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On the Inca Trail with Chef “Super” Mario

My guest post for Four Letter Word!

The Art Walk Project

avocado salad Avocado salad © Mekhala Roy

There was a vibrant yellow tablemat that caught my eye as I entered the green dining tent. Made of alpaca fiber, it had Inca designs woven into it in red, green, and blue, which were a perfect contrast against the green tablecloth. The dining table, gleaming with stainless steel crockery, was set for the group. Three couples in all — Ben & Alice, Brett & Mary-Ann, Sayan (my husband) & I — and our guide, Saul. Seven plastic stools were placed around the table for us to sit.

A big serving bowl cradled a variety of fruits, cut into bite-size pieces, slathered with a  condensed milk dressing. Slices of cake-like bread, known as pan chuta in Peru, scrambled eggs with cheese, pancakes with butter and jam for spread, and a delectable porridge made of quinoa and milk occupied most of the table.  A variety of…

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Ain’t sweet!

September 2. Friday. 2 p.m.

My flight is scheduled to leave Boston, for Atlanta, at 6 p.m.

I am hit by a sudden urge to clean the refrigerator. I open the fridge door to find a packet of baby carrots staring at me helplessly.

The image of a heaping bowl of gajar ka halwa (carrot porridge) flashes by.


2:15 p.m.

The food processor is called to action.

I rush to the pantry. After a short struggle I manage to reach the duo of evaporated milk sitting at the topmost shelf.

I look at the can opener — another struggle awaits.


2:25 p.m.

I pour the pre-thickened milk into the pot and turn the burner on.

I fry the shredded carrots in a heaping spoonful of clarified butter (ghee) and add it to the boiling milk.

Adding sugar, stirring, scraping — the cycle continues.


3:15 p.m.

It’s finally done.

Leaving it to cool down, I run to pack.


3:25 p.m.

I pour the concoction inside a plastic container and put it in my hand luggage.

We leave for the airport.


4:30 p.m.

A long line at the security checkpoint.

I pass through the metal detector and reach out to collect my bag.

“Ma’am is this your bag?” asks the TSA officer.


“Please step aside.”


He puts on his blue gloves and opens my bag. He pulls out the plastic container and gives me a puzzled look.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a kind of Indian sweet.”

“What does it contain?”

“Carrots and milk.”

“I am sorry ma’am, but I can’t allow you to carry this. It has a gel-like consistency. You can either eat it now or go back and check-in your bag. Or else I need to throw it.”

“I had put in a lot of effort to make it,” I plead.

“I can’t help,” he says.

I look at the long line at the security checkpoint.

“Then throw it away,” my voice chokes.

“OK, have a good day ma’am.”


5 p.m.

Atlanta in another three hours.

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Are you a foodie?

I created a fun quiz for you to find out. This quiz won’t test your knowledge of food; it will only test your love for food.

If you score 70% or above you sure are a foodie.

Here’s the link:

Please leave a comment behind indicating your score.


Photo courtesy : Google images.


A fishy tale

I can travel for miles to buy fish, labor for hours to scale fish and feel like a magician while cooking fish. Yes, you got it right I am a Bengali. I shamelessly admit that the sight of my freezer suffocating with a variety of fish, has the same effect on me as a spa therapy has on a stressed out soul. The assurance it lends, that I can have a meal of rice accompanied by fish whenever I please, makes my day.

As a child I remember accompanying my father to the fish market every Sunday. The fishy smell, the glittering fish scale strewn alleys and the “50 Rs/kg” cries of the fishmongers still linger on my mind. To my surprise I found myself shopping for fish in malls, all packed and ready to hit the scorching oil, after I moved to Bangalore. Now in the US, a Bangladeshi store called Foodland, located in Cambridge, satiates my love for fish. Once a month I coax my husband into driving me 30 miles each way in return of the promise to cook him his favorite doi maach (fish in yogurt curry).

The fish haven located at the basement of the store is lined with large, once white freezers crammed with the prize. Once I pick my fish, big enough to last a month, the man behind the counter cuts the fish into precise pieces with an electric knife. During the long drive back home I usually contemplate about different fish curry recipes to match up to the month long cooking marathon.

The daunting scaling process begins once I reach home, with me bent over the kitchen sink armed with a quarter (25cent coin) as my scaling gadget. Cries of my husband voicing his disbelief as to how I can labor for hours over a fish fades in the background as memories of fishmongers scaling their catch with fifty paisa coins rush in my mind, lighting up my face with a smile.

Back at home, in Kolkata, having fish for lunch and dinner, is a ritual, unless some near or dear ones happen to pass away. Then you are expected to go into mourning, marked by the beginning of a gruelling eleven-day-long vegetarian diet, I believe meant to reassure the departed that you still care. I remember one such instance. It was a Sunday, my father returned from the bazaar bragging about his catch, Pabda maach. My mom knew this called for pabda maacher kalo jeera jhol (a light fish curry prepared with kalonji seeds) for lunch.

We sat down for lunch and my sister stooped over the bowl of fish curry to get the largest piece before I could reach for it when the dining room resounded with that ominous telephone call. It was my Aunt informing us about the demise of my father’s distant octogenarian uncle. My sister and I had never seen this grandfather of ours. She looked at me helplessly and at the fish for one last time. We knew right away how dearly we would miss the fish curry and braced ourselves to brave the 11-day ordeal. We secretly envied and cursed our maid who would get to pack our share home. The fish preparation was promptly replaced with dal (lentil soup) and alu bhaja (fried potatoes). My father returned to the table with a sigh. Till date I wonder whether the sigh was really meant for his long forgotten uncle!