Ladies and gentlemen, the has come for me to rant about food. I'm neither gourmet chef nor legit food culture+policy guru, but having had to good fortune of living with one of each, I'll pretend for the next several paragraphs that some of it has rubbed off on me. If nothing else, I'm great at enjoying food, if perhaps sometimes in elephantine quantities.
In India, I'm surrounded my like-minded characters. Here, the customary greeting is not, “how are you?” but rather “have you eaten?” (“thinava?). I'm often asked about my breakfast before I'm asked my name. Priorities, people. And I, of course, emphatically respond that yes, I have definitely eaten. (Thinanu...but if you stress the 'u' instead of the 'a', it means 'I won't eat', which initially caused some confusion/worries about my health)
I am proud to announce that, thanks to training by certain spicy-loving friends back home, I have yet to be out-spicied by an Indian. And apparently, Andhra Pradesh is known for it's spicy cuisine.
South Indian cuisine is a smidge different from what we're used to in American Indian restaurants-Naan and that delicious rice pudding have only made cameo appearances so far. The carb of choice here is rice, though in the city roti enters the scene on occasion. Personally, I think rice is too bland to be using up the valuable space in my stomach, and I've instead been allotting space purely to curries (to general public shock...I was told its like eating just alfredo sauce and ignoring the spaghetti). The curries are varied and always excellent, heavy on garlic and ginger, and all manner of tasty colorful spice powders.
A wonderful woman named Balakshmi cooks for me once a day, and I usually stretch the leftovers to dinner and breakfast (combined with yoghurt, here called curd or in Telugu, “perugu”). A solid majority of her curries are Brinjal based (British-Indian for eggplant, which is here much smaller, round, and green), and I look forward to every meal with Pavlovian delight because it happens to be my absolute favorite. Her yellow dahl too is decently addictive. I'm also becoming rather attached to something called mango pickle- an incredibly spicy, oily, salty mix dotted with a few small mango chunks, served in small dollops as a garnish. Here I am, helping Balakshmi make a batch at her house. Of course, fresh fruits abound- usually straight from the tree. We hit the nearby mango (mamidi kayalu) farm to nab fallen mangoes every few days, and I've grown fond of eating just the skins which just pull right off the fruit.
And this is what fresh dates look like,
cumbersomely harvested by my friend Annil (seen here scaling the date tree). Plums, coconuts, and large dark berries called Jamul berries make their way to the creature castle on occasion as well.
My latest fruit discovery is fresh tamarind, picked straight from the tree, which though soury and acidic may be one of my favorite fruits yet.
Streetfood is a close runner-up to Balakshmi's delicious curries, available in both the cities and the small highway side villages from small wooden carts. Most popular is Pani Puri, small hollow fried dough shells into which a thin legume-based soup is ladled upon purchase (see the main photo). If you ever have the opportunity to try it, be sure to eat in one bite (ala solid food shot), or risk humiliation and a mess.
A larger version of the same shell can also be filled with a more substantial mix of green been mush, spices, and onions. Fried dough foods, ranging from chili peppers, eggs, and just plain dough covered dough, are ubiquitous. Road side stands also sell lime juice, fresh fruit juices, and absolutely endless amounts of artificially yellowed mangoes. I'm a huge fan of everything sold on the street so far, despite doctor's warnings, and am questing to taste it all before I leave. So far, its been a hugely successful mission.
The standard breakfast food here is either Idli or Dhosa with a DELICIOUS spicy coconut chutney, which I can't get enough of (coconut anything, really). Here's a dhosa, served on a giant leaf (the Where's Waldo vets will spot a small fried donut in the background, also common)
City-side, the restaurants are almost exclusively Indian. My theory: that the cuisine here is clearly superior to any other, so why bother offering them? My personal pick are thali plates- basically a mini buffet of samples on your plate. Here we are about to scarf them down. (Nik, his uncle Premand, and Aunt Priya, who have been my gracious hosts these past weeks).
I also had the opportunity to visit a new Hyderabadi favorite- McDonald's.
Always packed and way overpriced, but my “Spicy Paneer Wrap” was delicious. No beef to be found, but plenty of chicken, veggie, and sugary options in its place.
Regardless of location, style, formality, or occasion, and to my great delight, food is almost exclusively eaten by hand. Finally, a country that doesn't mess around and just gets right down to business. I'm becoming a master of the hand-shovel technique, especially when trying to scoop liquidy dahl or yoghurt.
All in all, utter food heaven, and simply no comparison to what I've had at restaurants back home. Must be sure to cozy up to a few more Indian families in America, and get myself invited over for dinner far more often.