‘Water of life’- Whisky trails in Scotland

Golden Water of Life- WHISK(E)Y
Mark Twain once famously said-
“Too much of anything is bad,
but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.”
This quote has inspired me to write about exploring the famed distilleries of Scotland

whiskey

“Oh, the summer time is coming, And the trees are blooming, And the wild mountain thyme, grows around the blooming heather.Will you go, lassie, will you go?” I can’t think of a more beautiful place to visit and explore in summer than Scotland

During our restaurant years in Singapore( 2007-2011) we were lucky to get introduced to a gem of a Scotsman- Andrew (Skene) who  introduced us to Single Malts and helped put together the ‘Scotch Corner’ in our restaurant( called ‘the Clay Oven & Scotch Corner’)
Thus began our love for the dram- from pairing whiskies with kebabs and curries to hosting whisky tasting festivals & musical concerts ( notably with the Scottish band- ‘Red Hot Chilli Piper’)
Our love affair with Whisky is sealed for life!

Hopefully on reading this piece, you’ll be inspired to book your air tickets to visit the famed distilleries of Scotland. For the not so lucky, I’m hoping  you can stop drinking the highly marketed Black Label or Glenfiddich and be adventurous enough to try single malts from  smaller and highly reputed distilleries

What is whisky?
Whisky refers to any distillate made from grain, yeast & water, that matures in wooden casks for a certain period of time resulting in a strong alcoholic spirit that is called Whisky

Whiskey or whisky? What’s in the spelling?
In Ireland and United states, Whiskey is spelled with an ‘e’.
Scotland, Canada & Japan omit the ‘e’- so it’s ‘Whisky’
but really neither spellings should matter!

Oak barrels containing  distilled whisky
Oak barrels containing
distilled whisky

Scotch Whisky definition
For a whisky to be classified a Scotch, it has to be produced in a Scottish distillery and made from malted barley or another type of grain that has been mashed with water.
Scotch whisky should be matured in a wooden( oak)  cask in Scotland and must contain 40% alcohol at the time of bottling but not to exceed 94.8% alchohol by volume( ABV)

What is a Single Malt?
A single malt must exclusively consist of malt whiskey and has to be distilled at a single distillery. Single malts can also be blended- that is bottled from different casks- each which vary according to alcoholic strength and maturation periods. This popular practice is called vatting. If whiskies of different ages are blended, then the maturation of the youngest whisky must be stated on the label.
Single Malt is not exclusively associated with Scotland. India and Japan in fact produce excellent Single Malts whiskies.

Inside a distillery
Inside a distillery

3 holy elements of whisky are…
Grain, Water and Yeast

Copper stills used in distillation
Copper stills used in distillation

BIRTHPLACE OF  WHISKY: SCOTLAND

 

Whisky map of Scotland
Whisky map of Scotland

Scotland is the world’s foremost producer of whisky, in fact there are more distilleries in Scotland than in the rest of the world combined! The history and Scots passion and love for whisky has triumphed.  The distilleries are classified into 4 major regions namely:
1) Lowlands & Campbeltown
2) Islay
3) Speyside
4) Highlands

SCOTLAND’S WHISKY REGIONS

LOWLANDS & CAMPBELTOWN: are at the extreme south of Scotland bordering England. Very few distilleries remain and whiskies of the Lowland region are characterized by a light, dry and ‘oily’ finish, usually devoid of any ‘peaty’ notes

Noteworthy distilleries are:
Springbank ( 85 Longrow PA28 6EX Campbeltown, Argyll
Phone: +44 (0) 1586 552085) 
It is the only distillery left in Scotland in which all whisky production processes are manually carried out- including bottling, The whisky is considered to be the most traditional malt in Scotland. Tours are priced from £6.50  per person

Springbank
Inside the Springbank distillery


Also visit/ try-
Glen Kinchie– ” Light and spicy with more complex flavours than are typical of Lowland whiskies”
Auchentoshan “light and dry taste typical of a Lowland whisky “

ISLAY( pronounced “Eye-la” )
Holds a special place in the world of whisky. Whiskies from the Islay region are characterized by a typical smoky, “Peaty” finish.

Every summer, Islay hosts a weeklong whisky festival, which includes ceilidhs(traditional Scottish storytelling evenings), Celtic music concerts, distillery tours, golf competition, cooking-with-whisky evenings and a sponsored charity “barrel push” across Islay. The festivities culminate in a carnival on Port Ellen Green.
More details: Islay Whisky Festival E-mail: islayfestival@lineone.net

The noteworthy Islay distilleries  to visit are:
Talisker( Isle of Skye, Carbost, Skye, Phone: +44 1478614308)
Has a stunning setting beside a west Skye sea loch. Visitors can taste their whiskies in a vaulted barrel room, surrounded by handsome oak containers holding whisky which will sit for decades before it’s enjoyed

Tasting notes ” Highly complex & unconventional whisky. Peppery flavour adds to its warming spiciness,  it explodes on the palate”

Talisker Distillery
Talisker Distillery

Bruichladdich( Isle of Islay, Argyll, Phone: + 44 1496850190 )
Considered to be one of the most innovative of Islay distilleries constantly playing with casks, producing some of Islays’s most complex and peaty whiskies

Bruichladdich distellery
Bruichladdich distellery

Lagavulin( Port Ellen, Islay, Phone- +44 1496 302749)
Situated on the picturesque Lagavulin bay, its unique pear shaped stills make it worth a visit
Tasting notes- ” smoky, peaty & highly sophisticated”

Lagavulin Distillery
Lagavulin Distillery

Also visit/ try:
Caol Ila-
“strong note of peat smoke on nose, complemented on the palate by sweet notes of sherry”
Highland Park( Isle of Orkney)– “An all rounder with hints of smoke, sherry, full flavour on the palate where honey & peat develop”
Ardberg- “One of the smokiest, peatiest of all whiskies”,
Bowmore- “complex on the palate, notes of sherry, seaweed, heather & spices”

SPEYSIDE 
Spreading out from the River Spey it is one of the principal whisky producing regions of Scotland and one of the most prettiest places.  With the maximum number of distilleries located in this part of Scotland- it’s best to hire a car for the day and make your way through the distilleries, do ensure that you entrust at teetotaler as the designated driver though!

Glenfarclas
( Ballindalloch, Speyside, Banffshire, Tel: +44 1807500257)
Glenfarclas was one of the first distilleries in Scotland to open a dedicated visitor center in 1973. Glenfarclas, the `Glen of the Green Grassland’, is situated at the foot of the majestic Ben Rinnes, produces . Glenfarclas Single Malts are highly regarded, full bodied, smooth, full of flavour, and superb as an after-dinner malt

Inside the Glenfarclas distillery
Inside the Glenfarclas distillery

Glenlivet
( Ballindalloch, Banffshire AB37 9DB, Phone: +44 1340 821 720)
This highly reputed and well regarded distillery is a must visit in Speyside. Try their  ‘Spirit Of The Malt Tour’ priced at £30 per person( 2-3 hours duration), which includes a visit to Josie’s Well, a distillery tour, a tutored nosing of 7 different expressions of The Glenlivet and a dram drawn straight from one of their aged casks in their traditional dunnage warehouse

Our friends- Jayant and Ragani outside the  Glenlivet distillery
Our friends- Jayant and Ragani outside the Glenlivet distillery
Cellar at the Glenlivet
Cellar at the Glenlivet- picture courtesy Jayant Rohatgi

Macallan
( Easter Elchies, Craigellachie, Aberlour, Moray,  Phone:44 (1340) 872280)  
One of the most recognized distilleries. Its whiskies are sought after by whisky collectors & aficionados around the world. In the last 4 decades, it has acquired the best reputation for quality malt whisky.
Macallan distillery recently launched the ‘Six pillars tour’  limited to groups of no more than 10 people to ensure a luxurious, personal experience. A friendly guide will explain the creation of Macallan’s rich spirit in a working still house. Visitors can learn of how their unparalleled investment in the finest casks contributes to the natural colours, aromas and flavours that set The Macallan apart. Visitors then experience a nosing and tasting of four ‘The Macallan whiskies’ The tour last 2 hours and is priced at  £15/ person.

Macallan cask
Macallan cask

Aberlour
(High Street Aberlour AB38 9PJ, Phone: +44 (0)1340 881249)
Located in the heart of Speyside, this distillery offers relaxed and informal tours of the distillery, it is followed up with a tasting of 6 whiskies from Aberlour. Priced at  £15/ person, the tour lasts 2 hours.

Tasting session at Aberlour- Image courtesy Jayant Rohatgi
Tasting session at Aberlour- Image courtesy Jayant Rohatgi

Speyside CooperageDufftown Road, Craigellachie, Banffshire, Aberlour, Moray AB38 9RS, Phone: +44 1340 871108)
In the heart of Scotland’s rolling hills lies Speyside Cooperage, the only working cooperage in the UK where you can experience the ancient art of coopering. Since 1947, the family owned Speyside Cooperage has produced the finest casks from the best American Oak. Today the cooperage continues to work and produce the age-old product, still using traditional methods and tools. Although shipped across the world, many of the casks remain in Scotland, providing a vital ingredient in Scotland’s whisky making process

Putting together casks made of american oak at Speyside Cooperage- Image courtesy Jayant Rohatgi
Putting together casks made of American oak at Speyside Cooperage- Image courtesy Jayant Rohatgi

 

NORTHERN HIGHLANDS:
The whiskies in this region are delicate, light bodied whiskies with complex aromas. The finish can range from dry to spicy with a hint of salt.
Noteworthy distilleries to visit are:
Glenmorangie
Cadboll, Fearn Ross-Shir, Tain. Phone:+ 44 1862 871671) 
Crafting the taste of Glenmorangie is entrusted to the care of 16 people known as the “Sixteen Men of Tain”–some have names that are fitting to the jobs in the alcohol business, such as warehouseman Jocky Stout. Visitors can learn about the entire distillation process, as well as the selection of the barrels, which come from oak trees in the Ozarks. The barrels are then loaned to the Heaven Hill Bourbon distillery until reclaimed by Glenmorangie. The on-site inn, Glenmorangie House, is also worth a stop. From the outside, it looks like a typical Highlands mansion, but inside the atmosphere is warm and relaxed.  Entry-£ 5 per person
Tasting notes: ” Smooth malt with a gentle salty note, complemented by fruits and spices”

Glenmorangie Distillery
Glenmorangie Distillery, image courtesy: Glenmorangie website

Dalwhinnie
( Dalwhinnie Distillery, Dalwhinnie, Inverness-shire,
Telephone: +44 1540 672219) 

Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland; and clear, crisp spring water and peat are abundant. On the 45-minute tour, you can see the people at work making sure everything in the distillery goes to plan – whisky production is a precise process where small changes of problems can affect the taste of a whole batch. The tour with  3 tastings of their 15 year old, Distiller’s edition and single cask is priced at £12.99 per person

Dalwhinnie Distillery visitor center
Dalwhinnie Distillery visitor center

Also visit/ try:
Oban
” slightly peaty, it has a smooth texture with notes of spices, fruit and a mild finish”
Old Pulteney- ” salty and fresh, with a whiff of ocean air and seaweed”

PLACES TO STAY

HIGHLANDER INN
( Victoria St, Craigellachie, Banffshire AB38 9SR, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 1340 881446) 
Highlander Inn is a traditional Whisky Tavern with rooms. Its location in the heart of Speyside- Craigellachhie, makes it a good place for a base. Rooms are simple and comfortable . Recognized as Scotland’s best village inn’s, its whisky bar stocks an amazing range of Single Malts

THE LODGE ISLAY
(83 Frederick Crescent, Port Ellen, Islay PA42 7BG, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 7776 193140)
Located in Port Ellen, the Lodge forms the perfect base to explore distilleries in the Islay region.

WHEN IN SCOTLAND DO TRY……

SHEEP DIP:

 

Sheep Dip
Sheep Dip

Was once one of the best selling whiskies in Harrods in the 1980’s. Don’t be fooled by its whimsical name. This award winning whisky by Spencerfield Spirit Company  is created by  blending over 16 different single malts aged between 8-20 years creating a complex blend.
Jim Murray of the Whisky Bible describes Sheep Dip as “Young and sprightly like a new-born lamb a fresh, mouthwatering grassy style with a touch of spice. Maligned by some, but to me a clever accomplished vatting of alluring complexity”

BRUADAR (WHISKY LIQUEUR)

Bruadar
Bruadar

An absolutely irresistible combination of whisky, honey & sloe berries create a much cherished liqueur. I can’t think of a more delicious way of ending  whisky tasting sessions on this sweet note!  “Bruadar” is the Scottish Gaelic word for “a dream”

HAGGIS NEEPS AND TATTIES

Haggis neeps and tatties
Haggis neeps and tatties

An absolute must have for Burn’s supper, this iconic Scottish dish is a must try if you’re visitng Scotland!
Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onionoatmealsuet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. 
“Neeps and tatties”refer to turnips and potatoes in Scottish and form a perfect accompaniment to the Haggis!

 

 

 

Dosha Diaries: detox holiday in Kerala

On the first day of the new year, I declared that 2014 is the year of good health: living, eating and thinking healthy! That we( D & me) will indulge in at least one wellness/ holistic experience this year. After spending many nights researching holistic holiday destinations ( Thailand &  Bali immediately sprung to mind) we decided to give Ayurveda a try, all arrows pointed to Kerala- the birthplace of Ayurveda.

Panchakarma therapy
Panchakarma therapy

Ayurveda has existed for centuries, much before the BCA. It is a science and what’s great is that it uses natural remedies that are based out of extracts of plants, herbs & animal produce. Yoga is an essential part of Ayurveda and almost every treatment plan incorporates various yoga postures or ‘asanas’

Ayuveda- using natural herbs
Ayurveda is said to be a science that can cure all ailments using extracts of plants, herbs & animal produce

We enrolled ourselves for a 14 day detoxification programme to ‘purify’ our bodies( this was later extended to 18 days on the advice of our doctors) The detoxification process is known in Ayurveda as the classical PANCHAKARMA THERAPY  ‘Pancha‘ means ‘five’ and ‘karma‘ means ‘action.’ This five-fold purification therapy aims at correcting the imbalance of three elements or “doshas” in the body namely- Vata( Wind), Pitta ( Fire)& Kapha( Earth) in order to maintain their inherent equilibrium. During each season of the year, one or more of the doshas accumulate, which causes an imbalance and makes the body prone to illness.

Dosha Elements
Dosha chart

I’ve detailed  our entire Panchakarma journey, documenting our thoughts of experiencing each process
Day 1: Arrival at the Ayurvedic center( Sree Chithra Ayurhome in Manathala)  A two hour scenic drive from Kochi airport, winding through lush green paddy fields, backwaters & sleepy villages,  finally brought us to our centre. With the check in formalities out of the way we had a detailed consultation with Dr Madhusudan(founder of the centre)who reviewed our medical files and history. We were informed that treatment would commence the next morning.

The view of the canal from the verandah of our center on a hot afternoon
The view of the canal from the verandah of our center on a hot afternoon

Acquainting ourselves with the centre, we were called in at around 5pm for a  relaxing ‘Abhyangam’ massage, this was the first time I’ve experienced a synchronized massage with two therapists, which left me completely relaxed.  The Abhyangam massage refers to an oil massage, using large amounts of heated Ayurvedic oil, said to have medicinal properties. It is an essential part of the Rejuvenation therapy. A delicious (vegetarian)buffet dinner was laid out at the garden( we discovered it was a patient’s birthday hence the ‘special’ spread)
Before turning into bed, we were asked to drink at least 2-3 glasses of a decoction that comprised of fresh turmeric ground with butter milk and Ayurvedic herbs

The Canoli canal or backwaters by our center
The Canoli canal or backwaters by our centre

DAY 2: Beginning  dreaded ‘Snehapanam’ phase of Panchakarma, i.e- Drinking medicated ghee!
Purvakarma is a preparatory procedure that helps the body discard the toxins present in the stomach and tissues and help facilitate the toxins to move to the alimentary canal
Our Purvakarma procedure was called Snehapanam, which is an internal oleation therapy involving drinking a concoction comprising of medicated ghee & herbs- the quantity of which is gradually increased in every consecutive day. 

Snehapanam-internal oleation with medicated ghee
Snehapanam-internal oleation with medicated ghee

Waking up to birds chirping, we got up just in time to see the sun rise from the serene back waters. At around 7am we were asked to drink a small glass of ghee( more like a shot) , it wasn’t too bad given that much has been written about people throwing up after drinking the ghee! This was followed with a basic yoga class on pranayama and breathing techniques. No food intake is allowed when undergoing Snehapanam; if we do feel hungry- a boiled banana or Rice porridge, similar to a Konjee ( sans salt, oil, any toppings) could be eaten at their cafeteria( closely monitored with CCTV cameras) At around noon we were summoned for our daily treatment- Udvartana for me and Abhyangam for D.

