India, Delhi #2 The romance of Monsoon

City of Djinns by William Dalrymple is a travelogue novel  I read several years ago about the authors love affair with the city of Delhi. The colourful stories of his time and experiences learning about the history of this intriguing city made for a compelling reason to try and follow in his footsteps.

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My romantic view of Delhi

 

Classical poets and music romanticize monsoon. The intense heat, languid afternoons, walks in the gardens and the smell of freshly washed flowers…romance blossoms and is rekindled in the warm rains.  A welcome relief from the intense heat at this time of year, it is a time to come out and appreciate nature, the trees have a new sheen to them after being washed, watching children play in the rain..remember when you were a kid? splashing in puddles, standing under drain pipes, dancing in the rain… even on cold days when it rains the noise on my tin roof is comforting and soothing.

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A walk in Lodi gardens after the rain

 

Six years ago my first visit to India was in the intense heat of summer, what was I thinking? Not realising that pools are generally not common place in hotels here, it was so hot I longed to stay somewhere with a pool. The trip to Rishikesh was long and hot and the relief of a swim was so longed for. Upon arrival, the pool looked so inviting, but as it was getting dark, it could wait until tomorrow. The morning came and to my horror, the pool was being emptied! ” Monsoon is coming madam” of course it would have overflowed…. aghhhh… Monsoon came the promised day and it poured. After initially thinking this was grim I began to enjoy the rain and the joy it brought. I met an extraordinary woman during monsoon, we have remained friends ever since. Maybe we met because of monsoon.

The best part of this monsoon was that I met an extraordinary woman, we talked and talked, and did yoga together for a few days then she flew back to her side of the globe and later I went to mine. We have remained friends ever since. Maybe we met because of monsoon.

Monsoon brings people together, in a sort of “we are all in this together ” frame of mind as witnessed today in Old Delhi. We were aware that monsoon was in full swing, and living in a sub tropical climate we are used to heavy rain. What was an experience it was being in Delhi, a city of 24 million people and an infrastructure that is overloaded. The rains whilst giving much-needed relief from the heat brought the city to its knees. The traffic was gridlocked and the streets flood within minutes. What I didn’t see was tempers overheating ( apart from the obligatory horns that form part of the daily noise in Delhi) or people getting aggressive, but rather,  in general accepting and enjoying the rain, getting on with their day and being part of the moment.

The ever precarious overhead wires!

A visit to Old Delhi is a must whilst you visit here.There is almost a demarkation line between the old and the new.

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Reality view of monsoon in Old Delhi

 

Specifically the spice markets of Old Delhi were the destination for today. Once in the Chandni Chowk area everything changes, cycle rickshaws and other auto rickshaws that are only specific to this part of the city ( not allowed into the other areas) abound. This meant getting to know the prices again. Our first trip seemed very cheap at 20 rupee, the driver assuring us his umbrella ( cover on cycle) would keep us dry… after about 50 meters we were soaked so opted to stand in the shelter of a Shiva Temple to wait out the downpour… which only got worse and flooded our comparatively dry spot. Everyone was quiet and happy for the rain but being eager torsits we decided to brave it.

Flooded streets bring the city to a standstill

The result was not good and the driver announced the price was actually $20 USD whaaaat? Sure it’s fine to up the price for tourists and haggling over small price hikes for people who earn so little is unfair in my opinion. However this was not on… so beware of this- the US dollar trick was one I hadn’t seen before.

After negoation out of this one we finally found the famed spice markets. A network of streets with all sorts of colourful samples of spices and legumes varying in quality and size. Obviously there is much more going on behind the scenes as men with loads of books and dockets were intensely busy!

Old Delhi spice markets

Not being one for organized tours this may have been an instance where we would have learnt and understood a lot more had we done this. The streets are chaotic, dirty and probably a place not for the faint hearted. If you are going to pick a walking tour make sure it is one with only a few people as trying to stick with a group honestly would be akin to herding cats!

Kala Nemak or black salt in raw form

Spices are a sensory pleasure so spotting a vessel full of something resembling coal was instantly interesting to me . It was indeed Indian black salt, an ingredient I have used but was not aware of its raw form. Also known as kala namak or sanchal. It has a particularly sulphuric smell that is so good in vegan cooking as it makes stuff smell and taste like egg! Its health benefits are numerous according to ayurvedic medicine. Of course this had to be a take home souvenir. Why why why did I decide two kilos of salt was a good idea to haul around in my bag all day. Because it’s what I do, travel and cook….sore shoulders are a small price to pay.

Wrap up of monsoon and  old Delhi? both are fabulous and frustrating. Advice after this? Either research very very well, get a private guide ( best idea) or go on a small group tour. (Hindsight is a wonderful thing)

Check out the blogs by Food Tour In Delhi and read some to the great reviews they have… I think well worth it!

Japanese Fermented Tsukemono made super easy

Learning how to make dishes in different countries is part of my travel experience and life. I was fortunate enough to be tutored briefly by a Japanese chef in Shojin Ryori style cooking and it was there  I learned this most basic of all dishes and my jaw dropped as to how easy this was! Seriously there are two ingredients and five minutes of prep that’s it!

