Sunday, 4 August 2013

South Indian Puttu and South African Putu: Are they related?

Puttu Steamer - deconstructed.

Puttu - Appropriated from Pranis Kitchen Blog. Check out the recipes!

The puttu maker which I was reluctant to purchase because I had no space in my bag. Am I sorry? It was all of 260 rupees ($3) and I cannot find it in Kampala. Clearly, most Indians in Uganda are not from the south!

So, on returning from the Allepey Backwaters, I decided to eat in the restaurant across from the Fort House Hotel in Fort Kochin. The restaurant is part of the cultural centre complex and looked like a good place to dine. It was! Because it was late in the evening, the daily specials had come to an end. Almost. There was still some pork curry and waiter suggested that I try puttu. He went through lengthy explanation of what it was. It all sounded vague, and I was still intrigued by the name: puttu. Could it have anything to do with 'putu' - the crumbly corn/maize porridge eaten as a staple in the Zulu province of South Africa?

When the dish arrived, I noted that it, too, was crumbly, with a very similar texture to the South African version of putu. (I am trying to research the etymology of the word. Could this South Indian word have crept into Zulu? Intriguing!)

I'll keep this short because anyone interested in making the South Indian version of puttu can find recipes online or on youtube. I have found several.

After raving about the dish, the manager asked if I would like to go into the kitchen and let the chef demonstrate how it is made. At first I was reluctant; I was tired and wasn't keen on watching a long procedure at that hour of night. He assured me that it was a six-minute affair. It was!

The chef used the steamer that sits on top of a pressure cooker and takes 4 minutes to steam through...perhaps less. I witnessed it. The normal steamer takes about 8 minutes. I haven't tried it yet because I cannot get my hands on one!

But, here's the recipe a la chef from the Fort Kochi Cultural Centre. Come to think of it, I have pictures of this event. Where are they? (BTW, the kitchen was sparkling clean and modern!)

South Indian Puttu

1.5 cups rice flour
1 cup coconut (freshly chopped is better)
1/3 cup of water
Salt to taste

Add salt to the flour. Mix the flour and coconut. Add small amounts of water and crumble lightly, rubbing the dry ingredients through the making scones, if you will! Once the mixture resembles a course crumble mixture, throw it into the stainless steel tube of the puttu steamer. Stick it onto the steaming container/pressure cooker. Once the steam stops pushing through the top...after about 4 minutes, take it off and slide it out onto the plate. Voila. It is ready to serve with a curry or sauce of choice.

That simple. And I did not bring one back. Shite. And shite again. I have never ever used rice flour and now I cannot wait to try it. According to some blogs, putt can easily be made without the puttu maker/steamer, but they all seem tedious.

By hook or by crook, I will get my hands on one of these gadgets! And, sooner or later, I will let you know if I get any insight into the origins of the word and if, indeed, there are any connections to the South Indian/Indonesian word, and the Zulu word. I will keep you posted. Ta-ta for now.

So, for what it is worth and if Wikipedia is to be trusted, here is an informal etymology of the word.
Phuthu or Uphuthu (also incorrectly spelt: putu or phutu), pronounced "poo-too", is a traditional maize meal dish from South Africa. It is a crumbly or grainy type of pap (polenta) or porridge, eaten mainly by the BasothoBantu and Afrikaner people. It is cooked incauldrons or potjies over an open fire, stirred with great care until a course consistency in texture is reached. It is often eaten with meat, beans, gravy and/or sour milk.
The word 'phuthu' could originate from the Tamil word 'puttu' which is prepared in a similar way but with ground rice. Puttu is also made in Malaysia and Indonesia where it is called 'putu' as in Putu Bambu. Words from Indian dialects and Malay have entered into the Southern African vocabularies, and so maize meal could have been used as a substitute for the ground rice by the slaves from Malaysia/Indonesia and the indentured labourers from southern India, but given the same name.

Memories keep flooding my mind

The rain in Kampala takes me back to India. Lying on my bed, I found myself recalling scenes and events and realize that I wrote NOTHING of significance in my account of my travels. I really hope to make the time when I get back from Rwanda next Thursday. Today, I fly to Kigali for a job interview, so I need to focus on that. The rain had better stop before I head to the airport.
Three of several books purchased and read while in India. Top picks: White Tiger and The God of Small Things by Arundathi Roy.

