Posts Tagged ‘Matt Haley’

Haley’s Travels: The sights and scents of Mumbai

November 30, 2010

This is a photo of the Dhobi Ghat Laundry Mat on the outskirts of the Mumbai skyline.

Rehoboth Beach restaurateur Matt Haley is visiting children at an orphanage he supports in Nepal, exploring the Himalayan culture and cuisine, traveling throughout India and then on to Europe, and reporting on an occasional basis.  His reports are presented here to expand our own perspective on other parts of the world and cuisines that may eventually find their way into the local restaurant scene. All of the photographs are by Matt or members of his traveling group.

Mumbai-Bombay
October 2010

I arrive in Bombay and am immediately stopped at immigration for traveling in and out of India within a two-month period. It takes a while but is taken care of.

My friend Ashit Patel (brother of Tushar from Dover) has come to pick me up. We head into town and I am amazed at the amount of people, the skyline and the ease at which things move. There are close to 20 million people here and you would not know it because things flow so smoothly.

I have quickly noticed how kind the people are and how quick people are to help. Never holding a hand out. After checking into the Vivanta Hotel, to my surprise Ashit and Rajeev take me on a tour of the path the Mumbai terrorists took on what they call 26/11 which is the date of the Mumbai terrorists’ attack on November 11th a few years ago. I quickly realize it is their 9/11.

From the boatyard village to the Taj to the police station to Leopolds, we walk step for step the  path of that night. It was chilling and interesting and set the tone for the visit, and gave me a quick understanding of how Bombay operates. My friends lost a lot of their friends that night. It was very important for them to show me. I also quickly realized that this was one of the safest cities I have ever been in which was to be proven over the next few days.

Ashit is the Indian version of me. We are in the same business; we dress the same; we are the same age and we are both risk- taking, cutting-edge brothers of older reserved brothers with very similar tastes. When he picked me up we were both wearing jeans, sandals and white button down shirts – my standard outfit for 40 years.

Our first food encounter was at a place called Cafe Mondegar in the Colaba district off the Causeway. It reminded me of a cafe in Paris and we had drinks and chicken sausage with chili sauce. It was a perfect starter for the night. Colaba is bustling at night and I knew I was in for a dining treat.

Water chestnuts at the "Thieves Market."

After a short cab ride through the city at night went to a place called “Gaylords,” a very old classic Indian bistro that again reminded me of being in the Latin Quarter in Paris. Let me say, Bombay to me is a combination of Paris, Chicago and Barcelona.

At Gaylords we dined on fresh kabobs, butter chicken and spicy mutton all accompanied by wonderful flatbreads called Naan & Roti with mango and mint chutneys.

I had to turn in early that night. I was still incredibly tired from Nepal.

I had turned 180 degrees on accommodations from Nepal. Iwas staying in a Taj Hotel now. I felt a little guilty but still took advantage of it. My breakfast the next day after my steam and massage was fresh guava juice, chick pea masala and flat bread.

That day I explored Mid/South Bombay on my own. My favorite place being “Dohbi Ghat” the world’s biggest laundramat. There are over 1,000 laundry workers there. It’s incredible. The clothes that are being washed are so colorful and fresh I just had to do laundry. While waiting I had a shave and a scalp massage which is my favorite thing to do in India. Another favorite is the fact that I had all of this including laundry for $3 U.S.

Saturday night we went to Bade Miyal, a famous street vendor on a back alley street. Only in India can you eat at a table set between two parked cars, three lazy cats and two homeless children sleeping and have a phenomenal meal. Ashit knew the owner so we were treated well, but I noticed it was the same for everyone.

Lamb and Chicken Kabobs, stewed lentils, cheese naan and thin roti were on the table. The atmosphere was very fast and fun. This was just an appetizer I was then told.

Bade Miyal Street kabobs.

After a short tour in a taxi through central Bombay and viewing the most expensive house ever built – one billion dollars – we ended up in the red-light district called “The Cages.” This was interesting and another part of seeing the good with the bad. I had told Ashit not to show me the good if he can’t show me the bad. This is a basic practice for me wherever I travel. So it was.

The “Cages” is where men go to exercise their needs. I appreciate the fact that 95 percent of the women in India stay sexually inactive till marriage. I could easily look at this as something to judge but I chose to look at it in an interesting way and understand the system. Something I certainly can’t change by commenting on.

