Life Hacks for a Kiwi in India!

1. Learn Your Veg from Your Non-Veg!

Until I got to India I had never heard of the term ‘Non Veg’. In the simplest terms it means food that is not considered vegetarian. In New Zealand ( and most other countries in the West) food is only labelled (and then only sometimes) if it is deemed as vegetarian. It is accepted widely that the majority of people will choose food by taste and style, not necessarily if it has some type of meat or not. In the hospitality industry, we always used to keep a few plates of food with no meat on it for those few that called themselves vegetarian. Until very recently there was very little understanding of what vegetarian food is or means.

In India Veg or Non Veg food is steeped in religion and politics and is a lot more complicated than at first glance. Restaurants freely display signs to say if they are 100% Veg or sell Veg and Non Veg food.

From my own observations, what people eat depends on a variety of factors – your religion, your caste or where you live is just the start. As in Hinduism where there are thousands of Gods/ Deities there sometimes seems to be that many types of vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

For example, Muslims tend to be Non Veg and eat chicken and mutton (goat), but not pork. Non veg Hindus don’t eat beef and Catholics pretty much eat everything unless it’s lent then they tend to be veg, with fish only on Fridays. If you are from the Punjab, you most likely eat meat, but if you are from Gujarat then most likely you don’t.

Jain’s are vegetarian and don’t eat garlic or onion ( or anything from under the ground, don’t eat eggs, but can eat dairy).

Then there are the vegetarians that don’t eat eggs or dairy and those that do. Those that are only vegetarian on Tuesdays or Thursdays or vegetarian only in India – overseas they will eat anything. Those that are vegetarian only while fasting (fasting food is a whole blog in itself!) and the list goes on. Approx. 30% of India is classified as pure vegetarian, the rest somewhere between those that eat eggs (not classified as pure vegetarian) and dairy through to those that will eat anything.

Buying food can be a bit of a science too. The majority of India still sells goods from smaller family owned stores; large chain supermarkets are in the major centres but much fewer than in the West. Gujarati’s tend to own a lot of the general food stores (at least in Mumbai) which mean’s you can buy milk but not eggs (no meat at all ). Larger supermarkets almost without exception will have all their non veg products including eggs in a separate walled off part of the supermarket.

Fish is brought from the Goan’s or Manglorean’s, many of whom are also Catholic so will also sell pork products. Bengalis also sell fish, but this tends to be the fresh water variety only. Mutton and chicken tends to be sold by Muslims, Paneer (cottage cheese) and fresh dairy by the Punjabi’s & Sindhi’s and eggs are sold in tiny roadside shops manned by immigrants from the poorer states of Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.

Beef is a sore point all over India. In many Indian states, including Maharashtra where I live, the slaughter of cows is illegal; making it difficult to buy, sell, and, as a result, eat, beef. In Maharashtra, it is now illegal to sell or be in possession of beef. Beef is avoided by most Hindu’s but eaten widely by Catholics on the Konkan coast and in the North East. I am not even going to start on the politic’s of beef!!

By the way before I forget, alcohol is often seen as ‘Non Veg’ so its not allowed to be sold in the majority vegetarian or dry states such as Gujarat and not allowed in pure veg restaurants. At the same time you will never find alcohol at a Muslim restaurant, but you will have plenty of eatable non -veg options available, In fact finding veg options in a Muslim area on a festival is very difficult!

So in a nutshell, check what you want to eat before you go to a restaurant – it might be a little more complicated than you think.

For the record I am mostly a vegetarian. I do eat fish and seafood, occasionally eggs and dairy. I don’t eat any animals. I do occasionally drink alcohol.

Disclaimer: This piece is only from my observations as a foreigner living in Mumbai. It is only a generic observation from my point of view.

5 Different Things to do on a Day Out in Mumbai

So you have a day or two in Mumbai and you are not sure what to do?  Whether you are just passing through on work or know the city well, these are some of my picks for a few hours well spent in this bustling city.

