Tag Archives: culture

Photo Essay from Singapore: Chinese New Year

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Image result for chinese new year photos 2015

Courtesy: Internet Image

 

Thanks Maithilee and Sanika for dozens of colourful photos! They brought back a flood of memories of our stay in Singapore and the Chinese New Year festivities. Hope my readers will appreciate your enthusiasm that prompted me to craft this blog post.

‘Gong Xi Fa Xai’ or ‘Xin Nian Kuai Le’ the popular Chinese New year greeting at once reverberated in my head. I could almost visualize the street markets being decorated with abundance of red and gold festivities, flowers, posters and traditional Chinese outfits. As if night shopping and impulsive buying is the ‘need of the hour’ Chinese people and expat population flock to the street markets.

Chinese New Year was celebrated on 19 February, 2015. It is the ‘Year of the Goat /Sheep.’ The Chinese zodiac or Sheng Xiao is based on a cycle of 12 years, each year related to an animal sign. As it’s a Goat(or sheep) year, it’s common to hear greetings of Three Goats: profits and prosperity, peaceful, worry free life and plump health.

Now find out which animal represents your birth sign. Chinese believe health, family and fortune depend on the particular zodiac sign and personality traits resemble the animal character. Have fun!

Chinese zodiac sign Courtesy:bjchina.travel.com

Chinese zodiac sign Courtesy:bjchina.travel.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year : Year of the Goat /SheepChinese New Year: Goat ma

Chinese New Year: Goat mascot

More than a dozen street markets are conveniently located in the Housing Board developments (HDB) that dot Singapore’s geography. But the Pagoda street market, in the heart of Chinatown, is the place to feast your eyes upon. A month-long street light up, hanging lanterns, larger than life themed floats and ways side stalls beckon every pocket.. ‘Have money, will spend’ is the catch phrase. Here is a sample of photos sent by my friend as she headed to Chinatown.

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Around the world New Year celebrations differ culturally and in meaning.

For the Chinese around the world, it means flocking back to home and family in China (or at the place of elders in the country) and having a grand Reunion dinner around the festive table.

The items on the menu must include: long noodles, Mandarin and Pomelo, Kumquat fruit, Jiaozi dumplings shaped as currency, candied fruit, leafy greens and long beans, whole fish for fertility and prosperity and a tray of Togetherness with 8 items.

There’s so much local buzz and festivities in China, Singapore and Asia prior to the Chinese New Year – parades, street food stalls, River floats, night markets, street light ups and more. Be part of the festivities next year, if you’ve never seen one.

Till then, Gong Xi Fa Cai.

If you’ve seen Chinese New Year celebrations, do leave a comment about your experiences. What did you like? What did you buy? What did you eat? 

All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 -2015) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer.

      

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Behind the Smiling Faces of Siem Reap

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Two years ago, finally we visited Siem Reap, Cambodia. The Ankor Wat temples with gigantic stone edifices and intricate temple carvings left us spellbound! But, it was the hustle bustle of tourists and locals, mingling in the marketplace, after dusk, that painted another picture. Of ‘real’ stories of Cambodian life.

It was the hope, struggle and cultural revival of Cambodians determined to rise back from the ruins…that left a mark in our hearts.

Entrance at Ankor temple complex

Entrance at Ankor temple complex

‘Let me take you to the Old Market, Phsar Chas’ suggested our Tuk-tuk driver, on return from Banteay Sri complex. ‘You can get a good, cheap massage for your tired legs’ he added.

Phsar means market, in Khmer. Sounded similar to bazar, isnt’ it? As Cambodian empire spread over South East Asia, trade and cultural ties with its neighbours influenced its language, food and traditions. Phsar, generally a semi covered market area, was a traditional shopping place for women. Wicker baskets in hand, Krama, a Khmer chequered scarf bundled on their head or tied around the waist, they set off on a market spree.

Siem Reap, Ankor Wat 156

Psar Chas, Old Market, is located between the Sivutha Boulevard and Pokhomber Avenue, next to the main river. It is open from dawn to dusk. The river end catered to the tourist selling mostly souvenir and craft items. It had a quiet, subdued atmosphere. Soft spoken women pleading tourists to buy. Ankle length sarong, modest hairdo, eating street food in plastic containers provided a peek into life.

The other side catered to locals. What a dramatic difference! Early morning electric atmosphere, haggling of prices, butchering fish, squids or meat and towing vegetable laden push carts would drown any visitor. Strange looking spiky dragon fruit, giant jackfruit, plump fleshy lychee fight for space between fried Tarantulas, frog legs in vinegar and snails in large basins. Ah! stalls laden with fresh condiments and spices, essentials of Khmer food were probably an Indian influence.

Pulses, grains and spices

Pulses, grains and spices

Pubs and hotels, dotted the area. Homes, once to nobles and officials, changed to cheap accomodation for the tourists. Tourism is key to economic growth.

Tuk -tuk - common mode of Cambodian transport

Boulevard shops at Psar Chas, Siem Reap

 

The popular transport : Tuk- tuk

Alighting from the Tuk-tuk, I took a moment to admire the historic building painted in white. Decorated with lattice windows and high archway, it was a blend of French and Siamese architecture.

Souvenir shops crammed into every inch of space. Silk cloth, paper lamps and scarves in bright colours: indigo,magenta, emerald-green and sun yellow. Little silver trinkets jingled and shined. Inexpensive jewellery and fake ruby stone hair pins, modelled after those worn by queens and apsaras dazzled in the pale light. Paintings on rice paper showed smiling faces of Avalokiteshwara and king SuryaVarman.

Today, many workshops and craft schools run by NGO’s and organisations help lift the people, revive Art.

Siem Reap, Ankor Wat 157

Young and old mothers, and children seemed part of the market community. Like in a ‘kampung’ , they shared daily stories. The market provided a perfect learning space for children, after school, to practice scant knowledge of English or maybe earn a little pocket-money.

‘Would you like paper lanterns? suggested a lady. Another rose from her stool, putting away her knitting yarn to show me Cambodian styled embroidered handbags with wooden handles. A girl, with a gentle smile, took my finger, leading me to her mother’s shop.

Who said a market tells no stories ? Just need an observant eye!

Siem Reap, Ankor Wat 159

Baby in hammock

 

Silk cloth and scarves

Silk cloth and scarves

From the 9th -13th century, Siem Reap was the Khmer capital, a flourishing grand era! Artists, painters, poets, writers, musicians, craftsmen thronged the palaces and plains. Ceramics, lacquerware, textiles, silver jewellery, masks, palace essentials were all made in Ankor. Today, lamented the shop lady ‘Cheap cotton, not silk , is used for hand bags.’

‘Our richness lies in our culture, not in money’ she smiled.

Colourful Silk souvenirs

Colourful silk and paper lamps

Masks, waist bands, hair pins and variety of Cambodian cultural souvenirs make Phasr Chas a ‘must’ on the tourist itinerary.

Head gear, costumes and masks for cultural performances

Head gear, costumes and masks for cultural performances

Conversing with a part-time teacher, who comes every weekend to shop for groceries and rice gave me a deeper understanding of cultural philosophy. She manages her friend’s shop, allowing her precious time to complete household chores.

Time was up. This was my bounty: red skin bananas, dry jack fruit chips, brown rice and… a local delight. Palm sugar candy wrapped in dry palm leaves that dot the countryside and need laborious preparation.

Need to fill your grocery basket?

Need to fill your grocery basket?

The teacher guided me to the neighbouring street. Was there more to discover?

Evening classes for young children were being conducted by local and foreign volunteers. They bring English books, maps and puzzles to engage young minds, breathing better life and ambience into their suvival. A healthy way of keeping them away from drugs and street fights and crowded tourist markets.

Just so much behind those smiling Cambodian faces!

Evening English classes on the street, Cambodia

Evening English classes on the street, Cambodia

Street school, Cambodia

Street school, Cambodia

What did you like about this narrative? Do you have a story about your travel to Siem Reap?

All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 -2015) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer.

 

Immigrant Jigsaw Puzzle, Sydney

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Immigrant Jigsaw Puzzle, Sydney

Immigrant Jigsaw Puzzle

Recently, I was at the Paddy’s Haymarket. Did I hear the vendors exchanging conversations in Chinese? It took me by surprise! This was Sydney, Australia! But here was a migrant community. People who had made Australia their new home.

