Tapas’ya’

Lets get spiritual. A derivation from the word root ‘tap’ -meaning ‘heat’ (which depending on context) either from fire,weather, pain,penance,suffering – Tapas means deep meditation,reasoned self discipline and effort to achieve self-realization, sometimes involving solitude. Well for all you Adam Levine fans he’s got it inked on his chest as well. While were still spiritually inclined, my recent visit to Martins in Margao was the need of the hour. I had to quell the ‘heat’ stroked & flamed up playfully by Cassy Martins over a phone call a few weeks earlier, scrumptiously describing ideas for his new menu.Of course he was referring to a wide variety of appetizers of the Spanish cuisine he had concocted for the meal. 

12 days later (yes I counted in anticipation) and my meditation and self disciplines paid off when a few traveller friends and yours truly made our way down south for a feast in waiting.

The word “tapas” is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, “to cover”. This is a culinary design cleverly conceived to encourage conversation, because people are not really focused on eating an entire meal that is set before them- Brilliant!!! Multiple pro’s, very little on the downside. Ever wonder now how those Spanish footballers remain so fit and taut? Eat less (smart), play more. On my trip to Seville its tradition like for people to finish work an head to a tapas bar to socialize (no facebook & mobile phones are not part of the deal…human conversations are call of the hour) right before supper time. Tapas can be consumed hot or cold, a favorite comes to mind; ‘chopitos‘-(batter fried crunchy baby squid) with the ever-versatile Torres Viña Sol and i’m yours- in food heaven. (Earth calling Nolan!! Come back to the tapas at hand please…)

There are several theories to the etymology of the name. Though the primary meaning of tapa is cover or lid the most commonly cited explanation is that an item, be it bread or a flat card, etc., would often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies that were a common menace; at some point it became a habit to top this “cover” with a snack. Another theory states that since one would be standing while eating a tapa in traditional Spanish bars, they would need to place their plates on top of their drinks to eat, making it a top. A few scholars mention a final possibility surrounding King Felipe III, who passed a law in an effort to curb rowdy drunken behavior, particularly among soldiers and sailors. (The hope being that the food would slow the effects of the alcohol, and fill the stomach to prevent over imbibing.)

Accompanied by world travelers from the land down under (Australia) & West ( San Francisco) were the ‘Foodie Fernandes’ brothers each with their own background to good food and hospitality. ‘Chorizo’ was a vital showcase and part of the menu sans dessert (thank god for small mercies) 

The Chicken & Chorizo Meatball with Ratatouille hit the spot on all fours. After all who doesnt love their meatballs? But meatballs with a twist, now that was something to pine for especially with perfect European blended cues from various countries (Spain,France,Italy). Chicken mince with a seasoning of celery,parsley and garlic slow cooked with goan handmade chorizo mixed with smoked paprika imported directly from the Extramudra region (South Madrid).This chorizo is oak smoked before cooked so as to get a distinct woody pipe flavor hidden in their notes. No doubt a tastier, healthier and gourmet version of a chorizo for sure (given the preservatives used in cured chorizos these days). All this ladelled in Ratatouille sauce (Yes the same one Remy the mouse cooked up in Pixar’s classic Ratatouille) 

Another item one has to try (appetite allowing) is the Chicken breast stuffed with house chorizo & extract sauce. Nothing fancy but oh so plenty in flavor. A simple breast marination with a secret sauce (unfortunately the chef is not at liberty to share that recipe without having to kill you post) and seasoned with thyme, parsley, rosemary with drizzles of olive oil and chorizo extract sauce.

Accompanied with a fine glass of bubbly Sangria (a unique twist by mixing champagne, green apple and some fine red wine) cleansed each morsel sampled only to ask for more. All in all a fine evening of good food, tales from across the world and multiple cups of hot water. To get your cravings on a shoe string budget allow the Martin brothers to bring Spain right to your backyard. (of course the other alternative is to head to Spain itself) 

Dios te bendiga!! (God Bless you)

Chicken & Chorizo Meatball with Ratatouille sauce Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography  

To Banana or Bacon? that is the question 

I am on my ‘guilt weight trip’ ritual to devote some serious time to my crunches in the hope of toning up my mid rift. This happens every other quarter -wherein I decide NOT to abuse my body and focus on eating right and healthy. Even my nutritionist (yes I have one) gets on board to ensure my ‘love handles’ are handled to the best of their abilities.

