Posts Tagged ‘food

15
Aug
14

The Unexpected

I was enjoying the best muesli of my life on my last leisurely morning in Leh. It was heaped in a bowl with fresh mango, bananas, and apples, tossed with a rich, homemade curd, or yogurt. This magical muesli was full of nuts, crunchy flakes, and roughly cut chunks of fresh coconut still edged in little bits of husk. It was one of those chunks that brought tears to my eyes and a resounding crack, which I realized was my tooth and no nut. Damn. A trip to a Delhi dentist flashed before my eyes, and I was soon perusing the US Embassy list of dental professionals and sending emails to several friends who had lived in Delhi to get recommendations. My plans of cruising Chandi Chowk by bicycle rickshaw and hitting some favorite clothes shops seemed foiled.

As the day wore on, it seemed that perhaps my tooth was not cracked as I had feared, but was markedly looser. Even when my double dose of Advil wore off, I was not in pain. Chewing on the opposite side of my mouth and avoiding stout muesli seemed a good option until I arrived home in 10 days. My plans were restored.

Two days later, with a tattered clipping from a flight magazine in my sweaty fist, I was searching for some travel writer’s suggestions for Old Delhi’s best Indian sweets. The holy grail of this search was tiranga sohan halwa from the 200 year old establishment called Ghantewala. It was irresistibly described as a buttery confection chock full of almonds, pistachios, cashews, almonds, and cardamom. Surely, I could chew those nuts on the left side of my mouth… This was not to be missed.

We made our way up and down the chaotic Chandi Chowk, jostling other shoppers, being jostled by push carts, cows, dogs, pilgrims, motorbikes, rickshaws, and workers carrying impossible loads on their heads. We popped into several sweet shops and tried their specialties, but Ghantewala was not to be found. When we asked one plump lover of burfi at one stall where Ghantewala was, she shook her head, not understanding until we showed her the clipping. “Ahh!,” she exclaimed. “GHHAntewala!”, hitting the first consonant as if clearing her throat. She waved up the street in the direction we had just come. “GHHAntewala!”. We headed back through the mass of activity we had just passed through. Alas, no tiranga sohan halwa to be found.
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Time for a change of plan, and there was the hive of activity that is the Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, the Sikh temple in Old Delhi . Turbanned guides swept us along with pilgrims cueing to wash their hands and feet before filing upstairs to sit on carpets and pray in an airy, rose-scented marble worship hall above. Refreshed, we made our way to the mezzanine overlooking the ever-changing bustle below. There, seen just across the way on a small side street, was Ghantewala! We could see the sign, though it looked as if this 200-year-old-establishment was closed; a metal door was pulled down over the entrance.

Once back on the ground, we pushed our way over to the sweet shop storefront. In front of the shop, a chai wallah and some other vendors seemed permanently installed, as if the 200 year-old-shop had been closed for at least the last 50 years. The sign was worn, but right there it heralded that this was the home of the elusive tiranga sohan halwa. Perhaps it was only closed this morning? Had it gone out of business after such a long run? I made my way to a saried chai customer, and gestured toward the closed shop. “Ghantewala???” I shrugged.
She nodded, stone-faced, and turned toward the storefront. Her eyes locked with those of a young man. She nodded. He nodded. She waved us toward him and returned to her tea. We made our way through the crowd to where the young man had been standing. He was quickly headed toward a worn, painted green door next to the closed metal gate of the storefront. He pushed the door open and led us up a narrow staircase with deeply worn stone steps, into the darkness. Did Ghantewalah have a second floor office? Did they have stock there? Where the hell were we going?

At the top of the steps, we were in total darkness. Our young guide flipped a large circuit switch on the wall, and then a second, and the space flooded with fluorescent light. There were two large posters on the wall: “Root Canal Project”, with garish pink illustrations of gums and yellowed teeth, and a blinding set of “Dentures”. There, now no longer in darkness, a smiling man in wire-rimmed glasses and a crisp linen kurta sat at the counter, awaiting patients. Apparently, he was waiting for me.

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07
May
10

Mingei bites. Mingei flicks. Mingei reads.

There are far too many little sticky notes behind the counter, full of all of your suggestions.  Rather than keep all your ethnic eatery,  restaurant, foreign film and  book recommendations to ourselves (or worse, have them get stuck to the back of the bank statement and get lost in a manila folder forever), we decided to make a place for them on our blog.  Look to the right side under “Community”, and you’ll see the pages awaiting your contributions!

26
Feb
10

Hot Hot Hot

There is no denying it– it may be cold back in Atlanta, but it is hot here in Luang Prabang.  The evenings are cool and pleasant, but the afternoons, in the mid-nineties, can be brutal on the dusty shadeless paths outside town along the rivers or on the stone walkways in the city.  Listless tourists sit in front of iced coffees or stumble from wat to wat and then back to their guesthouses.  Tuk tuk drivers sleep in the bit of shade offered by their idle vehicles.