Paddy’s Haymarket, is a short walk from Town Hall station, in Sydney’s commercial district. Situated inside a 1950’s building complex this wholesale market caters to selling fresh fruit and vegetables, it operates daily. You can’t miss the brick-red walls of this Edwardian architecture, as soon as you turn off the main Town Hall street, into the lane leading to the market. Tourists flock here for cheap bargains and often stop right in middle of the lane .. cameras clicking click, click.

This iconic building, is a contrast to the modern high-rise glass structures at Town Hall and standing majestically aloof from the shabby old buildings of Chinatown area.

Haymarket Building, Sydney

Haymarket Building, Sydney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piecing the jigsaw puzzle:

Australia is original home to the Aboriginals, a distinct indigenous community. They are known for nomadic ways, natural living style, clan behaviour and living in isolation. The European sea farers, outlaws and the gold diggers that descended upon Australia, changed the status and outlook of the country. As farmers, wine growers, setting up law and order, schools the Aboriginals were displaced. Two distinct Australian communities but not one set up shop and earned his living here. I wonder why?

Enter the Chinese. They are the oldest immigrants that arrived into Australia during 1850’s. Poor knowledge of spoken English and tight immigrant laws, pushed these migrants into low-end work as cleaners, gardeners, drivers, and small shop owners. Keen business acumen and hard work paid off. Today, Chinatown outside this market is a buzzing place full of restaurants, shops and housing estates. This market in Sydney with so many Asian vendors speaks volumes isn’t it?

The red and gold Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling brought back memories of Singapore market and Chinese festivities. I loved those New year dolls pasted on the pillars – smiling faces as if  reminding one to smile about life and make efforts wherever you are.

Chinese lanterns at Paddy's market

Chinese lanterns at Paddy’s market

All is not easy, said the busy, young Malaysian lady handing me packets of exotic Dragon fruit and baby corn. She had to take English lessons for six months, and work as a cleaner in the evenings to support herself. ‘To the customers we talk Chinese /Australian accent, but between our community, we quickly shout out in Mandarin’ she laughed.

And where is home? I inquired. Generally ethnic communities prefer to lived huddled together in suburban enclaves -Redfern, Paramatta, Chatswood. ‘Housing is cheaper and easier to get support from our community’ remarked an elderly Chinese vendor, speaking near fluent English. His children attend public school, and they correct his English at home, he laughs. Ethnic suburbs are great way to interact during cultural programmes, he added.

Because this was an Asian market I could buy some tofu, Bok choy, lettuce and baby asparagus. Other curious young Malaysian Chinese, Vietnamese Chinese and Filipino vendors peeped into my camera. They joked ‘ We are instant heroes’ laughing away their daily struggles and adjustments to this foreign culture. Once home, food is comfort – chicken rice, dumplings and noodles.

Enter – Lebanese, Turks, Arabs.
Want a piece of Turkey ? Just like in the bazaars of Istanbul,  jute cloth sacks filled with fresh aromatic powders stood majestically in this shop. Traditional aluminium containers adorned the counters, with mountain peaks of coloured powders. A perfect picture! Now try painting this: Bright yellow turmeric, black nigel seeds, white sesame seeds, green oregano, red chilli flakes, brown cumin and coriander powder, deep green mint and hints of yellow and black in the mustard. I stood there taking deep inhalations, filling my senses with those strong aromas.

Turkish style market counter

The elderly Turkish owner, caressing his white beard and adjusting his cap, soon guided me through the healing nature of these herbs. Arriving in Sydney as a refugee, many years ago, with hardly a penny in the pocket and no knowledge of English, was no mean task. He cleaned dishes in restaurants and ate left overs. Today, his son and family help him manage this very popular shop. He looked as me in discouraging tone ‘Only 50 grams of strong ginger and 50 grams of turmeric powders?’  ‘My European customers buy much more than you’ he shrugged.

The Turks, Lebanese, Syrians have indeed been a major contributing community. I’ve heard of a Lebanese market in suburban Paramatta that sells authentic Lebanese herbs and food items. Turkish and Lebanese food is very popular in Sydney, with many restaurants dotted all over. See here for another Sydney market.

Enter – Fijian Indians.

One small shop tucked away in the front row was selling cosmetics and watches. The couple serving at this stall had arrived from Fiji islands. Dark skinned, wearing traditional long Fijian skirts and a blouse, the lady spoke to me in Fijian Hindi, a dialect. They moved here selling their house and farmland, looking to Australia for better future for their children and more job opportunities for the family men. ‘Home to them is still Fiji – a land bountiful with coconut trees, mangoes and plenty of fresh vegetables’ she smiled.

Enter – European settlers

My eye caught the colourful Easter poster pasted on one wall announcing holiday trading hours. Bright Easter bunny chocolates and treats would soon make way into the market. A gentle reminder of local European cultures and traditions that the migrant community need to embrace, along with their customary celebrations

easter poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking one last view of the colourful fruits and vegetables, souvenirs, watches and swim wear was a market bustling with activity, like any other in the world. The people in it contributed to it’s existence. Unknowingly, I gave one nod of acknowledgement to this robust, enterprising migrant community. The new face of Sydney, Australia. Pride and gratitude swelled within me.

I had to take home one souvenir of the first people here. A bag with distinct Aboriginal design. Dots and lines traced in bold black and red colours to create a piece of simple Aboriginal Art. Goodbye, Sydney.

Souvenir bag

Souvenir bag

 

Have you met any immigrants in Sydney ? What are their stories? 

 

All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 -2015) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer.

 

 

World Palate Recipes – Date Treats

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Date Treats from Middle Eastern Cuisine.

The entire Middle East region abounds in Date cultivation, the fruit being regarded holy and healthy.

In UAE (and other Middle East countries) the green Date palm trees abound in the harsh, arid landscape. Often people are seen taking rest under the shade of these trees, relaxing away from the mid day sun. During the fruit season in summer, there is plenty of fallen fruit to enjoy. No wonder Middle Eastern cuisine makes use of Dates to prepare a variety of dishes: Date halve, Arabic date and cardamom cake, Moroccan chicken and Date Tagine, Egyptian milky date pudding, Lebanese Date cookies (Mamoul), Date desserts with pistachios and almonds …and the list is endless.

Options for decorating Dates

Options for decorating Dates

It’s the Ramadan – the holy month. The Muslim community celebrates a month-long fasting period from dawn to dusk. Dates form an integral and important part of the fast – it’s the Holy fruit. After the evening prayers, at the Iftar meal the fast is traditionally broken by eating the Date fruit. It gives the body immediate sugar and protein, as well as prepare the empty stomach for richer food intake. Dates reduce cholesterol, abdominal pain, inflammation and have many other medicinal qualities. No wonder it’s a well-loved fruit. Dates are eaten raw or ripe. Raw fresh dates (Rutab) are golden coloured and have a crunchy, fibrous nature. Local Emirati, Omani and Lebanese eagerly await the summer fruit every year. The ripened fruit is dark brown, sweet and succulent.

Here is an easy milkshake recipe. Often children are given this as they return from school – makes a healthy, nutritious and cool drink.

Almond /Date Milk shake: This is a simple, healthy, traditional summer treat given to children as they return from school. Dates provide healthy sugar.

Ingredients: 6-7 almonds 6-7 large dates, seed removed 3 glasses milk crushed ice( optional)

Method: Soak the dates and almonds in warm water for 10 minutes. Remove skin from almonds and loosen skin from dates. In blender, make paste of almonds and dates, adding milk as desired. Note the colour change from dark brown to light brown. Put some crushed ice into 3 glasses. Pour frothy blended milk /date mixture over them. Decorate with sliced almond. Serve immediately. date milkshake

Guest contribution: Nisrin is my childhood friend, currently living in Dubai. She is celebrating Ramadan and has been fasting (and feasting too). Thanks Nisrin, for sharing your recipes and tips here.

