Friday, 12 December 2014

It's a Goa !

Whilst living in Dubai (back in 2009), after a crazy, stress filled, horrible day I booked a few days away to Goa. Why not? This little getaway was no budget holiday. I had booked into the 5 * TajExotica and I knew I was in for a treat.

I arrived into Goa at 4am and was meet by a transfer, which whizzed through the narrow lanes of Goa at an alarming speeding, dodging late night traffic and cows lazing on the road! I was certain that one of the sacred cows wouldn't make it to morning.....I am staying just outside of Candolim, next door to Fort Aguada (which is another Taj Hotel built into the Fort).

This is my villa.
Up far to early after a 4am arrival, a buffet breakfast in the open air overlooking the Arabian sea made up for it...although I can't tell you what I had...from memory (and it's a long way back) there were eggs, dosai and dhal, along with western breakfast staples.
Next I was haggling for a taxi to take me over to Anjuna Markets (only held on a Wednesday)....a hippie style markets that began way back when the hippies were flogging their wares to make some money for another week in Goa, or to move on to somewhere new. 
The market is awash with colourful fabrics, flashy jewellery, locals trying to grab your attention to come to their stall and further into the markets you happened upon westerners who are hanging out in Goa (or living there for so many months of the year) selling some funky jewellery or clothes. There were drumming stalls, hammocks and colourful fabric lanterns, Nepalese and Tibetan handicrafts, plenty of sarong and pashmina stalls, leather goods, silver jewellery, nik naks and junk! Local men dressed in traditional garb wandering around playing a trumpet with a cow all dressed up in colourful materials and bells..

choose your tea leaf.....

colourful markets under the palm trees

Needing a break from the humidity and heat of the sun, I sat in a little beach shack and quenched my thirst with a cold Kingfisher beer, the first of many over the course of the next 4 days. I watched as local woman, balancing huge baskets of fresh fruit on their heads, wandered the beach selling the fruit (or if you ask for a photo of them , money), and the cows on the beach....

It was getting far to hot and crowded so headed back towards Candolim for a late lunch and a few cold beers. I find a little restaurant that was serving freshly grilled promfret recheado. Recheado comes from the Portuguese cuisine and is a blend of Indian spices vinegar and is stuffed inside and also covers the fish.

It's delicious. The pomfret is flaky and moist and soft. I didn't need the chips.

The hotel is a haven of tranquillity and lush gardens. It's very quiet and great to kick back after a day of hustle and bustle of Goa and I spend the rest of the day in this.

I stayed in for dinner at the Taj Exotica at their open air restaurant, replete with a full moon and mosquitos. thankfully I had a mosquito coil under the table at my ankles. Sunset cocktails overlooking the Arabian sea was the way to start the evening.

Goa is famous for their fresh seafood and I took full advantage of this during my visit.  I start with tandoor prawns with oregano seeds.

The plump, tender prawns are full of sea flavour and the pop of the oregano seeds adds a texture and a strong oregano taste as they pop in your mouth.

For main I couldn't pass up on the rock lobster. Steamed and served's the best way to enjoy shellfish. The meat is sweet and tender and super delicious.

The following day I had booked a private driver for a full day of sightseeing. I met my man Vinay at the gate of the hotel and headed 2.5 hours to the National Park border to meet up with a 4WD to head up into the National Park and the Dudhsagar Falls, which is on the Eastern border with Karnataka. I purchased some fruit to take to the monkeys, but didn't know once we got to the entrance of the park that we were not allowed to take it into the bag it went until I got to the falls.

We had to ford 3 small rivers/creeks, making sure we held up our bags as the water poured into the floor of the truck! Definitely a bumpy but fun ride.

Hiked into the falls, which appeared very popular but the water was absolutely icy cold! The falls are 603 metres high and the best time to see them are in the monsoon season (but inaccessible) or just after the monsoon season when there is more water!

Remember that fruit I purchased?....well I did feed it to the monkeys.  Hundreds of white face monkeys.  So adorable and although wild, clearly happy to interact with humans. One of the baby monkeys took the fruit from me, not taking his eyes of me and then swiped my hand away. So cute. They were adorable and they just amble around the group....they loved peanuts too and at one point one of the monkeys grabbed a bag of nuts off a tourist and gobbled the whole thing down!
After leaving the National Park my next stop was something I had been wanting to do for a long time and that was bathing with the elephants.  My elephant, Luckme, was waiting for me at a little creek waiting to be scrubbed down. Just as he walked into the water he decided to do a big poo, right where I was going to have to stand. Lovely thought elliepoo squelching . The Mahout (the elephant handler) just picked it up in his bare hands and threw it out of the river...I suppose it is just grass and leaves :)

I waded into the water and started scrubbing him down. He was just kneeling in the water and lapping it up. It was hot, so this was a pampering session for him! 

