A major part of our trip centered around the food. In two words – simply incredible. And that doesn’t even begin to describe it sufficiently.
First and foremost, stay hydrated. With the heat at this time of year (whether dry in the north or humid in the south), this is the single most important thing. Make sure the water you drink is bottled; or if not bottled, make sure it has been boiled then cooled. In Mallapally, my mother did this often. And while it was fine (tho it had a metallic aftertaste, which may or may not have had anything to do with the process), I preferred the bottle. If you do get bottled, make sure to turn the cap, so you hear the click of the seal being broken. Certain vendors are notorious for putting regular unprocessed tap water into a (plastic) bottle, and re-closing the cap. Send it back and request another if you encounter this.
I’m not a coffee or even tea drinker. That being said, I’ve been told the Indian versions are the best in the world. The coffee beans here taste more rich with a fuller body and a lot more flavor. Many people don’t even put sugar into it to cut the normally bitter taste that is not present in Indian coffee. The tea is also naturally sweet. It always makes me laugh inside, looking at menus in the States that offer a chai tea, when the Hindi word for tea is “chai” (cāya). The tea leaf plantations that we saw on our drive up the mountains to Thekkady were simply breathtaking. My friend Carly (http://www.carlytati.com) said it best:
“Our tea never tastes as good as the real Chai. The Chai that my friends brewed up for me in their home in a big huge pot, the whole house smelling like what I think of when I think of the smell of India.
Something about drinking that spicy chai in the heat, makes it taste so different, so much more fulfilling”
Now onto the food.
India is world renowned for her spices. Originally “founded” in 1498 by Vasco de Gama who set Goa as a post for Portugal for India’s revered black pepper, there are many spice plantations all over India – black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, coriander, turmeric, mace & nutmeg (having picked both of them from its tree), etc. At my grandfather’s place, I have seen his black pepper plants, cinnamon tree branches, dried cayenne pepper, curry leaves, etc. The smell of fresh spices in the Indian sun is just incredible. Your nose may not know what to do, and never recover.
We had so many vegetarian dishes (aloo gobi aka potatoes and cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, okra), all sorts of chicken dishes (chicken tandoori, chicken tikka masala, chicken jalfrezi, chicken karachi, fresh South Indian chicken curry, butter chicken, etc), mutton, (fresh) duck curry, fish (best vindaloo I have ever had in Goa, Goan fish curry, fresh Kerala fish curry, Kerala fish fry my favourite being kerimeen, which is a fish indigenous to Kerala), Indian stew called sambar, breakfast items (like masala Dosa, appam, uttapam), all sorts of bread-like items (naan, puri, chappathi, roti, paratha), rice dishes (aka chicken biriyani), amazing desserts like ladoo and banana fry, and so much more. So much more. Did I mention so much more?
What stands out even more than the spices is the freshness of India’s ingredients. Admittedly, this is changing, as I had seen and was also told, of pesticides being used to spray the plants that also does much damage to the fruits of those plants in addition to killing the bugs, but on the other side of the coin, is supposed to keep them longer. That being said, when you can get fresh, it’s the way to go; just make sure to eat it within a couple days. We loved her fruits and vegetables. We were told how to select the correct mango from the tree. We saw gigantic jackfruit trees. We had fresh pineapple. We had fresh fish, fresh chicken, and fresh duck; it’s not for the faint of heart, but it tasted better than anything I have ever had in my entire life. South Indian chicken curry (my favourite) is better in India (especially Mallapally) than it is in the States. It just is. And it’s worth the price of the airfare alone. Yes, I said that.
We were graced with my mother’s world class cooking (taking to an even greater level cos of the abundance of spices and freshness of ingredients), several different aunties’ cooking, my cousin’s wife & mother’s cooking, chef on the houseboat’s cooking, not to mention all the restaurants we went, whether it was just a post off the highway from Jaipur to Agra, or a seedy bar/restaurant in Mumbai to hotel bars in various evening stays. They were all just so incredible.
Food is so good in India that I was almost ok with almost missing my flight going home just for a fresh fish just caught off the shore in Fort Kochi served Kerala Fish Fry style. (Full story detailed on another post tbd.) And now that I am back, it totally would have been. And now that I am back, I completely miss it and utterly in want of it.