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  • 07/24/14--13:15: Amid the Flock
  • EnlargeCredit: James Fisher Harvest season had begun in Rajasthan. Mustard, chickpeas, and okra were ripening in fields beside the Aravalli mountains. Bullock carts trundled wheat sheaves to a threshing ground. Girls pumped drinking water into clay pots at a temple well. A boy pushed along a tire with a stick, firewood balanced atop his head. And after a day of prodigious heat, an elderly goatherd from the Rabari tribe turned his flock homeward. These nomads traversed the Thar Desert on camels for more than a thousand years; many have since settled in villages. “What are you doing here?” he asked, bemused by the appearance of an outsider on the road into his house, as animals pressed around us. In India, there is a saying, often quoted from the Mahabharata: Atithi devo bhava, the guest is god. Soon the goatherd was lounging on a rope cot as his married daughters in saffron saris pulled me into their kitchen courtyard. Excited children gathered. Fires were lit. Dough was rolled. Chai was offered in clay cups. Meals in rural Rajasthan are shaped by the sere landscape, so the same rustic goat stew, heavy with black cardamom, cinnamon, chiles, and garlic, will be served in a mud-caked hut as well as a prince’s hunting tent. But it was precious ghee lavished on a single fire-singed flatbread, obviously all they could spare, that was the sign of a devout generosity to a stranger on their doorstep.


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  • 07/25/14--07:39: The Love of Tea
  • Tea Waiter in AssamEnlargeCredit: James Roper Wherever you are in India, you're never far from a tea vendor peddling chai, a sweet, milky tea, from trays of steaming glasses. India is the top consumer of tea on the planet, but this wasn't always the case. While tea is native to the subcontinent—an indigenous variety, Camellia sinensis var. assamica, grows in the northeastern state of Assam—it wasn't until after the British had established plantations to supply the UK that the Indian tea plant was cultivated. For decades, nearly all of India's tea was exported. In 1881, however, the Indian Tea Association was formed to promote tea drinking within the country, and Indians embraced it. Each region puts its stamp on the drink. In the north, a chai wallah might infuse the brew with a smashed nub of ginger and finish it with a sprinkle of pink salt or threads of saffron. And in the northeast, epicenter of India's tea industry, you'll find an extravagantly spiced version known as masala chai suffused with ginger, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, and black pepper. Yet here in the south, they like their chai flavors pure: just milk and sugar, double brewed with a fistful of fragrant black tea.

    See the recipe for Masala Chai »



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    EnlargeCredit: Ingalls Photography SERVES 4–6
     

    Ingredients

    Canola oil, for frying
    1¼ cups besan (chickpea flour)
    1 tsp. cumin seeds
    ½ tsp. asafoetida
    ½ tsp. black mustard seeds
    ½ tsp. fenugreek seeds
    ½ tsp. ground turmeric
    ½ tsp. white poppy seeds
    2 cups plain, full-fat yogurt
    Kosher salt, to taste


    Instructions

    Heat 2" oil in a 6-qt. saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Stir 1 cup chickpea flour and 1 cup water in a bowl to make a batter. Working in batches, fry tablespoon-size amounts of batter until puffed, 4–6 minutes; transfer fritters to paper towels. Discard all but 3 tbsp. oil from pan; return to medium-high. Cook cumin seeds, asafoetida, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, turmeric, and poppy seeds until seeds pop, 1–2 minutes. Whisk remaining flour, the yogurt, salt, and 3 cups water in a bowl; add to pan, along with fritters. Cook until thickened, 15–20 minutes.








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    EnlargeCredit: Ariana Lindquist SERVES 4–6
     

    Ingredients

    ½ cup canola oil
    12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
    4 chiles de árbol, chopped
    1 small red onion, sliced
    1 lb. okra, sliced ⅓" thick
    1½ tbsp. garam masala
    1 tbsp. ground coriander
    1 plum tomato, chopped
    Kosher salt, to taste


    Instructions

    Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high. Cook garlic, chiles, and onion until golden, 4–6 minutes. Add okra, garam masala, coriander, tomato, salt, and ⅓ cup water; cook until okra is crisp-tender, 3–4 minutes.








