitchens to embrace; and a rule that I give almost all the credit to for “staying fit”. It is simple. “You can eat whatever you like, as long as it is cooked at home.” Sounds tedious? It honestly isn’t, just hear me out.
All through my childhood, every celebration or festival, every birthday or anniversary in the house would invariably hear my mother utter this one question. “What would you like to eat?” All our meals, sweets, cakes, desserts, snacks, everything was homemade, every single time. Eating out was a feat that we as a family resorted to only maybe once in a year or maybe even two. I admit there must have a time or two when I felt a tad jealous of my friends at school who would innocently brag about their weekly (and sometimes daily) family outing for dinner or the Chinese take out that would more often than not have a place in their lunch boxes the next day. At the same time my lunch box would have a humble but fresh meal cooked by my mum’s soft hands early in the morning and almost always boiled rice, some stir fried vegetables and a small cup of yoghurt. The little lunch box wrapped with a frayed lunch towel and generously doused in love I can still feel tugging at my heart so many years later.
That may bring you to a couple of questions. Why make the effort if you can just takeout? Why bother to cook a meal in these days when one has no time even to catch a decent shut eye? It’s food at the end of the day, does it matter if it’s cooked at home or in the restaurant?
Let me explain.
The thing about a home cooked meal is that you know every single ingredient that goes into the dish and in turn into your body. You will know for certain the meat is fresh, the vegetables washed and clean; you even get to choose the oil that works for you and you will for certain know that it’s not refried oil (a major carrier of carcinogens research says) that you are putting into your body. Anyone who has ever deep fried stuff at home knows the sheer quantity of oil that goes to waste later. Do you honestly think the restaurants throw out the oil every single time to make way for fresh oil for every dish they serve? I might think not.
Next, let me address the time constraint. One thing my mum always tells me is this. Every soul on earth gets not a minute more than 24 hours a day. What you want to do with those 24 long hours is solely up to you and I do not mean to coax you to whip up a storm every single day. But how about starting with something as simple as stir fried veggies or grilled chicken or some simple dal with or without rice or anything else that you may fancy? Scramble a few eggs with onions and green chilies maybe? A one pot rice vegetables and meat? We live in a time when you have the world at your fingertips. There is never a dearth of easy, ten minute recipes on the internet, correct? So how about keeping aside half an hour for a home cooked meal? Everyday meals DO NOT have to be fancy and instagrammable, they just need to fill you with goodness. I understand that cooking does not come naturally to all of us but it really is a life skill just for survival and your own health’s sake.
Long story short, at the wake of a new year when we are all looking for resolutions to take up, how about deciding to keep aside a tiny portion of your day for a warm, home cooked meal? This does not mean that you do not stay away from the restaurants in toto; let’s just resolve to not let it be the norm. Please don’t forget to come back and thank me when you see the inches on your waist falling and your tummy less rumbly. This year, let’s resolve to make home cooked meals fashionable again 🙂
On that note, here is a recipe for an easy Spicy One Pot Vegetable Pilaf.
Things you will need:
Basmati Rice- 2 cups (washed and drained)
Onion- 1 large chopped finely
Tomato- 1 large chopped
Ginger- 1 tablespoon julienned
Potato- 1 large cubed
Carrots- 1 large cut into semi circles
(Add whatever vegetables you may like. Broccoli, cauliflower etc)
Whole Coriander seeds- 1 teaspoon
Whole black peppercorns- 1 teaspoon
Cinammon- a 2 inch stick
Cumin/jeera seeds- ½ teaspoon
Green cardamom- 3
Bay leaves- 2
Green chilies- 2 slit
Kashmiri chili powder- 1.5 teaspoon
Turmeric- ½ teaspoon
Corinader powder- 2-3 teaspoon
Garam masala powder- 1 teaspoon
Boiling Water- a little more than double the quantity of rice
How to go about it:
In a large heavy bottomed wok, heat three tablespoons of cooking oil on medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, cloves, cardamom, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon and bay leaves. Sauté for about 20 seconds.
Add the chopped onion and sauté until it gets nice and golden brown (important). Next goes in the ginger. Sauté for half a minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and the green chilies, mix well and keep the wok closed for two minutes or until the tomatoes are soft.
Add the spice powders and salt to taste and keep sautéing until the mixture looks homogeneous and the oil starts to separate. Add the vegetables and turn it all around in the wok. Keep the wok closed for about 30 seconds.
