By LIMA CURTIS
Before I travelled to India I knew the food would be good – I’d heard enough about it. But what I didn’t realise was just how delicious, fresh and healthy it would be. If you thought this huge landmass was only able to offer the greasy slush you may have come across late on a Friday night, think again.
For veggies, India is a must. The menus focus heavily on meat-free dishes which vary from mild and sweet northern dishes to exciting spicy southern dishes. More importantly, every dish I ate over three weeks was made from scratch with an abundance of love and pride.
This is a wonderful green gloopy dish that is surprisingly healthy. The palak is a spiced spinach puree and the paneer a type of cottage cheese you can easily buy from supermarkets over here. Served with rotis or chapattis this is possibly one of the most delicious things ever.
Technically more a comfort snack than a veggie dish, you will find jam rotis in basic restaurants across Rajasthan and Delhi. Basically an Indian take of a jam toastie, this is perfect for when your stomach is not feeling at its strongest and your Bonne Maman cravings just can’t be quelled.
Not to be snubbed. This incredible dish was introduced to us in a side street café in Mumbai. The ‘pizza’ is made with a poppadum style base and topped with chopped tomatoes, onion, lemon and coriander. It is light and refreshing and never ever to be confused with some terrible fast food offer involving a rank doughy base topped with chicken korma.
Travel round India and you will soon become addicted to paneer. For something so bland it soon makes itself indispensable and this dish was worthy of two consecutive nights of ordering in Kerala.
Shahi paneer is probably not one for the dieters out there, given the sauce is heavy in cream, ghee or butter (though you can use yoghurt to cut out fat). Traditionally a northern dish, its popularity means it is available across most of India.
This dish is rich and fruity and gorgeous and literally translated Shahi means royal. As with the other dishes, order with a roti or naan rather than rice.
Thali is an indian mezze/tapas dish named after the metal tray it is served on and available pretty much everywhere for less than £1 a portion. Typically your thali order will consist of some rotis, rice, chutneys/salad, dal and whatever veggie curries are around in the kitchen that night. Always a bargain and a great way to try as many dishes as possible in one sitting.
Depending on which part of India you are in, different dals will be on offer. But basically this is a delicious pile of lentils flavoured with spices. Again, scoop up with a roti.
I met one man who spent his whole trip to India trying to find the perfect dosa, and it is not hard to see why. This savoury pancake is a staple food of south India, but they are prevalent across the country. These can be stuffed with anything, but hot chutneys, sweet potatoes and lentils all make excellent choices.
Though you will have probably already seen this on many UK Indian restaurant menus – eat it in Asia and you will see how different it can be. This is a rice dish mixed with any given selection of nuts, vegetables and spices.
Not a personal favourite of mine, but their immense popularity suggests I am definitely in the minority here.
The idli is essentially a steamed dal and rice cake. It is hugely popular as a breakfast item or snack and served with an array of chutneys and dips like raita.
Paneer is being featured again, but honestly, you can’t escape it in India (for good reason) so get used to it!
As with the others it features paneer (imagine a non-salty halloumi) but the sauce is a creamy pea and tomato sauce. Because it is a northern dish it does tend to come quite mild, but as most places cook their food from scratch you could always ask your chef to add some spices in to liven it up for you.
Lima Curtis writes about her travels for many people including this blog www.movehub.com/blog
By ASHLEIGH RUHL
Most of us are skeptical when it comes to signing up for something “free.” Usually, I operate under the rule of thumb that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
At least one exception to that rule is hotel loyalty programs.
Why Sign Up?
Whether you’re traveling for business or traveling for fun, it’s worth it to sign up for hotel membership cards. After all, registering takes only a few minutes online, costs nothing and offers a variety of benefits — the most important being an easier burden on your pocketbook.
From Best Western to Ritz-Carlton, most hotels offer loyalty programs. Hotel managers want you to sign up so that you’ll come back again and again, plus they can send you personalized promotions. They know those who join the programs are more likely to be repeat visitors.
What customers stand to gain — if they accumulate enough points on those cards — ranges from free stays, room upgrades, free parking, complimentary Wi-Fi and other offers. The more points you earn, the more benefits there are.
Base Level, Base Benefits
Here’s an example from Best Western’s reward program, which lists some of the following benefits for its most introductory members:
- Visitors earn 10 points for every dollar they spend at Best Western or with any of the company’s airline partners. (Guests can redeem a free hotel night for every $800 they spend, or every 8,000 points they earn.)
- Points never expire.
- There are no blackout dates for earning reward points.
- Rewards customers have access to an exclusive guest service phone number.
- Room keys for reward customers are specially branded.
- Point purchasing can be used to redeem rewards; meaning, if a guest is close to earning a free hotel night, they could choose to pay for the remainder of the points they need to redeem that free stay.
