Saturday, 31 July 2010

Nepalese Thakali Food

Nepalese food is a lot subtler in flavour and heat than its southern neighbour. It is very healthy as well, as they do not use that much oil or ghee. The sauces are not as fatty either compared to some Indian gravys I have eaten.
This was shown to me by my guide on my 5 day rapid trip through Nepal visiting nearly 20 hotels. Thankfully we were not invited to eat in many of those hotels, as I was sick of hotel food by that point.
The Thakali people originated from the north of Nepal in Mustang. They originally were trading people, but slowly over the years have migrated south into the cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara to set up businesses there.
As they used to conduct trade as far north as China and south as India, there adaptation of these foods has become legendary. No one does dal bhat (rice and dal) better than a Thakali. Slowed cooked in an iron pot, with some turmeric to add some earthy flavour.

The arrangement of the foods is essential as well. You will never find foods of the same colour next to each other. They never clash. The bowls are arranged neatly with the dal closest to you. Radish chips are an essential in a Thakali meal. Their crunchiness is as good as the potato version. The meats are slowed cooked and tender and fall apart when they reach your mouth. As I said the flavours are quite subtle and do not over power the meat or veg. Something some Indian cooks should take note of.

But with everything in Nepal, rice is the king. When we stopped for food, it was always said we are going to eat some rice. The other ingredients just add to it. I ate a lot of rice. Too much.
I’m not sure if there are any Nepali restaurants in London, but it will be fun to try and find one, as long as they sell the local fire water called raksi. 

Friday, 30 July 2010

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Going Vegan in Haridwar

It’s taken me nearly 2 weeks to get my Indian companions to eat somewhere that wasn’t in a hotel. That first group of Delhi boys had organised every meal in a hotel. For them this was a bit of luxury that doesn’t come around all that often, so they made the most of it. I have to give credit where credits due, the food in the hotels here has been pretty good. Only once or twice did it taste like it was out of a jar. One place it was so bad we never even finished the first plate, a bit embarrassing as we were dining with the owner. Then again he never ate anything that night. A wise man.
So after arriving at our hotel in the Holy and Vegetarian city of Haridwar. The city of Shiva the Destroyer. They were forced to eat out of the hotel, as the restaurant had closed. Phew. Without even trying I had succeeded.
So onto the streets we went. The two new Delhi boys looked a little lost and scared, even though one of them eats out every day, but he is a bit posh. I choose the nearest place to our hotel, it reminded me of the places that I used to eat in when I travelled around India. It was grotty and more importantly it was cheap. Back then I had no money, and was travelling very economically.

Plates of dhal, mixed veg curries, roti were ordered and placed on our table. A feast fit for a king. I am getting pretty good at eating with my hand now, kinda got it but not quite. It will be interesting when I return to London though.
I’ve also noticed that people here, eat a lot of bread at first, but will always finish the meal with some rice. To mop up some of the remaining dhal or curry sauce. Our first attempt wasn’t bad. It wasn’t brilliant but it was ok, plus eating with people in a crowded restaurant is a bit if a change. A good one.

Amazingly I managed to get them to eat out again the following day, mainly as we had missed the restaurant at the hotel again. I knew I shouldn’t have asked so many questions at that last hotel visit. He he. Plan worked.
The next joint served up some of the best food I’ve had in India. Really good veggie food. It was a cleaner than my last choice, but the quality of food was ten fold. A constant flow of people made sure the food was fresh.
A smaller meal this time of dhal fry, channa masala and a mixed veg curry went down a treat. The dhal fry was tasty and spicy. I’ve made channa masala before but nowhere as good as this one. Roti and rice were the accompaniments to a great cheap meal. Shame we were leaving the following morning, as I would have loved to have eaten there again.

I have to say though the buffet breakfast at the hotel was really good as well. All south Indian food. Lovely spicy curries are just what the doctor ordered for first thing in the morning. Ask my cousin, he always has a curry for breakfast. Mainly because he falls asleep drunk, and doesn’t eat it from the night before. 