Next, add the washed and drained rice. Mix well but be careful so as to not break the grains of rice and keep sautéing for about two minutes.
Add the boiling water, mix well and keep the wok closed until the water is almost drained. Take off from the heat, drizzle some ghee and keep the wok closed for about 20 minutes before serving.
Travel for us, I realize, is not all about discovering the untainted slices of nature or about the secluded spots in the old towns; not just finding tiny coffee shops in quaint alleyways with the scent of finely brewed coffee and freshly baked cookies wafting out of the door; not just about exploring the woods where the birds sing and the leaves rustle in the cool afternoon breeze; and not just about the long drives through the countryside, by the fields of barley or the golden sunflowers, by the turquoise ocean or through the plains under the starry midnight sky. As much as we love each of these little joys associated with the kind of travel plans we make, I realize there is one other major factor that has made each of our little trips to various corners of the world happier, warmer and more memorable. The people.
When we planned our trip to the south of Tuscany a few months ago, we knew exactly what we wanted. A little boutique hotel in a tiny village somewhere far away from the Chiantis and the Sienas and the Florences and the herds of tourists associated with those names. Somewhere we could celebrate my 29th birthday in peace. Somewhere simple, fuss free and unpretentious. Somewhere happy. After going through a heap of suggestions (you know there is never a dearth of hotels and wineries in the region), we found this one suggestion that somehow felt like it was beckoning to us. Locanda la Pieve.
Nuzzled in one of the narrow lanes of the quiet and pretty village of Semproniano in the Grossetta province of Tuscany, Locanda la Pieve is a quaint boutique hotel run by the sweetest couple, Enrico and Angela. Enrico manages the kitchen and is the head chef while Angela wears the many other hats. Just as we arrived, Angela was there to welcome us and we could sense the love and the warmth that goes into the running of this hotel. Somehow, we knew straightaway that this place spelt out H-O-M-E like no other.
Location: Semproniano is the perfect spot if you want a quiet nook to spend a few days while you roam around the region tasting wine, relaxing under the trees, exploring the villages nearby or driving around the countryside. It is about an hour and a half away from Rome and is equidistant from the Tuscan mountain towns and the seashore. The proximity to the thermal spa at Saturnia adds to the advantages picking this spot for your glorious Tuscan holiday.
Décor: Locanda la Pieve is all about an experience reminiscent of your own home. The décor is simple, warm and comfortable. Be it the cozy furnishings at the entrance or the pretty dining area with the morning light streaming in through the thin white curtains, or even the cozy living corner where you can read a book or chat while sipping on a glass of Prosecco which Angela lovingly offers to bring for you, when you loiter around the kitchen, while you wait for the yummy dinner to be served. The rooms, again, are unpretentious, comfortable and leaves nothing to be desired, with the windows opening into the quiet lanes of beautiful Semproniano.
Food: Good Lord the food! Enrico weaves magic with his food, I kid you not. Locanda la Pieve uses only fresh, organic and seasonal produce (this is a philosophy that they swear by) and this becomes evident with every bite you take of the food that is served with love that is not experienced very often outside our homes. Both breakfast (complimentary) and dinner (upon request) is provided to the residents. There is no menu to choose from and I felt this was the best part about our meals there. Dinner comprises anything Enrico whips up using the freshest produce purchased from the local farmer; surprise antipasti, first course, second course and dessert, every day, each vying for the top spot in every meal. It has been two days since I last had a meal from their kitchen and believe me, my mouth is flooded at the mere thought of their handmade Pici in garlic and tomato sauce or my birthday dinner there. Yummm. Oh and ask Angela for wine recommendations!
People: If there is absolutely anything that the food at Locanda la Pieve would take second place to, it’s the kind of people that run this little place. It is their home that they open up to the public and they make you feel so welcome that it’s difficult to say goodbye and return to normalcy. I still remember what Angela said when she came with a steel tray laden with two glasses of Prosecco, some beautiful olives and some munchies. She set the tray down and said with a warm smile “Welcome! But this is the last time we say welcome and you say thank you. Familia, okay?” and she meant every word.
