An undiscovered gem from southern India

Karwar is a small town on the western coast of India, just south of Goa. It was an ancient site of sea trade visited by the Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese, French and later the British.  Karwar is still known for its pristine beaches and a bustling seaport.

Although a lot of information can be found on Goan cuisine, the cuisine of Karwar is largely a well kept secret. The two happen to have a few commonalities but still differ in taste, flavor and variety. You will not find any cookbooks revealing the regional recipes and the only way to get them is through a native. And so I did! One of my friends happens to be from Karwar. She has also lived in Mumbai and Goa, but is loyal to her Karwari roots. After months of persuasion, she finally let me into her classified kitchen closet in Atlanta where she showed me her stack of whole spices that I had never seen or heard of before. Among these was my new discovery – white kokum phool. Kokum is a small round fruit that has its origins in India. It has a sweet and sour taste, similar to tamarind. It is dried and sold in packet or made into powder. In Karwar cuisine, it is used as generously as salt and pepper.

During the course of the evening, we prepared shrimp fry, fish fry, and coconut chicken curry. The generous hostess had already cooked other side items to go with our banquet style dinner.

The shrimp and fish fry are prepared in the same manner and served as an appetizer.

 

 


Start YOUR Food Savings Account

 

Shrimp Fry

 

1 teaspoon garlic paste

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chili powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ lemon

1 lb medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed

½ cup vegetable or canola oil

½ cup semolina (known as Sooji at Indian stores)

Mix the first four ingredients in a small bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice into the spices and add 1 tablespoon of oil to make it pasty. Rub the spice mixture on the shrimps using the half of the lemon to coat. Leave aside for 5 minutes.

Heat oil in a large fry pan on medium temperature. Spread the semolina on a plate. Lightly coat each shrimp with semolina on both sides, and then add to the hot oil. Fry for 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Tandoori in Iceland

When I visited Iceland in 2009, I wasn’t sure what to expect from its culinary scene. Iceland has known to be exorbitantly expense due to its distant location, extreme climate and scarce population. Out of its 300k citizens, only 4% of the population is employed in agriculture. They primarily grow potatoes, turnips, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. Other than that, the farmers keep cattle, horses and sheep. Being surrounded by waters, seafood is definitely a big source of food and export for the country.

I saw all of these items on the menu but did not dare try the horse meat. I try to stick to being a pescetarian whenever possible. While there were lots of options for seafood lovers, the most pleasant surprise I had was the Icelandic lobsters. They are very different than the North American lobsters, being smaller in size, almost like a prawn. Also, their texture is much softer and when cooked well, they melt in your mouth.

The Icelandic lobsters preparations varied at the different places I tried them at. In Vik, there was a huge plate of scampi style as well as a lobster meat pizza. In Reykjavik, there were lobster tails in a cream butter sauce with julienned vegetables.

Perhaps the best dish that I tried was tandoori lobster tails at an Indian restaurant in Reykjavik. There were a dozen tender juicy lobster tails perfectly marinated with spices and grilled to perfection. They were served with a mint yogurt chutney and fresh baked naan. Only if i could find the Icelandic lobsters here in the south, I would be preparing this recipe at every special occasion. Until then, just make do with regular American lobsters.

Recipe for Tandoori Lobster Tails

4 medium lobster tails, (removed from shells) meat only

½ cup plain yogurt

¼ cup tandoori paste

Mix the yogurt and tandoori paste in a large bowl, add the lobster tails. Cover and refrigerate for one hour. Heat a grill to 350F. Place the lobster tails on the greased grill surface and cook on each side for 2-3 minutes. Do not overcook the lobsters as they will become too dry and chewy. Serve immediately with mint chutney.

Leela’s Lobster Malai

I spent New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Leela Palace Kempinski hotel in Bangalore. It was a magnificent palace converted into a 5-star hotel, rated as one of the best in India. The architecture and gardens of the property are worth considering a tourist destination itself!

Even their restaurant is rated the best in town. The hotel advertised a special party to celebrate the occassion. At a steep entry fee of $100/ person, you would get access to an open bar, a mile long multi-cuisine buffet, entertainment and dance floor. Since I could not afford to stay there, I decided to splurge for New Year’s Eve at least. The place was adorned in a carnival theme, with colorful drapes and masks of every origin. There were two rooms with buffet tables that would put a King’s banquet to shame. Needless to say, it was worth every penny!

