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A Culinary Journey in India


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Thank you so much for taking us on a voyage of delightful eating and culture. I always hated the thought of going to India but I think I take everything back now seeing this travelogue. I want to go so bad now. I loved the pool with the lotuses reminds me of home around Ayutthaya. Dangnabit! I want Indian... like what you had!!!!!! I would be like you so spoiled after eating "real" Indian food. :wub:

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Doc,

Nice work.

Just out of interest, and knowing that you spend alot of time in Manhattan, where I have a very difficult time ordering drinks (though I do it anyway, most of the time) because I know that I can often BUY a bottle of whatever the main ingredient for a cocktail is at twice the price of said cocktail...

How much is too much in India? :shock:

Edited by Mayhaw Man (log)

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Doc, your latest culinary trip has me fully enthralled (and I still have visions of the chiles and moles from your trip to Mexico). I love the behind-the-scenes photos and the pictures of fruits on the vine (or tree, as the case may be). I also appreciate the evenhanded appraisal of your experiences.

Your pictures show that males are well-represented in cooking school and restaurant kitchens, but I had the impression (perhaps incorrect) that women do most of the home cooking in India. Did you catch any discussion about this interesting split?

Anyway, your photographic eye is keen as always. As beautiful as many of the finished dishes look, I was particularly drawn to the mise-en-place photos - so much flavor, just waiting to be unleashed.

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How was the tandoor cauliflower prepared?  It looks almost like a samosa--was it wrapped in something and then put in the tandoor?

You don't by chance have any pictures of sari shops, do you?  I love the vibrant colours and billowing fabrics.  And given your photography skills, I'd love to see what you could do with the subject.  :smile:

The cauliflower was battered and deep fried before being finished in the tandoor.

While I don't have photos of saris per se, I do have some fabric photos that I'll post at the appropriate times.

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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Thank you so much for taking us on a voyage of delightful eating and culture. I always hated the thought of going to India but I think I take everything back now seeing this travelogue. I want to go so bad now. I loved the pool with the lotuses reminds me of home around Ayutthaya. Dangnabit! I want Indian... like what you had!!!!!! I would be like you so spoiled after eating "real" Indian food.  :wub:

Thanks for reading! Julie Sahni runs some trips to India on her own that I'm sure would be excellent as well.

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,

Nice work.

Just out of interest, and knowing that you spend alot of time in Manhattan, where I have a very difficult time ordering drinks (though I do it anyway, most of the time) because I know that I can often BUY a bottle of whatever the main ingredient for a cocktail is at twice the price of said cocktail...

How much is too much in India?  :shock:

I did not pay for the meal directly, but I recall looking at the menu and being very impressed by the prices. With the exxchange at the time, the raita was around $16/bowl or something like that. The meats were in the $30-40 range if memory serves me. The wines and other beverages were quite high though I no longer remember any specifics. I don't mind spending money on food and wine (obviously, I think :blink: ), but I do not like being taken advantage of. That was the impression that I had at the time of Bukhara. It charges relatively high prices because of its reputation. Thus is the power of the market. It is very good, but I do not think that it is that good. Based on its reputation and its relative cost it should have been the best meal of the trip by far. Not even close. I hope that I answered your question, Brooks.

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, your latest culinary trip has me fully enthralled (and I still have visions of the chiles and moles from your trip to Mexico). I love the behind-the-scenes photos and the pictures of fruits on the vine (or tree, as the case may be). I also appreciate the evenhanded appraisal of your experiences.

Your pictures show that males are well-represented in cooking school and restaurant kitchens, but I had the impression (perhaps incorrect) that women do most of the home cooking in India. Did you catch any discussion about this interesting split?

Anyway, your photographic eye is keen as always. As beautiful as many of the finished dishes look, I was particularly drawn to the mise-en-place photos - so much flavor, just waiting to be unleashed.

gallery_8158_6039_125035.jpg

gallery_8158_6039_3209.jpg

Thanks, Bruce. I think it depends on the class of the home whether women do most of the cooking or not. As you will see, we ate in a few homes, most of them upper-caste. Though the ladies of the houses tended to run the kitchens, much of the actual cooking in those situations was done by (hired) males. I'm not sure that is typical in most homes, however.

