Friday 30 April 2010

Another intermittent ramble about food......stock cupboard options and new veg choices

Some common place things make you think....for example menus and meals at home almost always contain meat of some description - chicken, pork, lamb, beef, fish etc Here if course lots of people are vegetarian - either from choice, religious dictate or through economic necessity. menus here proclaim veg or Non veg, choices for on train food, restaurantsand even people in everyday life use this phraseology. Vegetarian at home is more of the exotic choice, the step outside of the box for most folks. But we'd never say Non veg. It is all a question of priorities and what is the more usual. At restaurants you will also see signs for no onions or garlic, no eggs options on menus, made without eggs on food packaging - no probalems with nut allergies here! Again these dietary restrictions are to enable people to follow their religious requirements on food intake.

The recent rise in temperatures through April even before the Hot season arrives has meant an early hike in vegetable prices and I return to Rayagada from my Andamans trip to naturally a food devoid of much in the way of food, but unexpectedly also to a week long strike which has closed offices, shops, public bodies - everything. This has been called by all political parties to protest the price rises. Consequently my diet this week was always going to have to be somewhat inventive but now even more so than expected. I got home on Sunday evening, and had kept back my final muesli bar from Helen's care package in anticipation of needing something to tie me oover to the following day.

My stock cupboard, never quite as full here as at home because of those dammed ants, still had some muesli left from the large container I bought in Bhubaneshwar at the start of March, augmented by a packet from Hilary before she left Koraput. So brakfast was taken care of. Powdered milk on hand, not really great for a big miilkk drinker, but OK for cereal, chop  up a few dates, add some raisins and cashews, chop up the banana I hadn't finished on the train and voila a reasonable substitute for muesli.

Dinner also saw my planned use of the second last tin of fish from Helen's care  package Sardines in oil. What am I going to do now this is all finished?  I have some small potatoes left in the fridge which were OK so I boiled these and left to cool. I chopped up a couple of small onions and mixed with the sardines and diced potatoes, drizzle with olive oil and lemon. A passible fish salad.  In preparation for a rather bland weeks eating until I can get to market on Sunday, I soak some chick peas/ chana overnight in preparation for a chick pea curry. I am trying not to think about how I rreally don't want to eat hot food in this heat, but needs must.

Oh delight of delights, Tuesday morning saw my sabzi walla come. Good I thought at least I shall manage to get some fresh vegetables. The choice this morning was pumpkin, bringal/aubergine, cucumber, a type of green bean I'd not seen before and another green vegetable I did not know. Not able to face any more bringal I buy the unknown beans and green veg. The prices have indeed rocketed. the pumpkin, 500gram of beens, green veg, cucumber cost 200 Rupees! Have I been done? A word around the office and I reckon that price is about right. I'm also warned that vegetables are going off really quickly now, and that this will get worse throught the hot season even with a refridgerator, that prices will continue to rise and availability, range and quality of veg will go down as the hot seaon progresses. I'm told it will be hard to find vegetables at the peak of the hot season. What then do folks eat I ask? I am told I should buy matar, dried peas, from the grocery shop. Oh dear, the thought of only having pea curry is definitely not appealling. The prospect of the hot season is getting worse by the minute! Maybe this is why children don't like peas! For me, my childhood memory is of shelling fresh peas for pocket money on a Saturday morning, by the bucketful for my mum, and two neighbour families. It took me ages as I used to eat load s fo them, I still love uncooked fresh peas - so sweet and tender. Sadly matar taste nothing like these, once cooked they are more like a mushy pea without the mush!

Come lunch time, I get the opportunity to have a quick word with my landlady. I am informed they unknown vegetables are goarå beans and jåhni, which she really likes. How should I pprepare it I ask? I'm told I must wash, peel the ridges away and chop up into small cubes with potatoes and tomatoes with a little water. Panic no tomatoes! Rescued by Sushila bringing me a handful of lovely red ripe toms. Not wanting to loose them all in trying out a dish I might not like,  I hold some back having vision of a nice cooling cucumber and tomato salad.

So I prepare and cook the jåhni. It is yet another squash like vegetable, a bit like courgette/zuchini with rough ridges running lengthwise. Tastewise it is very similar, Sushila tells me it should be sweet when cooked not bitter, if it is bitter don't eat it. I wonder if this is just a taste thing or something more? Anyway here's the result. I only added salt and pepper to season in order to actually taste the veg. . The result is it is OK.

