Butter Chicken Battle

My friend Mike introduced me to an Indian restaurant in Tokyo called Moti and a dish called Butter Chicken.  Ever since I’ve been on a quest to find a better butter chicken but have failed.  However, I did introduce Mike to an Indian market in Minneapolis that sells Butter Chicken mixes.  I even purchased a few boxes for him with one condition – that he prepare one rendition of it for Carrie and I.  He followed through on the deal and wrote an excellent piece on his blog about this:  http://mikenmitch.wordpress.com/butter-chicken/.

I’m launching my own Butter Chicken Battle on this trip.  First stop was Moti in Tokyo and it was everything I remembered it being.  Silky, tangy and not overly greasy or rich with high quality ingredients.  It was also complemented by amazing garlic naan.

When we were in Mumbai we hired a driver for a day.  He assumed we would like a “continental lunch” and started to guide us to a spot.  I quickly interrupted him and said we would like an Indian lunch.  He said something like, “oh, yes sir, you will have an Indian lunch”.  He was quite excited – apparently  most tourists stay away from this.  He guided us to what appeared to be one of the nicest Indian restaurants in Mumbai – Delhi Darbar.  Of course I ordered Butter Chicken.  I honestly had low expectations since the quality of ingredients available in India is generally lower than other parts of the world like Tokyo.  This is one of the reasons that most experts say London has the best Indian food on the planet – lots of people from India and very high quality ingredients.

Anyhow, it was a good experience but the Butter Chicken was disappointing.  It was very greasy and the quality of the chicken was low – lots of grizzle.  And we both got a little sick a few days later (Kyle more so than me) and this meal was the probable cause.  So this is probably why tourists stay away….

The latest Butter Chicken was experienced in the largest and most grand shopping mall in the world – The Dubai Mall – at a restaurant called Dean and Deluca that overlooks the Dubai Fountain.  This Butter Chicken was unique – very sweet, almost like a sweet potato.  It was garnished with a splash of cream and was generally quite good.  If nothing else it was a good variation on the standard Butter Chicken but I would not consistently order this variation of the dish.

Pictures of these dishes can be found here:  http://www.foodspotting.com/chrisflynn

The quest continues…..

Dubai via Saudi Arabia

Yesterday was a long day.  We hired a driver to take us around Mumbai for the day.  We had an allowance of 8 hours/80 kilometers and by the time we got back to the hotel we were a minute short of 8 hours and around a kilometer short of 80.  We spent a good portion of the day sitting in our air-conditioned Toyota Camry while the Camry sat in traffic. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how crazy fun it is watching drivers navigate the Mumbai roads.  As a person who loves to drive I have enormous respect for their skills.  I didn’t witness an accident my entire time in India.  Pretty sure there would be an accident every 5 seconds or so if you were to replace the drivers with U.S. drivers.  It’s total chaos with no lanes and a combination of cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, cows, dogs, pedestrians, random speed bumps, potholes and constant noise (mostly honking).  With constant traffic cars pretty much force their way in and hope other cars stop in time.  I would love to give it a try but our driver wasn’t so sure I could manage.  I told him I know how to drive a stick but shifting left-handed would be odd.

We saw all/most of the key sites of Mumbai including Dhobi Ghat (an outdoor facility where they process laundry for much of the city), the Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Hotel and Mani Bhavan, the house that Ghandi lived and worked in from 1917-1934, which is now a museum.  Along the tour we had to go shopping on 3 separate occasions – we also experienced this on the DMZ tour.  Tour operators have deals with local shops to steer customers their way.  It’s just part of the package and something you have to deal with – I kind of enjoy it.  In South Korea we had a semi-hard sell on amethyst jewelry.  In Mumbai we had experienced professional salesmen who unsuccessfully tried to sell us Indian rugs from Kashmir.  One guy gave a particularly charismatic sales pitch with a very hard sell.  He started at $1,250 USD for a rug and when my travel partner Kyle said he was not interested he asked at what price he would be interested.  Kyle eventually said $100 and the salesman said “sold”.  Kyle then had to backtrack.  He didn’t bother me as I quickly told him I’m in sales and asked if he went to the same sales seminars I went to.  As I was leaving I told him he was good at his job and he said, “yeah, I know I am”.  Classic.

We got back to the hotel around 7pm and were sleeping by 10pm.  Had to get up at 5:30am for our flight to Dubai via Saudi Arabia.

I’m sitting in the Dammam, Saudi Arabia airport as I type this but will post later tonight when I get to the hotel as the free airport Wi-Fi does not let me upload pics.  We were the only non Middle Eastern or Indian passengers on the plane.  In general we received a lot of attention in Mumbai and so far in Saudi Arabia.  Kids frequently look at me with inquisitive/puzzled facial expressions.  I’ve experienced this a few times before, last time in rural Costa Rica.  I think everyone would benefit from feeling a little uncomfortable as an outsider at some point in their life.  Though I’m not a complete outsider here – I haven’t shaved since I left for the trip and this is in my favor in the Middle East.  It’s very in!

