Nalen Gurer ice cream

Well, I find it quite justified to dedicate an entire post on this innovative delicacy – ‘Nalen Gurer ice cream’, which we had during our last Kolkata trip at Oh! Calcutta, Silver Arcade, EM Bypass, Kolkata – a Bengali cuisine restaurant. We went to this restaurant for Bengali cuisine.  We had ‘shukto’, ‘daab chingri’ etc. Towards the end when the waiter asked for our choice of dessert, we found that they have ice cream made of ‘Nalen Gur’ on the menu. We could not but say ‘YES’ to it. I devoured the first spoon, mmm.. it was awesome! It’s not like the usual ice cream. It was light brownish in colour. It is really delicious and I am sure all sweet lovers would love it.

Nalen gur (or date molasses) is a specialty of Bengal – both West Bengal and Bangladesh – and is used extensively to prepare delicacies of winter. Nalen gur is a preparation from the sap of date trees that are collected and heated to obtain the final product that leaves one wonderstruck – the taste is heavenly. It is said that the heating is an art. The date palm sap is made into three types of gur: liquid, grainy and the solid chunks of patali. The sap is heated in huge woks over wood or coal stoves and it is only an expert who can gauge the different degrees of cooking to achieve the right textures.

Dark black after double black

It’s the last day of our two-day seminar in Erbil. In the evening, I was relaxing at the Arbelia Bar in the hotel. I was sipping my second round of Black Label scotch double on the rocks accompanied with some pistachio nuts and potato wafers.

CAM00261Then I received a call from my colleague Ouss asking me to go with him for some walk and food. He was waiting at the hotel lobby. I finished my drinks and joined him. Oday & Bilal also joined us there. We went to Dream City on the Airport Street.

We went in Barista Coffee shop. It’s a cool night. It’s around 10:30 pm.  I opted for hot dark black chocolate drink.

The café is quite nice with some sitting arrangements outside also. Interior is also quite good. We chatted over our drink there.

After an hour we left the café for burgers at Dal’s Burger. Ouss is a great fan of Dal’s Burger. It was past midnight when we reached there. We were the last customers of the day.

CAM00264After having chicken burgers, we returned to hotel. We walked almost half the distance in the chilly night and then took a cab as Oday was feeling too tired to walk anymore. We reached our hotel at 1:30 am.

The Citadel of Erbil

We reached Erbil today for a two-day seminar from Baghdad. In the evening, I went towards the Citadel along with two of my colleagues – Ouss and Oday. The parks and the roads have been beautifully illuminated.

Erbil Citadel or Qala’t Erbil, which is situated dramatically on top of an artificial, 32-meters high earthen mound, and visually dominating the expansive modern city of Erbil, is believed to have been in continuous existence for 7000 years or even more. Thus, it may be regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. The earliest evidence for occupation of the citadel mound dates to the 5th millennium BC, and possibly earlier.

The present name of “Erbil” is derived from the Assyrian word “Arba-Illu” meaning “Four Gods”. The Assyrian city of Erbil was thus a sanctuary for four worshipped gods.  These included Ishtar, the great goddess of love and war, and Assur, the national god of Assyria. The other two gods are not yet known.

In 331 BC, the Achaemenid king Darius lll was defeated by Alexander the Great in Erbil.

Although there are many fortified and military citadels in the world today, there are only a few surviving citadel towns anywhere.   Erbil Citadel is unmatched in the region not only because of its nearly 7000 year history but also because it is a town inhabited by people and not a military structure. The Citadel is today one of the most dramatic and visually exciting cultural sites not only in the Middle East but also in the world.

We walked around as there were a lot of decorations and lighting because of New Year celebrations. There’s a huge clock tower in front of the citadel.

We enjoyed hot baked, stewed broad beans in chilly winter night. The temperature at that time was around 3 degrees Celsius.

In such chilly night, next best thing is to sip hot tea. We went to a tea joint by the road. It’s crowded. Also a few people were playing ‘Backgammon’. We had to sit outside on the pavement. There’s no table. There were some plastic chairs and a few stools to keep the tea cups & plates on.

20140108_212015We had two cups of tea there. The tea was excellent. There was street kebab vendor. He was also selling stewed broad beans.

CAM00255Some people were eating the beans stew with Iraqi bread – sumoon.

After that we walked back to our hotel – Erbil International Hotel.

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First evening of 2014

We planned to have dinner outside to celebrate the New Year. Today’s a holiday in Baghdad. But some of my colleagues went to office in connection with annual closing of books. This time I didn’t plan to visit office as I thought they would manage themselves. This would have been my first annual closing day in bank since 1986 and I am at home. But, this record could not be created as I had to go to office today in the afternoon. My colleagues were having some confusions and problems. So, I had to visit office for just a couple of hours.

In the evening, we went to Mansour Mall for some loitering in the mall followed by dinner there. There’s a huge crowd on the road leading to the mall and inside the mall. Police closed the road to the mall and so we got down from the car near Al Rowad and walked down.

