To the power of 10
By Sylvie Berthiaume
India is THE paradise for vegetarians, which represent a very large portion of the population. It is also for tourists already vegetarians or for those who decide to adopt this way of life during their trip, encouraged by the beautiful and wide variety of Indian dishes or to avoid food poisoning possible by the consumption of meat poorly refrigerated, insufficiently cooked or extensively exposed to the sun, as in any hot country.
That being said, the meat, fish and seafood dishes are as delicious as the vegetarian ones.
And, everywhere, including in the high-end restaurants, full meals are very generous and at a small price, compared to the prices in the western world. Only the consumption of wine, beer and alcohol, very little widespread, add a lot to the bill.
Example to follow: Indian law obliges the restaurants owners to give to the poor, the food left by their customers.
Anytime, anywhere: Masala Chaï
Everywhere and in any occasion, everybody enjoy this tea both heartening, relaxing, energizing and possessing anti-cancer virtues. It is the national drink, by its genuine recipe and because India is the first producer of tea in the world.
It is so widespread that there are waiters-competitors of Chaï – almost running athletes with their large trays loaded by dozens of small glasses or terracotta cups - who deliver to customers on the streets and public places, or to workers in office and industrial buildings.
It is a strong black tea, to which are added more milk than water, sugar, ginger and cardamom. Some even add pepper, cinnamon and cloves. Diabetics and people on a low- calories diet may at least taste it.
Anyone who wants to drink tea, without milk or sugar, must absolutely specify, "black tea", otherwise he or she will automatically get Chaï.
Coffee is a rare commodity in India; it is not impossible to find it in some places, but there is a risk that it will only be the «instant» type.
Master blend or very hot: The spices
In the markets, alignments of jute bags or of metal trays from which emerge small colored mountains, provide odours that make us dizzy, salivate or sneeze.
These are the spices and herbs - revealing the "essence of India" - which make the Indian kitchen so distinctive and likely to create a real passion, or even an addiction. Among others: turmeric, curry, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin, saffron, nutmeg, mustard, clove, fenugreek, fennel, coriander.
They are found in different dosages in all the dishes, sauces, marinades, pickles, chutneys and drinks. For the taste first, but also to burn bacteria, stimulate metabolism and promote maintenance of a good physical and mental health.
For a memorable olfactory experience, ask your guide or tuk-tuk driver to take you to the market where you will find numerous stalls of spices, and in specialized shops where one finds all the imaginable assortment of spices, teas, incenses and of essential oils: stunning!
Some tour operators also offer excursions during several days to discover the spices where they are produced, to learn how to harvest, cook and enjoy them.
Robust and rich: Animal proteins
As the majority of the Indian population is of Hindu religion, and to a lesser extent Buddhist, the cow is a sacred animal. That is why people do not eat beef in India.
In fact, the red meat that was eaten in the past, was buffalo, camel, mutton and goat, until recently - end of 2017 – as the Hindu government in place formally prohibited these meats, arguing that their slaughter is cruel to animals.
However, chicken, shrimp and freshwater fish are very common. Most of the time, they are served in very rich sauces made of cream and oil.
Finally, the Indians do not eat eggs, because of their bad cholesterol.
Inevitable and irresistible: Bread and rice
The bread well known outside of India is naan bread, broad, thick, in part fluffy, in part crisp because it is baked in a tandoor oven. Its almost sweet taste pleases everyone.
Other lighter breads are eaten, especially in the morning. These are the chapatis, rotis, parathas and purís, taking the form of small thin round patties, made of whole weat flour or white flour, and cooked by using fat or not.
At lunch and dinner, papadum is added: It is a crispy and very thin version of bread made of lentil flour to which is added cumin. It is eaten alone or dipped in a flavored yoghurt or with very spicy carrots, making you sweat...
In addition to a type of bread, the dishes are almost always accompanied by basmati rice served white, or according to the Biryani or Pulao recipes, which include up to 20 vegetables and spices.
The classic dish, often in vegetarian version, isthe thali. In a tray with edges, small cups called katoris, contain an assortment of tastes and odours: Lentil (dahl), Indian yoghurt (curd or raita) to cool down some spices, mango or spicy lime pickle, raw onion slices, vegetables or meat in sauce, rice, bread, white light cheese raw or fried (paneer), onion, peppers or coconut donuts (bhajis or samosas). The tray also serves as a plate for gradually pour the content of the cups. Varied, nice, practical, it is always too much to eat, although delicious.
With the right hand - never the left considered unclean - we tear the bread to make spoons forming mouthfuls of meat, vegetables and sauce.
A drink, with or without alcohol
Apart from the Chaï, Indians are fond of Lassi, a beverage made of shaken liquid yoghurt, to which are added fresh fruit.
In India, it is very common that restaurants and even some hotels do not serve alcohol or wine, or maybe only beer. The reason: since Ghandi era, the consumption of alcohol is prohibited or strongly discouraged to avoid personal and social damage.
The most popular beer in the north of India is the Kingfisher, to drink alone or with a meal.
India does not produce a lot of wine, but those of the Sula brand (red and white) and the York (sparkling) are pleasant and average price.
The spirits sold in India are most of the time of international brands, that one has to pay a very high price. The Indian whiskey, Amrut, is of good quality and there are several brands of rum.
The local spirits, as the Arak, are often manufactured in a craft way… very vtrong - up to 70% alcohol - to drink "at your own risk".
To buy wines, beers and spirits, you must go at small and rare private counters open on the streets called "Wine and beer shops". The tuk-tuk driver will get you there: First, ask for the price of the short trip … to avoid a significant increase of the price of alcohol, for the tourist that you are.
To avoid surprises and the loss of time, a good idea is to buy your wine when you arrive at the duty-free shop at the airport, if this crosses your mind… after such a long trip!
Finally, according to some... cold milk to which are added a few strands of saffron, to drink before going to bed, would be a "natural Viagra". For those who may be concerned...
A very sweet tooth
Two desserts and two candies who have made their fame also outside of India, reveal themselves absolutely decadent – but how exciting:
The kheer, a sort of pudding made with milk, rice and bourghour or vermicelli
The gulab jamun, a beautiful ball made of milk, buttermilk and sugar, flavored with cardamom, before being fried and served in a thick syrup
The barfi, sort of fudge, composed of concentrated milk, sugar, fruit, nuts, spice
The jalebi, also called zlabia, a frying easily recognizable in its dark orange color, coated with syrup.
After the meal: Snuff
The snuff, abandoned for a very long time in the West, is quite widespread in Rajasthan.
Some theories say that the popular tobacco is less harmful to health than the smoked tobacco to which the companies add toxic products.
Pupils, papillae and nostrils do not know boredom in India.