60_baku city mall

I absolutely loooove my Sundays.

Last week, after church service, a fellow Pinoy, let’s call him G, invited me to hang out with his friends in Baku City Mall. I’ve never been there and, well, I’m cringing as I type this, I needed sweatpants. (Yes, I’ve caved in. I’ve been freezing in the shorts and leggings that I sleep in.)

Baku City Mall in Bina, reminded me of Greenhills minus 95% of the population. The mall has several wide aisles, where each aisle focuses mainly on either shoes, women’s clothing, men’s clothing and, as you’ll find out, jackets. There were also several shops that sold household items. The quality of things sold are slightly better than Sederek Mall and the prices are also higher. A pair of sweatpants costs ten manat. I’m sure I could’ve gotten the same thing for two manat in the Philippines.

The wide aisles of Baku City Mall

The wide aisles of Baku City Mall

G, in his old jacket, posing.

G, in his old jacket, posing.

Ten minutes after arriving in the mall, G’s friends revealed the true reason for bringing him there. They wanted to buy him a new jacket! (The mastermind of this is, well, let’s call him A.)

Now Baku is a goooorgeous city. There’s the Bulvar that faces the Caspian. There’s Icherisheher which houses buildings that are hundreds of years old. It is an international heritage site. There is park after park after park which are lined with trees imported from Italy. So naturally, people want to look good. Azeris love dressing up!

G, on the other hand, is an environmentalist. He avoids using paper plates and he hopes his next adventure will lead him to Palawan, where he will be mentored by a farmer who propagates organic culture in a self-sustaining environment. In other words, G didn’t care about his three year old olive jacket with a tattered sleeve. He didn’t need a new one so he didn’t buy one even if he could afford it.

But A, a fashionable Azeri, cared. He insisted on buying G a jacket and he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. So we trudged from store to store along the jacket/winter coat aisle as I kept an eye out for sweatpants.

These were my fave men's jackets.

These were my fave men’s jackets.

Now in case you’re not familiar with Pinoy culture, we have this trait called “hiya”. We like giving things and doing things for other people, but when others give or do things for us, we feel awkward and shy about it, so our first instinct is to say “no”. So as we trudged from store to store to store, A would wave jacket after jacket in front of G, and G would say, sometimes in English, sometimes in Azeri, “I really appreciate what you’re doing but I don’t need a jacket. Thank you.”

A did not listen, perhaps because he couldn’t understand G’s tattered sleeve, or perhaps because he had a generous heart, so off we went to another store. A insisted that G try some jackets. G slightly relented and explained to A, sometimes in Azeri, sometimes in English–“We Filipinos, we like doing things for other people. But it’s hard for us to receive.”

“You don’t like this jacket,” A would say sometimes in Azeri, sometimes in English, as he pulled the jacket off G and returned it to the store owner.

“What do you think of this jacket?” A asked me as G pretended to try another black one. After an hour of saying no, G probably figured that A wasn’t going to cave in. He also probably decided that intercultural understanding trumped “hiya”. So I mentioned the store with my favorite jackets and we walked back there.

G fiiiiinally finds a jacket!

G fiiiiinally finds a jacket!

A's triumphant smile!

A’s triumphant smile!

“One of these days,” G promised as we hopped on the bus going to the center of town. “I will cook you guys pancakes.”

Dinner at Nargiz in Fountain Square.  We were all happy.  G got a new jacket. Boy I does not like buying clothes in Bina. Girl A got blue boots and pants.  Boy A found shoes and sexy gloves.  And I bought my warm and comfy sweatpants.  I love Sundays :)

Dinner at Nargiz in Fountain Square. We were all happy. G got a new jacket. Boy I does not like buying clothes in Bina. Girl A got blue boots and pants. Boy A found shoes and sexy gloves. And I bought my warm and comfy sweatpants. I love Sundays 🙂

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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.

49_door

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.

51_interior

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.

52_jim

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.

