16 Vietnamese Food Souvenirs

I often receive emails from friends, and friends of friends, asking for food and travel tips when visiting Vietnam. I have a standard Word document I refer to and then customize it based on where they’re visiting. I’ll sometimes suggest a local food related souvenir for them to pick up. But I’ve yet to compile a complete list of interesting and unique food souvenirs they should consider picking up on their travels throughout Vietnam. I also wanted to share it here with you.

Most of the items I’m suggesting are compact, small, and lightweight making them easy to pack and to bring home. Before you make your purchase think about how you’re going to transport your luggage. Checking in your bags gives you a lot of leeway of what you can buy. But, if you travel with just a carry on, as I do regularly, you won’t be able to purchase any gifts that are liquid or sharp. Consider packing some zip top bags, medium to large size, or even a small amount of bubble wrap if you generally like to purchase food items or pottery/ glassware when you travel. They’ll help prevent breakage and hopefully contain any spillage or broken packages.

You’ll be able to purchase most of the items in major tourist areas in Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue, and Saigon. Some of them you’ll find on the outskirts of large local wet markets, in grocery stores, or even perhaps airport gift shops.

Marou Chocolate Bars

Marou Chocolate bars with their gorgeous designed packaging.

Marou Chocolate

It may be odd to start off with something you naturally wouldn’t consider as part of the Vietnamese pantry but everyone loves chocolate. Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou started making chocolate in an apartment kitchen and now have a flagship shop in District 1 in Saigon (definitely worth a visit!). They are Southeast Asia’s first true Bean to Bar chocolatiers and they work directly with cocoa farmers in six southern provinces surrounding Saigon. To highlight the terroir of the cocoa beans from each province they keep them separate when making their chocolates. The result is chocolate bars with different cocoa percentages (70-78%) and wonderfully intense flavors. My current favorite is Tien Giang 70%.

Artichoke tea, Jasmine tea, Lotus Flower tea

A variety of Vietnamese teas: artichoke, jasmine, lotus flower. Some you’ll also find in your local Vietnamese grocer.

Artichoke Tea; Jasmine and Lotus Scented Teas

The temperate climate of the hill station town of Da Lat, 300 km north of Saigon, is perfect for growing artichokes, most likely introduced by the French colonialists who flocked to the area in order to retreat from Saigon’s summer heat and torrential rains. At the central market you’ll see vendors with mounds of large perfect artichokes. Although some locals prepare the artichokes in soup or braised dishes they’re mainly dried and processed into a refreshing, deep flavored tea. Grassy, nutty, and naturally sweet it’s a fabulous alternative to other herbal teas.

Green tea enhanced with the scent of jasmine and/or lotus petals are well loved in Vietnam. The delicate, subtle flavor of lotus tea is generally reserved for special occasions or ceremonies. In cafes or restaurants you’ll regularly receive jasmine tea to accompany your coffee or meal. Don’t brew the teas too long (maximum a couple of minutes) otherwise they’ll become too bitter.

Black Pepper from Phu Quoc

Pepper plantations dot the southern island of Phu Quoc. Hand picked black, white, and red peppercorns in Phu Quoc are prized for their warm, pungent, and fruity flavor.

Fish Sauce (Nước mắm)

Phu Quoc is also known for its high quality fish sauce. If you like to live life on the edge and take risks you may want to purchase a bottle of Phu Quoc fish sauce. But buyer beware, if that bottle breaks in your luggage you’ll receive a funky gift coming off the baggage carousel, not to mention some puzzled looks from fellow passengers, and the challenge of removing the pungent fishy smell from your clothes and luggage. A safer bet is to purchase an excellent product that’s already been exported, like Red Boat Fish sauce, to the United States.


Purchase these delicious coconut treats for family and friends.

Coconut Candy -Pandan or Durian flavored (Kẹo dừa)

Our kids love these candies, particularly the pandan coconut flavor. Hailing from Ben Tre province in the Mekong delta they’re great to purchase for friends and family who enjoy small sweet bites. Let them know the very thin wrapper around the candy is edible rice paper. Otherwise, they’ll spend a considerable amount of time trying to peel it off.