Folk art panel purchased in Manali with original patina. Oil paint on wood, 60cm x 20cm
Buddhist Thankar (Tibetan), purchased in Manali, paint on cloth, 50 x 40

Day-old version of my Kovalam Chick Pea Salad (recipe below)

My recreation of a favourite beach snack that was sold in the evenings on the boardwalk of Kovalam Beach. Along with salted lime soda (lime juice, salt, soda water), I was happy to eat this as an evening meal...three snack portions was enough for a meal! Yummy. I was lucky to find the right spices here in Kampala. So, here it is:

(Portions can be adjusted)
Soak the chick peas overnight otherwise you will waste energy cooking them. Once soaked, bring them to a boil for an hour. Check for readiness; they should not be mushy. (Don't bother with the canned variety; they will not do the trick!)

Memories of Kovalam Beach

2 cups of cooked chick peas
Salt to taste
Diced green pepper
Diced onion
Diced green mango
Diced cucumber
Diced tomato
Finely chopped coriander
Chana Spice (Chick Pea Spice - available in most Indian spice shops)
Chaat Masala  (Punjabi Spices for Chick Pea Curry)

Toss together all the above ingredients, then sprinkle with fresh lime juice before serving. Tip: serve luke warm, if possible. Cold also works, but the warm version has tingle and tang. Try it.

 I bumped into the school chef while shopping and he told me to use Chole Masala, but I couldn't find it. The Chaat Masala worked just fine and my salad tasted like the one from Kovalam Beach!

An account of my trip - my reflections will come later

After the last hectic month at work, I was more than ready for a change of scene. And change is what I got!

The flight with Qatar airways was uneventful. While the airport in Doha was unimpressive, I cannot say the same for IGA – Indira Gandhi Airport – in Delhi. The efficiency was mind-boggling, with pleasant immigration officials and affordable food. In an airport? You bet. I headed straight to WH Smith and picked up four juicy novels. (White Tiger, The God of Small Things, among others) Holidays are my time to binge read. For a mere twenty dollars I had four weighty novels in hand. I ignored the Cadbury’s Peppermint Crisp (a favourite) and settled for bottled water and a little box of Tropicana fruit juice. The juice was a dollar and the water fifty cents. In an airport, this is almost unheard of. I have decided to use airport food prices as a measurement of civility. Iran and India, in my mind, are civilized because they do not try to gauge the traveler. I had a two-hour wait before boarding a domestic flight to Chandigarh; the transition from international to domestic could not have been any smoother. The airport has been voted second best in the world for its passenger capacity and I think it is a title well deserved.

The flight to Chandigarh was a just a short hop – and hour or so – and I was at the doorway to the Himalayan foothills. The modern airport was a total surprise and the wide, empty streets even more of a surprise. This city was designed by the designer of the Eiffel Tower, including the art gallery. So, of course, I was determined to make a visit there. This, of course, did not fail to impress. Though I was more than impressed by the Thai fusion cuisine in the Hotel Icon restaurant where I hung my hat for the night. The price was a little steep, by Indian standards, but I was determined to splurge for my first night. With my exhaustion, and the immune system working full-steam because of air travel and air-conditioned airports, I am always a little nervous after a long journey. This caution paid off, and I enjoyed a great first day in India. A bicycle rickshaw to my hotel cost 25 cents; I couldn’t accept it, especially when I saw how the little rider was sweating to carry this big boy along the four kilometer stretch. I gave him double; 50 cents.

After settling down in the hotel, I wanted to be proactive and ensure a ride on the narrow guage steam train into the mountain city of Shimla – a six-hour journey to the former summer capital of the Brits when once they ruled the country. No luck. All the tickets were sold old and I had to look for an alternative; I decided to take a local bus – the type you see in movies – gaudy, sitting high, lop-sided, packed to the gills. Oh what fun. Halfway there, all the passengers were forced to get out and get into another bus; no discussion, no refund. By late afternoon, I arrived in Shimla, shrouded in mist, nestled on the steep mountains covered in white pine trees. A beautiful city, indeed. I spent three days here before heading to the Hotel Hot Springs (Tattapani) – the Indian word literally means Hot Water. Once again, I splurged for two nights at the spa resort, indulging in great food and hospitality for a fairly reasonable price. The drive to Tattapani was a dream with the pouring rain, the treacherous roads with hairpin bends, weaving their way through the mountains. Tattapani, unlike Shimla, was warm and I even had to use the air conditioner in the evenings. The owner of the hotel is married to an Italian woman, and her touch can be seen and felt in the aesthetic of the place; so, it was a surprise.

