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docsconz

A Culinary Journey in India

137 posts in this topic

Doc, what a beautiful account this is. The photos throughout are wonderful, and a lot on this page are outstanding...the turmeric and other market photos, the women in the field, and that meal at the Radisson looks really good.

As always when visiting the Asian countries there is the contrast between the beautiful nature and the chaos of the cities; the calm and peaceful faces and those of corruption; the delicious food and the threat that these foods have on our systems (I hope your sugar level regulated itself without much incidence.); the gorgeous colors and pollution smells; the beautiful scenery and the Taj Mahal hotel without a view (!). These contrasts have been highlighted so accurately here.

ps Who knew Indian cow manure doesn't smell?

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Doc, what a beautiful account this is.  The photos throughout are wonderful, and a lot on this page are outstanding...the turmeric and other market photos, the women in the field, and that meal at the Radisson looks really good. 

As always when visiting the Asian countries there is the contrast between the beautiful nature and the chaos of the cities; the calm and peaceful faces and those of corruption; the delicious food and the threat that these foods have on our systems (I hope your sugar level regulated itself without much incidence.); the gorgeous colors and pollution smells; the beautiful scenery and the Taj Mahal hotel without a view (!).  These contrasts have been highlighted so accurately here.

ps Who knew Indian cow manure doesn't smell?

Thank you, Shaya. India is indeed a land of contrasts. A fascinating place, it is both extremely welcoming and forbidding at the same time.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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DAY TEN: Tuesday March 11

We arrived with such haste earlier in the morning that plans for the day were not well described. I decided that I would not risk any question of getting to the Taj Mahal that I would be ready for any eventuality and arose at 7AM. Breakfast was much like the other hotels with a mediocre buffet and eggs and dosas made to order. I tried a sampling of a variety of items including a dosa masala and scrambled eggs masala, some fruit and a few different beverages. The food wasn’t terrible, though nothing particularly stood out other than the red carrot juice that was rather tasty and the coffee which was also very good. I was the first down to breakfast, but the others from the group slowly started trickling in. It was determined that we would meet at 9:30 to go to see the Taj Mahal. The word apparently made it to everyone but a couple of members of the group, who discovered the plan only as were readying to set off. Because one wasn’t ready they would stay behind.

The largest vote-getter in the recent internet selection process to determine the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, The Taj Mahal, a mausoleum built by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan to honor his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, proved a wonder of perspective in addition to its sheer beauty. The Shah had planned to build an identical mausoleum in black marble directly across the river, but before he could do so his throne was usurped by his son and he spent his last eight years holed up as a prisoner in a palace in the Agra Fort built a century earlier by his ancestor Akbar. From his prison cell, he was able to gaze at the Taj Mahal, as it lay directly in his view.

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A herd of water buffalo walking by the entrance to the Taj Mahal

Once we parked, we had to leave all but our camera and pocket items in the bus and take a separate electric bus closer to the site. We passed security and entered a courtyard in front of a red sandstone ante-building, through the portals of which we had our first view of this true wonder. Once we passed through the sandstone building, the Taj stood in front of us in its full glory. Unfortunately, the sky was gray and overcast rather than brilliant blue, however, the good news was that the temperature was quite comfortable rather than the searing heat of a few days earlier. I earlier mentioned that the Taj is a marvel of perspective. It was built in such away that the sides of the mausoleum itself and its flanking minarets took parallax into account so that it looked perfectly straight when viewed from a distance. We had our photos taken individually and as a group standing in front of the Taj. They were ready by the time we returned awhile later and I wound up buying a few as they were pretty good.

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Another wonderful element of the morning was looking at and admiring the other visitors. Many of the Indians visiting were wearing their finest clothes. The colors of the saris were particularly vibrant. While we were determining where and when to meet, I spied some people a few yards away from us having their photos taken. I determined that the striking black woman was none other than Serena Williams, who had just come from winning a tennis tournament in Bangalore.

Built in the 17th century over twenty four or so years, the Taj Mahal was truly remarkable and as impressive a feat of architecture and construction as I have ever seen, however, the experience of being there lacked the emotional and spiritual impact of places like Macchu Picchu or the sunrise over the Ganges with the light of the sun spilling over the multitudes pouring themselves into their sacred river. Although infinitely more beautiful, the experience was similar to viewing Versailles; awe and majesty rather than a primal release.

