Tag Archives: India

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 https://www.catcafestudio.com 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 nicola@nicolafenton.com

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.

Contact: nicola@nicolafenton.com

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

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

Five Snapshots of India

Sadhu in Rajasthan
1 . This photo was taken on my birthday, 16 January 2011. At the time I was living in Delhi and for a birthday treat was taken to an old fort in Rajasthan. We were wandering around the local village where for a few rupees we were offered a ride on an old camel  drawn cart. We were taken away from the daily bustle of the small village into the hills and on up to a small hilltop Hindu temple where we were invited by these local men for chai and prasad (tea and sweet). These men were sitting smoking ganja, sipping chai and whileing  the time away chatting with the Sadhu’s.  Two women, one white and one NRI Indian was an unusual and welcome break in their day. 
Mathadi; Daily Wage Worker, Uttar Pradesh
2. Noida; the ever-growing city. Everyday in Noida, the city in Uttar Pradesh that knocks on the door of the affluent South Delhi suburbs grows a little. Brick by brick  the city is built entirely by hand by the thousands of workers from across UP and other poor states who come with their families and build makeshift huts alongside or within the buildings they are working on. Everyone works, everyone contributes to the daily wage living, building high rises, malls, shops, schools and parks they will never be allowed to use. Labour is cheap and plentiful so young and old, men and women with bare hands and the simplest of tools the city grows day by day. About 85% of India’s working population, around 400 million people are Mathadi’s or informal daily wage workers.
Boy in Mysore
Boy getting Tonsure in Mysore 
3. This photo was taken in Mysore, Karnataka near a Hindu Temple. He was getting his head shaved in preparation for a religious ceremony.
Daily wage woman in Uttar Pradesh
4. Another of the tens of thousands of labourers that are building the modern India each day. Approximately 120 million women are Mathadi or daily wage earners in rural India, most earning only half of what is paid to a man for the same job. This woman was cooking her family an early morning meal over a small fire using old tins instead of pots and sticks in lieu of cooking utensils. The meal each morning consisted of dry roti’s and a hot drink, probably chai. Behind her is the shack built from bricks and tin that her family sleep in whilst building the house, the foundations of which are starting on her right. Out of sight are the luxury bungalow houses already built and occupied on the rest of the street.
Paper DosaPaper Dosa; Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India.
5. Paper Dosa. I love South Indian breakfasts. Growing up with cereal and toast did not prepare me for the amazing taste and visual sensation that is breakfast in the southern states of India. Idli, vada, sambhar, uttapam or dosa along with various chutneys and steaming hot, freshly prepared south Indian coffee seem to be the mainstay among  the breakfast choices. This is a paper dosa, the largest and showiest version of the dosa, always attracting attention if ordered as if it is showing the culinary skills of the udipi’s dosa maker and large enough to indulge the family with the crisp rice loveliness of it all.