Monthly Archives: January 2015

Andaman Travelogues Part 2 – Food

Mouth Freshener anyone? The name on the packet itself freshened me up alright.
Mouth Freshener anyone? The name on the packet itself freshened me up alright.

When I started writing this blog post, I realised I should take some time out first to beat myself up. I am the ultimate blunder queen and it seems I have done it again. Here I am about to write about the delicious yummy food of the Andaman Islands, to tell you about the fresh seafood and local cuisine which I enjoyed there….and I suddenly realise my mistake.
During my 10-day visit to Port Blair and Havelock Island, I ate so much but never had to worry about putting on weight since we walked a lot! And since we walked a lot, we ate a lot too! And in the middle of all this walking and talking and eating, I forgot to click pictures of what I was eating.
I envy all those people out there who take a few moments out to click a picture of the food served on their plate before they dig in. I have always, well,… dug in. So please forgive me for not clicking pictures of Andaman’s glorious seafood. It was mouth-watering and you will just have to take my word for it. Except for these three photos here, and especially proud of the top picture.

No butter chicken please

Our first meal there, and  husband says, “Let’s have butter chicken.” I wanted to strangle him right there…we live in north India and all there is to eat there is Butter Chicken (and matter paneer and aloo gobhi). And I was not going to let Butter Chicken sabotage my culinary vacation. But I was surprised to see that most hotels’ menu were predominantly north Indian. As our guide Kuber later told me, Andaman’s food habits include many north Indian dishes. I was expecting it to be only seafood, but that was not the case. The seafood section of the menus in Port Blair was quite tiny and expensive. But we still made it a point to local food and snacks whenever we could.

Chana Bhel, a popular snack sold at beaches.
Chana Bhel, a popular snack sold at beaches.

Beach snacks

All the beaches in Andaman and Nicobar– at least the ones open to tourists– will have some small shops or vendors with a wicker basket where you can have light snacks. But in the midst of all those kurkure and chips packets, I could see bhel being sold by a couple of guys who were carrying a portable stand in which they stored the various ingredients of bhel.
They had a special variety, called Chana bhel, which had boiled black chana with finely chopped onion, tomatoes, a bit of thin sev and lots of shredded coconut with spices. They would roll up a paper into a cone and serve this bhel in it with a banana-leaf spoon. All for Rs30. It seems Bengal Gram is very popular here, as the boiled variety was served as chakna with drinks in local bars.
Another popular beach item is Kulfi. Just for Rs 20, a refreshing Kulfi would re-energise me for the long walks and ferry rides.
Of course, you would find the occasional restaurant that would serve south Indian items like Idli-Sambhar, Vada, Dosa, Uttapam etc.

Phish and Prawns
In terms of seafood, Havelock offered tremendous varieties of dishes. It has the best restaurants and in all budget ranges — from local stalls to boho-style restos — and unless specified, they all served fish and prawns dishes. Check out Fat Martin on Beach no.5 in Havelock, where I had the most awesome Grilled Tiger Prawns with Garlic Butter sauce. There are many other good eating joints there, like Anju Coco and Full Moon Cafe, that serve delicious continental seafood.

Coffee flavoured Panna Cotta with Chocolate sauce at B3.
Coffee flavoured Panna Cotta with Chocolate sauce at B3.

At the Havelock jetty, check out B3 — Barefoot Bar & Brassiere, I am so proud to say that the fish steak served with salad was an absolute delight. After finishing a good meal off with a cheesecake and panna cotta, there was only one thing left to do — sleep. Now B3 is an open air restaurant on situated on the first floor, and there is a constant breeze that caress you. A full tummy and a breeze is a heady mixture for us Indians, who love their afternoon nap. But obviously, B3 is not about to let us Indians go off to sleep on their long benches, not when there are people waiting for you to vacate that bench.
But I have to admit, we had the best meal in small dhabas where the local drivers and workers eat. We had this homely food twice- first on our way back from Jolly Buoy Island and the other time while returning from Baratang Island. Now there is fixed meal menu at such dhabas— steamed rice, with daal, sabji and papad. For non-vegetarians, sabji is accompanied by fish fry or fish curry. Oh by the way, did I mention that you can have unlimited rice and daal? (I love how multiple servings is called Unlimited in India.) And all this for mere Rs 100!
And later, quench your thirst with some coconut water. You will find many vendors who would open up a green coconut on the spot and slip in a straw. Once you are done drinking the water, they would crack it open and give it back so that you can eat the tender white coconut (called malai in Hindi). I asked a vendor, out of curiosity, what they do with all these empty coconut shells. He told me that they bury these shells with the purpose of making manure, which would be ready in an year’s time.

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Andaman Travelogue Part 1

White sand, clear sky and pristine water! Thats Jolly Bouy Island for you.
White sand, clear sky and pristine water! That’s Jolly Buoy Island for you.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal has been on my “must visit” list for a long time. But recently, when I checked out pictures on social network of friends who visited that place, I grew a little sceptical.

The beautiful marine life full of corals and colourful fish. Wish I had a better picture!
The beautiful marine life full of corals and colourful fish. Wish I had a better picture!

