Tag Archives: meal

India Pt 1: Learning Lessons

21 Dec
A tuk-tuk on a very quiet roadway in Delhi.

A tuk-tuk on a very quiet roadway in Delhi.

Rahul seemed like a nice chap when we met him.

The b0y and I were standing at a roundabout near Connaught Place in Delhi having freshly arrived from London. We had been standing there a while watching the throngs of never-ending traffic with frustration, wondering when we might be able to cross.

“Be careful,” said Rahul, appearing suddenly by my side. “The traffic is a bit crazy here.”

Smiling at us, the boy and I followed him as he weaved his way through the traffic while it paused for a second.

“England?” he asked, when we got to the other side, having felt we’d played a real-life game of Frogger.

“Yes, England,” the boy responded.

“Ah, I lived in London, is that where you’re from?” he continued.

“Yes, we’re from there,” I said.

I wouldn’t normally open up about my life to strangers but Rahul seemed a nice enough chap – well dressed with baseball cap on and a comfortable grasp of English, we spent another ten minutes walking around the beaten up and excavated Connaught Place, speaking about England, Bollywood and his movie date. We asked if he knew of any good restaurants nearby and, saying he didn’t, he added he knew a local tourist information office that would be able to provide us needed information. As we approached it, I instantly felt slightly wary – the outside was all falling apart and was obviously being renovated. Rahul went in for us and, emerging a minute later, said it was no problem – it was simply being redone.

Rahul headed off to his movie and girlfriend and we thanked him and wished him well. Inside, we met Rahim who said he’d tell us about Delhi’s sights. It wasn’t long before we started to get the hard sell about what tours we could do with his tour agency. Declining most, we said we’d return after a meal to discuss a potential quick jaunt out to Rajasthan.

Heading out into the warm evening, the boy and I felt unsure if we could trust the tourist agency – but we equally felt that with jet lag we were possibly being slightly harsh on what could just be nice people.

Connaught Place as it used to look pre-"renovation" (photo credit: delhitravel.org)

Connaught Place as it used to look pre-“renovation”        (photo credit: delhitravel.org)

We wandered around Connaught Place, surprised at its dereliction. Our guide book (the Lonely Planet 30th anniversary edition) had told us it was the most upmarket area with lots of nice restaurants and shopping areas. As it was our first night, we’d taken the tuk-tuk up specifically because it seemed an easy first choice and we were exhausted. Instead, we found ripped up streets, excavators on every corner, hazardous holes with no signage and (later on) many people doing crack in the alleyways.

We read menus at a few restaurants finally choosing United Coffee House – a more up-market locale with suited waiters, a doorman and lovely, Raj-era interior decor. It was pricy but we decided to treat ourselves for our first night in the city until we became more acquainted with it.

And I’m ever so glad we did – it was definitely one of our best meals in Delhi. I recall little (given the waves of jet lag washing over me at the time meant I wasn’t up for making notes) but we had some gorgeous chickpeas in a rich, spicy sauce, lovely lamb and fresh cold beers. It was expensive – around £23 for the meal – but we were so happy to finally be in India that we couldn’t have cared less.

After our huge meal, we wandered back over to the tourist office to check in with Rahim. Seeing us return, his eyes lit up and he was soon trying to talk us into going to Rajasthan. I wouldn’t have minded – in fact, it was an area I was sad we hadn’t planned on going to – but the fact he was really trying to hard sell us made me keep my guard up. Another 20 minute conversation followed after which – with me giving “I don’t know about this” starey signals to the boy – we said we’d be back the next day to finally make our plans.

I'm usually pretty intuitive when it comes to scames, unlike Dilbert.

I’m usually pretty intuitive when it comes to scams, unlike Dilbert.

A tuk-tuk ride back to the place we were staying – a shared apartment in the nice Nizamuddin East area found through my favourite accommodation site, airbnb – followed and, in eagerness, I opened up my Lonely Planet book to see if it talked of any scams. Sure enough, it warned of friendly looking, English speaking, young men who direct tourists to travel agencies and get a referral fee.