IMG_20140101_201222Lots of people are there in the mall to enjoy the first evening of this New Year like us. We slowly reached the top floor, which houses the food plaza after walking around on each floor. It was jam-packed. I enjoy crowd and love lots of people around.

CAM00223There was not a single table available. People are also eating standing. We managed to find some space on the counters around the pillars. We had a pizza there. Then we ordered burgers and wrap for takeaway. We thought that it’s better to eat them at home. We then walked down to Al Rowad again to board our car to return home.

We ate our burger and wrap with whiskey at home while enjoying watching TV. This was quite a nice way to begin the New Year in Baghdad.

Bahrain trip

I went to Bahrain on December 9, 2013 on an official trip. My four other colleagues went to Bahrain two days before me. So, I traveled alone to Bahrain. As Gulf Air doesn’t fly on a Monday, so my bank booked me in Qatar Airways via Doha.

Bahrain is a small island country situated near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. Bahrain is believed to be the site of the ancient land of the Dilmun civilization and later came under the rule of successive Parthian and Sassanid Persian empires. Inhabited since ancient times, Bahrain occupies a strategic location in the Persian Gulf. It is the best natural port between the mouth of the Tigris, Euphrates Rivers and Oman, a source of copper in ancient times. It was an important Bronze Age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

The flight from Baghdad was in the afternoon so I went to the airport after attending the office until 2:00pm. There’s a nice café – Gate Café at the departure Terminal. I went there to have coffee before boarding the flight.

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Cafe at the departure terminal of Baghdad International airport

I reached Doha. This is my first visit to Doha airport. It’s situated on a very big area. The arrival and departure & transfer terminals are quite far off. The bus that carries the passengers from airplane announces the terminals so that they get down at the right terminals. Also, Qatar Airways have color coded the boarding pass jackets to help the passengers.

Since I had to catch the next flight for Bahrain so I got down at the ‘Departure and Transfer Terminal’. This is the main terminal at Doha and handles all economy class Qatar Airways flights as well as all other airlines using the airport.

Duty Free Shops at Doha International Airport

My next flight for Bahrain was in 2 hours so I spent the time easily walking through the duty-free shops at the terminal. Doha-Manama is a very short distance journey and took around 40 minutes to reach there. On arrival, I am told that my original visa is not deposited with Marhaba. I then contacted the sponsor of the visa and they talked to the Marhaba official. Then they charged me BHD 8 for stamping the visa on my passport. I reached Intercontinental Regency Hotel around 10:20pm. The hotel lobby has been beautifully decorated for forthcoming Christmas season.

Lobby of Hotel InterContinental Regency Bahrain

Decorations for Christmas at the lobby of hotel Intercontinental Regency Bahrain

A model of Santa Claus at the Hotel InterContinental Regency

I just had a chicken sandwich and beer and then went for sleep.

My hotel room had a nice view of a part of the city.

A view from my hotel window at InterContinental Regency Bahrain

Next three days we had official meetings for most of the day. In the afternoon, I used to go for walk alone to explore the neighborhood. There’s a nice Bab Al-Bahrain market nearby plus the old traditional Manama souq.

Bab Al Bahrain

There’s a beautiful Bab Market, but it’s not fully occupied and there’s no crowd although there were two restaurants.

Bab Market, Bahrain

I used to have some snacks or coffee at various restaurants or cafés.

In the evenings, after shower I used to go to the Club lounge for some wine and snacks.

We were also hosted a dinner by our service providers at a nice Italian restaurant – Oliveto.

On the last day, after our final meetings I was casually walking on the road and found an interesting building. I saw a few women came out of a car and entered the building. I also walked into it. It’s the World Trade Center.

World Trade Center towers in Bahrain

The ground floor has many internationally renowned brands’ showrooms plus café too. After going around the shops, I sat down with iced mint condition mocha at Caribou Coffee. It is real chocolate – dark, milk or white – melted into steamed milk and combined with rich espresso and mint flavor, topped with whipped cream.

There was a pianist in the next café playing nice music.

Teeba & Rasha came to the Club lounge to invite me to go with them to City Centre. I finished my wine and went with them. Yesterday was our day of returning. We took 11:10pm flight to Doha. We reached Doha just around midnight. There’s a nine-hour layover in Doha. There’s no transit hotel in Doha airport. We are forced to spend the night stretching partially on chairs. I tweeted about the plight yesterday morning. Qatar Airways suggested me in their reply tweet to use Oryx lounge.

We went to Bahrain International Airport to catch the flight to Doha. The airport is also getting ready for the Christmas.

A decorated Christmas tree at Bahrain International airport

We went to the Oryx lounge. They charge USD 40 per six-hour per person. It’s quite crowded. We somehow managed to find three chairs for us.

