I have been anticipating my first taste of a real mango for ten years. I was thus tempted by Madhur Jaffrey’s journalistic ode to the variety and flavor of mangoes native to India and unavailable in the U.S – “King of Fruits”.
I brought a Langra mango from Varanasi to Mumbai. I intended to have the Langra prepared for breakfast in the hotel dining room. However, The waiter suggested I take the mango back to my room to eat it as the Alfonso mango he would prepare for me would far surpass the variety in my hand. I challenged him to give me a taste test and he complied. He had the kitchen prepare each mango and asked me to sample each. I preferred the Alfonso he had prepared but suspect that the Northern Langra was not completely ripe. I later spoke with my two friends living in Mumbai that grew up in Delhi and Kolkata respectively. They each said that Mumbaikars are too proud of their Alfonsod to recognize and appreciate the complexity of their favored Langra. My friend, who is encyclopedic when it comes to food, described the Alfonso as “one note”. Oh, but what a sweet note! The Om of mangoes resonates with your taste buds and distills the spiritual essence of mango flavor and delivering it directly from tongue to mind. The mango is extremely sweet but not cloying. The Costa Rican mangoes we get in the U.S. are not remotely close in experience and flavor. The texture and color for the Alphonso’s fleash is as rich as its flavor.
I held on to a second Langra a few more days. It ripened and revealed why my friends and its other proponents are fond of it. Unfortunately I’m a poor food writer and unable to translate and recorder my experiences. All I remember is that both mangoes were much better than the ones available to me in the U.S. I’ll have to return to India in order to consumer more mangoes and properly capture the flavors for posterity.
We went from breakfast to a guided tour of Crawford Market. This is a covered market that had been operating for more than 200 years. Here we saw how the Alfonso mangoes are displayed and shopped. Each vendor takes great care to sort and display only the finest produce to please and retain customers in this competitive market. While in the market we experienced our first monsoon downpour. The monsoons had arrived with us the day we landed I the city, but this was the first time we had been outside when the water fell from the sky. It was quite heavy, but our space-age, breathable, synthetic fibers can’t is dry. Mumbaikers get by with or without umbrellas, but nary a raincoat. Very different look to outdoor attire between Seattle and Mumbai. However, we did see some billboard advertising western rain jackets like ours so perhaps they’ll be more common the next time I’m in Mumbai.
I arrived in Delhi late Friday night and did not expect an extensive tour of the city.
I knew I only had the morning for touring Delhi as I was due in Jaipur Saturday night. I only had one must do on my list and that was visiting the Jama Masjid in Delhi, India’s largest mosque. We met our tour guide at 9am and I inquired about how to balance our day between our morning excursion in Delhi and our evening arrival in Jaipur. I shared my single minded interested in seeing the Jama Masjid. Erin introduced a new destination that had been recommended to her by her Hyderabadi friends. Our tour guide, Himesh, explained though are two destinations were in different directions we could fit it all in and still be on the road in time to reach Jaipur before nightfall.
We first stopped at Jama Masjid. I had been to the mosque 10 years earlier on my first visit to Delhi. Those 10 years melted away and I had the sense of having always stood in the large, vacuous red square, feeling the warmth of the sandstone on the soles of my bare feet. Himesh and I continued a conversation which had begun in the drive to the mosque about India’s ancient and modern history, about Hinduism, and about Buddhism. He surprised me by ordering a rickshaw to take us through the market adjacent to the mosque. I suppose “markets” adjacent to the mosque would be a more accurate description. I am referring to the Chandi Chowk, the moonlit square. This street serves as the spice market. That street serves as the diamond market. That street is for weddings and features saris from $100 USD to $10,000 USD. That street is chock full of wholesale shoe vendors. We whisked through the myriad markets on our hired bicycle rickshaw.
Our only stop was at A. Kapur’s Trading Co., a non-descript spice shop among many lining the row of spice vendors. Walking in I was clueless as to the international acclaim of this particular spice vendor. Inside I was told it had been featured in Saveur magazine and there was photo of the C.E.O. of McCormick spices visiting the store to speak with the chef owner of the spice shop. In addition to trays of green and black cardamom, four different peppers, and small pouches of saffron, the store sales dozens of spice blends for all sorts of Indian cuisine as well as a smaller selection of Ayurvedic spice blends to manage headaches, joint pain, and to enhance results of studying. We had the most delicious chai served in the store. I suppose it was my first true chai, or at least the richest chai I’ve tried, as it was essentially tea steeped in milk (no water) with cardamom and ginger. It was delicious. I purchased a fancy tea from Assam, but stopped short of buying the finest tea in the store which was twice as expensive as the tea leaves I chose. The most well-traveled delicacy in the shop were ironically Californian almonds in bulk.