Trying to keep my cynicism at bay, I left it in my mind that maybe it was just coincidence. Until the next night that is when – unsure where else to go for a late night dinner – we headed back to Connaught Place and, outside of a bar, saw both the Rahul and Rahim drinking beers.

“Hey Englishman,” they yelled to us, laughing.

It was a lesson all around (and a bit of a sad one at that). But at least Lonely Planet was right for once – something we did not find so frequently in the weeks to come.

In Part 2, the boy and I head to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and get accosted by both a “security guard” and a monkey.

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Surviving boot camp – Part 3: Talking crisps and the GL diet

16 Nov

A word to the wise: arriving at boot camp with a bag of crisps in your luggage is a bad idea.

At first, I forgot they were even stowed away in my rucksack. But then three nights in, I found myself sat in my room at 8pm – absolutely starving! And the crisps suddenly started speaking to me – trying to lure me into eating them.

I called the boy. He counseled me to find anything possible to distract me since I would only feel guilty the next day. And he was right, but it wasn’t easy. The fruit tea just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.

When I arrived at NuBeginnings I was quite worried about the food situation – mainly because I’ve cooked for myself for years now and the idea of having someone else cater to me on strict regulations with no control on my end was slightly off-putting.

The boot camp ascribes to the GL (Glycemic Load) diet. To give a quick rundown, this basically focuses on glucose and how it affects the body.

Unlike the GI (Glycemic Index) diet – which became very popular a few years ago – the GL diet doesn’t only focus on the sugars in foods and how our body absorbs them, but also at how much glucose is in each portion size.

A nut burger with beetroot salad.

The reason glucose is the focused on is because it is the key thing that gives our body energy – but ‘good’ carbs on this diet are ones that release slowly so our body’s insulin levels don’t jump up and down as the body tries to adjust to that incoming energy.

The idea is to eat smaller amounts, more frequently so our body doesn’t ever ‘crash’ and we don’t lose energy. As Jennie said: “We make poor food choices (ie: junk food) because our blood sugar levels are low.” We just want to eat something quickly to give our body’s blood sugar a boost.

The theory with GL is if you keep your blood sugars in check, you’ll feel less hungry, get fewer cravings and the body won’t store the excess sugars as fats. There is also a big focus on eating meals slowly to allow time for digestion, staying hydrated and being ‘mindful’ of what you’re putting in your body.

Thai curry for lunch.

What I enjoyed most about this diet (and that’s a big statement for me since I don’t like ‘diets’) is that almost nothing is restricted. Okay, you can’t sit around eating chocolate bars, but you can eat loads of good things like almonds, olive oil, coconut milk, goat’s cheese, fish and avocados. Yum! It’s also about getting the most out of those carbs you are eating. So, if you eat a piece of fruit, for instance, you’re always meant to eat it with some raw nuts (like almonds or Brazils) because the protein helps slow down the release of sugar to the bloodstream.

At NuBeginnings, however, the focus is on weight loss so the portion sizes are even smaller than a person would normally eat. When you combine that with four or five hours of exercise a day, it means things like the crisp incident start occurring. And no one wants to face talking potatoes when they’re at boot camp.

My only other major difficulty with it was the lack of caffeine. Getting off of it was tricky – there was no tea or coffee, only fruit tea, which after a while does get rather repetitive.

Luckily, while there were restrictions, there was also Gary, the retreat’s chef. He’s been at NuBeginnings for two and a half years, having previously opened his own restaurant in Dorchester and spent time traveling the world to learn about varied cuisines. He is highly influenced by Mexican and North African flavours, both of which featured highly in his meals. According to Gary, guests “are not there to suffer by my hands.”

Chef Gary whips up a crisp sea bass with couscous and asparagus.

But he wasn’t always so convinced. When a recruitment firm told him of the job, he says he could only think: “You’re having a laugh.” He has since come around to it fully, finding interesting recipes that work within the restricted ingredient space. “I’m developing recipes all the time. But they change, depending on who walks through the door so I don’t work to set recipes,” he told me.

While I was there, food ranged from Thai coconut chicken with crispy vegetables, to baked figs with goat’s cheese and Asian sesame noodles with prawns and salad. There were delicious, there was no doubting that.