1. Cat Cafe Studio, Versova

Cat Cafe Studio. Photo Nicola Fenton

In the heart of trendy seaside Versova where Bollywood artists and the advertising, creative crowd hang out, is home to India’s first cat cafe.

Blind cats, three legged cats, kittens and big cats, they are all here and all look happy and well fed.

Part creative agency, part cafe, part feline NGO and part event space, this cafe started in 2010 and is now a thriving Cat Cafe that put their rescue felines first. All the cats are rescue cats, nursed to health and then put up for adoption

The space is super clean and well run and has around 40 cats at any one time. You can choose to eat in the leafy front part of the cafe or choose to lounge about with the cats in a secure space near the back, once there you will not want to leave.

The cat cafe is free to visit (events are chargeable), has free wifi and you can stay as long as you like. They have a range of food and drinks available for sale and there is plently of information if you want to donate or adopt. Look out for their events , yoga with cats and comedy nights amoung others.

Check out their website for more information and directions.

Matunga East Market

Jackfruit at Matunga East Market. Photo Nicola Fenton

Matunga East market is my go-to place when I am on the lookout for anything South Indian. From food to groceries to clothes, their goods come directly from the Southern States of Tamil Nadu, Kerala & Kanataka.

Matunga is the place to get the best dosa’s and other traditional fare like banana-leaf curries, vada’s, idlis, panipayams and spicy sambhar. Amoungst the miriad of vegetable sellers are small shops specialising in regional spices and grains.

Pick up fresh banana chips, red rice, black rice, pickles coconut as well of 100’s of the Souths famous snacks and specialities.

I always go in the summer to get my fix of seasonal jackfruit and cooling ice apple (tadgola) and to pick up a fresh summer lungi (sarong) to wear. Its hot, its crowded but a unique little part of the south in Mumbai that you will not find anywhere else in the city.

Put Lakhamsi Napoo Rd in your Google maps, or catch a Taxi or Local train to Matunga East Station.

Elephanta Island

Elephanta Island. Photo Raga D’silva

Elephanta Island is located in the Bombay harbour and takes approx one hour on one of the numerous ferries that cross the bay from The Gateway of India.

Buy your tickets from the box office, price is approx Rs150 return per person on the slower passenger ferries. Or if you prefer you can get a private speedboat for around 12k for up to 8 people.

Once you reach the jetty it is a short walk to the market where you can pick up some local arts and crafts, much cheaper than in Colaba. After a short but steep hike through the market you can turn right for a short hike up to the lookout point or turn left for a longer but more leisurely walk past the damn and through the local village.

Watch out for the monkeys, they are used to tourists, fun to watch but are seasoned and clever thieves. Check timings before you go, Elephanta is closed in the Monsoon season or when the sea is rough. Don’t miss the last ferry back to Bombay.

To enquire about private speedboat hire or to experience a simple homemade meal (lunch) in a village house on the island contact me

Dhobi Ghat

Dhobi Ghat Mumbai. Photo Nicola Fenton

Dhobi Ghat is the famous open air laundromat in Mahalaxmi constucted in 1890. The dhobis (washers) wash clothes and other laundry from all over Mumbai.

At first sight it seems mad and chaotic but after a while you realise that their simple code system is amazingly efficient and has an almost zero error record making the ghats one of the most popular choices for laundry.

This is a labor-intensive process, of washing, sorting and ironing that has not really changed in the 130 yrs the place has been in existance. They have guided tours by proud residents who take you through the process and give you a peek at their unique way of life.

The best times to visit is early mornings or early afternoon. The guides, many who are now well educated and can speak a variety of languages are always very eager to share little anecdotes from their trade with curious travelers.

Dhobi Ghat is located next to Mahalaxmi Station. Get there via taxi or local train.

Local Trains – An Experience !

Local Train’s in Mumbai. Photo Nicola Fenton

The local trains in Mumbai carry approx 7.5 million Mumbaikers to and from work everyday. Rush hours are not for the faint hearted and if you decide to catch one to see a bit of Mumbai I highly recomend only off-peak or weekends.

