Category Archives: Food

A short letter to Liz Gilbert

So in the evenings when I’m back at my hotel and perhaps feeling a bit lonely, I’ve been listening to Eat, Pray, Love on Audible. I keep finding so much in this book and love Elizabeth Gilbert with all her openness and honesty and insights. But that said, I can’t let it pass, I have a bone to pick with her. It’s about this undercurrent in her book that keeps stereotyping Indian cuisine as somehow lacking. Her friends ask her what she’s going to eat while in India and she says when she visits India the pounds are going to melt away.

Here I have to say that Indian food is amazing and no one here is going to let you starve by any means. Unfortunately there will be a few people in their efforts to please that try to serve you American food, whatever that is. Usually it’s white bread with jam, or some sandwich. Please just say no. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that America does not have a cuisine.

Eat the briyani for crying out loud. Get the palak paneer with a side of yogurt and cucumbers,etc. Don’t let anyone give you white bread when you could get chapati. Have the lassis and the watermelon and cantaloupe. Drink the coconut water. Go down the menu line by line. Eat with your hands. Don’t forget the chai.

Indian food is amazing. Liz could have written her whole book entirely in India.


Getting to Ellora

Train, plane, automobile, bus? Next time, hopefully there will be a next time, I’d like to go by plane. Not that defying death on the highway isn’t a thrill. My guide arranged a private car, very nice, to get four of us to Ellora. On the way, along the 7 hour drive, we stopped to eat and stopped for, wait for it….chai.

Indian Food

I’m back in the States now, but there are several more points I want to cover, so I’ll be posting for a few more days. Tonight I celebrated being home by visiting one of my favorite Indian restaurants here on Oregon. This evening I woke up with that old familiar feeling, heart aching, general malaise, and mild depression. Welcome back to America, the land where we are killing ourselves with food.

I’ll admit that I was a little freaked out about the prospect of eating in India. This is because of everything I had heard about the poor quality and sanitation of the water in Mumbai—from books, websites, and my travel Doctor. I left the U.S. not really knowing what or where to eat. My main guiding principles were 1) don’t eat meat, 2) don’t drink tap water, 3) don’t drink alcohol, 4) eat things that have been cooked at high temperatures. I still think these were good guidelines and I kept to them, well, most of the time.

Coming back from India after two and a half weeks, I felt like myself again. My blood pressure went back to normal (just had it taken at the dentist’s office) and I felt sane again. After eating traditional Indian food, I felt energized instead of how I normally feel here, which is worn out.

So what’s different? I’m actually not quite sure. I think we Americans don’t need to eat as much meat as we do and I think we eat way too much sugar or foods that have a very high glycemic index. While I did eat potatoes and flour in India, I also got a lot of green vegetables and spices. I also am pretty sure I went without MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and canola oil.

On a cultural note, Americans seem to have established a bad reputation for not liking Indian food. Everyone I met was super concerned that I would not like the food. And pride in the food seems to run very deep. My advice is that if it’s a green purée, dive in. It will be delicious!

Ellora Caves: Best ways to see

Tips: People tell me the best time to go is in November. This is for lush greenery and nice temperatures. They also say the rainy season is good for the waterfalls that run right past the caves. So that means June on into November. Take shoes with good tread for the rainy season because these rocks can get slick, and I personally would take a walking stick for this weather.

The posh experience: For luxury in India, it is my bet that you can’t beat the Taj hotel and its affiliates. Just be aware that you get what you pay for. These hotels can be as expensive as nice hotels in Seattle and New York City. But their service is phenomenal.

Authentic and more affordable Ellora caves experience: For much lower prices but to still get a safe and enjoyable experience, I have a couple of people to recommend. These guys are “hometown” men and know the region better than anyone. I have full confidence in them and they are who I would contact if I ever decided to return to the region. They can get you an affordable hotel walking distance from the caves! If you want to support local people, this is a great way to do it.

Mr. Sadeek speaks fairly good English. He knows everyone who is anyone in town. People go to him to get their problems solved. In other words, he’s the man.

The other person I met I don’t have permission to share his name and contact number simply because I didn’t ask. This person took me on a wonderful tour of Khaldabad, the resting place of Aurangzeb himself, and he too knows everyone. Younger and less experienced than Sadeek, this man is highly honorable. If interested, contact me via this blog and I can ask him if I can share his contact info.

For the finest cloth I have ever seen, hand spun on looms, you must visit this place. It is fairly close to Ellora caves.

I will be shopping with them online and possibly via WhatsApp.

And for great, trustworthy, knowlegable cab drivers, my choice is:

Breakfast at the Taj

As I wait for my phone to charge before heading off to the museums, I thought I would comment on breakfast.

I walked up to one of the restaurants at the Taj and was seated immediately. There seemed to be an expectation that I was there for the buffet and that would have been fine except it was all carbs: cereals, fruits, breads, muffins, etc. And no traditional Indian dishes. I explained to my waiter what I wanted, but agreed to at least look at the buffet.

Nope. I spotted other diners having real food and was perplexed. I explained the concept of carbs and told my waiter that if I ate that, I wasn’t going to feel very good. He went off and talked to someone else. I overhead the word “American,” and out came the menu.

Which of course begs the question: what does “American” mean? Persistent? Hard headed? Tips well? I tried to reinforce option 3 as clearly I was already the poster child for options 1 and 2.

I got a traditional Masala. And please forgive me but the only thing I know about Indian food is that I feel good after eating it and it tastes wonderful. Yeah mint!

I told my waiter: See, I made the right choice!

A lady walked by and said wistfully, oh that looks good.

Upon further reflection I believe the staff were merely trying to please by offering standard American fare. They were trying to make me feel comfortable and at home.

The staff at the Taj deserve better than my silly criticism because they are exceptionally hard working and professional. I count myself truly fortunate to be here in this historic hotel among these remarkable and trustworthy people. They are one of India’s many treasures, but more on that later.

Let’s suffice it to say that the incredible staff at the Taj have already made me feel cared for and  at home and I truly appreciate their efforts.

Intentions and meaning do get lost in translation as one travels. When we are out of our element and physically removed from our social networks it becomes about deciding quickly whom to trust.Making the correct decision is a matter of survival. Thankfully at the Taj, this isn’t even a question.

Addendum to post: A day later I realized my mistake. I had only seen one part of the buffet. There was more. A whole line, in fact of delicious traditional foods, warm and waiting to be scooped up. I had not seen them, and so here was the root of the misunderstanding. My takeaway: have a careful look around. The buffet was a bit pricey, though at nearly 20 USD for one person. It was a nice splurge.