Kochi Lulu Mall: The most incredible mall food court I’ve ever been in

Shopping is not really something I do much anymore in person. If I have to buy something, I usually will just go online, try to find the best deal, do a few clicks, and have something delivered to me. Being in malls while traveling is something I also avoid. Part of it is because I don’t necessarily travel solely to buy things, and the other part is that Chris absolutely detests malls. But when I found out our hotel was literally right next door to the famous Lulu International Shopping Mall, I figured we might as well go check it out, and if for nothing else, then most definitely the FOOD COURT. Food courts in the U.S. absolutely bore me, but internationally, I always find them interesting, similar to how I like going to local markets and supermarkets. It’s fun to see what people like to eat in other places.

Lulu Mall covers over 17 acres, so it’s not only one of the largest malls in all of India, but it’s also the number 1 tourist attraction for Kochi the city on TripAdvisor apparently. Inside, there is a massive arcade and entertainment center, as well as a bowling alley. The “hypermarket” on the main floor was a total zoo, but had every single grocery and kitchen item imaginable there. When we got to the food court, my jaw almost dropped: it was like an Indian foodie’s dream: almost everything I could possibly want to eat that is Indian food was there. All the usual northern Indian dishes were represented, but the southern Indian food representation was INSANE. Endless dals, curries, appams, dosas, idlis, Kerala fish fry, Kerala beef fry — you name it, and it was in that freaking food court. And then, what REALLY got me excited: THERE WERE ENDLESS Indian Chinese food options!!!!!

In New York, we have Tangra Masala to satiate our Indian Chinese food cravings. It is still, to this day, one of my top 5 most loved restaurants in New York, if not the world. When Chris ordered some chili noodles today from a stall at the food court, it was so, so addictive: it had that nice wok fry flavor, Chinese seasonings, with Indian spices and heat. It was so, so good. While Kaia can handle a decent amount of heat for her age, these noodles were clearly spicy for her; she kept going back for more water, and as she ate more noodles, she kept slurping, indicating the heat was getting to her, but kept going back for more, in between bites of her mutton biryani.

In addition to these stalls, we also got excited at a juice stall, where Chris picked up freshly blended kiwi juice; a FALOODA Nation stall (OMG OMG, falooda!!!! LOVE); and an ice cream stand that just had different fruit flavors, even jackfruit and alphonso mango, of kulfi. I could have honestly spent the whole week just eating at that mall and have been totally satisfied.

Kerala: Land of coconuts and our first real taste of toddy

Kerala, the mother and fatherland of Chris, literally means “land of coconuts.” “Kerala” comes from two words: “kera” meaning coconuts, and “alam” meaning “land.” And it’s no wonder that Kerala is named what it’s named because literally everywhere you look and turn, there are coconut trees everywhere. It’s kind of like being in Hawaii: even if you were poor and homeless, if you had the ability to climb a tree, you’d have food.

Today, we took an all-day tour to Allepey to ride on a private boat along the backwaters of Kerala. Allepey is not only the place where Chris’s nana was born, but it’s also a popular destination for backwater boat rides and stays in Kerala. In India, Kerala is not only known for having the highest literacy rate, but it’s also known for being a popular domestic honeymoon destination. One of the things I looked forward to most here was being able to finally try the ever elusive “toddy,” a sweet, naturally fermented drink that is produced from the sap of coconut trees in the state. When first tapped from a coconut tree, the toddy is already a bit fermented, but after a few hours, and then a few days, the strength of the alcohol gets higher and higher. Our guide had us stop at a toddy shop along the water, and we hopped off for a glass of toddy each.

We each ordered a glass of toddy, tapped fresh this morning, and it was certainly a unique flavor: slightly sweet, almost rice-like in flavor, with an interesting light effervescence that is quite similar to that of kombucha. The closest thing I could compare it to that we’d had previously on our travel was makgeolii, the raw rice wine we drank from a local drinking spot in Busan, Korea. After having tasted this, I could already imagine how much more delicious appams could be if made with fresh toddy. Appams were something I didn’t know about before Chris. When I met his family, his mom made some appams from a mix (by the way, I usually hate on boxed mixes, but seriously, India takes “mixes” to a whole other level — the quality is high, and there’s never any preservatives in these things! HOW DO THEY DO THIS??!), but I was hooked and knew I had to try making it myself. While they are still tasty using mixes and/or yeast, the flavor of course would not be the same as when made authentically with fresh toddy. Unfortunately, from what Chris’s mom shared, as well as our guide, fresh appams made with fresh toddy is almost like a relic of the past; people just don’t make it this way anymore, and if they do, it’s only for very special occasions like Easter dinner.

