I had not eaten Indian food till I was a senior in high school. I enjoyed Indian food but I did not have the great fondness of it until after I visited India. Being introduced to the variety, history, and reasoning why the food tastes the way it does in southern India made me appreciate the gastronomy of the region to a higher level.
For our first meal while on location in India, the team went to Elite Kitchen and Bakery. We were seated on the top level in a covered roof area and were able to watch the customary evening storms roll in as we dined. The initial item that was brought to the table was lime soda and I was immediately in love with it (I later found out, you can get lime soda almost anywhere in Kochi). The lime soda was freshly made by our hosts with a multitude of fresh limes that were likely picked that day. It is the perfect beverage for Kochi’s tropical climate of 90% humidity and 95-degree days.
Next to arrive at the table was the myriad flatbreads and curries. The flatbreads consisting of roti, chapati, and parotta. The curries varied from being tomato, spinach, and lentil based or diverse types of curried potatoes. And of course, lots and lots and lots of rice. Between the myriad flatbreads and rice served with every meal while in India, I believe I could never eat a carb again and avoid ketosis.
As the days went on we had many meals which were all great but one thing kept popping up at a majority of the meals. It was this spicy red goop that was tangy and had a peculiar crunch to it. Everyone on the team despised it but me. Halfway through the program I finally learned it was just called “Pickle”, my preferred “Pickle” of choice was the lime pickle, which consisted of chunks of lime in the concoction. It was my condiment of choice for my carb loading while in India. It provided the perfect punch of heat and odd tanginess from the vinegar to go with a wide range of foods.
By far my favorite meal of the trip was at the weekend when we went on ourexcursion to Munnar, Kerala where the tea plantations are in the mountains. This meal was particularly spectacular because of the scenery, who made it, and the uniqueness of the meal. The scenery was the surrounding tea plantation and a small cottage where the family that owns the homestay for the weekend lives. The meal was prepared by the family who owned the homestay and Das, who was our driver, personal tour guide, renaissance man, and our friend. Lastly, the meal consisted of a banana curry, lentil curry, mustard seed potatoes, chicken and paneer, and beats. I also must not forget, basmati rice and chapatis were served with all this. The banana curry blew my mind, it was something I had never tasted before and it was not made from the banana itself but rather the seed pod that is at the end of the banana tree. Overall, the meal took me on rollercoaster of flavors from paneer to beats and then to banana.
Towards the last day of our trip, we went to an Indian cooking class at a woman’s house. The woman, Maria, taught us about the differences between Northern and Southern Indian food, why the food in Southern India uses different ingredients for the same dish, and the reasoning behind the ingredients used. For example, in Southern India they use much more coconut oil and milk as opposed to vegetable oil and cream in the north. She taught us that almost every ingredient has a purpose beyond taste and food is medicine. Outside of teaching us how to cook and aiding us in creating a spectacular meal, Maria made me appreciate the food I had eaten for the past two weeks on a higher understanding other than, “Wow, this tastes phenomenal.”
The food was highlight for me because it reflects where you are in the world and how the people feel about themselves in my opinion. The food will be greatly missed as most Indian restaurants in the United States are northern Indian. On the brighter side of things, I did find lime pickle at a store and lime soda is fairly simple to recreate but I am not and probably will not be able to recreate any of the food I had while in India. The food I ate enhanced my experience to another level, broadened my horizons, and helped me connect more with the people I was with on the program whether they loved or hated the food (for me it was 100% love but I cannot speak for everyone).