Udvartana is termed as the cellulite busting massage in which herbal powders are massaged into the body by two therapists using opposing hand movements. Make no mistake, it isn’t a relaxing massage, the purpose of which is to break down all fatty deposits. My therapists assured me that this was an effective massage guaranteed to ensure inch loss and that it was common to feel a little pain caused by friction from the opposing hand movements.

images-4
Udvartana the cellulite busting massage

We felt ok till the clock struck 3pm, that’s when hunger pangs kicked in, we became snappy and frustrated at not being able to eat anything. By evening we were weak. Doctors kept coming around during the course of the day to ensure that we wouldn’t fall asleep, for that would be ‘detrimental’, they wanted the organs to fully digest the ghee. At around 7pm, we gave in to our hunger pangs to have the bland rice porridge. We had just about enough energy to make it back to our room and call it a night.

Day 3- Day 5: Medicated ghee therapy pushing us to our limits
I woke up with a nagging headache & dull ache around the eyes.  Like the previous morning, we were made to drink ghee, today the quantity was increased to half a glass. We could just about manage to swallow this in two gulps. This left us with a greased palate and bloated feeling. On days 4 it was successively increased to 3/4 glass and by day 5 we were forced to drink a full glass of ghee- the most revolting experience ever!! Our bodies were in protest- we kept letting out utterly disgusting ‘ghee’ burps( Other patients and Doctors said this was ‘totally normal’) We were too weak to do any yoga. We were advised us not to go out in the sun or participate in any physical sport, walks were restricted to being within the center’s premises.  The only other activity for the day was our daily treatment comprising of Udvartana for me and Abhyangam for D.
Weakness, tears of frustration, daydreams of food- this pretty much sums up how we felt. It was difficult to focus on anything- reading a book or listening to music.  The days seemed to stretch on forever and by the end of day 5 we were close to giving up and leaving.
As if reading our thoughts on cue, we were summoned to the Doctor’s room for a check up, they declared that I was ready for the next step of the Panchakarma therapy but that D would need another day of ghee-tox. We retired to our room with mixed feelings- me elated that the worst was over and D preparing himself with dread for the next day’s ghee intake 😉

Too weak to think, picture taken on day 3
Too weak to think, picture taken on day 3

Day 6 and Day 7: Purging the body of toxins- Virechana and Vamana On Day 6, D summoned all the courage to drink a 1 &1/2  glass of  ghee, which I have to say he managed to gulp down except for a wee-bit in the end. I was asked to swallow Ayurvedic pills that would induce the Virechana process. Virechana  refers to inducing purgation specially for elimination of Pita( Fire) related toxins from the body. Here, drugs that stimulate bowel movements are induced for the expulsion of excess Pita. I felt okay till the medicines kicked in. I found myself spending at least 2 hours expelling all the ghee & toxins from my body. It felt like I had a case of the Delhi belly. The staff came around to ensure that I stay hydrated- rice soaked water was given to soothe the tummy. By lunchtime I was feeling much better. My lunch was a simple rice porridge( again!) but I was assured that I could eat ‘normal’ food for dinner. It truly felt like a treat because I could finally eat something that tasted of something. D unfortunately wasn’t as lucky- time seemed to crawl slowly, he was weak and too tired to think of anything. Thankfully in the evening, the Doctor gave him the good news- his body was ready for the next step, but that he would have to undergo 2 purgations- Virechana & Vamana the following day. Vamana, refers to inducing vomiting specially for kapha related illnesses like asthma, coughs, chronic colds, psoriasis, acne, arthritis & diabetes.

I'm finally done with Virechana and Vamana, an exhausted D
I’m finally done with Virechana and Vamana, an exhausted D on day 7

He was done with both by lunchtime, and finally by dinner we both were able to enjoy a tasty meal together. Food was simple yet delicious- a daal or ‘lentil’ soup with two chappatis and salad. * On both day 6 & 7 our daily treatments  comprised of Udvartana/ Abhyangam

Sunset cruise on the backwaters on day 7 to celebrate us completing the first phase of Panchakarma
Sunset cruise on the backwaters on day 7 to celebrate  completing the first and most difficult phase of Panchakarma

Day 8- Day 12: Nasal cleansing and commencement of rejuvenation therapies On day 8 we were ready for the next step in the Panchakarma therapy and this was Nasyam or nasal cleansing by the application of medical oils or powders in the nasal canal. Rejuvenation therapies were finally introduced- this mainly being the Choorna( Herbal Powder) Pinda Sweda massage for me and Patra ( Herbal leaves) Pinda Sweda massage for D. The Pinda sweda massages refer to herbs or powders tied up in a cloth bundle, this is gently heated with herbal oils and then massaged on the body- The pinda sweda massages induce sweat thereby releasing the toxins from the pores. The pinda sweda massage also helps remove pains on the joints and lower back.  Our massages were administered before lunch at around 11am. At around 4pm I was called in for another therapy called ‘Avagaham’ this is mainly a medicated steam bath where I was made to bathe in scalding hot water that was boiled with ‘pitta’ eliminating herbs. This unpleasant ordeal lasts for a good 15 minutes  and is stopped till you finally have sweat and steam coming out of every pore in your body.

Choorna Pinda Sweda massage
Choorna Pinda Sweda massage

From the start of day 8 we were beginning to feel lighter and better, on day 13 the weighing scale showed a loss of 4 kilos for me and  5 kilos for D!! Meals in the center were at best light vegetarian fare with an emphasis on simplicity.  It’s amazing how everything tastes good when cooked in coconut oil 🙂 Our morning yoga classes resumed from Day 8, classes were now more fast paced to include sun salutations, prone postures, shoulder stand, plough. The main aim being to focus on reducing fat on the abdomen.

Scenic walk through paddy fields
Scenic walk through paddy fields

It was completely by chance that we stumbled onto a scenic walk that took us through the green paddy fields into the local Chavakkad beach, this became a welcome daily evening routine. Local fisherman returned back every evening with their catch, live auctions of fish catch, men haggling over prices, local children playing by the shore, all of these sights added to the charm of watching the sunset in the Arabian sea!

The beautiful Chavakkad beach
The beautiful Chavakkad beach
Live auction of fish in Chavakkad beach
Live auction of fish in Chavakkad beach

Day 13- Day 17: Vasti and final rejuvenation therapies The final leg of the Panchakarma journey is focusing on rejuvenation and final flushing out of toxins. By the start of day 13, our bodies were ready for the final and most important step namely- Vasti, which is nothing but a medicated enema & particularly good for alleviating excess Vata. “Vasti’s effects are directly felt in the colon, the prime abode of the Vata. With the application of a series of purifying and nourishing Vastis, the morbid doshas and other toxins trapped for long in the tissues are eliminated. This restores the equilibrium. Vasti is good for spleen disorders, colic & kidney stones. It helps in chronic constipation, low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, sciatica, various neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, dystrophy and atrophy of nerves and muscles”. After 3 successive days of vasti, we graduated to the all important Sneha Vasti , “which is  an enema using medicated oil that remains in the colon and rectum for a short period of time to absorb the toxins and eliminate them out of the body” The vasti is typically performed after the relaxation massages which were Abhyangam and Shirodhara for me and Pizichil and Thakradhara for D. Shirodhara, The word shirodhara breaks down into two: “shiro,” meaning head, and “dhara,” which means flow. Together they form a concept that aims to bring physical and emotional balance by rejuvenating the spirit and preserving health. This is achieved through a relaxing technique in which over 2 litres of warm oil is poured over a client’s forehead, followed by head and shoulder massage and a warming body wrap to seal in moisture. The oil cannot be reused in any other treatment and hence on a whole this is a very expensive treatment

Shirodhara
Shirodhara

Pizhichil, is considered by many to be the king of all treatments. The whole body is bathed in streams of lukewarm medicated oil with simultaneous soft massage. Three therapists attend to the client, focusing on their particular needs. More than three liters of relaxing, medicated oil is used in this therapy. Pizhichil protects the body from illnesses and builds up immunity for a healthy life. It is very useful for rheumatic diseases, arthritis, paralysis, sexual weakness, neurological disorders, blood pressure, nervous weakness and helps to arrest the ageing process”

Pizhichil treatment
Pizhichil treatment

Thakradhara,  is a form of Shirodhara, which involves continuous flow of medicated butter milk to the centre of forehead By the end of the 17th day we were feeling totally re-energised and rejuvenated. Gone was the sluggish feeling. We usually had an early start to the morning- one involving walking through the village into open green paddy fields, this was followed with a session of yoga on our return. After a light breakfast our treatments were scheduled through the day, to finish by 4pm every evening. So we could walk to the beach to see the sunset. Somewhere in between we got to see the elephant sanctuary in Guruvayoor( 3kms away from our center) & the local villages celebrate the union of Lord Shiva with Parvati in temples to mark the occasion of Shivaratri

A visit to the Elephant sanctuary in Guruvayoor, 3-4 ams away from our centre
A visit to the Elephant sanctuary in Guruvayoor, 3-4 ams away from our centre

 

An elephant all decked up to mark the festivities of Shivaratri
An elephant all decked up to mark the festivities of Shivaratri( union of God Shiva with Goddess Parvathi)
Village performers getting ready to drum their way to the Shiva temple
Village performers getting ready to drum their way to the Shiva temple

Day 18: Check out, feeling rejuvenated and refreshed!

 

IN THE KNOW Here’s where we had our treatments Sree Chithra Ayurvedic home Manathala (Near Guruvayoor), Chavakkad, Thrissur, Kerala, India- 680 506 Email: contact@sreechithraayurhome.com Review- rooms are clean and basic, don’t expect 5 star luxury as it is essentially  home stay. The founder and centre head- Dr Madhusudhan is well known in the Thrissur district, Kerala. He has two other daycare centres for locals in Manathala & Guruvayoor.  We were surprised to find patients coming from as far as Russia and the Middle East to seek treatment. The therapists were fantastic and knowledgeable. The two resident doctors- Dr Priya and Dr Arun were friendly but slightly laid back in their attitude. We had a couple of issues with them not having our medicines and bill ready during check out, communication between them non existent, moreover we needed to badger them with questions on each treatment procedure, rather than them coming to us with all information. I guess it’s a cultural thing- people of Kerala are more laid back! The quality of medicines and oils used in Sree Chithra are really good- this was verified by our masseuse in Hyderabad. I would recommend this place to people who are willing to overlook this. * Another word of advice: if you are looking at the Panchakarma detoxification, please look at booking in for at least 14 nights/ 15 days. To block yourself for 7 nights is a guaranteed waste of money- the effect of the treatments and medicines will only begin to show after 14 days. Ayurvedic Doctors always recommend a 21 nights detox programme on the Panchakarma therapy, but that is not always possible, given that most of us would never get leave/ holidays for such a long time Other recommended ayurvedic retreats  in Kerala are as follows: HIGH END 1) Somatheeram Ayurvedic resort in Kovalam( Chowara) is the most well known ayurvedic resort- expect to pay anywhere between Rs 2,50,000- Rs 3,00,000 per person for 14N/15D stay 2)  Kalari Kovilakom and Kalari Rasayana– Both are CGH Earth properties. Considered to be excellent however very expensive- mainly catering to rich foreign tourists. We got in touch with both and received a quote of Rs 10,00,000 for 2 adults for 14N/15D

MID RANGE
Expect to pay anywhere between Rs 60,000- Rs 80,000/ pax for 14N/15D programmes per person. The Doctors here are very good, but accommodation & treatment rooms is fairly basic and simple clean nonetheless). The quality of medicines and therapists are very good.
1) Athreya Ayurveda in Kottayam- Dr Sreejit is well known & highly regarded. This was originally our first choice but unfortunately Dr Sreejit was travelling and hence we decided to book at Sree Chithra. Rooms are simple & clean. Food reviews seem very good. Prices per person is Rs 5,000/ night- inclusive of treatments, medicines, accommodation and food
2) Krishnendu Ayurveda near Kochi is also another good choice. Dr Mohan Babu is highly regarded. Rooms in the Junior suite category located in the Wellness area are very comfortable, with modern flat screen tv’s and a swimming pool. Expect to pay Rs 6,000/ person/ night- inclusive of treatments, medicines, accommodation and food

*Many of the pictures used in this blog were taken from the internet, it was impossible for me to get any pictures taken of our treatments-
a)  given that we were so greasy from all the oil 😉
b) The therapists aren’t trained to take pictures
c)  Strictly no access to the male therapy rooms

 

Inside London: explored through locals

London will always occupy a special place in my heart- I can never forget my first solo holiday in London in 2004- I immediately fell in love with its history, diversity, arts, culture, food and parks- so much so that I decided to live and work in London for a year.  I lived in a small semi detached house in East Putney and have some of the best memories of South London( one that requires another blog!) I am lucky to still have friends living there, and am always keen to get their updates on ‘the places to eat & drink’ on FB

So last week I decided to try something new: Explore one of the greatest cities of the world through the locals that live there. I approached three friends, who live and work in London- they are unknown to each other, work in different industries & have different personalities. While reviewing their replies, I got three different perspectives of London. In the process we have unravelled hidden gems and great finds. So I hope you find this article interesting 🙂

Note: pictures used in this article have been collected through the internet and are not taken by me, photo credits have been provided where necessary 😉

Poulomi
POULOMI BASU
is an award winning documentary photographer who is based in London and New Delhi. When not travelling on international assignments, Poulomi loves interacting with fellow photographers in London’s hip watering holes

Shefali

SHEFALI GUPTA GERA, or ‘Shef” as she’s known to friends,  was born in the UK and has lived in London for almost half of her life. A true ‘Londoner’ she works in strategy for an American investment bank.  Shef enjoys exploring London’s gastronomic scene and travelling off to exotic destinations

NEHA GOENKA SMITH is a professional who’s lived in London for 6 years, Neha currently works with the UK Government to address GHG emission

 

1) YOUR FAVORITE NEIGHBORHOOD FOR BREAKFAST OR A FUN SUNDAY BRUNCH?
Poulomi:  Dalston Superstore,( 117 Kingsland High SE8 2PB, London) Time Out London describes it as“a New York-styled ersatz dive bar upstairs (clad in cement, brick and steel vents) is the perfect place for a chat ‘n’ carouse”

Dalston Superstore
Dalston Superstore

Shefali:  there are so many interesting places, but if I’d have to narrow it down my favourites are-
CLERKENWELL : Smith of Smithsfied or SOS (67-77 Charterhouse St, London EC1M 6HJ)
A reviewer in Squaremeal London calls it a “cavernous, sandblasted rocker starts the day quite quietly as a breakfast and brunch destination serving up posh bacon butties, porridge and French toast to Smithfield early birds”
and Modern Pantry(47-48 St John’s Square, London EC1V 4JJ) Time Out London  says “chef Anna Hansen has form in creating enticing fusion dishes that make the most of unusual ingredients sourced from around the globe – we guarantee even the most devoted foodie will be bamboozled by a couple of items on the menu”

The Modern Pantry
The Modern Pantry

SHOREDITCH:
Breakfast Club2-4 Rufus Street, London N1 6PE)

Breakfast at the Breakfast Club, Shoreditch
Breakfast at the Breakfast Club, Shoreditch

and Caravan, Emyr Thomas of Bon vivant saysCaravan offers a weekend brunch menu to rival any in London in a relaxed and effortlessly cool setting on Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell…The open plan layout and double facing glassed front make this an ideal location for enjoying a vibrant part of London”

Caravan, Shoreditch
The modern industrial setting at Caravan, Shoreditch


MAIDA VALE:  Raoul’s(13 Clifton Road, London W9 1S)

NehaSunday’s are spent near our home in Beckenham and my choice is Fee& Brown(50 High Street, Beckenham)  Blogger- The Faerital Foodie calls it one of her favourite coffee shops

Fee & Brown Beckenham
Fee & Brown Beckenham

 

2)FAVORITE  PLACE/ PARK/ SQUARE FOR A PICNIC?
Poulomi– London fields Victoria Park( Vicky Park) Visit London says “Victoria Park in London’s Tower Hamlets is a large park with canals, ponds, a pavilion, tennis courts and a sports ground. Open air pop and rock concerts are held in the park during the summer

Victoria Park, Londonfields
Victoria Park, Londonfields

Shefali Regent’s Park. Spread over 395 acres it is one of the largest parks in Central London. The park also houses the Open Air Theatre, London Zoo, Primrose Hill, the country’s largest free to access waterfowl collection and 100 species of wild bird. The Broke Londoner says “ Primrose Hill is located a few minutes away from the north side of Regent’s Park – just across the London zoo. From Camden Town, it’s a pleasant 10 – 15 minute walk along Regent’s canal. When in the park, the slope is steep, but climbing is worth the effort, since from its 78-metre height Primrose Hill offers a clear view over Central London”

Regents Park
Regents Park

NehaAlways the Hyde Park especially by the Serpentine Lake

Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park
Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park

 

