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One of the pleasures of visiting India is the street food. We quickly put aside our fears regarding hygiene and indulged in many of these ubiquitous snacks. Among our favorite were jalebi, bhel puri, and golgappa.
Jalebi can best be described as a sweeter, smaller, crunchier, and more syrupy version of American funnel cake. We saw it available alongside samosas and other savory fried treats at breakfast time, but we also saw it holding its own at sweet stands. It's also a pleasure to watch an experienced hand making these treats. They're made by pouring the liquid dough through a small hole in a sort of pastry bag, directly into hot oil. The best artists of this trade make beautiful concentric and intersecting circular patterns with the batter. After frying, it's into a sugar-syrup soak for a few minutes, and then they should be eaten as fresh as possible.
Bhel Puri is a snack made from pieces of puffed rice, not unlike Rice Crispies, mixed with your choice of freshly-chopped jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, coriander leaves (cilantro), chili powder, oil, lemon juice, and a few other secret ingredients, then mixed vigorously and served in a cone made of newspaper. We even got a version (in Nepal, however) with a quarter of a playing card to be used as a spoon.
Golgappa (aka Panipuri) are another puffed rice snack, these ones hollow, round and a few inches in diameter, sort of shaped like a squashed ping-pong ball. The vendor takes one at a time, pops a hole in one side with his thumb, spoons a thick chick pea sauce into the cavity, then pours a teaspoon or so of a salty cilantro sauce over the whole thing. They're bite-sized, so you just stand there holding your bowl and the vendor will continue to prepare them, one after another, until you tell him you've had enough. It's sort of like a drunk at a bar receiving shots from an overly-attentive bartender.
The best part of Indian street food? It never made us sick! There's something to be said for a kitchen that is completely out in the open...
We found ourselves in Delhi with a couple days to kill and not much of a desire to sight-see, so we signed up for a South Indian cooking class. The class was taught in the home of our teacher Jyoti, a fast-talking and down-to-business expert chef.
First, we learned about the main spices and ingredients used in South Indian cooking.
Starting at 1:00, going clockwise and ending in the middle, we have: dried mango powder (a souring agent, dried tamarind or pomegranate seeds can be used as well), salt, ground coriander seeds, a red chili powder similar to paprika and cayenne, turmeric, Kashmiri red chili (for color, not spice), and cumin seeds.
Starting at 1:00, going clockwise and ending in the middle, we have: black cardamom, red chili, cinnamon bark, cloves, nutmeg and mace (the flower around nutmeg), green cardamom, and black pepper.
South Indian cooking involves a lot of lentils, rice, coconut, potatoes, tomatoes, curd (yogurt), and coriander (both the leaves--which we call cilantro-- and the seeds-- which we refer to as coriander). It is lighter and more vegetarian than some of the heavier, more meat-based North Indian cooking, which has assimilated characteristics of many of the cultures that invaded and co-habitated the region. In contrast, South India, being geographically more protected, has remained more insular, and its cuisine is still very much based on what is locally available and fresh.
We then cooked a huge meal, starting with potato balls and vada (a type of light, airy, lentil-batter donut), which could both be viewed as snacks or appetizers. Then we made masala dosa. Dosa is a pancake that is often served with a few sides; masala dosa is the classic version, where the dosa pancake is served with masala potatoes, sambar dal (a type of lentil stew), and chutneys, in this case coconut and tomato. The same batter used for dosa can also be used to make idli (spongy, steamed rolls) and uttapam (closer to an American pancake, complete with veggies on top, making it pizza-like). As if this wasn't enough food, we also made yogurt rice and malli char, a coriander-based curry (we made ours with chicken). For dessert, we ate semolina halwa, a thick porridge-like pudding dessert, which we waited too long to eat, so it was more solidified than it should be.
Overall, the class wasn't as hands-on as we had hoped for, but the food was absolutely delicious and we're hoping we can recreate some of the easier dishes back at home!
One of my favorite things about Darjeeling and Sikkim was -- surprise, surprise-- the food. We found the variety of Tibetan noodle soups to be delicious, healthy, and so comforting in the cold evenings. There are three main types of noodle soups: thenthuk (flat noodles), gyathuk (thin noodles), and bakthuk (gnocchi-type pasta) . A large bowl of one of these only sets you back about $1!