Leaving Tattapani, I got my first shock on my holiday. What looked fairly do-able on google turned into a nightmare. Google maps do not show the gradients of mountain roads. Let’s just say that my heart sat in the throat for a goodly portion on the journey as the bus negotiated the treacherous tracks, now slippery from the rains and since the road could only accommodate one vehicle at a time, there was constant negotiating when a vehicle came from the opposite direction. I now know what the high pressured horns with ear-splitting vehemence are an absolute necessity. I was very impressed at the ease and politeness with which right of way was given; the more endangered driver was always (always) given the opportunity to proceed, regardless of who had ‘arrived’ at the bend first!  More than once, we reversed downhill! Keep in mind that we were riding at altitudes exceeding 3000 metres! (These are the Himalayan foothills!) I had my camera ready, but I took very few photos because I was breathing too deeply. I have a new respect for the drivers and the buses. Frankly, I did not believe that the bus would carry us up and along those mountains. A six-hour ride for two dollars all the way to the town of Mani. From Mani, I got another bus all the way to Manali. Once again, the mountain views along the River Beal were more than spectacular. Waterfall after waterfall, the road hugging the river bank for most of the journey. It was a thrill to know that I had left the dirt of Kampala and I was feeling blessed for having made a decision to drive into the mountains. Indeed, it was exactly what I needed.

On reaching the entrance to Drifter’s Inn, I was met by Nishant, the owner, with a smile, a hug, and air of concern because it was already 8 p.m. I had spent the entire day traveling. One Kingfisher later (local Himalayan beer) and a plate fiull of yummy garlic-chilli fries later, I knew I had come to the right place. I was only supposed to stay for 3 days, but I extended it by five days. Need  I explain? Perhaps the walks through apple orchards, or the apricots plucked fresh from the tree. Or, the hot mineral water springs, the snow-capped mountains, the yak cheese, the baked goods at the German bakery? The snake charmers, the weaver busy on looms, the local tribal women escorting their yaks or cows to pasture, the Swiss-style lodges hugging the misted mountains? The thrill of paragliding for thirty minutes in the Himalayan foothills? The affordable full body ayurvedic massages? Let’s just say it was difficult to say goodbye to Nishant and the staff at Drifter’s. They treated me like part of family; all for 1100 rupees a night; read that as 20 dollars! Yes, holidays in India are affordable. So, does that explain the huge influx of Israeli’s? Or is that because of easy access to weed?! Methinks the latter, considering the number of times I was propositioned by stoned cute Israeli girls! LOL So, with great reluctance, I took an overnight bus to Delhi. Heeding Nishant’s advice, I purchased the seat beside me, so I was able to stretch and sleep with ease. The air-conditioned coach is as good as any Greyhound back home.

Early morning found me in Delhi, just in time to witness the vagrants sleeping on the streets, sidewalks, medians, underpasses. You name a place, there were people in various states of repose or sleep. A sight to behold. The Delhi of pictures often shown for effect; but, as always, every city has two faces. In India, this is as true as ever, certainly from what I was able to see in just over five weeks. As a tourist, I have the luxury of editing my experience, and choosing to see and experience only what I desire. My desire in Delhi? Glad you asked. Comfort, new glasses, a trip to the Taj Mahal. A small order! Comfort I got a-plenty at the plush Park Delhi Hotel, conveniently located in colonial Connaught Place. The next day, I made my way to the Taj Mahal in Agra and returned to find my new glasses ready. I love India! The glasses were more expensive than those I got in Iran, but still just a fraction of what they would cost back home; that came with a free eye check to get my new prescription. For 300 dollars I have two new pairs of specs with transition multifocal lenses. Yippee. My left eye is especially happy for the new lens! With new glasses on head, I boarded the sparkling new metro/subway and arrived at IGA – Indira Gandhi Airport in less than 30 hassle-free minutes, ready to fly to the south of India.

Everyone I met in the north told me that I would be surprised by the difference between south and north. The biggest difference? You would never guess. In the north, people thought I am Indian. Perhaps from Goa?! In the south, they were pretty confident that I was a visiting tourist! Ok, there were other differences. The food, to begin. After an unexpected overnighter in Bangalore – due to the monsoon rains which delayed my flight, causing me to lose my connection to Kochi in Kerala – I finally arrived at the Fort House Hotel in Fort Kochi. Here, the weather is decidedly sub-tropical and, despite the rain, the climate is temperate with coconut palms all over the place. Reminded me a little of Thailand. The hotel was magnificent; beautifully appointed, with the happy marriage of black granite and terracotta, and tasteful sculptures in spot lit niches. A very comfortable place where I was very happy to stay for three nights, despite the relatively steep price tag of $40 per night! J While there, I had a chance to visit the backwaters of Allepey. A first for me, exploring a watery environment. A different world where people live around and on water. Impressive. I have never seen so many coconut plantations. In fact, green is the order of the day. India is much greener than I expected.

