Monday, October 7, 2013

Food, Glorious Food

A question from someone back home reminded me that I haven't actually talked about food here.  Which is (I'm sure to some of you) criminal, as it's something that India is known for.  So, first and foremost, let me say that Indian food - like Chinese food - is vastly different in the actual country than in restaurants in the U.S.  Big surprise, right?  In my cuisine class, I actually learned that a lot of "Indian" food sold is influenced by Punjabi cuisine and has been stripped of a lot of the regional intricacies that make Indian food so different.  Anyways, moving on:

We provide our own breakfasts here, as well as dinner four times a week (plus any eating out at restaurants that we want to do).  The program gives us a stipend to go grocery shopping, which is fantastic.  We have dinner sent to us from the university in a tiffin three evenings a week.  The contents vary, but we can almost always count on rice!  (More on that later.)  We tend to eat lunch at the university's mess hall, as it is free for us to do so.

Lunch at the mess is almost always the same and it's easy to adapt to its routine.  You enter the mess hall, find a stainless steel plate from the racks, and head out to the other side where you wash the plate and your hands, making sure to clean under the nails, because eating here is done with the hands.  Handwashing, actually, is always done before meals, even in restaurants.  Then, you bring your plate back into the mess hall, go up to the enormous pot of rice, serve yourself some, spoon some sambar over it (along with raita, or a cilantro-chili-curd mixture, to cool the taste if you want), get some kind of vegetable dish from the aunties serving the food as well as a fried, crunchy pappadam, and go sit.

You mix the sambar and rice with your hands, breaking pieces of the pappadam into it, and eat that.  The rice is often very hot so it takes me a little time to do this - not so for my Indian friends!  But it's become easy to eat with my hands.  I tend to eat the veg dish last.  Often, the people who prepare our food will slice fresh cucumbers and carrots for us, and provide us hard-boiled eggs.  But that's only for the ISP students.  When finished eating, you take your plate back out through the back door, dump the small food waste into a large plastic barrel, take a pinch of clay soap, and clean off your plate and your hands.  After stacking the plate on one of the racks to dry, you're done.

The food is very spicy to my poor taste buds, which aren't used to it at all.  They're getting there, I hope.  The dishes are not only hot, a result of the green chili peppers AND the chili powder they add, they are also spicy and flavorful, with a variety of spices mixed in.  In our cuisine class where we made tomato rice pilaf, we added not only chili, onions, and bay leaves, but cardamom and cinnamon as well to create a balance of spices.  That said, while the food is very tasty (even for mess food), it can be hard at times.  I'm just glad we aren't eating some of the Kerala food; one of my Malayalee friends told me that her grandmother's cooking makes her cry, it's so hot - and she's used to it!

South Indian cooking (at least in Tamil Nadu) is centered around rice.  Lots and lots of rice.  Lots.  And lots.  I can't really emphasize how much rice there is.  But, thankfully, it does get mixed up sometimes with chapatti, parotta, and dosa just enough that we don't go crazy from all the rice.  I think it's really that I'm not used to it . . . but I am starting to get used to it.  It's hard to be here and not adapt to eating rice multiple times a day (three times if you have idli for breakfast!) without fail.  But as with everything here, I'm slowly getting used to it, and for the most part, enjoying all of it.  Even the chilies.  

1 comment:

  1. When you come home - if you want to host an Indian dinner - I'm game!