18 July 2013

The Indian Food Here is Really Authentic!

Just like the post from Nepal (see Nepalicious!), I am going to write a post showcasing the foods eaten here in India. The food in India is so delicious - so many flavors and spices! It's a treat to be a vegetarian in a country where people know and understand vegetarian cooking.

For lunch in Varanasi we went to a restaurant called Lemongrass. It was recommended by our Homestay host, Hamish. This restaurant served a menu of Indian-Chinese fusion. We were there with the Patel family (a family of Indian origin from England), so we ordered a lot of different dishes and shared. We tried: Methi Malai Matar, Haka Noodles, Dal Makani, Vegetable Kufta, Jeera Rice, Naan (Garlic and Butter varieties), Chili Paneer, Vegetable Manchurian (dry) and a salted lassi. Methi Malai Matar was a creamy curry made with mustard greens and peas. Haka Noodles were basically stir fry noodles. Dal Makani is made with a dark lentil and some pinto beans. It is my favorite Dal! A Kufta is basically a dumpling made of semolina and vegetables. Jeera Rice is rice with cumin. Naan is an Indian bread - very delicious! Chili Paneer is paneer (a pressed cheese) cooked with chili powder and other spices - really good! Manchurians were another form of Kufta. Everything was delicious and it was fun to share with everyone and have the opportunity to try lots of dishes. (Sadly we forgot to take a photo until the end --so you can see we really dug in and enjoyed the food!)

After the meal, they brought out fennel seeds (toasted) and sugar cubes. These are used to freshen breaths.

They also brought us each a bowl of warm water with a lemon in it. This was for washing our hands and cleaning off. In mine they dropped what looked to be a little tablet. It unfolded into a cloth. Very convenient!

At dinnertime we went out again with the Patel Family. This time to a restaurant called I:ba. This restaurant was known for it's Thai food, so we thought it would be fun to eat Thai food in India. However, upon ordering we learned that there was no Thai food available that evening - so we ate Indian. We ordered Vegetarian MoMos and an "Indian Meal". The MoMos were very Asian (rather than Indian) and filled with a tofu mixture rather than vegetables. The Indian meal came with a mixed vegetable curry, yellow Dal, Zeera Rice, Roti, and a vegetable Raika. We also ordered a lemon soda half-half (half sweet, half salted). We tried to order a coconut shake, but they were out of those too. The food was good and it was a nice evening meal - even better than the food, the Patel family was a great family to spend time with.

For breakfast again we had a type of Paratha. It was nice, with a yoghurt and homemade mango pickle. This Paratha was not as filled as the one the day before, but still really nice.

For lunch we went to a restaurant called Saffron. At Saffron we ordered Dosa. Dosa is a rice pancake filled with various fillings. Our Dosa was a paneer dosa, so it was filled with paneer. We also ordered a side of Chili Paneer to share with the Patels. To drink, we had another lemon soda (salty this time) and for desert Kulfi Pista -- a pistachio ice cream. The Dosa was delicious and half of one was more than filling! The Chili Paneer was good, but not as good as the day before. The Kulfi was creamy and the bits of pistachio were delicious.

Breakfast day three was southern Indian, a meal called Itlly. It consisted of three varieties of steamed rice patties, Samorath sauce and a coconut chutney. We placed the rice patty in a bowl then spooned on the sauce and chutney and ate it all together. One variety was plain white rice, one was with pepper and one with vegetables. The one with pepper was my favorite. I found these to be a really filling and flavorful start to my day.

Lunch was at the food court of the PDR Mall, Bikanos Food Court. I was not very hungry, so I ordered a lime soda (salty) and a Rasgulla. Tammy ordered a Masalla Dosa. The Masalla Dosa was similar to the Dosa from yesterday and it was fairly tasty. Rasgulla is a pastry ball. It was solid white and very spongy. It was soaked in some sort of a rose water. Basically it was like eating a sponge soaked in perfume. I did not care for it and after two bites I stopped eating it.

Dinner was a special treat. We at dinner with our Homestay, but more importantly, she taught us how to cook the Indian foods. (See blog post "Now you're cooking!") It was an amazing meal: Pani Puri, Shahi Paneer, Bhindi Masala, Punjabi Curry and Mal Puha for dessert. The Pani Puri was filled with a water that tasted like an incredible salad dressing - so many spices. The challenge was to eat it without having it explode from your mouth. The Paneer was homemade and the style of sauce: Shahi was bursting with flavors. The Bhindi Masala was an okra - onion masala and the Punjabi Curry included some Gram Flour dumplings. The desert, Mal Puha was a fried bread with sweetened milk and pistachios. This meal was incredible!

Breakfast Day 4 was a western Indian dish called Poha. It was a flattened rice with light herbs and spices. We had fresh mango to accompany it and fresh made pomegranate juice. The Poha was very light and while tasty, it lacked the flavor of some of the other dishes we have had.

Mid-morning we were shopping for spices when the owner's son of the spice shop discovered we had not tried Pan. He could not believe that we had been in Varanasi for a week and not tried it. He immediately decided to treat us to some. He got us a local variety called Banarsi Pan. Pan is a mixture of: betel nut, cashew, limestone paste, cardemon, rose petals and saffron incense that is wrapped in a leaf called a pan patar. This is chewed, NOT SWALLOWED and then spit out. We see many (men especially) with teeth stained red from chewing pan. We tried it - it was really interesting. Very flavorful, yet immediately afterwards I wanted to rinse out my mouth. The owner of the spice shop told us that we should chew it and keep it in our mouths for about 10 - 15 minutes before spitting. We tried, we swallowed a bit, which you are not intended to do, and then we spit. Our Tuk-Tuk driver told us that he typically chews pan 15 times a day. Here you can see our reaction to the pan!

Needless to say, it's probably not something we are going to try again - but it was an experience and experiences are a good thing to have!
For lunch we ended up back at Lemon Grass, where we had eaten a few days earlier. Having loved the Paneer Chili (dry), we ordered it again. We also ordered a Mushroom Masala, Garlic Naan and a fresh lime soda. It was a good meal - too much food, but all very good. We really liked the Paneer and want to find recipes to make it when we get home!

For our evening meal, we went to Deena Chat Bhandari. Chat is actually a snack food, but we had several of them and it made for a meal. The entire menu was posted on the wall in Hindi, so we looked at what they were cooking and just made decisions based on appearance.

As it was brought to us, our waiter said the name of each dish, I transcribed it as best I could. We had Anuk Ku Chi Chat, Tomato Chat, Palak Pakache and Kacholi Chat. For dessert we ordered a Kulfi. It came with noodles seasoned with saffron and rose water on top. We didn't really care for it. We had fun eating our Chat, but the locals really had fun staring at us. We were the main attraction - westerners eating at this all Hindi Chat.

The breakfast on our last morning in Varanasi was Chila, a dish typical of Rajasthan. It is a made of gram flour and had onion, coriander leaves and spices in it. Again, it was accompanied by fresh mango and fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. This was our final meal cooked by Malika. I will miss her cooking - she's an amazing cook!

We have eaten so well in Varanasi, so many delicious, authentic India dishes.
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