I will say that I was surprised when we stopped. Ashit and Rajeev got out of the taxi and signaled to me to come along and I thought: “I don’t think this is going to work for me.” Right when I finished that thought we crossed the street and walked into the busiest restaurant I have ever seen! “Jaffer Bai’s Darbar Deli.” Glad that we were not on the other side of the street, I started to notice the amount of people in and outside of this place at 12:30 at night. The take-away line had three people working computers and another line down the street. The favorite was the “Arab chicken in butter sauce” and the roti which was so thin you could see through it.

We spent the next few days traveling around and researching restaurants and the styles of various food service businesses. All doing real well I thought. Once again I had no idea Bombay was on such a roll in the food scene. Another thing that’s true is they say “Bombay doesn’t sleep at night.” This is more than true. Not just clubbers, families too, just having good fun.

On one of the last nights, we spent the evening with Ashit’s friend Chitra, a beautiful woman who has been in Mumbai for her whole life. She was very elegant and laid back at the same time. She also had the coolest apartment (flat) I’ve seen. Decorated in a Indo-British look, it had to have been extremely thought out. It had some of the finest artwork and antiques of their time I had ever seen.

Ashit had his restaurant cater the meal. One of his businesses is a Chinese restaurant chain called Mr. Chows. Chinese is huge here. The table was full of our Chinese favorites back home, but done impeccably well with an extra touch of freshness. It reminded me a lot of Confucius in Rehoboth Beach.

The next day (the last in Bombay/Mumbai) we went to Ashit and Rahul’s new venture. A three- acre restaurant/event property in north Bombay two weeks before opening and toured the facility which was astounding. While we were there they booked a wedding party for 1,000. After touring the kitchen, which reminded me of Rehoboth Beach Country Club,  we sat down for a 25- course tasting of the menu.

The menu was lamb galouti, sheek kabob, chicken wrapped in foil, mutton organ gosh, butter chicken, creamed corn spinach and pander cheese, black lentil dal, garlic chicken kabob, matka chicken and fabulous desserts: chikki kulfi and gulab jamunan, a frozen sweet milk with praline and a reduced sweet milk bread in almond syrup.

Later that night we visited the Royal Cricket Club of India (RCCI). It was old and tasteful. Members only! I felt like I was walking into old Yankee stadium by myself at night and being catered to by the elite staff of India.

After leaving RCCI I met up with my friends from 60 kph motorcycle club to discuss my motorcycle ride south through Goa. 60kph is a motorcycle club in Bombay started by Gaurav Jani and friends. Meeting with Miliand and Dipesh was a treat. I have promised to return for a ride with them but for now they put me on my way to Goa with an adventurous itinerary.

Next stop: Goa

Talk to you then.  Matt

Ashit Patel in his new restaurant in North Bombay.

Movie stars and roxy at an after-hours club

November 10, 2010

The Elders giving tikka to the children on Dashain. It is custom to place the tikka on the forehead then bless the children with words, some fruit and a few rupees.

Rehoboth Beach restaurateur Matt Haley is visiting children at an orphanage he supports in Nepal, exploring the Himalayan culture and cuisine, and reporting on an occasional basis.  His reports are presented here to expand our own perspective on other parts of the world and cuisines that may eventually find their way into the local restaurant scene. All of the photographs are by Matt or members of his traveling group.

Kathmandu Dashain Holiday
Oct 2010

We are back in Kathmandu getting ready to celebrate Dashain. It is early Friday morning and the big days are Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I have been chosen as an elder. An elder gives tikka to the young. This is the red dot you see placed on the forehead of people of various Asian, Hindi and Buddhist cultures.

Matt's buddy Vishnu had fun chasing goats before the celebration at Bal-Mandir.

We are at Kusi Ghar, our group home, but need to get to Bal-Mandir to get more of the children to come celebrate with us. We have trouble getting. Some of the orphaned children have been released but only available at last with the help of one of the politically unconnected directors who puts the children first. Think “The Great Escape” or “Sand Pebbles.” As we leave there is such a sigh of relief that the whole family will be together – we all break down and cry. Thirty-eight children altogether with their brothers and sisters for the holidays. You can’t buy this. I did not know this kind of hard-earned joy was so rewarding. To see one of the young girls look up at Shannon and me and say “I am so happy you are bringing me to my sister” with tears in her eyes is as much an emotional experience as I could ever expect and I have had some eye-opening experiences.

