The year after I graduated from college, I decided I wanted to travel. I lived for one year overseas: 4 months in Mexico City and 4 months in New Delhi. I spent the year working with dedicated people and teaching at a small college. What I thought was a selfless adventure, turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I took away much more than I gave, that's for sure!
Here are a few of my memories from India through the lens of food. I took the pictures at a small grocery store in Orlanda last week. I left with tears in my eyes. The memories flooded me as I walked the tight aisles.
Here is the store:
Outside of the small college I lived and worked at was a small vegetable stand. They spread their offerings on a blanket on the ground each day. There were always things I'd never seen before, like this vegetable-- an eggplant, but so small! These veggies were cooked into curries that we ate twice a day with rice.
Another daily tradition was tea. If I could transport one tradition from India home, it would be tea time. In India it's not just a drink; it's a way of socializing. You stop everyday in the mid-afternoon for a cup, sweetened with milk and sugar. If you were at someone's home, you never left without having a drink together. It was a sign of friendship and hospitality. It opened the door to conversation. I miss it so much.
If you were at someone's house, you were often offered something like this, a sweet cookie or "biscuit" to eat with your tea.
Sometimes we ate out at a little restaurant near the college. It was across the street. We always ordered the same thing: paneer (cubes of cheese that you must try someday), dal (a lentil soup that is exquisite), and naan (flat bread that is cooked on the inside wall of a clay oven). Here are pictures of the make-at-home versions from the store:
When it was time to leave, my friends had a party to say goodbye. They insisted that I try home-cooked, South Indian food. They were from the South, and it was their way of sharing their culture with me. I have craved it ever since. In America, most Indian restaurants serve Northern Indian food--wonderful, trust me--but if you ever find one that serves South Indian cuisine, it is a special place! This is a traditional South Indian breakfast food, idli. It is made from rice flour, is about the size of the inside of your palm, and is the epitome of fluffy, white deliciousness.
Chocolate isn't something you run into a lot in India, or at least I didn't. This is the picture of the most popular brand, Cadbury. When I was about 2 months into the trip, I made an ill-fated trip to a little convenience store to pick up a few candy bars to use as treats for a game I was going to play with the students in class. I bought 3 bars. I hadn't had chocolate in 2 months. I ate all three in a row in minutes and hid the trash. No one knew the difference. The game was fine without prizes, but, needless to say, I was the one that learned a lesson that day. I've never done that again...
One of my favorite memories is of the students eating the green bean-looking items below. Be careful! They're not green beans, but the hottest chilies you'll ever run across. The kids would eat them plain, just like you see here, dipped in some salt. I vowed to try it before I left for home, but I chickened out!
I have a thousand pictures of the people and places I remember so well, but, truly, some of my most vivid memories are unlocked through the portal of food. The spices, the textures, and the smells bring back my moments there in the most amazing detail.
The store we visited last week made me smile and remember. It's like a mini-trip back to my little niche in India. I hope you enjoyed our visit!