In the morning, we went to board the flight as scheduled at 8:10am. The scheduled departure time is 9:00am. The gate opened and we were ushered into a bus and taken to our airplane. We all took our seats and the doors closed as usual. But, the plane was not moving. After around half an hour, the Captain announced that the delay was due to closure of the airport by the air force as they were rehearsing for the Qatari National Day scheduled on day after tomorrow and our plane is at serial number 27 to take-off!! The plane ultimately took off with a delay of around 90 minutes.

As we reached Baghdad airport, it was crowded with pilgrims for Arbaeen from neighboring gulf countries. So, the visa processing and passport control took more than an hour today.

Anyway, it’s all well that ends well. I reached home safe.

Ash soup!

Today, our colleague Ibrahim brought some thick soup from his home, cooked by his mother. My colleagues told me it’s Ash soup when I asked its name. The name sounded weird…Ash!! Ash for eating! But looking at the plate I couldn’t find any such matter. They said that it’s an Iranian thick soup. It’s called “Ash”.

I then searched about it on internet. Ash is Farsi for soup. Wikipedia enlightened me. Ash is a part of Iranian cuisine, and it is usually served hot. It is a truly ancient dish of which there are hundreds of different versions.  Depending on the type of ash, it could contain different types of grain, legumes (chickpeas, black-eyed peas, black beans and lentils), vegetables, herbs (parsley, spinach, dill, spring onion ends, coriander, dried mint), onions, oil, meat, garlic, and spices, such as salt, pepper, turmeric, saffron, etc. Depending on the ingredients, Ash can be considered as a full meal.

The food was delicious but quite heavy too, with lots of proteins in it. Thanks Ibrahim and also thanks to his mother for cooking and then sending ‘Ash soup’ for us.

A nice rain holiday

Because of heavy rains yesterday, the Government of Iraq declared a public holiday in Baghdad today. Subhash and I decided to go to Mansour Mall to pass some time and to purchase some items for our household.

At around 4.00 pm, we hired a cab and went to Mansour Mall along with a security person. Because of rains and waterlogging in the city, there was not much rush inside the mall today. We also encountered some waterlogging on the way. The top floor of the mall houses the food plaza and children’s play zone and this floor usually remains very crowded. But today, it was empty. Only a few people were at the food plaza, while a couple of kids were playing in the play zone.

We went to KFC (not to be confused by the acronym – it’s Krunchy Fried Chicken!) and had some fried chickens. We went round the mall. Then we down to the supermarket situated at the basement of the mall. We bought our requirements and a few utensils.

We returned home after having ice creams and with burger meals for our dinner. We spent a cool 4-hour at the mall. We had the burgers and the fries with scotch at home.

It’s a nice holiday spent thanks to rain yesterday.

Keema & Rice

Our colleague Ibrahim today brought keema and rice from his home for us.

Keema is a traditional South Asian meat dish. Originally this word meant minced meat. It is typically minced mutton curry with peas or potatoes although it can be made from almost any meat, can be cooked by stewing or frying, and can be formed into kababs. Keema is also sometimes used as a filling for samosas or naan.

In Iraq, cooking keema during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram is an Ashura ritual and often lasts until Arbaeen, 40 days after the day of the death of Imam Hussein, or the Day of Ashura. Iraqis make keema from chickpeas, meat, tomato paste, spices, salt and dry lemons – known locally as Basra lemons  in large pots and distribute the food to friends and people going in processions to mark the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.

Keema was quite tasty and nice. Thanks Ibrahim!

Madhavpur

There is a serene beach at Madhavpur on the road to Somnath from Dwarka. It lies on the seashore, close to Porbandar.

We stopped here to enjoy the beach for a moment and to have a look around.

There are a few shacks and some vendors in open selling green coconut.

We had green coconut at the beach. The coconut water tasted sweet. We opted for the ones with flesh too. The flesh was also nice.

According to folklore, Krishna married Rukmini at Madhavpur after first kidnapping her. This event is memorialized with a temple dedicated to lord Madhavrai and by an annual fair held in the village. The original temple has been badly damaged in attacks by Muslim invaders; however a ruined structure is still present.

After getting refreshed by cool sea waves and nice tender coconut, we proceeded for Somnath.

Dinner with Akhtar

Akhtar came back to Baghdad last week. He called me in the afternoon to invite us for a dinner with him at his house. We decided to go to his house at 7ish.

We walked down to his house at 7.15pm. He made quite an elaborate arrangement. We had several rounds of Chivas Regal while watching British PM and the Parliament discussing on Syria. We had papad and some dal sev in the snacks.

At 9.30pm we moved to the dinner table for dinner. He has an Indian cook. He cooked Dal, Subzi, Chicken in white thick gravy and pulao. He also kept a few kuboos. The dinner was nicely cooked and was delicious.

In the dessert, we had kheer. After gossiping for a while, we took his leave and walked back to our house.

Thanks Akhtar for the nice evening, and lovely drinks and dinner.