Welcome to Go Eat Give!

Hello!

Consider me a self proclaimed foodie. I have a genuine passion for people, places and food. I believe that food is one thing brings us together. When we humans meet, we eat.  By travelling around the world, exploring different cuisines and writing about my experiences, I want to enrich myself and my readers. Even if you don’t get to travel or try different things often, I hope I am able to open up the world to you in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Growing up in a small town of India, I had the opportunity of meeting people from all over the world. My grandmother was a Servas host (a travel exchange program) and we would entertain tourists to stay with us for days. Back then, I travelled through their stories and pictures. I was making a mental list of all the places I would visit someday when I grown up.

Meanwhile, I lived some of my passion through my childhood years. When we stayed at any 5 star hotels, I would request the F&B manager for a personal tour of their kitchens and often found my 10-year-old-self sitting at the bar enjoying maraschino cherries out of a martini glass. My high school librarian was also baffled by my attraction toward cookbooks rather than Nancy Drew’s and Hardy Boys (which the rest of my class was reading). Since I didn’t particularly enjoy the old fashioned gas-and-match stove in our extremely warm kitchen in India, I would translate recipes from English to Hindi and dictate them to our help at home. (Pretty much every household has a maid in India). I taught her how to make cheese blintzes, chocolate mousse and bird’s nest noodle bowls, amongst other totally foreign concepts in India at the time. Boy was she a marketable chef already!

Fast forward to 1997, I moved to the United States and found myself going to college and working in an Italian restaurant part time. I wasn’t exposed to any cuisines other than Indian, Chinese, Fast Food and Continental (loosely used term in high end Indian coffee shops in 80’s) until this point, so I decided I would try a new dish from the menu each day. It was work related research as I needed to describe the food to my patrons in my own words. Needless to say, I gained 30 pounds in 3 months. It felt like heaven!

Dating took the culinary scene to a whole new level. It gave me the perfect excuse to try new restaurants and experiment with different cuisines.  I would suggest a Thai, Korean, French or Malaysian restaurant and most guys would oblige. Thankfully, my boyfriend at the time (husband now) also shared the passion for eating out every night.

In the beginning, I started cooking out of necessity (as I had to feed myself and my hubby). But with cookbooks, cooking hows and the Internet, I began to experiment on my own. I would recreate recipes I tried in fancy restaurants and would keep improving upon existing ones. I particularly enjoyed blending flavors and creating a variety of palates on my dinner menu, such as an artist would. Soon I was critiquing restaurants for local magazines, teaching international cooking classes and throwing themed dinner parties!

Now I want to share this knowledge with the world. Therefore, I have put together this web site which would allow me to share my travel stories, favorite things, personal recipes and other adventures. I imagine it to be educational, inspirational and fun.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Bon appetite!  Bon voyage!

Sucheta

Bangalore, India: Offering More Than Technology

India seems to have becomes a popular destination for many in recent years. In addition to the 5 million visitors each year, there are the corporate executives looking to expand business, spiritual seekers headed to an Ashram, novelists and films crews capturing local stories, nonprofits discovering opportunities to solve some deep rooted problems and cultural enthusiasts who just want to see it all! Not surprisingly, Tourism is the largest service industry in India.

Bangalore (aka Bengaluru) located in southern India is India’s third most populous city and fifth-most populous urban agglomeration. Hit by a strong wave of globalization, Bangalore is now a popular IT hub and is known as the Silicon Valley of India. It is home to many multinational corporations, colleges and research institutions.

While Bangalore doesn’t have a lot to offer as a tourist destination, it is a popular choice to live in India. Also, it is a good halt for business meetings and close to other popular cities. It is a bustling metropolis, full of young people from all over India who like to unwind in the numerous malls, bars, restaurants and lounges after work. The weather is always temperate (80F even in December) and it’s very green (despite the outrageous traffic.)

Whether you have a couple of days or a week to spend here, your visit to Bangalore would not be complete without seeing the LalBagh Botanical Gardens, a 240 acre vast expanse of flowers and plants built in 1760. Come here before sunset to take a stroll, watch people and get some fresh air. The Shiv Mandir depicts an interesting mix of traditional Hindu religion God’s with modernized spiritual teachings. Even if you are not a devout, it’s worth watching the giant statues of Lord Shiva and Ganesh, walking through the array of caves made to look like a tour through some of India’s famous religious sites. Also, there is a small bazaar where you can shop for gifts of statues, jewelry, etc. If you have time left, visit the Palace of Tipu Sultan and the Bull Temple as well.

