FRESH FROM THE CATCH – with Chef Edia

Photographs and story by Peta Kaplan & Ben Sandzer-Bell

Goan cuisine has not received the attention it deserves as a distinct culinary tradition from the more well known “Indian cuisine” that is readily found in the United States and Europe.  Yet the region of Kerala is known for its rich history as a spice-trading center for several centuries and, not surprisingly, Goan culinary culture has evolved to feature the extensive use of spices combined with the abundance of fish found on the coast of Kerala.

So as a French foodie staying at Alila Diwa Goa, I am excited at the prospect to learn something about Goan cuisine from Chef Edia and her team.  The “Fresh from the Catch” activity arranged by Alila Diwa is organized around three steps: 1) going to market, 2) preparing the food in Alila’s kitchen under the direction of Chef Edia and, 3) savoring the dinner prepared in the beautiful Spice Studio  restaurant.

We start the day by going to the market, which is about 20 minutes away, by car.  It is a beautiful drive and an opportunity to see some beautiful Portuguese mansions that have been passed down through generations since the days of Portuguese colonial presence in the Goa region.  This Portuguese architecture is simply magnificent.

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On the way to the market, we pass the wholesale fish market.  It’s not really meant to be the place to go shopping, but the buzzing morning trading at the fish market is not something I want to miss, so we stop and take  a stroll.  Clearly not a tourist destination, this place has all the authenticity of a vibrant wholesale market.

 The range of fish on display is phenomenal.  But so are the visuals provided by the vendors.  There are fish and shells, small and large. A multitude of fish I have never seen before, let alone tasted.

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I cannot pass on the opportunity to buy sardines.  I am a big sardines fan and, given Goa’s Portuguese ancestry and Portugal’s famed use of sardines in their cuisine, this is a no brainer.

But sardines do not a whole meal make.  I am on the hunt for something new, something I haven’t had before.  A long-nosed fish, which some refer to as sand fish, others seem to call cod fish, catches my eye.  Frankly, I am not sure what it is, and I don’t care about the nomenclature as much as the taste it will have on my plate.  I select a few of these for dinner as well.

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Onwards to our original retail market destination! We find a well organized fairly large market, divided between fish in one building, meat in another and vegetable and fruit in the third.

We stroll the aisles of this market and continue to enjoy the distinctive clothes of vendors, and the general vibe and atmosphere at the market.  There are no other tourists ~ this is the real deal.

To supplement the sardines and long nosed sand fish, I can’t resist adding a few very large prawns.  The prices are very good and it would be tempting to just keep buying more fish, but reason prevails and we will stop at that for our cooking class back at Alila.

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We need vegetables to complete the meal and my wife,  Peta, who is vegetarian takes the lead.  She looks and smells and puts together a “cocktail” of greens that will either make a fabulous fresh green juice, or some kind of a vegetable curry to go with the fish.  The scene in the veg hall is just as colorful and buzzing as in the fish hall.

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We return to Alila, bags bursting with more fish and vegetables than we can possibly eat in one sitting, looking forward to making something delectable with Chef Edia’s guidance.

Before I plunge into the kitchen – Peta is eager to have the green juice she has been yearning for, for days actually.  We give these to the kitchen at The Diwa Club and, always eager to please, they ultimately concede to making the juice  per our specs – “You mean you want ALL this spinach, and ALL this dill, and you don’t want sugar in it?”.  Clearly this is not something that they would put on their menu going forward, but what comes out of the kitchen is the most delicious green drink.  My yoga-practicing, organic food-eating  and green drink-enthusiast – wife enjoys the green drink she has been in search of.

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Back to the Spices Studio’s kitchen ~ An initial assessment of our buy triggers a round of discussions about how best to feature the fish and veggies.  Ideas bounce between Chef Edia and her sous chef ~ we could do prawns tandoori, and sardines Portuguese style?   Yes, yes on the sardines, Portuguese style – simple, grilled.  No, no on the tandoori, how about prawns in the curry with the green beans and fresh peas.  More back and forth.  Ultimately, the culinary minds converge and a menu is set.

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Chef Edia passes me on to one of her staff to learn how to prepare the fish.  It needs to be de-scaled, insides taken out etc.  What he does with mastery, I do hesitantly and learn in the process how to deal with sardines ~ something I expect will be a lifetime skill of great importance, for a sardine lover.

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The vegetables will become curry.  Not one curry, but two curries, to feature Goan spices.  Chop chop chop, peal, cut.  Thrown this much cumin, that much coriander, a pinch of fresh cinnamon, a bit of black pepper… some chilies of course (“Not too spicy! I implore”), turmeric to round it all off.

Chef Edia is like the magician wielding her baton with each spice finding its proper place and adding to the concoction.  The box of spices is centrally placed within each reach, and though she seems to reach in the same boxes, the curries that arise taste entirely different.

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I cannot wait for dinner!  We return after freshening up (and removing the fish smell from my hands) and indulge in a gastronomic feast.  As predicted, there is way too much food, but it’s all so very delicious and exotic.

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The entire experience was fun, instructive, provided us with an opportunity to go shopping in the wholesale and retail markets, and, of greatest importance ~ so, so scrumptious!

