India… four months later and I’ve fallen for you. From northwest to south, and back to the northeast I became accustomed to the pace of life here. Everything seems so sped up compared to what I’m used to, but I came to realize this was only an illusion. When the barrier shatters before your eyes life slows down, patience truly does become a virtue, but I grew to enjoy this. Shanti Shanti as I was told so many times. Peace, relax, patience, chill out.
A country full of paradoxes. Vast wealth to crippling poverty, cities with hundreds of millions to tribal villages, overwhelming crowds to the humbleness of few, towering snow-capped mountains to cracked barren desert to luscious dense jungles, deafening noise to the serenity of silence, turmoil of past conflicts to the notion of peace, pristine monuments to fields of filth, courteous hospitality to opportunistic scams, strictly ruled to blatant corruption, and the list continues.
The food is as diverse as the culture, every region has their own style just like their languages. Kashmiri cuisine in the far north heavily based around meat such as lamb, mutton and goat. Punjabi famous for tandoori food and Rajasthani, influenced by the many occupations of the state throughout its history and the limited ingredients from its arid landscape. Mustard oil and paste are predominant in Bengali cuisine along with the fish from the Ganges Delta and is well known for the collage of sweets. Goan cuisine is loaded with fresh seafood, chili and coconut milk with a strong Portuguese influence. The cashew and coconut feni, a strong distilled liquor produced strictly in Goa has a pleasant kick to it with the subtle aroma of the ingredient it’s made from. A popular drink Toddy, coconut palm beer is made all over the south and is distilled to make the feni.
Kerala being the jewel of India in my eyes also had some of my most loved and missed dishes since departing from this extravagant country. Similar to Goan in the sense of fresh seafood and the usage of coconut, both lining the Arabian Sea, but Kerala also has an abundance of fresh water fish in the lush backwaters throughout the state. The assortment of fruit (mango, jackfruit, coconut, bananas) is to die for growing in almost every backyard not to mention the spices and nuts grown locally. Breakfast dishes such as the dosa served with coconut chutney and sambar were hard to get sick of due to the many varieties, and my favorite Upma. Not far off the Italian polenta, it was made with dry roasted semolina with the addition of mustard seeds, ginger, green chilies and curry leaves and was served with bananas. Using the best eating tool, your hand, mash the bananas into it and chow down. Sweet, savoury and filling, good for a long, hard day.
This is a country that with all its diversity it can be overwhelming, but so captivating. There is something new to learn in every city or village, down every street, from every person. The experiences I had, the things I saw, the foods I ate will never be forgotten, for this has taught me so much about myself. It wasn’t just a journey through the mysteriousness of a place so foreign to me, but one inside myself. A piece of my heart was left here to keep close to its bosom, calling me back so I can really try to get further underneath the skin. Mark my words, I will return with a shovel and do my best to dig deeper to its depths.
A few simple recipes:
1L – 3.5% milk
Juice of 1 lemon
Bring milk and lemon juice almost to a boil until it separates, then strain through a cheesecloth and hang for 30 minutes. Put it into a mold after the majority of the liquid has drained and place a weight on it. Leave for 3-5 hours until the rest of the moisture has been pressed out.
Chapatti – Yeilds 4-5
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup water
Sift the dry ingredients and make a well in the bowl. Add the water and knead for 10 minutes. Take a small ball of the dough and roll out to about a ¼ inch. Cooked on a dry heated iron pan, flip when bubbles appear and rotate to evenly brown.
1 cup roughly chopped coriander
3 cloves of garlic
1 green chili – to taste
Salt and touch of water
Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Season with salt and lemon juice if necessary.