The Journal

Explorations, expeditions and experiences



Cooking contest, at its best!

makeshift Master Chef hats designed for the enthusiastic contestants by the lovely hosts

Last weekend, the air was hot, mood tangy and thoughts spicy. Something was cooking! Literally.

Men in the house had hijacked the kitchen and they looked as busy as popcorn on a skillet. The kitchen was out of bounds for the day with occasional utensil-falling, water-splashing and smoke-spewing episodes. After hours of heated activity, the son and father-in-law duo emerged out of the kitchen well-prepared for the journey to the all-hyped cooking contest in town.

Cooking isn’t exactly their daily cup of tea :-), but contest is serious business.

Kannada Koota members had announced a ‘Display of culinary skills’ contest. Guess what? It was for all men in the group! The event was hosted by the lovely couple, Pratibha and Sujay Kamat in their beautiful and cosy abode.

The 16 contestants were full of beans that evening. They put-together a variety of mouth-watering, finger-licking, lip-smacking delicacies with a good sense of humus.

Each one took utmost pride in showcasing his culinary masterpiece. Following were the items on the menu that evening.

Sl. No.ContestantsDishes
1Shivaethnic Chitranna
2Sujayspicy Chilly volcano (menasinakaay bajjees)
3Ravishankarheavenly Anna + Koli saru
4Raghuveerluscious Khara Pongal + Veggie Chinese
5Rajendraflavorsome Fish fry + Malai Tikka Boti
6Manjunathambrosial Panna Cota
7Ganapathiclassy Pasta Italian
8Nagendrazesty Papdi Sevpuri
9Shivanandaromatic Steamed turmeric leaf fish + Sabudana Payasa
10Sanjaysoothing Curd rice
11Sunilhot Masala tea
12Krishnasoulful Samosas
13Rahuldesi Makki roti + Himachali Redu
14Muralisucculent Corn strawberry salad + spicy buttermilk
15Vineeshheartfelt Veg Cutlet
16Vijaysavory Veg Biriyani + Kashi halwa

An assortment of yummylicious dishes prepared by the contestants.

All contestants put up a legendary effort and great show, giving the judges a tough time in choosing the best among the best! Judges were in full swing, under the leadership of Pratibha Aithal who devised a democratic voting and unbiased scoring system.

Everyone scores. No one scores their own family.

The judging criteria had three components including

recipe/ingredients, presentation and taste.

Chefs trying their best to woo the judges with their culinary and presentation skills.

All contestants gave their best shot at presenting their fruits of labor, while at the same time looking as cool as a cucumber.

Selecting the winners was indeed a hot potato. After much tasting, analysis and score-tallying the cream of the crop were announced by the esteemed judging panel.

First prize was awarded to Manjunath Prabhu for Panna cotta, an Italian dessert made of sweetened cream thickened with gelatin and molded. The cream made a refreshing delight aromatized with chocolate, vanilla and other flavorings, topped with cherry. The creamy, rich, smooth dessert was both elegant and delicious.
Second prize was awarded to Rahul for Makki Roti (ajwain wali) and Himachali Redu.
Makki roti made from corn flour, is rich in A and B complex vitamins that help keep sluggishness of winters at bay. ‘Redu’ is a curd-based quick-fix recipe that has a condiment of spices tempered in desi ghee. Its anti-inflammatory properties improve digestion and keep skin healthy.
Third prize was awarded to Shivanand Naik for his fishful thinking and cooking steamed fish in turmeric leaf and hesarubele-sabakki payasa. Turmeric leaf steamed fish is a delicacy of Karavali (coastal Karnataka) where he comes from. Apart from the medicinal benefits and aromatic bliss, this flavorful dish fills the heart and belly of a fisheterian with joy and content. He also whipped up a delicious payasa to please the vegetarians.
Winners of the Master Chef Kannada Koota receiving their prizes.

All other contestants were awarded with consolation prizes for their contribution. Cooking is not a piece of cake. It does take a lot of effort to cook and showcase! (agreed by the men this time).

While the contest was on, members felt free to indulge in the buffet and treat their taste buds. There was so much food all around. We did bite off more than we could chew!

To spice things up, the day also happened to be the wedding anniversary of Krishna and Sharada, which all members celebrated with joy and cake cutting.

