Snapshots of Irresistible Food // Part 1

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Jalebi Love

celebrating life with this bundle of sweetness and joy // homemade jalebis

Jalebi is an Arabian sweet that is famous for its distinct spiral shape. • Jalebi is typically served as a ‘celebration sweet’ in India. • The oldest reference of jalebi was cited in 13th century in a cookbook written by Muhammad Bin Hasan from Iran.

What’s your favorite sweet? 🙂

© AвнιAятѕ 2016

Jump. Twist. Relax. Breathe.

My name, Abhinaya, is translated as dance expressions in Sanskrit; indeed, it is in dance that I find my fullest identity.

Jump. Twist. Relax. Breathe. The art of dance for me represents the intersection of these most elementary of movements with incredible elegance and sophistication. Back straight. Head held high. Smiling. It is at once the most complex, yet the simplest and most expressive activities I perform in any day; it is poetry in motion. As my body adjusts to the challenges of specific movements and gestures, my mind is free to drift, to sift through whatever needs organizing—the next day’s tasks, discord with a friend, or stress. As my arm and calf muscles loosen and my labored breathing relaxes, I am able to release that stress, forget that argument, and set my mind in order. In the middle of my routine, I stop and stare at myself in the mirror to admire my Bharathanatyam posture. I pause to feel my own strong heartbeat. Then, I dance again.

Sixteen years ago, my amma (as I call my sweet mother) dragged me to a dance class to introduce me to Bharathanatyam. I recall that day with a smile, for my first impression was – shall we say – less than positive. I confess my condescending glances at the Indian classical dancers, who looked so different, sitting in half-squats with their arms extended. But yielding to amma’s enthusiasm, I committed to give it a try. I couldn’t have imagined then how this beautiful ancient art would shape the way I experience the world and nurture my appreciation for expressions of love and beauty. Originating from South India, Bharathanatyam is one of the most cherished and popular classical Indian dance forms. This epitome of Indian cultural expression has been a bridge between my American and Indian lifestyles.

Over the years, I have gained much more from Bharathanatyam than just a dance education. While the study focuses on physical techniques, I have also learned the essence of diligence, patience, and perseverance. The strict discipline of Bharathanatyam has taught me to work very diligently, a trait that has served me well in all my pursuits.

I smile now remembering my little five-year-old self choosing to dance on a whim. What began as an activity I had to do every Sunday has become something that is a part of me. My name, Abhinaya, is translated as dance expressions in Sanskrit; indeed, it is in dance that I find my fullest identity. Bharathanatyam has given me the courage, confidence, and unique charisma to become the person I am today.

The Liebster Award

So here it goes in the hope that this award nomination thread continues and for virtually meeting more diverse and amazing bloggers!

Started blogging a little over a month ago, and to see all this love and support from bloggers around the world feels amazing! For this Liebster Award nomination, I want to give a huge shout out to my friend, Prathima, at Later Alligator. We may be 9, 000 miles apart, but our passion for blogging has kept us very much connected. She has a phenomenal blog, so to whoever’s reading this, be sure to check it out!

Very honestly speaking, I had no idea what this nomination was all about. The more posts I read of others who were nominated, I understood its power of connecting bloggers. It makes bloggers feel special about their writing, photography, and thoughts and encourages them to continue to do so.

So here it goes in the hope that this award nomination thread continues and for virtually meeting more diverse and amazing bloggers!

The rules for the Liebster Award nomination are pretty straightforward:

  • Thank the one(s) who nominated you
  • Answer 11 questions the blogger gives you
  • Give 11 random facts about yourself
  • Nominate 11 bloggers that you think deserve this award too
  • Give them 11 questions to answer
  • Let the bloggers know you nominated them

And, here are Prathima’s questions and my answers:

1. If you had to choose, what would it be – budget or luxury travel?

I absolutely love the challenge for travelling under a budget! To me, the richest and most luxurious travel experience is eating at a local roadside food stand as opposed to dressing up and dining at a 5-star hotel. It’s watching kids play street cricket at the park and joining them as opposed to heading to an expensive musical at some top-notch theater. I don’t want to be a tourist; I just want to experience it like a native in that country. And, most of the times, that takes a budget travel and nothing more.

2. What’s your biggest fear about travelling?

My biggest fear about travelling is not having a safe place to stay at night. As much fun nomad travelling sounds, as a girl, I just worry about a safe place to stay during the night. Doesn’t have to be super neat, have a complimentary breakfast, or anything fancy. Just needs to be safe.

3. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

One thing everyone about me knows… I’m not an adventurous eater AT all. But, one thing I ate at a Scouts camping trip in elementary school that still makes me puke just thinking about it is mashed and cooked canned brown beans. Looks like sh*t and probably tastes like sh*t. This is why I’m not a fan of Mexican food either.

4. What is your comfort food?

Hands down, that typical Madrasi breakfast (more like a meal, my bad) — that steamy and delicious idli, spicy vegetable-filled sambar, fresh coconut chutney, crispy medhu vada, and a hot filter coffee to top it off. Just typing this makes me hungry.

5. Have you ever been to India?

Yup, I was born in Chennai and lived there my first five years before moving here! But, my family’s very connected to our relatives there — the typical weekly calls where we all yell on the phone despite the service being so clear, FaceTiming during special occasions, sharing pictures and memes on that family WhatsApp group everyone has, and of course visiting them every other summer for 2-3 months.

6. Describe your blog in one word.

Positivity

7. What do you hate/dislike about blogging?

Honestly, I dislike it when I have a genuine piece freshly posted but there are no views on it. I post thoughts to see what others feel, but if others don’t see it, then I’m not quite sure what to do, haha.

8. What are the top five things on your bucket list?

  • Live in Bangalore, Chennai, and/or Hyderabad for at least 3 years of my life with my husband (not married yet lol) and travel all over India during my time there.
  • Teach students in underprivileged areas through the Peace Corps.
  • Meet the Indian Cricket team players that were part of the 2011 World Cup win.
  • Choreograph a dance routine for an Indian movie.
  • Have a cup of coffee with Dr. Abdul Kalam. I was too late with this one. 😦

9. Which is the one place in the world you wouldn’t mind visiting again and again?

Paris ❤

10. What did you want to be growing up?

I went through a lot of phases — top 3 I can think of now right away are: doctor, Indian actress, and chef with my own cooking show.

11. Are you what you wanted to be?

I am not yet in any of these professions, but I still could be. What is more important is that I am happy with where I am today and with all I’ve accomplished. Still got many years to come.

Okay, next step: 11 Random Facts About Me

  1. I am a trained Bharatnatyam dancer (for 16 years now).
  2. I can speak 4 languages fluently — English, Tamil, Telugu, and French.
  3. I have plenty of Indian actor crushes, but one by one they’re getting married away lol.
  4. My goal is to make at least one music cover by the end of the summer. Anyone want to collab? I’m a pretty decent singer.
  5. My grandpa used to own a stationary store in India in my name.
  6. Name any Tamil or Telugu movie. I’ve 90% watched it. That’s how much I love cinema.
  7. I’ve been playing the violin for 12+ years now.
  8. I have a weird craze over airports and airplanes. They make me so happy.
  9. I believe in horoscopes.
  10. My birthday is the same day as Rajnikanth and Yuvraj Singh. The former name usually excites all my Indian friends.
  11. I like Pepsi more than Coca Cola, and I’m from Atlanta…hmm.

Okay, your turn. My nominees for the Liebster Award are:

  1. The Evolutionary Mind
  2. Rijul Ballal
  3. The Aahir Entry
  4. Trickster Chase
  5. Lyf&Spice
  6. Divya Rao
  7. Asmi
  8. Passion to Color
  9. Rashminotes
  10. That’s So Taran
  11. Smileaheartoflove

My questions for the nominees are:

  1. Tell me the 3 best qualities about you.
  2. What are your 3 favorite movies?
  3. Name a celebrity you think is lame.
  4. Would you rather win an Olympic medal, an Academy Award or the Nobel Peace prize?
  5. What is your favorite family tradition?
  6. What’s the first thing you do when you get home from a trip?
  7. Would you rather be the best player on a horrible team or the worst player on a great team?
  8. If someone made a movie of your life would it be a drama, a comedy, a romantic-comedy, action film, or science fiction?
  9. Who’s your celebrity crush?
  10. What is your favorite quote?
  11. If you could shop for free at one store, which one would you choose?

And, that concludes this post! Definitely a long post, but I had fun writing it. Hoping it’s just as fun for my nominees! Looking forward to getting to know y’all better! Cheers! 🙂

Tamarind: The “Indian Date”

Tamarind is very crucial in many societies and their medicine and cuisine, particularly in South India.

