Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Friday, December 31, 2010

Northern Indian Food for Dum-mies

Not every food in India is fried, or drenched in tasty ghee. For instance, this guava! Weirdly, Indians seem to think that pink guavas are more desirable than these white ones, which are more common, so sometimes they will dye their fancy-cut display guavas pink. They taste the same, though.
At the tiger park, we met a fellow traveler named Karen who turned me on to dum aloo, a potato dish I was previously not familiar with. It was her favorite dish, and now it is mine. Karen also warned me that every time she's ordered it, it's come out totally different...and now I've had it four different times and must concur! But it's always tasty. The main ingredients are potatoes and cheese (the potatoes are usually stuffed with the cheese) and it comes in some kind of sauce. If you're lucky and get the Kashmiri version, the sauce is creamy and filled with fruits.
What do Indians eat for breakfast? In the north, a pretty good bet is aloo paratha--a fried, pancake-like bread stuffed with potatoes and onions and maybe some other veggies. You can dip it in some sauce or pickle or have it with a cup of "curd" (yogurt). One hungry morning, I may have ordered three of these in a row.
Every time we get samosas (potato-stuffed fried triangles) in India, they come with a different kind of sauce. We're not complaining. This time, it was green. We also tried two fried potato-stuffed disks (below samosas), which were denser and not as good, and finished this meal off with some tasty gajar halwa (right--the best carrot-based dessert since carrot cake).
Continuing with the potato theme, here's some aloo jeera, a "dry-fried"--i.e. not soaked in curry or another sauce--potato preparation. Still delicious, thanks to all that cumin.
Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, also turned out to be home to some surprisingly tasty Indian sweets. The white one was a coconut flavored, milk-based sweet, and the orange one had a crazy texture, like someone had pressed together 100 layers of cotton candy. All served on a biodegradable leaf-plate, with a dab of gajar halwa in the middle for cadeau--what's not to love?
Jaipur has a row of shops called Lassiwallah (lassi vendor) which specialize in the tasty yogurt drinks known as lassis. We were going to go to the original one, until I found out that they only serve two flavors, sweet and salty. I like some fruit in my lassis, so we shamefully snuck off to one of the imposters a couple of doors down, where I had probably the tastiest mango lassi of my life, complete with a bonus sliver of shaved yogurt-skin on top. It came in a fun, traditional clay cup which kept it nice and cool...but is only made for one-time use! You see clay cups like this in the trash (or, more commonly, smashed by the roadside) all over the place in India, and there's a whole industry for handmaking new ones at a feverish pace. Seems wasteful, but it's more biodegradable than plastic, I guess...

