Thursday, November 11, 2021

A Food trail of Antwerp


Antwerp Railway Station

Seldom does one see such eclectic beauty on stepping out of the train at a railway station!  Antwerp Railway station ranks amongst the most beautiful railway stations in the world. 

A Cathedral like dome of Antwerp Railway Station
Owing to the vast dome right above the main waiting hall,  it is colloquially referred to as a 'railroad cathedral'. 

Cathedral of Our Lady
Before stepping out into the city, it would be worthwhile to spend a few minutes admiring the architectural beauty of this station. The huge 12000 square meters edifice has four levels of train tracks. The lavishly decorated station has a beautiful semi-circular glass panel also called 'the peacock trail'. 

The lovely interiors of the church
A galore of wonders await you in this city of  Peter Paul Rubens,whose memorable paintings adorn the Cathedral of our the city. A genius painter of the Renissance era, created masterpieces of Jesus's crucification 

The Old Town- Grote Markt

The trip to the city was to discover the gastronomic delights of sheer indulgence. The lively streets of the city just outside the station are specked with diamond shops and huge diamond centres. It will not be unusual to find traditionally dressed jews with locks of hair ' who are one of the best-known diamond merchants'. The city caters to the insatiable demand of more than 1800 diamonds dealers spanning across the world.

Delrey- An unforgettable cake shop

The first stop of the food trail was the famous ' Delrey'! Catering the delectable flavours for over 35 years, the passion for excellence can be experienced just as one sets foot into the place. 

The mouth watering temptations at Delrey
The thin crusts of 'Mille Feuille' wrapped chocolate cream, 'Marley' individual and a staggering range of the desserts, chocolates, tarts,pastries and cakes are mind-blowing. The experience of the very first place set the ball rolling a high note for more delights to follow. 

The Chocolate Line
A little further is 'The Chocolate Line' is an experience of taking the art of making chocolates to a new level. This place has a showroom of exhibits like replicas of huge stallions, toads, even human skulls created out of dark and white chocolate. 
Creation of horses in Chocolates at The Chocolate Line

There are selections of ' beans to bars' of chocolates from Guatemala, Jamaica, Ecuador, Venezuela and  the farthest places. The baffling ingenuity of the creators is enigmatic and leaves the onlooker in stupor.

Stadsfeestzaal- A shopping mal par excellence

Every nook and corner has some unique store or a chocolateria and more.  Stadsfeestzaal , shopping mall leaves the onlooker gawking at its beauty and grandeur. 

Gold Leaf ornaments  painted interiors of the mall

has an annual footfall of around 6.5 million visitors.The 19th century creation took 8 years to build at a cost of 800000 Belgian francs in that era.Its a glittering beacon in the heart of the city, with paintings of gold leaf ornaments.

Neuhaus- The Inventor of Belgian Pralines
The surprises await at every corner of the town with the tale of a would be doctor turned pharmacist called Neuhaus. The family opened its boutique in 1857. 
Pralines on display
Neuhaus came out with the idea to cover the medicines with a thin layer of chocolate that eventually led to the birth of pralines.The grandson of Neauhaus invented the modern day pralines with fillings that would leave you asking for more. They continue to invent to this dayand are still one of the most sought after pralines.
A baker paradise - Goossens( Not to miss the queue!!)

A little distance from her is 'Goossens' which you can never miss due to a perpetual line of customers awaiting their turns to buy one of the most delightful range of breads/. There eare fillings of nuts, fruits like cherries, mangoes , apples and even papaya that can create a storm in the taste buds. Never would you have come across such exciting variants of loaves. This place is a must visit!

Quetzal- The grand finale of hot chocolate

A grand finale of the Belgian chocolate hot is mandatory when in Antwerp. There is no dearth of places but' Quetzal' churns out one of the finest hot chocolates with all kinds of milk from normal, to cashew, oat milk with flavours of hazelnut,cinnamon,dark chocolate, and so many more that will leave you drooling! 

