Appam and Stew on the mind | Holiday in Kerala

Suitcase loads of clothes washed, folded and arranged in cupboards, suitcases shoved back on to the paranai (loft), tired and exhausted but looking forward to the grind, to thinking of what to cook tomorrow. Can you say I’ve just been on a holiday? After a week of winding through Kerala’s highways, up mountains, down gravelly goat tracks, getting stuck on muddy, slippery paths and having a large group of toddy high Malayalee chettas heave the XUV forward, staring at google maps all day, legs cramped and butt sore, crashing on to the hotel bed every night dreaming of Puttu, egg curry, Fish moilee, Appam and vegetable stew… All I want to do now is stretch my legs and then make some Appam and vegetable stew. I lost one and gained 2 (kilos of course). I painstakingly lost one kilo after weeks of heavy restraint and mild exercise and then I went on this holiday. I ate my way through kootu curry, puttu, egg curry, karimeen pollichathu (spiced fried whole fish), Kerala chicken roast, Malabar biryani, Chemmeen Ularthiyathu (prawn roast), Fish Moilee, Appam, vegetable stew and unlimited papadams. Appam and Vegetable stew Everyday! Oh My, I love Kerala food. I am hopelessly smitten. I can’t get over the delicious food. I am going to have to make all of these at home. I got in the swimming pool and unsuccessfully tried to invoke my muscle memory and realized my muscles are as absent minded as me. I don’t know how I swam as a little girl. Did I? I am beginning to doubt. I can’t get my head into the water without flaying my arms, gasping and freaking out. I just can’t swim. But I can get tanned. I returned home cast ironed (not bronzed). Wayanad was one of our destinations. It is a nice, quiet place, beautiful when rainy and pleasant otherwise but a bit of a bore for me. It has the usual touristy spots that plague most hill stations – lots of view points – different angles of the same mountains – maybe of interest if you are the selfie type and you want to choose the best selfie from the different angles or  if you are nature person and if you are not afraid of heights. I am selfie challenged and shit scared of heights. There are a couple of waterfalls (some of them closed to public),...

Channapatna – The Town of toys

I hope you had a fun Diwali – gifted “Assorted sweet” boxes to friends, watched a whole lot of movies and celebrity interviews on TV, ate lots of sweets and savouries and burst red forts. After a long time, I burst my favourite “sara vedi” (Red fort electric crackers) and it was fun. I hate the super-loud heart-stopping atom bombs. They’re too sudden and just way too loud. The red forts are quick, electric and have a wonderful beat to them – tappa-tappa-tappa-tappa-tappa. The blog has taken a backseat the past couple of weeks because of office work, Diwali and Nombu. I am back today with a really useful post for Moms. Party favour Alert! On the speed-breaker ridden Bangalore-Mysore highway is the beautiful little Toy Town, Channapatna. Channapatna is home to the most beautiful, colourful, ingeniously designed wooden toys. These are handmade toys that local craftsmen have been making over several generations.  You’ll find lots of traditional toys here – vibrantly coloured tops, the old-style wooden walkers, miniature wooden cars, scooters, bullock carts, beautifully painted nested wooden dolls (matryoshka dolls), several varieties of wooden rattlers, wooden barrel type piggy banks and so much more. You’ll also find a variety of beautiful articles in wood – fruit bowls, trays, rolling pins and rolling surfaces, spatulas, coat-hangers, intricately carved side-tables, key chains, mini-idols, hair clips, painted bangles and jewel boxes. These little shops dot the sides of highway for about a few kilometres on either side of Channapatna town. These shops are little treasure troves of wooden toys and knick-knacks. I can spend hours in these shops but I can’t. I have my kids and we’re always in a hurry while travelling. We spent just under an hour at Channapatna and our already jam-packed car was near bursting at the end of it. But I was one happy mom. I’d picked up 60 mini tops as birthday favors for Yuvi’s classmates next year. He’s not even in school yet. But a Mom’s got to plan. Moms live from birthday to birthday to the next festival or function. Wooden tops – Next year’s birthday favours – done. I also found these adorable pencil toppers – colourful animal and clown shaped toppers with tiny fans that you can blow to rotate. I grabbed a bunch of these as well. I was quickly going insane. Since Channapatna is so far away for home, there...