The cute part of our visit to the toddy shop was when Pookster saw us both drinking the toddy and thought it was milk. She started reaching for it, and when we wouldn’t give to to her, she had a bit of a melt down. Having her alongside us on this trip has definitely made this India visit completely different (and in some ways, more exciting and more of an adventure) than back in June-July 2018 when we first went as a family of two. It’s been exhausting, but I keep telling myself that all these moments will pass us, so we have to enjoy her at every stage for what and who she is. And it’s moments like this, when she confuses toddy for milk, when I really smile and think, wow, it feels so good to be here with her and know that she’s our sweet, rambunctious baby.

Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Lounge at Hamad International Airport

Once upon a time, I had no idea airport lounges even existed. I thought everyone lugged themselves into airports and sat either at the food court or the gate, waiting for their flight to take off. Then, I got access to the United lounge in LA, and I thought it was pretty underwhelming. Other than getting access to the lounge Wi-Fi, having outlets, and maybe some of their subpar trail and nut mixes and snacks, I didn’t understand why anyone would pay to get access to the United lounge (eww). But what finally did me in was when Chris first took me into the British Airways lounge at JFK on my first flight headed to Australia, and I was sold: a huge fountain awaited me as I entered, and the food and drink was ridiculous. It was like being in a true “lounge” where you had access to endless food, booze, and comfort.

I have since been in a number of incredible lounges run by Qantas, Japan Airlines, and Cathay Pacific. But nothing could really prepare me for the vastness that was the Al Mourjan Business Lounge (South) at Hamad International Airport during our layover in Doha en route to Kochi. First, there was a north side AND a south side lounge. Second, the space was just endless: a smoking/cigar room; a massive business center; a children’s playroom with huge bouncy castles and endless toys; multiple dedicated baby changing rooms that were HUGE and pristine, cleaned after each use – they even supply diapers, diaper cream, baby lotion, and wipes on request; a family center where you could spend time with your family and not worry about making other people mad due to children’s noise; quiet rooms that can be reserved for up to six hours at a time, essentially mini hotel rooms, to sleep in total silence and privacy; full bathrooms and showers that can be booked and will be cleaned before and after each use. And as for food options, there is also full-service dining and a buffet, multiple baristas for freshly made coffee beverages; a made-to-order sushi and sandwich counter, and endless rotating desserts, both western and Middle Eastern style.

And that still doesn’t cover everything if you can believe it! Right now, a Dior spa is in construction for the north side lounge, and a gym is also in progress so that you can fit in a workout ahead of your flight. There’s also a pay-per-item Louis Vuitton restaurant inside the north lounge. A number of different seats, couches, and lounge arrangements were everywhere. Kaia really loved all the different water fixtures, especially the fountain that had jumping water. She also loved that she could run around freely on a wide, open floor plan.

I think what really stood out to me was how family friendly the entire place was. Here, you’d never have to worry about your children being taken care of and not having them seen as a nuisance or annoyance. Here, children are accepted as part of the overall energy and life of the lounge; they aren’t inconveniences. There are endless places to change your baby’s diapers and ensure your own comfort as a parent. People even go out of their way to ask if your baby is comfortable or needs anything else. In fact, on the Qatar flights, Kaia always was treated like a VIP passenger; the flight attendants always asked if I needed anything additional, whether it was food or drink or blankets or bottles, for her. Kaia even got a diaper/change kit that was reusable with Qatar Airways’ branding. Qatar always has baby food (pouches) on all flights, unlike on American Airlines, where you have to specifically request baby food, and then follow up a number of times to ensure that it even got onto your plane. Honestly, that AA experience was just laughable in comparison, especially given then, we also flew business class and they wanted to starve my baby. If only the U.S. could be a bit more like this was.

The Qsuite experience on Qatar Airways and melatonin for baby

For our trip to South Asia, Chris booked us business class tickets on Qatar Airways, which means we would get to experience Qsuites on our outbound flight from JFK to Doha. Qsuite is oftentimes talked about as the “world’s best business class” experience. You essentially get your own small suite with a full lie-flat bed, ambient mood lighting, generous storage space, plus a sliding door to close for full privacy during the flight. You get a nice, quilted mattress, a plush and thick royal purple duvet cover, and as the bonus I wasn’t thinking about at all – an exclusive Diptyque amenity kit. I’ll be honest: every time I went to the bathroom in flight, not only did I get excited about having a WINDOW in the huge bathroom, but I also enjoyed misting my face and neck with the Diptyque rose facial mist spray. It had just the right amount of floral, rosy scent without making me smell like a granny.

