Food

Ejo #114 – My Mum’s Recipes: Tzatziki

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to become friends with a woman who was studying shiatsu. She was happy because she had a regular, willing body to practice techniques on, and I was happy because I received incredibly therapeutic treatments at half-price. Win-win. Over the years we became quite close, and we are still friends to this day. What I remember the most about that time was how much Harriet was there for me when my father passed away. Not only as a friend, but also, instrumentally, as a shiatsu therapist. I recall the sessions we did after Dad died so clearly. They were super emotional, as you’d expect, but also so cathartic, so cleansing, so healing. She helped me in ways that I’m still not sure she’s aware of. I don’t know if you’ve ever done proper shiatsu, but it is a truly remarkable therapy, and I would really highly recommend it.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to find someone as good at shiatsu as Harriet was. And I’ve been disappointed enough times in Dubai to essentially just give up trying there altogether. Recently however, while we were travelling, I decided to give it another go. I did a bit of research and found someone online that didn’t seem like a total charlatan and made an appointment at her home clinic. Ostensibly I was there for her to treat my lower back, but during our initial consultation the fact that my Mum had recently died came up. I knew it would – the loss of my Mum is always with me. Always. Front and centre.  Perhaps in seeking out shiatsu therapy, rather than a more traditional massage, I was hoping to replicate the deep healing that had occurred during my sessions with Harriet, all those years ago. Even just a little bit. Sometimes, when you’re grieving, wishful thinking is all you’ve got. I was happy to give it a go.

It was a nice session. It was no Harriet level magic, but it was better than I’ve had in many years, and that was good enough. Something amazing did happen during the session though, and that’s why I’m rambling on about shiatsu when I really want to be talking about garlic. During the first part of the treatment, while the therapist was still feeling around my lower back and trying to figure out what the problem was, out of nowhere, she said to me, gently, “Mother and food are connected, yes?”. I nodded silently and brushed away the tear that fell onto my cheek. I understand that this comment may not be true for every mother/child relationship, but it was always true for me and my Mum.

Fun fact: when my Mum first had me, my Dad was away a lot for work, so she was basically all alone in a foreign land. She had no-one to support her, no family or friends to teach her how to look after a demanding, whiny, fat little baby. So she had to make things up as she went along. For the most part, I’d say she did a pretty good job. But because she didn’t know any better, when I was hungry, she would feed me, and then keep on feeding me, basically until I vomited. Now, I don’t want to go down the path of blaming anyone for any possible eating issues I may have had while I was growing up – that’s not my stripe. Of course I used to tease my Mum that I’ve been chubby my whole life because of her, but it’s always just been a bit of a joke between us. The fact is that my Mum’s cooking has featured enormously throughout my life. Maybe because of the force-feeding, maybe because of the wog-factor, maybe because she put all the love and commitment for her family into the food that she fed us, or maybe just because she was a really good cook. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that for me, yes, Mother and food will always be connected. They both mean sustenance, they both mean nourishment, they mean comfort and fulfilled needs. And they mean joy, and togetherness and love.

I mentioned in a previous ejo how important it is to me that I have some of my Mum’s recipes written down. It’s a way of preserving her memory, and the homely feelings that her food has always given me. I know that towards the end, cooking became less of a pleasure for her than it used to be. She mostly lived alone, eating a very spartan diet herself. But whenever David and I visited, she always wanted to cook our favourite dishes for us. Even though I knew it was an effort for her, I still made these requests because I knew that it gave her real pleasure to make them. It was something she genuinely wanted to do for me. And the resultant gathering of the whole family around the table was something that we all delighted in. After years of living away from my family, what had once been a daily routine became a very special occasion.

I’ve decided to write a series about my Mum’s food, and I’ve chosen to start with garlic. Coz Greek people love the stuff. I’ve certainly always loved it – the more garlicky, the better. I remember back in the olden days, there used to be an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t eat garlic before going out in public. I never paid that rule much kind. If people didn’t like my garlic breath, that was their problem. I didn’t give a shit. Which is lucky because my Mum’s signature tzatziki is ferociously, and famously, strong. Tzatziki, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a staple in any Greek household. It is a super fresh condiment, made from shitloads of garlic and Greek yoghurt, flecked with grated cucumber – and it’s fucking delicious served with meat, fish or even just spread on a piece of bread.