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 SEVEN: Saturday, March 8

I had a light breakfast as this was the first day that I felt that my blood sugar was somewhat of an issue. The previous day was very sedentary with a lot of food spread throughout the day. I woke up early to urinate and had some frequency to follow. Fortunately, this would not be a big day of eating as it would be a travel day to Varanasi.

Since it was Saturday, the traffic flowed smoothly, so our trip to the airport was uneventful as was our flight to Varanasi. The passengers were much more varied ethnically than was apparent on other flights. In particular, there appeared to be a large number of Japanese passengers on board the plane. The explanation for this is that Sarnath, a site just outside of Varanasi , is the site where Buddha gave his first sermon. The site is therefore of major significance to Buddhists of all nationalities.

It was quite hot and dusty as we descended from the plane. We collected our baggage and piled into the bus. This one was somewhat better than the dirty, smelly one of Delhi, though it was not quite as nice as the one in Kerala. The drive to the hotel was eye-opening. The traffic flowed at a crawl as the road was filled with trucks and vehicles of all types . This enabled us to get a good view of the countryside and villages as they limped past. It was already apparent that this would be an India different than what we had already seen, only we were yet to realize how different.

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Once again our arrival at the hotel was met with ceremony. In addition to the forehead tikka, we received a necklace. This time instead of a flower garland, it was a beaded necklace in colors chosen to complement the clothing we were wearing. In my case since I was wearing light green clothes, I received a lovely string of sea green beads. The mint based welcome drink was less sweet and more refreshing than others that we have received. gallery_8158_6039_96201.jpgThe hotel itself was old, but quite charming. The grounds were beautifully landscaped with the grandest collection of flowering plants , especially dahlias, that I have come across so far on this trip. My room was comfortably appointed and pretty, number 403.

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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We had a chance to freshen up and relax a little before meeting up with our guide, Manu, a Brahmin and teacher with a degree in archaeology, met us and continued a lecture in the bus that he had started on the trip from the airport on the nature of Hunduism, Buddhism and Islam and their relation to Varanasi. As we headed to Sarnath, the place of Buddha’s first sermon in the 5th century BC, he focused on the life story of Siddhartha, the Buddha’s given name, from his birth as a Hindu, the crown prince of the land, in a forest, walking immediately upon birth with lotus blossoms springing up under his steps to his youthful seclusion in the palace, to his venturing forth with a servant and discovering old age and death, to his marriage and son to his venturing forth into a life of asceticism fasting for 60 days reaching enlightenment or “nirvana” to his first sermon at Sarnath, a deer park, to his death and ultimate release from the cycle of life and death. His lecture was truly fascinating. It was continued in the Archaeological Museum at Sarnath at which, unfortunately no electronics were allowed.

The museum was fascinating, holding the stonework that is the symbol of India, the Lion Capitol of Asoka, whose image is visible on each Indian banknote. The sandstone capitol, built by the devout Buddhist Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC to honor the Buddha had a special polish, the formula of which has been lost and unable to be reproduced after the time period that the capitol was built. Because of this, the capitol has a shine that has not been produced on sandstone since. For such an old piece, it is also in remarkable condition. From that piece, Manu, showed us and explained in wonderful detail several other pieces in the museum. This was truly the finest lecture I have heard in some time. It was so good that Manu attracted a crowd, including two young students from Varanasi. They were so into what Manu was saying, they followed us through the museum tour listening intently, nodding in understanding with genuine broad smiles and bright eyes. Once we had some free time to explore the museum, I struck up a conversation with the two friendly students, who proceeded to show me some other significant pieces of the museum, which they come to at least once or twice per week. Though they themselves are Hindu and not Buddhist, their reverence for Buddha is strong as Buddha remains a key figure in the Hindu religion representing the ninth embodiment of Vishnu, one of the three principle gods of Hinduism. From the museum we would proceed to the archaeological site of Sarnath where Buddha’s first sermon was to have taken place. The students were so genuinely fascinated and friendly that after asking Manu, I invited them to join us at the archaeological site for further lectures.