As we were leaving, I was approached by a hawker selling some wooden cobras. I saw them on the way in and thought that the boys would get a kick out of them so we bargained and I obtained them for a satisfactory price. The problem was that once the other hawkers noticed some interest, we were bombarded until we made it back to the electric bus.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Totally loving this. I returned two days ago from three months living in mostly Southern India and I am already getting really nostalgic. Especially for fish molee and tandoori gobi!

I consider rickshaws and rickshaw drivers to be the Spawn of Satan, but I was relying on them for primary transportation as I am 19 and very poor. Basically, they like overcharging you. A lot. And ogling you if you are female.

Did you try meen pollichathu? (fried fish wrapped in banana leaf.) That was one of my absolute favorite Kerala dishes....I wonder how many good Kerala restaurants there are in the USA...?

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Totally loving this. I returned two days ago from three months living in mostly Southern India and I am already getting really nostalgic. Especially for fish molee and tandoori gobi! 

I consider rickshaws and rickshaw drivers to be the Spawn of Satan, but I was relying on them for primary transportation as I am 19 and very poor. Basically, they like overcharging you. A lot. And ogling you if you are female.

Did you try meen pollichathu? (fried fish wrapped in banana leaf.) That was one of my absolute favorite Kerala dishes....I wonder how many good Kerala restaurants there are in the USA...?

Welcome back! The meen pollichathu sounds great! There is a South Indian restaurant near where I live. While I had thought it excellent before my trip, unfortunately it pales since.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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From the Taj, we made our way to view a demonstration of the techniques of marble inlay that were used in the construction of that monument. The work of creating this dying art was quite fascinating. Of course, they had their wares to display. While not inexpensive, the pieces were absolutely beautiful. I managed to restrain myself to a lotus blossom of dark green marble with inlays of semi-precious stones including carnelian, turquoise, malachite, mother of pearl, onyx and others.

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After a quick stop back at the hotel to drop off our purchases and to freshen up we were off to a cooking demonstration and lunch at the Colonel Lamba Indian Home Stay Guest House.

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The guest house belongs to Colonel Lamba and his wife. He is retired from the Indian Army. Being Sikhs, they treated us to a demonstration and lunch of Sikh cooking. The food was vegetarian. They demonstrated the technique of preparing a northern style curry by frying their spices first. They also showed us how to make chapatti’s, a whole wheat Indian bread, by pre-cooking the tortilla like rounds on a griddle than finishing them by quickly putting them directly onto the flame before removing them almost immediately thereafter as they puffed up. Other dishes prepared included a raita with yogurt, cauliflower and cumin, potato with capsicum, a vegetable pilaf with basmati rice, dal with rajmah red beans from Kashmir, Malai Koftas or cottage cheese balls like we have had previously. Though not part of the demonstration lunch commenced with an amazingly good tomato-vegetable soup. The delicious lunch also included delicately delicious papadams and a special dessert of candied bitter melon. The overall experience was marvelous and one of the better meals of the trip.

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Welcome

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Making Chapatti's

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Tomato-vegetable Soup

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Raita

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Potato with Capsicum

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Cauliflower with Cumin

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Vegetable Pilaf with Bsmati Rice

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Malai Koftas

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Dal with Rajmah Red Beans from Keshmir

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Candied Winter Melon

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Colonel Lamba

Some of the group peeled off while the rest of us were taken to see the Agra Fort where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son. Though we were too late to enter the fort, a few of us walked along outside its walls to the point where we could view Jahan’s prison as well as the Taj Mahal. On the way back to the bus, a small group of children asked for their photo to be taken. It has been amazing to me how friendly the Indian children have been and more so how much they enjoy being photographed, the only reward being a quick view of the photo on the view finder! It has been fun and refreshing, though a few times a little scary as the groups of enthusiastic children would quickly swell and become somewhat difficult to handle in their enthusiasm.

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Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Doc, once again you have managed to take us with you on your delightful travel to India. What wonderful, stunning colors, like those candied melons, the soft, translucent airiness of the Taj Mahal, the organized chaos of a busy street. Thank you, thank you, maraming salamat. Please don't stop travelling ... and eating.


Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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Dear Doc,

Great travelogue. As you wrote, the CIA/World of Flavors tours was a way to get your toes into the water. However, (and this is not a criticism, but an observation that could be used by you and others in the future if so desired) it appeared to me that your group's eating excursions were severely circumscribed. Many "iconic" elements, not just restaurants were left unaddressed.

This could be attributed to many factors (and I am just guessing here):

1. Time and scheduling difficulties

2. The season of the year in some places; winter might have been nicer: Nov-Feb.

3. Commitments by the tour organization to various institutional actors, e.g. the catering institute and the big hotels

4. The comfort zone of many participants presumed by the tour organizers: hence their omitting food experiences like grazing the Night Market at Jama Masjid in Delhiculminating in a dnner at Karim's. Both define an iconic "food experience" of tha city. It takes a thoughtful and experienced guide, someone of the caliber of Mr. Vinod Dua.

If the tour organizers were going top class, and it seems they were cutting corners on esentials like guides and buses, then thes aspects should have received conscientious scrutiny. I am not criticizing, but suggesting ways to improve the experience, since it seems that India is receiving a lot of positive exposure through your posts.

In the past I have been able to help a few members of this forum and elsewhere enhance their pleasure in their travels to India Tha is my only aim, and joy. Any names I mention have no connection with me, and indeed, detest me for the most part. Therefore, I feel very comfortable recommending them in the strongest posible terms!!

If you were to visit India in the future, and I sggest this to a who might be enthused by your reports, consider stepping out ofthe 5-Star bubble in which you were imprisoned. You will meet a vibrant an delicious India, without the hassles you mention. First let me recommend two people who are food nuts and experienced food travelers in India who wouldmak idea tour guides for small groups of people. They are not into the "business", so they are not beholden to special interests, no tie-ups, no back-scratching that led to such a mediocre tour, foodwise [iMO, considering the money spent].

One is the chef-owner of a small restaurant in Portland, OR. He recentl spent a good while in India and is raring to go. Dn't kow if he has the time. Here is a US native with a keen apprecition of what would bug a Newcomer, what woud be aprropriae or not, andhe would be keenly live to the sensitivities ofan merican traeing group, their fears, torments, special needs. You lost out on so may special bars even in the great hotels you visited. Read this gentleman's blog he happens to be an eGulleteer! Check out his Portland cafe and speak to him in persn, those of you who may be in that area, to sound him out in this matter:

http://pleasuremountain.wordpress.com/2007/09/page/6/

http://pleasuremountain.wordpress.com/page/7/?s=Delhi

Here's Jim confounded as you were, by the great Bukhara rip-off:

http://pleasuremountain.wordpress.com/page/8/?s=Delhi

Karim's: http://pleasuremountain.wordpress.com/page/9/?s=Delhi

Many ofthe iconic restaurants, of Delhi, like Swagath, aso were given a complete miss. There are 3 lively websites where India and Indian food is seriously discussed. It is there you will pick up any useful information.

For Delhi restaurant reviews AnotherSubcontinent and GourmetIndia, which also are the major India foodsites. For travel and itinerary advice: Indiatree.

On the later two you will find a gentleman by the name of Sekhar. He is a Hotel and travel professional with impeccable connections in the Indian travel industry, especially the important foodie + electronics powerhouse state of Andhra Pradesh. Besides being a super-expert and food-nut, he is fluent in the languages the languages of North and South India, and comfortale in both the city and rural areas, very, very important qualification.

I could not imagine a better dream team of travel guides to India than Sehar and Jim to lead an American group of, say, 8. Sekhar to do all the bookings and accomodations, trasport and other "Indian" asects of the tour, Jim to worry about taking care of the visitors' other needs. Both to involve themselves with the food!!!

These two have entry into kitchens of India that Ms. Sahni can never even imagine, and can deliver an all round experience ofIndia from shopping to cooking that would be beyond the capacity of any of the big names associated with "Indian cooking" in the USA today. Each is a master chef in his own right. Plus their fluency in regional cuisnes of particular areas is unparalled.