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    EnlargeCredit: Ingalls Photography MAKES 28 PATTIES
     

    Ingredients

    3 tbsp. canola oil
    1 tsp. cumin seeds
    1 large red onion, ⅓ minced, ⅓ thinly sliced
    ½ cup chana dal (yellow split peas), rinsed, soaked 30 minutes, and drained
    ⅓ cup roughly chopped mint
    ½ tsp. ground turmeric
    2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
    2 small green Thai chiles or 1 serrano, minced
    1 (2") piece ginger, peeled, ½ mashed into a paste, ½ minced
    Kosher salt, to taste
    2 lb. ground beef
    ½ cup minced cilantro
    1 tbsp. garam masala
    1 tsp. red chile powder, such as cayenne
    ½ cup ghee
    Lime wedges, for serving

    Instructions

    1. Heat oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high. Cook cumin seeds and half the minced onion until golden, 6–8 minutes. Add dal, mint, turmeric, garlic, chiles, ginger paste, salt, and 1½ cups water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until dal is mushy and mixture is slightly dry, about 1 hour. Let cool and transfer to a food processor. Add beef, half the cilantro, the garam masala, chile powder, and salt; purée into a thick paste.

    2. Stir remaining minced onion and cilantro with minced ginger in a bowl. Using wet hands, divide beef mixture into twenty-eight 1½ oz. balls. Working with 1 ball at a time, press index finger into center to create a pocket. Place ½ tsp. onion mixture inside; pinch edges to seal. Roll into a ball; flatten into a patty. Melt ⅓ cup ghee in a 12″ skillet over medium-high. Working in batches and adding more ghee as needed, cook patties, flipping once, until cooked through and crisp, 4–6 minutes; serve with sliced onion and lime wedges.








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  • 07/25/14--12:13: Hot Stuff: Indian Chiles
  • India, the world's foremost consumer of chiles, uses hundreds of varieties representing a huge range of tastes and heat. The spicy peppers find their way into nearly every dish: chutneys and pickles, curries and stir-fries, even cold drinks.
     

    Indian red chilesEnlargeCredit: Ingalls Photography Grassy, earthy, and hot Indian red chiles (left) retain their red hue when dried. Toasting these small chiles adds depth of flavor and balances their natural astringency. Widely available Mexican chiles de árbol are an excellent substitute.

    Chile powder (right), ground, dried red chiles, lends color and radiant heat. Its powdery consistency goes great with ground meat, like in shami kebabs.

     

    Indian green chiles and Kashmiri dried chilesEnlargeCredit: Ingalls Photography

    Fresh, slender Indian green chiles (left) can be puréed for chutneys, thrown into stews, or eaten raw as a condiment, to add fierce, herbal heat to foods. Select chiles that are bright green, plump, and unbruised. Thai chiles, more commonly found in U.S. markets, are a good substitute.

    Nearly maroon in color, dried Kashmiri chiles (right) are shorter and wider than Indian red chiles, and also less spicy. They lend a smoky earthiness to dishes like mirchi qorma. Mexican pasilla chiles are a good substitute.
     









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  • 07/25/14--14:25: Eating in Tea Country
  • EnlargeCredit: James Roper I have lived in Assam my whole life. It may be best known for its tea, but its food is also exquisite. Central to Assamese identity is tenga aanja, sour fish curry (bottom right)—an invigorating lunch on hot summer days or the finale to elaborate dinners. The banana tree figures into many dishes, such as patot diya maach, fish roasted in banana leaf (top right), and koldilere rondha paro manxo, pigeon with banana flower (bottom left). We even use the trunk, burning it down to alkaline ashes to make an ingredient called kolakhar. It adds zip to khar, a class of starter dishes, including posolar khar, a banana stem stir-fry (middle left). The region is also filled with bamboo, which is worked into baanhgajor lagot gahori, pork belly with fermented bamboo (middle right) a tribal specialty. My favorite dish, however, is a family one: aitar manxor aanja, my grandma's mutton curry (top left).

