The Kingdom of Wonder

Cambodia is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia.
Officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia and once known as the Khmer Empire. We flew to Siem Reap which mean Defeat of Siam. Images of Yul Brenner in The King and I came to my mind, even though Siam is in Thailand but as we learned, this country has a long history of changing rulers and the neighboring countries. Vietnam and Thailand, took constant bites of this land.
More about it you can find it here.

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The main attraction are the temples and the main one is called Angkor Wat.

The temples were build in the 7 -10 century A.D. They were build for one religion, Hinduism but then a new ruler came who believed in Buddhism, thus he destroyed the  images of the exciting religion and new ones were carved. Nature also took it’s toll but an extensive restoration work was done on most of them so we had  a full “plate” on our hands.  We started with Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple then on to Preah Khan then Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat. Each one was unique. The biggest is Angkor Wat. The temples have the same basic architecture. They were  build with 4 corner prayer/meditation rooms, courtyard in the middle and three towers each symbolize a different god. It seems that the numbers 3 and 4 are important, which sums to 7. Nothing is random and you can find meaning in everything.  I find that I tend to compare it to Judaism. There is so much in common even though these believes developed in different parts of the world.

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I marveled at each one but I got restless in Angkor Wat. I found out later that its the only one that served as a burial place for the kings. This reminded me of the Taj-Mahal which is another wonder but also is a mausoleum and let’s not forget the Pyramids… what is it with the obsession with death?

The Next morning I woke up at 4am, took  a Tuk-tuk which is a motorcycle attached to a carriage, to the town of Phnom Krom. Took a steep hike and arrived at a pagoda on the top of a mountain. It’s a monastery and the monks were getting up for their morning chanting. After the chanting I joined a purification ceremony which included chanting, prayers, meditation and final blessing with holy water by the abbot. I was also given a red string on my right hand. I joined an Indian family who cam for the blessing, for breakfast and watched the sunrise.

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We heard there was a place called a Thousand Lingas.  Yes…  it’s a phallic symbol but again it symbolize beginnings. We drove an hour and half out of the city. The landscape consists mainly of rice fields. The farmers live in huts on stilts, they don’t have any electricity or running water.
We learned from our guide that it is the government’s interest to keep the people poor and uneducated.
We climbed for an hour and arrived at the famous Thousand Lingas river. Back to Siem Reap we stopped at the ” pink temple” Banteay Prei which is big but has no ornamentation.

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The next stop was the Landmine museum. This was a reminder that Cambodia was under the Khmer Rouge dictatorship regime that killed over 2 million Cambodians.

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There are few staple Cambodian foods. I took a cooking class which started with a trip to the market to get the fish or rather make sure it’s the fish I can eat … then to the kitchen to make banana flower salad with smoked fish, coconut soup with tofu and fish amok.
We leave Cambodia to go North to Hanoi. We leave a country with a rich history that is filled with wars and pain and hope for a brighter future.

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So, what’s for dinner?

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I have been meaning to write this post since I came back from India….. I promised to post some recipes so here it goes.

When we were in Udaipur we had the privilege of participating in a cooking demonstration.

Spice is what gives food a definition. Two weeks eating Indian vegetarian dishes I came to the conclusion that there are five basic spices that are used in different combinations. In the spice box we can find, red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt,cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds. All these help with digestion (fennel), brain memory ( cumin) and blood ( turmeric) in addition we use a combination of spices called Gara-masala which has black pepper, cinnamon, black cardamon, cloves, coriander seeds, bay leaves and cumin seeds roasted and ground.

Dal is one of these dishes that we find almost in every meal. It consists of lentils, red, yellow, black or white.  It is a source of protein so no need for meat.

Ingredients
1 cup of any kind of lentil
2 finally chopped onions (you can make a paste in the food processor)
10-12 cloves garlic
1/2 teas turmeric powder
1 teas red chili powder
salt to taste
1 teas garam masala
3 medium size tomatoes,finely chopped or paste
4 tbls oil or ghee or butter (ghee is a clarified butter that’s used in many Indian dishes
1 tbls chopped coriander for garnish

Method:
Boil the soaked dal (lentil) with 1/2 liter water in a pressure pan or over an open pan for 10 minutes.
Take pan, add the onions and crushed garlic till brown then add all the spices and the tomatoes.
Mix well and cook till oil and masala seperate.

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Then add boiled lentils and mix well. In the end, add pinch of garam masala and coriander, cover for two minutes.

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During our trip we had plenty of Chai Masala which is a black tea spiced with dry ginger, green coriander, black pepper, cinnamon and milk. The spices are combined, not roasted and ground into a paste.

The recipe for this delicious tea is:
1 cup water
2 pinches of chai masala

Bring to boil, add Assam tea or any tea leaves, now add 1 cup milk and sugar to taste. Bring to boil for two minutes, cover for two minutes , strain and drink.
It’s a refreshing way to start the day instead of coffee.

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There are others dishes and let’s not forget the bread. In India, we did not use utensils but used the bread as a fork.  The food tastes great.

Chapati is the bread that’s made each morning. They say that the first chapati is given to the cow (well they are sacred), it’s made of:

6 cups of whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups water.

