The word "khana" in Indian Khana Made Easy means food. So come on, let's explore and cook some easy Indian food together including Gluten Free dishes.

December 24, 2011

~A Big Fat South Indian Wedding~

One of my favorite movies is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The key takeaways for me from the movie were that weddings are about tradition, bringing lots of family together and food. I guess that's what we have in common with the Greeks.
In India, weddings can span anywhere from 3-5 days including all the rituals. The guest list typically ranges from 400 to 2000 people. The larger figures are more common in smaller communities, where weddings are the key occasions for the parents to invite everyone they know including the community to bless the happy couple.  Nowadays the wedding ceremonies have become like a Bollywood movie; glitzy and over the top. One of my friends who recently got married told me his wedding was done at a large scale and even included fireworks for all the main events. I didn't believe him until he showed the pictures. The Indian weddings I've attended in the States are in no comparison to those abroad. My cousin's wedding was spectacular with all the frills and more. One example is that she arrived to the mandap (ceremonial stage) in a palanquin carried by all her uncles. Now that's what I call an entrance...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M2tPUlYjAY



The wedding was one of the most memorable events of my trip. It was filled with lots of laughs, relatives I haven't seen in years, rich and traditional South Indian food, glitzy clothing and jewelry, and best of all...I was a part of my cousin's important day. That's priceless!!

December 21, 2011

The Wonders of India - Delhi

Our trip wouldn't be complete without making a stop over in Delhi. I learned to speak Hindi here and still remember it to this day. There is so much to do and see, it's endless.  In the past trips, we explored the historical landmarks such as Red Fort, India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Qutub Minar, Lotus Temple, Gandhi Museum and etc. This time we decided to take it easy and just have some downtime (which included shopping and spending time with friends). Delhi is one of the best places to go shopping (especially for clothes and trinkets). One of our best modes of transportation were autos; which also meant bargaining with the drivers for better fare pricing. Until one of our family friends told us about the Metro (subway). We used it to get to some of our destinations within the city and guess what, I loved every minute of it. It was fast, frequent, affordable and clean. It reminded me of my metro experiences in London and Paris. Its design is sleek and comfortable. My only concern is that with the ever growing number of people traveling by this mode, it's maintained well. 
Oh and nothing completes a day of shopping with some delicious grub. If we were living in India, street vendors and local restaurants would be our main source. As travelers, we dined only at restaurants we've gone to in the past and/or read reviews online. There's also some Western fast food joints such as McDonald's, Subway, KFC for worry-warts! It's better to be safe than sorry. 

Haldiram's 
Left to Right: Chole Batura, Paneer Tikka, Bhel Puri, and Kesar Pista Kulfi in Matkas
You got to hand it to Haldiram's for presentation. Just look at the batura...it's so big. The paneer tikka as an appetizer was yum. Personally I found the bhel puri to be a bit spicy but I think it's because I'm a tourist now and not a local. Next time, I'll ask for more dahi (plain yogurt) and sweet tamarind sauce. Let's not forget the dessert which was served in little clay pots, also known as matkas. Aren't they so cute? I especially loved this place for its order retrieval. It was easy and way less wait time than in other restaurants. 
Our second favorite place to go is Nirula's. They have the best ice cream flavors and savory creations. 
One big scoop of Pineapple Pop ice cream in a waffle cone
That's the face of someone who just needed a cool treat and got one. By the way, Pineapple Pop was the flavor of the month and all those calories were totally worth it. 


Here's some good shopping advise from one traveler to another:  

Good Shopping Locations:
Lajpat Nagar Central Market – Fancy Indian dresses, casual clothes and accessories
Malhotra Fancy Cloth House
Westside
South Extension
Metro (for fancy, trendy and ethnic shoes)
Part II, Main Market, E-21
Tel: 011-2621306
Janpath – Souvenirs, woven embroidered saris, ethnic jewelry, and accessories
Jawahar Vyapar Bhavan
Tel: 011-23320439

Next up is a little taste of the South...here we come Vijayawada and Hyderabad. 

