Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lunch on a Thursday

While I am here in India I am technically staying at a guesthouse. But in reality I am being treated as a guest of the family. My lodging includes three meals a day which we all eat together.
The meals are cooked by a lovely lady named Pushpa. She has the world's most adorable children - a little girl called Kavitha who is nine and a cheeky little boy called Pilu who is three. They have big brown eyes and dimples and they get me every time.

The food is always good. They have very kindly cut down on chillies for my benefit. I cannot eat spicy food. It must taste very bland to them. We have established a typical pattern. The heat in the food will gradually creep up each day, until it gets to a point where I just can't eat it. Then we go back to rock botttom and start all over again.

Anyway, here is a typical lunch. This was what we ate on Thursday last week. I make no promises about the names and spelling.

This is mongori. It is made up of lots of tiny little dumplings in a curry sauce.

This is Meti Baghi. It is made from fenugreek leaves and potatoes.

This is kedgeree. It's made with rice and lentils. Apparently, it's very good for stomach ailments.

These are ever present chapatis. They appear at every meal without fail in a seemingly never ending stream. They are the rajastani equivalent of rice or potatoes. I am totally over chapatis, but I have a couple of million of them to get through yet.

I have watched women cook them in the slums. They have a clay urn filled with hot coals. Then they cook the chapatis on a concave metal dish that sits over the top. It's all done with their hands. These women have asbestos fingers.

This is fruit chard. It has banana, apple, cucumber and pomegranate. It's seasoned with pepper. This is one of my favourites. It's so, so good.

The main meal is eaten with our fingers. There is something quite satisfying about doing this. I think it adds an extra sensory dimension to the meal. I get given a spoon as a concession.

I have left out the ubiquitous cup of chai - strong white sugary milky tea. It's drunk almost constantly. I happen to hate tea. This information has generally been met with amazement and disbelief. I generally end up with a cup regardless.

So there you have it. I am busy trying to convince Pushpa to let me into her kitchen to help her cook. I would love to learn how to make some of these dishes. She cannot imagine why I would want to do this. So it's a bit of a battle. Hopefully, I will get through the door soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Three Good Things

These are the three favourite things I have discovered in India so far.

The Lassi

The lassi is a thick creamy frothy yoghurt drink. From street stalls, it's served in these funky clay cups. They can be either salty or sweet. I have been drinking endless sweet lassis. I haven't had the courage to try the salty variety yet.

The best place for lassi in Jaipur is The Lassiwala on MI Road. It's a little hole in the wall place which has been around forever. They are just so good.

Indian Sweets

I thought I had a sweet tooth. But I have nothing on the Indian population. Indian sweets are pure sugar with a few nuts, fruits and silver foil thrown in.

Every week I have gone to the LMB shop in Johari Bazaar and bought a big box. There's a huge glass counter full of sweets and the nice serving gentlemen will always let you to try before you buy. For Diwali, LMB was a sweets wonderland. There were tables and tables ladened with the most amazing array.

My absolute favourite is the big red ball in the picture. It's basically shredded cocunut steeped in sugar. It's so, so good. I couldn't wait for the photo, I had to start eating.


In just a few short weeks I have become a bollywood junkie. I have seen all the latest releases. I am up on all the latest gossip. So sad that Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor have broken up. They looked so good together.

I loved Om Shanti Om and Jab We Met. It doesn't matter at all that I can't understand a word of Hindi. The stories are simple and there are some helpful bits (such as 'I am pregnant') in English. They are incredibly corny and funny and the song and dance numbers are spectacles in themselves.

Then there's the whole crowd interaction. Indian audiences do not sit and watch politely. They cheer and jeer and hoot and whistle. Great fun. I really think they are hard to beat for just sheer entertainment value.

The Raj Mandir is the most amazing cinema. It's more of a traditional theatre with a huge seating capacity, a balcony, white stucco, a curtain and a fantasyland lobby with lots of twinkling lights. Going there feels like a real event.

Saawariya, the movie playing in this photo was not. It's been the only downer so far. I have no idea what it was about. I think it was trying to be Moulin Rouge.

No doubt that there are many more wonderful things here waiting to be discovered. I can't wait.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Diwali in full

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough to be here in Jaipur for Diwali, the festival of light. Diwali is a three day holiday. People clean and paint their houses, buy new clothes and stock up on sweets and fireworks.

The first thing I did for Diwali was to visit a slum school for a special lunch with the children. It was really great. We had pooris and vegetables. These are pooris. Apparently, pooris are for special occasions. They are easy to make in large batches.

Then on Diwali day I was invited for lamplighting, fireworks and sweets by the family I am staying with. Another family also invited me to witness their puja (where the family pray and make offerings at a shrine), dinner and fireworks.

The floors and entrances to the house are decorated with the most beautiful and elaborate drawings , mostly of footprints - they symbolise Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth. The idea is to lead her into your house. The house is then filled and surrounded by little lit candles and wicked lamps.

Neighbours and friends come around offering sweets, dried fruit and nuts. The sweets were kind of like a marzipan flavoured with nuts and coated in silver paper. I had almond, pistachio and cashew. I ate so many, total sugar overload.

Then of course, there were the fireworks. Catherine wheels, rockets, sparklers, bangers. Everywhere, absolutely everywhere. The city sounded like it was awash with artillery fire.

Fireworks are almost totally banned in Australia. They kill people, start fires, send animals beserk. They are the root of all evil apparently. So to just be randomly handed a fistful of them along with a lit match was quite an experience.

Safety is a novel concept here. I think I learnt the art of zen when I was watching someone send a roman candle straight up into a crowd of long hanging electricity cables. Nobody but me had a care in the world.

It was so fantastic to not only be here in Jaipur for Diwali, but to have been so generously included in what is a family celebration. I am a very lucky girl.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A snippet of Diwali

Well, here I am in Jaipur. I have only time for a few words. Right now Jaipur is celebrating Diwali (the festival of lights, for Laxmi the goddess of wealth and a few others). Technically, this internet cafe is closed but I have been very kindly let in for a few minutes. I have been blown away by the kindness, generosity and good humour that I have met with here.

So far it has been extraordinary. For Diwali, Jaipur is covered in lights. People light little lamps all around their houses. Last night, the whole population was letting of fireworks in the street. It was like being in a war zone. So different from my safe little protected world. And it was so much fun, if a bit nerve wracking.

I hope to be able to post some photos and few more words when Jaipur settles back to business.

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