1.Best dates to use for smoothies are Medjool, pitted and sliced

2. Soak dates in milk/water for few hours before use

3. Substitute yoghurt and milk interchangeably if desired.

4. Skim milk/ Low fat blends better

5. Add oat bran, almonds, flax seeds(linseed) for a healthier and energizing drink

6. Freezing the fruit before blending will give a creamier texture

1.  Simple Banana Oat Bran Smoothie (Makes 2 glasses)

• 1 ½ cup milk, • 1 tb spoon oat bran, • 1 Banana, • 4 dates soaked in the milk overnight ( Mejdool are best!) • Vanilla to taste – optional. Blend it all together in processor, pour into each glass.

2. Banana – Date Smoothie ( makes 2-3 glasses) • 250 ml plain yoghurt • 120 ml milk, • 120 ml dates, fresh, pitted and chopped and soaked overnight in the milk • 2 bananas, sliced • 8 ice cubes – optional Blend all ingredients ( except ice). Put ice cubes in each glass, pour smoothie on top, and let froth top.

3. Spiced Banana Date Smoothie  (this is her favourite)!

• 1 cup Milk • 4 Medjool or other dates, pitted, chopped and soaked overnight in the milk • 1 teaspoon cinnamon • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg • 1/8 teaspoon ginger • 1/8 teaspoon cloves • 1/8 teaspoon Chilli Powder* ( optional) • 1/16 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper* • 3/4 cup sliced ripe banana • 3/4 cup Ice – Optional

Blend all ingredients, except ice. Serve ice cubes in glasses, pour frothy smoothie into glasses, decorate with nutmeg /cinnamon powder.

 

Due to the festive Ramadan season Lebanese sweet shops and market shelves in UAE, are filled with assorted sweets and decorated dates – coated with chocolate, stuffed with pistachio or almond powder, layered with fresh cream, date balls rolled in coconut. Ah..my sweet tooth is craving. Here is my contribution.

Stuffed Dates with fresh cream( I used yoghurt sauce for healthier option)

A healthy, traditional dessert served at Iftar party during Ramadan.

Stuffed Dates - quick recipe

Stuffed Dates – quick recipe

Take 4-8 Mejdool /Deglet Noor / any large fleshy dates, keep at room temperature. De-seed them gently. Stuff them with blanched almonds (or coarse pistachio powder). Arrange on plate. Dress them with whisked fresh cream. (here is the health tip : I used thick yoghurt, lightly whisked + 1 spoon sugar). Pour gently over the prepared Dates. Garnish with lemon and orange zest. Adding chopped pistachio or toasted pine nuts, gives more colour and texture. Serve at room temperature.

Delicious…can’t resist!

Stuffed dates topped with yoghurt sauce

Stuffed dates topped with yoghurt sauce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t that enough for this time? I’ve been busy reading about many Date cookie recipes. As soon as I’ve made a batch, I will share it with you all.

If you would like to share any Date recipes – do email them to me. It makes the world a richer place.

Till then – Happy Ramadan / Happy Ramzan / Id Mubarak / Ramadan Kareem 

Foodies Market – Sydney

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Foodies Market – The Rocks, Sydney

Have you ever visited a food market? Well, such weekly markets,cater to selling fresh food, in a relaxed setting under the sun. Isnt’ that exciting – no home preparations, no kitchen cleaning. Instead, just wander around, peek at the delectable food and enjoy a market ambience! That’s how I spent one Friday morning in Sydney.

A short stroll from Circular Quay, towards the historic buildings on George Street is The Rocks. It so popular on the weekends – you cant’ miss it. Every Friday, from 10am – 3 pm, the Friday Foodies Market, changes the scene from a quiet office and boutique cafe section to a noisy, carefree weekend market.

Welcome to a row of white tents, bustling crowds and exotic food!

The Foodies Market, Sydney

The Foodies Market, Sydney

The country cycle is such a typical European market icon. Look, how it invites the city people here.

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In recent years, Sydney has become home to immigrants from diverse countries. Home to Aboriginal and European settlers, the popular city is now home to other cultures too – Chinese, Japanese, French, Canadians, Indians, Filipino and Turkish, to name a few.

 

 

 

Weekend food markets in the city ? A great place to be spoilt for choice! French cheese and caviar, Turkish Gozleme, Moroccan coffee and dates, Japanese steak and stir fry, Australian wine and dairy products like cheese and cookies. Hmm…what would you like to try now?

There is something casual and romantic about street markets. Nestled right in the tourist and down town office area, this market has become so popular and growing in the past 10 years. Where else can you get a hand made chocolate or fresh made French crepe on the street?

Can you hear the laughter and weekend chatter? Just stand in the queue, the longest one – and feel the relaxed spirit. Today, there are smartly dressed office men in suits, children tugging the mother’s skirt, tourists adjusting their backpacks and the aimless wanderers taken in by surprise.

The cameras are going click..click.click. Faster than the sale of cookies and macaroons:)

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‘Is that the queue for Turkish Gozleme?’ I ask the young ladies standing in a long winding queue. ‘Yes, but it moves very fast, about 20 minutes waiting. We come here every Friday – and just love the hot pancakes!’ they said.

Well, that will be my lunch too. Look at the mounds of soft white dough, quickly patted and rolled by Turkish women. Then its stuffed with Feta cheese and spinach (beef is optional). A quick drizzle of oil on the hot pan to cook the pancake. ‘Salam Ale Quum’ – greets the young Turkish immigrant as he cuts and puts the crisp, hot flatbread – perfect Turkish Gozleme carefully into styrofoam containers. In a jiffy! Brisk sales here.

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Now, isn’t your mouth-watering too?  You can take photos of a food market and invite me, next time.

At the end of the market street, were stalls selling art/ bead work, clothing, hand-made jewellery, candles and even chocolates. A fun time for all.

That’s it..I went straight to the harbour to watch the Sydney boats go past the Opera house and enjoy some fresh food.

Wait…. do I need some coffee too?

A cup of coffee, anyone ?

A cup of coffee, anyone ?

Have you ever visited a fresh food market? What did you eat? Where? 

 

 

Dates – The Holy Fruit of Middle East

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Dates – The Holy Fruit of Middle East

Dates – The Holy Fruit of Middle East.

 

It’s the summer season in the Middle East, as well as the holy month of Ramadan.  Supermarket shelves are brimming with gift packs of Dates. The fleshy, sweet fruit in many shades of brown makes for a colourful and intriguing sight. Have you ever wondered why the Date fruit is so important to the Islamic culture?

Muslim friends and neighbours tell me ‘Our Prophet Mohammed recommended to break the day long fast, after Iftar prayers, by touching the Date fruit to the lips,then slowly eating it.’ Dates give the hungry body a surge of carbohydrate sugar and protein. It prepares the body for further intake of food. They protect the fasting person from having constipation as a result of changing meal times.

I’ve recently visited supermarkets like Lulu, Carrefour and the Al Mina Date market in Abu Dhabi. With more than 30 varieties to choose from, this is such a confusing task, especially for a novice like me. How do I choose – raw or ripe? Dark or light colour? Which products are superior and why? Where do they come from?

Dates are grown all over the Middle East and as far as Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The Mejdool and Hilali from Saudi Arabia are prized for its large size and succulent flesh. In the UAE – Al Khanizi, Al Khallass, Al Nukhba and Fardh are popular, grown around the Al Ain and Liwa region. Each variety stands apart in size, colour, flesh, sugar content and moisture.

Look at the elaborate wrappings of Date boxes! Some packed tightly with pistachio and almond fillings, others have sesame seed decorations on it. Some modelled like the tree or heart shape. Loose Dates are sold by the kilo or in smaller quantities. The Al Mina Date market has more than 15 shops fitted with outdoor stalls. Large aluminium trays laden with wide varieties of Dates, rest on counters, as though patiently awaiting a customer. The plastic sheath covers them from insects and flies, that are often attracted to the sweet fruit. One is welcome to taste a few before buying them. Rutab are raw yellow /red Dates. They are fibrous and slightly tannic in taste. Local Emirati enjoy eating them as a healthy snack.

Al Mina market

Al Mina market

The goodness of dates cannot be overlooked – they have immense health nutrients. They can stimulate muscles, relieve menstrual pain and depression, improve vision, good for cholesterol. The alkaline salts  adjust the acidity of blood, thereby reducing diabetes, gout and renal stones.

No wonder date recipes exist in almost every Middle Eastern /Arabic/Lebanese cuisine! Look at my recipe section for easy date recipes.

