March 2013


Park Bulvar in Sahil

Park Bulvar in Sahil

It’s the last day of the Novruz holiday, so after cleaning up my classroom and preparing for tomorrow, I headed off to Park Bulvar. It’s my mecca mall in this city. One of my simple pleasures is brisk walking along the tree-lined Bulvar and having lunch or dinner at the top floor’s food court. International choices abound from Japanese to Russian to Chinese to Sbarro, which is American-Italian.

But my fave food vendor is Sultan’s, which serves salads, kebabs, Azeri main courses and desserts. The food is healthy. The food is delicious. But the reason I keep coming back is because of the servers’ friendliness, smiles and flexibility. The man who I think is the supervisor can also communicate in basic English. The older I get and the more I travel, the more I appreciate excellent customer service because I tend to frequent places that I like, and it always makes me happy when I have a positive and friendly transaction. I will refrain from commenting on the opposite šŸ™‚ But let it suffice to say for now, that in Baku you get an equal amount of positive and negative customer service, of people who genuinely care about other people and love their job, so I tend to cling on and only visit places where I sense a happy vibe.

Salad bar at Sultan's

Salad bar at Sultan’s

Sultan’s salad bar offers plenty of healthy eats. They have the usual lettuce and cucumber, but they also have red beets, cucumber pickles, jalapenos, a variety of beans, red cabbage, and my mystery leaf, which I will tell you about later.

I usually order the chicken kebab and couscous, but today I asked if I could change my couscous into salad. The supervisor was very flexible. Most restaurants stick to the prescribed menu, but he gave me half a salad and the kebab for 5 manat – a very reasonable price for a meal in Baku.

Chicken kebab and half a salad from Sultan's at Park Bulvar

Chicken kebab and half a salad from Sultan’s at Park Bulvar

And just to back track a bit, yesterday, I found a green grocer and I bought this mystery leaf that I love! It’s a bit spicy and I love how it tickles my tongue! But I’ve never seen this leaf before.

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Today, I asked Sultan’s servers about it and they said it was “petrushka”. So I looked it up and apparently, “petrushka” is the word for parsley in Russian šŸ™‚ I can see how it’s similar to the parsley we have in the Philippines and the ones I’ve tried in the States. They look similar and they taste similar but they are different. Petrushka is definitely worth trying!

After eating lunch, I explored the new grocery store at the Park Bulvar’s basement. It’s called Bazar Store and it’s a popular chain in Baku. I wanted to see if they sold kefir and this is what I ended up buying–

74_salmon kefir and a glass

The kefir is deeeliiicious! This brand (I will not yet attempt to decode the Russian name :)) tastes exactly like lassi. It’s 95 quepic, but I don’t mind because it’s a good investment on my health. The salmon is 4.20 manat for 100 grams. I have yet to try it. And I know that you’re probably wondering why there’s a glass there. Believe or not, the usual grocery store I go to, doesn’t sell glasses in boxes so I’ve never bought from them because I tend to break glasses. When I first arrived, I bought six pieces and only one is left! I was able to find six chic small glasses – I wasn’t too fond of the the tall glass designs – for 2.15 manat. Considering that I didn’t buy them from Sederek mall, I would say it’s a steal.

I’m definitely coming back to the Bazar Store, even if it’s just for the kefir. But yes, I did see a reasonably price Russian caviar which I want to try during one of my cheat days.

Not that I’ve been lax. No, I haven’t. I’ve been walking for at least 30 minutes a day and eating salads. But, of course, along with salads, there’s been yummy-salty-moldy Azeri cheese and this Tiramisu ice cream I discovered at Park Bulvar. Then there’s the SCRUMPtious cheesecake at the Baku Roasting Company and the local nutty-tasting beer – Xirdalan. Literally quenches your thirst!

So today, I’m taking a step towards shaving the fat off my diet, and curbing my sugar and caffeine addiction.

And I’m launching my Healthy Eat regiment with kefir!

Jala kefir from Citimart in Sahil, Baku.

Jala kefir from Citimart in Sahil, Baku.

Kefir has been touted in the international community as a health drink, good for your digestion because it’s of full of bacteria and enzymes. I decided to find a bottle at Citimart, Sahil and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s 75 quepic for the Jala brand and it is filling! I consider it a meal in itself.

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The texture is very similar to India’s lassi. The taste, well, it’s a little sour, or let’s put it this way, it’s like slightly moldy cheese in semi-watery yoghurt form. I know that I’m not making this sound appealing to many of you, but I really do like moldy cheese and the lassi-like texture. I loooved it! And I’m thinking of making kefir a regular afternoon snack. For more information on what kefir is and it’s nutritional value, please visit http://www.kefir.net.

I’ve also decided to replace some of my winter staple food choices with healthier options. Here’s a peek at my list–

1. I love Jala’s 100% sugar-free juice. Especially the peach and pineapple flavors. I’m not 100% sure if it’s sugar-free, but it is good. It’s now been replaced with bottled water flavored with fresh lemon slices.

2. Speaking of water, I’ve taken to qazli, sparkling water, ever since I arrived in Baku. I love the kick and it has no calories. But it bloats me. Again replaced with bottled water flavored with fresh lemon slices.

3. Jacob’s 3-in-1 latte, I feel sad to say goodbye to you. (Sniff sniff.) You have kept me awake for the past nine months! But alas, this will be replaced by sugarless teas.

4. Goodbye ice-cream and paklava. Hello, fresh apples and oranges.

5. Instead of white bread, I’ve found tasty rye bread at Citimart. More on this rare find in another blog entry!

So this is my brief list. I think it’s a good start. Of course, Saturday or Sunday will be my cheat day so I have more gastronomic adventures to look forward to!

How about you? Are you upgrading your diet this spring?

First tree with blossoms in the park in front of Icherisheher.

First tree with blossoms in the park in front of Icherisheher.

It’s spriiiing! I’m delighted to see blue skies again, and anticipating white and lilac blossoms, as well as the tulips last year’s Baku-dwellers are raving about. The days are warm, the nights are chilly but I’m simply happy because it’s spriiiing again!

Lots have happened since my last blog entry. Not able to share everything just yet, so I’ll be cryptic šŸ™‚ Let it suffice to say that winter is over. My mourning, black drape shroud–that’s over. And the dead, it’s been raised to life. (Giggling as I scribble this.)

Life has overtaken writing. My students are growing up. Fast. Old acquaintances from India have become friends, and friendships that have budded late last year are continuing to blossom. There were new books read and book reviews left unwritten. There were new haunts to explore, although my fave still remains the same–Nargiz. (Will rave about this find in another entry!) Then, of course, I caught the winter flu and ended up teaching as my fever flamed on.

But rainy winters devoid of snow, thankfully, end.

White blossoms near School 6.

White blossoms near School 6.

Spring also means significantly cutting down on my unlimited craving for cheese and ice cream! Just discovered this little market behind Chiraq bookstore that sells greens with all these spices that tingle on my tongue for 20 quepic per bundle. The little shoppe sticks prices on their veggies and there’s a helpful storekeeper who knows basic English. What more can a hopeless foreign-language-learner ask for?

69_greens

I’ll also be trying kefir for the first time in a moment. It’s a drink that’s originated in the Caucuses, and health nuts are raaaving about it.

It’s spriiing! Excited to chase sunshine as flowers blossom on the trees along the Bulvar.