SpiceRoads Blog

Indian Spices and Where They are From

Posted on: September 19th, 2016 by Sally Hoare
Posted in: Uncategorized

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India is the seventh largest country in the world and as a result, its climate varies greatly in different parts of the country. This changing climate means that a wide range of spices is produced all over the country, many of which are native to India and some which have been imported from countries with similar climates.

Indian spices are used in some different forms. They can be used whole, chopped, ground, roasted, sautéed, fried and as a topping. When cooking, they are mainly used in dishes to enhance flavour and give the dish an extra ‘kick’. They are also used in medicine, magic and cultural traditions.

Even before the Roman and Greek civilisations came into being, spices were being traded with neighbouring lands and many armies have fought with each other over centuries for access to the trade routes. Indian spices have been exported around the world for centuries, and they are as popular today as they have ever been.

There are too many spices to mention them all, however below is a guide to many of the most common Indian spices:

Cinnamon
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Cinnamon derives from the bark of an evergreen tree. It is native to India in the eastern part of the country, and as well as its common use in food it is also used regularly for medicinal purposes.
In cooking, it is used in some curries with Biryani being the most common and it is also used as a flavouring in sweet products such as muffins due to its distinctive aroma and non-spicy properties.

Ginger
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Ginger can be found all over India, and its pungent taste distinguishes it from many other spices. In addition to its more common use in various foods, it is also used for medicinal purposes such as ginger tea. In cooking it is mostly used in its grounded form to give an extra ‘bite’ to curries.

Black Pepper
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Black pepper is arguably the most common Indian spice used in cooking. Grown mostly in Southern India, it is most commonly used as a condiment throughout the world and is regularly used to give additional flavour to some savoury dishes and snacks. Pepper is derived from the berries of the pepper tree, and whereas white pepper is just the seed, black pepper is the dried berry.

Cumin

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Native to India, cumin can be found in a variety of curries and is mainly used as a flavouring agent and a condiment in certain dishes. Cumin seeds are usually used at the beginning of a dish when preparing a meal, because as the seeds heat up, the flavour and the aroma is given off.

Saffron

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Saffron is mostly used as a colouring agent as well as a seasoning one. Often used as a colouring agent in sweets, the use of saffron also varies around the world. In India, where it originates, it is always added at the end of the preparation of a dish, however, in Europe, it is usually added at the beginning or midway through preparation, such as in a paella.

Tumeric

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A member of the ginger family, Tumeric is used to add flavour and colour to dishes. Bright orange in appearance, it gives the dishes that it’s used in a distinctive appearance. Like many other Indian spices, it is also used for medicinal purposes, and it has been proven to help with arthritis, stomach pain, heartburn and loss of appetite.

Coriander

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Coriander can be used both ground and whole and its seeds are commonly used as a condiment in dishes. Deriving from the dried fruit cilantro, coriander leaves are often used as a garnish to finished dishes, and they have been proven to help aid digestion.

Fennel

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Fennel seeds are small, oval and greenish brown in appearance. The plant they come from is part of the parsley family, and they have a somewhat sweet flavour to them. When preparing a meal they are used sparingly as this gives the meal a warmth and sweetness which would be spoiled if too much was used.

Cycling Tours with a Little Extra Something

Posted on: September 5th, 2016 by Sally Hoare

 

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Cycling tours are an adventure by themselves, and they offer a wonderful opportunity to explore new places and view breathtaking scenery. However you may find yourself wanting to experience a different mode of transport, even just for a couple of hours. If you do fancy taking a break from the bike, then there are plenty of other activities that you can combine with your cycling tour. Most of the activities below are fast, wild and exciting adventures which will ramp your cycling tour up a notch and give you some extra thrills on your adventure. There are many more activities that you can take part in but here are just a few examples of some of the great activities that you can include with your cycling tour:

Helicopter Tour

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If viewing your spectacular surroundings on two wheels isn’t exciting enough, then why not take a helicopter tour and view them from the air. Helicopter tours give you the chance to view places from a completely different perspective and see things that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see on the ground.