One of the shops on Hàng Than in Hanoi that sell young green rice cakes, bánh cốm.

Young Green Rice Cakes (Bánh cốm)

The appearance of roving vendors selling young green rice on the streets of Hanoi indicates autumn’s arrival in northern Vietnam. For over a century families have been making a variety of treats using the young green rice flakes. You’ll find a number of shops selling the thin, bright green squares (some filled with mung bean or coconut) along Hàng Than street in Hanoi.

Oriberry Vietnamese Coffee

Coffee sourced from local and indigenous Vietnamese farmers.

Coffee (Cà phê)

Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world, mainly the robusta variety. But there are some optimistic Vietnamese coffee lovers who are working with farmers to increase the production of arabica beans to make a more refined flavored coffee. Some companies, like Oriberry Coffee in Hanoi, operate as a social enterprise to help indigenous and ethnic minorities peoples in rural parts of Vietnam. They work with small farmers and offer guidance and a market for their products. Alternatively, purchase some Trung Nguyen coffee, Vietnam’s largest coffee producer, from one of its many outlets established throughout the country.


A Vietnamese coffee filter is called a phin and sits on top of a mug for the coffee drips into it.

To go along with the coffee you should purchase a Vietnamese drip coffee filter, called a phin. It’s easy to use and perfect for making individualized coffees. Purchase a couple of them so you can enjoy a Vietnamese filter coffee – with or without condensed milk – with or without ice – with a friend as you share stories about your Vietnam adventure.

Hand Made Vietnamese-Pottery

Hand made and Hand Painted Vietnamese Pottery from Bat Trang village outside of Hanoi.

Pottery and Enamel

All throughout the country there are villages that specialize in making hand made pottery. Some designers and discerning shopkeepers work with the potters to come up with innovative designs and unique decorative, hand painted features. You may find a new favorite coffee mug or teacup or several large bowls to serve your homemade noodle soups in. If you’re lucky you may happen upon a shop selling some older pottery or enamel from the 1980s Subsidy Period (Thời bao cấp) which have some great minimalist character items (albeit from a time of enormous hardship for much of the Vietnamese population).


The multipurpose Vietnamese vegetable peeler.

Multi-Purpose Vegetable Peeler

Shops or stalls selling kitchenware are often located not far from the vegetable vendors in local wet markets. Seek out these peelers. You can peel, grate, shred or make decorative cuts with them. Buy several peelers. They’re cheap and if you’re aggressive when using them they break easily.

Water Spinach Stem Splitter

The Vietnamese are extremely resourceful cooks and have figured out ways to use all parts of vegetables. This innovative contraption, with a long stainless stem needle and top with six to eight sharp blades, easily splits the somewhat tough stems of water spinach into thin, delicate strands that become great additions to salads or noodle soups. Again, buy several of them.

Rustic Vegetable Peeler Knives (Dao bào)

These knives look super cool, especially when you see a skilled market vendor expertly slicing carrots, cabbage, green mangoes, or green papayas in the wet markets. Unless you’re well versed with kitchen knives and well coordinated it doesn’t make sense to buy one to use in your kitchen.


Look at stores around the wet markets for these handy farmer’s market shopping bags.

Farmer Market Shopping Bags

These colorful woven plastic bags, available in different sizes, are great to use when you go shopping at your farmer’s market. They’re stylish, sturdy, and much easier to clean than cloth bags. If any dirt from freshly harvested vegetables makes it’s way to the bottom of the bag simply give it a rinse and air dry.


Fresh beer in a Hanoi beer glass

Who can resist a glass of fresh beer in one of Hanoi’s unique beer glasses made from recycled glass.

Hanoi Beer Glasses

The cloudy class pint glasses, hand blown and made from recycled glass, are unique to Hanoi’s beer halls, bia hơi. I think they make a great gift for any craft beer connoisseur. Sold only in the Hanoi area.


Many of the food themed t-shirts will have puns or slogans on them. Notice “Make Pho Not War” slogan, bottom left.

