In Wasabi, I met my Kryptonite!

Ah, wasabi and I haven’t been friends, we started off on the wrong foot. Twice I my life have I tasted the vile thing, both of the times it has snuck up on me in a work situation where I did not have the luxury to extract myself from the room.

The first time was when we were working late, and I was hungry. I saw a box of peanutes with the words Wasabi written over it. I had never eaten or seen Wasabi before (I come from another country). The packaging looked nice, resembled a similar snack my mum makes back home. So I took a handful and stuffed them in my mouth. What happened after required Kung Fu ninja skills of being able to control the spit and look completely normal. I kept nodding at my colleague who kept chatting, wondering when the ordeal will end. I swore never to touch anything which had wasabi written over it.

Little did I know that Wasabi wasn’t done with me yet, an year later after the first incident, I was visiting a customer’s local office in Paris. The team went for a takeaway for Lunch, opting for Sushi.

As a vegetarian Sushi never appealed to me, I didn’t bother with it. Who would want to eat bits of avocado/cucumber wrapped in rice, what’s the point of that? Little did I know that the tiny container of greenish chutney in the sushi box was my old enemy, waiting to strike.

We were busy chatting, they were asking me about my exotic land and I was responding with the most engaging stories to be told, up until I took a bite of the wasabi infused Sushi, I went quiet. This time it was much worse, there was no water nearby to soothen the suffering and I couldn’t even open my mouth to ask them where the water cooler was. Tears welled up, I tried to look away, I suspect they thought I got emotional about talking of my land…

Thus, in Wasabi, I met my kryptonite!

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Planning your Swiss Trip…Oops Switzerland Trip! – A Sketchy Guide

The road to the Alps (Interlaken)

Yes ji, the country is not Swiss, its called Switzerland and trust me people do not like it when you mention it the wrong way! It is that time of the year when plenty of my fellow Indians and of course other citizens of the world would be in the process of planning their trip to this Alpine country. Thus I also decided to give my two bits, and also offer my help to those who need some tips about visiting Switzerland.

What qualifies me to give you tips on traveling to Switzerland?

Oh Hello! In case you didn’t notice I am the destination expert because I live at the destination (at least for now!).

Ok my apologies, so where do I set my base in Switzerland?

Hmm..now we are talking. For most folks from the sub-continent the trip center is usually Luzern/Lucerne. This is a good central place to stay specially because it is well connected to most other tourist destinations. However, do bear in mind that staying in Luzern probably means that you will be focusing only on some parts of the country.

Hmm…and how long should my trip be? And When?

I wish there was a simple answer to that. Almost two years here, and I am yet to cover it all! A fair answer would be that you should plan a trip atleast 4 days long. If you are a skiing lover, winter months are your choice. If you want to visit Switzerland in all its glory, then nothing beats late spring-summer from May to July (even August).

Summers is the best time in Switzerland (Rigi Klum)

What about Local transport? What about the Mountain railways?

Should you purchase the Swiss Passthen your local travel is included in the ticket system. It is indeed worth investing specially when you plan a short trip with lots of travel in it. Make sure you check their website in time, there are often good offers around. If your trip to Switzerland is a part of a larger Europe trip, then you may also opt for Eurail passes. However, I am not expert in that, but am sure it will result in considerable savings. Also, traveling 2nd class will make no big difference, the 2nd class seats are quite good and comfortable.

Mountain railways are a different question, Glacier express, Golden Pass, Chocolate express, Bernina express…well the Swiss have been experts and there is no beating them in a world class railway system. These train journeys are indeed beautiful, but for someone like me these get boring as well. Purely upto you if they enthuse you.

Where do I stay? How do I move around?

The best answer to this question is that if you are staying in a town like Luzern, Berne, Zurich, Geneva or Basel then the location of your hotel may make little difference, thanks to the extremely well connected and punctual system of trains/trams/buses. You can save a bit of cash on this, specially when hotels are expensive.

In case hotels do not make the cut for you, you could try for holiday rental apartments from websites like http://www.interhome.ch

For checking your local train connections, the only go-to website will be SBB home page of the Swiss National Railways. Better still install their smartphone app.

I am a vegetarian, help me! OR Where do I find Indian food?