Harped upon daily and constantly, about breakfast being the most important meal of the day is indeed all for good measure. However; eating right does get the better of me on multiple occasion. There is only so much ‘goodness’ I can take before I succumb to culinary ‘lust’. After almost a fortnight of eating ‘right’ – low fat yogurt with muesli and soy milk I decided to initiate protocol ‘Cheat Day’ well ahead of schedule.

I scurry over to meet a friend on the pretext of a simple ‘catch up’ – throwing a veil of deceit over my nutritionists eyes (did I feel guilty? Let’s leave it at melancholy) Of course the real reason was to sample what was cooking in her culinary mastermind. It’s theraputic, knowing the creative process of friends such as Vandana, who runs a lovely cafe -Cafe Bodega in the heart of an art gallery- Sunaparanta- in an old Portuguese house with a courtyard. The atmosphere so tranquil, one could lose track of time along with such an efficacious personality – bubbly and brimming with ideas all from the world of good food.

Known for my love of waffles,(I pride myself in sampling the likes of the Belgian, Liege (Eastern Belgium),Flemish aka Gaufres a la Flamande (Northern France and western Belgium) American, Stroopwafles- my favorite (Netherlands) and the Bergische waffles  (German region of Berg country) all these have been ticked off my bucket list) – a simple question posed, I find myself caught like a deer in the headlights when asked for my preference that day – sweet or savory? With a calorie count weighing on my head, I obviously was stuck in a conundrum and her  explanation of the construct definitely did not help (yes tough decisions indeed).

Factoid: Waffles are preceded, in the early Middle Ages around the period of the 9th-10th century with the simultaneous emergence of fer a hosties (communion wafer irons) typically depicting imagery of Jesus and his crucifixion on hosts- Oubile in its basic form comprising of only grain flour and water.  As a product it evolved around the 11th century with The Crusaders bringing new culinary ingredients such as orange blossom water and locally sourced honey predominantly used during that time. 

While i resigned myself to fate and simply let her choose on my behalf- a mischievous glint in her eyes, and seconds later shes off to the kitchen. I decide to soak in the sun and ponder over what was to unfold. A whiff first presented itself – an aroma of Nutella and deep fried bacon, emanating from behind kitchen doors on to play catchup to the speedy plate being carried over to table for its visual appeal. Voila!! 

Belgian waffles with her twist on a complete breakfast. Masterclass indeed. Crunchy strips of bacon covered half the side and gooey Nutella covered bananas on the other. It toyed with me to leave table manners and just gorge on the feast laid in front of me. Let’s not forget a swab of butter, a ladleful of maple syrup and drizzles of sugar powder and it sure was a home run in my books. ‘Cheat Day’ devoured and successfully accomplished.

With affable conversations a few cutlery clinks later it was time to bid adieu only to plan my next meal there the minute I departed.

Off to the gym now.
Waffles with crispy bacon, banana & Nutella

 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Fishing for Mermaids 

Ever lived in a fishing village? Its the gate to the seas -much like the keepers of the land, from an invasion far from told, waiting in abeyence to happen. The smell of fresh salt in the air with the waves thrashing against jagged rock a defense fortitude used to protect them from the vehement sea trying to grab what is hers.

A mermaid perhaps?

I used to read about fisherman and mermaids when I was little. Those glorious fairy like creatures who would lure men to their demise far out in the blue. Around village camp fires, men would regale tales of delight and horrors of the deep as they braved winds and tide to make it home to their loved ones. This would be lauded over some local moonshine (country liquor) and some good old spicy food.

One preparation that stands out is the prawn koliwada a spicy fiery dish relished as a starter. In contrary to popular belief of its origination on the Konkan coast, it actually birthed itself from the Sion fishing village (koliwada) by a North Indian immigrant from Punjab.

These deep-fried crunchy prawns can be identified by their signature red color due to the use of Kashmiri red ground chillies. Mouth watering as is, I chanced upon an invite to a friends house for the same without a moments hesitation.

Desolate spots where one finds oneself 

Koliwada refers to a colony of Kolis (fishermen). A fish market is usually located near the entrance of the Koliwada locality. This is predominantly found in Mumbai till date and fisherfolk have lived across the seven islands off the Arabian Sea that subsequently merged over time to form the city of Mumbai.