For dining, the choices are endless. One can find any cuisine of the world here, but being in the South, I highly recommend giving Kerala and Andhra foods a try. A word of warning, spices and chilies are used wholeheartedly in the preparations.  For International flavors, try Medici, 100 Ft, Chamomile, BBQ Nation, Catch Marine, Italia or Sunny’s. Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Road, Old Airport Road, Indiranagar are streets full of great restaurant options. The Jamavar restaurant at The Leela Palace Kempinski is rated the best restaurant in Bangalore. There is also a Sunday brunch served at the hotel which is the talk of the town.

No trip to India is complete without some good old shopping. Commercial street, although chaotic and crowded, is perhaps the best option for both Indian and Western fare. You can find everything from traditional wear (sari’s, suits, stoles), accessories (bangles, bindis), handicrafts to contemporary wear.  While some stores here are fixed price, many can be haggled at. Bargaining is not considered a negative concept in India. The Mantri Square is the largest mall in India with over 250 outlets, a bowling alley and a multiplex cinema. For higher end brand, head to UB City where you will find Louis Vuitton’s and upscale cafes. Finish the day with a cocktail at one of Bangalore’s hip lounges or clubs Fuga or H2O.

As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in January 2011.

An Introduction to Moroccan Cuisine

Moroccan cuisine is unlike other Arab, African or Mediterranean foods that you may be familiar with. Although it has influences from other regions around it, Moroccan gastronomy offers an interesting offering of meats, vegetables and spices. Characteristic flavorings include preserved lemons, unrefined olive juices and dried fruits. Spices such as saffron, turmeric, cumin and paprika as well as herbs like parsley, cilantro and mint are heavily used.

A typical Moroccan meal starts with a variety of hot and cold salads. Some of these are relatively easy to prepare, such as boiled beets or carrots seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Moroccan salad is a mixture of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and olives. Zaalouk is a mixture of crushed eggplant and tomatoes mixed with garlic and spices, served cold. Harira is Morocco’s famous lentil and tomato soup, which is also used to break the fast at Ramadan. Khobz, traditional Moroccan bread is served at all meals. You would see everyone from street peddlers to small stores selling it.

The main entrée is almost always cooked and served in a Tagine, a dome shaped heavy clay dish that is sometimes painted or glazed for decoration. The Tagine has a flat circular base in which you cook the food and a large cone shaper cover that retains the moisture while cooking. Tagine of meat (beef, lamb), chicken and vegetables is most common.  There is also an array of vegetables prepared in Moroccan cuisine. Roasted whole artichokes with peas, diced pumpkin with cinnamon, quince and green beans are a few staples. Although Morocco has a large coastline, seafood is only found in upscale restaurants.

Couscous is one of the most popular entrées found here and is said to be of Berber origin. Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa from west of the Nile Valley. Couscous is made of semolina and wheat flour by rolling it into fine granules. The end result is of almost powdery consistency which is steamed and served at room temperature with vegetables or meat stew, and sometimes seasoned with saffron to add color.

Pastilla is an elaborate preparation of layers of phyllo, eggs, almond paste and ground cooked chicken or mixed seafood. It is then topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar and can be served as an appetizer or entrée.

Desserts traditionally consist of fresh fruits. There are a number of bakeries and patisseries in Morocco but most of these sweets are eaten with tea between meals. Puff pastry, honey, nuts, dried fruits and powdered sugar are common ingredients used to make the traditional desserts which may remind you of baklava but are far more diverse in flavors. Green tea soaked in fresh mint leaves and Copyright Go Eat Givelots of sugar is indispensable throughout the day. The Moroccan tea culture involves pouring tea from a beautiful silver kettle into small glasses and is enjoyed leisurely with friends and family.

For breakfast or snack, a popular item found everywhere is the Msemmen, a crepe made of whole wheat flour with layering of butter and oil. It can be eaten with jam or honey. Pain cake and doughnuts are also served at tea time as snacks. Walking in the Medina’s, you would find vendors selling boiled chickpeas in paper cones, steamed snails by the bowls, caked and dried fruits. Juice stands sell freshly squeezed orange, tangerine and grapefruit juices that cost under $1 per glass. Although alcohol is not permitted in the Muslim religion, a lot of Moroccans drink in the restraints and bars. While liquor stores may not be so common, beer and wine is available at supermarkets.

As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in January 2011.

Eat Round the Clock in Montreal

The city of Montreal is just across the border, yet an entire world away. Crowned as City of Festivals and Paris of North America, the French influences are found everywhere from architecture, language, culture to cuisine. While there are a number of great eateries to choose from, here are my personal top choices that you could cover in a day.

