Early morning Mumbai

Early morning deserted streets. Colaba, Mumbai.

Early morning deserted streets. Colaba, Mumbai.

Mumbai is not much of an early-morning city. Morning rush hour peaks between 9 and 11am, and we’ve heard that the average work day runs from 10am to 7pm or so. Given my penchant for markets, industrial areas and other infrastructure-related attractions, I scheduled a busy morning visiting a few of the more unusual sights throughout the city. Some of these places are best seen at the crack of dawn.

The first stop, the Sassoon fish docks at 5am, was a little too early and smelly for Eliza’s taste, so I left our hotel in the Colaba neighborhood alone while it was still dark for the short walk to the docks. I quickly joined the throngs of sari-clad women carrying big empty plastic tubs on their heads. I entered the docks through an avenue of ice factories, fishing supply dealers, and tea shops into the early hours of the market.

Ladies heading to the fish market.

Ladies heading to the fish market.

Ice factory near the fish market, Mumbai.

Ice factory near the fish market, Mumbai.

Along the sides of the pier, hulking wooden trawlers were packed nose-in, 2 or 3 boats deep. Med stood on the boat decks buried ankle deep in their catch, sorting it into piles of shrimp, squid, and scaly fish of all shapes and sizes. On the pier, men and women ferried baskets of fish on their heads and on long wooden carts to stalls where they hawk their wares, organized neatly by type and size on the concrete floor.

Due to its proximity to a Naval pier, photos were prohibited so I didn’t bring a camera, but I managed to snap a few mediocre iPhone shots on the walk there. It’s always cool to see the fishing-village roots of an otherwise huge and metropolitan city. It’s a side of Mumbai that most people either don’t know about, or can’t drag themselves out of bed to see.

After stopping for a quick chai at a dockside canteen and swinging by the hotel to pick up Eliza, we caught the commuter train to the suburb of Dadar to see the tail end of the wholesale flower market. The highway underpass just next to the train station is packed with shops and stalls selling flowers, wreaths, and even full grown banana trees for temple offerings. Wandering among the baskets overflowing with bright saffron colored marigolds and sweet smelling jasmine buds was a welcome change in sight and smell from the day’s first venue.

Flower market vendors. Dadar, Mumbai.

Flower market vendors. Dadar, Mumbai.

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Roses for sale. Dadar, Mumbai.

Roses for sale. Dadar, Mumbai.

We hopped back on the train just in time to catch sunrise through the always-open doors of Mumbai’s commuter rail cars. Riding the train in Mumbai is an adventure in and of its self. During peak hours, you literally have to fight your way into the packed cars, through a wall of men (women ride in separate cars and are generally spared the worst of the chaos), and hang out the open doors to avoid the crush. The cars were mercifully empty on a Saturday at 7am, and provided a drive-by tour of the shantytowns and highrises of Mumbai in the orange dawn light.

Our third stop, Mahalaxmi Dobhi ghat, is the most famous of the city’s many clothes washing centers. Spread over a couple of acres, dobhi ghat is lined with small concrete cubicles filled knee deep with water and featuring a smooth stone slab in the center where washer men soap, scrub, and beat the clothes of the entire city. The complex is shaded by endless lines of color sorted uniforms, sheets, jeans, and dress shirts drying in the sun.

On our way out of dhobi ghat, we stumbled upon a street vendor selling pieces of a giant paratha (flaky, chewy and delightfully greasy flat breads), topped with bright orange dhal halwa, a deliciously sweet and sticky confection made of semolina, butter, sugar, and flavored with cardamom. The combination was a totally new treat for us, as was the sheer diameter of the parathas, which were sold by ripped off a handful at a time. Stumbling across unique local snacks, especially sold in the street, is my absolute favorite thing about traveling, so the experience added another awesome note to an already eventful day.

Early morning at dhobi ghat. Mahalaxmi, Mumbai.

Early morning at dhobi ghat. Mahalaxmi, Mumbai.

Paratha and halwa outside of dhobi ghat. Mahalaxmi, Mumbai.

Paratha and halwa outside of dhobi ghat. Mahalaxmi, Mumbai.