Abu Dhabi (and the Gulf region, Iran, Iraq and Turkey) is luxuriously dotted with the date palm. The sturdy tree has a coarse, hairy trunk growing vertically. It supports large rough,leathery fronds. Once a year the tree bears fruit, blossoming during summer. The more intense the heat, the sweeter the fruit!

Young, raw dates on Palm  tree

Young, raw dates on Palm tree

As the heat intensifies, the fruit changes colour: green to yellow, then orange/red and finally a dark brown.

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A story  in the Quran says that when the mother of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) was giving birth to him, she was experiencing pain. Allah consoled her and told her to shake the trunk of the palm, promising that fresh, ripe dates that drop down would heal and give abundant energy.

Till date, all over the Middle East countries, people can rest under the shade of the tree and eat the abundant fruit  that falls to ground upon ripening. True acts of charity and welfare in the harsh summer conditions.

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Fresh raw dates, slightly crunchy

Bunches are protected with netting

Bunches protected with netting

So head off to the nearest Souk or traditional market, if you are around the Middle East region. Pick up few boxes of choose this delicious fruit and share with your friends and family.  

Crunchy, fresh dates - best eaten raw.

Crunchy, fresh dates – best eaten raw.

To all my Muslim friends, bloggers and viewers – Ramadan Kareem. Enjoy eating, stay healthy. Eat Dates.

Ramadan Kareem - Enjoy Dates

‘Ramadan Kareem’ or Id Mubarak! Enjoy premium ripened Dates

What is the fruit of your country? When is the best season to buy it? How do you eat it?

Do share your thoughts on this.

 

All content copyright Veena S. (2013 -2016) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer.

A French Affair – Baskets, Bread and Cheese

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A French Affair – Baskets, Bread and Cheese

Once on a trip to France, I noticed how indispensable the shopping basket was for the French. Whether on the streets of Paris, with a baguette tucked into the oval basket, or brimming with fresh vegetables and fruits in a tote, those classic French-style baskets were definitely part of daily life. A French love affair with the basket, bread and cheese, isn’t it ?

In the quaint town of Blois, on a summer morning, I stumbled upon the country market. Following women carrying totes I admired the strong, durable leather straps . Made of palm leaves or straw, the baskets are very durable and eco-friendly. I walked the narrow, cobbled streets leading down from the majestic chateaux towards the mighty river Loire. And behold! there was the weekly market, buzzing with activity. The colour of fresh fruits and the lively chatter of French customers made this weekly market a great place to experience.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, from 7am to noon, the street became epi-centre of the town. Men and women, tourists and locals, young and old, made a bee line to catch the freshest and best produce. Wait! I almost began counting the number of shopping baskets, and admiring the  shapes too!

Original french market basket.Courtesy: vintage holidays

Original french market basket.Courtesy: vintage holidays

Oooh, la la Madame, ne touche pas’ retorted the street vendor, re-arranging the wicker – woven baskets at his stall, near the street entrance. I was in no mood to buy one. Behind me, through the narrow street corners, rose the majestic chateaux de Blois. Adjacent stone buildings with tall turrets, were remnants of the grandiose life style of the aristocrats who often spent summer in Blois.

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Makeshift tables laid out displays of meat, fish, eggs. Colourful vegetables and seasonal fruits were as if, painted in the brightest colours. They caught the morning rays that shone brilliantly on them. Protecting the produce from the sun, large brown and blue awnings hung fluttering overhead. Some vendors quickly gulped down strong, black coffee or nibbled on fresh bread to energize themselves ahead of the busy shopping time.

Bonjour, savant?’ greeted men and women as they met friends. Shopping is a social affair at a French market. Small town people know each other better than in big cities. Clutching baskets in hand, greeting with a quick traditional French kiss on the cheek, they settled into conversation. Time stopped.

Woven shopping bags

Straw or palm leaf shopping baskets

Finding a bread stall is not difficult, choosing the right bread is!

The market had more than a dozen vendors selling bread or pain, as it’s called in French. A lady vendor explained the 4 basic ingredients for baking: flour, yeast, water and salt. Thanks to the creative French bakers – we now have as many varieties of French bread as their regions!

Take the baguette – it’s a long stick-like crusty bread. When horizontally cut into a slice, it eaten with cheese or soup. Often one finds hungry people heading home from work, tearing a piece to nibble along the way. Or just make a quick sandwich, like this vendor. Stuff fresh greens, cheese, ham or tuna into a pre-cut baguette and voila! A meal on the go.

I settled for the healthy Boule – a large, round, crusty bread made with 6 grain cereals .’Slice small portions as you need, store in a paper bag, for a day or two’ suggested the lady. ‘ Did you bake these yourself ?’ I inquired.  ‘Oui Madam’ yes she said, it’s family run business. French are very particular about the choice of bakery or boulangerie. ‘My father was a traditional farm baker, but I attended bread baking classes in the city’ said the lady. ‘We learn the history of French bread, importance and measurements of products, and packaging and storing bread.’

Did you know that, shortage of bread in the Revolution of 1700’s caused street riots? The rich and wealthy ate wheat and white bread, the poor ate flatter loaves with less cereals. Today multi-grain is replacing white flour, towards a healthy choice.

There’s special bread for dessert. Don’t just put jam or honey on the baguette! Choose from Pain au chocolat, almond croissant, sweet buns filled with cream and raspberry, orange loaf, banana bread, brioche, pain au noix studded with walnuts or head to the nearest boulangerie.

Like the French, I too was particular. I stood for 15 minutes to get this loaf sliced. 

For more :http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/breadstuffs/bread-glossary2.asp

Machine sliced fresh bread

Machine sliced fresh bread

 

Move on to cheese stalls. A 1000 varieties ?Only in France is this possible. There is one cheese for every year. (un fromage par jour de l’année). Did the number of cheese stalls exceed that of bread, I wondered.

French prefer local cheese to industrial mass production. People discuss ‘what and where’ the cows have eaten. Often when buying cheese, the vendor would offer a small slice to taste, as if it’s bait. Unable to stand the strong smell of Blue Gruyère cheese offered, I hesitated. ‘Try it’ said the lady, ‘c’est frais’. I bit through the texture. Amazing softness! The cheese was so salty. Yet, I bought 4 varieties of fresh cheese, that would make a perfect French style dessert for my lazy picnic by the river Loire.

Cutting cheese is an art. With a special knife, gloves worn on hand, the lady placed the cheese on a wooden board. Meticulously she cut a wedge – from middle to the rind ensuring every customer gets soft and firm bits.

French cheese comes in hard and soft varieties. Milk from cow, ewe, and goat is processed, aged and flavoured and packed. Like bread, cheese forms an integral part of food culture. An old French proverb says ‘a meal without cheese is like an eyeless beauty’ (Un repas sans fromage est une belle à qui il manque un œil. Brillat-Savarin). A platter of cheese will generally have 5-7 varieties. At the end of the meal , chesse and fresh fruit like grapes, kiwi, strawberry are served. ‘It would be funny to have cheese for breakfast’ said the vendor. ‘The French don’t do that.’

Popular French cheese is: Emmenthal, Camembert de Normandie, Roquefort, Le Vieux Lille, Le Munster, Le Cantal, Brie, Le Mariolle and regional products.

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Now, wasn’t that a lovely way to understand French culture? A great way to spend a summer morning as a tourist too. No, shopping basket for me –  my cloth bag would suffice. Pushing in fresh lettuce, crunchy cucumbers and sweet seasonal strawberry, I took one last view of the sounds and colours of this weekly market.

For who knows? If you don’t visit Blois on Saturday…the market would be in another town.

Avoir Blois, avoir Paris, avoir France.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Eiffel Tower, Paris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell me about a town market you have visited. Or the food of that region. 

All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 -2015) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer

World Palate Recipes -Turkish Eggs( Menemen)

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Simple, hearty eggs – The Turkish way

Turkey is a food lover’s paradise!

Turkish cuisine is one of the three great cuisines of the world – other two being Chinese and French. The Ottoman Sultan’s chefs, were specially brought to the Istanbul palace from the mountain regions of Bolu. At the Topkapi palace, they devoted themselves to creating an elaborate unrivalled menu! The Ottoman traditions like weaving, agriculture and family business changed the social culture of Turkey. Turkey’s rich and diverse geography produces seasonal fruits, vegetables, olives, wheat, barley, fish, goat’s milk – a treat for the chef.

