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An African Street Market – Beats Whole Foods Any Day!

This month’s end-of-the-month guest post is from Pash. Re-discovering Africa on her own terms as an adult… sounds great!

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Since I moved back to Uganda after seven years of living in the UK, I have wanted to explore Uganda and my neighbourhood in particular. I lived here earlier, from the age of 12 to 18; however, this time around the goal was to truly discover the Pearl of Africa, on my terms.
So, when I came to know that there is a bustling street market in my neighbourhood town of Kitoro in Entebbe, one Tuesday I sneaked out of work early, grabbed my camera and off I went. Food has always been my passion, and I am always on the lookout for new flavours and culinary inspiration.
On a regular day of the week, Kitoro town operates like any other small town, but on Market Tuesday, it comes alive.

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Vendors just pitch up their stalls wherever they find a spot and start selling their goods. Before you enter the market, expect the regular prices to be marked up by at least 50%; so better bring along your bargaining skills. All the products they sell in this market are grown by independent small scale rural farmers, meaning they are 100% organic and pesticide free.

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Scotch Bonnet peppers are one of the hottest peppers in the world. Uganda produces and exports a lot of Scotch Bonnet peppers. The powders here are the Scotch Bonnet peppers which have been dried and ground. The difference in the colours come from the various types of peppers used.

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Most people tend to buy a blend of the different powders to suit their taste which this lovely lady mixes up in small sachets according to your preference.

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Spinach galore!!! The green spinach is used to make a classic simple Ugandan stew with sesame seeds. This leafy spinach is slightly different with a rougher texture and a slightly bitter aftertaste but delicious none the less.

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Mounds of dried small fish locally known as Mukene can be found throughout the market. It has a particularly strong scent which can be overpowering at times. Mukene or silver cyrprinid is a species of ray finned fish that can only be found in Lake Victoria, the second biggest lake in the world. Uganda shares the shores of Lake Victoria with Kenya and Tanzania. Kitoro being less than 10 minutes away from the lake is the best place to pick up some Mukene.

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Pure white aubergines which I have never seen before. Turned out to be extremely flavourful when cooked, possibly even better than the regular purple ones I normally buy.

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All that walking around started to get me quite peckish, so my attention quickly turned from the fresh produce to the ready to eat variety. First stop, freshly grilled corn on the cob over a charcoal stove giving it a nice smoky flavour.

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My all time favourite Ugandan street food – the ROLEX!! The phrase ‘simplicity is key’ comes to mind. All this is a chapatti or tortilla coated in a mix of egg beaten with fresh cabbage, tomatoes and onions, and pan fried. PERFECTION! I always find myself craving one of these after a long day of work.

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My rolex in the making. 🙂

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Grilled plantains or Gonja as it is locally called, is a simple treat. The trick to making a good gonja is of course, a charcoal stove and a banana that is slightly ripe so that it still holds its own over the intense heat. It is safe to say that I will be heading back out to the market again. Better brush up on my bargaining skills.

~Pash

30 May 2014

Can you count the Santas?

For this month’s end of the month guest post, Arun writes from the left coast about SantaCon in San Francisco.

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santacon0As the sun peeked through the serene landscapes of San Francisco, a city often known as the liberal capital of the United States, everything looked a bit extra Christmassy for a random December morning. One might wonder, what’s so different today in this city that often teases you with its weather but never disappoints you. You see splashes of red and green and white embellished with fake beards and jingling bells and mistletoes. Yes you are right, Santa is in town. Not one, not a hundred, but thousands. It is time for one of the most unique jamborees one could experience in this beautiful city – It is SantaCon!!
 
As much as San Francisco is known for its quirky festivals and marathons, this one really stands out and is very near and dear to San Franciscans. Despite all the festivities being centered around bar crawls and partying on the streets, there is definitely a more wholesome nature to SantaCon as it brings together ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages to celebrate one man’s contribution to the world’s happiness – good old Santa Claus! People also make toy donations on this day to celebrate the holiday spirit of sharing and giving.
 
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All Santa enthusiasts gather in the morning by the landmark Christmas tree at Union Square to show off their many different Santa, elf and reindeer costumes no matter what the weather is like. From heavy rain in 2012 to a beautiful sunny day in 2013, they flock in large numbers before they disperse to various parts of the city crawling from bar to bar. SantaCon is also a great exhibition of creativity in this tech savvy city with a lot of the costumes and props made from scratch over many days. To watch a bunch of guys and girls in their 20s wearing LED lit costumes with a sprinkle of naughty and a lot of nice dragging each other on a hand crafted sleigh from bar to bar exemplifies the energy of youth amongst San Franciscans. While at the same time, some people choose to be a tad more creative or not creative at all (the choice really depends on perspective). A sight not rare at all in San Francisco and maybe not for the faint hearted, you will also run into adventurous men and women who choose to bare almost all donning just a beard or a hat or a few beads letting the Santa spirit touch them in a more intimate fashion; probably their own way of letting Santa know that they’d like some new clothes as Christmas presents.
 
