Food & Drink


On our trip to Europe, we went to 5 cities and villages, of which Paris was the only one where we stayed in a hotel, since this came as part of a deal with our air tickets. In 3 places, we stayed at homestays, which as I always feel, turned out excellently, while in London, dear friend Desigirl put us up. So that left us with Paris, where hotel prices are quite high and rooms inversely small. Being budget travellers, and within the limits of our package, we took the cheapest rooms possible, at about EUR 80 per day. To give an idea of how high this is, at our next stop in rural France, we paid EUR 55 per day for a bedroom with a small attached living room as well as cosy patio for eating breakfast. In Paris, I could circle around the room twice and cover all of it! Still, we hardly stayed indoors, so I’m not complaining.

Now, coming to the title of this post. Parisian breakfast. Mainly bread, in the form of croissants, with butter and jam.

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This, we expected. But with the croissants, there was this really hard bread, which almost broke my teeth and took me ages to swallow. Does anyone have a clue what this is?

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The highlight of the breakfast was the really strong and flavorful coffee. It was just fantastic! I’ve heard before that you can’t get a bad coffee in Paris, and it is true – even our tiny, cramped hotel had superb coffee. With the coffee, came these sugar cubes, loads of them. I wonder, do Parisians drink their coffee so sweet? I’ve never seen so many sugar cubes being offered, and look at the wrappers – all Japanese anime!

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And in case you are wondering, no, I didn’t eat them all!

For all of us who thought that Bangalore was the ultimate pub city, London sure beats it hollow when it comes to the sheer numbers of pubs that the city has. Practically every street seems to have one, with many of them looking quite old and attractive. I confess that I simply looked into the Lonely Planet for this one, and didn’t really bother exploring the many options available. For one thing, we were walking around so much, that we didn’t really plan to do any late-night partying. Instead, all we wanted was a comfortable, preferably atmospheric place where we could rest our legs and try some local brew.

The very day we landed, we had a couple of hours to kill before our train to the Lake District. What better way to spend a rainy afternoon (with heavy backpacks down our backs..) than to enter into a pub pronto, and sample some of the tipples on offer. Thus it was, that we landed up, at the Lamb, recommended as it was by the book, and most importantly, close to our train station. The Lamb was apparently named after philanthropist William Lamb who brough fresh water to the locality!

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The draught beer (ale) that we had was excellent – light and refreshing. The nicest thing about The Lamb is the extremely friendly service, so it is a really nice place to go to. The food is good ttoo, if not extremelly cheap. (about 7 pounds per main dish). Another interesting thing about the pub, is that due to its Victorian times’ design (in the 19th C.), it has these “snob screens”, screens at head-level which would have concealed a drinkers’ identity. Talk about some serious drinking!

Another interesting pub we visited, was the Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, which is reputed as one of “the” oldest pubs in London, a worthy achievement when you consider how old and preserved everything in London seems to be! Older versions of the pub apparently date back to the 16th C. Regulars included worthies such as Dr. Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. We searched quite a bit for this pub, although it is just a hop and skip away from the St. Paul’s Cathedral from which we went here!

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The search was well worth it though. This is not as comfortable a pub as The Lamb, but what it lacks in practicality, it makes up by oozing atmosphere. The pub has many levels, although right now only three are open. Dark, narrow corridors and stairs take you through, and when we finally had our beers in the dark vaults below, we truly felt as though we were in some ancient time! I also tried some apple cider, one of those things which you keep reading in English books but have no clue what it is. I am happy to report that it tasted excellent, light and fruity, with just enough alcoholic flavor to make you feel that its not a fruit juice, but not too much at all.

Strangely, a small room on the right, as soon as you enter the pub, is reserved for men, and even proclaims on the door, “Gentlemen only served in this bar”! Truly, a relic of another era…It was also interesting to see how few people were having any cocktails, or even any stronger alcohol at all. Most patrons seemed to be drinking beer. Quite a contrast to the pub scene here….

Note: Drinking in London is highly affordable, with alcohol pretty cheap. I think we paid about 2 pounds for a pint, which is not bad . It is the food that is terribly expensive, especially if you are eating in a restaurent. Take-aways and fast food is much cheaper, though more boring ofcourse.

And, an interestingly written piece on British pub etiquette. Even if you’re not a drinker, its highly entertaining!

How can something that is spicy and tangy be so cold and refreshing at the same time? Behold, Solkadi, the Mangalorean-Goan drink made from kokum, coconut milk, and garlic, among other good things…

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These two half glasses of solkadi were had with much gusto on a hot sunday two weeks ago. I am a much better eater than a cook, since if you want more details on what solkadi is and how to make it, go here!

I’ve never been to Banaras, or Varanasi, as its known, but among other things, such as silk sarees, music, death, and salvation, that its known for, the humble paan also figures as one of its specialties.

I am no advocate for tobacco, but I love the meetha paan – the sweet paan, with its combination of bitter leaf, sweet, sticky gulkhand and assorted spice, saffron, areca nut… Last weekend, after an indulgent meal, we landed up at a local pan-wallah. Most of the pan-wallahs in Bangalore seem to hail from Uttar Pradesh and the various dialects they speak are a treat to listen to. Some of them seem quite distant from the regular Hindi one is used to.

Anyways, here are the Maghai paans that were offered to us, two each on a stick, to be popped in whole, chewed and savored…slowly. The leaves were a strange light green with black spots though. I don’t know if thats a characteristic of Maghai paans – atleast the ones I’ve had before didn’t seem to be this colour.

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Paan-lovers can find a nicely written piece here, on why dadi said good girls don’t eat paan!

When you think of beverages unique to a place, Paris and Wine, Japan and Sake or the US and Starbucks coffee are some of the things that come to mind. Countries like France take a lot of pride in their wines, and go to great lengths to promote them as a part of their culture as well as a tourist attraction. Infact there are wine tours and wine treks designed for beginners as well as afficionados. (Read Eric at the Paris Daily Photo blog, a truly fantastic blog, where he talks about one such wine ‘school’ in Paris)

In India ofcourse, Goa is the one state that is noted for its own drink, the Feni made usually from cashew fruit. The other one that comes to mind is Tamil Nadu (and maybe, Madras specifically) which is known for its filter coffee. (Check this customised tour of Madras aptly named Filter Coffee Tours!)

For me, a new addition to this list was – drinking Chang in Sikkim.

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Our hosts, the Lachungpa family who run this lovely homestay called the Hidden Forest Retreat arranged it as part of a traditional Sikkimese meal that we had one evening. We were told that the drink is made from millet grains which are fermented over time – as such it is very mildly alcoholic, though I suppose it could be made stronger ! The interesting thing is the way it is served, in those tall bamboo jars that you see. One has to literally suck the chang out through a straw, from the millet grain still in the pot. After some time, it dries up and then more hot water is poured in.

Give it a break, indulge in some good conversation or dreaming while looking at the fantastic views around. (which are never hard to come by in Sikkim). In this case the Hidden Forest has its own share of the picturesque, with beautiful flowers (including many orchids) all around.

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When you’re done, you can resume sipping again ! After a pleasant hour or so doing this, we went on to our fine dinner, which included steamed yak cheese momos, nettle soup and glass noodles, all home-made and delicious. What else does a hungry traveller need….