Like other squash variants I have tried here,  I don't mind the taste of the inner part of the veg but don't like the taste of the skin - too earthy/bitter. I tried påtålå a few weeks back with the same result.It is a smmaller more rounded squash typoe veg with seeds which turn white on cooking.

My conclusion is that it would benefit from some coriander leaves, perhaps some green chilli if that's your choice. So jåhni won't be high on my list of veg to buy but if it is the only one available I can eat it.  Well never say I don't try out new tastes!

Thursday 29 April 2010

Lost voice from the Andamans

All work and no play makes for a dull life, so Jen and I are followed in the intrepid footsteps of fellow volunteers Suzane, Andy and Cristina and headed for Havelock Island in the Andaman Islands for a weeks R&R.

It is just a shame that it takes so long to get there - I left Rayagada just before 6AM on the Saturday morning to arrive Chennai at 3AM Sunday, then a 2 hour flight leaving Chennai at 9:30AM for Port Blair. There is nothing at all to do at the airport except struggle to keep awake, sleep on the trains is bad enough at the best of times but taking care not to miss a 3AM stop which is not at the end of the route makes sleeping quite difficult! And surprisingly we were 30 minutes early into Chennai - having set my alarm just in case I was woken by my fellow traveller getting his cases ready at 2:20AM, lucky  or what! Jen's flight was late fromKolkata and by the time we hooked up at Port Blair airport enroute to the ferry boat I was shattered, no refreshments on the ferry and I was running out of water. We finally arrived at Vinnies around 4:30PM.

Vinnies is a lovely spot. Right on the beach front, Dive Centre, Full Moon restaurant, nestling under the trees, coconut palms and others, typical tropical island - OK I have seen a few, and some of the best in the world,  but it is still nice to be on one.

To be truthful I didn't do that much whilst there - the name of the game was to get away from the Orissian heat, to eat well and rest up. Quiet nights without train horns, days without washing the house floor to get rid of the soot, seaside breeezes and cooler temperatures of only 34C.

In the market on Havelock I bought a couple of pareos to wear on the beach, being sans swimsuit, and went in the water which was lovely and warm. Having decided that my arm was still not up to hauling me out of the water into a boat, I tried some of shore snorkeling but didn't find any good spots - shame as the dive sites sounds really good. Next time! I spent much of the time strolling on the beaches, lounging in a hammock, reading - shooting the breeze! Should have stayed longer.

Unlike on my Soren Larsen trip to the South Pacific, we didn't really get much of a chance given our short stay  to see the remoter islands. There are still restrictions on tourists visiting some of the Andaman islands and there is a large naval base on the Nicobar which means no travel there. It was the southern part of the island group which was most affected by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, and the earthquake earlier this month was again out at sea but although it was 6.9 it did not have similarly disasterous effects.  I shared my return compartment with a Indian sailor travelling with his two young boys headed for Ranchi, and Varun, a young student, going home to Ranchi after completing his BTEC degree. They were great company on the long train journey. The sailor knew the Andamans well having been stationed there. They told me about the some of effects of the 2004 tsunami and how one Andaman tribe was almost wiped out with only one person left after the wave. In fact recently the last surviving Bo speaker died. So sad to think she had no one to talk to in her later years, and she was younger than I am :( You can hear her singing on this link)

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Another rambling about food

...for no other reasons than well we haven't had one for a bit...

All over the place one sees advice and information about how to cope with high temperatures - drink more, much more. Don't get dehydrated. If you do take rehydration drinks, or make you own with water, salt and sugar. But I've  seldom seen advice about what to eat in extreme high temperatures.

In the desert one eats after the sun goes down, it is so much cooler then and the whole preparation and consumption of food, followed by the inevitable sweet tea and the round the camp fire conversation is what makes an evening. One's appetite, which disappears during the heat of the day returns in the relatively cool evening. There's nothing to beat soup made with a stock from lamb's bones - my mouth waters at the thought of it.