Food Themed T-shirts

You can find fun, punny t-shirts, many highlighting Vietnam’s foods and drinks, in the main tourist areas in the larger cities. Franchised shops like Gingko, Bambou, or independent shops from young designers offer more stylish, unique t-shirts. The sizing of the shirts is often not in sync with Western sizes so you’ll likely need to purchase shirts two sizes up to get the right fitting (ie If medium is your usual size, XL may be the correct fit).

Food Themed Dresses

A requirement for any fashionista travelling to Hanoi is a visit to Chula. Spanish designers Diego and Laura sell vibrant creative clothing (primarily dresses and jackets, and soon a men’s shirt and jacket line, yay!) that celebrate all aspects of Vietnamese life and culture. Chula’s food themed collection is funky and delicious to wear and to look at.


This food themed propaganda poster highlights taking care and developing bee populations.

Propaganda Posters

From the middle to the end of the 20th century Vietnamese revolutionary forces used propaganda posters to encourage people to fight against and prevent French and American colonialism. Some posters focused on taking up arms, industry, and education. Some of the most striking posters, design wise, are the ones insinuating that increased food production would lead to prosperity for the country.


If you forgot to buy something for someone, want to buy more of the food items, or didn’t have the room/ weight for some souvenirs head to the nearest Vietnamese or Asian grocer in your area. Alternatively, you could order some items, like the maps and books I’ve suggested below, online.

Hand Drawn Vietnamese Food Maps

My friend, Jodi of Legal Nomads, eats soup for a living. The bright, sour, and spicy flavors of canh chua , a southern Vietnamese soup, inspired her to live and travel in Vietnam. On her website Jodi sells unique hand food drawn maps, printed on posters, t-shirts, and tote bags, inspired by the delicious foods of Vietnam. They’re a perfect gift for a friend, or even yourself, who raved about the fabulous dishes they ate on their Vietnamese vacation.


Graham Holliday was one of the earliest English language bloggers to write about Vietnam’s culinary scene. He’s chronicled his immersive journey in the rich and evocative Eating Việt Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table. Reading this will have you planning another trip back to Vietnam or, at the least, make you head to your closest Vietnamese restaurant to satisfy your instant craving for many of the dishes he describes in his book.


You’ve had some fabulous meals on your trip and now want to recreate some new favorite dishes in your own kitchen. Look to any books by Andrea Nguyen, the doyenne of Vietnamese cooking in North America – her most recent is a deep dive in to phở. Or pick up Australian chef Tracey Lister’s cookbooks that highlight Vietnam’s street foods or regional dishes. If you’re vegetarian or vegan you can pre-order my first cookbook, Vegetarian Việt Nam (to be released in March 2018).

Happy shopping!


Young Green Sticky Rice: Autumn’s Arrival in Hanoi

Young green rice, com, for sale in Hanoi

A quick glance at the fruits and vegetables stacked in the baskets of roaming food vendors in Hanoi reveals what season it is.  Now in early autumn, you can find a couple handfuls of such vendors wandering the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter or settled on the sidewalk to sell a favorite Hanoi fall snack called cốm or young green sticky rice. Cốm is favored by Hanoians for its subtle fresh nutty sweet flavor and fragrance.

I was recently invited by a Vietnamese television show to experience a taste of autumn in Hanoi. We shot over three days on the streets sampling sour autumn fruits like ambarella and dracontomelon (quả cóc and sấu chín) tossed with a sugar, salt, chili mixture; collecting then preparing a dish using lotus seeds from the lotus pond near my house; learning how young sticky rice is transformed into com, fragrant flat jade colored flakes; and then onto a local restaurant to make a few autumn dishes that incorporate the young green rice.

My day harvesting, threshing, roasting and pounding the rice was a delight and I shot some photos to record the entire process how cốm is made from start to finish.

Farmers readying to go home by bicycle after harvesting young green rice

A farmer carries young green rice stalks in the fields outside of Hanoi

The unripen rice is harvested each year from August to October. When farmers see the rice stalks beginning to bend and a pressed grain releases a milky droplet of moisture they know it is time to begin the harvest.

