Where spices come from. A tour of a spice plantation in Goa

If you’re in a region of the world where spices are grown, take in a tour of a spice plantation. On last Tuesday’s episode of Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern went to a one in Goa.

Here is a video of a tour of a spice plantation in Goa (there are several) that points out the highlights of the various spices and how they are grown. The text captions tell what you’re seeing. Along with the close-up shots, are views of the entire plants. In the mix, there is a demonstration of how to climb a tree, and the food shots will make you hungry.

Here is a link Goa’s spice plantations. Make sure that food is part of the bargain. You are guaranteed shopping time.

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern: Goa, the spice of life

From the first shot of Goa in this week’s episode of Bizarre Foods, I could smell the aromas. And that’s a good thing. Although Zimmern said that the food in Goa is different than many parts of India, in New Delhi where I lived for two years, every spicy, sweet and sour taste that Zimmern mentioned could be found. That’s because New Delhi was filled with people who started out somewhere else. For those who like taste variety, India is heaven, and Zimmern once again showed how.

What I liked about this episode is that anyone heading to Goa can find the food that Zimmern ate without spending much money. He went to simple places in each location he visited. And, although he did touch on the unusual foods, it was mostly the cooking methods and not weird ingredients that carried the episode. Goa became an inviting backdrop for eating pleasure. Instead of thinking, “Oh, gad!” I wanted a bite– or twelve.

In Goa, a state colonized by the Portuguese, and described by Zimmern as a hippie hangout in the 60s and 70s that still teams with tourists, Zimmern walked through Mapusa Market as the camera panned and periodically lingered on sacks of spices followed by piles of various fruits. Along with the variety in the smells and flavors of the bounty is a vibrant color palate which is probably why camera shots of spices were popular throughout this episode.

First up– a lesson in curry. As Zimmern pointed out, curry is a blend of spices that goes much further than what Westerners know as curry powder. In India, curry is called masala. When the tasting started Zimmern honed in on a couple of dishes that make Indian cuisine unique.

Pickled mango was one of them. Mango, a usually sweet fruit is turned sour by being kept in salt. One of my favorite relishes, mango pickle is often found on restaurant tables similar to how a bottle of ketchup is a condiment in the United States. My favorite Indian restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico when I lived there was the Indian Kitchen. There was always a jar of mango pickle at the ready. I’d eat it like candy.

For his market grazing, Zimmern also sampled bora berry, a small light brownish-yellowish fruit, about the size of a grape that he said was “slimy goo, sour and disgusting.” Must be an acquired taste. As the guide who was showing Zimmern around said, children love them. Passion fruit Zimmern liked.

At a sausage seller, he sampled chouricos, a sausage made of pig meat that includes organs and is mixed with hot spices and stuffed inside pig intestines. Instead of intestines, Zimmern said guts. Using pig intestines as sausage casing is actually not that unusual. Say guts and it sounds gross.

The next dish, mackerel soaked up to a year in masala sauce, is unusual. Zimmern offered to eat it raw, but the guide told him absolutely not. It’s fried first and she sent him off to Republic Noodle, a small restaurant near the market to be cooked before he became sick for sure. “This could have been my last Bizarre Foods,” he quipped.

The cooked mackerel wasn’t fabulous. “This smells like lime soaked in ammonia,” he said before taking a bite. “Wow. That’s sour and fishy. You can’t even cut this thing with a knife.” Sounds like a food to stay away from unless you’re really, really, really hungry. Still, for people who live through monsoons, this method for preserving foods comes in handy.

In Panaji the capital of Goa, the architecture reflects the Portuguese colonial influence–so does the cuisine. Vindaloo, a signature dish of Goa, reflects the influence. I’ve eaten chicken vindaloo many times, but didn’t know it came from the Portuguese. Vindaloo, as Zimmern pointed out, is a way of preparing a sauce that includes vegetables, various spices, vinegar and red hot peppers, making it one of the hottest dishes in Indian cuisine. He ate his version at the restaurant in the Hotel Venite. “Spicy. Tomatoey. Strong vinegar backbone. Boy, that’s some serious warm heat,” he declared. Vindaloo can be made with pork, fish and beef as well.

