Food and More: Vietnam, Trip of a Lifetime

It took us nearly half of our courtship period to decide where we’d go for our first vacation post wedding, and I am not exaggerating when I say we pretty much covered the entire world, one place at a time. We bought books, we saw documentaries and made more than two expense sheets to finally decide on Vietnam.

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Halong Bay – Vietnam

Most of the people we meet invariably ask us why Vietnam? After having spent nearly two weeks in that fabulous place, our only answer to them is – Why not? You want beaches – check; You want shopping -check; you want history -check; you want nice and helpful locals, check; and above it all, you want good food – check again!

Yes, there is so much more to Vietnam than just Vietnam War. Don’t get me wrong, visits to the war museum in Ho Chi Minh City or Cu Chi tunnels can shake you up, but to an outsider it seems that the country is beginning to move on. The people are humble and hard working, and it’s fascinating to see such an agriculture focused economy. When in Vietnam, it feels like you’ve gone back to simpler times with the luxury of modern amenities.

But I digress; I must now shift the focus to the food. Now, I haven’t yet traversed the globe, but of the places that I have travelled to and and the food that I have gorged on, Vietnamese cuisine stands out for its goodness and simplicity. Experiencing local food was our primary agenda on this trip. I must add here, I am glad to have found a foodie in my husband, and through its cuisine, we could really connect with the Vietnamese way of life.

Vietnamese food is as humble and simple as the people. It is comfort food at its best. Be it the quintessential Pho (pronounced as ‘fuh’ – who knew!) or the ever so fancy Bun Cha (Grilled pork and noodles)you can find everything at that tiny street side shop or at the fancy restaurants dotting the French Quarter in Hanoi.

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Pho – the complete meal

I don’t think we had a single bad meal in Vietnam. Except perhaps the time we thought the chicken feet in our starter was a mistake, and then ended up seeing the same thing in a hotel buffet, and then again proudly displayed at the supermarket. It might have been a local delicacy, but neither of us was adventurous enough to try.

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Can you blame us for not eating that?

At the end of the day Vietnam is all about the street food. As much as we enjoy fine wine, ambient lighting, live jazz music, and sundry, nothing comes close to the authenticity of devouring fabulous street food squatting on low plastic stools along the pavements.

I can go on and on about the food in Vietnam, but I’d let the photos do the talking now:

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Banh Mi – The Vietnamese sandwich I wish I had eaten more of

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Springrolls – fresh and fried

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Sticky rice, a duck main course, and Pho – One of our many roadside dinners

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Egg Coffee – A must try in Vietnam. Beware, it does not taste anything like coffee

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Raw papaya salad – one of my favourites

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Crab patties – one of my husband’s favourites

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Bun Cha – grilled pork and noodles, a dish which made me appreciate pork

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Bia Hoi – best drink ever! Freshly brewed local beer, not to be confused with the local bottled beer, Bia Hanoi

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Lychee with lotus seeds – a rather refreshing dessert

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Den Nong – Vietnamese hot black coffee, way too sweet, way too strong

So here’s the concluding thought: whether or not you are travelling for a week or a month, back packing or going luxe, with family or with  friends, Vietnam is a joy to visit. If for nothing else, go for the food.

PS: I am not through with raving about Vietnam. Expect more posts in the coming days 🙂

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A perfect neighbourhood cafe for a sunday brunch – A Cafe

I remember the time I used to stay in Brookefields, Bangalore; and go to the neighbourhood chain cafe for my weekend dose of alone time with a good cup of coffee and my beloved books. I used to love that one hour to myself, to just sit in a quiet corner and spend some quality time with myself. However, humans are not humans if they do not wish for more. So there I used to be, sitting in that cafe, with a cup of coffee I cannot really complain about and a lovely book, looking outside the overtly air conditioned room, hoping to be in a better place.

How could it be better you ask? Well, it could be.

To start with, it could be outdoors, with not too much traffic noise and nice greenery. It could be smaller, to give it that neighbourhood cafe feel. You know what I mean right, the kind of cafe where you go once a week and the owner recognizes you and brings you your usual (Chain cafes can never be like that, plus, they are not expected to be).