Yesterday, we rose early to see the monks walk through town to collect alms in their begging bowls, the sticky rice and bananas that will sustain them through the day.  They march silently in single file from the wats along the streets where the devout — women mostly, and tourists– wait to drop a little something  in each bowl as they file by.  The poor also wait, and sometimes receive a little bit of something from the monks’ bowls as charity as they pass.  Mostly, the older ones give to the poor.  The tourists buy packets of sticky rice or individual small bananas from street vendors so they can participate in this experience, and train their large camera lenses on the stream on monks as they approach.

Monks on the move– collecting their food for the day in their begging bowls at 6am

After our monk time, visitors file back through the streets to enjoy breakfast in their guesthouses and a bit of cool before the heat begins.  Our guest house is on a small street just off the local fresh market and each trip in or out takes us through piles of peppers, fresh fish splayed on banana leaves, baskets of live ducks, tubs of frogs, bowls of larva, and arrays of vegetables portioned out on plastic sheeting.

The fresh market around the corner from our guest house

We headed off toward a pair of artisan villages over the river where crafts people make hand-made mulberry paper and weave silk.

The long bamboo footbridge across the point where the Mkong and Nam Khan rivers join. Weaving and paper making villages await on the other side.

After crossing the bridge, we walked past a small refreshment stand overlooking the Mekong, through the woods, past a rustic blue spirit house, over a trash dump and down a long, dusty path to the first village.

In the woods above the Mekong

We visited a workshop run by a Lao silk designer and bought several wonderful indigo and golden silk wall hangings from her before proceeding down the road looking for more.

While we found a few lush loosely woven silk scarves at another place, we were disappointed that there was very little to buy.  So much of what we found was machine made and of synthetic fabric and most of the looms were idle.  We had heard from a young American woman working at our guest house that in the last couple of years many cheap imports from China have arrived, pushing out traditional goods, and we saw the evidence here.  So sad.  Even in our last visit here three years ago, we saw many more beautifully made traditional pieces.  The prices of the good work here are quite high, making it challenging for us to find     good work to bring home.

We regret we did not get good photos of these hangings, but we will carry them back and have them at the store by March 8.

We also bought a number of hand-made mulberry pattern lanterns with pressed flowers and leaves that fold up into triangles.  You may remember these from before.    They are lovely hanging on their own or around a low wattage bulb.  These lanterns  also make great gifts.  Because of our baggage allowance for our trip back to Thailand, we will have a limited selection.

After retracing our steps to town, we needed to find some shade, cool drinks, and a a bite to eat.  We chose an attractive little spot on the main road and ordered a Lao Papaya salad “just a little spicy”.  We both pride ourselves on our tolerance and enjoyment of spicy food but know not to ask for local spicy in Thailand or Lao.  We had eaten many versions of Thai green papaya salad and were eager to taste the Lao version.

OMG!!!!!!

Oy and oy boy!

We quickly ordered sticky rice to go with our meal.

Whaaaaa.

Resting in between bites, we worked at our lunch for an hour before waving out little white tissue napkins in defeat.  Here’s what remained of our meal.  The salad was a lot of work.  Tasty, but a lot of work.

25
Feb
10

Sticky rice and seaweed on the banks of the Nam Khan

As we walked to find a place to have dinner last night in Luang Prabang, Ellen, on her first trip to Laos,  was awed by the views of rices paddies and peach sunset over the Nam Khan, a striking blue house with an orange awning, and the young monks in saffron robes walking in groups of two or three.  Our dinner of sticky rice and fried Mei Kong seaweed  and sesame seeds was perfect for its setting.

19
Feb
10

Cabbages and Condoms

One of our favorite restaurants in BKK is Cabbages and Condoms– really delicious food, great cause and quite unusual decor.  Click here to learn more.

07
Feb
10

Chocolate comes to Mingei! Eat and help Haiti.

Really? We’ve sold lots of things through the years, but never something to eat.  But now, we have some goodies for you– and just in time for Valentine’s Day!  Rawcaroons and Cacaobunga are delicious, raw, organic, artisanal chocolates and cookies by Halleluna, a small company in Slingerlands, NY.

Why these? Caryn Halle, the creator of these vegan and gluten-free and truly delicious indulgences, has ties to Haiti through the Vassar Haiti Project, which supports artists in Port-au-Prince as well as educational, nutritional and sustainability projects in rural Haiti.  10% of her sales go to support the project, and she also buys some of her ingredients including organic coffee from Haiti. To read more about the VHP, please check out their blog at http://blogs.vassar.edu/haitiproject/.

How does it help? In addition to what Caryn donates from her proceeds, we will be donating $1 from each bag sold to Partners in Health to support their immediate needs for earthquake relief in Haiti.