Chicken’s blood

We trailed behind Ling cautiously, as we entered her sister’s house, there was a senses of solemness, a mix of seriousness and trepidation. The ashy-smokey smell from the fireplace engaged our senses. Trust me now, Clinton and I had NO clue what was going on. There lay a body on the floor, draped with a cloth longitudinally. Holy crap. Was that a dead body?? What’s happening!

We stumbled right in the midst of a ritual. The religious man got himself into a trance, head swinging wildly, body spasms, hopping. There was chanting, and wild screaming. He went to the back area, came back with a live rootster. He then grabbed hold of the chicken, lifted it up, chanted something……and then. ‘Scheek!’ Slit its throat. He let the blood drip into a cup…and wait for it.. he swallowed the blood!!! Two seconds later. “PFFFFFTTTTTT!!!” He spat it out in a blood-mist mixture. It was a triple-H moment from WWE eons ago.  This shit was getting serious. The guy swung the poor dead bird around until the floor sorta had a blood like design that resembled those colour-blind tests you used to do when you were 9 in school. With no hesitation, he picked up the bunch of bamboo blocks, and threw them to the ground. He looked at which sides faced up. A quick wiki search calls it ‘Jiao Bei’, which are indeed used to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ quesitons. He was probably reaching his climax, now he wielded some spear-like ancient medivial weapon. More and more trancing. The dude was sweating buckets!!

then BHAM. As though the spirits had left his body, he lay there motionless. Mr God-speaker was spent. Was he dead too? Anyhow, he got up,  slipped outta his fengshui/oracle jacket, and into mr guy next door grey t-shirt, in slipped into some brandless slippers. He grabbed one of those minature stools they love in Vietnam and joined us for a cup of hot tea by the wood fireplace. Just another day in the office. OH yes i did forget about that motionless body.  She got uncovered. She was the mother-in-law. She was still alive.

..And……. all I was told was we were visiting the ‘sister-in-law’s’ place. I later found out that

SAPA is a mountain region in the hills of Northern Vietnam that has many tribes such as the H’mong, Dao who live in the Central Highlands and the Truong Son region. They are identified by the headdress they wear, the whole village wears a red/black cloth hat . Clinton and I basically rocked up in the middle of Sapa, through an overnight train from Hanoi, IN the middle of winter, where apparently it was gonna be coldER than we expected. Think 3 degrees Celcius.. Now think 2 skinny-as boys without winter clothing. Completely allergic to tourist guides, we asked a group of H’mong ladies standing near the roadside if they offered homestays. Yes! They did and we were in luck! But us city boys had it slightly tougher than we thought. We truly were inoculated knee-deep in real countryside living, having to trudge through a 2 hour long trek down slippery padi field slopes with full gear before reaching our land. The H’mong are honest people, and what I love about them is they live a traditional way of life without accomodating to the tourists wants – you wouldn’t see eggs and toast in any farmside -cafe.  They live mostly out of sustenance, each family has their own crops, animals and land. The ladies sew and sell their craft at the local markets or to tourists. The guys- some work in the city, but mostly they do laborious work like dealing with timber. An interesting fact, as dowry for marriage, the gentleman has to buy the bride a water buffalo. YES. A friggin 500 kilo dead weight. Throw in a couple of pigs. Then, build your house (from scratch), with the help of your mates. Pure joy. It was such a pleasure living the simple life with these humble villages. We absolutely love it.

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A local H’mong villager selling her wares at the weekend Can Cau market.

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The traditional village tribe clothing by the local villages are soaked in natural indigo dye and hung and re-soaked. This goes on for a few months.

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A very traditional scene of ducks wading in the Sapa landscape.

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The household puppy, Ji, warms himself restfully during a cold winter night. The villages treat their animals with much love and care.

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Yes this is your marrige Dowry! It costs over $1500 USD and it’s what you need not just for the field, but to get your wife.