One of the most beautiful helicopter tours is in the mountains and valleys which inhabit Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Taking your bike on board the chopper, you will reach peaks up to 3,5000m and then after disembarking you will make your descent- on your bike- of 1,300m through the grasslands which cover the vast landscape.

Helicopter tours give you a great chance to easily reach heights that would otherwise be very difficult to get to and to soak up the surroundings from a better vantage point. They also offer the chance to take a well-earned break from the bike for a short while as you cruise through the sky. This experience, Mountain Biking Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, offers a once-in-a-lifetime heli-biking combo that’s not to be missed.

Zipline

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Just like the helicopter tour, the zipline is a great opportunity to get off the bike for a while and take to the air, albeit in very different circumstances.

A zip line gives an incredible adrenaline rush and allows for a very different perspective of the area you’re in. If you’re heading to Chiang Mai, then the Chiang Mai Bike and Zipline Adventure tour is highly recommended and fun way to experience this popular activity!

There is nothing quite so exhilarating as zipping over a river surrounded by the lush and green mountains and valleys of Mae Taeng. As adventures go, this one’s very exciting and certainly one for the adrenaline junkies.

Rafting
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Make a big splash on your cycling tour by throwing in a rafting experience. If cycling through the vast green trails of Thailand and taking to the skies isn’t exciting enough then how about adding a water experience that is exhilarating, exciting and a little bit frightening?

The rafting experience on Chiang Mai Bike and Raft Adventure is a superb way to see the Mae Taeng mountains and valleys while having a great adventure down the grade three and four rapids. If you think this will be a relaxing break from your bike though then think again, because it’s a real action packed and physical adventure which isn’t for the faint-hearted. Another option is just around the neighborhood in Dalat, Vietnam with Biking and Rafting Dalat.

Rafting is not only a fun and exciting adventure, but it also builds teamwork, leadership skills and confidence. It’s also a very sociable activity to take part in if you are looking to meet new people and forge friendships.

Horse Riding
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As if cycling, flying and rafting weren’t adventurous enough then how about adding horse riding to the mix? For thrill seekers who are looking for a bit of variety try heading to Mongolia where horses outnumber people in their native beautiful, natural and unspoilt habitat.

The Mongolian Steppe Adventure consists of cycling, trekking and horse riding and it is a fantastic way of exploring the diverse and vast landscape that Mongolia has to offer.

Cruise
If all of the activities above sound is a bit too exhausting, then cruising is the perfect antithesis to all of the above adventures on Ha Long Bay Cycle and Cruise tour. Explore the beautiful rivers and waterways which cover large parts of Asia at a leisurely pace. There’s no need to pedal, paddle or saddle up on these trips as you sail serenely through the stunning nature and beautiful backdrops which surround you.

Apart from those fun activities mentioned above, there are also hiking, trekking and paddling. Check out the list of tours below:

Bike and Hike Wild Madagascar

Caucasus Mountain Bike and Hike Adventure

Mystical Bhutan

Chiang Mai Pedal and Paddle Adventure

A Traveler’s Guide to Mai Chau

Posted on: August 29th, 2016 by Sally Hoare
Posted in: Vietnam

A Travellers Guide To

Vietnam is a beautiful country with stunning scenery, beautiful backdrops and a long list of must-see places. Right at the top of this list should be Mai Chau, a rural area in the north-west of the country, and around 160 km from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.

This mountainous region of Vietnam is scenic, idyllic and fairly quiet, so if you’re looking for a thriving nightlife, then it’s not the place to visit. However, if you are on a cycling tour, then the villages, tracks and mountains with their large descents make it an ideal place to visit.

A Brief History of Mai Chau

Many of the Mai Chau people have Thai ancestry as a large number of Thai people migrated to the area several hundred years ago. They are divided into the “White Thai” and the “Black Thai” groups and between them they make up the largest ethnic population of Mai Chau.

The area was also used as a headquarters for the French in 1953 when they colonised Vietnam, and it was chosen because of its importance on the way to Laos and Cambodia as well as its high ground which gave the French an advantage over the Vietnamese army.