The Saudia flight included a prayer before takeoff.  Aside from that it was pretty normal and the food was good.  I did have an Indian gentleman sitting next to me who looked over my shoulder to look out the window (I had a window seat) for nearly the entire flight.  That got old but I’m guessing it was the first plane he had ever been on so I tried to not let it bother me.  The transfer process at Dammam airport to our next flight was interesting…..a very manual process.  We had to clear around 3 different layers of security and was escorted all around the airport.  But everyone was very nice and it was a fairly quick process.  Lastly, each of the bathrooms here has a place for prayer and each stall in the bathroom has what is essentially a garden hose.  Not sure I want to know exactly what this is used for but all toilets are very wet.  Needed to wipe it down with some towels.  But at least it was clean.

Dubai should be about as opposite to Mumbai as Seoul was, just in a different way.  Should be fun…visiting the only 7-star hotel in the world (self-proclaimed) and the tallest building in the world on Friday.  Should have some good pics….

Update: Just checked into our hotel in Dubai.  BTW, we had a full meal on the hour flight from Dammam to Dubai – barely enough time to eat it.  Unbelievably nice (and busy) metro system.  First appearances are exactly as I expected – Vegas minus the sins (gambling, escorts, drinking, dancing…).  Which makes one wonder why you would go to Dubai.  Truth is you can drink and dance in certain places but not like Vegas.  I will find out tomorrow as it’s Friday night.

Kamla Nehru Park

Kamla Nehru Park

Dhobi Ghat

Dhobi Ghat

Mani Bhavan

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Gateway to India

Gateway of India

Taj Mahal Hotel

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Alive in India

Yesterday we flew out of possibly the nicest, most advanced airport in the world in Seoul (Incheon) and arrived at one of the least impressive major airports in the world in Mumbai. Indian music was playing as we boarded the plane and this flight marked a clear transition from our first three Asian cities (Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul).  India is very different and I was excited to experience it.  Speaking English to people who understand it is great and the taxi rides are amazing (more on that later).  But India is still very much a “Third World” country by my objectives.  India is a developing country but it still has a lot of progress to make.

Walking off the plane into Chhatrapati Shivaji airport in Mumbai was exactly as I expected.  The colors and look of the airport are straight out of the ’70s, it was warm and humid and there was a strong musty smell everywhere.  I felt like it could be the opening to a Wes Anderson film (Darjeeling Limited is my obvious reference).  It just needed some Kinks music playing in the background.

We are staying at a very nice hotel near the airport – a Hilton – that we got for a reasonable price.  But only steps from the Hilton is the mass chaos of Mumbai.  They have a TSA-like security checkpoint at the entrance of the hotel – this was a bit unexpected.  There appears to be around a 5-1 worker to guest ratio at the hotel.  Every hotel worker greets with the appropriate greeting when walking by (e.g. good morning, sir) and smiles.  It’s kind of great and kind of awkward.  A little bit like a few Indian restaurants I’ve been to where the owner randomly stands near the table and smiles.

I decided to splurge on the lunch buffet, if you can call it that, and I’m happy I did.  Our primary server brought around six different items to sample to our table directly from the kitchen – all made for us.  And various servers randomly brought items to sample from the buffet.  The food was a mix of Indian and American and extremely high quality.  And it was only 1350 rupee (around $25 USD).  Fairly amazing.

We took a taxi to a the nearby suburb of Powai tonight.  Powai is kind of like the wealthy uptown of Mumbai.  The taxi ride was the most fun I’ve ever had in a taxi.  Mass chaos with seemingly near-misses every 30 seconds or so.  And constant horn honking by all cars (to let other cars know they are there).  Exactly what I expected but better.  I’m going to try to take a video tomorrow – words cannot do this justice.

Powai is the nicest or one of the nicest areas of Mumbai but would be considered a slum by American standards.  There is a lake littered with trash and sewage and the roads are a mess.  But this is countered by some hip coffee shops and stores.  The city of Mumbai, and especially our visit, is a cross of wealth and poverty.  For example, we are hiring a car tomorrow for a day as this is the only recommended way to see the city for various reasons and is fairly inexpensive   So we will go from our luxury hotel to our private driver to explore the poverty ridden parts of the city.  Makes you realize how fortunate you are…

Seoul to Mumbai route:

Seoul to Mumbai

Desserts at lunch buffet:

Hilton Buffet

Powai:

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Day 12

I’m on day 12 of my 34-day around-the-world trip.  So over 1/3 done.  4 cities visited and 8 to go.  I’m lucky to have a personal curator for my TiVo while I’m gone.  We have barely turned on a TV in 12 days…kind of nice.  Just glad that I saw the season finale of Girls before I left.

We leave for Mumbai this evening (Monday).  This is one of our 4 long flights and the only one that I was not able to book an exit row on in advance so hopefully I can get that taken care of at the airport.  Looking forward to watching a few movies – Korean Air has a fantastic entertainment system on their planes.

I just added two posts – Beijing and Seoul.  I also added lots of pictures on my various apps/sites.  Check them out here.  I wonder if the Gophers basketball team will have a coach when I get back and if the Twins will already be out of the playoff race….