A Tour of George Town/Sowcarpet on the eve of Madras week – Part I

It’s Madras week this week. It was on Aug 22nd some 300 odd years ago that Madras (or a small part of today’s Chennai) was bought by the East India company from the Nayak rulers. Hey, who’s buying whose land man? Anyways, there are a host of events that are organized every year to celebrate Madras week – art exhibitions, photograph exhibitions, talks, quizzes, heritage walks and I am sure a few painting contests and debates as well. On the eve of Madras day, I am going to take you all not on a respectable heritage walk down Fort St. George or Besant Avenue. And definitely not Marina Beach, Mylapore or Mahabalipuram! Please! That is for backpack toting foreign tourists wearing oversized FabIndia kurtas. This one is for the locals. I am going to take you on a fun ride through George Town (Sowcarpet). Why George Town? Because nobody else will bother celebrating this old, crowded, congested little place. Park your car at home if you’re going to Parrys corner My dad is an ace kite-flyer, my family is sweet-addicted (the likes of Basundhi, Kalakand & Milk Halwa), we prefer our scooters over the car any day, we love little provision stores over department stores and we like buying pens & rough books by the dozen. Can you say I am from George Town? I grew up in George Town and it is like no other place in Madras, in every sense. It’s old, busy, cramped and full of history and mind-boggling shopping opportunities. Anything you want, you’ll get here. Anything! Hardware, electrical equipment, fantastic food, designer sarees, lehengas, dress materials, imitation jewellery, Cards and wedding Invitations, top-rate provisions, party supplies, stationary, toys.. Like Little India in Singapore, George Town is little North India in Madras. The area is full of Sethjis, their pawn shops, their hardware shops, their cloth shops, their sweet shops and their provision stores. You get the best cashews in Madras in the Jain provision store on Govindappa Naicken street. All over this post, I’ll give you precious tit-bits like these – Maane theane Pon Maane style. Enjoy. Don’t bother trying your hindi with them, they speak fluent Tamil all of them, but in Udit Narayan style and are the shrewdest businessmen around. The area is mostly commercial but the interior areas are residential. One of the few areas in the city where you’ll still find street-houses...

Chennai Fish Markets – Sunday morning outing!

Fishes are to be bought, sand crusted, fresh off the nets under the blazing sun against the backdrop of the magnificent Marina beach, the second largest (and possibly the filthiest) beach in the world. Buying fish at the fish market is really an experience in itself. It’s not for the fair-and-lovely brigade – be ready to get super tanned. It’s not for the faint hearted and sensitive nosed. You don’t have to go pick up a fish, just roll your window down while driving through the road and the fishy smell will hit you right in the face (Gappu Guppu!). You’ll have to navigate your way through several Chennai-28 type cricket matches on the road leading to the market. Goats and Chicken laze around the edges of the road on either side. This road is rife with speed-breakers. These speed breakers have a sound reason to be there. One side of the light-house road is lined entirely by huts and shacks and many people who’ve just waken up from their bedroom (the hut), stroll languidly across their hall (the road), towards their bathroom (the sea). So, drive slow. This side of the lighthouse, the beach is much narrower and the sea much nearer, you can see the boats parked casually along the coast, the fish sellers mostly women seated along the edge of the road under large parasols with Vanjaram, Sura, Koduva, Sankara, Vavval, Kelluthi, kadamba, Eral and so many more fishes that I can’t even identify, laid out on their make-shift wooden stands. Sunday mornings are the busiest. You’ll find lots of husbands and wives with wire baskets haggling with the women. You’ve got to be good at bargaining and knowledgeable about the fish rates to buy here.  Whole Vanjaram or Koduva cost anywhere between 500 and 1000 bucks depending on the size of the fish and the women quote at-least 200 to 300 rupees more than what they finally agree to.  These women are really impressive. They’re tough, skilled and totally street. There is so much variety, it truly is amazing. At this point I’ll have to digress a bit to address a long-time grouse. A long time back I came across a very prejudiced, pretentious article on the net, something along the lines of Chennai eating out guide by an IMSC person and I remember him saying Chennai diners don’t care whether it’s Vanjaram (mis-spelt “Banjaram”, here in...