Zimmern’s meal also included hilsa fish roe. The roe–fish eggs–were in a ring that had been steamed, chilled, sliced, and rolled into corn flour. “This is absolutely the definition of dry mealy food,” said Zimmern before he ate a bite of vindaloo as a chaser. Throw some mango pickle on the roe and it might be good?

At another restaurant, Mum’s Kitchen, there is the concept of making Indian food as Indian moms might make it. The idea is to “make sure the right way to do something doesn’t disappear” by adding a mother’s touch into the dishes.”

Here chicken can’t get any fresher. The chicken is killed on the spot and is plucked, cleaned, cut up and cooking in minutes. Zimmern pronounced the dish, chicken xacuiti delicious. Since it’s from marinating chicken in a masala mixture of cumin, curry leaves, coconut and red chilies, I’d second that. It didn’t sound weird, and besides, moms cooked it.

Even the most unusual dish on the menu, Bombay Duck, was tasty despite sounding awful. The duck isn’t duck, but a type of soft boned fish with lizard qualities. The story goes that the name comes from the British who said the fish’s smell reminded them of a crowded train car of the Bombay line.

Next on Zimmern’s Goa jaunt was a trip to Calangute Beach. Here, wood-fired tandori ovens are used for cooking which gives meat and bread a smokey flavor. At one simple restaurant, 100 yards off the ocean with jet skis in the background, Zimmern ate tandoori-style fish after mentioning that there are miles and miles of beaches in Goa, so fish is a-plenty.

Zimmern’s eating at this beach made me want to head to the Asian food store closest to my house to buy a bag of Indian snack food. After eating a chick pea sandwich, Zimmern sampled a snack mixture of puffed wheat, chick peas raisins and spices.

As he said, “Even the simpliest food are seasoned so well. You feel like the most humble foods have been transformed.” If you’ve never eaten Indian snacks, buy some, but be careful about the hot factor. The packaging will say if a food is hot or mild. If it says hot, believe it.

Another tasty treat with a wicked kick was the deep fried chili fritters with chili puree on top. Don’t do what Zimmern did and glop on the puree. “That was a really dumb idea. In a little while I’ll have to peel my taste buds off that cloud up there,” Zimmern said about his mouth explosion.

To get away from the tourists, Zimmern suggested Arambol Beach where you can sunbath with the cows. With white sand beaches and the ocean offering a place for relaxation, shack-like restaurants were the setting for Zimmern’s fish feast. Fish is cooked up on a propane grill.

The flat spiny pomfret that Zimmern ate is a white fish variety that is cross-hatched before it is grilled so that will come apart in pieces making eating it with ones fingers easy. The king prawns were also grilled. At this point, I’m thinking, shoot yes, that I’m hungry.

Next stop was Sahakari Spice Farm where there are at least 100 different types of plants. This section was a great lesson in where the ingredients in spice bottles come from. As this section illustrated, in addition to jazzing up food, spices also foster good health.

The man giving Zimmern the tour said that black pepper acts as a laxative and cinnamon takes care of cholesterol, for example.

The farm was also a place for highlighting the labor intensive harvesting practices, like when the guy shimmied up coconut and betel nut trees to get the good stuff.

To get to his next eating place, Zimmern took a ride in a rough hewn wooden boat on the Mondovi River where sand bars makes travel tricky and in spots crocodiles infest the waters.

In a private home, Zimmern ate sorpotel, a dish common to weddings. With pork as the main ingredient, it was cooked in a large pot over an open fire nto a dish flavored with Kashmiri chili, onions, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon. Yum. (Except I could do without knowing that blood is used for a thickening agent.)

The last part of this episode was my favorite and worth its own post. Stay tuned for Andrew Zimmern’s trip to the Ayurvedic Natural Health Center which made me laugh out loud. It involved oil, heat, a broken chair and cow’s urine.

(photos of market and Zimmern from Bizarre Foods Web site.)

“Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel: Season Finale– Delhi

Location: Delhi, the city with a history that dates back to 1650 A.D. This is where the Mughal Empire once reigned supreme leaving stunning buildings in its wake, and the British tried to recreate into an organized place of roundabouts and more stunning buildings. Common to every part of the city is the sacred cow that wanders throughout. Food truths: milk crosses cultural boundaries, and there’s nothing quite like a perfect masala.

Episode Rating: 4 Sheep Testicles (out of 4) using Aaron’s system, but trade sheep for goat.

Summary: Oh, rapture! Joy! I thought I missed food in Taiwan until I saw Andrew Zimmern eat his way through Delhi. With the abundance of food options and places to eat, Zimmern and his crew did an admirable job honing in on highlights of the gastronomic variety. If one thinks that Indian food is nothing but yellow curry powder, this episode dispelled that. Another dispelled myth is Delhi belly. I never had it in two years that I recall. If I had it, I’d remember.

First stop, Chandni Chowk market in Old Delhi. This teeming place is as chaotic as it looks on TV.

“Every nook and cranny of this town has someone who is making a tasty treat,” declared Zimmern, who made an impromptu stop by a pan sizzling with fried potatoes. “Anytime I see fried potatoes, I eat them. I’m from Minnesota,” he said, then moaned through his bites, “These are good; these are so good.”

Here’s some other Old Delhi eating pleasures that Zimmern savored: Daulat ki Chatt, a sweet milk dish made from the froth; Nihari, a “hearty and spicy” stew made with buffalo thighs and beef brains that simmers for 5 to 6 hours; a fruit sandwich made with cottage cheese, apple slices, pomegranate seeds that is “delicious,” but hard to eat because the ingredients fall out; and a masala lamb stew that “smells almost chocolaty.”

This segment pointed out is that you can eat street food without getting sick if you’re picky and careful. Zimmern turned away a potato-chickpea dish that was garnished with tamarind tap water. I second the stay away from the tap water advice.

When visiting Old Delhi, a guide can take you to the best eating spots, like Zimmern’s did, and point out the details of the architecture and cultural highlights while helping you navigate the packed windy streets. I recommend it.

To get to the food without the wandering, stop at El Jawarhar Restaurant at the entrance of Chandi Chowk It’s across the street from the largest mosque in Delhi. Zimmern loved everything about this place, and went into great detail about how Muslim food preparation practices, called halal, helps ensure that the meat is fresh and clean. Food descriptors he used: “rich and creamy,” delicious,” “bright hot,”and “that sauce is out of this world.” The lamb scrotum, though, needed “to be cooked a whole lot more to be edible.”

I’ve eaten at El Jawarhar, and found it as good as Zimmern gushed. There are plenty of food choices without the odd ball ingredients–literally.

Next stop New Delhi, the part of Delhi designed by the British. Bukhara, Zimmern’s first eating pleasure highlight, is considered one of the best restaurants in Asia and is popular with the in-crowd–like famous people. Anyone can eat here, though. I did. The food is as superb as Zimmern said, but I have to say, it’s not as expensive as he alluded to. One of the great things about India is you can eat the very best food without spending outlandish prices. Maybe the prices were outlandish and I have amnesia.

Besides eating the glorious food, you can watch the chefs cook it. There’s a large plate glass window in one wall. My dad, who was visiting us, and is as much as a food buff as Zimmern is, went back to the kitchen for a chat. We ate exactly what Zimmern did, plus a couple other dishes. The dal is fantastic and the chicken is the “melt in your mouth” version like Zimmern said. The chef’s explanation of how eating with your hands helps add to the sensory experience of eating food is exactly right.

Besides trotting to restaurants, Zimmern headed to private homes. One he got to on the back of milk vendor’s motorcycle. Here I found out that Zimmern and I have something in common. We both are wild about Saag Paneer. This is a spinach dish with cottage cheese-like cubes. He drank lassi, my daughter’s favorite. It’s a yogurt milk drink blend that comes in a variety of flavors. Zimmern’s was laced with cardamon, rose syrup and pomegranate.

At a Kashmiri fashion designer’s house, Zimmern he had a 32-course meal called a Wazwan, a traditional Kashmiri feast where lamb is the meat of choice and it’s accompanied by a dizzying array of dishes, all served one at a time. Pacing is the key, Zimmern said. “Now, I’m starting to burp. The level of food is rising in me.” This was at 1 a.m. By the end, he was stretched out, leaning against the wall, his hands on his stomach.

