|Tongba - hot millet beer specific to Tibetan tribes in the Himalayas.|
This blog post is at its 2nd draft, after the first one has been nuked by a browser crash. I feel like the first draft was more savory, and I'm trying hard to reconstruct its vibe. Before we arrived in India, we've been warned multiple time by fellow travelers about all the health problems we might have from eating Indian food, what to avoid, what and where not to eat, what medicine we should have with us. We've been told not to touch meat in India at all, under any circumstances, to brush our teeth only with bottled water, and to make sure that the caps of bottled water are sealed at time of purchase. Apparently, people (especially at hotels) refill used plastic bottles with unsafe water and re-sell them to unsuspecting tourists. Drinking regular water in India can lead to severe diarrhea and even dysentery. We became really paranoid in checking the caps of every bottle of water we purchased.
|Samosas for sale on the street in Old Delhi.|
I believe the reason why eating in India is notorious for getting people sick is the unsanitary condition in which food is prepared, stored or presented. The streets are always packed with people, animals and motorized traffic. The air is loaded with smoke and dust. There are flies everywhere. Food is served on the side of the road, uncovered and unrefrigerated. A bus drives by leaving a trail of exhaust smoke that settles on the food. A rickshaw goes by that stirs up a cloud of dust. A cow goes by that leaves a big moist dung right in front of the food stand. And then the ever present flies, who probably sit first on the warm cow dung, then on the food, then on people's faces, then back to the cow dung. Either Indians have acquired a remarkable immunity to diseases caused by dirt, or they shit their pants as much as we tourists do, but don't complain about it.
We ate samosas on the street and they were delicious. I particularly loved the environmentally-friendly, bio-degradable bowl made of dried banana leaves. For those reading this post who don't know what a samosa is, it's a savory pastry made of dough filled with a spicy mix of potatoes and peas, then deep-fried. It's probably my most-favorite Indian treat and I wish you could find it on the streets of San Francisco as a snack, as easily as you can get it in New Delhi.
India is mostly a vegetarian country. In Rajasthan, the majority of the population is Muslim, so they don't eat pork. The rest of the population is Hindu, and they don't eat beef. The only meet you can find is either chicken or mutton, but meat eating overall is not very popular in this region of the country. We involuntarily became vegetarians for the 2 weeks spent in India, and surprisingly I didn't miss meat at all. The cuisine is rich and diversified enough to feel satisfied just with breads, rice and vegetables. I realized I could easily live without meat, at least for a while... (Now that I'm in Romania, the smell of grilled sausages coming from my mom's kitchen is so insanely good that I'm glad I'm not a vegetarian.)
Part Two: Recovering From "Delhi Belly" in Nepal
We arrived in Nepal via overland border crossing at Saunali. We were stoked to leave India, so we took a few photos in front of the "Welcome to Nepal" border sign, in which we are jumping with joy and cheering. Soon after, we checked into our hotel in Lumbini (the town where Buddha was born about 500 years BC) and we celebrated properly with our first bottle of Everest beer. Well, Anne did (see image below), as I was still recovering from my second episode of stomach sickness from Varanasi, and decided to stay away from beer for a while. Ironically, we came to notice that many restaurants in Nepal had a "recover from India belly" item on the menu, featuring mild rice puddings and muesli with bananas.
|Gorkha beer - reminiscent of the fearless Nepali Gurkha soldiers.|
|Drinking tongba - the traditional Tibetan beer made of hot fermented millet.|
Olive Cafe in Pokhara. We loved that restaurant sooooo much, that we went there every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything was cooked to such an extent of perfection that I literally licked the plate at the end of every meal. I remember once the waiter took the salad plate away from me, and I desperately stared at the last drops of delicious dressing left on it. We also visited their sister restaurant in Pokhara and the New Orleans Cafe in Kathmandu, both under the same ownership. Last time I talked to Anne, she was planning on writing a letter to the owner of the restaurant, to congratulate him on what a delight his restaurants have been for us.
papadum (a crispy flat bread, also typical in Indian cuisine.)
Monica, May 15, 2012