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 🙂 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 🙂 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–

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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.

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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?

Manila, the city I grew up in, has a strong American influence. For many of us, English is our mother tongue. I learned how to read through watching Sesame Street. We love McDonald’s and KFC. And in the posh parts of the city we have a Starbucks coffeehouse after every three blocks. We even have Starbucks drive-thrus! Sometimes I think we love Starbucks more than Americans do.

In Baku, we have no Starbucks. But we do have the Baku Roasting Company.

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A couple of weeks ago, some of my American friends (surprise surprise!) took me to the BRC and I absolutely loved it!

This morning, I took the train to the Elmler metro station. Elmler reminded me of Brooklyn with its wide streets, parks, residential buildings which look like brownstones, and stores. It also has a more laid back feel compared to the Icherisheher area.

Fountain near the Elmler Metro Station

Fountain near the Elmler Metro Station

BRC’s interior looks like Starbucks, and I mean that as a compliment.

They've got dark wooden furniture and leather couches.  They have these yellow lights that make the coffeehouse feel cozy.  They've also given the place an Azerbaijani touch through patterned tapestries and carpets.  I thought that was a good idea.

They’ve got dark wooden furniture and leather couches. They have these yellow lights that make the coffeehouse feel cozy. They’ve also given the place an Azerbaijani touch through patterned tapestries and carpets. I thought that was a good idea.

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The barristas are pretty friendly and can understand basic English. BRC has a lunch special which includes a choice of any two among a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches. It’s 7 manat for a pretty big meal. I’ve also only ordered the cafe latte and it tastes the same as Starbucks’ :).

I love their chicken barbeque salad.  It's light and delicious.

I love their chicken barbeque salad. It’s light and delicious.

Today I also ordered their Thai soup.  I'm no Thai food expert but I am familiar with some of the spices,  namely lemongrass.  I think the base was made from fresh tomatoes.  It had beef, peas and corn.  It was good, but I wouldn't call it Thai soup.

Today I also ordered their Thai soup. I’m no Thai food expert but I am familiar with some of the spices, namely lemongrass. I think the base was made from fresh tomatoes. It had beef, peas and corn. It was good, but I wouldn’t call it Thai soup.

The best part of my meal!  Cheescake!  It was worth the 4 manat AND calories!  It was creamy, a good mix of sweet and slightly sour and tangy.  The cheesecake is enough reason for anyone to go to BRC.

The best part of my meal! Cheescake! It was worth the 4 manat AND calories! It was creamy, a good mix of sweet and slightly sour and tangy. The cheesecake is enough reason for anyone to go to BRC.

But the best part of my visit was bumping into Jim from church.

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Jim is originally from California but has taught primary school in Kazakhstan and other former USSR countries for 20 years. He’s married to a lady from Kazakhstan and has two children–Masha and Vanya. He’s been living in Baku for six years.

Jim is also a Christian writer so it was good to hear about his writing ideas and the conceptual frameworks he was developing his ideas around. Besides being blessed with good conversation over coffee and cheesecake, he ended up emailing me a dictionary of Russian and English words that are the same. This will definitely help me learn Russian more easily.

BRC also has a library where people can share books. Jim ended up gifting me with his.

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The winter weather we’ve had since the New Year has been absolutely breathtaking. We have sunny blue skies! What more can a girl ask for? I know I have to clean and do laundry but I’ll save that for the evening. I want to take in this gorgeous weather before school starts.

Icherisheher, the old walled city of Baku, is close to my heart. The first time I was here (which was last March) my hotel was inside this walled city. I promptly fell in love with this hidden jewel by the Caspian. I never suspected that I would end up working here. God is good.

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There’s a restaurant inside Icherisheher called Karvansara. Hundred of years ago, travelers from Azerbaijan’s neighboring countries would come to these Karvansaras to rest and park their horses and camels.

This Karvansara has several room that used to house weary travelers that visited Baku.  The rooms are still intact.  But they are now used s dining rooms.

This Karvansara has several room that used to house weary travelers that visited Baku. The rooms are still intact. But they are now dining rooms.

This is a well where the camels and horses used to drink from.  Locals and tourists now drop coins into it as they make a wish.

This is a well where the camels and horses used to drink from. Locals and tourists now drop coins into it as they make a wish.

This is one of the many dining rooms complete with a chandelier, fireplace and regal table setting.

This is one of the many dining rooms complete with a chandelier, fireplace and regal table setting.

My view from inside the dining room.  I love arched doorways which face more arched doorways.

My view from inside the dining room. I love doorways which face more arched doorways.

The waiters were friendly but the service was a bit slow. He recommended the mangal salad and grilled chicken. Both did not disappoint.

A mangal salad consists of grilled eggplant and tomato that is mashed up.  This mangal also had fresh and crunchy capsicum.  I had it on top of bread.  It was soooo delicious!  It's now one of my favorite Azeri dishes.

A mangal salad consists of grilled eggplant and tomato that is mashed up. This mangal also had fresh and crunchy capsicum. I had it on top of bread. It was soooo delicious! It’s now one of my favorite Azeri dishes.

The grilled chicken arrived with lemon-sprayed onions and a purple spice.  From 1 to 10 it was a 5.

The grilled chicken arrived with lemon-sprayed onions and a purple spice. From a 1 to 10 it was a 5.

My bill was 14 manat. (Gasp.) This included bread and a huge bottle of sparkling water. They also added service task, which is very unusual for Baku.

But given the experience of eating in a building which is hundreds of years old, and where secret stories are stored in its walls, where the atmosphere is semi-regal and the food, healthy and delicious, I would say that the Karvansara is well worth a visit.

Spontaneous dinner with K tonight in Le Pain de Quotodien. Oooohlala! I haven’t had a juicy steak in so long! I definitely want to go back to Le Pain to try out their strawberry cheesecake too.

Guess what I found in Hypercity today?

Our famous Philippine Century Tuna!

Century tuna has always been a staple in our family kitchen cupboard. Century sells tuna in water, tuna in vegetable oil. Tuna cooked in adobo or menudo style.

It was good to see it on the Hypercity shelf but I wasn’t too happy about this label–

It’s a Philippine product! Why is advertised as America’s number one brand?

Because no one really talks about the Philippines in Mumbai, Sacha. It’s marketing marketing marketing. A tiny voice in my head says and of course, the tiny voice is right :).

Did I end up buying the product? No, first because of its price, and second, I’ve stopped in eating tuna in cans because of the sodium content.

But still, it was good to see a little piece of home in the grocery store.

Last Saturday, I visited a village called Chinchoea. Chinchoea means tamarind in the villagers’ native language, and tamarind trees are scattered around the land. While we were on our way to the rice paddies, we met these women who were peeling and seasoning tamarinds with salt.