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As we travelled haphazardly by motorbike, we stumbled upon a mysterious cave that was not mapped. Shrouded in bamboo. Local children were renting torches. We were kinda afraid so we got one of them as our guide.

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At Li’s place, the location of the religious cleansing ritual. After the ritual, the family gathered for a HUGE feast.

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Don’t be fooled by traditional ways of life like this catapult. Modern living is catching up and even in the rual-areas, young people have modern 3G handphones they are pretty much hooked on.

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Petrfied Chicken at the local market.

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Freshwater seafood kept live at the local markets. It honestly can’t get any fresher than this.

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JUICY BARBIE RIBS!

In Sydney, Australia, there are 3 foodie places you have to visit.

1. Bourke street bakery for their Ginger Brulee Tarts.

2. Campos Coffee for their Affagato. A double shot of rich espresso over some gorgeous vanilla ice cream. Pure sin.

3. Last but not least… Hurricanes Ribs for that indescribable mouth explosion!

A good rack of ribs, has a lovely fall off the bone tenderness, a caramelly savoury-sweetness, that hint of char, but most importantly.. must be awfully messy to eat! Getting the juice and sugars all on the face, having the meat unintentionally sliding off the bone, licking the sauce off your girlfriend’s fingers and all. We recently had a Barbie with the Aussie kids, (the ones who returned from studies in Sydney and simply could not get enough of hurricanes ribs), and realized the coke braising liquid actually worked. Here’s how we did it! (adapted from the hosbys). I found that this method is super easy, quick to prep, and not difficult at all.

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Holy mother of…..look at that!

Serves 8

Prep Time: 15 min

Cook Time 5.5 hours

 

Ingredients

  • 4 racks of pork ribs
  • 1 cup  Brown sugar
  • 1 Yellow onion (Chopped)
  • 4 cloves Garlic
  • 1 cup Tomato sauce (I used Del Monte brand)
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce (I used Heinz brand)
  • 1 cup Coca- Cola (buy a 2 L bottle, rest is used for braising)
  • ½ cup  Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (or you can use L&P)
  • 2 tbsp  Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Smoked paprika
  • 4 springs Fresh rosemary
  • Salt and pepper

Steps

1. Chuck all the ingredients in a food processor or blend it with an immersion blender till it becomes a slurry.

2. Season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Rub in the marinade on the ribs overnight with half the marinade.

3. Pour 1.5L of coke into a deep baking tray, or until it semi-covers the ribs. This is the braising liquid, usually stock is used.

4. Bake at 150 deg C for 5-7 hours, until the meat falls off the bone. Remove the ribs, and you don’t have to keep the coke liquid. If it was stock, you can reduce it into a lovely sauce.

5. Glaze the ribs with the remaining BBQ sauce, and put it on the grill. Charcoal is the preferred method as it gives of a nice smokey flavour, but with our Gas grill the ribs turned out beautiful too!

6. Continue glazing the ribs with a brush with the remaining half of the marinade every couple of minutes, for about 30 mins when you have that nice thick, gravy like glaze where the sugars start to caramelize and burn a little. It’s really to be devoured! WICKED!!

 

10 Thoughts from the kitchen life

1. God damm the HEAT

In the beginning…the thought of it was unbearable. How could ANYONE, any human being be blasted by such immense heat in their faces 12 hours a day and still smile at the end of it??! It didn’t make sense. Day 1 at the Grill station was a kick up the nuts..for the pores in my skin at least. Imagine the heat you face occasionally during those BBQ sessions, yah do that. ALL DAY EVERYDAY. Day 2 came, and miraculously, the body started acclimatizing to it. Day 3,4 and more..You were now a heat ADDICT. You craved for that monster blast that makes your face cringe and crumple and the hairs of your hand flare. But then from now onwards, you love it. It’s a strange world out there.

