10 Indian Foods I Tried

While on my 5 week sojourn in India, I tried a few Indian foods. Ok, I tried lots and lots of Indian foods. Sometimes I stuck to the same ol’ favorites, like sag paneer and sometimes I branched out to things like goat (not so bad). And there were plenty of times that I skipped the Indian food and dove straight into some hummus. Apparently, an abundance of Isreali travelers in India means an abundance of hummus along the tourist trail. Fist pumps in the air.

During the entirety of the trip I took pictures of the new foods I tried. God bless, PZ for bearing with me on this one. Most of the time she was accommodating as I rearranged the table setting seven times and demanded that she not start eating until I’d taken three pictures of her food. And other times the hunger made her impatient. Can’t blame her there.

So here are a few of the foods I tried…

Masala Dosa

I’m just gonna go ahead and start with a favorite. I still get excited about masala dosas whenever I see a picture. The dosa is a fried bread made of rice flour. On the inside there are potatoes mashed a bit and mixed with spices (masala).

Masala dosas are commonly available in Southern India where rice grows more abundantly. Once we moved up north the dosas became a rare sight.

Another thing about masala dosas: they are a breakfast food. I would usually crave one around dinner time. After multiple nights of asking restaurants if I could get a masala dosa and receiving looks like I had just asked to eat pancakes for dinner (I’m ok with this too), I gave up and ate them for breakfast instead, even though a big bite of masala is not my idea of an awesome breakfast.

Lime Soda

This became another favorite on the trip. A lime soda = lime juice + soda water + sugar. This is the single most refreshing drink on a hot day in India and I’m not even a fan of carbonation. This drink is seriously good.

Warning: if you order a lime soda, the server might assume you want a salty lime soda. While it might be fun to say that you have tried a salty lime soda they taste like you’re eating a lime while swimming in the ocean. Gag.

Warning #2: Sometimes adding sugar to the soda water makes the drink explode and turns into a huge mess on the table and in the lap. Solution: add sugar with care or get someone who knows what they’re doing to add the sugar for you.

Thali

This is basically an all-can-eat platter of whatever is in the kitchen. Thalis are commonly eaten for lunch and come with a heaping helping of rice (mine had yet to arrive when I took the picture). The sides usually include a curry or two, dhal, a yogurt dish and a dessert. Also, this simply must be eaten with the hands. There’s really no other way.

Idly

Here’s another dish that is commonly eaten in the south. Idlies are made with the same rice flour batter as dosas, however idlies are steamed instead of fried. These idlies came with sides of a watery curry and a yogurt mixture. This is another food that is eaten more around breakfast and lunch time.

My honest opinion of idlies: too spongy. They do taste pretty good with the sides though.

Lassi

Mango lassi, banana lassi, coconut lassi, mmmm…I like lassies. These drinks are basically a blend of yogurt and fruit. A mango lassi during the peak of mango season is one of my all time favorite drinks.

Warning: lassies are typically served warm. So if you’re expecting a cool refreshing drink to escape the heat, this might not be it.

Gulab Jamun

I like to describe these as fried pancake balls covered in syrup. I think they’re mighty fine, though I can only eat a few because they are oh so sweet.

I for one like to watch people go nuts over gulab jamun, whether it’s observing the bustle around a vendor or a little girl asking her mom for more, more, more. These are clearly a popular dessert option.

Chai

Ok, I cannot lie, this is not really a picture of chai. It’s a picture of coffee. How I made it through 5 weeks in India and 700 cups of chai without taking a single picture is beyond me. It just fell through the cracks somehow.

Chai is black tea (typically Assam black tea) made with milk, masala (spices) and a whole lot of sugar. This stuff is available everywhere and we were often offered cups by complete strangers, which we usually accepted.

The best cup of chai I had was in Jaisalmer while I was visiting a family. The mother made the chai from scratch with extra black pepper and hardly any sugar. So good.

Since I brought up coffee earlier, I’ll go ahead and describe it: very sweet and very creamy. Not my favorite.

Aloo Tamatar Masala

Breakdown: aloo tamatar masala = spiced potatoes and tomatoes. This was one of my go-to dishes in India, because I love potatoes and tomatoes. Throw in some seasonings and I am a happy girl. Sometimes this dish came very spicy and other times it wasn’t spicy at all. This one tastes good with rice or chapati.

Egg Burgi

Here’s an example of a dish that I randomly pointed to on the menu. Sometimes that’s just what you gotta do when you want to try new things. Overall, I really enjoyed it, but I’m a glutton for eggs.

Basically this dish is scrambled eggs with spices. It’s fun to wrap the eggs in the chapati (similar to a wheat tortilla), take a big bite and then lick all the juices off your fingers. Maybe that’s just me.