Cut rice stalks are carried using a carrying pole

I drove about 50 kilometres outside of Hanoi to a village and met some farmers in one of their fields. Arriving just around 5am I noticed the farmers busy at work and had been for some time as a quarter of the rice stalks of the approximately 30 X 40 metre field were already cut. They waved at me to join them in the harvest. The thin sharp sickles were not hard to use but Chi Mam showed me exactly where to cut, about 15cm (6 inches) from the base of the plant. After a couple hours of being hunched over slicing the stalks we took a short and much needed break eating sticky rice with mung beans for our breakfast. In typical fashion they asked my age, if I was married and did I have kids. They giggled as they found it funny that I could answer those basic questions in Vietnamese but then produced a blank expression as their questions became more detailed and I wasn’t exactly sure what they were asking. I switched the conversation back to the rice and the female farmers explained that this work tends to be done by women as the rice is not as heavy when unripen (compared to when fully ripe) and it allows the men to perform other chores.

Moving cut rice stalks from the field to tractor

Loading rice stalks on a tractor

Checking out the rest of work to be done while standing on a pile of rice stalks stacked in a tractor

A few of us began to load the tractor with the cut rice stalks as a couple others finished harvesting the field. Although just 8am the sun shone brightly and with such strength I understood why this laborious work begins so early in the morning. They encouraged me to climb on top of the pile of rice stalks and ride through the village to Chi Mam’s house just a few kilometres away. I got some bemused looks by their neighbors unsure of what to make of the situation.

The stalks were unloaded and then the husbands and wives teamed up to thresh, wash and pack the grains.  I was amazed at the grip and efficiency of the electric threshing machine. Moving at such a high speed you need to delicately move the bunch of stalks over the drum. Pressing too hard can shave off more of the stalk than required.

Teamwork: Threshing young green rice after the harvest

Mechanically threshing rice stalks

Rice stalks being mechanically threshed by farmers after harvest

Sweeping up the threshed young green rice

A woman carries a basket of young green rice kernels

The washing helps to separate the hollow grains and remove any unwanted parts of the stalk. These are kept and fed to the pigs. The grains are then loaded into 50 kg bags and three of these heavy bags are expertly balanced on the backs of motorbikes and driven to Vong Village 30 kilometres away an now within the city limits of Hanoi. Traditionally the families of Vong village would grow, harvest and then process the grains but as an urban village they no longer have any land to grow the rice and must purchase the rice from other farmers. Only about ten families in the village remain who hold the knowledge and maintain the tradition of processing the unripen rice grains into fragrant chewy jade rice flakes.


Washing young green rice

Washing of young green rice

Taking a break after the harvesting and threshing of rice

Bicycle with threshed rice stalks

I made my way to the home of Ba Hai, the family matriarch who has been making cốm for over 40 years. She and her son guided me through the process. The roasting, husking and pounding used to all be done by hand but each family has been creative in mechanizing the process while retaining the key elements that produce the well-loved cốm.

Freshly harvested young green rice kernels waiting to be roasted

Adjusting the fire during the roasting of young green rice

The roasting of the grains starts early around 4am and heat quickly surrounds the room. I thought working on the line in a busy kitchen is sweat producing but this wins hands down. They move the wood around to maintain a constant heat and use a mechanical arm to keep the grains constantly moving and to prevent them from becoming too dark or burning. If overcooked the final rice flakes will not retain their beautiful shade of green. The grains are roasted for about 90 minutes and are ready when the roaster judges that they retain a malleable sticky firmness and remain flat when pressed.

Young green rice kernels start the roasting process

Young green rice kernels being roasted

Checking to see if the rice has finished roasting

The roasted grains are left to cool and then passed through a machine 3-4 times to separate the rice from the husks and to begin the process of being slightly pressed. The discarded husks are used to start the fires for the roasting of the grains but generally they are sent back to feed the pigs.

Roasted young green rice cooling before husking

The roasted rice being husked

Husked young green rice before being pounded

The rice is then pounded using a large wooden mortar and pestle contraption until it is sufficiently flat. The flakes are then raked by hand to separate any clumps.

Husked young green rice being pounded into flat flakes

Checking to see if the young green rice has been pounded sufficiently

Removing clumps from the pounded young green rice

Hanoians can purchase freshly made cốm in autumn from vendors on the streets who are identified by the rice stalks attached to their baskets. Some vendors will sell two or three types of cốm based on freshness: made that morning to a week or so old. The cốm is wrapped in a bunch in two different leaves, first lá dáy and then lotus leaves and stored in a fridge to keeps fresh.


