I've just been sent a lovely, effusive review of my new book, Eat, Pray, Eat, which apparently appeared in the Mail on Sunday this weekend by critic Simon Griffith - called me 'hilarious' and 'thought provoking', which is something I plan to bring up the next time my children respond with stony faced moans to my jokes.
Thanks Uncle Simon!*
Also, apparently Metro called it 'eminently readable'. Not sure what that means. That it uses words?
It's not online for some reason, but I will try to figure a way to get the PDF up so that my mum and other fans can read it (well, really just my mum actually).
And if you are already getting anxious that you are missing the wonderful reviews for my book which are avalanching in, do not fret, I plan not only to keep you up-to-date with any more which come in, but also to repeat the good bits for the rest of my life as a blogger.
You'll have to wait until August the 25th (I know, I know, an unbearable aeon of time - try drugs, they'll help the time pass) until this life-changing masterpiece/mildly diverting memoir is available in the stores or online.
While I wait for the skies to clear so that I can get to Tokyo, I thought I'd upload a few more photos from our India trip. Here's us on the beach north of Bekal, waiting patiently and with uncharacteristic serenity for the sun to set. Northern Kerala is almost entirely free of large scale hotel and tourist development, yet it has some of the best beaches in India - vast, empty and palm-fringed. True the sea is fairly rough and not great for swimming, and the majority Muslim population does tend to frown upon bikinis and beer, but I suspect it isn't going to remain undeveloped for much longer.
We stayed at the Lalit Bekal, a brand new, out of the box resort which we had literally to ourselves. We were the only other guests as they had only opened a couple of weeks earlier and hadn't started marketing the place yet. It was a little strange, rather like The Prisoner, but with much better service and no giant, white inflatable balls chasing us on the beach.
The chef had plenty of time on his hands and kindly allowed me into his kitchen to watch him make a classic Bengali dish (like many of the best chefs in India, he was Bengali) from the banana flower.
The dish is called mochar ghonto and requires meticulous preparation, including removal of the stamens. It is splendidly spicy and aromatic. Sorry about the photo below. I didn't realise it was so blurry until I uploaded it and wonderful Typepad doesn't allow photos to be deleted once they've been uploaded.
From north Kerala we caught a cockroach-infested night train to Cochin. He we are looking nervous but hopeful at the start of the ten hour trip. We didn't look quite so fresh at the end of it but it was a great experience and our fellow non-bug passengers - as always in India - couldn't have been more charming and generous.
Here's the obligatory shot of the famous Chinese fishing nets that are maintained on the seafront at Fort Cochin purely for tourists to take the obligatory shot of them.
I saw no evidence of any of them being used, and am pretty sure none of these were caught using them. These stalls were, again, for tourists. You choose your fish, and then it is sent to a restaurant across the street to be cooked after which you deposit a sum roughly equivalent to a 1000 per cent mark up on what locals would be paying for the same dish a couple of kilometres away.
While in Cochin Emil's shoes began to wear out. He couldn't decide whether to have new Puma trainers or Adidas as a replacement. Luckily, those enterprising Indian counterfeiters had an answer to his problem:
Honestly, I promise this is almost the last post from India but I really wanted to share some of the things we saw. Shame to just leave them clogging up my hard drive.
The fish at this streetside stall in central Bandra, Mumbai, was absolutely superb, particularly the tandoori prawns. And, no, I didn't get sick.
We were all rather seduced by the energy and excitement of Mumbai. After Rajasthan, it was like arriving in the 21st century. This is the view from our hotel, the glorious Taj Lands End, slap bang in one of the most expensive residential areas in the world. Somewhere amid all that is Bollywood star Sharukh Khan's house.
Here is the obligatory shot of the Gate of India.
And if you turn 180, this is what you see: the Taj Hotel, still under repair following the terrorist attacks of 2008.
And where I was lucky enough to meet possibly the greatest chef in India, Hemant Oberoi.