We arrived at our final and favorite destination at 8am, just as life in the city was beginning to pick up. We hoped the odor of the Buleshwar Pandrapole would help us navigate to it, but after a few minutes of fruitless sniffing we came to a grass delivery waiting in the street, and followed a man carrying a bail of hay through alleys. The Pandrapole was opened in the mid 1800’s to shelter pigs and dogs after the British instituted a policy of shooting strays in the street at night. It now houses a variety of creatures, but the majority of space is dedicated to a hundred or so of the fattest and happiest cows, calves, and bulls either Eliza or I had ever met.

We didn’t see any milking operation there, but we assume it is also used as a local dairy. However, the cause for the cows’ excessive girth is the dozens of local Hindu devotees who come each day to feed the cows as an auspicious offering. The facility sells bundles of grass and grain laddus, baseball sized lumps of yeasty smelling oats. We of course couldn’t pass up the opportunity to feed and pet some furry friends, especially the babies, and although photos aren’t allowed, I managed to sneak a quick shot of Eliza in bovine bliss on my phone.

Petting the calves. Pandrapole, Mumbai.

Petting the calves. Pandrapole, Mumbai.

Feeding the cows, Pandrapole, Mumbai.

Feeding the cows, Pandrapole, Mumbai.

We made it back to the hotel before the streets got too hot and hectic, and avoided the mid day heat by relaxing in our room. Compared to the slog and smog of sightseeing in Mumbai during the day, it was an amazingly pleasant and relaxing experience, and an itinerary I’d highly recommend to anyone with a penchant for offbeat attractions and the fortitude for the early hour and occasional strong odor.

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Flores

Scooting around Flores.

Scooting around Flores.

After a few days snorkeling on Semaya Island, we decided to push on to our next venue.

Our friends from Ubud mentioned that they were considering a trans-Flores trip, slowly moving eastward across the island, sightseeing along the way. They were planning to drive across the island on a motorbike, an ambitious plan, verging on insanity except for the fact that Wayan is an expert biker and they were traveling with minimal luggage. With our enormous backpacks in tow, we were relegated to more pedestrian means of transportation, namely, the public bus or ‘bemo,’ as it’s known throughout Indonesia.

Long hours were logged in these colorful 'bemos.'

Long hours were logged in these colorful ‘bemos.’

These are usually older model vans, colorfully decorated and packed to the gills with passengers of all sorts, old and young, men and women, families with peeing-vomiting-crying babies, and men swilling palm liquor out of plastic gas canisters as the sun sets.  Even the cargo was entertaining: nervous chickens tied up by their ankles blinking quietly at someone’s feet, and a tied-up hairy black hog tossed atop the van along with random pieces of battered luggage.

Hanging out with some local kids in the hot springs.

Hanging out with some local kids in the hot springs.

The people we met on these long, hot journeys were without fail incredibly kind, considerate, and politely curious.  We also made huge improvements with our Bahasa Indonesia, mostly through eavesdropping on our friends from Ubud (one of whom is from Bali, and another has lived on Bali for 3 years and speaks impeccable Bahasa), but also just chatting with our seatmates on the long bus rides.

The conversations took a familiar pattern beginning with ‘Good morning, how are you? Have you eaten? Yes, of course. Oh good.’ Etc etc etc. The conversations were delightful and charming in their regularity, but also in the constant expression of genuine interest.

Beautiful crater lakes at Kelimutu

Beautiful crater lakes at Kelimutu

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The sites across Flores skewed toward outdoorsy things – hot springs, hiking up volcanoes, snorkeling, visiting a local village for a traditional animal sacrifice (you won’t see the graphic photos here, but it was an education for both Zev and me in how livestock is raised and butchered in village communities). Overall, Flores is a land of tremendous natural beauty, and unspoiled hospitality.

An animal sacrifice ceremony at a local village near Bajawa.

An animal sacrifice ceremony at a local village near Bajawa.

Mixing up blood lawar for the special feast.

Mixing up blood lawar for the special feast. The fresh blood is mixed with salt, spices

Cooking up a stew near Bajawa. The men grilled and boiled the meat in huge oil drums.

Cooking up a stew near Bajawa. The men grilled and boiled the meat in these huge oil drums.

All of the ladies were involved in steaming the rice.

The ladies from the village steamed vats of rice to feed hundreds of people from nearby villages.

'Ma'af habis' means 'sorry, we've run out.' It became a catchphrase of sorts for Flores. Every restaurant, gas station, scooter rental, hotel was 'ma'af habis.'

‘Ma’af habis’ means ‘sorry, we’ve run out.’ It became a catchphrase of sorts for Flores. We visited Flores in the peak of the high season, and were greeted with this message at many a restaurant, gas station, scooter rental, and hotel.

A few things were constants throughout our trans-Flores journey.

1.The people of Flores were some of the friendliest we have met anywhere, children on the side of the road would shout ‘hello Mister!’ at the top of their lungs or race out to try to give you a high five, desperate to get a reaction from the funny looking foreigners.

2. The landscape of across Flores was breathtaking. Each new region was completely different, from hillsides with tall stands of bamboo, to winding seaside highways with sweeping views of the turquoise sea and misty volcanoes beyond. The sunsets were so incredible, it felt like nature was trying to show off each evening. It is difficult to express in words the variety of unexpectedly beautiful landscapes on the island.

3. The hotels on Flores were terrible. Oh man, so bad. Zev and I don’t mind staying in crummy rooms, as evidenced by our rat’s nest of a beach shack in the previous post, but Flores took it to a whole new level.

4. The food was pretty subpar. Ok, more than subpar. It was on the same level as the hotels. MSG-flavored fried rice for every meal (don’t think MSG is a flavor unto itself, think again my friend)? Check. Said fried rice takes 2 hours to arrive? You bet. A few times we nearly went hungry because every ‘restaurant’ in town shuts down by 7:30pm.

Sapodilla fruit.

Sapodilla fruit.

Despite my expression, this was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Grilled mackerel with sour and spicy fish soup.

Despite my expression, this was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Grilled mackerel with sour and spicy fish soup.

So all-in-all Flores was hit and miss. At the end of 3 weeks trekking across the vast island, I was so ready to see a big city. But we also felt like we had expanded our understanding of Indonesia and come to appreciate the hospitality of a place that is just beginning to come to grips with tourism. Living in the shadow of Bali, Flores has a pretty nifty tourism campaign underway and it seems to be drawing the crowds they hoped for, but perhaps the infrastructure of the island wasn’t quite ready for so many demanding tourists.

A friendly local pup, more interested in my food scraps than my camera.

A friendly local pup, more interested in my food scraps than my camera.

We discovered our own secret beach.

We discovered our own secret beach.

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A dusty market in Moni, Flores.

A dusty market in Ruteng, Flores.

Our next stop brought us directly to the big city. We headed to the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur and back to LaZat Cooking Class to learn more about the Malaysian food we are so crazy about. We can’t wait to share a few recipes and photos with you guys! Here’s a sneak peek:

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Kuala Lumpur, Hiking Gunung Angsi

A perfect breakfast, teh tarik or 'pulled tea' in a bag. This is the most civilized way to recover from jetlag; with a sweet milky frothy iced tea.

A perfect breakfast, teh tarik or ‘pulled tea’ in a bag. This is the most civilized way to recover from jetlag; with a sweet milky frothy iced tea.

Upon leaving the states, we made a quick weekend pit stop in Kuala Lumpur, one of our favorite eating cities, to pick up visas for our current stay in Bali. While in town for the weekend we met up with Ana, owner of LaZat cooking school where we learned to make amazing Beef Rendang on our last visit. She offered to take us hiking in the outskirts of the city and we gamely joined in.

Ana took us on a monster of a hike; 9 miles up and down a jungle mountain! I survived with only one leech attack and some very sore legs.

Boozy rice porridge, apparently a traditional pre-trek breakfast full of energy and alcohol. ;)

Boozy rice porridge, apparently a traditional pre-trek breakfast full of energy and alcohol. 😉

All smiles before the big climb.

All smiles before the big climb.

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It felt like such an achievement to reach the top.

It felt like such an achievement to reach the top.

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IMG_1182 IMG_1181 IMG_1126After this day of hiking, I’ll admit we were hobbling around a bit…our fitness routine has been a bit lacking since completing our Divemaster program. So we recuperated with lots of tasty Indian food and Roti Canai. The food in Malaysia has become so familiar and old hat to us, I failed to take many photos of it. I promise not to make that mistake next time, and hopefully ‘next time’ will be right around the corner! Each visit to Malaysia finds us even more enthralled with the cuisine, the culture, and the people. And each time we fly out, we leave whispering in wonder at how much we love the place.

The gorgeous Petronas Towers.

The gorgeous Petronas Towers.

One of our favorite spots for Roti Canai, the fact that it's open 24 hours is a major bonus.

One of our favorite spots for Roti Canai, the fact that it’s open 24 hours is a major bonus.