Here however, although the temperatures go down at night, currently from a 43-47C daytime peak, down to a more manageable 30C nightime low, the humidity levels start to climb from mid afternoon to 70% levels in the night and doesn't really disapate until perhaps 4-5AM. That's a guess as I am still asleep :)  Consequently ones appetite is all over the place. Some days it just gets lost, and you have to make yourself eat something. Other days you feel famished, but mainly it is a carving for non curry, non cooked food. I had a mild craving a couple of weeks ago for boiled ham - clearly a meat you can't get here but also people just don't eat much raw or cooked but served cold food. The last thing I fancy either for lunch or dinner is a hot meal, yet eating is really important because this type of weather just drains the energy out of you in a way nothing else does. You are constantly wet, dripping with sweat, as it doesn't evaporate. You end up taking at least 3 showers each day, and I am thinking this will increase soon to 4! All this sweating, means you are loosing fluid, hence all the advice to drink more. But you are also loosing minerals, salts and using up your energy supplies trying to maintain your body temperature at a steady state. So eating is important and it has to include a energy giving component. Indians have incredible sweet tooths so getting sugar is no problem at all, in fact its avoiding it that takes the effort. Soft drinks here are so high in sugar, even more so than back home. The Indian equivalent to Coke is called "Thumbs up" it has a more gingery taste, reminding me a little of ginger beer, but it is so so much sweeter than Pepsi, Coke or ginger beers. And there is no such things as diet version!

All this means that fruit becomes a important nutritional source of natural sugars, as well as providing a longed for crunch while eating an applee that carrots from hot climate just do not have. Also wet foods, such a cucumber, grapes etc provide another way to get some more fluid into your system. Being a largely vegetarian diet, sources of protein have to be found. Ok I am occassionally eating fish and have once bought chicken. Chicken here requires quite a bit of preparation - at least there is no killing, pluccking and skinning, but it comes chopped up to tiny pieces and I still haven't found enough Oriya to stop this happening. But the update is that time spent  washing and cleaning the meat can also result in sorting out the boney bits from the boneless bits, and then those boney bits can be boiled to make gorgeous chicken stock and mouthhwateringly good chicken noodle soup. Great in the winter months. But for now its Spring, so back to how to eat in high temeperatures.

I should add a disclaimer at this point that all this is just my observations, I'm not a nutritionist, just a foodie who like to eat well.

Having spent the last couple of weekends in Koraput I've been spoilt. Even thought it is a smaller place, with about half the population of Rayagada, Koraput has the advantage that there are currently 5 VSO volunteers there, and there have been a steady stream of them over the past year. So the shop keepers have recognised a good business opportunity. Also Hilary told me that there are often other westerners there, she thought some Australians via some religious association. Whatever, there is clearly a market for certain different types of food. In addition, the weekly tribal market sees local people arriving froom all the surrounding villages to sell their fresh produce. It puts Rayagada's market to shame, but the upside for Rayagada is there is good fish and prawns to be had. Although relatively expensive, on a volunteers allowance you coulldn't eat these every day, they are feasible and good enought to partake of every so often. Fish is 100 Rupees per kilo and chinguri/ large prawns are 250 Rupees per kilo and 5 Rupees that you pay a woman to de-scale and de-leg the prawns, which is 5 Rupees well spent.

Anyways back to the food delights available in Koraput - I came away with Olive Oil, green peppers, walnuts and courtesy of Hilary spotting the last cartons in "the best shop in Koraput" 2L of apple juice with no added sugar!

All this has made my cravings for cold food take on new proportions this week. So my favorite so far has been chick pea salad, which has more than a passing resemblance to Jamie Oliver's recipe

Ingredients (Oriya name)

a handful of chick peas, boiled and cooled (kabuli buta)
1 onion, chopped (piajå)
2 tomatoes, chopped (tomatar)
1 small green pepper, chopped (capsicum)
a handful of walnuts - (akhrot)
half apple, chopped (seu)
half a cucumber, chopped (kakuri)
juice of two  lemons (lembu)
drizzle of olive oil (ålichå)
salt and pepper to taste (namak/ lunå, kali mirch)

It should be obvious what to do, mix the chopped ingredients with the cooled chick peas, add the seasoning and mix throughly. Double up the quantities for two people.

PS,  For Indian food fans and those shopping for food in India check out this food glossary I just found which gives ingredient names in Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, Tamil, Gujarati, Assamese, Marathi, Malayalam, Tegulu and Kannada

What's newsworthy in Orissa

These are the local news headlines in the India Express newspaper for Tues 13th April

Govt to sink tubewells in all blocks
Make village water security plan
ASHA workers demand hike
Heatwave prevails in Delhi
W. Orissa reels, respite in coastal belt
Govt forwards river linkage proposal
Ceasework hits production at Talcher coalfiels
Maoist posters found, politicans target
18 laborers injured in road mishap
5 foetuses found in a week
Dowry death alleged
Water crisis deepens, spreads overs areas
Village of Sanskrit pundits
Conduct of naval officer under scanner
Tribals adrift in a climateof fear
Scrappy waste disposal system
A farmer's wife, moother of four and a 43
Govt to recruit ex-servicemen to tackle Maoists

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Hose down!

