Eating India

Don’s Food Corner has taken over the blog today:

One of the features of our trip to India that we most anticipated was experiencing the richness and differences of the food in each region. Little did I expect, however, that within just a few days we would be treated to a nearly encyclopedic tour of the cuisines of all of India.

Let me explain how this happened:  With our first breakfast at the “club” room of our resort, I ordered from the Indian section of the menu instead of the Western choices such as omelets, French toast, pancakes, fried eggs with bacon, etc. As an obvious Westerner, my interest in the regional dishes was greeted with great surprise and delight.

I first ordered Poori Bhaji, which is a dish that features puffy fried whole wheat bread served with a spicy potato curry. This apparently is a very common breakfast choice, not only in the southern regions of India but elsewhere as well. Here you can see the menu choices as well as the way the Poori Bhaji was served.  I thought it was fantastic and told the server how much I enjoyed it.

Because I had shown such enthusiasm for this Indian breakfast, when we returned the next day the waiter told me that the chef had prepared a special treat that was not on the menu. It turned out to be an elaborate presentation of a southern Indian specialty called Masala Dosa. This is a rice batter crepe that comes either stuffed with a potato and onion mixture or is served plain with a variety of different types of condiments — from pickled mango to spicy tomato sauce to coconut chutney. In this case, all was delivered on a beautifully arranged boat-like wooden plank. The chef delivered it himself, explaining each of the condiment choices. I’m embarrassed to report that I don’t remember every choice and didn’t have the presence of mind to write down what the chef told me. All of it was so perfectly prepared and complex in flavor and texture. I think I had tasted all of this before, but not all in one place and at one time. It was almost overwhelming.

But my enthusiasm for that breakfast sparked the chef to outdo himself the next day. We had a sense that something special was coming when the server at the club telephoned the night before and asked what time we would be arriving for breakfast. We were not really prepared, however, for what they brought us in the morning.

On this day two chefs brought us breakfast. One chef was from the south, the other from the north. Each chef prepared breakfast dishes distinctive to their regions. This feast — really meant, I think, for six or more people and not two — featured five different kinds of bread and nine different kinds of accompanying vegetarian delights. Again overwhelmed by the choices, I can identify only a few of them. There was a potato and pea curry called Aloo Matar; a chickpea masala called Chena Masala; another gravy-style potato dish; a deeply flavored sauce featuring cauliflower and five more jaw-dropping selections. The breads were both flat breads and deep-fried puffy types. The whole thing was visually breathtaking with each selection presented in a half coconut shell with the breads in the center. We didn’t know where to begin and ultimately we were so stuffed that we had to end without eating it all. I’m sorry all of you couldn’t have been here to help!

As you can see, the chefs were proud of their creation and the staff took many photos of us, the chefs and the presentation. Later we learned that everyone who worked at the resort has seen the photos. We are now officially famous.

We were, of course, extremely enthusiastic. I had never seen anything like it. Nor had we ever tasted so many spectacular combinations of flavors — all so bright and distinctive.

But then the chefs ratcheted up their game and came up with something even more spectacular this morning.

We knew when we arrived for breakfast that we were in for something really special when we saw a table had been set up for us and another adjacent table had been cleared. After a short wait, our two chefs arrived carrying a gigantic wooden platter, decorated in banana leaves, brilliant red chili peppers and sprigs of fresh curry leaves. Today’s extravaganza — and again representing selections from both south and north Indian cuisines — included an array of different kinds of rolled breads, some filled and some plain, surrounded by 25 different little bowls each containing a different variety of curry and condiment. I don’t have a comprehensive list of all that was there, but here is a partial list: lentil curry, spiced tomato, coriander curry, coconut curry, pickled mango, ghee, gunpowder, pickled cucumber, spiced carrot, deep fried noodles and tomato and onion relish.

We scooped, dipped, spooned and forked our way around the table. I think we were able to sample every one of the 25 choices as well as a little of each of the breads, but I’m not sure. I asked the chef if they had been up all night preparing this spectacular presentation. He replied that it only took a half hour. I know better. I’ve made some of those dishes and each one can take a long time. That presentation represented hours of work.

I can’t imagine that we are going to find better as we travel the next three months around India. But maybe not. Maybe this is just a taste of even better to come.

This evening when we went back to the club for a drink and a light snack, the waiter gave a sly smile when I asked if tomorrow’s breakfast would be a more simple repast. He only said that he hadn’t been told what the chefs had planned. But he wanted to know what time we would be coming for breakfast.

Will tomorrow top the last three days?  Stay tuned.


5 thoughts on “Eating India

  1. Oh my, Donald Bourdain! Happy to see you are well fed and savoring every bit of it. This is proof of what I have told you, “A guest is treated like God”! I want to catch the next flight. Your personal photographer looks like she is enjoying the assignment as well.

  2. Great photograph!
    John and I both agree that the Indian lifestyle is serving you well.
    Kudos to your personal photographer.

  3. This was so fascinating to see! Thank you for sharing your experience through these pictures and blogs. I am glad that you were able to experience and appreciate different flavors from various regions in India.

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