We have stayed at a number of hotels, home stays and the like in many different corners of the world. But somehow, Angela and Enrico will forever have a special place in our hearts. Something about the way she looks at you when you struggle to finish the plate of food (only because I have a tiny stomach and the portions are super generous haha), something about the way they greet you first thing early in the morning, the stories, something about the care they took to make sure my birthday was perfect, the little bag of cookies she baked specially for me, the “no munchies with your Prosecco today, or you will not eat dinner”, everything.
Something tells me that we have left a piece of our souls in Semproniano, and that we have found for ourselves a home in Italy that we will need to keep going back to and friends to keep for a lifetime. Thank you Angela and Enrico for the absolutely lovely experience! Cannot wait to come right back 🙂
PS: This is not a paid post or an advertisement. I mean every word and I feel the world deserves to experience the warmth and hospitality Locanda la Pieve has in store.
You wake up right before the sun; while the skies still sport the last stages of blue before the dawn breaks. You get yourself out of that warm, cozy bed to step out of your room. And the first thing to greet you in the morning is the majestic and absolutely breathtaking Sierra Nevada with the rising sun gently lending to the sky every shade of pink and orange imaginable. You feel the cool breeze on your face and there’s not a sound but for the smooth ruffle of the trees all around or maybe the birds in the distance singing to celebrate the arrival of yet another glorious day in beautiful Andalusia. This is just the beginning of what La Almunia del Valle has to offer.
It is not the best kept secret that both the husband and I are real suckers for luxury. Couple the luxury with reasonable prices, minimum tourists, serenity, nature and wine, you’d have found two very content souls. It is with this objective that we realized that boutique hotels in quaint, unheard of locations are where our hearts are the happiest and it is with this reason that we try to stay the farthest away from the cities, the noise, the glitz and the glamour every time we can. The experiences at the Marriotts, the Hyatts and the like have always felt like the run of the mill when placed in comparison with the experiences we have taken back from quaint, family run boutique hotels in many parts of the world; experiences that we relive and rewind in our heads over and over again and which make for great conversation while we lay in bed every night, right before we drift off to sleep. La Almunia del Valle is no exception and let me tell you why.
La Almunia Del Valle is nuzzled somewhere on the hillside in the dreamy village of Monachil. The village is straight out of a picture book. Green, sprawling mountains all around; low branches of trees hanging lovingly over the little stream gushing impatiently by; narrow, winding roads lined by primroses and yellow wildflowers aplenty; olive trees exuding their beautiful scent; cute cottages right out of a fairy tale with sloping roofs, traditional chimneys with silvery wisps of smoke wafting out and well-kept gardens where chickens pecked around; the crisp and cool summer breeze; the glorious Sierra Nevada all around for as far as the eye can reach.
Location and property:
The hotel is the definition of charming with a side of homey and picturesque. Situated in a breathtakingly beautiful spot on the hillside, overlooking the Sierra Nevada mountain range, La Almunia Del Valle is everything your mind, body and soul needs.
The hotel has a pretty spacious property, every corner of which speaks volumes about how well it is cared for. The trees, the lawns, the gardens with all the flowers, everything. The pool overlooking the mountains with pool chairs lined all around deserves a special mention. Especially for all those days you want to take a dip and relax by the pool, reading a book and sipping on cold beer after. And each time you look up from your book, you have the mountains steadily gazing back at you. Heaven.
Their terrace overlooking the mountains was indeed my favourite spot and with good reason. You can sit for hours at a stretch there, sipping on a glass of incredible Spanish wine and watch as the sun bids goodbye to the day. You can sit in absolute silence punctuated occasionally by the sound of church bells that comes drifting by with the evening breeze, or the murmur of a pick-up truck engine somewhere on the other side of the mountains that will reach you long after it’s gone on its way.
Interiors and decor:
The rooms are extremely comfortable and minimally and tastefully decked up. Be it the large, comfy bed or the soft pillows, the books (both English and Spanish!) stacked by the bed side, the warm lamps, candles, it was evident how much thought had gone into each of the aspects.
Something else about this hotel that caught my fancy was that there is no dedicated restaurant. It is just a large common space/room with wooden floors and furnished with comfortable arm chairs, sofas, a beautiful fireplace, book shelves stacked with books of all kinds, and few tables and chairs for when it’s meal time; adding even more to the “feel at home” vibe.
Food and drink
The breakfast in the hotel is complimentary with the room. Get yourselves some warm bread, homemade cakes, chorizos, eggs, bacon or sausages and grab a glass of that divine orange juice and settle into the comfy nook on the terrace. The breakfast is simple, homemade and tasty; not with a million options but everything made with love and care.