I assume this is one of the critical challenges which plenty of Indian travelers face due to their diet preferences. However, this problem is partially solved if you are traveling in a group, as many tour operators in high season provision for this. In fact, lake boat rides in Interlaken region even include Indian buffets in summers. Here are a few general tips here:

  • There are Indian groceries in big towns, you can find namkeen, instant noodles and other staples but at 4-5 times the Indian price
  • Smokers beware, cigarettes are expensive. Not sure of the price as I never cared.
  • Buying drinking water, chips and other snacks on the go are always more expensive  if bought from Kiosks, Train pantry cars and cafes. Instead stock these from your nearest Migros, Coop or Denner.
  • There are plenty of Indian restaurants, but eating out is expensive so bear in mind. Do check TripAdvisor for this search. However, I do recommend the vada pav stall at the base of Titlis.
  • McDonald’s and Burger King do offer veggie burgers.
  • There is no KFC or Pizza hut in Switzerland.
  • Gipfeli/Croissant is a very common snack, and is available almost everywhere.

How do I call home to India? Is it very expensive?

Well, the simplest option is to buy a local SIM card. There are plenty of brands like Lebara, Yallo, or Lyca Mobile which offer very cheap mobile calls from Switzerland to India. All you need is a passport to buy the connection, which is normally available at most Kiosk stores.

Wait I have more questions!

Ok fair enough, why don’t you post your comments on this blog post  and I shall try my best to answer them. Till then Tschüss!

Zurich Notes – Pursuing Indian Food

Its been 26 days since I arrived here, the biggest city of Switzerland. As I am supposed to be here for a while, the need to find Indian food ingredients and Indian food places was critical! Here’s a primer of my search for Indian cuisine, and stores till now….hopefully someday this post will help tourists and residents find options for desi-food in Zurich.

Indian Stores

For some strange reason, I notice a lot lesser Indian stores here than I did in Geneva, maybe its just because I have not explored properly yet..

I rely on two places currently for my Masala, pickle, ready to eat food needs from the subcontient:

  • Barkat Cash and Carry : It has two stores in Zurich, the one I visit is on Badenerstrasse 530 8048 Zürich. The way to approach the place is by taking Tram 2 and getting down at Freehofstrasse, the store is next to a Singpore cuisine restaurant. You can get Indian/Asian veggies, masalas, rotis/paranthas, meat and odds and ends there. I feel that price wise Barkat is better than other places.
  • Agarwal Indian Food: Writing this because everyone else recommends it, I have never seen the store open (maybe I was late). Quality of food products is recommended by various people I know. The store is on Langstrasse 62, 8004 Zurich
  • Sher e Punjab: Now this is more of a section to a small eating joint, where one can purchase indian products. Limited things are available but basic spices, atta, maggi noodles, pulses etc… are available. Pricewise its not the best place to be. One nifty addition is the movie section where you can rent Indian films from them. Visit http://punjab.ch/
  • Coop/Migros: One thing to notice, common spices can be found in Coop and Migros, all one should know is the german/french name of the spices.

Indian Food

Being a bachelor who is staying alone, cooking is not the most desirable task for me. Some days I tend to eat out, but then eating out in an Indian restaurant is much more expensive than one thinks. In the last 26 days, I have sampled out 5 different Indian eating joints, and can give a review on those. One disclaimer is that I am a vegetarian, so cannot comment on the food for the non-vegetarian junta.

