PASTA PERFETTO!

Last night Kuldip and I went out to try an Italian restaurant we’d heard about in Chandigarh where they make everything on the premises including bread, pasta and desserts.

We kicked the night off with a cocktail and ended it the same way!

Our Italian love affair with food began with an antipasto platter that featured olives, Parma ham, salami and caramalised onions plus excellent cheeses including Parmesan, buffalo Mozzarella and Gorgonzola. Their delicious homemade bread was perfetto too.

Next came a dish that comprised homemade Orzo pasta with assorted fresh seafood and basil leaves in a delicate creamy tomato sauce flavoured with a hint of star anise.

Our Gourmet pizza followed. The base was good but we thought the topping a little bland. What saved it, however, was the raw spinach garnish (not the tasteless baby stuff) that gave it a distinctive garden-fresh crunch.

When our desserts arrived, Kuldip and I thought we’d died and gone to heaven. If Tiramisu is on a menu – we always order it. And, last night’s was as good as we’ve had anywhere in the world – it was even better than the one I make at home. I ordered Cannoli filled with an orange-infused custard. It was bliss.

We had a great night under the stars at Chandigarh’s romantic candle-lit Virgin Courtyard. As winter draws near, the days are still warm here but the nights are cool. We could have eaten inside, but we chose to go al fresco. I feel the cold, and as soon as I mentioned to our waiter that it was getting a little chilly, a red-hot coal heater appeared by my side!

On the way home in the taxi, we scored up as follows:

  • Cocktails: 10/10.
  • Antipasto platter: 9/10.
  • Orzo seafood pasta: 10/10.
  • Gourmet pizza: 6/10.
  • The ambience and customer service in the courtyard also score 50/10 each.
  • Both desserts, however, scored a maximum 100/10!

The meal cost a mere A$45 per head; it would cost nearly three times as much in Australia. The overall quality, however, may not be as good.

The cost of the A$14 taxi ride, there, and back that covered a total distance of around 25 km, was also a “steal.”

We’ll be back in Australia in less than three weeks. So time is of the essence in Chandigarh. Tonight we’re off the check out another restaurant called Cloud 9, which reportedly has one of the best views in town.

Us two.

Us two.

 

A cosy fire to keep us warm ...

A cozy fire to keep us warm …

 

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… and loving it!

 

Time to break bread.

Time to break bread.

 

Pizza and a perfetto pasta.

Pizza and perfetto pasta.

 

Decadent dessert time.

Bring on the calories!

 

Kuldip tucks in.

Kuldip and his terrific Tiramisu.

PRINCESS PRIYA

Our first grandchild, Priya, was born 3-months ago to proud parents, Paul and Chine. She’s done lots of growing up in the seven weeks since Kuldip, and I arrived in India and we miss her. Santa’s here too. While he agreed to deliver Priya’s parcels on time (not Indian time!), Nannie promised a happy first Christmas for her very own bundle of joy. Kuldip and I are back in Brisbane on 15 December and can’t wait for our fair share of kisses, cuddles, and very pretty Princess Priya smiles.

Day one. Seven hours old

Day one. Seven hours old.

Day one of three Bedi generations

Day one of three Bedi generations.

Day one for the proud grandparents. May there be many more!

Day one for the proud Grandparents. May there be many more!

 

Granddad with Newcastle United's latest recruit

Granddad with Newcastle United’s latest recruit.

 

The happy family. Fathers' Day 2015

The happy family. Fathers’ Day 2015.

With her lovely mum, Chine. Fathers' Day 2015

With her lovely Mum, Chine. Fathers’ Day 2015.

 

Nannie in her element. Fathers' Day 2015

Nannie in her element. Fathers’ Day 2015.

 

Dead to the world with her Dad, Paul

Dead to the world with Dad, Paul.

 

Two months old.

Two months old.

 

Three months and loving the soccer ball Granddad bought before she was born!

Three months old and loving the soccer ball Granddad bought for her before she was born!

 

Santa's been busy in India

Santa’s been busy in India.

LIGHT MY FIRE

Yesterday, Indians around the world celebrated Diwali known as the Festival of Lights. It’s the Indian equivalent of Christmas Day and Chinese New Year and a time for prayers, prezzies, and partying. Kuldip and I were fortunate to be in India and to have good friends with which to rejoice.

Our Diwali began at around 1.00pm with snacks at Sunny and Gauri’s home in Chandigarh. While our men chatted about the woes of the world including their golf game, the Indian economy and the voters’ move against Modi, we girls, including their eighteen-year-old daughter, Kamya, had a great time playing dress-ups with her mum, Gauri’s, gorgeous wardrobe.