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Lowlander & Belgo Lobster Fest

Once upon a time I used to work for a large travel agency, but after some 5 years I had to get out. It was becoming too much for me.
But whilst I was there, some friends used to organise many a night out or nights away on a pilgrimage to drink quality European beer.
Most of these included nights out at Belgos or Lowlander, both in Covent Garden. Other times we were more adventurous and travelled to the source. Nights away in Brussels and Bruges allowed us to try a wide variety of Belgium beers that are not available in London.
As I haven’t worked there for a few years now, the nights out have all but disappeared with my old work mates. But a few I still keep in touch with. But with a few we still keep up the tradition, which has included nights out to the Dovetail and Lowlander. A night in Belgium was planned, but alas I am here in India.
The last night out we did, was a couple of nights before I headed out for 10 weeks of hotel visits. Last count 73. Maybe more. As you can see I wrote this somewhere in India.
Belgos, every year do a Lobster Fest, and what better way to see me off than a good night of Belgium beers.
We started the night off at Lowlander, a bar that every connoisseur of Belgium beer has been to on many an occasion.
It was a beautiful evening and most people were standing outside taking in the warm glow of the sun before it bade us good night for another day.
As this happened back in mid June I have no idea what I drunk, as after a night of drinking beers with an average 8% alchchol, I was kinda drunk. The stinger at the end of the night, which gave me a stinking hangover the next day, and near total memory loss, was a 10% monster. Not touching that again at the end of an evening.
What I do remember was that we wandered down to Belgos to eat some lobster. Thankfully they seemed to have ditched those monks outfits. They did look a bit silly.
Surprisingly, it was pretty empty. Normally during their Lobster Fest, it’s standing room only.
I do remember (just), that the lobster was sweet and juicy. Perfectly cooked, but then again my taste buds were slightly distorted. But it tasted very good and that is all that matters. The fries rocked also, but they always do. That’s about all I can remember of that portion of the night, apart from, as ever good times ensued.
Much later we returned to Lowlander, as the beers are cheaper and the atmosphere is nicer to drink in. This is where everything gets fuzzy. I remember we read that from a particular beer, some of the profits go to a hamster rescue farm in Belgium. Don’t ask, we couldn’t figure it out, but had to order a round. No idea of the name or what the beer tasted like, but I still get a warm feeling knowing I helped rescued hamsters live out the rest of their days cage free and happy somewhere roaming free on a farm in Belgium. It was one of those nights.
I have since received an email stating the trip to Belgium has been postponed till October. Nice, it’s still on. I feel though we should make a side trip to that Hamster Sanctuary and see where out money has gone to.
As for Belgos and their Lobster Fest. It was as ever a quality night out with friends, which for me is what Belgos is all about. I could never imagine eating there alone. 
Lowlander on Urbanspoon
Belgo Centraal on Urbanspoon

Friday, 23 July 2010

Thursday, 22 July 2010

My 100th Hotel Visit – A Landmark

After a major mis calculation, my 100th hotel visit actually was in the Chitwan National Park at the rustic Island Jungle Resort. I thought it was here at the Yak and Yeti in Kathmandu, but I forgot about one property outside of Pokhara on Begnas Lake.
The rustic (best word I can come up for it) resort is only one of three camps within the National Park. The other two, Tiger Tops and Temple Tiger have both been closed for the last 9 months, as the Government wants no camps within the park. No idea why this rustic place still operates. Politics.
The trip across to the Island was by a small leaking rowing boat, in total there were 8 people, a lot of supplies and a bike. How we made it down and across this fast moving river is beyond me, but we did. A miracle.
A large elephant thrashing some grass on the ground greeted us. Not sure if it was happy with us arriving or not. But it was a sight.

The warm and big smiling manager welcomed us to his property, and forced us to eat before anything else was done. After a pretty piss poor lunch, we were shown to our basic or rustic riverfront cottage. The facilities included a fan. That’s it. This was ok, but electricity was only available from 5.30pm to 9.30pm.
We tried to get out of the elephant safari, but he looked so dejected, that we agreed to a quick one hour just to get the feel of it, citing we were very tired. His smile appeared again.

I have to say it was an experience. It’s so different to see a jungle from such a height. This also had its problems, the branches were now at head height, and after looking at the ground to try and spot wildlife I got twatted in the face by a branch. All wildlife spotting went out the window and we were more worried about getting our legs crushed by tree trunks or low level branches to the head. We had a few near misses.
We didn’t spot anything, except a few birds, a centipede and a million ants that fell onto us and the little fuckas bit us like mad.
Our 40 year old elephant was called Laxmi Kali. I felt akin to her being the same age, but she was an ugly beast and had major problems with her rear end. She farted continuously and elephants do big poos.

After the exhausting ride, we managed to get to the bar and started drinking. After 3 Everest beers we were pretty happy and had to endure another crap meal. The chef looked proud of his creations, but I should have told him it was crap, instead of telling him it was very good. He smiled a lot. I just couldn’t tell him. It would have crushed him.
After a shower I crashed before lights out, and woke up at 3am, never to return to sleep. This is becoming a pattern now, but the heat in the room was awful. My bed was pretty drenched in the morning. Maybe I should have slept in the shower.
I have to say I was never so fucking happy to get out of there, but looking back it was an adventure, and a worthy experience for my 100th hotel visit. It will never be matched. I hope.

