What food do we miss?

Cheese and Crackers.  They sell some but odd kinds (who ever heard of eating Parmesan cheese on a cheese board?).  Indians don’t eat crackers so they aren’t available.  The imported ones are crazy expensive – and outdated.  So, we might be bringing in cheese and wheat thins on our next trip back!  This vintage cheddar is pretty good!

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Pizza. Because the cheeses here are different pizza, which is everywhere, including several American chains, doesn’t taste like home.  I’m sure the tomato sauce is canned as well. Heading to Bills for a slice or two when we are next in Newton!

Fish.  Bangalore is landlocked and with questionable transportation and refrigeration (I was given a free ice cream bar the other day from a supermarket after buying a lot of stuff and it had clearly melted and been refrozen, maybe multiple times) so buying “fresh” fish isn’t an option.  Sometimes the odors of the fish market area even in expensive supermarkets is enough to knock you off food.  So, we have tried prawns and they were good.  Waiting for some good salmon at Legals.

Hamburger.  There is beef, but from questionable sources.  We’ve eaten it at hotels, but have resisted purchasing it in stores.  Shake Shack here we come!

Salads and Raw Vegetables. This has been the saddest part of our journey.  Not feeling comfortable enough to eat salsa, or a salad, or a raw carrot.  I’m happy to report that just this week I was able to do my first lettuce harvest so Eric and I had homemade salad.  We expect more over the coming months and hope to add peppers and tomatoes to make it more colorful!

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Ice cream. It is hard to compare anything to ice cream from Massachusetts, particularly our hometown favorite, J.P. Licks.  Even though they imported Jersey cows into India a few years ago because of the better output (versus A2 native Indian cows) they still don’t have the same cream and that’s what makes for good ice cream.  We found a temporary placeholder, but expect to consume quite a bit when we are home!

Note, there are higher end grocery stores that are tailored to ex-pats that have Halo tangerines (I think they were about $1 per tiny tangerine) from California and other fruits and vegetables from Australia and Japan.  And other things like cereals, jams, peanut butter, etc. Much more expensive, but sometimes worth a splurge.  They will have some specialty ingredients for Japanese, Mexican or Italian cooking, but again they are expensive and more of a treat to break from regular dining than to use with any kind of frequency.

So we will wait to indulge until we get home.

 

Indian Treasures – Part I

These will be very periodic posts because we are on a random mission to collect special items from our stay here in India and, more broadly, Southeast Asia.

In Jaipur we were lucky enough to visit a wonderful shop that has a wide variety of merchandise (as do most Indian stores), but they, in particular, go into small villages and purchase heirloom handwoven and embroidered wall hangings, which I consider art.

We watched as they unfolded one after another and could have purchased most of them. Many times you can see how an item was used and loved in a home, but because of financial necessity it has been sold.  We figured we could provide a new, loving home to one such item.

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This wall hanging measures 45 in. wide x 77 in. high and is from Kachchhh bhuj which is in the western part of India, in the Gujarat state Pakistani border.  It is probably over 100 years old (they preserved the delicate fabric with the red border and backing), but the rest of the history has been lost.

Details below. Every time I look I find another bird!

 

 

Jaipur Environs – Talabgaon and Lalsot

Welcome to Talabgaon Castle.  This 200 year old Heritage fort is located in Talabgaon village about an hour from Jaipur.  The family that owns it recently converted it to a lovely hotel with pool, lots of out door seating and dining and polo grounds.  You can see the horses being trained in the back grounds, and, if you are lucky, even watch a polo game during the tournament that takes place in April each year.

The serenity and beauty at Talabgaon cannot be described, but need to be felt.  After the clamor of Indian cities this is a welcome respite.

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Entrance

Each room is unique and beautiful.

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There are many peacocks on the grounds.  They were pretty shy except at sunrise so, instead, this is some of the lovely art on the walls at the pool house.

This is one of the polo horses being exercised.

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Many of the people who work at Talabgaon Castle are from the local village.  We were fortunate to get a tour by some of the local boys.  The thing that we most noticed is that people seem so happy with what they have.  The pace of life is slower, the days much the same (so we were really a treat and gained quite the following during our walk.  It helped that I was giving out candy to the kids.) but there is joy.

Observation: Indians are nothing if not creative.  Transportation is expensive and people have found that they can construct a Jugaad, or truck made of wooden planks, a tinkertoy engine (my words) and miscellaneous jeep parts.  You see them all over the countryside moving people or supplies around.  They don’t have a lot of oomph, but boy are they pretty!

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Our final visit of the day was to Lalsot, a nearby larger village of about 30,000.  My guess is that Talagbaon has about 6,000 inhabitants.  Note most of the young people leave for the city as soon as they are able to and don’t return.