We spent the rest of Diwali with friends Divye, Sonia and other members of their family that included her sister, Nanveet and her husband Neeraj and son and Daughter Shantanu and Srishti respectively. Sonia hosted a Chaat Party that comprises a range of tasty dishes and morsels including Golgappa.

Golgappa (or Panipuri) includes a hollow ball of fried ‘dough’ that is as light as air. One cracks it open, like a boiled egg, into which goes a flavoursome blend of vegetables and spices. A piquant soupy concoction is then poured over the veggie mix to fill the ball. The test is to get the exploding ball in your mouth in one go and to get it down without getting it down the front of your kurta instead! It was a walk in the park for all the ‘big-mouthed’ boys, including Kuldip. The guys then resorted to adding Bacardi rum to the mix to spice it up even more! We gracious girls, however, struggled to eat our fair share with elegance and poise.

At sunset, Divye, Sonia and their two daughters, Shreerupa and Medha, set about lighting candles in and around the house for prayers, or Puja. Diwali marks the end of the financial year in India, so Hindus pray to Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. Fireworks and colourful flashing lights are as much a part of Diwali as are family, food and floor art called, Rangoli.

Gauri and her ten-year-old son, Vansh, designed the colourful Rangoli at their place while Divye and Sonia’s twelve-year-old daughter, Shreerupa, did their lovely floral floor art.

Our contribution was to help launch a couple of hot air balloons into the wild inky-blue yonder. Soon after take-off, the Bedi balloon got stuck, high up on the branch of a tree nearby. After a few tense minutes, a gentle breeze set it free. As the balloon drifted away with its candle and not the neighbour’s tree ablaze, Divye said to Kuldip, with a glint his eye: “Who said there wasn’t a God.”

The Rangoli at Sunny and Gauri's house

The Rangoli at Sunny and Gauri’s house

With Kamya (L) and Gauri

With Kamya (L) and Gauri

Dress-up time

Dress-up time

Shreerupa's Rangoli #1

Shreerupa’s Rangoli #1

Shreerupa's Rangoli #2

Shreerupa’s Rangoli #2

The Chaat Party (L-R) Shreerupa, Srishti, Shantanu, Divye's mum (front), Neeraj and his mum, Nanveet, Sonia, Kuldip and Divye

The Chaat Party (L-R) Shreerupa, Srishti, Shantanu, Divye’s mum (front), Neeraj and his mum, Nanveet, Sonia, Kuldip and Divye

Sonia's tantalising table

Sonia’s tantalising table

Neeraj tucks in

Neeraj tucks in

Kuldip, my 'big-mouthed boy'

Kuldip, my ‘big-mouthed boy’

Here goes!

Here goes!

Better luck next time!

Better luck next time!

A rum lot!

A rum lot!

Shreerupa lights up

Shreerupa lights up

A festival of light

A festival of light

Divye blowing a conch shell at the close of prayers.

Divye blowing a conch shell at the close of prayers.

Up, up and away #1

Up, up and away #1

Up, up and away #2

Up, up and away #2

Up, up and away #3

Up, up and away #3

The Bedi balloon #1

The Bedi balloon #1

The Bedi balloon #2

The Bedi balloon #2

Ooops!

Ooops!

The Bedi balloon finally takes flight.

The Bedi balloon finally takes flight.

Sonia and me

Sonia and me

OVER THE RAINBOW

Kuldip and I recently returned to Australia with the intention of staying for three or four months until I received my lifetime Indian visa called a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card. Upon landing, Kuldip’s son, Paul and his fiancé Chiné, informed us they were pregnant. Overjoyed, we have extended our stay for a few months to await the birth of our first grandchild on, or around, 11th August. In the meantime, we intend renovating our “new” 1930s Queenslander-style home that we bought in Brisbane before setting off for a few months in Chandigarh, India in March last year. However, before then, we’re staying in a friend’s unit at Palm Beach at Australia’s premier tourist destination. The Gold Coast, where the weather is “beautiful one day – perfect the next,” is about an hour’s drive south of Brisbane. Margaret’s 10th-floor beachside apartment is the epitome of a ‘room with a view.’

Kuldip outside our "new" Brisbane home.

Kuldip outside our “new” Brisbane home.

Decisions ... decisions.

Decisions … decisions.

In the pink looking south towards Coolangatta.

In the pink looking south towards Coolangatta.

Over the moon.

Over the moon.

Surf's up.

Surf’s up.

View north to Surfers Paradise.

View north to Surfers Paradise.

Over the rainbow.

Over the rainbow.

I don't mind this view either!

