Monday, August 29, 2011

A la Carte

Taking a vacation is so easy - you jump on the plane, chill around for a few weeks, and before you know it you're back home. In hindsight it feels as if the whole thing never happened.

This may sound ironical - but as much as I love to travel, I dislike sightseeing. Museums, monuments, crowded buses & long queues is not my idea of travel. What inspires me is the nature, views, people, culture, adventure and most importantly -  it's the food. 

After 8 months of captivity, I finally managed to escape in May. The maiden trip to Central America (Mexico & Costa Rica)  started with a swish layover in New York. Throughout the trip, good  food became a fatal obsession. We planned dinners while eating lunches. We planned breakfasts while eating dinners. And if we were not eating food, we were definitely talking about it.

During this trip I've eaten at more places than I remember & remember more places than I've eaten. Once again the company was the key - its always more fun to share it with people you love. Here's a pensive on the highlights...

@ Hangawi, New York City

The holiday kicked off in NYC & we were staying with bum chums Vishal & Pooja in Manhattan. They're big foodies as well and they made reservations at their favourite spots even before we landed . The dining scene in the city is overwhelming and the food variety is astonishing. But as a tourist one has little time & it feels terrible that you can squeeze in only 3-4 meals in a  day !

 Hangawi was a Korean-vegetarian restaurant - an ironical association. When I entered Hangwai I felt as if I was transported from Manhattan to a Buddhist shrine in Korea. We were a big group - cousins, friends, friends cousin's and cousin's friends. In Hangawi there's a ritual of taking your shoes off when you enter. The place was quiet with soothing zen music playing, and we dined sitting on the floor where the tables are recessed.

Everything we ordered was delicious from the mushroom pancakes to the vegetarian stone bowl rice. The traditional teas were exquisitely presented and the cheesecake was delectable. The traditional ambiance and the unusual nature of the food made it an unusual dining experience.

@ Lolo lorenas, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Post the hustle-bustle of Manhattan the beaches of Mexico were perfect for rest and relaxation. Once again Megha & I were traveling with Manoj & Geetu -  our enduring travel partners who bestow the extra zest to every trip. Our agenda was to explore the Riveria Maya area in Mexico. We spent our initial days relaxing on the tiny unspoilt island of "Isla Mujeres" where we came across "Lolo Lorenas".

Lolo Lorena's is not really a restaurant where you can just walk in. It's more like being invited to a private party hosted by a celebrity chef. We had scheduled our dinner one day prior with "Lolo Lorena" - a french lady living on the island. Lolo cooks dinners in her kitchen every night and limits it to 12-14 lucky guests.

When we reached Lolo's house - she had not even decided what to cook ! She cooks depending on her mood and sets the menu based on what she thinks is "fresh" on that particular day. After we reached Lolo updated us on her plans for the evening's meal and asked for our inputs. Dinner was served at a communal table in her outdoor garden, so we had the opportunity to meet other visitors on the island.

It was a five course prix fixe dinner. My vegetarian diet didnt deter Lolo & I had as many options. The cuisine was fusion with a French-Mediterranean influence. The servings were small - as they are in France. But there were several courses so there was plenty to eat & we washed it down with mojitos. After every course Lolo spent time with us, explaining us her plans for the next course. Finally I settled with the carrot salad, the tzatziki dip, aubergine-tofu satay and a wide selection of deserts.

I thought the food was just okay - but that's probably because I'm naive with degustation menus. But the presentation of the food was very exquisite. The arrangement and styling of each course presented to us seemed like a piece of art. For a change I didn't feel like eating the food, but just staring at it. It will surely be a meal to remember because of it's intimate setting and Lolo's approach to nouvelle cuisine.

There's been a crazy twist in our lives since we visited Isla Mujeres. Hundreds of years ago, Isla Mujeres was a sanctuary to Mayan Goddess "Ixchel". We visited a temple dedicated to Goddess Ixchel on the southernmost tip of the island. The sequel is almost unbelievable and it's changed our lives forever. I'll unveil the magic of Goddess Ixchel in a separate post...

@ Pita Bonita, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

If I had to pick my favourite spot on this trip, its would surely be Puerto Viejo - a costal town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. It has a very laid back vibe and is surrounded by with pristine beaches, dense jungles & divine snorkeling.

One day wifey and I spent an exhausting morning snorkeling and hiking in the jungles of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. When we returned to the resort, we were really hungry and craving for a good meal. The lady at the resort front desk tipped us to visit "Pita Bonita" - a middle eastern food joint 7 km away.

We had no energy but the thought of eating middle eastern food in a jungle was alluring. So we rented bicycles and did the gruelling 30 min bike ride. We reached at 4pm and after seeing the sign "Cervaddo" (closed) on the door we were frustrated !  I waved at the couple sitting in the balcony asking when they open.

They turned out to be the friendly owners - Eylon from Israel and his glirlfriend Alison from California. They invited us saying "We usually open at 5, but for you we'll open a couple of hours earlier". After living in Israel, Thailand, North America they decided to call Puerto Viejo home. They'd been to India a couple of times & were obsessed with Indian food. After meeting them we forgot that we were starving. We started chatting in the outdoor patio as if we were bonding with old friends.

Finally we ordered the mezze sampler & the falafel. I thought this could be a great time for a middle eastern cookery class, so I decided to join Eylon in the kitchen while he was cooking. It was actually some of the best falafel & mezze platter we've ever had. The sampler was delicious as well, including tabbouleh, israeli salad, carrots, parsley, baba ganoush, olives & fluffy pita.

                                                                                  Other memories from the trip........

Cupcakes from Baked by Melissa, New York

Tequila shots in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Coco Locos by the pool side in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Swimming & lunch in Tulum beach, Mexico

Fresh fruits after hiking in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

Rice & beans at the Paracue river camp, Costa Rica

Gujrati Food after returning home in Mumbai, India !!


  1. Thanks for sharing the wonderful info! I eat mostly vegetarian, but occasionally eat meat, mostly seafood. I’m glad there’s equally delicious vegetarian food available in the world and I’d love to visit all the places you mentioned someday !

  2. parin that food looks absolutely delicious..thanks for the entry and keep posting your adventures in food and travel..i love reading them