The food trail in Antwerp is memorable one and the possibilities of food exploration are endless. The spark for following this food trail was ignited by Paul Hollywood's episode on Antwerp in " City Bakes' and I am happy I could accomplish most of it! Soif you visit this lovely city do not forget these sinful indulgences

PS- The pictures are mine

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

In Love with Food

Mawa Jalebi and Poha - Raju Tea Stall, Bhopal

How many times have you travelled just to discover a place for the treats it offers when it comes to eating? I am yet to come across people who do not love food. While still in school and later on in college the fascination to try out all kinds of foods almost overtook any other desire to feel satiated. There were no lofty ambitions, just a bite into a rich and succulent pastry at Nirulas, a bite into pizzas and burgers that had just entered the scene in India were perhaps the best early treats. Later during my college, which was not too far from Chandni Chowk, a once in a while treat at the Natraj Dahi Bhalla near the Central Bank, some sweets at the Ghantewala, a dig into parathas prepared in pure ghee with spicy vegetables at the famous Parathewali Gali followed with Jalebis oozing with syrup at Dariba Kalan were the earliest forays in search of good food. I vividly remember walking all the way from Connaught Place( now Rajiv Chowk) to have a rendezvous with samosas at the shop outside the Sucheta Kriplani Hospital on Panchkuian Road. The man from Frontier ran the shop for decades selling unforgettable samosas!

Humble Indian Thali at Chotiwala, Rishikesh
Later, I moved out of Delhi when I joined the Navy soon after college to see a new world opening before my eyes. The first encounter was at the Ernakulam Railway station where the Military One tonner from Naval Academy awaited to ferry us from the station. A foodie in me could not resist polishing off several steaming hot fluffy idlis with coconut chutney and sambhar before entering the portals of the academy. Every weekend I would make it a point to visit the joints like Woodlands and Malabar hotel not too far, to dig into the best dosas anywhere. The love affair with food continued as I travelled to Jamnagar and went to the extent of befriending a ' Dhokla seller' (whose shop was smaller than most pan shops around the corner). He excelled in making the stuff and I learnt the art from him when he saw me faithfully visiting him week after week,. I have not forgotten the tips he shared with me. From there on, the love for Pav Bhaji and Vada Pav in Mumbai made me travel all the way from the Navy Nagar to Andheri and Dadar to the best treats of this humble fare. Extensive travel within the country gave me the opportunity to devour the recipes ranging from Mirch vada and biryani in Hyderabad, Dal Lucchi and Sandesh in Kolkata, Appams in Kerala, Dal bati in towns of Rajasthan, Mawa Jalebi and Poha at Raju Tea stall in Bhopal and so many more.  The simple meal of dal roti and vegetables at Chotiwala in Rishikesh is one of the finest tributes to the Indian meal! The list is almost endless.

Pesto Focccia in Moneglia, Italy
The romantic tales around food suddenly took wings when by a stroke of good fortune I landed in a company soon after the stint in the Navy. I discovered the best Falafels on Caramel Street in TelAviv, the silky velvet crepes near Montmartre in Paris, the tall succulent burgers on the Fulton Street in New York, the finest baklava at Hafiz Mustafa in Istanbul, the Chocolate Spoon in the Delft in the Netherlands,

Pastel de Nata of Lisbon

awesome Foccacia and Lemon tarts in Moneglia in Italy, Pastel de Nata on the streets of Lisbon, Ricotta filled Pastizzi in Valetta in Malta, Tart de Citreon in the tiny shop in Old Town, Nice, France are a few that leave me drooling. 

Historic birthplace of Pizza Margarita in Napoli
The most adventurous trip was to Napoli, the birthplace of pizza to discover the very place where the Pizza Margretha was born! The narrow street in this town is crammed with the best places that make the pizzas, rum-babas, Sfogliata dessert that are etched in memories forever. I would not mind travelling long distances even today, just to search for perfect food. How many of you have lustful memories of foodgasms?