I was sitting at Rayagada station on Friday evening waiting on the train to Koraput for Hilary's last weekend in placement. Sadly one gets accclimatised to the "sites" of India, the people living and sleeping permenantly at the station, on the platforms, in the waiting rooms and the entrance hallway, the beggers and the hawkers who stalk the platforms, as well as families just sitting on the ground mid platform waiting on trains.  In amidst all this there is always the inevitable kid who comes up to investigate the white face, the parents who make their kids practice their few phrases on English " How are you" , "What is your name?", and the overseen pointing and head turning as folks spot and then discuss my presence. Sun glasses at least let me also do a bit of people watching  in return. This time I am drawn to a man who is standing between the trainlines. There are two platforms at Rayagada, so two sets of trainlines. Between the lines is a blue coloured overhead pipe which stands on supports and runs at about 6 feet of the ground. At regular intervals hose pipes hang down from this pipe. When a train comes in people go to these hoses and place them on the underside of the carriages. I have always assumed they are cooling the shunts.  So at first I think this man is preparing to do just that. But no, he starts to take his clothes off. First his shawl - which would look to you like a chequered tea cloth - then his shirt, which he carefully folds and places over a hook holding the hose on one of the pipe's upright supports. Then imagine, he stats to undo his trousers! At this point I begin to wonder what mental state this man is in. His hair and beard are long and unkept, his clothes have clearly seen better days, he is without shoes, as are many people here. I avert my eyes but they are drawn back. Next he takes his shawl and wraps this round his waist, before dropping his trousers. I suddenly realise what he is doing - he is taking a shower! At stations there are load of water taps, fo hand washing, and I've seen folks face and upper body wash there before, but this is new and I have to say quite ingenious. He stands hose in one hand and gets his wash, no soap, but he hoses himself down and brushes over himself with his other hand. Then the procedure is reversed, and he gathers up his clothes and is on his way. I doubt whether ayone else even noticed it had happened. Only in India!

Thursday 8 April 2010


In early March VSO Volunteers and partner NGOs met in Puri for our annual Programme Area Review, part of the planning and review process of the thematic areas in which VSO works with Indian NGOs. It was a great opportunity to meet people from the various NGOs, to reconnect with the group of volunteers I did my in country training with in Delhi in December and to meet March 2010's intake of new volunteers. In this last batch I found someone who is an Arabic speaker, so it has encouraged me to start on the mammoth task of learning some in order to converse with Ayisha, Ahmed's mother. This intake just goes to show how small the world can be sometimes, one of the newbies knows the lady I tent shared with on my first trip to Mali a few years back.

As the meeting was in Puri, by the sea, I took to opportunity to take a few days either side for  bit of R&R. Hilary and travelled up together in a freezing overnight train and I spent the final day with jen in Bhubaneshwar. That me me very pleased I am not in a big city, much as I curse the traffic in Rayagada, the noise, husssle and bussle of Bhubaneshwar left me tired and glad to be home. having to take multiple shared autos to get anywhere, so much traffic, so many people.

For our time in Puri Hilary and I stayed in Z Hotel which I'd describe as dilapidated chic. But it is a lovely place to stay with lots of open space, very airy and cool, set just back from the main road and quiet! Our room had a balcony with sea view at 700 ruppees for 2 people it was ideal. I recommend it. Saunter 100yards or so down the road and you'll find The Honey Bee bistro, which serves great breakfasts, along with salads, pizza, coffee, freshly squeezed real orange juice - alll things volunteers miss :)

We hired a car and  driver and took of to visit all the tourist sites - The Sun Temple at Konark,

the Jaganath Temple in Puri

and the Raghurajpur Crafts Village . We spent probably the best part of the afternoon at the village with only one family being told how they painted on silk and bamboo - much to the chagrin of the other shop keepers!

The Sun Temple can only be described as The Kama Sutra carved in stone. Our guide's English was good enough to provide vivid descriptions of the positions!

It was a lovely few days break away.

Friday 2 April 2010

Hot stuff! Very

For those of you who might be interested in our local weather conditions as we get into the 40+Degrees C
time of year here please check out Rayagada's weather and thank your lucky stars you are cooler!