Our trip continues now in India; our first stop is Goa which is reputed to be an exotic destination where various cultures and flavors have mixed over many generations to create a unique paradise. With beautiful beaches, lush green trees and abundant flowers, it is a perfect setting for a honeymoon or a 25th wedding anniversary celebration. The treasures of Goa are not just the physical setting but the people and cuisine that make it truly special.

 

We decided to stay at the Taj Vivanta Holiday Village Resort on Candolim Beach in Bardez, Goa. The property covers many beautifully landscaped acres. As soon as we entered the main building, I felt the change in attitude from the high pressure of a business city to the relaxed, peaceful congeniality of a resort community.

 

Taj Vivanta Holiday Village in Goa.

Taj Vivanta Holiday Village in Goa.

 

After checking in, we were treated to a traditional, tangy Konkan drink made with local kokum fruit before we walked to our sea-facing cottage. Yes, we had a room with a view of the water! The walk was worth it to get one of the best cottages in the hotel. The property had been renovated a few years earlier so everything sparkled. The Portuguese influence was reflected in the architectural design of the cottage from the balcony and sit out patio. Inside the room was large and spacious with every amenity we could want. I was impressed with the built-in marble sofa (with a padded cushion and soft pillows) and the huge bed. Staying here would be a treat!

 

View of the Arabian Sea from my window at the Taj Vivanta Holiday Village.

View of the Arabian Sea from my window at the Taj Vivanta Holiday Village.

 

The staff was unique. Every time I met someone on the path or in the lobby, he or she was very friendly and went out of his or her way to be helpful. I prefer this informal approach to making guests feel welcome. Our ‘room boy’ created towel sculptures each day. Upon checking in we were met by Lord Ganesh, an elephant, on the desk and later found a dog with a note wishing us a good day on the bed. Efforts like these really did brighten my day.

 

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While walking through the souks, my husband and I walked by a teashop that looked like it was right out of India. Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil’s restaurant was a small one that could only hold a half dozen customers. Out front were bowls full of snacks – samosas, vadas and bhajias – which I could not resist. We ordered two cups of masala chai (spiced tea). This was the best spiced tea we have ever tasted! It was difficult to carry my camera bag and balance the snacks and hot tea in my two hands but I managed. After the first cup, we ordered another round of tea and more snacks. After this treat, I was ready for more sights and shopping…

 

We stopped at Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil's shop for tea and snacks.

We stopped at Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil’s shop for tea and snacks.

 

The next day we flew to Goa. Next, I will share my experiences in this seaside paradise.

 

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On the second day of our adventure, we visited the spice souk in the old section of Dubai. The most impressive thing that struck me about this part of town was its cleanliness. No trash of any kind could be seen on the ground. No crumbling sidewalks. (Don’t get me started on this because I can rant for hours. You may find hints of my feelings in some of my posts from 2011.) The area is perfectly safe too.

 

As we entered the market, I was amazed that it was organized by content. One aisle featured stores that only sold cooking pots and utensils; another was dedicated to spices. I expected to see open stalls or booths but found actual shops with glass fronts and open doors. We found shop after shop with huge bags of spices. From whole spices like cardamoms, anise, peppercorns of many colors and cinnamon sticks of varying lengths to ground spices including, cumin, turmeric, chiles and paprika, they had everything one would need to create a perfectly seasoned dish.

 

One of many spice shops in Dubai's spice souk.

One of many spice shops in Dubai’s spice souk.

 

 

One of my most interesting finds was the saffron flowers. They are actually bundles, about an inch in diameter, of saffron threads. It was very easy to see the different parts of saffron, from the yellow thread to the red stigma. Each vendor offered several quality grades from the least expensive (contains some yellow parts) to the best which had virtually no yellow parts at all. One of the shopkeepers, Jamal, not only sold saffron in small quantities but in huge boxes. When I asked him who buys saffron in such large quantities, he replied that Indians use just a pinch of saffron in each dish and Saudis throw a handful into the same amount of food! Since the spice was so fresh, I could smell its aroma without having to bring it to my nose. Ahh! Of course we had to buy some (okay, just about 6 grams).

 

Large balls of saffron.

Large balls of saffron.

