On how I felt at home, in Mumbai
03.28.14

Tuk-tuk time from Karina Taveras on Vimeo.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram @50Bottles you know that I kicked off the year spending six weeks in Mumbai, India and returned to NYC with a baby girl in arms. My husband and I were pregnant via surrogate and traveled halfway around the world to make our dream of a family a reality.

It was my first time in India and I didn’t know what to expect. Friends who had visited had warned me that it was a country filled with extremes, where sprawling high-rises neighbored makeshift slums, cows and elephants sauntered down traffic lanes, and kids played in dirty water. In reality, what got me most weren’t these observations, which seemed matter of fact once I arrived, but its volume, and especially the human density. With about 13 million inhabitants, to say that Mumbai is a congested city is an obvious understatement and makes NYC’s eight million inhabitants seem paltry by comparison. Everywhere you turned, things came in droves: people, cars, animals, buildings. I had stepped into another dimension, a parallel universe that captured the entire spectrum of humanity in one single place.

Mumbai was much more familiar to me than I could have ever imagined, reminiscent of my native Santo Domingo in so many ways, and not just because of the same tropical landscape rich in purple bougainvillea and leafy palms that shaded my path or the cool breezes that perfumed the night. Mumbai is a third world metropolis plagued by poverty, bureaucracy, and a strict caste system. But it’s also a city of incredible human warmth.

People possess an unbreakable presence and calm, even in the face of adversity. Namaste, the ubiquitous Hindu greeting filtered often into the mundane. In the middle of traffic chaos, yellow and black rickshaws loaded with passengers zipped through cars, buses, people, dogs, and cows, yet every vehicle flowed swiftly and effortlessly like water, often breaking at an inch or two from each another. Even stuck in hour-long traffic jams, everyone around us seemed to be completely at peace, following the motto of “OM Shanti” often scribbled on the back of these tuk-tuks that was a reminder for locals (and visitors) to relax and take it easy. There was none of the yelling or confrontations I was used to in Manhattan, although honking was the norm and often encouraged. People waited patiently until the jam unraveled. It was a marvelous site.

There are things I saw in Mumbai that will stay with me forever. During the first jetlagged mornings, I would wake before dawn and watch the darkness lift and give way to a powdery pink sky that was soon slashed with the cawing of gliding Ceylon crows and the haunting sounds of the Fajr, the first Muslim prayer of the day. Driving through the slums I witnessed a microcosm of activity where every verb was brought to life: a dog sat on the pavement scratching his fleas, a man pressed juice out of peeled sugarcane shoots while another ladled chai from a bubbling pot, and women huddled together in a sea of colorful saris.

Many of the people we met didn’t speak English; however, they did their best to connect. The nurses that looked after Baby Elena those first few days in the hospital knew exactly what she needed even if I had no clue. The young waiters in the hotel that served up a smile with coffee every morning, and surprised my husband with chocolate cake on his birthday. Our local guide Arif,  who helped us navigate the hospital, the bureaucracy of local offices, and then some. And of course, our surrogate Shridevi whom we met the day before we left. As expected, our encounter was sweet and peaceful. It was the first time she had held Elena since the birth and when she saw her she smiled broadly and joyfully. We asked her how she felt and she responded with the Hindi word for “Happy”. When we got together for one last group photo, she held me tight like a sister.

Shadows and light in Powai

Boys and Rice

The Beatles

Saris for the wedding

Saris for the wedding

Cotton candy and pastel skies at Juhu Beach

Balloons on the sand

The meeting

Join me next time as I cover my favorite topic — FOOD! and discover how my humble palate tackled the spices of Mumbai

On the hunt for stocking stuffers? I’ve got you covered.
12.02.13

Himalayan Salt Shot Glasses from Uncommon Goods

Last week, I was tasked with searching for stocking stuffer ideas for The Latin Kitchen. One caveat: all the gifts had to be under $25! I searched tirelessly and ended up with an armful of funky finds that I think you’re going to love. Some that were a bit over budget didn’t make it to the guide, like these cool Himalayan pink salt shot glasses and sleekly flexible lunch boxes. But the rest did – so take a look and enjoy a fabulous roundup:

http://thelatinkitchen.com/slideshow/25-and-under-stocking-stuffers-gift-guide

Giovanni Rana: A Sweet Life Made From Scratch
11.05.13

A Sweet Feast

It’s already been one year since Rana Pastificio & Cucina began to spread the gospel of fresh pasta to hungry New Yorkers. At first glance, the restaurant located on the ninth avenue entrance of Chelsea Market, may seem like a pasta wonderland of sorts with original pasta machines scattered throughout, a collection of graters from flea market from all over Italy hovering over the bar, Rana’s old red motorbike he used for deliveries. But behind all the paraphernalia there’s  an air of authenticity. It’s a joyful celebration of one man’s life and passion, and the energy you feel there is contagious.

The owner is 75-year-old Giovanni Rana from Verona, Italy, who started his career in food as a young bread maker. He realized that Italian women were too busy to make fresh pasta from scratch, so he pounced on the opportunity and started making fresh ravioli. His first two flavors were meat and spinach with ricotta. Now his namesake restaurant brings us 85 different varieties of fresh pastas, some in unusual flavors like beet, squid ink, and tiramisu that one can eat on premises or purchase from the counter to cook at home. more »

Mistura 2013: How I Got to Know Peru
09.16.13

It’s hard to believe that a week ago I was flying home from one of the most exhilarating food journeys of my life. I was at Mistura, the largest culinary festival in Latin America held in the culturally rich and historically fascinating country that is Peru.