Believe you me, savoring fish at a village table is something one must try at least once. Sans the fancy and the razz,  it’s home made fresh food at its best- no frills attached. In its most crude and humble form it’s literally straight from the frying pan onto your plate. The aromas drive you to a tizzy and your fight within to curb your enthusiasm is paramount to avoid searing your mouth.

A day well spent (we ate, we laughed, we sang karaoke, played monopoly, and some gully cricket) with an invite for dinner in tow here’s to some added belches and a whole load of smiles over the meeting fireplace.

Gone fishing. Back in …… 😉

 Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

HORN-OK-PLEASE: Taco Pakora has arrived 

Growing up, my mother always scoffed at me when I played with my food. I would segregate the food into zones; “like” & “dislike” and made mountains of rice around the plate. They even had structured roadways in between. Quite elaborate -might I add. The objective, was to push all the “disliked” items away to the sides thus pretending to show a clean plate before I was excused from the table. In actuality- it never worked!

Then a dog arrived- Snuggy who snuggly fit below the dining table at meal time. To me he was godsent thank to his vacuuming abilities of moping up ‘mistakenly’ fallen food off the floor. Welcome the Dog-bin (yes I invented that word….does anyone know how to trademark it?)

I was thrilled to receive a call from the dynamic duo (No,NOT Batman and Robin- champagne with Wayne will follow shortly someday, *wishful thinking*) who run a posh swanky restaurant- A Reverie in the northern belt of Goa. Known for their creativity and love for all things unique I decided to accept the invite with gusto having been told the dining concept was a playdate with ones food. Payback to the folk after all these years.

The objective clear; a blend of world cuisine on a plate (7 course meal to be precise over a multitude of dishes) delicately infused with local Indian flavor and panache. A creative marriage in the making perhaps?

Case in point the affair of the Indian pakora & the taco all the way from Mexico. Sounds absurd, you say? Quite the contrary.

If any of you have had the experience of driving behind trucks on the highways of India they have a phrase commonly plastered on the rear HORN-OK-PLEASE. The purpose of the phrase is to alert the driver of the vehicle approaching from behind to sound their horn in case they wished to overtake. The history of this phrase unknown; however there are multiple theories. In the early days all the good carrier trucks were manufactured by the TATA Group which had a brand of detergent- ‘OK’ which they cleverly advertised on the rear of their trucks by painting them. It had a symbol of the lotus. Quite effective free publicity might I add. Another theory states that the blackout on lights during the Second World War, if a car had to overtake a lorry at night, it had to honk. For this purpose, there used to be a red light under the truck which the driver would switch on to signal it was OK to overtake. It was the OK in the middle that would light up.

So what business does a Taco have with a Indian pakora? After all a taco is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a tortilla folded/wrapped around a filling primarily beef,pork,chicken,seafood, vegetables and cheese to name a few allowing for great versitality and variety. Much similar to the Indian naan, might I add which is a common staple diet bread used by many households. Whilst the bhaji or pakora- a fried fritter snack often comprising of onions,eggplant, potato, spinach being the usual suspects dipped in batter of gram flour and then deep fried generally used as a accompaniment with a nice hot cup of tea- I really couldn’t place the unison.

While quizzical at the moment – is also interesting to note the presentation of the dish sans any utensils. The taco back home in Mexico follows the similar custom and is accompanied by multiple garnishes; salsa,avocado,guacamole, cilantro, minced meats, onions and lettuce (now you understand the versitality of it all?) Trivia: it is one of the most popular street foods in Mexico and is never eaten as a main meal; they are generally eaten before midday or late in the evening.The origin of this word is in dispute with some saying its derived from the Nahuatl while others from various Spanish phrases. 

All said and done it brought out the kid in me. I played with that truck like there was no tomorrow not to mention the crunchy bites of the beer battered kandha bhajiya (onion pakoras) interspersed as a gentle afterthought.

Snuggy this is one meal i wouldn’t send your way. No offense pup. Look at me now Mum- I’m still playing with my food.

SHOUT -OK -PLEASE.    Pic courtesy: A Reverie 

The Maharaja & the Camel 

This is a tale of a time, long ago when I went dune bashing on a bully camel that help aid the digestion of one delicious dish. That would be my explanation of my trip to Rajasthan- the land of Maharajas.

