Addis-Ababa-band

48 Hours in Addis Ababa

 

48 HOURS IN ADDIS ABABA

WORDS BY MEHER MIRZA

In many ways, Ethiopia feels like the crossroads of antiquity—it has an almost Breughel-esque landscape of flatlands, cupped by amphitheatres of hills; it is the cradle of civilisation, where the first band of homo sapiens sprang from; it is the land of 700-year-old churches chiselled from a single rock in Lalibela; a country that follows a pre-Gregorian calendar; and it is, of course, the birthplace of coffee.

But Addis Ababa, its capital, feels quite different. Founded by Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taitu in 1892, it's a fairly modern city, as chaotic and trafficked as any major world metropolis. Boasting of everything from cool contemporary art and medieval ecclesiastical crafts to Ethio-jazz and an ancient coffee culture, it's no wonder that Addis Ababa is the pulsing heart of the country.

Day 1

Morning

If Ethiopia is the El Dorado of coffee, then Tomoca is probably its Golden Fleece. Born in 1953, it is said to be the city's oldest surviving coffee company. The coffee is slow-roasted onsite, and busloads of locals and tourists come to sip on it, then trundle away with bags and bags of freshly-roasted beans.

Ten minutes away by car, Ethiopia's National Museum is a monument to the country's primordial past, home to one of the country's most famous inhabitants — 3.5 million-year-old Lucy. You'll find a cast of her bones on the basement level. Upstairs, the dimly-lit museum is populated by a motley jumble of Ethiopian art and artefacts, including a massive wooden throne belonging once to Emperor Haile Selassie, and pre-Axumite fertility statues that hark back 2,600 years ago. It's an excellent introduction to the country.

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Another five minutes away, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, venerated by orthodox Ethiopian Christians as the highest-ranking of Addis' four Orthodox Christian Cathedrals, is an extraordinary building cupped by a copper dome and girdled by statues and bright gardens. Within the gardens lie the graves of some of Ethiopia's finest, including Meles Zenawi Asres, beloved ex-Prime Minister, Lieutenant General Merid Mengesha, and Sylvia Pankhurst, British suffragette and Addis resident. Within the Cathedral lie Haile Selassie and his wife, interred in grand graves.

Next up, a jewel box of a sanctuary, with its colourful murals and mosaics, the St George Cathedral is where Haile Selassie was crowned emperor. Inside, you'll find a clutch of religious paraphernalia, including scrolls, crosses and holy parasols.

Noon

Ethiopia prides itself on being the only African country that never once buckled to the Western world. Consequently, throughout our travels in the country, we were told constantly about the covetous Italians who muscled their way into Ethiopia (twice) but were met at every stage with opposition. Even so, the Italians did occupy the country from 1936 to 1941, and in their wake, left a rather large culinary footprint—Italian food and Italian-style coffee is available almost everywhere. Ristorante Castelli was built by an Italian soldier who loved Ethiopia too much to leave; the restaurant is famous for homemade pasta and is constantly filled with chattering locals and foreigners.

After lunch, go to nearby Merkato, a warren of wriggling alleyways, with vendors hawking pyramids of everything from frankincense to fruit. Wade carefully through the maze of gritty, messy, higgledy-piggledy shacks, and you may find treasure. However, you may also find that your pocket has stealthily been picked. Stay sharp (and take a guide with you)!

Late Afternoon

The coffee-drinking ceremony is at the heart of Ethiopian life, a ritualised ceremony that can take up to two hours. Enjoy it in the cool climes of the Hilton Addis Ababa lobby.

Night

Refuel at Dashen with a plate of kitfo (spiced minced raw beef) and lamb dulet. Once you've appeased your growling appetite, lie back and enjoy the vibrant tunes of the Dashen Band. Then dance away the night at the historic Ghion Hotel's African Jazz Village bar.

Day 2

Morning

Go for a run at Meskel Square, site of many demonstrations and festivals. Then, to ease your sandpapered throat, step into the Kaldi outlet on Airport Road; it's the Starbucks of Addis Ababa and offers (wobbly) WiFi as well. Apart from coffee, Kaldi also offers fresh juices, including guava, pineapple, avocado, mango, and papaya, and a variety of eggs and pancakes for breakfast.

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Perched high above the city on a hilly outcrop, Entoto Maryam Church is delightful but alas, usually closed to the public. Next door is its museum, pillowed with dust and feebly lit, but still worth a walkthrough if only for a look at Emperor Menelik II's crown. Fondly regarded as the founder of modern Ethiopia, Menelik defeated the marauding Italian army in the Battle of Adwa and, together with Empress Taitu, founded the new capital city of Addis. His palace (a hop away from the church), however, is singular in its simplicity; it is a sparse, single-storeyed building. The big draw of Entoto is the vista—a grand panorama of Addis Ababa below.

Noon

At Gusto, you can dine on fine Italian fare. Try the Tpetto Di Anitra Al Vino Rosso E Marmellata Di Cipolle Rosse, a hank of duck breast wallowing in red wine sauce and onion jam. Finish with cannoli, with a shiver of chocolate laced through it.

Afternoon

Addis Ababa's garden-hemmed Ethnographic Museum makes an excellent after-lunch pitstop. It is a repository of Ethiopian cultural history, offering chambers brimming with religious icons, crosses and diptychs, anthropological artefacts and, most charming of all, the rooms occupied by Emperor Haile Selassie and his Empress (including his blue bathroom).

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Stroll over to the Yekatit 12 monument, a tumulus rising dramatically from a traffic island, testament to the thousands of Ethiopians killed by the Italians in 1937.

Away from the bedlam of car horns is the Addis Fine Art Gallery, home to some of Ethiopia's finest contemporary artwork. This is the ideal place to shake off your post-meal slump. If shopping floats your boat, then  it is onwards to Salem's Ethiopia, purveyor of stylish (and ethically-produced) clothes, accessories and home decor; the focus is on empowering the local craftspeople and supporting their indigenous art. End the evening with a jaunt to Ariti Herbal Products for essential oils, frankincense, and medicinal herbs.

In the gloaming, hopscotch across to the Addis Ababa Railway Station for a look at the statue of the Lion of Judah, fabled for centuries as a symbol of Ethiopian royalty.

