This afternoon we had the treat of going to a farewell luncheon for one of DH’s co-workers in India. I was a bit nervous about whether I would be able to have the food, given that I cannot eat gluten (wheat, rye, oats, or barley), and at least the first, wheat, is quite common in many snacks and appetizers served at such gatherings. Actually, a few days ago, DH’s branch office here had a party with a feast- but unfortunately, I could eat almost nothing as the ratio of fried, wheaty things and wheat snacks was quite high. I felt even more trepidation about this kind of sit down event, as everything was part of an elaborate set meal with multiple courses and it would be horribly obvious if I declined every dish. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to getting the chance to talk to more of DH’s co-workers. Also, we know the guest of honor personally, as not only had he visited us (and the company, of course) in the US, but he had us over to his house for an amazing feast here in Bangalore. [I hope to write a post about the feast and his wife and extended family's amazing hospitality later.]
When we arrived at the restaurant, it seemed nice, with cute fish in a stone water garden in the entrance. (See if you can find fish #3…) We sat down at a long wooden table covered in magenta brocade strips, and had some bottled water while we waited for all twenty-something guests to arrive. The table filled with people, and count was taken of the “veg” and “non-veg” guests. I love how easy the veg-distinction is here! Slowly the food began arriving- starting with a nice, fragrant tomato shorba (soup). See my previous post for some tomato shorba recipes. It seemed like a nice, safe thin broth, and when we asked, they said they didn’t use flour for thickening it, so I had some and enjoyed the light, delicately spiced broth. This was no thick, gloppy American Campbell soup- it was a million times more subtle and delicious, with a hint of cumin and other spices I could only guess at. Next they brought snacks, which is when I became nervous- a variety of things, many appearing lightly breaded or floured- baby corn in a light batter with red chilis, flat fried disks topped with fresh vegetables and cheeses, potato cubes covered in masala (?) but also perhaps flour and fried- a host of bites that looked like they might contain wheat. I decided not to risk them, and hoped that the future would bring me something I could eat. One thing that surprised me was that they used one plate for this process- the servers would come by and pile servings of each dish on your plate. You could refuse by waving your hand, but several dishes were served to me before I could see them properly, so I ended up with several potentially wheaty things on my plate. I gave a little white moat of plate space around each slightly risky food until it became obvious that everyone cleared the remnants that they didn’t want onto a small plate to the left and then got new food piled on the same plate. After having some of a simple Indian style salad (no lettuce, just fresh veggies sprinkled in salt and chili pepper), I asked for a new plate and got one, which I guarded with my life, or at least, a flutter of hands, until more friendly food came along. One thing to keep in mind about salads is that tap water in India is quite likely to contain bacteria that international visitor’s bodies may not be used to, so raw veggies may pose a risk (of some intestinal distress) if they have been rinsed in said water. I’ve been risking the veggie salads, but not lettuce- the Lonely Planet recommends soaking lettuce and possibly raw veggies in iodized water for 20 minutes before consumption. I’d rather skip the lettuce, and cross my fingers about the (preferably peeled) raw veggies, myself. You may wish to be more cautious. I’ve also been dining exclusively in hotels and mid-to high-range restaurants, so a village experience may be different. The condiments shown as the main photo here include a green sauce (mint or cilantro, I would guess), a numbingly spicy red chutney and some lovely pearl onions- I coveted them but was concerned about the water issue. I should also mention the lovely papadum that was served with the condiments at the beginning of the meal- I avoided it out of a concern for the asafoetida/hing seasoning often used with papad (see comments and previous post), but it looked very crisp and appetizing. If you would like to try papad at home, I found at least two British brands of papad that is labeled Gluten-Free in my local Whole Foods. Look for Sharwoodâ€™s or Patak’s gluten free papadum in import markets or health food stores in your area. Also see Maeve’s tips in the comments on how to prepare them! (Thanks, Maeve!)
And then, as the mains began arriving, my patience was rewarded. (Honest, I have patience! really! ;)) After some non-veg false starts, it was time for some lovely veg “curries.” First was a delicious potato-green pepper dish in a veg “gravy”- no flour, just vegetable stuffs making a delicious sauce. I don’t know how they made it, exactly, but here are some recipes that may help you approximate this tasty dish. Apparently the Hindi for Green Pepper is “Simla Mirch”, and as you will recall from my last post, Potato is “Aloo”. So, here is a Sookha Aaloo Simla Mirch Recipe (Sookha=dry) and a Aloo-shimla mirch sabzi. I liked this dish so much I actually asked for seconds. *blush* Next came a delicious Mutter Paneer (mutter=green peas) in a yummy tomato gravy, as seen in the picture on the left. If you want to make some at home, try this Mutter Paneer Masala Recipe or perhaps Mutter paneer Recipe with Cashews. If you are dairy intolerant (or vegan), I would try Amy’s Kitchen trick and use tofu for your paneer and unsweetened plain soy milk for the cream. If you are allergic to cashews or other nuts, be very careful when eating out as many gravies seem to contain cashew to make the gravy more rich and flavorful. And last, but definitely not least, was a delicious dal makhani, or at least that’s what I think it was. Whatever kind of dal (lentil/pulse dish) it was, it was unexpectedly delicious! I’m not generally that crazy about dal, to be dreadfully honest. Both the green dal (mung) and yellow dal (toor) seem to me to be lacking personality on their own, and I’ve had many a plain ayurvedic type recipe that just didn’t quite thrill me. Also, dal is often seasoned with small amounts of asafoetida for digestibility and flavor- it’s a small amount, but better to avoid in case the said spice is cut with wheat flour, as it often is. However, this time I couldn’t help myself from trying a bite- and it was amazingly good. Unfortunately the meal was served with North Indian style breads (unfortunately quite popular here in the South, it seems), but there was a pulao rice dish served at the very end of the main meal. I would have loved some plain steamed rice, but even without the meal was quite good. Next time I think I would ask for some, though, as it would have made a very good meal absolutely perfect. What I have discovered is that it is quite possible to eat out (relatively) safely in India- curries are a generally safe, delicious option- and I’ve learned so many new recipes and gotten so many new ideas that I can’t wait to go home and experiment in my own kitchen.