3) MY FAVOURITE VIEW OF LONDON……
Poulomi: Parliament Hill, Hampstead. Time Out London says “Famous for its iconic views over London, Parliament Hill is capable of reviving even the most jaded Londoner, and on a clear day, you’ll have to tiptoe over tourists and locals lounging on the grass and admiring landmarks (The Gherkin, St Paul’s) among the numerous tower blocks”

Best views of London from Parliament Hill
Best views of London from Parliament Hill

Shefali: The Aquashard bar at the Shard ( Level 31, 32 London Bridge Street London SE1 9SG)

View from the Shard Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness
View from the Shard
Photo credit: Paul Winch-Furness

Neha: The views from Shard are great but I prefer the view from Paramount bar on the 32nd Floor of Centrepoint tower (Paramount, Centre Point, 101-103 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1DD)

View from Paramount in Centrepoint building
View from Paramount in Centrepoint building

 

4) BEST NEIGHBOURHOOD TO EXPLORE INDEPENDENT MUSIC GIGS & UPCOMING ARTISTS
Poulomi: DALSTON
Servant’s Jazz Quarter(10A Bradbury St, London N16 8JN) Londontown.com describes it as “Despite the name, Servant Jazz Quarters is not strictly a jazz club. Instead you’ll find music from many genres at this Dalston music venue which supports innovative artists from all backgrounds, and particularly those from the Hackney area”

 Cafe Otto(18-22 Ashwin St, London E8 3DL)

Vortex(11 Gillett St, London N16 8AZ) Time Out London says “The Vortex has developed a strong profile on London’s improv jazz scene and is now well known for its consistently exciting programming. Mopomoso is the improv club night to catch here”

The Vortex, Dalston
The Vortex, Dalston

Shefali: CAMDEN ( Here’s an interesting link on how to get to alternative music gigs in CamdenThe Forge (3-7 Delancey Street, Camden, London NW1 7NL)  “ is an award-winning venue, home to London’s most diverse musical talent. Its amazingly flexible building is reflected in the great breadth of the programme, which ranges from informal jazz and comedy on a Monday to high-class concerts in mid-week and pulsating live music club nights at the weekend
Shoreditch/ Hoxton are great for live gigs too

Live acts at The Forge, Camden
Live acts at The Forge, Camden

NehaSHOREDITCH/ HOXTON
Elephantdrums.co.uk explores musical venues in the Shoreditch & Hoxton neighbourhoods,

Standard.co.uk has an interesting article on East London guide: music venues

 


5) YOUR FAVOURITE  ENGLISH PUB
Poulomi–  The Narrow Boat (the Narrow Boat Pub, 119 St Peters Street, Islington London N1 8PZ) is a hidden gem of a pub situated directly on Regents Canal in Islington

Shefali Not so much English pub as Gastropub and so many to choose from
The Garrison (99 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3XB) is an award winning pub near the Borough market. Great little place calls it a gastropub

The Builders Arms(1 Kensington Ct Pl, London W8 5BJ) Time out London describes it as “Less well known than many Kensington pubs because of its location – hidden among the maze of avenues behind the High Street – this establishment has a great local feel”

The Cadogan Arms(298 King’s Rd, London SW3 5UG) in Chelsea is a well known pub, here’s what blogger Jeanne Horak-Druiff of Cooksister has to say of Cadogan Arms in her blog.

NehaFreemason arms(  32 Downshire Hill, London NW3 1N) in Hampstead heath will always remain my favourite. Its pretty interiors and massive beer garden make it a popular draw year round. Here’s what blogger Sunny in London has to say about Freemason Arms and other pubs in Hampstead Heath

Freemason's Arms in Hampstead heath
Freemason’s Arms in Hampstead heath

 


6) THE BEST FISH AND CHIPS  IN LONDON
Poulomi: RiverFront BFI (BFI Southbank, London, SE18XT)  “their lightly battered pollock, chips, tartar sauce & minted peas” is a killer

Shefali:  Sea Shell of Lisson Grove (49-51 Lisson Grove, Marylebone, London NW1 6UHM) Top table says “Marylebone restaurant The Seashell of Lisson Grove promises to fulfill the fish and chips dreams of any discerning London diner. This fabulous kitchen, according to food critic Alain Ducasse serves up ‘the best fish and chips in London”

Fish and chips at Seashell of Lisson grove
Fish and chips at Seashell of Lisson grove

Neha:  sadly, not my thing!


7) FAVOURITE FRESH FOOD MARKET:
Poulomi:  Broadway market in Hackney, East London(Broadway Market, London E8 4PH)

Spotted by Locals says “Broadway Market on a Saturday is a snapshot of what life in Hackney is all about. A true mix of styles and cultures, young and old, traditional and new. It is a microcosm of what living in a truly global city is all about and I love it”

The Londoner describes it as “ jam packed with delicious food, beautiful jewelry stands, vintage clothes, old vinyl records, buskers & street performers, local produce & more fresh fruit & veg than you can shake a stick at”

Broadway Market Photo credit: Andrew Sidford
“Meaty Goodies on sale’  at Broadway Market
Photo credit: Andrew Sidford

Shefali:  Borough Market(8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL)
Time Out London describes it as “London’s oldest market – dating back to the thirteenth century – is also the busiest, and the most popular for gourmet goodies. Traders satisfy the city’s insatiable appetite for artisan cheeses and ham from acorn-fed pigs. If food is your thing, then Borough, with its abundance of beautifully displayed organic fruit and veg, cakes, bread, olive oil, fish, meat and booze, is the place to go”

Neha: Borough Market for its great selection of local British Cheese, fruits and vegetables.

'Cheese for sale' at the historic Borough market
‘Cheese for sale’ at the historic Borough market

Here’s what the Gastronogeek’s guide to London has to say about Borough market
The London Eater covers a day out in Borough market
The Borough market blog is an interesting blog written by fellow Borough market stall owners & chefs featuring interesting shops and eateries to visit within the market
 

8) Best place for Traditional Afternoon tea
Poulomi:  Peggy Porschen in Belgravia(116 Ebury St, London SW1W 9QQ)  London Town says “For excellent cakes and pastries Peggy Porschen’s shop in Belgravia is the place to go – it’s where many A-listers including Elton John, Stella McCartney and Sir Anthony Hopkins place an order when they’ve got something to celebrate

Peggy Porschen cake shop
Peggy Porschen cake shop in Belgravia

Shefali:  Tough one but based on experience it would have to be Charlotte Street Hotel  (15-17 Charlotte St, London W1T 1RJ) for its “Very cool vibe and great food” and The Palm Court at the Ritz Hotel (150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR) for its “old school glamour and service!”

High tea at the Ritz
High tea at the Ritz

NehaDiamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum and Mason offers a great high tea experience. The Afternoon tea club  says “Located on the store’s fourth floor and decorated throughout in calming pastel hues, this pretty tea room is the image of refinement, with clean white tablecloths and comfortable leather armchairs completing the look, whilst also adding a touch of luxury for good measure”

9) Best neighbourhood for shopping/ Favourite Department store?
Poulomi: King’s Road & Sloane square. The Street sensation says “The curved facade of Peter Jones department store marks the start of the King’s Road at Sloane Square. Nearby, on the opposite side of the road is the Duke of York pedestrian precinct and the Saatchi art gallery. The further away from Sloane Square you walk, the greater the number of smaller, independent clothes and shoe shops there are, plus a good selection of contemporary furnishing stores

The posh stores at Sloane square
The posh stores at Sloane square

Westfield Stratford(2 Stratford Place, Montifichet Road, Olympic Park, London E20 1EJ) – there are more than 250 shops and 70 restaurants in this mini shopping city!

Shefali: Fenwicks on Bond Street(63 New Bond Street, London W1S 1RQ) for its bespoke collection for ladies

Fenwick on Bond Street
Fenwick on Bond Street

 Selfridges (400 Oxford Street, Marylebone, London W1U 1AB) Urbanpath describes it as “the famous Oxford Street department store continues to keep its finger on the retail pulse as it approaches its centenary. As well as six floors of fashion, Selfridges has an ever-popular food hall, famous window displays and on-going series of exhibitions and events

11) Best high end restaurant deal?
Shefali– There are many dining deals to be found on www.toptable.co.uk

 12) Favourite place for chilled out drinking?
Poulomi–  The Owl and Pussycat(34 Redchurch Street London E2 7DP) Time Out London says “ The gentrification of trendy Redchurch Street continues as this former east-end boozer returns in a familiar gastro pub guise. Fashionably mismatched Chesterfields, stripped tables and antique fittings furnish the lilac-coated main bar, which serves pints of Peroni and Heineken, a selection of four rotating ales, and wines by the glass

Shefali:  Most hotel bars, but I particularly like the Oscar Bar at Charlotte Street Hotel (15-17 Charlotte St, London W1T 1RJ) MrandMrsSmith say “The buzzy Oscar bar is popular with Bloomsbury’s media crowd for after-work cocktails and sharing plates. Perch atop a multicolor humbug-striped stool and sip an Oscar Limeade (Grey Goose vodka and apricot brandy muddled with fresh lime) with a tapas platter of chorizo, manchego and octopus, or knock back rock oysters with a glass of fizz

Coburg Bar at the Connaught hotel(16 Carlos Pl, London W1K 2AL) Time Out London gives it a 5 star rating “The cocktail list focuses on classics, which it introduces with a brief history. Execution is flawless; two manhattans, one a ‘perfect’ version and one sweet, were the best we’ve ever had in London”

The Coburg bar at the Connaught
The Coburg bar at the Connaught

13) Favourite time of the year in London and why?
Poulomi: May through October – between Summer & Autumn

Summer in London on Primrose Hill
Summer in London on Primrose Hill

Shefali: Winter – love the coziness of wrapping up and eating amazing comfort food 🙂

Winter in London
Winter in London

Neha: Summer- if its not a wash out, plenty of time to be spent indulging in picnics at the park!

 

FURTHER REFERENCES & READINGS

Spotted by Locals– a great guide to London created and written by locals

The Londonist is similar to Time Out only that they now have a cult following amongst Londoners They describe themselves as “We provide everything you need to know about the capital, as well as celebrating the quirks, eccentricities, hidden and surprising bits that make up the alternative side of the city”

The Lost Londoner is an interesting alternative guide to London

I know this Great little place  “is a collection of thoughts on the best in London’s unexpected special little venues and activities”

The Telegraph online edition has a plethora of interesting articles covering London’s Arts and Culture, Food & Drinks scene

Beach Diaries: Susegad Goa

Laid back people, feni, coconut palms, shacks, siesta and endless stretches of beach. This just about describes Goa! Its no wonder that this tiny union territory has been receiving so many visitors for more than 4 decades.

Goa has been infamously known for its topless beaches & hippie havens. All that is in the past, however full moon parties  and casino cruise ships continue to attract the young, reckless and rich

Small enough to explore with relative ease, Goa is rich in culture and tradition as is reflected in the Portuguese inspired food & architecture, this can best be enjoyed by exploring the Latin quarters of Panjim  known as” Fontainhas”. Driving past sleepy villages where residents still observe the siesta( NOTE: most shops and offices remain closed between 1.30-3.30pm everyday) and whitewashed 16th-18th century churches, one almost gets a feeling of stepping back in time. For beach bums- there is no dearth for powdery sand and blue waters. Foodies are spoiled for choice with a almost every cuisine served up in a plethora of beach shacks, restaurants and upscale bistros. Yoga is now synonymous with Goa, the village of Assagao in North Goa is fast becoming a major hub for yoga shalas and retreats.

So here’s my guide to Goa. I’m excluding the usual tourist traps which have been covered by many travel magazines- the overrated beaches of Baga and Calangute, the crowded casinos on Mandovi River & the grungy hippie havens of Anjuna/Vagator.

BEACH BUM PARADISE- SOUTH GOA
South Goa is known for long stretches of white sands and gentle blue waters. The beaches here are relatively devoid of annoying vendors & beach shacks, so its perfect for people looking at getting away from it all. South Goa in the recent years has become a haven for luxury 5 star hotels such as the Park Hyatt or Leela and apart from the Taxi-mafia, this part is of Goa is perfect for beach bums looking to soak in all the sun and sand

Agonda Beach- I’m starting with this beach, because you should visit it now before it gets commercially exploited. Devoid of beach shacks & annoying vendors, this beach remains uncrowded for most part of the day. Surrounded by palms this 3km long crescent shaped beach makes for a perfect day trip getaway

HOW TO GET HERE- Agonda is at the southernmost part of Goa, about 75 kms away from Panjim BUT only 10-15 minutes away from Palolem beach

STAY- there aren’t too many comfortable options here, given that its relatively unexploited( READ:basic) Fern Gardenia resort is equidistant to both Agonda and Palolem beaches and offers eco logwood cabins set in a beautiful location on a quiet road with a hill as the backdrop

Agonda Beach
Agonda Beach

 Palolem Beach– undoubtedly the best and most popular of all South Goa beaches, this crescent shape beach is surrounded by pretty palms; so gentle are the waters that you’ll feel like you’re swimming in a pool! There has been a huge inflow of visitors to the beach and there are signs of exploitation everywhere (crammed beach shacks and vendors) but the gentle waters make it worth the visit. I recommend following it up with having a meal or tipple at CIARAN’S just off the beach

HOW TO GET HERE: Palolem is approximately 80 kms away from Panjim and around 2 hours away from the Dabolim airport.

STAY- There are many options for accommodation in Palolem, prices range from basic to mid-range. Ciaran’s offers the best in terms of value- stylized wood log cabins with most creature comforts. Another option a few kilometers away from the beach is the Fern Gardenia Resort which has eco log cabins and landscaped gardens with the stunning backdrop of a hill

Palolem beach
Palolem beach

Varca Beach- is best known for its pristine white sands, this relatively large beach spans 7 kms making it amongst the longest of South Goa beaches. Varca is very long and considered a private beach (there are many 5 star hotels that have private entrances from their immaculately pruned gardens)so it remains devoid of large crowds, I found the swimming in the waters fun, with occasional playful waves tipping you over!! Sunset walks on the beach were sublime as the beach seemed to stretch forever. There aren’t too many beach shacks on Varca and food served here is mediocre- so I would recommend sticking to a beer. For dining I recommend Joecons Garden Restaurant in the nearby Benaulim- their fresh seafood selection is vast and live band churning out 80’s hits makes for a great dinner spot.
HOW TO GET HERE: Varca is approximately a 1 hour drive away  from Dabolim Airport
STAY there are plenty of five star luxury resorts along the beach such as Zuri White Sands, we stayed at the Club Mahindra which was right on the beach

Morning walks on the endless Varca beach
Morning walks on the endless Varca beach

Majorda beach- we stumbled into this beach in January and fell in love almost immediately!! Lined with just the right number of beach shacks, Majorda beach’s clear waters and clean golden sands are a hit with travelers visiting from all corners of the world. As you enter the beach from the main parking lot, there’s a shallow stream through which you walk across to get to the beach.
HOW TO GET HERE: Majorda is approximately 18kms away from Dabolim airport or half an hour’s drive away
STAY- Vivenda Dos Palhacos in Utorda( 10 minutes drive away) is a lovingly restored Portuguese mansion centered around the beautiful pool. Owners Charlotte and Simon Hayward(brother-sister) have done a great job in adding a touch of warmth to the service and interiors

Hidden find- not too far from the Palolem and Agonda beaches is the derelict fort of Cabo De Rama. Not much remains inside the fort but the stunning vistas of the surrounding beaches is worth the drive

View atop Cabo de Rama Fort
View atop Cabo de Rama Fort

SLICE OF PORTUGUESE HISTORY- PANJIM and OLD GOA

Old buildings in Panjim
Old buildings in Panjim


Nestled between the Mandovi and Zuari river is the tiny lovable capital of Goa- Panaji or Panjim! The impressive river promenade is lined with elegantly restored Portuguese historical buildings on the left. The Mandovi river on right has a festive air- lined with casino cruise ships and river facing food pavilions. Step into the heart of Panjim- the Latin quarters or “Fontainhas” to find it lined with Portuguese mansions housing galleries and art spaces. My favourite part of Panjim was driving up to the posh Altinho quarters( the Chief Minister’s official residence and former Archbishops home are on this hill) to Sunaparanta( meaning “Golden Goa” in Konkani) Housed in a beautifully restored palacial Portuguese home,this place has become a center for promoting upcoming artists in Goa. I recommend visiting their café Bodega overlooking a pretty courtyard

Another example of Portuguese buildings
Another example of Portuguese  architecture as seen in public buildings in Panjim

A half an hour’s drive away from Panjim city will take you to the religious capital of Goa. It is said that there were more churches in Goa than in any other city in the world and hence was dubbed the ‘Vatican of the East’. There are churches dating as far back to the 16th and 17th centuries, the most notable being the churches of Saint Francis Assisi, Basilica of Bom Jesus and ruins of the monastery of Augustine(which evokes the lines of  Shelley’s famous poem  “Ozymandias of Egypt”)

Bom Jesus church
Bom Jesus church in Old Goa

STAY- Panjim Inn & Panjim Pousada are the best for soaking in the rich culture and heritage of this part of Goa. Panjim Inn retains the air of an Old Portuguese home and Panjim Pousada was formerly a Saraswat Brahmin home. Rooms are moderately priced, the owner Ajit Sukhija and his son Jack are passionate about sharing the history of Panjim and Goa with residents. They also operate the Gallery Gitanjali located just across the Inn.