50_pursuit of God

I’ve got a long weekend, one of many this year. Originally, I signed up for a tiger safari in Ranthambore but there were no more train tickets. And catching a plane plus renting a car didn’t seem worth it. So here I remain in Mumbai!

I decided to go shopping in Infinity Mall at West Malad. I’m not a mall person because I’d rather save than spend, but from my limited Mumbai mall experience this is my fave mall. If you go early, which means before 3 pm, there’s no one! A luxury in Mumbai! No need to squirm and wiggle your way through a crowd.

I also have a newfound fave shop. Mango! I stayed away from this shop in Manila because the clothes are quite pricey. And Filipinos (or should I say China?) has a way stealing Mango and Zara designs and making copies that you can find in tiangges, the Filipino word for bazaar, entrepreneurial stores where you can bargain!

So far, I’ve only found one bazaar store in Colaba with designs that I really like so for the meantime, Mango it is!

The have designed clothes that are sexy, carefree and perfect for a woman’s body.

I’m glad my trip to Ranthambore didn’t work out because now I can rest and pamper myself.

How do you take care of yourself?

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.

I’ve been craving for travel, I’ve been craving for beef, I’ve been craving for a little taste of home. Busaba, one of the restaurants in my bucket list.

Busaba serves memorable pan-Asian cuisine while retaining a hip vibe…Burmese khao suey, Korean bipimbap and bulgogi, Tibetan momos and Thai lime chilly fish are favorites, my Time Out guide informed me.

Busaba is located in one of the side streets of Colaba, in a building with an old facade. It was Sunday lunch time when I entered and I was surprised to see that no one was there–a luxury in Mumbai! The staff were very friendly and accommodating (well, if the ratio is five servers to one customer they should be!) and the interior is modern, in contrast to the facade, and beautiful. They have some purple walls, with lamps and orchids placed strategically on window ledges.

I sat by a window that had a pretty view of, ironically, a garage.

The interior reminded me of some restaurants in Manila. I know I talk a lot about Manila, but I can’t help it. It’s where I’m from and I admit to missing the variety of international food choices that I had back home. Forgive me for diverting a bit here. In Manila, you can walk into a shopping complex that offers Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian and American food. It’s something I’ve taken for granted. By now, I am used to the food choices in Mumbai and have picked my “comfort food” places which are mostly Indian food, specifically parathas, chicken shwarmas and chicken tandoori. Yum yum! But at this point in time, I’m glad that I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone, and discovered Busaba, which brought brought back memories of another comfort zone–Manila! 🙂

“Bulgogi and steamed rice,” I told the waiter as I slammed the menu shut. Of course I’m going to have bulgogi. I haven’t had bulgogi in more than a year. My mom used to cook it at home and it was a common food choice in many Manila fast food restaurants.

“Where are you from, Madame?” the head waiter asked me.

“I’m from the Philippines.” But I have an Indian passport and my Mom is very mixed, a mutt!, is the usual tagline I follow with, almost apologizing for the fact that I don’t seem to represent the country where I’m from.

“You don’t look like you’re from the Philippines,” he commented.

“Yes, I know.” I smiled back. I was relieved from having to further explain myself as my bulgogi arrived.

My yummy bulgogi!

The waiter served me the rice and poured some sauce over it. Then he served me the beef and red concoction in a small sauce bowl.

“Korean chili paste, Madame.”

I am usually averse to spice, but these days I want to try new things, so I spread some of the chili paste on the beef and sampled the recipe, which reminded me of home, the recipe which I haven’t eaten in so long!

I chewed and savored the juices of the beef, and the softness of the rice. At first, it reminded me of the pre-made marinated beef bulgogi that you buy in frozen packs. Oh my!, I laughed to myself. I just spent 600 bucks on a TV dinner!

But the chili paste added another dimension to the dish. It was spicy but not the type that makes you cry. Instead, it just prickled my tongue, and the memory of paste combined with the doused rice and beef, is now making me crave for it more and more.