This view’s not bad either!

ROAD SHOW

This post is meant to make you laugh; not cry. It illustrates the hazards on India’s roads, including their so-called motorways, as described in Chapter 2 of my book, “Just the Ticket.” I took these photos during our recent two-week road trip to and around Rajasthan. I decided to ignore the shots of India’s ubiquitous holy cows and show you some of the other animals that hit the road.

While Kuldip happily drives around Chandigarh, we usually hire a car and driver when we venture outside city limits. This time, however, since we have a car, Kuldip decided to drive for a number of reasons. Firstly, we’d be more independent; we could holiday for as long as we liked. We would also save around 25,000 rupees or A$500, which paid for a TomTom satellite navigation device and car servicing.

When I told Kuldip how brave I thought he was to do the driving, he replied: “I’m either brave or foolhardy!” I’ll let you be the judge.

Footnote: Readers of my book will know how our European TomTom we named Tom, often drove me to places I didn’t want to go to like around the wrong bend and up the wall! Our Indian Tom must be his twin! Grrr!

A bus driver going the wrong way up a dual carriageway. The norm in India.

A bus driver going the wrong way up a dual carriageway. The norm in India.

Cars do the same thing.

Cars do the same thing.

Although they are not called tip trucks, an overloaded truck with a centre of gravity as high as the Empire State Building might as well be.

Although they are not called tip trucks, an overloaded truck with a centre of gravity as high as the Empire State Building might as well be.

A sight too common.

A sight too common.

Wide load without warning or escort vehicles in attendance. This is on a dual carriageway. Traffic could only overtake if and when the driver pulled over!

Wide load without warning or escort vehicles in attendance. This is on a dual carriageway. Traffic could only overtake if and when the driver pulled over!

The rag trade hits the road outside Panipat, one of India's textile hubs.

The rag trade hits the road outside Panipat, one of India’s textile hubs.

A camel train.

A camel train.

A tractor train.

A tractor train.

Overloaded tuk-tuks. We counted about twenty in this one.

Overloaded tuk-tuks. We counted about twenty in this one.

Then there's the sheep ...

Then there’s the sheep …

… and goats.

… and goats.

Shredded tyre tread after breaking suddenly to avoid a truck that pulled out in front of us on the motorway, without indication.Thank heavens Kuldip knows how to change a tyre. Where was I; behind the car making sure drivers knew we were there!

Shredded tyre tread after breaking suddenly to avoid a truck that pulled out in front of us on the motorway, without indication.Thank heavens Kuldip knows how to change a tyre. Where was I; behind the car making sure drivers knew we were there!

SECOND TO ONE

In my book, I wrote about the many canal-based cities like Amsterdam, St Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Hamburg that would have us believe they resemble Venice. Brugge in Belgium does it too; it labels itself “Venice of the North.” I went on to say in “Just the Ticket,” that Italy’s famous sinking city is unique and that, in my opinion, there is no prize for second. But there is now, and I award it to “Venice of the East” in Rajasthan in India. Who would have thought that Udaipur, which is devoid of canals, would qualify? My pictures show that, with a little imagination, one could think they were enjoying the vista from the banks of the Grand Canal. The last two shots give the game away. Holy cow!

 

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SRI LANKA PART TWO – SWEET DREAMS

It will take Sri Lanka some time to get back on its feet after a twenty-five-year-long civil war that ended as recently as 2009. But the Sri Lankans are already up and running, especially those who work in the hospitality industry. Tourism is on the rise and the locals are making the most of making visitors feel most welcome.

The welcome we received at our hotel in the island’s capital, Colombo, was a warm one, but the friendliness wasn’t there when we needed it. After we’d unpacked and settled into our room, we discovered the air conditioning was faulty. We were told it couldn’t be fixed and that we had to relocate to another floor. Afterwards, it was like moving a mountain to get the staff to help us move. Even though I liked the contemporary and witty décor as well as the pool area on the roof at Cinnamon Red, the food and customer service left much to be desired. So did Colombo.

The first thing I wanted to see in Colombo was the floating market in Pettah that opened with much fanfare and praise as recently as two months before we got there. It was appalling. The fountains that featured on all the websites apparently hadn’t worked for a while because the water was stagnating and in full bloom from green algae. The market is like a floating marina at a yacht club where linked walkways float on water like boats. In this case it’s shops that float on the water’s edge. The only boats I saw at the market that day were moored and looked like they hadn’t moved across water for some time and perhaps they don’t. An affectation? I think so. Boats, schmoats! The publicity also said locals loved to shop at the new market. Although it’s what the shops are full of the statement, in my opinion, is rubbish. Locals don’t buy tourist tat. The day we were there, one could shoot off a cannon and not hit anyone.