The archaeological site was the deer park of Buddha’s first sermon. It was also the home of a number of monuments built by the Ashoka, called stupas. The original site of the Lions was here, part of the original pillar still present and visible. We saw a number of Buddhist monks wearing the burgundy robes of the Tibetan order and the orange robes of the Sri Lankan order amongst the pilgrims. The Dhamek Stupa, the largest in existence is supposed to provide good karma to those who walk around it in a circle. Of course, I did so several times.

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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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From the stupa, we took the bus over to a nearby Buddhist temple from the Sri Lankan order of monks, This famous temple, Mulagandhakuti Vihara, has a mural inside painted in the 1930’s by a well-known Japanese painter, Kosetsu Nosu. We were allowed to visit the altar and its golden statue of Buddha.

gallery_8158_6039_23711.jpgThe whole thing was quite moving as we were there as the sun began to set. Our return drive to the hotel once again gave a sense of the perpetual motion of this city sacred to so many people.

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On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the Mehta Silk Works, which specializes in the ancient and dying art of brocade. We enjoyed a demonstration of the process as well as a display of their wares.

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A number of us spent a few rupees on their fine products. In addition to what I bought there, I obtained several swatches of silk to bring home with the idea of choosing and ordering material for curtains.

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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Before dinner we were treated to a lecture on Vedism by the Swami Anant S. Shastri. He explained that the ancient roots of India stem from Vedic culture. These are captured in two major epics, one of which is the Mahabharata, which convey the Baghavad Ghita or Laws of Karma as seen by the Vedics. He explained that the Vedas have two essential elements, those of knowledge and ritual. He explained that struggle is life and life is struggle. The Ghitas themselves do not espouse any particular religion. Instead, he says, they are a guide for life. He continued to explain that there are five universal noble forces, the first of which is “Dharma” or “law eternal”, from which all the universe is created. From law comes faith, then truth and love divine. These “noble forces” are constantly up against a multitude of evil forces, however, the noble forces are strong as exemplified by the fact that “even a small lamp can defeat a large amount of darkness.” The Ghita says, according to Sri Shastri that the approach to life should always be positive. One should always fight defensively to support noble forces rather than to initiate fights against evil forces since one “can not eliminate darkness.” Shastri was dressed in traditional garb of India with large, colorful markings painted across his forehead. He spoke in slow measured tones that sometimes made me threaten to nod off, but his message was quite interesting , especially in light of the dark times our world faces at present. It was truly food for thought.

We followed with a vegetarian Ayurvedic dinner. Vegetarian in India does not mean “Vegan” as within most of the vegetarian cultures milk and even fish and sometimes fowl products are often served. The universal vegetarian taboo is meat flesh. Within the Ayurvedic culture, milk based products such as yogurt and paneer are welcome, however, plant products like onions and garlic are not as they are felt to stimulate an appetite for meat. Our dinner at the hotel was served on individual silver thalis, trays with a variety of small cups containing samples of dishes. Among the most interesting was one containing jackfruit and another with dal.

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Thali

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Raw Vegetables

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Jackfruit

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Peas and Paneer

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Ras Malai

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Dal

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Raita

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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I hope that I answered your question, Brooks.

As always. Thanks.

And I would have been with you on that particular decision-until the spices got to me. At that point, it's every man for himself. :wink:

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Translated

Chowmein, Italy(probably Idli), Egg Roll and Pepsi in the background.

That's a fine example of Globalisation  :laugh:

OTOH he seems too be making only samosas, pakoras and kachoris.

Thanks for the translation. That's funny! :laugh:

I wish that I had more of a stomach for trying some of the street food. I particularly enjoy samosas, but I was warned against buying them from the street as they tend to be made in advance and sit there in the heat with ingredients like potatoes that are great culture media. A few other fellow travelers were inveterate street food eaters, though, without apparent ill effects.