Nocochi Pâtisserie Café, Montreal

Start your day off at Olive et Gourmando, a lively bakery located in Old Montreal. There is a good chance there will be a wait to get in, but its well worth it! You can chose from dozens of freshly baked croissants, pastries, muffins or my personal favorite, the banana chocolate brioche. It goes well with a hot cappuccino after which you have enough energy to stroll through the neighboring attractions including Basilique Notre-Dame, district’s riverside edge and Pointe-à-Callière (Museum of Archaeology and History).

fresh pastries at Olive et Gourmando, Montreal

For lunch take a stroll through the neighborhood of petite Italie ( Little Italy) which will transport you to a street in Naples. While there are dozens of restaurants to choose from here, restaurant Casa Napoli offers the best value for money. A family business of over 28 years, the owner offers northern and southern Italian cuisine in an ambience of The Godfather. There is also a dainty sidewalk patio too where you can watch Italian families shopping for traditional items or catching up with friends. There is plenty to choose from the menu. The mozzarella is so fresh that it melts in your mouth. The pizzas live up to the restaurant’s name as well. It is the closest you can come to going to Naples being in Canada.

Take the metro to Sherbrook and a bus ride over to Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts). You could visit this extensive and one of the most famous museum’s firs , and then walk two streets over to Nocochi Pâtisserie Café (2156 Rue Mackay, Montreal, QC H3G 2J2, Canada, (514) 989-7514). This small delectable café is perfect for afternoon tea. Here you will find a variety of petite size melt in your mouth cookies, cakes, chocolates, nut filled dates, nut filled apricots, marzipans and Turkish delights. They are not cheap and you can get by eating a lot. They also have some nicely packed boxes to take back home as gifts.

Vieux-Montréal is home to a considerable number of restaurants catering to most tastes and wallets. However, a must try right off the bustling Place Jacques-Cartier is a French bistro called Le Jardin Nelson for dinner. It gets quite busy on weekend nights and they don’t take reservations. If the weather is nice, ask to be seated in the back patio where you would feel like you have entered a tropical garden paradise. There is live jazz music almost always. It even has raincatchers to protect you in case the weather is uncooperative. While the menu can cater to picky eaters as well, try the traditional crepes that are offered with a variety of fillings from mushrooms, rabbit, and duck to lobsters and shrimps.

Le Jardin Nelson, Montreal

Visit one of the three locations of Juliette e Chocolate for an after dinner treat. They serve traditional or old-fashioned, dark, milk or white chocolate as shots, milk shakes or smoothies, combined with fruit or if you are more adventurous with spices, and even married Liquor for cocktails, hot or shakes. And that’s not all! If you still like a dessert to go with your chocolate, you can order crepes, pastries or fondue. And please don’t forget to take one of the many varieties of brownies they make to have later. “The only thing I can’t resist is temptation!” – Oscar Wilde.

After partying at the numerous bars and clubs that Montreal is famous for, night owls usually end up having La Poutine. It is a fast food invention of Quebec consisting of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. You can find it in surprising combinations (even with foie gras) at pretty much any corner of Montreal. It is not the healthiest snack but a must try in this region.

~ As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in September 2010.

More on where to eat in Montreal

Teaching English as a volunteer

My volunteer placement in Rabat, Morocco was at Le Feminin Pluriel, a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1999. This organization has a small center that focuses on women’s empowerment and educational programs. They host conferences such as the one of the Mediterranean women’s writers every year and bring in guest speakers on various topics to their center on every Thursday. Last week someone came and spoke on “Technology.” The programs are mainly in French. There is also a library and a computer lab for the members to use.

Leslie and I were asked to teach English for two hours each day to the women and occasional men who are interested in learning. They have ongoing classes in the daytime and evenings, taught by volunteers from other organizations.

The biggest challenge here was that we didn’t know the competency levels of the students who would be coming, what the past classes had been about and not having a lesson plan outlined. The students don’t necessarily sign up for a class. They come in on any day randomly so we never know who or how many to expect each day.

The first day, we had 4 women and 2 men, of ages 20-51. For introductions, we talked about our backgrounds, families, where we come from, etc. and showed them pictures. I had a 15 slide presentation and Leslie got a photo album which was mostly photos of her dogs in different outfits. They enjoyed it and felt quite comfortable with us. We also asked them to tell us their names, where they were from, about their families and why did they want to learn English. Their motivations included wanting to help their kids study, converse with English speakers when travelling to the US, work in the travel industry, etc.

Then we started gauging their skills by giving them simple reading and writing exercise. We decided that we should divide them into two groups- Advanced Beginners and Basic Beginners. This would make it easier for us to give them individual attention and tailor the lessons to meet their needs.