SHOP- Velha Goa( beside Panjim Inn) is the place to visit for old “Azulejos” Goa tiles and traditional Portuguese ceramic pottery. The Gallery also has a small collection of Mario Miranda prints and wall hangings. Gallery Attic( Alfran Plaza, Panjim) has a good selection of restored antiques and furniture

The attractive entrance to Velha Goa in Fontainhas
The attractive entrance to Velha Goa in Fontainhas

EAT- one can never go hungry in Panjim! There are many restaurants serving up traditional Goan food( think: Vindaloo, Xacuti, Xec Xec, Balchao) Mum’s Kitchen is an award winning restaurant just next to Miramar beach serving up the best Goan food.
A relatively new restaurant creating ripples in Panjim’s food scene is- Black Sheep Bistro(BSB)( Swami Vivekanada Road, Panjim) a hip new place housed in an old building, BSB offers a modern twist to old Goan classics- I particularly liked the Goan sausage( chorizo) on pau with shavings of dark chocolate, young owner Prahlad Sukhtankar is passionate about wine, hence an interesting and affordable wine list!
Ritz Classic is an institution- frequented by locals, Ritz serves up the freshest of seafood drawing influence from the Konkan coast, their fish curry thali is very popular and be prepared to queue up  for a table at this popular eatery

Goan delights at Ritz Panjim
Seafood delights at Ritz Classic Panjim

VIBRANT NIGHTLIFE- CANDOLIM
As you head north of Panjim you reach the tourist hub of Candolim. Candolim was relatively sleepy up until early 2000 which saw an explosion in construction along the beach. Beach shacks, restaurants, guest houses, hostels and a few 4 star hotels jostle for space along the beach- Candolim has come a long way. The Beach isn’t much to write about and over the past few years, I find the presence of vendors and beach sports( jet skis & banana boats) rather annoying.  However, the endless restaurants and bars add to the vibrant and lively air and thus it is best for a night or two.

Candolim Bomras
Bomras in Candolim

Bomras ( Taj Fort Aguada Road) is the toast of the town. The garden setting offers a relaxed dining option with Burmese chef Bomra Jap rustling up modern twists to Burmese food. I particularly liked the Char grilled catch of the day, wash it down with the interesting Lemongrass & Ginger mojito.
Soumyens( Opposite the Candolim Jambaleshwar temple) you wouldn’t think much of the place when you enter the rather unimaginative outdoor seating area, but the food will blow you away- Chef Soumyen’s steaks are a must try as are his desserts- the Chocolate soufflé and Cointreau infused dark chocolate mousse are a must try! Bob’s Inn( beside Novotel Hotel Candolim) – is the place to visit for an affordable tipple, be sure to try the local Feni and be warned that it can mae you very tipsy!

YOGASHALAS AND WELLNESS HAVEN- ASSAGAO
20 minutes away from the bustling and noisy tourist traps of Baga and Calangute, takes you to the village of Assagao. Known for its wealthy residents living in beautifully restored Portuguese bungalows, Assagao is fast emerging as a wellness destination. The notable yoga schools such as Purple Valley and Swan Retreat offer 14 day teacher training programs drawing in people from all over the world. Sushumna Yoga Studio( one of the oldest studios in Goa) recently relocated here and  offers interesting classes in Vinyasa Flow. Assagao has slowly developed into a posh village with upscale galleries and restaurants.

The Villa Goa
The Villa Goa

EAT- Villa Blanche( Badem Church Road, Socolwaddo) run by Yogini is the toast of town, her Sunday brunch is a must. Set admist a shaded pretty garden, the buffet table is laid out in a homely style- on a dining table. There are many treats on offer- Quiches, Seafood Paella, Savoury Pumpkin mousse,  Sweet potato fritters with horse radish, cous cous, hummus, and German potato salad and the desserts are a must try!

Pretty outdoor seating area in Villa blanche
Pretty outdoor seating area in Villa blanche


Gunpowder( 6 Saunto Vaddo, next to People’s tree) is another must go to, serving up South Indian fare, this place has become a hit with tourists and locals alike. Its outdoor setting in atop a small hill gives it an outdoorsy feel
Ciao Bella( Assagao Badem Road) serves up Italian food, much has been said of their fresh pasta and ravioli and their picturesque restaurant is well visited

STAY- accommodation is mainly limited to  newly renovated/ restored Portuguese mansions with luxurious trappings. The Villa Goa is a great choice-note villas are booked on a weekly basis and suitable for a family of 4-6 persons. Another great choice is Villa Sunbeam– owned  by the flamboyant  Delhi socialite Jivi Sethi, the landscaping and pool gives a super plush feeling to this place

SHOP- Cheshire Cat Gallery- run by Karen Peace and Van Andlen, this jewellery store has a unique collection of jewellery set on sterling silver and 22k gold with semi precious stones. Drawing influences from India, England( Victorian era) & South East Asia, each piece is different and beautiful.  They also have a clothing section which stocks Aurobelle and other independent designers.
People Tree– this well known Delhi studio for cool clothing has set up shop in Assagao. Housed in an old bungalow, this is a must visit

THE VILLAGE LIFE- SIOLIM
Its difficult to miss the beautiful Siolim church as one drives in from Assagao. Siolim is recommended for people looking to experience the quiet village life. Not too far from Siolim is the Chapora River and Fort( around 4-5 kms) which makes for a delightful stop for sunset.

The beautifully restored Siolim House
The beautifully restored Siolim House

STAY- Nothing more majestic and historic than the Siolim House, started by Varun Sood and his French wife, this beautifully restored Portuguese mansion is for those looking into to soak a bit of history! A litte further into the lane is Neemrana’s Ishavilas, part of the Neemrana Noble homes- this whimsical and over the top villa is crammed with baroque Thai and Rajasthani pieces- you may love it or hate it.  One things for sure- the two Villa Caretakers from Himachal and manager Anthony are fantastic. On an advance notice of 4-5 hours a special Goan fast can be arranged for Rs 750/ person- their chef will rustle up a delicious home style Goan feast, finger licking good!!

The Neemrana's whimsical property- Ishavilas
The Neemrana’s whimsical property- Ishavilas

DRINK– Teso Waterfront is undoubtably the place to head to for a sundowner. This uber chic outdoor venue offers sweeping views of the Chapora River. Do be warned that food is average.  

The view from Teso Waterfront
Bistro with a view- Teso Waterfront

BEST BEACH NORTH GOA- ASHVEM/MANDREM
Undoubtedly my favourite beach! We only discovered this beach in January this year and came back in March. What great about Ashvem and Mandrem beaches are that they are relatively flat and therefore its relatively easy for long strolls, the grayish sands are dotted with rocks and the gentle waters are a delight to swim in, there are plenty of upscale restaurants and bars which make this beach delightful. Its not odd to spot small groups of people practicing yoga on the beach.

Ashvem beach
The Serene Ashvem Beach

STAY- Aquatica Goa offers relatively reasonable cottages in lush landscaped gardens, its located just across the road from La Plage restaurant, so the beach is no more than 5 minutes away.

Cottages overlooking the lotus pond- Aquatica Ashvem
Cottages overlooking the lotus pond- Aquatica Ashvem

La Cabana Resort is also another moderately priced situated on the beach- the accommodation is in comfortable wooden log cabins and their bar Palasha offers great views of the beach. Another interesting choice is Ashiyana Yoga Retreat and Spa is a great choice for people looking at getting a mix of yoga and the beach. The entire resort is designed in an eco friendly way embracing the elements of the earth,  their yogashala has a fantastic line up of respected visiting teachers from all across the globe

EAT/ DRINK- La Plage is undoubtedly the place to head to for food. Just off the beach, this upscale beach bistro is creating ripples in the Goa food scene. The Grilled sardines and Tuna tartar with wasabi are a must try. Service is notoriously laidback and sometimes downright rude- service staff couldn’t be bothered with you, but the food more than makes up for it, so sit tight! Bardo is the newest uber trendy beach venue to head to for sundowners- they have a good line up of international deejays, so put on those branded sunglasses and head their way to shake a leg.
If you can’t afford to stay at Sur La Mer– I recommend you head there for a romantic dinner. The beautiful hotel and restaurant is centered around the long swimming pool- their Blue Cheese stuffed naan and grilled catch of the day is a must!

Grilled Sardines at La Plage
Grilled Sardines at La Plage
Sundowners at Bardo
Sundowners at the hip Bardo

HOW TO GET HERE- Ashvem and Madrem beaches are around 2 hours drive away from Dabolim airport, the nearest village is Siolim which is around 15-20 minutes away

I’m leaving you with a few images of food and places to visit

Blue cheese naan at Sur La Mer
Blue cheese naan at Sur La Mer
Grilled catch of the day at Sur la Mer, Ashvem
Grilled catch of the day at Sur la Mer, Ashvem
Fresh catch at Fisherman's wharf near Mobor beach in South Goa
Fresh catch at Fisherman’s wharf near Mobor beach in South Goa
The famous restaurant where Charles Sobhraj was caught is also the inventer of the Cafreal- must visit O Coquiero in Porvorim
The famous restaurant where Charles Sobhraj was caught is also the inventer of the Cafreal- must visit O Coquiero  restaurant in Porvorim
Jade Jagger Shop in Ashvem
Jade Jagger Shop in Ashvem
Gallery Gitanjali in Panjim
Gallery Gitanjali in Panjim

WINE TALK: An Indian Dummies guide to understanding wine( Part 1: white wine grape varietals)

My first wine tasting experience was on a cold afternoon in December 2003, I was 21 relishing my first experience of living in the mighty USA. 2003 was an iconic unforgettable year of many “firsts”- like seeing snow for the first time, sharing a flat for the first time with an English and Argentinean girl( who were later to become my dearest friends), eating a bagel for the first time, trying and failing miserably to snowboard for the first time and finally tasting that first glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ.

For someone who, in college days, would get happily high on a Bacardi Breezer or pint of beer, I was nervous & excited. I wasn’t sure of the right words to use for descriptions in tasting notes; I was scared about getting “too” drunk, I was afraid of not having the “right” answers. Well, here’s the good thing about wine tastings: there is no correct answer and there are no correct tasting notes.  The great thing about wine tastings is that they are so personal and subjective to individual tastes. While we can’t always guarantee that you won’t get tipsy, it’s a great learning experience with oodles of fun. Just remember you always have the option of using the spittoon, in case you feel a particular grape isn’t to your liking or worried about getting too high!

Its important to have a conducive setting for a wine tasting, the Europeans always get this right
Its important to have a conducive setting for a wine tasting, the Europeans always get this right

The wine drinking culture in India is still relatively new- limited to opening nights in art galleries, high society social dos & corporate gatherings. It is very rare for an Indian to actually order a glass of wine off the beverage menu. There are a many reasons for this:
For starters, most restaurants charge you a bomb for a glass of wine, some even try to cover the entire cost of the bottle in a single glass- this is a clear indicator that there isn’t as much demand for wine.
Second, the complicated excise and liquor rules in our country require each wine label to be registered in each individual state of India, a result of this is that the market is mainly dominated by big players and companies- Diageo, Pernod Ricard( who have deep pockets to pay individual registration fees for each label which they wish to sell in each state) Smaller niche vineyards and companies simply cannot dream of coming to India due to the high set up cost- which is clearly off-putting.
Third, the infrastructure needed to support this industry is virtually nonexistent by the fact that there are no temperature controlled warehouses or delivery trucks. This is crucial for wine sale and transport. In a country like India where temperatures hover over 35 degrees, wine can easily turn to vinegar. I can’t count the many times I’ve been served wine which is well vinegary or in wine terms “oxidized” – returning it back to the Bar tender is unthinkable or taking the bottle back for a refund at your local liquor store is also out of the question.
Last but not the least, is what I’d like to call the “Colonial” hangover. Indians are hooked onto to Whiskey & Single Malts! Vodka is the most popular choice for the young and trendy. A real man will not be caught drinking wine( although I’m amazed at how many men have taken to drinking cheap red vinegary wine believing it to have health benefits, oh how wrong there are!) However, I am happy to report that this is changing slowly in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, which now have dedicated wine clubs that host regular wine tastings, wine & food pairing events, wine book readings on a weekly basis

The purpose of this article is to introduce an average Indian to the world of wine, without sounding like a presumptuous wine diva. There are still so many things that I don’t know and need to know about wine. What I’m hoping to achieve here is to equip you with the knowledge to enjoy a  glass of wine, to distinguish a “good” and “bad” wine & finally understand that wine appreciation is easily within your grasp and not all of what we call “wine talk” is a load of fluffy crap( in the words of a dear friend)

Step into my shop- the quaint display outside a wine shop in Rudesheim, Germany
Step into my shop- the quaint display outside a wine shop in Rudesheim, Germany

Wine has the power to bring back long lost memories, to make you appreciate the tiny nuances of soil, fruit and nature, to bring out the best in your food and finally to evoke poetry! So let’s go beyond calling the noble grape a “white wine” or “red wine” and look at the main grape varietals and what’s available in India

WHITE WINE VARIETALS

Sauvignon Blanc ( pronounced: soo-veen-yon blon):

The famed vineyards of New Zealand: Marlborough
The famed vineyards of New Zealand: Marlborough

Three words come to my mind when describing a Sauv Blanc: fresh, grassy, crisp. Sauvignon Blanc’s are meant to be drunk early, within 3 years of bottling. Its spiritual home is in France’s Loire Valley in particular Sancerre and Pouilly-Sur-Loire (famous for the Pouilly Fume)
The first notes to reach the nose are: the smell of freshly cut grass, herby & vegetal. On taking the first sip, you will get hints of gooseberries, apples, pears and as a parting note a hint of acidity (which I describe as “crisp”) Sauvignon Blancs are not sweet and oily and are generally pale in color. They pair incredibly well with Seafood andSouth East Asian cuisine (with its notable sweet, sour,spicy notes) My favourite will always be pairing delicate scallops with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc

INDIAN PICKS: Try the Fratelli Sauvignon Blanc ( from their vineyard in Akluj, Mharashtra)- it comes pretty close to all the aromatic tasting notes I’ve mentioned above.. Chateau D’Ori Sauvignon Blanc is also another recommendation
FOREIGN PICKS: Easily available in all duty free shops is the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand. It has all the hallmarks of a stellar Sauvignon Blanc- freshly mowed grass, hints of gooseberries and a clean crispy finish.  Sauvignon Blanc from Vina Tarapaca, Chile   is available in Indian stores and I think makes for a better option when compared to the Indian wines

Cloudy Bay
Cloudy Bay wine from Marlborough, New Zealand

Riesling( pronounced: Rees-ling): my personal favorite,  by far the most important white wine grape varietal and ironically the most underrated too. Riesling can be best described as aromatic, delicate, stony.

Walking through the famous Riesling vineyards Dr Thanisch, Mosel
A sunny day, walking through the stunning Riesling vineyards of Dr Thanisch, Mosel

Riesling is one of the few wines that exercise a fine balance of aromas, fruit flavours and acidity ( what many winemakers call the balance of “sugar and acidity”)  Riesling’s home is in the banks of the gentle Mosel River in Germany where some of the world’ s finest Rieslings are made (https://hungrygrape.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/4/)  Drinkers are greeted by a whiff of petrol on the nose, the palate will reveal nectarine fruits which is almost immediately counter balanced with a sharp acidic stony finish.  Rieslings age beautifully and are also available in sweeter versions. I find that Rieslings pair beautifully with spicy Indian curries and South East Asian Cuisine

INDIAN PICKS: Try the Sula Riesling if you’re fond of your Rieslings being sweet and less acidic. Goes very well with our heavy curries, I would recommend serving it chilled
FOREIGN PICKS: Domaine Trimbach or Dr Loosen from Mosel/ Bernkastel ( Germany) are the top picks that best expresses the beauty of a Riesling. TIP-Please read the label carefully. German’s classify their Riesling as follows- “Trocken” or dry;  “Halbtrocken”  or semi dry; “Spatlese” made from late harvest grapes semi sweet to sweet; “Auslese” which is a select harvest of ripened grapes taste is sweet and perfect as a dessert wine.
Rieslings from Alsace region( in France) are also well known and slightly sweeter

Chardonnay( Pronounced Shard-donn-ay): The queen of all grapes and the most popular white wine varietals. Alas! Very few Indian winemakers make this grape, so very little to be found.
Chardonnay can be best described as fleshy, buttery, oaky, honey-ed, butterscotch-y. It is a versatile wine that pairs well with all cuisines.