Geography defines cuisine – fish from the coast of Marmara and Aegean sea, Anatolia is the bread basket, the Balkan mountain goat and sheep give milk and cheese products, fruits in cooler northern regions. A traditional Turkish menu, at home, bus terminal or a luxurious restaurant will include : meatball Kofte, Shawarma, Kebap, roasted aubergine, lentil soup, chicken /mutton biryani, Shakshouka, Mehmet broad beans, banana milkshake, fried Haloumi cheese with olives, Turkish eggs or Menemen. Trays filled with colourful pastries and puddings are dessert menu. 

Now, enjoy it just like the Turks do – families gather together at tables, pass plates and smoke traditional hookah. ‘Laugh and be merry, it helps digest the food’ goes the saying.

Turkey’s famous sweets are: Baklave, slurpy Turkish ice-cream, Pistachio Halve, Tahini Halve, Lokum sugar cake or grain based puddings, sitting pretty in colourful containers on bakery shelves. No meal is complete without a traditional pot of Turkish kahve, or coffee and almond filled dates.

ShubhanAllah! God is kind and merciful.

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Careful! the slippery ice cream may run just miss your fingers.

For more: http://www.foodturkey.com.tr/story-and-culture-of-turkish-food/

Here is my home version of the ever popular Menemen. Served to us on the terrace cafe during a tour of Istanbul, we enjoyed generous Turkish hospitality. Feta cheese, olives, slices of ham and fresh-baked cake are perfect accompaniment. Don’t forget a pot of kahve , Turkish coffee

Scrambled eggs or Menemen (pronounced Meh-ne -men), is a classic Turkish breakfast, influenced by European and Asian cuisines. It is heavily drizzled in olive oil and flavoured with spices. Dollops of fresh goat’s milk yoghurt, black olives and Feta cheese, ham slices are nutritious accompaniment. Seasonal fruit like oranges, apples, plum (Elma )and  apricots (Kayisi) and fleshy figs (Incir) are perfect sweet note to end upon.

Recipe : Turkish scrambled eggs or Menemen

Ingredients:

4 eggs

1 piece chopped red bell pepper

1 piece chopped yellow bell pepper

3 tsp. olive oil

1 medium red onion sliced into rings

1 medium tomato

Red chilli flakes ( adjust to taste)

Fresh ground pepper ( 2-3 peppercorns)

Feta cheese 200 gm ( or less)

kosher salt /pepper to taste

Iron wok /skillet is ideal / thick bottom pan

Garnish : Green and black olives, Feta cheese, fresh parsley or mint leaves

Method:

Warm up the olive oil in a heavy bottom frying pan. ( Do not over heat oil !) Add the onion and stir till soft brown, add chopped green or red peppers and cook further. Add diced , seasonal tomatoes and simmer for about 5-7 min, or until most of the moisture evaporates. Sprinkle some chilli flakes and ground pepper.

In a bowl, lightly whisk eggs and slowly fold into pan mixture, gently stirring. You don’t want to over cook your Menemen – it will go crumbly, it’s better to have it a bit on runny side. Drizzle plenty of olive oil – it’s good for your skin and health.

Once the eggs are scrambled, crumble white Feta cheese on top.  Take off the heat. Garnish with chopped parsley or fresh mint and few pieces of peppers to decorate further. Menemen must look bright and colourful!

Menemen - Turkish scrambled eggs

Menemen – Turkish scrambled eggs

 

Here is another recipe I found in the Women’s Era, Indian magazine: http://www.womansera.com/showarticle2.php?id=832

Turkish Vegetables with an Indian twist, by Roma Ghosh

Okra Turkish style
Ingredients:
300 gm okra/ bhindi  – medium-sized
salt to taste
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp pepper powder
1 onion – medium sized finely chopped
1 tomato medium-sized cut into small pieces
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
Method
Wash the okra and wipe with a kitchen towel to remove the water. Discard both ends of the okra Wash the okra and wipe with a kitchen towel to remove the water. Discard both ends of the okra but keep the okra whole. Make a slit in the centre and keep aside. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion pieces till translucent. Mix in the tomatoes and stir fry for another 2 minutes. Add the okra and cook on medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Lower the heat and mix the remaining ingredients. Cover with a lid and cook till the okra are tender. Remove and serve hot with bread, Feta Cheese and bowl of yoghurt.

 

All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 – 2015) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer.

Istanbul – Cultural musings from a Bazaar

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Istanbul – Cultural musings from a Bazaar

 Istanbul – Cultural Musings from a Bazaar

 

Bazaar, a Persian word, means a trading market. Turkey has long been famous for its textile and agricultural trade. During Byzantine and Ottoman rule, caravans traversed this historic route, across two continents connecting Asia and Europe. Turkish bazaars then, were famous for spice, cloth, gold bracelets, leather goods, books and even slaves!  Today, the bazaar offers an insight into Turkish history. Almost like a museum!

Istanbul, they say, is the tourist capital of the world. It’s unique geographical position, several sieges that changed its history and the straits of Bosphorus, that served routes for trade and navigation, make Istanbul a culture lover’s paradise. For the Grand Bazaar or spice market, draws thousands of tourists, and the quiet Aarasta Bazaar set in the backdrop of the Blue mosque evoke scents and smell of brisk trade.

In the SultanAhmet area, the Aarasta Bazaar is a small, quiet market. Open seven days of the week, it beckons every tourist that passes through its stone arch. Souvenirs, carpets and rugs, Turkish sweets and Ottoman robes line the shops. Locally known as Sipahi Carsisi, the shops, boast antique wooden architecture. They once housed horses and sentry (sipahi) of Ottoman Caliph’s. Trot, trot…clog ..one can almost hear the horses hoofs!

 

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The first shop tucked into the stone arch is a heavily dotted with turquoise blue ware. Ceramic vases, plates, perfume bottles  with flowery nakshi or designs crowd it’s shelves. Can you spot that big glass bead with an eye design? Popularly known as Nazar boncuk or ‘evil’ eye, locals hang it at door entrances – of homes, shops and office, in children’s closets and in cars. A common sight all over Central Asia, it probably originated in the Mediterranean. It was hung on ships and tail fins of airplanes. No wonder, it’s guards the bazaar entrance. 

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Turquoise blue, the national colour of Turkey, is the colour of Bosphorus waters. Trade and social activity depended upon this strait, hence its revered. Blue ceramics have a blend of Ottoman arabesque with hints of Chinese elements – probably the Ottoman rulers traded spice and cotton textile with Chinese and in turn, inspired them with blue pottery of Ming dynasty.

 

Blue ceramic jewellery store

Blue ceramic jewellery store

The next shop lined with tiles will charm any tourist. The geometric designs and floral patterns date back to Seljuk rulers and later the Ottoman period. These ceramic tiles have a white base and high glaze, making them very durable and exquisite. From the 16th century onwards the town of Iznik is synonomous for tiles. Palace walls and hammams are covered in tiled patterns almost forming a carpet.

Want to turn your home into a palace ? Just order a boxful of Iznik  tiles. They will be delivered to your doorstep, anywhere in the world!

 

“Want to become a Caliph for a day ? Dress like the Ottoman rulers” suggested the young shopkeeper in jeans and blue shirt. My turquoise blue Indian Shalwaar /Khameez attracted attention, and he asked  “India?” or “Pakistan?” Where you come from ?

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Turkish men and women wear a shalwar, loose trousers with a long flowing tunic. It’s an ideal dress for the scorching summer. However, the younger generation prefers western wear and jeans. The Pasha caps and Fez caps remind one of bygone years. Made in faux tuxedo or velvet / suede they made a pretty picture, perfectly balanced in a colourful vertical column. Look at the royal colours – indigo blue, gold and scarlet red. For an aristocratic touch add a glitzy decoration. Tassels are a must on the Fez. During Ottoman rule, military people were ordered to do away with cumbersome turban tying. They adopted a Western style – a sign of Ottoman modernity. Today, the height, shape, colour of the Fez is more a fashion statement, often dictated by European influences.

I was lucky to pose with local Turkish women some who wore colourful head-scarves. Whether in rural areas or urban high streets, scarf designs and tying methods make fashion, changing often to suit the wearer.