Here are some of the images from Lalsot.

One of the very cool things we witnessed is two men making the lacquer bracelets.  They start with a stick of what looks like wood, color it and then start melting and forming bracelets.  One does the first part and the second guy takes the strip of lacquer and forms it into a round.  Once cooled they will apply lots of lovely sparkly gems.

And what the final ones look like.  India is all about sparkle and color.

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Desserts in India

Baking in India is all about breads, not pastries.

That is not to say that there aren’t sweets here.  There are (and there is a huge problem with diabetes as well) since Indians love sweets but most are incredibly sweet (too much for even my sweet tooth) using jaggery.  The picture above is Gulab Jamun, it is the most popular Indian dessert and is sort of like a doughnut, but soaked in sugar syrup. Sticky and sweet!

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Different kinds of jaggery

Only in some of the higher end hotels do you find baked goods (and excellent ones at that) where they import ingredients like flour and chocolate from Europe.

This is a yummy Chocolate Hazelnut Cake from the Marriott that we bought for our party.

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Chocolate is hard to find, particularly baking chocolate.  Most homes don’t have ovens. Our place does but it has questionable heating powers.

This is my oven.

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2A Crescent Park Oven

This is the temperature settings for my oven.  Someone did a really good job cleaning…

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Now you understand why figuring out 350 degrees (or 175 celsius) for my first attempt at brownies was quite the failure.  They were very dark (some might say burnt) on the bottom.  (No pictures!) The tops were cooked on one side and soft on the other.

Our driver LOVED them.  Gave him a bunch to share with his family and only a couple made it home.  Guess the mix of flavors was different enough to be enjoyable!

But I was disappointed with the outcome.  Fortunately I have more chocolate chips in the frig and will try another day. And I’m bringing back an oven thermometer from home (they don’t sell them here) so I can at least get a sense for the internal oven temperature.

Party at the Salls!

We hosted our first party last night and… had way too much food.  Everyone seemed to have fun though.  This was for a bunch of Eric’s managers and their spouses.  We know better for the next party in two weeks!

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Things I learned

  • It is really, really hard to get the florist to do something simple.  He wanted to spray the green leaves gold.

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  • When it is hot (even with A/C) people don’t eat that much.  Need to cut down on options.
  • When it is hot people drink more beer (duh!) and juices and less whisky.  I think Eric drank most of the whisky that was consumed.

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  • There weren’t that many mosquitos so maybe my many, many lemongrass candles and plugs worked.  And our outdoor porch worked really well.

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  • Annette and her kids were very helpful throughout the night.

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  • Our place works really well for a party!

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Faces

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Grain seller

 

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Selling cotton for wicks

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Laquer bracelets

 

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Village boys

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Village family

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Grandmother

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Village man

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Village kids

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Family

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Tailor

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Holi celebration

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School boys

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Village elders visit Delhi

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Village wives from Gujarat

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Kids

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Street life

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Shopping in a pretty dress

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Selling outside a temple

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Girls

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Village woman with lamb

 

Passover Interlude

Eric and I just returned from a Chabad-sponsored Seder with 80 people at the Marriott Hotel in Bangalore.  Many years ago we enjoyed a multi-lingual Seder in Amsterdam and thought it would be a good idea to try Passover abroad again.

Note: do you see the potato on the Seder plate?  You dip that in salt water.  We’ve always used parsley.  Who knew?!

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There were very few Jews in Bangalore until recently.  Note approximately 30,000 Israeli young adults come to Goa (on the coast) annually to revitalize after their army service, but Bangalore doesn’t have the beaches or the relaxation they are looking for.

Past Seders have been held at the home of Chabad rabbi, but this year so many people wanted to attend that they

  • got space at the Marriott,
  • cleaned the chametz from the kitchen,

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  • shechitah (kosher killing) of enough chickens to feed the crowd,
  • taught the chef how to cook kosher for the evening (there were some very strange dishes – lettuce, eggplant, hard boiled eggs and melon?),
  • smuggled in kosher wine (try convincing the hotel to let them bring in their own wine was quite the feat and didn’t happen until minutes before the Seder started)
  • had stacks of matzo
  • etc.

They pulled it off even if it was a little sexist and old fashioned.

Maybe next year it will be in Jerusalem!

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Jaipur – Jantar Mantar, City Palace and Chand Baori

Look at my earlier blog post on Jaipur for a refresher on the city.  Our day started by heading into the old city to an incredible

Jantar Mantar, which wikipedia says: The Jantar Mantar monument of Jaipur, Rajasthan is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments, built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh, and completed in 1738 CE. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is the Jai Prakesh Yantra, or an upside down Earth divided into two parts so the scientists could walk between the fingers and do calculations.