From Kochi, I headed into Tamil Nadu. Lots of churches; the same in Kerala. The presence of the church cannot be ignored.  Even saw a Shanmugam street downtown...that's Fr Reggie's last name! And the South Indian food seemed a lot like the Indian food I know. As expected, I ate lots of seafood, crab curry, jumbo tiger prawns, and puttu! Yes, puttu! Now what is puttu?  you may ask.  OK, so puttu is made steamed rice flour and coconut, steamed in a special puttu maker (check google images), and it turns out to be a crumbly carbohydrate staple enjoyed in Kerala. Now, back in Uganda, I am kicking myself for not purchasing a puttu maker. I was reluctant to carry the darn thing in my baggage (You see, maybe I have changed a little!), and refused to buy one, even though it was all of 260 rupees - 5 dollars! Foolishly thought I would find one in Uganda, given the large number of Indians here. No luck. 
In the mountains of Tamil Nadu (the Tamils supposedly have their origins in Africa when the continents split...they look it, I must say), I took a toy train - narrow gauge steam train on a six hour ride in some of the most stunning mountain scenery, passing stations called Runneymede and other recognizable English names, the mountains covered in tea plantations and other super green vegetation. Truly stunning. From, there, I finally made it to the beach in Kovalam and parked by bum for eight days, cutting out a trip to the spice forests of Wayanad. I was a little tired of buses and trains. The large city close by, formerly called Trivandrum, now Thiruvananthpuram. It has some stunning colonial architecture. In fact, I was continuously astounded by the British legacy and the presence of the Christian Church, both Orthodox and Catholic. (Thomas, one of the Apostles, took Christianity to India, even before it got into Europe...and Christ, when he disappeared in the 'desert' is thought to have gone into the Himalayan mountain area...there are many legends and stories here...I digress) So, Saint Thomas is a biggie here.
I also got a chance to take a train to Kanyakumari, the tip of India, where the Indian Ocean meets the currents from the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. It is stunning beyond belief.

Finally, I ended my stay in Bombay - everyone still calls it that...instead of Mumbai. And the Victoria Terminus (train station) is an architectural masterpiece...and testament to the station building philosophy of the time. Of course, it also has a new name, but don't bother using it because everyone calls it VT!  I wished I had planned a longer stay in Mumbai - I was afraid that it would just be a big city! No, it is an amazing city and I enjoyed the short time there, rain notwithstanding.

All in all, it was an amazing summer vacation - and I would do it again if I had the opportunity! Wish I had a better camera - even with my bad eyes, I can see that the quality of my pics has deteriorated.

I have been back in Kampala for a week. Spent four days attending a Pan African Music Educators Conference. Great opportunity. Met musicians from the African continent and had some good networking opportunities. This afternoon, I met with an artist friend, Ronex, to discuss and design the poster and publicity flyer for "Mango Roses" - a musical which I am directing at the National Theatre at the end of October. Sponsored by KADS (Kampala Amateur Dramatic Society), I am enlisting the expertise of Maryann Ivan (my friend from Broadway New York) to create an original musical based on a local story. I spent a good chunk of yesterday working on that...apart from getting ready to fly to Kigali (Rwanda) tomorrow. I have a job interview at Green Hills Academy in Kigali...a prospect for next year. I plan to stay until Thursday, just to enjoy a clean, green city - unlike Kampala!

School starts in a week. It's hard to believe that I have been away for one year!

Sorry about the change in URL

I did not notice the error in the blog address. When I tried to get marko in india, it has already been taken! So, I had to settle for cedric in india! Oh, well, there are worse things that could happen. I have run out of time to write my reflections but, for the time being, I have managed to put almost all the photographs up with some basic subtitles. Commentary will come when I get back from Rwanda next Friday. 

Mumbai - Time to leave

Mumbai, or Bombay if you insist, is a city deserving of more than three days! I was ever so sorry I couldn't stay longer.

The impressive cupola of the main train station - VT - Victoria Terminus, otherwise known by the new name, Chatrapati Sivaji Terminus

An interior view of the main section of the train station, Mumbai

While tickets can be purchased from machines, some people insist in lining up!

Handling millions of passengers per day, one never gets the feeling of being overwhelmed. Certainly not while I was there around noon! Perhaps I should have tried rush hour. No thanks.

In search of books, I wondered into several book shops around the  main train station.

Purchases in hand - videos, books, I was finally ready to say goodbye to this wonderful city.