Then, they could have more than ten kinds of coffees to talk about. I am not asking for too much, cut those coffees to down to basic cappuccinos, lattes and americanos and add some fresh sandwiches, salads and waffles. A small yet inviting menu.

And most important, it could have staff that does not keep hovering around you . You can actually read your book there and not worry about the background music being too loud. You can take those mid para breaks and stare at the lovely planters while taking a sip of that fresh watermelon juice. You can overdo your stay beyond that one black coffee without being bullied to leave (obviously when there is no waiting). And I can go and on and on.

And believe it or not, I found that place! Right next to my newly shifted house! The place is as low key as its name – A Cafe. Yes, that’s what its called. Its perfect! Its a simple setup with some really good comfort food and a perfect ambience for some ‘me time’. Me and my husband are there pretty much every Sunday. We carry our respective indulgences. Me my book, and he his Ipad. And, we spend a good one hour there having some non tampered fresh watermelon juice, an amazing refreshing sandwich ( I usually go with Mediterranean Sandwich or Scrabbled egg and basil sandwich) or a simple omelette and end it with a perfect black coffee.

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Watermelon Juice & Banana Chocolate smoothie

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The refreshing sandwiches & Omelettes

I kid you not, I do not want it to become famous, because its my neighbourhood cafe and I want it to remain the same; but it would be unfair to not let the world know about it. So go visit the lovely ‘A Cafe’ if you are in the neighbourhood sometime and experience what I experience every Sunday morning!

Location: 11, 7th Cross, 3rd Block Koramangala, Near Raheja residency, Koramangala 3rd Block, Bangalore

Is it a bread? Or is it a cake? Banana loaf – A little bit of both!

Every time dad is in town, there is always an excitement towards baking! He, like me, loves food. He however, loves when I bake more. We both have a crazy sweet tooth, and baking at home at least lets us keep a tab on what ingredients are being used.

So last weekend I tried to bake something a little different from a usual cake. I tried my hands on a Banana Loaf. Before I tell you more about the recipe, something you should know – Its not a bread. There is no yeast involvement. And its easy! really easy!

Banana Loaf, I think gets its name mainly because its baked in a loaf pan. Its ends up into this mildly sweet loaf with a subtle banana flavour. It once baked, can be used like a bread for your breakfast. Cut a slice. Toast it. Put some nutella or peanut butter. And there… perfect breakfast.

I found a lot of recipes online. But I twisted it a lot for my loaf. I tried to make it as healthy as possible

Ingredients –

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (I think you can make both the cups whole wheat flour too, but I did not want to take the risk of getting a very dense loaf)

1/2 cup unsalted butter (most recipes ask for 3/4 cup of butter, I think you can work with even lesser than 1/2)

1/2 cup brown sugar (Again, something which depends on your taste, I did not want the loaf to be too sweet)

2 eggs

2 big ripe bananas – mashed (the more ripe, the better)

1tsp baking soda (no baking powder needed!)

1/2tsp salt

A little bit of milk (this is for thinning the batter if its too stiff. this also makes the loaf softer)

The recipe is pretty simple:

– Preheat the oven at 175 degree celcius. I worked with a 9×5 loaf pan. Worked perfectly for the above mentioned quantities. Do remember to grease the pan. Otherwise you might have to scoop out your loaf!

– Mix up all the dry ingredients together

– Cream the butter and Sugar, Add eggs, and then the mashed banana.

– Mix the dry and wet ingredients. If the batter is too thick, add a little milk

– All the batter goes into the loaf pan, and then into the preheated oven.

– And this where your patience gets tested. It takes 60-65 minutes for this loaf to be made. The lesser number of times you open the oven to see the status, the better. It will take this much time to cook fully.

– After around 60 minutes, put a knife into the loaf to see if its cooked through. People ask you to put a toothpick. but I prefer a knife as it can go all the way till the bottom. If it comes out clean – your loaf is ready!

Let it cool for a while before you attempt to take it out of the pan. If the pan was greased properly, this should be an extremely easy task.