    See the recipe forkoldilere rondha paro manxo (pigeon with banana flower) »
    See the recipe for baanhgajor lagot gahori (pork belly with fermented bamboo) »


    Jyoti Das is a cookbook author from Assam.



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  • 07/28/14--09:50: Joining The Tribe
  • EnlargeCredit: James Roper In the city of Guwahati, on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in Assam, my Hindu family's home was a farm in itself. We had our own pond, where we caught fish that we roasted over coals, or used to make maachar muri ghonto, fish heads with dal. Our cows provided milk, and we kept different varieties of fowl, including ducks, which we used to make hahor mangso kumurar logot, duck cooked with gourds. While we were a self-sustaining family, I was always fascinated by the various cuisines that were available in my hometown, an array of tribal dishes—including stir-fries and pork dishes—heavily influenced by the surrounding countries of China and Myanmar. That fascination kicked into full gear when I turned 17. Freshly graduated from school, I began visiting different parts of the northeast looking for the purest versions of the cuisine I enjoyed back home. Luckily for me, many tribes here consider feeding strangers an honor, so I was invited into a number of homes, where I experienced unforgettable meals like phak-ok ten nempo, pork cooked in its own fat and mixed with sesame seeds, and langdung, mashed wild banana flower mixed with potatoes, tomatoes, and dried fish. While I am grown now, my passion for traveling this region to enjoy its tribal foods continues. On a recent trip to sample the foods of the Karbi tribe just outside Guwahati, I happened upon the Engti family as they gathered rice from nearby paddies. They invited me to join them as they shopped for ingredients at a local market. That night, we feasted on a spicy stir-fry of fern fronds and scrambled eggs served with rice. And while I had never met the Engtis before, I felt like family.



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    Pork Belly with Fermented BambooEnlargeCredit: James Roper SERVES 4
     

    Ingredients

    2 tbsp. mustard or canola oil
    1 (1½) lb. piece boneless, skinless pork belly, cut into 1" strips, about ½" thick
    10 small green Thai chiles or 5 serranos, halved
    1 small red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
    6 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
    1 (2") piece ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste
    ½ tsp. ground turmeric
    Kosher salt, to taste
    ¾ cup fermented bamboo shoots, minced


    Instructions

    Heat oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high. Cook pork belly, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered, 7–9 minutes. Discard all but ¼ cup fat from skillet. Add chiles and onion; cook until golden, 8–10 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add turmeric, salt, and ½ cup water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until pork is very tender, 35–40 minutes. Stir in bamboo; cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes more.








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    EnlargeCredit: James Roper SERVES 4
     

    Ingredients

    2 tsp. cumin seeds
    2 tsp. fennel seeds
    1½ tsp. black peppercorns
    8 cloves garlic, peeled
    1 (2") piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
    Kosher salt, to taste
    1 large banana flower
    ⅓ cup mustard oil
    6 green cardamom pods
    5 whole cloves
    2 Indian or regular bay leaves
    1 stick cinnamon, halved
    1 small red onion, minced
    1½ lb. pigeon, cut into 2" pieces, or chicken wings, halved at the joint, wing tips discarded
    1 tsp. ground turmeric
    1 tsp. sugar
    5 small green Thai chiles or 3 serranos, sliced
    2 tbsp. ghee, melted


    Instructions

    1. Combine cumin and fennel seeds, peppercorns, garlic, and ginger in a spice grinder; purée into a paste and set aside. Fill a bowl with cold salted water. Peel and reserve the tough outer leaves of the banana flower until you reach the tender white bulb. Quarter and thinly slice the bulb; add to bowl with salted water. Within each of the reserved leaves, remove the pale, tender flowers found inside; discard any tough purple flowers and the leaves. Mince the flowers; add to bowl with salted water. Using hands, agitate banana flower in water until clean; drain and spread out on paper towels to dry.

