You’ll have heard all the scare stories, especially if you’ve travelled to the Middle East, Eastern Europe or Asia; before we set off I lost count of the number of people who warned me about the perils of “Delhi belly” and how it was inevitable that, at some stage, I’d be stricken with it and have to spend hours in a filthy “hole in the ground” toilet, purging my body of un-hygienically prepared portions of cat, or dog, masquerading as chicken and/or mutton. Luckily, for us at least, nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes, a change of diet can affect the bodily functions, but if it’s only the thought of the food which’s been putting you off a trip to India, rest easy. Pick where you eat, watch street food being prepared and always remember, Asian peoples bodies work in much the same way as yours and mine. For my part, since we’d decided on making the trip, I’d looked forward with mounting anticipation to eating my way around India.
I’ve already touched on our first night https://going-postal.com/2022/11/a-postcard-from-india-delhi/ and the unremarkable mutton curry I was served up in a high end hotel which (I’d suggest) caters only for its foreign residents. I needn’t have been overly concerned though, the following day we met up with our guide and our fellow party members (a honeymooning couple from Chicago) who made excellent travelling companions and who shared my exuberance for trying most of the things India has to offer, food wise. We ate that night at a restaurant called “The Social Affaire” located close to Karol Bagh metro station. It’s a nice place, inside a hotel http://www.hotellaffaire.com/ and, as such offers a partly “westernised” menu, but the tandoori chicken and dal I ate, washed down with a large bottle of Kingfisher, were excellent, nicely spiced and very tasty, the place itself is spotlessly clean. The garlic naan, thin, buttery and with plenty of garlic was the perfect accompaniment and the first of many I enjoyed throughout the trip.
From the sublime to the vaguely ridiculous you might say! We could have visited Haldirams for breakfast, it being just up the street from the hotel, but, with a trip on the metro into Old Delhi planned for our first full day we ended up at one of the oldest (allegedly) paratha stalls in that part of the city. The same family, going back generations, have been making and serving this stuffed (and plain) bread staple from this small kiosk for many years. The surroundings are less than salubrious, the benches are made of stone, polished smooth by the many thousands of backsides to grace them and the tables could do with a lick of paint, but the open cooking area is clean and the basic menu is very inexpensive. It’s odd eating curry for breakfast, although the Chicago girls did so every day, but a paneer stuffed paratha, with a small poori (puffy bread), two pickles and veg curry comes in at around 90pence, bring your own drinks. While dining there, if you happen to feel something nudging your foot, don’t look down, It’ll only be a rat, looking for scraps.
A little “out of sequence” but I had this unusual combination at a rooftop restaurant in Agra called “The Level Four Lounge”. A nice setting to eat and again the food was nicely spiced and tasty, the seemingly unusual combination worked very well. Another excellent garlic naan too. Agra prices are similar to Delhi, but that’s no surprise, given the levels of western tourism, although there were at least as many Indian people dining as westerners. An amusing end to the evening came about, I’d had a beer or three and as the rest of my group took the four flights of stairs to the exit I stopped to have a brief chat with the owner before setting off down myself. I wandered down five flights of stairs and found myself in what I can only describe as a staff room, complete with a small group of men who didn’t speak any English, although thankfully they were all smiling, we communicated by sign and I ascended back to street level, although by now I’d been gone for ten minutes or so. Out on the bustling narrow pavement though a mild panic had set in, they thought I’d wandered off and lost myself, a mild bollocking ensued from Mrs. C, although I could see she was relieved I hadn’t decided to become a curry chef. I suppose you had to be there.
Our hotel in Jaipur, The Arya Niwas https://www.aryaniwas.com/hotelaryaniwas/ is both strictly vegetarian and quite old school; it’s small cafe has a system where you order from a window, having chosen what you’d like to eat from a selection of dishes artfully displayed in a glass case (I suppose they renew them fairly regularly). Again there are a couple vaguely western dishes to choose, if you fancy a change, but the vegetarian thali I ate for lunch, before we went to the Bollywood cinema was, I’m guessing, as traditionally Indian as it gets. Spicy dal, hot chili pickle, potato curry, onion salad with green chili, two breads, a couple off sweetish paneer stuffed balls and a little sweet that appeared to be simply butter and cane sugar, all for under £4, a proper bargain and a great feed.