 

This trip was educational for me as well. After snapping away with my camera, I asked the shopkeeper the names of the items I didn’t know. The first one was dried lemon and its cousin the black dried lemon. These lemons are staples in Emirati cooking. Since I had seen a few recipes at home that called for them and didn’t really know what dried lemons were or where to find them, I was thrilled to see both varieties! I didn’t buy any since I wasn’t sure if I could take them home; now I wish I had.

 

 

Dried black and yellow lemons in the spice souk.

Dried black and yellow lemons in the spice souk.

 

I also discovered saffron pistachios. Light yellow in color they are roasted with saffron and turmeric. I tasted just one nut in the store and it was quite tasty! I purchased 400 grams that were sealed in a bag for me to take home. I can’t wait to start working on my version of this recipe.

 

Cinnamon sticks come in many sizes and thicknesses. I thought they only came in pieces about 4 inches long. I found huge bags of them in one of the shops. Some were thin, others thicker, and some were up to a foot long. I purchased one of the super-sized sticks to see how the flavor compares to those from Kerala.

 

Our hotel, the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort, offered fresh Arabic coffee and delicious dates that melt in your mouth to all guests in the lobby. Since it was free I helped myself often. The coffee is a light roast ground with cardamom pods. I think it is best suited for the afternoon since it is light. In one of the shops at the souk I purchased two pounds of this delicious coffee to take home.

 

What a fun day. I can’t wait to get to India (Goa and Kerala) to see the plantations where spices are grown.

 
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The first thing my husband and I did after landing in beautiful, sparkling Dubai was to take a very touristy adventure out into the desert. Along with two other couples, we climbed into a Toyota Forerunner and were driven out over the sand dunes. The only way to describe the ride is to compare it to a sandy roller coaster at an amusement park. Fortunately the SUV had been fitted with extra protection inside. At first I thought that the bars along the roof were places to hold on for dear life. I believe they were there to support the top on case it rolled over.

 

Riding the dunes in the Dubai desert.

Riding the dunes in the Dubai desert.

 

The driver took us to the top of huge dunes that had to be 20 to 30 feet high and then he would accelerate on the downhill side, turn and race up the next hill. The motion would have been comparable to forced skids if we had been on a paved road. After a while I realized I had absolutely no idea where we were. If the driver had had sinister ideas to kidnap or abandon us, we would have no idea which way to go or if we could even travel in a straight line! Fortunately, he was honest and we were in the company of 20 different SVUs doing the same thing. Finally we reached our destination.

 

As we pulled up to one of the final dunes, he let us out of the vehicle to take pictures of the sunset. I was so excited to use the concepts I had learned during my recent photography class last fall on my new camera. But no! The sun was sinking very quickly! I had to figure out which settings to use on my camera! I tried a few that came to mind but I feel I missed a few. Anyway, sunsets in the desert are very stunning and romantic even if shared with dozens of other people.

Ann Vinod in the Dubai desert.

Ann Vinod in the Dubai desert.

With the last few rays of sun, we headed to our destination – an area that was set up like an old fashioned Bedouin village, where we dined on typical Indian food and watch belly dancing. The food was served buffet-style. It was pretty good food and abundant. The tour operator made sure that we had enough options to satisfy everyone’s needs. I forgot, they did offer a few non-Indian alternatives, like spaghetti with sauce, but I ignored those since I could have them at home any day. The after dinner entertainment was a blast. First a gentleman dressed in local costume danced on center stage then a beautiful woman displayed her belly dancing skills.

 

 

At the bedouin camp we dined on Indian food and watched belly dancing.

At the bedouin camp we dined on Indian food and watched belly dancing.

 

First I had the time of my life. As you can see from the photo, I road a camel! It was out of this world! Having ridden horses when I was young I thought it would be a snap. Since the camel had to kneel down for me to climb up, the process of him (her?) awkwardly standing up one leg at a time left me holding on with white knuckles. Once up and walking, the animal didn’t walk with the smooth gait of a horse but one that felt like he was walking for the first time. It felt like the movement of each leg was not timed with the others. Not clippity-clop but clippity-clop-clop-clop. Unfortunately the ride was too short…

 

Ann Vinod riding a camel in the Dubai desert.

Ann Vinod riding a camel in the Dubai desert.

 

This may have been the most fun experience of my life! Who would have thought that a girl from Sylvania, Ohio would ever ride a camel in the desert at sunset!