2. Don’t take things too SERIOUSLY

Talking shi* is the kitchen’s language. You punk around, put salt in the other guy’s water. Take a burning hot blowtorch and touch his arm and watch him howl. You try to roast a chicken and end up smoking up the whole kitchen to smitherins, watching everyone choke to death while you can only grin cheesily. You look at your best kitchen buddy, smile and say, F U! He smiles back and obliges. Then you give each other a hug. That is life, kitchen life ;p In all it’s complete randomness, eccentricity, and gloriousness. Shit is thrown at you all day, it’s how we turn that into something light hearted.

3. The HANDSHAKE

Some waiters I work with come into the kitchen, and greets every single mother-f-ing kitchen dog. Good morning Chef Chris! Followed by a firm handshake. You feel like a LORD, and start doing your happy tap dance and that smile on your face is plastered on even though it’s a monday morning. And even though you are a lowly trainee, someone shows you respect. If anything, this is one PR lesson that is probably the most realistic.

4. the small SURPRISES

We are slogging our asses off like we’re trying to dig the Vietcong tunnels to save our lives. We truly are tired, hot and tired. When someone offers a treat – like that homemade honeydew sago, or an expired tub of chocolate mousse, or maybe…a pretty chick sits at table S2 and we all take turns walking out pretending to go to the dry store to get something whilst sneaking a glance. We turn to kids once again. But these little perks are little boosters for morale and motivation.

5. sickas PRODUCE

Don’t be surprised if that olive oil belong’s to Chef’s friend’s olive grove. Or that Ribeye comes from the cow that grazes on Chef’s other friend. You get to see quite interesting and special produce not normally sold in supermarkets or grocers. The reason is that restaurants get direct imports from specific farms etc overseas. It is a real eyeopener.

6. lets be SWEARING

Let me have you know that F U means Hi, thanks, cool, awesome, haha, you suck, really, and pretty much any other expression that you know. It’s just a language that we have become desensitized to. Its just a word, that doesn’t even mean anything anymore. Everyone swears all day in all different languages, cos it brings joy, laughter. In our kitchen, swearing goes on in 4 languages – English, Cantonese, French, and Italian. It makes quite a funny sight. Show some love, swear! I swear never before in my years have I used coarse language, especially not in church. It’s like all hell broke loose right on my lips i’m telling you.

7. no DISCIPLINE, no chance

Let’s put it this way, I’m the kind of dude who plays this game. It’s called let’s see how long you can last before your room gets too messy-and stuff starts rotting-before you do anything about it. It’s sort-of a game of endurance, or messiness, grossness. Yesterday mum praised me for the first time in 27 years for being neat and packing the house. The kitchen trained me up with no-nonsense cleaning habits, organising skills, and punctuality. You could be a sloth in the kitchen..people just wouldn’t end up liking you and helping you out. It will not be pretty eventually. I strongly believe Chefs hold such high values they are almost saints.

8. PRECISION

Every cube has to be the same size for any vegetable, fruit or produce. If it isn’t they’ll wait for you to finish cutting them all, and look at it and say, re-do. It has happened to me before. Today, I’m told to cut the asparagus to 15 cm. And then Chef hands me a metal rule. Nuff said.

9. CONTAINERS matter

Yeah whatever right, we just chuck stuff in the fridge. We’ve got peanut butter bottles, thousand Island dressing, and the bottle of anchovies is just somewhere in there…oh eew, what’s this piece of expired chili in a soggy flimsy plastic doing in there. Having standard container sizes especially in the chiller means alot. You can stack stuff, label stuff, organise everything efficiently. The best thing anyone could do – is buy a whole bunch of takeaway containers of the same size. You will be amazed how neat everything will be, and this will lead to less food being thrown away eventually.