Horticultural Society Chennai – A garden from another time

Before I tell you about the horticultural society on Cathedral road, Chennai, I am going to give you some unnecessary history. I know nothing about gardening and I am not a great enthusiast either, but I can admire a nice garden. My dad is an avid gardener, spends a large part of his evening watering the plants and plucking jasmine flowers before heading to the clinic. Many mistake him for the gardener of the house (like in Thillumullu). He has been gardening since he was very young. His very first garden was in the open courtyard (dhallam) of our street-house in George Town. He’d lug horse manure from Everest Hotel on a cycle for his dear plants. Many sethjis would borrow my dad’s plants during festival time to decorate their shops. So one weekend when my husband suddenly decided that he wanted to have a mango tree in the garden (he has sudden cravings and he has to get it done somehow), we asked our in-house gardener – my dad for advice and he told us about the horticultural society. We went there on a hot Sunday afternoon, you really don’t have much choice. They have very odd, extremely short working hours (sounds like a government setup) 10 am-12 pm and 2 pm – 4 pm or something along those lines. Tuesday is a holiday. I am not sure if you can take pictures here, there was no sign that indicated as such but there was a board that said “No Cellphone”. Now this place is definitely government and definitely old. The horticultural society is on Cathedral road right opposite the new park, just a short distance from Gemini flyover. The horticultural society is massive. Sitting in the centre of the city, it is a sprawling place which has a wonderful old world charm to it (like those good old typewriters or rosewood writing desks). If you like the articles in Hindu Metroplus about olden days Madras, if you like Muthiah’s columns, you’ll like this place. The driveway curves around a lovely fountain leading to the portico and the office building very like the colonial bungalows. The gardens stretch out from behind the office building in all directions. I am not sure I saw the whole place. The gardens are not laid out in any particular fashion, there are saplings or potted plants kept all over the place amidst the society’s own...

Danish Display – Wonderful little Crafts Store in Kodaikanal

 My son’s peeing partner I am a souvenir fanatic, I have to buy stuff wherever I go but as it turns out most often, it is not actually the specialty of the place or even worse it is available in Pondy bazaar or the numerous “handicraft exhibitions” that are put up in many places in Chennai. You are sure to find chennapatna wooden tops, semi-precious jewellery, traditional Rajasthani outfits for kids, carved wooden corner tables, centre tables etc. in these handicraft exhibitions in the city. No item is exclusive to any place anymore. Most things you find in a tourist place are already available somewhere in your own city. As long as what I buy is unique and I like it, I don’t mind buying coloured glass chandeliers in Goa, painted terracotta ganeshas in Kodaikanal or silk coin purses in Darjeeling. I found those silk coin purses so enchanting I bought one for everybody in the family. Imagine my embarrassment when a few months later I found heaps of these purses being sold on Pondy bazaar platform. This happens a lot to me and my husband is ever-ready to point out my blunders. But I don’t mind. He never stops me from buying anything, so I guess that more than compensates for his pointy behaviour. Danish display however is a really cool crafts store unlike your usual Indian touristy shop that you’ll find inside most 5-star hotels – pashmina shawls, semi-precious jewellery, carved elephant you get the picture? If you are going to Kodaikanal, you should visit Danish Display especially if you love crafts, knickknacks and pretty things. Danish Display has a wide range of things, I loved just looking though them. Most of their stuff is quite unique, although they have the usual wooden bangles and jute jewellry also. They have these tiered crocheted lamp shades I couldn’t resist buying although I knew I wouldn’t be using them in the near future. My kids would use it to swing from dining table to fridge top and back. Top of the fridge is the only surface in the house that remains untouched by their antics.  Terracotta Bird whistles There are some delightful little terracotta toys which are quite ingenious. The “little peeing boy” is one such and it looks so cute too. You need to dunk the little terracotta boy in hot water for some time and then in some cold water....

Sale at Poppat Jamal

Colourful Melamine bowls – ching cha There’s a sale on at Poppat Jamal till end of this month (Dec’12). Almost every item is available at a discount. I’d always wanted to visit the store but never got around to it. When I finally manage to, there is a sale. How about that? I am never lucky at these kinds of things, I always buy at lifestyle one week before the big sale (when I do visit during the sale, what I pick doesn’t carry a discount), I buy gold when it is at its peak and I never ever get a parking spot in a crowded shopping area. So I reckoned that god was willing me to cook away. It’s a wonderful store for cooking/entertaining enthusiasts – classy chinaware, sizzler plates, baking essentials like pans/cookie sheets, entire dinner sets, kitchen appliances like ovens & juicers and lots of other stuff that I couldn’t take in in the short time I was there. I went with my husband who usually does his hustling routine after the first 10-15 minutes. I couldn’t resist buying those colourful melamine bowls, they’re so cheery and a few baking pans. I also liked the little copper bowls and miniature kadais (like you have in Karaikudi restaurant). It would be on my next shopping list (as if I carry one) meaning I’ll buy later when I make a good enough family acclaimed chettinad curry.

Get Foodbetterbegood in your inbox

Like what you are reading? Never miss a post. Enter your email address to receive updates by email

Subscribe!