And there you go! Here is your pretty tasty yet decently healthy Banana loaf:

Banana Loaf

Banana Loaf

Pretty ain’t it? It tasted awesome too. I am going to add things like chocolate shavings or nuts the next time I attempt making this. I think it will work beautifully!

Back to baking… Oreo Cheesecake cupcakes anyone?

After a long sabbatical from baking (for no genuine reason) I finally baked again yesterday. I needed something new yet simple to get me back in the flow. So, I hunted for lots and lots of recipes, and finally stumbled on this one:

Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache

I have never baked a cheesecake before. Mainly because finding the ingredients for cheesecake in Bangalore is rather difficult. Especially a good quality cream cheese and sour cream. However, in my last visit to 1MG food hall, I managed to pick up 200gms of cream cheese.

As I browsed through the recipe, I looked for the catch. Its too easy for some reason. In any case, I gave it a shot. And, this cupcake has to be in my list of best bakes! Barely any prep, a 20 minute visit to the oven and there you go – Oreo Cheesecake cupcakes are ready!

I did not make the ganache, as I was worried about its sweetness. I also baked just 6 cupcakes for the first attempt. Mind you – these 6 cupcakes took up the entire 200gms of cream cheese! heavy stuff I say.

Another plus of this recipe – No need to flour, baking powder etc. This is a 5 ingredient recipe. I adjusted the ingredients a little because of limited stock in my pantry. this is what I used :

Ingredients:

– Oreos – 10 (6 for lining, 4 for batter)

– 200gm cream cheese

– 1 medium egg white

– 1/3rd cup of caster sugar

– Pinch of salt

Pretty much followed the recipe to the point. I think I over-whipped the batter a little as even after 25 minutes my cupcakes did not look set, but post bringing them to room temperature, I just popped them into the fridge for a few hours, and they were set just perfectly.

These cupcakes are addictive. They melt in your mouth. The base oreo gives the perfect chocolate cake crust feel to the cupcake. And the cream cheese and crushed oreo combination is just brilliant! Try them! I mean it.Try them!

Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes

Oreo Cheesecake Cupcakes

Take a Chill Pill… At Big Chill!

Most of the people who know me, know how much I love Italian food.  A well cooked Pasta… An overloaded thin crust pizza… The perfect bruschetta… Lots and lots of olive oil… and not to forget the unbelievably awesome desserts…what’s not to like?

So, lets take a step back… where did this love begin? It began in Delhi.. In our very own Khan Market… At Big Chill! If you are in Delhi, or have lived there for a considerable amount of time, you know what I am talking about.

Big Chill is this monument of a place which makes you fall in love with everything they serve. They have many outlets in Delhi now. They keep their theme same and simple everywhere. Low key, and lots and lots of movie posters! Mostly you’ll see young crowd here. But, trust me, it really doesn’t matter… You want good hearty food?… Head to Big Chill!

I’ve tried quite a few dishes there. Here are a few of them from my last visits:

The Milkshakes

The Milkshakes

The thirst quenching and super delicious chocolate Milk shake! Not too rich, just right to accompany a meal.

The thin crust  pizzas!

The thin crust pizzas!

The pizzas there are all thin crust and have a generous amount of topping! I usually top it up with a generous helping for oregano and olive oil! Lip smacking stuff!

The Scrumptious pastas

The Scrumptious pastas

And of course the pasta! The picture says it all now, doesn’t it? Pasta cooked just right… with generous amount of sauce! Happiness follows!

And how can we forget the desserts? I was introduced to this wonderful dessert right here in Big Chill Café :

THE Mississippi Mud Pie!

THE Mississippi Mud Pie!

The legendary Mississippi Mud Pie… Melt in mouth, chocolaty dessert which makes a heavy yet perfect end to a meal.

And then there is the Banoffee Pie. Now I am not a big fan of banana in desserts. However, this one Banoffee pie is not only tolerable, but makes a pretty delicious dessert

Banofee Pie

Banofee Pie

So there you have it. Big Chill. A little pricey specially for the customer segment they attract. But worth it! Italian cuisine amateurs should definitely try it out!

Big Chill – Multiple locations in Delhi – Khan Market, DLF Place Mall – Saket, DLF Promenade