Later that night, after giving tikka and celebrating with the children, we head out for some adult time with friends from Kathmandu. One, a popular writer, and another a classic bookstore owner. The girls drink roxy and red rice malt liquor, both homemade at Cafe Newar my favorite Newari restaurant in Thamel, Kathmandu.

Things get good and everyone is happy. We decide that the town is shut down so we need to go to our friend Prawin’s pal’s after-hour club. We arrive and it is classic. It’s like my grandfathers basement with a bar, only it’s in an attic of a warehouse and run by four buddies.

This is great. Foosball and cards til 4 a.m. No drinking for me, but Shannon, Alex and Meredith are having a blast. Our new friends are very nice and hospitable including the two rats in the rafters that watched us all night as if to say “here are the Americans keeping us up late again.”

In the after-hours club there were only the four of us, the four owners, Prawin and two ladies – Nisha and Nellu .It wasn’t until we left that we found out from the taxi driver that we had been with three of the most famous actors, actresses and filmmaker in Nepal and India. The difference between fame there and in the U.S. is pretty much night and day. These people would get hounded in public but we would have never known anything but humbleness otherwise. Pretty cool after the fact though.

Stay tuned for more.  Matt

Matt, on his way to Kusi Ghar, stopped by the orphanage to wish some of the young ones a happy day

Matt Haley: Slow roaming Annapurna region

November 2, 2010

Start of trek outside Pohkara.

Rehoboth Beach restaurateur Matt Haley is visiting children at an orphanage he supports in Nepal, exploring the Himalayan culture and cuisine, and reporting on an occasional basis.  His reports are presented here to expand our own perspective on other parts of the world and cuisines that may eventually find their way into the local restaurant scene. All of the photographs are by Matt or members of his traveling group.

October 2010

We have landed in Pohkara, a small town almost like the Rehoboth Beach of Nepal, but still the second largest town in Nepal.

The group has settled in at the Trekkers Hotel and is going over last minute plans with Wangchuu and his brothers Pema, Bakrim and Phurba, all who I have trekked with before. We are finalizing our punch list and all is good. The kids are excited. Their first plane ride was smooth and they’ll want to go back up today.

The group has decided to go to dinner. It is important to catch up on carbs before trekking to Gao. Going against my belief in staying with indigenous food, the kids pick pizza. I must say that, ironically, I have now had the best pizza in my life in Mexico and Nepal. Both beat anything I have had in NYC, Chicago or any Little Italy in the U.S.

I did not know that Nepal grew such wonderful mushrooms so my carb fix for the night was a pizza of fresh oyster mushrooms, Nak (female yak) mozzarella and fresh, local shaved green onion and herbs. Outstanding and 100 percent natural. Everything, including the cheese, is made and picked on site.

We have been dropped in a little village a few thousand feet above Pohkara following a great, side-winding mini van ride on a beautiful river with the freshest water on earth coming straight out of the Himalayas. I am looking up to peaks of more than 25,000 feet and my legs are starting to hurt already, knowing we are heading that way. The kids attack the trail like baby antelopes. The night before I was bragging about how awesome it will be to turn 50 next month. I take it back!

The paths on the way up are made of large stone, manmade over the years for transporting goods on one of the oldest trade routes on earth. It is not always easy, but always beautiful. Knowing that people have walked this route for over 1000 years is inspiring. We are headed for Gorepani which will take a few days. We will stay in small guesthouses and tea houses along the way. Gorepani is the village under two of the tallest mountains on earth and the primary stop before heading to Annapurna Base Camp.

Goats, after being blessed, on their way to market for the Dashain holiday meal.

Along the way we have encountered a large amount of goat herds and shepherds. All the goats have rainbow-painted horns. When I asked Wangchuu about the goats he replied that all the goats we passed were going to be “Dasain Dinner.” The rainbow horns were on blessed goats that could be bought to be sacrificed for Dasain. I will tell you about our goat dinners when we have them. Can’t wait!

We have spiraled our way up the mountain the past two days. The kids are doing great as well as the rest of the crew. I am always a couple hours behind but doing well. “Bisarai Gumbe” means slow roam in Nepali. This is how I like to trek.