    2. Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high. Cook cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Add onion; cook until golden, 4–6 minutes. Add reserved paste; cook until the oil separates, 2–3 minutes. Stir in pigeon, turmeric, sugar, salt, and ¾ cup water; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, covered, until pigeon is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Stir in reserved banana flower and the chiles; cook, covered, and stir occasionally, until banana flower is tender and pigeon is falling off the bone, 15–20 minutes more. Stir in ghee.








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  • 08/01/14--11:59: Travel Tips: India
  • Etihad AiwaysEnlargeCredit: Ariana Lindquist

    BEFORE YOU GO

    Get a Visa: You’ll need a tourist visa to visit India, which you can apply for online through the Indian Consulate’s subcontractor, Cox & King Global Services. You will need to upload a proof of address such as a driver's license as well as a 2"x2" color passport photo, so make sure you have those ready. A 5 or 10 year tourist visa (a six-month tourist visa for non-U.S. citizens) costs $76 and takes about a week (3-7 business days) to process.

    Book a Flight: There are direct flights available from major U.S. Cities to Delhi and Mumbai, but if you're traveling elsewhere in the country we recommend flying Etihad Airways with a stopover in Abu Dhabi. The in-flight dining and wine programs impeccable, the flat beds are some of the most comfortable we've ever slept in—which you'll appreciate on the 13-hour flight—and from Abu Dhabi, whose airport lounge features showers and beds to help you freshen up before your final leg, you can fly direct to 10 major Indian cities.

    Plan it Right: If you've never been to India before, you may want to consider booking a local guide to enrich your experience. Read our story about planning authentic experiences, or see our favorite guide books and travel apps.

    Get a Check-up: While the Indian government does not require any vaccinations for visa eligibility, you may want to make sure you're up-to-date and that you have refilled any medication, including your preferred over-the-counter cold and flu medications; OTC medication is widely available in India but it may be difficult to convey exactly what you're looking for or find your preferred brand.

    Pack Smart: Many cities have adopted Western ways of dressing so jeans and shirts that cover the shoulders are acceptable; if you want to wear traditional garb it's easy to purchase once you're there. The Essentials:
    • Sealable plastic bags for keeping moisture and bugs away from food or beauty products
    • Western insect repellant, which is stronger than the Indian variety
    • Sunscreen, especially in the hotter months
    • Comfortable shoes and a backpack if you plan on doing lots of walking
    • Portable smartphone battery to keep your phone alive for all the pictures you're going to want to take.
      India Street SceneEnlargeCredit: James Roper

    WHILE YOU'RE THERE

    Out on the Town: Only the right hand should be used to exchange money or to touch someone, as the left hand is considered unclean. U.S. currency tends to be widely accepted but carry some rupees just in case.

    Getting Around: Buses, cycle and auto rickshaws, taxis and trains are available in most of India's urban areas. For any trip that is not a fixed fare, like a taxi or rickshaw ride, be sure to agree on a total price—for all passengers and luggage—before your journey. Be aware that fares increase up to 100% at night.

    Tipping: In most tourist areas in India, tips are expected. At restaurants a 5-10% (more for smaller checks) tip is appropriate, unless a service charge has be added to the check. At hotels you should use the central tip box when possible, leaving about 100 rupees per night at budget hotels and roughly 3-5% of the room rate at high-end hotels. If you hire a car for the day, you should tip 100-250 rupees; for an airport transfer 30-50 INR should suffice; you do not need to tip rickshaw drivers.

    Eating Local: If invited to someone's home for dinner, a garland is sometimes placed around the guest’s neck; remove it shortly after to show humility. Never refuse food—if you do not wish to eat it simply leave the unwanted food on your plate. Use your hands to eat if your host is doing so. Breads such as naan or roti, can be used to scoop up wet dishes such as stews or chutney. Always bring a thank-you gift such as chocolate, flowers, or sweets.