Next I then climbed onto the elephant (no mean feat as I was worried I would hurt him) but he was all ok with it.  Once I was straddling him around his neck, he then gave me a shower. Blowing water all over me from his trunk over his back. It was awesome....definitely a highlight of the day.  Elephants are beautiful and graceful beasts.
Next stop was a spice plantation. A lush forest of spice trees and coconuts. On arrival I was served lunch of Goan foods using the spices found on the plantation but firstly the most important thing to have is a glass of Cashew Feni...the local firewater I 50% it definitely has a kick!..

There was a buffet lunch included at the plantation, however I wasn't feeling hungry (*gasp* I'm sure it was the heat and dehydration) I just zoned in on a Goan speciality.  Chicken Xacuti with some steamed rice.  The curry is made with shaved coconut, white poppy seeds and chillis.  It was very tasty served with a coconut chutney and's all I could manage.


The tour itself was informative as we wandered around through the tourist area of the plantation. The plantation itself is just a jungle where all the spices and trees grow amongst each other, with no specific areas for each paths. The pickers just amble through the jungle finding what they can....however, for the tourists they have set up a small area with paths for them to access the spices.

Cashews are another product that is famous in the region and loaded down with a kilo of fresh raw cashews I left the plantation behind.

By the time I reached the hotel mid afternoon I was starting to feel a little hungry and definitely thirsty.  So I headed to a local 'restaurant' for this tasty dish.  Called prawn papad...its literally a spicy prawn paste wrapped in papad (which is an Indian flatbread).  Commonly deepfried as I had it, although you can have it roasted or grilled.

After a day out in the sun I decided to stay in and enjoy another night at the hotel.  I headed to the Beach House for a more fine dining experience.

Ironically, the wine menu is lengthy with good international wines, however the only one 'available' this night was an Indian wine.  Let's just say it was one of the worst wines I've tasted and has become that memorable because of it!

The menu on the other hand is favourable with many local dishes (jazzed up) and finding it hard to choose. In the end I choose the crab recheado and the prawns in saffron served with garlic naan.

The recheado paste is mixed with the crab and then stuffed into crab shells.  The aroma is thick with Indian spices and the taste buds are having a little party. 

The prawns in saffron are a surprise.  They are creamy and intense curry flavours, however it works with the plump fresh salty prawns.

Who can pass up a fresh bowl of garlic naan.  Crispy and fluffy, like a naan should be and laced with roasted garlic they are perfect to dip into the sauce.

Another wonderful day in Goa.
My last full day as spent with Vinay, my driver on another adventure into Old Goa town and I joined a river cruise at Divar Ferry Wharf. Along the way, I saw many small boats dredging the river....hard work as it is all down manually....under the hot sun, a man would use a very long pole with a bucket on the end and skim the bed until the bucket was full, then haul it up and dump the silt onto the floor of the boat....until the boat was full, then they would go to shore, filling baskets of silt and hauling that onto their head before carting it off the boat and onto awaiting trucks to transport the silt to who knows where....hard gruelling long day's work....

Boating through the mangroves was peaceful even though we were on the hunt to spot the sea water crocodiles (apparently they only eat fish!). The crocodiles are protected and some grow to over 3.5/4 metres long....and apparently have never killed anyone.
A morning of peaceful river cruising and a couple of hours in the old town we headed back to Candolim, where I asked Vinay (my driver) out for lunch...the least I could do after two days of adventure....but on one condition, he took me to a good local goan restaurant...proper Goan food, none of this touristy tamed down food.... and it was great.

 We ate red snapper in a rich sticky masala sauce, kingfish fillets fried in breadcrumbs which was delicious and a fish curry sauce (for my papads (or poppadums) as I couldn't eat the rice). It was a dusty little restaurant overlooking the narrow road leading out of Candolim (far from the tourist trail) and I loved it....It was a Goan feast of fish curry, red snapper masala, kingfish fillets, dahl, rice and papadoms...washed down with Kingfisher beer. 
The total cost for both of us......US$10

I spent a lazy afternoon by the pool relaxing before venturing down the road for some dinner at a great little restaurant set in the terrace gardens of the house...It's called the Stone House and it was a lush little haven!

They also had a singer taking requests for the diners....the mozzies were out in full force, but a mozzie coil did a good job when placed at my feet under the table!
Getting my last dose of good (cheap) seafood I had the special kingfish and vegetable kebabs and a Goan vegetble curry.

Lastly, a night at the markets of some last minute shopping and enjoyment of Goa.  I met this lovely Karnataka lady selling her wares.  I just love the jewelry and dress of the local woman.  So colourful and vibrant!

Goa offered such a great amount of culture, delicious food, friendly people and a wonderful place for a respite.