The Chardonnay Grape
The Chardonnay Grape

DID U KNOW? That Champagne is made exclusively with 100% chardonnay grapes
Almost all the white wine from the famed Burgundy region is made from Chardonnay( including Chablis) A Chardonnay ages very well some as many as three decades!
INDIAN PICKS: Reveilo Chardonnay Reserve is a must try. Its fruity, luscious flavours are balanced with a whiff of French oak. It’s also perhaps the only Indian winery, I can think of  making Chardonnay here in India.
FOREIGN PICKS: Columbia Crest Chardonnay from Washington( USA) is  available in most Indian liquor stores, it has all the tick marks for a hallmark chardonnay.  For a couple of hundred rupees more(than the Indian whites), try the Cono Sur Chardonnay from Chile.  If you have deep pockets, look at getting a Chardonnay from the most legendary towns of Burgundy: Chassagne Montrachet & Puligny Montrachet. Try sticking with a classification of Appellation Village or Appellation Premier Cru/ 1er Cru. Do remember these wines are extremely tannic when young, so best to keep them in a cellar and open at least 5 years from bottling date!

Chassagne Montrachet- a fine choice
Chardonnay from Chassagne Montrachet, a great choice for those with deeper pockets

Other cheaper options( under Rs 3000) that make for everyday drinking include Chardonnay from Australia- Bird in Hand-  Adelaide Hills Stonier- Mornington Peninsular, Victoria

CHENIN BLANC: The most well known grape varietal in India, since almost all the Indian winemakers produce this. Chenin Blanc originated from France in the Loire Valley. Chenin Blanc’s are usually very easy to drink and fruity.

Chenin blanc grape

INDIAN PICKS: Sula Chenin Blanc or York Chenin Blanc are good value easy drinking picks. The Grover’s Art Collection Chenin Blanc is also worth trying, I found it to have more depth
FOREIGN PICKS: South Africa produces excellent Chenin Blanc’s, try Simonsig Chenin Blanc from the Stellenbosch region.

Viognier( Pronunciation: Vee-o-nier): Perfumed, full bodied, nectarine, peaches & apricot are the thoughts that come to my mind when I think of this grape. Do be warned that they are fairly acidic too. Viognier is slowly catching on in the wine making circles and shows tremendous potential
INDIAN PICKS: Grover’s Art Collection Viognier is my favourite, best expressing the perfumed notes, do remember to chill for at least 12 hours prior to serving!
FOREIGN PICKS: Those with deep pockets must at some point try the famous Viognier from Condrieu( Northern Rhone, France) bottles can cost anywhere upwards of $ 100( USD) but is guaranteed to create lasting memories- pure heaven!

Viognier from Condrieu, Northern Rhone( House of Paul Jaboulet)
Memorable wine tasting at one of the many "Weinguts" in Cochem, Germany
Memorable wine tasting at one of the many
“Weinguts” in Cochem, Germany

There are so many other wine varietals that deserve special mention and that I can’t possibly go into detailing for lack of time, but here they are: Pinot Grigio( a relatively light and easy wine that was drunk to death in America in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s), Aligote( grown entirely in Burgundy it is used in making the aperitif Kir), Sylvaner( a beautiful semi sweet wine found in the mountains Alsace) , Gewurztraminer( my favourite, a heavily scented sweet wine from Germany resonating with notes of litchi and roses), Semillon( used in making the famous dessert wine from Sauternes, France) Muscat( a lovely sweet fortified dessert wine originating from France) , Pedro Ximenz( famed for Sherry originating from Spain), Prosecco( a zesty sparkling wine originating from Spain)

Here’s my guide on how to serve and store your white wine:

1)     Always store your white wine in the refrigerator with temperature ranging from 8-10 degrees

2)     Invest in an ice bucket which you can fill with ice & cold water.  Just as you have poured your guests the first glass, leave the bottle in the ice bucket to stay chilled. When pulling out of the bucket, remember to wipe off the water droplets with a clean cloth napkin

wine bucket

3)     Get a corkscrew: Although most white wine bottles in India have a screw tap, some may have a cork and are required to be opened to with a corkscrew, this is easily available in nearly all supermarkets

wine corkscrew

4)     White wine goes very well with Indian starters, salads and soups. I usually serve it as an aperitif or with my first course( soup/starter/salad) followed by a decent medium bodied red wine for mains

5)     Fruity  white wines- Rieslings, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc

6)     Slightly dry white wines- Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Rieslings( “trocken” and “halbtrocken”)

7)     Perfumed/ Floral white wines- Viognier, Gewurztraminer

8)     Excellent Dessert wines- Semillon, Pedro Ximenez, Sylvaner, Muscat

Island of Serendipity: Sri Lanka

kalkudah beach-deserted and quiet
A deserted and pristine beach in the East coast-  Kalkudah beach

A thick blanket of clouds seemed to cover the island on our descent from the skies. The monsoons had just arrived over a week ago leading to turbulent weather, a shaky landing with little visibility made our touchdown to Colombo rather “memorable”- only in a not-so-nice-way! Thankfully all gloomy thoughts were dispelled on stepping out of the aircraft, replaced with an energy to explore each and every corner of this small nation that many call the Island of Serendipity

A male tusker in Minneriya National Park
A male tusker in Minneriya National Park

No stranger to us Indians, Sri Lanka has only recently emerged, in 2009, from an ugly war that lasted many decades (With the LTTE- Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam demanding a separate country/state for Tamils)Sri Lanka gained independence from the British empire in 1948. The late 1960’s & 1970’s saw a revival in the free market economy. Many artists, architects, philanthropists and writers from Europe flocked to this island nation only to flee the civil war in the 1980’s that divided the country for nearly 3 decades. It is estimated that over 100,000 Tamils & Sinhalese lost their lives in the war, including the assassination of the Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The last phase of the war was particularly gruesome & many war crime atrocities being committed.  Fast forward to 2013, I am happy to report that all seems well ( at least on the surface) in this country that is gearing up to be the “next big thing” in Tourism in South Asia. Not surprising why- Stunning natural coastlines on the east & west coast; Ancient Buddhist relics and temples dating back to the 3rd century BC; Diverse wildlife and national parks committed to protecting them; Historical buildings & forts that are a testament to the colonial influence of the Portuguese, Dutch & British; friendly laid back largely Buddhist citizens and finally delicious food. Sri Lanka seems to have all the tick(ed) marks for a winning holiday destination

Frescoes dating back to the 3rd century BC in Lion rock Sigiriya
Frescoes dating back to the 3rd century BC in Lion rock Sigiriya

If you are planning to visit Sri Lanka, may I recommend that you spend at least 10 days, of which a good 3 days are lost to road travel. Roads although good (by this I mean free of potholes), getting around from the east to west coast is an arduous task, mainly because there exists very few highways.  The strict implementation of speed limits and two lane highways means that you will cover a distance of 50km in 1.5-2 hours. So a distance of 300 kms can take anywhere between 8-10 hours depending on traffic and cops! Do keep this is mind, when getting an itinerary together for your trip.

My recommendations on places to visit in Sri Lanka are based out of the fact that I visited when monsoons were in full swing in the east and south coast. If you have done your homework, you will clearly see that I missed the following: the Dutch fortress town of Galle, the beaches of Unawatuna & Mirissa, Yala National Park & Arugam bay. That’s what’s going to tempt me to come back for in my next holiday (which I foresee will happen in March 2014) Sri Lanka has dazzled me much in the same way as Bali, I’m yearning to go back and explore the east and south coast

BENTOTA & HIKKADUWA

Bentota beach in the afternoon
Bentota beach on a rainy afternoon
Sunset in Bentota beach
The clouds lift out to reveal a beautiful sunset in Bentota beach

My sister in law’s 50th birthday brought us to Sri Lanka in June, the main celebrations being centered in Bentota. We stayed at the charming Amal Villas-owned by a German and Sri Lankan couple. Having booked out all the villas we were happy to be chilling by the infinity swimming pool which made it feel like we are wading through paddy fields. Their restaurant is undoubtedly the best in Bentota and is just across the road.  To get to the beach you needed to cross a railway track, which was scary but fun! Bentota beach was lovely, however there was no question of swimming out due to strong currents, we were happy to spend our evenings watching the sun go down in a deserted beach (being the off peak season) A short stop at the Bentota Sea- Turtle Rehabilitation center ( 15 minutes away from Amal Villas) is a must especially for those with children- you can take a peek at the endangered olive ridley turtles amongst others such as the odd green turtle that lost its flap

The pool at Amal Villas Bentota
The pool at Amal Villas Bentota

STAY- Amal Villas (http://amal-villa.com/en/hotel-sri-lanka.html) Rooms start from Rs 6500 onwards. Its sister property Club Villas(http://club-villa.com/)  is a chic and upscale alternative, rooms start from Rs 9000+ taxes

The turtle rehabilitation center in Bentota is a must visit
The sea turtle rehabilitation center in Bentota is a must visit
The gentle waves in Hikkaduwa Beach
The gentle waves in Hikkaduwa Beach

A day trip to the lively Hikkaduwa beach is a must. Hikkaduwa was famous for its coral reef which was destroyed thanks to the 2004 tsunami. Its calm and turquoise waters make it an absolute delight to swim in. Hikkaduwa boasts of a lively nightlife with many beach shacks/ pubs playing live music and serving good seafood. STAY- Chhaya Tranz Hikkaduwa(http://www.chaayahotels.com/chaayatranz.htm) Rooms start from Rs 8000 onwards

The view from the sundeck in Chhaya Tranz Hikkaduwa
The view from the sundeck in Chhaya Tranz Hikkaduwa

NUWARAELIYA

Gentle green hills laden with tea bushes seem to stretch out as far as the eye can see. Old colonial buildings, the botanic gardens, streets with English names, large roundabouts & quaint cottages, have deservedly earned this town the rightful title of “New England”  Did you know that Sri Lanka is now the world’s third largest exporter of tea? This is all mainly accounted by tea produced in this region. One can’t help but fall in love with the “old world charm” of this town. We stayed a little further out at the Heritance Tea factory( which I recommend seeing putting aside the nightmare of check out with rude and arrogant managers)  the hotel in itself is an institution- a working tea factory surrounded by nothing but tea estates.

Tea gardens in full view at Nuwara Eliya
Tea gardens in full view at Nuwara Eliya

STAY- Grand hotel(http://www.grand-hotel-nuwara-eliya-sri-lanka.lakpura.com/)  in the heart of  Nuwara Eliya town retaining its stately British colonial ambience, rooms are simple and cosy. Rates start from Rs 8000 onwards. The Langdale by Amaya(http://langdalebyamaya.com/ )is also highly recommended . Room rates start from Rs 9000 onwards
NOTE- do carry along a light sweater as evenings can get cold. If you aren’t carrying anything, fear not, there are many shops near the main bus/train terminus that sell “export surplus” woolen clothes!

PASSIKUDDAH

A panoramic shot of Passikuddah Beach
A panoramic shot of Passikuddah Beach
The pool at Centara Passikuddah
The pool at Centara Passikuddah

A back breaking 300km or 10 hour journey bought us to a tiny village in the east coast of Sri Lanka. Up until 2009, Passikudah was in the hands of the Tamil Tiger rebels having been completely cut off from the rest of the world. Today Passikudah is tipped as being Sri Lanka’s answer to the upscale Nusa Dua with luxury  5 star properties already dotting the beach which many (including me) consider to be one of the best in Sri Lanka. Powdery white sands, gentle turquoise waters allowing you to swim up to a kilometer in & fantastic coral reef( destroyed closer to shore unfortunately) makes this a top draw. Visit now before it also gets commercially exploited. There is no nightlife to speak off so dinners are mainly restricted to the resorts

Snorkelling in Passikuddah
Snorkelling in Passikuddah

STAY- We stayed at the Centara Passikuddah, a Thai luxury chain and newest entrant to the 5 star hotel scene dominating the beach. Rooms are large & spacious with the usual impersonal 5 star décor you can get in any hotel across the globe. We got a sweet deal on a pre-opening rate which was Rs 6500/ night making it also the cheapest in Passikuddah!( http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/cps/cps_default.asp) If you’re looking for a resort with individuality stay at Maalu Maalu offering luxury accommodation in stilts and thatched roofs(http://www.maalumaalu.com/) Room prices start from Rs 9000 onwards
The restaurant at Uga Bay Resort next to Maalu Maalu is a must eat- their grilled king prawns are to die for!

The inviting pool at Maalu Maalu Passikudah
The inviting pool at Maalu Maalu resort in Passikudah

HABARANA- MINNERIYA NATIONAL PARK & POLONNARUWA

Panoramic shot of a herd of elephants in Minneriya National Park
Panoramic shot of a herd of elephants in Minneriya National Park
An elephant swimming in the lake
An elephant swimming in the lake

This town formed our base to explore the elephant sanctuary in Minneriya National Park & the ancient city of Pollonaruwa. Minneriya National Park is known across the country as having the highest number of elephants in the wild, it is said that in the dry months of August and September, visitors have seen herds of over 200 elephants gather in the lake at dusk. I considered myself lucky to a) spot a male tusker, usually very shy and hardly seen b) to see an elephant descend into the lake and splash itself with water and c) See two herds of 20 something elephants. All this in a month which received very heavy rainfall is truly lucky. Elephants aside, the park has a diverse eco system- migratory cranes, wild bison, wild geese, peacocks, langurs all made our safari worthwhile. To soak in nature’s abundance is the best feeling ever. A safari with pick up from hotel in Habarana is Sri Lankan Rs 5000, park entry fees is INR Rs 500/ person.

   
   

  

Panorama of Cinnamon Lodge lake

An evening visit to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa is a must. This is Sri Lanka’s second oldest city( after Anuradhapura) created during the reign of King Parikrambahu in the 12th century. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site as it still contains near- intact ancient buildings set in a grid like layout of what was once a glorious city.

Ancient Ruins of Pollonaruwa
Ancient Ruins of Pollonaruwa

STAY- Cinnamon Lodge (http://www.cinnamonhotels.com/hotel.php?hotel=3253) all the way! From its stunning grounds comprising of a lake filled with migratory birds to the monkeys sitting on our verandah, the Cinnamon Lodge really gave us the feeling of being next to wildlife. The spacious and comfortable rooms & restaurant makes it my recommendation. Rooms start from Rs 8,000 onward

SIGIRIYA AND DAMBULLA

No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a visit to the “Lion Rock” Sigiriya and Cave temple of Dambulla that form part of the cultural triangle. Indian nationals get a 50% discount on tickets (around Rs 500/person) It is advisable to wear comfortable walking shoes as the climb up ( especially Lion Rock) can be unforgiving. It is thus advisable to visit before 9am.

The “Lion Rock” in Sigiriya

Sigiriya was the glorious capital of King Cassapa, who meticulously planned his impregnable palace at the foot of a 370 metre granite rock. Visitors wanting to head up the final stairwell and palace are greeted by the daunting sight of a Lion’s paw carved onto the rock. It is said that with growing time and fear of invasion he moved his palace to the top of the rock. Sigirya was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site forming the best example of ancient urban planning. The frescoes in the caves of the rock date back to the 3rd century BC were said to have been inhabited and painted by monks.

The stunning view from the palace on top of the rock
The stunning view from the palace on top of the rock

Dambulla is famous for its cave temples carved beneath a massive hanging rock. The rock standing tall at 150m is said to be a place of worship dating back to 1st century BC( when the frescoes were painted) The shrines within the temple are a classic example of 18th century art from SriLanka, Kandy.