And as one would expect flying on a Middle East airline, the service was excellent – very attentive, and maybe even more so given we were flying with our toddler. Kaia got lots of attention – as much milk and cereal as she wanted, as well as some little plush toys (sadly, she’s still not really into any stuffed animal, but it’s the thought that counts, right?). The food was also incredible – it was the very first flight where I’d seen LOBSTER as an option for a main course. I was also obsessed with the karak chai, which you could either get with saffron or cardamom. And I even had a mini afternoon tea spread for breakfast that came with delicious finger sandwiches, scones, jam and clotted cream, plus cute petit fours.

And in preparation for fully enjoying the Qsuite, Chris got what he called “a very important” purchase: a tiny bottle of melatonin drops for Pookster — to “help her sleep and adjust.” A lot of parenting groups talk about this for toddlers to use in flight, plus to help with jet lag.

“What – I want to enjoy my Qsuite experience! I’m paying for it!” Chris insisted when I wrinkled my brow at him when he showed the dropper bottle to me.

When the in-laws see us off… from our own apartment

Thanks to a stubborn dad and even more stubborn son, our travel to Kerala and Sri Lanka is actually starting while Chris’s parents are still here. Chris had told his dad not to book certain dates that could interfere with our summer travel; his dad was insistent on getting specific dates for their frequent flyer/round the world flight bookings, and so while we are leaving for Kerala tonight, Chris’s parents will be spending two more nights in our apartment until they leave on Wednesday morning for Melbourne, connecting in Dallas. What a strange idea to think of my in-laws seeing us off… from our own home.

So we gave them instructions in terms of things they had to finish eating (two mangoes, two avocados, cherries, grapes), and how to take out the trash and recyclables before they leave. What we also wonder is: what will they do in New York while Chris isn’t here to drag them from point A to point B, being their de facto tour guide and control freak son?

The Polish Bakery apple cake and my father-in-law’s listening skills

Today, we took Chris’s parents to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. We stopped by a semi-recent favorite spot that we’ve found: Old Poland Bakery, which is a tiny little bakery that sells an assortment of fresh breads, cakes, and other pastries. I picked up some apple cake and babka for later, and we kept going. We had a late lunch (at Di an Di! One of our faves!), so we were quite stuffed and didn’t have a regular dinner that evening. But when we got home, I insisted that we had to eat the apple cake I picked up from the Polish bakery; surely, they had to have some space for a little sweet? So Chris’s mom responded and said she’d have a small slice. Chris responded and said, no, everyone has to have their full slice (I got enough for four people, since the bakery charges for these cake slices by weight). We served the cake to Chris’s mom after Chris’s dad insisted he didn’t want any since he was too full. His mom offered it to dad, who said, “OK, I’ll just take a bite.” What ended up happening? Well, without even realizing it, he ate half of her slice, and then said quite loudly, “Oh, this is actually quite light.” Chris’s mom got mad, responding, “Tony! Just say that you want your whole piece!” (This was his usual code for, “I want more, but I don’t want to explicitly say it”). So Chris gave him his whole piece, which he ended up inhaling in just minutes. And when Chris’s dad was almost done, with just a few bites remaining, he turned to me and said, “Yvonne, this cake is absolutely delicious. Did you make it?”

I shared this story with Chris’s brother over text, to which he responded, “This story sums up Dad to a T: Not listening, saying he doesn’t want food, then eating all of Mum’s, and even has an example of Chris being a control freak.” All in all, it was a perfect summary of the von Jacob family dynamics.

Kaia’s kimchi eating impresses the Korean waitress

Yesterday night at Korean BBQ, Kaia really stole the heart of the server who was helping us with our barbecue. Not only did she impress her by being able to eat kimchi (“SHE KNOWS HOW TO EAT KIMCHI?” the server asked me, astonished. “Yeah,” I responded. “I’ve been giving it to her since she was about 8 months old.” She then proceeded to tell one of the other wait staff this, who also murmured with amazement back), but she also impressed her with her vocabulary (being able to say “meat” and “beef!”), as well as blowing kisses. When Kaia finally got loose after she was “all done” with dinner, she started wandering around the restaurant, and each time she got close to our server, she’d demand a hug, which of course was given by our server, who clearly was obsessed with our demanding little toddler.