I’m going to do an awful job explaining what a brilliant scientist Jai Singh was, but this is a site not to be missed.  He was smart enough to understand that things don’t work out correctly the first time so you’ll see models of the different instruments that he used to improve the final product.  Small then large.  Honestly, you have to go to understand how he was able to accurately predict sun position, time, the equator, etc.

There are also astrologic instruments.  I’m Scorpio and Eric is Gemini (and also wearing his new Indian cotton shirt).

The City Palace was where the royal family lived (and some still do in parts), but has now been turned into a lovely museum.  It was the primary residence of the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and is beautiful both for its art and architecture.  It houses his court, his outfits and many of the fabulous gifts he received during his reign, including this enormous silver urn which was made by melting many, many silver coins!

And so begins my elephant photos.

Chand Baori is an incredible 1000+ year old stepwell in the village of Abhaneri, about 2 hours from Jaipur.  The village is incredibly poor, but houses  a destroyed temple and this gorgeous stepwell.

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You are looking towards the stage (if people were seated all around on the stairs) but there were also ingenious baths housed there for the royalty.  The symmetry.  The amazing structure.  Unfortunately many of the beautiful sculptures which used to be at the entry have been destroyed by invaders and have not been restored.

This village is so poor, but the people so friendly.  I asked the woman hiding behind the post if I could take a picture of her home  She graciously said yes and then came over to show us her pottery.  We declined to purchase, but she gratefully accepted some cash.  The house is for living and working.  Their broken bed rests next to the bikes.  The pots are used for water and curd.  Obviously, no refrigeration.

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Jackfruit

Jackfruit is in season (for about three months) and can be found everywhere.  Particularly on the carts of street sellers around the city.  These pictures are of a tree in our apartment building garden and how quickly the fruit grows.  I know I should have taken the picture from the same place each time, but these are taken about a month apart and it seems like you can watch the fruit grow.  It is also interesting that it grows from the lower trunk of the tree versus the branches.

There are many different varies of jackfruit.  The ones above are pretty round, but the one Ali, our driver, bought was huge (my guess is about 8-10 pounds) and oval.  What you are seeing in the pictures is only half of the bought fruit.

Jackfruit stinks.  I mean literally stinks.  If you can get past the odor and the stickiness (some rub oil on their hands to make it easier to “peel” and get to the fruit center then you are rewarded.  Below are pictures of Ali and Annette, our cook, opening the jackfruit and getting to the “good” stuff.  There are huge pits that can be roasted.  Not sure how they could be eaten though.

This is what you eat.  Looks like one of those peanut marshmallows we used to eat as kids.Not too sweet, but hard to explain! It is an acquired taste.  Ali and Annette ended up taking most of it home!  But when in India you must try it!

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Jaipur Treasures – Hawa Mahal, Amer Fort and Gaitore

An early start with lots to see in Jaipur.  We drove by the gorgeous pink Hawa Mahal, which is actually just a facade.  It is attached at the back to the city palace and was used by the women to watch, behind screens, the life of the city as it passed by below.  Welcome to Jaipur!

 

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Our trip to Amer (or Amber as it is called because of the building color) Fort. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there has been little water in the region for the past couple of years so these fishermen (working on untangling their nets) will, most likely, have little success.

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Amer, originally, was the capital of the state before Jaipur. It is an old fort, built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh. This fort is also very popularly known as the Amer Palace. The Amer Fort was built in red sandstone and marble and the Maotha Lake adds a certain charm to the entire Fort. Though the fort is quite old and may even look so from the outside, it is beautiful on the inside and boasts of various buildings of prominence like the ‘Diwan-i-Aam’, the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ and even the ‘Sukh Mahal’. The Amer Fort has influences of both Hindu and Muslim architecture.  Credit

It was quite hot with long lines to ride the elephants so we missed the opportunity to ride the smelly beasts (but I took pictures).  The details of this Fort are incredible and survive these many years later.  Enjoy the collage of photos.

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The summer palace (which will be restored at some point) is a beautiful building in the middle of the lake near the Amer Fort.

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We did do a bit of shopping and eating to keep up our energy… and then we went to the Gaitore Burial Grounds, where the maharajas (not the wives who were buried elsewhere) have been laid to rest for generations.  The carvings reflect the different activities of interest to the particular maharaja.

Ending our day were these hardworking men and women collecting and selling wood.

This is Annpurna, our amazing guide!

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P.S. I bought the same kurta she’s wearing!  Look for it in the future.