  • Sher e Punjab: This small eatery is located at Sihlfeldstrasse 45, its a small place, you may even miss it out as there is a tiny board out there. To get there take Tram 2 or 3 and get down at Lochergut. The eatery is run by a sikh gentleman and it also has a store section (mentioned above), the food has a variety of punjabi dishes for both vegetarians and non vegetarians. Average dinner for a single person could cost around 20 CHF (or more), but the flavor and quantity  provided makes up for the price, food is homely and prompt. I would like to return to the place as I like the food and can get home-style phulkas (roti) there. There is little to speak in terms of ambiance, but then its a no nonsense eatery. The link is mentioned above. Note: Its closed on Sundays
  • King’s Kurry Little India: This is a restaurant on the left side of the Bahnhof Weidikon, you can also take Tram 14 to get there. The restaurant has an outside eating area as well in the garden. Unfortunately on the day I went, it was raining, so we had to be seated inside. The ambiance is good, and the place is usually crowded with plenty of locals eating here. Prices are a bit high, the service is prompt, but a dinner for two will cost upwards of 75 CHF. Taste of food is good, however the quantity is not as good as Sher e Punjab, but just adequate. It would be a good idea to make prior bookings before visiting. Visit: http://www.kingskurry.ch/e/india/index.htm
  • King’s Kurry Thali: This is a Thali style eatery just off the Schaffhauserplatz tram stop (next to the Credit Suisse office), it is a recently opened restaurant. Each day there is a different Thali offering, and the same is served to you. One can choose between a vegetarian thali, chicken or lamb. A Thali is provided with two curries, raita, dal and rice (you can order naan/rotis too). Vegetarian thali is for 19 CHF, Chicken thali for 21 CHF and Lamb for 23 CHF. Food was above average, the key advantage is that one cannot find a thali at this price easily in Zurich, the restaurant folks are helpful but new to business. There is a rebate on takeaway and a student lunch box for 10 CHF. Good place to visit specially for lunches.
  • Restaurant Kerala: Restaurant Kerala is not only a south Indian restaurant, it offers Punjabi cuisine as well. In terms of ambience this rates the highest amongst all the places I have visited, just off the Radiostudio tram stop (Tram 11), the restaurant offers a variety of food from appams to chicken tikka. Service is cordial but a bit slow, a dinner for two will cost upwards of 75 CHF, the good part is that the servings are tasty and sufficient. Make a booking before visiting as the place gets crowded in the evenings. Visit: http://www.keralarestaurant.ch/pages/eng/index_e.htm
  • Karachi and Bombay Take away: I just visited the place 2 days ago, its a small takeaway but has some sitting area too. Patrons can select from a combination of three curries and take a thali with rice or roti(phulka). Vegetarian meal was 13 CHF and Non-veg starts from 17 CHF. Flavorwise the food was really impressive, I relished the homely feel of the food, to top it one can take any amount of raita, chutney, pickle and candies with the food. The place plays Bollywood/Pakistani music videos and is a nice change from the regular sophisticated restaurants. Limited ambiance but good food at a very good price make this place a favorite. You can visit the place by getting down at Stampfenbachplatz tram stop (Tram 14) and walk to Stampfenbachstrasse 32, 8006 Zürich.

Hope this mini food guide helps a lot of people in figuring out the places in Zurich

Lunch Box

Wrote this post back in 2006 on my previous blog, it was apt to migrate it on Mother’s day(got delayed by a few days):

Its 6.45 AM today, a Monday morning. As I struggle to get ready in time, my stomach rumbles reminding me of its demands for a breakfast. Time is short, and I am yet to get ready for work, opening my larder I discover that I don’t have anything ready to eat, thankfully a few slices of bread and jam come to my rescue. While I am exercising thin layers of jam over the slices, my mind went back to my school days, barely 5-6 years ago when mom used to prepare the school lunch and breakfast for me.

It seems a different age now, but I do remember those delicious savouries which she used to cook just for me all those years, getting up early to prepare them to my liking. I never ever bothered to thank her for them, perhaps we all never do. Every morning while waking her sleepy son she used to give a choice between this or that, some days it could be as simple as the jam-bread and on others it would vary from aloo paranthas or cutlets just to my liking. Today I am on my own, living in an Alien city where thousands of people get up – work – return home and loop again like zombies. Nobody seems to care whether poor old me is getting the right breakfast, or am eating at all. Guess what! this was the Independence or job life which we waited for all those years in college….

Before I forget…I thank you Ma for all those 12 years of early morning breakfasts and school lunches, which today seem to me a princely feast in comparison to what I can cook and eat….

Super Size Me!

Today I came across a Discussion on Junk Food; and someone mentioned a movie ‘Super Size Me’. It kicked up my curiosity and I surfed up on the same.

This crazy guy Morgan Spurlock decided to subside on McDonalds junk food for 30 days 3 times a day; he started as a healthy 33 year old and by the end of the month he had gained over 11 kg, was at a high risk of liver damage.

Not satisfied enough; I went further down to YouTube to have a look at the clips from the movie…and I was shocked and surprised.

In one of the clips; Morgan interviews a few school kids. He shows them a pictures ofGeorge Washington which a few could recognize, he then shows the the picture of Jesus Christ, surprisingly none of them could recognize him, and then he pulled out the picture of Ron MacDonald, the result was as expected, they all could instantly recognize their favorite icon in the Junk World!

The movie was nominated for the best Academy Award Documentary in 2004, its really a shocking outcome contrary to what the big corporations claim.

While the movie is in an American Setting; the results are applicable to all of us around the Globe, this isn’t about McDonald’s but for all junk food.

Today I decide to ditch McDonalds food except for its Ice Creams….do view the trailer.

Also visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Size_Me