    Apple a Day: Avoid ice outside upscale hotel restaurants; it's often made with water that could make you sick. Likewise, if you have a sensitive stomach, only eat cooked street foods; avoid raw fruits and vegetables.

    Feeling Thirsty: Drinking alcohol is culturally unacceptable in many parts of India. Your best bet is to watch what the locals are doing, and be discreet; avoid being obviously drunk in public. Though you certainly should try local whisky and specialties like toddy in the south, avoid the bottom-shelf liquor, which can be unsafe to drink.

    Make New Friends: Hand-shakes or a small bow are both acceptable greetings. Back patting is a friendly gesture particularly between men. Public displays of affection are frowned upon throughout India, though you will notice members of the same sex holding hands as a sign of friendship.

    See more stories, recipes and travel guides in our India issue »








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  • 08/04/14--10:05: Scenes from India: South
  • On India's southern peninsula, the Deccan plateau separates the coast of Andhra Pradesh on the Bay of Bengal from that of Karnataka and Kerala on the Arabian Sea. On the high plains, chiles, legumes, tea, and oil seeds are cultivated, while shorelines are rimmed with coconut palms, mango trees, and rice paddies, as well as plantations where spices flourish. Here, see the colorful and varied scenes of south India as captured by SAVEUR photographers.
    For more stories, recipes, and travel tips, see the full India Issue »


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  • 08/04/14--10:32: Scenes from India: East
  • The eastern Indian states are home to fruitful plains riddled with waterways. After monsoon season, fields are blanketed with mustard flowers, whose seeds yield pungent cooking oil; gardens burst with vegetables. Where the Ganges flows into the Bay of Bengal, freshwater fish and rice are at the foundation of the cuisine; farther south, hundreds of miles of coastline yield shrimp and other seafood. The people and urban scenes of east India are equally distinct; see all the scenes of the region here, as captured by SAVEUR photographers.
    For more stories, recipes, and travel tips, see the full India Issue »


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  • 08/04/14--11:32: Scenes from India: North
  • Even four millennia ago, inhabitants of the north's fertile Indus Valley enjoyed ingredients that characterize the cooking of the region now: cereals and basmati rice, pulses, dairy, spices like mustard and fenugreek. Across the fields of Uttar Pradesh and eastern Rajasthan, northward through the Punjab, and up into mountainous Kashmir, ancient cooking techniques survive, too. Here, see the vibrant scenes of north India as captured by SAVEUR photographers.
    For more stories, recipes, and travel tips, see the full India Issue »


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  • 08/04/14--12:27: Scenes from India: Northeast
  • The northeastern states are a world apart from the rest of India. Connected to the subcontinent by a mere thread of land, most of the population traces its ancestry back to bordering Bhutan, China, and Myanmar. The kinship comes through in the cuisine. Here, see the landscapes, people, and ingredients that shape the region's diverse dishes as captured by SAVEUR photographers.
    For more stories, recipes, and travel tips, see the full India Issue »








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  • 08/04/14--14:47: Scenes from India: West
  • From barren swaths of desert to a verdant coast, west India is a tale of opposites. In the state of Gujarat it is the thali—a meal of various dishes composed in a compartmentalized tray—that holds iconic status. Farther south, lush Maharashtra and Goa abound with fresh seafood and produce all year round, and coconut-enriched sauces are adored. Here, see the places, people, and food of west India as captured by SAVEUR photographers.
    For more stories, recipes, and travel tips, see the full India Issue »








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  • 07/28/14--10:36: The Rewards of the Road
  • EnlargeCredit: Ariana Lindquist We are hot, tired, and hungry when we spot a dhaba, one of the ubiquitous truck-stop eateries found along India’s highways, at half past noon. I have been navigating potholed roadways since sunrise with my friends Vatsal, Thuy, and Gabriel in a pair of mud-splattered three-wheeled carts. We’re making our way west from the dripping wet northeast state of Meghalaya to Jaisalmer in the desert region Rajasthan for the Rickshaw Run, a 2,000-mile rally across India for charity. I gear down and steer the sputtering auto rickshaw onto a massive bumpy dirt lot.
     