Evening

At Yod Abyssinia, dig into shiro (chickpeas, onions and spices, cooked until it all collapses into a spicy, smoky puddle) and doro wat (nubs of chicken stewed with spices until they turn silky-soft, then tossed with creamy boiled eggs), spooned up with injera, thin like a dosa, faintly sour and spongy. Then pour yourself some tej (honey wine) while watching musicians and dancers perform on its stage.

 
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On an Offbeat Trail in Zurich

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ON AN OFFBEAT TRAIL IN ZURICH

WORDS BY RASHMI GOPAL RAO

On the shore of its eponymous lake — where it meets the river Limmat — is Zurich, a city that wears many hats. The town centre, or Altstadt, is a zoetrope of historic buildings, churches with tall steeples, majestic clock faces, boutiques, and restaurants. Beyond the old town is the chic and contemporary bustling financial centre. Zurich’s cosmopolitan neighbourhoods, trendy shopping centres, vibrant nightlife, and excellent local transportation all make it one of the most liveable cities in the world. Given its eclectic nature, there is a lot to explore in Zurich beyond its famous landmarks.

Tram Museum

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Arguably the backbone of the city’s transportation system, trams (and tram hopping) are an intrinsic part of life in Zurich. A great way to learn about the history and development of trams here is the tram museum housed in the Tram Depot of Burgwies. The exhibits on display include the original vintage vehicles that date back as early as 1897. You will also find yesteryear equipment and paraphernalia like ticket punching machines, sign boards, uniforms, sample tickets, and ticket pouches. The museum has interactive activities that allow you to operate a tram car model and feel the components that lie beneath a tram car. With extensive information boards and pictures, a visit to the Tram Museum may be just the ticket.

Sukkulenten-Sammlung Zürich

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Everyone loves a low-maintenance succulent, and the Zurich Succulent Plant Collection has a whopping 6000 varieties! For the uninitiated, succulents are a wide group of plants with fleshy stems and leaves that thrive in arid and semi-arid conditions. This collection is representative of close to half the succulent species in the entire world and includes plants native to countries like North America, Africa, Chile, and Mexico. With detailed descriptions within each of the glass houses, the plants, with their amazing spines, thorns, buds, and even flowers and fruits, are stunning! It is here that you can learn about the differences between aloe and agave, as well as the fact that many species of orchids are actually succulents!

Artisanal Chocolatiers

Say the word ‘Swiss’ and someone will say ‘chocolate’, and you’ve probably made your way through the retail brands of Lindt, Sprungli, and Callier. It’s time, then, to sample some gourmet goodies. A champion of sustainability and fair trade, Max Chocolatier is a specialist in hand made chocolate with completely natural ingredients. With offerings inspired by the season, they curate some of the most exotic flavours; think saffron, port wine, black tea, and even tobacco.

Oro de Cacao on the banks of the river Limmat is another speciality boutique. They follow a patented cold extraction process and do not roast the cocoa beans at high temperatures (which can make them very bitter). Their process retains the aromas and flavours of the bean, so they need to add less sugar to sweeten the chocolate. A panacea for the calorie conscious tribe!

The Dolderbahn

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Another thrill in Zurich is the 1.3km ride on the Dolderbahnn rack railway. Operational since 1895, the line was originally was a funicular railway before being converted to a rack operation. The line takes you into the forested area of Adlisberg within minutes and, with a steep gradient (almost 20% in parts), you’re treated to some splendid views and beautiful scenery. At the summit, the Dolder Grand Hotel and the Dolder recreation area allow you to relax and unwind before you take the train down back to the city.

Zurich West

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Zurich old town is the conventional favourite with tourists, so head over to the hip and stylish Zurich West neighbourhood. Earlier home to industrial establishments, warehouses, and ship building yards, it is now an effervescent quarter with a distinct creative bonhomie. While here, do not miss the Prime Tower, Switzerland’s second tallest skyscraper, and the Viadukt, a refurbished railway viaduct housing restaurants, pubs, and boutique shops within its arches.

 
Mysore-band

A Guide to the Grace and Grandeur of Mysuru

mysuru mysore palace
 

A GUIDE TO THE GRACE AND GRANDEUR OF MYSURU

WORDS BY RASHMI GOPAL RAO

Often dubbed the cultural capital of Karnataka, Mysore (aka Mysuru) has always been famous for its silk sarees, jasmine flowers (called ‘Mysore mallige’), bustling markets and, more recently, as a centre of Ashtanga yoga. It has also been voted one of India’s cleanest cities.

Historically, Mysore is synonymous with royalty and resplendence. ‘The City of Palaces’ is steeped in heritage and history. One of the three largest Princely States during the British Raj, it is home to no fewer than 200 heritage buildings — a high density given its area of just about 150 sq km.

If you’re a fan of the architecture of bygone eras, the legends of the Maharajas, and the rich legacy they left behind, you will love exploring Mysore’s noble past.

Amba Vilas Palace

amba vilas palace mysore mysuru

Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, the stunning Amba Vilas Palace was the seat of the Wodeyar kings. The structure features influences of the Mughal, Gothic, as well as Rajput schools of architecture. The palace was completed in 1912 after the original wooden structure was destroyed in 1897. With three main entrances, it is a mammoth structure that has two durbar halls and several temples apart from multiple courtyards and gardens. Within, it is replete with exquisite stained-glass windows, elaborate ceilings, world class paintings, and ornately carved doors.

The palace is lit after dusk, every Sunday, and on public holidays, and few sights are more compelling. It’s no wonder it clocks more than 6 million visitors each year, fewer only than the Taj Mahal.

Jaganmohan Palace

jaganmohan palace mysore mysuru

Built in 1861 during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, the Jaganmohan Palace served as an alternate residence for the king’s family when a fire gutted the original palace in 1897. Characterized by an ornamental entrance with a beautiful garden, the three-storeyed building has a decorated facade with arched balconies and detailed domes on top.

Once the location of several important events — including the first few convocations of Mysore University and the first session of the Legislative Council of the Mysore state way back in 1907 — the palace has since been converted into an art gallery.

