Mar 28, 2009

Lessons Learned #2

On laundry: When using an Indian brand of stain-remover, be sure to read the fine print. Otherwise, you might find yourself pouring bleach on your boyfriend's beloved linen suit pants. (A new pair has been commissioned.)

Mar 24, 2009

Like a Glove

The linen suit has proven adequate in the following situations:

Riding a white stallion

Riding a mechanical bull



Mar 17, 2009

Kaycee Spice Emporium

Wholesale spice warehouse in Fort Cochin, Kerala.

Ginger drying.

Mar 16, 2009


We didn't really get the fuss about biryani until we had this one in Kochi. It's known more as a northern/western Muslim specialty, but this family in Kerala has been making biryani for hundreds and hundreds of years. Apparently they are often flown to Dubai, Kuwait, etc... to make biryani at the weddings and feasts of the many Keralites who work in the Gulf.

42 Rs for chicken biryani, 47 Rs for mutton. At first it looks like there's no meat, but it's buried inside the mound of yellow rice. Not a huge piece of meat, but tender that it falls apart when you look at it.

We tried to figure out the ingredients. Definitely small basmati rice, cashews, raisins, pineapple, turmeric, mace, cloves, cardamom. Probably lots more.

You dab your finger in the small watery plate of lemon pickle for a piquant flavor contrast. The red onions are lightly pickled in vinegar.

We back the next day and also ordered fish curry and chicken chili fry. Both really good too.


I am coming to believe that Chili Cheese Toast (abbreviated to "CCT" on some menus) is one of the world's great snackfoods. It summons the "cheese-on-toast" of my youth, with the bonus addition of chili heat. It is made with a mild cheese slice laced with ringlets of fresh green chili, all melty on top of a unwholesome tranche of sweet white sandwich loaf.

This CCT interpretation from our hotel in Madurai was slightly unorthodox; more baked cheese spread than pure cheese. Somewhat like a thick cheesy bechamel laced with turmeric, and broiled until a thin crust formed on top of the gooey mustard-yellow viscosity of the filling. I approved.

This one from the Carlton Hotel in Kodaikanal was a more straight-laced rendition. Somewhat uninspired but still well snackable.

I'm thinking Chili Cheese Toast could be jazzed up into a more modern fingerfood as a crispy layer of parmesan or beemster or Thunder Oak gouda, on a superthin slice of crusty baguette, with green chili and/or some nice chili powder on top. Or maybe do away with the baguette all together, just go for a cheese basket with a little chili treat inside.

Lessons Learned #1

We have a little motto that helps us through our day to day learning process here in India - "live and learn". Here is a sample of some of our lessons learned to date:

On trains: Avoid mentioning your cell phone number or the name of your hotel. Otherwise, you might find yourself hiding out in your room from overbearing new "friends" who insist you join them for church and Sunday dinner.

On packing: Pack what you think you need, and then take half the clothes and twice the money. We read this on the internet somewhere and have come to believe that it is a wise piece of advice.

On transportation: Don't take treacherous mountain passes at night with drivers who think they are Michael Schumacher.

On health: Buy all your meds in India, not in Canada (especially when you don't have a health plan). There is an abundance of all types of pills, at 1/20th of the price, and you don't need any of those pesky prescriptions.

In general: If they ain't got the goods, don't give them any cash.

Mar 10, 2009

Value Meals

"Meals" (thalis) are a sort of workingman's lunch. Usually well under $2, served on an aluminum tray or banana leaf, and best eaten by hand. Can be "limited" (all you can eat rice) or "unlimited" (all you can eat everything). Contents vary day-to-day, eatery-to-eatery, and region-to-region. So far in South India meals seem to require the presence of rice, a papad, plain curd (yogurt), mango or lemon pickle, a dal, sambar, and rasam. Usually also a dry veg and veg in "gravy" and sometimes a sweet, eg. cardamom-saffron rice pudding. Every item is unfailingly delicious. Some thalis can reach semi-divine heights.

Toronto readers can get a decent one from Moti Mahal on Gerrard St. in Little India.

New Ananda Bhavan, Fort Kochi

Hotel Astoria, Kodaikanal

Lalit Mahal, Mysore

Indian Wine

Sampled a flight of Indian white wines at Malabar House. Detected notes of asparagus, capsicum, and fermented horse urine.

Enjoyed them all thoroughly in spite of their taste.

Railfan Corner

Know Your Bible

Pregnant Goat, Dead Frog

Mar 1, 2009


Being a (white) foreigner in India is what I imagine it's like to be somewhere between a D to C-list celebrity. While the mobs don't exactly chase you down the street, you still get your fair share of attention by the average Jayaprakash six-pack. Children wave and cheer as you walk by, adults stare and point, and I don't even want to think of how many Indian teenage boys have my sweaty face stored on their camera phone.

Our favourite moment so far has been on a beach somewhere north of Pondicherry when a young couple begged us for a photo. We obliged happily and before we knew what was going on, they threw their defenseless child in my arms, and declared: "Here, take our baby... and SMILE!"

Paste Bucket

I liked the hue and civility of this communal paste bucket outside the main Pondicherry post office. Nobody likes the acrid taste of envelope or stamp glue.

Indian post offices are great places. The stacks of dusty, dog eared ledgers betray a strained but resilient bureaucracy, and the lack of decorum in queues rewards those with sharp elbows.

Good Coffee

Good coffee from Le Cafe in Pondicherry. Craving a cold coffee drink, I was unsure what the menu's "Coffee on the Rocks" would yield, but I was highly satisfied with the strong south Indian organic espresso poured over cinnamon bark and a lemon wedge onto large ice cubes that awaited their melty fate with nobility.


J'adore Pondicherry, a lovely town of 200,000 on the Bay of Bengal.

This little enclave was colonized by France in the 18th century. Like another former French colony that I know and love, Pondi has hung on tightly to its French roots. The coffee shops are cafés and the restaurants serve passable coq au vin. Furthermore, Pondi has extremely low liquor taxes, so you can purchase a 600 ml bottle of Kingfisher froide from your local dépanneur for a mere 40 rupees. (Half what one would pay in the rest of the conservative state of Tamil Nadu.)

As a haven for tourists, ex-pats, and ashramites from France and Switzerland, Pondi doesn't need Bill 101 to preserve its French culture. Guesthouse owners, waiters, autorickshaw drivers, and yoga instructors speak a more refined French than most Anglo Quebecers. Present company included...

Vive le Pondi libre!