PS- All Pics are mine

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The True Independence


Today we wake up to the dawn of having been fortunate to be born in India that gained Independence exactly 75 years ago! It has been a tumultuous journey with several ups and downs. Reams of achievements and moments of darkness that we as a nation have experienced can be recounted. I consider this journey one of the best opportunities that God has granted.  The best part of the journey has just commenced and all this happened due to the goodness that surrounds us,

Ever since I hung boots in the corporate world, I got a chance to engage with people who are making a difference in the lives of people struggling to make their ends meet. The finest moments are spent in their company. Ever since the pandemic struck, a new way of life emerged. The time that was earlier being spent in the company of the children in teaching them suddenly transformed to engagement through the internet classes. The obvious reason was to maintain social distancing a new norm that we are trying to live with.

Notwithstanding all the above challenges, this post is dedicated to these children who have shown me what real progress means. Imagine a boy selling snacks door to door and helping his mother, to become a teacher of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in the country's leading institutions. He not only assisted his mother in running the home but also self-educated himself. He started schooling with the support of a benevolent  NGO, earned money by taking tuition classes, He went on to get a degree in engineering and is now not only pursuing further studies but also working with multinationals.

Equally inspiring is the story of a girl whose mother runs a tea stall and has recently scored more than 95% marks in the CBSE Class 12 board examinations, She has also qualified in the Combined Law Aptitude Test( CLAT) and aspires for Civil Services! 

Each of these children has seen struggles that are beyond our comprehension. Still, they fight every day to fulfil their dreams. It fills me with pride to see them running their own dance schools, working as entrepreneurs, and leading a life where they are now supporting others.

This is the real Independence and in the true spirit its celebration. I only hope that these success stories will replicate manifold in times to come. So, this day we not only salute all the valiant soldiers, doctors, and countless people who work as invisible hands to ensure everyone.s safety and well being but also such children who are making difference in their lives.

Monday, August 9, 2021

INS Vikrant – Reincarnated


The recent news about the ongoing sea trials of the indigenous aircraft carrier ‘INS Vikrant’ in Kochi filled me with pride.  A rush of memories occupied my mind and not without reason. I fondly recollect my first sight of the earlier INS Vikrant way back in 1978 where I was to join for my ‘sea acquaintance’ for six months. The mammoth ship was berthed on the jetty and awestruck I gazed at the huge structure. I stepped on board and saluted on the gangway as I boarded the ship with my luggage. I never realized that this would be the beginning of an association of spending five years at different spans of time onboard this ship.

One of the finest memories was to see the taking off of the Alize aircraft from the steam catapult and recovery of these aircraft at sea by a maze of arrestor wires spread on the flight deck.  It required a  calibrated approach by the Deck Landing Mirror Sight system and lowering of the hook from the aircraft to ensure arrest by the arrestor wire. I looked at every launch and recovery of aircraft with an awe of a school child. In years to come, this would be my full-time profession. As the technology advanced the ship underwent modernization and was retrofitted with a ski jump on the flight deck and more modern landing aids. I was s lucky to be a part of a team that witnessed the landing of the first Sea Harrier aircraft. It was unique and could hover on the flight deck like a helicopter before making a precise landing on a moving ship.

INS Vikrant being refuelled by INS Deepak

Every day I spent on the ship I learnt something new. The moving hulk weighed 20000 tons, had over 1500 men at operational times, a huge hangar for maintenance not to speak of massive engine rooms with steam turbines to turn the shaft. The ship was able to produce almost 2 MW of electric power with its array of diesel generators and turbogenerators enough for as small-sized city.

The ship was decommissioned in 1997 the year I took retirement from the service. Surprisingly, my entire sea time lasting over five years were spent on this ship, so it was like an umbilical cord separating us in 1997. There have been moments of anxiety, fear, thrill on the events that I was a witness to, besides watching the dolphins following the ship near Goa, countless dark nights with stars and moon, golden sunrise and sunsets and hours of fun on the quarterdeck watching endless movies and hours of fun in evenings.