The Dambulla Cave Temple
The Dambulla Cave Temple

STAY- Amaya Lake on the banks of Lake Kandalama is 8km away from Dambulla. Room rates start from Rs 5000 and up

SRI LANKAN FOOD

A traditional Sri Lankan meal cooked in clayware
A traditional Sri Lankan meal cooked in clayware
Sri Lankan Lamprais an absolute delight
Sri Lankan Lamprais an absolute delight

Sri lankan buffet for breakfast
Sri lankan meal condiments- pickles
Sri lankan meal condiments- pickles

Sri Lankan Lagoon Crab Curry    Coconut water as served in all restaurants

HOW TO GET HERE

The best way to get into Sri Lanka is flying into Colombo International airport- which has several connections with Chennai( India), Kuala Lumpur( Malaysia),
Bangkok( Thailand) and Singapore. The airfare from Chennai airport cost us Rs 11,000 nett return( 1 hour 15 minutes flight time). So my advice is book at least 3 months ahead to avail of good deals. The great part about connections from South East Asia is that most budget airlines such as Tiger Airways & Air Asia offer good deals sometime as low as SGD 150 return( nett)

GETTING AROUND:

The most sensible thing to do if you’re looking to explore Sri Lanka in 10 days is hire a car( which comes with a driver) Almost everybody seems to be doing that. Fact is, it is very expensive hiring a car for point to point services( as they charge you for coming back) Car hire charges for a large van which can accommodate up to 6 people is $ 38( USD) a day or 100 km( whichever is higher) smaller cars will be between $25-30( USD) a day or 100 km( whichever is higher) We used an agency Sri Lanka Exclusive Tours( Email: sle.tours@live.com) Manager name Sampat ( Telephone no:+94 75 4773100) Their driver Buddika ( Phone: +94 772244684) was pleasant, un- intrusive, well informed & our informal tour guide for the 11 days. Most hotels have provision for providing accommodation & food for drivers but do budget around Sri Lankan Rs 200/ day for food in places where they don’t offer the same

THINGS TO KNOW:

1) HOTEL BOOKINGS: All hotel room prices quoted here are in INR(unless stated otherwise) most hotels have additional taxes varying from 15-25%, this needs to be added to the final room price. Booking.com and agoda.com constantly have deals but do keep in mind that their rates are excluding taxes, most hotels in Sri Lanka require a pre-payment so in all likelihood your credit card may be charged at the time of booking

2) CURRENCY: The Sri Lankan rupee is roughly half of the Indian rupee. Although accommodation is expensive( equivalent to India) eating and drinking out is relatively cheap with a fancy meal costing you anywhere between INR 800-1500/ person( inclusive of taxes+ bottle of wine) Otherwise budget around INR Rs 500-800/meal at a beach shack

3) SHOPPING:
Stones:  Sri Lanka is famous for its rubies and sapphires, its important that if you are keen to shop, ditch your driver! Most driver’s get a commission from taking their clients to these stores, the commission can vary from 20-30%, which will be accounted for in the prices they quote you. If you are really keen to purchase sapphire do note the price for a single carat can go upwards of USD $300, depending on the cut, colour and clarity. It is advisable to purchase the stone and do the setting in your own country. Stone quality used in silver settings are poor. Always ask for a certificate- most good jewellers will ensure they give you this. Finally don’t be ashamed to bargain, big jewelers are also willing to cut their prices by at least 30%!
Clothing: Sri Lanka is also famous for its cotton and export surplus for all the big brands such as FCUK, Zara & H&M etc Cotton Collection and Odel in Colombo are worth visiting.
Home accessories  If you are looking for home accessories, head to Paradise road in Colombo/Bentota which is an absolute delight!
Sri Lankan masks: are a must buy, each mask having a particular function/meaning, some are made to ward off evil spirits, others are for good health and prosperity

Masks for sale
Masks for sale
Mask maker busy at work
Mask maker busy at work

Noritake: In India, Noritake dinnerware is synonymous with luxury, it’s a sign that  you have finally arrived and I hadn’t quite figured out the Indian obsession with the Japanese dinnerware maker, till I visited their factory outlet in Colombo. The attention to detail and dinnerware is truly remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is their prices- at least 40-50% cheaper than the retail price.  Address of FACTORY OUTLET: Warakamura, Matale   94-66-224432 / 2244127 / 30 and FACTORY OUTLET 2: No: 280; High-level Road; Colombo 06.  94-11-2816363

Noritake Factory outlet outside Kandy in Matale
Noritake Factory outlet outside Kandy in Matale

Monsoon in the hills: Kurseong

This was not the title I had in mind. To begin with, I was really looking forward to a cool & sunny escapade in the Eastern Himalayas, our annual summer retreat.  The relentless 42 degree heat in Hyderabad was beginning to get to us and a holiday in the mountains seemed like the right remedy. On reaching the town of Kurseong, we were in for a surprise- claps of thunder and a sudden outburst heralded our arrival at our family hotel- Cochrane Place.  My initial response was “Our holiday is doomed!”, but how wrong I was! In the course of the next few days we discovered that  there is a certain magic when thunder roars through the valley, clouds float in, rain pitter- patters on your window and the sweet smell of the wet earth wafts when the clouds finally part….

Clouds floating in to the magical Dow Hill Forest in Kurseong
Clouds drift through pine trees in the magical Dow Hill Forest in Kurseong

There wasn’t much to do(as I suppose is the case when you visit a hill station the monsoons) I spent the days in a cozy nook of our hotel tucked into a book ( In my case 50 shades Freed), drank copious amounts of tea, dug into delicious steamed momos ( local dumplings) and when the rain settled, put on my walking shoes for a stroll nearby. Being surrounded by three famous tea estates- Makaibari, Ambootia Organic and Castleton,an ordinary early evening stroll takes on an exotic turn with scenic walking trails  snaking through picturesque tea estates, giving you a glimpse of the lives of the locals.

Sunsets in Kurseong, the view from the car park of our hotel- Cochrane Place
Sunsets in Kurseong, the view from the balcony of the family suite room- Cochrane Place hotel
A panoramic view of the Tea estates of Gopaldhara
A panoramic view of the Tea estates of Gopaldhara- on our drive towards Darjeeling
Two teenage monks head to a nearby field to play cricket
Two teenage monks head to a nearby field to play cricket
Panoramic view of tea gardens and pine forest
Panoramic view of tea gardens and pine forest in the background
a tiny glimpse of the Kanchenjunga as seen on Day 2 of our stay. Picture taken from our cafe
A tiny glimpse of the Kanchenjunga as seen through the thick blanket of clouds seen. Picture taken from our cafe
Shadows of clouds in the Ambootia valley as seen from Cochrane Place
Shadows of rainclouds in the Ambootia valley as seen from Cochrane Place

KURSEONG……where?
Kurseong literally means ” Land of white orchids”  Rightfully so there are plenty of wild white orchids strewn around fields and pots in the local homes.  This town was virtually absent from the tourist map till 2000, the year my husband’s family bought the ruined bungalow ( now hotel) Over the years visitors have been bowled over by its “small town” vibe; the fact that it is located an hour before Darjeeling, makes it a must stop now for travellers heading up or down from Darjeeling/Sikkim. The altitude of 4860 ft ensures that it never gets too warm or too cold in winters ( staying a couple of degrees above freezing point)

Lillies in one of the many nurseries in Kurseong
Lillies in one of the many nurseries in Kurseong
Wild Hydrangeas lined on  public roads add a charm to the town
These wild Hydrangeas lined up on roads add a certain charm to the town

Kurseong is mainly famous for 2 things:
1) Home to three world famous tea estates namely- Makaibari, Ambootia( Organic) and Castleton
2) Boarding point for the UNESCO World Heritage Toy Train

HOW TO GET HERE
The nearest train station is New Jalpaiguri and Airport is Bagdogra ( Both 1 hour 30 minutes drive to our hotel)
There are direct flights from Delhi and Mumbai daily, otherwise most flights are routed through Kolkata

WHERE TO STAY
I’m going to be extremely partial here and recommend our hotel- Cochrane Place, oozing with old world charm. What started as an ambitious family project with a mere 6 rooms has steadily grown to 31 rooms. Timeless memorabilia from the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, antiques, artwork, lithographs and other knick knacks fill the walls of the hotel. Most of the rooms retain a certain individuality and are furnished with antique teak furniture. Our award winning cafe is the place to head to for food. Inspired by the colonial heritage, most recipes featured in the menu date back to the times of the British Raj. Must try:  Shepherd’s Pie, Mrs Framjee’s Chicken Curry, Steamed Ginger pudding with Chai sauce. The Tea bar features over 30 different blends of teas.

Cozy and affordable standard rooms in Cochrane
Sampling the paan chai
Sampling the paan chai at Chai Country
Cafe chai country- recipient of the TIMES NOW Foodie awards in 2011 for Best Experimental cuisine and Best Beverage
Cafe chai country- recipient of the TIMES NOW Foodie awards in 2011 for Best Experimental cuisine and Best Beverage

THINGS TO DO IN KURSEONG

Tea tours: Walk through the lush tea gardens to approach the tea factory of either Ambootia or Makaibari- should you want to visit the tea factory simply contact our Resident Manager Ravindra Kang who will make necessary arrangements. Understand the process of making  tea from the leaves to rolled and dried form. Finally head back to the hotel to unwind with a tea tasting session at Cochrane Place

One of the many tea walking trails outside our hotel
One of the many tea walking trails outside our hotel

Toy Train museum and Toy train ride: The Kurseong Railway Station houses an informative museum on the UNESCO World Heritage Toy train ( Darjeeling himalayan Railways) This is best visited before hopping on to the Steam engine locomotive train that goes all the way to Darjeeling ( mind you it takes a good 3-4 hours) For those that can’t fathom spending so much time on the train, its best to hop off in Sonada, wherein lies the Sonada monastery that contains the mummified remains of the Kabje Kalu Rinpoche.

UNESCO World heritage toy train
UNESCO World heritage toy train

Hiking Trails and Dow Hill Forest: there are many scenic hiking trails, a map is easily available from the front desk of Cochrane Place. Trails range from easy to difficult and may require drop off/pick up with car.  The Dow hill forest is worth visiting for a day picnic- with magnificent pine trees and peaceful setting makes it worth spending some time

Makaibari tea factory as seen from outside our hotel
Makaibari tea factory as seen from outside our hotel

WORD OF CAUTION FOR THOSE VISITING IN MONSOON
Monsoons in the hills appeal to the few that prefer relaxed and a slow approach to their holiday. It can rain non stop for hours at a stretch causing landslides thereby restricting your daily sightseeing itinerary. When heading out for walks, its important that you wear leach guards or knee high socks to prevent the blood sucking leaches from latching on to your dear ( juicy) legs. Its best not to go with a fixed itinerary as that is likely to change depending on the weather. Surrender yourself to mother nature and be pleasantly surprised with where your day will take you!

I’m going to leave you with an image of our hotel’s official dog- Chuggy. He greets visitors and is always available for a cuddle!!

Chuggy
Chuggy

Makan time:Street food Singapore

In a follow up to my recent blog about eating out in Singapore, I thought I would come up with an easy guide on what to eat in terms of street food.  Its ironic that my initial impression of Singapore turned out to be a lasting ( hopefully accurate) impression of the general South Asian attitude to food- “there must be food in every corner, plenty of food, for thou shall eat!”  It seems that anytime is a good time for Makan( when roughly translated from Malay, it means “eat”)
It’s hard not to escape sampling or nibbling an odd bite or two, especially when every office building, shopping mall & high street is crammed to full capacity with food courts catering to a gamut of cuisines, reflecting the cultural diversity of a city island nation that is made up of so many immigrants from all over Asia.

So I thought I’d come up with a guide of what to try when here..

GETTING STARTED WITH BREAKFAST
The best place to sample the local breakfast is in a Kopitiam in a food court. Other satisfying options are bigger chains such as Ya Kun Kaya Toast and the Toast box that offer a standardized selection of breakfast staples

Nothing better than a Kopi O and Kaya toast to get you started for the day
Nothing better than a Kopi O and Kaya toast to get you started for the day

Kopi O – I can never get over its caffeine kick! Kopi O is strong bitter black coffee said to be traditionally roasted with lard, thankfully that’s all in the past & I am to believe that the roasting process typically omits the lard

Kopi C- is nothing but Kopi O with the addition of sweetened condensed milk. It still gives you a good kick thanks to the high caffeine and sugar content

Teh Tarik- inspired by our Indian masala chai and filter coffee foam, Teh Tarik uses a strong brew tea with evaporated/condensed milk. It is then poured “pulled” back and forth two cups to give an attractive foam on the top

Kaya toast
– “Kaya” refers to a spread made with coconut cream, pandan, eggs & sugar. This delicious spread is applied on freshly toasted thick bread with generous helping of butter and makes for a delicious accompaniment to your Kopi

Rice Porridge-similar to a congee, here bits of meat or seafood are added to a porridge base of rice usually topped with spring onions, fried shallots & garlic bits and sometimes chilli padi. A very popular Asian breakfast choice for people who prefer savory to sweet

SINGAPOREAN CHINESE
This unique cuisine was born when the first wave of Chinese immigrations arrived from many different provinces. The provinces of Cantonese, Hainan, Hokkien & Sichuan have the most dominant influence on food.

Char Kway Teow- stir fried thick rice flour noodles in dark soya sauce ( sweet) with prawns, seafood, leafy Chinese spinach & bean sprouts. Traditionally it was considered a fatty dish for laborers as it incorporated using pork lard, thankfully that’s all in past as healthier cooking oils are used

Singapore's favorite Char Kway Teow
Singapore’s favorite Char Kway Teow

Carrot Cake- a rather misleading name in my opinion, as it contains nothing next to a carrot but is delicious nonetheless. Steamed rice flour and radish cakes are diced to be stir fried with garlic, egg, prawns and sometimes dark soya sauce( sweet) or regular light soya sauce.  Carrot cake is usually garnished with a generous dose of spring onions.

Hokkien ( Prawn) Mee- popularly known as “prawn mee” noodles is derived from stir frying egg noodles and rice vermicelli( bee hoon) in pork lard and adding eggs, prawns, seafood,  bean sprouts & soy sauce. It is almost always served with a Sambal sauce and lime.

Mee rebus– Boiled yellow noodles ( Hokkien) are put in a bowl with a thick curry like gravy. It is usually garnished with a boiled egg, limes, spring onions, green chillies, shallots, beansprouts & tofu

Mee Rebus
Mee Rebus

Bak kut Teh-a dark colored delicious pork rib soup rich in flavors due to the addition of star anise, fennel seeds, cloves and cinnamon in the broth

Heartwarming Bakutteh
Heartwarming Bakutteh


Chicken Rice-
derived from Hainan, this delicate dish is made by serving steamed chicken( usually cut into small pieces) over fragrant rice with a chilli paste. It is usually almost always accompanied with a light chicken soup, sliced cucumbers & Kailan( baby spinach)

The famous Hainanese Chicken rice
The famous Hainanese Chicken rice

Char Siew Rice- “Char Siew” refers to diced pieces of boneless barbequed Chinese pork ( Cantonese origins) It is commonly found in Chicken rice/ Roast duck stalls and served over steamed rice topped with dark “sweet” soy sauce & diced cucumbers

Yong Tau fu-
traditional preparation where tofu is stuffed with a prawn/ pork paste. Now it broadly encompasses a variety of vegetables stuffed with the prawn/pork paste such as eggplant, okra/ladies finger, bitter gourd & mushroom

Mapu Tofu– a traditional dish of the Sichuan province. Extremely spicy yet delicious, it is typically composed of tofu with ground pork, fermented black beans and Sichuan peppers.

The spicy Mapu Tofu
The spicy Mapu Tofu

Chilli Crab – You cannot come to Singapore & not try a Chilli or Black Pepper crab! The red tangy sauce is flavored with notes of garlic & vinegar. The sauce is then thickened by adding flour & egg. This is best enjoyed with a bun to soak up the delicious sauce. The Black Pepper crab is equally popular

Singapore's national dish the- Chilli Crab
Singapore’s national dish- the Chilli Crab

Bak Hwa- is the Cantonese version of Barbequed Pork with a unique sweet salty flavor profile. Bak Hwa is commonly added to most rice and noodle preparations

A busy Bakhwa store in Chinatown
A busy Bakhwa store in Chinatown

SINGAPOREAN-MALAYSIAN

Popiah- the Malay version of a fresh spring roll usually served on the side with a hoisin or peanut sauce. The base is typically a paper thin wheat pancake with bean sprouts, lettuce leaves,  grated carrots & turnips & finely chopped peanuts

Laksa- This classic Peranakan dish is said to have its roots in Penang, where the ethnic Chinese settled down to create a unique cuisine incorporating local ingredients. Laksa refers to a thick coconut based noodle soup to which assorted seafood is added with beansprouts, chilli padi & sambal sauce as a garnish

The Singapore Laksa
The Singapore Laksa

Fish Otak Otak- a classic Peranakan dish is prepared my mixing the fish with garlic, lemongrass, coconut milk & chilli padi paste. This mashed fish is then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed before being placed on an open fire grill rendering a smoky taste to the final preparation

Nasi Lemak– Traditionally eaten by the Malays during breakfast, Nasi Lemak refers to a rice cooked in coconut milk. Pandan leaves are usually added to enhance the flavours.

Rojak- when literally translated means “Wild mix” in Malay. This refers to a preparation where bean sprouts, Chinese greens, cucumber, fried tofu & fried pineapple are tossed together with chopped peanuts and a spicy prawn paste

Satay- the quintessential Malay street food favorite remains as ever so popular here in Singapore. Served in bunches of 10 with a sweet peanut dipping sauce, Satay consists of pieces of meat placed on skewer sticks and grilled over an open flame with generous doses of oil and peanut sauce slathered to give it a lovely brown glaze.

A perfect accompaniment to your chilled tiger beer- Satay
A perfect accompaniment to your chilled tiger beer- Satay

SINGAPOREAN- INDIAN
A unique cuisine created by the first wave of Indian settlers in Malaysia, today Singaporean “Indian” food is extremely popular and can be best sampled in institutions such as- Samy’s Curry or Muthu’s Curry. I’m always amused by how Singaporeans excitedly exclaim “ I love Indian food especially your Roti Prata and Fish head curry!” to which I always say this is virtually unheard off in India! ( Except maybe in Bengal and Kerala!)