My visit to the Dilmah Tea House in the city for a tea sampling was also disappointing. When I got there, I was astonished to see eighteen varieties on show to taste. First in the line-up were Dilmah’s top-of-the-range white teas. After sipping a couple of the white teas, I stopped and commented that I expected the flavour to be more refined than black varieties. The staff agreed that it should be, but went on to say: “A new employee prepared the teas this morning that’s why some are over-brewed.” I then asked if they intended replacing the stewed batches. After realising that a slight shrug of the shoulders was the only response I was going to get, I gave up and turned away. What’s the point of having a tea tasting when the teas don’t taste like they should?

Although we hadn’t planned to stay there for long, we decided to turn our backs on Colombo too. The following day, we hired a car and headed south for a ten-day driving holiday.

The management and staff of the hotels and guesthouses we stayed in, unlike Cinnamon Red, went the ‘extra mile’ to make us feel at home. In my last blog, I raved about the superb food at the Pedlar 62 Guesthouse in Galle Fort and the Beach Lodge in Negombo. These two places, however, had more surprises in store.

At Pedlar 62, for instance, Kuldip and I slept in a four-poster bed with a mosquito net for the first time. It didn’t take long to discover, though, that the netting wasn’t solely to make the room look cute. Nevertheless, I loved being swaddled in the canopied and curtained bed; I felt like the gorgeous Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. And, my romantic Robert Redford never looked so good!

To our delight, we had a similar bed at the classy Richmond House boutique hotel in Kandy. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we arrived at the hotel one day early, unannounced. When we got there, the type of room we’d booked was unavailable. Our gracious hosts, however, upgraded us to the only room left; the Governor’s Suite or honeymoon suite, which Kuldip and I put to full use! The Hettiarachchi family is currently adding another room, the Queen’s Suite that I was fortunate to see in the making. It will be extraordinary when finished.

By following the footsteps of kings and queens, one will always end up in the prettiest places. Surrounded by mountains, the picture-postcard Kingdom of Kandy is the perfect paradigm. It’s the last capital of the Sinhala kings and therefore the best place to see and sense Sri Lanka’s culturally rich and noble past.

Buddhists and sightseers flock to the Dalada Maligawa, or Temple of the Tooth, that houses one of Buddha’s teeth that a prince and princess, as legend has it, fled India to preserve. Perched beside a man-made lake, the temple is not only a place of pilgrimage; it’s also of immense beauty.

Even though we knew about the temple’s dress code, i.e. no bare shoulders or legs, we ended up there on a day when Kuldip happened to be wearing shorts. All was not lost; I got to see my man in a makeshift maxi skirt. My bright fuchsia pink and orange scarf never looked so good! If one is caught short in shorts like Kuldip, there are plenty of sarong sellers around to help out.

Later that day at a cultural performance I saw more extraordinary men wearing extraordinary ‘Kandy’-coloured cozzies. The hour-long concert showcases indigenous music and dancing and begins daily at five o’clock in the afternoon. The spectacular dance and acrobatics we saw inside the auditorium were a great prologue to the al fresco fire walkers. The flickering fire, by the way, wasn’t the only thing that looked hot.

Before Kandy, we stopped off at Ratnapura. It’s where most of the precious and semi-precious stones are mined in Sri Lanka and a good place to begin my research into the country’s most luxurious export, sapphires. The City of Gems, however, is nothing more than a mining town. What happens to the rocks that come out of Ratnapura’s precious ground is best seen elsewhere.

The displays at jewellery shops in the refurbished Dutch Hospital in Galle Fort are as tempting as the ones we saw in Kandy and Colombo. However, I recommend plastic surgery before window-shopping for these gems of a different colour. That is, leave your credit card at home! Gems aside, historic Galle Fort is another Sri-Lankan must-see.

I loved sleeping in the canopied four posters in Galle Fort and Kandy, but our bed by the sea in Negombo was one of a kind. The Beach Lodge is owned and managed by an accomplished ventriloquist, puppeteer and magician who created our enchanting room. With a wave of his magic wand, Roy transformed room nine into a place Ulysses would love. The fantasy begins in the ensuite that features a striking blue and gold mermaid in a Statue of Liberty pose. But, as one might expect, she’s not a light fitting. Instead of a torch, Roy’s siren of the sea proudly holds the shower rose aloft.