Please take a look at the market scene below, paying special attention to the butcher:

http://pleasuremountain.wordpress.com/page/6/?s=Delhi

Mian Mohammed Qureshi is perhaps the last of a long line of master butchers. His sons probaly will not fllw in their father' footsteps. You need to see the many facets of elite Muslim Meat Science before it is gone for good. Won't see that with the upscale 5-star folk, but Jim can show you that and much, much more! Qureshi Saheb aso happens to be one of the great living gems, a Biryani Master. You won't learn about the nuance of biriyani styles sitting inside that 5-Star bubble.

A few authors have made a great name for themselves in the US by dint of their hard work, their ability to write but also their flair for self-promotion. Not a bad thing at al, as they have done a great service for India, promoting her food and culture. But as you may appreciate, there is no "Indian" food just as there is no "European food". India is as large geographically, and much more diverse than Western Europe. So it is impossible for any one writer to become oracular on matters of "Indian" cooking. Consequently, trips planned by such are a beginning, as you rightly observe. I think "smaller" experts also can bring a great deal to the business. This post is my way of asking them to step into the ring!!

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Shelby, Stephanie and Doddie - thank you for your kind comments! Thank you also, V. Gautam for an extremely thoughtful and informed post. I very much appreciate the knowledge and spirit of your post. Should I return to India, I would take your suggestions strongly to heart and indeed I would be looking to fill in the iconic experiences that I missed and clearly there were many. Indeed, breaking out of the 5 star cocoon would be desirable for a number of reasons, though that is not a bad cocoon to have in India, especially for a middle-aged first-time visitor from the US. :laugh:

Was the trip complete? Obviously not. As V. Gautam rightly pointed out there was so much that we missed, but how, in a country like India, is it possible to do much more in the period of time that we had with as much traveling as we did? The trip provided an excellent overview, an introduction to India, that could really do little more than skim the surface of what is there. That is not to say that the trip or its organizers were beyond reproach or things could not have been better. By the time I finish this travelogue, I hope to be clear about what was superb and what was disappointing or worse about this trip. Nevertheless, we were exposed to quite a bit. One thing that was evident, though was that Julie Sahni has the connections to get into some interesting situations and places. She does her own focused small group tours that I would expect would be along the lines of what V.Gautam was describing. While the recommendations that V.Gautam provided for setting up a trip to India are undoubtedly superb and extremely enticing, I wouldn't hesitate to return with Ms. Sahni on one of her focused trips either.

I appreciate the links to the Pleasure Mountain blog. They are absolutely worth visiting for anyone interested in this topic. I would have loved to visit the market in Delhi that Jim visited. Delhi was a city that we literally passed through because we had to in order to get to the northern destinations from the south. That was really the only place that our guide was bad as well as the scene of most of my negative experiences. Clearly, not much attention was given to visiting this city (ironically the city where Ms. Sahni grew up), but given how little time we spent there and how difficult it appears to get around in, I'm not sure that was the wrong approach for this trip. I would, however, like to return to Delhi and spend more time and get a sense of the depth of the city along with some iconic experiences as you described. Bukhara was a disappointment and I fully agree with Jim's assessment, but I am glad that we went. If we had not, given its reputation, I would have felt cheated! :laugh:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Dinner was on our own. A few people went over to the Oberoi, while others went out for street food. I stayed at the hotel and joined a couple of fellow travelers for dinner. We shared a few dishes including a chef’s special of grilled prawns with vegetables, chicken biryani - I very much wanted to try this north Indian specialty before we left and I would not otherwise have the chance- and minced lamb kebobs. It was all quite good, with the prawns, especially delicious.

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Chicken Biryani

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Grilled Prawns with Vegetables

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Minced Lamb Kebabs

The next day would be an early start and I still had to pack, so I called it a night.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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DAY ELEVEN: Wednesday March 12

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We would be off on another long bus ride as we headed for Jaipur, the final leg of our trip, however a few of us wished to revisit the Taj Majal at sunrise. Julie made arrangements for us to do so. While the sky remained overcast and we did not have the spectacular sunrise that we enjoyed at Varanasi, the effect was still startling. The early light provided more definition, while the call to prayer of the muezzins and the bells of the temples provided the atmosphere. A relative dearth of visitors allowed for a more peaceful and leisurely visit, creating a more emotionally charged environment. On our return walk we passed by numbers of monkeys cavorting along the paths leading away from the Taj. They appeared playful and cute until one approached too close for the mother’s comfort level at which point she became threatening. It didn’t happen to me, but a mother did threaten several members of our group, making us all jump away and fortunately laugh!

