I’ve always liked it when you’re having a friendly, let’s catch up with each other, conversation and something unexpected materializes and puts you on a path that leads you to a destination you’ve been searching for. This happened in early 2013 while having lunch with a friend, and long time Vietnam resident. In between bites of delicious vegetarian Vietnamese food I shared with him that I suspected there were some food related connections between India and Vietnam. A visit to Pondicherry in the state of Tamil Nadu sparked this curiosity when a chef I was speaking with mentioned that there were some older women who sold Vietnamese spring rolls door to door in the older part of the city. My friend shared with me that one of his closest friends, now living in England, had done her PhD about the Tamil community in Saigon and he would happily connect us. I had found some solid food leads on my own but there were some holes that needed to be filled and small parts of her thesis helped me with some minor, yet, important connections. Finally, this past autumn I spent some time in Saigon and was able to investigate the Indian community there and learn about how they influenced a few dishes in the Vietnamese kitchen.
Buttery, crisp, melt in the mouth shortbread is a wonderful classic cookie at any time of year. My mother would make them at Christmas and garnish them with half a maraschino cherry. Sometimes it’s great just to have something simple like this with a tea but other times I like to look at shortbread as a canvas in which you can add different flavors using citrus zests, herbs or spices. Click here for a link to a few shortbread recipes I provided for the holidays on Zester Daily.
Being away from your friends and family on Thanksgiving is possibly the loneliest day of the year for a North American expat. Once you have been able to find and organize some others to celebrate this harvest festival the next challenge is to figure out what you are going to make as a lot of the time, particularly in Asia, it can be like a difficult treasure hunt to find those all important must have ingredients to recreate family Thanksgiving recipes. Having prepared 8 Thanksgivings overseas for close to 1000 people I have had to become creative when ingredients are unavailable. I recently wrote an article for Zester Daily highlighting some tips for preparing Thanksgiving in Asia.
In the fall of 2008 I travelled from Delhi to Turin, Italy to participate in Terra Madre, Slow Food’s conference that happens every few years and brings together food artisans, activists and many others concerned about safeguarding and promoting all aspects of food cultures from around the world. There I met some of the Slow Food Canada contingent, one of them being Lulu Cohen-Farnell of Real Food for Real Kids (check them out as they are doing great work with school lunches in Toronto). She told me about an article that she had recently read about a group of monks in India feeding schoolchildren in different states throughout India. Upon my return I found the article online and read that the foundation was called Akshaya Patra and it originated and was associated with the ISKCON temple in Bangalore. I was unable to visit any of their cooking centres until a few years later on a trip to the city of Puri, in the eastern state of Orissa. Here is an article, with a photo slideshow, I wrote about their school lunch program for the online website Zester Daily.
When visiting India most people want to try and see the majestic Taj Mahal. Second on their list should be a journey to Amritsar to visit the Sikh holy site, the Golden Temple. What amazed me the most was that such serenity and peacefulness could exist while outside of its gates the cacophony of rickshaws horns and the systematized chaos that is Amritsar and India. Also, that the langar, the canteen which feeds delicious vegetarian meals to all visitors at most Gurdwaras, operates on such a scale that it feeds anywhere from 20,000 to over 100,000 visitors daily. I wrote about my time there for the online magazine Zester Daily. Click here for the link.
Jason Taylor and Chintan Gohil of the Source Project created this wonderful video about the langar at the Golden Temple