Gary admitted he’s not entirely a convert when he’s cooking for himself, but added he loves cooking to this diet because it not only challenges himself as a chef, but also because he sees real changes amongst many guests.

A pepper roasts for use in couscous.

“The satisfaction is something else, it is something I was never expecting. I see people who really need to change their lives around and I feel I’m in a very privileged position to help them. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe in it. I just couldn’t,” he explained.

And I did feel satisfied for most of the trip. While the portion sizes were small, they were filling – the only time I found difficult was in the evening when we were eating at 6pm and then not again until the next morning. I also didn’t stick to one of the ‘mindful’ eating tactics of leaving a bit of food behind on the plate – I was a clean plate gal myself. But, otherwise, I liked the GL diet because it seemed quite logical really – don’t overeat, don’t eat processed foods, don’t let yourself go long between meals and listen to your body.

In the end, the bag of crisps stayed unopened until I arrived back home. But I did, admittedly, have a few secretive mints when I was starving! But, I also survived…boot camp, exercise, food plans, the whole kit and caboodle. And knowing that was ever so pleasurable!

I was a guest of NuBeginnings. For more information on the boot camp, visit: http://www.nubeginnings.co.uk

Delectable Daphne

12 Sep

When I was a kid, I had the nickname: “Alwynne the olive eater”. This was, for the rather obvious reason, due to the fact I loved olives. Olives in a jar; olives at a buffet; olives any time of day. No one said I wasn’t a strange child…

So, the other night when the boy took me to the rather lovely, hidden-away gem that is Daphne, a Greek restaurant on Bayham Street in Camden, and the waiter hurried over with an over-flowing plate of garlicky lemon olives, I knew I was in for a treat.

Daphne is your quintessential quaint restaurant – it’s not got a website, it’s not on the high street, and it doesn’t have decor that makes you feel like you’re living in 2011 (the green, flowered booth cushions were akin to the wallpaper in my childhood bathroom circa the 1980s). It does have fantastic waiters, cozy dim lighting, great wine and even better food.

Unassuming from the outside, but a treat inside!

Let me first speak of the service, then we’ll get down to the courses. Being a Canadian for most of my life ingrained me with a sense of service (whether I was working in a restaurant or eating there). Now, no offense to the lovely Brits, but it’s always a bit lacking in this country. Which is probably why people don’t tip. Or maybe it’s the other way around. But at Daphne’s there wasn’t any hesitation that we were going to be treated like family. Outside of the almost instantaneous appearance of olives, the waiter also helped us with our wine selection – by letting us try the two bottles we were debating over before we chose. It’s little touches like this that I would think make people come back (a fact I discovered when I overheard two tables talking about other visits they had made to the restaurant).

Then came the food choice – there was a large chalkboard (brought to our table and explained in detail) full of specials. But there was also a huge menu, which included the magnificent sounding mezze option. We chose the latter, adding one extra starter because we couldn’t resist the description of halloumi, eggplant and prawn, wrapped up in filo pastry.

And boy were we overwhelmed! The cold course included seven plates – silky taramasalata, creamy hummus, mushy aubergine, tasty tahini, rich fish salad, cooling tzatziki and tender beets, with warm pitta. Then the hot course added another four plates to the sum (think: calamari, sausages and more) while the final course was a large platter of various grilled meats and greek salad. Suffice to say, we took a container of leftovers home. All for £17.50 each.

This was served with care, in a relaxed manner – the waiters let us pause between courses when we looked like we might explode, and were more than happy for us to take the rest away. The wine – a Greek red from a winery called Ktima Lantides (http://tinyurl.com/5tt6bfc) – was full-bodied, oakey and delicious. And the tables were filled with in-the-know locals, out for a nice comforting Friday night meal.

Although this may not have been served in an incredibly fancy, white-tableclothed environ, I would take the hospitality and comfort of Daphne before that any day of the week. Anywhere that thinks to serve their customers so well, and start off with a giant plate of olives, definitely suits Gwiltypleasures just fine!

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