Over the next couple of days, Leslie decided teaching wasn’t for her another volunteer, Stephanie took over. The same groups showed up each day, while a few more students dropped in and out. Apparently, the word spreads if a new good teacher shows up and then more students pour in.

Each day, we would start the class together by doing a conversation exchange or grammar exercise, and ten take our respective students through the rest of the lessons. I taught my Advanced Beginners class how to order food in a restaurant, shop for clothes in a mall, festivals and holidays we celebrate in the US, describing people and personalities, cooking and the grocery store, amongst many other things.

The students were very appreciative and seemed to like me a lot. They would say at the end of each class “Thank you for you” which I found very sweet. They said my name “Sucheta” rhymed with “Usteda” which means “teacher” in Moroccan Arabic or Berber (I am not sure). On my last day, one of the students got me a recipe for a meat with potatoes tagine that she managed to write herself in English. They also surprised me by throwing a farewell party. One of the ladies walked out and made fresh green tea and served it with assorted Moroccan cookies that were delicious! Everyone took pictures with their cell phones to keep as memories. I wish that I have made some impact on their lives and that I had more time to teach them. One thing I did learn from this experience is that teaching comes quite naturally to me. I really enjoy the interaction with people and they seem to respond well to my personality too. (I got positive feedback from the students). Perhaps taking the ESL certification and teaching English to non native speakers may be in my near future!

Orphanages in Morocco

Some of the volunteers from our home base have been volunteering at a local orphanage. Today I learnt a few things about the system in Morocco.

For starters, most of the kids in the orphanages are boys. This is surprising to learn since it is usually more girls than boys that end up in orphanages in every other country that I have come across. For instance the Mother Teresa’s home in India had 99 girls for every 1 boy as boys get adopted quickly and girls are abandoned by families. The reason in India for this behavior is that a boy is seen as an asset, sort of insurance in old age; whereas a girl is seen as a burden since she would consumer resources for her wedding and then would go off to take care of her in-laws family.

Here in Morocco, people believe that a girl is more affectionate and better caretakers of their families. Parents feel that their daughters would be more reliable than a son, who would probably be more involved with his wife and family, than take care of his parents. More and more women in Morocco earn a living these days. 25% of doctors, lawyers and government administrators are women. The average age of a woman getting married is 29 years old. All these statistics prove that the value of a girl is clearly increasing in this African country.

A second reason cited for the large number of boys in orphanages is that when women get pregnant illicitly and want to get rid of a baby, often times the gender is a factor in their decision. Women feel more comfortable abandoning a baby boy thinking that he would be better able to fend for himself. You will never find a street-girl or homeless girls here. A girl is more prone to exploitation, therefore less likely to be abandoned. Also, some of these women fear that if they kept their baby boy born out of wedlock, he may grow up to attack his mother or take revenge in some form.

The process of adopting a Moroccan baby is fairly simple, whether you are a citizen of Morocco or a foreigner. You must be a Muslim or convert to a Muslim before filing for adoption. Some of these children have living parents who are unable to care for them. In that case, you can gain custody of a child and bring him or her up like your own but would need to keep the family name. Only a couple or a single woman can adopt, single men cannot. The process takes about six months. Currently, most of the children are being adopted by people in Morocco and Spain. The social workers keep a check on the kids and finalize the adoption only after two years of monitoring.

Volunteer Vacation in Morocco

This was my second time on a volunteer vacation abroad program. Last year I went to Russia so this year I decided to try a very different place. Africa was on top of my list of places to travel to. Luckily Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) offers 2-12 weeks programs in Morocco. Their structure is very convenient for a working professional like me, who likes to travel the world but has limited time and budget. The volunteers are required to work for 5-6 hours a day and have organized cultural events, field trips and free time in the evenings and weekends. A flat program fee to CCS covers all local transportation, meals, lodging and some sightseeing. The onsite staff is friendly and knowledgeable. They give cooking lessons, talks on culture and religion, and act as local guides. The kind of work involved in Morocco would be teaching English or working in hospitals or orphanages, depending on the need at the time. Although the main languages spoken there are Arabic and French, there wasn’t a requirement of volunteers to be well versed in them. I did some research and found that it was relatively cheap to travel within Morocco and there were many places that I wanted to see.

When I arrived at the home base in Rabat, we had a total of 22 volunteers staying in a sizeable house of three floors. Men and women were accommodated on different floors. We had bunk beds and 2-8 people to a room. The place was very clean and well maintained. The house had an open floor plan with common areas including a traditionally decorated living room, a sitting area, a resource center, an office for the staff and a nice backyard. It was located in a nice suburb with a few shopping centers and restaurants within walking distance. One of the best parts about going for an organized program like this was you get to eat homemade authentic Moroccan food. The experience is as close to living with a local family which you wouldn’t get by staying in hotels and eating at restaurants.