A place filled with rich culture around every turn – Rajasthani’s are known for their love of food and it’s quite evident in their preparations. I have a bucket list – one was to ride a camel in the desert which i wanted to complete before my back gave way later on in life ( I’ve been told it was bumpy and by George were they right!!!)

Being the history buff I am I love everything antique and troll for stories on culture. My day started like every normal day. I woke up early (in this case to stand in line at the house I was residing in to ensure i got a bucket of hot water- the temperature was averaging between 7 to 11 degrees, something which my Mediterranean hot blooded body is not equipped to handle)

After a heavy breakfast I head out by bike with guide in tow to witness Bada Bagh- whose literal translation means Big Garden. It’s a garden complex ( not much of a garden now due to poor maintenance) 6kms north of Jaisalmer that contains a set of royal cenotaphs (a word derived from the Greek language kenos- empty / taphos-tomb these are empty tombs erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere) of Maharajas of the state of Jaisalmer way back from 1743.

Bada Bagh (Big Garden)    With the morning well spent in these peaceful dusty tombs with a sense of the souls chanting from ages past it was time for lunch. I read up on dishes to savour and asked for the Dal Baati Churma as I was warned never to leave the state without trying it. The Baati (Rajasthani name given) is a hard unleavened bread with high nutritional content prepared in dry areas where water is scarce. It is traditionally prepared by coarsely mashing Baati and pouring ghee on top of it. It is served with dal (lentils) and a spicy garlic chutney or with besan (gram flour). Churma is a sweet side dish that accompanies the Dal Baati and has various ingredients ranging from dry fruits like Cashew almonds or raisins. This depends on the social status of the family at host.

Now while I’m sure your salivating at the description no one bothered to mention the minuscule fact that it takes a while for this to digest given how heavy the ingredients are.

Unassuming me gorged as if this was my last supper. After all it was an experience to savor. Right about the time when I was gearing up for my siesta my bubbly guide alerted me that my camel ride was due shortly.

My ride post the churma. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Camels. Have I mentioned before -I love camels and horses. However I’m petrified of them.Mind you they are NOT comfortable. Much like a lumpy saggy undulated mattress. Quite the pain in the a*^*, literally!!

And here’s the kicker. My churma was churning. And not in a good way. Speeding across atop a camel across the dunes on an undigested stomach is definitely a bad idea. Not advisable. Luckily for both our sakes I managed to retain my inners – I’m sure the camel was grateful.  The plains of the dessert are beautiful and hollow. So much tranquility in such a harsh space. Beauty at play indeed.

All said and done it was a wonderful trip. Definitely if you long to live amongst the halls of royalty in an era past.

Time for that digestive. Over and out.

The heav’y’enly -Dal Bati Churma   Pic courtesy: Anchal Kandpal 

The Old Man & the Blue 

A road trip was the need of the hour  so I packed up and headed for the coast. I wanted to move far far away, where the haunt of technology couldn’t usurp my senses. No network, no internet – just the perfect respite I was seeking. Run away from the dogma that plagues us working highly stressed folk.

I headed to the docks where a ferry service was willing and ready to take me to the fishing island up ahead. It was early- 6:45 a.m and the sea mist and the seagulls were at harmonious play. The water golden tempting me to plunge deep within.  Like clockwork we depart on time.

The man at the helm was Sheikh Abdul Pathan. A native of Punjab (now part of Pakistan post the separation) who moved to Mumbai in the early 50’s -then called Bombay. Towering a little over 6 feet 3 inches I felt like Frodo next to him. He was accompanied by his 10 year old grandson since school was out that day.

Busy at work with no time to chat Mohammad was scurrying around the boat pulling in ropes and buoys to ensure all was as planned for a smooth sail ahead. Much like a pro athlete from the NBA doing suicide drill warmups. Focussed and determined.

Me being a restless soul I walk across to the man with the mesmerizing blue eyes – Lagoon blue set amidst the burnt reds resembled two sapphires lodged deep within an abyss of possibilities and stories. His stare was deadpan and might i add intimidating – yet he had the calm and composure of a placid lake with the occasional dragonfly swooping in for a ripple nibble.