Here is a recipe from the web site that I tasted in the buffet. I love lobster and am always looking for ways to incorporate it into ethnic cuisines. Hope you like it too!

Lobster Malai –  Serves 4

Ingredients   Qty.
Large Fresh Lobster : 04 No (600-800 Gm. Each)
Fresh Onion Paste : 250 Gm.
Ginger Julienne : 20 Gm.
Green Chilli Finely Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coriander Chopped : 15 Gm.
Fresh Coconut Milk (Ist Extract) : 200 Ml.
Fresh Coconut Milk (2nd Extract) : 250 Ml.
Bay Leaf : 02 No
Cinnamon Powder : 02 Gm.
Spice Clove Powder : 02 Gm.
Coconut Oil : 110 Ml.
Turmeric Powder : a pinch
Salt : To taste
Ginger : 75 Gm.
Cumin Power : 08 Gm.

Preparation

  • Blanch the whole lobster in hot salted water. Take out the meat from the tail and cut length wise slices.
  • Heat oil in a kadai, put chopped green chilli and ginger julienne. Fry for sometime. Add fresh chopped coriander and fry well.
  • Add ginger, cumin powder and sauté well.
  • Add onion paste and sauté till the raw smell goes out.
  • Now add second extract of coconut milk and bring to a boil.
  • Put salt and turmeric powder and reduce the sauce to half.
  • Add cinnamon, clove powder and bay leaf.
  • Add first remove of coconut milk and lobster meat slices and simmer for sometime.
  • Garnish with ginger juliennes and fresh coriander sprig., serve hot with Malabar Parottas or Appam

 I appeared in the local newspaper the next day for being at the Faces and Masks party. You can see my picture on the DNA India web site.


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.

Morocco vs. India

 My friends travelling with me must be tired of listening to me say “This reminds me of India” dozens of times since we came here. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between India and Morocco, to say the least. Here are a few worth pointing out…

Over crowdedness: When I was walking around in Casablanca, it was a similar experience as being in New Delhi i.e. utter chaos everywhere. Traffic pouring from all directions, hundreds of cars and bikes, none following road rules, yet finding their way through the mess without any incidents. My American friends felt very scared of riding in the petit taxis holding on to their seatbealt-less seats in run down cars fearing a collision at every turn.

Pollution: Again, the car exhaust fumes, dust, dirt, garbage-quite like any big city in India! It’s hard to breathe and throat hurts sometimes.

Bollywood: I heard  the song dil to pagal hai playing in a taxi where the guy insisted it was Arabic music! Another stalker in Rabat who pronounced me “Princess of Morocco” sang me some Hindi film songs. Many street vendors sell Bollywood DVDs. Shah Rukh Khan is supposedly very popular here as a few people mentioned him to me randomly. Posters of Aishwarya Rai are found on billboards and stores.

Shopping: I was so surprised when I walked into a convenience store the other day to buy some water and found many of the products that I grew up with in India. Lux and Pears soap, Fair and Lovely creams, etc. were cosmetics I have not seen in the west at all! Also, the street vendors, road side book stores, knock off designer bags, etc. eminds me so much of Connaught Place in New Delhi. Even the shops inside the Medinas make me feel like I am walking in a Redi (sort of flea) market. How much you pay for an item depends on how well you can haggle. No tension there-I am an experienced bargainer!

Culture: Apparently, the tradition of arranged marriages and joint families is common here as well. The people are very friendly and always willing to help. I have been warned of men verbally harrasing women by whistling, commenting, etc. but am quite used to it having lived in India for so long. They also like to talk to foreigners, perphaps to entertain us in exchange of cash.


Architecture: The area of Rabat where our volunteer house is takes my memories back to my hometown of Chandigarh in northern India. Here, there are two story bungalows with gardens, surrounded by a high wall and gated entrance. The roads are clean and there is a lot of greenry. The styles of the homes is also very much like what you would find in stand alone houses in India.

Me: I constantly hear from locals “You look like a Moroccan” and am actually getting preferantial treatment (such as not being ripped off and being allowed to take pictures, etc.) so I decided to become one! Now when they ask me if I am Moroccan, I say “I am half Moroccan and half Indian.” Funny thing is other volunteers at the home base actually belived this too! I am sticking to my story for now.