David has always enjoyed my Mum’s tzatziki enormously and she always made sure to have some in the fridge when we were coming over, just for him. It got so that after a while, he couldn’t even wait for our weekly visits to Mum’s place for his tzatziki hit, and he asked her to teach him how to make it. As you can imagine, she was absolutely delighted. He started off watching Mum make it in her kitchen, asking questions, assisting her and taking notes. He practiced and practiced at home, until he’d perfected the recipe. Over the years David’s version has evolved to (somehow???) be even more garlicky than my Mum’s (honestly, I sometimes think that David is more Greek than me!!). Anyway, if you want to try it, the original recipe is below – I’d love to know how your version works out.

Kalí órexi.

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The ingredients.  Greek yoghurt, cucumber and shitloads of garlic.

 

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Stir, stir, stir.

 

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The finished product – best served the next day, all the better to allow the garlic to infuse, but we’ve definitely been known to devour it immediately.

 

TZATZIKI
INGREDIENTS:
1 tub plain Greek yoghurt
1 cucumber, halved
8-10 cloves garlic

METHOD:
Drain yogurt in a kitchen towel for a couple of hours.
Peel cucumber into strips and strain well.
Peel garlic and grate finely.
Mix all the ingredients together with a spoon until combined.
Refrigerate until ready to use.

Ejo #107 – My Diary: I’m Sweet Enough

DAY #1
Today was supposed to be Day 2 of giving up sugar but yesterday I caved in and ate all the chocolate in the house after dinner. It’s best to not have chocolate in the house if you’re trying to give up sugar and so it just seemed like a good idea to start today instead.

So why am I even giving up sugar in the first place? Listen guys, I’ve known for years that sugar is bad for me. Not just because of what I’ve read about it, but by the way my body responds when I eat it. That shit is pure poison!!! It creates so many health problems and the fact that it is so devilishly addictive should ring alarm bells for anyone who’s unable to resist it. It’s basically the legal version of cocaine. If you’re not sure about that, take a look at this PET scan of the brain after dosing up on both drugs. They stimulate the EXACT same regions of the brain, dumping dopamine galore into your system – that’s the reward neurotransmitter that makes you feel good. Only problem? You feel pretty shit, pretty soon afterwards with both substances. And… you always want more.

sugar coke

Is it just me or is sugar even MORE potent than cocaine in this picture?

But just like a coke addict that decides to go clean, if you make the choice to give it up then you can. I’m sure it’s not going to be super easy, but I know I’ll reap many benefits. Come along for the ride, why don’t you!

DAY #2
Not a bad day. My sugar weakness tends to rear it’s disgusting head mostly on my days off work. But I worked today so it just wasn’t a problem. I got home from work at 10.30pm and the sugar danger moments have usually passed by then. I’m glad I have another afternoon shift tomorrow because I think Day 3 is when the cravings start, if I remember correctly. Eek!

I have given up sugar before, a couple of times. The longest time, by far, was in the early 2000s when I went on a pretty strict Atkins diet. For a couple of years I didn’t indulge in much (if any) sugar at all. I remember not even eating birthday cake on my birthday. I mean, REALLY!!!! I would go to fancy restaurants and either have the cheese plate for dessert, or ask them for a bowl of strawberries or even go without (GASP!!!). This kind of behaviour seems a lifetime ago now, but I sure would love to get back to a place where it’s totally natural to not even crave sweets. That’s my end goal here. Wish me luck!

DAY #3
So, I’ve decided to give up booze at the same time as I give up sugar. Yay!! Life is fun.

I’m not sure if it’s because of the lack of booze, or the lack of sugar, but I am experiencing insane energy. It’s nearly 1am in the morning, after a long-ass day, and I’m writing this post bouncing around like an Energiser bunny listening to disco music. If I could harness this shit, I’d be fucking queen of the universe! It’s an amazing feeling. Especially as whenever I do drink alcohol and eat sugar regularly, I just feel like shit. And so lethargic. You’ll find me napping constantly. It’s such a drag. Why the hell do I put myself through that?

