Friday, March 28, 2008

Gastronomical experimentation in Southern India

Hello all! I sniffed my t-shirt the other day to see if it needed washing yet and alas, it smelled like curry. So here it is, my excuse for smelling funny when I get home, my long awaited (I hope) entry on Indian food! Some is great, some strange, and most my meals have been under $2.

March 16
Veggie Biryani $1I was on my first train in India and still pretty freaked out about all the strangeness of everything, so I had decided to take the nicest class of train, an air-conditioned sleeper. The cabin attendant (there was an actual attendant!) came into my hideaway asking if I would like to order lunch. He had a list of three vegetarian options and two "non-veg" ones. I pointed randomly at one of the veggie choices and at noon he promptly appeared with my meal.
Biryani is a rice dish so packed with herbs and spices I swear on the Kamasutra that my brain was tingling afterwards. The white sauce at the side is yogurt (called "curd" here) and onions. Not bad for a buck.

March 18
Paneer Tikka Masala (maybe) $1.50
Nan $.50Now I'm not actually sure if this is an actual typical dish or a misunderstanding. I went to the restaurant hoping for that sweet tomato-ey sauce that I remembered from Indian restaurants at home. I suspect the waiter had no idea what I was talking about but wanted to please, thus all the tomatoes. I think the sauce was even laden with ketchup. I have since found out that I wanted "masala" sauce and that masala sauce does not have any tomatoes in it anyway. The nan (bread more typical from Northern India) was good.

March 19
Aloo Mattar $1.50
Rice $.50
This was the first plate of food in India that I really really liked---YUM! Aloo are potatoes and mattar are green peas. Sweet and not too spicy, wonderful!

March 20
Kashmir dam Aloo $1.00
Chapati $.50
Do you remember what Aloo is? Potatoes! (ok, I don't expect you to learn Hindi for my benefit) This plate had the same delicious sweet masala sauce and the potato was stuffed with cheese. Yum yum yum yum. Chapati is just like nan bread but round. There must be some difference but it looks and tastes the same to me.

March 22
Tibetan Momo $.75
This is not Indian food but I just had to try. There are tons and tons of Tibetan refugees in these parts, and their food can often be found on menus. Momo are steamed dumplings stuffed with veggies served with a tangy sauce, delicious.

Same day
Navaratna Kurma $1.10
Chapati $.50
Navaratna are cashews and kurma is a spiced-up sauce. This particular dish had not only cashew nuts but also potatoes, pineapple and bananas in a hot curry full of spices, truly strange.

March 23
Veg. Dosa $1I have found heaven in India! Dosas are a crepe-like pancake filled with whatever you want (usually masala curried potatoes). Mine was with masala flavored veggies (like the inside of a good samosa) with a yogurt sauce to boot. I have since eaten dosas everyday whenever I find them. Cheap good eatin'.

March 24
Thali $1.50Thalis are all-you-can-eat plates of whatever they give you served on top a banana leaf. They usually come with chapati (nan-like bread), a papadum (delicious giant potato-chip), rice, and little metal bowls full of strange and interesting curries and soupy spicy things. Once I was really hungry and decided to splurge and pay 20 cents more for the "Deluxe Thali"---and had 10 little bowls on my plate! You are supposed to eat thalis with your fingers, right handed. (pic: I can do it now!)

April 2
Keralan ThaliI'm in the state of Kerala now, one of the southernmost areas in India, right on the tip there on the map. Kerala is famous for its delicious food and I could not agree more. Today I am taking a private cooking class from a woman in her kitchen, hopefully I will be able to reproduce this wonderful food at home!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

From Goa to Hampi, India: Still laughing

Indian man enjoying the beaches of Goa

They say the only way to enjoy India is too expect nothing and just go with the flow. If you don’t keep your humor you will go crazy in this country.

After five days on the beaches in Goa I was ready to head inland for some Hindi temple ruins in the town of Hampi. I bought the best bus ticket I could find, an "air-conditioned sleeper" in a bus. The picture showed smiling tourists leisurely reclining in plush reclining seats with a level of blissfully sleeping travelers above in beds. I was to be one of those blissfully sleeping travelers---though I really couldn't imagine how a bus could have beds in it. The travel agent reassured me, "Very nice, very nice."

I had met a Brazilian backpacker in Goa and we decided to go together. This was very fortunate because he ended up saving me from two potentially horrible experiences. And I saved him from one horrendous one. Read on.

