San Telmo

It’s spring in Argentina and on the streets, jacaranda trees were about to burst into full purple splendor.
colonial buildings. We rented a flat for a week in San Telmo, the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires.

San Telmo is lined with cobblestone streets, old-time cafes, tango parlors and dozens of antique shops. On Sundays, the main street is closed to traffic as artists sell their wares or perform on the streets.

I’ve posted a few images of our barrio. You can see the street festival, of course.

And the bars and restaurants.

Of note here are two. La Brigada, featured on Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” show on the Travel Channel. We went there with Raymond Broussard, my sister-in-law Sheila’s ex-husband. Raymond is really into eating all sorts of meats and so we did. Braided intestines and cow testicles were among them. I hope my Hindu family in India does not see this post.

The second place I loved in San Telmo was Taverna Baska, A Basque restaurant recommended to me by Time magazine’s world editor, Bobby Ghosh. Bobby told me to try the octopus. It came perfectly cooked, so tender that it melted like butter in my mouth, and slathered in a delicious paprika sauce. Yum.

More coming on my fabulous trip to Argentina. I’ve posted more photos on Facebook.

You go, girl!

This Sunday, I will be watching the premiere of “Aarti Party.”

Aarti Sequeira won this season’s “The Next Food Network Star” on Sunday night. A lot of us at CNN were rooting for her — she worked as a producer in the Los Angeles bureau for a while. And, we felt, she was the most talented cook among the finalists.

But I wanted her to win for another reason.

I loved the way she infused the spices of my homeland into her cooking. I watched her week after week as she turned out dishes with roasted cumin, garam masala, cardomom. Those were the smells of my childhood, the aromas wafting out of the kitchen and into my bedroom on a warm, muggy Kolkata morning.

Aarti makes things like South of the Border Shrimp Masala. On her new hard-won show, she says, you might expect something like a Sloppy Bombay Joe made with a chicken tikka masala sauce. YUM! (as Rachael Ray would say)

Every Sunday night, I salivated. And from the very first episode, I wished for her to perform well. Her cooking reminded me of my mother’s.

I admired my ma’s improvisational skills. Leftover McDonald’s fries would show up the next day in a chicken curry. Vegetables on their way to being thrown out would star in a Bengali-style mixture of five spice — nigella, cumin, fennel, fenugreek and mustard. Pure heaven.

In a way, I thought of my mother as the first Indian fusion cook. We lived in a small town in Florida. She could not always obtain the spices or ingredients she needed. So she substituted whatever she could find at the Northwood Mall Publix in Tallahassee.

Arrti had that same spirit of infusion and innovation. I wanted to taste whatever she served up. I loved her style, especially that big smile and even bigger flower tucked in her mess of black curls.

I enjoy watching cooking shows but have always lamented the lack of South Asians on the network. Finally, we have Aarti. You go girl!

I’ll be watching.

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