10 Nov 2013

India by abbieredmon

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One of my biggest reservations about traveling to India was the food. I’m not a fan of spicy dishes, so I thought all of the curries and dahls that awaited me on the subcontinent would surely mock me with their pungent aromas and sinus-clearing spices. But as it turns out, there were just as many mild options as hot ones, and the food was actually quite delicious.

Dinners in Kerala usually start with a huge amount of Keralan rice piled high in the center of the plate. Grains of Keralan rice are not as long as Jasmine rice, but they’re much fatter and seem a bit starchier. Accompanying the rice are smaller piles of okra, eggplant, potato, and chickpea concoctions. Keralan cuisine uses a lot of mustard seeds, pepper, and cardamom, so these veggie dishes are always just as colorful as they were flavorful.

The meat dish is often presented on a separate plate — on one night we were served four pieces of grilled barracuda, smothered in flavors spicy enough to keep me an arm’s length from it. To help sop up the deliciousness on our plates are breads like chapati or papadum, and sometimes both.

Dessert is always something to look forward to — fruit occasionally, but more often something like a sweet cream and coconut mixture wrapped up in a rice flour “pancake” of sorts, served warm inside a folded-over banana leaf.

Last night, in Fort Cochin, an old Portuguese port town in southern Kerala, we strolled along Beach Drive at the north end of the peninsula and surveyed the fishermen’s catches from the day. If you want, you can buy a fish (or shrimp or lobster) that looks good to you, and the fisherman will send it over to a local restaurant for them to cook for your dinner! I’m not sure it gets any fresher or more personalized than that!

Generally, the meals we've eaten have been prepared with fresh ingredients usually grown or raised (or caught!) no more than a kilometer or two from where we ate the meal. In southern Wayanad, the home stay where we slept and ate all of our meals had a vegetable garden, fruit trees of all kinds, fresh cow's milk, duck eggs, and even a cinnamon tree! It's an amazing culture of food — one I wish we could emulate easier in the United States.

For now, I've just been enjoying the bounty!