10. No MALAYSIANS no food.

I’m estimating that 80% of the workforce in the kitchens are run by Malaysians. Simply because noone in Singapore wants to work in the kitchen. Hot, hardwork, and low pay. Who wants? It is important to understand the needs, desires, and the sacrifices our neighbours go through. These guys fight the hard fight for us Sgreans everyday, so you get to talk about your chi-chi meal at the last restaurant to your fellow hipster friends who are happily splurging off their parent’s hard-earned money. The Malaysians are good, hardworking and kind people. Let us take a moment to appreciate them, and the great food they do. 🙂

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After spending 12 months in the kitchen, I’ve got an inkling of the kitchen life. Much respect to Chefs out there..it is THE ultimate sacrifice of life. One has to give up EVERYTHING to pursue this pursuit of perfection with little or no recognition. Can you imagine not having your weekend taken away, not spending the last 25 Christmases with your family cos you had to cook for the hotels? Those are the kinds of sacrifices they make. A big big thank you for all the Chef’s who were patient with me from all the restaurants I apprenticed in from Tung Lok, Forlino, and La Cantine.

The Lost Land Part 1.

“Welcome”, said Paul, in a calm but assuring tone, as we stepped onto the sand stone ground, beside our caravan camping quarters, only to find later on it was specialty built for us Woofers, retrofitted with pantry, toilet, and even a living room with a DVD player and Wifi!! It was a scene , part Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, part Jurassic Park.

“Hello, Hello!” Judith yelled out with a voice filled with anticipation and energy. As we toured the 14 hectare land, our eyes lit with bewilderment, flora and fuana of  every imaginable sort grew in a random yet organised hamonry. There were Peruvian fruit trees, Japanese leaves, Italian herbs, Dutch carrots, Marigolds, an extremely highly international mix of eccentric and lesser known crops in this garden. It was just green EVERYWHERE, from the groun to up in the air, vines, and overhangs, tall gum and oak trees, more and more, a never ending supply. The little things added a lovely touch of cuteness, plants were sometimes potted in basins or bathtubs, little ornamental centrepieces scattered throughout the land. The shimmering morning sun glittered over glassy stills of small fountains, and their home-made swimming pool, and lit up red and yellow maple leaves like pigments on canvas.

Everything we set foot on, lay on hands on, was recycled from somewhere else, somehow. The flat stones used to build ornamental stone walls around plants were dug from right below them, timber pieces used on fences and walls were taken from unwanted properties, and most importantly, the recycling of the eco-system sort was comprehensively used. Weeds and grass fed the pigs and ducks, the pigs ploughed and pooped which fertilised the soil, duck water was used as magic fertiliser for the plants, humans eat fruit, seeds are collected and replanted. Rainwater is converted to tank water, and not a drop is wasted.

Paul & Judith, married for the past 42 years, and have been living self sufficiently for the past 40 behaved like innocent young lads. A stark reminder that you don’t have to lose love as you grow older, you can have each other as loving dependable life partners.

“You’re not allowed to cross this gate!”, exclaimed Judith.

“Why not?”, asked Paul.

“Because, you have to kiss me at the gate”.

‘ smooch ‘ (& giggles from the rest of us).

 

So this started, our relationship with the couple we would coin as our adopted parents, the farm we would return to many times over the course of this trip.

. . .

When I set myself the objective of wanting to do farming, to understand the life cycle of where crops come from, especially from being inspired at the wonderful tasting organic greens and fruits at farmers markets in California, I signed up for the volunteer programme called WWOOF, or Willing Workers On Organic Farms. As a traveller, you may work at a farm for experience in return for food and accomodation. It is a worldwide programme, you can do farming anywhere from Indonesia to Hawaii. I expected a typical farm with cows that we could milk, or perhaps maybe a one-species crop. When I saw Judith’s Ad in the forums, I jumped right at it, it was beyond anything I had imagined. This was a world so different, and one new to me. A life of self sufficiency.

