A carnival of flavours, the cuisine of India is dhal-iciously diverse, with culinary creations being regionally quite distinct.
Clearly, we're riding through the Land of Spices! Turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom and saffron are the essence of much of the cooking here in the South. Even the omelettes taste distinctly Indian and, depending on how heavy-handed the cook is with the chillies, some dishes can be fire-breathing, eye-watering, take-your-breath-away hot. Others are milder, but in all cases, the complex flavour pairings result in taste combinations unlike any other.
Many of our meals have been overwhelmingly "veg", although in larger towns, the restaurants may include "non veg" fare. The non veg (that’s how it is described on all menus) seems to be limited to boney chicken, mutton (which is usually goat) and seafood on the coast.
Everything is deep fried or in a saucy curry (...called “gravy”) that can be sopped up with naan bread or roti. I know it is carnivorous of me, but I'm fantasizing about a grilled beef tenderloin, green salad and steamed (not curried) vegetables!
By the way, who knew there is no such thing as Indian curry – technically speaking? I certainly didn’t. Commercially prepared curry powders (a mixture of spices) are largely a Western creation. Apparently, the word “curry” is derived the Tamil word Kari, meaning sauce.
I’m thinking six weeks of curry may be overkill, but ahhh..the bread. Whether it is called naan, rotti or chapatti – I can’t tell the difference – the unleavened, round, Indian-style bread is flipping fantastic.
By far the most exotic dish we’ve encountered so far had to be onion and jam sandwiches served to us for breakfast at one of our hotels. Dave, our guide was mortified and spoke to management.
At the end of every day of riding, we religiously observe Happy Hour, sometimes even before the requisite shower. It isn’t always easy, particularly on "Dry Days" (e.g. the first Sunday of every month), but we pursue those 650 ml bottles of Kingfisher Beer passionately and with purpose. Due to supply and quality issues, wine is not an option as a Happy Hour libation.
While on the road, we hydrate with fresh coconut water out of the shell or steaming, frothy chai tea. Both are available roadside. The coconut water is sold by merchants wielding sinister-looking machetes, the chai tea from dilapidated shacks and stalls on almost every street corner.
Our cycling pace depends on two factors - how lost we find ourselves and how many times we stop along the route to sip tea. Often the locals look curiously on and, in the small rural villages, we can attract quite a crowd at the chai stall.
All this talk about sipping and savouring is making me hungry. Time to fill-up for tomorrow’s ride...