Brun Maska and an Evil Princess
When you look back on your travels what is it exactly that comes to mind? The sights? Sounds? People? For me, this has changed over time. Not because the others have become less important to me but because, since marrying, the enjoyment of a wonderful meal, whether it is from a roadside dhaba, or a fancy restaurant, is just so much more enjoyable.
I can remember the first meal we shared…it was a hot sultry night in Honiara (Solomon Islands). I had picked up a couple of fresh crayfish that morning at the local market. When the time came, we cut them in two and barbequed them, finishing them off with a simple lemon butter. The view was magnificent from my back veranda…the perfect tropical paradise of water, islands, palm trees. It is this meal that I remember when I think about our first date. I can’t remember what we discussed, or what we were wearing but the tanginess of the lemon butter on the sweet lobster meat still lingers in my memory. It is that special pairing of food with good company that, for me, is the stuff of dreams. And over the years it is delicious meals that we have sought when travelling, along with the sights, sounds and culture of new places.
Arriving in South Asia in 2008, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. Although I had had a few work trips to the region, this was Mr D’s first foray. I had fallen in love with India as a teenager, reading every book I could get my hands on in the small village in which we lived and my passion just grew each year with the books and articles I read. At university I took every course offered on India, which although not that many, served to deepen the interest and whet my appetite to someday travel there. And here we were, in February 2008, setting out on a three-year adventure in the area, as we settled into our new home in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
One of our first meals was at a tiny, dingy place called Dhaba, not far from where we lived. In those days before we started driving ourselves, excursions were limited to where we could go in cycle rickshaws which meant a one or two kilometre radius. I don’t even remember how we had first heard of Dhaba’s but heard of it we had, and away we went. When we arrived the only thing I recognised on the menu was chicken tikka and naan so both of us indulged in what was to become a staple and favourite of ours.
One of our other favourite haunts in Dhaka was an equally tiny place just around the corner from Dhaba’s. It was filled with cricket paraphernalia – the private collection of the owner who was the liaison officer with the Bangladesh Cricket Board for visiting teams. It served the regular fare of sandwiches and snack foods, but it was the fresh pineapple juice that had us coming back time and again to Wazim’s, where the cold freshly-pressed juice always restored us, like the water from the well that the pilot pulled up for the little prince in my favourite book. The only beverage that came second to this was a small cup of lemon tea from a local chaiwallah in downtown Dhaka that I had been offered at a meeting one afternoon – it was hot, sweet and full of flavour – absolutely delicious and never to be forgotten.
When we arrived in Mumbai last year, we set out to discover our new home, walking in the evenings and on the weekends, ferreting out the multitude of restaurants and cafes that were a stone’s throw from our new home. And as a back-up, especially when we went further afield, we carried a fellow Australian’s book, Love Mumbai, to guide us to something potentially special. We found what were to become old haunts, places we went back to time and again. Most of these were not the upmarket restaurants that Mumbai is known for, but rather the neighbourhood places in which you’d find various generations sitting side by side, enjoying simple, tasty, time-tested favourites. We became addicted to the pani puri, sev puri and bhel puri – all a wonderful combination of flavour and texture – not to mention the lassi at Elco’s in Bandra. And a weekend was made extra special by a visit to Cafe Madras or Cafe Mysore, for a crispy sada dosa and some South Indian filter coffee. Evening meetings in Colaba were completed with a stop for a hot kathi roll at Bademiya’s before driving home. There were expeditions into the depths of bazaars to experience the thali at Shree Thaker Bhojanalay; quick stops for puffs and other delights at Kayani’s; and tea tours that we now recreate for visiting friends – introducing them to the concept of cutting chai outside the stock exchange, brun maska and Irani tea at Yazdani Bakery and a Darjeeling first flush at the Tea Centre.
Over the year, we’ve done quite a bit of taste bud tourism around India as well, sampling Coorg’s renowned pork curry; making our own curry from scratch under the watchful eye of the chef at Serenity at Kanam Estate in the hills of Kerala; Gujarati thalis in Ahmedabad; fabulous kachoris in Udaipur; and melt in your mouth meat dishes in Srinagar. All were wonderful, but what have been most memorable were the drinks that accompanied these meals. The cool, refreshing nimbu pani that welcomed us at Devi Garh was outstanding with its added cinnamon and vanilla. The mint and lime slushie at Serenity was equally amazing and we must have drunk three or four of these each day of our visit to quench our thirst after days walking around the neighbouring villages. In Kashmir, it was the khawa – the lovely saffron scent and golden hue, and the delicate flavour of the spices lingered even after you had finished the tea.
And most recently, we fell in love with jaggery coffee with a hint of cardamom, which was served on arrival at The Tamara in Coorg. Every day during our stay we’d find an excuse to stop by at reception to beg yet another glass of this remarkable mix. Even the Tamara’s ‘evil princess’ mocktail – a creamy frappe of vanilla ice cream, fresh apple juice, lemon and grenadine, although a close second, could not compete with the coffee!
Mr D and I have another two years in India. My little pink book has pages that are filled with future travel plans. We will use our time well. Lucknow, Hyderabad, the Kumaon Hills in Uttaranchal, and Goa, as well as a host of other places, beckon – each with its own specialties to tempt our palate.
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