Sacred cows, cheeky monkeys, tasty fish, and beer!
Trip Start May 01, 2010
23Trip End Jul 15, 2010
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Of the many reasons I have always wanted to go to India, the food is easily number one. As a teenager, spending time at Nina's house was always a delicious treat (thank-you Davinder!) Buttery roti, chai, wonderful combinations of spices, and hundreds of samosas led to my love of food from the subcontinent from an early age. Although our trip is starting in the south where the food is different from the Punjabi fare I had in my youth, so far it has not failed to impress! Starting, believe it or not, on the flight over. Jet airways, an Indian airline, served the best airline meal I have ever had – chicken curry with rice! Delicious.
We checked into hotel #1 in the afternoon and decided to have a small snack to save our appetite for a good dinner. We stopped by a bakery and indulged in a paneer tikka masala quiche. This was fusion food at its finest – light, fluffy pastry filled with a creamy egg-and-cheese mixture spiced to perfection. It was difficult to stop ourselves from buying a second helping!
But it was our first dinner that we will be dreaming about for months to come. We chose a seafood restaurant tucked away down a crowded alley with uniformed men standing post outside to greet us. The menu was huge, but we finally settled on fish biryani, garlic-chilli prawns, and garlic roti. The biryani was rich and creamy with tender chunks of mild white fish and rice cooked to perfection. The prawns were huge and cooked in an incredible tomato based sauce with green beans – which I quickly learned to distinguish from the whole green chilies included! We ordered extra roti to sop up the delicious sauce.
Since that first meal, we have been eating incredibly well – more biryani, channa dahl (chickpeas in sauce), red dahl, paneer (Indian cheese), dosas (Indian pancakes stuffed with curry of various kinds), idli (steamed fermented rice cakes), and upma (semolina cooked with spices) to name a few items!
Sadly, the choice of refreshment is less interesting – beer lists always include the same three choices, Kingfisher, Fosters and Budweiser. Being the beer snob that I am, these choices tend to make me turn up my nose – until my thirst gets the better of me. I must admit, a chilled Kingfisher on a hot afternoon goes down pretty easily! And at least the price is right. (Except for our first beer, sipped slowly at the famous Leopold's café, where everything is overpriced for the crowds of tourists that regularly flock there.)
In addition to the food, the animal life has been providing much entertainment. On our (slightly terrifying) taxi journey from the airport on day one, I was surprised to see two cows wandering down the middle of a six lane highway! I knew that cows here are considered sacred and often roam the streets, but to see them in amongst the honking taxis, busses, and pedestrians was unexpected. Since that day, we have come across cows in the most unlikely of places – outside banks, in alleyways, doorways, and driveways, and amongst stalls of clothing or other goods.
The animal life that has impressed me the most is the birdlife. There are nearly 400 species of birds in Mumbai, and we have seen quite a few of them – everything from the multi-coloured house crow trying to pull wires from houses for their nests, to the enormous eagles that scare the crows away even when humans can’t, to colourful parrots swooping gracefully amongst the tropical trees on Elephanta island.
Elephanta island is also where we had our first encounter with monkeys. We didn’t have any food with us, so we were safe from their antics and able to watch them with some amusement as they tried to steal snacks from unsuspecting children. The funniest moment was when I jumped out of the way of one that I thought was coming after my ankles, only to watch it deftly sneak past me to a vegetable stall, grab a tomato, and run off into the bushes before the angry stall owner could get to it with her broom.
Before any assumptions are made, there are no elephants on Elephanta island. It is a small island 11 km away from the city in Mumbai’s large harbour that is named for a large elephant statue that once stood guard over a series of caves. The caves are impressive structures filled with Hindu deities all carved into the hard rock. Our tour guide, Krishna (like the god himself) told us the stories of the characters and took us deep into the caves to show us the echoes used by monks in prayer to enhance the effect of their voices. Despite the 37 degree heat, it was a fantastic experience.
After all this typing I have worked up an appetite – must be time for my next delicious meal! No one will recognize me when I get back home :)