We have passed through a few climate and environmental changes on the way up. Plantations with rice paddies, goat farms and tea houses, to jungles full of monkeys and fruit farms, and, finally, Gorepani. A much-anticipated rest awaits us. Tonight we will celebrate and relax our victory over what seemed like two straight days of walking up the Empire State Buildings stairs.

Matt Haley’s next blog, on Wednesday, will discuss trekking as a form of spiritual evolution.

The kids taking a break at a tea house outside Gorepani.

One of our Sherpas, Phurba, having coffee with me in the morning, watching the sunrise in Annapurna. We are surrounded by four of the tallest mountains on earth. We are already over 10,000 feet where we are standing.

Matt Haley’s adventures in Nepal and India

October 27, 2010

Matt Haley is shown here with Leela, Laxmi, Kabita & Nari at Bal-Mandir Orphanage. Kabita, second from left, is still at the orphanage due to her inability to speak or hear. The others have been placed in Reliance School.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley has embarked on another winter trip to the Asian subcontinent to continue his support of an orphanage he has adopted and to explore the various cuisine cultures of that exciting part of the world. He is sending through lots of blogs and photos and I’m publishing them here to give our readers insight into his travels, discoveries and perspective on a very different part of the world. DF

Nepal – October 2010 Arrival

We arrived in Kathmandu not long before Shannon, Alex and Meredith, my traveling companions, were on route to the orphanage, Bal-Mandir. We met Leela and Laxmi, my adopted Nepali daughters who were formerly residents at Bal-Mandir, at the airport.  There were the usual happy tears, hugs and new introductions to their new “Aunties” before they had to go back to school to finish exams ahead of the Dasain Holidays.

Once at Bal-Mandir, we immediately caught up with Director Rabin Shresta, who led us to Kabita,  a deaf and speechless young woman I have been involved with for some time. She is considered my third Nepali daughter. On seeing her, more tears came. We had all studied a little American sign language, but come to find out what I thought was an international language was not so. When I tried to sign “Hello, how are you?” Kabita laughed hysterically and wrote down “wrong language!”

As wonderful as it is to see the children, there is always a sense of despair in seeing the surroundings and then an even elevated sense of shame to see how complete the people express themselves with happiness and gratitude.

Once settled in, it is a special treat to walk the streets of Kathmandu with the children. Shannon and I were led through the back streets by ten extremely excited children.  They  loved stopping at every street vendor, always asking us to sample their country’s food, never asking for themselves. Last year I wrote of the samosa, chat and momos on the street which would be similar to empanadas, chick pea salsa and dumplings. This is a wonderful way to settle in for the beginning of what should be a great adventure in all the ways to travel.

I have never traveled with Shannon Colburn, my co-worker, but have always wanted to. At the age of 27, she has been to over 50 countries and her view is like mine: Never visit another country or destination without at least giving back something it has given you. Also, eat, read, study art and listen to the music indigenous to the environment. This is how travel has become more for me then a vacation.

Within a few days the emotional side of this trip really settled in for us. We had the opportunity to take five orphan children from Kusi Ghar (our group home called “happy house”) trekking to the Annapurna region. Three  of the five had never been on a plane. Five of five had never been on an escalator or elevator. In my past visits I was always on the first floor so Leela and Laxmi hadn’t been on escalators or elevators either. So of course we immediately went to the hotel Yak & Yeti and put ten kids on the elevator, then to the mall to ride the escalators. I had to drag them off both. It was like being at a carnival.

It is always hard deciding who can come on treks and field trips, but since it was a holiday, it was easier since most children will head back to their villages to see and be with what relatives they may have left. We are leaving the trek and airport soon. We decided to bring Jeevaan, Leela, Laxmi, Chet and Bina along with Bruce Keenan – head of HCC -Shannon, Alex Capano, Meredith Marshall and Wanchuu our Sherpa and his brothers. We will trek Annapurna for 5-6 days. The weather looks like it’s going to be wonderful.

For more info on HCC please google Himalayan Children’s Charities. Thanks for your interest. Matt

Shannon Colburn of Rehoboth Beach teaching games to the kids in Bal-mandir.

The students at Reliance School in Kathmandu.