Banana leaf meals, love these places, but sadly didn't find the time for it on this visit to KL.

Banana leaf meals, love these places, but sadly didn’t find the time for it on this visit to KL.

We even managed to discover a whole new neighborhood, Brickfields, which is a colorful tangle of roads with rows of bangle shops, sari stores, and restaurants specializing in South Indian cuisine.

A vegetarian banana leaf meal, one of my favs.

A vegetarian banana leaf meal, one of my favs.

A shop of technicolor deities, this was my fav.

A shop of technicolor deities, this was my fav.

Bangle shop in Brickfields, KL

Bangle shop in Brickfields, KL

Singapore, a city of food

Of course we couldn’t visit Singapore and not write about the food! Eliza graciously held off to give me a chance for a guest post.

Food was definitely the impetus for our stopover, which turned out to be a blessing as it was pretty much the only activity we could afford. Singapore is known for its shopping and expensive restaurants but in our book, it’s real claim to fame is hawker centers: open air complexes lined with rows of food stalls, packed with locals grabbing lunch and tourists sampling the local fare. Singaporeans take their food seriously, and it’s not uncommon to wait half an hour at the most popular stalls. I certainly hate lines as much as the next guy, but as the tour books are quick to point out, the long lines are the key to finding the best food!

Endless options at Maxwell hawker center

Endless options at Maxwell hawker center

Similar to Malaysia, Singapore has a mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malay food. Depending on the neighborhood, hawker centers skew toward either Chinese or Indian food, with a smattering of the community’s take on Malay dishes. This ensures you’ll never exhaust Singapore’s bounty of culinary delights, as dishes by the same name are prepared differently depending on where you get them. Char Kway Teow, an “everything but the kitchen sink” sweet and spicy fried noodle dish ranged in color from tandoori-chicken red to soy sauce brown, and we’re still not sure what Rojak is since, as far as we could tell, it was a curry at one stall, and a salad at another!

photo 4Not missing an opportunity to eat biryani and dosas, we stayed in a hostel in Little India, and did much of our eating at the nearby Tekka hawker center. Tekka’s piece de resistance was Tulang Power, mutton marrow bones in a sweet and spicy dye-your fingers red broth. Eliza slurped up the devilishly rich marrow with a straw while I stuck to the few scraps of flaky meat left on the bone, drenched in the tasty sauce. We mopped up the remaining sauce with Murtabak, Malaysia’s take on the culturally ubiquitous stuffed bread. (By the way, if you’re in Singapore  and looking for Murtabak, our far and away favorite was ZamZam restaurant in Kampung Glam neighborhood, thanks to a tip from our friend Kim.)

ZamZam's perfectly crunchy, flakey, and savory Mutton Murtabak

ZamZam’s perfectly crunchy, flakey, and savory Mutton Murtabak

We also made it to the Maxwell hawker center, one of Chinatown’s more popular hawker centers, and used the opportunity to try one of Singapore’s hallmark dish, Chicken Rice. To the unsuspecting observer it may look like a bland chicken breast with plain steamed rice, but it still astounds me how much flavor and texture is packed into such a colorless dish. The chicken is drenched in a sweet and salty sauce that while simple is too tasty not to love, and the seemingly plain-jane rice is in fact cooked in chicken broth. To top it all off, the real masterpiece of the dish is the velvety-ness of the chicken, by far the most moist and tender chicken breast I have ever had.

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Overall, Singapore definitely lived up to its culinary reputation. Our 3 days there were quite a feast, and like any truly great trip, left us with plenty to come back for. We didn’t get a chance to try the famous chili crab and the mystery of Rojak remains unsolved.

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Pre-Trip Planning & Coconut Almond ‘KIND’ Bars, the Knock Off

Between applying for Chinese and Burmese visas, collecting all the odds bits of travel medicine and gear, we have been busy! Late last month we made a sudden decision to head to Burma/Myanmar for about 3 weeks in early December. While we’re both very excited about adding this country to the itinerary, it also requires some planning.

I made these granola bars to munch on while we ran errands.  They kept the crankiness at bay.

I tweaked this ‘Moments of Musing’ recipe to create my own granola bars – adding crystallized ginger, flax seeds, and a dash of cinnamon for some pep. The result is somewhat crumbly, but next time a quarter cup of almond butter might help to hold things together.