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The Muffin Man

“Some people… some people like cupcakes
exclusively, while myself, I say,
there is naught nor ought there be nothing 
so exalted on the face of god’s grey
Earth as that prince of foods… the muffin!”Girl you thought he was a man,
But he was a muffin,
He hung around till you found,
That he didn’t know nuthin’,

Girl you thought he was a man,
But he only was a-puffin’,
No cries is heard in the night,
As a result of him stuffin’, – Frank Zappa 

It was a happy trippy scene, Joel was jamming Rock legend’s Frank Zappa’s 1970’s guitar solo of the ‘Muffin Man’ with just the 3 fingers he had left ( lost the last two in an accident). Freshly baked wholemeal Banana Chocolate Muffins steamed up the living room in front of the shattered glass of the fireplace. It was a frosty night, as it always is up in the heights of Tahoe, but we were kept warm in this melancholic mood singing, eating, jamming. Cali on the flute, the two boys on the guitar, and I on the bass. A short time back I was known as the Muffin Man, or Muffin Boy, where I helped bring the cafe bakery the Muffinry glory to some sweet & caffeinated goodness. I used to run deliveries for the muffins to nearby offices, the pet name probably came about out of convenience. All my random life experience all seem to work for me as contributing skills during my travels it seems. I didn’t quite have the right ingredients, but, hey, baking thousands of muffins over 2 years, you can’t go quite wrong can you. The guys were chomping down the muffins after a ghetto wholemeal giant beef pie, requested by the folks who asked me to cook something ‘Aussie’.

I made an impulse decision to take a day train ride down to the frigid freezing heights of the mountains just for a day as I was counting down my days left in California, and a close friend Jenny had said, Chris, you HAVE to see Tahoe before you leave America. When people say stuff with this firmness and determination, you HAVE to trust them.

So I did. All ready to get my butt frozen dry, sleep on the streets to save money, I made a last ditch desperate attempt on couch surfing to find someone kind enough to host me. I wasn’t very optimistic however, given that people usually write requests weeks or months in advance. Thank God for these guys who replied me on the very  same morning. Cali and Mikey picked up to their quaint rental cottage, and right out into the action for some trekking and rock climbing. Mikey is a ski patrol so he works in the winter season and has all these kickass Ski and outdoor gear which they were glad to share. The couple are super outdoorsy and everyday is out breathing the fresh pine filled air, or floating down the creek on the canoe. They did tell of a beaver story where they stealthily floated down the creek, and they lay an unsuspecting beaver, sitting in quite an obscene position, scratching the living daylights out of its nether region with much zeal. As they passed it, the beaver looked up. Wasn’t quite sure what to do, or feel (probably extremely embarrassed), it gave an unsatisfied loud growl and dipped its head and turned to walk away..Of course the natural thing Cali & Mikey did…point at Mr. Beaver and erupted into a fireball of laughter.

On my last day, Cali lent me her cruiser bicycle, to cycle to the bus station and have it parked there. So that I could go along the meadows and creek to explore. I came up with a sketch along one of the river beds meandering along fir and pine trees in the background, with snow capped hills in the background. It was the beginning of summer and much of the snow had melted into the rivers, hence it was an excellent time for the visit.

Thank you 🙂

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Mexican Fajitas by Chef Patrizia

The dish has been certified authentic BECAUSE Patrizia’s housemate is Mexican, and her boyfriend is half mexican, and they taste and critique her Mexican cooking all the time. Though she is of Vietnamese heritage, this lady cooks up international feasts with so much flair, she ought to be working in a restaurant kitchen!

I wanted to learn mexican, because it has so much history within America, especially California, given that it is in somewhat connected, and all the Mexican food I’ve had even though was casual and rustic, got me every single time.

Fajitas (pronounced Far-He-Tar) is a mexican term for sliced, grilled meats. The dish, is traditionally served with tortillas and condiments. Fajitas are siblings of Buritos and Tacos are, the main difference..there isn’t much really! Interestingly, a quick background check into it’s history..found it out that this is a dish made popular by Americans. The skirt meat of the cow was sometimes given to Mexican cowboys(vaqueros) who used it in their cooking.

The different elements – Salsa, Guacamole, Peppers, Sour Cream, and Cheese incorporate sour, savoury, sweet, and gives it a rich creamy mouthfeel. mmmmm..sounds a little like good coffee doesn’t it? Here’s the recipe!