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Once back at the hotel, I ate a quick breakfast of western style fried eggs and toast for a change of pace as well as the fact that the breakfast at the Taj View as well as most every other aspect of the hotel was the worst of the trip. I was packed and ready to go and had time to kill before we left so I went back to the hotel shops. I had been eyeing these beautiful red camel skin slippers, but hadn’t bought them because I wasn‘t sure of how they would fit my wife. Knowing that I liked them, that I would be leaving, and eager to make a sale, the shopkeeper gave me a price that I could not refuse. He made me promise not to tell anyone the price, but I would later discover that one of my fellow travelers had paid twice the price that I had for similar slippers at the same shop! Later on in Jaipur I would pay even less for two pairs of similar shoes!

The bus ride to Jaipur in the neighboring state of Rajasthan was helped by a couple of things compared to the ride from Delhi to Agra. First, we had a new bus that was newer and significantly more comfortable. Secondly, the roads were much better and lastly, being daytime, we were able to watch the changing scenery unfold. While old India was still very much present with villages, water buffalo, goatherds and camel driven carts, there was evidence of impending change as new, modern roads were being constructed. With much of the property alongside these roads having been bought, it will likely not be long before the quaint village scenes become a thing of the past.

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Street Market from the bus

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Lunch tiffins for agricultural field workers

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The workers

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Camel Cart along the road to Jaipur

Approximately halfway through the trip, we stopped for lunch at a place much like the one we stopped at on the way down from Delhi, only this one, called Mahua, had really excellent food. In addition to the typically good dal and breads including a local specialty called bati made with flour and yogurt and baked in ashes, other standouts included goat Kashmiri in a wonderful red sauce made with kashmiri chili in addition to other ingredients, cauliflower with sweet red carrots originally from Uzbekistan, okra with onions and garlic, paneer with peas and finally samosas, all of which made for a colorful and beautiful as well as delicious plate. Desserts were also good, including a vanilla ice milk and halvah made from cream of wheat, simple syrup, almonds and raisins with just the right degree of sweetness. I finished my meal with a satisfying chai masala.

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Samosas

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Bati

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Tandoori Chicken

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Goat Kashmiri

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Paneer with Peas

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Cauliflower and Uzbekistani Red Carrots

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Dal

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Okra with Onions and Garlic

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My Plate

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Halvah


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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boringly repetitive Doc but your photography is outstanding for its clarity and composition, appreciate the time you have sacrificed to allow us to be participants on your trip....you must have sacrificed some enjoyment for us,... thanks...

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boringly repetitive Doc but your photography is outstanding for its clarity and composition, appreciate the time you have sacrificed to allow us to be participants on your trip....you must have sacrificed some enjoyment for us,... thanks...

Thanks, but I find doing this enjoyable in its own right. :smile:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Back on the bus, our journey continued deeper into Rajasthan, the landscape changing from lush farmland to more arid. Ironically, it rained part of the way. During the ride, Julie told us more about the changing face of India. She discussed the breaking down of caste barriers, evolving roles of women, the culture of village life, the tolerance of a variety of religions within secular India, the place and cost of graft necessary to get things done and the food culture and specialties of Rajasthan.

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The ride was one of the more harrowing of the trip, however, as we had several near-miss accidents, including one during which we moved on to the shoulder of the road. Since the shoulder sloped away from the road we angled over to our left, briefly feeling as if we would roll over onto that side. The driver was able to keep us righted as we quickly moved back on to the regular road surface. The reason for so many scares is that drivers pass each other indiscriminately with little regard for what may be coming from the opposite direction. The instance I described was the result of one bus passing another, both coming towards us. Other situations arose involving ourselves and/or other vehicles. The number of times automobiles or motorcycles quickly tucked in front of a vehicle they were passing just avoiding collisions were too many to count both today and during the rest of the trip. Given the sheer anarchy of the roads, it is a wonder that there haven’t been more collisions between vehicles as well as between vehicles and pedestrians and/or animals. It is quite fortunate and necessary that the brakes are kept in good repair.

We finally entered Jaipur, a city with the typical contrasts of India. As we entered we saw beautiful old stonework and shabby, decrepit shanties and tents. The city also possessed the energy and vibrancy that I have come to expect in India.

