A long, long time ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I went on a 10-day trip to India, and had an absolute blast. We went from Madras to Kerala, then to Goa and Bangalore, and back to Madras.
At that time, there was no digital camera yet (yup, that long ago)… and so I have no pixs to post here because I don’t have a scanner.
The temples are a haze now; even in India I had lost track of which temple is which. The shopping was good, although I remember feeling guilty of my packages as we walked past entire families living on the sidewalks.
And even with all the stories about upset tummies and food poisoning, I went to India expecting to eat well. And we did, and our stomachs were just fine.
In Madras, restaurants serve vegetarian food, unless there is a sign outside that says “non-vegetarian restaurant”. We started each morning with breakfast – thosai, puri, idli – with potatoes and chutneys, and dhal. The food was not fiery hot like the Indian food we have in Malaysia, and that was my first surprising discovery.
My friend’s family friend in Madras Uncle Tom and Aunty Thangam have a shop that sells handicraft from all over India, Cane and Bamboo, and I bought the nicest things there. They also treated us to two good meals – we had mutton briyani in their home which was delicious, and yummy kulfi at a restaurant.
Aunty Thangam also introduced us to dried mangoes; similar to the Filipino ones but much sweeter and more intense.
At the Madras museum compound, I had coffee with fresh milk – it was steaming hot and rich and creamy; the best Indian latte ever.
The food is different from state to state. On the road, we ate well – at resthouse, restaurants and hotels – they must have been mid-range outlets, although I can’t remember now. Strangely, I recall small stuff like a tomato salad during a lunch stop in a small town, eating the sweetest grapes and apples from a roadside stall and the sand between my toes during dinner in Goa.
The bookshops in India were also another experience. Giggles in Madras is a small narrow bookshop in a hotel crammed with books from floor to ceiling. And the books were literally stacked one atop another. But the proprietor knew exactly where each book was; you just had to mention the title you were looking for.
In Cochin’s Jew Town, we found a small book shop in the midst of the antique shops, just outside the synagogue. I bought a thin cookbook there; at that time I haven’t started started collecting cookbooks yet, and it was a random pick. It was a plain book on South Indian cooking, with no glossy pages or pictures – A Cook’s Tour of South India by Vimla Patil, editor of Femina magazine.
The recipes in the book were unfamiliar to me – they were different from what I was used to in Malaysian shops – dishes such as curd rice, green gram curry, vegatables in buttermilk, lentil balls in curd.
I have only tried a few recipes from this book, but one has become a firm favourite – Masala Tomato Pachadi – essentially tomatoes, with coriander and yoghurt. I have since substituted the coriander with mint, which I more. I have also made this without the mustard seeds and cumin seeds, and curry leaves, and they were fine – just less aromatic.
This pachadi is good with rice, and capati.
I cooked chicken briyani just so I can make this… yeah, that’s the other way round – I’m supposed to plan my side dishes around the main course, I know.
MASALA TOMATO PACHADI
2 onions, chopped
1 cup coriander leaves (I substitute with mint leaves)
6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
3 cups fresh yoghurt
oil, as needed
salt and sugar, to taste
Boil the tomatoes in water. Cool and remove skins. Mash and reserve
Heat 4 tbsp oil, add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves and onions. Fry till brown.
Add turmeric and chilli powders, garam masala and mashed tomatoes.
Add salt, sugar and half the coriander leaves and blend well.
Cool completely and mix with beaten curd. Decorate with the remaining coriander leaves.