Diamond Level, Diamond Benefits
Generally, large hotel chains have broken down their reward programs into a hierarchy that offers more benefits to their most frequent customers. For example, Hilton’s reward program, known as HHonors, is divided into Blue, Silver, Gold and Diamond membership levels.
HHonors Diamond members — those who earn 120,000 points in a year (or book 30 hotel stays annually) — qualify for the most perks offered by the hotel giant. Diamond members reap rewards such as room upgrades, guaranteed room reservations within 48 hours, bonus points for hotel stays, complimentary breakfasts, free bottled water and snacks, among other benefits.
Earn More Points
Besides staying at hotels, most reward programs let customers earn points in multiple, and sometimes exponential, ways.
Marriott spokeswoman Laurie Goldstein says customers earn more rewards faster if they don’t rely solely on hotel stays to build points. She said many of Marriott’s 44 million rewards members — who represent about half of the company’s customer base — are accumulating extra points and getting the most out of their memberships by pairing their loyalty card with a Marriott credit card and shopping with company partners such as certain airlines or rental car companies.
How to Redeem Points
Dasha Ross, a spokeswoman for Hilton, explains that HHonors loyalty cardholders can accumulate points at Hilton brands that range from Hampton Inn to Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts.
Ross emphasizes that even if a traveler doesn’t want to use earned reward points for free hotel nights, the points can be used on other travel expenses, such as airline miles or rental cars.
Hilton, and other major hotels, also invite rewards members to donate points to various charities. Points also can be used to purchase gift cards and merchandise. As a case in point, HHonors members can access the Hilton HHonors Shopping Mall and chose from more than 20,000 reward items that range from crock pots to sky-diving adventures.
Time Is Money
Typically, the points you accumulate through loyalty programs never expire — but read the fine print to be sure. That means that the earlier you sign up, the more benefits you’ll garner from your travels.
Signing up early is especially critical for business travelers who stay in hotels frequently and can reap the most rewards. But being proactive about registering pays off long-term for even the most occasional hotel guests, because that first vacation or honeymoon is worth points that amass in a lifetime of travel.
Ashleigh Ruhl writes about traveling on a budget for PushPenny.com. Married to a pilot and passionate about travel, she shares personal advice and talks to experts about ways to vacation without breaking the bank. She’s an award-winning journalist who has written for publications such as the Grunion Gazette, Press-Telegram and the Rocky Mountain News.
If you are in London for Valentine’s Day there are some incredible things to see and do. Here are some ideas on how you can combine sightseeing with plenty of opportunity for culture and romance.
A Morning Stroll
St James’s Park is situated next to Buckingham Palace and is one of eight Royal Parks, home to many of London’s ceremonial parades, with a rich royal history; thousands flocked here for the Queen’s recent Diamond Jubilee parade.
The flower beds surrounding the park are absolutely beautiful, combining red poppies and yellow begonias to create a beautiful collage of colour, perfect for a romantic afternoon walk. You can cross the lake’s bridge and wander through beautiful areas of low hanging trees, feeding the ducks – you might even find a photo opportunity with a Queen’s Guard.
Lunch at Heston’s
A trip to London wouldn’t be the same without sampling the food of Britain’s best chef, Heston Blumenthal, whose molecular cuisine is famous the world over. His ‘Dinner’ restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, includes a number of historical British dishes.
It’s not nearly as expensive as his ‘Fat Duck’ restaurant in Bray, with more than affordable mains at around £30-£40.
Primrose Hill for Sunset
Primrose Hill Park is one of my favourite areas of London, providing an incredible and idyllic view of London on a clear day. This beautiful park overlooks the South Bank skyline, with green trees and rolling lawns set against the London Eye and Big Ben.
You could venture down in the late afternoon and wait for sunset, treating your loved one to a champagne picnic, it’s so beautiful.
Scale the Evening Skies
The London Eye is one of the greatest icons of London, allowing you to climb the South Bank skyline and marvel at the incredible riverside view, which takes in the towering Houses of Parliament.
Couples can take a ride for as little as £22.50, or have their very own romance capsule, including a private host serving chocolates and champagne. For a real sense of luxury you can enjoy a romantic dinner as you soar into the sky.
For something really spectacular, Don Giovanni is on at the Royal Opera House, London’s most historical and spectacular home of live performance, an incredible feat of architecture and acoustics. The show’s protagonist, Don Giovanni, seduces an endless stream of women through his illusionary skills, offering a very alternative Valentine’s tale.
This post was written by Refresh Accommodation. If you are hoping to spend Valentine’s Day in London and need somewhere to stay, check out their range of fully-serviced apartments.
Image: Adam Bowie