 

The next morning I was able to dump out a half cup of sand onto the floor of my beautiful hotel room. I’m glad the floor was tiled so clean up was easy. My shoes will never be the same, as some of the desert will remain lodged in them forever. I will have memories of this adventure forever!

 

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This week my husband and I started a two-week trip to South India with a two-day stopover in Dubai. The purpose of the trip is to sample the food from various regions in India to get ideas for my next cookbook. In my upcoming blog posts I will let you know where we are, what we are seeing, who we are meeting, and, of course, what we are eating.

 

Buildings in Dubai have unique and contemporary architecture.

Buildings in Dubai have unique and contemporary architecture.

Since we flew Emirates Airlines our first stop was Dubai where their hub is located. I was wowed with the glittery, shiny look of all of the very tall buildings. My first thought was this had to be an architect’s paradise. Everything was so new and clean that I felt I had entered an alternative universe.

Most of the people I met in our hotel, restaurants or stores were expats from around the world. Many of them spoke Malayalam (the language of Kerala) but all (except one who I will discuss in a future post) spoke beautiful English. Everyone was as friendly and helpful as they could be.

 

To optimize our short time here, we purchased 48-hour tickets on the Hop On & Hop Off Double Decker Bus Tour. This was a convenient way to see the important sites without wearing out my feet. We saw all of the ‘must see’ sights including the Burj Khalifa (formerly the tallest building in the world that looks like a skinny, silver version of the Sears tower) and the dramatic water fountain display that shoots water hundreds of feet into the air, the Burj Al Arab (an extremely expensive hotel but a really beautiful building that looks like a sail), the Palm Jumeirah which is a man-made island formed in the shape of a palm tree which is home to the Atlantis on the Palm Hotel and hundreds of shiny skyscrapers.

 
 
 

Burj Khalifa in Dubai was the tallest building in the world.

Burj Khalifa in Dubai was the tallest building in the world.

Burj Al Arab is an extremely expensive hotel in Dubai.

Burj Al Arab is an extremely expensive hotel in Dubai.

 

We also saw historical sights like Jumeirah Mosque (the largest in Dubai) and the Grand Mosque. I was impressed with the restored Al Fahidi Fort (built in 1799), which is now home to the Dubai Museum with a very engaging exhibit dedicated to the cultural history of the people of Dubai.

 

Al Fahidi Fort now is home to the Dubai Museum with beautiful displays of Dubai's cultural history.

Al Fahidi Fort now is home to the Dubai Museum with beautiful displays of Dubai’s cultural history.

 

We had to spend some time shopping in the various souks, or markets. Starting with the new one, Souq Madinat Jumeriah, we saw many antiques and clothes for sale. Later we visited the gold souk which contains shop after shop of jewelry stores filled with 22 carat gold jewelry. I found a few necklaces for sale that might be considered to be overly extravagant even by Texas standards. We spent quite a bit of time in the spice souk checking out the various shops and their merchandise. I took a lot of photos of some of the unique items including dried lemons, saffron flowers, local coffee and many new spices.

 

A shop in the new market, Souq Madinat Jumeriah, is a great place to spend the afternoon.

A shop in the new market, Souq Madinat Jumeriah, is a great place to spend the afternoon.

 

Since the weather was perfect, sunny and not too hot or humid, we walked along the Dubai Creek and took a cruise in a traditional Arabic Dhow for a relaxing perspective of the city. We saw small Abras which are small water taxis that are the fastest and easiest way to cross the water.

 

An arabic dhow, is a wooden boat that cruises on the Dubai Creek.

 

One thing I noticed about Dubai – it is the shopping capital of the world. The tour bus stopped at each one! The malls are new and crowded with people from all over the world. In addition to upscale, designer stores that Americans recognize, these malls include elegant restaurants, theaters, even an aquarium with a huge central tank, indoor waterpark and a huge indoor ski slope. When I think about it, everything needs to be inside due to the extreme heat of the desert most of the year. While we were in Dubai, their annual shopping festival was in progress. People flew in just to take advantage of the huge sales and participate in the lavish raffles and promotions. This is definitely something that I will have to checkout on my next trip.