So the Yak n Yeti is 101, and tonight, I am going out for a Chinese meal with our ground operators here in Kathmandu. If it’s anything like being force fed beer and food on day one then it will be a fun night.
Hotel 102 will be in Bhutan somewhere. 

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Retro Deserts in India

I have noticed that Indians love their puddings. Everyone on these trips with me has eaten a pudding after their hefty meals. I’m not really a sweet eater, so I am giving them a miss, mainly as I am trying to shrink my ever increasing waistline.
One pudding I had to eat though as it was a real blast from the past was cold custard and sliced banana.
I haven’t eaten this since I was at Junior school in the 70’s. It was a real surprise to have this put in front of me. I couldn’t say no.
It even tasted the same as well. Definitely from a tin, the thickness gave it away as well as the sweetness. Not to dissimilar to Birds. I think I went through most of my childhood eating cold custard, and eating this gave me so many memories I was almost crying with happiness.
The banana was soft and ripe and is the perfect partner to thick cold custard
The only difference was the inclusion of some shaved coconut, which added an extra note to it.
I’ve seen it on many a buffet table now, that dish at the end all on its own crying out to be eaten. Thankfully my willpower is strong and I can say no.
Now I wish I could say no to everything else put in front of me, then I might be able to loose some weight.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Hosted Lunches …

A major part of my life at the moment is visiting hotels for an inspection. These can be fun or they cannot. It all depends on the person who is showing you around. Some actually enjoy their job and take great pride to make it as entertaining for you as it can be. Some others (who I shall not mention) try and make it a living hell, by reciting from the hotel pamphlet. I wish she would have just giving me the leaflet and let me be. That hour is lost forever. I cannot get it back.
Sometimes, but not so much in India as in Oman, we get hosted lunches or dinners. These can be fun also, but again it all depends on the person who is eating with you. One or two have been painful, but most have been really enjoyable.
We’ve also had in Oman as well as in India some unhosted lunches, where you are just plonked into an empty restaurant and given a menu to order from. I have learnt quickly that when we are at an unhosted meal, the food is going to be crap, and it generally always is.
I would say that the majority of people working in hotels in Oman are form India. Well Kerala to be precise. So all the food is really south Indian food. Excellent I say.

This is not just because the rich Omani’s will not work in these jobs, it’s just that they have figured out that that they do not know how to run hotels and cook Indian food that well. So they get in experts to do all these things for them. But the links between Oman and India have been going on for centuries. They have deep trading links, and a mutual respect is given from both sides. Yes a lot of Indians do the real crap jobs, but it’s not like the UAE here where they are treated like shit. All the Omanis I spoke to liked and respected the Indians there in Oman. Where as in the UAE, and Dubai to be precise they are not respected nor liked. They are there to do the crap jobs, and that’s it.
So Oman has been eating Indian food for centuries and it’s a bit like in England where Indian food has been taken over as the norm now. Except in Oman where it is sooooooo much better. We got to eat really good south Indian food every day. I was expecting to see a lot more middle eastern food as I know from Lebanon, Egypt etc, alas no. It’s Indian all the way. 
Our first hosted lunch and for food it is still the best. The Chedi in Muscat. We were also staying there as well, and so far after nearly 4 weeks, it is still the best hotel I have stayed in.
After the tour of the hotel we were taken to the restaurant for lunch, now as it was my first day in Oman I opted for a traditional Middle Eastern mezze starter. All the usual suspects were there and tasted amazing. Now, Oman is well known for its fish, so a main of the grilled mixed seafood platter went down a real treat. The lobster tail was just so delicious. So moist and yummy. It’s not every day you get to eat lobster, so why not. Although I had just had it a few days before in Belgos. More on that at a later date.
The most fun dinner was at the Hilton in Salalah. The food from the Sri Lankan chef was blinding. Melt in the mouth chicken tandoori. Oh My Gawd. It was so good. But the company of the sales manager and his assistant was just great. Really nice people and they were genuinely happy to be with us. Plus they comped our rather large bar bill afterwards. Gladly we were not drunk or that would have been bad. Very.

A few meals came as a bit of a surprise, these were from small roadside cafes, serving the local Omani’s and Indian expats. They were cheap and cheerful but were delish none the less.
It’s just polite to do the hotel visit before being invited to eat in their restaurants. But sometimes you are just wanting to go straight and eat and miss the hotel tour altogether.
In India it’s a different thing all together. The hotels generally do not do hosted events. Not the big ones anyhows, as they can survive without our custom. But the smaller hotels like the Shahpura House in Jaipur for example needs every bit of custom they can get. So they scratch your back we scratch theirs. That seems to be the Indian way of doing business. But I have to say the lunch they gave us was pretty fantastic. The Lal Maas was sublime. Not quite as red and fiery as it should be but pretty damn good none the less. The mutton (as they call goat) was melt in the mouth. The hotel was very nice as well, and worth praising for what it is even without the great food.