More textile shops filled the bazaar. Turkey has been home to Anatolian ethnic designs. Long flowing gowns, broadly cut kaftaans with sleeves stitched horizontally, delicately embroidered winter coats with paisley designs or floral motifs and woollen trousers or salwar hung on dispaly. Different historical periods demanded different clothing designs. Nakkashane, a Persian word for design or pattern, wer intricately woven using silk thread. Dyed in various inks for a suitable colour and turning to nature for inspiration – the artisans reached zenith during the Seljuk rule and Ottoman rule. Later western influences changed long tunics into short shirts and baggy trousers to straight cuts, adopted for military uniforms.

Nature inspired flower designs are found on almost every aspect of Turkish life – ceramic ware, carpets, clothing, linen and even sofa covers.

Food is the way to a man’s heart. Not only did the Sulieman’s chefs in Topkapi Palace prepare the most elaborate menus, but rustic, earthy women in every household worked long hours to knead bread dough and skewer meat and fish. The bazaar boasts of a fifth generation sweet shop. From milky puddings, coloured chewy lokum, or varieties of rolled pistachio and nut filled filo pastry and halve – tray laden shelves glisten like ruby and emeralds. Turkish delight and baclava are not the only sweets every tourist must savour.

Tray filled Turkish sweets

Tray filled Turkish sweets

Then, how could I satiate myself with at least a dozen different chewy halve to choose from?

Just then, passing vendors sold fresh seasonal fruit ( or fresh squeezed) juice on hand-carts fitted with age-old hand machines and spout. Fruit thus is important item on family menus: strawberries and cherries in spring, summer produces Anar or pomegranate and peaches, and in winter apples and oranges hang in the home garden and orchards.

For more visit my World Palate recipe section – Turkish Menemen.

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Leaving the bazaar, I am happy to take back a page of history, some recipes, and ethnic souvenirs. Conversations with friendly local shopkeepers gave insightful tips about their culture, no book can offer. It was truly like visiting an open-air museum!

Have you had an interesting tour of local culture at any market ? Do share. It makes this blog a richer place. 

 

All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 – 2015) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer.

New Zealand – Art’s Centre Farmer’s Market

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Celebrate Summer at the Arts Centre Farmer’s market

Firstly, a flashback to the massive earthquake of 2010 and 2011, that shook Christchurch city. It destroyed many homes and old wooden buildings in the city Centre, including the stately spire on the Cathedral and Gothic Arts Centre. The grounds next to the Centre, once held the open-air  farmer’s market. My prayers are with the people of this beautiful city.

The historic Arts Centre market was my favourite hang-out, it was my first Farmer’s market and stunningly scenic! Locals and tourists came to shop, eat and relax in the lively atmosphere. The tourists wandered around the market – a fun place to keep the camera focussed. As for the Kiwi peoples ( the Pakeha and the Maori) it was a great way to spend weekend morning.  A family outing to browse the boutique wines and cheese on display. Farmer’s markets are becoming ever popular in almost every town of New Zealand  – it’s a cheaper, healthier, fresher way to life!

Arts Centre Building, Christchurch

Arts Centre Building, Christchurch

Large blue and white umbrellas shaded the make-shift stalls. Children ran between stalls, picked up souvenirs, tugged at parents screaming for  ice-cream treats. I noticed how their dressing changed according to the season – from dark grey, maroon and black during winter to more cheerful summer tones – green, pink, orange  and yellow. They did actually take cues from nature. Every well manicured summer garden in town was boasting of  white lilies and freshias, yellow buttercups and bright pink fuchsia flowers. This is something I have to learn, to dress in seasonal colours, just like the local Kiwi people.

Ah ! look at the variety of  fresh-baked breads, organic vegetables, cookies and home-made biscuits. Not to mention the  famed Sauvignon Blanc and Cloudy Bay among some New Zealand varieties of wine. Being part of the Arts Centre stalls selling souvenirs and hand -made crafts and pottery was available too. Paua shell jewellery, wooden toys and garden plants boxed in cute little black containers made this market spring with summer energy!

Farmer’s markets are typically European country-style affairs, a recent approach to sell local produce directly to consumers. Probably started by the immigrant Europeans that have settled here. The European immigrants or Pakehaarrived to New Zealand from Scotland, Holland and other European countries.Their food and dress habits are culturally different from  the indigenous Maori.  As a warrior tribe, the Maori often sailed the seas. Fish, whale meat, bird , sweet potato or Kumara were staple food called Kai shared by the tribe or clan, there were no market gatherings.

The chocolate chip cookies at another stall shone like dark brown eyes, beckoning children. New Zealand prides in fresh dairy products and Edmonds’ baking flour is very popular. Enterprising women and children,combine flour and butter to bake cookies and cakes at home. A great idea to teach and involve children and get them to earn some pocket-money too. Some children celebrate their birthday’s selling chocolate brownies, and gingerbread cookies.

A young girl selling at her market stall

A young girl selling at her market stall

Photo credit :http://facebook/christchurch-farmer’s market

You can find Kiwi  home-made cookie recipes on :http://www.kiwifaves.co.nz/recipe/homemade-peanut-choc-chip-cookies/

Assorted breads

Assorted breads

I call this corner – The bread paradise. Here stalls filled with  hearty multi-grain, rich whole meal, feather light white bread, assorted dessert rolls like croissants, chocolate rolls and apricot filled buns. Great effort to produce them in small quantities in home-style factories or machines.  So fresh, so crisp and great with salads and soups. Be an early worm, or  the breads would vanish from the tables!

So festive is the summer ! Lively guitar music played by the local street performers accompanied by spontaneous toe tapping and body shakes light up the far corner. European summer markets mostly feature such dance and music performances.

Two cultures, One country ! Biculturalism exists in New Zealand.The Maori people are  different from the immigrant Europeans – in colour, race, traditions, food, folklore and even clothing. The two races are – European one fair-skinned with light eyes, blond hair and the Maori  heavier built, dark-skinned, with curly hair. They traditionally sport tattoos on their arms, face and body, a distinguishing mark of their Iwi or clan. Markets are a great place to witness cultures, food and seasonal produce. Only when one interacts with the locals making small conversations, do you get a glimpse of local cultures and people. 

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A tattoo design on the arm tells a unique story: Polynesian, Maori culture

The Maori lady,with long tattoos on her arm and face, sat at this jewellery stall. She was selling items made from Paua ( Maori word for Abalone shell).  The soft glows of blue, indigo and pink of Paua caught the summer rays and sparkled rainbow colours on the straw covered wall of the stall. The Paua is  Taonga or treasure from the sea and is used for spiritual and decorative purposes. 

The lady was weaving a Harakeke straw basket and singing a beautiful  waiata/ song.

 Aio ki te Aorangi , Aroha ki te Aorangi……..

You can listen Maori waiata here: http://folksong.org.nz/aio_ki_te_aorangi/index.html and here: http://www.kahungunu.irirangi.net/

Cockleshells Paua sold in New Zealand.     Paua jewellery

This stall was a favourite with tourists shopping for cheap or artificial souvenirs. Handing me a beautiful Paua shell, the elderly lady explained how was used as good luck charm. Can it tell me stories of history and culture ? I thought, holding it to my ear.

And there were more stalls with home-made soaps, candles, jam jars and of course variety of delicious cheese. Summer markets truly are a great way to shop, talk and savour brewed coffee and warm sandwiches served by the near-by moving vans. Or head to the park for a picnic. 

Next time you take a look at a market and tell me what interests you ? Did you learn any recipe? Did you interact with the local community? Or maybe you bumped into a cart of ripe tomatoes? 

Boating in the Avon river,  next to Arts Centre. Enjoy summer!

Boating in the Avon river, next to Arts Centre. Enjoy summer!

Till then, enjoy the New Zealand summer and visit the local town markets that dot the country. Don’t forget to share your comments on market experiences !

A Maori 'Wharenui' - communal meeting house

A Maori ‘Wharenui’ – communal meeting -house

  See World Palate Recipes – New Zealand: Pumpkin Soup.

All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 -2015) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer.