Ker Sangri Curry and Gatta Curry

 This is a meal of desert dishes we enjoyed while overlooking the desert view in Jaisalmer. We asked our waiter to bring us dishes specific to the region and here’s what we got. Plus, we ordered a side salad for some crunch, not a dish native to the desert.

Ker Sangri is a type of long bean that grows in Jaisalmer. Our server brought us the ker sangri cooked in a sweet and spicy yellow curry. Gatta curry is curry with dumplings made of chickpeas inside. The chickpea balls added an interesting taste and texture to the dish. I was sad that we waited until our last day in the desert to try these dishes. Now, I must live off of this one fond eating experience until I return again.

Mutton Saagwala

Mutton (goat) was on the menu at virtually every non-vegetarian, Indian place we ate. Being that PZ and I are recovering vegetarians we were always a little hesitant to branch out in our repertoire of meat eating experiences. One day in Agra we grew brave and decided to finally try mutton.

This dish is mutton prepared in a spinach and potato gravy. We both love spinach and hoped that the addition of a different meat in something we already like would make the process go smoothly. And for the most part, it did. The mutton wasn’t too bad. It reminded us a little of beef with lots of fatty pieces attached. It was fun to try something new, but I don’t think we finished this dish. I still prefer vegetables.

What’s your favorite Indian food?

Advertisements

5 Best Places to Visit in India

I’ve been home from my two month India/Nepal trip for about three weeks now and the reminiscing is in full effect. There are so many places we stopped by and so many people we met. Here’s a list of the top 5 places in India my mind keeps drifting back to.

Udaipur

This is a fairytale city if I’ve ever seen one. I want to eat Indian food at cozy rooftop restaurants and watch the sun set over the lake every night for the rest of my life. If you know someone who invents a machine that could do this, let me know.

Goa

Sort of a wasteland of hippie travelers, but that’s what makes it fun. The beach is nice and the people are friendly. I have so many fun memories of sitting around with new friends and sipping lime sodas under the sun.

Mumbai

There is so much going on here. There’s great food options for the homesick traveler as well as the adventurous eater. Not to mention, you can work for Bollywood.

The Backwaters in Kerella

The way the rivers and canals flow through the landscape of these villages is beautiful. I loved disappearing into our village home stay, where I could swim in the river, walk through the rice fields and eat guavas from the trees.

The Taj

I’ll be honest, I hated Agra. The Taj, however, is worth the stop. I expected the site to be anticlimactic due to the thousands of photos I’ve seen of it in my lifetime. Sort of like being shocked by how small the Mona Lisa painting actually is. This didn’t happen. Screw anticlimactic, I was blown away. No photo I’ve seen has done the Taj justice. Nothing managed to capture how much it shines and how delicate it appears. It’s awesome.

Crossing from India to Nepal

  • 1 train ride from Varanasi to Gorakhpur (7 hours)
  • 1 bus ride from Gorakhpur to Sunauli (2.5 hours)
  • 1 overnight stay in Sunauli (9 hours)
  • 2 currency exchanges at the border one for $25 to get our 15 day visa and one for Nepali rupies (20 minutes)
  • 1 exit signature from Indian officials (5 minutes)
  • 1 Nepali visa and entry stamp from Nepali officials (20 minutes)
  • 4 enthusiastic welcomes to Nepal
  • 1 bus from from the border to Pokhara (8 hours)
  • 1 check in at the the nicest guesthouse we’ve stayed in yet
  • and then paradise.

We’ve made it to Pokhara people. It’s good to be here!

Varanasi: Funeral Crashing and Public Displays of Emotion

Varanasi is known as a place where people go to burn the bodies of loved ones and release their ashes into the Ganga river. It is the holiest place for Hindu people and a common stop along the tourist path. This is one of the more intense places that we’ve been to in India. The combination of crowds of people, rituals and scams had us on full alert. While traveling in India we’re commonly told to be cautious of this or that scam, but in our experience there are just as many people if not more who want to help you as want to scam you. Here however we were told not only by the travel guide, but by multiple locals to be especially vigilant. We had no problems and the only major change in our traveling style is that we took a rickshaw home after dinner instead of walking. Nothing major.

Upon arrival in Varanasi we noticed a special treat in our hotel: a TV! We turned it on to an English station and there was all this hub bub about a certain royal wedding. Turns out I’d tuned in minutes before Prince William made his way to Westminster church and Lord help me if I didn’t choke up and get dewy eyed throughout the next hour or so of wedding coverage. I blame the terrible train ride with no AC packs of men crowding me and watching us read for my highted emotional state. By the way, how gorgeous was Kate’s dress?

After watching the wedding coverage  we walked along the ghats (the steps down to the river) to check out the buildings and the vibe. We sat and watched a burial ceremony at the main ghat and made some new friends. The popular guru Sathya Sai Baba recently passed away and it turned out that the burial ceremony we were watching was for him.

