The Food Issue

There are 3 things we love about India. The people, the food and the culture. Today we’ll look at the food. Indian food. I’ve been eating Indian food for over 30 years and I really like it. I’m going to assume you’ve already tried Indian food like samosas, pakoras, dals, naans, and those thick gravy dishes from Northern India that are so popular in the US. I won’t be talking much about those foods here. If you haven’t tried India cuisine, I recommend that you check out a place like Taj in Manchester, NH., or grab some samosas from Kathmandu Bazaar in Concord, NH.

Dals, naans, and those thick gravy dishes from Northern India popular in the US. Photo from Pixabay
Samosas. Photo from Pixabay

Eating in a foreign country can be downright dangerous. I’ve been mildly ill when traveling a few times. Laurie has been really sick from food poisoning once in Vietnam. We’re really cautious about what we eat when we travel. It’s really a practice in mindfulness. Back home we can eat pretty much anywhere and not have to worry about it. Granted you can get food poisoning in the US, but you really need to be careful while travelling. We must pay attention to what is going into our mouths. Travelling in Asia we’ve learned to avoid anything that’s not cooked, that means no fresh fruit unless we peel it ourselves, no fresh vegetables unless they’re fully cooked, this also means no salads or garnishes. Street food is usually out of the question. Bottled water only, even for brushing teeth. Keep your lips pursed while showering too.  We even go as far as to avoid any cold or room temperature sauces, like chutneys. We keep an eye out for water drops on our plates and glasses as the local water can be a source of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. This is part of what makes our travels so much of an adventure 🙂 So let the adventure begin!

There are a lot of links in this post if you have the time click through and read more.

Once we settled into our AirBnB room in Bombay we needed to find a place to eat within walking distance, as our place does not  have a kitchen to use. We search online for vegetarian places, read the reviews, and then do a walk by. The first place we tried was Green Village Cafe which has mostly western style food, omelettes, coffee, chai, gluten free stuff, bakery items with no sugar and decent wifi, which was key because our AirBnB has no wifi. I’m finishing up this blog post at Green Village Cafe on Christmas morning.

Green Village Cafe. Photo courtesy of Dineout

Diving deeper into Indian food. Our next mission was to find a Indian Veg restaurant. We decided to try Gateway, a half block from our room. The food settled well and we didn’t get sick. Thus, we eat at Gateway once or twice a day. And we’re back in our routine of eating only twice a day while travelling. Gateway is where we dove deep into Indian food over the past few weeks. Our average cost for 2 entrees with 2 teas or sodas is about $5 USD total for the 2 of us. We were able to order most items cooked with no garlic and no onions, as we do not normally eat either back home. Gateway was really accommodating and later we found out that there are some religious sects that do not eat garlic and onions (this is not our reason) and our friends in Vapi, India (more later on that food) do not eat garlic or onions either.

Here’s are some of the dishes we tried at Gateway:

Bataka Vada – Large, 2-3″, potato fritters, coated with besan (chick pea flour) and fried. Spicy and delicious. Vada are fritters, dumplings, or donut shaped. 

Palak Masala Dosa – Super thin very large crepe filled with spinach (palak) and spices (masala). Dosa are very large, very thin, fermented rice and lentil batter, folded or wrapped, with a variety of fillings as options.

Paneer Uttapam – Smaller, thicker than a dosa, pizza-like food, this one had shredded cheese. Uttapam are smaller but much thicker than a dosa, and with toppings, not folded or rolled like a dosa, more like a small pizza

Dal Makhani – Typical north Indian dish of lentils.

Idli – white steamed rice cakes made from fermented lentils and rice. This is served with Sambar – a lentil based veggie soup, with tamarind, drumstick tree a brand new thing to us, eggplant, pumpkin, or okra added. Sambar usually comes with as a side with dosa, idli, and vada. 

Plenty of roti (bread)  Lots of chai. And soda, plain fizzy soda in bottles. Seems like a safe choice. The food is spicy, but doesn’t seem spicy anymore to us after spending a few months in Thailand last year.

Everything at Gateway was delicious and interesting. The staff is great. The menu is extensive.

I warmed up to having Idli, Vada, and Sambar for breakfast (middle picture). It was tasty and filling but not too much.

From great Indian food to the best Indian food. A few weeks ago we took a side trip to Vapi, a 2 our drive north, where we stayed at a gurukul for a week, with friends we made a few years ago. Probably one of the best kept secrets is that Gujarati food is the best. The Gujarati food at the gurukul in Vapi is absolutely the best of the best. For a week we were treated to 3 meals a day which blew our minds. Huge variety of lots of different dishes every day. Really tasty. Mostly healthy. It’s spicy, and it’s great.