Now known as the Sri Jaya Chamarajendra Art Gallery, it houses several paintings and sculptures, amongst which a set of statues depicting the Dashaavatara and a detailed painting of the Dussehra festival in vegetable dyes are significant. Visitors will also enjoy its enviable collection of rare paintings from several accomplished artists including the famous Raja Ravi Varma. Brassware, coins, antiques, weapons and musical instruments are also displayed in the art gallery.

Lalitha Mahal Palace

lalitha mahal palace mysore mysuru

An elegant structure in pure white, the Lalitha Mahal Palace is yet another spectacular Mysuru landmark. Located a little away from the city centre at the base of the Chamundi Hills, the palace dates back to 1921. It was built by Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV with the objective of hosting the then Viceroy of India. With a distinctly English influence, the palace is set on an elevation amongst perfectly manicured lawns and landscaped gardens. The palace was converted into a luxury hotel in 1974 and is one of the most opulent heritage hotels in South India. A stay here is an ideal way to experience the ‘royal’ life!

Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion

Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion mysore mysuru

The Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion was built in 1905 under the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV for princess Jayalakshmi Ammani. In the centre of the city, it sits within the sprawling grounds of Manasagangotri, the University of Mysore. The architectural marvel is full of iconic columns, carved doors, painted glass, and embellished domes. The building houses three museums of which the most popular is the Folklore Museum, a treasure trove of over 6500 folk art artefacts including masks, headgear, tools, costumes, and puppets.

Heritage streetscapes

Chamarajendra Circle mysore mysuru

The prominent buildings lure you within, but even a casual stroll around the city centre will treat you to some sights that are regal and magnificent. Many of Mysore’s government and administrative buildings are heritage monuments. The Deputy Commissioner’s Office with its arches, pilasters, and an elaborate octagonal dome is a prominent landmark. The University of Mysore’s Crawford Hall features Roman arches and Tuscan columns and is a sight to behold, as is the Mysore City Corporation with its ornamented arches and globulous domes. Mysore Law court and the Oriental Research Institute are also highly impressive structures.

Apart from its buildings, Mysuru also has several stunning roundabouts. The renowned Chamarajendra Circle, built by French genius William Robert Colton, is a case in point. In hues of white and gold, grand brackets and columns support an imposing onion-shaped dome at the circle. It has a statue of Maharaja Chamarajendra Wadiyar carved from pristine white Italian marble in the centre.

Mysore is truly a sight for sore eyes.

Feature photograph copyright Noppasinw – stock.adobe.com Amba Vilas Palace photograph copyright erhardpix – stock.adobe.com
Lalitha Mahal Palace photograph by Bikashrd [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion photograph by Pratheepps at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Jaganmohan Palace and Chamarajendra Circle photographs copyright saiko3p – stock.adobe.com

 
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Beyond Beaches in Mauritius

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BEYOND BEACHES IN MAURITIUS

WORDS BY KASTURI GADGE

At the airport, waiting for a flight to Mauritius — a favourite honeymoon destination — were several newlyweds, arm in arm and visibly excited, and me, travelling alone. Six hours later when the flight was descending, I had a bird’s eye view of the island and clear ocean. Honestly, it looked like it was heavily colour-corrected by nature to make it look magical.

I spent my first evening in Mauritius at my resort’s private beach, sipping mojitos as I watched the most gorgeous sunset I’d ever seen. What does a solo traveller do at a destination so romantic? It turns out there is more to do in Mauritius than the beach-related usual suspects.

L’Aventure du Sucre

mauritius l'aventure du sucre

If you want to learn about Mauritius’s history, this is where to go. Mauritius is historically known for its sugarcane production, and you can find sugar factories all over the island even today. L’Aventure du Sucre is one such old sugar factory that has now been converted into a sugar museum. You can learn about the various types of sugar, the making process, the old machinery, and the country’s political and economic history. The museum runs fun exhibitions for kids too. At the end of the hour-long tour, you can sample the various types of sugars made on the island. Pro tip: You will cross acres of sugarcane farms before getting here so keep a lookout.

Aapravasi Ghat

This UNESCO recognised port (ghat) tells the story of Mauritius during British rule. It is said that Aapravasi Ghat was the first port of entry for every Indian who came to the island, and as they got off the boat, they had to climb 14 steps to the buffer zone where they lived before becoming indentured labourers at the sugarcane plantation. A section of the port has been converted into a museum that replicates the story of their arrival. The other half of the ghat remains intact, showing the area where the Indians lived during their buffer time.

Rhumerie de Chamarel

Most of Mauritius’s history revolves around sugarcane — as do their drinking habits. Mauritian rum is highly recommended, and Rhumerie de Chamarel’s is the finest of the lot. The single-estate distillery is open to guests, allowing you to sneak a peek into the process of making rum. Their in-house store offers a tasting of each of their concoctions, helping you understand the notes of the rum. You can buy a couple of bottles of white, dark, or flavoured rum from here to take back home. There is also a restaurant where you can enjoy a decadent meal while sipping on a rum cocktail (or several).

Takamaka Boutique Winery

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Mauritius’s weather and geography might not be suitable to grow grapes, but it sure grows lychees in abundance. Alexander Oxenham saw an opportunity in this and developed a formula to make lychee wine. Takamaka Boutique Winery is one of the newest additions to the island, and you can tour the winery and end it with a tasting session. While you might expect the wines to be overly sweet, you can’t really tell the difference between a regular grape wine and a lychee wine. Currently, you can pick from white, rosé, and dessert wine, but Oxenham is working on a darker wine that should be available soon.

The Curious Corner of Chamarel

Curious Corner is an illusion house that will entertain you and also drive you slightly mad trying to figure out how it works! There are mirror-made rooms, a laser music room, and many more mind wrenching exhibits. This is one place you definitely don’t want to miss.

La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park

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There’s plenty of adventure at La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park. You can fly through the world’s third-longest zip line (1.5km!). I tried it, and five seconds in my heart was in my mouth I wanted to abort the mission, but obviously, once you are out there, there is no turning back. Same with the 100-meter tall suspension bridge and zip lines through waterfalls. A cool, rare, and much less adrenaline-pumping reason to visit is to see bands and domes here that have 23 coloured earths. And if you’re really feeling adventurous, the park’s restaurant serves crocodile meat.