I wonder what the maximum age is when a little kid’s cuteness can no longer be the show stopper that Kaia is now. Everywhere we go, people stop us and oogle over what a little doll she is. And once she starts blowing kisses… it’s almost like everyone just wants to take her home with them.

When your father-in-law gets a bit drunky

Chris was out with his parents and Kaia this afternoon. They went to Central Park and the playground there to let Kaia burn some energy and have fun with the sprinklers. They eventually made their way to the Other Half Brewery at Rockefeller Center, where I met them after I finished my work day. As soon as I arrived, I thought that Chris’s dad seemed quite happy… a bit happier than he normally is. While he’s always the kind of person who sees the bright side in things and always is deeply appreciative of the littlest things, this time, he just seemed a bit… TOO happy, as in, did he have too much to drink? By the time I had arrived, each of the adults had already consumed one full sized beer each, plus a beer flight. To me, that sounds like quite a bit of alcohol per person, and for Chris’s dad, it was probably a wee bit too much. He kept remarking how amazing of a day they’d had, what a great trip this was, over and over and over again. It was a lot more frequent and with a much bigger smile than usual. Then, we went to eat Korean BBQ at a restaurant across the street from the brewery, and again, over and over, he kept declaring that this was the very best Korean restaurant and food he’d ever had in his life, that this was just the best of the best. And the other three adults kept chuckling, remarking how drunk he was, and carried on. Plus, on the way home, he kept poking and slapping Chris’s mom, who kept raising her voice at him and telling him to knock it off because he was embarrassing her.

It was quite amusing, and quite the sight to see. While I’ve always known Chris’s dad as a person who does quite enjoy alcoholic beverages, and wine in particular, I don’t recall ever seeing him in a state I’d label as “drunk” before, and it’s been quite some time — over 11 years! It was good to see him let loose and have some fun.

Playing dress up with baby

When our ex-nanny was here, she frequently said that if she had it her way, Kaia would have had anywhere from 5-7 outfit changes per day. Her rationale was: babies grow so fast, and so they don’t have much time to get too many wears out of their clothing. So the only way to maximize the wears was to have them wear a different outfit every few hours. While that is way too high maintenance for me, I also did not let the nanny do this just because I thought it was ridiculous. But when it comes to certain outfits, I do have my favorites, and one of the most recent ones is an Indian outfit, a top and a long skirt, that was handed down from a friend of mine, whose kids are also Indian and Chinese. Her husband, while on a work trip to Delhi, purchased the outfit for their daughter, who has since outgrown this, so she gave this to Kaia. I decided that Kaia would wear this while attending a Lincoln Center Summer in the City kids’ concert called My Paati’s Saris: Dance Story Time. And when I put her in the magenta and gold-flecked two-piece outfit, which fit her perfectly, Chris’s parents went absolutely nuts. They tried to photograph her in every which way possible to get the best angle. Even Chris’s brother was obsessed and made the photo I shared his lock screen photo on his phone. Little babies and toddlers wearing different outfits, especially cultural ones, is just the cutest sight. No one can resist them!

Kaia’s Chinese

At 18 months of age, Kaia is extremely verbal. We’ve been excited to hear her constantly say new words and match words to objects or actions. I’ve been curious to understand at what age children are able to differentiate what language they are speaking or is being spoken, and how they are able to map that out in their minds. So far for her Chinese, most regularly, she says “xi shou” for “wash hands.” She’s also said “xi fa” for wash hair, and “mian” for noodles. I know she also associates “shui jiao” with “sleep” because she always whines and whinges whenever I say it around bedtime, then tries to make a beeline out of her bedroom. But for other things, I’m not always sure.

This morning, I was giving her breakfast, and the final part of it was sliced red grapes. I held up a bunch of grapes and asked her, “Kaia, what’s this?” She immediately smiled and responded, “Pu tao, pu tao.” In that moment, Chris’s mom got confused and asked, what is she saying? But I knew exactly what she said and just felt so damn proud. I felt like my whole body lit up.

“Pu tao! YES, BABY! That’s right! Pu tao! That’s ‘grape’ in Chinese!” I exclaimed, excitedly.

I was a bit worried when she started daycare because they always sing English songs, and it was very clear that she preferred her English songs to the Chinese nursery rhymes I’d sing her. She used to know a couple of the Chinese song verses and sing them, and even our ex-nanny noticed this. But once daycare started, she stopped, so I wasn’t sure if she’d even want to sing the Chinese songs anymore. But with this single act of saying “pu tao,” that worry got put to rest, and my hope for her continuing to learn Chinese was reignited.