We had to wait an hour for the bus to arrive. I had noticed a vendor of Indian sweets and decided to get a box to try. I asked my friend if he’d like to halve the first sweet and he was keen. I broke the first sweet in half (middle left one in picture) and there it was, the perkiest piece of black pubic hair standing straight up from the middle of the sweet almost like it was saluting me. I showed the vendor and he gave me a different one, but had my friend not agreed to share it with me I'd have probably been pulling pubes out of my mouth. Sorry, I know it's disgusting and I hope your computer's anti-virus and parental controls accepted this blog entry. Now I learned especially in Bolivia to pull the accidental hair out of my food and still enjoy it, but not this time. I couldn’t touch the things.

Sweet, anyone?

Now the bus appeared, and drove right off without stopping. Was this our bus? Upon enquiry at the office they sent us running 200ft away to where it was parked, shouting, "Hampi wait! wait! Go quick quick. Bus go go.”

Take the oldest Greyhound you can imagine, make sure it hasn't been cleaned in at least 10 years, add a row of crusty horizontal seating, then put the bus driver on drugs and set him off onto a two lane pot-marked road. This was my bus. The "bed" seating was so narrow that my companion and I were stuck together---imagine if it were a stranger!!! This is where he twice saved me by just coming along! The a/c didn't work and the door was left gaping open and India dangerously whipping by. After three hours I really had to pee and there was no toilet onboard (this was probably a good thing judging by the cleanliness of the bus). I convinced the bus-driver-on-speed to stop and everyone had five minutes to utilize the, er, dark parking lot. Once the driver shouted, "Go! go!" the bus was off, but my travel companion was nowhere to be seen. This is when I saved him from being stranded in the middle of nowhere with not even his wallet or passport at hand. He caught up running, thoroughly angry and very freaked out.

Arriving in Hampi at 7am groggy after the bumpy ride, we were mobbed by rickshaw drivers and hotel touts. “Rickshaw, madam, rickshaw?” The drivers swore that if we didn’t take their rickshaws to their specific hotels, “the people of the town will throw eggs.”


Unfazed, we decided to walk, pondering over what kind of people would throw eggs at tourists for no reason. What a story.

But alas, there were broken eggs in the street. Then a mob of wet screaming kids and men covered in colored powder came dancing and shouting, bottles of color in the air. I was soon to find out that today is the Hindi Holi festival, a celebration of the first day of spring where people douse each other and everything in colors and water. And eggs. And I was not left to merely observe.

You never know what to expect in India. I have never seen or experienced anything like it and can only laugh when things go wayward. When I stop laughing I will know to take the first ticket home.

Colored powder vendor This kid actually checked me into my hotelDancing in the street, wee this is fun!
Noone and nothing is exempt from Holi madness
Still laughing

Monday, March 17, 2008

Getting more used to India

So far so good. I have decided that I will use toilet paper and I will continue to eat with my left hand and I don't care what people think of me. (Ok, weird start, if you are confused please read previous post)

I took my first Indian train 11 hours south to Goa. I used the nicest class "2AC sleeper" which means that there are only 2 tiers of bunk beds instead of three with air conditioning. It was pretty dirty but empty and I could close the curtain and create my own nest-on-rails. The most wonderful thing I discovered in these 11 hours was the Chai vendor. For about 12 cents you get a piping hot and cinnamon clove spiced cup of delicious Indian chai tea. With a cup of chai in hand I realized, yes, this is why I came to India! The next 10 hours were spent stalking the chai vendor...

I am currently in Panjim (also known as Panaji), a town in Goa state. This area had been colonized by the Portuguese so there's an interesting Latin air about it. My broken Portuguese has amazingly come in handy here.

I was remembering Central and South America and comparing them to India, and I realized that I feel a lot safer here in comparison. There are so many people everywhere I feel safe even out at night. I met a Dutch couple who had travelled through the Latin Americas and they agreed. Whew!

I will try to put up pics soon. Until then!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

First Day in Mumbai, India

All these crazy rumors of India being such a frenetic place, putting you into sensory overload, people groping you on the streets and all that? It's TRUE.

My first day in India I had to take regular breaks of quiet in my hotel room. The smells of Mumbai (new name for Bombay since 1996) are new, everyone is wearing something different, so many kinds of people, so many potholes in the sidewalks to watch out for! I would walk past major architectural wonders without noticing them and have to turn back. Then I would pass them again after being distracted by something else. Then I would go to the hotel and take another break.

I discovered two major drawbacks to my great India adventure, both of which I had heard about, neither of which I had realized would be oh-so-very important.

1. People do actually wipe their bottoms with their left hand. There is usually a spray hose next to the toilet and the seat is always wet. Then there's a bucket usually full of water with a cup in it. What do I do with this stuff?? I'm too embarrassed to ask someone for step by step instructions so I sneak my paper into the room and sneak it out (so as not to clog the toilet)...sorry if I have given you too much information here, but this has been a serious complexity for me!

