I have not quite mastered the eating with the right hand technique, mainly due to the fact that I am left handed and eating with the left hand is not COOL. The food is also very saucy which causes quite a mess for the inexperienced right hand eater. Although South Africa is home to a huge Indian population I have never had a two week intense Indian food experience and other than India being an incredible country, I had a great foodie experience. Some interesting tastes and perceptions include:
- Gulab jamun, classic Indian sweet made from deep fried dough balls served in syrup.
- Jalebi, flour batter deep fried and soaked in sugar syrup, the end result looks like deep fried onion rings in batter, often served with breakfast, reminds me of South African koeksisters
- After the meal, anise seeds and small sugar cubes to clean the mouth and freshen the palate
- Ghee, clarified butter used instead of oil or to flavour food, the result, amongst others is the most delicious potatoes (alu)
- Lassi, yoghurt drink served salted or with fruit (sweet)
- Chia tea, sweet and made with milk, offered to visitors everywhere
- Pani, water, not being used to the water, all visitors are advised to drink only bottled water
- Vegetables (mainly gaajer (carrots), gobi (cauliflower), kaddoo (pumpkin), piaz (onions) and okra (also referred to as ladies fingers) cooked with ghee, ginger and some spices (Masala), usually mild
- Dhal, curried lentils sometimes a broth, traditionally served as an accompaniment to any Indian meal, never realized there are so many different types and accompanying flavours, some mild, some quite hot for my taste
- Riata, chilled yoghurt flavoured with spices, some mild and some not so mild to my palate, sometimes with diced tomato and cucumber, usually an accompaniment to the main meal
- Cardamom, a very versatile spice used in rice and meat dishes and most desserts (the vanilla of India), in tea, as a mouth freshener
- The bold use of cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fenugreek and ginger, not to mention cayenne pepper, chillies and garam masala (translated as hot spices)
- It’s easy to be a vegetarian in India and in my case I preferred the vegetarian options as the meat and meat cuts, often sold open on the street, are not very appetizing
Prior to travelling in India I was familiar with roti, naan and poppadums. I never realized that there are such a wide variety of other bread and pancake type options. My favorites include:
- Appam, south Indian-style rice pancake with holes and soft in the middle
- Chapati, unleavened bread made of wholewheat flour and bakes on a round griddle-dish called a tawa
- Dosa, crispy, savoury, south Indian rice pancake
- Iddli, south Indian steamed rice cake
- Phulka, a chapatti that has been made to puff by being placed directly on the fire
Another observation is that I like to cook a four or six course meal for 4-6 guests. In India it is definitely a case of ‘the more the merrier’. For religious festivals or at traditional weddings the temple kitchens often serve meals to hundreds or thousands of people and they do not stop till the last one is served.
Last, but not least, one can easily fall into the trap of traveler’s diarrhea, in India also referred to as Delhi belly or Bombay belly, usually caused by contaminated food or water. It is recommended not to drink tap water at all, always bottled water. Also not to eat raw or seemingly fresh food, especially on the street, e.g. cut fruit, lettuce, tomato, cucumber. Although some of the juice bars look very inviting, the unwashed glasses pose a serious risk for the more sensitive western tummy.
Two weeks is not nearly enough time to learn about Indian cooking and although I toured the Patna hotel kitchen, I would love to spend quality time in an Indian kitchen. My consolation prize at the moment is my ‘Simple Indian Cookery’ book by Madhur Jaffrey.
Incredible India, a remarkable experience.
Namaste & shukriya (Goodbye & thank you)