But to be honest I am getting rather fed up of hotel food. I miss the India I know. Those cheap eateries in the street that seem to give you the best food of all. I miss interacting with the locals and finding out how they prepare their dishes. In hotels the kitchen is right off limits, although I managed to sneak a quick chat with the head chef at the Anãnda Spa Resort. I so wanted to eat there, but we were only offered tea or coffee. Damn.
I am slowly heading to Nepal where a buffalo steak awaits me. 

Friday, 16 July 2010

Foto Friday # 8

These veggie pakoras were being cooked at a small roadside stop on the way up to Almora in northern India. They went down great with some coffee as an early morning breakfast.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Organica Pizza

As you can tell I am in India at the mo. But I still have a few blogs to write on places before I left Blighty.
The Organica Pizza is at the far end of Gillespie Road. Turn left out of Arsenal tube station and keep walking. It’s on the left near the end of the road. It’s a small shop with a few tables on a wooden patio outside.
As the Regent is so far away for that random night you just fancy something on the spur of the moment. For me this normally involves pizza. So a good takeaway joint near to home is needed.
One such day arrived. As we left the tube station and I decided I couldn’t be arsed to cook. I wanted something quick and easy and tasty to munch on. Organica Pizza popped into our heads and as it is so close to home why not.
Their menu is a little, well not to my taste. They have a Hawaiian pizza on the menu. I should have walked out there and then. But I am willing to try anywhere once, and my radar was not screaming for me to rush out of there in a blind panic. They seemed to be quite busy as telephone orders were coming in thick and fast. Pizzas were flying in and out of their brick oven. So why not give them a chance.

They do two sizes. 12 or 16 inch. Real party food. It’s odd though as you can buy two 12 inches for the same price as a 16inch one. That’s not right. It doesn’t make sense. 
We ordered a 16 inch Rustica. I was in a hungry mood. Order in and paid for. £15.50p, not the cheapest pizza I’ve ever had.
Pizza cooked and in an enormous cardboard box. Within a few minutes we were back home and scoffing our pizza.
It was my fault. I should have done a runner. I mean any place that does a Hawaiian pizza can’t take pizzas that seriously. Or am I just too snobby.
Where to begin. First, the base was pretty tasteless. It had a nice crispness to it, but it lacked any flavour at all. Had they forgotten to salt the dough? No they couldn’t have, it wouldn’t have risen. Maybe the flour. Who knows but it was like eating the cardboard box it came in.
The toppings were ok, but nothing special and did not taste of a 15 quid pizza. As we’ve known all along, organic food is just a rip off. So was this pizza.
We are still looking for a good pizza joint near to home, alas none can match the Regent. Maybe we shall have to move back there after our 6 months in out current flat comes up.
Actually I think that is going to happen. 

Organica Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, 12 July 2010

A Working Trip

After several months of mulling around Islington doing nothing, I finally got a job. Yeahhhhh…. I decided not to go back to cheffing and I am back in travel. Well it pays more and the hours are much better than being a chef. Unbelievable but yes it’s true.
Before I actually begin working though, I am being forced to go on a 10 week working trip through Oman, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma. This is all being paid for by my new company. I know. This never happens in the travel industry.
So as I am writing this from Corbett National Park in northern India. No safari, just hotel visits.
This educational is for me to get acquainted with all the products that I am going to sell, plus as I am also going to see part of this trip through the eyes of our customers, so I will be able to know what is the best for them.
Now you might think this is all very well, and I am sitting in 5 star hotels, lounging around by the pool, being pampered by the hotels in their spa facilities.
Unfortunately not.  I wish it was like that, but it isn’t. Since arriving into Oman, and now India. I haven’t stopped. I’m doing 12 – 14 hour days. (So actually not that much difference from cheffing), but we are mainly sitting in a car being driven around from town to town, sight to sight, hotel to hotel. All very dull now.
This is a definite working holiday. Looking at my schedule, I am never in a city or town for more than 2 nights. Most are going to be one. Not a lot of time to do my laundry, or anything else. In the 3 weeks I have seen more than 70 hotels.
I was going to write this sooner but sleep always got the better of me. So I hope to write a few words on this trip and the food I’m eating and the places I’ve seen.
The first one will be on hosted lunches in Oman. All very exciting. Not. 

Friday, 2 July 2010

Foto Friday # 7

This guy was grilling some delicious kebabs right outside the Souq in Niswa. They were very tender and juicy and made a great mid morning snack.