Heaven is a Place on Earth

August, The Music IssueThe Believer

The first thing I saw when I landed at Mizoram’s whitewashed bird’s nest of an airport—a concrete block nestled between steep, bamboo-covered hills—was a cross. It stood erect and blazingly white in a shabbily landscaped plot of grass between the terminal and the airport’s lone runway. Bold red letters printed across the patibulum—which, mercifully, I couldn’t make out until I was off the 30-seat propeller jet and walking across the tarmac—read THY KINGDOM COME.

Full essay available in print only. Purchase at the link above

What to Eat for Breakfast in the Clouds

November 3, 2016 – Extra Crispy


Every morning is a cold morning in La Paz. The capital of Bolivia sits in a steep-sided basin 12,000 feet above sea level—the highest peak in the Rockies isn’t much higher—surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains and the flat expanse of the Altiplano. The sky is the kind of blue that gives its name to my favorite flavor of sno-ball, but that never quite materialized in the hazy Mid-Atlantic, where I grew up. Clouds are so close overhead that you can match them to their freeform shadows as they drift uphill. In La Paz, you often feel as though everything is uphill, the altitude working like a weight on your ankles, your lungs, your head. It can take days to stop feeling tired here, whether you’re a visitor stopping through or a resident returning from a more richly oxygenated sojourn somewhere closer down to earth—which is anywhere at all. (more…)

Get to know India’s souring agents

7 October 2016 – Saveur.com

It’s a safe bet that when you think of India, you think of spices: cardamom and cloves and peppercorns, cinnamon and cumin and coriander, fennel and mustard and turmeric. And while Indians use these aromatics with as much delicacy and finesse as anyone, they’re far from the only ones that do. Indian spices are world-shaping commodities that have lured colonists and built empires obsessed with the flavors that at one point were only found on the subcontinent and in Southeast Asia.

But it’s a different story for India’s souring agents—twangy sources of acidity that define regional Indian cooking just as much as some key spices. Where an American cook may brighten a sauce with a squeeze of lemon or dash of vinegar, and Indian might turn to powdered green mango to tart up a kebab spice rub, or add a curl of tamarind-like kokum to a seafood a curry.

Since these flavors never really traveled beyond India’s borders, they may not pack the romantic punch (or heady nose) of a north Indian garam masala. But they’re at least as central to Indian cooking—and undoubtedly more unique—than the spices that first made India rich. Here are seven worth knowing. (more…)

One Night at El Pinche Gringo

27 September 2016 – Roads & Kingdoms

I was at a party organized by Democrats Abroad for the many anxious Americans currently living in Mexico City. Attendees were registered at the door and then herded toward a large, metal trailer, hollowed out to serve as a kitchen, where they ordered brisket and ribs and coleslaw. A giant American flag blazed across one wall. Next to it were three enormous, neon letters: BBQ. Dozens of picnic tables were crowded with American families and young Mexicans who had donned Hillary Clinton 2016 T-shirts, purchased for 150 pesos. That was about eight dollars when the debate began; it was a little more just two hours later as the value of the peso rose along with Clinton supporters’ spirits. (more…)

Eater Maps: The 38 Essential Mumbai Restaurant’s

25 May 2016 – Eater

Mumbai is a daunting place. There are 22 million people here. Population density averages 21,000 people per square kilometer (in Tokyo it’s about 6,000). It’s crowded and noisy and the traffic — complete with fumes and an endless barrage of car horns — is torture. Inequality is profound and inescapable. But Bombay, as the city was known until 1995 (and still is known by many of its citizens), is also a place of immense hope, drawing people by the million from across the Subcontinent to make their fortunes. Some have succeeded. Many more have failed. But they’ve all brought their food.

Plagued with nagging fears of intestinal distress, many first time visitors approach the city (and particularly its food) with caution bordering on paranoia, a senseless way to experience a place defined by its mad affinity for foolhardy gambles. This list of 38 essential experiences is far from comprehensive — it focuses on the historic south and central suburbs where visitors are likely to spend their time at the expense of more distant, and increasingly populous, suburbs — but it nonetheless offers a cross-section of this city’s many tight-knit communities, its closely nested worlds. Because India’s greatest metropolis is at its chaotic, democratic best when it eats.

See the full map as part of Eater’s Global 38 series

Bhopali Cuisine

Autumn 2015 – The Art of Eating

The New Afghan Hotel, owned by Karim Khan, lies hidden down a blind alley in the bazaars of old Bhopal, the capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. From the bylane that passes for a main road, the restaurant is completely invisible, blocked by a second restaurant, which is confusingly, and inaccurately, called simply the Afghan Hotel and is owned by Jameel Khan, one of Karim’s ten brothers. The front of that second “hotel,” a word that in India often means a simple, canteen-like restaurant, opens directly onto the street. Bright lights from inside shine on skewers of mutton and chicken that dangle over a row of grills sending banks of smoke like ghosts into the night. The pungent smells of meat, charcoal, and oil from deep-frying would be familiar to anyone who has spent time in the historic Muslim quarters of Old Delhi or Hyderabad, cities celebrated for their rich courtly cuisines. The specialty at Khan’s restaurant, a dish simply known as Afghan machli, or Afghan fish, would almost certainly come as a surprise.

The full essay appears in issue 95 of The Art of Eating.

Hill Stations: India’s Historic High-Altitude Getaways

28 September 2015 – Travel+Leisure

Despite centuries plundering the tropics, the British never quite squared themselves with the world’s balmier climates. They tolerated Bombay in the winter and built themselves gracious mansions in Calcutta and Madras and New Delhi, but pick up any novel or memoir from the period of the Raj, and you’ll find woeful complaints against the unhealthy climate of the humid, malarial lowlands. (more…)

Growing Up Quicker with Marico

July 2013 – Civil Society

It’s been 13 years since Akshaya Patra served its first meals to 1,500 students at five government schools across Bangalore. Since then, the organisation has become the world’s largest midday meal programme, providing nutritious lunches for 1.5 million students across nine states last year.

Though Akshaya Patra has not yet attained its ambitious founding vision that “no child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger”, the organisation has demonstrated remarkable capacity for growth, increasing its reach 1,000 times in only 10 years. By 2020, Akshaya Patra hopes to reach fully 5 million children, and aspires to complete obsolescence by 2030 when, they hope, lack of food will no longer be an obstacle to education. Yet a simple question remains: how will they get there? (more…)

Preparing for the Oxfam Trail Walk

January 24, 2012 – GQ India Online 

In the span of 48 hours, from January 25-27, some 650 masochists will walk 100 km for a very good cause. The Oxfam Trailwalker event will see roughly 160 teams of four traverse country roads and paths between the towns of Anekal and Bidadi outside Bangalore.

Before congratulating themselves on their stamina and largesse, however, these teams have had to prepare. After all, 100 km isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Rather than going out and walking ourselves, we at GQ India decided to gather a few helpful fitness tips from return participants in the Oxfam event. We think of it as preparedness by osmosis. Here were the tops pointers for getting into shape: (more…)

Helpline for kids gets bigger, smarter

Cover story, November 2012 – Civil Society

The Flyover on Tulsi Pipe Road runs along the western side of Dadar station, one of the busiest rail depots in Asia. Beneath it, within shouting distance of the station’s fifteen platforms and the teeming elevated pathways that connect them, a pair of rooms serves as the local field office for India’s first and largest helpline: Childline.