Monday, September 7, 2015

Sunday morning at the 'No Name Teh Sarabat Stall'

On a bright and sunny Sunday morning in Singapore, the daughter and I stepped out for a cosy girlie breakfast.. (read - too lazy to make breakfast at home). 

Wanting to have some simple, wholesome, local fare - we decided to head out to one of the oldest Teh (Tea) stalls known…

Tucked away in a little corner on Baghdad Street, this quaint little hole-in-the-wall cafe has been serving up steaming Teh Sarabat (‘Pulled’ Milk Tea) since 1956 and is possibly one of the cheapest local breakfasts you can have in Singapore! (I haven't yet found anything cheaper… we have recently relocated from Mumbai to Singapore and am still converting dollars to rupees - so cheap often means yay!!)

The 'No Name Teh Sarabat Stall'

The cafe didn't have a name board for many years (still doesn't have one) and was eventually christened ‘No Name Teh Sarabat Stall’. At the stall, an old, bearded but very energetic Mr Zamir Ahmad, passionately serves up a frothy cup of Teh Sarabat, something he has been doing for over 40 years now. 

Teh Sarabat or Teh Tarik - is a hot milk tea beverage made with black tea and condensed milk. The tea is 'tarik'ed (pulled) by pouring it from one cup to another and back. Such 'pulled' tea is usually served at Malay or Indian Muslim stalls (but possibly else where as well) in Singapore. This version of tea is said to have brought in by the Indian-Muslim immigrants into the Malay Peninsula post World World II. In fact, in Malaysia, Teh Tarik along with Nasi Lemak are declared a part of the national food & beverage heritage.

Zamir Ahmad 'tarik'ing a perfect frothy cup of Teh Tarik

The stall also offers some lip smacking snacks (seemed freshly prepared and not so oily) - chicken samosas, fish cutlets, nasi lemak packets to go, potato puffs and fresh buns with kaya & butter.

Seated on the al fresco tables on the side walk near the stall, I sampled one each of the chicken samosa, fish cutlet, potato puff and the fresh buns (Yeah, I can actually eat all that by myself) along with Teh Sarabat.. The daughter was happy to nibble on the buns with kaya & butter. All that for less than S$ 8 … ! 

Sumptuous Snacks - Chicken Samosa, Fish Cutlet, Potato Puff and Bun with Kaya & Butter

The Teh Sarabat was a tad sweet for my taste but frothy, flavoured and comforting - this one goes into my list of comforting teas (like the good old ‘tapri chai’ from Mumbai or the ones I have written about earlier - Çay in Turkey and Lebu Cha in Kolkata).

The frothy cup of Teh Sarabat

We thanked Zamir Ahmad Chacha (Chacha - hindi for uncle) - who on hearing us speak Hindi mentioned that he had relatives back in Mumbai. Happy to hear the Mumbai connection and satisfied with a sumptuous Sunday breakfast, we strolled further to explore Arab Street.. 

Getting There:

No Name Teh Sarabat Stall,
21, Baghdad Street, 
Singapore - 199660.

Nearest MRT: Bugis (East West Line & Downtown Line)

Landmark: Opp Kampong Glam Cafe on Baghdad Street 

Average Price of Breakfast: S$ 3 (breakfast for 1)

Must Try: Teh Sarabat, Chicken Samosa, Potato Puffs

Kids will love: Buns with Kaya & Butter (grown ups will love it too :))  

p.s. - I must mention how challenging it is to write a blogpost about ‘Teh' without it being auto-corrected to ‘The’ like a gzillion times ;-) LOL ... Auto Correct - Off!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A morning in the quaint village of Sirince, Turkey

We had walked down the historic ruins of Ephesus, gorged on mouth-watering doners in the Selcuk town market and sipped on warm apple çay (apple tea). After having spent 5 days in the lovely little town of Selcuk in the Izmir region of Western Turkey, we wanted a flavor of the ‘slow village life’. The best place for this (as we were told by locals and most guide books) was Sirince!