DAY #4
For the record, even though I am probably the chubbiest I’ve been in several years that’s not the reason I’m giving up sugar. Of course I am also working on losing those extra kilos, but the sugar thing is 100% to do with my health. Over the years I have become hyper aware of the effect it has on my body and my state of mind. When I eat sugar, my heart starts racing and I feel jittery. Shortly afterwards my mind invariably fogs over and I can’t think clearly. I become irritable and unmotivated. Things slide. I wake up puffy and achy every damn morning. And I just can’t say no to more.

Look, I know there are conflicting studies regarding what sugar does inside our bodies. And I know which ones I believe. I believe them because I’ve seen the undesirable effects of sugar on myself. And that’s good enough for me.

DAY #5
I am really tired today after working a night shift last night. Like REALLY tired, but I’m still up at 11pm and not feeling the brain tiredness that sugar gives me. I’m tired, but my brain is still switched on. The sugar tiredness is something that totally overwhelms me, like my body is shutting down. And why wouldn’t it? You realise when you give something like this up, how delicately balanced your internal systems are, and how much you can really fuck them up with what you put in your body. I really do hope that this challenge is paving the way for me to permanently give up sugar.

In case you’re interested, I’m avoiding all types of sugars. I’m not eating anything processed – no white flour, no white rice, no breads or cereals (all of which are converted into glucose in the body if not immediately used for energy). No chocolate, no lollies, no cakes or cookies. No fruit, even. And certainly no fruit juice. No soft drinks. Nuthin’!!!! As I mentioned earlier, I’m even avoiding alcohol right now. That’s how fucking dedicated I am to doing this. And I need to be. I simply can’t do moderation. I’m an all-or-nothing girl and I always have been. Nothing half-assed for me! I do plan to reintroduce alcohol at some point. Natch! But I don’t need to eat ice-creams or chocolate. Not ever again.

DAY #6
When I’ve given up sugar in the past, someone might offer me something sweet and when I politely decline, they’ll say something like:

“Go on, one won’t hurt you.”

“Honey is natural, it’s not like processed sugar.”

“But it’s fruit! Fruit is good for you.”

“Everything is OK in moderation.”

“But it’s Easter/Christmas/your birthday!!!”

But when you give up sugar that means ALL sugar. Including honey – once it’s down your gullet, your body can’t tell the difference between sugar and honey anyway. And including fruits, especially the high fructose ones like watermelons, bananas, cherries, apples and mangoes. Why do you think they’re so delicious!! Coz they’re packed full of evil sweetness is why! Just because something is natural doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Or that it’s good for you. Every single date has 4.5g sugar. That’s over a teaspoon. A medium banana has the equivalent of nearly four teaspoons of sugar. Mangoes? They come in at over 46 grams of sugar each. So every time you feel like eating a whole damn mango you might as well put down the fruit, shimmy on over to the sugar jar and dip your teaspoon into that about eleven times instead. ELEVEN!!! Isn’t that craziness?

Listen guys, I don’t expect you to listen to me – I’m doing this for me, not you. And I’m no expert on the matter either. Also, this is not a “wellness” blog. This is a Chryss blog. I’ve read a lot on the matter. I’ve experienced a lot on the matter. And I know that sugar is bad, for me (I also know it’s bad for you but I’m not here to kick any heads in – you’re old enough to make your own decisions).

DAY #7
OK, so it’s been a week now and – well, it ain’t no thang! I’m yet to experience any withdrawals or weird symptoms. Nary a craving to be seen. What’s going on? Is it yet to come? I’ve been reading other people’s accounts of giving up sugar and they talk about headaches and visual problems, light-headedness and irritability. I’ve had none of those things. Others complain of muscle aches and pains, cramping and nausea. Even confusion and fever. I mean, for fuck’s sake – how much sugar were these people eating???

I binge on sugar, when I do eat it. But I don’t eat it often. So maybe that’s why the symptoms haven’t come. When I indulge, I’ll usually slam down a three or four day free-for-all, feel like crap afterwards and then come off sugar for weeks at a time, if not months. Then I’ll do it again. So while the amounts of sugar I do in those binge periods is A LOT, perhaps the irregularity of it means that my body doesn’t physically become addicted to it?? Of course I’m speculating. Maybe I’ll be hit by a semi-trailer of muscle weakness and confusion tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get pounded by a meteor of diarrhoea, chills and depression. All common symptoms of sugar withdrawal, apparently. Doesn’t that sound fun kids?!!! Who says sugar’s bad for you.