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Ingredients

Salsa
1 tsp salt
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 white onion, diced

1 bunck cilantro, diced
2 limes, juiced
1 tbsp sugar

Guacamole
1 white onion, diced
4 avocadoes, mashed
1 tbsp sugar
1 lime,juiced
salt & pepper to taste

Meat

1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 lb beef skirt.
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lemon juice
1 onion, sliced lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil

Misc

Sour cream
Montery Jack cheese, grated
Capsicum
Flour/Corn tortillas

Steps

a. For the salsa, and avocado, assemble the ingredients.

b. Marinate the meats with the spices for a minimum of 2 hours.

c. Sautee the onions till brown, add in the meat.

d. Sautee the capsicum.

e. Place the tortillas in the oven, covered, to keep them warm.

f. Serve the individual components, put as little or as much as you wish!

Chicken Tikka Masala Curry

For the longest time, I was intimidated to cook CURRY. I was under the impression that there were hundreds, and thousands of varieties of spices of the ancient sort and not too long ago, the only spice that I was familiar with was cinnamon. You can imagine the steep learning curve that I had. Staying in India, eating lots of curries and being to local markets, soon I became acquainted with spices. And soon, I realised that after all, it ain’t TOO complicated. Many spices mixes are actually just the general few put together – cardamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, clove, bay leaves, etc. I was gladly tutored by Chef Tek, from a guesthouse in Pushkar, Rajasthan on how to cook a few curries. In my opinion, he made the BEST curries I had in India, it was a good thing to be taught by him! I bought a couple of spices from an Indian spice shop, including the famed Masala spice, but then coming home, I found out that the ‘Little India’ areas had everything I needed!

Chicken Tikka Masala, one of my favourite curries in India. It’s a tomato based curry, like many others, and the main spice it contains – the Garam Masala Spice. It’s  a very very flavourful, robust and creamy dish, to me, it gets me high on the umami scale. I had a couple of consecutive meet ups during the short week I was back, and managed to get a little practice on my curries! Eventually, I found that it wasn’t too difficult, it just contains plenty of ingredients, and a lot of dicing and chopping’s involved, all worth it though!

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Serves (4-6)

INGREDIENTS

Chicken
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp garam masala
1 chicken, chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 lemon juice
2 inch grated ginger
4 cloves grated garlic

Sauce
60ml  vegetable oil/butter
1 large onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp grated fresh ginger (peeled)
1/4 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp paprika (for the reddish colour)
2 Tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground tumeric
1 TB tomato paste
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes/fresh tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
180ml heavy cream
100g chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste

STEPS

1. Marinate chicken with spices, yoghurt and lemon juices overnight.

2. Grill the chicken until there are charred spots.

3. Sautee the onions, garlic, and ginger till browned.

4. Add in the tomato paste, and spices, sugar. Stir in cream.

5. Add salt to taste, throw in cilantro.

6. Depending on your desired consistenty, blend the sauce. I prefer to only blend half of it, leaving chunky bits of tomatoes and onions to chew on!

7. Add in the grilled chicken, leave to simmer for about 10 mins.

8. Top with cream and cilantro to serve.

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My advice to cook curry is…Find a good tomato base you like and stick to it! There are many variations of canned tomatoes and some I feel are too acidic or overwhelming in my opinions. I like throwing fresh tomatoes to balance out the intensity.

Spices are readily available in local Indian groceries. Get the general lot, most curry recipes revolve around them! Don’t be intimidated, I was before, but with practice it’s doable. Have fun!

THE WILD GOOSE CHASE FOR BIRIYANI..and a 66 hour journey.

30 days ago, I had a ‘moment’ when I had the most amazing incredible mutton Biriyani in my LIFE.

One could argue that I had lowered expectations because I was frikking starving, and maybe anything I ate would have been awesome. Nonetheless, the spiced up, flavourful AND crowd pleasing ginormous portion had me swore  to have many many more Biriyanis in India. One/day if possible.