An urchin manages to steal fresh drinking water from a truck while it is forced to stop in traffic!

Fariyas Hotel in Colaba was a great place to stay. Conveniently located for my needs, close to the Gate of India, cafes, and a local market.

A local market in Colaba - could be anywhere in Kampala!

I could see the water from my hotel window. As you can see, looming rain clouds!

The hotel was only  a stones throw from the grittier side of Mumbai - shacks for the poor trying to eek out an existence in the big city.

When the tide is out, the site isn't so pretty. But, it does give some people a chance for a crap. Simple things in life.

Chickens wander aimlessly amidst the heaps of garbage and derelict bicycles.

Kovalam and Thiruvananthapuram

Lighthouse Beach in Kovalam - a refuge to put my feet up and catch up on some reading. Arundathi Roy's "The God of Small Things" and "White Tiger" were two of ten books I managed to binge read while in India.

As always, the sea - like the mountains - offer healing and rejuvenation despite the Monsoon weather.

Kovalam is a tourist haven. Though off season, there were still lots of Russian tourists. Go figure. Have since learned that the Russians are overseeing the construction of a nuclear plant in the region - thus their string presence.

Coconut palms aplenty at Hawa Beach - Eve's Beach, Kovalam

Temple Wall Detail - the sacred cow. Incidentally, they are NOT everywhere, roaming the streets!

I tried to get into this temple in Trivandrum, but didn't have a dhoti - so I chose to stay out. Could have purchased one, but I was too lazy!

Another view of one of the main temples in Thiruvananthapuram

To think that Greek temples were also once this gaudy/colourful. I found a way to process Hinduism and temples - I simply treated them like a living version of ancient Greek and Roman temples. Works for me. Need to do more research and work on this. Unlike the past, I did not feel overwhelmed by the temples and the gods. 

This fabulous black temple in Thiruvananthapuram does not allow pictures, so I took one from a distance. Devotees smash sacrificial coconuts for the gods. Here, you can see the truck carrying sacks full of smashed coconuts.

Mar Thoma Orthodox Church has a strong presence in Kerala. Saint Thomas the Apostle moved to India soon after the death of Christ, bringing Christianity to India. I was hoping to add to my small collection of Orthodox icons, but I couldn't find any.

The impressive City Hall in Thiruvananthapuram was hosting a craft and textile fair. Notice the woman with the yellow pallu. She tried to sell me kleenex!

How British can you get? never got a chance to ride the double-deckers. The buses to Kovalam were different.

Saint Anthony's Catholic Church, with a mosque nearby.

The Main Mosque in Thiruvanathapuram - close to the stadium

This shot for the benefit of my students - this fellow was exiled for his writings!

The choppy waters at Kovalam - I am told that this is a Monsoon Season feature.The water is calm otherwise. Frankly, I liked it like this.

The German Bakery was my favourite hangout. Decent coffee at indecent prices! Grrrrrrr

See, I did like the place. They also had a terrific book exchange which I used.

Lighthouse Beach - again

A stray dog on the boardwalk - Kovalam Beach

For 200 rupees (4 dollars), I took an overnight sleeper from Palakkad to Thiruvananthapuram. Notice the umbrella - protecting me from the leaks during the rainstorms along the way! 

The umbrella protecting me. On the next train trip, I cancelled my cheap ticket and purchased the upgraded 3 Tier Air Conditioned Sleeper from Thiruvananthapuram to Kozikhode (Calicut)  - for 500 rupees - 10 dollars. It came with curtains for privacy, and no leaks!

Unesco Protected Toy Train from Mettupayalam to Ooty

The Unesco Protected Mountain Train that climbs to more than 4000 metres as it makes its way from Mettupayalam to Ooty in Tamil Nadu

The tiny steam engine chugs along through lush forests, 23 tunnels and I can't remember how many bridges.

Just several hundred metres high at this point, the town of Mettupayalam lies in the distant valley.

The train stops for toilet breaks but, more importantly, to get a greasing and more water to create the steam.

Yours truly, hanging on to a stationary train!

Another tunnel

The oddest things made me nostalgic. Runneymede Station!

Lush vegetation and tea plantations

The hotel in Ooty where I crashed for the night

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the background, Ooty

Government Offices in a former colonial estate

An intriguing white pine in the Ooty Botanical Gardens

Me posing in auto-rickshaw parked at the Botanical Gardens

The colonial gate house entrance to the Botanical Gardens

The canon - a reminder of the past

Homesick at the smallest things - the toy train (steam train) stops at Runneymede and I cannot resist taking a picture.