The new INS Vikrant that has been built at the Kochi shipyard is almost twice the size of its predecessor having a displacement of 37500 ton and will operate the Russian built MIG 29K aircraft and Kamov 31 helicopters and indigenous aircraft/ helicopters too! It will also have specialized cabins for women officers too. The ship will be able to cruise 7500 nautical miles at a top speed of 28 knots. It will be equipped with the most advanced state of the art electronics, weapon systems and sensors. The ship will also have two runways besides a host of new features. A short video of the ongoing sea trials is attached to get a glimpse of this pride of the Indian Navy.

The Navy is more than a job, much more than a service to the country. According to Theodore Roosevelt

‘A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty to peace’.

PS: Images and video kind courtesy Google and YouTube and own collection

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Markthal, Rotterdam - The Rise of the Phoenix


The Markthal- Rotterdam

It is almost unbelievable to see the city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands and the way it has risen from the ashes after the relentless bombing it suffered at the hands of Nazis during World War II. Adding its unique signature to the regeneration of the city, stands stunning Markthal, a 10- storey, 120m deep arch of apartments in its heart. 

A huge mural inside the Markthal

The Art of Plenty mural designed by the Dutch artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam inside the arch boasts of being the largest art network in Europe.

The Erasmus bridge on River Maas
The structure is composed of a vaulted market hall wrapped with 228 apartments, a brilliant design. There are more than 100 stalls, eight restaurants and a string of stores in its belly as one cascades down to the underground floors. The 175 million Euro structure stands tall in Laurens Quarter close to the Blaak station where once stood the prewar centre which was razed to the ground. 
Blaaktoren and Cube houses in the vicinity

The elite neighbourhood comprises Piet Blom’s Cube Houses and Blaaktoren, a pencil-shaped pentagonal building. The biggest church of Rotterdam, Sint Laurenskerk is just at a stone’s throw and had a providential escape during the bombing in the vicinity.

The Gian Feris Wheel outside Markthal

The beautiful structure of Markthal has a 2800 sq m glass facade on either side of the arch. The panes are movable and are suspended on a steel cable net the largest of its kind. As the water table is just 1 m below, the task of laying the foundation 20m deep, was an unprecedented challenge. The herculean effort culminated in the creation of three levels of underground parking, an underground supermarket, dispatch centres and refrigeration areas. The residents that live in the building are treated with a bird’s eye view of the stalls, a green roof and a huge giant wheel beside the unhindered view of the nearby MAAS River.

Markthal decked up for Christmas

The huge murals created on the walls and ceilings are akin to the gothic paintings in medieval churches. The 4500 aluminium sheets on which the murals have been created look stunning. All the colour adds to the vibrancy and friendliness of the place. The place is a shoppers paradise for unique wares ranging from food and vegetables, all kinds of cheese, meats and fish, sweets and cakes, tea and coffee parlours, flowers and gifts besides speciality restaurants and supermarkets. The exhibitions and constant flow of visitors in the complex are the throbbing heart of this huge place.

A visit to Rotterdam is incomplete without, seeing, smelling and tasting or feeling Markthal. It is indeed a must-visit destination . According to the Dutch saying ' God created the world but Dutch created the Netherlands' is almost true when one sees such marvels

PS: All pics are mine

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Trendy Covent Garden- London

Remembering one of the most stylish shopping arcades and centres during the times of confinement is not only soothing but therapeutic too! The feel-good factor is raised several notches on visiting a place like Covent Garden in London’s Westend. The biggest grosser in Hollywood in 1964, ‘My Fair Lady’ starring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle was set in Covent Garden where she meets the English professor Higgins (Rex Harrison) who teaches her English to the exacting Edwardian society standards of the era. I had seen the movie in my early childhood and little did I realize that several years later I would visit the place one day.

A Christmas Tree outside the Covent Garden
Located at London’s Westend, it is very close to the Royal Opera House. It is a very popular shopping area and a huge tourist attraction. The use of the name Covent- the term for religious community equivalent to a monastery or a convent was coined around 1515 AD. By the 18th century the place had become a well-known red-light district. Once a vegetable and fruit market the character of the place went through rapid transformation in the 1980s.

