25 February 2009

Leaving Goa / The Food Report

Our time in Goa has come to an end. We have spent ten days on the beach and it has been very tiring. The water is emerald green and warm. The Arabian Sea has been good to us.
Tonight we head for Cochin in Kerala on an over night train. We are killing some time before our 11:20 p.m. departure and we thought we would talk a little about food. As you may imagine the food in India is very interesting. Indian food is similar to Indian food in the States but slightly different. The most noticeable difference is the use of fresh spice. We have had a chance to sample home made Indian cuisine, lots of restaurant cuisine, and some street food as well.
The homemade Indian cuisine we have eaten was in the north when we were staying in Jaipur.
Breakfast was white toast, jam and masala tea (chai). Other meals consisted of chapati (flour tortillas), dal (a brothy lentil dish), and fresh curd (from the cow that lived in the house entry way). Our homemade experience was quite limited because we only had three meals with our hosts.
Eating out in restaurants has been the majority of our food experience. In Udaipur and Goa, eating out has been most interesting due to the large amount of tourist traffic. In the touristy areas most menus are separated into the categories of Indian (veg and non-veg), Italian, Chinese, and Continental (whatever that means). Most menus stick to this formula with the occasional "theme" restaurants and the offering of fresh juices. In Goa , seafood is very popular. Also, every menu is about eight pages long, with literally dozens of entrees to choose from. We have eaten Indian mostly, but also some Italian when the thought of another curry turns the stomach. Our favorite Indian items have been palak paneer (spinach and cheese), chana masala (chickpea mixed spice), mushroom masala, and the ever present dal (lentils all kinds of different ways) with naan or rice. We have been told by Indians that naan is not a staple of an Indian diet. It is "party food" reserved for special occasions. We have also had some good "tikka", which are kebabs roasted in a tandoor oven.
The Italian food is okay. We have had some very nice pastas. Pizzas get lost in translation a bit. We had one that was described on a menu as a pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, onion, fresh basil, oregano, and herbs. This translated to three onion pizza. I swear there was more onion than sauce and cheese combined. Also, the chance of actually receiving fresh basil when mentioned on a menu has been slim in general. We have been told basil is a holy herb. Maybe this has something to do with it. Pizzas here also lack a decent crust.
Entrees usually cost between 70 and 250 rupees, which is about 1.40-5.00 dollars. We have had some very nice meals in the three dollar range. Sodas cost 40 cents, beer 1.00, and bottled water is 20 cents per liter.
Tipping just doesn't happen. We usually leave 20-40 cents. This amount is acceptable. Once we tipped twenty percent which probably was a couple bucks. Two days later we went to the same restaurant to eat and when the bill was returned to us there was extra change. We think it was the tip from before. When eating out, if you are finished with your meal the appropriate custom is to look around for your waiter, make eye contact, and make the "sign the check" scribble in the air. Until you do this the server will only stand by anticipating this move. I still think I may be slapped for making this motion, since I consider it unacceptable from my tables.
The street food has been very good. We have had chutney sandwiches. These are grilled vegetable sandwiches made with white bread, beet, onion, cucumber, potato, and a spicy green chutney. They are really popular in Mumbai. The vendors crank them out too. We also had roasted flattened chickpeas that looked like cornflakes. These were served in a cone shaped piece of newspaper and garnished with lemon juice and sprinkled with red pepper (very nice, Karen even liked it). Fresh sugar cane juice is popular all over yet we have not tried it yet. There are also all kinds of road side stands with large woks and hot oil that fry up different concoctions. I tried a fried puff pastry that was flattened into a bowl made out of dried leaves. A warm liquid gravy concoction was poured over the pastry and then I ate it with my fingers. I don't know what it was but it was good. I also tried a flaky turnover that had a spicy potato filling.
Overall the food has tasted good and been good to us. We have not gotten sick, thank you very much.
p.s. Karen is doing very well with spices even though she usually asks for "no spice/chiles".
p.s.s. We spent three hours today trying to add some photos, unsuccessfully. Maybe later.

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