DAY #8
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Guess what happened this morning??

Yep, grogginess, puffiness, muscle aches, fatigue, headache and light-headedness. Oh yeah, and irritability. Oh my god, the irritability. I was a fucking nightmare all day long. Poor David, I don’t know how he put up with me. Hey, I just experienced sugar withdrawals, folks. I guess I’m human after all.

DAY #9
Well, thank fuck that’s over!! Yesterday was not fun. I actually got a little depressed. But you know what? Being armed with the knowledge of what was going on with my body and my mind really helped me deal better with all of it. I am certain now (and no longer in denial) that in the past I have experienced these withdrawals and just not known what they were. Just figured I was having a shit day. Now, I know.

DAY #10
Well, I almost feel back to normal after that major slump a couple of days ago – though my energy levels, sadly, still aren’t as high as they were before I got pummelled by the withdrawals. I’m hoping they do get back there because I was totally flying high on the amount of energy I had. It was supernatural!!! Certainly not the normal level of energy I’m used to operating with. Does everyone walk around with such an insane amount of energy? I bet the answer is NO! Because most people eat sugar in one form or another. It’s an epidemic guys!

DAY #11
Not much to say today. I did think about what a colossal commitment it is to give up sugar forever, and to be honest, after delving deeply into my psyche, I’m not sure that I can give it up forever. But I know I should. I feel so much better for not having had any sugar for eleven days. Why wouldn’t I want to keep feeling this way? I guess this is the psychological addiction kicking in now. It feels sad to think about never having my Mum’s galaktoboureko ever again. Or my mother-in-law’s coconut ice! I can’t reconcile living the rest of my life never eating another dessert. It’s just a bit depressing having to say goodbye to that stuff. Less for the sugar part of it and more for the ritual, social, celebratory aspect of it. I know I’m going through a phase of mourning. I can’t wait until I get to the acceptance part.

DAY #12
I had a shocker of a headache today. A real motherfucker of a headache. And no, friends, it wasn’t a hangover. How do I know? Because I haven’t touched alcohol in thirteen days. So what caused it? I go to bed early, I get up early. I’m not eating sugar. I’m eating a varied and nutritious calorie controlled diet (and actually sticking to it). I am exercising three to four times a week. SO WHY DID MY HEAD HURT SO BAD?????

David has suggested that perhaps those sugar withdrawals are still at play and I guess that seems to be the most plausible answer. I suppose this is the price you pay for giving up an addiction. But it’s a small price when you think of the myriad of health problems I’ll potentially be dodging down the line – diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, dementia, tooth decay, inflammation, obesity and (according to some studies) increased risk of some cancers. I’ll take a headache any day of the week.

DAY #13
I am still avoiding sugar. BUT….. today I had a flat white made with coconut milk. Is that cheating? I dunno. You know what else I did? I had wine. Is that cheating? Again, I dunno. If you want to be all technical about it (which, incidentally, I don’t) then yes, I fucked up. If you want to look at it from the point of view that I didn’t eat any goddamn gummy bears or a whole tub of Häagen-Dazs ice-cream then no, everything is cool. Make up your own minds.

DAY #14
Here’s what I found out while researching sugar addiction. You know when you eat a lot of something, eventually you have enough and just don’t want anymore? That’s called satiety. In other words, you’re satisfied. Nature, in all of her wondrous glory, designed the human body that way. So that we eat only as much as we need. But guess what? Way back when nature was shaping us, sugar wasn’t really something that was in large supply. A berry here, a fruit there – and it was good for us to gorge on the stuff. Mostly because there wasn’t that much around. So in those quantities, it was beneficial to eat as much as we could. It gave us the energy to outrun those sabre-toothed lions on the prowl. But, as an evolutionary result of that, the human body never developed an off-switch when it comes to fructose. Your body simply does not tell you when you have had enough, because it doesn’t know. And the sneaky thing about fructose is, when you have it you actually crave more. And in today’s world of sugar, it means that most of us are having WAY more of it than is good for us.