The maritime theme flows, pun intended, from the bathroom into the boudoir where a restored catamaran in full sail rides the waves. (If painting the floor was hard, try painting this picture!) The “cat” a.k.a. bed has two configurations. All one has to do is release the mainsheet and drop the sail for a king size bed or leave it up for twin ones. Conversely, the mainsail can be easily re-hoisted should one of a twosome want to abandon ship! All I can say is that Roy’s boat bed puts a whole new slant on the nautical terms: between the sheets and to be three sheets to the wind!

Apparently Roys plans to let his creative juices loose in some of the other rooms too. I can’t wait to see what he does.

I didn’t go to Sri Lanka because I wanted to; I went there because I had to go somewhere nearby India to renew my three-month tourist visa. Since it was also Kuldip’s first time in Sri Lanka, we decided to have a look around while my visa was being processed.

My love of travel is inextricably linked to my love of history and culture. So, since I was in Sri Lanka, I was excited by the prospect of going where the best sapphires in the world are mined and to gaze at an unforgettable childhood image. After visiting a gem mine in Ratnapura, our next stop was tea country to experience what I consider quintessential Sri Lanka. Although I’d never planned to visit Sri Lanka, now that I was there I hankered to see sari-clad women with baskets on their backs harvesting tea on the rolling hills of old Ceylon. Alas, it wasn’t to be. The day before we planned to leave, Monsoon rains caused a landslide in the hill country. At the time, sixteen people had been killed, an estimated 200 were missing and countless homes lost. Even though the disaster wasn’t close to where we were going, we took heed of the government’s warning to steer clear of the area.

Apart from my romantic notions of sparkling cobalt-blue gems and tea that used to come from Ceylon, Sri Lanka lacks a draw card. Even though it has no iconic landmark or building to speak of, Sri Lanka, in my book, will always have room nine at the Beach Lodge.

Floating Market, Pettah, Colombo

Floating Market, Pettah, Colombo

Dilmah, not my cup of tea.

Dilmah, not my cup of tea.

At the Pedlar 62 Guest House in Galle Fort.

At the Pedlar 62 Guest House in Galle Fort.

The beautiful entrance foyer at the Richmond House Boutique Hotel in Kandy

The beautiful entrance foyer at the Richmond House Boutique Hotel in Kandy.

Kuldip, dressed to kill!

Kuldip, dressed to kill!

Another man looking colourful in Kandy.

Another man looking colourful in Kandy.

When you're hot, you're hot.

When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Who wants first shower?

Who wants first shower?

What DID the girl say to the sailor?

What DID the girl say to the sailor?

SRI LANKA PART ONE – A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME

Given the proximity of India and Sri Lanka at their most southern and northern points respectively, it’s not surprising that Sri Lankan food and the cuisines of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in India’s south are similar.

Since I wanted my palate to be pleasantly surprised, I decided not dig too deeply into Sri Lankan cuisine before I got there.

My introduction to local fare was at our schmick hotel in Colombia, Cinnamon Red, where the food was dreadful. The crab dish we had at a nearby restaurant on our second evening in the Sri Lankan capital was also appalling. The only good meal we had in Colombo was at the Mango Tree in Mawatha. The food, alas, was north Indian not Sri Lankan. I’m sure some good restaurants exist in the island capital, but we didn’t know where they were; none of the locals we asked knew either. Colombo left a bad taste in my mouth.

Next day Kuldip and I hired a car and left for Galle on Sri Lanka’s south west coast. On the way, we stopped at a 200-year-old five-star heritage hotel that I wanted to see. Located outside Colombo in its namesake town, on its namesake beach, the Mount Lavinia Hotel is drop dead gorgeous, which is more than I can say for the morning tea we had in the Terrace Lounge. My double espresso that dribbled down the outside of my cup, and Kuldip’s pot of tea were passable, at a push. The service wasn’t up to five-star standard either. Neither was my strawberries and cream that comprised an enormous mound of spray-can mock cream, which I detest, and skewered strawberries that were rock-hard. I was lucky not to break a tooth! The hotel’s only saving grace was Kuldip’s individual ice-cream cake that was a chocoholic’s dream, come true. Before going there, we considered staying at the Mount Lavinia Hotel for a night or two on our return to Colombo, but based on our disappointing experience, we decided not to.

As we approached our final destination, a family-run bed and breakfast in the historic Galle Fort area was, simultaneously, rolling out the red carpet for the first arrival in celebration of its anniversary. It was our lucky day; it was the 28th of October; it was four years to the day since Pedlar 62 opened for business and Kuldip, and I were the first guests to check in. It was one of the few times in my life that I was in the right place at the right time. The family’s gift to us was a bottle of French red and a home-cooked dinner.

