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docsconz

A Culinary Journey in India

137 posts in this topic

Thank you, bague25 and Shaya.

I love to travel and have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to do so in recent years. I particularly enjoy traveling to places with interesting cuisines. I find that those places generally have interesting cultures and histories as well and make great overall destinations. Much of my travel is opportunistic in that it depends on what is available when I am. That being said, I had been wanting to go on this India trip for some time, but it had previously never fit with my schedule. This time it did and I took advantage of the opportunity. India and Indian food always intrigued me, though I never considered myself as someone particularly knowledgeable in either. This was, however, a great opportunity to increase my knowledge and experience on both counts. In that regard this trip was quite successful.

India is a fascinating country to visit. On the one hand, people are exceedingly helpful and friendly, but on the other, the officials can be extremely intimidating and one is best off if one knows the intricacies of the game of baksheesh. While a model of integration in many respects, there is also an undercurrent of tension, especially in certain locations of shared cultural influence. In this regard, the history of India is truly fascinating. I can understand your father's reticence.

That paratha was perhaps the most amazing bread of the trip, which is saying quite a bit. It is a Kerala style paratha and is very, very rich. I do not have a recipe for this specific version, though Julie Sahni provides a number of paratha recipes including stuffed ones in her book Classic Indian Cooking.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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DAY FOUR: Wednesday, March 5

I woke up early again to work on my photos and journal, but I was somewhat stymied and frustrated by problems connecting to the internet with the pre-paid wi-fi card I had to purchase. Like many other commercial enterprises in India, the wi-fi internet service is a product of the seemingly ubiquitous Tata Industries, a family owned company based in northern India. The family that owns the company, the Tatas, represent another example of the heterogeneity of the country as they belong to the Parsi or ancient Persian Zoroastrian religion, rather than the more common Hindu, Muslim or Jainist religions of India.

I managed to get a few things done before heading to breakfast around 7:30. I ran into a few of my trip mates at the outdoor dining area overlooking the harbor. I enjoyed “string hoppers” or iddyappam, a local specialty as well as Malabar coffee. The hoppers were served with an egg sambal. The Malabar coffee consisted of local Kerala coffee mixed with some milk and served in a special metal set. The coffee is poured back and forth to aerate it and cool it enough to be drinkable. It was rather pleasant sitting there and socializing before undertaking a walking tour of the waterfront.

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Iddyappam with egg sambal

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Fresh fruit on a banana leaf plate

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Julie Sahni demonstrating the technique of pouring Malabar coffee


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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A few steps from the door of the hotel, the waterfront holds a busy ferry service shuttling pedestrians, motorbikes and vehicles to islands and Ernaculum, the more modern part of the city. Just past that, we met the first of the famous Chinese fishing nets, that were brought to the area a millenium or so ago by Chinese traders and still remain in daily use. They are ingenious contraptions that depending on their size take four to six people to operate. We enjoyed a demonstration of one that brought up a few interesting fish. I was invited to participate in the process by the leader of the crew, a man who called himself “Bernard.” From there we continued along the coast with the old fort to our left and the beach to our right passing by the small fish market. Moving away from the shore we came to a snake charmer who mesmerized four cobras at once in front of the old Dutch Palace buildings. Our walking tour also took us to St. Francis Church, the oldest European church in India and the original resting place for Vasco de Gama, who died in Cochin in 1524.

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Bernard and his Chinese fishing net crew

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Netmending

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Fresh seafood for sale


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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We boarded a bus that took us to “Jewtown,” the area of the city that was at one time home to many Jews, most of whom left for Israel when that country was founded. The Jews that had lived here originally came from the Middle East and lived in Cochin in relative harmony. Now only a handful persist. Nevertheless, the synagogue is the oldest in India and quite charming. We shopped in the area for awhile before heading towards lunch. On the way we stopped in a Cochin neighborhood, where we passed a large Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu before seeing a demonstration of pappadam making in a small, private home.

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It was wonderful to see how friendly and guileless the people of Cochin could be as it seemed that they all wanted to be photographed. The children were especially pleased by it. When in the neighborhood of the pappadam demonstration, a group of several small children came running over to me asking me to take their photos when they saw my camera. The oldest was eight and the youngest three. They spoke English well and were extremely friendly, introducing themselves and asking about me. My cynical self was expecting that they would be looking for a handout, but they made no effort in that direction. They were simply pleased to see the photos on the camera. I wish that I had something appropriate to give them for a gift. Pens are very popular, but I had already given away what I had earlier in the day.

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John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Lunch was at a nearby elegant small hotel called Koder House, which specialized in the Jewish cooking of Cochin, the style of which is more Mediterranean than Indian. Our table, located in the rear of the dining room off a sunny courtyard was cool and beautifully set. A welcoming ginger wine was too sweet, but had nice ginger flavor and bite.

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A salad with onions, small, local potatoes, tomatoes and parsley was refreshing.

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A chicken soup with balls of ground chicken meat was a beautiful golden color achieved without the usual turmeric. It was delicious, full of rich chicken flavor.