* All photos are copyrighted to Roofood Blog

Monday, 8 December 2014

Foragers Markets @ Bulli

I finally got myself down to Bulli a few weeks ago for the Foragers Market which is held at Bulli Showground each Sunday. An hour from Sydney.  Easy reach and makes for a great Sunday drive!.

My recent visit coincided with the Artisan market, that is on the second weekend of each month too. 

Wandering the fresh produce stalls which is undercover I notice there was some great produce on offer from fresh fruit and veg, baked goods and lots of sweet treats including many *insert paleo/dairy/gluten/sugar free* treats.

Ben at Nougat Royale does some wonderful nougat.  Chewy and packed full of dried cherry and toasted coconut and I'm eyeing off the shards of honeycomb.


I was rather taken with the lovely young ladies over at Earlybird Jams. They make a fabulous range of seasonal jams including the popular raspberry and vanilla bean jam and their range of peanut butters are a must buy. Select from five blends of peanut butter and chocolate or salted caramel. I have to say I was a big fan of the peanut butter and white chocolate, it reminds me of fudge! Yes please!!!!


The protein balls at Raw Vibes look so pretty and delicious. I want to gobble them all up.


The goji berry brownies look smashing...the presentation here is outstanding.

Mum and son team at One Jar At a Time is an absolute gem of a business. An all rounder with the belief of no food wastage, fairtrade and fair price, using local and organic and ethically sourced produce and green.

Preparing jams and chutneys in small batches as a way of keeping track of their food miles. It’s a very ethical based business. I love everything about this…..oh and their product is damn good too! Eggplant curry leaf chutney? Tomato and Ginger? Or even a strawberry and almond jam.. Yes please!

The vibe of the market is alternative, raw and quirky (in my opinion). It's energetic and oozing a good vibe.  It's friendly and laid back and it’s a great way to spend a Sunday morning. 

Worth noting is the Cool Room. If you purchase any fresh produce head to the cool room where you can leave it in the 'fridge' and enjoy the rest of the day without freaking out you will miss our on purchases (if you don't get in early!)
My visit was on a glorious sunshine filled day and it drove us outside where the many artisan stalls along with a few food stalls are. Bacon and egg rolls, pulled pork/ brisket rolls and Vietnamese noodles and soups are all on offer. Grab a coffee and something to eat and pull up a space on the grassed area and listen to the band playing some great tunes. Umbrellas, mats and beanbags and the odd sofa lounge are provided to make your seating more pleasurable and comfy.
My friend and I grab a couple of bites.  She goes with the trusty bacon and egg roll where I go with the beef brisket, slaw, house BBQ and miso ranch.  So juicy and tasty and the miso ranch is....well yummy.  We sit back and soak up the sun and vibes while catching up and playing with her adorable 1 year old son, who I just love to bits!
I don't seem to have any photos of the band nor the awesome chillout area! EPIC food blogger fail!  Maybe you just need to go and check it out yourself.  It's only 1 hour from the south side of Sydney!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Road to Aleppo and Beyond - Eating my way through Syria - Part 2

I have a heavy heart as I finish off this blog post today (it's been sitting in my drafts forever and a day).  As Syria is once again in the midst of a warzone I cannot help but think back on happier times and how much I feel in love with this country.  I am lucky enough to have travelled there at the beginning of 2009 before the terrible situation that is taking place at the moment.
This part of the journey has taken me to Aleppo and Palmyra. See the first part of the journey here.  Aleppo is one of the largest cities in Syria and is an ancient city, one of the longest inhabited cities in the world.  We visit Al Madana souq and we are taken around with a guide.  It's alive and buzzing with trade.  Trade is still conducted in a way that is hundreds of years old and I like the chaos yet simplicity of the market. 
Souk in Aleppo
Even the food carts around the market take pride in their ware/fare.  Intricately preparing cord with butter and salt and herbs, this guy takes his product seriously.

Pickles are in abundance and served at every meal.  No wonder they are pickled in these huge plastic barrels!

pickles galore
And the bakeries and sweet shops are fabulous.  Just look at the pillows of thin, flat sheets of pastry read to sold and baked.

So many olives on offer too.
After a day exploring Crac de Chevalier, which is a crusader castle perched on top of a mountain we headed to Hama, a beautiful little town famous for their Noria’s or what we would call waterwheels. They a romantically beautiful all lit at night.

Noria's by night ©

Waking up the following morning we realised it was snowing and made it all that more beautiful. A morning wander down by the the river we stumbled across some norias working hard to churn the water under some ruins of the old city walls.

beautiful noria's in Hama ©

We head to Palmyra for New Years Eve. This is the day it just also happened to snow in the desert. Absolutely breathtaking.  In town the main street is lined with restaurants and shops selling dates, pickles and kitchen ware.  I love how this shop is drying the dates.

