Notes from Bangladesh: typhoon holiday

July 19th, 2012

We got off-season rates at Cox’s Bazar on the Bay of Bengal. It was a wonderful time to be there. Every day we had stretches of sun parenthesized by downpours and impressive winds.

Boats in the Bay of Bengal

Sunken bridge

In the bay

Food ranged from the sublime to the grotesque. The grotesque included the high-carb ‘free’ breakfast at our hotel—flatbreads, Chinese noodles, curried vegetables, dals with beef or mutton, chicken curries, oatmeal, sweet rice puddings, omelettes, boiled eggs, croissants—where families and honeymooners fueled up for the day’s activities.

The sublime included the best grilled fish I’ve ever tasted at a hole-in-the-jungle eco-restaurant that we got to by hiring an electric baby-taxi to drive us up the coast past army teams repairing washed-out roads. The most exotic, and by far the least expensive, was a dining hall where families, labourers, businessmen, and ladies with their friends filled benches at tables on either side of a corridor that allowed waiters to whiz up and down delivering delicious fish curries, bhotas, vegetables, rice, pickles, and much else and where the three of us could eat splendidly and take home doggie bags for an equally splendid evening meal for just over $5.00.

The best grilled fish I’ve ever tasted

On a hotel-arranged tour of beauty spots, little boys with prehensile feet carried Isha up a gully to see a waterfall and across a channel over a decorative bridge.

Carrying Isha up a gully

Next week after a Vancouver visit, I’ll be heading back to drought-ravaged Ottawa, where Danjuma tells me he has plenty of peppers ready to garnish Italian sausage.

Morbid

July 17th, 2012

I left work in the middle of the day yesterday to escort my beloved home from the hospital after a minor surgical intervention. Once home I paused to gently scratch the neck of my little dog Poupoune — my first ever dog — the one who used to be packed full of personality, eager to please and do and be useful; who helped save my beloved’s life when he was depressed; the one who at the venerable age of sixteen has begun withdrawing from life — and she tensed up and curled her tail between her legs.

She was suffering.

I called the vet and we’ll be putting her down tomorrow afternoon. My beloved has been busy preparing.

Poupoune trying her grave on for size.

Poupoune trying her grave on for size.

She has been dearly loved and will be sorely missed.

Notes from Bangladesh: Elephant shakedown

June 16th, 2012

Patrick is in Bangladesh, taking the philosophical view.

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Picture from the Internet, not taken by Patrick.

Picture from the Internet, not taken by Patrick.

 
Yesterday I was waiting in a long, slow-moving queue for a government service. The queue was an everyday affair, so small tea stands and coconut carts had set up parallel to the shuffling crowd. After I had been there an hour or so an elephant came along with a mahout and passenger astride. The elephant stopped at a stand, ate some of the discarded coconuts shells, rose on his hind legs, waved his trunk around, and shouted. It was clear there was mayhem on his mind. Every merchant understood the drill. Very quickly and with obvious trepidation, each approached proprietor held out a ten taka note (about ten cents), which the elephant took with his trunk and passed up to the mahout. The apparent alternative was to have the stand’s product consumed, dispersed, or destroyed.

The whole operation was enormously entertaining for the people in the queue, was carried out efficiently, and took very little time. A model for the rest of us.
 
Kuda habis (take care),
P

Notes from Bangladesh: Change of season and culinary implications

June 16th, 2012

My father is back in Dhaka, the cricket pitches are wet, the goats amuse and the food is good.

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Dear Family and Friends,
 
It rained this morning in Lalmatia. The sky was dark and it was going to rain when the marketers (Beli and Lippy) set out for the bazaar in a rickshaw. Everyone was laughing. We are now at the beginning of Asharh, the first month of the two month “monsoon season.” Isha and I were watching cricket from the rooftop when the first large droplets began to fall and the boys scattered. Rain was shooting in through open windows when we got back to our flat.
 
