Mar 2008: The food in Northern India is exciting! I was fortunate enough to take a two-week tour in January with nine fabulous women (mostly from San Francisco), who love to cook and a cooking teacher from Minneapolis called Raghavan. Although it was pretty much your standard tour by airplane and bus seeing forts and temples, we were able to learn something of the food and culture of the region. Here for you is the information I learned—along with a plan for an Indian cooking party.
Essentially, although India is moving away from being a developing country, there is still an awful lot of the cooking done at home. At a typical dinner, the hosts may pass appetizers, or there might be a first course (or chat), usually all the food for the main course is served at the same time. Although I heard that they serve dinner with rice in the south and bread in the north, at the meals we had in private homes, we were usually served both rice and bread. Often we were then offered three or four desserts. I understand that it is common for the family cooks, or the women of the family, to make chipate with the main meal. This is a round, grilled bread of wholegrain flour. And, Nan is made in tandoori ovens for special occasions, this is made of white flour. Also, I heard from my favorite guide Amu that the cook makes three extra chipate’s each time they make it; one for the dog, one for the cow, and the other for the crow.
It appears that cooks buys ingredients from local open air markets or it is delivered to them. In one market in Jaipur we saw an incredible array of vegetables being offered for sale by the farmers. And, it was clear that one farmer brought a goat along to eat the pea pods after the peas were shelled. Behind other vegetable vendors, there were cows eating the refuse. (Apparently, composting and recycling are already part of life.)
In Udaipur, where we attended a cooking demonstration, the cooking teacher boils the milk as soon as it is delivered by the dairyman. From this milk (from water buffalo), she makes her own paneer and ghee. (Local and seasonal are probably already a given.) Paneer is a pressed fresh cheese with a smooth texture—you can buy it at Cowgirl Creamery or Whole Foods. Ghee is an opaque butter for cooking.
The truth is that the traditional cooking of the Hindu’s of India is the best and most nutritious cooking for vegetarians. In our two-week trip we ate lots of dishes with vegetables, paneer, and chicken. We ate fish once and were offered lamb three times. The variety of breads is extraordinary. The desserts are often of pistachio. The street food is mainly deep-fried. Sometimes dishes sold in the streets are served in bowls made of dried leaves or cups made of clay (called mud). When you finish eating you just throw the bowls in the street to be eaten by the animals, the bowls made of leaves that it. To me the excitement of India is seeing the people living peacefully with the animals, so many people and so many animals. Thank you everyone for a great trip and an introduction to the foods of Northern India!