In May 1954 though, following the defeat of the French, the North Vietnamese government provided assistance to the region as Ethnic majority Vietnamese families moved to Mai Chau to improve farming skills, education, and technology.

Things to do in Mai Chau

Check out the Stilt Houses
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Nestled among the mountains and the glorious green landscape of Mai Chau are some beautiful places of interest. Most residents live in stilt houses which are built, as the name suggests, on stilts. This is to protect them from water damage and to shelter animals from the elements, and these houses alone are fascinating to see for tourists. In fact, many of the stilt houses offer accommodation to travellers so if you don’t have a place to stay then definitely consider staying in one of these for at least one night. You will be able to experience life in Mai Chau as a local but with modern facilities as well.

Visit Pu Luong Nature Reserve
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Photo by Vietnamdiscovery.com

Just a short trip away from Mai Chau is The Pu Luong Nature Reserve which is well worth a visit. This is a newly protected area that serves as home to endangered species such as langurs, leopards, civets and bears but it’s especially good for bird watching. There are also caves and local Tai and Hmong communities to visit.

Explore the Caves
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Mo Luong Cave

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Chieu Cave

There are quite a number of caves, or grottoes, in the area which is fascinating to explore. These include Mo Luong Cave, Chieu Cave, Pieng Kem Grotto, Lang Cave and Khau Phuc Cave.

Mo Luong cave, in particular, is a highlight of Mai Chau. There are two entrances to the cave with the main one being in Mai Chau town and the other one along the water current in Chieng Chau. The cave is very vast and inside the ceiling dome averages 10 metres in height with a high point of 30m so unlike many caves it doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.

Take a look at Lac Village
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Photo by welcomevietnamtours.com

A favourite community tourist spot, Lac Village is a scenic and peaceful area of Mai Chau. Once considered something of a hidden treasure of Vietnam, the village has become increasingly popular with tourists in recent years as it has been explored more frequently. However, it still retains its charm and tranquillity.

Many of the stilt houses here offer affordable accommodation and modern amenities to tourists, and these homestays offer a very welcoming and traditional experience.

Visit the market
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The market is a bustling place where most of the locals regularly go to pick up their food for the day. All of the local specialities can be bought there including some of the more common items that tourists are used to such as fruit, vegetables and rice as well as unusual foods such as skinned frogs. Even if you don’t want to try them, they are certainly an eye-opening product to see compared to markets in the western world.

Experience the charming local village, beautiful nature, and authentic North Vietnam tribal region of Mai Chau for yourself! We recommend our Mai Chau Trails and Remote Vietnam and Laos by Bike.

Cycling through a Former War Zone

Posted on: August 22nd, 2016 by Sally Hoare
Posted in: Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka’s 25 year-long civil war officially ended in May, 2009. However, it took years to rid the country of over 1.6 million landmines and rebuild the war-torn infrastructure. Now that Northern Sri Lanka, formerly occupied by the Tamil Tiger insurgency, is considered safe to visit, it’s a great time to take advantage of the many newly rebuilt roads with Sri Lanka’s Tip to Tip by Road Bike.

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The flat expanses of Northern Sri Lana make for a great start to the tour- especially with the mountains looming ahead in the center of the country. The region is also dotted with wetlands, a perfect breeding ground for water birds. Bird sighting from the road was incredibly easy, and a highlight was counting 11 rare kingfishers in just one ride!

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At the northern tip of Sri Lanka is the Jaffna Penninsula and its eponymous city. Elephant Pass controls access to the peninsula, and is a somber stop and a glimpse into the war that waged across the small island not long ago. Three major battles played out at this strategic pass during the civil war, with many casualties on both sides.

While Elephant Pass is till a military base, a memorial has now been constructed to honor the selfless actions of Corporal Gamini Kularatne. The Sri Lankan solider died with honor, saving his camp and sacrificing himself by exploding grenades on a Tamil Tiger bulldozer laden with explosives.

Jaffna itself is still recovering from the extensive damage from the war. The population is slowly returning home after a mass exodus to escape the fighting and signs of the war are still evident. Seven years later bombed out buildings, bullet holes, and piles of rubble can still be seen.