Matt Haley: A final look at India

January 27, 2010

Matt Haley and a crew of friends near the northern Indian city of Jaipur.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley recently concluded a winter food and culture tour through Nepal and northern India.  This is the third and final installment of his observations and photos gleaned from the trip.  Many who dine in Matt’s restaurants will look forward to seeing whether the trip influences any of his offerings and approaches to business in a world growing rapidly more international.

19 January 2010

In the middle of a dried lake bed, we stopped our motorcycles so Guarav Jani could ask directions to Sambhar.

“I am stuck in the fog in a small town about an hour outside Agra. We are headed to Agra to take a break after a long but very rewarding motorcycle ride through the small towns and villages throughout the state of Rahjastan. The fog has actually created time for the group to sit and rehash the trip and has opened up a multi-cultural discussion between us. Here there is no right or wrong, just appreciated thought with the exception of whether or not our stuffed roti (flatbread) should have more onion and whether the condiment, being fresh curd (yoghurt), should be eaten with or without chili. I opted for chili and sugar.

“It’s been a week without hot water or a shower and I don’t think I have missed a beat. I am glad for that as I am amazed at how much I can take for granted sometimes.

“In Agra we will be riding towards our first offical tourist attraction: the Taj Mahal. I am told it was built out of love for the wife of an obviously very wealthy man who then upon its completion had the hands of all the skilled workers cut off  so the monument could not be replicated. That raised the question from me to a village tribal leader: ‘where’s the love in that?’ I did not understand the response but I believe it was moot.

Salt train with salt lake in background.

“We have just spent a few days in the village of Sambhar. Sambhar is a lake town famous for its salt. Since our restaurants are very proud of the natural sea salts we use, I thought I would investigate. I had heard of Sambhar sea salt and wanted to know more so Guarav, Nicky and I hopped the salt train one day to see the operation. Sea salt is farmed almost like rice in a way where the shallow lake has beds built up to control the water flow. Once the water flows into these large beds and the sun dries it out, you are left with the salt. Then the salt is raked into piles that go to the filtering facility to be cleaned, then loaded in the open cars of a half-sized transport train that hauls the salt to packing plants. Later we will show the finished salt in Kadiah Paneer, a wonderful homemade spicy tomato cheese dish.

“On the way to Agra in the fog, which made it 30 degrees cooler and  a chilly ride, we passed 100 kilometers of mustard fields. Of course this meant stopping for a much-awaited visit. Mustard seed is an essential ingredient of Indian cooking. Chutneys, pickles and oils made with mustard are very common here. I believe mustard was being used here way before it was packaged in Dijon or by a company called French’s.

“It’s interesting, the tall flowering mustard plants throw off long seed pods that look like baby green beans. They must be very mature before harvesting. Right now the pods contain white and sweet seeds.  In a month the seeds will turn yellow or brown and be ready for toasting.

The author in a 100-kilometer-long field of mustard, one of the essential ingredients in Indian cooking.

While stopped for the mustard visit, I came across – not to mention the herd of wild peacocks that just walked in front of me – a very unusual truck. The farmers here are way ahead of the curve on multi-tasking. These stake-bed truck engines are not only used for trucking but also power water pumps to irrigate farms and then serve as generators for farmhouse electricity.

“After our mustard field break, we wheeled back onto the road to Agra. It was a great ride, and when we arrived and checked in the hotel I headed straight for the Taj Mahal. It is beautiful. What an amazing building. A must at some point on anyone’s travel plan.

This is our chef friend Dinesh making Kahdai Paneer. I love the outdoor exhaust fan.

“I am sad to say this will be my last blog on this trip. I am headed to Delhi tomorrow, then back to Delaware. I have had a blast with Guarav and Nicky and look forward to covering Southern India next year. I have done more than I can imagine on this trip. I can’t wait to get home and share the stories with my friends in Delaware and carry what I have learned here back into my community. As much as I love to travel, I also love coming home. Don’t be surprised if there is a new Indian restaurant in Coastal Delaware in the near future.

“I would repeat what has been said about India: “It is as majestic as it is mystifying; it is a humble country that is mis-interpreted; and it has opened my eyes to even more of life’s possibilities.”

A standard Indian roadside chai stand where samosas are also often served.