I honestly think that one day we’ll look back on sugar the way we now look at cigarettes. A ridiculously dangerous and addictive product marketed as something harmless. And we will shake our heads in disbelief.

DAY #15
I generally eat a healthy diet. I don’t eat a lot of fast food or candy or sugary desserts. Good for me, right? Not really. There are shitload of hidden sugars in food generally considered “healthy”. We’ve already talked about the fruit myth. But I’m talking about other stuff that you might not even realise is packed full of sugar. Don’t believe me?

A small tub of flavoured Yoplait yoghurt packs a ridiculous seven teaspoons of sugar. How about we stick to plain Greek yoghurt.

Some muesli bars are sweetened with up to three TABLESPOONS of sugar. Let’s grab a handful of nuts instead.

Instant oatmeal contains up to 14 grams of sugar. Better make our own.

Fruit smoothies might sound like a healthy choice but may be loaded with up to 70g of sugar per serving.  I’ll have a glass of water, thanks!

What this means is that if you truly want to avoid all sugars, you need to check the label. In an ideal world none of us would be buying processed food anyway. Stick to the fresh veggie, meat and fish sections and it’s much easier to really eat healthily.

DAY #16
I have fallen off the no-booze wagon a couple of times since giving up sugar. I’m not super thrilled about it, but I am pretty happy that even though I’ve been tipsy I haven’t succumbed to the lure of sugary treats. That’s usually when I slip into those binges I mentioned earlier. And that makes sense because, let’s be honest, when you’re drunk you don’t really make the best decisions. Your inhibitions are out the window, and suddenly you can find very logical reasons for doing things that you know you probably shouldn’t. What I’m proud of this time is that even though I did drink alcohol I didn’t even think about having something sweet.

DAY #17
Fuck you sugar!!! Who’s the bitch now???

DAY #18
Big Sugar. That’s what the sugar industry is known as – part of the Big Food behemoth that influences governments, writes their own policy and publishes studies that are skewed towards showing their products in a good light. Whether you agree that sugar is bad for you or not, you should probably be aware of the role that the sugar industry plays in your life.

Thirty-one countries have implemented a tax on sugar drinks in the hope of reducing what is now a global obesity epidemic. Australia? Not so much. And I wonder why, because we are now amongst the fattest people on earth. Yep, I said it. Australians are fatties.

sugar graph
So, let’s look at the reason that Australia hasn’t even considered a tax on sugary drinks when experts project that a 20% hike in sugar drinks could net a $1.73 billion dollar saving in healthcare costs over the current population’s lifetime. That is an enormous benefit that seems relatively easy to achieve! So why is the government not jumping on board the potential $500 million dollar tax windfall (being the tax-hungry entity that it is). In Australia, the Beverages Council spends millions of dollars every year in political donations, lobbying and wooing politicians. What do you think they want in return for that investment? What’s in it for them? Guess! All those dollars are spent so that they can control the politicians who supposedly represent us, the people. And the people are getting more and more obese and sick as time goes on. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark (or Australia, as the case may be).

Sure, it’s a free world, and we can all stop eating sugar if we want – no-one is shoving the stuff in our gobs. But so many people don’t even know the health risks that sugar actually poses. Or how addictive it is.  What’s sickening is that the government does know.

DAY #19
So, I’ve avoided sugar almost completely for 19 whole days. But… I have started drinking wine again. Does this mean I’m consuming HIDDEN SUGARS????? Am I a big fat hypocrite? Who am I trying to fool? Am I fooling myself? What’s going on? I don’t know!

I decided to do a little research.

Turns out that wine, beer and most spirits are actually OK to drink if you are avoiding sugar because all the fructose they started off with when they were grapes is converted into alcohol during fermentation. Huzzah! That doesn’t mean they aren’t high in calories or carbs or whatever other thing you might be counting that day. But it’s good to know that it isn’t affecting your blood sugars. Or mine, anyway. Fortified wines, champagne and sparkling wines on the other hand – I need to stay away from those. It’s a small sacrifice to pay. I’m not saying I’ll never drink champagne again – we all know that would be a lie. But for now, I’ll steer clear.

