A thinker, dreamer, idealist, ardent observer and traveller

Month: December, 2016

Culinary Journeys

I love juicy fruits. Sometimes I do not feel like drinking plain water. Having squashes during winter seems a bit strange to me. I tried drinking fruit flavoured green teas. Unfortunately, the artifical essences overpower the bits of fruit that are the namesake of the products. One of the pleasures of travelling is that you get introduced to new ways of consuming fruits. In this case fruit teas, which you can easily make at home. When I went to Colombia once, I was introduced to a burst of flavours dreams are made of.


Bright lights of Cartagena

When I was in Columbia, one of the interesting experiences was drinking fruit teas. I even got to taste a pumpkin spice latté type drink. Made with wholesome ingredients, devoid of artificial flavourings. Discovering that one could create a hot drink with pumpkin pulp flavoured with cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg was a completely new experience and emphasised the connection between food and culture.

I am aware that different geographical regions have their own cuisines. They may use similar spices in different ways. The cooking methods may even be similar, such as in the South East/East Asian stir fries. There are multinational variations of the patty-puff that South Asians know as the samosa, the Arabs know as sambusek, Indonesians and Malaysians call curry puff. In other words the same thing, different pronounciations, if not interpretations. Similarly, what the Indians call aloo tikki, the Pakistanis call aloo ka cutlet, or the English call potato cutlet. Hence while food and drinks have a way of bringing people together, they are also ways to get an insight into cultural relationships with ingredients.

Colombia is a beautiful country. Apart from the natural beauty, I was introduced to an entirely new world of anti-oxidant rich fruits and foods. My fruit obsession was catered to. I became acquainted with different varieties of passion fruits. I was only aware of the tiny wrinkled dark purple version. The yellow version is called grenadilla. It is not wrinkled and compared to the purple version, significantly bigger. The other version is greenish/ greenish yellow and called maracuja, which is usually used to make fruit tea due to its slightly bitter taste. It is also used as an alternative to lemon juice in culinary dishes.

Another interesting fruit I tried was chontaduro, also known as palm peach. It is a very fleshy, but slightly dry fruit and rich in Vitamin A. It is sold as a street food. You can choose to either have it drizzled with honey, salt or just plain. From my experience it really beats any kind of cravings you might have for sweet or salty snacks.


When I went to Cartagena, I tried another fruit called Sapote. In Colombia they have black sapote and South American Sapote. I tried the South American Sapote. This is an interesting fruit. It has brown skin, a little less hairy than a kiwi fruit. Or shall I say, more like a shaved kiwi fruit. It is about the size of a cantaloupe melon. While slightly less juicy, it has the same colour on the inside and has a tart sweetness like a mango.

As for delicious food, I feasted on black squid ink risotto and different versions of ceviche to my hearts content. Raw fish pieces, prawns and tiny squids and calamari “cold-processed” in the citric acids of lemon juice have always fascinated me since I was introduced to the concept on a television cooking show. Some ceviche versions are more fruity due to the addition of mango and papaya instead of sliced onions. I even tried a version with maracuja instead of lemon juice which rendered a sweet sourness to the dish. I also indulged in a gold covered chocolate cake and a succulent cheese cake.

gold covered chocolate cake

One thing I like about buying fruit from the street peddlers in Colombia is that they peel and slice it for you on the spot. When you buy it from a stall keeper, the fruits are usually already peeled, so you can walk along eating it with a wooden tooth pick.

Finally, as for snacks, I am familiar with chili flavoured chocolate, which is rather unappealing to my tastebuds. However I sampled chili-mango flavoured ice lollies, which was an interesting combination. Nevertheless that might be because the Pakistani, or shall I say South Asian fruit salad is spicy. The spice mix used, called chaat masala, contains chili, black pepper, cumin and coriander, black salt and dried mango powder, together with the sweetness of the seasonal fruits blend well to create a pleasant sweet sourness. If you like that kind of flavoursome combinations that is.


