Saturday, July 9, 2011

India

When I was in undergrad I did a bunch of research studying salmonella. I became really good friends with a bunch of my lab mates, especially Supreet who was getting his PhD at the time. He grew up in Delhi, and after getting his doctorate moved back to India to teach at IIT (for those of you that don't know, it's kind of a big deal).

Vacation time is pretty scarce in med school, and I promised Supreet that I'd come visit him. I quickly realized that time was short and put together a trip for after my boards and before the beginning of third year. I was there for ten days, and besides the blistering heat, breathtaking historical sites, and bewildering culture there was also some baller food. I know this extends beyond my realm of "eating Chicago," but I thought some of the meals were pretty authentic and noteworthy. Plus it helps put the Indian food here in perspective.

Breakfast
Most of our breakfasts for the trip were unique with a general theme. There was lots of fried dough, bread, fruit and yogurt. To clarify, the yogurt isn't like the yoplait stuff we go for here. It's a bit runnier, and there's no sweetness to it. One morning we had a particularly good breakfast of yogurt and what I think was called Aloo Tikki which is like an Indian potato pancake. It was like Hanukkah except that it was 110 degrees out.

A Typical Breakfast Platter

The Aloo Tikka

Lunch
Typically for lunch we had a Thali which is basically a platter of food for a set price. The plate has a variety of breads, vegetables, yogurts, stews, and sauces. Depending on what state of India we were in, the food on the thali changed. In Gujarat (a large western state) for instance, it's standard to put sugar in some of the vegetable dishes. I couldn't really get used to it. Still, most of the thalis were delicious and cost the equivalent of $3.

A Thali in Agra

 A Thali in Gujarat

Dinner
Our largest meals were definitely the dinners. Rather than talk about the typical, in this case I'd like to point out the unique foods I came across. Supreet's mother made a bunch of our dinners which consisted of roti, rice, yogurt, some vegetable, and either a stew of chicken, lentils, or paneer (a cheese cube that's kind of like tofu). One night we had a dinner that consisted of Idli, Tandoori Chicken, and Dosa. Idli is a rice cake steamed in a flavored broth, and Dosa is a fermented rice crepe usually served with potatoes. When we were in Cochin we came across a restaurant holding what they called Biryani fest. Biryani is a rice dish combined with different ingredients, kind of like fried rice. We went for the seafood version which had shellfish and nuts mixed in.

Chicken in a Tomato Base

Yogurt with Chickpeas

Idli

Dosa

Tandoori Chicken

Paneer in a Tomato Base

Sauteed Okra

Naan
 
Fish Stew
 
Chicken Tikka

It's also worth noting that a ton of the restaurants had a Chinese or Thai menu next to their Indian items. I thought this was pretty strange at first, but based on the proximity of the countries it makes some sense. We had one really great Thai meal in Mumbai with Supreet's friend Goutam.

Goutam and his soup

Thai Veggie Bowl

 Thai Noodle Bowl

Overall
There are some major differences between the Indian food I had in the states vs. abroad. First of all, the food in the states is way heavier. Next, everything in India was much spicier. I got used to it after a day or two, but at times I felt like a tongue dipped in candle wax would've come in handy. Finally, everything had a fresh quality to it. Sometimes you feel like in the states an Indian restaurant has a green sauce and a red sauce, and that when you order they throw in whatever protein you requested. I knew that for many of my meals in India, the chicken was alive only hours before eating it and that sauces were made from fresh ground spices and pureed vegetables that had been brought to market that day.

I don't know if I can eat Indian food for a few more weeks, mostly because I've been over-saturated, but when I get back to it, I'll have some excellent comparisons to make.

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