Chiang Mai, Thailand -The Silent Beauty of Flowers

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Chiang Mai, Thailand -The Silent Beauty of Flowers

Chiang Mai, Thailand –        The Silent Beauty of Flowers

On a market visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand, it was as if I was in fairy land! All I could see along the market street was a heady profusion of colours –like a big assembly of silent, beautiful flowers. They only spoke in colours. There were bright reds, butter yellows, dainty pinks, and delicate white, lavender and golden and brown hues. Flowers of all colours, shapes and sizes flooded the street market, awaiting their final destination.

Stunning splendour and burst of colour - an  Orchid bloom

Stunning splendour and burst of colour – an Orchid bloom

Flowers-  aren’t they the silent and beautiful creation of God, I mused to myself.

The bustling and popular Tom Lanyai flower market  runs along the river Ping. Taking an early morning walk down the narrow town streets, I was eager to meet some vendors and buy some fresh flowers. Seeing, flowers neatly bundled in newspaper reminded me of how new-born babies are tightly wrapped their warm blankets. I stopped to linger in the morning rays, as they gently kissed the half-open buds just about popping their heads out of the bundles.

Flower stall at Ton Lamyai flower market

Flower stall at Ton Lamyai flower market

Ton Lamyai market  is situated next to the famous Worarot market. Both locals and overseas buyers come here, claiming it was the best market in South East Asia. The market is open all 7 days of the week. Some stall owners literally sleep here, rising at 2 am to receive fresh arrivals from the neighbouring farms. After that, business is brisk -same day deliveries to any region in South East Asia is highly in demand.  Farms are located in the cool highlands of Mae Sa and Samoeng towns. Just imagine, they are home to over 300 species of orchids! Thanks to the Royal Doi Kham project. It has helped create many jobs for the rural poor and uplifting Chiang Mai’s environment. Thailand is home to largest orchid farms. In fact, the purple orchid is the unofficial national flower – airline and official uniforms, as well as fashion attires pay tribute to the deep purple orchid bloom that silently becomes a fashion statement.

Purple orchids grace uniforms

Purple orchids grace uniforms

Having purchased some purple and white orchid sprays, I asked the young Thai lady to share some tips for caring for flowers. ‘Don’t put them in ice water, they like moist climate, like dance in rain. ‘Rain falls, orchids happy ’ she replied hesitantly in her sparing English.

Lotus stems resting in tall water tubs

Lotus stems resting in tall water tubs

There were big water containers at every stall. Colourful chrysanthemum flowers in every hue -pink, deep magenta, yellow and white. Exotic flowers like Bird of Paradise, fiery red Poinsettia, pink streaked Tiger lilies sat high on the back shelves away from harsh sunlight. These flowers are mostly ordered by hotels, hospitals, corporate offices to beautify their spaces.

‘There are many beautiful things, but the silent beauty of flowers surpasses them all.’  quotes Emerson.

Flowers have lot of symbolic and spiritual meaning in Thai culture. Jasmine garlands are synonomous during weddings, carnations and roses are friendship gifts, and the popular orchid finds place in almost every thing – art and craft, souvenirs or fabric motifs. The lotus is regarded as temple flower. It’s place is at the feet of Buddha. It signifies purity. In Indian culture it signifies Moksha or salvation. The golden bunches of popular ‘yellow shower’ or Ratchaphruek is the national flower. The tree bears beautiful cluster shaped flowers in summer. The colour of flowers is shining yellow, similar to the colour of Buddhism and the favourite royal colour of His Majesty King of Thailand. In fact, during the royal birthday and wedding ceremonies streets are filled with flowers in yellow colours. People hang beautiful wreaths, flags or garlands in homage.  The culmination is heady during the annual Chiang Mai flower festival, wherein huge floats and dancers are dressed in stunning floral displays!

Fake yellow flower garlands, flags and lanterns
Fake yellow flower garlands, flags and lanterns
Bulb sized yellow buds - very peculiar

Bulb sized yellow buds – very peculiar

Walking past dozens of similar flower stalls, I stood admiring little white jasmine garlands or Phuang Malai. It reminded me of the word malai, meaning garland in South India. Special mammoth sized jasmine garlands, decorated with tiny rose buds or marigolds are customarily exchanged by the Thai brides and grooms. Their soft fragrance attracts closeness and white signifies purity.

The gentle lady, dressed in traditional Batik sarong, wasted no time. Sensing my delight, she wrapped some loose flowers in a large, green lotus leaf. Tearing away a fibre from the underside of banana leaf, she used it to string  the green bundle before handing it to me. ‘Fresh till tomorrow, put in your hair’ she said happily. Humbly, she greeted me with folded palms and refused any payment. A humble Thai gesture ! Just said with flowers. 

Well, part of the charm in visiting a new country is to find out its cultural traditions, food habits and its people up close, and where else, but in a market !

Phuang Malai - jasmine garlands

Phuang Malai – jasmine garlands

 It was now time to buy flowers to take back home. I paced back and forth visiting the stalls again, unable to choose from the variety of flowers. Yellow roses or pink carnations? Fresh flowers or dry flowers? Just bunches or a classic floral display ? Ah… I stood aside at one big stall, quietly watching the young Thai lady adjusting flowers in an arrangement, with such ease and swiftness. She must have taken a course I thought approaching her to help me. She spoke not a word of English, but quickly busied herself in studying colours and length of stalks, thinking on her toes, literally. Some carnations and yellow roses, some baby’s breath, some delicate green fern leaves she picked up, held out and observed. Swiftly using her sharp scissors to tame the length and tuck them into a sponge dripping with cold water, she let her fingers flow to arrange them.  Adding some soft sprays of jute and bamboo grass to give it an extra element and design she finished it neatly.  Voila !

Amazing, the only training she ever had, as a drop-out school girl, was her mother’s constant nagging to help her at the stall! However, if she could save enough money ‘One day I want go Singapore big school and teach flowers’ she said shyly in English. Greeting me a quick Sawadee , a Thai greeting  she prompted me to buy the two popular garden dolls. Flowers bring a meaning to her life – she earns her living. She has no money or time to gift them to anyone.

Sawadee - Thai dolls greet you

Sawadee – Thai dolls greet you

Next time you buy flowers, remember they are silent. They speak only through their fragrance and colours. They communicate love and romance, friendship and good will, birth and death.

                   Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful;

                      they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.

Luther Burbank

World Palate Series

Thai Green Curry

This popular Thai curry is usually a soupy dish. Coconut milk and water forms the thick base and variety of vegetables, meat or fish float in it. In contrast, Indian curries have a lentil puree base, and mixed with ground spice. As a tourist, I had fun attending a Thai cooking class. Firstly, we visited the local market and introduced to variety of herbs, spices and pastes. In class we pounded, cut and cooked. Lastly, we sat down ‘Thai style’ to enjoy our culinary adventure.

 Thai Green Curry (Kaeng khiaw – waan kai)

Ingredients for paste:

  • 7 fresh green chillies chopped finely
  • 2tsp chopped garlic
  • 2tsp chopped shallots
  • 1tsp chopped lemon grass
  • 1tsp chopped galangal (type of strong ginger)
  • 1/2tsp chopped kafir lime peel
  • 1tsp chopped turmeric pieces
  • ½ tsp roasted peppercorns
  • 2tsp roasted cumin and coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp. salt to taste
  • ½ tsp. light soya sauce (or shrimp paste) Optional

Vegetables of choice could include – small brinjals with green skin, snap peas, broccoli florets, red bell pepper and chunks of cabbage and baby corn.

English: Thai green curry paste, made from fre...

English: Thai green curry paste, made from fresh ingredients (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Method:

Put peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a mortar and pound well. Add remaining ingredients and pound further. And shrimp /or soya sauce and blend all together. Our chef noted that Thai household ladies gather in the kitchen or backyard to pound pastes. Jokingly he added, either they share recipes, but if sharing unpleasant family matters, the pounding resounds stronger! However, on festive occasions, many hands lighten work!

 Put oil in a pan on low heat and add green curry paste and bring to simmer, add coconut milk to stop burning and stir till fragrant. To dilute thick coconut milk add 1/3rd part water. Add vegetables and cook gently. Add some water if required. Do not make very thin. Add remaining coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves and stir occasionally. Season with sugar and salt and (fish sauce – optional). Sprinkle sweet basil leaves on top and turn off heat. Garnish with diagonally sliced red chillies. Serve with hot rice.