Feature photograph by Olivier Graziano on Unsplash
L'aventure du Sucre photograph by Karsten11 [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
Takamaka Winery photograph by Kasturi Gadge
La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park photograph copyright MNStudio – stock.adobe.com

 
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A Traveller’s Guide to Enchanting Nara

 

A TRAVELLER'S GUIDE TO ENCHANTING NARA

WORDS BY RAMYA RAMAMURTHY

Nara is perfect for a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, but the city can imprint on you making you want to linger for a few days. Perhaps it’s the dichotomy of the small town nestled in an ancient city or just the marvel of watching how evolved or civilised the Japanese are to coexist so harmoniously with the animals in Nara. As one of the capitals of Japan in the Edo period from 710 to 794 AD, Nara boasts of some of the most iconic Japanese Buddhist temples along with a few magical surprises. It’s an underrated destination that definitely merits a visit.

Tōdaiji Temple

The foremost among the temples of Nara is the Tōdaiji Temple. Build in the Edo era, this temple’s Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) houses the world's largest bronze statue of Vairocana Buddha – as the temple sign says, “The Buddha that shines throughout the world like the sun”. At nearly 50ft high, this 500-tonne bronze UNESCO World Heritage statue is so imposing and breath-taking that even the non-spiritually inclined are guaranteed to get goose-bumps just from gazing at it. The temple was built in 751 to protect Japan from the earthquakes and smallpox at the behest of the then Emperor Shōmu. The current temple was rebuilt in 1692 after a series of fires destroyed two previous temples. Don’t forget to climb up to the Nigatsu-do structure in this complex. If you time it for sunset, you can catch brilliant Nara city views, rendered in hues of red, orange, and yellow.

Nara-koen Deer Park

In the Shinto religion, deer are sacred and considered to be the messengers of gods, so your best bet to catch a glimpse of these elegant creatures is at the Nara-koen deer park near Tōdaiji. The park, lined with paths and dotted with serene pools, boasts of nearly 1,200 deer that are generally happy to mind their own business. If you want to feed them, you can buy a pack of deer crackers (shika sembei), but they get pretty aggressive once the packet is over and you stop feeding, so don’t engage them unless you have an exit plan! Otherwise, they are remarkably well behaved for semi-wild animals, and the legend goes they bow to you if you bow to them!  For ultimate in kawaii (Japanese for ‘irresistibly cute’), there is a presentation every year in July where the young fawns birthed that year can be seen in the pregnant deer enclosure.

Kōfuku-ji & Hōryū-ji

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If you don’t mind some more temple hopping, visit the Kōfuku-ji Buddhist temple, one of the Seven Great Temples and eight Historic Monuments of ancient Nara. Originally built in 669, the temple was finally constructed in Nara in 710. Fires and civil wars ravished this temple as well, and the current iteration is more recent. Every one of its structures is considered a National Treasure, from the East Golden Hall to the five-storied Pagoda (the second tallest in Japan) and the various statues housed in the temple.
Or you could head to Hōryū-ji, which is a train ride away, and one of the oldest wooden buildings in Japan! This is also one of the Seven Great Temples in Nara, built originally in 607. It was burnt to the ground and rebuilt a few times – in 711, 1374, and 1603. These reconstructions have some Korean and Chinese influences in the architecture too, creating a unique style in this temple. You can get temple fatigue in Nara with so many options, but these three Kōfuku-ji, Hōryū-ji and Tōdaiji are worth a visit.

Mount Wakakusa

Mount Wakakusa makes for a perfect outdoor hike in Nara. This grass-covered mountain is located close to the deer park and Tōdaiji Temple, and you can climb it all year-round except in winter. The best time to go would be in the spring when cherry blossom trees in bloom line the entire slope of the mountain. It’s a 20-minute hike to a small clearing or plateau which offers excellent views of the city. More determined hikers can go on for another half hour to the summit, but most people just make it to this point for the city views. Every winter, the slopes of this mountain are burnt and accompanied by fireworks, making it quite a sight to witness. This was apparently done either as inter-temple rivalry or to drive away wild boars, but both are apocryphal legends.

Nara National Museum

If you would rather stay indoors, look up the Nara National Museum, part of the vast Nara Park and walking distance from Tōdaiji and the Higashimuki market. Set up in 1889, the museum is one of the few structures in Nara to retain its original building and has a vast collection of Buddhist statues, paintings, scrolls, and ceremonial objects. The temporary exhibitions also include treasures from the Tōdaiji temple from time to time. English explanations are available all through the museum, which is a rarity in museums in Japan, so definitely make it a point to visit this one.

Higashimuki market

For the shopaholics and souvenir-hunters, Higashimuki market which has everything from deer-shaped from cookies to chocolates. At the entrance is a statue on a fountain of the Buddhist monk Gyoki Bosatsu who preached when it was illegal to do so. Look out for the typical Nara snacks like sushi in persimmon leaves, bean buns, and mochi. You can find something for every budget, from 100 yen stores to jaw-dropping and expensive antique stores in which no item has a price tag (work up the courage to ask for the price and then decide if it is worth the splurge).

Kuppila

Go off the beaten path to the lovely vegan café called Kuppila, run by a Japanese chef who has lived in Finland. Kuppila opened in 2017 and is a tiny restaurant with only a bunch of counter seats, which fosters camaraderie between the chef-owner and the patrons. It’s cash only though, so ensure you are carrying sufficient yen. A simple meal of vegan tapas, vegan curry with rice, or even the rice bowl was easily the highlight of our trip! You can wash it down with sweet Plum wine that is a Nara speciality.

 
Pondicherry-band

48 Hours in Pondicherry

 

48 HOURS IN PONDICHERRY

WORDS BY RASHMI GOPAL RAO

Pondicherry is a city like none other. A French colony until 1954, Pondicherry (also known as Puducherry and fondly called Pondy) is an ideal seaside destination and a perfect weekend getaway from Chennai or Bangalore. The old-world charm and colonial cityscape of the White town capture the attention of the first-time visitor, while the newer part of the city is a picture of hustle bustle with a heavy South Indian influence.