Some of our favorites were:

Kitchidi – rice and lentils cooked in curry (a mix of spices), yogurt, cumin, curry leaves (different than curry), turmeric, and ghee.

Rotli, methi paratha, and other tasty breads are served at every meal, as is sambar, (soup) dal, shaak (veggies). There were also chutneys, yogurts, and buttermilk which I stayed away from. 

2 of my most favorite Gujarati dishes served were Handva – a besan flour batter with veggies, black pepper, mace, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg, pan fried into a cake. It was amazing. I gained weight. We were also gifted some for our train ride back to Bombay. The other items is Mohanthalanother besan (chickpea flour) treat made with ghee (clarified butter), sugar, nuts, rose water, cardamon, and saffron. I couldn’t help myself, or I should say did help myself 🙂 I miss the food whenever I’m leaving this place, but we’re fortunate to have Gujarati friends right in Webster, NH. They will be the first people we visit upon our return 🙂

From the best Indian food to the street food of Bombay. After returning to Bombay from Vapi we were coaxed by our host, Manoj, to have a night tour of the real Bombay, complete with trying street food, something we’ve always been against. He lobbied us for days, all the time assuring us everything was going to be OK. Last Sunday night around 10:30 PM (we’re usually in bed by 9 every night), succumbed and headed out in a car to check out the neighborhood nightlife and food scene. A block from our room Manoj pulled over to a streetside stand and told me to go and order “ache wada pow” or 1  Vada Pav. I summoned up my best Hindi accent and did it. The vendor took a tiny white-bread bun, sliced it in half, took a small vada (potato dumpling), with 2 different kinds of chutney (remember, no chutney!), and probably a chili, and made what I would call a micro-sandwich. Cost 14 cents. I returned to the car and we all took a small bite. Next we drove to a well lit, busy street. Got out of the car and went into a sweet shop. Our host handed the cashier about 65 cents and got a paper ticket. We took the ticket outside for 6 Pani Puri, very small crispy, hollow balls with a hole in the top. There was a line waiting and a man making them as fats as people could eat them. They fill it with some kind of flavored water (remember, no water unless it’s from a sealed bottle), tamarind chutney (remember, no chutney!), chili, and various other vegetable ingredients. We downed 2 each. We drove around some more to see the city’s nightlife and stopped once again for Meetha Paan – a bizarre concoction of a sturdy leaf, lime powder, candies and fruits, clove, coconut, cardamon, sugar, ?? We split it 3 ways and ate it (remember, no food unless it’s cooked). It didn’t look like something one would eat. Not sure of the price.

We ended out night out with chai from a stall around the corner from our place. A stall I would probably never drink a chai from. I ordered 3 in Hindi. The guy starting asking me a bunch of questions in Hindi. I shook my head side to side and he gave me 3 chai’s in paper cups that were so hot I could not touch them, never mind bring them to the car. He did it for me. We downed the chai’s and headed home to bed.

As I was trying to relax and fall asleep I tried to forget how many of our food rules we had broken, probably 3. I felt OK. I tried to shift my attention away from the food we had just tried  on to more pleasant things like how fortunate I am to be able to travel to interesting places like this with Laurie, and meet wonderful people like Manoj and his wife Atisha, the friends we made in Vapi a few years back, all the great food and exciting experiences we’ve had in India over the past 13 years. I fell asleep. I didn’t have to get up during the night. When I awoke I knew everything was fine. Food poisoning usually shows up 2-6 hours after eating so I was all set. Keeping an eye on body temperature and bowel movement over the next few days I was in the clear for most other ailments. We had done it. We had broken the rules and tried street food in India. A few days later we went out for another night of street food in Bombay. All is well. No symptoms to report. 

There is one more Indian treat that we tried. We had heard that people are fond of taking Jalebi, a popular sweet, pretzle-like, sugary, deep fried thingy made from aida flour (fine cake flour) saffron, ghee, sugar, batter deep fried, and eating it with Fafda, a rectangular, tortilla-looking chip made from besan flour. The Fafda, or chips, are eaten together with the Jalebi, creating a sweet and salty snack. On one of our night tours we saw the Fafda, but they were out of Jalebi. A few days later we were on our way to a friend’s birthday. We stopped by the shop and they had both available so we bought a bunch. When we arrived at the apartment we were really surprised. The whole family from Vapi had driven 2.5 hours down to Bombay to celebrate their daughters birthday, and it also surprised us. It was a great time. We even had ice cream.

Jalebi & Fafda

Tonight we say goodbye to India as we head to Thailand. We’ll be back in India in late January.

Until then, bon appetit!

 

 

 

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