Fish Head curry-
A spicy and sour stew like dish comprising of the head of a Red snapper fish cooked in various Indian masalas with assorted vegetables and tamarind rendering the dish the loved ‘sour’ taste

Another Singapore favorite- Fish Head curry
Another Singapore favorite- Fish Head curry

Roti Parata( pronounced “Praaaataa”)- similar to our Indian paratha( or flat bread cooked in a pan) only slightly more softer and stringy. Its usually served with a flavorful curry but now we find interesting variations such as Ice cream, cheese and even durians!

Comfort food Roti Prata
Comfort food Roti Prata

SINGAPOREAN- INDONESIAN
Nasi Goreng- The Indonesian version of a fried rice. Steamed rice is tossed with greens, seafood/chicken, shallots, garlic and a generous dose of sweet soy sauce also called “Kecap Manis”. Usually served with fried egg as a garnish and satay too.

Nasi Goreng
Nasi Goreng- served with satays

Nasi Padang – originated from the Padang province in Indonesia. This refers to an Indonesian buffet which typically consists of steamed rice- yellow & white, served with many choices of meat and vegetarian preparations.

A typical Nasi Padang stall in a food court
A typical Nasi Padang stall in a food court

Rendang- diced pieces of beef are marinated with a spicy paste consisting of lemongrass, garlic, shallots, ginger, turmeric & galangal; it is then slowly cooked with coconut milk for at least 3-4 hours giving the meat a divinely rich taste!

Rendang curry

DESSERTS
I must admit I’m not a big fan of South East Asian desserts which usually incorporate red beans and fruits. Having said that this is my personal choice, so I would recommend that you be adventurous and try some of these interesting concoctions

Iced Kachang- grated ice is packed into ice balls and served with sweet red beans, jelly, corn & finally topped with assortment of colored and flavored sugar syrups

Cendol- said to have its roots in Penang, Malaysia, this iconic dessert has been modified to suit Singaporean tastes. Cendol consists of a coconut milk base to which thin green noodles, glutinous rice, red beans, jelly and ice shavings are added, the flavor is sweetened with the addition of palm sugar

Cendol
Cendol

King of all fruits, the smelly sweet Durian: visitors have been forewarned off the tales of the stinky smelly Durian. Singapore’s favorite fruit has been written about by food lovers across the globe, the fact that there are signs all over the MRT stations banning travelers from carrying durian on train, makes it all the more compelling to try! You could either love it or hate it. So my advice is  put aside the “toiletty, stale cheese” smell and be surprised by its delicious “custardy” texture and sweet taste

The iconic durian
The iconic durian


So to all my readers headed to Singapore for a short city break, I hope you find this blog informative. Remember, always make time to sample the diverse food and tickle your taste buds…if you discover something delicious along the way( excluding BUBBLE TEA) feel free to share the same with me 🙂

Note to readers: Some images in this post have been sourced from the internet,  special credit to Rasa Malaysia &  Seriouseats.com

Pondicherry: A little piece of France in Southern India

Sunlight streams through the tall majestic tree lined boulevards; I walk past ochre colored stately colonial mansions, glorious old churches and pretty cafés; it is only until I hear the familiar honk of a passing auto & feel the humidity( note-sweat)  that I’m reminded I am indeed in Pondicherry and not a French coastal village.  This quaint little town tucked away in the Southern part of Eastern India oozes French charm and a distinct joie de vivre reminding visitors that it is a former French settlement. Pondicherry, was decreed a Union territory of India in 1962, thankfully many decades later, I am pleased to note that the town still maintains its distinct French character- streets bear French names, heritage buildings have been lovingly restored to their former glory, tiny bakeries flourish reviving the French pastry making traditions & French still remains the second language to many of the locals living here. It’s easy to see why most Indian visitors will fall in love with this place instantly- giving us a chance to experience what the tourism officials proudly call the “French Riviera of India” without actually stepping out of India…

A restored colonial building
A restored colonial building

Those who expect the Pondicherry experience to mirror that of Goa will be left disappointed- there isn’t any of that to be found here. Noisy bars & nightclubs are conspicuous by their absence and tourism infrastructure in Pondicherry is relatively basic. Pondi appeals to those who have a lazy, laid back approach to their holidays.  Soaking up the history by walking through the White town( or French Quarters), meditating at the Auroville Ashram 15kms away, reading a book at a quiet café, taking an afternoon nap under a shaded tree in Auroville, shopping in interesting galleries and pottery studios & finally tucking into a delicious Creole meal for dinner at L’Orient by Neemrana          

Here are my top picks of what to do while you are here

1)     Visit and stay at the historical French quarters

The attractive entrance to a hotel in French quarters
The attractive entrance to a hotel in French quarters

2)     Spend the day in the Auroville commune

Freshly baked bread@ Auro bakery
Freshly baked bread@ Auro bakery

3)    Shop and visit the Tamil Quarters

Inside Maison Tamoule- a classic example of architecture in the Tamil quarters
Inside Maison Tamoule- a classic example of architecture in the Tamil quarters

4)    Sample traditional French pastries in Baker Street@ Rue Bussy or Auroville Bakery

Reviving the French pastry making traditions at Baker st
Reviving the French pastry making traditions at Baker st

FRENCH QUARTERS OR  “WHITE TOWN” 

Circe de Pondicherry
Circe de Pondicherry

Visitors are immediately transported back to a time where clocks ticked slowly and glorious colonial mansions existed. This small part of town retains a distinct European vibe, no surprises also that it receives the maximum number of tourists (which is actually nothing compared to the hordes of tourists that visit Goa).  The affluent locals with the help of tourism authorities and French historians have lovingly restored many of the historical building here. The roads retain the original French grid layout and their French names. A perfect way to start exploring the streets is by foot. You may begin your walk from Bharati Park on to Rue Mahe de Labourdonnais, turn left into Rue Romain Rolland and walk the entire length of the street, at the end make a left into the parallel street Rue Dumas & finally turning right into Goubert Avenue or the beach facing Promenade. There are many interesting buildings, galleries, shops & cafes to visit along these streets.

Palais de Mahe- Pondicherry's newest hotel
Palais de Mahe- Pondicherry’s newest hotel in the French quarters

The Promenade/ Beach Road/Goubert Avenue- this 1.5 km beachfront stretch running alongside the French quarters, is considered to be the pride of Pondicherry. Every evening after 5pm, the road is made closed to traffic and named a pedestrian only zone, making it a popular spot for evening walks amongst locals. The Promende hotel and Lighthouse makes for an interesting stop, the former being very popular for sundowners.

Passing renovated buildings in the French Quarters
Passing renovated buildings in the French Quarters

Bharati Park-a beautiful tree lined park in the heart of French town, offering visitors and locals a respite from the sweltering heat of summers. This park adds to the French character of the historical quarter

Aurobindo Ashram(Rue St Gilles/ Rue de la Marine)
– Founded by Shri Aurobindo in 1926 & developed over many years by the Mother ( Mira Alfassa), the Ashram is one of the top tourist draws in the French Quarters. Many come here seeking solace and respite from the stressful life in the city. The quiet and cool environs of the Ashram make it a perfect place to meditate or to practice yoga.

La Maison Rose( # 8 Romaine Rolland)- An interesting boutique housed in an attractive colonial mansion, features the works of several designers dealing in clothing, children’s wear, accessories as well as Indian fashion, home furnishing and antiques. Their al fresco café is a must visit when the sun goes down

The inviting courtyard at La Maison Rose
The inviting courtyard at La Maison Rose

Curio Centre( #40 Romaine Rolland)- an intriguing antique shop sells massive four poster beds, traditional wooden pillars, Yallas or wooden carvings, Tanjore paintings, Carved wooden doors and much more

Artifacts and stone carvings as seen at the entrance to Curio centre at Rue Romaine Rolland
Artifacts and stone carvings as seen at the entrance to Curio centre at Rue Romaine Rolland

Notre Dame Anges( # Rue Dumas)- a delicious pink and cream color draws you closer for a look. The church built in 1858 and is an architectural and visual treat

Notre Dam de Anges
Notre Dam des Anges

TAMIL QUARTERS OR “BLACK TOWN”
Running to the left of the main arterial shopping street, known as Mission St, are a parallel grid of roads that give us a glimpse of the old traditional houses belonging to the once- affluent Tamil merchants and Brahmins. Most of these building are giving away to gawdy Jewelers show rooms but thanks to the efforts of a few sensible locals, some effort is being made to preserve its heritage

Maison Tamoule( Vysial St/ Rue Calve Supraya Chettiyar)-A Neemrana property( hotel) situated in the heart of the Tamil Quarters, this unique Tamil house also has distinct French elements. Do visit even if you’re not about to stay, their friendly staff are only to happy to show you around

Inside Maison Tamoule- a classic example of architecture in the Tamil quarters
Inside Maison Tamoule- a classic example of architecture in the Tamil quarters

Aquarelles Gallery( Vysial St)- situated opposite Maison Tamoule, this art gallery stocks the works of 3 water colour artists, most notable of whom is Raj Kumar Stabathy(a genius in my opinion), his use of light and intricate detailing make him a master! The other two talented artists- Ejoumale and Abel also have noteworthy paintings

Artist Raj Kumar Stabathy's works on display@ Galerie Aquarelles
Artist Raj Kumar Stabathy’s works on display@ Galerie Aquarelles

Maison Perumal( Rue Perumal Koil)- a CGH property( hotel)- another classic example of Franco-Tamil design, this hotel also deserves a visit. Stained glass windows are paired with majestic wooden pillars creating a surprising synergy that is evident of the Franco –Tamil style

Maison Tamoule-Room
Maison Tamoule-Room

AUROVILLE
It’s impossible to come to Pondicherry and not visit Auroville. Known across India and the globe for producing high quality natural incense sticks, essential oils and exquisite handmade paper, the likes of which are retailed throughout India (and at the Auro & Kalki boutiques in town) The Auroville commune founded in 1968, is the brain child of the Mother (Mira Alfassa- of Egyptian-Turkish descent) who aimed to create a free thinking society/nation made up of people from different countries creating cultural harmony. Initially formed with around 60 people, its population has slowly crept up to over 2000 residents. It’s hard to tell when driving around, in what seemed like a forested area, that this was a barren wasteland allocated to the Aurovilians who carefully nurtured it to its current “green” state. Most residents that are part of the commune, have given up their life savings, to start afresh on a new slate- contributing to the development of the commune and nature. I have been told that citizenship is extremely selective. Consumption of alcohol and drug substances is highly discouraged. Meditation, deep thoughts & open communication are encouraged. Off course, like any other organization, Auroville is plagued with bureaucracy and internal scandals- thankfully none of this is apparent immediately to wide-eyed visitors!  Most of the futuristic designs of the principal buildings of the commune can be credited to Robert Anger.

Matri Mandir-
this futurist dome represents the Soul and Spirit of the Auroville community, in line with that visitors aren’t allowed to carry cell phones & cameras into the main shrine area. Children below 10 years of age aren’t allowed to visit too. There is a huge impressive amphitheatre made with red sandstone before the entrance. Inside the Inner chamber or dome, we find the world’s largest optically perfect glass globe. The entire architecture encourages you to sit down and meditate.

Matri mandir
Matri mandir


Auroville Visitors Centre-
is a collection of futuristic buildings that houses a restaurant, café, Boutique d’Auroville( great for their pottery, Library and bookshop and Gallery. I found their boutique a great place to stock up on massage oils, essential oils, pottery & incense sticks.

Mantra pottery ( Kottakarai, Auroville)- a charming pottery studio 5 minutes away from the Visitor’s Center. The brainchild of Aurovilian Angad Vohra, the unit started production in 1994 and has evolved over the years! All the pottery here is handmade and local villagers are employed and trained in this field

Mantra pottery studio
Mantra pottery studio

La Ferme Cheese- Started as a humble establishment in 1988 by a Dutchman Benny Ernst with the simple aim to provide cheese to residents of Auroville. Little did Benny know that this would spurn off such a huge demand across India that his cheese can be found in upscale restaurants and hotels! The milk used for producing the cheese is sourced from Auroville farms and local villages, pasteurized and finally vegetable enzymes( note no Rennet) are used to create a 100% vegetarian, artisanal cheese.  No preservatives or emulsifiers are used in the process. Their fresh cheese Mozzarella, Feta & Ricotta are worth sampling as are the seasoned cheese such as Lofabu, Jeera cheese, Gruyere and Auroblochon( a 6 month old piquant cheese)

Auroville bakery- spurned by the need to provide Europeans with their bread and pastry, the bakery started as a modest establishment and today remains so. But don’t let that put you off, step in and drool over their delicious quiches, pain au Chocolat and Chocolate moelleux. La Boulangerie, located just down to road also makes for an interesting stomach pleasing stop

Auro bakery   Freshly baked bread@ Auro bakery

SHOPPING:
Ok so I don’t usually propagate shopping as an essential part of your holiday itinerary, but it’s hard to resist when you’re in Pondicherry and (a bargain hunter). Most shops are along the stretch of Mission Street &  within a couple of 100 yards of each other.

Kalki ( # 134 Mission Street)- showcases all products from Maroma-an Auroville venture specializing in incense sticks, essential oils, massage & aroma therapy oils, natural soaps & bath works, pottery, hand painted home accessories &  paper lamps

Titanic( # 33 Rue Ambalatadayar Madam)- Looking for a Massimo Dutti linen shirt for under Rs 1,000( $20)? this is the place to head to. Known for stocking export surpluses or rejects from leading Fashion houses, this is the place to head to if you’re looking a bargain- do note that being an export reject their could be faults with the stitching or labels but you’ll eventually end up finding something!

Hidesign Factory outlet( # 69 Jawaharlal Nehru Street)-
synonymous in India for bespoke leather handbags and accessories, Hidesign is an iconic Indian brand that now manufactures for the house of LV. There are deep discounts at factory outlet (at least 25-40%) on previous season’s designs

Casablanca( # 165 Mission Street) -Pondicherry’s first department store, Their home section of the 3rd floor is worth visiting- you may get a deal or two with clearances sales

EATING
Over to matters of the stomach, here’s my picks on places to eat and drink
Le Club ( # 38 Rue Dumas)- possibly the only place t remind you of a beach side shack, easy laid back vibes and comfy al fresco section makes this a perfect place to head to for drinks. Do order a calamari fritto to go with your chilled drink

The laid back beachshack feel at Le Club
The laid back beachshack feel at Le Club

La Maison Rose (# 8 Rue Romaine Rolland) – cosy courtyard setting with oodles of charm. The European fare here is a must try.  Please avoid the thai tofu curry (tad bit too sour) Lunch reminded us of sitting in a packed café in Provence with the unmistakable French accents

Delicious Juicy burger @La Maison Rose
Delicious Juicy burger @La Maison Rose

Le O’rient by Neemrana(#17 Rue Romain Rolland)- this courtyard restaurant is the only restaurant I can think of in India to serve up Creole cuisine- French food heavily influenced by the Indian culture. Don’t give their Creole food a miss

The inviting courtyard@ Neemrana
The inviting courtyard@ Neemrana

Villa Shanti( # 14 Rue Suffren)– I’ve been told this is THE place to head to for cocktails. Too bad we missed giving it a try!

The attractive entrance to Villa shanti
The attractive entrance to Villa shanti

Le Dupleix (# 5 Rue de la Caserne) – heartwarming European fare in an uber cool airconditioned setting- a relief for the sultry evenings. There is a courtyard too, for those who love the outdoors

Grilled poulet( chicken) at Le Dupleix
Grilled poulet( chicken) at Le Dupleix
Thosai Suzette at Le Dupleix
Thosai Suzette at Le Dupleix

Baker street (Rue de Bussy-Lal Bahadur Sashtri St) don’t let  the rather  standard & non descript façade put you off, for once you step in you are transported to a Parisian patisserie. Focusing only on French pastry- their chocolate éclairs and Chocolate mouilleaux( cake) are sinful!

French pastries on display@ Baker Street
French pastries on display@ Baker Street

Tantos( Auroville road)- I’ve you’re craving Italian this is the place to head too which packs up for both lunch and dinner. Another inexpensive grab and go option is Café Ecstasy on Mission Street( no really a place to charm you over but the pizzas are good hands down!