The previous evening, our first in Jaipur, we’d eaten at “Dagla”, another rooftop restaurant where I’d been unwise enough to wear shorts in the mistaken belief that mosquitoes wouldn’t be present in a city so close to a desert area. A big mistake, as I found out later that evening, but that’s another story. Mutton biryani, chicken curry, tadka dal, red onion raita and garlic naan, all washed down with a locally brewed lager beer, served in large birthday mugs. Excellent food, quirky but fun service and a great atmosphere. Highly recommended and at around £9, including 2 beers, more than reasonable.
I only ate street food a couple of times, in Jaipur, after we’d been to the cinema and feeling a little peckish, I took a stroll from the hotel up to the main road where a vendor was making omelette. This one, made with two eggs has tomato, a little chili and green onions. If you want something a little more substantial he’ll throw a couple of slices of the sweetish white sliced bread they seem to eat a lot of into the egg mix and fry the lot. 70 pence with bread, 45 pence without, a tasty evening snack.
On to Kerala and mixed experiences with dining out, the first meal we had was at “Jetty Restaurant” in the Fort Kochi https://www.fortekochi.in/ hotel. Although the food was acceptable the service was a little haphazard, the food being delivered to us individually, with my “catch of the day” arriving as my companions were halfway through their meal, still, it was the first fresh fish I’d had and although it was served “a la mode” with western accompaniments it was good eating. We (somewhat unwisely) had a second meal there, when we should have gone somewhere else, the choice being endless and the service was again indifferent. A lesson learned on our last night in Kerala.
I suppose the lunch we had on my 71st birthday was about as close to Indian “peasant” food as we were likely to get. Served on a banana leaf, in a small kitchen hut deep in the Kerala backwaters, we had a selection of home cooked vegetable curry, poori bread, coconut chutney and home made pickles. Far and away the spiciest food we’d eaten and, we were assured, the food the local vegetarians ate most days. I enjoyed it, although not everyone at the table felt the same.
The night before the boat trip we’d returned to a restaurant (The Eighth Bastion) and hotel https://www.cghearth.com/eighth-bastion/dining where we’d had a quick beer that afternoon. This was to be my “birthday meal” and the menu, which we’d studied at lunchtime piqued my interest. I wasn’t disappointed, although there were few other customers in the very smart and pristine dining room the food we all chose was excellent. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but this is where we should have returned to fine dining, Indian style, with free desserts as a birthday treat and the kitchen staff singing “Happy Birthday” to me. If you’re ever in Kochi then this would be high on my list of recommendations. Grouper fillet in a mild sauce, with sticky rice, pomegranate and an intriguing coconut based crumpet like, light “bread”. Delicious.
From Kerala to Goa and Cavelossim beach, where we had a seafood platter at The Seaways Shack. Beer is for almost nothing in Goa (around £1 for a 600 ml bottle), but you need to be careful when ordering seafood on the beach. I don’t suppose you can blame them for trying, but the original asking price of this mostly excellent and bountiful platter was 5000 rupees, over £50. I’d spoken to the manager a couple of times, this was just by where I swam most mornings and he’d let me use a sunbed for my towel and shirt, so I hadn’t expected him to try it on. Following a short haggle we came to an accommodation and I ended up paying 3000, although he did throw in the beer and the water. Disappointingly, no squid had been landed for a day or two, so we had to make do with the pre-prepared stuff, but the fish (a four pound Snapper) and the prawns, in three sizes, were produced for inspection prior to grilling. If you’re in the area it’s an experience I’d recommend, but be prepared to stand your ground.
Goa is a tourism hot spot and most of the eating places are properly geared up for tourists, we had some lovely food, a bit westernised as you can see from the above picture but at “Mikes Place” https://mikesplacegoa.com/, if you want some live music, a high quality, reasonably priced meal with excellent booze choices, served by friendly staff in a busy airy room with a real buzz about it and an eclectic, mostly Indian clientele, then here’s another “highly recommended”. I’d eaten a grilled snapper on my first visit (no regrets returning here for our final Indian meal) but decided to go for a mix of dishes. Tandoori chicken masala, king prawn madras, paneer pakora, onion bhaji, steamed rice, dry potato curry and garlic naan. A complimentary drink and dessert each finished off the evening perfectly. India enchanted me. Truly a trip of a lifetime.
Next Time; A View From The Greenhouse, Starting As I Mean To Carry On
© Colin Cross 2023