Our arrival at our hotel, The Raj Palace, proved eye-opening. The hotel was truly a palace and is still owned by a Maharaja. The rooms and appointments of this unique property are truly stunning, once again illustrating the extremes of India. Although my own room is one of the most luxurious and finest that I have ever stayed in, it actually pales in comparison to some of the others. This should be a marvelous place to conclude our sojourn in India.

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John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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That evening we convened for another cooking demonstration, this time by the hotel’s staff showing us several dishes and techniques including how they use the tandoor for making chicken and naan. Though I wasn’t very hungry, the dinner that followed was amongst the best of trip. The chicken, made without any red coloration, was particularly succulent and flavorful. The dal was also especially delicious.

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Marinating Chicken

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Skewering chicken

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Chicken taken from the Tandoor

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Paneer with vegetables

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Making kebabs and such with a special grill pan

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Amazing naan baked quickly in the tandoor

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The Maharajah chats with Julie

The hotel provided entertainment including drummers, fire swallower and girls performing a native dance showing exquisite balance, strength and grace. One dancer balanced a column of pots on her head while she danced, at one point stepping up on cups in her bare feet. They also invited audience members to come up to dance with them. I did not refuse.

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John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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DAY TWELVE: Thursday March 13

Despite the wonderful accommodations, I did not sleep well. I had to get up in the morning to go to the bathroom to discover that part of my discomfort was due to some very loose stool. Fortunately I had some Imodium and took that. The group had been surprisingly free of significant illness, but I was to discover another one of the group shared my discomfort that morning. In addition to the Imodium, another MD on the trip gave me some Levaquin to take. Though I no longer had any pressing issues, I remained feeling less than 100%.

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Fortunately, that was not enough to prevent me going to see the Wind Palace in the old Pink City area of Jaipur nor did it prevent me from going to the Amber Fort in the mountains just outside the city. The latter visit was especially fun as we rode elephants up to the Fort itself. Since Bob’s wife, Ellen did not go, he was my partner on the elephant. The ride itself proved much fun, though my photos were not as good as I had hoped due to the jostling and the overcast sky. In fact, it had rained a little bit as we waited our turn for the elephants.

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Once in the fort, we dismounted from the elephants at a platform. Jai, our guide then proceeded to show us through the palace that was occupied by the Maharajah’s family until 1959. The details still extant within the labyrinth of passages and rooms startled, especially the winter palace with its walls of mirrors. These consisted of a multitude of small convex mirrors inlaid through this part of the palace. The effect, even in daylight, was marvelous. At night with moon and candlelight, it is supposed to be magical.

From the Fort, we made another shopping stop. This one was for rugs, and other textiles. Following the obligatory craft demonstrations we were led into the showrooms. I was able to withstand the lure of the carpets as beautiful as they were, but I did purchase some gifts of scarves and ties.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Lunch was special as we went to the private home of a wealthy, royal-connected family, the Singhs. Their cooks gave a demonstration of cooking several dishes before we sat down with the family for lunch. Before the demonstration and lunch we sat in their parlor surrounded by family photos of people in regal garb as well as some of family members with the likes of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Prince Charles and Prince Albert. Lunch highlights included crisp-fried okra, spinach and corn and perhaps the best desserts of the trip, including wonderfully light and crispy jalebi and smooth, rich and buttery carrot halvah made with the local red carrots. During lunch, we learned from Mr. Singh that all Sikhs are Singhs, but not all Singhs are Sikhs. He and his family including his daughter are not Sikh.

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Cooking demonstration by the family's chefs in their kitchen

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Buffet Arrangement

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Cole Slaw!

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Spinach and corn

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"Mutton" = Goat

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Dal

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Potatoes with herbs and spices

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Crisp-fried okra

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Sangri (a desert vegetable) with lotus root

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My plate

The daughter is an interesting story and example of an aspect of Indian culture. She had been married, but her husband died early, while she was pregnant with their only child, a daughter. In Indian culture, a wife is often blamed for the death of her husband. Given his early death and the subsequent inauspicious birth of a daughter, she was rejected by her husband’s family and cast out. She was fortunate to be taken back by her father as that is not typical Indian custom. Remarriage is not a common custom within Indian culture. Her daughter has grown and gone on to study law in London.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Wow. That last meal looks just amazing. Ok well all the meals look amazing. I can imagine you are now spoiled and it will take awhile to adjust to the "indian" food available in the States? Then again I remember you living in NY? So maybe not...