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The main course was very good, though a little surprising in one aspect - it contained French fried potatoes as a side dish! The principle protein was a beautifully fried veal cutlet serve along side a prawn curry, small green salad and aromatic, yellow rice in addition to the potatoes. Everything was quite tasty, though the potatoes on the plate were nothing special. However, they subsequently brought out more potatoes for an additional helping. These were amongst the most delicious fried potatoes I have ever had as they were still hot and crisp on the outside. The flavor was deep and satisfying.

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Dessert was a gelatinized chocolate water served with orange slices. It was not particularly memorable.

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John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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docsconz,

An excellent trip report, looks like you had a good time. :smile:

What was your impression of the food's chilli hotness ?


I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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docsconz,

An excellent trip report, looks like you had a good time.  :smile:

What was your impression of the food's chilli hotness ?

For the most part I had a very good time.

Much of the food had some degree of heat, though it was never overwhelming. It may be that they toned things down for the Americans even though we asked them not to.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Later in the day we were driven to Ernaculum, the newer part of the city for some touring and shopping. Our initial stop was at a kitchen supply store that specialized in stainless steel products. I wound up buying some small steel cups that should be useful for holding mis-en-place for cooking. In retrospect, I should have bought a few other things as the prices were so inexpensive.

We were met by Paul, the husband of Nimmy of Nimmy Paul, the well known South Indian cooking teacher who was featured on Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie. Interestingly, her name, Nimmy Paul, derives from a combination of both of their names. In any case, Paul took us on a fascinating tour of Ernaculum Market, which was full of great produce. The okra, bananas, pineapples, spices, gourds, pumpkins, squashes, fish, etc. were all well displayed throughout this winding market that reminded me a little of Palermo’s Vucciria.

On the way to the market...

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Slicing a tuber into a streetside fryer

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...at the market...

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Snake Gourds

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Bitter Melons

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Okra

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...more market shots to come...


Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Elephant Squash

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John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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More market photos...

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John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Mangosteen or "kokum"

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Banana Flowers


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Elephant Squash

Goodness, I thought they were mud-covered rocks. I'm still not sure I've matched the caption to the correct photo. Do you by any chance have a picture of these cut open? (This is a great tour, BTW, thanks!)

Edit: oh, it's the stuff in back. (I was looking at the stuff in front of him!) :biggrin:


Edited by cakewalk (log)

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Elephant Squash

Goodness, I thought they were mud-covered rocks. I'm still not sure I've matched the caption to the correct photo. Do you by any chance have a picture of these cut open? (This is a great tour, BTW, thanks!)

Edit: oh, it's the stuff in back. (I was looking at the stuff in front of him!) :biggrin:

I believe that you were right the first time! I never did get to try this delicacy nor did I see the inside. :sad:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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From the market we continued to the home of Nimmy Paul for a cooking demonstration and dinner. Nimmy, an extremely gracious and charming woman, demonstrated a few Kerala dishes for us from the Christian tradition including a shrimp curry called “Chemeen Molee,” “Meen Molee” or fish in Coconut Milk, and a cabbage based stirfry called a “Thoren” all of which were later served for dinner. The shrimp, in particular was the finest thing I had eaten on the trip to that point, the first real “Wow!” moment. Dessert was a dish composed of mangoes done four ways using the first ripe mangoes of the season.

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Nimmy

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Good friends - Julie and Nimmy

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Chemeen Molee

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Mango four ways

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Paul, Nimmy and Julie


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Excellent work, John.

I liked the reference to bakhsheesh culture, and the burden of the bureaucrats in the Subcontinent.

I love the photos, and the foreshadowing has me looking forward to what'll be coming next.

Cheers,

Peter

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wonderful pictures and account, docsconz.

the ‘mangosteen’ used in fish curries is gamboge, locally known as kudampuli.garcinia family but not mangosteen.

kokum is another relative.

also, upthread , i believe the coriander seed going in to the caggage is hulled urad

it’s more commonly seen in the hulled , split version. adds a wonderful nutty element.

for superb vegetarian recipes from the region, you don’t need to look much further than Peppertrail's cookbook!

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wonderful pictures and account, docsconz.

the ‘mangosteen’ used in fish curries is  gamboge, locally known as kudampuli.garcinia family but not mangosteen.

kokum is another relative.

also, upthread , i believe the coriander seed going in to the caggage is hulled urad

    it’s more commonly seen in the hulled , split version. adds a wonderful nutty element.

for superb vegetarian recipes from the region, you don’t need to look much further than  Peppertrail's cookbook!

Thank you, Peter and gingerly.

Very interesting, especially about the mangosteen. The terms mangosteen, fish tamarind and kokum were used interchangeably throughout this portion of the trip. It was not seen when we traveled up north.

I'm pretty sure that what I described as coriander was just that, though I could have been mistaken. I don't recall any mention of dal at the time. Visually, urad and coriander look alike. Coriander is a product of the plantation while dal is not.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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OK, this has become my official work distraction. :biggrin: We have a local restraunt that serves dosa and I just love it! Its great to see here, now I have a better way to place the Southern cuisine as opposed to the Northern cuisine.