The soul of the city is arguably the French Quarter. With a perfect synergy of French and Indian influences and a host of unique experiences, Pondy is sure to leave you enchanted with every visit.

Day 1

10:00 a.m.: Take a spiritual sojourn at Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple

Pondicherry_Manakula_Vinayagar_Temple

The Manakula Vinayagar Temple was established well before the 17th Century when the French settled in Pondicherry. The eclectic local market outside the temple premises has attractive stone and terracotta artefacts you can buy as souvenirs. Do not miss Lakshmi, the elephant at the entrance of the temple, and a chance to get your head tapped by her trunk, which is akin to a blessing!

11:00 a.m.: Pay your respects at Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Pondicherry_Aurobindo_Ashram,_Pondicherry

Established in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo and a French lady famously known as "Mother", the Ashram has a focus on community living. The institution today has close to 2000 members and is currently managed by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, a public charitable trust. The grey, sombre building is a sanctuary of peace and tranquillity. An impeccably maintained space that is surrounded by greenery, the centre of the Ashram complex houses the "samadhi" of both these leaders.

12:00 p.m.: Visit the Pondicherry Museum

Located on St. Louis Street, the Pondicherry Museum is a treasure house of statues, artefacts, and other objects from the Chola period. The stone sculptures and bronze statues from the Pallava and Chola dynasties are of particular interest and a significant feature of the museum.

3:00 p.m.: Take a stroll around White Town

Pondicherry_White Town

Bougainvillaea-lined avenues; colonial-style buildings in white, yellow, and ochre; and cobbled, bicycle-friendly streets characterise the French quarter that is separated from the rest of the city by a canal. It is immaculately planned, with roads laid out in a perfect grid replete with blue boards with French road names painted in white. With a substantial French population, this part of the town is home to several bakeries and restaurants serving authentic French cuisine (think croque monsieur, baguette, crepes, and quiches). You also have traditional home-grown brands like Suguru where you can sample delectable local Tamil/South Indian cuisine.

6:00 p.m.: Experience the promenade seafront

Pondicherry_promenade seafront

Beach Road or Goubert Avenue is a popular haunt with locals as well as tourists. While the actual beach is separated by a wall of rocks (the waters are not accessible to the public), the road is a great place to walk along the sea. Beach Road is teeming with street food vendors and hawkers selling curios. Towards the end of the avenue is a lighthouse that is almost 30 metres tall, as well as the famous Gandhi statue flanked by eight intricately carved 17th Century pillars.

Day 2

10:00 a.m.: Visit Auroville and Matrimandir

Pondicherry_Matrimandir 2

Auroville, a township 10km away from Pondicherry, was founded by Mother in 1968 with a vision to achieve human unity. People from over 50 countries live here in peace and harmony irrespective of caste, creed, and colour. It is spread over 20 square kilometres amongst forested and semi-urban areas, and an ideal way to start your exploration is at the visitor centre where you can spend few hours learning about the ethos of this unique community whose name translates into "City of Dawn". The Matrimandir – "Temple of the Mother" – is the highlight of Auroville, designed like a golden sphere and surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Auroville offers plenty of food and shopping options. Ceramics and pottery are wonderful buys, and there are many cafés where you can sample wholesome, organic fare apart from a host of world cuisines.

3.00 p.m.: Unwind at Chunnambar Boat House and Paradise Beach

Pondicherry_paradise beach

The backwaters of the Chunnambar are a popular boating venue. There are several other activities you can indulge in as well, such as trekking, beach games, and yachting. The point where River Chunnambar meets the Bay of Bengal is an exquisite sight. At the mouth of the backwaters is Paradise Beach, which has pristine white sands and is an ideal place to sunbathe or laze around while watching the sunset.

7:00 p.m.: Retail therapy

Head back to the city for a stint in shopping and retail therapy at Jawaharlal Nehru Street, Mission Street, and MG Road. The Ashram shops have high-quality handmade goods like incense sticks, candles, and perfumes as well as exclusive handmade paper and craft materials. Kalki, Casablanca, and PonFab are stores where you can pick up fabrics, souvenirs, and collectables.

 
Hampi-band

Hampi: Of Magnificent Monuments And Redolent Ruins

hampi
 

HAMPI: OF MAGNIFICENT MONUMENTS AND REDOLENT RUINS

WORDS BY RASHMI GOPAL RAO

“How can you leave Hampi without visiting the Elephant’s Stables?” asked Zameer in a tone that exuded nothing but genuine concern and conviction.

Zameer was my super enthusiastic yet earnest ‘guide’/cab driver whom I was so glad to meet on my maiden two-day visit to Hampi. He ensured that I visited the striking domed enclosures that once housed the royal elephants before I left, and I realised my error in judgement and planning – Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, cannot be ‘done with’ in just a couple of days.

Located along the banks of the Tungabhadra in Karnataka, this unique town is set amidst rocky stones and boulders with hillocks that provide stunning views of the sunrise, sunset, and surrounding landscape peppered with banana plantations and swaying palms. Hampi was the erstwhile capital of the powerful Vijayanagar empire and reached its zenith during the 16th Century under the reign of ruler Krishnadevaraya. The town is filled with magnificent temples, monoliths, royal enclosures, marketplaces, and monuments that are evocative of the rich culture of a glorious past.

Virupaksha Temple

virupaksha temple hampi

Hampi is best explored by foot, and an ideal way to jumpstart your journey would be to visit the ancient Virupaksha Temple. Dating back to the 9th Century, the temple is dedicated to Lord Virupaksha (a form of Lord Shiva) and Goddess Pampa. The Chalukya and Hoysala rulers renovated the elaborate temple structure several times over the centuries, its highlight being the nine-tiered, 50-metre-high tower at the eastern gateway. With intricate pillars, sub-sanctums, and courtyards, the temple is an active place of worship even today and attracts large crowds during the festival months of December and February.

