People who know me know I love to cook – and in great part that is because I love to eat. This latest trip to India was a treat in this sense. Along with lots of Indian food that I’ve had many times before, I got to try many new things – many of which I won’t be able to find here in Canada.
Rather than intersperse every entry with food pictures, I’ll put them all together here:
We start off with new food not long after we got on the road. Our first stop: a layover in Amsterdam. You can’t go to Amsterdam without having poffertjes. Tiny light pancakes covered with powdered sugar and served with jams and nutella on the side. I’m not usually a fan of sweet breakfasts but it is hard not to love this one.
From this point onward, we were in the midst of a non-stop feast. Food would be offered to us continuously for three weeks. The 7.5 hour plane ride from Amsterdam to Mumbai had a full meal and two substantial snacks and ice cream. It was a good thing because we would need this energy to get us through our long wait in immigration.
Immigration cleared, but our flight missed, we take our food vouchers and head for the domestic gates. It’s time for breakfast and what better breakfast than chana bhatura – a chickpea curry with fried bread on the side. I’m glad to see sliced red onion available. In Indian restaurants in Canada it’s not usually provided, but here you can usually find it provided to put on top of your food often along with some lime wedges and delicious whole green chilies.
A few days later we have one of our biggest breakfasts – this one from South India. To give ourselves a maximum of different options we share three plates. The first are idli – a steamed bun made of rice. The idli itself doesn’t have a a whole bunch of flavour but it’s served with coconut chutney, tomato chutney, and a spicy sambar – a lentil and vegetable stew.
Next they bring vada. These are savoury “donuts” made from lentils. They’re quite flavourful with a hint of chili. These are also served with more chutney and sambar. After eating this we notice that just as North American diners fill your coffee up when it gets low, the South Indian restaurants we went to would top up our sambar when it would get low.
And then finally the dosa comes This is a thin and crispy crepe. It can have all sorts of different fillings but this case we go for the standard masala dosa – spicy potatoes with chili, coriander, curry leaves, and a few bits of split chana dal in it for texture.
We leave and stumble across a samosa stand. Delhi is known for its street food and we must try this. It costs the equivalent of about $0.50 – actually a little more expensive than the 3/$1 ones we get back home. But then we see why. They’re hot and delicious. They are fried in oil but there’s barely a trace of the oil on it. The outside is crispy and the inside doesn’t just have potato, it has dal as well. We will be dreaming about this for years to come.
We arrive in Rajasthan and both the quality and quantity of food goes up. We have one of our first thalis of the trip. Despite the massive quantity of food the waiters come by to bring refills for the dishes and more bread.
But it doesn’t end there. That afternoon I get a call from a relative of one of my coworkers who happens to live in Jaipur. We’re going out to dinner. It’s going to be another thali – but this time, it’s going to be a Rajasthani thali. Many local dishes, five different kinds of bread, four desserts, multiple savoury curries.
My favourite new dish of my whole trip ended up being the one at approximately 3:00 on the thali. The ker sangri is a local dish made from berries from a desert tree along with some beans. I think it is the presence of chilies and mustard oil that is doing it for me. I am completely stuffed but the waiter kept bringing more bread, more ker sangri, and other dishes. Also notably wonderful are the green chili pickles in the small bowl at 9:00 and the garlic chutney – the small red bowl at 7:00. This was truly a case where I keep eating long after I was full because it was SO delicious.
I wake up the next day and I don’t need a very big breakfast. A couple of slices of toast and chai and I’m good. I’m still digesting the last two meals. Even when lunch comes around, I’m not terribly hungry. I want something light and end up getting another dosa. This time it is stuffed with vegetables – mostly shredded cabbage. It is light and delicious. It is served with the usual sambar, coconut and tomato chutneys and (yay!) more garlic chutney!