A street vendor with young green rice, com, for sale

Look for the green rice stalks tied or lying on the basket as indication vendor will be selling cốm.

Dried cốm can be purchased year round from shops on Hang Than street as it is used in different events such as wedding ceremonies or on ancestral alters.

A stack of green rice cakes for sale in Hanoi

Bánh cốm (green rice cakes) for sale at a shop on Hàng Than street in Hanoi.

Cốm can be used as an ingredient in spring rolls, to make che (a sweet dessert),  in ice cream (at 35 Trang Tien street) as a coating (like bread crumbs) on shrimp (Andrea Nguyen of Viet World kitchen has a nice recipe) or blanched pumpkin slices or simply accompanied with fall fruit (banana/ persimmon) or a simply eaten on its own.

Young green rice goes nicely with bananas



Amritsari Comfort Food at Kesar da Dhaba

My original intention of visiting Amritsar, like the millions of other annual visitors, was to see the principle pilgrimage site for followers of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple. Specifically, I planned to spend a couple of days in the vast kitchen complex to find out how the temple managed to feed over 100,000 people each day.

phirni at kesar da dhaba amritsar, punjab

A young boy carries phirni, a creamy rice pudding served chilled in earthenware pots.

My flight was delayed in Delhi making my arrival in Amritsar closer to 8pm. I hadn’t eaten since noon and was famished. A friend, Mayur Sharma, who co-hosts a television show in India called Highway on My Plate, suggested if I had time to make a stop at a well-known dhaba nestled in the crowded alleyways of the older part of Amritsar. I exited the airport, found a taxi and surprised the driver by asking in Hindi to take me to the famous Kesar da Dhaba. He smiled, gave me an approving head tilt and whisked me towards Amritsar.
Dhabas are roadside eateries dotted along the national highways of India. I like to consider that they are similar in concept to the traditional French country bistro, where many of them offer, cheap, plentiful delicious meals yet in a more rustic setting. All of them started out as poorly built shacks specializing in one or two items. If they gained popularity with locals and travellers, and possessed business acumen, a purpose built restaurant would be set up to cater to their future needs. Nowadays, if you were to travel from New Delhi through the state of Punjab to the Pakistani border and ask any dhaba or restaurant that has been around since partition the story would be similar to Kesar da Dhaba’s.

Kesar Da Dhaba takeout vegetarian food.

Customers wait for their vegetarian takeout. For them it was stuffed potato and cauliflower parathas, raita, green mango pickles and mint chutney.


Tadka Dal in the kitchen of Kesar Da Dhaba, Amritsar, India

Preparing the tadka; the final seasoning of the dal where spices are tempered in pure desi ghee.

Ma ki dal cooked in a deg at Kesar da Dhaba.

A deg is used to cook the ma ki dal. A deg is a traditional cooking vessel made out of brass or copper whose shape and thick bottom are essential in allowing for even heat distribution during long cooking processes. Ma ki dal cooks for close to 14 hours at Kesar da Dhaba.

In 1916, in Sheikupura, Pakistan Mr. Lala Kesar Mal and his wife Parvati opened a small food stall serving basic dal and paratha. When Partition occurred in 1947 the recipes for these two dishes travelled with them and settled in Amritsar. And ever since visitors to Kesar da Dhaba are treated to homemade, simple vegetarian food.
Ramesh Mehra is now the fourth generation managing the restaurant. He explained that as time passed they added more dishes to the menu to offer greater options to customers but have not changed the recipes of their main dishes specifically the popular tadka dal, ma ki dal and phirni. Since they need to make over 4,000 parathas each day they once tried to use a machine to mix the dough but they received too many complaints so they switched back to all of the breads being hand mixed and rolled.

