01.09.2013 - 13.11.2013
You might be wondering why I, amateur gourmande that I am, haven’t said anything yet about food. Well believe you me, it’s not for lack of trying, but every time I attempt to, words literally fail me. How can you, sat reading this at your computer, possibly understand just how good kachouris are, or how weirdly refreshing it is to feel a pani puri explode in your mouth, or the phenomenal sweet creaminess of lassi handmade from thick milk straight from the cow? I could give describing it a good go, but to be honest I think that would just be unfair on you. Suffice it to say that everything is just amazing (except one strange white vegetable that looks a lot like pear but is horribly bitter; I don’t like that. And the bread – that’s just awful. Sugary and pumped with preservatives). But I feel that I ought to say something on the subject, so here we go.
The vast majority of people I’ve been living with have been vegetarian, so I’ve mostly been off meat for six weeks. And, now this is something I’d never thought I’d say, I actually prefer it that way. I’ve really enjoyed being handed bowlfuls of mysterious vegetables that I’ve never seen before; I’ve given up asking what they are, because the answer doesn’t actually elucidate anything. The humble pulse has totally won me over, and I’ll be stocking up on dahl recipes before I go home. I have had meat, but it’s always been goat or mutton and has been incredibly fatty, something I’d generally rather not eat more than once a week. The chickens that I’ve seen outside the butchers’ don’t exactly look free-range, either. So I think that given the choice, I’m going to stick with vegetarianism. Besides, there’s paneer to add into the equation – not great on its own, but delicious when cooked up in a thick sauce with a fresh roti.
Then there’s a whole universe of street food. Everywhere you go, the streets are filled with stalls selling various different goodies; being out at the festivals is the most tormenting experience as I just want to stuff my face with everything going. Everybody seems to have their own favourite stall, but how you work out just which one that is out of the multitudes on offer, I have no idea. Same goes for chai wallahs; with everyone having their own individual take on that famous Indian beverage (which is what you’ll be getting chez moi from now on, by the way), you need to navigate the myriads of interpretations on offer. I personally favour a strong cardamom presence, but that’s just me.
And sweets... Indian sweets are just a whole different species. My adventures in Laddu-land has not been very extensive yet, but one day soon I’m going to buy myself a whole box of sticky treats and undertake a very serious, thorough investigation. What I can tell you is that sweet items seem to come under one of two main categories: quite delicately flavoured pulse-flour based delicacies, and seriously syrupy, oily pastries that have your teeth running for the hills. Either way, you can guarantee that they’ll be plentiful at all special occasions, from birthday parties to festivals, and even feature in religious ceremonies.
A quick note on mealtimes (sorry, I know this is a long post). Indians eat really late, and it’s something that my body has taken a long time to adapt to. Breakfast is at about 9, mostly something savoury (leftovers from the night before, maybe) and often a dairy dish such as homemade yoghurt or kir, which is a sort of rice pudding with dried fruit and nuts. Lunch is usually 2 or 3ish and evening meal not until 9 or even 10. Every meal will come with rice and/ or roti, and often with a potato (aloo) dish. And it’s a pretty hefty portion... people struggle to understand that I a) only eat one carbohydrate with a meal and b) don’t need a serving the size of my head. Generally people go straight to bed after dinner, having got up at dawn to start the daily house cleaning ritual.
The humble Friday night takeaway will never be the same again.