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Sometimes I wonder… it is events like SantaCon which could arguably be categorized simply as excuses to dress up and party, that really bring people from different walks of life, different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds together under the roof of one city to forget all their worries and concerns and celebrate the joy of Christmas. If only people decided to whole heartedly adopt this spirit every day of their lives instead of waiting for the holiday season or SantaCon, this world would have a lot more to be proud of. But despite some of the drunken revelry and debauchery, San Francisco makes a sincere attempt every year to spread this message through SantaCon and manages to hold up high standards of unity in diversity all year round which makes it one of the most loved cities in the world.

~Arun

29 Apr 2014

A Trip to Canada’s Capital City

Is it the end of the month already? Where did the whole month go? 🙂 This month’s guest post is by Cux, who talks about her foray into one of the very interesting cities of Canada.

~Admin

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Toronto is a great city… spectacular architecture, a great array of lovely restaurants and a buzzling arts and cultural scene… all add to its charm. But it is the classic international city! Very multicultural and diversified, it somehow lacks a unique identity. Having lived here for a while, I was determined to get around and explore other Canadian cities.
 
When a couple of my friends from the Czech Republic turned up in Toronto, it was the ideal opportunity to go visit Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. These cities were so different in their architecture, culture, signature food, and the outlook of their inhabitants that it was a real pleasure to be there. It was fascinating, to say the least.
 
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Ottawa, the main center of the Canadian government, is a quiet, introspective city which mesmerized me with its colonial buildings and Victorian structures. The many walking trails that weave around the city gives one the opportunity to investigate its varied environments. Whether it is the Discovery walk that begins at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the banks of the Ottawa River, and ends at Parliament Hill, or the walking trails around the Provincial Parks, all of them provide unique experiences.
 
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My tour companions were seasoned walkers and helped me keep up my enthusiasm for walking throughout the trip.
 
The beautiful Alexandria bridge that connects Ottawa to Quebec is a beautiful sight. Ottawa has the most well-kempt parks and gardens. Also, it is home to the Canadian Tulip festival.
 
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We saw the Rideau Canal which totally freezes over and becomes the world’s largest skating rink in the winter. The canal was opened in 1832 and is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The National Gallery of Canada houses the most creative art that I have seen in Canada till date including a landmark sculpture of a spider in front of the building. The sculpture, named Maman by the artist Louise Bourgeois, is among the world’s largest sculptures, measuring over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide. It is made of bronze, stainless steel, and marble.
 
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We sat in for a parliament session as well… it was interesting to watch the proceedings in the House of Commons though we were more taken in by the stained glass paintings and the intricate architecture of the hall! Do take a look
 
The Byward market is the happening place in town, lined with posh cafes and shops. Interestingly enough, adjacent to it, was an old old farmers market. This, I thought, was a perfect blend of tradition and modernity. I found the best cookie shop in this market where I tasted cookies designed as Canadian flags.
 
The friend in Ottawa who hosted us was a good cook and lived in a lovely house in a great locality. He introduced us to homemade maple butter, the next best thing to chocolate. Since then, I am hooked on it.
 
At some distance from the city, on the way to Montreal, we checked in on Plaisance National Park, which has a beautiful lake and some scenic wetlands, spread across the Ottawa river.
 
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That was the best hiking trail of the trip.

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It felt like walking in the wilderness of a natural forest. Protected by forest range officers, this huge park is good for camping. I hope I can go back there with my family sometime in the future.

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And my photographer friend captured splendid shots of the floating gardens, open fields, flora and fauna including deer, squirrels, ducks, and beavers.
 
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More about Montreal and Quebec City later…

~Cux

31 Mar 2014

An important announcement

We are happy to announce our new blog Pepper Route, A global food trail

The chief focus of Pepper Route is food, food and more food. The creation as well as consumption of it… in all its variety and splendour. You can count on an endless array of recipes and other food related information, including interesting food trivia. So visit us there and enjoy the reading. And of course, Like us on Facebook, +1 at Google+ to keep in touch. Looking forward to lot of fun together!

Cheers,

The Big Jackfruit Tree Admin

 

 

17 Mar 2014

Chaos in the City

It’s the end of the month and time for a guest post. (How time flies!) We have the honour to present Gaia’s first post.

~Admin

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It is six pm in Kampala and traffic flow is at its peak. Ten hours earlier, at eight am, the situation was the same. The slow movement of cars, mini-vans and even large trucks on the congested roads has become more than a slight irritation. As the long lines forming across the city become longer and longer, with what seem like each passing day, more and more are anguished by this sudden increase in the number of vehicles on the road.

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The major roads in Kampala were constructed in the 1980s and the population at the time was 480,000. There is still little difference in the roads and road networking but the population has increased by more than 300%. Almost 1.5 million people now reside in Kampala central, with many more commuting daily into the city from Greater Kampala. So is it any wonder that there is a traffic surge when the width and number of our roads have stayed the same?
 