The Korean chili paste was unbelievable!

The serving was big so I had it packed thinking I could finish it off the next day. But I had it for an early dinner, and I had it again for a late dinner. I couldn’t stop thinking about and eating the yummy bulgogi!

Busama is more expensive than most restaurants in Mumbai, and I’m suspecting that this is the reason why it was empty on a Sunday afternoon. For the bulgogi, rice, iced tea and tip, I spent 1000 rupees.

Was it worth it? Yes yes yes! Will I go back? Definitely, this time to try a Japanese or Thai dish.

If you’re interested in visiting Busaba the address is–
4 Mandlik Road, Colaba , Mumbai

Contact number: 22043769, 22043779, 22043772

Matheran, first stop on my bucket list, hill station of horses and rust dust.

It’s funny how when you travel, some places begin to look the same-images, terrains interspersed in my memory. Maharashtra and the Philippines have stark similarities, and Matheran reminded me of Baguio and Sagada–two hill stations and tourist attractions in Luzon, the main northern island of the archipelago which I grew up in.

Matheran was originally a summer getaway for British expatriates because of its cool weather. Baguio was declared the summer capital of the Philippines by American government officials who wanted to escape Manila’s summer heat. Matheran is now an eco-sensitive zone, which means that no cars are allowed so inhabitants and visitors can breathe fresh mountain air while hiking. For years, Sagada preserved its ecology by ensuring that visitors respected the place by keeping it clean and imposing a curfew.

There are many more parallels between India and the Philippines, mainly that we are two young countries, trying to find its identity and place in a global world. But I don’t want to bore you with my observations right now. Instead I’ll share photos from our hikes and explorations. Happy viewing!

We took a three kilometer train track hike to our hotel. I loved skipping from one metal track to another!

The famous toy train, which brings passengers from the bottom of the hill to Matheran's market place.

On our way to the hotel.

Nisha! She was like a mom during the trip, always looking out for our safety. She reminds me of my Tita Dolly. She was such a darling and I can't wait to see her again 🙂

Teams of horses galloped beside us.

Mukesh, the hotel owner! He is C's friend and he completely took care of us! He got me a birthday cake and set up a bonfire during the evening. I love Indian hospitality!

Ruins on the way to Sunset Point

Sunset Point

Breakfast was the yummiest parathas I've ever tasted! It was soft, not oily, fresh and flavorful.

A friend, J, recommended we stay in this hotel. We didn't get to stay overnight but from the brief visit, it looked very pretty.

Forest in the Verandah hotel

Echo Point!

A rickshaw driver taking a much deserved break.

Guavas for sale!

K bought souvenirs from the market. Methinks the Hindi word is "chikki". The Filipino word is "pasalubong". I ate one pasalubong that tasted exactly like a Filipino peanut pastry sweet. Bye, Matheran! I'm happy I was able to visit and savor your beauty for a weekend!

In the non-veg section of Hypercity, I was about to buy my usual handful of prawns when I saw fresh sardines. As far as I can remember, it was my first time to see fresh sardines. I’m used to eating the 555 ones in a can, drenched in tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Cans dug out of the cupboards on a rainy Manila day, poured on top of fried eggs and fried garlic rice.

But that’s not what this post is about :). Here’s a recipe for one that takes around 30 minutes to prepare.

Ingredients:
2 medium sized sardines
olive oil
salt and pepper
6 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1/2 cup of lettuce (chopped)
1 medium sized tomato (chopped)
1 teaspoon of anchovy
1 teaspoon of crumbled feta cheese
balsamic vinegar

Rub salt and pepper onto the sardines. Pan fry the garlic and sardines for ten to fifteen minutes.

On a salad bowl, lay a bed of lettuce. Place bits of the sardines on top of the lettuce. Add the garlic, tomatoes, capers, anchovy and feta cheese. Sprinkle balsamic to taste.

Bon appetit!