    Along the far edge of this dusty field is the dhaba, the barest structure framed by a concrete back wall and a low-slung thatch roof held up by bamboo poles. Its kitchen and four khatiya, makeshift beds constructed from a wooden frame wrapped with jute ropes, are exposed to the open air. In front, a barefoot boy draws water from a hand-pump well and, a stone’s throw away, a dozen young men in tank tops splash rainwater from a concrete cistern, washing themselves and their motorcycles.
     
    We collapse onto two of the khatiyas. The young boy approaches our table—just a wood board set across the wooden frame—with the customary welcoming dish of dhabas everywhere: a round metal tray of sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and lime halves, along with a plastic plate of roasted green cayenne chiles.
     
    Typical of dhabas all over rural India, this one beckons truck drivers, who mostly hail from the populous northern states, with the heavily spiced home cooking of their birthplace. Among the day’s offerings are stir-fried vegetables, paneer (yogurt cheese) dishes, a dal of stewed chickpeas, and various curries. Vatsal nods subtly to the proprietor, a wiry man with a shock of black hair, and he comes over to take our order.

    The chapati cook is fast at work at coal-fired tandoor oven
    One cook starts chopping vegetables at the counter. To his left, the chapati cook is fast at work at coal-fired tandoor oven, rolling out rounds of dough and toasting them on the domed surface of an inverted tawa (a wok-like pan) set over a burner. Finally, he lays each flatbread directly on the coals, flipping each one over once it puffs up to brown the other side.
     
    When the chapati and other dishes arrive at our table, I tear off a strip of the smoky flatbread and dip it into the dal. Many dals are smooth, but this chana (split chickpea) dal is hearty like a meat stew, with tender bits of tomato, caramelized onion, and an abundance of chiles bobbing in a thick turmeric-tinted broth. The baingan bharta is equally tantalizingvelvety bite-size chunks of eggplant draped in a rich savory gravy of ginger-garlic paste, green chiles, curry powder, and cumin seeds.
     
    “You should get some of the bitter gourd before Thuy eats it all,” Vatsal says.

    Strips of the crocodile-skinned squash in the karela sabzi are nutty from pan-frying in mustard oil and punctuated with sweet sautéed onions and lemon juice. But my favorite is the bhindi masala, a stewed okra dish punched up with bitter fenugreek, smoky ground chile, and the sour green mango powder amchoor. The taut okra, slicked with a spiced mix of tomato and red onion, pop when bitten, releasing their seeds.
     
    The proprietor refills our dishes until we beg him to stop
    The proprietor refills our dishes until we beg him to stop. Marking the end of the meal, the young boy reappears with two metal bowls of fennel seeds and sugar crystals. I scoop them into my palm and put them in my mouth. Closing my eyes, I savor their bittersweet flavor and listen to the soothing murmur of Hindi and Bihari from nearby tables, where truck drivers lean back in their chairs. Soon we must return to our rickshaws.
     
    We will encounter many more hours of cratered roadways and chaotic traffic, lumbering livestock and hair-raising detours, before we reach the finish line. But tomorrow will bring another day, another dhaba, another dal.

    See the recipe for Bhindi Masala (North Indian Okra Stir-Fry) »


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  • 08/01/14--11:31: The Scent of Zanzibar

  • Garam Masala Spice MixEnlargeCredit: Ingalls Photography Taking a stroll one afternoon in a posh area of my native city, Cuttack, my nose picked up a maddening smell in the air. After walking around frantically I zeroed in on the source. The alluring smell originated from a sophisticated European restaurant—a forbidden place ​for a poor student like me. Those were the pre-independence days of India, when the British ruled the country. Unable to control my desire, I ventured toward the door of that stylish building. Just as I was trying to peep through the glass door, a liveried guard curtseyed a polite salute and opened the door to show me in.