2. Because people wipe their bottoms with their left hand, there are many rules how to avoid using your left hand in society. These rules, such as eating with ONLY your right hand (without utensils, by the way, but directly with your fingers) are totally impossible to this un-ambidextrous south paw. How will I eat?!? I desperately and boldly decided to eat with the supplied spoon with my LEFT hand and maybe I was paranoid but I was sure I could hear snickers throughout the restaurant the whole time I was eating. I may need to do take out and practice with the right hand in my room for a while. Ahhh my room, my sweet dumpy little safe-haven from all that is crazy and unfathomable outside those doors.

Ah, and let me add a Major Drawback Number 3: Everyone speaks English but with the accent I don't understand a word anyone is saying to me. I'm used to nodding and smiling without understanding a word but in my own language?! Hope I pick up on the accent soon.

I went to bed early because I couldn't take anymore for one day.

Today is day two, I'm starting to love the craziness. More later, maybe with pics.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

West Coast Mayhem

I was in such bad shape leaving North Dakota that I did not notice when they forgot to tag my luggage. Now instead of detailing the one-margarita-too-many excuse and anguish involved spending four days of my life in heated phone calls to airline customer service agents in India I will just tell you that I finally did get my bags. Folks, just some advice to you all, even if you are feeling a little under the weather make sure they put the white baggage tag on your stuff before they throw it on the belt to no-man’s land, ok?

Never fear, after that all has been happy and fun.

Honolulu Diamond Head from the airI mentioned in my last entry that I was working on applications to grad schools, one of those schools being the University of Hawai’i. I don’t know if I’ve been accepted or not yet (I’ll keep you informed), but Dad and I took the excuse to fly over so I could meet some of the professors. Oh yeah, and to hang out on the beaches and relaaax. We stayed two days on Oahu Island at Waikiki beach and then flew to the Big Island of Hawai’i for some volcano action.

Last time I went to Hawai’i you could walk over active lava fields and actually see red hot lava pouring into the ocean. And last time my sister was with us and we took turns wearing her mullet wig around. This time no mullet or lava, the lava had shifted and wasn’t visible so the main excitement was now record levels of sulfur dioxide in the air. You can drive around the big crater but you can’t stop or open your windows or you could pass out...aren’t volcanoes cool? Dad and I did a two hour hike across the smoking Kilauea Iki crater (upwind from the sulfur vents). The floor of the volcano is warm to the touch and it is pretty creepy to think that you are really walking over the dried crust of a giant pool of lava. I left a lei in the crater as an offering to Pele, the volcano goddess, to thank her for letting us cross alive.

2004 Kilauea Iki with mullet2008 Same crater, no mullet1959 Same crater, I don't know if mullets were invented yet
Vancouver, BC
Vancouver skyline Arriving back to Seattle, I drove up to visit my buddies Max and Sanae in Vancouver. We played Nintendo Wii (fun!!) with their friend Katsu and then they introduced me to Chai, the best restaurant in the whole wide world. Chai, as the website explains, “offers delightfully tasty Ayurvedic food in a relaxed and exotic atmosphere.” I don't know what Ayurvedic means, but we had a buffet of Persian, Middle Eastern, and Indian food, mostly vegetarian and every single item (except maybe the unconventional desserts) was absolutely amazing, with live Indian sitar music and cool ambience. If you are ever in Vancouver and like Arab and Indian-type food you have to go to Chai!

I also had the chance to experience the ultimate Canadian event, a hockey game. The teams were semi-pro, the Giants (famous for fighting) vs. the Rockets. Now I had always thought Canadians to be our more mature and enlightened neighbors, but I don’t know about that anymore. I have seen the dark side. If the puck wasn’t in play the punches were guaranteed to fly. Sweet child spectators shouted for more fighting. And the food---ooh the food---made American state fair Elephant Ears seem healthy. I wasn’t too keen on the fighting but I secretly enjoyed when the players smashed into the glass partition. YEH! Thanks Max and Sana for everything!

The "Dark Side" of Canada: fighting Broken glass partition

What’s Next?
What’s next, you ask? After two months of recuperation the travel bug is back. I just got my visa today and will be dedicating my next month and a half to the vegetarian cuisine of southern India---yippee! After that I am going to Japan for Golden Week through summer, and then I’ll be starting “real life” in August, whether that be school or a job. I will blog more from India, I promise.

In the meantime, check out Ravioli’s YouTube, he put our Peru/Bolivia/Chile photos to music and they’re pretty fun to watch. He calls himself Laberinto Records. click here to see

Take care and until next time!