That balmy night we sipped Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet 2010 on the first-floor balcony while savouring every mouthful of a traditional Sri Lankan meal. The feast comprised six curries plus rice, pappadams, and an incredible selection of condiments all prepared by the mum and wife of our host, Ravi.

It was the first time I had sampled curries made from banana blossom, winged bean and dry green leaves. The fish and aubergine curries and silky dhal, however, were different from the ones I had had in India. Each and every dish was incredibly tasty, but I was pleasantly surprised, in particular, by the fish curry. I don’t usually like seafood curries because the spices often overpower the fish or crustacean flavour leaving nothing but the texture of the fish to savour.

The fish, however, in Pedlar 62’s spicy Sri Lankan curry was so fresh I could taste the sea. When asked what type of fish it was, Ravi told me it was what the locals call One Day Fish. It’s the catch of the day by Galle’s fishermen who leave shore each afternoon at around five o’clock and return ten or so hours later.

Now that I’ve tried Ravi’s family recipe for One Day Fish curry, I want one every day!

Ravi admitted he contributed nothing to our magnificent meal except carry it upstairs to the first floor. Breakfast, apparently, is always on him, and he prepared one of the best we had in Sri Lanka. Each morning Ravi would rustle up a colourful platter of fresh fruits, heaps of toast and jam and eggs however one likes them. When given a choice, I always go for an egg-white omelette. It’s something most people, including some chefs, manage to screw up. To my delight, however, Ravi isn’t one of them.

The wine we had on Pedlar 62’s anniversary was outstanding, and the meal extraordinary. I know it was, because we ordered something similar the following evening at an eatery nearby. While Mama’s restaurant has a good reputation for dishing up traditional Sri Lankan fare, it paled when compared to what came from ‘mamma’s’ kitchen at Pedlar 62.

From Galle, we travelled north to begin my research into Sri Lanka’s gemstone industry. Ratnapura is a mining town and therefore no jewel in Sri Lanka’s crown when it comes to food. Moving right along after a one-night stay in the City of Gems, we arrived at what I consider the prettiest place we went to in Sri Lanka.

Culturally rich Kandy should be on everyone’s hit list. Unlike most places I visit around the world, I didn’t go to this regal city in search of Sri Lankan cuisine. Based on what I ate there though, I doubt if the food in most of the cafes, hotels and restaurants in Kandy is as sweet as the city itself.

Some of the best food finds are sometimes in places least expected. Our ‘off the beaten track’ in Sri Lanka led us to a little place in Negombo on the south west coast. Roy, the owner/operator of the Beach Lodge, is, without a shadow of a doubt, a host with the most. Meanwhile, the chef and his trainee churned out some of the best meals we had during our two-week travels around the island.

A perfect penne introduced us to the talents of these two young men. The fresh prawn and chilli pasta we had for lunch there, on our first day in Negombo, was so good we went back that evening to sample the Seafood Platter. The assortment included a whole fish plus crab, calamari and prawns with french fries and a refreshing pineapple salad on the side. It was tastiest seafood we’d eaten in a long time. Kuldip and I were so impressed with the food at the Beach Lodge, the next day we checked out of where we were staying and went to Roy’s to be closer to his al fresco dining room!

Since the Beach Lodge guesthouse and restaurant is located on the shore of the Indian Ocean, being beachside was another big bonus for moving in. We were there for four days and three nights during which time we couldn’t resist having another superb seafood platter. I could wax lyrical too about the unforgettable fresh lobster and Sri Lankan dishes we enjoyed at the Beach Lodge. The crab curry was exceptionally yummy.

For breakfast the morning we left, the chef made us Biththara Appa or Egg Hopper, which Roy wanted us to try. A Hopper is the Sri Lankan equivalent of a crispy south Indian rice flour and lentil pancake called a Dosa. Dosa, which is also popular in other parts of India, is usually presented cone-shaped, rolled or folded in half. A crispy Sri Lankan Egg Hopper, on the other hand, is made from rice flour and coconut milk; is bowl-shaped and comes with an egg in the centre. The homemade Hopper was just delicious served with fresh banana, coconut sambal, chilli sauce and freshly tapped palm-tree sap the Sri Lankans call honey.

The distinction between a Hopper and a Dosa is a good example of the subtle differences between Sri Lankan and south Indian food. Many diverse cooking techniques, however, further separate Sri Lankan cuisine from Indian food north of the southern regions. For example, Indians tend to use raw spices whereas the Sri Lankans prefer to roast them. Since coconut palms grow in abundance in Sri Lanka, cooks there substitute coconut milk for ghee or clarified butter used in most parts of India. Unlike Indian food per se, a sweet and sour flavour also features in Sri Lankan food.