This year the festival took place beneath a flurry of white tents in Costa Verde, a stretch of land bordering the Pacific Ocean and the dusty side of a hill that leads to the Magdalena district of Lima. Weaving through the countless stands, markets, and fascinating talks hosted by some of the world’s most celebrated chefs, I was (almost) able to grasp the dizzying diversity of Peru’s cuisine. Of the country’s 700 native dishes, I dove into luscious ceviches and light-as-air tamales from the capital of Lima, but also studied more obscure plates from other regions of the country, like seco de cabrito or stewed goat served with rice and beans and champús, a warming dessert made with soursoup and pineapple.

There was the vibrant and welcoming Gran Mercado, or grand market, with its endless varieties of potatoes (over three thousand in Peru), quinoa grains of every shade and size, olives as plump and briny as Greek kalamatas, Amazonian fruit whose twisty names tripped up my tongue, medicinal herbs, and more keepsakes to tuck away in my trunk of sensory treasures. more »

Mofongo in Chowzter’s Tastiest Fast Feasts 2013 Awards
09.11.13

Last Saturday night, top bloggers from all over Latin America gathered together at La Mar Cebichería in Lima, Peru to celebrate Chowzter’s annual Latin American 50 Tastiest Fast Feasts. I had my first Pisco Sour in Lima that night (which was much stronger and sweeter than I had anticipated) and met international food personalities and bloggers from Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and London. The night was chilly and drizzly, but inside the restaurant was as warm as the pisco in my belly. Imagine being in the company of a room full of kindred spirits – everywhere I turned to, people spoke in the universal language of food. We washed down classic Peruvian dishes like ceviche, tiradito, and papa a la huancaína with pisco sours and white wine. I thought to myself, it can’t get any better than this, until my name was called to speak about a Dominican dish that was chosen as a runner up.

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In a Fiesta State of Mind with Chef Roberto Santibañez
09.04.13

Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off on September 15, and this year we want to celebrate it right. We talked to Mexican Chef Roberto Santibañez of Fonda Restaurant about some of the ways he’ll be bringing the festivities to the kitchen.

For all of you who eagerly await the arrival of the seasonal Chiles en Nogada, Santibañez will be preparing the classic dish in his Park Slope and East Village restaurants during the first week in September. The eponymous dish which precedes independence day celebrations in Mexico fills poblano peppers with a picadillo stuffing and tops them with walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds — the Mexican flag on a plate! Santibañez prepares his picadillo by adding apples and peaches to shredded beef and creates the walnut sauce with nuts and goat cheese. more »

The Ever Versatile Aubergine
08.12.13

Eggplant, tomatoes, feta, and mint

Mom prepared a plate of pickled eggplant or berenjena a la vinagreta with her signature enthusiasm. She simmered the aubergine with a laurel leaf, a pinch of allspice, onion, garlic, and a bouillon cube. After it cooled, she dressed it in a vinaigrette spiked with Worcestershire sauce and oregano, storing it in the refrigerator in a round clear pyrex. My sister loved piling on the silky tangy stuff over crispy saltines, which she snacked on with pure abandon at any time of the day. I, on the other hand, had quite a different relationship to the pickled spread and was far from being a fan.

It’s been surprising to see how all of a sudden this summer, it’s the one vegetable I can’t live without. I’ve sliced and roasted it, layering it with tomatoes and sharp cheese like the Italians do with their melanzane. I’ve diced and tossed it over a high flame with snap peas and ginger to create a hearty and flavorful stir-fry.

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Alfajores: The King of Cookies
08.03.13

Alfajores with Raspberry Glaze

I still remember the first time I tried a Havanna Alfajor. I was a newly minted college graduate who moved down to Miami to be closer to home. In this sunny strip of paradise, I landed my first job as a fund trader at a Spanish bank. I worked with a ton of private bankers from all over South America and Spain, a group of movers and shakers with monogrammed shirts continuously nostalgic about the worlds they had left behind.

Those who were lucky enough to fly home for work always returned with a box of Havanna Alfajores stocked with gold and silver pucks of dulce de leche treasures. The golden wrappers indicated a dark chocolate covered Alfajor, while the silver wrapper meant a cookie dressed in a thin veil of white chocolate. I loved the golden wrappers and the dense and crumbly cookies they protected, which had been dipped in milk chocolate and filled with a tangy dulce de leche. They were the most beautiful way to sweeten an afternoon cup of tea. For me and all my friends who worked with me, they meant sustained sugar-fueled giddiness for hours. more »

Living it up in Hermosa Beach, California
07.16.13

Mexican Protein Breakfast at Good Stuff

On a spur of the moment trip last week, we flew west. We spent a couple of days in Hermosa Beach, an endless stretch of beach in the South Bay of Los Angeles flanked by swanky Manhattan Beach on one side and chilled out Redondo Beach on the other. By 7 a.m., this beach town paradise would greet me wide-eyed and bushy-tailed with friendly beach volleyball games already underway. A continuous parade of runners, bikers, and skaters rocked the sandy trail known as The Strand, with miles of pristine sand and a dark blue ocean to urge them on.

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Eating my way through Fajardo, Puerto Rico
06.16.13

What started out as a girls’ trip to the Caribbean ended up being an excellent opportunity to check out the food scene in the eastern coastal town of Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We sailed a catamaran and snorkeled in clear blue water, spotted a baby lemon shark swimming on the shore, and fell asleep to the lullaby of the native coqui frog. However, we also tasted Puerto Rican mofongo and alcapurrias, and talked to Brooklyn transplants Chef Kevin Roth and his wife Idalia about their five-year-old Nuyorican restaurant La Estacion. Stay tuned for my upcoming story in The Latin Kitchen about how this couple is turning Puerto Rican food on its head. In the meantime, these are some outtakes from the trip.

The sparkling Caribbean behind us

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