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 EIGHT: Sunday March 9

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Sunrise on the Ganges overlooking the Ghats of Varanasi: this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We left the hotel around 5:45 AM to head over to the Ganges in Varanasi. The sky was already lightening with an eerie color. Our bus took us to a certain point from which we had to walk. The path down to the Ganges was bathed in orange light from the sky with people in various modes of dress, costume, face paint and infirmity moving in various directions and selling a number of items for worship, ritual or sustenance as well as items for daily living such as toothbrush twigs from the neem tree. Manu said that this wood has medicinal and antiseptic qualities. He purchased some, which he gave a sample of to each of us.

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Preparing Neem Toothbrushes

The scene as we reached the top of the steps was surreal. The sides of the path downward towards the river was lined by people of extreme poverty, with a variety of infirmities, while the ground was littered with the personal detritus of people and animals all the while filled with sounds of drums, chants and horns. The sheer number of people was increasing by the minute with a palpable excitement in the air as the devout Hindus arrived at this magical spot. It was indeed magical despite the filth, squalor and poverty. Manu stopped to describe and illuminate what we were seeing. He told us about the meaning of the umbrellas along the shore of the Ganges, that they were places for Brahmins or priests from around the Hindu world so that pilgrims from various regions and with various languages could come and connect with one of their own.

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We eventually made our way to a boat that had been hired for us to take us out into the Ganges. As we entered the area of the boat we were blessed with a tikka from a Varanasi Brahmin. Shortly after we boarded the long row boat with two oarsman in the front and a helmsman in the back. The scene as we made our way into the river was otherworldly as the sun rose over the far side. Its light illuminated the bathers descending into the water as well as those arriving on the steps and celebrating their good karma. There were multicolored saris, long white beards and sounds of rhythmic chanting.

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Once we were out in the river we received a flower garland and a candle boat from Manu. The candle was for us to float out into the Ganges in order for us to send good messages to the departed. The light of the sun was getting stronger, casting a warm glow on the shore of the Ghats. It happened to be a tripmate’s birthday. He was honored with special beads in addition to his garland , a special vermilion tikka and a chanted rite to celebrate his good karma. This was a thrill not just for him, but for all of us as we were able to share in his glow.

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We eventually made our way to a cremation site at which several were already underway and another commencing. We were asked not to take photos of this ritual. As we headed back several boats came by to sell beads and trinkets. We slowly made our way back to the shore above the place at which we boarded. We arrived back on shore to wander the narrow streets of this ancient city eventually arriving at the area of the Hindu Golden Temple. This is an area in dispute between Hindus and Muslims. The original Hindu Temple was replaced by a mosque centuries ago when control of the city was wrested from the Hindus by the Muslim Moghuls. The Hindus now wish to reclaim the site while the Muslims wish to retain it. As a consequence security is extremely high with no allowance for any electronics or cameras as we were searched before entering the central area. As it was, all we could do was get a glimpse of both the temple and the mosque from a distance.

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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A shower and breakfast awaited us back at the hotel. After we enjoyed some free time, we went to the Radisson Hotel for lunch. I was thrilled with the well done Kayasth cooking of the region. The Kayasths are a sect of Hindus who were influenced culinarily by the Moghul rulers that they closely served. Unlike most Hindus, they eat meat though not beef. Highlights included a rich lamb soup, the best papadams and breads of the trip so far, great dal, stuffed potato, local grilled fish, paneer balls and other great dishes. It was one of my favorite meals of the trip so far.

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Aam Ka Panna Mint based welcome drink. Not overly sweet. Delicious.

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Yakhni Shorba Lamb based soup.

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Tawa Machali Local griddle cooked fish.

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Clockwise from the fish, Malai Kofta Dilkhush - paneer, raisin and spice dumpling with onion and cashew gravy; Dum Ke Aloo - potatoes stuffed with paneer and dried fruits with tomato-onion gravy; Dum Ki Daal - black and yellow lentils simmered over a tandoor; and Subz Miloni - a blend of spinach and seasonal vegetables.

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Parathas, Kulchas and Rotis

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Dahi Bhalla - lentil dumpling with yogurt and tamarind chutney.

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Kesari Rasmalai and Jalebi

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Chef Vivek Bahadur

I would not have guessed that one of the tastiest meals of the entire trip would have taken place at a Radisson Hotel in Varanasi, but it did!

