Already one week has passed since my arrival in India and the only thing I can say is WOW! I will finally start putting my thoughts and my observation on paper and I will do it in a rather organized matter, starting of course with the first the hit me FOOD.
Although I promised I will be writing a daily review, after the first two days I realized, it would all make more sense for me and for anybody reading, not to publish a brut information, but a more processed one. To be better understood I will cite Aristotle “Now, as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many; the end of the medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth.“ What I mean to say is that the end of this series of articles will be to bring above my young and crude view of an alien society, filtered through three source books, actors of the society and my own observations. Through this, I preferred to first understand the WHAT, the WHY and the HOW of things here. I find myself in another definition of „normal” life and therefore one must adapt to this knew normal. I am aware I will not be able to probably awake in you, my reader, the same experience that I have been enchanted with, but I will do my best to be at least informative. Of course the photos will speak for themselves, when I finally get the Internet connection to upload them into FB.
I have been reading a few basic things before coming to India and I tried every day of this week of doing things similar like they are doing it, living like them, eating like them, working like them. Of course one week is not much, but I kept my eyes, ears and heart wide opened and asked as much as I could, sometimes even with the risk of bugging. Nonetheless was my curiosity taken with a lot of esteem and I received the most wonderful answers that I can hardly compare, they were a bath of kindness to my heart.
Where do the products come from: Most of the (if not all of them) vegetables as well as fruits are locally grown. There are variations of these from North to South, as one must not forget that little India is about the size of Europe. I was feeling like a kindergarten child, when learning the animals, as I saw the first time fruits in their natural color, shape and form, before being shipped for export or processed. I saw and tasted a fresh coconut (like the green one that grows in the tree!!!), guava, papaya and ziziphus (in Hindi: Ber).
Spices: India is the well-known land of spices, from which you can let your imagination flow in a lot of curries mixtures, tea masala and sweets of all kind. European MYTH: Before coming here I had this view of Curry as the yellowish powder that you can find everywhere in the supermarkets. Well WRONG! The Indians mean through curry the mixture between different kinds of spices and therefore you can find book with hundreds of curries mixtures.
There are a lot of regional differences in what types of spices concern, north to south, west to east. For example, between Mumbai and Chennai I could certainly feel the difference, although most of them are burning like hell J. For a newcomer it is hard to enjoy fully a complete meal and most of the time, I had to order everything “mild spicy” and even so after the first bites my nose starts running and tears sprinkle in all directions J.
To diminish the effect most of the Indians drink with their meals some kind of yoghurt. If you are not a yoghurt fan (like me), you can always take lemon or lime afterwards as it will take the burn feeling away. For me it did wonders!!!
WHY so SPICY: This is because of 3 main reasons that I identified and read about. First of all the bacteria, specific to tropical regions are through this way neutralized, second it helps against high temperatures like 40-45 degrees due to the burning effect, and third it somehow makes you wake, because your blood starts running, in comparison to a European siesta feeling.
WHAT is almost always there: Some things that until now I have seen everywhere are the rice, chapatti, yoghurt. Rice can be cooked in thousand of way, the normal boiled eaten also with dhal (sort of lentil sauce) is known as the poor man’s food. Everyone affords this. Of course you usually receive also other types of cooked vegetables, beans a lot of sorts. What you must taste together with the vegetable are the mango pickles!!! I simply adore it, beats the ass of cucumber pickles J.
Masala Chai: or the normal spiced tea here. It is a MUST, when travelling to India. It is tasty, because it contains milk and mixture of herbs and spices like: Ginger, Cardamom, Cinnamon and dried Cloves, Peppercorn and sometimes Fennel or even saffron in some regions. Being boiled really good together with milk you do not have any chances of getting food bacteria or indigestions, so I always had this together with my food. One more thing, if you do not like sweets, you should mention from the begging, because they usually make it extremely sweet.
How to eat: Stop looking for the cutlery, because Indians eat with their hand and only with their right hand (left hand is used for other purposes J)! Also ceramic plates are not common, mostly aluminum trays, called thali. In all restaurant you within the eating area special designated place to wash your hands before and afterwards. One more specific custom, is after eating you receive a bowl with different seeds, that have a digestive role.
That is all for this section, need I to remind, this is meant to be taken as a novice article. For more readings, you can find a wide variety of books on this topic.
Ioana Dinu, Germany, European Youth Voice