Sunday, February 11, 2007

Food For Thought

One day, between mouthfuls of brownie, a friend of ours visiting Kodai with us, said “India is the best place to holiday - the main reason being food. If you holiday in Europe for instance, you’ll be spending a lot of money, not to mention working up an already worked-up appetite searching for a place to eat.”

We heard this refrain, not to mention lavish praise for the sheer variety and flavour, at every mealtime on our three-day trip to Kodai. This, from an Indian who lived in India until a couple of years ago.

We didn’t know what he meant then, but these things have a strange way of turning up in one’s life.

The Better Half (henceforth referred to as BH) and I are just back from a three-week trip to Europe and believe our friend should sport a halo for the truths that he uttered between mouthfuls of brownie.

We had three main problems with food in Europe.
a. Vegetarianism
b. Affordability
c. Flavour

With vegetarianism, things are clear. Go or no go. Provided the person at the restaurant understands the concept. Or understands English. In any case, our consumption of yoghurt and fruit went up substantially.

While our vegetarianism did complicate things, the ordeal was in finding affordable food. Outside every restaurant, a menu is on display. We saw so many menus in an average day, that we’ve turned menu-scrutiny into a fine art. It’s a miracle we even managed to see the Eiffel Tower!

When it comes to flavour, the Indian palate is saturated. We love the pungency of garlic, the cloying sweetness of masala tea, and the ‘dunk-myself-in-the-lake’ spice of pickles. In Europe, the blandness is disconcerting, probably because we didn’t quite have the local fare that was mostly non-vegetarian.

Then comes the issue of museum food. Most museums in Europe are humongous and one can easily spend an entire day, thinking it’s just been a couple of hours. When the hunger hits home, there’s only one place that’s accessible – the museum cafetaria. Believe me, some of the food in there, should have been part of the permanent collection of the museum. A wedge of Spanish omelette, costed an awful lot, came stone cold and just as hard.

We did discover some Tandoori outlets where the food was not all that affordable but at least authentic. The owners were friendly and ensured the food was spiced a little more than what they’d serve otherwise. My most vivid memory was of a quiet meal where BH and I focused completely on the task at hand – wolfing down parathas and sabji in record time, all the while calculating how much the food would cost us if converted to Indian Rupees.

Maybe we were inexperienced. Maybe we didn’t hit the right outlets. Maybe we were naïve. The end result was that in all our photographs of the trip, we look hungry. Coming home, we gushed, not unlike our friend, about the sheer variety and flavour of food in India. Our value-add to the description was ‘inexpensive’.

As one owner of a Tandoori eatery in Paris said, “Indian food is like a drug. If someone tastes it once, it’s an addiction for life.”

Unlike with our friend at the beginning of this article, this time, we understood exactly what he meant.

(Article appeared in The Friendly Post, Kodaikanal in December 2006)

1 comment:

DE-C-IDE Solutions said...

Knock, Knock! This is Prana from Chennai. I've been asked to do a piece on local media in Kodaikanal and I'm hence covering "The Friendly Post", Prasar Bharti radio and a local cable TV channel. May I please have your two cents on this? I would greatly appreciate your contribution. This is pure academic work and I will be happy to maintain confidentiality if need be.
I look forward to hearing from you.