In the morning we woke up at 5 to catch a sunrise boat ride along the Ganga.

I loved seeing the Ganga and ghats by boat. It was peaceful to be on the river and away from venders. It was also a nice way to sneak a peak at the pyres and see what the area where the bodies are burned looks like. Tourists are allowed to walk over there, but I felt a bit strange hovering over a somber moment for the family members. We were told that the women in the families don’t go to watch the bodies burn because if they cry the body won’t pass into the next life. I wasn’t totally sure what the protocol was for foreign women visiting, hence my reason for keeping some distance. In the photo above you can see the piles of wood, ashes and fire where the bodies are burned. The ashes are then released into the river. Our boat driver told us that babies and holy men are not burned, but tied with stones and dropped to the bottom of the river.

The rest of our time in Varanasi was spent hanging out, taking care of errands and making friends. By a stroke of good luck we managed to book a last minute ticket to Darjeeling, buuuuuuut missed our train due to some chit chatting and forgetfulness on our part. We forgot that the train left from a different station than the one we arrived in and didn’t realize that it would take at least a half hour if not more to get there. When we returned to our hotel to grab our bags and pay our tab the owner greeted us by saying, “You are so lazy! You will miss your train!” He frantically arranged our taxi and checked us out of the hotel all the while chastizing us for waiting so long to make our way over there.

We called and found out that the train was running late and our taxi driver drove like a bat out of hell to get us there in time. We ran through the station like mad women only to arrive at the platform to watch our train pull away. The thought of jumping on crossed my mind for a fraction of a second and then left. Oh Darjeeling, we had so many dreams of relaxing in the mountains and sipping tea. Of a scenic train journey and frolicing in nature.

While running through the station with my bags I began to feel weak. Like someone who had been sick for a month and had barely eaten in the last few days due to nauseous. Up to this point, I had been minorly ill for about a month straight. One ailment jumped to another and then another. I was rarely sick enough to stay in the hotel room, but a general feeling of crappiness followed me around.

After missing our train we had to go through the hellish process of waiting in lines, I mean elbowing our way through lines, to get our ticket refund and check other train options. While waiting in line I started to feel dizzy and flush, tell-tale signs that I was about to throw up. Somehow PZ rallied together the energy to fight her way through the lines, even though she’d been sick all day, and I just sat in a heap on the floor “gaurding the bags” and clinging on to my barf bag for dear life. (I never did actually barf. Stupid naucea.)

Eventually PZ returned with our refund and the message that we didn’t have a chance to make it on a single train from this station today. At this point I turned into a blubbering pile of tears and mumbled things like, “I’m soooo tired of being sick,” “What are we going to doooooo?” and “I want my mommmmmyyyy” (Don’t remember if I said the last one aloud or not.)

We decided to try the train station in Varanasi only to find out that it closed at 2 PM on Sundays. And what time did we arrive there? 2 PM! Worst day ever. So we did the only thing we could do. We checked into a hotel for the night. If there’s any silver lining in this story it’s that we sprung for a room with AC and a TV and spent the rest of the night convalescing.

The next morning we went to the train station and learned that we would not be able to leave for Darjeeling until the next day. Screw that! We wanted out of Varanasi ASAP. And so began our journey to Nepal…

Taj Mahal, I’ve Been Waiting All Month For You

Exactly one month after the day we arrived in India we saw the Taj Mahal. We spent a week giggling with excitement to see this building and when the time came we held hands and looked at the ground as we passed through the gate before looking up to see the Taj Mahal in its full glory. It wasn’t big. It was massive. It gave me goosebumps. It made me squeal a bit with excitement.

We weren’t the only ones who were excited to see the building. The place was packed. And this is off season, I can’t imagine what it’s like during high season.

It took a while to get wait for people to clear out so I could get my vanity shot, but get it I did. Then I decided, full crowd and all, I would try jumping with joy for a photo.

Fail. The girls on American’s Next Top Model make it look so easy.

I was awestruck by how a building so massive could look so fragile and delicate, as if one of those towers would fall over like a stack of sugar cubes with the flick of a finger.

Inside we had to wear booties or take our shoes off, holy grounds and all. I sencerely hope these are the next big thing in haute couture fashion.

Photos were not allowed inside, a rule few adhered to, but I saw someone get their cell phone taken away and smashed for taking a photo inside. So I kept my camera in my purse. Scary.

After seeing the tombs and ornate walls inside we wandered around the outside taking pictures, sitting in the shade and letting kids take pictures with us.

It took us a while to find someone to take a picture of both of us. The first girl took this one:

Yes, a full body shot with a small portion of Taj Mahal showing is exactly what I had in mind. The next person we convinced to take a picture of us did a much better job. We discovered that if we obliged the people who wanted pictures of us we could have them take a picture of us.