Coconut Almond KIND Knock Off Bars

Makes about 16 bars

2 cups raw sliced almonds, skins on

1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut

3/4 cup puffed rice cereal

1/2 cup palm sugar syrup (1/2 cup palm sugar mixed with 1/4 cup hot water) OR 1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup almond or peanut butter (optional; this makes the final product more cohesive, but I hate nut butter – so there!)

1/4 cup flax seeds (optional; for fiber and shiny hair)

1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8X8 glass baking dish with parchment paper, this will make removing the bars much easier.

In a large mixing bowl combine the almonds, flaked coconut, puffed rice cereal, flax seeds, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Fold in the palm sugar syrup or honey.

Scrape the mixture into the baking dish and firmly press together. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. Let cool completely before removing the hardened mass from the pan and slicing into bars. Wrap in parchment or wax paper to store. Can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week.

Enjoy and stay safe during Hurricane Sandy!

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Shoes and Jamaican Beef Patties

Packing clothing for an entire year into one backpack has been an interesting challenge. We're not planning on going anywhere too frigid, but having a week's worth of clothing for weather from the low 50's (China in November) to hot (hopefully most of our trip) means weather-flexible clothing is the way to go.

This mantra has proven the most difficult when it comes to shoes. The engineer in me took over and after developing a seemingly impossible set of requirements (waterproof, lightweight, low cut, hiking tread, comfortable enough to run in), researching online for a couple hours, and taking trips to no less than 5 outdoors stores in DC, Richmond, and Connecticut, I ended up with the less than beautiful but extremely functional New Balance MO1521 GTX. Eliza on the other hand has slightly higher aesthetic standards than I, and will be bringing her running shoes for hiking and other outdoor activities, and is currently shopping for a pair of boots for walking around town and for cold weather. Eliza's quest for a lightweight, sturdy, and affordable boot brought Eliza, our friend Sara, and I to SOHO in Manhattan yesterday. Although the quest was entirely exhausting and ultimately unsuccessful, it did yield a pretty phenomenal lunch.

New Balance MO 1521 GTX

I have the tendency to wander long distances aimlessly at the hope of stumbling on a hole-in-the-wall gem for a meal. While Eliza and I sometimes can enjoy this strategy together, when tired feet and hangriness (hangry = hungry + angry) are at play, this food finding approach can cause some relationship discord. After vetoing two perfectly acceptable but not-quite-interesting-enough-for-me places during our shoe shopping marathon yesterday, the hangriness was quickly setting in. But, after passing an uber hip looking membership based coffee shop and a brand new fancy looking bakery (Houston between Thompson and Sullivan), I knew we were in the perfect neighborhood to find a real treasure!

Luck must have been in my favor yesterday, because just around the corner we found Miss Lily's Variety and Bake Shop and Melvin's Juice Box, a Jamaican lunch counter and juice bar. We walked in ahead of a food walking tour just as the tour guide told his group that this was the least busy he'd ever seen the place. So some combination of my food spidey sense and old fashion dumb luck must have really been working for us.

For anyone who has not had a Jamaican beef patty, it is a saucy, spicy stew of ground meat (usually beef, but chicken is fairly common as well) folded up and baked in a pocket of buttery yellow dough.

They're sold commonly in pizza places in New York (I doubt there is any culinary or cultural link between pizza and patties, but I'm not complaining), and are a staple snack item in most Jamaican places I've been. Unlike any patty I've had before, Ms Lily's patties contained shredded beef instead of ground meat, which made it much heartier and more textured than usual, which I really enjoyed. As always, the spicy and delicious brown sauce of the filling balanced perfectly with the rich and sweet pastry, which was moist and doughy with the slightest bit of exterior crunch.

Mostly eaten jerk chicken roti

We also ordered a jerk chicken roti, which is the West-Indian answer to the burrito: shredded jerk chicken with peas and rice, wrapped up in a thin pancake. Miss Lily's jerk was flavorful and just at the limit of my heat-tolerance and in addition to the rice and peas, the cucumber salad inside the roti was delicious and much appreciated for its cooling effect.

We exerted some self control and didn't go for the extra patty-for-the-road, but they did have free postcards, so a couple of you will be receiving the first of many post cards from our travels.

For anyone in New York now craving a beef patty, definitely check out Miss Lily's! For those of you in DC, Sweet Mango Cafe in Petworth or Negril on Georgia Avenue near Howard University were our go-to Jamaican joints in the district.