Laccha parathas being shaped in Amrtitsar

The parathawallah who shapes flaky laccha parathas.

laccha paratha making at Kesar da Dhaba

Flattening some dough to ready for the coil like shaping.

shaping paratha dough

The paratha being coiled which helps give the flaky layers.

coiled laccha parathas

Flaky layers in waiting.

laccha parathas

Laccha parathas waiting for the warmth of the tandoor.

plain parathas as dough in Kesar da Dhaba

Dough being pressed and hand patted into plain parathas before heading into the tandoor.

plain paratha tandoor oven kesar da dhaba

Pillowed dough moments away from kissing the hot tandoor wall.

paratha tandoor oven

Plain parathas briefly nestled in the tandoor oven.

breads in tandoor oven at kesar da dhaba

baked parathas

Removing baked parathas using long skewers from the tandoor.

baked flaky laccha parathas

Flaky laccha parathas checking the Champion’s league results.

plain parathas baked at Kesar Da Dhaba Amritsar

Stacked plain parathas prior to their lather of melted butter.

The dining areas felt tired and tattered. A fresh coat of paint and some changes in lighting could help improve the setting. Whatever was lacking in décor was made up in the flakiness of the laccha paratha, the rich softness of the spicy tadka dal, the tanginess of a cooling lassi and the welcoming Punjabi hospitality.

Note: I took this trip to Amritsar in April 2010.

phirni in earthen ware bowls

Small earthen bowls being filled with Kesar da Dhaba’s popular phirni.


gulab jamun and phirni at kesar da dhaba

Desserts at Kesar da Dhaba: sugar soaked gulab jamun and rosewater sprinkled phirni

phirni at kesar da dhaba

Yes. There is someone under the phirni.


Makaibari Tea Estate

Tea Flushes for Tasting

Some tastes stay with you forever. The moment the warm amber liquid slid from the edge of a hand shaped teacup, onto my lips, and slowly swished around in my mouth, I knew I had tasted something special. I put the teacup down, picked up the small gold sticker and read ‘First Flush 2005 Makaibari Tea Estates, Darjeeling’. The loose-leaf tea, picked several months earlier, was a gift from a dinner guest the night before. I had drunk loose-leaf tea before but it was generally an herbal mixture. My go to comfort tea, and still is, was Twining’s Earl Grey. But there was something unique with this liquid brew. All at once, there was delicacy and depth; a natural sweetness with a touch of bitterness; an earthiness that reminded me of walking over a bed of fallen leaves during mid autumn in Gatineau park. I had not tasted a tea whose flavour was as well rounded as this one.
The Makaibari First Flush instantly became my special afternoon pick me up tea. A year later I also started using Makaibari’s Apoorva tips when making chai. I learned that Makaibari followed biodynamic and permaculture principles. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more by visiting the tea estate. This was finally possible in March 2010 when I made the journey through the winding roads of the Himalayas eventually reaching Kurseong, just south of the hill station of Darjeeling.

Entry Sign to Makaibari


Rajah Checks the tea buds




Makaibari is believed to be the oldest tea estate in Darjeeling having been established in 1859. Four successive generations of the Banerjee family have run the estate with its current owner, the eccentric and entertaining Rajah, having become a pioneer and champion in the cultivation of organic tea in Darjeeling. Even during the late 1970s Rajah started to see the effects that soil erosion was having on his own and other various tea estates that dot the hills of Darjeeling. He slowly started to implement permaculture practices and over the following decade slowly adopted organic agriculture towards the management of the tea gardens becoming the first organic tea plantation in India in 1986 (and later on the first to have their teas certified Fair Trade). During the 1980s he saw how these changes were producing beneficial effects on the taste of the tea and the health of his plants. But he wanted push things even further and by 1991 had transformed the estate into a fully biodynamic system, where the soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock are all interrelated.

Two Tea Pickers


steep slopes at MakaibariTea pickers on estate

These holistic and alternative practices are also carried over to the 7 village communities, whose many habitants work for Makaibari, spread around the plantation. A joint body of elected members, primarily women, have bi-monthly meetings to cover development issues and how funds for the community should be spent. Improved sanitation, retirement stipends and life long health care became immediate priorities. There are 3 small nurseries and 3 primary schools for 3-10 year olds on the estate. Teenagers go to other nearby villages for high school. I spent several days at the plantation and stayed in the home of a family living in one of the villages. Only the husband worked in the main factory building. His parents had both worked in the tea estate – his father in the factory and mother as a picker. He made enough money now, through his work and the homestay program, that his wife did not need to take on a job outside the home. His two children were in college and had no intentions of working for Makaibari. They did however, intend to return to the area and look for more professional office jobs.