Dreams of Adventure and the Future

The future is a fascinating notion. It can be anything and everything you want it to be. A favourite childhood pastime was walking with my father, hand in hand, eating a stick ice cream and chatting away about what I would do when I grew up.

One day, I had just been introduced to the wonders of the Porche sports car by my friend’s little brother. My father agreed it was a very nice, but an extremely expensive car. A few days later he showed me the Porche on television, saying “remember the car you spoke about? That’s a Porche”.

I was in total awe of its sleek, curvey design. It was a small and cute car with so much personality, and it just zoomed off into the distance. This was my dream car. This was going to be the car I would drive around when I became an adult and started earning my own money. For a while many of our sessions would involve talking about the beauty of the Porche. One day I think my father felt I was ready for a change of topic and said:

“…my little girl, it’s good you know what you want when you grow up, but you must know that you have to work very hard before you can buy it”.

“I will save up for it”, I said.

“Even if you save up, you still have to work hard to earn the money to buy it. In order to get the job you need to earn that amount of money, to allow you to save up to buy a Porche, you need to work very hard. You need to be a good student in school and you’re not doing a good job at that yet, so how will you ever be able to earn the money to save? Dreams are all very good, but you need to work hard at achieving them.”

In reality, dreams are not fixed. They keep changing, evolving and improving. The dreams of a teenager will always be different from those of an adult with more life experience. For many years I felt like the same person, never changing my outlook, always pursuing the same goals, thinking that just a little more patience would eventually get me where I wanted to be. From chasing those dreams like a mad woman, I eventually realised that sometimes tenacity is wasted agony and time. You are actually allowing yourself to wither away. Life is too precious a gift to waste on self pity and wailing over shattered dreams. In these cases, while it is easier said than done, you have to figure out a way to light up the darkness. Dreaming about a better future helps, but sometimes you need to change your visions and paths.

Hence, some people volunteer, they start learning a new skill. They find other ways to meet people and make new friends. When I was getting interviews only to be told they decided to recruit someone internally or the post was cancelled, I decided to treat them as interesting conversations with people I would never get to talk to otherwise. Gradually I realised that if I can advice people on how to get the communication started with the challenging communities concerned, I should be able to figure out a way to develop my own strategies on topics I found interesting. When I started to research on different issues, my creative flow guided me into  different directions. There is much to learn and do.

The thing is, the small steps matter. Even if the adventure turns out different from what you imagined, the trip is still important. I thought I would experience beautiful nature and see fascinating wildlife. Well I did, but instead of ostriches, lions, tigers, elephans, rhinos, hippos, colourful birds and mungooses, blue feet penguins and massive sea tortoises in their natural habitat, I got to see people resembling animals.

They literally personified scorpions, lizards, snakes, rats, mice of various species. Not to mention buffaloes, flea and rabies infected stray cats and dogs. Heck their idiosyncrasies even made seeing a horned snake in Dubai Zoo, for the first time in my life, an amusing experience. Compared to the animal like people I had experienced, the horned snake was rather cute. When I saw it in its chamber in a dopey state I remember thinking “ Hah! Even the the Devil’s  best friend couldn’t escape Hell”. When I told people about it, they thought I was crazy. One even said “you must have felt at home at the Zoo”. Not one of those animal resembling persons were like a cute squirrel, beautiful peacock, colorful parrot or a majestic lion. Yet, all those experiences are priceless, because life is a roller coaster ride in the rain. You just have to know you will get drenched, so you better dress up accordingly.

Finally, one can dream and work towards the future you want. The way life operates, you usually have to make several detours. You can only try your best, every time. There are no shortcuts, and the safari you always dreamt of experiencing may not be as glamourous as you imagined. Similarly, no matter how hard you try, that Porche might never be yours either. However, if you have a driver’s licence you can at least  visit an authorised dealer and take it for a test drive, which is an experience in itself. Nonetheless, you have to admit that life is a blessing because as human being we have the freedom to think and imagine a better world. Some are lucky to actually be able to make a difference. So make use of the present to create the future you want. As mentioned above, it’s easier said than done, but you will be rich in experiences.