 

I have to conclude that I was quite impressed with Dubai. It is a very welcoming place where I would love to spend more time. In my next posts I will share our activities on our first night and reviews of the restaurants we visited in Dubai.

 

Next stop, sand, dinner and a camel?

 

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Spice shop in Broadway Bazaar in Kochi.

Spice shop in Broadway Bazaar in Kochi.

During our visit to Kochi last summer we visited some of the shops in the Broadway Bazaar. It is a section of town that is full of small shops. Kitchenware, saris, electronics and spices are just a small sampling of the variety. Each shop is no more than 10 to 15 feet wide and has an open front that bulges from the wide array of products they have for sale. The street was narrow and the sidewalks were even narrower. The area was packed solid with people, auto-rickshaws and a few small cars attempting to move forward. Our driver parked our car in a lot on an adjacent street because he knew that maneuvering an SUV on this road would be a disaster. I do not know how the brave drivers were able to move with all of the pedestrians. One contrast I noticed was people there had a mission to accomplish as opposed to the U.S. where most people are moving slowly and gazing at the merchandise. I had a blast watching the people and checking out some of the stores.

 

Spice shop in Broadway Bazaar in Kochi.

All of the spices are fresh and plentiful at the shops in Broadway Bazaar, Kochi.

The spice store that fascinated me was the Kerala Masala Shop. As you can see from the photo, it had abundant supplies of fresh spices, nuts, lentils, and teas. As I walked inside, the aroma of fresh spices invaded my senses. I was amazed at the variety of each spice. For example, they had several bins of fresh green cardamoms in different sizes. The small or medium sized ones are available in the U.S. but I have never seen such large ones! Of course I purchased a bag of of the large ones to bring home. They also sold exquisite saffron from the Kashmir region of India. I bought several boxes of this since it is so expensive here. (The next time I go I will buy a suitcase full since I like the favor and use it often.) I saw mountains of star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, turmeric and dried herbs like rosemary that is popular at home.


Wall of spices in one shop in Broadway Bazaar, Kochi.

Wall of spices in one shop in Broadway Bazaar, Kochi.

The store stocked locally grown nuts, specifically, my husband’s favorite cashews. They were larger than the ones available in the U.S. Yes, they were bigger than “Texas-sized.” Their flavor was so fresh and rich that my husband added a few pounds of them to the purchase. Yum!


The people who worked in the shop really knew their spices – origin, freshness, etc. They were very generous in giving samples to taste before I made my selections. In addition they were very generous with their time for a person who they won’t see again for a long time.

 

I had a great time that afternoon poking around several spice shops. I’m sure Kachi was very entertained by watching me! I can’t wait to go back!

 

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I eat Indian food several times every week. I cook Indian food every week. With my love of and addiction to Indian food I never thought I would say, “thank goodness for Dominos.” But this summer I came to the conclusion that I love the variety that we eat in the U.S. Let me tell you how I reached this point.

 

While my family and I traveled extensively around India last summer, we visited many fabulous 5-star restaurants and gorged ourselves with the specialties of the house. Of course, the food was out of this world. We also ate at inexpensive everyday restaurants. There, we ate more than our share as well since we didn’t have to worry about our trip budget. We ordered more than we needed so we could taste the chef’s specialties and get ideas for new recipes. Not to be out done, Kachi had spent weeks planning delicious meals in anticipation of our arrival. Consequently, we ate a lot of Indian food.

 

At the end of our trip, my son, the beefeater, reached his limit of Eggplant Curry, Fish Molee and Sambar. In all honesty, I was reaching my limit too.

 

My son was in luck. Just down the street from Kachi’s apartment at the intersection with the main road, a Domino’s Pizza store had been built since my last visit, just a 5-minute walk from home. Adapting to local culture the menu had a large selection of vegetarian pizzas but it had some with chicken – no pepperoni or sausage in sight. After we called in our order, the pizzas were delivered promptly. The pizza came with small packets of crushed red pepper and oregano but no Parmesan. Still, I was impressed with the taste and quality of the pizzas; it was just like we would get at home. Everyone seemed to gorge on the taste of home and the pizzas disappeared within minutes. They tasted like ambrosia.

 

All I could say that evening was “thank goodness for Dominos.”  