After dealing with this assistant, he casually mentioned that this was the spot where several of his staff were gunned down before his eyes. Rather puts cooking into perspective, doesn't it?
Chef Hemant is always keen to bring Indian street food onto the menus at his hotel restaurants, and served me a sensational belpuri, a crispy sphere filled with aromatic vegetables, along with his bite-sized take on chaat.
Apologies for the declining rate of posts in recent weeks. It wasn't that we were wanting for Internet connection - this is modern India, they may not have refuse collection but the whole shebang is wireless - more that the sensory, cultural, culinary and historical overload left me wondering how on earth I could begin to sum it up in a blog post or ten.
So I have decided not to really try, but just pick a few of the 2,000 or so photos which I swear have added a couple of hundred grams to the weight of my MacBook.
One word of warning, I do know this is supposed to be a food blog but - and don't tell my publisher this - the more time we spent in India, the less food came to dominate my attentions. Not sure, but I don't think I am writing a wholly food-orientated book any more. It became harder and harder to focus just on what I was eating as everything else just sort of began to crowd in. Including camels.
After Jaipur, Rajasthan still had one wondrous sight hidden up its voluminous sleeve: Udaipur, with its lake palaces and yet more maharajah action.
Though we wouldn't make it as far west as Jaisalmer, so I can't speak for that, Udaipur was easily the most seductive of Rajasthan's cities with an easier-going atmosphere. We even got to see the Maharana's (Udaipur has a Maharana, not a Maharaja, I should add) lavatory.
Great shops, too. I don't know about you,
but legion are the occasions I have searched for a Specs 'n'
Dentures outlet near me.
The street food was perhaps not as diverse as in Jaipur, but you can't beat swirl of sugary batter and a big vat of boiling oil.
One day I hired a car and driver and took off to the largest Jain temple in India, Adinath near Ranakpur, with its 1,500 columns.
Unspeakably beautiful inside, though not enough to persuade me to become a Jain. Sounds like awfully hard work, what with the 'not harming a fly' edict and all. What, not even those mosquitos which wake you up by buzzing Britney Spears' 'Toxic' in your ear drum at two in the morning?
The Palace of the Winds, Jaipur. Just out of shot: 2,389 people trying to sell me a variety of objects whittled out of wood.
One of the reasons Indian cooking can seem daunting - the sheer number of spices, many of them unobtainable in the West, and the rest unobtainable fresh in the West. Even the onions are special - they look like normal red onions, but are far less sweet than Spanish onion.
These were the lovely ladies and their son who opened their haveli, the Sankotra, to us in Jaipur and showed me how to make some local dishes.
Alexander McCall Smith in inaction at the Jaipur Literary Festival.
The ingredients used to make up paan, which all middle aged male Indians seem to chew habitually, turning their teeth, lips, tongue and, ultimately, the gutters of India rusty red.
Jodhpur's fabulous - in the literal sense of the word - Mehrangarh Fort.
I chanced upon a Bollywood movie being shot at the Fort. WIth proper, famous Indian movie stars, apparently.
More of the astonishing sandstone architecture at the Fort. It was the most impressive and magical fort we saw in India, but receives fewer than 100,000 foreign visitors every year. Mildl interesting Indian tourist statistic No.2: India as a whole receives fewer foreign tourists than Madame Tussauds (around 4.5 million per annum, of whom a large part are from Bangladesh and Pakistan).
This is the view from the Fort, of the 'Blue City' below - its houses painted blue by the Brahmin inhabitants to alert everyone to their high caste. Also, it is said, the blue repels mosquitoes and helps keep them cool.
Street food in Jodhpur: small droplets of batter are deep fried, then the resulting pea-sized balls are rolled together to make sugary, bite-sized snacks. Molecular spherification! Pah!
Tandoor ovens bring out the food nerd in me, I am afraid. These are just a couple of the terrible, excited-blurry photos I have taken in Indian restaurant kitchens while on our journey.