In the end, it was less about the cooking and more about the camaraderie. Sharing is caring.
The experience was sweet and sour, and definitely fun!
In a prompt display of sportsmanship all contestants came together for a group photo.
You can have the cake and eat it (too)!

In a nutshell, it was a fabulous evening, where every contestant was worth his salt!

We look forward to more such fun-filled events and cooking (by the boys) in the future.

May everyone be fed.

(May no one be fed-up!)

Appu’s first trek to the waterfall

We parents always have a choice. To begin childhood of our kid(s) with Gadgets and Virtual Realty or with Nature and Reality itself.

Last weekend, we took our ten-months old baby boy Kanishk (Appu), on his very first trek to the Teraja waterfall, located at the end of Labi road in the pristine rainforests of Brunei Darussalam. Brunei located on the Borneo island, is blessed with lush-green jungles, stunning waterfalls and rich biodiversity. This outing was chalked-out and well-organized by the lovely members of the Kannada Koota in Brunei.

Forest walks are refreshing, healing and rejuvenating. In Brunei, people often go on jungle hikes, forest treks and boat rides. In Japan, they practice something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, which means taking in the forest through your senses. Back home in coastal Karnataka, India, I am quite familiar with forest walks in the jungles of Yana, Sirsi, Dandeli to name a few. This region of Western Ghats is a biodiversity hotspot. My husband Rahul, has been an avid hiker and a nature enthusiast. He has gone on innumerable hikes in the forests of Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. Although he cautiously and rightly notes that

there is a very thin line between adventure and foolishness.

Hiking with an infant, moreover, comes with its own set of challenges. It is best to decide otherwise, if the conditions aren’t favorable. However, we were fortunate this time as the sun-kissed weather, protective measures and supportive group members made this little adventure possible.

The key here is Preparation!

We headed from Bandar Seri Begawan to Labi by the tour Bus. En route to Labi, we took a breakfast break at the picturesque beach of Pantai Seri Kenangan, Tutong. This spot is one of its kind in Brunei, with the Tutong River on one side of the land strip and the South China Sea on the other. This beach takes me down the memory lane to Maravanthe beach near Kundapura in Karnataka, India, where the bustling National Highway 66 runs next to this stunning windswept beach and the gorgeous Souparnika River flows on the other side of this Highway giving it a spectacular sight! This also happens to be one of its kind in India.

Here at Pantai Seri Kenangan, Kannada Koota members had brought together a menagerie of mouth-watering, finger-licking assortment of dishes that made a happy fulfilling breakfast and an energizing break.

Well-fed and well-nourished we resumed our journey to Labi. After about an hour drive down Jalan Labi, we arrived at the longhouse venue from where the trek begins. While most group members including young children geared up with the essentials to begin our ~3 Km trek across the rocky streams and thick canopy of trees in the hilly terrain to Wasai Teraja (Teraja Waterfalls), a few elderly members including mum dad decided to stay back and enjoy nature from the gazebos located at the foothills.

Mum Dad chose to stay back at one of the gazebos with other members

Although fully equipped with the essential paraphernalia necessary for this relatively easy terrain, we had to overcome the initially dilemma of embarking on the very first trek with a child dangling on you. We started our walk in to the woods slowly, steadily and cautiously. The sky was clear, the air was cool and the weather was in our favor.

The key here is Pace!

There were few moments of uncertainty where I wanted to return. However, Rahul given his experience, encouraged me to keep moving ahead. In the company of wonderfully supportive group members and precautions in place, we continued to trek one step at a time. Appu was soaking the sunshine and was quite curious of his new surroundings. Surprisingly, he was calm and keen throughout. He did sip more water than usual, given the humidity of the jungle.

Hiking with Appu to the Labi waterfall.

And… Finally, we made it! We were super delighted to have reached our destination. I heaved a huge sigh of relief at the sight of the charming waterfall and the clear pond. All thanks to our little Appu who was unexpectedly co-operative for his ripe old age of ten months!

At the waterfall, Rahul took generous dips in the serene waters along with the others, while Appu felt, for the first time, the natural serene shallow waters with partial dips. He didn’t like the coldness of the water initially but soon warmed up to it and no sooner was smiling, cheering, babbling. After a few customary splashes, we quickly changed & fed him while preparing for the return journey.

Life is a journey they say – taking one step at a time through uneven paths and small streams in the pristine jungle.

It was all worth it! After about an hour at the waterfall, we headed back. This time the steps were brisk, the pace confident and the mood relaxed. An array of scrumptious lunch items were awaiting us at the gazebos! Upon arrival, we quickly freshened up in the restroom facilities and treated ourselves to the yummy dishes all the group members had pooled in. That felt like quite a well-deserved meal!

After food and a gazillion photo sessions, we headed to the Bus. On our way back to Bandar, the enthusiastic group was still high on enthusiasm despite the fatigue. We decided to stop-over at the Taman Rekreasi Hutan Luagan Lalak, a hidden gem in the Labi hills forest reserve, to enjoy it serenity and take some dusk pictures at the scenic wooden staircases and walkways spanning the lake. ‘Luagan’ in Malay means a large non-flowing water body. This freshwater swamp is covered with sedges, ferns and water lilies. People come here for photography, birdwatching, picnicking, strolling or simply meditating. While we explored the captivating beauty of nature here, Appu who was tired from the jungle trek was asleep, but managed a few glimpses now and then.

A panorama of Lake Lalak

That was one memorable experience! We had a great time on this outing with the high-spirited group members creating wonderful memories and milestones.

At the end of the day our hearts were filled with immense gratitude. Thanks to the perfect weather, people and preparation, we were able to create fond memories from the Labi outing.

If we are mindful and respect mother Nature, she always protects us.

This trek is also special to us as it happens to be our baby’s first one of the many many more ones to come. Getting to know and learning from nature is so much better than getting our children glued to gadgets. We look forward to introducing Appu to more such forest walks in future to experience the mesmerizing beauty nature has to offer.

The jungle says,

Take nothing but memories. Leave nothing but footprints.

The rhythm of Brunei – Gulingtangan

Gulingtangan orchestral music of Brunei has always amused me. The metallic melody reverberating from the wooden instruments is soothing to the senses. Often played on board the Royal Brunei Airlines, the melody lingers long after the journey ends.

Traditionally, anyone who owned the orchestral set was considered noble and wealthy. Gulingtangan music is used for royal celebrations, opening ceremonies that involve royalties and official events. It also acts as leisure or entertainment during ceremonies such as Hari Raya celebrations, weddings and get-togethers.

One of my Masters students, Abdul Zul’adly Bin Haji Mohaimin (Zul) is part the gulingtangan orchestra. He and his team deliver lessons and conduct performances at several events in Brunei.

Gulingtangan (literally ‘rolling hands’) is a series of small gongs in a casing made from the special wood of timbaran. The gongs are struck with wooden sticks to create melodies. It is played with other traditional instruments in the orchestra, typically consisting of Gongs, Canang Tiga, Tawak-tawak, 2 sets of Gendang Labik along with Gulintangan set. Modern musical instruments may also be added on to the ensemble. Although songs and instruments have evolved to include modern music, Gulintangan is at the heart of the orchestral band.


Traditional music of a region evolves with the human experience and helps trace the roots of culture and tradition.

The traditional Brunei rhythm consist of

  1. Irama Gulingtangan (traditional Gulingtangan rhythm)

which includes Kudidi, Gabungkok, Avasan, Seri Rama, Raja Lalu, Sakai, Hujan Lari, Raja Sehari, Seri Rama Bovan, Abut-abut, Gelombang Bertaduh

  1. Lagu-Lagu Brunei Asli (Brunei traditional folklore songs)

which include Alus Jua Dendang, Dang Mengalai, Kampong Ayer, Zapin Tar, Tudug Dulang, Adai-adai, Samalindang, Dong-Dong Oma, Indung Anak among others.

Below are some of the musical performances created by Zul and his team:

Kampong Ayer
Joget Seri Kenangan
Raja Lalu

Pooja Shivanand and Abdul Zul’adly Bin Haji Mohaimin

Weekend getaway to Kuala Belait, Brunei

‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever.’ – John Keats
Made time to step outside and witness the beautiful nature in the neighbourhood we seldom enjoy – a magnificent rainbow unfolding during the drive to Kuala Belait (KB), the extraordinary grandeur of golden hue dazzling across the skies during the beautiful sunset by the beach.