Every other year, my family heads to South India to spend the whole summer with our relatives. For a few weeks every break, we stay at my grandparents’ house which is situated in our native town; this is where I was first exposed to tamarind trees. The serene village my grandparents lived in is covered with tamarind trees. On days I feel despondent, just sitting on the swing in our porch glancing at our trees and birds makes me feel better; I get the sense that life has many downs, but I need to stick to my goals. Having many tamarind trees in our backyard allows my grandma easy access to tamarinds, of course.

Tamarind is utilized in a plethora of Indian dishes, from simple yet refreshing soups called rasam, to elegant chicken curries. Just from the smell of the kitchen, I know exactly when my paati (as I call my sweet grandmother) is preparing the dishes. After hearing all my paati’s stories about her family’s experiences picking tamarind and about the dishes her mom made, I got a great opportunity to learn more about my ancestors’ traditions. Because tamarind trees comprised most of the Indian dishes made in the 1900s in my family, it has been interesting to learn more about it through this paper; this oftentimes enigmatic plant is very crucial in many societies and their medicine and cuisine, particularly in South India.

Tamarind or tamar-i-hind, which literally translates to “date of India” as the Arabs called it, is one of the most prevalent trees of India. The “date of India” is particularly popular in the tropics and is a sour fruit pod of tall evergreen tree, who have leaves all four seasons. Interestingly enough, Tamarindus indica, the binomial name, is native to tropical Africa. Initially, the tamarind tree was widely cultivated along the African western coasts. Most likely through human transportation, tamarind reached South India before any major land routes, such as the Silk Road, which extended four thousand miles connecting the European world to Western Asia. A number of important crop plants, such as sorghum and finger millet, reached South Asia from Africa by 2000 BC. Soon after the Age of Discovery in the sixteenth century, Portuguese and Spanish colonists introduced tamarind to Mexico; the practice that started then is now one of the most cultivated crops. The trees are typically around 30 meters tall and have a beautiful feathery foliage on the top; just their trunks themselves can be up to two meters in diameters.
Continue reading “Tamarind: The “Indian Date””

5 Things I Want To Do in Chennai

Madras to some, Chennai to others, this is a city that grows on you.

And, here we go – my very first travel post starting with the city I was born in – Chennai! Madras to some, Chennai to others, this is a city that grows on you. As you step out of the airplane in its famous international airport, you will immediately feel its humidity. Once you leave the airport, you will immediately notice all the different kinds of architecture around this city and the centuries of history behind each building. Chennai has always been the most overlooked of India’s megacities. While travelers rave about Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, the capital of India’s steamy south has long been seen as a stepping stone to other parts of India rather than somewhere to visit on its own merits. With the opening of the Chennai Metro Rail, the first integrated mass transit system in India, the capital of India’s south is making it easy for its residents and visitors to go around the city and explore all its angles. And there’s plenty to see: statue-covered Dravidian temples, institutes for Indian classical dance, fascinating museums, British-era fortifications and churches, a three kilometer-long beach that throngs with locals night and day, and India’s second-largest movie industry centered on “Kollywood” in the western suburb of Kodambakkam. Chennai is one of the most welcoming cities in India. And, I sincerely mean it. Just like how Georgia is known for its “southern hospitality,” Chennaites, as we call the residents of Chennai, are some of the kindest people in the world.

Chennai is a city of best of both worlds. While you see the immense growth of manufacturing and technology, it is also a city that well preserves its rich culture from its diverse religions to appreciation of the arts. Tamil, as many already know, is the local language, but most signs are also in English as it’s one of the popular business centers in the world! Knowing English itself can get you around the city easily – most auto drivers speak the basic English needed to find attractions and nice hotels to stay in. I’m telling you, southern hospitality at its finest in Chennai. Don’t be shy in Chennai – people are everywhere at all times, so go interact with the locals and experience the city that loves its Tamil cinema industry and filter coffee! As the hometown of music legend, AR Rahman, and rising stars all over the Indian film industry, the lively atmosphere of Chennai will make you come back to explore more and more.

Here in this post, I will feature the top five things you absolutely have to go experience in Chennai including a quick tips sheet on do’s and don’ts in this still traditional city. I lived here my first five years but don’t remember much other than the short summer days I’ve spent there. I’m hoping to cover these five to-do things myself!

