A Cow Sighting, Finally.

Yesterday, we had an action packed day. It started with an authentic yoga session where our yogi gave us a full mind and body stretch. The more flexible I become the more flexible my mind will be. Deep.

Later we toured the Mattancherry Palace also know as the Dutch Palace and learned about the progressive matriarchal tradition of inheritance and that women basically hung around the houses topless until the British invaded the island and then they had to cover up. Jerks. As we walked out, we saw our first cow casually strolling down the street. It’s cute right? Yeah, it’s cute when you go to pet it and it stabs you in the thigh. He’s very lucky that his little horn only left a bruise. Back home I eat cows like him for dinner all the time.

the jerk cow

the jerk cow

Next we headed to “Jew Town” and the oldest synagogue in India. Once the city was full of “white and black jews” only has 7 jews left. There are 7 practicing religions in Kerala/Kochi and they all seem to show a lot of respect towards each others faiths. Shocking I know. Well with the exception of the white and black jews. Apparently they didn’t get along hence why there are so few now. I finished off our tour on a mad shopping spree of scarfs, clothes and spices. And I got to test out my negotiating skills on a Kashmir shopkeeper who offered himself as part of a scarf sale. It may have been an added bonus but I left with a scarf only. I stocked up on cardamom pods and black peppercorns. I’ll hit up the cinnamon in Sri Lanka.

For lunch we had the opportunity to eat on the roof top of Gloria’s home. Gloria and her family made us this amazing meal that took days to make and served it on banana leaves. After our initial meal was over, we had to scrap all the remnants off to the left for the dessert round of cardamom rice pudding. Her family couldn’t have been more gracious. It was one of the best Indian meals I have ever had. The experience was truly unique.

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Raghavan took us to another home for dinner. Nimmy Paul started her at home cooking school years ago and as word of mouth grew so did her business. Raghavan has known her for years so she welcomed us like family. We watched her skillfully cook four different dishes – Kerala Curry, Potato Masala,Thoren, and Chemeen Ularthu in a clay pot. If those suckers weren’t so heavy, I would totally be packing one in my suitcase for home. Afterwards we had the opportunity to dine on the dishes in a four course dinner complete with wine from Sri Lanka.

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Nimmy Paul Welcoming Us!

Tomorrow we head to Sri Lanka. Can’t wait.

Cochin

Disclaimer: this is a long post featuring a few days. I was totally unmotivated to get in front of my computer. You’ll see why.

I realized in my last post, I didn’t specify why I am heading to India. My friend Raghavan planned this amazing trip India and Sri Lanka for a group of friends and I. It’s a trip that he had made a few times before. After India and Sri Lanka, Cathy, Ray and I will be heading to Thailand. It is one of those trip of a lifetime, dream trip kinda events in life.

Okay, now to the cool stuff. Cochin, or Cochi or Kochi is the home bananas, coconuts and ginger and I definitely had my share. After a flight from Mumbai and a bus ride that seemed to last for internity we arrived at this amazing place. Quite the start to our tour of South India. The Vivanta is one of those embarrassingly nice hotels with lavish rooms, an infinity pool and impeccable service where your room attendant folds everything. Yes, everything. My mornings and afternoons were spent lounging on the chaise and reading books while watching the fishing boats come in and out of the harbor. Oh and there was a clear wall to my shower. (Weird at first but actually it was kinda cool getting natural sunlight in as I showered.)

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My view of the harbor.

Once we got checked in, we snagged a quick lunch at the hotel and I was introduced to the tapioca in its actual form. Steamed and served with a shallot, curry leaves and . The earthiness reminds me a tasty blue cheese. Next we had stewed okra with curry leaves on a bed of rice noodles. And my love affair with curry leaves begins. Indians use these leaves to flavor their food much like we use it for bay leaves but you can eat it and that I did.

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Tapioca

The first night we hit up one of the best seafood restaurants in town, Brunton Boatyard’s History. Though the seafood is caught daily, I opted for the vegetarian route with the Afsa Bi Ka Curry. A dish that consists of stewed plantains and paneer in a cashew gravy served with dal and phulks. It was a lovely night where we had a view of the ferry shuffling the evening commute to and from the island. At some point during our dinner I began nodding off with vigor. The combination of jet lag and lack of sleep.

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Afsa Bi Ka Curry at History

The next day. I spent the morning laying by the water and enjoying the infinity pool. A nap and a non-alcoholic ginger lime cocktail was had. In the afternoon Raghavan took us to the vegetable and fruit markets. I was introduced to a variety of fruits and vegetables like jack fruit, purple yam, unripe mangos, curry leaves (which I’m now obsessed with) and more. All the vendors were so friendly and our friend Scott was greeted like a local celebrity.

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For dinner Raghavan arranged a cocktail hour and three course dinner at the hotel restaurant, The Rice Boat. Again I opted for the vegetarian path and I wasn’t disappointed. I was presented with a variety of different curries, some I have already sampled on my trip and some new ones. The high point was definitely the shallot curry, which reminded me of a mole, rich and deep with flavor.

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I have yet to have a bad meal in India. The next day will be action packed. We have two homes to visits and meals to eat.