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However, there are positive signs of rebuilding. Local life and the economy is slowly returning to what it once was, and cycling through the fish market we saw fishermen and sellers actively plying their trade.

Rebuilding efforts have resulted in an excellent new road from Jaffna via a causeway to the Kayts, a series of low-lying islands connected by bridges and ferries. Rebuilding also extends to schools, churches, and the Hindu temples protected by their deities are a colourful splash in the often somber landscape.

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Cycling provided a great opportunity to witness Sri Lanka’s thriving wildlife. We spied plenty of cormorants, fish eagles, kites and pelicans, all from the road.  Sri Lanka’s beaches as well, off-limits during the war, and taking a break at one we had the opportunity to relax and enjoy the northern tip of Sri Lanka. Back in the spread out city of Jaffna we rewarded ourselves for our riding with a visit to one of the many new ice-cream parlours.

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Leaving Jaffna we cycled to another peninsula and beach – Manar. This lonesome route was surrounded by military bases and reserves and so experiences minimal human presence except for the occasional cow herder. Animals were in abundance from dusky langurs in the bushes, to a myriad of birds in the water and air, and of course the cows we had to divert around. Once on the peninsula there was a new animal, feral donkeys. These are the ancestors of donkeys brought to Sri Lanka by the Arabs to carry spices.

The potential for Manar to one day become a beach resort is there, but for now the beaches are raw and natural. A welcome respite. Cycling back on the mainland we returned to the interior of the country and were soon back to more popular places to visit such as Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Dambulla, and Kandy. After spending days with no other tourists it took some adjustment but it also made the experience of visiting the north more prized.

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By Patricia Weismantel – Product Manager for SpiceRoads who joined the June 2016 tour of Sri Lanka’s Tip to Tip by Road Bike

Discover The World’s Most Unique Wildlife in Madagascar

Posted on: August 15th, 2016 by Sally Hoare

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Find out why Madagascar is a trending biking destination, where the call of the wild beckons you for a thrilling adventure in the lap of nature!

Salama! (Hello in Malagasy) and welcome to the lands of Madagascar, a small island country in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Southeast Africa. A collection of islands, Madagascar is one of the largest biodiversity hotspots in the world where you can find more than 90% species of animals that you can find nowhere on the Earth. The wildlife, the culture, the arts, the people – everything about Madagascar gives you a once in a lifetime experience. In the past few years, Madagascar has evolved as a trending biking destination with the nature and wildlife blending in with a thrilling adventure. The best time to visit Madagascar is anywhere between May, June and October when the country experiences relatively cooler season and with little or no rains.

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One of the unique things about the country is the vast diversity in the cultural aspect because each group or ethnicity follow and adhere to their own set of beliefs and cultures. One can find a variety of cultures and art in Madagascar and you would witness a few common elements that bind them all together like a common language and shared beliefs about God and Karma. Dances, plastic arts and oratory are features exclusive to the lands of Madagascar. You can collect a wide array of artifacts made out of wood, papers and even flowers that are beautifully made with intricate designs.

Malagasy people are one of the friendliest people and they are ever ready to interact with little ways to make your experience enriching with their customs and traditions. The Malagasy food is another exclusive feature of Madagascar with a vast variety of cuisines ranging from Southeast Asian cuisine to Chinese and Indian cuisine because of the wide descendants of these places settling in the lap of Madagascar.

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An extract on Madagascar is incomplete without mentioning its rich wildlife with species unique to itself and that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Roughly, 200,000 species of wildlife are known to exist in Madagascar. Having been isolated for about 88 million years the islands are home to a wide variety of the popular Lemurs and hundreds and thousands of species birds and plants. It is a true heavenly place for nature and animal lovers.

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A biking experience in Madagascar is one in a million and a very exclusive experience that comes once in a lifetime. The wildlife, the people and the various other components of the islands promise to provide a thrilling adventure.

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More related articles:

Experience Madagascar on Two Feet and Two Wheels

Exploring the magnificent Madagascar

Catch sight of a rare Lemur in the wild

Top 5 reasons to see Madagascar by bicycle