Although what I am presenting is super easy I would never underestimate the years of training and skill involved in this style of Zen Buddhist cooking. This is a complete cheats way to achieving a similar result and makes this way of cooking accessible to us.

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Hakusai No Shiozuke

Hakusai No Shiozuke is Japanese pickled cabbage. I got so excited after making this I have been pickling everything I could employing this method. I posted earlier a recipe for fermented cucumbers on sticks. Also super easy, and a healthy summer snack.

The larger term for pickles is Tsukemono which literally means “fermented vegetables”  Fermentation is such a current topic today and it’s all about gut health. Recent visits to Japan have left me wondering how the Japanese are so healthy as there is an incredible amount of processed food in the diet and not too much of an abundance of fresh raw fruit and vegetables due to high costs.

Many countries that do not have an abundance of vegetables often have their version of fermented vegetables such as Kim Chi in Korea, Sauerkraut in parts of Europe and so on.

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Typical little plate of pickles served before a meal

Koji rice is cooked rice that gets inoculated with a mold which then ferments the rice. At least that’s a very basic explanation. This fermented Koji is used to make other more well-known foods such as miso, sake, soy sauce, and mirin.

Shio Koji can be made, but as this form of fermentation was new to me I think buying the already fermented product is probably much more efficient and safe. The brand I have found easily in Australia is this one    When I say easily, look in the Japanese food section of larger Asian stores…

Shio Koji

Shio Koji

There are a number of different recipes for Hakusai No Shiozuke available but this one is just the most simple is staggering.

Ingredients

Cabbage ( either wombok or regular)

Japanese Cucumbers ( or Lebanese)

Shio Koji

Ziplock bag

Slice the cabbage finely, about two cups full. Slice the cucumbers diagonally finely or on a mandolin. Put in a ziplock bag with about 1 Tablespoon of the koji rice, massage this well into the cabbage. Let this sit and gently shake from time to time. You will notice the cabbage becoming limper and eventually after about two hours it has turned into a pickle. Seriously that’s it!!!

Add variety like shredded carrots, chilli flakes, what ever you feel like. There you have it, a tasty Japanese Tsukemono. Have fun!

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Shojin Ryori lunch with the magic pickle in the centre

Matcha: aka Green Tea Powder- love it or hate it?

Much ado about Matcha. The finely ground Japanese green tea powder that is being used in everything from lattes, ice cream, noodles, bread, and of course in its traditional form as tea. So what does this mean and do you love it or hate it?

 

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LOVERS AND CONVERTS

Matcha is a finely ground green tea powder known to be a mood enhancer with 137 times the antioxidants of a cup of standard green tea. Amino acids called L-theanine abound in matcha and this, combined with natural caffeine offers a sustained calm alertness according to some aficionados.

So apart from the mood enhancing benefits matcha is touted as a superfood.  A read of the health benefits of matcha at Matchasource.com lists them as:

  • Is packed with antioxidants including the powerful EGCg
  • Boosts metabolism and burns calories
  • Detoxifies effectively and naturally
  • Calms the mind and relaxes the body
  • Is rich in fiber, chlorophyll and vitamins
  • Enhances mood and aids in concentration
  • Provides vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium
  • Prevents disease
  • Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar

With all these benefits for the mind and health no wonder we are all going mad over matcha, you love it or hate it?

Matcha is part of the Japanese psyche and has formed part of the culture for many many years. A google search will yield any number of articles on history and uses. This blog is more about the new uses of this bright green powder in the western world.

We traveled to New York  in 2015 and visited the newly opened  Matcha Bar NYC

This was one of the first dedicated Matcha bars around, and I see they have also opened in Los Angeles. I can’t see a food menu on their site, but their lattes were superb!

 

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Matcha Bar New York

Australia could be considered to be up there with the best in terms of vegan and vegetarian eateries. The vegan movement generally goes hand in hand with a healthier lifestyle and the team at Matcha Mylk bar in Melbourne have made it all about this green superfood. Check out their menu and really its just a case of what can’t you add matcha to!

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Matcha Burgers at Matcha Mylk Bar, Melbourne , Australia

 

HATERS

This particular word doesn’t get used much around here, and certainly, matcha doesn’t polarise people in the way a brussel sprout does.  So lets put aside the nay sayers, as they are always there to throw water on a fire and label any fresh, new healthy initiative as a “fad” or “hipster” .  Yes, there are indeed people out there who don’t like ( or I prefer to say are not yet converted) Matcha. This particularly cynical site has a good whine about it!  In their defense, the article is mostly about over hyped claims of the nutritional value of Matcha……The flavor takes some getting used to as it is slightly bitter and can be a bit chalky if not made properly. But really whats not to love? if it’s too bitter add a sprinkle of sugar or agave ( for the anti sugar crew)

As a chef, I run a small catering company and am always looking for new and innovative ways to use this beautiful green silky powder.  If you are down our part of the world make sure to check out Matcha Mylk Bar ( no it’s not my place, I just think it’s great!)

Well, its time for a latte- make mine a Matcha one, please.