Here is Jaipur's take on the jalebi, or deep-fried, syrupy squiggle that Andy so fell in love with in Delhi. Doubles as (a sticky) monocle.
On the same street, Andy found these shredded wheat bird's nest sweets. Maybe not as good as the shredded wheat baklavas of the Middle East, but not bad for a few cents.
There was a Muslim festival happening the day we were in Jaipur, and there were men in the streets with huge piles of these giant cracker things on their heads. (Or maybe there are always such men in Jaipur, and it had nothing to do with the festival.) Andy had to buy one. It tasted kind of like one of those shrimp crackers you get in Asian restaurants, but greasier.
OK, whose ice cream choice is girlier? My pistachio cone...
...or Andy's "pineapple pizza"? Don't ask me why this is called a pizza, but it has pineapple cake, ice cream, chunks, and syrup in it, plus a cherry on top and mini umbrella for extra masculinity.
These cream-filled, cone-shaped pastries seem like to be a popular Western-style bakery item in many towns in India. One day Andy tried one, was either very crispy, or very stale. We'll stick with the Indian breakfast items from now on.
Here you have a typical vegetarian thali (or meal), in a fun compartmentalized metal plate. Contents vary from place to place, but usually include rice and bread, dal (a pulse-based soup), and a couple of vegetable dishes (chef's choice). Usually the best whole-meal-deal around, costing around $1-$3 depending on how nice the restaurant is. Pricier thalis may include meat, dessert, or just more vegetable dishes.
Jaipur had a sweets shop called Rawat that was constantly packed and had a huge array of stuff we'd never seen before. We picked three items just by looks and did pretty well. The one on the left was coconutty and the one on the right was mangoey, I think. The best was the middle one, which was like a kiwi gummy fruit on the outside filled with creamy sweet stuff with crunchy sweet bits in it. If anyone can identify any of these by sight, please label better!
Udaipur was a pretty touristy city, and we were somewhat disappointed in the Indian food there, which seems to be kind of dumbed-down for Western palates. But we still managed to have yet another new samosa experience--this time the samosa came mashed up in a sweet sauce. Not bad, but would've been better if the samosa was hot...
The upside of the touristy-ness was that Udaipur had two coffee shops that made pretty decent Western-style treats. It had been a long time since we'd had apple pie or cinnamon rolls! At both places, the pie was better than the rolls.
Andy ordered "banana pakora" at one dinner out, since it was something we hadn't seen on a menu before, and if you know Andy, you know he loves his fried bananas!
I also got something I hadn't seen before, a dish of paneer (cheese) in coconut sauce. It sounded better than it tasted.
The food situation looked up considerably once we got to Mumbai. Since it was my birthday, and since we'd just spent eight extra hours on the bus in a traffic jam, we treated ourselves to super-rich feast at fancy Khyber. I got a mutton dish with boiled eggs in an almond cream sauce and Andy got chicken Kashmiri, which I must say came in an even better cream sauce. We also ordered so many types of fun-flavored breads that the waiter had to cut us off and tell us he thought that that would be too much food. Um, it wasn't. Guess he didn't know us very well! Anyway, we were so hungry we forgot to take pictures till we were halfway done--I promise the food was all very nicely presented when it arrived...
Oh, and in honor of my birthday, I went nuts and got a $3 mocktail. It was called the Orchid Queen, which contained something called khus juice. My Googling reveals that this comes from a grass root and is used in many perfumes. I thought it was delicious, though Andy thought it tasted like cleaning solution. (More for me!)
Happy birthday to me!
OK, back to the streets. Mumbai has these incredible veggie-burger-type street snacks called batata vada pav. Battered, deep-fried dumpling of potato and spices in a bun with a splash of sauce, costing around 12 cents a pop. So good!
Costing considerably more (almost 50 cents!) was this pineapple shave-ice treat Andy found at Chowpatty Beach. He just can't pass up the pineapple...
A far tastier (in my opinion) destination near Chowpatty was the New Kulfi Centre, home to India's best kulfi. Kulfi is India's answer to ice cream, and at this place the myriad flavors are sold by weight. It's firm, and comes cut up into little slices. On the left you have chikoo--a fruit found only in India, I think--and on the right is mixed dried fruit (you can figure that one out). We stopped taking pictures after round one (there were three rounds).
The other thing we had to try at Chowpatty beach was bhelpuri, the typical Mumbai street snack known for its many textures and flavors. I can't even begin to explain what all is in here, so you can Google it if you're curious. It worked, though.
My favorite flavor of sandwich cookie in India--and possibly in the world--is elaichi, or cardamom. There are so many brands to try...
And now I'll leave you with a shot of India's "other" standard breakfast--the puri bhaji. A few puffy fried poori breads with some tasty curried, saucy beans/potatoes/veggies to dip them in. At our overpriced hotel in Mumbai, this breakfast also came with a banana and a hard-boiled egg--oh, the elegance!

That's all for Indian Foods, Part Two. Don't worry, even more is coming.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

India: Making Our Way to Mumbai

From Agra, we headed to Jaipur, which is often called the Pink City. Anywhere that has a cute nickname like the "Pink City" makes me think it will be a small, cute city. Not true. Jaipur has about 2.5 million people and has all the traffic and dirt of India's other big cities. It does have a lot of pink sandstone building, though, which is how it got its nickname.