That night my coworker’s sister and brother in law pick me up again for “pre-dinner”. We’re going for street food. As we go out, our host tells our friends “I’m making dinner so don’t overfeed them!” I’m so surprised by the trip I don’t bring a phone. We get there and are fed massive quantities of paneer tikka – grilled paneer (fresh cheese) covered in mint chutney, yogurt, tamarind sauce, coriander, and onions. It’s followed by gol gappa – small crispy containers of spiced potato and flavoured water, mint chutney, onions, yogurt, and more tamarind. We are getting full and they’re still bringing more. Finally they bring jalebis. The closest western dish would be “funnel cake” but these are crispy. Fried in pure ghee (clarified butter) and then dipped in warm sugar syrup, they are amazingly delicious. We are now completely stuffed and can’t eat anything more.
When we get home, our host is ready for us and I think she knows what we’ve done. She mischeviously insists that we each have a big plate of rajma chawal (kidney bean curry and rice) and two chapatis each.
After these days of feasting I tone things down a bit and eat more reasonable thalis like this one:
But on the last day we ended up going on a food tour with our host. We tried many of the things you’ve seen above and then headed over to Egg Dee – a stall specializing in nothing but egg dishes. As we were already full, Daegan and I order a single omelette to share thinking that we could manage it. We were imagining an omelette of the size we’re used to back home with 2-3 eggs. I think this may have had six eggs plus cheese, chutney, and tomato sauce. It was as much a pizza or a lasagna as it was an omelette and was served on three slices of toast.
Here they are cooking the omelettes:
And here is the massive meal we were given – after we had already eaten a ton of other food. We couldn’t finish it.
After Jaipur we head to Maharashtra and have a whole bunch of new foods. We board a train for Ratnagiri on the Konkan coast and are fed a delicious breakfast of idli, puri, sambar, chutney, and mango juice. It is followed by hot water for tea but I use the hot water for my own personal stash of instant coffee instead.
We get to the cottage we’re staying at and spend the next several days eating all of our meals outside. It’s about 25 degrees in the morning and about 33-35 in the daytime but the shade and sea breezes make it totally bearable.
Our breakfasts were also really good here. One of the most common breakfasts we had was poha – a dish made of pounded rice with onions, chilies, curry leaves, coriander, coconut, crispy sev (thin fried noodles), and lime juice.
Back to Mumbai we went, this time trying a few more dishes while we were there:
When we were on our first visit to Mumbai with Sangita, we had tried misal pao. A dish of sprouted beans and spicy sauce. Seeing that we were not from around there they toned down the spice level a bit. This was a little disappointing but we decided to try it again somewhere at full spice levels.
These guys were a bit skeptical that we would like it being as spicy as it was but they gave us some.
This whole dish cost about $0.70. It wasn’t terribly spicy (spicy enough, though!) but it was quite amazing.
Back in Delhi we hit a few more spots for even more delicious food:
We thought we were pacing ourselves until we went to visit the relative of a friend. When we arrived he sent out for more chana bhatura for us all which was some of the best we’d had since we arrived in India. And then, because a meal isn’t truly complete until we have dessert, we each had gulab jamun – the small cakes below in a sweet sugar syrup.
The next day was our last and after a large breakfast at our host’s house we headed over for a special visit. Bindu of 90rollsroyces.com invited us over to hang out and have lunch with her and her husband, Krishnan. We have a great time chatting and learning about their lives and the great work they do with their educational NGO Shikshadaan.
Just as Bindu did, we also forget to get photos of us all together or of the food but we do get to have fantastic food. We have a biryani and a Keralan vegetable curry that were simply delicious and take only 4 minutes and 10 minutes respectively to cook. (Watch for some of my attempts to use the same amazing “One Pot One Shot” method Bindu showed me that made it so quick and delicious). Her mom also makes us amazing homemade dosas, spicy Molaha podi mixed with sesame oil, homemade coconut chutney and homemade pickle. It is, without a doubt, the best South Indian food not just of the trip but of my life. We enjoy ourselves so much that the time passes quickly and we must head back to the metro. Our flight back to Toronto leaves in just a few hours. I will take home not only memories of great meals shared with great friends, but also a bit of inspiration to cook some new and different things myself.