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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How was the tandoor cauliflower prepared?  It looks almost like a samosa--was it wrapped in something and then put in the tandoor?

You don't by chance have any pictures of sari shops, do you?  I love the vibrant colours and billowing fabrics.  And given your photography skills, I'd love to see what you could do with the subject.  :smile:

For you, Rona :wink::smile:

I took these the morning we walked through Varanasi.

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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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Later in the afternoon we went back to Varanasi central to take rickshaw rides deeper into the city. The nimble control of the bicycles by the small but strong cyclists was amazing as we rode through a chaos of vehicles and pedestrians miraculously avoiding collision after collision. We dismounted the rickshaws in order to visit a spice market at which I bought saffron and chili powder from Kashmir before remounting them to return to the Ghats.

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Puffed Lotus Seeds - Makana

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Rose Petals

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Sifting Grain

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Turmeric

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Offering Samples of Indian non-sulphered raisins

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Dry Coconuts

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Street Food Stall

The atmosphere of mid-afternoon was totally different from the morning. Fog that had draped the sandbanks of the opposite shore had disappeared leaving the flood plain visible. In addition to buying a few more trinkets, the highlight for me was returning to the river in a boat. I was able to reach into the Ganges and sprinkle its water on my head for additional good karma. The return rickshaw ride indelibly inscribed the energy, perpetual motion, anarchy and cacophony of Varanasi on my memory.

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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The return rickshaw ride indelibly inscribed the energy, perpetual motion, anarchy and cacophony of Varanasi on my memory.

Well said :laugh:

These rickshaw drivers are always trying to outdo the stunts and skills of Evel Knievel. I dont think you will forget that experience in a hurry. :smile:

Edited by Episure (log)

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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The return rickshaw ride indelibly inscribed the energy, perpetual motion, anarchy and cacophony of Varanasi on my memory.

Well said :laugh:

These rickshaw drivers are always trying to outdo the stunts and skills of Evel Knievel. I dont think you will forget that experience in a hurry. :smile:

Though it doesn't really do the frenetic energy justice, this is the best example of that that I have in a photo. This is actually fairly orderly with two clearly defined directions of progress in the road :laugh:

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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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Our farewell dinner from the main body of the tour was held that evening in the hotel’s gardens concurrently with a wedding on the hotel’s grounds. It was quite spectacle. Before dinner we were treated to another cooking demo the highlights of which involved seeing naans and other tandoori breads baked on the sides of the tandoor as well as jelabi making showmanship.

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Baking naan in a tandoor oven They cook very, very quickly.

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Making Jalebi

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Super-Jalebi!

The dinner was fine, though I was made uncomfortable by the mosquitos. Dessert consisted of a western style pineapple birthday cake to honor our tripmate, who had a truly remarkable birthday on the Ganges.

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 NINE: Monday March 10

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This would be a long day of travel. The day started, however, with a garden walk, during which I discovered that my zodiac tree is a cluster fig tree, a relative of the ficus. The grounds of the hotel are extremely well manicured with a particularly lovely collection of large and colorful dahlias. The hotel grows most of its own produce, all organically, with purified water recycled from their sewage treatment plant. They have a very wide selection of crops.

I completed some purchases at the hotel shops, finished packing and we were off to the airport. On the way, we stopped at a small village where we were led around by a village Brahmin. Once again, the people were extremely friendly, especially the children, most of whom wished to be photographed, though some preferred not to be. Most of the older women refused to be photographed. One woman and her husband who were out working in a field harvesting some greens not only beckoned me to photograph them, they invited me to try my hand at the harvest. Of course I accepted and scythed some of the plants that they were harvesting. I found the scythe to be quite sharp making the work fairly easy for the few moments I spent doing it. That is not to say that the work would remain easy much beyond those few moments as it involved much bending and repetitive motion.