There are several more sites to see in Agra but we stuck with this one. Honestly, I was a bit site-seeinged-out and figured all else would pale in comparison. What I haven’t gotten sick of: shopping. Holy shopping binge, I had so much fun going through the stores, picking out my favorite brightly colored items and haggling prices. A trip to the post office is in order.

Jaipur: Flesh Colored Buildings, Chocolate and a Bollywood Film

We were unable to book a train straight from Jaisalmer to Agra. Instead, we took an overnight from Jaisalmer to Jaipur then another train from Jaipur to Agra in the evening that same day. Upon arriving in Jaipur we checked our luggage at the train station and set out to explore the city.

Let me tell you, a Kelsi who woke up at 4 am to get off an overnight train and has not seen a shower in more than 24 hours is not a friendly Kelsi. Jaipur is probably a nice town and I’ve heard from people who enjoyed it, but I hated it.

Kelsi Freaks Out About Paint Colors

The first and most important offense: The guide books will tell you that this city is painted pink. It’s not it’s a dirty peaches and browns. colors that are disturbingly similar to the color of skin. The whole place is painted these hues and all I saw was skin, skin, skin everywhere. I couldn’t even bring myself to take pictures. It was too traumatizing.

The second offense: Everything was closed. Perhaps it was a holiday of some sort, but it’s hard to enjoy a city when nothing is open. Bad timing on our part, I guess. The fact that most of the doors in the city are flesh colored garage doors did not help my horrible image of the place.

Chocolate is My Lover

We did find one restaurant that was open and stopped for some lunch. We picked out our order and then were told they don’t serve food before noon. Well, when your day starts at 4 am, you might be hungry for lunch at 10 am. So what did we do? We ordered desserts (lots of desserts) because that was the exception. Below you will see photoed that wonderfulness that is “Chocolate 4 Ways” which includes: chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, and a walnut brownie a la mode with chocolate sauce.

Licking the plate was discussed.

Going to the Movie Theater

After dessert/lunch we decided to check out a movie theater because it was hot and this movie theater is famous for the number of people it draws in every year. We saw the Bollywood film Thank You. To see a Bollywood film in the theater is to see it in it’s full glory. Not only do you see all dance scenes and drama on the big screen but you learn the rules of theater etiquette. Chatting throughout the film is a must. Loudly retorting to character’s lines is encouraged. Whistling or cat calling any time a lady shows some skin is essential.

Did I mention that this movie was entirely in Hindi (no subtitles) and it was about 2 and half hours long with an intermission? Figuring out the gist of the movie was surprisingly easy. Plus there are so many English words thrown in that it’s easy enough to piece clues together.

This movie was set in Canada and had many foreigners in it. Nearly all the women were dressed in either straight up ho-ttire (think sparkly hot pants and bras) or bikinis. This shed an ounce of light on why we get so much attention walking down the street. People must be waiting for us to rip off our clothes and break out some sexy dance moves. If only they could be so lucky.

So that was our 17 hours in Jaipur: me being hysterical about flesh colored buildings, eating chocolate with reckless abandon and learning more about the amazingness of Bollywood films.

Jaisalmer: Passing Time and Making Friends

Remember how I wrote about camel trekking the other day? Well before we met the camels our driver stopped at his family’s house in the village so we could have some chai and he could sort out an arguement with his parents. While he was doing this we played with some kiddos who were hanging around. They loved having their picture taken and seeing themselves in the camera.

They also loved taking pictures with my camera, which gave me a minor heart attack, but was fun for them. This is right about the time my camera died and I realized I would have no camel trekking photos of my own. Oh the horror.

Our driver/hotel owner had been very forward about his intentions to marry me all day, which PZ mercilessly egged on. A real pal, that one. Apparently our wedding will include 5000 of his closest friends and 10 of mine. Wonder how the parents would feel about that one. Indian weddings do look incredible and I would love to go see one. Definitely not ready to be in one. Sorry Abdul.

After we returned from our camel trek the rest of the day disappeared into nothingness. It was lost somewhere between naps, painting henna on each other and playing cards. We could only bring ourselves to move in the 111 degree F heat once the idea of ice cream was brought up.

The next day in Jaisalmer was far less pitiful. We finally made it to the fort where the labyrinth of narrow streets hide ornate houses, shops, restaurants and temples. Turns out we weren’t so much in a shopping mood as a talking mood. We drank chai and discussed philosopy with a linen shop owner and then made it about another block before stopping to learn about Jainism and massage in another shop.

For lunch we found a place with an incredible view of the city and nearby desert. After that we packed up for our next train and crossed our fingers for cooler weather in the next destination.