As I have travelled, I have made a list of the most delicious and memorable foods and drinks I have tasted. There is an unlimited variety of delicious Indian food that changes from region to region, making each new destination as thrilling for the mouth as for the eyes. Also, there is a tactile pleasure as all Indian food is eaten with one's right hand. The left hand is for other something else.
First up is lassi, essentially a yoghurt drink that is commonly sweetened with sugar and fruit to make sweet lassi or marijuana to make bhang lassi. It is opaque white and made from curd milk. The best lassi is tucked away in Jodhpur and serves women in a separate room. Makhaniya lassi, at 20 rupees a glass is irresistible. It's made of yoghurt, saffron, cardamom, sugar and butter. It's thick enough to need a spoon.
Yoghurt is also abundant and has the double function of calming down spicy food and preventing unpleasant infections with it's natural probiotics (complimenting the anti-malarial antibiotics I am on). Thank you holy cows.
The Rajasthani staple, which is the region we volunteered in for 2 months, is dhal, subzi and chapatis. Dhal, subzi, and chipatis may be served in small separate dishes, but they are eaten altogether on a thali, a mixed-meal plate. Dhal comes in over sixty varieties and is a thick sauce type dish made of lentils or other pulses. Subzi is just vegetables cooked dry or more commonly in a sauce. Favorites in Setrawa are potatoes, peas, tomatoes, and onions. The chapatis, which I learnt to make from flour and water, accompany most meals. Flour and water are kneaded together with a touch of ghee (clarified butter). Balls of dough of a specific size are torn off, which every Indian women can precisely guess. The balls are then rolled out on round short legged wooden tables. Then, with a bit of ghee they are cooked on skillets over the stove or sometimes without a pan on a fire. This work, when done on a large scale is three person's work, but can also be managed by any Indian women while she prepares the dhal and subzi.
In case you think it might be dull having chipatis every night, I should alert you of the variety that may be applied by changing the amount of ghee or the thickness. They can also be folded, inflated, deep-fried, or stuffed with spice. They are eaten by tearing into bite size pieces and mixed with the subzi and dhal, and on special occasions sugar.
In the desert near Jaiselmir our guide produced for us a gourmet meal featuring dense buns which were baked in a hole with dried camel dung coals. It was actually exciting just to have three dimensional bread after weeks of flat chipates, having them cooked between dung and sand just made the experience extra memorable.
Leaving Rajasthan for the southern state of Kerala, thalis are still abundant, some with chipates, but the most common bread are dosas. Dosas are nearly paper thin and much larger than chipates, often filling more of the thali than is convenient. They come plain or with a variety of fillings. Folded into thirds like a business style letter, the middle may contain mix veg, potatoes, meat, paneer (cottage cheese), spinach and/or masala (spices).
One of our latest discoveries is momos. These Tibetan treats are roughly the size of golf balls and sold by the plate of ten. They are food wrapped in a thin dough. They can be fried or steamed. The variety is extensive with vegetable and mutton being the most common filling. In Manali we discovered one Tibetan kitchen that serves to-die-for steamed chocolate momos, which are filled with nutella and cookie crumble.
Then, there is the unlimited and incredibly affordable street food at 3 to 20 rupees (5-40 cents). My favorites include traditional samosas, spicy katori, and mystery burgers. Everything is deep fried and full of spice, but it's hard to guess what will be in your samosa, katori (disc shaped breaded item), or burger (small enough to fit on a dinner roll). It's rarely meat and best when it's hot, and the best ones have a combination of potatoes and vegetables. Also off the street and for pennies, you can get fresh popcorn, fresh corn on the cob, mangos, and ice-cream, but often the ice-cream has an awful soapy taste to it.
And although we do eat mostly Indian food, I must also give some praise to the western catering restaurants we visited. They often put over 90 items on their menus to accommodate everyone's cravings and do it with success. Beer batter fish and chips for the Brits, thin crust pizza for the Italians, shakahuka for the plethora of Israelis, and Turkish coffee for the other Middle Easterners. I have tried them all and was more satisfied than I could imagine being so far from the origin of the foods. India can be chaotic and taxing at times, but India is the world's expert on food. This was clear to me when I saw 14 month old Kushi properly season her chapati with sauce.