New post under Ruminations.
And on the seventh day, we took a break from Indian food. On our last night in Delhi, T-bone was craving a Big Mac, and no amount of naan would pacify him. We headed over to the McDonald’s in Connaught Place (Delhi’s central shopping area), where we discovered that half of Delhi had the same idea. This meant that we’d be waiting forever, because Indians simply do not line up – they shove their way to the front at all times and in all places. Depending on your perspective, this can be really fun or really irritating. The best thing to do is to shove back, or follow the advice of my friend Jenny and bark “Mind the queue!” I sometimes got into a good shoving spirit, but Todd found it frustrating at all times.
The McDonald’s line had its usually cheery effect on Todd, but when he finally made his way to the cashier, he had an even worse shock: McDonald’s in India serves neither beef NOR pork. No Big Mac, and no bacon to make the chicken burgers palatable.
This way, they avoid offending Hindus (holy cows) AND Muslims (unholy ham). Not sure where this leaves Brahmins (no meat and no garlic) or Jains (no meat, no garlic, no onion, and no root vegetables), but I guess you have to draw the line somewhere. Instead, McDonald’s offers chicken, paneer (soft cheese) and egg options. We both went with the chicken.
Todd’s “burger” was the usual mound of compressed chicken bits. Mine actually contained real meat, but instead of the widely advertised breast meat that North American McDonald’s uses, this one trumpeted its THIGH meat. So this is where all the non-busty bits go to die!
It was a pretty sad experience overall. We clearly didn’t learn our lesson, though, because the next day, I tried to purchase a coke at the airport McDonald’s. After shoving my way to the cashier, I asked for a coke. He informed me (and I am not joking), that McDonald’s does not sell fountain drinks that are not part of their combos. I asked if I could buy a canned drink instead, and sadly, those too were off limits. So strange…
Lesson learned: always eat curry instead of McDonald’s. Curry will never let you down.
India has the best snacks, assuming that your tastes run more towards fat-bombs and spice and less towards freshness and health. One of our important goals for this trip was to leave knowing that we had eaten an adequate amount of Indian snacks. I think we can safely say that we fulfilled our mandate.
The best/worst part of snacks is that they generally are sold/consumed either outside or in trains. When you are outside or on a train, you generally have filthy hands, and are in the public eye. Both excellent pre-conditions for consuming messy foods.
Let’s start with the familiar. Samosas are one of my favourite Indian snacks. They are comprised of a gram flour (chickpea flour) shell filled with a potato/chickpea/pea/spice/etc mixture. The resulting concoction is thrown in a vat of oil, and fried until it begs for mercy.
A variation on the samoso theme is the kachori. Strangely enough, I had never tried one of these delights. It also has a potato-based filling, but the outer shell is made out of wheat flour rather than gram flour. Based on my limited experience, it seems to be fried even longer than samosas, and when it is removed from the oil, the kachori-walla gouges a hole in its center and fills it with spicy sauce.
(The crater in the middle of the flavour volcano).
Todd made it his mission to eat chaats (savoury snacks) before we left India. We found a promising chaat-wallah outside the Amber Fort in Jaipur, and ordered a round. He tossed together a mixture of rice crisps, lemon, chilli, onion, tomato, deep fried gram flour crisps, deep fried lentils, peanuts, and salt. This really is the genius of Indian food – taking a set of unlikely ingredients and creating beautiful harmony.
Enough with the savouries! On to the sweets. We consumed an embarrassing number of Indian sweets on the trip. Indian sweets are all generally based on the same few ingredients – milk, sugar, and spice (sounds a bit like chai…). These ingredients are then shaped into a variety of forms. My personal favourite is milk cake – a fudge-like dessert that tastes like buttery sunshine.
And last and probably least, a good ol’ packet of Hide & Seek biscuits (“India’s finest molded chocolate chip cookie”) and chai. For times when you’ve ingested enough bacteria and want some processed/packaged fat and sugar.
When we were in Jaisalmer (our first destination, after Delhi), T-bone and I had the opportunity to go on an overnight camel trek. I’d gone on one years ago, and the romance of it was still emblazoned on my brain. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how painful it was (like riding a horse x 10), and we spent the trip gimping around bow-leg style. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful trip, and included some interesting food.
We were served 4 meals on the trip – two breakfasts, one lunch, and one dinner. The breakfasts were identical, and the lunch and dinner were variations on a theme. Our first breakfast was served in our camel driver’s hut.
The second was served in the dunes.
Anything tastes good when you’re out in the cold, but I have to confess that the breakfast combo was a little biased towards the carbohydrate end of the spectrum. On both days, we received no less than an entire loaf of toasted white bread, a package of cookies, fruit, fake jam, and sugar-bomb chai. Oh, and cracked-wheat porridge. Good thing I’m a pretty lazy soul to begin with, or this combo would have had me bouncing off the walls/dunes.
Lunch included chappatis, a cauliflower/cabbage curry, and pickle (a spicy chutney).
Dinner was a beefed up (oops – shouldn’t mention beef and India in the same sentence) version of lunch. We had chappatis, vegetable curry, dhal, rice, and pickle. Our camel drivers cooked the meal over an open fire, where we all huddled against the cold.
The camels also had some tasty treats, including a sack of grain, twigs, and, when their buddies got too close, camel butt. Apparently, there’s nothing like a mouth full of filthy hair and faeces.
When we left the dessert, protein was the first thing on the agenda.
I was a little remiss in my breakfast duties, and didn’t properly document the range of Indian options. However, I think I have enough to give you an idea of the available options. Everywhere you go (in tourist areas, at least), there is the inevitable toast and omelette option.
The standard version is a two-egg masala (in this case, a mixture of tomato, onion, cilantro, and chilli) omelette accompanied by four slices of white toast, butter, tea, and fake jam. I’m not sure what it is about India, but for a country that does so many culinary things right, they really do jam wrong. Unless you get the real (ie: expensive stuff), it tastes like rotten jello.
Anyway, on to more interesting foods. A typical northern Indian option is aloo puri. Aloo refers to a potato curry, and puri is a deep-fried flat bread. The combo is delicious, but man, is it a load of fat first thing in the morning. I only ordered this once. Ok, maybe twice.
A typical southern Indian option is dosa, a rice-flour pancake. Other south Indian favourites include idli, uttapam, and vada, and they are all based on the same idea – fermented rice dough, formed into various shapes. It sounds weird, but it’s delicious. In the photo below, I am eating a paper masala dosa. The dosa is the crispy pancake, while (as far as I can tell) “paper” means that it is 5 times the size of a usual dosa, and masala refers to a potato curry in the middle of the dosa. The dosa is accompanied by coconut chutney, and sambar (spicy lentil soup).
Nothing like getting your day started right!