A memorable meal cooked over dung

January 14, 2010

From left to right, Sanjay, Matt Haley and Guarav Jani (brother of Rehoboth Beach resident Dr. Uday Jani) on the outskirts of Pushkar.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley continued his trip this past week through south Asia and filed this following report:

“After leaving Katmandu I headed for Delhi, the capital of India, where I stayed two days before heading to Pushkar. I must say that I have not seen anything quite like Delhi. I have traveled many a place but nothing compares to Delhi’s number of people or nonstop movement. Imagine New York City on a busy day times 10 and you may be close.

“The cuisine choices there were simple for me: I wanted to eat in old-school, traditional, well-known locals restaurants. My favorite (all were great) was Hindi near the CP section of town. I had garlic nan with chutneys and pickle. Nan is a flat bread slathered with garlic oil and the chutney was the classic mint, chili and yoghurt and the pickle was lime. In India, pickle isn’t like our way. Instead of a vinegar base it is usually fermented and very spicy with an incredibly bold flavor.

Sugar cane ground to order by this Indian device is mixed with lime water to produce a concoction known as ghana.

“I followed the starters with mutton tika and pineapple raita. Tika is a spicy tomato-spiced, reduced stew and this was with lamb. Mutton is an older lamb with a gamier taste and it was accented well with the pineapple raita.

“Dessert was ‘Pan.’ I had it at a roadside stand. It consists of lime salt and some hard-core Indian spices which include tamarind and fennel seed. It is served on a leaf that reminded me of a thick basil leaf. The tastes combined to make one of the more power-flavor tastes I have had. Pan is also used for the help of digestion.

“After Delhi I took the train to Pushkar, a religious town on a lake in southern Rajastan. While waiting for Guarav Jani to show up with friends Nicky and Sanjay to start our motorcycle ride, I decided to relax and stroll around town. I found the street food of Pushkar a delicacy . Samosa chat, kabobs and a funny combination of fried rice (like rice crispies), chilis, onion, cilantro and a wild, spicy ketchup tossed together and put in a newspaper cone were all great. The rice-cone stand, I believe, is the Pushkar version of the American hot dog cart.

“After the Gang arrived we took our first ride into the desert of Rajastan, to a farmhouse owned by a friend of Sanjay’s. This was the meal I had been waiting for! But first let me describe the Rajastan countryside. The best way to put it would be like this:  Take beautiful, rock-lined dirt roads that swirl through amazing, small, stone and hillside villages that are praying for water, but being patient knowing the monsoon is just around the corner. Throw the desert beginning into the mix and there you have it. (I can’t call the hillsides mountains after just coming out of the Himalayas!)

Matt Haley and an Indian friend sit alongside a rural cooking stove known as a chula which is fired with compressed cattle dung. Haley said the dung produces a very uniform heat ideal for cooking.

“We were all circled in a small hut around a chula, a clay oven fired by compressed cow dung. Believe me, it burns perfectly for cooking. Guarav’s buddy Sanjay, who fancies himself the chef for the 60 KPH Motorcycle Club and avid rider, was making stewed chicken in a clay pot with roti, papadon and kanda nimbu. In the middle of this we went to the market to grab some extras. This is not like driving to Safeway. It takes a while and is an adventure. While there we ate Pani Poonie, which sounded a little R-rated. It was a hollow ball of thin crust that the vendor punched a hole in with his thumb and then stuffed with potato and mashed chic peas and then dunked in a cool water broth made with salt, chilis and spices. Great! Refreshing and energizing with a spice that also numbed the tongue. It was similar to the peppercorns from Katmandu.

“When we arrived back we started back up in the outdoor kitchen. The stove was running smoothly and the fires were lit around the outdoor lounge. What caught my attention most was the way Sanjay treated each element of the dish. Perfectly oil-braised onion and garlic perfumed the area as he added the spices of turmeric, cumin and chilis to the oil and continued to cook down for at least 20 minutes. Then tomatoes were added and all was simmered down to a paste. The chicken was added with a little water and was stirred carefully for an hour. The dish was served with the flat bread and kanda nimbu: shaved red onion marinated in chilis and lemon.

“As we sat in an outdoor dining room under the stars in a desert in Rajastan, eating a simple authentic Rajastani dinner, I realized how a great dinner can taste even better with good friends and a little adventure added to it.”

This is a bangra tree, growing in the Indian countryside, which has branches that grow down. It's derived from poppy. The leaves are ground into paste and steeped in water before being offered to the gods and finished by the villagers. It looked like one heck of a party. The liquid has a mood altering effect that really makes people energized and happy.