Dinner is available only on request. The menu is preset and they prepare the meal only for the exact number of people who place a booking. The dinner is available only for house guests and is prepared with ingredients freshly and locally sourced from the village market. We had the in house dinner one evening and it was as tasty as what you would expect out of a home kitchen.
Now for the drinks. The in-house bar keeps a list of carefully handpicked Spanish wines and Cava among other liqueurs. Needless to say we went to town with some glorious Spanish white wine while chatting away about old times and new, while comfortably seated facing the mighty mountains, and even a bottle of Cava which was on the house.
It has been more than a month since we visited this absolutely stunning hotel and I still feel like I am living in the hangover from the mesmerizing experience it was. I still feels like I have left a part of my soul somewhere in the countryside there- with the wildflowers and the olive trees; in the wilderness; in the mountains. This is the place to unwind, to get a grip of your own being, to calm your soul, to be one with nature and to make memories.
PS: They have the cutest dog, Fermin and the priciest cat, Clyde in the history of time. Those two were the highlights of our visit and we miss those snuggles even today.
As you might have noticed, the Husband and I thrive on peace and quiet and strive to stay the farthest away from the noises and the cacophony offered by city life in general, while we can. This means even when we pick our holiday destinations, more often than not, we try to pick places that fit our description of ‘picturesque’ with a side of amazing food and drink. Having said that, Mexico made an entry on my list of ‘beautiful specks on the globe to experience before I die’ long before I remember and had stuck on ever since; ever since the six-year-old me breathed Mexico vicariously through a few characters (a scarecrow and his three bird friends) I have known and loved so dearly, who had paid this beautiful country a visit in one of the books from the series that came as a gift from mum and dad during my childhood. So, naturally when an opportunity came-a-knocking to visit Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, that provides beautiful, fertile ground for history, culture and food, you bet we pounced on it.
Thus began the journey to to the Mexican soil. It does not take much to guess that the journey was rather long and cumbersome, given the fact that we had to fly half way across the planet from Vienna to Mexico City. I’m not venturing into any of the insignificant, yet atrociously tiresome events that took shape during the time spent traversing from Vienna to Madrid to Mexico City. Just does not fit in to the larger, colourful picture of memories painted by the vibrant and effervescent city that is Ciudad de Mexico.
So. Touchdown CDMX.
The moment we landed in Mexico City, I felt the city exuded vibes that reminded me of good old Mumbai. Maybe it was the hustle and bustle at the airport, or maybe even the warmth of the people around, or possibly the crazy after work hours’ traffic on a Friday night. Or was it just the ever familiar stench that welcomed us just as we stepped out of the airport; the same kind that screams out ‘developing nation’ to you; the same smell that overpowers everything else around the Bandra Worli sea link, which leaves you confused without knowing what exactly to attribute it to.
The first impression that CDMX painted for us on the Friday evening as we landed was one that was reminiscent of many large cities in the emerging world; sky scrapers all around, people clothed in office wear scurrying about probably hoping to get a couple of after-work drinks to welcome the arrival of the weekend, brightly lit street food outlets enticing you with whiffs of hot tacos, teens in their flashy outfits and dolled up faces sporting bright pouts, homeless people waiting by the road sides hoping to make a few coins by cleaning windscreens of the cars that stop at the traffic light despite the impatient honks and angry yells meted out to them, children clad in torn, grey rags begging for food from passersby, the flower vendors seated amidst lovely hues of yellows, pinks and reds. Somehow, everything felt strangely familiar at first.
But the rest of the week that I spent in the city taught me that I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong. There’s something so mysteriously beautiful about getting to visit a foreign land; exploring the alleyways, the local markets, lesser known food joints where the locals relish their daily grub. It is invariably behind the rosy facades of glamorous city life that the real soul and essence of the place lives; always beyond that posh restaurant where you are socially obliged to wear your best dress, the red lips and those pointed heels while you sip on that Dirty Martini with indiscrete fervour that the real, unabashed culinary skills of the place hide; and always beyond the Marriots and the Sheratons that you find the eyes that twinkle with sheer joy whilst you enjoy that cup of coffee ever so lovingly served despite the greatest of language barriers. So, this is going to be a virtual tour around everything food that caught my fancy in a city that grows on you with every passing moment; a city that has a little bit of everything to offer.
