Saturday, February 5, 2011

The best Indian food

If you want to try the best food in any country, you don't do it by eating in five star hotels.  You need to have a native take you out and get some street food.  India is no different except you need to be a little more careful if you are not from there.  You don't want to go and just start eating street food everyday.  Try it a little at a time; your stomach needs to get used to it.

I used to work with a woman when I was in Bombay, and for the previous three years she was working in Singapore.  Well after a week of not seeing her, I asked her boss where she was. 
"Oh Thelma has a bad stomach problem." Her boss said.
It turns out that Thelma had been craving that Indian street food while she was living abroad and upon returning to Bombay, she just started eating it everyday. 

Within my first few months one of my new Indian friends invited me over for dinner.  He said, "Curt I will show you real Indian food." Being a chef I was naturally excited.  One thing that always drove me up a wall is when someone bastardizes food.

It was about 7 p.m. and as we turned onto the road that his apartment was on, a wonderful (sarcasm there) smell of sewage just penetrated the car.  For those of you who don't know, Bombay has open sewer lines that one would think is a stream or creek but it is not. Plus you have people living in makeshift shacks on the side of the road who just throw their trash anywhere and as you are driving down the road, one minute everything smells rosey and the next it just smells like toilet.

We parked on the side of the road and saw this little makeshit food stand.  There was a grill, deep fryer, couple other pieces of equipment that looked more like the guy went to the junkyard and grabbed scraps of metal and threw together this alleged "kitchen." If you have ever seen any of the Mad Max movies, do you remember how those cars looked?  Ok, imagine a kitchen version of that.

The guy cooking looked drastically malnourished, which is unusual for a cook, unless you are a cook in "The Empty Plate," the anorexics restaurant.  Sorry, I had to borrow that line from George Carlin.
Ok, back to the story.  The dude has this filthy, grease stained shirt, some scrawny, mangy looking cat was walking around the wooden counter where the cook was working and some other guy was standing there.  Maybe that other guy was the sous chef. LOL.
As I walked by all I could think was, "what Health Department?"

We approached the front door of the apartment building, rang the buzzer and our friend let us in. They are very nice people and the first few times we hung out, I could never understand why his wife would give me a puzzled look at times.  I later found out that I spoke too fast for her at times (which I have been told before) and she wouldn't be able to understand me.  I told them I would bring one of those Universal translators from Star Trek next time.

We started the night with an Indian cocktail called Feni, a cashew vodka.  My friend told me to just try it straight first, then we will give you the mixer. As I brought the glass to my face I thought I was going to faint from the smell.  It was a cross between urine and rancid peanuts.  "Holy shit, you drink this?" I asked.
"Of course. Curt, now add the mixer to it."
I did and tried it again and in all fairness, it was a little better but now it tasted like urine and rancid peanuts crossed with a Long Island iced tea.
"Dude, I will just stick to my vodka," I told him. I wanted to get some bleach and wash the taste of that shit out of my mouth. Even a couple hours later the taste of that stuff was just hanging around like some psycho ex-girlfriend that can't admit it is over.

There was a knock at the door and it was a delivery man.  Adrian (my friend) brought this paper bag to the table and pulled out a bunch of packages wrapped in newspaper.
"What is that?" I asked.
There were about four different things.  There was a Kathi roll, which would kind of be like the equivalent to an Indian version of a burrito. (Very good.) There were fried cow's utters, samosas and something else I don't remember. The biggest surprise was the cow's utters; great flavor but strange texture. Imagine cutting the finger off a pair of dishwashing gloves and putting it betwen your teeth, rubbing it back and forth.  That is what it was like.  The samosas were ok and the other thing was not memorable.

"Where did you get this stuff, it is killer dude?" I asked.
"From that stand on the street."
At that moment I kind of froze and thought of that mangy cat and anorexic, dirty cook making my food.
I thought, "am I going to end up in the hospital?"
"Are you serious?" I asked.
"Wait, you mean we just ate food from the WHO stand outside your place?"
"I would have never guessed" I said.

So there you have it. Between a urine smelling and tasting drink to food made by "Mr. sanitary" I had my first experience with real, authentic Indian street food.  I was a bit worried after eating it, but then again, isn't the whole point of travelling to experience the culture?

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