Field note: Food


Food in India varies from place to place and family to family. The staple meal in the North of India tends to be chicken and chawal (rice), and daal (lentils) with roti (bread). My heritage stems from the North, so I can confirm that the North loves chicken and high protein dishes. In the South, these dishes are often substituted with sambhar (a different type of lentil dish), dosa (rice pancake), idli (black lentil-rice cake), a vegetable and/or rice. These are very broad generalizations, and the variation in food is based on the local environment, seasons and traditional significance of produce available. 

The very tasty and semi-spicy masala omelet!

What food did I try?

Recently when I traveled to Kerala, I got to experience the Indian Southern cuisine. For breakfast, I had a masala omelet with a dosa. It tasted delicious and gave me a strong way to start the day! Unlike most other Indian states, Kerala is unique in that it serves beef dishes. Beef is very hard to find here, and this was only the second time I have eaten beef while in India.

Second spotting of beef while in India

It was a nice change, but honestly, my favorite dish while in India has been the chicken kathi roll, which I had in addition to the beef for lunch. I was quite hungry! This is essentially a wrap with different onions and vegetables mixed with chicken. The kathi roll is also common in Delhi and is my go-to dish.

Meanwhile, in the evening, we were served a buffet, so we got to try a huge variety of dishes, ranging from East Asian foods to Indian foods.  

I also recently travelled to Jaipur in Rajasthan, where I had the privilege of enjoying the local cuisine that is marked with a higher level of spice and a notable Mughal influence. The specialities in the cuisine include the laal maas, which translates to "red meat", the gatte ka sabzi, which is a lentil-based vegetarian curry, and the ker sangri sabzi, which is a dish of ker berries and sangri beans that are native species to the desert ecosystem around Jaipur. With these I enjoyed the missi roti that is traditional in the northwest region of India, including Punjab, Rajasthan and parts of Uttar Pradesh. Roti is a kind of flatbread made with chickpea flour. It has a nice yellow color and is usually served with ghee, or clarified butter.

How did I feel when I tried it?

Overall, I very much enjoyed the food in these two states. Kerala has some of the richest meat I have tried in India. I left this trip feeling well nourished and probably gained about three pounds. 

An assortment of add-ons

In Jaipur, out of everthing I ate, I have to say that I most love the laal maas, which is made of "mutton" or goat meat, and is amazingly spicy and flavorful. Mutton in India is very distinct from other meats, and it has become my favorite. If someone were to offer me mutton and rice versus a chicken kathi roll, this decision making process would tear me to shreds! 

How is the food prepared?

The gatte ki sazi and the laal maas are both yogurt-based curries. Our waiter informed us that these are cooked over a low flame for a long time. The ker sangri is stir-fried rather than being based in a gravy. It is almost pickled with the spice content. The dosa, meanwhile, is cooked on a stove using oil, flour, batter and potatoes. 

Is this food connected to the local environment? How?

Rajasthan was a major site for the expansion of the Mughal empire, and its cuisine today is still influenced by this culture. The food here is a unique blend of Hindu and Muslim traditional foods. Furthermore, it is also influenced by the local fruits and vegetables available in the region. Rajasthan is home to the Thar desert, one of the largest deserts in the world. For this reason, the vegetation is sparse and meat is quite popular.

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