Haley’s food tour through south Asia

January 5, 2010

At an outdoor kitchen at the Reliance School for orphans, kids take turns learning how to cook. One of the kids is shown here with Matt Haley. "We were making Dhal Bhat that day which is a staple in Nepali cooking. Dhal Bhat consists of lentil soup, rice, stewed greens with spices and either chicken or pork but most just stay vegetarian. Here there are no spices. Spices are found in the wealthier environments. In Dhal Bhat the stewed greens would be flavored with garlic, tumeric, ginger and chili paste.

Delaware Cape Region restaurateur Matt Haley (Fish On, Catch 54, Lupo di Mare, Northeast Seafood Kitchen, Blue Coast etc.) recently headed off for a month-long cultural and food tour of south Asia including India and Nepal. Given the intense interest in our area in food, restaurants, farmers markets and related industries, I asked Matt to send back some observations.

Through the marketing efforts of the Southern Delaware tourism bureau, Delaware’s coast and all of its great restaurants have been dubbed the Culinary Coast.  Matt and many of his other restaurant colleagues often make trips to other regions of the U.S. and other parts of the world to bring back interesting foods and create new concoctions. Matt’s observations offer a sense of how restaurateurs see food and food customs and how some of those get translated back into our local restaurants.

In his first note, Matt wrote:

One of Matt Haley's adopted daughters, Lila, shows off some Samosa chat at a market in Katmandu.

“This trip has turned into something way bigger than I thought so far. I can’t describe the food without describing the state of the country, the beauty, the oppression and most of all the smiles. Visiting with my adopted daughters here has been a highlight of my life. I have had an incredible experience with them. Myself, Lila, Laxmi and a group of other children from the school just completed a three-day trek from Lukla in the middle of the Himalayas. It was my first time with a Sherpa. I tried to convince him to come to Rehoboth with me. The girls had a blast. It was their first time on a plane.

“Describing the conditions of the orphanages here would take a while. I couldn’t help but fall apart having a ten-month old baby not let go of my finger because she didn’t want me to walk away. I visited a room with flags hanging over it to find out they were hung for the children who had died recently.

“Needless to say I have also had an incredible food experience. One of the most prominent things I have noticed is that there is very little difference in third-world blue-collar kitchens. While I was rolling flat bread in a small mountain town in the Himalayas I could have just as easily been rolling tortillas in a small island town off the coast of Mexico. The staples are all the same. Flour, water, eggs, chilis, onions and potatoes. Right now in the winter time there is a lack of greens so root vegetables prevail. The chutneys remind me of salsas or Asian dipping sauces. The momo are the same as potstickers or dumplings in South Carolina or Beijing. My potato omlette yesterday reminded me of tortilla espanola in Barcelona. I am amazed how there is someone rolling dough in one of our places or wrapping dumplings today as well as here 10,000-15,000 miles away.

Pickled chilis with salt-cured radishes and carrots serve as a typical condiment for all meals served on Nepalese mountain tables.

“I had dinner in a Nepali household last night and found it such a loving, cultural experience. It is custom to serve the guest on a bronze plate. The women cooked and fed me before anyone else would sit at the table. When I tried to do dishes they explained to me that if the men in the village found out that the women let me do that, there would be a price to pay for the man of the house.

“I will be spending more time with the girls this week and then off to India for my motorcycle ride with Guarav Jani. I have a friend who is an American filmaker. He has taken a project filming a documentary, under guard, in Afghanistan on converting poppy fields into chicken farms or other edible-product farms. He asked me to meet him and help. I may be stupid or adventurous enough to meet him.”

Matt sent through a few more photographs showing some cooking scenes from his trip so far. They show how much more closely to nature people live in other parts of the world.  The first shows a wood-fired clay stove in a typical Nepalese kitchen. Matt wrote: “Note how the center air flow works to funnel most of the heat to the center of the stove top.”

As far as being adventuresome, here’s a sampling of other Nepalese dishes Matt has been enjoying. “Later that night I did step it up and went to a Newari restaurant and ate buffalo brains (which were unreal), fried lamb tongue, buffalo tripe, bone marrow and boiled boar’s head with rough chopped curry finished with hot peppered cashew curd.”

Stay tuned as Matt continues his culinary and cultural tour halfway around the world.