Day #20
So tonight, David and I went on a walking food tour of Dubai (stand by for an ejo about it). Unbeknownst to me when I booked this tour, it was extremely dessert heavy. Which was a shame; but also awesome. Because I actually managed to say no to all the delicious sweeties that were offered throughout the tour. I am so proud of myself that I didn’t succumb. I’ll be honest – I almost did give in to temptation. I even rationalised that I could write about my transgression and kind of dissect the reasons why I succumbed. But then I thought about how the biggest test of giving something up is not when it’s easy to give it up, but when it’s hard. And I feel amazing for it. Yay, me!

DAY #21
Only three more days left of this challenge and I’m really feeling like it’s something that I will continue with. Unlike giving up alcohol, which never feels like it’s going to be a permanent thing for me, this one feels good to give up for good. And of the two evils, sugar is definitely the one that I think is the eviler.

The evilest??

The mostest evil!

DAY #22
I’m so excited to have broken (or gone some way towards breaking) the spell that sugar had on me. I don’t think it’ll be worth it to slide back into eating it. This is a better way of life. I have even (accidentally) lost a couple of kilos along the way.

DAY #23
Writing a blog about giving something up definitely helps keep me in check. I’m wondering if I’ll be as disciplined once this experiment is over. I intend to be. I’m at the age now where I really need to start thinking about what the quality of my life is going to be like over the next twenty or thirty years. And I know it will be a lot better for giving up sugar. It’s decision time.

Ejo #106 – My Dubai: Frying Pan Adventures’ Bengali Cooking Class

Hey, guess what? It’s been ten years since David and I moved to Dubai. A whole fucking DECADE!!!! Guess what else? After all this time, I still can’t say that I like living here. And yet here I am anyway. Go figure. And (for a bunch of different reasons) we’re actually planning on sticking around – for a while at least. So, even though I can’t say I enjoy life in Dubai, I am making an effort to at least try and actually live in the city I’ve inhabited for ten years. Believe it or not kids, I am trying. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I haven’t written a piece shitting on Dubai for a while. Nearly four years in fact. Sure, I’ll whinge about it every now and again, but that’s normal, right? We all whinge from time to time. Nope, I’ve been making a real, concerted effort to find some kind of peace with the fact that this is where I am now. It makes no sense to keep fighting it.  But that doesn’t mean I need to like it.  I never will.  What it does mean is that, occasionally, I will venture out of the comfort of my home to try something new. Something that might even be a little bit fun.

So when my beautiful friend Zimmy asked me to join her for a Bengali cooking class, of course I said yes! To be honest, I actually had no idea what Bengali food looked like, or even where Bengal was. But hey, I was going to spend some time with my second favourite person in Dubai, cooking up a storm and then eating it. What is not to love about that.

Quick geography and history lesson: Bengal, an area in north-eastern India, was ruled by the Brits until they decided to finally piss off home in 1947. The area was then divided into states belonging to India (the predominantly Hindu, west side) and Pakistan (the Muslim, east side). Fun fact: in 1971 the side belonging to Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh (hey, you learn something new in this ejo every damn month!). Our Bengali cooking class featured food from the Indian side of the road. And it was amazing.

Bengal Map

And now you know where Bengal is.

The class, held at Hyatt Place hotel was a collaboration between one of Dubai’s prominent food bloggers, Ishita Saha, author of Ishitaunblogged and co-founder of food and travel portal FoodeMag, and and a local outfit called Frying Pan Adventures. Frying Pan Adventures is actually the reason I was really excited about this event. I’ve been reading about their back-alley, culinary adventures for years. Let me put it this way; if I was visiting Dubai as a tourist today, I would skip the luxury hotels, waterparks and malls and I would hit the streets with Frying Pan Adventures. For me, a city’s heart and soul are hidden away in its unseen alleys, and I really believe that the best way to get to know a place is through those backstreets and through the food you find there. Not the “five star” Michelin pretenders, but real food, eaten by real people, every single day. For me, it’s no contest.