It looked quite similar to Goa. Beaches and more beaches and … err nothing else. And then my husband went on to book a 10-day holiday in the Isles. I am so glad he did, because we got a chance to explore Andamans the way none of our friends have. This Union Territory is a natural paradise, relatively untouched and breath-taking beautiful.
A 3-4 day trip to the Isles is useless in my opinion. If you are gonna cross the Bay of Bengal to come all the way here, then you might as well stay for a minimum of 7 days…10 would be ideal. We stayed there for 10 days and thanks to an awesome guide, we had a very enriching experience of life on the island.
Just spending a couple of laid-back days in Havelock Islands is just not enough. The beaches there are stunning and incomparable. But that is not all this place has to offer. Get comfortable with the forests and various islands there. Each has a speciality, go explore that. The marine life is fantastic, but you need to see its beauty thoroughly in order to appreciate it. If you’ve done scuba diving at one spot, don’t think of yourself as a tees-mar-khan. Go for the cheaper option of snorkelling at every place where it is done, as every island has a different underwater charm.
Get a taste of the life here, eat the local seafood, travel in the ferries, indulge in some serious island hopping, explore the jungles, visit the museums (you heard me) to know more about the tribal since no one is allowed to meet them in person.
It took me 10 days to realise that tourists rarely have to worry about their stuff going missing from public places, even if you leave it unattended for sometime. Imagine the same situation in the mainland– specially in bigger cities, where the unattended bag would either get stolen, or trigger a bomb scare.

Sunset at Chidiya Tapu.

Just because I value the time you are wasting reading my blog, I am going to make it up to you. Here are some tips for your Andaman yatra:
1. Carry sunblock, loads of it.
2. You can hire a two wheeler (Motorcycle or Activa) in Port Blair for Rs1000 per day and in Havelock for Rs 350 per day. Bicycles are available for Rs200 per day. Negotiate during off-season.
3. In Havelock, try to arrange for accommodation in beach facing resorts, preferably on Beach No.5.
4. Motion-sickness and sea sickness can come as a rude shock for many. Carry medicines.
5. Enjoy the seafood, and the road-side dhabas will serve you the yummiest fish fry.
6. It is a very safe place for women. So do not hesitate in roaming around in shorts or noodle-straps, even if you are not on the beach. It can get hot, so wear loose and comfortable clothing.
7. I saw some women wear heels on trips where you are required to walk a lot in the wild. Seriously! You couldn’t find any flats or floaters?
8. Carry lots of photocopies of you photo ids. You will need to furnish those at booking counters of ferries and some check posts.
9. Confirm your ferry bookings at least a day in advance to check up on cancellation or change of time.
10. Sun sets early here (compared to rest of India) and shops shut early. So plan your day accordingly.

Rajasthani fabric designs

Rajasthan has such a wide and vibrant collection of textile designs and fabrics that is sure to leave a person bankrupt if his wife is left alone to shop! Too bad my husband didn’t realise that.
On a recent trip to Bikaner, I was accompanied by two friends on a shopping trip where our sole aim was to get some exquisite sarees, bed sheets and table covers. It took us three entire days to properly scan the old market area of the city and shop to our heart’s fill.
In sharp contrast to Rajasthan’s colourless topography, the fabric here is extremely vibrant and colourful. Craftsmen put in a lot of effort to get the designs and motifs onto the fabric and their hard work is evident in their product’s popularity.
Sanganeri fabric is the most common form of block printed cotton fabric in which wooden blocks are used to create some stunning motifs. Sanganeri prints on bed sheets and table covers are my personal favourite, though I would rarely let go of an opportunity to buy a Sanganeri saree.

Sadly, I couldn’t find good curtains with Sanganeri print. So I got this crazy idea of buying a nice Sanganeri saree, cutting off the pallu, and cutting the saree in half to make a set of two curtains. I, however, made the stupid mistake of saying this out aloud in front of the saree shop owner. He was scandalised to say the least! He went all musical on me, “Madem ji, aap saree ka parda banaoge? Itni acchi saree… aur uska parda!!??
I tried to calm him down, but I have a suspicion that from thereon, he was reluctantly showing me sarees, probably imagining me as a saree-slaughterer.

There we are, bringing every item off the shelf.
There we are, bringing every item off the shelf.

Now that we are talking about sarees, how can I not mention Bandhej and Leheriya? These sarees, mostly on chiffon, are a big hit among women, right from a humble village woman to the aristocratic royals.
Kota-doriya and supernet sarees also has a rich look and the best part is that they are quite pocket friendly. Where a chiffon Leheriya or Bandhej saree costs about Rs3000 (or Rs500 for synthetic machine printed ones), Kota-doriya or Supernet sarees’ cost starts from Rs1000 and goes up depending on the design and zari work on the border.
If you feel Sanganeri bed sheets are beautiful, then wait till you hear its price — trust me you will fall in love with the pricetag as well! Shelling out just Rs500 for a bed sheet-pillow cover set does not pinch the pocket at all! Have a look at these sarees and fabrics which I have posted below. The shopkeepers at Laxmi Sarees and Deepak Textiles in Bikaner were kind enough to let me click pics while we were all haggling for prices (women will be women).

Black Bandhej Saree, a rare colour in Rajasthan.
Black Bandhej Saree, a rare colour in Rajasthan.
Electric blue Bandhej Saree with a unique design.
Electric blue Bandhej Saree with a unique design.
Dual coloured Leheriya pattern
Dual coloured Leheriya pattern
Supernet Sarees with zari borders
Supernet Sarees with zari borders
Sanganeri printed table covers and bed sheets. These items usually come in a white-base fabric, but you can get it in pastel colours if you are lucky.
Sanganeri printed table covers and bed sheets. These items usually come in a white-base fabric, but you can get it in pastel colours if you are lucky.
A typical Indian patch-work bed cover which is made in Rajasthan.
A typical Indian patch-work bed cover which is made in Rajasthan.