A small village about 8 kilometres off the Selcuk town centre, Sirince has just about 600 inhabitants. It is a quiet, quaint village and most of the buildings there date back to the 19th century. While the village now thrives on tourism and one might say it is getting a bit too touristy – its main attraction is still the old world charm. Walk away from the market street into the small by-lanes lined by shops & houses, watch sheep grazing by the odd meadow or walk uphill to get a view of the village from the church boundary.

The quaint main square

Flowers in bloom at Sirince

We were staying at the Selcuk town and took a dolmus (mini bus) from the Selcuk Otogar (bus station). 25 mins and 3 Turkish liras took us up a comfortable ride to Sirince village.

The dolmus (mini van) that shuttles passengers between Selcuk & Sirince

The Dolmus dropped us at a small village square where a little brown board announced that this square was the dolmus station for the village. From here, we could walk around Sirince (walking is the primary mode of transport for tourists – although locals maneuver their own cars or tractors thru the narrow lanes). It was almost sunny with a cold nip in the air – made the perfect weather for a walk.

The 'dolmus station' at the village sqaure

We walked past the main village market street where we browsed through shops that sold wines, herbal soaps, wooden handmade toys and artefacts. It was a colorful sight! 

A variety of locally brewed wines made for a colorful sight in the Sirince market

Souvenirs in the market with the Turkish evil eye 'nazar'

Wooden Toys - most of them like Pinochios
Handpainted tiles, Herbal Soaps and Pickles & Vinegar - all sold at the village market
When the wine sellers and souvenir shopkeepers got too touristy for us, we took off on one of the by-lanes flanked by 19th century houses – some swanky, some dilapidated. We walked uphill past the local mosque to cross a small meadow with sheep grazing to their hearts content. 

Scenes as we walk past the bylanes of Sirince - the village mosque, a tastefully done up house & sheep grazing in a meadow right behind it

Scenes from the village - a man cutting wood for making woodfired kebaps, a farmer maneuvering his tractor thru the & a lady selling local spices and pickles

Further on, we reached St John the Baptist Church – a 5th Century church which looked like it had seen better days, The (what were once) beautiful frescos were damaged but thankfully undergoing structured restoration. We lit a candle at the altar and said a quiet prayer. The church path was lined with vendors selling hand made lace shawls, soaps and even freshly baked bread. 

St John the Baptist Church - the facade, the altar and the 'what were once artistic' frescos
A lady selling handmade lace shawls & capes

An old lady was selling freshly baked bread outside the church gate - which she had covered with a blanket to keep them fresh and warm

The walk made us hungry and we went to a restaurant called Ocakbaşı (meaning ‘fireplace’ in Turkish). This was an open air restaurant overlooking the valley serving up hot gozlemes (stuffed crepes), wood-fired kebaps, meat stuffed vine leaves and not forget the staple apple çay (apple tea).

The Ocakbasi restaurant overlooking the valley served up hot woodfired kebaps made by local village-women & meat stuffed vine leaves

A restaurant owner scrubbing the walls clean

Locals & Tourists catch up over some Apple Cay at the village sqaure. The conversation eventually broke out into a peppy Turkish song

After a hearty meal that made us warm and cosy, we walked back to the market and browsed through some more souvenirs before catching a dolmus back to Selcuk. 

There are several legends on how Sirince (pronounced Shi-rin-jé) got its name – including one that says this village was set up by freed Greek slaves who named it Çirkince (meaning "Ugly" in Turkish) to deter others from following them. The village's name was later changed to Şirince (meaning "Charming") in 1926 by the then governor of Izmir. We indeed found the village so charming and a great way to spend a bright sunny morning!


Useful Info:

Getting There:

Sirince is ideally a day trip from Selcuk town in Western Turkey. 

Selcuk town is about an hour’s drive from the Adnan Menderes Airport in Izmir (Western Turkey). Izmir is well connected with daily domestic flights from Istanbul.

Selcuk to Sirince: Take a Dolmus (Minibus) from the Selcuk Otogar to Sirince – 25 mins, 3 Liras per person. The Dolmus leaves from Selcuk every half hour during summer and drops you at the Sirince main village square. When you get off, make sure to ask the driver for return dolmus timings (especially the last bus back) so that you can time your return. 