December 20, 2011

The Wonders of India - Agra

There is nothing greater than undying love and devotion. One of India's most treasured monuments is Taj Mahal which was built by emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved empress Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz's final request for Shah Jahan was that he never remarry and prove his endless love for her by building a beautiful mausoleum. Shah Jahan also had plans of building a mausoleum for himself behind the Taj Mahal so that he may look upon his Mumtaz whenever he pleased. However, he passed away before it was completed and only the foundation remained. He was later buried next to his empress inside Taj Mahal. The story was so beautiful that I couldn't help but cry while our guide was telling it
The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is during the winter months and go early. One time, we made the mistake of going in the summer and suffered...it turned out to be the hottest day of the year. Let's just say I lost a weight on that trip and it wasn't intentional. This time, we got to the monument early in the morning (around 7ish) and enjoyed the view without the crowds and hassle. If you are planning to hire a guide, make sure they know more than what's written in the guide books. We walked around the grounds a while just taking in the ambiance and also explored the other structures around the Taj; such as the mosque on the left and Mihman Khana on the right. The Mihman Khana was used as a guesthouse during the death anniversaries of Mumtaz Mahal and then as a banquet hall by Indian princes and high ranking British officials during the 18th and 19th centuries.
It was difficult to leave the Taj Mahal but we had one more monument to see in Agra called Fatehpur Sikri. It was the former imperial capital of Mughal emperor Akbar. Just like the Taj Mahal, the city was constructed with influences of Indian, Persian and Islam traditions. The album below is from our tour through Fatehpur Sikri.



If we had more time, we would have stopped by Agra Fort too but we had to get packing and drive to Delhi that day. However, it was a great day filled with lots of picturesque memories of India's national treasures. 

December 18, 2011

The Wonders of India - Jaipur & Ranthambore


We left the evening of the seventh and arrived in Jaipur on the morning of the ninth. After a long flight all we wanted to do was to sleep off the jet lag. However, it was tough to sleep with all the excitement in the air. Did you know that Jaipur is also known as the Pink City of Rajasthan? In 1876, the city was painted pink to welcome Prince Albert and Queen Elizabeth II and since then the nickname remained. The city is full of rich culture, food and magnificent architecture (such as palaces, forts, and lush gardens).
It's easy to work up an appetite after all the sightseeing and exploration of a new city. We asked around and received some suggestions for quality restaurants that serve tasty Rajasthani cuisine without pinching the pockets too much. The cuisine is rich and simple. During the few days we spent in the city, we enjoyed freshly made breads such as naan and parathas with rich vegetable curries. The best part of Jaipur for me was Choki Dhani. It is a re-creation of an authentic Rajasthani village filled with entertainment for the whole family, crafts & trinkets shops, and an unique dining experience. Words are not enough to describe the food we ate that night. Inside this large clay built hall, there were men dressed in Rajasthani garb serving everyone various types of appetizers, breads, curries, and sweets. Pictures are included in the album.

We put together an album to help you imagine how wonderful our trip was and to get an idea what this great city had to offer its travellers...


The enthusiasm was building up as we headed to the next stop which was the Ranthambore National Park & Tiger Reserve. We stayed in town for two days while we explored the park and all its treasures. Our accommodations were at this hotel called Vatika Resort; it was a short distance from the reserve. It has eight cottages with comfortable beds, bathrooms and flat screen TVs. There was no need to worry about the quality of the food because all meals were prepared fresh each day of our stay. Also, we made all our bookings through a trusted travel agent who we used in the past. They booked two safaris (evening and morning), increasing the odds of us spotting the tigers. Our evening safari was the best one out of the two and to top it all off, we actually saw one of the biggest male Bengal tigers on the reserve. How lucky were we!!!


We left Ranthambore with great delight and headed for our next adventure in the North...to Agra and Delhi!


***Quick Tips: 
- There are eight zones or trails around the park where the safari guides are allowed to take passengers. Before planning your trip, we recommend calling the park or your booking agent ahead of time to secure a seat and to inquire about the best zones where more wildlife was sighted so you can try to avoid disappointment. Also if you are going on multiple safaris, make sure that the zones aren't repeated if one of them had no action. 
- Depending on when you plan to go to Rajasthan, here are other cities to explore: Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaiselmer, and Bikaner. Also look into going to the Pushkar Camel Fair.  

December 10, 2011

There's No Place Like "Home"

I love the movie, The Wizard of Oz. It's filled with colorful characters and imagery that makes it enjoyable for anyone. That's exactly how I feel whenever we take a trip to India. It's a place full of wonder and beautiful people. It is also where I spent the first few years of my childhood. It is my connection to my roots and a place I call home. So it is only natural that whenever I'm "homesick", I feel like clicking my heels and waking up in my grandma's place in India. Well, this past November I didn't exactly click my heels to get there, but I might as well have. One of my cousins was getting married and we took the opportunity to go for the occasion, and of course we extended the trip a little to include some sightseeing.
Our trip began in the North and concluded in the South. Then we returned to the States with beautiful memories of sights, smells, sounds, and tastings. My fondest memories were mostly of the tastings. You know, I'm all about the FOOD.  Before we left, I made a note of all my cravings and kept it close by so I could take full advantage while I was there. This time, I even managed to take some pictures, so I could look back and indulge.