A little OT but I think Jaipur is where the movie Kama Sutra was filmed. It looks oddly familiar. I loved that movie btw. I think it was one of the few bollywood movies I've seen without the dancing and interesting *cough* music? :raz:

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Wow. That last meal looks just amazing. Ok well all the meals look amazing. I can imagine you are now spoiled and it will take awhile to adjust to the "indian" food available in the States? Then again I remember you living in NY? So maybe not...

A little OT but I think Jaipur is where the movie Kama Sutra was filmed. It looks oddly familiar. I loved that movie btw. I think it was one of the few bollywood movies I've seen without the dancing and interesting *cough* music?  :raz:

I am spoiled! Shortly after my return, my wife and I went to one of our favorite local Indian restaurants that specializes in Southern Indian cooking and I found the food to be barely edible. I do live in NY, but upstate. If I live in NYC, it would be much less of an issue.

With the exception of special products like sagri, the difference comes not so much from a lack of availability of ingredients, but the quality of ingredients, especially spices and products that are originally from India. They simply aren't the same here.

The real test for me will be to go back to a restaurant like Devi in NYC and see if it is still as good to me as it was prior to my trip.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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continued....

The remainder of the day I took it easy until the time came for our farewell dinner. One couple stayed in their particularly glorious room, but the rest of our now abbreviated group convened. I still wasn’t feeling great, but since this was the finale, I decided to attend anyway.

Unfortunately, I did not realize that this would involve a one-hour bus-ride to a cheesy, tourist trap destination, the name of which I choose to forget. Though I regretted going, the group made the best of it. We wandered a bit through the grounds as Julie tried to get her bearings and find someone who could help us out. During our wanderings we saw dancers, musicians, palmists, camels for riding and sundry other side-shows. Julie’s initial thought was to take us to a section of this theme park for authentic Rajasthan Village cooking in an authentic Rajasthan village setting. That this meant sitting low on the dusty floor made me and others reject this notion, so we went to a more conventional restaurant setting. The food was actually decent, especially a Chinese dish that we sampled of chicken with garlic sauce, which was actually one of the best renditions of this dish that I have had anywhere. The tandoor chicken and kebabs were also very good. Had I been hungrier, I might have enjoyed the experience more. The most interesting aspect of the meal, however, was the wine experience. Two people ordered a bottle of wine, that finally arrived after we were well into our meal. Once they had the opportunity to taste it (it had simply been poured for them), they realized that the wine was bad. It had been cooked. When they tried to return it, they were met with staunch refusal, saying that the bottle had been opened. They attempted to have one of the staff taste it for themselves only to discover that no one working there “takes” wine or alcohol! Finally, they managed to track down a staff member who did taste it and agreed that the wine was bad. The staff learned something about wine, while we had an interesting India experience. I slept through much of the return bus ride.


Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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So sad about the daughter. I take it this was several years ago since her daughter is now grown. Has that part of the Indian culture changed/relaxed any? I'll be googling to find out where that "custom" originated. I can't imagine being blamed for an early death like that.

The food in your last pictures seems to be a bit more "western". Was that because you all were touring, or is that how they always eat?

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So sad about the daughter.  I take it this was several years ago since her daughter is now grown.  Has that part of the Indian culture changed/relaxed any?  I'll be googling to find out where that "custom" originated.  I can't imagine being blamed for an early death like that.

The food in your last pictures seems to be a bit more "western".  Was that because you all were touring, or is that how they always eat?

My understanding is that this cultural norm may be relaxing a bit in the larger urban areas, but still predominates through most of the country. What prevented the same fate for Anu Mathew in Kerala was that she bore a son prior to her husband's death.