Child Friendliness Quotient: Very High. Children will love walking through the village (with very little traffic), watch sheep/ cows/ donkeys/ roosters around the village, sit on the one of tractors (which most owners are okay with) or take a horseback ride around the village.Most of Sirince is cobble-stoned though, so makes for a slightly rough pram ride if you have infants.

Vegetarian Tips:

Most restaurants serve a variety of vegetarian Turkish meals – try the vegetable stuffed vine leaves, cottage cheese stuffed gozlemes and goat cheese stuffed baked capsicum.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Lebu Cha in Kolkata

Walking down Park Street - Kolkata, this afternoon, I couldn't resist that steaming cup of Lebu Cha at one of the street tea vendors (there's one almost every 200 meters selling this version of the Lemon Tea).

On the buzzing footpath of Park Street, the vendor had the whole set up on a makeshift counter - a Kettle with hot tea on what looked like a portable stove, wedges of lemon and little shot glasses sized paper cups.

A dash of lemon, a hint of rock salt and steaming hot tea poured from the kettle.. the magic potion was ready!
At Rs 5 a cup, this drink can refresh you for the next couple of hours .. and then you crave for your  next cup.. :-) Sip On!

The Lebu Cha set up
Mixing up the perfect cup
Lebu Cha!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Of Cattle, Cow Dung and a Cold Bucket of Water

The travel itch struck us again, after all it had been 2 whole months since we had gotten away - so we decided a quick weekend getaway to Bhandardhara, Maharashtra (180 kms from Mumbai).

After whizzing on the Mumbai Nasik Expressway (NH3, multi lane, smooth drive), we cut off at the Ghoti Toll to the Nagpur-Aurangabad-Mumbai Highway (bumpy, single lane but with great countryside views)!

Enjoying the countryside on this route (even better in monsoon, but not bad in winters either), we crossed a huge 'maidan' (ground) with what looked like a gzillion people and wait.. also cattle!

It was a cattle fair - people from the neighbouring villages had gathered to buy or sell cattle. Truckloads of cattle (literally) of all sizes, breed and color were offloaded on this ground. People seemed to have camped up there for a couple of days. To see the sheer number of cattle there was a 'moo-ing' experience!

Cattle of all breed & sizes made the Cattle Fair a colorful sight!

People seemed to have camped up at the Cattle Fair for some days
Cattle being brought in, in trucks & tempos from neighboring villages

A line of shops sold various adornments for cattle

Remembering we had a destination to hit, we drove further on.. A few kilometres ahead - on a barren landscape in the backdrop of a scarcely green hill - was a little hut.

On the outskirts of Ghoti village, this mud hut had cattle & poultry around it, chillies & beans laid out to dry, two not-so-lush trees providing shade from the scorching sun and the lady of the house busy in the courtyard. The brown barren beauty of the hut compelled us to halt..

The little mud hut

The lady must've been in her 60's. Sitting outside her hut, she was flattening out cow-dung into discs so it could be used for cooking (and other) fires... Bio energy at its best - done in most village homes in India.

The old lady making cow-dung cakes and leaving them out to dry

'Aamhi hya govri baghu shakto ka?', I asked her ('Do you mind if we see the cow dung cakes that you are laying out?')

She was thrilled to host us.. She even taught our 4 year old daughter to make cow-dung cakes in 3 easy steps: mix cow-dung with straw, flatten it into cakes by hand and leave the cow-dung cakes in the sun to dry.

Our daughter trying her hand at making cow-dung cakes under able supervision

The cow-dung by the way has other utilities too apart from bio fuel - wet cow dung is spread across the walls and floors of village huts which dries up to make solid walls & floors. It is also used as agricultural manure.

The lady then took us to a calf tied around the tree outside her hut and we fed it some hay.

After the little 'activity class' (that's what our daughter thought it was), the lady took our daughter near the hut and washed her hands off a bucket of water. I later realised how generous that was since all the water she had in her house were 2-3 bucketfuls (perhaps from a water pump or a stream some distance away).