Mercado de Jamaica or the Jamaica Market (pronounced as Ha-maica ‘cause well, Jalapenos)- One of the biggest, traditional local markets in the city known for its fresh produce such as veggies, meat and above all, for its flowers. Jamaica (meaning Hibiscus in Spanish) Market houses about 1000 flower vendors without counting hundreds of other vendors selling meat, spices and vegetables. This sprawling indoor market was rather fascinating for me considering most market concepts in India are outdoor with the vendors squatting next to their produce in the Sun.
The market also has a full section dedicated to Piñatas (the papier-mâché containers typical to Mexico, which are filled with candy and burst during celebrations. Read about it, the history is beyond fascinating) which come in hundreds of shapes, sizes and colours.
Within the walls of Jamaica Market is another universe altogether- the bustling of hardworking businessmen, the smell of fresh produce, the colours, the noise, the smiles. Never ending rows of peppers in every shade of green, orange and red beautifully arranged, spice vendors and flower vendors selling possibly every single flower you would have heard of in all the years you’ve spent living. But the real deal for me was (hands down!) the local food that is sold in the market.
There are a couple of sweet local women who sit right at the entrance of the market selling hot Champurrado (a drink that is made of corn, chocolate and cinnamon) in large earthen pots with bright blue lids that caught my eye and quesadillas made of Blue Corn (also known as Hopi Maize) which is typical to Mexican Cuisine.
The two options available for quesedillas were both vegetarian surprisingly- pumpkin blossoms or Huitlacoche which is also known as hongo de maiz which is a sort of Mexican corn fungus; a delicacy in this part of the world and yet, considered to be ‘plague’ in others. Fascinating, isn’t it? We had a taste of both and were pleasantly surprised. Nothing like tasting absolutely alien flavours, of course, under the guidance of cheery locals. Don’t be disgusted as yet because the quesadillas are yummy and the warm Champurrado surprisingly light and refreshing especially with the slight nip in the January air.
Another quick halt was at the little stall/shack in the market that is famous for (and rightfully so) for their bright green chorizo. One look at the stall and you know the food has to be top notch thanks to the fast moving crowd that is tirelessly catered to by the owner (a round man with a moustache and a happy face) and his two accomplices. The bright green chorizo gets its vibrant hue because of the ground pumpkin seeds that are added to the meat. I could do the whole journey to CDMX in a heartbeat just for a piece of that lip smacking chorizo wrapped in a soft tortilla and topped with freshly chopped cilantro, onions and that heavenly salsa verde.
La Guapachosa- We had spent almost the entire first half of the day exploring the market; touching and feeling the freshness of the produce, gaping at the sheer artistry behind the thousands of flower arrangements, making (or rather trying to make) conversation with the vendors. So, come late afternoon we were quite weary and all we wanted to do was to chill with a couple of beers in a local spot and voila! La Guapachosa. Placed bang at the intersection of two perpendicular roads, this little pub/restaurant feels like a page out of a Mexican picture book. Everything about this unassuming joint is everything you’d hope/expect Mexico to be. Absolutely unpretentious and airy interiors with brightly painted walls and furniture, dim lighting, Spanish music that just does what it does to your hips, super friendly staff with big smiles plastered on their faces, great food and oh.. amazing craft beer. Their cocktails that kept floating about to the tables around also looked pretty damn nice I have to say. Certainly worth a visit if you are to find yourselves in Mexico City.
El Pendulo- This café/bar is straight out of my dreams, let me establish that bit before everything else. Finding El Pendulo was serendipity at her finest. A cute café/bar in a breathtakingly beautiful book store. Breathtaking because of the number and selection of books coupled with how tastefully the whole place is done up. Imagine sitting in a bookstore alone, in a soft, comfy couch sipping on a pretty cocktail while you flip through the pages of a book so captivating that you can barely feel your limbs, because you’re just drifting farther and farther away into the world the writer weaves with every word. That is El Pendulo for you. The absolute best place for lone dates, unwinding, great beer, cocktails and super tasty Chilaquiles (crispy tortillas and shredded meat in a yummy cheese and chili sauce).