Hampi Bazaar

hampi bazaar

Located opposite the east end of the Virupaksha Temple is a series of pavilions (some two-storeyed) for a stretch of about one kilometre. These are the remnants of the bustling Hampi Bazaar that was a flourishing marketplace of the past. An important site where precious stones, silk, and domestic animals like cows and horses exchanged hands, the area today is more like a flea market where you can pick up colourful bags, jewellery, and miniature stone sculptures as souvenirs. A large statue of the Holy bull aka Nandi lies at the end of the bazaar, which serves as the location for the renowned annual Hampi utsava.

Sasivekalu Ganesha & Lakshmi Narasimha Statue

Lakshmi Narasimha Statue hampi

Ornate stone sculptures jostle for space with scattered shrines, mandaps, and pyramidal towers at Hampi. Do not miss the gigantic monolithic Ganesha statue called the Sasivekalu Ganesha. At about 8ft high, it is one of the town’s most stunning landmarks, along with the imposing Lakshmi Narasimha Statue, also referred to as Yoga Narasimha because the Lord is positioned on the coil of a giant seven-headed snake in a cross-legged yoga position. Both monuments date to the early 15th Century and are intrinsically associated with the landscape of the town.

Royal Enclosure

royal enclosure stepped tank hampi

The Royal Enclosure served as the ancient homes of the kings and queens and is sure to provide you with a sneak peek into the times and lives of the Vijayanagar rulers. The 8-metre-high Mahanavami Dibba is a multi-tiered enclosure with detailed carvings of animals and celestial dancers at every tier. It was used by the kings for ceremonies and for celebrations during the Navratri festival. The stepped tank, discovered as late as 1985, is another engineering marvel that was an integral part of the town's irrigation system. The enclosure also houses the Hazara Rama Temple that is replete with multiple relics, including panels and ornately decorated columns depicting scenes from the Ramayana. Located at the entrance of the Royal Enclosure is the private bathing chamber of the kings and queens built in the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. Known as Queen’s Bath, it is a rectangular structure adorned with arched corridors coupled with windows and balconies all around. The complex has a massive bath in the centre.

Vittala Temple

vittala temple chariot hampi

Arguably the most spectacular of all monuments in Hampi is the grand Vittala Temple that represents the zenith of Vijayanagar architecture. Known for its unparalleled design elements and exceptional craftsmanship, the iconic temple is widely recognised for its stone chariot and musical pillars. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and built in the Dravidian style of architecture with several halls, including the Sabha Mantapa, Ranga Mantapa, and Kalyana Mantapa. With a fantastic level of detail, the façade of the temple are embellished with carvings and sculptures of Gods, Goddesses, and leaping yalis (mythical leonine beasts). The stone chariot at the entrance is one of Hampi’s most photographed monuments and is often used as a symbol of Hampi itself. Dedicated to Garuda, the carrier of Lord Vishnu, it is one of the three most famous stone chariots in India (the others being in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu and Konark in Odisha).

Archaeological Museum

Hampi is also home to the archaeological museum located in Kamalapuram. The small yet insightful museum makes for an engaging visit with several artefacts, isolated ruins, statues, and antiques on display. The scaled model of the town is a highlight of the museum.

 

 
DC

How To Spend 48 Hours In DC

washington dc
 

HOW TO SPEND 48 HOURS IN DC

WORDS BY REEM KHOKHAR

Neo-classical architecture, historic landmarks, quirky neighbourhoods, malls, museums, cultural cauldrons, and culinary hotspots… the capital of the United States of America is all things to all people. Conscious of its history and confident in its modernity, the city’s identity as seat of political power is understated but omnipresent. Welcome to Washington, DC!

Whether on a fleeting work trip or a weekend break, 48 hours is all you need to sample the best the city has to offer.

Day 1
10 a.m.: Take a walk through history

national mall dc

The National Mall is in the most iconic part of DC, a congregation of all the great historical monuments and memorials. The soaring Washington Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and grand Capitol Building set a stately mood for the entire hood. There is the sombreness associated with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the sprawl of the FDR Memorial, and one of the newest additions, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. This is an image that is 30ft high and inscribed with powerful quotes about democracy and peace.

2 p.m.: Fly me to the moon

smithsonian dc

The National Mall is irresistible for its scores of free museums. The Smithsonian is an institution with 19 museums, galleries, and a zoo and has something for everyone. Its newest addition, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is as exciting as that art lovers’ paradise, the National Portrait Gallery. One of the most popular exhibitions is at the National Air and Space Museum with its huge collection of aviation and space objects. Poke at some moon rock brought back by the Apollo 17 mission, stare geekily at the Star Ship enterprise model in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, or do some daytime stargazing through a solar telescope at the public observatory.

6 p.m.: Enjoy an evening in and around Chinatown

While some of Chinatown’s original, ethnic population have left, the area is packed with shopping, entertainment, and dining options. The Friendship Archway Gate, a colourful 272-dragoned archway still stands, and all shop signs in Chinese characters lend the ’hood (and your photographs) an air of authenticity.

Theatre buffs can choose to catch a performance at the Shakespeare Theatre Company or at the Sixth & I, located at a historic synagogue.

chinatown archway gate washington dc

You could low-brow it and people-watch in the Plaza area, indulge in some window shopping or dive wallet-first into the CityCenter DC which is luxuriously festooned with the likes of Dior and Gucci.

Visit the place where Lincoln’s assassination was planned – an erstwhile boarding house run by Mary Surratt – that is now a Wok n’ Roll with a mix of Chinese and Japanese fare and karaoke.

Day 2

10 a.m.: Catch the news

newseum dc

With the amount of news DC generates, it’s no surprise that a museum – or rather the Newseum – is headquartered here. An interactive, engaging space, it is ideal for adults and children. Dedicated to the freedom of expression and the First Amendment that defends freedom of religion and the press among others, the Newseum has 15 galleries and theatres with exhibits that include the editorial cartoons by Jim Morin of the Miami Herald, whose work satirised U.S. presidents and burning issues of the day. You’ll walk past gripping displays like the 9/11 gallery or the largest collection of Pulitzer-prize winning photographs. Quirky special interest galleries like “First Dogs: American Presidents and their Pets” treat visitors to the important tidbits like FDR’s terrier having his own press secretary or JFK’s dog allergy not inhibiting him from having nine canines!

