Friday, August 31, 2012

India Culinary Adventures

Ask anyone who has lived, worked or observed me over any significant amount of time and they will say that I love food. Not only do I love food they will say i’m extremely picky and critical of it. Most of the questions I received from family and friends before I left for India were along the lines of  “How will you eat?” or “How much weight do you think you will lose?”. I shared the same views. I was very pessimistic about my potential food intake. Amazingly, I actually gained 5 pounds and now have an appreciation for Indian cuisine.

The following are all of my India trip culinary adventures caught on camera.
This isn’t India yet, it’s actually at JFK. What I learned from this experience is never have bad chinese food at an airport with a nice glass of Montepulciano and then get on a 12 hour flight... and yes there were a couple of people present who can say “I told you so!”.

My first Indian breakfast. It was pretty good. The top left of the plate was some type of rice pancake that I could do without. Top right was sambar with some coconut and what I called Indian Donuts (sadly, I never knew their real name). I ended up eating a lot of sambar, it had great flavor. Bottom left was some type of spicy potato pancake that I loved. Lastly, on the bottom right, there was dosa. I later learned that the hotel’s breakfast dosa was by far the worst quality. It would be like getting steak and potatoes at T.G.I Friday’s and saying this is the best representation of that American food staple.

The banana leaf lunch! Which was the best lunch of the whole trip. The first time eating a meal completely with just my right hand that wasn’t a hot dog or hamburger. I liked everything that was served except for some pickled veggies that didn’t make it into this photo. The fried dough that was like potato chips was amazing. I honestly ate at least 5 of them. I actually loved the concept that they keep bringing you food until you fold the banana leaf up. I think IHOP should adopt the policy. The pancakes keep coming till that plates flipped, no more having to wave down the waitress.

Sadly I wasn’t able to get a photo of the culprit but this is the best I could do. If you follow Nithya's finger to behind the projection screen and had eaten a little bit from inside the buffet server you would have to agree that it was the worst pasta ever. I’m half Italian. When I originally opened it up I was delighted to see fusilli pasta with a  pesto sauce. Instead what touched my lips tasted like raw spinach, broccoli and some other green unknown vegetable blended up and served uncooked on pasta. Upon tasting it, half of my body wanted to take the contents of the dish and beat it a couple of times with a blunt object, roll it up in a carpet, throw it in a trunk, and then drive it to the nearest bridge and toss it off.

Now onto the best meal of the trip! Since a group of us liked the banana leaf lunch so much, and because Naveena was awesome enough to want to hang out with us, we experienced an amazing dosa meal at a local place she recommended. I plan on finding out if they have this someplace in the Capital District because it was just amazing. Besides how good this stuff tastes, I learned two other things about Indian restaurants. The first is that they are not used to one person ordering two entrees and three appetizers. It took some time for Naveena to convince the waiter that I wanted all that food. The second is their food is sooooooooo cheap. If I recall correctly, for around 16 dollars we got 9 entrees, 3 appetizers, and 3 bottles of water. Seriously, never turn down the chance of eating an onion dosa cooked in butter.
India actually has steaks! It was good. I really have to thank Gautam for the much needed vacation from liquid veggie sauces and dishes with small meat chunks. At that point of the trip I really needed just a giant chunk of meat to devour. For you cheapos out there, two filets cost about 12 dollars.

Now what better way to judge a country's food quality then by their junk food! Above,as modeled by Ulana, we have PoPo Cup Jelly (I preferred to refer to these as poo poo jelly cups) and Hippo round-round’s. The poo poo cups tasted like and had the texture of un-refrigerated jello. They were definitely not my favorite. The hippo round-round was basically like a garlic flavored cheese ball. I wish they had them over here because they were fantastic. 

Lastly, Crax corn rings. While having the texture of cheetos they had the flavor of something I never want to taste again. For something with the name Crax you would expect them to be addicting but they utterly failed in that category.
Above Jim demonstrates the appropriate way of thanking Jesus for American food franchises having opened up in India. As you can see, Pizza Hut in India is basically the same as Pizza Hut in America. The only difference we saw was in toppings and the delicious appetizer of meat on a stick. 

One of the my mains goals in India, even though it sounds foolish, was to try their version of a Big Mac. I love good food and bad (in so many ways) fast food. America is a fast food nation and I frequently eat at all of our chains. I needed to see what ours over there were like. I found out early on that KFC was exactly the same. McDonald's, besides the fries, was totally different burger-wise. They didn’t have our traditional beef burgers. They only had veggie, chicken and a paneer (which i’ll get to later).  Their version of the Big Mac is called the Chicken Maharaja. It was the worst fast food sandwich ever. It is the only fast food sandwich (Robert witnessed this) that I have ever taken 3 bites out of and stopped eating. Also note that just like in America the end product doesn’t really match the picture on the box. Thankfully the paneer sandwich I had from McDonald's made up for it. (see below). 
The McDonald’s McSpicy. is basically fried cheese. It proves that anything fried is good. Though I would warn people that the sauce was a little more spicy than what Americans consider spicy.

I’ve only been to three foreign countries in my life, Spain, Canada and India. I went to Spain in High School during a period where I refused to eat fish. Most of the cities I visited where coastal, this led to 90% of the menu being fish. I ended up eating a lot of salad which didn’t really leave a lasting impression and even then all their “ensalada mixtas” had canned tuna in it. Visiting Canada really wasn’t a foreign experience,  plus their bacon is a joke, so they automatically lose any culinary battle. Amazingly India has been the best experience culinary wise. I truly enjoyed most of the dishes that I had over there even though I couldn't pronounce them or in some cases tell what was in them.


Rakesh Bansal said...


Rakesh Bansal said...


Tom LaFrate said...

What can I say but... You are the "man vs. food" of India!

James Ebersold said...

I have been to a number of other countries and trying the food is always a highlight to me. Like you I love food. India was certainly a good place to be doing that and I enjoyed nearly everything although I was ready for a change by the time we departed. I wish I had tried some of the fast food but was too busy eating the other stuff.