Inside the City Palace, they claim to have to two largest silver objects ever created. These massive silver urns were used to carry Ganges water with one of the local rulers on his trip to London so that he could bathe in it every day. It was a long time ago--today, the Ganges water would have eaten through these urns in a day or two.
Jaipur is still surrounded, in part, by city walls. It has several gates, which all look almost exactly like this one. This one is called the New Gate. I'll guess that it's newer than the others.
Even though India doesn't have that many Christians, we have seen many Christmas decorations in public places. We are fairly certain that Indians just love flashing lights and sparkly things, so they have wholeheartedly adopted Christmas decorations.
Is that an Indian version of a gay pride flag? We'd like to think so.
The City Palace has four famous gates, one for each season. The seasons, as everyone knows, are Spring, Fall, Monsoon, and Dry. These nice peacocks represent one of them, but there seems to be some disagreement about which.
Indians really love to pose for pictures with foreigners, so I humored these guys when they asked for a picture. However, they became the first Indians to ask us for money for a photo (common in many parts of the world). I told them no way, which the guys on the ends thought was funny, but the middle guy was angry about. Fortunately, he was the little one...
This is another of the gates. We asked the guy in the picture which season, and he said monsoon. My depiction of monsoon season probably would have had more raw sewage flowing through it, but to each his own.
This is inside the palace, where we weren't really supposed to take pictures. At this point, the part that amazes me is that every major city had some local ruler who lived in a palace like this up until about 50 years ago. In many cases (including this one), the descendants still live there.
Our first elephant sighting! It was some Muslim festival, so he seemed to be in town for the celebrations. He appeared to be having a decidedly less grand time than the people celebrating the holiday.
This man really wanted a picture with Tara, so we humored him. Really, it seems that he just wanted to kiss her since he gave her a kiss on the cheek right after this that I was unable to capture on film.
Jaipur has a fort overlooking the city. We tried to get there, but got hopelessly lost. This was as close as we got before turning back. We didn't want to visit the stupid fort, anyways!
Jaipur has a second palace that is essentially just a facade with nothing inside. It was built so that the rulers wives and harem could all secretly watch what was going on outside in the city since they were strictly forbidden to be seen in public.
Looking out like one of the harem members, you can see why the city is called the Pink City. Actually, this picture is from an exposed balcony, where the women would not have been allowed. They had just tiny peepholes.
Jaipur has one of the oldest observatories in India. One of the rulers in the 1700s was really obsessed with astronomy and sent scientists all over the world to study the newest equipment. This is a massive sundial that accurately displays the time to within two seconds. It also looks like it would make a nice skateboard park.
Next stop was Udaipur, where we stayed in a hotel that had the nicest decorations of any we have had. If only the toilet didn't leak onto the floor everytime we flushed it, it would have been a really nice room. You will note that the room has two small beds pushed together. This is the standard in India. Almost nowhere has one big bed--always two small one with separate sheets and blankets.
Udaipur has several palaces. This is the main land-based palace. It was built over several hundred years with each ruler adding to the palace. They kept the outside fairly consistent, but inside, you might go from an ornately wood paneled room built by one ruler into something that resembles a disco built by another.
Udaipur is most famous for its two floating palaces. They were used in the James Bond movie Octopussy, which we have never seen. This one is now a fancy hotel where we could have stayed for only $1500, but we decided it probably wasn't nice enough for our tastes.
Hahaha! A bird pooped on Tara's head! She asked me for some tissue, but I grabbed the camera instead. By accident, of course.
Udaipur has its own ornately carved Hindu temple. Here is some of the outside. No erotic carvings, though. Apparently, after about 1000 A.D., people only carved boring stuff.
But the temple did have this man. Not sure, but it looks like he might be casting an evil spell on me.
