Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Indian Adventure

Well we arrived in India just over two weeks ago for the second leg of our extended holiday from work. So far we have had a wonderful time exploring Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer in the north and are looking forward to heading to Jaipur this evening.

Both Tom and I are serious curry lovers and we were both very excited about the prospect of eating it and some new tasty treats everyday, but as is to be expected this did diminish very quickly and we have been pleased for the odd pizza, or Chinese dish instead which are very readily available in most of the tourist restaurants.

One thing which has struck our attention are the signs commonly displayed in restaurants asking patrons not to spit. There are certainly some rotten looking places, especially the butchers and canteen style huts where twenty or so Indian men wait to be served a huge portion of rice and veg on a paper plate. Rubbish surrounds most of these stalls and a fair few dogs and rats too. Needless to say we have stuck mainly to restaurants in the guide book.

I want to fill you in on one or two of the best food experiences so far, so I will start with our first thali lunch. We had this is a small restaurant in Mumbai called 'Anubhav'. We were ushered into a back room which turned out to be the air-con area, although it was not that roasting hot and I was surprised to find that this room was filled with only men, indeed was the entire restaurant but I don't think I was too bothered by this as none of them seemed to be, although I could feel a fair few inquisitive stares to my left.

The thali lunch is a platter of small curry dishes including dhal, soup, bean curry and other curried vegetables, served with a small roti bread and lastly a portion of rice to soak up the left overs. These were widely available all over the city and were very tasty and filling and cheap too.

When the waiter brought us our bill, there was a small dish of colourful mixed grains. We had no idea what to do with it but the man gestured to take a spoon full which we did and my GOD!! It was like eating a scented Christmas candle. The sugar shells were filled with aniseed and cumin grains and incredibly once the initial shock had subsided, there was a refreshed pallet waiting to emerge!

The second amazing discovery, was a masala dosa. I have never had one before, but it was delicious. A large very thin and crisp savoury pancake filled with curried vegetables and potato and served with a masala sauce.  We ate this on an evening in Mumbai and enjoyed it immensely. We went back to the same restaurant the next morning for breakfast and as the owners recognised our loyalty we got into a lively conversation about cricket, well I kind of smiled and nodded while Tom and about 15 waiters jested!

After leaving Mumbai we headed north on the train to Ahmedabad. We tried some of the food which was served by a man shouting up and down the train and it was ok, pretty grim actually- a very oily curry and a couple of soggy chapatis. When Tom had finished his he went into the vestibule to ask where to put his rubbish and the man told him to throw it out the train. He was of course shocked but the man stood there staring at him, and I imagine him making a small wimpering sound as he dropped it out the door. I later went out and put mine in the bin in the hall!

We also had an amazing treat in Ahmedabad. We didn't really like the city due to the very narrow streets filled to the brim with pollution spewing rickshaws. Plus, I think there were very few tourists who visited the area so we seemed to be stared at a bit, sometime in a sinister way but mainly pure curiosity.
We managed to find the one haven, where I think every other western person was hiding in the heritage home of a local family 'House of MG'. It had been turned into a very fancy hotel, and we decided to treat ourselves to a rooftop dinner, hoping we would escape the noise and fumes.

We had a literally divine pumpkin soup served in a rustic mug and some couscous cumin starters along with samosas served on a plate made from molded leaves.

Our eating hands were washed by a man with a pewter water jug and we were then politely and quietly served our thali dishes one by one. It was all very civil and we felt as though we were back in the colonial period when we were each given a single rose flower. We felt a little overwhelmed, but then the ice was broken by one of the candle lamps spontaneously smashing on an empty table.

It was truly lovely though and made us feel slightly less grotty after a rough day.

More to come.....

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