A Statue of Michael Faraday the scientist at Savoy Place in neighbourhood
Covent Garden is dotted with some best-known sights like the London Transport Museum, a string of theatres and places of entertainment, the Royal Theatre and St Paul’s Church in the vicinity. There are 13 theatres and over 60 bars and pubs in the complex. There are trendy retail outlets that are a huge draw for the young clientele. The street performers can be found and impromptu acts can be witnessed. There is a wide range of restaurants in the central area and around the piazza.  A wide range of cuisine ranging from traditional fish n chips, a variety of sandwiches, international cuisines and fine dining options are available. Some of the best and trendy coffee shops, heavenly tea salons, patisserie pit-shops and bakeries are also located here. Covent Garden is home to more treats than one can imagine for connoisseurs of chocolates, cookies and gelatos and much more

The lovely interiors of Covent Garden
Covent Gardens has a deep-rooted cultural connection way back to Charles Dickens time when he wrote ‘’Pickwick Papers’ where a central character spends a couple of nights at Covent Gardens. The movie ‘My Fair Lady’ was based on George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘ Pygmalion’ which was mentioned in the earlier paragraph. The movie ‘ Frenzy’ created by Alfred Hitchcock where a fruit seller of Covent Garden turns out to be a serial sex killer.

The fine dining options at Covent Garden
Covent Garden is well connected with public transport and has a tube station served by Piccadilly Line. There are more than 30 routes of London Buses that have stops around the periphery of Covent Garden. For centuries the culture vultures have swooped in here in search of the area’s eclectic ever-changing mix of operas, theatres and drama. So the next time you plan a visit to London do include Covent Garden on your itinerary.

PS All Pics are mine

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Shopper's Stop- Amazing Thailand

If anyone was to look for a perfect getaway for a holiday, at the same time even if on budget, be able to return home with loads of gifts there is only one answer- Thailand! A country with so many gems including it is. A country that is unique in many ways attracts one of the highest footfalls in terms of tourism . It has many diverse options for every age.

The first time I visited Thailand, I was not aware of the vast array of choices. After several visits to places like Bangkok, Pattaya, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Phuket I realized how little I know about the “Amazing Thailand”. 

So much has already been written about the food, the beaches, nightlife, temples, wats, wildlife, and a culture that there is little I can add except some pictures that speak for themselves. 

The most striking thing that stands out is the unique markets that Thailand offers to tourists. The James Bond movies ‘The Man with a Golden Gun’ , ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and Leonardo de Caprio’s ‘The Beach’ high- lighted the perfect beauty of the ‘ Floating Market’ and brisk sales on boats ,Sinn Sathorn Tower on Thonburi Road in Bangkok and Krabi’s beauty and its life in busy market places.

The stellar marketplace that is a must visit when in Bangkok is the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It comes to life every weekend and has over 15000 stalls of diverse range of consumer electronics, art, cosmetics, food, clothing, furniture just to name a few. The bargaining at shops is a fine art that can be practiced even by a novice here.

The Ratchada Train market in Bangkok is well worth a visit if you are a foodie. The options are mindboggling at great bargains. One can even find of quirky piece of jewelry or a fashion garment here.

Bangkok and most of the cities in Thailand never go to sleep. If you have the energy at theend of the day, do spend a few hours in the night markers which are as colorful or even more. Patpong, Khaosan and Silom markets in Bangkok are very lively. One can get incredible bargains in the moonlight. There are endless eating and drinking options at these venues. The Chang Chui Plane market that pops up on the nights goes to a new height in form of a market in the shell of a Tristar airliner. Khlong Thom market also known as the ‘Flashlight Market’ is also unique and gets its name from the need to carry a flashlight to view the goods sold here.

Besides Bangkok, places like Chiang Mai have a Warorot Market that sells a huge array of food items. The Cicada Open Air market is an Artist’s paradise in Hua Hin district with a unique display of arts. The Krabi Walking Street Market and Maeklong Railway track Market are unique. No matter where you are, a market is always close by in Thailand. (#BlogYourThailand #AmazingThailand #TATNewDelhi #TATIndia #ResetInThailand)