Casa de Tono- This little joint is one the locals swear by and I knew exactly why, after a meal there. Walked into this very basic restaurant on a sunny afternoon while exploring that side of town on my own. There is absolutely nothing fancy about the interiors. Just a bunch of smiling faces ever ready to serve you with some authentic and downright local Mexican cuisine. They spoke zero English but still managed to have a conversation with me despite my Spanish that begins at Hola and ends abruptly at gracias; muchas gracias if I’m feeling fancy. That is how sweet the people are. Now for the food. My meal there comprised a plate of enchilada de pollo, a cold Corona and a lovely flan. Let me take a deep breath while I prepare myself to recollect that plate of divine enchiladas in that green salsa. Holy Moly that was hands down the best plate of enchiladas I have tasted to date. Top it with some of their incredible Habanero salsa, this is probably what heaven tastes like. However, beware! Their portions are enormous (forced me to stealthily unbutton my jeans AND waste half my beer. Oh the sacrilege!) Nevertheless, when in CDMX, Casa de Tono is a must MUST visit for authentic Mexican flavours.
Mercado del Carmen- A wonderful concept which got me wishing that it was more popular all the world over. Mercado del Carmen is something like a food court but nothing close to the drab mall/multiplex food court pictures that pop up in your head almost instantly. A large hall of sorts, beautifully lit with warm, pretty lights, with food and alcohol outlets all around. There are big, wooden tables and benches arranged in the center. You have a great deal of options for food – steaks, Spanish food, Greek food, burgers, Mexican etc. And even a cocktail bar and a craft beer counter. It’s a place where people can chill for hours on end, maybe grab a snack or a cold beer while you chat away and still be spoilt for choices as far as main course is concerned. We had a super yummy Paella with a Mexican twang to it; your regular Paella, just with generous amounts of pork and chorizo in there. What’s there not to like, right?
El Cardenal- For the days you’re feeling fancy. A gorgeous old house that has been converted into a classy restaurant, El Cardenal certainly lived up to the reviews on Trip Advisor. We had some traditional moles (the curry counterparts in Mexico. And made with a great variety of ingredients, some even as eyebrow raising as chocolate!) served with rice, which were outstanding but the real deal was the Flan that came in the end. Flan is somewhat like the Caramel Custard we are used to in India. A steamed dessert made of condensed milk, eggs and caramel. No words, best Flan yet. Period. Go to El Cardenal for the beautiful décor, the brilliant food and the God of Flan things. (sorry!)
La Llorena Cantina- If I ever do own a café/bar, I am pretty sure it’s gonna look like La Llorena Cantina. The tastefully done cyan interiors, the indoor plants creeping across the ceiling, the comfortable wooden furniture, the fairy lights and the cute looking bar makes you want to spend hours at a stretch there and no prizes for guessing that’s exactly what I did there. Chanced upon this beauty of a place one late afternoon after a museum visit, as I was looking for a quiet nook to spend some time reading a book and hopefully sit by a window and sip on a cold beer (yes, I love beer and apart from white wine, that’s all I drink. Hope your doubts have been cleared haha.) And La Llorena Cantina was just perfect and delightful. Given the timing, I was the only one around apart from the cheery young boy and the owner of the joint, an attractive young lady sporting a very chic hairdo. Both of them were very warm and friendly and the boy even made it a point to check on me every now and then to make sure I wasn’t lonely I reckon. They have some amazing craft beer which I thoroughly enjoyed. I wasn’t exactly planning to eat there but the sweethearts they were, served a plate of yummy tostadas topped with guacamole, beans and deliciously spiced shredded chicken. And that too on the house! They also insisted that I try out some of their authentic Mexican Mezcal and gave me a shot, again on the house. They are supposedly known for their amazing Mezcal cocktails. Too bad I didn’t give them cocktails a try. I must stop but I absolutely loved La Llorena Cantina.
These were the places that caught my the most on our week long Mexican sojourn. But be informed, food is not all we did. Although it’s always the food on our trips that tickles the writer bone in me. There’s something indeed fulfilling for me when I put my culinary adventures to paper and I reckon you should know that by now. But having said that, here is a little sneak peek into some of the best moments spent in a place, the memories of which will forever be etched in my memory.