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During our stay in Mumbai, we stayed at the ITC Maratha. I mentioned this hotel back in July when I discussed some of the “out of this world” food I had tasted there so the name may sound familiar. Our room in the hotel was fantastic – as opulent as any 5 star hotel in New York, Paris or Singapore with marble walls and floor in the bath and lovely soft bedding. The feature that made this hotel stand out is its coffee.

Indian filter coffee in a French press

Indian filter coffee in a French press

Most top hotels in Europe and India provide either an electric kettle with instant coffee or nothing at all. Usually the instant is the nearly undrinkable Nescafe. This hotel has the latest model of electric kettle that boils a pot of water instantly The best part is that it offers a French press coffee pot with sachets of its own Indian coffee. 
 

One night after dinner a bellman came to see if we needed anything. I mentioned how wonderful the coffee was. (The maid had already given us a generous supply for the next morning.) He agreed with me and ran off. When he returned he brought me a handful of the sachets.

Last October I discussed filter or decoction coffee which is the south
Indian way of making coffee. Here it is made it in a French press. I was in love! Traditional coffee made in a sophisticated pot that tasted delicious!

I’m sure the rest of my trip to Mumbai was enhanced due to all of this fantastic coffee and his generous gift!

When I go to London and Barcelona in the spring, I will pack my recently acquired plastic 2-cup French press and some of my own coffee. Ahh…

 

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Kerala saris are usually made of cotton by hand weavers.  Called Kasavu saris, they are white or ivory fabric with a colorful border. Kasavu is the name of the simple or elaborate gold brocade border which is uniquely identifiable and simply beautiful. 

 

Kerala ladies in traditional dress.

Kerala ladies in traditional dress.

The national dress of Kerala women is the mundu-veshti. The mundu is wrapped around the waist like a skirt while the veshti is wrapped around the waist and the left shoulder. At a glance, it looks like a sari. The borders of both pieces have the same color(s) and design. A coordinating blouse, as with a sari, is worn underneath and purchased separately. Special mundu-veshti sets are available with wide gold lace borders which are usually worn by a bride for her wedding.

 

The lovely ladies I met at the Spice Shop in Kochi were wearing the traditional Kerala saris on the day that I met them. In the photo to the right, they are Kiran Devi, Sindhya, Daisy, Sheeba and Naufia.
 

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I have been driving for nearly 40 years. I drove in Boston where people are very aggressive and drive with one hand on the horn. In Texas, drivers are too busy checking their makeup, singing along with the radio or driving too fast to pay attention to the road. In India it is an entirely new and unique experience. Just don’t try this at home.

 

As the cars we hired in each city maneuvered through the heavy traffic, each vehicle vying for the next inch of space advantage, I was amazed that I began to understand how the traffic moved. Here are the key rules of the road:


The first rule of the road involves the use of the horn. You honk as you come up behind another vehicle (single short toot). You honk as you pass them (multiple short toots) and you honk as you cut in front of someone as you merge in around a turn (long toot). Finally the horn is also used when driving on the wrong side of the road, cutting in without right of way or doing something that is very risky (both long and short toots).

 

Bullock cart on the road competes with autos in India.

Bullock cart on the road competes with autos in India.

Even though lane markers and center stripes were painted on the larger roads at significant cost to the government, they are largely ignored. Since the vehicles are narrower than the lanes, they move over to make more (ad hoc) lanes to get more vehicles on the road and get them moving (supposedly) or snarl the traffic more completely (most likely). With cars of all sizes, auto-rickshaws, bullock carts, motorbikes, bicycles, why waste space that could otherwise be occupied?


Red lights don’t always mean stop. If you don’t see anyone coming on the cross street, why waste the time? Just go for it. At large intersections, the government installed timers so you can see the number of seconds remaining before the light turns red or green. That way you can start out maneuvering the next guy.


Next, there is a hierarchy of who or what gets the right of way. Cows because they are sacred are at the top of the list and no one bothers them. Next on the list are the big German cars followed by the other imported cars. They are new and expensive so they must be important. City buses take the right of way because they are huge and just roll down the streets. Next are the cabs followed, in order, by auto-rickshaws, bicycles and hand carts. Pedestrians are last because they have no horns or metal around them for protection. They can also jump out of the road.


Another rule is I have the right of way over you. Driving is a game of strategy, like multidimensional chess. Since there are so many vehicles on the road, I must win.

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