I encourage you to schedule time for a walk through these market streets. One could easily spend a few hours checking out the shops and walking about the many markets, the majority of which I believe are business-to-business wholesalers as opposed to retail vendors.
We returned to our car and headed to the place Erin had mentioned to our guide back at the hotel. It’s purpose was revealed to me in stages like wisdom from a lotus. We were headed to a Hindu temple, a Hindu Temple great in size, a Hindu Temple great in size with exquisite carvings in sandstone (exterior) and marble (interior). Finally, I was told that this temple was completed in 2005. I am referring to Akshardham. http://www.akshardham.com/ I’d recommend that any traveler passing through Delhi on their way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal should make a stop at Akshardham to see the Taj’s modern Hindu complement.
I had recalled visiting the Cottage Industries market when I was in India in 2005. I asked my guide if we could stop by there. He recommended focusing on Kashmiri carpets. I knew nothing about carpets Kashmiri, Persian, or otherwise. The craftsmanship and beauty of the end product is remarkable, but I was more intrigued by the process of making the carpets. Families work together with one member of the family reciting the pattern. The others in the family twist wool or silk thread in line with the sung pattern. Each twist of thread creates a pixel. These carpets essentially are pointillist/HDTV years before these European inventions.
After this long morning, instead of returning to the hotel we returned to the car for the six hour drive to Jaipur.
We had a great weekend trip away from Los Angeles this weekend.
The focal point was Doane Valley campground in Palomar Mountain state park. This provided easy access to visit scientific history making Palomar Observatory. We extended the return home by checking out Pechanga Casino and downtown Temecula.
Doane Valley campground has distinctive campsites embedded within old oaks and cedars. Built on a slope, stone work from California’s Conservation Corps in then 1930s provides a stairway up or down to your campsite.
The park offers many hiking trails with varying terrain and flora. Some trailheads are adjacent to the campsite. The campground is primarily populated by tent campers but there are a few spots to accommodate RVs without hookups.
Probably the biggest excitement of the camping trip was having a bobcat lurk past our campsite along a dry creek bed.
That bit of feline wildlife sighting wasn’t the only wonder Whether it was fauna of a woodpecker, scrappy jay birds, or a deer distracting us from her foal or the flora of 600+ year old cedars and oaks, forests of different make ups or the stars, this campground emphasize we were connecting with nature.
Speaking of stars, nearby is one of the most important spots to gaze at the heavens. The Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory and its brethren smaller scopes have been responsible for major breakthroughs in physics including proving general relativity and characterising the first quasar.
I’m proud that I once lived in Brooklyn. It seemed alternative to choose Brooklyn over Manhattan in the 1990s. I return about once a year to visit friends and see how the city evolves. My most recent trip in September 2012 shows me how shallow my exposure to Brooklyn was as a resident. I knew Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. I thought it adventurous to visit Carroll Gardens and Williamsburg was just booting up. Today it seems odd to me that people would choose to rent or buy in Manhattan. Brooklyn seems to be easier living.
Nowadays my home base is Fort Greene. My friend owns a condo on Fort Greene Park and more importantly he owns a dog. Not only do people walkabout the neighborhood, but those walking dogs stop to talk to one another and gradually establish friendly relationships. It’s uber-neighborhoody. Every year new small businesses are opening in the form of coffee shops and restaurants. On this most recent trip I enjoyed trying Bittersweet (excellent cold brew iced coffee), Walter’s (American restaurant with great breakfast and dinner dishes plus oysters), and Lulu & Po (Italian shareable small plates).
On Saturday there is flea market a great selection of food stalls with tastes as eclectic as the merchandise. I was pleasantly surprised to order and eat a Maine lobster roll from Redhook Lobster Pound. Lots of cute men and women shopping here for any single people. This goes for most of Fort Greene.
Now so far I’ve shared urban experiences you’d expect to find in NYC. What about crab shacks? What about bike trails? What about surfing? These were the real eye openers for me.