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Trying my hand at Scything

Julie Sahni and I got involved with a mutual interview with a local journalist. He was there to ask us about our visit to Varanasi as well as to this village, what we thought of life there and what life was like for us. I was wearing a Slow Food t-shirt, which helped me to explain my interest in their methods. I told him that unlike their village co-operative system, farms where I live are generally distinct from each other and often specialize in specific crops or produce. Although they still use ancient methods and techniques in this village, the biggest recent change for them has been the introduction of good modern farm equipment including tractors. Twenty years ago they still had oxen plowing the fields. Our Brahmin guide explained to me why they, as Hindus, worship cows. He said that they worship anything that provides good for them and there are few things that provide as much good as the cows. In addition to their milk, which is a very important part of their diet and the work that cows do in the fields, their dung is critical for fertilization of the soil as well as fuel for cooking and heating. The amazing part, as ubiquitous as the cow dung is around Varanasi and elsewhere in India, is that it is essentially odorless.

Harvesting for the Village

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We had a pleasant stay, but we left as we didn’t want to push it making our flight back to Delhi, especially as a few of our trip-mates had to make connections for flights home. We needn’t have worried though as we made it to the airport in plenty of time and the flight turned out to leave an hour and a half late anyway. This caused mild anxiety for one traveler, who would make her connection to Bombay by the skin of her teeth.

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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Mango Blossoms

While waiting at the airport, I noticed two men with LowePro camera backpacks just like my own. They had been eavesdropping a bit on us as we had an end-of-trip farewell in the waiting area, so I didn’t feel bad eavesdropping as one of them started going through his photos from Varanasi. They were amazing! I pointed them out to Julie, who noted that one of the reasons the photos were so good was because they seemed to know what to look for in shooting them. Indeed their timing and subjects were wonderful as was the composition of the photos. We struck up a conversation. The two friends were in Varanasi strictly for an advanced photographic expedition and had gone about their business accordingly, using top-notch equipment and having a private guide with their Ghat experience focused entirely on photography. It certainly showed and gave me a good dose of humility.

Our friends bid adieu in Delhi and we boarded a smaller bus to drive to Agra. Leaving two hours or so after we were scheduled to, we made our way into the most horrendous city traffic I have ever seen anywhere. It was pure chaos as the only rules drivers followed were their own, going every which way and mostly ignoring traffic lights when they existed. It took us at least three hours to get out of Delhi, with a number of contributing factors besides the insane congestion. The first was that a car tried to cut in front of us, had to stop suddenly to avoid colliding with a bigger bus in front of them, causing our bus to run into them. This triggered a major argument and debate with neither party, as per Indian custom according to Julie, admitting fault. Although he was not in the wrong, our driver basically broke-down and agreed to give the owner 400 rupees for damages so that we could be on our way.

The other major issue effecting our progress was corruption. We had to stop several times on the way out of Delhi so that the driver could negotiate a bribe with a toll collector to allow us to pass. We eventually made it out and on the way to Agra in Uttar Pradesh. By this time the poor suspension and tight rows of seats began to take their toll on us as we proceeded slowly towards our destination, most of us trying to catch some sleep on the way. Despite our travails, it was an interesting drive, as unique things such as wedding parties would rise up seemingly out of nowhere. We eventually reached the place where we had scheduled a stop for dinner. Of course we were very late, as it was now ten-thirty in the evening by the time we reached the place, an old-fashioned rest stop much like had been the norm a number of years ago in the US before the dominance of the Interstate system. The food was quite mediocre, but welcome.

It was about one o’clock in the morning by the time we arrived at our hotel in Agra, the Taj View. We were all rather grumpy to begin with given the duration and discomfort of our journey, but this was compounded when we arrived in our inferior rooms, the worst of the trip. Not only had they no view of the Taj Mahal, they didn’t have a view of anything else particularly interesting either. We were all tired enough that it would just have to make do.

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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The return rickshaw ride indelibly inscribed the energy, perpetual motion, anarchy and cacophony of Varanasi on my memory.

Well said :laugh:

These rickshaw drivers are always trying to outdo the stunts and skills of Evel Knievel. I dont think you will forget that experience in a hurry. :smile:

Episure,

don't you call the autorickshaw drivers 'the immortals'?

remember the ride we had in Bangalore? At one time I would swear we overtook a jumbo jet taking off from the airport......... I kissed the ground when I got out, and prayed to at least a hundred thousand Hindu Gods, and I'm not even Hindu!! :wacko:

Waaza

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