On BBC America XM recently I heard an in-depth story about westernized markets starting to move into India. I confess, I don't recall if they were more prevelant in some parts of the country than others though. Did you see any "westernized" grocery stores or was there any discussion when you went to the market regarding such? The story said that they don't allow foreign ownership of these markets but they are springing up and feature incredibly fresh produce which is brought in at least twice a day and is just hours from being picked. Related, the photos show some seemingly large quantities of produce, all looking perfectly ripe. Did you get a sense of the turn-over and if some was much past it's prime?

I could almost smell the "foreign-ness" of the market. Just beautifully photographed and conveyed. Thank you so much for all your efforts to share!

Also, I've noticed the cooking is on single burners. Was that the regular cooktop for the home or just for demonstration purposes?

Genny

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OK, this has become my official work distraction.  :biggrin:  We have a local restraunt that serves dosa and I just love it!  Its great to see here, now I have a better way to place the Southern cuisine as opposed to the Northern cuisine. 

On BBC America XM recently I heard an in-depth story about westernized markets starting to move into India.  I confess, I don't recall if they were more prevelant in some parts of the country than others though.  Did you see any "westernized" grocery stores or was there any discussion when you went to the market regarding such?  The story said that they don't allow foreign ownership of these markets but they are springing up and feature incredibly fresh produce which is brought in at least twice a day and is just hours from being picked.  Related, the photos show some seemingly large quantities of produce, all looking perfectly ripe.  Did you get a sense of the turn-over and if some was much past it's prime?

I could almost smell the "foreign-ness" of the market.  Just beautifully photographed and conveyed.  Thank you so much for all your efforts to share!

Also, I've noticed the cooking is on single burners.  Was that the regular cooktop for the home or just for demonstration purposes?

Genny

We didn't actually see or visit any supermarkets, although I would have liked to just out of curiosity to compare. There was discussion of them though. I believe that they are more prevalent in urban areas as one might expect.

As for the regular markets, the only one we really saw in detail was this one at Ernaculum and it was towards the end of the day. I didn't really see a lot of waste. I suspect that one way or another it gets used.

I believe the burners you have seen are primarily for demonstration purposes, although later on you will see some demos from within home kitchens.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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We had a  little time between the demonstration and lunch. I was able to sample some fresh, gelatinous coconut meat from a green coconut. It had a mild flavor to go along with its gelatinous consistency. I liked it.

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Ah Doc, it's good to see you reporting again, this time - fascinating India. And such wonderful, vibrant pictures. This one particularly made me homesick, as young tender coconut meat are my favorite (I don't like coconut water).

Please do post some more.

ETA: We Filipinos would call this type of coconut - "mala-uhog" (like snot). Other types of coconut as classified as - "mala-kanin" (like cooked rice) and "pang-gata" (for coconut milk.). Of course, the first is the very young coconut, then a slightly firmer and older one while the last are the tough aged ones.


Edited by Domestic Goddess (log)

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

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I'm pretty sure that what I described as coriander was just that, though I could have been mistaken. I don't recall any mention of dal at the time. Visually, urad and coriander look alike. Coriander is a product of the plantation while dal is not.

Thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures and account of your visit to my home state, docsconz.

I have to agree with gingerly about the seasoning for the cabbage dish - it is urad not coriander. Coriander is never used in the seasoning in south Indian dishes. Instead of hulled and split urad dal here she is using hulled whole urad. The size is very similar to coriander seeds.


Ammini Ramachandran

www.Peppertrail.com

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I'm pretty sure that what I described as coriander was just that, though I could have been mistaken. I don't recall any mention of dal at the time. Visually, urad and coriander look alike. Coriander is a product of the plantation while dal is not.

Thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures and account of your visit to my home state, docsconz.

I have to agree with gingerly about the seasoning for the cabbage dish - it is urad not coriander. Coriander is never used in the seasoning in south Indian dishes. Instead of hulled and split urad dal here she is using hulled whole urad. The size is very similar to coriander seeds.

I will defer to your expertise, though I recall no mention of urad dal there. Obviously I was mistaken and likely simply missed the mention of it. Thank you for replying. :smile:

That is a lovely area in which you live!


Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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DAY FIVE: Thursday March 6

We would leave Cochin, Kerala and southern India today, but first we had a little free time which I took to catch up on my journal and to go to Jewtown to buy some more spices. I took a put-put (3-wheeled taxi) over there and quickly found what I was looking for.

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We left for the airport in mid-afternoon for a scheduled 5PM flight to Mumbai connecting to another flight to Delhi. The initial flight was over an hour late. We arrived just in time to get a bus directly to our connecting flight. Not only did we make it just in time, but so did our luggage! If I wasn’t impressed with Jet Airways before, I certainly was then. Besides outstanding service, the food is better than I ever had on any American airline and better than most Indian restaurants that I have ever been to.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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