Thursday 18 July 2013

An Indian food adventure!

I was recently lucky enough to travel to India on business. India is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, but an opportunity has never (until now) presented itself. Given that we order an Indian takeaway at least once a week my expectations were very high. When discussing food in India, it seems to me that there are three things that are constantly mentioned, I’m going to call them the TIFINs, The Indian Food in INdia clichés. These are as follows…

1. The Indian food in India is nothing like it is in the UK.
2. The Indian food in India is the best Indian food you will ever eat.
3. The Indian food in India is guaranteed to make you very ill.

Instead of reviewing the food I ate individually, I’m going to cover each of these clichés one at a time.

1. The Indian food in India is nothing like it is in the UK.

False. Actually, the food in India was in many ways similar to that available in the UK. Firstly, in terms of nomenclature, where many of the same dishes exist with broadly the same flavour. We had tikka masala dishes, jalfrezi dishes and dansak dishes; all of which are stables in the 9,000 Indian restaurants in the UK (one for every 7,000 Britons). Broadly, the taste is at least similar; if you ordered a chicken tikka masala in India, it would very much feel like it was from the same family as one that was ordered here.

One interesting difference were the bar snacks on offer. An Indian dish selection is definitely better than crisps or nuts, but possibly not any better than pork scratching’s… up for debate!

2. The Indian food in India is the best Indian food you will ever eat.

True. I had some of the most amazing food on my three days in India. I vowed that I wouldn’t eat any ‘Western’ food and apart from a small relapse (eggs benedict for breakfast) I stuck with this. Two of the three nights we ate in Masala Bay, the Indian restaurant in the hotel (Taj Land’s End, Mumbai), where the service and atmosphere was every bit as good as the food. Our Indian host and guide was a food obsessive too so he ordered on our behalf and the food that emerged kept everybody very satisfied.

Two particular dishes of note. Firstly, a simple lamb curry; this just dissolved in your mouth like the very best Greek kleftika and was a revelation; I think we all would have been happy eating just this one dish! Secondly, the garlic prawns. Massive butterfly cut prawns (I would say more like a langoustine) drenched in a buttery, garlic sauce. Simple and divine.

Another interesting culinary experience was palm, as a dessert / palette cleaner. A sweet paste wrapped in a leaf, with cloves piercing the leaf to impart flavour. I do love the taste of a clove but had to remove these before eating as the cloves were obviously very, very overpowering. Truly something different.

On the second night we ate at a local restaurant called Pali Village Café, recommended by our Indian partner. A very unassuming, authentic restaurant that you wouldn’t stumble upon, you would have to know where you were heading as it was very off piste. The food was, without exception, wonderful. Every dish was a delight and in the atmosphere of this restaurant made for a very special meal indeed. Again, a local ordered for us so I have little idea of exactly what I ate, but would happily do so again. The cherry on top was the ride back to the hotel in a beautiful Rolls Royce Ghost, not an everyday experience!

3. The Indian food in India is guaranteed to make you very ill.

Unfortunately, also true. I’m not going to share any scary details, but I was ill on and off for three weeks after returning to the UK! At one point I didn’t eat a single thing for four solid days, but frustratingly didn’t lose any weight. WTF? I’m told that one way to minimise the risk of getting ill is to eat nothing from the streets, to stick only to hot food in Western hotels. I failed.

One of the best things eaten in India was a sort of ‘burger’ from a street stall outside a university, one of our hosts jumped out the car to get these for us whilst we were stuck in traffic and hungry (see attractive picture above). This was meat-free, consisting mainly of potato that was beautifully spiced. In some ways, whilst this was a very simple thing, it was also the best thing eaten in India. It was certainly the thing that I will remember most from India, for many reasons!

So, first cliché (in my opinion) busted, but the second and third held true! A great gastronomic experience and one that I hope to repeat again.

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