Within an hour, the big boys were carrying pallets of sand onto the field to fill the puddles. The smaller boys were swimming in larger puddles beyond the cricket-playing areas; or they were building canals, dams, and drainage systems to the ditches around the park. The windows in our flat were open again. Isha and I were following a goat around on the cricket pitch, watching it eat the seed-tops off the grass. The marketers were buying vegetables and fish that hadn’t looked so fresh for months. There is nothing subtle or gradual about this change of seasons, and it feels good to everyone.
 
Fish

The pictures speak for themselves. Some shrimp was curried for lunch and two of the fish were fried. Most of the fish will be prepared and frozen for use over the next week or two. The second tiniest fish will be individually cleaned with the heads reserved for a bhota (a paste for kneading into your rice), one of the three or four or five dishes served up at every meal.
 
Water lily stems

The water lily is at the top of a rolled up two or three metre stalk, which is the part we eat. There are at least three types of, including sweet potato leaves, greens in the big white bag; several varieties of cucumbers for cooking or eating fresh; tendrils that hang down from lattices supporting gourds, cooked as a vegetable; and an impressive pile of what is sold in Canada as ‘bitter melon.’ There is a bag of achi (roasted and coarsely ground red rice) and a bag of attah (the wheat flour used for making roti, fresh flat bread, for breakfast). And there are guavas, three varieties of mangoes, and a large clutch of lychees. There was going to be a jack fruit, but the load was too heavy for an additional fruit about half the size of Isha. That will have to come tomorrow.
 
Seasonal best wishes!
P

Fish salad

February 26th, 2012

My father and I were invited to supper with old friends last night. He informed me that I had volunteered to take a fish, which I was more than happy to do. I would take my mother’s cold salmon with caper sauce, which would be doubly appropriate since my friends had loved my mother.

Except, I realized, that is what I had served these friends at my father’s seventieth birthday party. This would not do.

Time for a new plan. It should be yummy and interesting for people who know and care about food. It should be easy to get right, since this would be a dish I’d never made before. Most importantly it needed to be good after being transported and sitting around for a while, which is not easy for a fish.

I’d heard of ceviche, and even thought I might have had some at a tapas bar once. It might do. I looked it up in the Joy of Cooking (from which it was absent) and on the Internet (on which it is present in hundreds of disparate versions, often with specialized ingredients unavailable at short notice). I began to despair, but then realized that if the recipes were all so different that the details must not matter. Citrus juice was a constant, almost always lime, but the amount could vary between half a cup and 20 limes. Soaking time was even more broad, between ten minutes and twenty-four hours. Another constant was something bland or starchy, but this could be avocado, yucca, popcorn, potato or coconut. It should also have onions and a chili pepper preparation. And seafood.

This would definitely qualify for hard to get wrong and easy to transport. As far as pleasing those knowledgeable about food I would simply ask for suggestions for improvement which would supply conversation.

I was highly pleased with the results, as others declared themselves to be, which means that guests will almost certainly be offered a variation of Alison’s Fish Salad this summer. Recipe forthwith:

(for six)

1 kilo fish. I used tilefish because it was there, but anything fresh would probably do, including scallops and squid. (That’s 2 lbs for my American friends.)
5 limes
Ginger
Red peppercorns
Bell pepper, diced fine. I used an orange one.
100 g (4 oz for my american friends) cherry tomatoes, quartered. Italian tomatoes are often suggested.
1 small sweet potato, boiled and diced fine.
1 T cilantro, finely chopped.

Squeeze the limes into a glass bowl. Grate ginger into the lime juice and throw in a handful of red peppercorns. Skin the fish, slice into fine strips and stir into the lime juice. Let sit until shortly before you eat. Stir in the bell pepper, tomato and sweet potato. Transfer to a brightly-coloured serving dish. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Done.

Now is that yummy and easy or what?

Granddad’s Thanksgiving grace

November 25th, 2011

I’m thankful to be here, with all of you. What more is there to say?

Granddad and Alison