School at Makaibari


Tea Picker PortraitHaving Lunch at Makaibari

Harvesting and packaging tea requires about ninety percent manual labour. I spent several days following the tea pickers, predominantly women of Gurkha or Nepali background, up and down the steep slopes of the tea garden. They are strong women doing very laborious, back break work. It is no wonder that their children do not want to follow in their footsteps. The social and educational investments Makaibari has contributed to the communities have been successful in each successive generation getting better jobs on or off the estate.

Picking Tea LeavesSmile at MakaibariTaking A BreakRajah inspecting tea leavesDrying Tea LeavesSorting Tea Leaves


Rajah Explains Teas

My store of Makaibari tea is currently limited making each brew that more special. When I do get the chance to savour the delicious nectar I am reminded of the special people and communities responsible for nurturing the tea estate’s ecosystem.

Kollam and Coconuts

So this is it, the end of the trip. Cameron is on the long flight back to Canada and -36 and we are left in Trivandrum in 36 degrees. Almost three weeks of non stop travel and good food, beautiful people and places.

After going to sunday church we waited to meet some members of the fishing community in Kollam, a medium size fishing town. It had had lots of money spent on it, three story flats and concrete, bars on windows and locks on doors. Its strange how money and so called progress makes such fundamental changes to the community. We managed to track down a local activist Andrews Ambrose who we hoped would open all kinds of doors for us but he didn’t, he just closed his and said he would need to discuss our work with the committee, so we got in a car and found the local fish market just north of Kollam.

Sardines, millions of them, boat after boat, crate after crate, noise, smell and movement. It was amazing to see just how much in one small port, by just a few fishing boats could be landed. On an average day about 5,000 baskets each weighing around 30-40 kg are bought in, on a good day 10,000. These are big commercial boats that trawl the seas all night, from the beach after the sun has set it looks like a far off city of twinkling lights.

In the morning on Kovalam beach, I sat and watched around thirty local fishermen land their beach nets, from sunrise to about 9am they move across the beach with their ropes, singing rhythmically as they draw in the nets. The whole community working together then sharing what they bring in. This time as is now more the case, their nets were empty. Just a couple of crab, an eel and some small and terrified mackerel. There is such a disconnect with the business man who owns the boat and the people who work it to the resource they are harvesting. It merely becomes a financial transaction and is bereft of emotion, culture and respect. But hey, the fishermen have those wonderful tourists to fall back on!

On our way to Trivandrum, stopping at one of the wonderful Indian Coffee Houses. Puri bhaji and sweet milky coffee pulled us all together and we ended up in the kitchen to see what they were putting in the rather strange colored bhaji… it was all a bit suspect but turned out to be beetroot.

Then again to the amazing Laurie Baker designed Indian Coffee House in front of the train station. This circular building has a spiral dinning hall and over thirty tables, cool air and natural light, a far cry from the normal “hotel” eating joints we end up in.. blacked out glass a squeaky old fan blowing hot smoke and chillie filled air around the room while eliminated by the wonders of strip lighting. How simple it could all be if we though about more than just how to make a bit of money.

Coconuts seemed to be a good start so we headed off the main roads and stopped at coir villages. The book we will put together will be a combination of recipes and stories on food, the people the culture and the environment and how they are part of a whole. What has taken us ten thousands years of toil, understanding and respect is true sustainability, what we are being sold as food security and sustainability is little more than a resource grab. Its only when you travel deep into the villages that you begin to understand how it all works and how it needs to work.

So coconuts would be a perfect story for the book. From its religious, cultural significance, its water and milk, its flesh and its shell, for oil to cook and oil to burn, wood and leaves for building, fiber for materials and so we could go on. One tree with endless possibilities. So this is very much were we need to go with the project the connection to the source of our food and our cultures. Thank you Cameron for starting this up. And thank you Chintan, you’ve been amazing.  Its going to work!


NOTE: This was originally posted on my blog India On My Plate on January 27, 2011