Order is Restored in Seoul

Seoul’s primary airport, Incheon, is consistently ranked one of the best and most modern in the world.  The airport and many other parts of Seoul have a modern European feel.  It was a great way to transition from Beijing to Seoul.

I went from the worst place in the world for social media to the best. China blocks it and Seoul is better wired than any city in the world (and only censors objectionable material like porn). Free Wi-Fi in the parks and the hotel provided a Jetpack with 4G LTE to carry around the city (for a small fee).

Seoul is much more like Tokyo than Beijing and I believe South Korea is much more like Japan than China. I would say that Seoul is like a slightly more westernized Tokyo but both cities are incredibly clean and fairly orderly. However I have noticed that cars generally ignore red lights if no cars/pedestrians are in the area. This is kind of how I drive ;).

Yesterday (Saturday) was probably the best day of our trip so far. We got up early to go to the DMZ and see North Korea. We happened to be there on the day that North Korea announced it “entered a state of war” with South Korea. So that was interesting. I met several people in our tour group with interesting stories and Kyle and I ended up drinking beer with an Australian couple who live in Jakarta and have traveled the world for the past 35 years or so. Needless to say they had a lot of stories and insight. I went straight from drinks with the Australians to meet up with Carrie’s cousin Joshua in the university/party/young area of Seoul – Hongdae. It was great to meet Joshua and his group of friends and see the Hongdae area – lots of energy. Today I hiked to the top of a hill where the Seoul Tower is located. It was a much steeper/longer climb than I anticipated but was well worth the effort. At the top is a large complex where locals bring their dates/families on the weekends. Lots of local street food and….wait for it…a Cold Stone Creamery.

Tomorrow afternoon we leave for Mumbai. This will be the second of our four long flights. This one is the shortest of those 4 at just over 9 hours. Mumbai will also be the first city that does not require a jacket. Looking forward to wearing something other than a hoodie.

Before we leave we are exploring a few more neighborhoods of Seoul including the Olympic Village from the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. This has prompted me to list the Olympic cities of our trip:
• 1900, 1924 Paris
• 1964 Tokyo (maybe 2020)
• 1980 Moscow
• 1988 Seoul
• 1996 Atlanta (layover)
• 2008 Beijing
• 2016 Rio De Janeiro

I may make it a new goal to visit every city that’s hosted a Summer Olympics. I only need a few more…

Hongdae:

Hongdae

 

Incheon Airport Express:

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North Korea:

North Korea

 

Seoul:

Seoul

 

 

No Order in China

I’m behind on my blog and am catching up in Seoul.

The Delta flight from Tokyo to Beijing was probably the best flight I’ve ever been on.  The flight was empty  (nobody within a few rows of me), I had an exit row, had a great meal and watched two movies (Adam and Away we Go).  Thought Adam was an insult to anyone on the autistic spectrum (for poor acting if nothing else) but thought Away we Go was a decent flick.

Tokyo and Beijing are similar cities in one way – they are filled with lots of people.  But that’s about where the similarities end.  Tokyo is one of the largest cities in the world with some of the largest and busiest subway stations in the world but there is always a calming sense of order.  People queue up in line and incessantly bow to each other.  They are polite and follow rules – like standing on the correct side of the escalator.  I watched two businesses men bow to each other for around 30 seconds straight and enjoyed the display.  Maybe they are the Minnesota Nice of Asia.

In Beijing people are not so polite.  Lines mean very little as people simply rush to ticket windows, subways and anywhere else that requires a wait.  People routinely stand in the middle of an escalator and at the top of stairs blocking the way.  I was also surprised that people standing near the doors on the always packed subway refuse to get off the train and then get back on to let people in/out.  In general most social norms of the western world (among other places) appear to not apply in China.  Oh yeah, and there is also a lot of spitting and snot rocketing (if that’s a word) going on.

So in summary, Beijing is not a place I would want to live.  Little or der, lots of pollution and no Google or Facebook (at least not without a VPN).   The pollution was by far the worst aspect of Beijing followed by Internet censorship.  And although some food experts say that China has the best food in the world I did not eat that food.

Now that I have that out of the way I will say that the Great Wall was amazing and I wish we would have had more time there.  Also, the Olympic Park area is stunning and great to see in person after watching the 2008 Olympics.  I’m very happy to visit Beijing but I don’t need to ever go back.

Chris at Wall

Nest

Cube

Censorship in Beijing

We leave for the great wall today after a long day yesterday of exploring Beijing.  More to come later but social media is tough in China.  No Facebook, no Google, usually no Gmail…at least not without a VPN.  But my VPN also quickly gets disconnected.  Bing does work though – so there is a time when Bing is my preferred search provider.

I will post when I can about order.  About how Tokyo has lots of it and China has very little. I like order, at least when it’s in the form of common courtesy.  Like not standing in the middle of an escalator and being totally unaware of your surroundings….

I’m really hoping this will make it to the Internet upon pressing the “Publish”  button…