My volunteer placement in Rabat was at Le Feminin Pluriel, a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1999. This organization has a small center that focuses on women’s empowerment and educational programs. They host conferences such as the one of the Mediterranean women’s writers every year and bring in guest speakers on various topics to their center on every Thursday. The programs are mainly in French. There is also a library and a computer lab for the members to use.

I was asked to teach English for two hours each day to the women and occasional men who are interested in learning. Their motivations to learn English included wanting to help their kids study, converse with English speakers when travelling to the US, work in the travel industry, etc. They have ongoing classes in the daytime and evenings, taught by volunteers from other organizations. The biggest challenge here was that I didn’t know the competency levels of the students who would be coming, what the past classes had been about and not having a lesson plan outlined. The students don’t necessarily sign up for a class. They come in on any day randomly so I never know who or how many to expect each day.

Each day, I would start the class by doing a conversation exchange or grammar exercise, and then divide them up by their skill level between myself and the other volunteer. I taught my Advanced Beginners class how to order food in a restaurant, shop for clothes in a mall, festivals and holidays we celebrate in the US, describing people and personalities, cooking and the grocery store, amongst many other things.

The students were very appreciative and seemed to like me a lot. They would say at the end of each class “Thank you for you” which I found very sweet. They said my name “Sucheta” rhymed with “Usteda” which means “teacher” in Moroccan Arabic or Berber (I am not sure). On my last day, one of the students got me a recipe for a meat with potatoes tagine that she managed to write herself in English and another gave me a box of tea as a gift. They also surprised me by throwing a farewell party. One of the ladies walked out of class and made fresh green tea and served it with assorted Moroccan cookies that were delicious! Everyone took pictures with their cell phones to keep as memories.

Combining volunteer work with a vacation abroad is the perfect way to experience a new place. You not only get to understand the culture better, but you also give back to the society you spent time in and form meaningful bonds. The best thing about volunteer vacations is the interaction with people. I really enjoyed the social exchange with the locals through our conversations and storytelling. Also, meeting other like minded people who had come to volunteer from all over the world was another opportunity that you can’t find otherwise. I learned about their travels and experiences and formed deep friendships. There are so many memories I brought back with me in those short three weeks that I would cherish for the rest of my life.

As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in December 2010.

24 hours of adventure..and danger!


I never thought one could have so many adventures in less than 24 hours! For starters, our flight from Atlanta was delayed, which left us with a very tight layover in Paris to get our connection to Casablanca. Once we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport, things slowed down to a “French” pace. The bus took forever to go from one terminal to the next, under freezing tempratures & passengers packed in like sardines. We ran with all our might while it was way past our boarding time, only for me to be held up by the security for my tiny bottle of Purell hand sanitizer! Surely, it would have been a pity if that made us miss our flight but we made it.

Along the way, we also met a lady quite randomly & started talking, only to find out that she had also done a volunteer abroad trip through CCS in Russia couple of years ago. What a small world! In case you didn’t know, I went to Russia summer of 2009 for this same trip.

Once we made in into Casablanca after 13 hours of travel time, the adrenaline kept us going for the rest of
the day. We checked into our modest hotel just outside of the Medina, freshened up & got out into the city. We had only walked a couple of blocks from our hotel to find police barracades, high speed cars & a sea of people gathered on the streets watching. Leslie tried to find out from one of the spectators about what was going on & his only response perhaps due to his lack of English was “danger.” Should we stay & watch danger or continue to walk to the Hasan II Mosque, we thought to ourselves. Then I found out that the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI was due to pass by any minute, on his way to the same mosque we were headed to. We stood there & watched his motorcade & it wasn’t dangerous by any means!

Because the King needed to pray byhimself, we had to postpone our visit to the mosque till after lunch (which is a seperate blog entry in itself). My first glimpse of the city of Casablanca is polluted! I am quite sensitive to dust & smoke, so this is not the ideal city for me. There are tons of cars everywhere.


Most of them are old & release a lot of exhaust. Men smoke in cafes, restaurants, parks, sitting & standing on the streets. A lot of them don’t seem to working it seems. Once the sun set at 6pm, I saw a distant round ball in the sky (the moon), barely visible due to the extent of smog in this city.

On the bright side, people seem to be very friendly & willing to help you no matter how linguistically challenged they are, or we are. I ended up speaking in Spanish to one of the King’s security guards as he couldn’t speak English & I barely understand a few words in French.