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The despondent motorists sit, clutching the steering wheel and inhaling the thick black smoke that is spit out by the vehicles ahead of them and watch with more than a little envy as those on motorcycles (commonly known as boda bodas) whiz past with smug looks on their faces. Of course, these boda bodas must stop at the front of the line. They swarm around the first car, waiting for a gap in the traffic to zoom off to the front of the next queue of cars. Adding to this horde of people and metal are salesmen who take advantage of the standstill and try to sell various goods to the motorists.
 
During these peak times of traffic flow, some motorists seem to toss away the idea of civility and begin to behave in an almost belligerent manner. Creating three lanes, all going in the same direction, on a road that can capacitate only one lane in each direction would be a fine example of this. The major culprits of this crime are the matatu (a 14-seater van) drivers. One of the most upsetting things about this loutish behaviour is when an emergency vehicle, especially an ambulance, is unable to get through the masses of cars and simply has to wait like the others while the life of another person is in jeopardy.
 
Many new cars and motorcycles are registered everyday and if expansion of roads does not take place soon, could the traffic flow in Kampala come to a complete standstill? Perhaps the government will suggest implementing high tolls for motorists, but is this the right solution? A better way to approach it could be through improving the city’s public transport system or through expanding the roads. Making public transport safer would encourage more people to use the provided services and therefore reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Expansion would lead to smooth flow of traffic and reduce bottlenecks.
 

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It’s not all bad news though! The Uganda National Roads Authority is definitely on the right track to improving the situation. The expansion of the Northern Bypass in Kampala is one such example and there are many other projects in the pipeline for the UNRA: But for now: sit tight, put on that radio and imagine that the car horns bleeping around you are an accompaniment to the music!

~Gaia

 

28 Feb 2014

Reunion after four decades

At The Big Jackfruit Tree, we have a tradition… the last post of every month, we invite someone to do a guest post. So, here is an exciting post about a planned reunion, after a looong time!

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Having reunions is fun, always. Usually there will be a common cause or origin to call it a reunion. As medical professionals we have regular reunion meetings on behalf of the alumni association. The Medical College alumni association is a big body encompassing the whole life of the institution. Within this we have smaller batch get-togethers. Nowadays most of the batches have this and they meet regularly. We also meet regularly under the brand name ‘Milan’. We have a mega Milan every two years. In between we have Milans, mini Milans and sometimes even micro Milans at various places in the state. At our age most of these Milans happen in connection with weddings of sons and daughters.

Milans are the meeting place of doctors and only doctors. For those who try to look beyond and want to get a feel of the society at large, attending repeated Milans are not very motivating.

About a month ago I got a phone call at around 11pm. I had gone to bed and was slowly slipping into sound sleep when the phone rang. It was an old friend from Thiruvananthapuram (TVM). No, he was not a doctor. It was my schoolmate and neighbour when we were staying at a place called ‘Thampuran Mukku’ in TVM city. It was really a surprise call since I had not been in touch with my old friend for decades. We spoke for a few minutes but not with the expected vigour because of my state of slumber. But in spite of that I could instantaneously recognise him. This initiated a chain of nostalgic memories of our childhood days at TVM. The places we visited together, the joints we used to hang out etc., flashed vividly in my memory. I decided that I should meet up with him as early as possible.

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Napier Museum, the art and natural history museum at Thiruvananthapuram

The opportunity came very quickly. My wife La and I had to make a trip to TVM to attend the wedding of one of my Medical College ‘girl’ friends. I had informed my friend about my TVM visit and he was waiting. We had our cousin UK’s car to roam around. We met my friend at his home at Kannammoola. Not much of a change; he was the good old friend. It indeed was a great meeting. Exchanging usual pleasantries and comments about ageing went on as expected. After all we were meeting after many years.

Being in TVM my friend had contacts with a lot of our schoolmates. My friend was working as the Chief Photographer for ‘The Hindu’, a national newspaper. It was really exciting to find out that most of our friends are in very high positions in various walks of life. Those who were in touch decided to organize a reunion of those who studied in the St. Joseph’s High School, Thiruvananthapuram. My friend told me that around 20 attended the first planning meeting. The next meeting saw the attendance rising in direct proportion with enthusiasm. 75 classmates attended the second meeting.

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Methamani: the historical clock

As mentioned earlier at the medical Milans we meet only the medicos. But this reunion of schoolmates is going to be a totally different one. Two of my classmates recently contacted me when they were in Calicut on official visits. They got my number from my friend. We had dinner at home. These schoolmates, one Public Service Commission member and the other one Asst. Commissioner of Commercial Taxes spent quite some time at home talking about other friends. We spoke over phone with many other classmates. I also got connected with GT my 4th standard classmate at Vanchiyoor UP School.

I am going to TVM on 8th Feb to attend the third planning meeting. We are gearing up for the reunion. A great reunion after four decades of leaving school! We are all excited. The reunion is being planned in April/May. I will write about it in detail. I thought of sharing this at ‘The Big Jackfruit Tree’ since I am too excited about the whole thing and want to share the excitement with you all. 🙂

Mohan

 

31 Jan 2014

Happy New Year!

All set… ready to rock!

Best wishes for a happy and successful 2014!

~Admin

31 Dec 2013