We are need of sustenance and I am eager to taste a local dish called Manaf. Springs Restaurant offered this dish and it did not disappoint. The owner Mohammed was very entertaining and his mum who is the cook in the kitchen kept popping her head out to check to see if we were enjoying our meal.
Mansaf is a bedouin dish which has meat (typically lamb) and fermented dried yogurt as a base of the dish. This particular dish had a half/half serve of both chicken and lamb with turmeric served atop freekah.
Mansaf with freekah
Freekah is made from roasting greenwheat and is high in fibre and nutrients. It imparts a nutty, toasty flavour and soaks up the flavourful sauce. Hearty, warming and full of love this dish and the hospitality of the restaurant is a highlight.

Bellies full, we did a little shopping/exploring down the main street of town and met (another) Mohammed who was the owner of Kingdom of Dates. We had a browse inside and he offered us mint tea, dates, date honey and date syrup..
Dates in all their glory
As we were chatting, the Syrian hospitality showed even more when he offered us his dinner of Mahshi, which is a dish of vegetables (typically zucchini, marrow or carrots) stuffed with mince and rice. In this case it was stuffed carrots. After declining twice being his dinner and all, he insisted that we have one. Not wanting to offend any further we devoured it.
stuffed carrots
It was delicious. The carrot was soft and tender but somehow held it’s shape after cooking for so long. Being hollowed out I thought it would just mush up as you bit into it. Mohammed’s shop is cosy and we sat by the fire to warm up and enjoy his hospitality until the roof in the storage room collapsed sending boxes of dates flying and a cloud of dust and dirt circled out heads, cough cough…feeling a little helpless we helped him clean up a little.....but I knew it was time to leave when he was asking for my hand in marriage!

Being New Years Eve we had plans to go out into the desert and Palmyra ruins and watch the fire works unfortunately due to the situation in Gaza, all events had been cancelled including the fireworks out at the ruins. So we had dinner at the Palmyra Restaurant, sampling yet another bedouin dish of Kaway, a lamb dish baked in a terracotta pan and a few drinks and shisha on the roof of our hotel. 

more lamb
No more snow!
After a morning of traipsing around the Palmyra ruins in the cold crispy air we had worked up an appetite and headed to the Pancake house for a lamb pancake. This was super tasty which somehow had had me humming ‘Yummy, yummy yummy I've got lamb pancake in my tummy"

yummy lamb pancakes

The owner asked if I would right up a little sign to put up in his window (sort of a touristy advertising gimmick). It’s a few months later when my cousin’s tells me of a funny story of this sign in the window….when she realises it’s my sign!!!!
Our last night in this great little place was spent smoking shisha, sipping mint tea and eating camel mansaf at Venus Restaurant.  Camel is common to eat in the Gulf.  It's very lean, dry and can be a little tough if overcooked.  This mansaf dish was served with rice.

Our last night in Damascus before moving over the border to Jordan, we wanted to find one last thing in the souks. Totally not food related but worth the mention is that Damascus is 'infamous' for singing underwear, yes you heard correctly. After looking in a few lingerie stalls with no luck we were getting a little despondent, until I plucked up the courage to ask one of the many male sellers....he didn't understand the words singing underwear.....he did not understand musical underwear he did however understand 'underwear musika...lalalaal'

singing underwear

We purchased some fun flower and bird undies, more for the novelty of it and can honestly say they are still sitting in my drawer to this day, unworn and they still 'sing'...the battery hasn't worn out yet!
Our last night in Damascus we spent at the Al Khanwali House.  Freshly baked bread from the oven and a lovely courtyard setting.

While travelling the world you come across some pretty funny translations sometimes.  English can be a difficult language to learn (and being a TEFL teacher you understand the frustration students can have)....sometimes these translations are just a mix up of word placement and other times it would appear that they have looked up a thesaurus for words....and other times you get the most funniest (and often very politically incorrect) is the case with the menu here. I just had to order the politically incorrect named dish - who could resist? Somehow this dish called Makdous has gotten lost in translation and in fact meant aubergines!  Can you spot it?

stuffed 'aborigines' 
Makdous was delicious!

I wasn't overly hungry so I ordered a small portion of the lamb shanks with lemon sauce and a side of pilaf. When I say small it was little a tiny lamb shank - perfect!

Lamb shank in lemon sauce
 The meat literally fell off the bone as I picked it up with my fingers.  The lemon sauce is tangy and acidic but well balanced and cuts through the fattiness of the lamb shank (not that it was very fatty).
I am so happy that I was fortunate enough to travel here and had the opportunity to meet some amazing people.  The hospitality, friendliness and absolute strength the people have is truly commendable. I went with no expectations and came away with awe and wonderment.  Syria had some of the most delectable food that I had the pleasure tasting in the Middle East and still chuckle over the Makdous!
*All photos belong to Roofoodblog and are copyrighted. ©