2 p.m.: Gargoyle gazing

1024px-National_Cathedral_Sanctuary_Panorama

The Washington National Cathedral, the sixth largest cathedral in the world, is an impressive Gothic structure complete with stained glass windows and gargoyles. As the National House of Prayer, it is used for presidential funerals and prayer services. Thirty-minute guided tours are available, and there are free music performances on weekdays. The grounds afford a lovely ramble, with a medieval style Bishops Garden, winding paths through Olmsted Woods, and an atmospheric café in the Baptistry building where you can stop for some coffee and dessert. The highlights include the gargoyles on the cathedral exterior, some of which are modern. Spot the hippie gargoyle and Darth Vader!

7 p.m.: Take a walking tour

"John Wilkes Booth was the George Clooney of that time...he was very popular," says the guide, passing around an iPad with a black and white picture of a moustachioed Booth, one of the most famous assassins in history. The DC-on-foot themed walking tours along themed trails are a great way to learn more about the city.

lafayette square

The Lincoln Assassination Trail takes in the area around the White House and Lafayette Square and on over to the National and Ford Theaters. The spirited narration takes you back in time to a pre-security era, when you could stride all the way up to the White House. Abe Lincoln was trying to unify his countrymen after a brutal Civil War, and many – including the Confederate sympathiser Booth – didn’t appreciate his words and actions. Determined to not just get rid of Lincoln, Booth orchestrated what was meant to be a triple assassination targeting the President, Vice President, and Secretary of State. The tour brings alive the people, the charged atmosphere, the botched attempts at taking the VP and Secretary of State's lives, and the unfortunate and tragic success of Booth's determination to end Abe Lincoln's time at the Ford Theater. (Interesting fact: Timing was key. All three murders were planned for 10 p.m. when the funniest line of the play was expected to lead to an eruption of laughter that would mask the bullet shot and delay reactions and news of the murder).

9:30 p.m.: Jazz it up at U Street

ben's chili

End the day in the U Street area, once the centre of African American culture and birthplace of DC jazz legend Duke Ellington, which offers a choice of jazz clubs and other music options. Clubs like JoJo and Twins Jazz are a quintessential DC experience. Then there’s the 9:30 Club, which gets so busy it has a wheeled stage that is moved around to accommodate more people. When it’s time to eat, the jazz plays on at several trendy rooftop lounges and iconic restaurants like Ben’s Chili Bowl, which serves up the Chili Half Smoke, reportedly voted Washington’s signature dish.

 
Doha

An Art And Architecture Lover’s Guide To Doha

doha
 

AN ART AND ARCHITECTURE LOVER'S GUIDE TO DOHA

WORDS BY RASHMI GOPAL RAO

The immigration queue at Hamad International Airport was serpentine. It was well past midnight when I boarded the taxi, and I thought I would soon fall asleep. But as we drove away from the airport, the sheer magnificence of Doha’s skyline and its gleaming lights left me amazed, astounded, and awakened from my stupor.

Doha is a city of superlatives, and one that is dramatically transforming each day. Poised to host one of the world’s biggest events in 2022, the FIFA World Cup, Doha is fast on its way to becoming the Gulf’s most breath-taking city. While there is a lot to see and do in the capital city of Qatar, its awe-inspiring buildings and museums make it a haven for art and design lovers.

Spectacular Cityscape

Arguably the most attractive part of Doha is its absolutely marvellous waterfront promenade known as the Corniche. Home to uniquely-constructed and innovatively-designed buildings, the 7km long Corniche is a delightful spectacle during the day as well as the night. Whether it is the Aztec-pyramid shaped Sheraton building or the iconic Burj Doha (Doha tower) designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, this cluster of government buildings and hotels are high on aesthetics, functionality and design sensibilities. Just like the 781-foot Doha tower that is enveloped by a steel facade of the Mashrabiya which is a quintessential element of Arabic architecture, the buildings are a perfect combination of the conventional and the contemporary.

doha corniche waterfront night skyline

Other key landmarks of the city include the Al Fanar, delightfully shaped as a wedding cake with a twisted spiral-shaped minaret, the 300ft tall innovative Aspire towers, and the stunning Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Mosque (also called the State Grand Mosque). There are several other impressive constructions in progress such as the cross-swords designed Katara towers and the desert-rose shaped National Museum of Qatar.

Museum of Islamic Art

doha museum of islamic art

Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei, MIA is an ode to Islamic art spanning three continents and a period of 1,400 years. The five-storied building with a main dome and a central tower is set amidst an artificial island and has been inspired by ancient Islamic architecture. The geometric patterns on the ceilings, ornate metal chandelier, and picturesque fountains are just some of the highlights of the swanky interiors. A treasure house of Islamic artefacts from countries like India, Iran, Turkey, Spain, and Egypt, the collections include weapons, pottery, manuscripts, carpets, and jewellery. Through its galleries, the museum explores the primary forms and facets of Islamic art, including calligraphy, intricate geometric patterns, floral patterns, and the universal arabesque.

Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art

doha mathaf

Abstract limestone-hued installations of men, women, and animals at the entrance form the perfect preview of what you can expect in Mathaf, which is dedicated to the cause of contemporary art. A one-of-its-kind initiative in the region, it was set up with the objective of providing Arab artists a platform to showcase their work irrespective of their individual styles and schools of art. With over 9,000 works of art from the 20th and 21st Centuries on display, the museum includes both temporary and permanent collections from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Eminent artists whose work is on display include Shakir Hassan Al Said, Mohammed Melehi, and Néjib Belkhodja. Apart from paintings, the museum houses several unique art installations curated from the perspective of not only collection, but also conservation, learning, and engagement.

Souq Waqif Art Gallery

doha souq waqif

If native markets and traditional crafts are your cup of tea, Souq Waqif, in the heart of Doha, must be on your list.  With scores of little shops situated amidst a maze of winding lanes, it is a market teeming with vendors, shoppers, tourists, and locals alike. It is here that you can pick up just about anything, including clothes, dry fruits, spices, antiques, and souvenirs. There is even an art gallery within the complex, the entrance to which is through a beautiful corridor adorned with colourful lamps, glazed tiles, and artistic motifs. It is common to see artists busy drawing, sketching, or painting here. If you’re looking to pick up art by local artists, Souq Waqif is the place to go.