#1 – Our Famous Dravidian-Styled Temples

While there are plethora of temples located all around the city (you can see some as you’re waiting in traffic too), one temple you just cannot miss is the Kapaleeswarar Temple. As one of the most popular temples in Chennai, it is the epitome of the Hindu and Tamil culture. Devoted to the Hindu god, Shiva, devotees believe that praying here can cure you of any obstacle. It’s located in Mylapore, a very old area of the city. The little streets around the temple seemed to have stayed the same for decades. They are crowded with small shops catering to the needs of devotees with items like flowers, lamps, coconut, and anything you can possibly need for an archana. Interestingly enough, this area attracts many street photographers who capture the majesty of the temple and its rich history. Another grand temple in the area is the Parthasarathy Perumal temple in Triplicane. Both of the temples have their respective rich cultural heritage and traditions that are fascinating to its devotees. These temples are guaranteed to give you plenty of information on Hinduism in the South. If you want the best experience from any of the temples in Chennai, be sure to visit them during a Hindu festival like Deepavali or Ganesh Chaturthi. Dress appropriately as they are some of the most respected Hindu temples in the world.

#2 – Our World’s Second Longest Beach

Chennai has a variety of beaches –from the ever crowded Marina Beach to the scenic Kovalam Beach with plenty of calm beaches in between. Each beach has its own sub culture. You could choose Marina Beach, the world’s second longest beach and the most popular one in the city and is usually thronged by local visitors and kids playing cricket or soccer or Elliot’s Beach in Besant Nagar, which is relatively upscale and is visited by couples. There are of course quieter beaches along the coastline like Thiruvanmiyur Beach or Covelong Beach, but if you want the most out of your Chennai experience, I’d say visit Marina Beach. Not a typical American beach though — both women and men swim full-clothed and swimming suits are much of a thing there. But, it’s still an enjoyable experience walking around the shore as you’re munching some spicy chick peas and sour mangoes.

#3 – Long Drives along the East Coast Road or popularly known as ECR

If you want to experience what Chennaites love to do in their free time to relax, then grab a car or taxi and take a long drive along ECR. Start at Thiruvanmiyur and end at Mahabalipuram. This drive covers around 40 kilometers and will take about an hour depending on speed and traffic. I’ve always, always, always wanted to do this drive but haven’t had a chance yet. I’m hoping it’ll happen soon! Once you are out of the city in that road, you can see the sea at many places along the road. If you have the time, you can walk around the World Heritage Site at Mahabalipuram too. You can visit Marundeeswar Temple closeby and see the thousand year history behind the famous Hindu epic, Ramayana. Also along ECR is Dhakshinachitra – a center for performing arts, crafts and architecture. For those interested in the South Indian arts, be sure to visit this place! For those really into photography (ME!), this place is heaven and a place to capture wonders! Driving along ECR will also show you the varieties of homes and families settled in Chennai –from foreigners to the fishermen. A tip I’d give (since I’ve gotten it so many times) is to go early in the morning or late in the evening when the heat is less and so is the traffic. You’ll thank me later! 🙂

#4 – SHOPPING. Period.

No one shops like we do! How can you miss the humongous malls like Express Avenue, Phoenix Mall, and Forum Mall located in different parts of the city. They are such a blessing in disguise. I love Express Avenue for its diversity in shops and the nice customer service. After all, Chennai Super Kings are spotted there all the time according to my cousin. I’ve never seen a famous person there, but would love to someday! These malls cater to all your needs right from branded clothing, footwear, and accessories with the food court to give the best food from the best food sellers when you get tired of shopping and the theaters in the same mall for entertainment with the best ambiance. If you want the one ultimate shopping destination rather than these malls, then T Nagar is the place for you. Name it you get it. Right from dresses to jewelry and electronics, Ranganathan Street and Usman Road are the right places for all your needs. The shopping stores like RMKV, Saravana Stores, and Pothys give you a gazillion options under one roof right from Kancheevaram silk sarees to trendy designer bridal lenghas. This is where I always shop besides Madurai and Bangalore. They have great options to choose from, and most of the stores are pretty decent-priced too! All you need is to have patience to shop in the crowd especially during festive seasons like Deepavali and Aadi season.

#5 – Brace yourselves, last must do in Chennai that you’ve probably already guessed: FOOD.

I’ve done this a billion times already, but been two summers already and can’t wait to go back to have more! The two restaurants (at least the only two I’ve visited recently and enjoyed) are Saravana Bhavan and Anjappar! I never thought I could eat this much! I finished a thali plate in less than 15 minutes at Saravana Bhavan! Those chefs know how to cook. Just thinking about the food makes me go crazy. I’m not even a foodie, but that place attracts you like no other! Of course, if you’re wanting a nice fancy meal, Anjappar should do! Its lollipop chicken is cooked to perfection! A million more restaurants/street vendors exist that all sell authentic Chennai cuisine! I’m hoping I can explore more when I go there next time! 🙂