Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bland Food in India?

I am a bit unhappy about the food here. I think I have spoiled myself with my own cooking. It’s happened before.

In a classic Indian scenario, we were displaced from our hotel in Panchmarie at the request of a local minster because his cousin was getting married and they wanted the whole thing for themselves. Out we go. A Dominican Father who presides at a Catholic mission across the road from our hotel found out and offered us the dormitories as a place to stay.

The Hanuman temple is just a few steps away, and the morning and evening chanting can be heard in our spartan rooms. It’s an odd, and thoroughly Indian experience to hear the Hindu mantras while under the gaze of a very graphic crucifix. I say it’s thoroughly Indian because this kind of juxtaposition seems only possible here where everything is so mixed up . Cows are revered but eat garbage. Women are regarded as goddesses but are harassed in the street. Monkeys are protected for religious reasons but are serious and sometimes dangerous nuisances in every public place. Even our toilets are a paradox. We have western toilets for some reason that I can’t quite fathom. Monks who go without almost every luxury, including a decent mattress, for some reason have imported toilets from the West?

I digress.

We still eat our meals at the hotel, and on day two, I am done with it. We have had bland (yes, bland) curries every night and we have to ask for yogurt or chutneys if we want them. Most of the time they don’t bring them. And we can’t get any tea with our evening meal. I think they presume we are Westerners and aren’t expected to appreciate a proper meal (some of our group does appreciate it as is, so I know it’s partly my problem). Or the restaurant is just bad. Or we aren’t paying them enough. Probably all of it. Tonight was the last straw. One of my favorite dishes is baigan bharta—a smoked eggplant dish with spices and chiles and fresh daniya (cilantro). A very sad and bland facsimile of this dish appeared on my plate and I choked it down without chutney, yogurt or fresh cilantro. Well the cilantro did appear eventually, but it looked a little scary to me. Okay, so it’s food. But I’m paying for it, and I want every bite to be the flavor explosion it is SUPPOSED to be.

And furthermore, I can’t write home about tasteless food.

So tomorrow, I am going in search of my own yogurt and chutneys to bring to the table myself. Or, I am going to ask the kind Father if I could use his kitchen and cook with all the beautiful vegetables in the street stands. Or, I am going to go eat somewhere else. Stay tuned.
By the way, breaking all the food rules has so far not gotten me into trouble. I think it’s the yogurt.

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