Mumbai

Oh the joys of jet lag. I have been up for 5 hours and in 2 hours I am supposed to be getting up and heading to the airport. I guess it’s a good time to write.

We made to Mumbai. We meaning me and my two travel companions Cathy & Ray. The flight was pretty uneventful and short. Well there was a moment over the Atlantic when a bout of moderately heavy turbulence flung me into the worst case scenario mode and had me quickly studying the neglected aircraft safety card. Within 5 minutes, my sanity was restored.

Mumbai’s weather was actually quite refreshing other than the “smoke,” a wonderful combination of fog and pollution. My allergies didn’t appearance this mix. We arrived quite late so we didn’t get a chance to survey our surroundings so we opted for the hotel restaurant buffet and some kingfishers. The added bonus was the Indian gentleman playing on his casio and singing some my favorites – Hotel California, Locked Out Of Heaven, you get the drift.

Mumbai at morning

Mumbai at morning

The next day we ventured out and frankly I didn’t take many photos because I was overwhelmed with sensory overload. The traffic is total chaos with vehicles and tuk tuks flying down the road weaving between lines and horns blaring continuously. There are just so many people here, everywhere. The hardest for us was being so aware of all of the poverty, the large amount of trash and stray dogs on the streets. It humbles you.

Ray in Guitar Shop

Ray in Guitar Shop

By the afternoon we were able to get our bearings and headed to a music store to help Ray buy a new guitar (his guitar as damaged on the flight over). Ray tested out potential guitars with playing Blackbird. For a moment this popular Beatles song brought the store to a standstill as we enjoyed the sweet strums. It was interrupted briefly as a hindu priest walked in.  I marveled in his appearance as we came face to face but he then left quickly at the shop owner’s request. I’m not sure why. So no hindu priest selfie. Damn.

Afterwards we headed to a popular mall to do some high end shopping, well it was more to gawk at all the beautiful saris Cathy and I wished we could buy and to grab lunch. We happened across a restaurant Maharaja Bhog that had a location in Houston and we decided to give it a try. Once we sat down we were swarmed with servers offering up delicious curries, sauces, dal, lentils every 5 minutes. It was amazing and welcomed. It was a much better lunch that we had expected to have and it was only $6 a person! And the folks were so hospitable.

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Instead of taking my nap time seriously, I watched Bollywood films, Indian soaps and the last few minutes of a cricket match. The Delhi Dragons may be my new favorite team. Apparently cricket players spend some serious time in the gym now!

Dinner was a treat. We headed to the gorgeous Grand Hyatt Hotel to check out Soma. Their high ratings were well deserved as the food, service and atmosphere were excellent. I fell in love with all of the beautiful tapestries featuring hindu stories and gods. We dined on kebabs, tandoori chicken, grilled fish, paneer tikki masala and a tasty spinach dish. Oh and the garlic naan was to die for. Apparently our culinary enthusiasm was accessed very early on and we got to take a quick tour of the kitchen where the kebabs and naan was being made. It was a perfect way to end our time in Mumbai.

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The chef and his crew. He’s enthusiastic no?

Looking forward to heading to Cochin in a few hours.

Check out more photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/msgoodies/

Packing

I am just a few hours away from hopping on a plane and heading out and of course I’m still feverishly packing. I have gone through several revisions of my suitcases trying to remember that I can buy stuff in India if I forget something. Conservative for India and laid back in Thailand means almost two different wardrobes but I finally reeled it in. Thankful to my girlfriends who provided me with some essentials to make my trip a little easier. They are kind of amazing.

2015/01/img_1555.jpg Ok time to get this passport stamped!

Itinerary.

In just 5 days I leave for my trip to India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. I can’t believe it. After months of talking about it, now I get to actually go. So crazy! Folks have asked about my itinerary so here it is..

January 13th – Leaving home. Weeee! Away we go.

January 14th – Mumbai, India 

January 16th – Cochin

January 19th – Kumarakom

January 21st – Colombo, Sri Lanka 

January 22nd – Kelaniya

January 23rd – Pinnawala, Dambulla & Kandalama (Busy Day)

January 24th – Sigiriya, Minneriya

January 25th – Ahungalla

January 26th – Balapitiya, Galle

January 27th – Colombo

January 28th – Chiang Mai, Thailand 

January 31st – Bangkok

February 3rd – Heading home. Home Sweet Home.

Now I should probably consider what to pack for the trip..

Shots! Shots! Shots! Everybody!

I’m heading on my first adventure of the year and it’s the special time before a big trip to a third world country that you have to get the appropriate shots. Of course, I waited until the last possible moment to get mine. I had to emotionally (overcome my needle fear) and financially (they ain’t cheap) reconcile the need to get all of these shots. My thoughts. How many folks have actually gotten Japanese Encephalitis that would warrant a $300 round of shots? Besides, Malaria may be the diet plan I have always been looking for. Reluctantly I got many of the “necessary” shots and started my typhoid pills because it is recommended for “adventurous” eaters like myself. As soon as I get off the plane in Mumbai, I plan on developing an almost conjoined situation with my bottle of bug spray and will slather myself with as much deet that is humanly and medically possible. I guess it’s pretty pointless to pack perfume at this point. Eau de Deet anyone?