As for the food we simply didn’t have room to finish? There was only one solution… to pack up what we didn’t eat and make it a gastronomic picnic to be had at the airport, the next day.

My Bright and Beautiful Resort Wardrobe.

Photographs and story by Laura Csortan

When I’m on holidays or reporting from a beautiful travel destination half the fun is dressing in accordance to my surroundings.

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On my recent trip to the Alila Villas Soori in Bali I went for gorgeous, loose, light and bright pieces from the Camilla collection. I love to slip on a silk, beaded dress at any time of the day, they feel as light as a feather in the warm Balinese sun and float on your body rather than cling in the sometimes hot/humid weather.  Throwing a silk dress over a one piece Camilla swimsuit is also perfect as they compliment one another and both pieces together serve as a great transitional ensemble for the pool to lunch, dinner or to the bar!

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The Blue Python high shorts and split back top from Watson & Watson is a perfect little vacation piece which suits any activity and is also smart enough to wear out. It’s a flattering two piece which can also be worn as separates, allowing your wardrobe to go further.

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I loved the NOOKIE black Playa neoprene bandeau top and bottoms for soaking up the sun and lounging around the pool. The top also works really well under a dress, with or without straps, again making an easy transition from the pool to the bar, lets face it a black bikini top which doubles as a bra is a must for any girls holiday wardrobe.

Happy Travels. Laura XX

The Surprising Benefits of Eating Whole Foods

Story and photographs by Shayna Hiller

Due to the inevitable advance in technology and industrialization, coupled with the plague of busy-ness and stress that people face on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that our food has become more and more processed. ‘Convenient’ food complements a busy lifestyle, however this adulteration and manipulation of food is only adding to stress, and eventually will cause poor health and disease.

Eating well does not mean you have to cook every meal for yourself or spend elaborate amounts of money on organic products. The opposite is true. When you feed your body whole, natural, nutrient dense foods, you will feel nourished while eating fewer foods. The more processed and modified food is, the more difficult it becomes for the body to properly process and assimilate it. This inner confusion leads to inflammation, which is the root cause of many chronic health issues ranging form diabetes to heart disease to depression to cancer.

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Eating well is simple. I once heard a quote: ‘If your food comes from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, DON’T.’ Notice the ingredients of your food. Check labels. Can you pronounce what’s in your food? If you can’t chances are those chemicals don’t belong in your body. If you’re unsure about a certain ingredient in your food, look it up. You have control over what you put into your mouth, and it is your duty to pay attention to exactly what you’re feeding yourself. Don’t be fooled by clever marketing slogans, such as ‘gluten-free’, ‘natural’, ‘whole grain’, or ‘fortified’. Get to know your food.

The most convenient way to eat healthy is to stick to whole foods. Some examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wild fish, grass fed animal products, eggs, beans, lentils, grains such as quinoa and buckwheat and rice, seaweed, superfoods such as mushrooms (reishi Shilajit, ashwaghanda), cacao, hemp and flax seeds, herbs, and avocado. Your body knows how to process these foods. They are functional foods, which means they serve a function in your body. You will feel the difference if your diet is based off of at least 80% whole foods. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be over 50%.

What inspires me most when it comes to eating whole foods is traveling to other countries. Many countries are not as developed as America, and they tend to eat whole foods because that’s all that’s available! When I was visiting India in 2009, I met a mother and her children. One of her children was feeling ill, so the mother reached into her pocket and pulled out an entire root of turmeric, grated it, mixed it with warm water, and fed it to her child. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-viral agent. No Advil needed! Just nature!

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When I run retreats, I tend to host them in other countries where the food is fresh, whole, and simple. My next retreat is being held at the beautiful Alila Villas Soori  in Bali. Indonesia is known for their fresh produce, seasonal ingredients, and eclectic Eastern spices. I look forward to taking my group to the local markets and providing simple Balinese cooking demonstrations with the resort chef, while educating people on the nutritional benefits of eating these delicious foods.

I will be providing some of my favorite and easy and healthy recipes to everyone attending my Bali retreat.

If you have questions on nutrition, Bali Bliss retreat or on my new book “Don’t Judge Me By My Cover” visit my website www.ShaynaHiller.com or follow me on Twitter  @Shaynayoga or Instagram @shaynahiller

Wishing you a beautiful holiday season.

Shayna

The Spices Studio

Photographs and story by Peta Kaplan & Ben Sandzer-Bell

The region of Kerala has been at the center of the Orient Spice Trade for centuries.  When we visited Kochi (South of Goa), an active trading port for spices in the 16th to 19th Century, when successive European powers built up and administered colonial empires in this part of the world ~ first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British ~ it was evident by strolling through the former spice warehouses, just how large the spice trade was.

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Spices remain an important part of India’s export market today, and regionally, Kerala is still a major producer of such spices as coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, tamarind, black pepper, turmeric, cassia, cardamom, fennel seeds, dill, caraway and chili.

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These spices not only constituted a major source of economic activity for the State of Kerala, for centuries; They inevitably became the culinary “signature” of the region.