He also went to Oh! Calcutta, a modern upscale place where he learned about the various ways bananas are prepared, including the flowers and stems. People I know went here and loved it, I never did since we had our own favorites. If ‘m ever in Delhi again, I’m heading here.

The last stop was the Sikh temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib where anyone and everyone can come for a free meal. Zimmern, with a Sikh turban on his head helped make chapatis and stirred dal for the masses. Zimmern marveled how it felt to be in “a sea of humanity but feel close to everyone in the room.” I was one of the masses once and vouch that the food is simple and good.

As Zimmern said of Indian cuisine, it’s a mix of flavors and cooking techniques based on religion and the region of the country the food is from. In Delhi, you really can get it all.

The World’s Best Canned Food?

SaagNeil recently mentioned where to go to find the signature dishes of some European countries. Sometimes, though, even the most die-hard travelers are not at liberty to just zoom off to foreign lands to hunt down dinner.

My wife and I love Indian food. To us, no other country’s food has so many enticing smells, appealing colors, curious tastes, and varied options. Indian food is our favorite “foreign food,” and we’re lucky that there are some good Indian restaurants within a few miles of our house.

On some nights, though, we don’t have the time or energy to go out and get Indian food. What do we do when we’re craving curry or masala and don’t feel like going out to get it? Simple. We bring the Indian food to us.

PaneerRecently, we stumbled on Jyoti Indian food in the “ethnic foods” aisle of our local supermarket, and we decided to give it a try. I’m always a bit reluctant to try canned food, but this was excellent. In fact, Jyoti is undeniably the best canned food I’ve ever eaten — and it’s better than some restaurant-cooked Indian food I’ve sampled, too.

During our first Jyoti dinner, we ate the Delhi Saag (spinach and mustard greens). We added some tofu to the mix, warmed it through, and ate it with rice and bread. It was incredible: a little spicy, but not so hot that our tongues or lips were on fire. Since we’d added the tofu, it made enough that we even had leftovers the next night.

SambarLast night, we sampled the Matar Paneer (peas and Indian home-style cheese). Again, we cooked some rice and heated some bread — my wife had even found some organic samosas for us to try! — and loaded up our plates. Amazingly, it was even better than the Saag — and I hate cooked peas.

What’s up next? Don’t know. I think I’d like to try the Madras Sambar (lentils and vegetables), or perhaps the Classic Masala Sauce, but I’m going to poke around the shelves at the grocery store and see what looks best. Fortunately for us, our supermarket carries a large portion of Jyoti’s catalog on its shelves. I have a feeling we’ll be sampling many more dinners.

In a nutshell, if you like Indian food, you really need to try Jyoti. the only way it could be better is if it were delivered by a real dabbawala.

Dining in Dushanbe: Delhi Darbar

Indian I’ve saved one of the best for last my foodie friends. After dining at Delhi Darbar about six times during my stay in Tajikistan I discovered one absolutely fantastic thing about the place and that one thing is this: there isn’t a single bad dish on the menu. Anything you order is guaranteed to be savory, scrumptious and gratifying. While I enjoyed sampling the local flavor and having a Tajik dinner or two, the traditional foods were just filled with too much oil. On Indianthe flipside the Indian fare felt healthier and can we say just about zero grease is used in preparation. Astonishing!

My favorite item of all was the vegetarian thali (right). Included in the meal is a spicy cauliflower, lentils, rice, a cole slaw with dill, yoghurt, and a sugary doughy dessert in syrup. Other good selections include the chicken tikka, lemon rice with garlic naan. If you’re looking for something sweet to sip try the pineapple lassi. Seriously, everything is good.

Outside the gateway to Indo-Fusion doesn’t look like much, but indoors it’s well lit with India inspired wall murals and Bollywood and Uzbek humming from the television above the buffet. The staff is all nice and always seem to wear very welcoming smiles.

Located at Rudaki 88 in Dushanbe, the chain also has locations in Khujand as well as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.