Then there are momos, the ubiquitous but tasty dumplings that are either steamed or friend and filled with veggies, cheese, and/or meat. One of our favorite discoveries was a fried Tibetan bread called nomtse bhalay, served warm and dipped in a variety of sauces or with honey and preserves.
As far as drinks, we gave Tibetan butter tea a shot, but did not particularly enjoy this thick, salty, and buttery concoction. However, in Sikkim, we tried tomba, a traditional drink made of fermented millet, with a few grains of rice for flavor, served in a large mug and sipped through a straw. Warm water is added to the mug occasionally, and once the millet and water sit for a few minutes, the liquid becomes milky in color and tastes a bit like sake. Not a bad way to stay warm on a cold night in the Himalayan foothills!
Let's not sugar coat this: generally speaking, Africa is not exactly full of culinary delights. We ate chicken and chips for dinner more times than I care to remember, and for about two weeks our diet consisted almost exclusively of corn, bananas, peanut butter, and crackers-- that's all we could find. So when you find a dish that is available everywhere (and sometimes it's the only thing available) and you actually love it, you get excited. For us, this snack was called a "Rolex". We discovered it as soon as we got to Uganda. It consists of warm, doughey chapattis (an Indian bread that is similar to roti and naan) with an omellete rolled up inside. A Rolex usually costs about $.50 to $1, depending on its size and ingredients (veggies, potatoes, meat, avocado, etc.). The chapattis and omelletes are made fresh, right before you. And the best part is that you can find chapattis and Rolexes on roadside stands almost anywhere in Uganda!
We could understand why it's called a "Rolex" since it comes rolled up, but when I told a group of Ugandans that a Rolex is an expensive watch brand, they reacted with a resounding "no way!!"
Forodhani Gardens is a park on the northern side of Stone Town which nightly hosts a gathering of a few dozen vendors selling various street foods. It is a scene not to be missed, and starts coming together when vendors set up around sundown. Most of them fall into one of three categories:
- Seafood: A seemingly endless expanse of a huge variety of fresh-from-the-water fare--squid, lobster, shrimp, mussels, plus six or eight types of fish, and bread, potatoes, green bananas, and falafel as side dishes, which all get cut up and combined on order, then grilled, splashed with lemon and chili sauce, and topped off with some greens
- Zanzibar Pizza: an envelope of thin dough stuffed with the filling of your choice: meat, chicken, fish, vegetables, bananas with honey, peanut butter, or Nutella, and fried on a flat grill
- Sugar Cane Juice: the hardest-working men at the nightly gathering have to be the ones who toil over the two-roller hand-cranked press to make this lovely concoction. They send each stalk through over and over again, folding it in half and adding ginger and lime slices until every last drop of the sweet liquid has been expelled down the sluice and into the jug at the bottom.
A heaping plate of fresh seafood atop coconut bread, followed by warm, sweet bananas grilled inside oily dough, all washed down with fresh sugar cane juice, while people watching and enjoying the evening Indian Ocean breeze?! Yes, please!
It's simple: Tanzania won the soda lottery. I don't know what we Americans did to piss off the Coca-Cola company, causing them to deprive the U.S. of the incredibly tasty Krest Bitter Lemon and Stoney Tangawizi, but trust me, we're missing out! Bitter Lemon is refreshing, crisp, and tastes like a strong lemonade but without the sugary aftertaste. It's delicious on its own, but also works wonderfully with gin and/or Campari.
Stoney Tangawizi, which would probably be better suited as a rapper's name in the U.S., is essentially a ginger beer. We learned that Tangawisi is a Congolese medicinal drink containing lots of ginger. It's still sweet like ginger ale, but spicier, and also very refreshing. It too makes a tasty mixer and we especially enjoyed it with dark, spiced rum.
Unfortunately, we were not in Malawi long enough to get a good taste for what the country's cuisine is all about (unless it really is just chicken and chips, in which case we had more than enough time to get a taste for it...), but one thing we loved about every meal in Malawi was the addition of the country's beloved piri-piri sauce. Nali comes in mild, hot, gold, and garlic, the last one being my personal favorite, because it is not too hot but very tasty, so I don't have to end all my meals in tears. Nali Garlic also makes the perect burger topping or chips condiment when mixed with ketchup. We left the country with only two souvenirs: bottles of Nali Hot and Nali Garlic. 'Nuff said!