The behaviour of some people can erode one’s faith in humanity while others restore it. Food, to me, is much the same. For example, my hope of getting a good Sri Lankan meal was dashed until I tasted the extraordinary home-cooked curries we had at the Pedlar 62 guesthouse in Galle Fort. The sensational meals that came out of Roy’s kitchen at the Beach Lodge in Negombo went on to prove the skill of some Sri Lankan chefs and emphasise the fresh and remarkable ingredients all the local cooks have at their disposal.

Red, red wine on the first floor balcony at Pedlar 62 in Galle Fort.

Red, red wine on the first floor balcony at Pedlar 62 in Galle Fort.

THE memorable home-cooked meal at the Pedlar 62 Guesthouse in Galle Fort.

The memorable home-cooked meal at the Pedlar 62 Guesthouse in Galle Fort.

Ravi with his wife, Asangi (L) and mum.

Ravi with his wife, Asangi (L) and mum.

With the host with the most, Roy, at the Beach Lodge in Negombo.

With the host with the most, Roy, at the Beach Lodge in Negombo.

The Seafood Platter at the Beach Lodge in Negombo.

The Seafood Platter at the Beach Lodge in Negombo.

The Egg Hoppers prepared in the kitchen at the Beach Lodge in Negombo.

The Egg Hoppers prepared in the kitchen at the Beach Lodge in Negombo.

 

 

 

PONDICHERRY PART TWO – THAT’S LIFE

Most tourists who go to Pondicherry in search of a unique French experience in India will come away dissatisfied as Kuldip, and I did. The derelict French colonial buildings and gardens (especially the Botanical ones) that lie in wait must also disillusion the French visitors, who flock to the city they used to possess.

Two features reminiscent of France in Pondicherry is the tree-lined streets with á la Française names in the French Quarter and the policemen of Indian origin wearing Gendarme-shaped hats that one might spot in and around the city. Nevertheless, what would make someone who lives in France feel at home in Pondicherry is the amount of doggie ‘do’ on the streets. It’s not pedigree poodle poo though; stray dogs are rife in India.

Apart from those little reminders, Pondicherry’s ooh la la, like the French themselves, is long gone. What’s past is past and because most Indians don’t appreciate history or the role it continues to play in the evolution of their country, the Pondicherry that once was, will probably never be again. That’s why it’s better to go there to experience the indigenous way of life in the Tamil Nadu city, not the imagined French one.

Although the French Quarter is the place to stay, once you’re out of it true Tamil takes over. If one is pressed for time, a trip to the Goubert Market or Grand Bazaar, is the most practical way to experience Tamil life at full-throttle. This sizeable marketplace is where locals go to buy fresh produce. The spice section awakens the senses, as do the countless flower stalls where men and women calmly sit amid the hustle and bustle threading lovely garlands. Flowers play an important role in Hinduism so the other elaborate floral decorations they make are also worth seeing.

The market is as colourful as the men and women who work there. I had a wonderful time with the women who sell the fishermen’s catch of the day as well as those who trade in fresh fruit, veggies and herbs. I’m constantly amazed at how a friendly smile crosses all cultural and language barriers; sisterhood does too.

Christianity and Hinduism happily live side-by-side here, so there’s no shortage of churches and temples to see like the Manakula Vinayargar Temple. This house of worship is dedicated to the popular Hindu god, Ganesh, so, in Australian terms, it’s “as busy as Bourke Street.” Ganesh is the recognisable half man, half elephant god, so it fits that a live elephant is sometimes there to take the plate around. My suspicion, however, is that the many tourists probably donate more to the temple than the faithful. Lakshmi wasn’t there the day we were. Some sources say she’s there all day; others quote each day at five o’clock in the afternoon. Therefore, like most things in India, to see Ganesh’s mascot is potluck.

If one craves some silence in the pandemonium that is Pondicherry, the world-renowned Sri Aurobindo Ashram is the place to go. Limited access to the Ashram is free during visiting hours (8am-12noon and 2-6pm). To see other parts of the Ashram, one needs to stay there or take a guided tour.

As stated in my last blog titled, Gourmets En Garde, Pondicherry’s French Quarter is not the place to go for excellent seafood or a classic French meal. Similarly, this city by the sea is not the place for a beachside holiday either because there’s nowhere to swim or work on your tan. The only things to do along the beachfront is promenade along Goubert Avenue or gaze over the Indian Ocean while sitting on one of the big boulders that stretch along the foreshore as far as the eye can see.