    At that very moment there was ample time for me to beat a safe retreat, but the maddening aroma that grew stronger and stronger sucked me in. Propelled by some unknown force, I proceeded until I found myself seated at a neatly laid out table.

    A turbaned waiter rushed forth to my table, obviously to take orders. Without the slightest hesitation, I ordered. “One plate of that dish that smells so overwhelming around this place, please.”

    “You mean mutton korma?" The elderly waiter cast a queer look upon me and enquired, “But that is very expensive. Can you afford to pay for it? ”

    “Can I buy a small portion of it? One rupee's worth? I have only one rupee in my pocket”.

    The man’s eyes, for some reason, seemed to melt like ice as he surveyed me from head to toe. Then he left me alone for some time before returning with a bowlful of mutton curry. Serving the contents on a plate the man put the bill before me and said, “You have to pay only twelve annas (three quarters of a rupee). Now, my son, enjoy the taste! We use a special garam masala imported from Zanzibar to lend an exceptional flavor to this meat recipe.”

    I took my first bite of a korma whose exotic aroma I would never forget.

    See the recipe for Garam Masala »


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    EnlargeCredit: Demetria Provatas I remember my mother wiping her sweaty face with the ends of her sari, her gold and colorful glass bangles clinking against each other as she ran to and fro from that tiny kitchen to serve every one with divine love during the holy month of Kartik.

    Virtually the entire population of Odisha becomes vegetarian during this period, when the pious and peaceful Odia people celebrate the destruction of evil by Lord Shiva, and as we grew up in our beautiful maternal home, for my family and our neighbors it was also a month long celebration of my mother’s kitchen which turned out the tastiest and most flavorful vegetarian Odia foods.

    It was usually late afternoon when everyone was back from school or work before she started the day’s puja (prayer) and first offered the foods to the Gods. We sat down expectantly on little hand-woven mats before the puja room while she laid out large banana leaves before us. On the extreme right corner of the leaf would definitely go a tiny heap of course salt, a quarter slice of green lime and two glistening green chiles. Next, at the very center, would land a big heap of piping hot arua, basmati rice, that would make the leaf grow deeper green around the edges. We were cued to quickly make a moat of the rice mound to contain the watery moong daal, yellow lentil, garnished with finely scraped coconuts.

    The heavenly aroma caused of the ghee and tulsi leaves, a kind of basil, which garnished the traditional Odia food habisanna, literally ghee flavored rice, filled the room. Around the mound of rice, she spooned servings of daal koshala saag, lentils with green vegetables, sprinkled with badi chura, small balls of crushed dried and fried lentils; green banana fries; ghanta tarkari, mixed vegetable curry without onions, garlic and the ubiquitous turmeric; all topped off with ou khatta, sweet and salty elephant apple or Dillenia indica chutney. When it all lay before us, like a necklace studded with diamonds, we dug into it with our fingers.

    See the recipe for Ghanta Tarkari (Mixed Vegetable Coconut Curry) »


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    planning indian trip vendorEnlargeCredit: James Roper
    The idea of traveling spontaneously—showing up somewhere and winging it—is quite romantic, but in reality there is no substitute for local expertise. So when it comes to getting the most out of a place, whether on vacation or reporting a story, we seek out knowledgeable people to guide us and give us a glimpse of the true heart of the place they call home. Even if you don’t know a soul in India, there are ways to make local connections that will enrich your travel experience—from private tour guides, like the ones who helped us as we traveled the country for this issue, to home-based cooking instructors and hosts. —The Editors

     

    CUSTOM PRIVATE TOURING

    A completely different animal from the cattle-call group experience most people think of when they hear "guided tour," Kensington Tours offers the increasingly popular option of customized, private touring. A location expert discusses your interests, preferences, and travel style and works with a local guide in the area where you plan to travel. They assist in arranging experiences you would never otherwise be able to access, from learning to cook biryani with the best local cook in town to eating your way through the best food stalls in the labyrinth of the marketplace to, as we experienced, having a meal with your guide's family in their home. Kensington Tours has relationships with guides, all of whom speak English, Hindi, and the local dialect, in every corner of India, providing greater access to the rich local culture of this incredible part of the world than anyone else we have worked with.
    Kensington Tours
    +1 888 903 2001 ext. 289