Decorate your table with some fresh orchids. Serve food with traditional wooden ladles.

Thai Green Curry - Vegetarian 

 

               

Somehow, I thought of  a similar Indian curry called Sindhi Kadhi . However, the gravy is made with roasted gram flour, whipped in yoghurt. Popular Indian vegetables like drumstick, beans and okra and carrots can be used. I tried making some and it tasted great.  Here is the link http://sindhirasoi.com/2008/02/10/sindhi-kadhi/

Enjoy !

 

All content and images copyright Veena S. (2013 -2015) http://www.walktomarket.wordpress.com. Please see copyright disclaimer.

Singapore’s 5C’s: What it means at the Wet Market

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Living in Singapore for over ten years and doing my weekly grocery shopping at the ever popular Wet markets was a great way to understand the local life. I gradually became accustomed to the sights, smells, often covering my nose with my saree pallu and gawking at local accents. For a tourist, sight seeing cannot be complete without a visit to the heartlands of Singapore where the locals live in HDB’s and shop or eat the Wet markets.

Why are they called Wet markets, I wondered on my first visit? Aha..a part of the market is dedicated to fresh produce and the other part to meat, fish and poultry. Singapore being a hot and humid, typical tropical country – vendors need to use ice liberally, that melts and drips onto the floor of the market, hence making it wet and retaining freshness. The dry area has numerous stalls of leafy greens, exotic local fruit like Rambutaan, Chikoo, Durian and other stalls selling vegetables.

The Wet markets are covered markets, well constructed by the Municipal body. They operate from early morning 6:00 am till noon.

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Lai lai-lai’ shouted the cart pusher, move away he instructed with hand admonishes, as I carefully stepped across the wet, slippery floors at Bedok market. ‘Eeeks, what a strong smell’ I muttered, covering my nose and holding my breath.  The smell of meat and fish are enough to chase away even a connoisseur ! Roasted pigs were displayed hung upside down, a favourite food of  the local Chinese! Being a vegetarian, this part of the market was CERTAINLY not my cup of tea! That made me find the ‘other’ entry point for the market – straight onto the stalls selling fruit and vegetables.

Luckily, I could see bananas hanging in big bunches at other end. That raised my spirits to continue shopping and exploring for the exotic tropical fruit, fresh of the season. Red juicy watermelons, prickly skinned jackfruit that yielded fleshy, strong smelling pods with a large seed inside, small red lychee that oozed out sweet juicy flesh, ripe brown chikoo fruit…..yummm. This was a feast!

Bunches of ripe yellow bananasImage

Now, Singapore has a rich and robust economy, despite its small size and the majority are Chinese. The other minorities are Malay, Indians and Eurasians. Thus these markets cater to all cuisines and cultures.

Have you heard of the 5 Cs of Singapore? The well to do and hard working Chinese community yearn to have all the 5 C’s – these are: Cash, Car, Condominium, Credit Card and Club membership.

Today, as I shop, let me try to replace them, exploring what C’s means at the market.

First C: Cash is King

Chinese motto for life: work hard, be rich, buy expensive!

Singpore currency

Wet markets open as early as 4 am every day. The big holiday is only during Chinese New Year. As I sampled fresh leafy greens, Chye Sim and baby Kai Lan the hurried stall owner curtly shouted ‘Have money, can buy lah’ telling me not to waste his time if I did not intend buying. Though prices are cheaper than supermarkets, no bargaining – is the policy. ‘No cheap- cheap lah!’ he shouts to another customer sending a strong message of no bargains! ‘I go Austraalia for holiday. I need maaney (money) to pay rent’ with his strong Singaporean accent.

‘Wow! such ambitious dreams for a vegetable vendor!’ I thought to myself.

Second C: Cultures and Communities

The national population is mainly Chinese and I can see many stall owners that are Chinese too. The minority of Malays and Tamil Indians make up the other bits of this jig-saw puzzle. Therefore even the stalls catering to their needs are fewer. ‘Is there an Indian stall at the Bedok market?’ I inquire. Indians would prefer vegetables like bitter gourd, drumstick, brinjals, Aarvi, raw banana and coconuts. ‘Not in this market lah!’ replied one Chinese vendor. ‘Go Serangoon, go Little India’ she continued in typical Singlish.

This February, with Chinese New Year round the corner, the market was extra vibrant and colourful. Prices of Mandarin oranges and Pomegranate are exchanged during the New Year, thus prices were higher than usual. Even my flower seller raised the price for Chrysanthemum, Marigolds, Carnations and Roses. ‘Red and gold colours are special during the New Year’ she said. To understand the local food and culture it’s time to treat myself to curios, sweet boxes and souvenirs that filled the streets.

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The dry side of the market was packed on either side with fresh vegetables and flowers.  I chanced upon a coconut shredding machine at the Malay stall. How exciting! I chose a big, brown, husky coconut from the container hidden beneath the stall. Coconuts are a popular ingredient in both Malay and Tamil cuisines. This elderly Malay man was dressed in a loose Sarong and black cap. He gently patted the coconut with his knuckles ..‘Tuk, tuk, tuk-tuk.’  That’s the way to check the good flow of water inside. With a smile of satisfaction, he broke the coconut in two and put the tender white pieces into the grinder. ‘Grrr…rrr   …he turned on his antique grinding machine. Out spilled white, frothy coconut shavings. ‘Simply sweet and delicious’ I muttered digging into the neat plastic bag full of powdery white shavings. Let me check some Malay gravy recipes that use this soft coconut, I thought.

The coconut grinding machine

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Fresh coconut shavings  – so milky white and soft

Soft ,milky white freshly grated coconut

Soft ,milky white freshly grated coconut

Third C: Chinese Food  

Chinese believe there must be balance and harmony not only in life, but even in food. Chicken rice and pork is Singapore’s most popular food, but Chinese balance meat/pork by munching on fried leafy greens. I pick up some Chye Sim, Cailan, Chinese Broccoli (not the same as Western green flower heads!), Cabbage, Celery and Chinese bean sprouts. Well, a gourmet cooking time for me ahead I think! Can I find any more C’s while sipping my dark, black Coffee that I bought at the adjacent food court? Coffee is popular drink and is locally called Kopi, served black, but with milk it is called Kopi-O. Yes, spotted one more C : Carrot cake.

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What a surprise it was that Carrot cake ! Nothing like the rich, moist traditional one filled with tiny orange strands. This Chinese version turned out as  a pan-fried, soft layered dumpling. And it was made of radish and plain rice flour.  ‘Radish has a homophonic sound for good fortune’ quipped the short Chinese lady at the counter, giving a big grin, because I was her customer. Now I understand why the Chinese eat Carrot cake (Chai Tao Kway – a TeoChew delicacy of steamed Turnip/Radish) during Chinese New Year. It’s all about good fortune and cash rich.

Fourth C: Competition

Which is better – Supermarket or local Wet market? I once asked an aged local lady. Super market is expensive and you don’t get to interact with the vendors. But as Singapore society is getting richer and women are working longer hours, the traditional good times at fresh markets is becoming rare. They prefer the air-conditioned, clean and efficient service of supermarkets. They even do home delivery. ‘Competition is tough’ cried the grumpy, pot-bellied stall vendor. ‘Government has to help us’ he continued.

Fifth C: Common phrases in Singlish

It’s hilarious to hear the locals speak English, jokingly termed as Singlish (Singaporean English). Well, Cantonese and Mandarin vocabulary and intonations find their way into English.

  • ‘Can-can ’ said one vendor who assured me he would put a good price for all the vegetables i bought ( which means He can do it )
  • ‘Why pay more lah?’ is another common phrase.
  • ‘Don’t be so kiasu’ which means don’t hoard, be reasonable.
  • And when you are surprised you just say Alamak! And
  • The carrot cake vendor asked me Ta Pao (carry away) or eat here?
  • Time to go home after that shopping, so no play –play, which means get serious.

As they say in Singlish – So how? What we do now? Hope you have got a fair idea of the local culture and the market sights.

Can YOU think of transforming  the 5 Cs to your home culture ? Try lah!

Fried Tofu wrapped in Pandan leaf packets

Fried Tofu wrapped in Pandan leaf packets

Freshly cut Tofu squares

Freshly cut Tofu squares