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Luci Travels My first time traveling and I go halfway across the world-One newbie's experiences in urban India

How to Eat

INDIA | Wednesday, 15 April 2015 | Views [237]

During one trip to a sugar cane farm, my friends and I were treated to sweet dosas and coconut chutney for breakfast. The farmers had a huge skillet, and made probably 50 dosas for 10 people. They placed one on our banana leaf in front of us and scooped a huge pile of chutney on the side. My friend Krissy isn’t a big breakfast person, and really doesn’t like dosas. Those are the two worst things that can happen to you while eating an Indian cook’s meal, one: you’re not hungry and two: you don’t like what you’re being served. Critical mistakes.

Krissy choked down one dosa. As the man with the hot plate of food walked by to give us our second serving, she placed her hand in front of her leaf and shook it vigorously saying, “beda beda,” which means I don’t want in Kannada. He pretended he didn’t hear her and put one on her plate anyways. She gave half to me, which was great because I love dosa, and the other half to our friend sitting next to her. Critical mistake number three: having an empty plate.

Seeing her banana leaf without anything on it, he came by again and held the dosa over her leaf, taunting her. “Beda!’ she said with a higher, louder voice. “Beda! No!”

He looked at her with an overwhelming amount of sadness.

“Why?” he asked, as if she just told him she killed his dog.

“I’m not hungry,” she said, smiling, trying to be polite (mistake 4: be firm with your refusal)

“What?”

“I’m not hungry,” isn’t a real sentence. You’re either fasting, stuffed, or you can probably eat more food. The man looked at her for a while, the sadness penetrating even my heart. He looked away, into the distance of his farm. Then, he looked back quickly at the banana leaf, narrowed his target, and with a swift toss flung the dosa in front of her, bolting right after it hit the leaf.

In India, eating is everything. Three times during the day, you will sit with a stainless steel plate or banana leaf in front of you. A traditional Southern Indian meal looks like this: A double-fistful serving of rice, polished (white) or unpolished (brown), a big dollop of dhal (lentils, cumin seed, mustard seed, salt, all mixed into a gravy-like substance), a spoonful of chutney (ground spices and veggies, sometimes fruit), a small chunk of pickle (a SPICY spicy red pickle chunk), cooked veggies, and a cupful of sambar (aka dal’s identical twin but with different spices). You will smoosh all of these tasty gravies in with your rice to make it thick enough to pick up with your hand (right hand only). Using the top half of your fingers you scoop up your delicious rice ball and then push it into your mouth with your thumb. You end each meal with curd rice. It’s regular rice with a ton of curd, which is kind of like yogurt, and is literally the only thing Indians will talk about when it comes to stomach upset and digestion. Indians love their curd rice. There are a few variations of the main meal, like dosas (big ol’ savory pancakes) or idli (they look like Uncrustables but only taste like the crust part, plus a little tang) for breakfast, rotis (tortillas) for lunch and dinner, and some amazing fried street food if you’re lucky. As someone who doesn’t eat spice often, Tums has become my best friend.

The flavors of these meals are chosen with careful consideration. Ayurveda, which translates literally into the science of life, is deeply ingrained into Indian society. It’s a Vedic practice of alternative medicine that flows into every aspect of how they live with the supreme goal being balance. Eating to them is a form of preventative medicine. There are six tastes that should be in every meal to achieve this balance: sweet, sour, pungent, salty, bitter, and astringent. Their food was preserved through their colonization by the British, and is a part of their culture that makes them swell with pride. Everything is, “Good for the health,” or they’ll say, with a hand confidently in the air, “Good for digestion.” That curd rice you had? Good for digestion. The sweet lassi you drink to cool you down? Good for digestion. Rice? Digestion. Roti? Also, very easy to digest. Dhal? Plenty of lentils, good fiber for digestion. That bug that you ate on the auto rickshaw ride to dinner? Since it’s an Indian bug, it’s probably pretty good for digestion.

Should you decide you want sweets for a snack (or a meal), they are sugary enough to give you a cavity right then and there. Everyone disregards this fact and eats them anyways. I will do whatever I can to find laddoos in America.

In most Indian languages, there is no please. Everything is very command-focused. They say their sentences with a purpose and don’t have time for unimportant filler words. Instead of asking, “Would you like to have some rice?” they say, “You will have rice.” They don’t leave much room for disagreement. This gets pretty dicey at mealtimes. What makes the situation worse is the meal size. If I don’t eat three servings of rice, some chutney, sambar, pickle, popum, and three sweets at the end, I will be looked at with concern.

“Did you fall sick?” they will ask.

“Why are you not eating?”

“Did you not like?”

“Too spicy?”

Head bobble

“Have more curd, it’s good for digestion.”

I just moved from my original homestay to an internship and I’m now living at Bimba the Art Ashram in central Bangalore. I’m lucky enough to be living in a place with a restaurant attached and an amazing cook. I suffered some Delhi Belly over spring break, and my stomach couldn’t take food for a few days. My first day at the internship was first day back from spring break, and I was still reeling from North Indian street food. My new hosts told me to eat dinner at the restaurant free of charge, but I knew that I was walking into a death trap: no appetite at dinner.

The cook said hello and started to pile rice on my plate. “Wait!” I said, “I’m sorry, but my stomach isn’t well. Could I have just a little bit?”

He looked at me, directly into my eyes and soul, and said, “You will eat.”

Then he put more rice on the plate, some dhal, and some sambar.

This is India. You will eat.

Tags: bangalore, dosa, eating, food, india

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