I think, Biriyani is so special because of the quality of the rice use- the freakishly long-grained premium Basthami rice which is super fagrant. In addition, its salty and sweet mouthfeel is a combination of masala spices, and whole spices like cinnamon, bay leaves, and cardamon. Its accompaniments blend really well too – a saucer of a curd-ish sauce. The portion is almost TWICE of a regular chicken rice back home. Rice is tended to be placed in an overflowing bowl, and the restaurant staff will pour out some on the main plate. That’s the way Biriyani flows. Portions of chicken, mutton, or veg are abundant and flavourful. The whole combination makes it kickass!

Then came 30 days of HOPELESS DISAPPOINTMENT.

Nowhere else in the other states made anything close to a decent one. 30 days of eating bad biriyani consecutively is a long long one.

I was craving it so bad. SO so bad, like a drug. It was the same sort of sick craving when I was desperate to surf that drove me  36 hours journey to the philippines to surf for a meagre 3 hours! It makes you do stupid things.

There was a second chance for me!!

I had a 41 hour journey from the North down South, with a 1 hour stop over at the Muslim state, HYDERABAD – the place in India MOST FAMOUSLY KNOWN FOR THIER BIRIYANI!

When we arrived, it was 10.30pm, the previous train was late by an hour.  I had a mere 20 minutes to grab a bite and hop on the next train. My soul came to LIFE when I spotted shops were still open at the time, and I spotted from miles away though squinting hard  ‘CHICKEN BIRIYANI’.’

* Imagining heaven opening, angels singing and harps playing *

” One Chicken Biriyani PLEASE! Take away!!”, I ordered, radiating with inner joy.

So I sat at the train station, stuffing my face with a torn portion of the paper plate as my spoon. I was so so happy, it tasted great!!

Announcement of the train rang, and I waited patiently for this train to leave and mine to arrive in 5 mins time. I was a happy boy.. mission accomplished. The train left, and then..couple of minutes later, station guards chased me with their staff, ‘Go go, station closed’.

wait. what do you mean station closed?? My train was coming!

“Train gone, he pointed at the train I was waiting for”.

Oh God! What?!? NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I didn’t understand. The past 3 trains I waited for worked this way, a previous train had to leave first and the arriving train would come. I even asked people in the train if it went to Hampi and they said no. Confusion, disillusionment, and disbelief set in. Indian trains, I never understood how it worked.

The only thing I could do was find a place to sleep, and the only fitting place was..the floor of the holding room.

Honestly I was really pissed with myself. How could I have let this happen? By now I should have been a veteran traveler, this was simply a retarded rookie mistake. The same one that happened in the airport of Kuala Lumpar where I missed my flight. As I lay there, feeling really crappy, I took out my book by the Dalai Lama.

“In a situation where you are upset, would being angry with yourself, or others change the fact that it had happened? That only leads to more suffering and less happiness. Find your inner peace.”

Great timing, your holiness. At this moment, finding inner peace was not an option, it was a command. I went to bed, or rather the hard floor, tried to zen and dug deep for my inner peace.

With a positive mindset! I woke up refreshed and glad I had an entire day to stuff myself with awesome Biriyani!! Yipee! And that was what I did! I also managed to see the sights of the city, and I was treated rather well by the locals.

I managed to get the missed ticket refunded, great! Saw some interesting sights like colourful chicks…and had my favourite exotic fruits – fresh Figs and exceptionally sweet pomegranate!

It was a blessing in disguise, and a horrible scene turned around!

I’m not suggesting you do silly things like this when you travel..Rookie mistakes are bound to happen time and time.

My advice is to keep a positive attitude, have inner peace, and make the best of the situation, everything will be alright!

66 hours later………….I arrived safely at the lush padi fields and boulder strewn land of Hampi, where I live in a petite Bamboo hut, and my first shower in 3 days!

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Biriyani after 30 days. Stuffed down in a jiffy. So desperate used torn plate as the spoon. 5 minutes before I missed my train.

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Fresh Pomegranate, sooo good.

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Hyderabad, pronounced as

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Long Grained Basmathi rice!