The trains are super cheap and get you long distances within the city much faster than any car or taxi can. As this form of transport is not popular with the upwardly mobile, it’s a great way to see the real heartbeat of the city. It’s an adventure on its own and you can buy almost anything on board from the local sellers who travel up and down the lines everyday from snacks through to vegetables and trinkets.

Most people are friendly and will try to be helpful if you get lost or are not sure what station to get off at. You will hear languages from all over India spoken and see a huge cross section of people going about their business.

The main lines are the Central Line that starts from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj terminus ( formely Victoria terminus) in Fort Mumbai. CST station is a Heritage building and well worth the visit on its own. This line is the older of the two lines with older trains that take you through the Eastern and central side of the city.

The Western line starts from Chruchgate station, which is in the heart of SoBo (South Bombay) and has easy access to Marine Parade, Wankabe stadium and Colaba. The trains on this line tend to be newer and faster and service the Western side of Mumbai.

Make sure you have a ticket before you board. There are first and second class carriages as well as women only carriages ( highly recomended for single women travellers). Dont expect the doors to ever close, or for people to wait for you to get off before they get on, go with the flow and enjoy.

But it’s a great way to see the greater Mumbai area. Get off at Bandra West for the upscale restaurants and the hipster vibe along with the Bollywood who’s who; or travel on to Borivali to visit the Sanjay Ghandhi National Park. Wherever you get off its sure to be an adventure.

Author: Nicola Fenton is a Kiwi who has been living in Mumbai on and off for the last 10 yrs.


Instagram @NicsGoingGlobal

Naxalites, Taxi Drivers and Life’s Chances

I have been to India often, in fact I lived there for three years and through my business I still travel back regularly so I am not totally unfamiliar with the country and its ways. Many countries are vast and varied, but I have not been to one that has as many stories to tell as India. I think that even if I lived there for the rest of my life, I could still not travel everywhere and be exposed to all the diversity that makes up this unique country. I have just come back from a fast two week trip starting in the North East, travelling to the South and ending in the bustling metropolis of the  large West Indian city of Mumbai. This story is but a glimpse of one of the stories of India. Continue reading Naxalites, Taxi Drivers and Life’s Chances

Life Seems Full of New “Day One’s”

As my life has gone on, it seems I have more and more ‘day ones’! Starting a new job, a new house, a new country, a new diet, a new exercise regime.

I have moved countries five times, this doesn’t include the various cities within those countries. If I really apply myself I can probably count the number of houses and jobs I have had, but I surely cannot remember how many times I have started exercising or eating healthily again. I say eating healthily, as I gave up on diet’s years ago, I am no longer sucked in by fad’s and promises of slim shapely bodies in record time with little effort bar the ££$$ I need to spend to get there.
Continue reading Life Seems Full of New “Day One’s”

Running, Running, Running

I miss running, I miss the adrenaline, the freedom of the outdoors, the power I feel in my body, but if I am honest, most of all I miss how light and lean I look and feel when I am fully committed to running regularly.

Running is not that easy to get back into each time I stop.

It’s actually easy enough to get changed, put on my shoes and get out the door. Its actually easy enough to put an hour or so aside. But somewhere between the thought and the actions my head usually gets in the way. That’s the hard bit. Even the muscle soreness after the first couple of runs  is not so bad if I don’t overdo it, so what stops me? Continue reading Running, Running, Running

Not so sweet; Mr Whippy

I just had to post this photo of Mr Whippy.

I heard the familiar jingle as I was walking through the park on a warm spring evening. Instantly I was taken back to my childhood when we used to love the sound of Mr Whippy on a hot summers day and after convincing mum to part with a few coins, nothing seemed nicer than watching the white creamy ice cream being twirled into a cone then sprinkled with 100s n 1000s and if we were lucky a small chocolate flake being pushed in the side. Continue reading Not so sweet; Mr Whippy

Sugar, to Tax or not to Tax

Today the UK media reported that England’s Chief Medical Officer suggested that taxing sugar, similar to the tax on alcohol and cigarettes would assist in reducing the endemic obesity problem in the UK.