On the dock by the lake in Udaipur were some cows sunning themselves. Hello, cows!
More peacocks, this time out of glass. They really like the glass mosaic peacocks in Udaipur. No real peacocks, sadly.
The waterway of the lake (which only exist during part of the year and dries up during the rest) has given rise to the name Venice of the East to Udaipur, apparently. At least, Tara said it reminded her of Venice and then we later saw signs calling it that.
Sunset wasn't really so exciting, but here is one of the island palaces at sunset. From the balcony of our hotel, which we went up to again despite me having gotten in a morning argument with the wait staff of the rooftop restaurant when they insisted that French toast is normally eaten plain, with nothing on top of it, and me insisting that it is always served with syrup, honey, or something of the like.
By night, you can't even make out how much trash lines the water.
Mumbai has only really expensive hotel rooms. Because we were getting there on Tara's birthday, we didn't want to spend a lot of time walking around looking for a cheaper room, so we reserved one of the most expensive hotel rooms of our trip. It was nice, but certainly not worth what we paid for it.
Coming to Mumbai, we decided to take a "sleeper bus", which we had never done before. We were given this nifty double bed compartment. It would have been nice had we not gotten stuck in an 8 hour traffic jam and been trapped in the compartment with no where to go and no bathroom. This is at the end of our 16-turned-24 hour bus ride, which is why Tara looks so happy.
Mumbai is a British city in that most of the impressive buildings are old British buildings. The most impressive of all is the main train station, Victoria Terminus. Like Bombay being changed to Mumbai, the name of the train station was changed to something more Indian a few years ago, but when we tried the Indian name with people, no one knew what we were talking about.
This is called the Oriental Building, but it looks about as British as a building can.
And how about a nice British clocktower? Yes, please.
The Taj Mahal Hotel, which is the one attacked by terrorists a few years ago, was constructed by the industrialist Tata because they wouldn't let him into the fancy British hotels despite being rich enough to buy most of the city. So, he built the fanciest place in Mumbai. Good job, Mr. Tata.
This palace was turned into a museum. A museum that we didn't deem worth a visit, but which we thought worth a picture when the guard who said no pictures allowed turned his head.
The most popular item for sale on the streets of Mumbai is the giant balloon. I thought about buying one to put Tara into, but after much contemplation, I just couldn't see what I could tell her that would lure her into a balloon. Sure, she would have chased a Reese's Cup into a giant balloon, but I didn't have one.
The Gateway to India is a not-so-impressive arch that locals really seem to like and which was built to honor the arrival of some important British royal to India in the 1920s. Yawn.
In Mumbai, we decided to take a tour of the slums. The biggest of these lies between two major railway lines and is believed to house over a million people. Unlike many slums, this one is considered highly productive with tons of small businesses. We weren't allowed to take photos except from the overpass as we entered, but you can see that most of it is shacks. However, many of these shacks have been there for decades. Anything that is from before 2000 has been declared legal by the government, and that is apparently about 90% of the buildings.
The biggest business is recycling, and they recycle anything you can imagine. People break down objects (TVs, toys, etc.) by hand and sort it into roughly similar colors of plastic. Metals and other materials are separated out for processing. The plastics are shredded, cleaned, melted, dyed, and reprocessed. Same with the metals. They reprocess paint cans and sell them. They turn cardboard boxes inside out and resell those. But if you live in the slum, the best thing you can be is a tailor. They make a lot more money and have a lot better conditions than the other workers.
Chowpatty beach is the main beach in Mumbai. The water is toxic and no one can swim there, but lots of food and a nice walkway line the water. Tara took this nice sunset shot.
I took this purer, but not as good, sunset shot.
The main church in Mumbai had a nice Christmas tree at the front. Merry Christmas to us!
And there you have India through Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Not the most exciting post ever, but I'll try to do better in the future.