Indian food from South to North

One of the highlights for everyone who travels to India is: food. From high end restaurants to small stalls on the street curb to young kids walking down the train aisles; food is everywhere. As a traveller, you can never go hungry in India.

One of the best destinations for food in the country has to be Kerala, a state in the South. Most known for its delicious seafood, spicy curries and anything coconut. In Fort Kochi, I watched as fishermen brought in their daily catch and sold it to squabbling locals along the coast at sunset and then proceeded to one of the restaurant shacks where I had the best coconut curry I will probably ever eat.

Coconut curry in Cochin
Coconut curry in Fort Kochi, Kerala

I was in another Southern city called Mysore for a couple of nights and I went out to find something for dinner. I walked into several restaurants along the same popular street but no one seemed to have a menu, only smiling men saying, “Dosa?”. I had no idea what a ‘dosa’ was so I kept walking until I was sure I wouldn’t find anything to eat. I went back to my hostel convinced I would be going to bed hungry until I googled ‘dosa’ and my life has simply never been the same since.

It is a type of pancake made from a fermented batter of rice and black gram flour that is fried on a large round pan and is eaten with a side of coconut chutney and sambar (lentil stew). Even better, a masala dosa (by far the most common) is stuffed with a curry potato filling. I marched back down to the street, picked a restaurant full of locals stuffing their face with dosas and sat down. The waiter was so thrilled to see me and said, “masala dosa?”. Yes, one of those please. For 40c I had the meal pictured below and like I said, my life has never been the same since. Best. Thing. Ever. I proceeded to eat a disgustingly large number of dosas over the following months.

My first dosa in Mysore
My first dosa in Mysore

They can even be larger than your plate…

Dosa in Jaipur
A dosa at a restaurant in Jaipur

…and topped with vegetables to become a dosa pizza or ‘uttapam’…

Uttapam from Udaipur
Uttapam in Udaipur

…and steamed into white, fluffy, round, savoury cakes called idli…

South Indian meal in Darjeeling
Dosa with one idli and a vada (fried lentil donut)

So I ate a lot of dosas and idli and vada. But occasionally I had other meals. Mostly thalis. A thali is a round platter with various small dishes of curries and stews and served with rice and chapati. They are more common in the North but can be found all over the country. The best ones can be found at the local hole-in-the-wall places which might not look sanitary but they usually include unlimited refills, for as little as $1 per meal. It can be a very stressful experience though as there are countless waiters continuously refilling your curries and scooping more rice onto your plate before you can utter a word. “More madam?”, “More madam?”, “More madam?” etc. Until I have to actually scream, “NO I DO NOT WANT ANY MORE FOOD!” and then they usually get the picture.

Thali
Veg thali

Street food was still my highlight. That was where the fun was anyway. For 20c you could get a plate of ‘poha’ or flattened rice in Jaisalmer, for 30c you could get a couple of idlis with sambar in Varanasi, for $1 you could a huge plate of chicken biryani in Kolkata…

Poha street food in Jaisalmer
Poha (flattened rice) for breakfast
Street food in Varanasi
Extremely popular idli and vada stall in the backstreets of Varanasi
Street food in Varanasi 3
Open from sunrise to well past sunset, they worked flat out as there was a constant stream of pilgrims needing a feed

Chai. Sweet chai. Sweet, sweet chai. Sweet, very sweet, overly sweet chai. Chai is the cornerstone of the Indian diet. If you ask an Indian they will tell you they can’t live without their chai. Any time of day, all day, chai is a must. Basically, water, milk, tea leaves and a few kgs of sugar boiling over a gas cooker, poured into a small shot-size cup and everyone is happy. I drank more chai than I ate dosas (which is saying a lot) and after four months I too was telling people I couldn’t live without my chai. I would go to the bus station five minutes earlier just so I could get my chai. I would sneak a second cup at the free hostel breakfasts. I sat for hours in a shop with the owner because he bought me some chai as we chatted away about the booming export clothes business. I drank my second or was it my third cup of chai for the morning watching the pilgrims bathe down at the ghats. Yes, I drank chai like it was water.

Chai stop in the North
Early morning chai stop on an overnight bus trip
Chai stop 2
Serving chai round the clock

And then there were the markets; my favourite places to explore in a foreign country. Full of colour, interesting smells, friendly faces and fresh food, the markets are where the true local experience is at.

Okay, I’m craving a dosa and a chai now.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s