India's food - How am I not sick of curry and naan?
I came prepared, but it didn't work. A few weeks before leaving to India I came across an article about breakfast. They showed the differences between countries, and noted how breakfast is the meal that people find most difficult to adjust to in a different country. So I prepared for this and imagined eating rice three times a day. But in India, people don't eat rice for breakfast. So yes, breakfast is the most difficult to adjust to. Except when your guest family serves you the best omelette ever.
Indian food is an experience, from the ever-present chilli to forming small rice packets with your fingers. There is the finger-licking goodness of butter chicken, and the disappointment of seeing a big piece of chicken, only to find out half of it is bones.
I'm proud to say I have only cried once because something was too spicy (the water-filled spice balls of Pani Puri were too much to swallow). I'm even prouder to say I haven't been sick at all! And I have learned, although not mastered, to eat with my fingers. Using your fingers to shovel the rice into your mouth is easier than you think. The hard part is tearing off a piece of naan with just one hand. That is a necessary skill because you're only supposed to use your right hand, leaving your left hand clean to serve food (or scroll on your phone). Or in my case blowing my chilli-sensitive nose. The problem is I have the habit of putting my napkins and handkerchiefs in my right trouser pocket, which means I usually have to perform a weird twist with my left hand to reach it and clear the danger of running snot. But over all I'm managing well, I've only been to McDonald's once and I'm even ordering dishes that have a chilli icon next to it.
Ask any Indian about their food and they will say 'diversity'.
Ask any European about Indian food and they will say 'curry and naan'. In my experience, both are right.
'Curry' is actually a word the British invented to describe everything that is gravy, or spiced sides. That means it's like describing both a tiger and a baby monkey with the word 'animal'. It's completely meaningless.
My hesitation to accept the claim that Indian food is diverse comes from the basic principles of a meal: There is usually rice, some fried and spiced vegetables, a thick, often tomato-based sauce, and some form of bread. Comparing that to my accustomed variation of eating bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and wraps in all its different preparation forms, Indian cuisine doesn't feel diverse. But it's easier to recognise its diversity when you look beyond the standard meal principles and discover the local tastes and street food. I should realise that Indian food is diverse when I see the countless snacks and still have no clue what they are.
Let's go through the fundamentals:
Butter Chicken and Tikka Massala: A mouthwatering goodness of thick tomato gravy with lots of spices and tender chicken
Indian bread: Chapatti, naan, and roti are different in thickness and crunch, but alike in tastiness
Dahl: A lentil soup that you eat with rice. Every time.
Biryani: A specially cooked, crispy and dry rice dish with spices; complex to prepare and therefore a special meal
Samosa: A triangular shaped dough-ball, filled with veggies and fried in a lot of oil
Lassi: A simple milk and yogurt drink that is surprisingly delicious
Paan: A wild mixture of tastes wrapped into a leaf for chewing after dinner. It's sort of good, but it also sort of reminds me of soap.
Another mark the British have left on this country is adding milk to your tea. Combine that with some spices and a lot of sugar and the result is a delicious massala chai. This Indian tea is like our coffee, and can be found on dirty street corners and crowded trains. But with its hint of spices it reminds me more of something that fits into a snowy Christmas market, as a mix between hot chocolate and Glühwein.
And let's not start about the hundred different kinds of sweets.
There are many regional differences, such as the fish of Kolkata and the extra greasiness of Delhi. South India generally eats more rice, North India more bread.
So let's return to the first question: How am I not sick of curry and naan? Because there is much more than that. I have really enjoyed India's food, but at the same time I have to admit that I'm really looking forward to home. Indian food rarely tastes bad, but sometimes it's difficult for me experience a 'wow' taste. Of course the word 'sick' here refers to 'bored', but how did I not get physically sick of Indian food? Partly, because I told myself I wouldn't (hah), and probably mostly because I have avoided the street found you see on my pictures... A sacrifice to keep me healthy 🙁
What makes Indian cuisine so unique is the diversity of dishes that are exclusively home to India. I shouldn't be comparing Indian food to what I eat, but the purely Dutch food my grandparents ate. And when faced with 'stampot' or tikka massala, I will take tikka massala every day of the year. In conclusion, most Westerners probably eat more diverse than Indians, but only because they combine cuisines from a dozen different countries.