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Where I spent the night.

The Holy Ganges River – The Burning Ghat

With alleys this narrow,I doubt the street cows would have a chance of squeezing through. We’ve been hearing about the famed ‘Blue Lassi’ shop , and a kind group of koreans offered to take us . The Lassi was mind-blowing! Velvety curd, mixed with chunks of banana and crunchy bits melted in your mouth. It had a crusty top, similar to the caramel crust of a creme brûlée tart. It generously overflowed with even more banana slices, fragrant grated coconut and other condiments. The clay bowl had a rustic yet earthy feel as it felt your lips. The clay bowl would be smashed after your had finished it, I was curious to know why they did not reuse them, but the whole experience of smashing the clay bowl was authentic. It was so good, I tried one from this and the adjacent shop, where I had a coffee lassi.

Standing in the narrow walkway, laughing and chatting, I argued it was my last and only chance to have the lassi, since I was leaving in a couple of hours. Not that I was a glutton.

Out of the blue, bells were ringing, chanting..men lifted a bamboo stretcher on their shoulders and shoved past us, our backs pressed against the walls.  of  The stretchers were covered with layered of silk cloth, green, orange, and silver. A convoy of people followed. They were the family of the deceased.

Welcome to Varanasi.

It was a strange feeling. In the midst our light heartedness, we just had a dead body brush past us. We were instantly reminded starkly of the respect needed to be given to this place, and the land. Varanasi’s burning ghat is India’s most auspicious place to be cremated. The body would be rinsed in the waters of the Ganges river, and then put to be cremated in an open wood fire. The ‘Burning Ghat’ was a huge open air crematorium for all to see. What it looked like from afar: multiple bonfires by the river with people chugging more wood each time and beautiful fabrics. It was a crazy scene to see this happening with no drama at all! It wasn’t for all though. Up to 200 bodies were cremated daily, it was ongoing 24/7.

Certain people may not be cremated at the burning ghat – young children, holy men, and people suffering from leprosy had to be released directly into the river. It was not uncommon to see an occasional body floating beside your boat! Can you imagine?! Thankfully, I didn’t have the honour to. Photos weren’t allowed, in respect of the families.

Come evening, a festival of sorts took place at the main Ghat. A Ghat is a somewhat invisible ‘zone’ of the river where there lies some form of temple or place of worship. Hundreds of boats with thousands of people in them came together at the main ghat to watch the celebration from the waters. Performed panoramically, it was a precession of chanting, blessings with flowers and water tossed, silver pieces containing fire were rhythmically moved. At the end, the men conducting the festival went to the waters, in what looked like a blessing from them. It was as if everything they touched turned into gold! A mad rush of people prodded, fought their way to touch everything used in the precession – open flames, flowers, water, metal. Pilgrims released little boats with flowers and candles on them, said a quiet prayer, and gave the waters a little push.

I can remember orange, gold, lights and smoke. I didn’t quite understand anything that was going on, but I could feel the reverence of the ganges, ghats and the holy men. Not always, would you need to understand all languages or theories. You can listen and understand the universal language – One of blessing, respect, and belief. One  has to agree, Varanasi- organic, spiritual, different.

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Coffee Lassi, and Coconut Banana Lassi, heaven!

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Coffee Made with a Mokka pot at a street stall, it was really good!

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Attending Yoga Class, and getting upended!

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Releasing lit candles in the water.

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A Sadhus, or ‘holy man’, ready  to pounce!
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A view of the Ghat’s from the river
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Beetle Boy

In the dry desert, there’s nothing else for food..your camel, your whiny fellow camel safari mate…… Unless you’d consider these  crawlies on the floor?

For National Pride, 250 Rupees ($4), & proof that I have a really strong stomach. 

Here we go!!

The camel guys gave me a nick name after..’Beetle Boy’. This is all they would know of Singaporeans..strange insect eating slit eyed people. Sorry fellow countrymen for producing this unconventional stereotype :/

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