Every household’s kitchen contains a collection of spices and every cook knows his/her way through these spices as integral ingredients in Indian cuisine.

Some home cooks take the culinary skill beyond day-to-day food preparation and become culinary ambassadors for the state of Kerala.  Such is the story of Chef Edia.

A Goan by birth, with a long family line that stretches to Portuguese ancestry, Chef Edia was “discovered” by Alila Diwa Goa, when they launched their hotel.  Alila wanted to distinguish their culinary offering.  They wanted to make it “real”.  They wanted a chef who had Goan cuisine running in her veins.  Though not formally trained in culinary school, Chef Edia carries in her DNA a long history of Goan cuisine, learned as a child from her mother’s kitchen and her aunt all they would pass down in the way of regional culinary treasure.

Chef Edia, thanks to Alila Diwa Goa’s decision to give her a venue to introduce the hotel’s guests to Goan cuisine, through the aptly named Spice Studio restaurant,  now has a chance to share her knowledge and skills.  And she does it with gusto.

A passionate chef, who finds herself in a relatively rare position as a female chef, in an industry that tends to be dominated by men, Chef Edia seeks to retain her brand of elevated home cooking through an extensive menu of local specialties.  A large segment of the Spice Studio’s clientele is Indian. So her challenge  is to take Indian clients and foreigners alike and bring them into the realm of Goan cuisine.

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We have a chance to chat with Chef Edia before our meal.  She readily shares her childhood cooking memories.  Asked about what are her favorite foods, she quickly thinks through her own family’s favorites ~ her far away son who recently flew into Goa and just had to have one of her special dishes as a matter of great urgency ~ a Goan stew that features turmeric and coconut milk.

Rather than talk in the abstract, the Spice Studio has set up a visual display, which allows Chef Edia to explain the spices that give Goan cuisine its distinctive flavors.

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The universe of Goan tastes and, more broadly, Indian spices leads to a bewildering array of dishes. The menu at the Spice Studio is pedagogical.  It is very helpful for a foreign dinner guest to be able to get a sense of what regions of India produce what dishes, and a map is a great tool to explain regional differences.

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There is so much to choose from ~ the proximity of the sea yields a treasure trove of mackerel, squid and black pomfret, a local white fish.

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While there is no major seasonal variation in the availability of spices and vegetables,  mango becomes the star ingredient in summer months.

Goan desserts deserve special mention.  Chef Edia becomes animated as she explains Doce ~, and Bebinca ~  a construction of multiple layers of yumminess cooked traditionally in clay ovens with coconut husk as fodder.  The coconut husk infuses a layer of flavor which permeates the cake.

We settle for a mostly vegetarian-centric meal ~ Potato “chops”, mild spicy curry, tandoori chickpeas, mushroom Amsol, King Fish and Goan red rice.  The words don’t begin to tell the tale of what our palates experienced.

The amuse-bouche, a small but brilliantly punchy combination of hot tomato soup and crispy outside, soft inside, potato ball, launches our meal with great panache.

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Modern day vegetarians look not only for tasty veggies ~ they, we, look for evidence that vegetables can be given the same level of creativity in cooking as is often displayed with meat dishes.  It’s about the taste, but it’s also about the presentation.  A medley of fresh and crunchy vegetables is an example of vegetables as the star of the culinary show.

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A trio of chicken tandoori, broccoli and potato dumplings – doesn’t sound revolutionary? And yet, it was.  By far, the best tandoori bite EVER.

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We could have stopped here.  But Chef Edia wants to introduce us to a local fish, served in thin slices and served with a Goan form of vegetable curry.  Her enthusiasm for Goan cuisine is contagious.

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We are now firmly in the camp of Goan cuisine gastronomes and while our ability to enjoy Goan chilies is limited by our neophyte inexperience with the lethality of this pepper, we are most eager to keep “working at it”.  We’ll be back next year, and  will be ready for the next rung of the chilly spiciness ladder.

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Photographs and story by Peta Kaplan & Ben Sandzer-Bell It is not our first time staying at an Alila Hotel, as we had a chance to experience the Alila “Surprisingly Different” brand in Bali, Indonesia.  So it was with anticipation that we came to Alila Diwa Goa, the 5 year old hotel on the Coast, […]

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Photographs and story by Laura Csortan I’ve been to Bali numerous times now and every time is a unique experience. To date, this one is my favourite and certainly the most luxurious. Another fan of Alila Villas Soori is none other than The Bieb’s, that’s right Justin Bieber has visited for the last three years […]

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Photographs and story by Ernanda Putra : http://instagram.com/ernandaputra   “This is paradise” were the first words that slipped out of my mouth when I arrived at Alila Villas Soori. Although cliché, I didn’t know if there were any other words that could truly capture the beauty of the mountains unfolding into the rice fields against the […]

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The Benefits of a Regular Yoga Practice

Yoga is a sneaky thing. It crept up on me without announcing itself and snuck its way into my body, my thoughts, and ultimately, my life. I took my first yoga class while studying abroad in Australia, and since then yoga has been a part of each and every day since. Surprisingly, yoga helped me […]

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