Foodie Diaries

2013 has not been good to me so far. What with mom’s surgery and the ever-increasing stress of work, time seems to be flying by, and yet, crawling. Nothing significantly good seems to be happening. I have some tentative plans happening for the hols, but nothing’s confirmed yet and things are looking dicey on the travel front, which makes me cranky and mean. Travel is my drug, do not wean me away from it! :(

As I’m not going anywhere, all I can do is look through my pictures of past trips and reminisce, to feel a bit better. Of course, I look through the Italy pics most as they are the most recent. Just looking through these pictures makes me wanna go back to Italy! Unfortunately, I really didn’t do justice to the food when I went there this time, but now that I’m back in Dubai, I’m eating (and cooking) Italian food a lot and wishing I’d had a better appetite while in Italy!

Bruschetta

Bruschetta

When I first tried bruschetta (in Dxb somewhere), I didn’t like it very much. “Tomatoes on bread?! No thank you!” I used to turn away and make barf-faces. I also used to pronounce it brus-shetta. I am less ignorant now! Not only do I know that it’s pronounced brus-ketta, I have also come to appreciate the simplicity of freshly chopped tomatoes on warm bread with a drizzle of olive oil.  Of course, I have Italy to thank for this change of heart! I’m not sure how they did it, but it was the best bruschetta I ever had! Maybe they put pot on their tomatoes instead of basil! :P

freshly made pasta with lamb ragout and deep-fried artichokes

freshly made pasta with lamb ragout and deep-fried artichokes

Fresh pasta in itself is delicious and I’d have been happy with a simple aglio e oilio, but this dish was something else! I’d never tried fried artichokes before. It was crunchy and delicious and added a lovely dimension to the smooth pasta and melt-in-the-mouth lamb ragout.

The restaurant is an elusive lil place about 5 mins away from the Spanish steps. The Palatium sits very inconspicuously in a corner and we actually missed it and only found it on our way back, while walking dejectedly at not having found the place!

Best. lasagna. EVER!!

Best. lasagna. EVER!!

 

Rome, being a tourist hot spot,  is filled with restaurants and cafes selling you substandard food which will leave you disheartened and think Italian food is overrated. This is why we (and when I say “we” I really mean my friend R, cos I did no research at all :P) did our research on where to go beforehand so we wouldn’t be disappointed. But the problem with these lovely places is that they’re all hard to find! Rome has a numbering system for their establishments which, if you try to follow, will lead you around in circles. It took us almost an hour to find this elusive lil place called Trattoria Luzzi, and we were famished and ridiculously late for lunch by the time we found the place. But I had the best, most succulent lasagna there and their tiramisu was to DIE for, so having lunch at 5pm didn’t seem so bad (in retrospect!).

Btw, you know what’s weird about Italians? Their hot chocolate…. is pure hot chocolate!!! 

WTH!

W.T.F!!

Now while I love my chocolate, I cannot pour pure melted chocolate down my throat without gagging! No, really! There IS such a thing as too much chocolate! Unless you’re Italian I guess!

I have a lot more pictures (please check the album on this post), but I’ve got a sudden craving for chocolate (wonder why! :P). So until next time… Ciao!

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An Unexpected Trip

I was in Kerala all last week. My mom wasn’t well and needed surgery. I found out Thursday, while I was in the middle of work (cos my parents believe that telling bad news is something that can be left to the last possible moment). I took the next flight out, at 4am. The week was spent running in and out of hospitals, mainly. There was a lot of waiting, a lot of stress, and a lot of suppression of emotions cos you have to look brave in front of mommy and act like everything’s gonna be okay so she’s not more freaked out than she already is.

Thankfully, it all did go okay. The surgery went well, and she’s recovering, though slowly. Before they wheeled her into surgery, she made sis and I promise that we’d participate in the Attukal pongalaSis had already done it the previous year, with mom, but I’m not exactly religious. My religious practices revolve more around the eating of the prasad rather than the making of it!

If you’re too lazy to check the link, lemme give you an idea of what the Attukal Pongala is. It’s an offering of sweet rice pudding (or other stuff, this is what I made) for the deity of the Attukal temple in Trivandrum, Kerala. This ritual is meant to be done only by women (dunno why) and the prasad needs to be cooked outside, in a 5km radius around the temple. People flock to Trivandrum days in advance and reserve spaces around this 5 km radius to ensure that they have a good spot on D Day.

reservation

This was a couple of days before the day

lining the streets

On the day of pongala

 

Fortunately, I happen to live around this 5km radius, and we asked our watchman to save a spot for us, so it was pretty chilled out for us, relatively. In fact, I think my aunt, sis and I had the easiest pongala ever cos we had a shady spot right beneath our building and could walk up to the apartment and back whenever we needed to. We didn’t have to go to our spots at 5am carrying all the ingredients (including water) and wait till 10:30 in the heat for when the ritual actually begins.

The payasam is easy enough to make -first add water and wait till it boils. Then add the rice. When the rice is half-cooked,  add the jaggery and cardamom.

Making the payasam

Making the payasam

Towards the end, I added some grated coconut and chopped up a few small bananas as well. You can add other stuff like nuts and raisins, but I left it as is.

All done!

All done!

Pretty simple, right? The tricky part is doing this on a wood-fire, with an earthen pot propped on a “stove” of 3 bricks. The smoke from the fire makes your eyes water like crazy and you’re half-blinded by the tears and the smoke during the entire process.

In spite of this rudimentary method of cooking, I had a lot of fun. I was with my fun-aunt and my sis, and we shared a lot of laughs between us. Plus it was a relief to just concentrate on making the payasam instead of worrying about mom. It was somehow comforting to feel like I was doing something in an otherwise helpless situation. And it was a pleasure to see it all come together pretty easily into a tasty payasam. Everyone around me was doing the same thing (some people were making multiple pots even!), which kinda brought us all together in some strange way, even though I couldn’t relate to all the piousness and felt like I was a visitor in a Members Only area.

If you’re ever in Kerala during this time, you can’t escape the excitement for sure, but try and be a part of it, just for the experience. You won’t regret it.

 Pongala