Kuldip and I are at an age when it’s not easy to get up off the ground so when we go pool or beachside sun lounges are mandatory. We found these creature comforts and more, at a resort about ten kilometres out of town. Le Pondy charges non-guests 1,000 rupees or A$20, per day for full use of the facilities around the pool, and on the beach. It’s worth every rupee.

In my opinion, a three-day and two-night stay is ample time to peruse Pondicherry. However, if you want to practice your parlez-vous français, Paris would be a better place to do it. C’est la vie.

Some of the hard working women in the Goubert Market, Pondicherry

Some of the hard working women in the Goubert Market, Pondicherry

They say it with flowers at Pondicherry's  Goubert Market.

They say it with flowers at Pondicherry’s Goubert Market.

A floral tribute.

A floral tribute.

The spice of Indian life.

The spice of Indian life.

A sisterhood smile at work.

A sisterhood smile at work.

Pondicherry on the rocks.

Pondicherry on the rocks.

Poolside at Le Pondy.

Poolside at Le Pondy.

 

PONDICHERRY PART ONE – GOURMETS ‘EN GUARDE’

It makes no difference whether I ponder Puducherry or puzzle over Pondicherry; the outcome is the same – the French have well, and truly ‘left the building.’ Not much remains of the buildings they left either. It is also a very expensive place to visit by Indian standards. The food is ordinary too.

A friend told Kuldip, and I that Pondicherry was the best place to go for seafood on India’s southeast coast. In retrospect, I should have asked where he had eaten it because if it’s still there, we couldn’t find it. Believe me, we tried. We searched for five days, and four nights starting at Villa Shanti. Although beautifully cooked, the fish and prawns were tasteless. While I can’t recommend the seafood, Villa Shanti’s Ginger Martini is the only cocktail I had in Pondicherry worth mentioning. Although Villa Shanti wasn’t the place to go for seafood when we were there, it was for curries and desserts. The Orange and Almond Cake with Chocolate Mousse was particularly good.

The following evening, we went to the Promenade Hotel on the beachfront. Here, they served us a magnificent seafood platter that didn’t taste as good as it looked. Undeterred, the next night we ventured out to the Maison Perumal. The less said about that seafood meal, the better.

They say fortune favours the brave, so on our last night we searched for what we now called “the infernal fish” at another top restaurant in the French Quarter. The seafood platter at Palais de Mahé was similar to the one we had at the Promenade Hotel two nights earlier. It also cost the earth, which is where the food probably came from since it didn’t taste like it had come from open waters! The calamari, however, was excellent.

Pondicherry, undoubtedly, has chefs who know how to cook seafood. We came across some of them. I believe, therefore that the raw ingredients are more likely to blame for our mediocre meals. It’s difficult to tell, sometimes, if the fish you get came out of the freezer. Since I was always satisfied with the texture, I don’t think any of ours did. I’m pretty sure the prawns didn’t either because the consistency was always as it should be.

My belief is, that much of what comes on a seafood platter in Pondicherry is most likely cultivated. The prawns, for example, probably come from one of the many prawn hatcheries in the area. I will not be surprised if the origin of the fish is a bit fishy too. Lots of seafood comes from farms these days. As in all areas of agriculture, some farmers are better than others. However, I’ve never heard of squid being home grown. I reckon that’s why the calamari we had in Pondicherry didn’t disappoint.

Our search for some flavoursome fruits of the sea in Pondicherry was, in a word, fruitless. Undoubtedly, there’s sensational seafood to be had along this section of India’s coastline but in my experience, it’s not in Pondicherry. Whether the friend who told us about the excellent seafood there had spun us a line or not, I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. I‘d rather put it down to the fickle hospitality industry in which food can be perfect one day, average the next. Le Café on the beach in Pondicherry, which I reviewed on TripAdvisor, is a perfect example.

Most of the French-style breads, cakes and pastries we came across were also second-rate and not worth writing home about. What is, though, is a dessert I had at Palais de Mahé, which is a Tamil take on the classic French dessert, Crème Caramel. Vattilappam is delicious, and it was the only credible fusion of French and Tamil cuisines I found.

While the French Quarter is the best area in which to stay in Pondicherry, it’s nothing more, in my opinion, than one petite slice of a thriving city that is largely Indian. The French fable is fading, and fast. If it weren’t for some of the colonial street names that remain, you would never believe that Pondicherry was part of France, once-upon-a time.

Et j’en passé. Part two coming soon. Watch this space …

The Promenade Hotel's platter.

The Promenade Hotel’s platter.

The seafood platter at Palais de Mahe.

The seafood platter at Palais de Mahe.

The Vatalappam at Palais de Mahe.

The Vatalappam at Palais de Mahe.