The Teotihuacan Pyramis
The National Museum of Anthropologie
Sightseeing around the city
Mercado de Ciudadadela (Market dedicated solely to ware sold by local artisans)
So, that’s about it about CDMX. Please as always write to me with all your thought. Until next time, ciao! 🙂
A bleak Thursday in January. Since my duties as an attorney demand my presence in office only for the first three days of the week, here I am sitting within the confines of my cozy apartment in Vienna, nursing what probably is a holiday hangover from the fleeting three weeks I spent in my hometown, Trivandrum. As exciting as sitting at home on a weekday sounds, the grey undertones that seem to have overpowered this magical city during the day, make me somewhat uneasy and inexplicably nostalgic. Maybe it is the silence? With just the little ticking clock that I bought cheaply off the internet to keep me company at home, I feel strangely forlorn. Maybe I just miss the sun?
Our customary yearly visit to the hometown this time sure saw a great deal of sun, sand and sea. However, the older I get, the more I realize that the visits you make to your home are not to unwind or to relax or to put your feet up. They are for you to wear the many other hats you are obliged to wear in life. The many hats that have been sitting in the back corner of your closet, gathering dust for the rest of the year. The hats bearing labels such as daughter, sister, grand daughter, daughter in law, grand daughter in law, best friend, the list does not seem to end.
The yearly visit is the one time I get to be there, physically, for the family; to do seemingly silly bank work for my grandma, to run to the optician to get my granddad’s glasses fixed; to take my sister shopping, to get driven up the wall and back with her treading (foolishly, I believe) on treacherous adolescent territory and to give her boundless advice on everything under the sun; to spend hours on the couch with Amma listening to tales from her school, her daily battles, the local gossip. I refuse to take for granted the way my Amma’s eyes light up when she drives back home from work to see me at the door waiting to scan her purse for goodies. I refuse to take for granted how the menu for the day gets fixed depending on what I want to eat, how my mum and I talk into the wee hours of the dawn reminiscing of the good old days when dad was around and duly taken for granted; when life just seemed too perfect to be true.
I admit life did turn out to be very different from what we had all predicted or planned for. But in all honesty, in spite of all the bouncers life continues to throw at us even today on a daily basis, somehow there always seems to be so much around us at all times that warrants a heartfelt thank you to the Universe. As we stand at (pretty much) the dawn of 2018, all I want to be this year is grateful. I don’t believe we focus on the good half as much as we focus on the bad and how we just refuse to see the beauty of our blessings, until the moment they are taken away. A few years ago, who would have thought I would be living in such a beautiful city in Europe, married to the love of my life, doing what I truly love. Not me for sure. I would have expected my life to be confined with fortresses built of fat, black folders piled up on my desk while I burned the midnight oil in some law firm in Mumbai. I just realize I would be an insolent fool to turn a blind eye to everything I have; how important I am in many lives; how fortunate I am to be missed when I am away; how absolutely special I must be because I mean the world to a few but twinkling specks on the globe.
On that note, since my heart is till partly living in Kerala, under the coconut trees by the water, swaying in the cool breeze, here is a recipe that is probably a strong contender for the flag bearer status of Kerala cuisine. The Chicken Stew or the Kozhi Ishtu as we affectionately call it. This dish is exactly what I believe comfort to look like in a bowl.
Things you will need:
Chicken- 500gms (on the bone, cut into medium sized pieces)
Potatoes- 2 medium, cubed
Carrots- 2 medium, diced
Onions- 1 large thinly sliced
Ginger- 1 inch stick chopped finely
Green chilies- 2 slit
Thick Coconut milk- 2 cups
Cashew- 5-6 soaked in two tbsp. water and ground to a smooth paste.
Cardamom- 6 pods
Whole Pepper- – ½ tbsp.
Cinnamon- 1 small stick
Cooking oil (I used coconut oil)
How to go about it:
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok. Add the whole spices (cardamom, cinnamon, whole pepper, cloves) to the oil and sauté for a minute or until fragrant. Add three quarters of the sliced onions and sauté until soft and translucent. You do not need to get the onions to brown for this recipe (Hallelujah, right?!)
Add the ginger and green chilies and sauté for another minute or two. Add one cup of the coconut milk and half cup of water to the wok. Add the chicken pieces and sufficient salt. Stir well once and keep the wok closed (on low heat) until the chicken is half done.
Once the chicken is half done, add the potatoes and the carrots. Stir well and let the chicken and veggies cook well.
Once this is done, add the remaining one cup of thick coconut milk and cashew paste to the gravy. Let the gravy boil on medium-high heat for about five minutes or until the gravy achieves a beautiful, thick consistency.
Caramelize the rest of the onions in ghee or oil. Garnish the stew with curry leaves and the caramelized onions.