I have been in the UK for about 18 months and yes I do believe that action needs to be taken on the ever increasing problem of obesity here. I am not going to discuss the problems and issues for the country of overweight people, those problems and the cost to the country are well documented and discussed and make for very worrying statistics.  What I do want to comment on however is how I observe this country dealing with this problem. Continue reading Sugar, to Tax or not to Tax

Dhal vs Lentils – Tastes of Faraway Lands

I first got introduced to lentils when in my pre teens my mother and my older sister decided to go on what was colloquially called a ‘health kick’. My mother who suffered from terrible migraines, was prepared to do anything to get relief from the merry go round of severe headaches and pill popping to try and relieve them. My sister as I remember was becoming aware of her health and body as girls tend to in their young adult years. It was also  at the end of the hippy era where sprouts, chickpeas and alternative living were in fashion.  Things such as cottage cheese and tofu appeared in the fridge, ryvita crackers and vogels bread replaced the thick soft white bread we had been brought up on, alfalfa sprouts were being cultivated in an agee jar on the window sill and hard, flat, greenish- brown pea looking things called lentils were being stored in our cupboard. Continue reading Dhal vs Lentils – Tastes of Faraway Lands

Confessions and Observations of a Supermarketaholic

I like supermarkets, sometime times I pretend I don’t, but really I do. This is my second go at living in England, the first time was about 14 yrs ago when there didn’t seem to be too many supermarkets around. My shopping was mainly done from the wonderful family owned small stores that lined each high st.  At that time I lived in Islington and Stoke Newington, the only supermarket within walking distance was a dark scruffy place that I really only visited to get toilet paper and dishwashing liquid, I can’t even remember its name.

Don’t get me wrong I do love the European culture of tiny well stocked stores selling the most divine fresh meat and produce and jars of exotic sauces along with the staples of everyday living.  Buying fresh food each day on the way home from work and eliminating the need for large storage spaces in the kitchen. Italy really sold me on this concept, no need for cars to lug big bags of shopping, just buy the freshest of produce each day and have enough room to store your olive oil and a few fresh spices.

Growing up in New Zealand, I was introduced to the supermarket culture from a young age. Mum making me carry the old brown paper bags full of the weeks grocery’s home; home always being up the hill and not down.  Supermarkets in those days were boring, small dark isles to hide away from mum, nothing interesting on the shelves. New Zealand didn’t allow easy importation of foreign goods until the 90s, about the same time immigration was opened, so all those ingredients that I used to read about in exotic recipe books, like coconut milk, spices, variety of rices, limes, fresh chillies, pulses and so on were just not avail to me, a budding cook with a taste for anything hot, spicy and exotic. In the 90’s suddenly we had a deluge of people and things from foreign lands that previously I could only dream about, introducing me to tastes and sensations that rocked my senses that had been brought up on lumpy mash, dry meat, overcooked carrots, boiled peas and the only exotic spice that hit our food was an occasional sprinkle of black pepper.

We did have corner stores, these we called ‘The Dairy‘, mostly they sold milk, butter, newspapers, snack food etc. Too expensive and understocked to live out of unless maybe you were a student, too lazy to go to the supermarket and content to live on crisps and soft drink. The Dairy’s were also my first introduction to the Patel’s from Gujarat, it seemed that most dairy owners in those days hailed from that region of the world. How they must have missed their own local food, I doubt if any non -Indian kid in NZ had heard of dhoklas, rotli, khichdifarsan, mint chutney or my now favourite dabeli at that time.

Back to the Supermarkets, how they have evolved and almost against my will most now sell a range of the freshest produce, the most exotic spices, the best cuts of meat, freshly caught seafood and the largest array of packed food and the cheapest and most extensive range of alcohol that one could imagine. All of this is sold in an ambiance of  a clean light and an almost exciting atmosphere with competitive prices, bright packaging and smiling cashers, keen to give you tokens, cash back and vouchers for even better deals next time you visit.