Katara Cultural Village

doha katara cultural village

Another centre for creative aficionados is the Katara Cultural Village that is a home to an array of galleries, theatres, and artistic events. A complex that houses some fascinating buildings like the Golden Mosque and the trademark 'pigeon towers', both of which are symbols of architectural brilliance, Katara hosts a number of events such as hobby classes, painting exhibitions, and weekend markets. Designed by Turkish architect, Zainab Fadli Oglu, the Katara Masjid in the cultural village is yet another mind-blowing masterpiece with a blue and purple facade replete with intricate inscriptions and mosaics inspired by famous mosques from all over the world. A favourite haunt with art and culture lovers, Katara Cultural Village is a place designed for art exchanges and cultural synergies where you can hone your artistic skills.

All photographs by Rashmi Gopal Rao, except Doha Corniche photograph copyright philipus - stock.adobe.com

 
Australia

A Guide To Dining Out In Adelaide

adelaide
 

A GUIDE TO DINING OUT IN ADELAIDE

WORDS BY JOANNA LOBO

Victoria and Melbourne are considered Australia’s dining capitals, but there’s another contender vying to be recognised as a gourmet destination. Adelaide is a small, laid back city with green spaces, quiet streets, and a brewing coffee revolution.

Unlike in the bigger cities, eating out here, is affordable. There are small bars in tiny lanes and new restaurants where chefs are doing exciting things with local produce. Pair these with world-class wines from the Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills nearby and you have a dining experience to remember.

This is where to whet your appetite for Adelaide.

Shōbōsho

A modern Asian restaurant with a fire-inspired menu, Shōbōsho is kitchen theatre at its peak. Chefs play with food and fire using a rotisserie, a yakitori pit, a Robata grill, and wooden oven. Japanese and Korean-inspired food is grilled, spit roasted, charred, raw, cured, pickled, and fermented and arrives beautifully plated.

shobosho adelaide

The Salt and Vinegar Korean Seaweed Crisps are salty, speckled with golden brown sesame seeds, and slightly tangy. The highly recommended Leek Roasted in the Fire uses buttermilk to soften the heart of the vegetable, with kelp oil for company. If you have the space, the dry aged Angus Rump is grilled medium rare with shiitake and spinach for flavouring. The coconut-laden Burnt Jasmine Custard is perfect for dessert.

The menu goes very well with saké or Japanese and Korean beers.

Shōbōsho, Leigh Street.

Peel St

Once neglected, Peel Street is now buzzing with bars and restaurants. The restaurant – named after the lane – is a casual, chic space with an open kitchen, exposed brick, and no menus; Specials are written on a massive chalkboard.

peel st adelaide

The food is robust, colourful, and big on flavour with a slight Middle-Eastern slant. The Fried Falafel salad is heaped with parsley, fennel shavings, slivers of pistachio, and open falafels. Banana flowers are stuffed with chicken and drizzled with chilli jam, coconut flakes, roasted peanuts, and fried shallots. To finish, a Blue Cheese Ice-cream with pomegranate, slow roasted quince, and walnuts hits the sweet spot.

Peel St, 9 Peel Street, laneway between Hindley + Currie streets.

Lucia’s Pizza & Spaghetti Bar

In 1957, Lucia Rosella set up this iconic eatery within the Adelaide Central Market and introduced locals to pizza and other authentic Italian fare. Today, her children, Nicci and Maria, carry on the tradition using their mother’s original recipes. The menu has remained unchanged, bar a few specials. It is comfort food guaranteed to fill you up.

spaghetti bolognese

The most popular dish is the Spaghetti Bolognese, a bowl of homemade pasta cooked al dente with sauce made from locally-sourced tomatoes. There’s also the Pizza Special, decadent with mozzarella, olives, and anchovies. Friday is when they bring out the big guns – their lasagne, 14 layers of pasta sheets piled with meat and parmesan.

Everything is made in-house and you can pick up cold meats, breads, sauces, or pasta at Lucia’s Fine Foods next door.

Lucia's Pizza & Spaghetti Bar, Central Market, Adelaide.

Press* Food and Wine

The restaurant is split over two sections. Downstairs, walk-ins will find communal tables, high seating, suspended bulbs, and the kitchen at the back. Upstairs, the loft-style space features an open bar, a tin roof, and velvet sofas.

Press* is known for its offal menu; wood-grilled ox tongue with potato, pan-fried lamb’s brains with a horseradish crème fraîche, and a mixed-grill with brains, minute steak, ox tongue, sweetbreads, and poached egg. In the ‘smaller’ section, the Wood-grilled Squid stands out – its smokiness enhanced by hummus. Beef Carpaccio, from the ‘raw’ section, comes festooned with parmesan, rocket and aioli. A grilled Black Angus rib eye has capers and almonds providing contrasting tastes and texture. For dessert, pick between the Peanut-butter Parfait with chocolate and the Chocolate Mousse – a decadent treat with dense mousse, a buttery vanilla cream, and acidic blackberries.

Press* Food and Wine, 40 Waymouth Street.

Café Troppo

This small café is in Adelaide’s ‘green hippie’ part of town. Their focus on the environment and community is reflected in the interiors and the way they conduct business. They use natural, reclaimed materials and local, sustainable ingredients (like ethically-sourced kangaroo and wild boar and greens foraged from gardens nearby). Coffee is from local roasters De Groot, and teas are from the Barossa Valley. Customers are encouraged to trade fresh produce for a drink.

cafe troppo adelaide

The food is healthy and high on flavour. The Spiced Pumpkin Stack has sweet roasted pumpkin on toasted sourdough with pickled fennel and housemade dukkah. Brekky Pizza is a spelt flour-base topped with red sauce, mushrooms, San Jose bacon, roast potato, plus melted provoletta cheese and a poached egg. It’s a meal in itself. There’s kombucha, kefir, and dirty chai as thirst quenchers but, on a hot day, the cold brew by local brand Mischief is the best pick.

Café Troppo, 42 Whitmore Square.

All photographs courtesy the restaurants, except Lucia's photograph copyright GMMaira - stock.adobe.com. Peel Street photograph by Vanessa Burton.