To say that my taste buds have been dormant would be an understatement. Eating in India is like nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had lovely meals here, at people’s homes and elsewhere. But there’s something about food in India that ignites the taste buds with an explosive pleasure that I’ve yet to experience anywhere else.
This past trip, I made a list. I was strategic and focused in my culinary intentions. I had been meticulous about diet and exercise for the whole past year; but for that month, I intended to eat with abandon and relish, succumbing to the tantalizing offerings of the subcontinent. And that I did.
Going to Chennai, one has access to the best of South Indian cuisine. It’s a cuisine that is becoming increasingly popular in Toronto but still hard to find, compared to your typical North Indian restaurant menu (think butter chicken, saag paneer and rogan josht). The typical food of Tamil Nadu is simple and rice-based – easily digested and quite healthy. I had idlis, dosa and sambar regularly; my kids especially enjoyed the dosas, which are light crispy crepes that can be eaten with a myriad of condiments, including my kids’ favourite, butter and sugar.
I had chana batura, biryani, tandoori items, katti rolls (Chennai’s Tic Tac has the best ever), delicious vegetable curries (okra, spinach, bitter gourd, eggplant, cauliflower, lentils, vegetarian dumplings…) with freshly grilled chapatis and yogurt. The fantastic meals were numerous and awesome. A few stand out in my mind:
One was in Bombay, when I visited my sister-in-law’s lovely family in Andheri. They ordered dinner for us from Delhi Darbar, a Bombay institution that specializes in Moghlai food – kebabs, tandoor-prepared meats, biryanis and variety of other choices. We had chicken tikka masala, chicken tikka biryani, chicken seekh kebabs that literally melted in our mouths, cutlets and more. I cannot describe the taste of that meal – it was so delicious that I had to eat slowly and savour every precious mouthful.
In Bangalore, we went to the restaurant Rajdhani, which is an old institution from Bombay that has now been franchised across India. There is only one item on their menu, the Gujarati thaali, which is a set menu that includes appetizers like kaman dhokla, pakoras and samosas.
The main course consists of several curried vegetables, steaming hot phulkas and rice, sweet daal, chutneys and pickles. A heavenly meal that begins as soon as you walk in – as soon as your seated, the waiter sets up your thaal (a big stainless steel plate that has many little cups for all the various items, and space in the middle for rice, bread, pickles and appetizers)and starts filling your plate with savoury goodies.
Here’s a pic of my husband enjoying his yummy lunch at Rajdhani (UB City location):
It was amazing to my husband (he’s from Alberta and loves his red meat) that a vegetarian meal could be so incredibly satisfying. With the countless vegetarian offerings (they outnumber the non-veg options due to a largely Hindu population), it’s really easy not to eat meat in India – and not to miss it at all.
A couple of days before leaving, our family friend Usha Auntie came over with an assortment of homemade chaats (also purely vegetarian cuisine). Chaat has its origins in Bombay street food, and is comprised of appetizer items like bhel puri, pani puri, dahi puri, raj kachori to name a few. When I was a kid, it was difficult for us to indulge in chaat because the food on the street did not suit our foreign stomachs. Now, however, there are lots of more “established” chaat restaurants (like Kailash Parbat) that prepare the cuisine with mineral water. Nothing outside, however compares to homemade – and Usha Auntie’s meal was spectacular (her coup de grace was this unbelievable dessert made from lentils (yes, I’m serious – moong daal halwa to die for!). See below for pics: