The Spice Girls of India: Cooking School in Jodhpur

After reading about a famous spice shop in Jodhpur, we knew we wanted to swing by and maybe buy a few spices to ship home. After bypassing the many imitator shops, we finally found the right one, MV Spices. We were warmly greeted by Neelam, who offered us a delicious cup of masala chai tea and sat us down to show us the wide selection of spices and teas on offer. We knew that we couldn’t leave without the ingredients to make Indian masala chai tea – our favorite drink in India consisting of black tea, milk, and an array of delicious spices (trust us, the Starbucks version has nothing on the real thing).

Neelam was a wonderful host and, over tea, she began to tell us about the history of her shop.  Her father opened the shop twenty-five years ago to sell spices and spice blends in Jodhpur’s main market. We learned that what Westerner’s would likely call curry or masala are actually blends of many different spices. The shop aimed to educate tourists and offer them a chance to take home the tastes of India along with recipes and ways to take the Indian cuisine home with them. When the family patriarch suddenly passed away ten years ago, the business passed to his wife and seven daughters. Because they were women, they faced intense resistance from the male owners of other market stalls and even from male family members. To make matters worse, past employees took the family recipes and opened competing shops just steps from the original. Refusing to bow to such pressure and steadfast in their resolve to honor their husband and father’s legacy, the women persevered. After years of hard work and strength of character, the eight women kept their shop and opened several new locations. Still a family business, the mother and sisters share in the responsibilities of the running the network of shops across the city.

Lucky for us, they have even extended their offering to include cooking classes. They put together a special class for Cat and I on short notice and we were taught how to make aloo ghobi, vegetable biryani and fresh chapattis. It was a fun and delicious way to learn about another side of Indian culture. We also bought (too) many local spices and are excited to be able to bring a little bit of India home with us.

You can learn more about the story of the Spice Girls of India here:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/Celebrating-womanhood-through-spices/articleshow/31626987.cms

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Seafood: Gallipoli Raw Bar

Gallipoli is located on the Ionian Sea about an hour Southwest of Lecce.  The “old city” is located on a limestone island which is linked to the mainland by a 16th century bridge. The seafood on offer at the local fish market was swimming earlier that day and is as fresh as you can get.  As it was Cat’s birthday, we thought a new first was appropriate: she was about to visit a a raw bar for the first time and enjoy raw shrimp and clams, mussels and oysters on the half shell.  Saving the juiciest oyster until last, she survived with only a few funny faces made and the experience proved a delicious start to a wonderful evening.

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Our Attempt at Italian Cooking: Take #1

After our day spent learning to cook, we thought we’d try out our new skills in our own kitchen.  On the menu – grilled eggplant with extra virgin olive oil and orecchiette with pancetta, cabbage and freshly grated parmesan cheese. It wasn’t quite as good as the day before, but practice makes perfect and we had a great time nonetheless!

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Negroamaro Wine Festival

Together with the new friends we met during our cooking class, we wandered through the Negroamaro Wine Festival being held in the main Piazza of Lecce.  The festival was a celebration of the negroamaro grape which is native to Puglia and everything from whites to pinks to reds were on display with Italian sommeliers manning booths and telling you more about the wines on offer around the town.

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Coffee: Taza D’Oro

Italy is famous for its coffee and after a long day of exploring the city nothing is better than a coffee granita (homemade cream layered between frozen coffee) or an espresso from Taza D’Oro in Rome.  When you drink your coffee at the counter surrounded by bags of coffee beans and animated Italian baristas, you can forget for a moment that you are surrounded by other tourists visiting the Pantheon

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