As for the meal being more "western", that was true on two counts. The presence of the cole slaw is probably a remnant from the British. This particular family seemed to be well connected to the British with photos of family members with British royalty including Prince Charles scattered throughout the house. The other aspect was the presence of corn with the spinach. Although prepared in Indian fashion, corn is a vegetable that seems to be becoming more popular in India despite its foreign origins. The rest was classic Rajasthani cooking.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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DAY THIRTEEN: Friday March 14

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I felt much better the following morning and woke up to a beautiful sunny day. Since the light was so beautiful, I roamed the grounds of the hotel taking photos. The day would be on our own. I spent the bulk of the morning packing before we had to check out of the room. Our flight would not be until the evening.

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A few of us went into town where I wound up buying some shoes and having two silk shirts made. Afterwards, I got up the courage to wander into the Pink City on my own. Though I had my camera with me, I did not take a single photo. It was not for lack of compelling subjects. It was more a case of feeling intimidated by how much I already stood out in this forbidding culture. I felt somewhat exhilarated by the experience as I meandered through the dusty, filthy but oddly beautiful streets adhering closely to my map and avoiding side streets , hawkers and beggars. After awhile and not finding my objective, a special savory and sweet stand that is well known, I returned to the hotel. On my way back, a young Muslim student from Dubai who was vacationing in Jaipur while studying in Mumbai, struck up a conversation with me in broken English. He explained that he is studying English and that his father is a cardiologist in Dubai. We parted ways as I arrived back at the hotel.

Our departure time was pushed back, so we had more time to kill, a good part of which I spent waiting for my shirts to be delivered. They finally came with little time to spare before we boarded the bus. The sunset was beautiful as we headed through the newly developed area approaching the airport.

Once at the airport, I had a samosa, something that I expected to eat much of, but had had only once prior during the trip. The reason for this is that samosas are considered snacks and primarily available as street food. We did not sample any street food as a group, though a few brave souls did so regularly. I was just not that brave, especially for something as starchy as a samosa in a hot climate. Others had tried airport snack bar samosas previously without a problem and in general these had the imprimatur of Julie so I bought one for 30 rupees or about $0.08.

We checked in for our flight and discovered that it would be a half hour or so late. I started to become concerned, but not overly so. Once we boarded the short Kingfisher airline flight, I realized that we would be cutting things pretty close. Things became even more urgent as we had a long bus ride to the arrival terminal, waited for our baggage and packed up the bus that would take us to the International terminal. I figured that the International terminal, though a different building, would at least still be within the same airport. I figured wrong. Not only was it a completely different airport, we had to wade through slow, heavy traffic to get to it. By the time we were able to get our bags from the bus and rush through the entrance to the terminal (no mean feet given the airport security), three of us, who were all to be on the same Continental flight to Newark, discovered that the Continental check-in was closed and that we would not be on our flight. Our initial shock led to more aggravation as we had to wait and wait some more for a Continental representative to come and help us as well as a number of other passengers who missed the flight because of major difficulties getting to the airport. In the meantime, I called Julie, who was with her family in Delhi, to inform her of our plight as well as to seek her advice. Though there wasn’t much that she could do for us directly, her advice was useful.

Once the Continental agents came, we could leave the terminal. The Delhi airport security is such that once one enters the departures terminal one can not simply walk out of it. One needs an airline representative‘s assistance to do so, thus the presence of the Continental reps was doubly necessary. The terminal itself, inside and out, was chaos, with little apparent order, so it was helpful for each of us to have the others company and share our misfortune. Once we got outside the terminal we had to go to the Continental office to make new flight arrangements. As with every other aspect of this ordeal, this was not as easy as it sounds. We had to wade through masses of people all the while pushing our luggage carts, a process strangely reminiscent of driving through Delhi itself. The airline office happened to be on the level below, however, the elevator was not operating. Given our luggage, the three of us determined that I would collect all of our passports and make the arrangements for all while they stayed with the baggage. I was not the first in line, however, and I became quite concerned as the other passengers were being told that the next flight was already oversold with only first-come, first served standby tickets available. In addition, Continental would not place us on another carrier as it was not their fault that we missed the flight. Fortunately for me, since I was traveling first-class, they were able to confirm my travel for the Saturday night flight with a first class ticket. My two friends, however, could only be booked standby. With the incredible assistance of a fellow traveler, an Indian from Delhi by birth named Privat, who now lives and owns restaurants in Atlantic City, we got a taxi from the pre-pay area to take us to the Radisson Hotel near the airport. We were fortunate to find three rooms. Once there, I showered and crashed.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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