India is a feast for the senses; where the air is heavy with the scent of jasmine and its chefs compose dishes from a palette of exotic spices that may leave a lingering taste of saffron or aniseed. Our Team Leader David Gallie from GOGO Vacations shares with us the amazing food of India along with some helpful tips of things to experience (and eat) while you’re in this colourful country. From Thali to Chai, he takes us on a gastronomical journey:
India; an assault on the senses but worth every penny. I have been fortuante enough to have travelled extensively around the world and have travelled to some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts, yet India still managed to excite me about travelling again.
To say that India was a completely different travel experience from what I have enjoyed previously is an understatement. From the sights, sounds, smells, people, and customs, India opened my eyes to travel as if I had never travelled before in my life; as if India was the first place outside of my home that I had seen.
My journey started with the most incredible flight; an upgrade on Etihad to business class for the 14 hour flight from Toronto to Abu Dhabi; our stopover to change planes to Delhi. If you can afford it and have a journey that is anymore than 8 hours – do the upgrade wherever possible; your mind and body will love you.
From here the journey was nothing but exceptional and the gastronomical journey began. Business class has it’s obvious advantages; larger seats, flat beds for sleeping, onboard entertainment, and THE FOOD. Etihad has an amazing “Dine Anytime” menu and the choices are not only brilliant, but varied as well.
Before I knew it, I had arrived in India. A world like no other. For those who are ready for the next adventure, India will both delight and intrigue you! Then there is the food…
You may have had butter chicken, pakoras, chutney and the like, but until you get to India you really haven’t experienced REAL Indian food.
Let me start off by saying that I love Indian food. The smells, colours, and flavour are a culinary delight. But beware, you are travelling in a part of the world where hygiene standards are not up to the standards that we are accustom to, so make sure you take precautions:
1. ALWAYS drink bottled water (and check that the seal is not broken when buying it).
2. Drink LOTS of water, the temperatures are quite high; an average of 45 degrees while I was there. Add lemon slices to the water if possible, it helps to keep you from becoming dehydrated.
3. Do not eat anything raw that requires washing, like salad. For finer hotel restaurants you should be fine, but I just didn’t take the risk.
4. For Vegetarians: India offers more than ample choices for all meals.
5. Avoid the street vendors; again hygiene!
6. Avoid ice in beverages unless, again, it is a finer restaurant or hotel that uses filtered water.
As much as traditional Indian foods are the main staple, it was surprising to see the amount of Chinese dishes, or Chinese inspired foods on most menus. Everything from chicken fried rice, sweet and sour chicken to beef and broccoli.
But you also have to make sure you try the traditional foods of India:
A Thali is commonly served in a tiffin, tiffin is a “packed lunch” that is generally served on a large tray with several different containers on it that each hold there own dish. Generally speaking a tiffin is vegetarian and usually contains the following:
soup (see recipe below)
dhal (lentil stew)
chutney (usually a pickled vegetable)
papadum (a thin cracker like flatbread made of lentil, chickpea, black gram and either rice or potato flour) seasonal vegetable curry chapati or naan bread and some type of sweets (personally, I wasn’t really a big fan of this).
Curry is not an actual spice but a combination of spices that create a particular flavour. The variation in amounts of the combined spices it what gives curry it’s flavour and kick. Generally speaking a curry contains tumeric, cumin, corriander seed, red pepper, fenugreek seeds (a type of lentil, quite bitter and not essential), garlic, ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, celery seeds, hing, mace, nutmeg, anise and so on. So, depending on the region of India, the traditions of the family making the curry, and the availability of spices, a curry will generally always have a different flavour each time you have it.
In western tradition, a curry is normally associated with chicken and is quite saucy, but in India, you could end up with a “dry” curry where very little moisture is used during the cooking process and you can find many assortments of meats or vegetables used in the curry to create a stew. Everything from seasonal vegetables to chicken, mutton, lamb, and fish.
Tandoori is more of a method of cooking than a flavor, however it is the cooking method that really produces the most amazing flavors. A Tandoor is a clay oven that is heated through charcoal or wood; hense the smokey flavour it gives the food. A Tandoor is also what is used to bake the Naan bread giving it’s amazing texture and flavour. (Naan bread is similar to a roti; a flour flat bread that is fluffy and a bit chewy) and if it is served, you have to try Garlic Naan – my all time favourite!
Other amazing dishes cooked in the tandoor oven are tandoori chicken a spice rubbed chicken that is marinated in yogurt then cooked in the oven (somewhat spicy, but really just extremely flavourful) and chicken tikka; a bbq’ed combination of chicken pieces which is what the punjabi translation of “pieces” means – tikka.
Dry Chili Gobi:
This is an absolutely amazing vegeterian dish that offers incredible flavour and an amazing kick of spice! Similar to General Tao chicken, yet vegetarian.
Some of the “Must Do’s” while eating your way through India:
If you are looking for a cold refreshment; bottled pop is quite easy to find and you can find some of the typical brands you would find in North America and you will also find some great treats as well:
-Limca: A lemon/lime pop with a hint of grapefruit – similar to fresca.
-Thumbs Up: Similar to 7up.
-Miranda: Similar to Fanta orange pop.
If you are looking for a snack; you can find nuts, etc. at the spice markets, but make sure you try some of the potato chips. There are flavours that I have never seen before – and YUMMY including tandoori, curry and mastra masala. If you get a chance, you have to try a Pista Koolfi, a pistachio flavoured ice cream packaged and available from vendors.
Again, India is not for the faint of heart, but it is most definitely for those who have an adventurous appetite!
For more information about travelling to India, contact one of our travel consultants at 1-866-502-4605 or check out our website for destination guides and information on tour companies that offer trips through India.
India is highlighted on the Flight Centre Map.