Our time in Moz was almost entirely spent on its coast, so almost everything we ate was seafood with either chips (french fries) or rice, with piri-piri sauce on the side. The most popular dishes were camarões (shrimp), lagosta (lobster), lagostina (something between a lobster a crayfish), and of course, fresh fish of the day. All meals are served with piri-piri, a hot sauce from piri piri peppers, which can be purchased in liter-sized bottles from stands alongside almost any road. The stuff is hands down the hottest hot pepper sauce I've ever tried. It's the kind of thing where you use a few drops, your lips start to tingle, your eyes are watering, yet you continue to add more and more until you can no longer feel your lips and you're in tears. Or maybe that's just me. In any case, that's how most meals ended for me. Can you blame me? Potatoes and rice need some spicing up when you eat them twice a day!
Aside from everything I doused in piri-piri, the two tastiest dishes I ate were a peanut and coconut-based curry sauce that I had one night with crab and one night with fish, and a classic Mozambican dish of pumpkin leaves stewed with peanuts and shrimp. Both were incredibly tasty, erring on the sweet side without being overly sugary. Dinners were washed down with a Doshem (the national beer): the perfect end to a day at the beach!
Within a few minutes of leaving the Kruger, we spotted a sign telling us that The Birthplace of Amarula was only a mere 13 km away. For those of you who are not familiar with Amarula, it is the second most popular cream liquor in the world (Bailey's is obviously first, and frankly I can't even think of a third or fourth cream liquor...). I may have had a mild obsession with the stuff a few years ago, and I still use it in baked goods once in a while (Amarula frosting on chocolate cupcakes is tops!).
While it was not yet noon, we couldn't resist to take the quick detour. After all, what are the chances we would happen upon the very birthplace in rural South Africa of this lovely cordial? When we arrived, we were greeted with a glass of Amarula on ice, and told that it was not currently production season, so instead of a tour of the processing area, we would be shown a DVD. The DVD took us through the production process, from marula fruits to the final product. We learned that the marula tree cannot be cultivated; the trees grow wild in the area and local villagers collect the fruits and sell them to the company by the kilo. The marula tree is also called 'the elephant tree' because elephants love to eat the fruits. We also learned that Amarula was first produced as a spirit, but it was so strong (over 100 proof) that people were literally dying. Dying! But someone had the bright idea to dilute the stuff with a bit of cream, and the rest is history.
The visit was one of the randomest detours we took on our South African road trip, but it was rewarding: I was happy to learn about the company's investment in and connection with the local community through their method of harvesting and various other projects, and drinking an ice-cold glass of Amarula right from the source reminded me a bit of home in an odd but comforting way.
Whereas coffee is the daily morning beverage for most of the world, in Argentina it's yerba mate, except change "morning" to "all the time", and "beverage" to "religion".
It's an herbal tea (or infusion for our nonexistent British readers out there) with its own unique and traditional delivery method containing two parts: a hollowed out gourd, called the mate, and a silver straw with small slits or holes in the bottom end, called the bombilla. Both can be made extremely ornately, often decorated with silver or other precious metals, and we saw many for sale, from the cheap ones from street vendors, to the heavily ornamented being sold by the country's poshest jewelry and trinket shops.
To drink the infusion, you put the straw into the gourd, fill the gourd around it with the dry leaves, then pour hot water over the leaves. After waiting a minute or two for the tea to steep, you drink through the straw, with the holes keeping (most of) the tea out of your mouth. Because the gourds are fairly small, and the tea gets very strong before long, the traditional way to drink mate is to also carry a thermos, and refill the gourd whenever it gets low.
Mate is slightly caffeinated, but contains less than tea or coffee, and there's evidence showing it has a positive effect on muscle tissue, heart disease, obesity, cholesterol, and even cancer, but check the wiki for the full details and the many s
Everywhere we went in Argentina, we saw many, many people walking around the streets, at work, or sitting in parks or cafes with their gourd and thermos; they drink it anywhere and at any time. I've been a fan of yerba mate since I discovered it in high school, so I was happy to replace my old gourd and bombilla with this handsome set we found at a silversmith's shop in Cafayate, in the north of the country. Bonus: we had the cutest salesperson ever.