Slowly, slowly add the water and make a medium dough. It can be stuffed with spinach or onion or even condensed milk for sweetness.
method: mix well, roll little dough, put the filling in the center and cover it from all sides. now roll it again and apply ghee or butter to both sides and fry on a special flat pan.

It sounds a bit complicated so I promise a demonstration and a complete meal soon.

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Bitea’avon!

Thar Desert

Six hour bus ride; through the desert pass different towns. This time we watched an Indian movie – Taare Zameen Par, every child is special produced and directed by Aamir Khan, An Indian actor who cares about social justice causes.  The film is about a child with dyslexia.  His parents cannot accept the fact that he has a problem nor does his teacher, but there is an art teacher who recognize it and helps. And as in every Bollywood movie there is a happy ending and the kid wins the school art competition and recognition by his father.

We arrived at Mama’s resort, an oasis in the desert with fancy tents.
We went on a camel ride to the dunes. The scenery reminded me of bible times. I saw women at a well and could imagine Eliezer meeting Rebecca there.
We tried to meditate on the dunes waiting for the sunset but for some reason it was a popular place, jeeps came by, children looking to sell chips and drinks, who knew..finally it was quiet . The sun went down.

So what do we do for dinner? Outdoors it is with a bonfire and dancing. A mix of belly dancing and Bollywood kept us warm. Again chai amsala, paneer and a new dish mini eggplant in masala sauce.

How romantic it sounds to sleep in a tent , not on a floor but on a bed , but it’s desert and it gets cold at night so I went to sleep with all my cloths.

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Kosher in India?

Cows, buffalo, dogs, pigs a whole zoo walking in the street. You are not allowed to eat any and if by mistake you kill a cow you have to feed the whole village-have a party and dip in the gangas river which is not so clean.. Some eat chicken or goat meet but as our group keeps kosher it is easy to stick to non meat and some time non dairy diet.

Most dishes have protein in the form of beans. Then use of spices like turmeric, cumin, fennel, mustard seeds and red chili powder adds amazing flavor and let’s not forget vegetables like tomatoes, onions, eggplant and more makes it easy to be vegetarian for two weeks.

Lunch was served in something called Thila, a round platter with small bowls, each contains a dish, rice in the middle and Nan, so you supposed to pour the dal or paneer on vegetables masala on the rice and eat with your right hand. Eating with your hands adds to the taste.

The thing with Indian cooking is that there are those 7 spices , red chili powder for taste, turmeric for blood circulation, cumin for brain and sharp memory, black mustard seeds for digestion,fennel seeds for digestive and Fenugreek seeds for arthritis, and another mixture of spices called Gara masala which includes black pepper, cinnamon, black cardamon, cloves, coriander seeds, bay leaves and cumin seeds, roast them and grind. This can be kept in closed container for years.

The last night in Udaphur we were treated to a cooking class. I got real excited, the mystery of cooking dal, paneer, masala, nan and more will be revealed. I promised an Indian meal on my return but here is something different to have any time of the day .
We all love tea and in India we have the chai masala, a black tea with a mixture of dry ginger, cardamon black pepper, cinnamon all mix in equal parts and grind. To make chai boil 1 cup water with 2 pinches of the chai masala add assam tea leaves, add 1 cup milk and sugar to taste bring to boil for two minutes and again ( just like Turkish coffee) cover it for two minutes and strain.

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Women power, art and food

Yesterday we had the most incredible day it started with walking to the Jagdish temple,climbing up steep steps , taking off our shoes, listening to the chanting, getting a red dot on the forehead. The hindus love their temple, the carving in the marble stone are intricate and tell the stories of the different lords.

Udaphur is known for it’s artists. There is glass mosaic and miniature drawings. I chose the drawing workshop. We came to an artist cooperative, the artist helped us create our own elephant drawing using paints like orange tumeric, blue lapis,  grey purple for the elephant body. All are minerals from the ground. I was in my element. I was transformed into a magical world, there are three symbols for the Rajasthan state, the elephant is luck, the horse is strength and the camel is love, each also relates to a different city, the elephant for Jaipur, the horse for Udaphur and the camel for Jaisalmer.

28 km outside of Udaphur there is a village called Delwara, a town of 5,000 people from 27 different castes and different religions.
Seva Mandir which is a non profit NGO (non government organization) founded the Citizen’s Development forum, together they transformed the town infrastructure. Major changes were accomplished which include sanitation, half of the households did not have toilets or running water. They created a step well. They build youth centers . We were taken on a heritage tour by a young man, there are incredible Jain temples. Jain religion has a different god, a human like figure that is not adorned in cloth like the hindu gods.

They helped women organize themselves into self help groups, they created a Sadnha where they make cloths that sell at the Fab India store. Some of these women come from abused homes and this is their way for independence.
Seeing garbage on the street is a common sight, whether it is the big city like jaipur of the smaller city of Pushkar but the village of Delwara look cleaner in comparison. With the help of NGO’s like Seva Mandir or the Barefoot College we saw outside of Pushkar there is hope for a cleaner , more civilized society.

It’s been a long day, rewarding and intriguing. We were treated to a cooking class.
It was a delight. I got really excited, You all know I love cooking so I was in my element. I got to stir the base for the masala.  Home cooked meal tastes so much better then a fancy restaurant.

What a day, it felt like India in a day – pray,art,people,food. Colors, Smells, Taste .

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