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“So which part of India are you from?”
“The very southern part”
I’m a brown man in India. That lives in Mexico. With Sri Lankan parents. And Portugese/German ancestry. A mixed bag of lollies that was fused together in Wonka’s factory into one brown lollie - with a moustache.
About a week ago I lobbed into New Delhi, keen to see the sights and taste the delights that is Indian cuisine on a real food adventure. What a fricken treat. I get off the plane to everyone speaking to me in hyperspeed Hindi. My face would have been like one of those boxer dogs who turn their head at a weird sound. Culturally sensitive and well prepared for my journey in India, I immediately cracked out one of the three Hindi words i know “Dhanyavad” (thankyou) to which I also received the confused boxer look - [the other two are yes (oo) and no (ney).]
Welcome to India.
Over the next very full days my senses were in overload. Smashed in the face by exotic smells of fresh bangin’ spices, poked in the eyes by a kaleidoscope of colour and punched in the guts (once) by a mystery, ill prepared food bandit - let’s call him delhi belly.
You’re not going to escape. India will give you one hell of experience but will also take a couple of kilos. As they say shit happens. Nothing like a bit of unexpected dieting and it’s totally worth it.
Ok, back to brown. Being brown has its pros and cons. On one hand people don’t rip you off immediately but on the other hand they eventually do. You can pass through public places unseen but pull out a camera and your cover is blown. The biggest advantage on this trip is that the Indians will give you the authentic version of a dish rather than the ‘tourist’ version. Winner winner ‘chicken’ tikka dinner.
Picture this. Steaming Tandoori with a garlic naan glistening with Ghee (clarified butter) on a Udaipur rooftop watching the sun set on onion domes listening to a hooting competition on the street below. Or salivate over home cooked Curried Bhindi in an old Aunties kitchen in suburban Agra (We’ll get back to this later) or or or Tikka anything. How do they keep nailing Tikka anywhere at anytime? We’ve all eaten Tikka but did you know the word means ‘pieces’? Basically boneless tandoori chicken pieces marinated in spices and yogurt forming pure gastronomic goodness. An ‘indifact’ if there ever was one. Also declared a British national dish by British foreign secretary, Robin Cook, in 2011. You can have that ‘indifact’ for free. Yes, you’re welcome.
Bhindi Bhindi Bhindi - I’m salivating just thinking about it. Some may describe it as curried phelgm due to it slimey nature but for me it’s manna from the heavens. The scotch to my whisky. Beavis to my butthead. Ok, I’ll shut up. My Mum makes a similar Sri Lankan dish at home called bandaka prepared in a similar manner with Mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, vegetable oil and garlic. Oh and tomatoes added late in the game. Not sure if thats my mum’s secret step but i’ve fucked it up now. The Indian chef (our tour guide Pradeep’s brother in law) said it regulates something when eaten regularly. Not sure what it regulates but it sounded important so I implore you to eat it. Actually i dare you to make it. Check out my Mum’s recipe at the end of the article.
I think i love the food so much much because it’s similar to what my mum and extended family would cook bar our european influence. When i was super young my sisters and i couldn’t eat the stuff and wanted what the other kids were having - oh how times change.
This foodie fantasia continues well beyond the food to dope drinks as we discovered at The Bombay Canteen in Mumbai. Using what looked like a 100 year old soda machine from northern india, this stylin’ hipster bar/restaurant frequented by bollywood stars and corrupt cricketers alike make what I could only call ‘the best soda i’ve ever had’...soda. They infuse roasted cumin, fresh spices and put this heavenly elixir into an old skool glass bottle complete with a marble inside to keep in the fizz by pressure. Push on the marble and with a satisfying hiss you’re treated to a fresh curried aroma (ok doesn’t sound that good but you had to be there) backed up by the best subtly suave tasting roasted cumin soda you’ve ever smacked your lips around. Not to mention the modern take on everything Indian from cuisine to elaborate cocktails.
You’ve heard it a million times before from your newly converted, barefoot, yoga worshiping, green vegetable only ‘namaste’ mates but there truly is just so much to experience in India. Even for all us regular people too and even if you look like everyone else there. It’s a country that just keeps giving, and if you scratch a little deeper and get off the itinerary you’ll be rewarded in spades. The endless smiles, relentless energy, ever changing landscapes, and the people you meet in the street and on the tour. It’s why I travel so much. This is living.
Oh and let’s not forget that Bhindi. God damn that glorious Bhindi. (insert drool emoji)
So here’s my mum’s not so secret recipe.
250 g Frozen or fresh
1 large onion
2 teaspoons raw curry powder (optional)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tblspoon oil
Fry onions in oil until slightly brown then add cut up tomatoes. Mix garlic tumeric and curry powder and stir for a few minutes. When all have been mixed up add in the okra/ bandakka and cook for 10 minutes. Then add in the coconut milk and leave for a further 5 minutes on stove. Take off and serve with rice. Enjoy!!!!
‘Indifact’ - a fact that Denver makes up about India but on occasion is true.
‘Namestes’ - people who have supposedly found themselves by not being themselves for a small moment of time. They can be identified by newly woven dreadlocks, happy pants, and a sudden full on love for yoga. Invented by Ben McNamara