Drive to KB from Bandar after work over the weekend is refreshing. The towns of Seria and KB are lovely to just walk around, sight the iconic nodding donkeys which pump out oil, enjoy sunset by the beach and eat good food. Enough to get recharged for next weeks duties.

KB view2

The beautiful beaches in KB offer a breathtaking view of the sunset and vibrant colorful skies.

Tip: carry insect repellant to ward of sand flies on the KB beach.

KB beach

Take time to soak in nature’s delight. Its splendid beauty having a profound effect on the senses, rejuvenates and heals.

Whenever in KB, we stay at the Seaview Hotel. As the name suggests the rooms and service apartments here offer a resplendent view of the sea. The rooms on the second floor are carpeted and cozy. They have a promotion on weekends. Easy access to Coffee bean and supermarket in the ground floor.

Tip: ask for seaside rooms. The other side faces cemetery.

KB also has quiet places of culinary delight. We had a scrumptious Indian meal at the popular Zaika Restaurant which serves authentic north Indian cuisine. Their Masala lassi is ma favorite!

KB Zaika.jpg

Dinner was a lovely surprise at the beautiful locale of Ricardo’s La Galeria serving Mexican food. The ambience was colored with Mexican theme and enlivened with soulful music. The tacos and virgin mojitos are great.

KB Ricardo

If you wish to eat authentic lip-smacking, finger-licking, Indian aloo parantha, poori bhaji, chhole bature with jeear dahi and masala chhaas for breakfast (lunch and dinner), A4 restaurant on Jalan Mckerron, is the place to go to.

Tip: Just make sure you go on empty stomach! The yum food will stuff you to breathlessness.


Greenery of the Kuala Belalong forest

The dense green forests of Kuala Belalong in Temburong Brunei is a rich source of oxygen. You don’t feel tired even after climbing the 42 meters high and 150 meters long canopy, equivalent to 21 floors. The refreshing feel of fresh air and energy is sublime!


Speed longboat ride to Temburong

The exhilarating longboat ride to Temburong to explore the pristine rainforest at Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei. The breathtaking greenery soothes the eyes, the fresh air fills the lungs and the sheer speed of the longboat on the river spurs an adrenaline rush.

Canopy walk in Temburong

A climb onto the jungle canopy at the Ulu Temburong National Park is adventurous and refreshing. The view of the jungle canopy is breathtakingly beautiful. The National park is situated in the Temburong District of Brunei Darussalam, which can be reached by an exciting long boat ride.



Ambuyat  – The delicacy of Brunei.

Ambuyat is the traditionally indigenous, calorie-rich carbohydrate staple of sago starch. This gluey-starchy dish is made from sago powder (ambulung) which is extracted from the pith of Sago Palm (Metroxylon sagu). As part of the Global Discovery Programme by Dr. Yabit Alas in Universiti Brunei Darussalam, I had the opportunity to visit the Ukong Sago Factory in Tutong District managed by Mr. Yong Ming Leong. The bark of the sago tree is debarked using an iron rod. These pieces are grated by a machine. The mixture is washed with water in pulping process to separate the starch from the fiber. This water is then collected into a tank where starch settles down at the bottom over a period of 24-48 h. Starch sediments are dried into powder form . This powder is called ‘Ambulung’ which is packaged and sold in the Market. Ambulung is cooked by continuous stirring into a homogeneous mixture in hot water until it becomes glutinous. This translucent glutinous substance is edible and locally called ‘Ambuyat’ and is a local delicacy.


Haikus from my coffee-table


Hot coffee, chocolate cake. Fresh haikus I bake. – PS

The guitar strings playing music, remind me of my mother. Not too tight, not too loose. – PS

Shore embraces sea, sea cleanses shore. Separate and connect. – PS

Raw mangoes on the tree. Rain droplets on my cheeks. I smell home. – PS

Strong and quiet, the tree gives me shelter. Dad seldom speaks. – PS

Tranquil night, I face the moon. My shadow falls behind. – PS

Oxygen enters me, carbon dioxide comes out. I am worth it. – PS


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