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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Food, Glorious Food In India

I ate well in India, but it certainly was a mixed bag.

Unfortunately, when I ate in the "Tourist" and hotel restaurants I found, as in many other parts of the world, the menus were all very similar. While much of the food was excellent, the restaurateurs had obviously learned to please Western palates. The side effect of that was a blandness and sameness in those restaurants. However, I quickly realised that my driver literally paid a price if I ate at a restaurant he didn't choose - because he had to then pay for his own meal. Any driver taking a client to a restaurant dined free of charge in a separate area. I could see the logic in that so I let him choose the restaurant for lunch and I did my own thing in the evenings.

I also quickly learned that "mutton", which I've since been told is probably goat, not sheep, was an unwise choice. I didn't mind the bones, they added flavour and good nutrition, but the concept of leaving a little meat attached to the gristle and bone seemed to escape the chefs on the three occasions I tried it. The picture is from dinner in Agra - after I had finished.

On the other hand, the various different chicken and vegetarian dishes I had were excellent. I'm afraid I didn't note individual dishes or menus.

Two restaurants stood out. The Hotel Arya Niwas was a laid-back, casual place, and by far my best value-for-money Hotel during the Indian visit. This sign was a wonderful sight for a traveller in Asia, so they started on a good note when I arrived. Their restaurant was also laid-back but supplied incredibly cheap excellent vegetarian food. I mainly ate breakfasts there, usually eggs in various forms (I suppose they were ovo-lacto vegetarian if you're into that sort of thing). The other guests praised their dinners to me; I try to find a non-vegetarian restaurant when I can, but the one dinner I had there was excellent. In Delhi I found a place called Sandoz, in the Karol Bagh Market area, which had a delicious menu of non-vegetarian dishes quite different to the standard "tourist" fare; allowing me to easily pick and choose to suit my low-carb way of eating. A nice touch in most restaurants was the complimentary dish of sweets provided at the finish. I liked them, but was fairly cautious in indulging.

This delivery bike in Karol Bagh was for a Chinese Restaurant with a Japanese name. One had to wonder where the chef was from .

The Golden Arches and other fast-food franchises are appearing in India. They do OK with the rapidly expanding wealthier middle class but I never saw one crowded. I ate a McAloo Tikki in Jaipur as the price for using the loo. Thankfully, I didn't find out the carb count until I got home and I walked a lot that day so I probably corrected the blood glucose spike. One thing I noticed was that ALL of the clientele, apart from myself, were aged 15-25 and wearing Western dress. That was not the case for the general population walking past.

The streets were thronged with people and many of them were buying their lunch from street vendors. Wherever you went there would be a roti-bread baker with a mobile oven, producing roti bread on the spot. Often these vendors were positioned outside small restaurants; the restaurants cooked their own foods but used the street vendors for the bread they served with it. Similarly, in side alleys would be a street vendor brewing stewed, sweet, milky, cardamom-flavoured tea. I stopped to sample a glass regularly with my driver.

Other street vendors provided a wide selection of spiced dishes. Most restaurants are vegetarian, but non-vegetarian ones could be found.

The best fast food in Agra, Jaipur and Delhi was like that - available on the spot from small restaurants or street vendors. Cheap, nutritious and fairly safe because most of it was thoroughly cooked despite the speedy service. I had no stomach problems in India.

There is another side. On the drive from Jaipur to Delhi my driver suggested we stop for lunch at a driver's restaurant. Not just for tourist car drivers, but for the drivers of the constant stream of trucks. To say that it was basic is an understatement. A large shed, a roof over a lot of trestle tables and seats, open on most of three sides with an open lattice as the rear wall. The cooking was done in a rudimentary kitchen in the corner in several pots and skillets over a fire or in a tandoor oven. There was a large water-tank next door with a hand-pump, but the only people I saw using that were the kids playing with it.

It was very crowded. The smells of the spices and foods cooking were wonderful, everyone was cheerful and talking, the noise was like a bar. We found a couple of empty seats and the driver introduced me and then ordered his lunch and asked what I would like. By that time I had watched the guy sitting opposite devouring the vegetarian curry with the flies on his spoon as extra protein, and the total unconcern for the flies crawling all over the food by others at the table. I politely indicated I wasn't hungry.

I needed to go to the gents, so I asked where it was. From the reaction it seemed to be an unusual request, but eventually I was directed to the area behind the see-through lattice. There I found a square of dirt enclosed on three sides by a lattice attached to stakes at the corners. The open side faced the lattice of the restaurant. No water, no facilities, just the bare, well, not quite bare, dirt with some soggy areas. I suddenly didn't need to go so badly.

On the way back to the table I saw, like a shining beacon in the distance, the golden arches on a lit sign on high pole. I'm not a Maccas fan, but that was a happy moment. As soon as my driver had finished his lunch I went there for lunch and the amenities. Once again the crowd was small, the kids were young, and, most surprising of all, the food was cheaper than the crowded driver's restaurant. But none of the drivers were in Maccas. Traditions are hard to break, and they would also have missed the social contact with the other drivers.

I found the Indian culinary adventure tasty, fun and enjoyable, despite the mutton and the driver's cafe, but one day I'll return armed with better knowledge for a better tasting experience.

Cheers, Alan

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