Breakfast was around the corner. I hadn’t eaten since I woke up. Home made fish pickle (always a MUST carry along on trips to give flavor to bland food one might encounter) and some egg and bread sandwiches in the nap sack.

I had befriended his Mohammad Ebrahim (his grandson) and we decided to ‘break bread’ together. The grandfather decided to partake as well and thoroughly relished the fish pickle.  He even suggested I come home and try out his wife’s preparation of dried fish soaked in groundnut oil and spice.

In conversation I asked him what his purpose in life was. “It was all in the hands of Allah” he mentioned looking up to the sky with gratitude. I could tell his contentment of being a fisherman who took pride in his job and on weekdays used to ferry the boat for passengers at USD 0.25cents a trip spanning 3  kilometers across the sea. Was business good? His answer was as clear as the blue in his eyes.

He explained- Two ferry trips a day and every alternate day would be his fishing expedition to get an adequate supply of fish to feed his family. When questioned as to what he did with the remainder of his time he chirped “I sleep late, play with my grandchildren, take a siesta with my wife, talk to my sons, pray and stroll into the village to meet the neighbors. I have quite a busy life”- was his gaiety retort.

I was curious to his contentment and had to ask why not increase the cycle of fishing trips to earn more money. He asked “what would money do for me? I would buy a bigger boat, better equipment, catch more fish, get a fleet of boats- how long would that take me? 15 to 20 years? But what then?”

I nodded in unison as he stole my thoughts and affirmed that he would become a millionaire and be able to comfortably retire to spend time with his family and friends. The old man smiled at me. It was a smile that showed I was on the brink of a major apparent discovery of one of life’s simplest mysteries.

And that’s when it struck me like a lightning bolt -this old man of the blue knew the meaning of Living each day with a general plan of an uncertain tomorrow. Tomorrow is promised to no one my friend.

Carpe Diem. 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Dance with Flames 

Kalaripayattu or kalari is a martial art which has its origins in the early 13th century AD (nearly 3000 years old) in Kerela. 

Crafted in ancient South India it basically draws inspiration from the raw power and sinuous strength of the majestic animal forms from Lion,Tiger,Elephant,Wild Boar,Snake & Crocodile. 

Some say it is considered to be the oldest fighting system in existence. Kung-fu, popularized by the monks of the Shaolin Temple traces its ancestry to Bodhi Dharma – an Indian Buddhist monk and Kalaripayattu master. 

Incredible India!!! 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography   

The Morning After

Ever heard those LIFE inspirational quotes where when one shuts a door a window is opened somewhere?  I ain’t on the verge of a spiritual discourse however given my condition the night before this image it is truly is a wonder I made it through the night without freezing my butt in the rain. 

With hail and brimstone in the middle of nowhere literally I chanced upon this ashram at the stroke of midnight and requested shelter from a rather grumpy priest (wouldn’t you be on your best behaviour having being woken up at midnight to a stranger now) and he offered to lend me shelter in his godown with the caveat of keep one eye open for critters and creepy crawlies that come visiting (he was referring to the garden snakes that might have jostled me and eventually nestled up in my sleeping bag)

Just like the Stones all I could think of with sigh of relief was the humming of the soundtrack Gimme Shelter and pray that I woke up without unexpected company. 

And viola I see this early in the morning. I mean gobsmacked would be an understatement. I never wanted to leave. Right next to the temple -pristine clear drinkable water and the serenity of an undiscovered Shangri-la. 

Thank you. Last night a Monk saved my life and we bonded like long lost life seekers over a cuppa chai (tea) in the morning. 

The little joys of travel. Your adventure awaits…what you waiting for?

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

 

HONK-OK-PLEASE-JESUS-ELEPHANT!!!

Here’s a flashback scenario of a traffic signal back in L.A. Yes the city of angels and over sized cars. There i was in a friends Saab and over at the side comes this monster of a Hummer growling and grunting waiting for the lights to go green. It made me feel 3 inches tall not to mention be a comfortable spectator for the grit and grim below the chassis (oh wait he missed a spot of dirt- my mind jumped with envious glee) 

Fast forward a decade later and here we are in a tuk-tuk. A three wheeler with the engine of a gearless moped (public transport widely used in India) and at a signal stop on the highway intersection this rolls in. Need I say more? 

Guess the Hummer would have to settle for second best!! 😉 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

In God's Own Country

In God’s Own Country