What to do? succumb to the clever advertising, the bright lights and the one stop shop, convenient and almost exciting or keep supporting the local family owned local. I now live in North London and have a myriad of choices, Waitrose, Aldi and Sainsbury’s within walking distance, M&S and a large Tesco not much further away. While I love to roam their aisles for both the bargains and the not so cheap exotic packed goods all wrapped in cellophane and nicely stacked on clean shelves, there is something that keeps drawing me back to a store that is close by, I am unsure of its name but our family colloquially calls it ‘The Mediterranean store’ . Typical of London this store is packed to the brim with jars, cans, packets and sacks of food, some I recognise, some I don’t, all seeming to vaguely come from the Mediterranean or Middle Eastern part of the world. Along with the packed food comes fresh produce, a huge range of in-season fruit and vegetables, stacked up outside, inside, wherever there is space and a meat counter selling fresh Halal meat, not packed and sanitised behind cling film and polystyrene, just clean and fresh waiting to be brought by the kilo, chopped or minced to order. Open sacks of nuts, large bowls of olives, stacks of baklava,  spices, fresh hummus and other exotic delights finish the scene as you venture in. As much as I love to roam the shelves of M&S or Waitrose, something draws me back to this shop and others like it. The ability to pick out the best of the not so perfect looking fruit, pick of a packet of something from the precariously placed pile and chat briefly with the woman behind the counter, who has the knack of multi tasking down to a fine art, who can switch languages seamlessly depending on who she is serving and remembers me with a large smile when I enter.

So a supermarketaholic or just a foodie that loves meandering amongst aisles of fresh fresh food always looking for that ingredient I have never heard of or difficult to pronounce to try in my next family meal, I am not sure, but I do know that regardless, ingredients that I can smell, touch and create from scratch a meal with, will win every time.

A Taste of Tamil Nadu Heaven in Tooting Broadway, London

Chutny n Dosa, a little South Indian eatery that I have recently found in the unusual sounding place of Tooting broadway, South London.

I love South Indian food, in fact it is one of the reasons I really miss living in India. I was introduced to South Indian  food  a few years ago  when I travelled to Kanyakumari, the very tip of India where the Indian ocean, the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal meet and have never looked back. The taste of various freshly made dosa, idly, wada, or uttapam with spicy chutney and sambhar is now for me a breakfast (or lunch) second to none. Along the way I visited various towns and villages such as Mangalore, Mysore, VijayanagaraHampi,  and Thiruvananthapuram, amongst others. All of theses places having their own specialties and providing their own slight differences to the standard fare of the south.

Nothing else tastes the same or can be compared. The simple food outlets have a only a few items on the menu, that when run out is over for the day. Larger places or those in the bigger metro cities usually have a more extensive array of food and variety, often including Indian/ Chinese dishes and non veg dishes.

I have never before had South Indian food that tastes quite the same outside of India. The sensation and flavour is never quite the same, the ambience  not there and the disappointment of not quite getting the taste I crave hangs around. That is until I found Tooting, well actually Dosa n Chutny in Tooting. The whole ambience is South India, the place is scrubbed clean , but the paint is ever so slightly peeling, the menu reads like 1000’s of other non veg South Indian restaurant menus and when the food arrives I am sent straight back to one of the unpronounceable villages in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka or Kerala.

My personal favourites at Dosa n Chutny, apart from the staple dosa and idli is the Chettinadu fish curry that has the lingering taste of Tamil Nadu  and is even more delicious when mopped up with a veechu parotha. The spicy prawn thokku with juicy prawns and a thick masala sauce is a taste sensation in itself, making my eyes water and prompting me to order another sweet lassi to cool my mouth before taking another bite.

There is of course a few Londonisms, the waiters all wear shoes, the tables are wiped with a popular antibacterial spay n wipe instead of soapy water , the water in the jug provided is safe enough to drink and the prices reflect the local economy, albeit excellent value for money.  The clientele on the few times I have been seems to be expat South Indian’s, maybe hankering for tastes of home and a good mix of people that come from all over the globe and make London the melting pot that it is.

I like this place, I have to travel a long way from North London to get there and to date have not been disappointed. Simple and delicious or simply delicious.


Photos from Dosa n Chutny website

Thoughts On My Wanderings

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