     

    COOKING CLASSES

    Planning India Trip sambarEnlargeCredit: James Oseland There are a growing number of regional cooking classes being offered throughout India, some in roadside cafés, at five-star hotels and even in home cooks' kitchens. A quick Google search of cooking classes in the city you plan to visit should bring up a plethora of options. Below are three of our favorites.

    Sita Cultural Center in Pondicherry
    Offering classes on Tamil cuisine, here you can learn to make traditional vegetarian dishes like sambar, a complex dal-based sauce with vegetables, amid the tranquil beauty of this southeastern beach town. 
    Sita Cultural Center
    22 Candappa Moudaliar Street, Pondicherry
    +91 994 401 6128


    Spice Paradise in Jodhpur
    Spice Paradise, a ramshackle spice shop in the northwest metropolis of Jodhpur, offers cookery courses that cover both pan-Indian basics like naan and chapati breads, and regional Rajasthani specialties like mohan maans, tender meat simmered in milk and spices; saffron-infused yogurt lassi; and mawa kachori, a puffed pastry stuffed with dried fruit and soaked in syrup.
    Spice Paradise
    Girdi Kote, Amar Chok, Jodhpur
    +91 946 095 7995


    Nimmy and Paul’s Cooking School in Kochi
    Learn to make south Indian dishes like pallappam, a classic Keralan bread that tastes like a subtly sweet rice pancake, in the home of Nimmy and Paul, a Keralan-Syrian Christian couple who have been teaching local cooking in Kochi for over a decade.
    Nimmy & Paul
    Variamparambil, Chakalakal Road, Kochi


    planning indian trip cookingEnlargeCredit: James Roper
     

    HOMESTAYS

    There may be no more immersive experience than the home stay, and the following are but a few of the many options across the subcontinent that can be booked on sites like Homestay Booking. But we especially loved the farm stays for the farm-to-table daily meals.

    Philipkutty’s Farm in Kerala
    These cozy, waterfront villas are housed on a family-run farm on a picturesque island in the backwaters of Kerala. You can join in as the family takes their fishing boat out at sunset, cook with them, using much of what is grown on their own farm, or relax with a cup of chai and talk about life in India.
    Philipkutty’s Farm
    Pallivathukal, Ambika Market P.O., Vechoor, Kottayam District, Kerala
    +91 482 927 6530


    Nandan Farms in Maharashtra
    planning india trip vegetablesEnlargeCredit: James Roper Ammu and Ashish Padgaonkar's pastoral farm—12 acres of cashews, pineapples, and coconut palms—in southern Maharashtra has two guest rooms available for those lucky enough to reserve them. If you somehow tire of the quiet serenity of the farm and Ammu's expert cooking, you can catch a nearby train for an easy day trip to northern Goa.
    Nandan Farms Homestay
    House No. D-148 Chivartekdi, State Highway 121, Sawantwadi, Maharashtra
    Book through Travel to Care at +91 934 933 6701


    Spiti Homestays in Himachal Pradesh
    Nestled in the remote mountain community of the Pin Valley, the Spiti Homestays have one guest room in each of the 14 houses where you will live exactly like the permanent residents: eating vegetarian and even swapping buckets of hot water and outhouses for indoor plumbing. But the immersion in this Buddhist communities' nearly untouched way of life, along with a view the Himalayas outside your window, make the experience well worth it for the adventurous traveler.
    Spiti Homestays
    Book through Ecosphere
    Chhering Norbu, Ecosphere Office, Old Bazaar, Kaza, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
    +91 941 886 0099


    See more stories, recipes and travel guides in our India issue »


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