Obese Hong Kong food writer battles back pain and temptation on India walk to shed the kilos
Mischa Moselle loses another 8cm from his waistline but struggles to recover between walks and, despite avoiding rice, fears the flour-battered deep-fried potato will be his undoing
I’m off to the beach but forget sunbathing and swimming – I’m too busy avoiding goats.
The beach at Beypore, near Kozhikode (Calicut) is one you may have seen in photos. To one side is a majestic sweep of golden sand fringed with coconut palms, to the other lies a red and white lighthouse overlooking the Lakshadweep Sea. Next stop Africa.
Well that’s how it looks in photos. I hit the beach and see rubbish everywhere. Then there are the goats. They’re everywhere the rubbish is, busy eating.
My idea of nature appreciation is watching Shaun the Sheep but even I’m horrified at how litter-strewn the place is. So I walk along a promontory that is just about 500 metres into the sea. It’s a much nicer view with the land behind me.
This turns out to be the first day I hit my 16-kilometre target and I’m on such a high I plan to go straight to that target every day from now. The next morning I need 400mg of ibuprofen and a kind word from a friend to get moving at all – my back’s killing me and my inner thighs are chafed red raw.
I don’t reach my target again for days. Missing my children is a good motivator – if I’m not out walking I may as well be at home watching my son play Minecraft – but I’m still not fit enough to walk 16km on a daily basis. I hadn’t thought it would take so long between walks to recover and I have no idea how to speed up the recovery time.
I do manage to explore Calicut, taking in the hectic town centre with its material and clothes shops, a church bazaar and a boat-building yard. This turns out to be near the rubbish-strewn beach but here craftsmen are making something truly beautiful, wooden dhows. What’s most remarkable about their work is that it isn’t done from blueprints – there’s a scale model of the boat to work from and that’s it. Built by hand, these dhows may look medieval but they sell for about 10 million rupees (HK$1.16 million) in the Gulf states.
I move inland to Malappuram district, a small town called Perinthalmanna. From here I walk several kilometres to Thirumandhakunnu temple and, melting in 30-degrees Celsius heat, I climb the steps all the way to the sign reading: “Non-Hindus not allowed in the temple complex.”
The country town has few other charms and I move down to Fort Cochin. I’ll say much more about the old port next time, but should mention that there are goats here, too.
As I wrote last time, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to do what my doctor asked and avoid rice, but it’s been comically difficult. This is India. I’ve been offered rice boiled, steamed, compressed in bamboo and steamed with coconut, as Kerala-style biryani, as rice flour cooked as a cake of noodles and also steamed as a lacy pancake called an appam.
There are light-brown discs of deep-fried rice, dotted with red rice, served with deep-fried coriander leaf and pristine white puffed rice grains mixed with several chutneys and a chilli sauce. Then there is the gloriously scented rice pudding cooked in coconut milk and spices.
But the potato might be my downfall, specifically the vada. It’s a tennis ball-sized sphere of earthy-yellow, garlicky, creamy smooth potato. Onion, hot mustard and tangy coriander seeds are sometimes added for crunch and the whole is flecked with slices of green chilli and coriander leaves. Next it’s rolled in a thick gram flour batter and deep fried. It has totally won my heart.
Despite having stayed in seven places as bases for my daily walking and a gentle approach to reaching my 16km per day target, i have failed dismally on this front I have managed 86 km instead of 315km. If I don’t shift more in the next two weeks my target will be next to impossible.
Now for the moment of truth: I’m 132 centimetres around the waist, which is a further loss of 8cm.
I measured twice to make sure but it’s true. This small victory is a fantastic early Christmas present.