Frying Pan Adventures is the lovechild of several young entrepreneurs, mostly women, who came together over their shared love of food. And can I just say, I am thrilled that they didn’t just take that love and open (yet another) Dubai restaurant! This city already has 20,000 of them. It doesn’t need another one (are you listening Gordon Ramsey)? Here’s the thing though, only half of those restaurants are listed on Tripadvisor or Zomato. The rest are small, backstreet joints with no website, no Facebook page and sometimes not even a menu. And they’re usually doing a roaring trade with those in know. The ladies (and gent) of Frying Pan Adventures have taken their passion, and their knowledge of these backstreet gems, and opened that world up to those of us who would otherwise never get to experience it. Isn’t that just awesome!

I’m yet to actually go on one of their walking tours (the class I attended was a one-off event), but I have booked to do their Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage next month, featuring food from Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran. I’m excited. And you know what? I’m excited that I’m excited. This is a new feeling for me. Of course I should have guessed that I would feel more at home amidst the grittiness and realness of Old Dubai, than in the distorted reflections of its skyscrapers.

And so I, and 19 other people, went along to the special Bengali cooking event earlier this month. I ate some yummy Bengali snacks as I watched Ishita prepare and cook a couple of the dishes on the menu, with the help of some volunteers. She made us begun bhaja; seasoned and fried eggplant slices topped with garlic sauce and pomegranate. Yum! We then watched her make shorshe baata maach, which is a fish dish made with incredibly delicious and sassy mustard flavours. Speaking of which, did you know that the single ingredient that is most definitive of Bengali cooking is mustard oil? I don’t think I’d ever tasted it before, but it’s so fragrant and aromatic and flavoursome. I’ll definitely be cooking this easy to make dish myself at home.

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Jhal Muri – street style puffed rice with chilli and spices.  We were served this while watching Ishita work her magic in the kitchen.

 

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Begun Bhaja – such a tasty dish and super duper easy to make.

 

 

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Shorse Baata Maach – usually made with a type of fish called hilsa which was unavailable, so salmon was deliciously substituted. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it.  Photograph compliments of Zimmy’s partner Arafaat who somehow appears to have climbed into the frying pan to take the shot!

But my absolute favourite dish of the whole day was luchi!!! Luchi, for the unenlightened (as I once tragically was) is a deep-fried flatbread that puffs up while it’s cooking, transforming it into a billowy pillow of delicious, hot, flaky goodness. An orgasm in your mouth. I could literally eat these all day long, and Bengalis do. Luchi is served with breakfast, lunch and dinner. How fucking civilised!!! And yes, in case you were wondering, I do have a thing for fried bread. Don’t judge.  When they went around the group asking people what their favourite Indian dish was, I unequivocally said naan. Coz you can eat it with ALL the other dishes!! Duh!!

 

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Looks like a pappadum, tastes like the freshest, flakiest savoury cronut you’ve ever imagined.

 

LUCHI

Ishita’s recipe for luchi.  Will try at home.

After the instructional part of the event was over, we were all taken upstairs to a hotel suite that had been transformed into a typical Bengali home with the help of some soft furnishings, knick-knacks and old photos. It was a really lovely setting and we all sat down to enjoy the rest of the food, which had been prepared by the hotel cooking team and served, family-style, by our hosts from Frying Pan Adventures.

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Assorted fritters and an incredibly moreish relish to dip them in.

 

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Khichudi – a porridge made with rice and lentils.  This is comfort food right here.

 

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Cholar daal.  Someone came around and poured ghee on everyone’s serve.  YES PLEASE!

 

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Kosha Mangsho – slow cooked, tender mutton in it’s own thick onion gravy.

 

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Shukto – vegetable stew.

 

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Baked yoghurt.  This was an updated version of a traditional Bengali dessert, and if I hadn’t already stuffed my face full of everything else I might have been able to manage more than a couple of teaspoons of it.  I really let myself down, and I regret it.

 

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The feast!

 

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The team behind the scenes.  Great work, guys and girls!!  Thank you!

 

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The Frying Pan Adventures chicks rocking their traditional outfits, and some beautiful smiles.

It was such a treat to be part of this culinary adventure and to experience something new in Dubai and on my taste-buds. Nothing will ever change the way I feel about this city. But I can easily admit that there are many things here that are good. Pockets of culture and authenticity and realness, and even joy. If I can find more of those things, then perhaps I can also find a better way to live here.  Perhaps I can find my place. For fuck’s sake, if fried bread can’t do it, nothing can.