Tardivo magnifico: worth the wait

Radicchio Tardivo di Treviso – deeply delicious

Radicchio tardivo is a subspecies of chicory, and owes its striking colour to Francesco van den Borr, Belgian agronomist and inventor of the imbianchiamento technique, which uses scalding spring water to transform the colour of the leaves.  A little bitter when eaten raw, cooking changes the flavour to a deep, rich sweetness.

This specimen was discovered in a Treviso market, and found a home in nearby Piombino Dese, where the formidable talents of Mara Quarneti magicked it into three memorable feasts risotto con tardivo, lasagne con tardivo and, of course, polenta con tardivo.

And no, we didn’t get sick of it, at all.

More on Treviso and its famous radicchio at radicchio.com .

Death is Certain:
  notes from an Indian road trip

Hindustan Ambassador cars
We Three Kings: the Hindustan Ambassador, based upon Britain’s
Morris Oxford, is fondly known as the ‘king of the Indian road’.


Only Death is Certain

Paradoxically, although nearly everyone gets sick in Delhi (myself excluded – I got sick a week after I left) it’s easy to eat healthily. Fruit is fairly cheap, and at the juice bars on the Main Bazaar it’s possible to buy a glass of sugar cane juice for ten rupees – about thirteen pence, or any mixture of fresh mango, banana, strawberry, pineapple, coconut, pomegranate, guava, papaya etc. for just under twenty.

It’s now really hot – during our journey yesterday from Laxmanjhula to Delhi in a glossy white Ambassador taxi that took an unbelievable NINE hours (including a stop for puncture repair) to cover 250km, the temperature reached 105F/41C. The three bottles of water we’d stashed under the seat were hot by the end of the day – hot enough to bathe in but too hot to be refreshing. The only places to go in India to escape the heat are in the north, and Kashmir is, sadly, out of bounds.

However, one doesn’t have to go far to find danger – during our lengthy ride yesterday I witnessed two accidents; a motorbike crash from which the victim walked away, and a hit-and run, from which the victim didn’t.

As our Ambassador sped gently in the direction of Delhi from Rishikesh,  Hindu gods swaying from the rearview mirror, sun beating relentlessly down on us, I heard the screeching of brakes next to my window and saw, as though in slow-motion, a car roughly the size of a Mini-Metro hurtling along a few inches to the right of my door.  (In India, they overtake and drive on every side of the road.) The car braked far too late, and its passengers screamed as they collided with an old man, dressed in white kurta and pyjama trousers. He seemed to levitate from the road and slide up the bonnet of his own accord – a weird illusion produced by our relative speed and perspective. The windscreen shattered as he hit it, the momentum carrying him higher, over the roof and back of the still speeding car, until he came to rest on the busy road, rolling over and over a few times until he stopped still. We were all stunned, and tried to get our driver either to stop or to give chase to the other car. He refused to do both, explaining that locals would help the injured man, and that if the other car had stopped, its driver and passengers would certainly be lynched.

Interestingly, my horoscope for that day had promised me a “memorable journey, if travelling.” But that wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind.

*The title refers to the following meditation:  The Nine Point Meditation on Death (PDF).

No Shit

This morning I got a lesson in LETTING GO, when an opportunistic taxi driver relieved me of 350THB for a 60THB ride. Even though I followed my concierge’s warning, taking a cab from a hundred yards away (rather than outside the hotel, where fraudsters lay in wait for gullible tourists), I still managed to get taken, quite literally, for a long and expensive ride.

It’s a story familiar to most travellers (other than yours truly –  but not any more!). You get in the cab and tell the driver you want to go to X, near Y. But just as you settle back in your seat, he replies excitedly,

“AH, SIR. I take you to a great place. Not far. Just five minutes.  You buy designer suit. Versace-Armani-Cerruti-HugoBoss. Dolce-and-GABBANA. WhateverYouWantIGetCheaper! Only fifty US dollar. I take you NOW!!”

And suddenly, the taxi’s driving in precisely the opposite direction from where you want to go.

“No,” I say, trying to keep my temper, maintain my dignity, and remember that Triads are Japanese, not Thai. “I don’t need a suit. I’m a backpacker. I just need 200 doxycycline. and a pair of sandals. That’s all.”

He’s not listening. I can feel the muscles in my neck pulling my shoulders towards each other and, in the tropical heat, my temperature rising further. He then pulls out a brochure for jewellery, with what looks suspiciously like a ladyboy on the cover, sporting a rhinestone tiara.

By now, I’m ready to hurl myself out the door into the solid and stationary rush-hour traffic.

Eventually I get him to stop, ask him how much the fare is – about six pounds – and get out, flinging a small wad of baht at him. THEN he asks me for a tip – for his cousin, who is gay, muscular, and hung (for which read: teeming with every known virus, bacillus, blood-sucking insect on the planet and also, no doubt, well-equipped with corrosive halitosis). Now I’m both speechless with fury and freaking out because I’m totally lost. Road signs are all in Thai, so I’ve no idea where I am.

Eventually I find my way to an information booth, where two serene-looking women point me in the direction of the skytrain. I ask them, out of interest, what I should have paid; about five times less, it turns out.

“Ahh, sound like he shit on you”, says the prettier of the two, smiling sympathetically. Thai people can smile whether they’re breaking good news or bad, and it’s surprisingly soothing. Westerners can’t do this effectively.

“You bet. From up there” I said, pointing at the sky. They both laugh, but I see a slightly confused glance pass between them. About an hour later – which is how long it’s taken for me to regain complete composure – I realise what the confused glance meant. She’d actually said “cheat”, and not “shit”.

This afternoon, I visited the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and remembered that in a few weeks time, my recovery time will be less than an hour. At least, I hope so.