STAYING

Hotel Du Parc( #5 Jawarharlal Nehru Street)- our favourite budget place! For under INR 3,500you get spacious clean rooms with a touch of history;  its proximity to the Aurobindo Ashram and Mission Street are a definite plus. Manager Ravi and staff are ever attentive to guests needs

Le Dupleix( # 5 Rue de la Caserne)-a Hidesign venture  managed by the Sarovar group of hotels, we were bowled over by the hospitality of the staff and chic rooms- effortlessly blending the old with the new. Their breakfast is delicious and café food heartwarming. I highly recommend staying here. Room prices start from INR 4,000

And effortless blend of contemporary and old at Le Dupleix
And effortless blend of contemporary and old at Le Dupleix
Le Dupleix Deluxe Room
Le Dupleix Deluxe Room

L’Orient by Neemrana Hotels( # 17 Rue Romain Rolland)- a big disappointment from our check-in to the lackadaisical attitude of staff. What put us off even more were their musty rooms that smelt of old sheets & damp walls. It was only at our adamant insistence that they offered to change our rooms. If you’re able to put that aside, there’s plenty of history inside the hotel and rooms each of which have been named after a colony. Suites are priced at INR 6,500 and room start from INR 3,000 upwards. Stay at Karaikal suite which boast of a massive 4 poster bed and private terrace overlooking their pretty courtyard below

A standard room at L'Orient by Neemrana
A standard room oozing with history at L’Orient by Neemrana
Antique furniture@ L'Orient by Neemrana
Antique furniture@ L’Orient by Neemrana

Palais de Mahe-a CGH property( # 4 Rue de Bussy)– we stepped into this property and were blown away by the design. Room prices are slightly on the high side and start from INR 8,000 upwards

Mango Hill( Old Auroville road)– the only hotel which boasts of a pool situated just outside the Auroville commune. Rooms are spacious, simple and comfortable. Makes a good choice if you are looking to stay near Auroville. Room prices start from INR 4,500

Mango Hill outside Auroville
Mango Hill outside Auroville

INTERESTING ARTICLES AND LINKS TO  PONDICHERRY
http://travel.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264545

http://www.auroville.org/health/food/laferme.htm

http://www.cntraveller.in/content/puducherry

http://www.cntraveller.com/recommended/cities/24-hours-in-pondicherry/what-to-see-in-pondicherry

http://www.intachpondicherry.org/English/home.aspx

A Foodies guide to Singapore: Places to Eat

Singapore has always been a food lover’s paradise. The island city nation ( roughly the same size as San Francisco) is a melting pot of cultures with people from all across the globe streaming in to make this little nation their home. There are three dominant cultural influences here- Chinese, Malaysian & Indian. There’s also a huge presence of Indonesian, Phillipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Japanese influences. I hope it will not come as a surprise if I suggest that the best way to soak in these cultures is by sampling their food. This is best experienced by a visit to a local food or ‘hawker’ centre which will leave you will be astounded by the plethora of food( expect everything exotic)- Dim sums, Fish Otah, Rendang curry, Fried Tempeh, Otah, Rojak, Chicken Adobo, Gyoza, Chahan, Yakitori, Chicken rice, Roti Paratha, Murtabak and even Thunder Chicken rice…there is an endless choice of food which can sometimes leave you spoiled for choices.

The foodies guide to Singapore
The foodies guide to Singapore

I have compiled a list of interesting neighborhoods to eat and drink based on my experiences here

Hawker or Food Centers
As mentioned in the introduction, its important to visit the hawkers centers to understand what the locals eat. Typically located in the heartlands or near HDBs (government housing) they food here is cheap and you will only find locals! There are so many cuisines up for grabs that it will leave you wondering where to start. Singapore hawker centers maintain generally a good hygiene levels and most of the food is nutritious focusing on use of Chinese spinach, p(b)ok Choy & bean sprouts. Here are my picks

Roast chicken rice on display in a food center
Roast chicken rice on display in a food center

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre(nearest MRT Tanjong Pagar)- all time favorite. I can’t seem to get enough of the Tian Tian stall’s Chicken Rice. Other must try’s include the Century Egg porridge( which I sadly gave a miss) available at the many stalls there. There’s a tiny Poppiah stall serving up this delicious Malayasian street treat for $1 each

Old Airport Road Hawker Centre ( nearest MRT)-
an old haunt for most Singaporeans, a recent renovation has thrown it back into the limelight. Oyster omelets, Fried Char Kway teow, Hokkien mee, Fish Otah & finally Chilli Crab are the specialties here. The stalls worth visiting here are: Katong Ah Soon Fried Oyster & Mattar Road BBQ Seafood for Chilli Crab

Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow

Lau Pa Sat( MRT Raffles Place)– this historical food court in the heart of the business district and Chinatown is a must visit during the night, where a section of the road is closed off to make way for live stalls serving up some of Singapore’s best Satay’s and Roti Parathas!

Fish Otah in the making
Fish Otah in the making

* Avoid Newton Centre which has become another tourist trap- over priced and average

Dim Sums
Yum cha( MRT- Chinatown, #20 Trengannu St, Off Temple St) – located in the heart of Chinatown yet frequented almost entirely by locals. This place is fantastic. Every afternoon they have a dim sum buffet offering just about everything. Must try the following dim sums: Steamed prawn and asparagus dumplings, Steamed scallop pea shoot dumpling, Pan fried Chives and meat dumpling.

Scallop and prawn dumplings
Scallop and prawn dumplings

Din Tai Fung( Marina Bay Sands Shopping centre, Paragon Orchard, Wisma Atria Orchard, 313@ Somerset)– I’m not a fan of chain restaurants but Din Tai Fung is an exception. They have an impressive selection of dim sums and their convenient location in big malls, make it hard to miss.

Panfried chives and meat dumplings
Panfried chives and meat dumplings

Lei Garden (MRT Sun Tech city, 01-14 Chijmes) an institution. Specializing in Cantonese cuisine, Lei garden is your best bet for a perfect Sunday Dim sum brunch, their atmospheric location in Chijmes and fantastic food will keep generations coming back for more.  Must try: BBQ Pork Ribs, Homemade bean curd, Steamed Cod with asparagus and special sauce, Steamed scallop dumplings and finish your meal with Mini Egg tarts

Steamed Cod with special sauce
Steamed Cod with special sauce
Homemade tofu
Homemade tofu
Custard Egg Tarts
Custard Egg Tarts

CLUB STREET AND ANN SIANG HILL (nearest MRT-Chinatown)

This quaint, narrow street is lined with upscale bars, restaurants, boutiques & design houses and runs all the way up to the Ann Siang Hill. Relatively quiet during the day, it’s a different world altogether in the evenings, as every bar and eatery packs up to full capacity and the lively crowds spill over to the street. Frequented by the locals and expats that work in the neighboring CBD( Central Business District), Club Street reminds me a little of Notting Hill in London except that its relatively non-touristy. Here are some of my picks of places to eat and drink

Majestic old houses in Chinatown
Majestic Peranakan styled houses in Chinatown
Chinatown- where skyscrapers and old shop houses exist
Chinatown- where skyscrapers and old shop houses exist

Lolla( # 22 Ann Siang Road)- Clean and almost industrial like in decor, this newest entrant to the happening Club street believes in keeping it simple. The small understated menu offers small plates of delicious food inspired by Spain( Tapas culture as seen a resurgence in Singapore)  We absolutely loved their food and here’s my must try list: Duck fat fried potatoes, Spanish tortilla with smoked eel, Scallop carpaccio and finally the Razor clams with chorizo. The place usually packs up as it is relatively small so reservations are a must

The simple menu at Lolla
The simple menu at Lolla
Tortilla with bacon and mushrooms
Tortilla with bacon and mushrooms

La terraza Rooftop bar of the Screening Room( #12 Ann Siang Hill)– one of the best rooftop bars in Club street offering great views of the business district and Chinatown. This place remains as popular as it was over 3 years ago( when we visited it last) Go there during happy hours

B28 in Club Hotel( #28 Ann Siang Hill)- run by American Mike Soldner. This place was formerly known as the Mault Vault and operated out of the basement of the Screening Room. True to its original vision- B28 has an endless range of single malts and whiskies sourced from all across the globe. Designed in plush leather upholstery and dark wooden tones, this place has a feeling of a gentleman’s club.  Go there between 5.30-8.30pm on weekdays to enjoy free pulled pork sandwiches with every cocktail( priced at SGD 15 each) there’s live jazz to enjoy on weekends

B-28 in Ann Sian Hill stocks an impressive Single Malt and whisky collection from around the world
B-28 in Ann Siang Hill stocks an impressive Single Malt and whisky collection from around the world

La Cicala Bar ( #49 Club street) another new entrant. Following the current “tapas” rage that has hit Singapore, this place serves up Spanish and international tapas. Their charming Spaniard manager willkeep the ladies coming back for more 😉 Pity though that their Bombay Sapphire cocktails are so-so and their Spanish selection of wines rather non-existent. Must try their char grilled asparagus & Gambas al ajillo

Club street Social( # 5 Gemmill Lane)- I have been told that this place is this unofficial hang out place for all in the F&B industry. I’ve been told that their paninis are delicious and cocktails innovative

Trattoria Cugini ( #87 Club street)
Heartwarming Southern Italian food and fantastic pizzas. This is the place to go to for your Italian food fix! Must try their freshly made squid ink fettuccine with seafood, fresh pea, mullet roe and dessert platter

Squid Ink pasta @ Cugini
Squid Ink pasta @ Cugini


Brasserie Gavroche( #69 Tras Street, MRT- Tanjong Pagar
) Ok this isn’t in Club street or Ann Siang hill but this little French gem in Tras Street( around 15 minutes walking distance) deserves a visit. Helmed by the ex chef of St Regis-Frederic Colin, the place exudes the vibe of an upscale Parisian café. This place is my top breakfast/ brunch pick: their Pain au chocolate is to die for as are the Eggs Benedict and Creamy egg casserole with mushrooms and bacon

Pain Au Chocolate@ Cafe Gavroche
Pain Au Chocolate@ Cafe Gavroche

DEMPSEY ROAD- The Expatriate Enclave ( Nearest MRT- Botanic Garden or Orchard Road)
This place will always be extremely close to me. It was love at first sight when we stumbled here in early 2007- the charming black and white bungalows reminiscent of the glorious British past and lush green tropical foliage (located just off the Botanic Gardens)immediately drew us in. It was perhaps this that led us to signing in the lease for our restaurant which we ran for 3 years till the rents made it financially unviable for us to continue. I am happy to know that it still continues to remain a popular haunt for many people that live in the surrounding posh neighborhoods. Frequented by a largely expat population this diverse patch has a great selection of lively restaurants and bars to frequent. Here are my top picks

Tippling Club and House(#8D Dempsey Road) still remains a hottest place to have a drink. Possibly amongst the pioneers to introduce the concept of mixology( relatively unheard of in Singapore 5 years ago) Award winning mixologist Matthew Bax continues to push the edge and creates hand crafted cocktails. The décor is industrial with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the forest, the large open plan set up of the main dining area allows guests to peep and pry into the bartenders’ concoctions. Must try ‘Juniper Sling’ and ‘Valley of Nine Villages’. The HOUSE its sister concern is a lot more casual and a great place to unwind for lunches. Their truffle fries are an absolute must try!

Tippling Club@ Dempsey
Tippling Club@ Dempsey

Jones the Grocer( Block 01-12 Dempsey Hill) occupies the centre stage on top of Dempsey Hill. A popular Australian concept with branches now in Dubai, Jones the Grocer is a great place to head to for brunch. The large store is dedicated to matters of the stomach=food. From artisanal marmalades to dukkah to dips and fresh meats and cheese to cookbooks, expect to find anything and everything related to food. At the centre of the store, is a communal like café serving breakfast all day and yummy desserts.

P.S Café( #28B Harding Road)- love it or hate it, this place has always had mixed reviews. One thing’s for sure though P.S Café is still the most popular café for brunch. Décor is fantastic with floor to ceiling windows and comfy seating. I’ve always been blown away with their stunning flower arrangements that greet visitors on arrival. Their desserts are absolutely gigantic and sinful!

The flower display at P.S Cafe
The flower display at P.S Cafe
Dessert selection at P.S Cafe
Dessert selection at P.S Cafe

Wine company( Blk 14 Dempsey Hill) we’ve shared many great memories here, which was the place we’d head to after getting slammed with a hard day of work. Décor is simple, dim lights and a large al fresco area at the back looking out to a tropical forest. Wine company has a great selection of wines from South Africa and pricing is relatively reasonable ( expect to pay anywhere upwards of $ 50/ bottle) and cheap bar food ( $ 6-18 SGD)

Jumbo Seafood( Blk 01-16 Dempsey Hill) A seafood institution, Jumbo was our haunt for our monthly Black pepper crab craving! Established in 1987, Jumbo opened its doors in Dempsey in 2008 and remains as popular as ever. I love their Black pepper crab and Stir fried Fish with spring onions and ginger. You absolutely have to wash it down with as Tiger beer draught.

Black pepper crab in Jumbo Seafood
Black pepper crab in Jumbo Seafood

Red Dot Brewhouse( Block 25A Dempsey Road) Perhaps amongst the first of many microbreweries to open up in Singapore. Red Dot embraces the great outdoor concept where you can see the massive steel vats, every now and then you catch a whiff of the fermenting grain. Their handcrafted brews are a must try. We love their Green monster(contains spirulina) and Lime wheat beer

Red Dot Lime and wheat beer
Red Dot Lime and wheat beer


JOO CHIAT AND GEYLANG DISTRICTS- the PERANAKAN stronghold

Formerly a red light district, Joo Chiat and Geylang area witnessed a massive cleanup drive in the early 2000’s and now it’s a charming street lined up with crumbling antique shops, design boutiques, bakeries and laid back bars and restaurants. This area was formerly a Peranakan or Nonya enclave (Straits born Chinese lived here) and a walk down the narrow streets will reveal the beautiful Peranakan shop house architecture which is fast disappearing in Singapore. There are a few “massage” parlours that remain but I feel that adds a gritty authentic touch to an otherwise almost perfect city

An old antique shop in Joo Chiat
An old antique shop in Joo Chiat

Smokeys BBQ American Smokehouse and Grill( # 73 Joo Chiat Place)- run by a Californian, this place serves up the best Beef brisket and Slow pulled pork sandwiches in Singapore & the buffalo wings with a blue cheese dip is absolutely sinful!

Beef Brisket@ Smokeys
Beef Brisket@ Smokeys

Garden Slug( #55Lorong L, Telok Kurau)- recommended by friends who always enjoyed heading there for a beer with their dog, this is simple place serves up unpretentious food. Must try: Mindy’s chicken pasta which has a thai touch to it thanks to the lime leaf butter, Wagyu Burger is also delicious!

Fat Boy Burger( # 465 Joo Chiat Terrace)- the Ultimate Burger Bar, the catchy restaurant lives up to its reputation of offering  lean, mean, burger monsters! You can customize your own burgers and wash it down with a root beer float!

Fat Boy Burger
Fat Boy Burger

No Signboard Seafood ( 412-416 Geylang Road) The weird name came about when they first started serving food in Geylang without any sign board. Considered by many to be the original creators of the Singapore Chilli crab, they have a gamut of seafood dishes to choose from. Their signature dishes are: White Pepper Crab, Hokkien Styled Steamed fish and Crispy cereal crayfish.

Chilli Padi( # 12 Joo Chiat Place)- a tiny place serving up delicious traditional Peranakan food. Must try: Sambal Ikan and Nonya Assam curry.

Bread Project( #174 Joo Chiat Road)- I’ve been told by friends that this place is a gem.  Must tries include the Bostock: where almond cream  piped between two slices of crunchy soft pastry and Chocolate concha

Chezcake Bistro( #328 Joo Chiat Road)-
specializing in everything to do with cheesecakes.  What more can a girl ask for? Must try: White Oblivion cheesecake and Green tea with red beans cheesecake.

One Fullerton,  Fullerton Pavilion and Collyer Quay
I would recommend heading here if you want to get a 180 degree view of the Marina bay area with Esplanade, Merlion and Marina Bay Sands. Its comparatively less crowded and makes a great place for sundowners!

One Fullerton Bay
One Fullerton Bay

Catalunya( Fullerton Pavilion, # 82 Collyer Quay)- helmed by the former team of the legendary El Bulli Spain, this place is a must go to for cocktails ( Most of us wouldn’t be able to afford the food) Incorporating molecular gastronomy techiniques each cocktail is a masterpiece. Expect to pay anywhere between $ 20-30 SGD for a drink though. Must try cocktails: Pasian’s Favourite( comprising of cumquats, rosemary sticks, luxardo, gin mare, lime juice, grapefruit juice and honey) and Stairway to Heaven( Bacardi’s 2012 Cocktail of the year paying homage to Led Zeppelin)

Pasian's Favourite@ Catalunya
Pasian’s Favourite@ Catalunya

Overeasy( #01-06 One Fullerton)- a modern funky bar and diner inspired by the diner culture of the 1970’s, their all day breakfast is great. Part of the Lo & Behold group ( White rabbit and Loof) one can expect uber cool decor, drinks and service

Society Bar( #01-11 One Fullerton)- this was the hottest bar in 2011 for sunset drinks and I’m happy to report that it remains ever popular. Reasonably priced food and drinks continues to draw people in. It’s located in a quieter part of the one Fullerton stretch which is just nice if you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore

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