Friday, June 17, 2016

India Trip Round Up

India's a pretty fascinating place when it comes to food, there's a certain expectation about what to expect when you eat there, however there's also some realities that get in the way. We all know Indian food from eating at our local Indian restaurant (found in many Western countries). While the food is similar, it's a little bit different.  The main difference comes from the fact that when you're in India, you're sitting in a developing country.  While I did eat at many fine establishments in India, I also ate in more places that would probably be shut down in a matter of minutes in Western countries.  That's not to say that the food wasn't good, or that they didn't try to make the meal pleasant, it's just a different environment, and different ingredients than many of us are used to finding in Indian restaurants.

There's also a diversity in India that you just don't find in average Indian restaurants.  We only traveled in the northern part of India, a small fraction of the country, yet we tasted so much variety in the food.  In some cases it was drastic, like the Tibetan influence in McLeod Ganj, or subtle differences, like the variations of butter chicken we sampled.
Speaking of butter chicken, this is easily my favourite classic Indian food, and because of this I made sure to sample as many different versions as I could.  To my biggest surprise, apparently in the north of India it's more common to eat butter chicken with the bone in.  It took a bit of getting used to, but eventually I was OK.  We also did a little research, and planned a visit to Moti Mahal in Delhi.  This restaurant is known to be the place where butter chicken got its start, and famous chefs (including Gordon Ramsay) have visited this place to learn how it's done.  The butter chicken at Moti Mahal was fantastic, and what I appreciated most was the fact that the chicken is shredded (like pulled pork) and then mixed in the sauce.  It creates a great texture and really gets the creamy sauce all around.
Probably my second favourite meal on the trip happened in McLeod Ganj, a city famous for the fact that it's where the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan government in exile are now located.  I don't know if I've ever tasted Tibetan cooking before, but I'm now hooked.  Tibetan food is simple, hearty, and full of flavour.  I fell in love with two dishes in particular, Momos, and Thentuk.  Momos are small dumplings that are either steamed or fried, and can be filled with just about anything.  Thentuk is a chicken soup with all kind of vegetables, and fantastic flat noodles.  Why Tibetan food is not more popular in North America I do not know, not only is it tasty, but it's simple enough that many picky eaters wouldn't be afraid of it.
Sweets and candy wise I pretty much got what I expected, lots of small treats, similar to what you might find in Indian restaurants in North America.  There were a few new ones to try, but not too many big surprises.  Salty snacks are also very popular in India; I imagine that the spicy options (of which there are many) make salty snacks popular in this country.  The big surprise for me when it came to candy was the amount of chocolate all over the place.  Most of it seemed to be Cadbury, or Cadburyesq chocolate bars.  I imagine that this comes from the British influence of the past.
Although not a sweet, one thing that you must try in India if you get the opportunity are the mangoes.  Not only is the quality fantastic, but the variety is amazing.  I've been told that there are hundreds of variety to choose from, and you can pretty much find them everywhere.  Better still you can also try many different sweet treats flavoured with mango as well.  From ice cream to candies, mango is a really popular flavour and a really popular fruit in India, and for good reason.

The big disappointment on this trip came from the western food. I often enjoy sampling chain restaurants in foreign countries to see how they change up things for their own taste.  We tried 4 different fast food places, and all but one was pretty gross.  KFC, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut, all didn't agree with my North American sensibilities at all.  Maybe the changes were too much, but I didn't like them.  The only chain that worked for me was Subway, and when we ordered we avoided any fresh vegetables (because it's a developing country).  If you're going to get fast food in India, go local.  Visit a Dahba or any street food vendor for some great local flavour.  As I said above, you do have to make sure that everything's cooked, and even then you're taking a bit of a risk.  But when the risk pays off in India, it pays off so well that's it's worth a few bad nights on the porcelain throne.


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