Let’s say you’ve already booked your hotel or otherwise find yourself in Manhattan. You can take advantage of Ride Brooklyn which rents bikes and is situated near a subway transportation hub and immediately next to the 2/3 line. So easy to take the subway to ride Brooklyn, rent a bike, and tour Brooklyn along the miles of bike lanes and greenways. The shop can provide you with a bike map to guide your way. My friend took me through Carroll Gardens to a set of new parks along the waterfront south of the Brooklyn Bridge. From there we biked north to the bridge, beyond through a greenway in DUMBO, and onward to Williamsburg. Great skyline vistas of Manhattan along the route. We refueled with a shake at Urban Rustic Grocery & Cafe. Hopefully your rental bike comes with a basket so you can go shopping on and around Grand Avenue. We subsequently bike back to Fort Greene which turned out to be a surprisingly short ride.
Biggest surprise was driving to Rockaway (admittedly Queens) for a surf session. All the time I lived in Brooklyn I didn’t realize there’s a solid beach and surf culture running strong in the city. In fact I moved all the way to Los Angeles in a mislead attempt to find surf. You can take the subway out to Rockaway (same one that takes you to JFK). Nice sets, strong waves, with short runs. Hipster, gourmet food stands are nearby having invaded old Robert Moses style concession stands on the beach and there are lots of tasty restaurants (e.g. Rockaway Taco) a short walk from the sand.
Brooklyn is a city unto itself. Get out and explore it!
The first two nights in Valle de Guadalupe Erin and I had dinner at Laja and Silvestre. We figured that by Monday we’d be ready for a lazy day by the pool at La Villa de Valle and saved eating at Corazon de Tierra for our final day in the valley.
If you’re not familiar with Corazon de Tierra or Chef Diego Hernández then Google him and you’ll see he’s a culinary rockstar. He was “out of town” cooking with Chef René Redzepi of Noma at a festival the Danish chef arranged in Copenhagen.. You may have seen Chef Diego Hernández yourself if you watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the Travel Channel. He’s a young chef creating the next wave of culinary culture in Baja Norte.
We’d already had a sneak peak of Corazon de Tierra because, each morning, the dining room provides breakfast to guests of the villa (score!).
[snip from earlier post]
Breakfast every morning is a treat as it’s served at Corazon de Tierra – a restaurant many come to simply to eat. Each morning the kitchen lays out granola, yogurt, honey, a selection of fresh cut fruit, and a selection of scones and other bake goods. Just as you’re thanking the heavens for the wonderful continental spread the waiter let’s you know the hot dish for the day. Twice we had delicious chilaquiles with eggs (the first day with a green sauce and the third day with a red sauce) and the reamining day eggs were served with a mushroom sauce. Then you get surprized by some house baked bread and butter. You’ll leave wondering why this doesn’t happen at your house.
Room with a view (of the garden and mountains)
The restaurant itself is gorgeous. The structure is beamed with reclaimed wood and sheathed in gigantic, singular glass panes. The structure fits the menu well as it puts the diner in the garden from whence the dinner comes. In the morning we were able to see the sous-chefs picking vegetables and the master gardener playing her trade. Therefore we knew the meal in the evening would be fresh.
Choose from many of Phil’s wines made from adjacent Vena Cava.
We chose a Sauvignon Blanc to start and moved on to a Cabernet Sauvignon
The Amuse Bouche : Ceviche on micro tostada
Doesn’t look too micro in this macro picture (2-3X Zoom)
First Course : Garden salad with quail egg and local, goat cheese in ash(similar to Humboldt Fog with a milder flavor)
Second Course : Cold “Black Clam” Soup with Fish Stock
Our waiter didn’t know the English name for the clam served in our soup, he explained he called it “Black Clam” because it has a large black and white shell (which he showed us). The meat has a distinctive line of red color. Okay soup, but I was missing the Orange and Carrot Gazpacho we had two nights earlier at Laja.
If you can recognize this clam from my poor description please comment with it’s correct Spanish or English name.
The three pictures show the presentation, the pour, and the complete dish.
Third Course : Yellow-Fin Tuna with Crispy Skin
Okay, now we’re talking. Give me a warm piece of fish with a crispy, candy-like skin over a cold clam soup any day. The lentils are not underdone, they’re purposely prepared in this al dente Baja style and create a great textural pairing with the tender fish.
Course Five : Ice cream with “chocolate (soy-free) tofu”
Umm… well we ate the palate cleansing granita too quickly (so no course four pictured). It was followed by this interesting dish. The tofu is a traditional baja dish that is similar in texture to tofu. It’s a trompe le lengue.