Washing the cow dung off their hands

She was kind enough to take us inside her hut - 8 sq mtrs, housed 6 family members. She introduced us to her family and offered us a kind of khichdi (steamed rice with pulses) made on her indigenous 'choola' (cooking stove).

Their humble home - with meals cooked on the indigenous 'choola'

Much as we were tempted, we politely refused, not wanting to 'eat into' the family's share of lunch.

We thanked her for her courtesy and bid the family good bye, glad to have experienced some part of their life. What seemed brown & barren to us was perhaps gold for them!

With that, we drove ahead to Bhandardhara. But indeed as the cliche goes - the journey was as interesting as the destination..!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Top 5 Street Food Stuff in Thailand - that your tastebuds deserve!

One of the many reasons I love Thailand is the street food! Other reasons being - the culture, their beach destinations, the ‘variety’ of holidaying that can be done there from beach-jungle-culture-urban-shopping-etc. But more on that later… this post is about why I love the street food .. Welcome to the gastronomic journey!

In Thailand (as in most places in the world), the best food is out there on carts & little restaurants by the roadside – freshly prepared, delicious and rich in local flavours & fragrances. Here’s my list of top 5 favorite street food stuff – you shouldn't leave Thailand without trying one of these:

(Also check out top 'Veggie Treats' and 'Kids will Love' at the end of the post).

1.       Banana Pancakes:

Chopped Bananas stuffed in crepes and fried on butter with a topping of maple syrup & condensed milk – cut into little bite sized pieces. In most touristy towns of Thailand (esp the beach destinations), you will find a Banana Pancake cart every 300 meters. This yummy treat can be eaten as a desert or just as an evening snack… and is a great hit with children of all ages (from age 3 to 70)! Try out the basic version or the variations (chocolate, peanut butter, cinnamon, strawberries, pineapple, egg cheese and a zillion more). Don’t miss to watch how they make it – it’s as appetizing as the snack itself!

The making of a Banana Pancake

2.       Stuffed fish in Sweet & Sour Sauce:
Available at most street joints that serve meals, this dish is a complete meal by itself. Fresh fish, with a variety of stuffing cooked in sweet & sour sauce. Usually served with some salad or the ‘not so thai’ fries/ wedges..  

Stuffed Fish

3.       Fish Cutlets:
These melt in the mouth Fish patties are, well, just melt in the mouth stuff! Minced fish deep fried into little patties served with hot & sweet thai sauce. A sinfully yummy way to eat fish in Thailand. (often has chopped chillies as well – so for kids, you may want to tell the cook to go easy on the chillies).

Deep Fried, sinfully yummy Fish Cutlets

4.       Going Green & Red:
How can I write about Thai street food and not mention the green and red curries! Found just about anywhere in Thailand on little roadside restaurants, these are meals you’ll remember even after you get home! Made in chicken, prawns or fish, the green or red thai curries are served with steamed white rice (plain or sticky rice). The green is spicier than the red curry (kids usually love the red curry). For vegetarians, the vegetable green/ red curries taste great too. (For Vegetarians as per Indian definition: this is one of the best meal option for in Thailand. Make sure you tell the cook what counts as vegetarian for you :-) - that fish & eggs don’t!).

The iconic Thai Green & Red Curries with rice

5.       Crabs Cakes:
Made from minced crab meat and deep fried, these crab cakes are the most hassle free way to eat crab (though my favorite is still to find my way thru crab shells to pull out the meat J). This is not as easily found as the other 4 above – but fairly common and absolutely delicious – served with the iconic thai hot & sweet sauce.

Crab Cakes

Top Veggie Treats:

For the vegetarians reading this, here's my list of top 5 veggies treats on the streets of Thailand:

- Tofu Cakes (Similar to Crab Cakes)
- Papaya Salad
- Tofu Spring Rolls (fried)
- Thai Veg Green and Red Curry with rice
- Banana Pancakes

Kids will love:

- Banana Pancakes (of course!), try flavours like nuttella/ chocolate/ caramel/ etc
- Fish Cutlets (minus the chillies)
- Crab Cakes or Tofu Cakes

Gosh, how I want to hop onto a flight right now to Thailand to get a bite of these! What’s your favorite street food there?