Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jaipur and Agra: Food for Thought Part 2

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After 10 amazing days in Thailand, I'm back to continue and finish the story of our time in India. Heads up: there won't be any food related content on this post. Our remaining time in Jaipur and our day in Agra were not particularly food centric. For various reasons (timing, safety, etc) we ate at our hotels, and the food wasn't particularly noteworthy!

We had one full day to explore the city of Jaipur. A city southwest of New Delhi, Jaipur is known for the beautiful Amber Fort and the Palace of Jaipur. We started our tour at the Amber Fort. The fort has a beautiful wall around it, almost reminiscent of the Great Wall of China. 

One thing I've really struggled with on this trip is the treatment of animals. As part of our tour (we did a paid/guided tour while we were in India), we rode an elephant to reach the fort. I can honestly say this was a terrifying and sad experience all at once. I won't get into animal rights on this blog, but I don't think elephants enjoy walking up an incredibly steep hill an unimaginable number of times per day in the scorching heat. All while carrying 3 humans on their back.  
Next, we visited the City Palace of Jaipur. Full of history, part of this compound is actually still a functioning home for royalty today! I believe the current prince is 17-years-old. Lucky guy!

Our last stop was the observatory.There are tons of very interesting tools to read the time based on the sun's position. They work with amazing accuracy!

After our time in Jaipur, we set out for a 4 hour drive to Agra. On our way there, we encountered a serious Indian traffic jam. They are the real deal. Because of the gridlock on our side of the road, our driver, and many other cars, moved to the opposite side of the road. This created another gridlock situation. Suffice it to say, I will never complain about an American traffic jam again!

Our time in Agra was spent visiting the sites. We got to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. It was gorgeous; photos simply do not do it justice. The monument was built as a sign of love and to house the body of Shah Jahan's third (and most favorite) wife. Made of white marble, the building is also covered in gem stones.

Next, we visited the Fatehpur Sikri. This was essentially a walled city built in the late 1500s. From palaces, to courts, to banks, to a mosque, this place had it all. While the Taj Mahal is built of marble, this compound was built of red sandstone. Built by a King named Akbar, we were told that he left the main city of Agra and built Fatehpur Sikri to have children.

Our final stop was the Agra Fort. The grandson of Akbar, Shah Jahan, was imprisoned here by his son (who also killed several of his siblings). Similar to Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort as it currently stands is a walled city made of red sandstone.

Agra was a very tough place for me in India. Perhaps the toughest we've seen so far. Millions of tourists, myself included, flock to see the Taj Mahal. But, what few mention is that steps outside the world wonder is poverty so extreme it broke my heart into a million pieces. From talking to our tour guide, my understanding is that the local government outlawed local industries 10-15 years ago because the pollution was damaging the Taj. Little if any profit from tourists goes back to the people in Agra. 

I hope at some point to be able to give back to the people in this city. In the meantime, I'm trying to shift my perspective to be a bit more thankful for how fortunate I am and a bit less quick to complain. I encourage all of you out there to take a moment to do the same. 

Next up, Jackie and I traveled to Thailand. Cooking class, island views, and tons of food pics to come!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jaipur: Food for Thought Part 1

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After our first night in New Delhi we awoke very early for a 40 minute flight to Jaipur. While I will focus on the food we ate over the course of our time in India, I also want to note that the tone of this blog, especially with regard to posts on India, will be more than just about food.

On that note, to kick things off lightly, let's start with airplane food. After my brief experiences with international and domestic flights to and within Southeast Asia, I can honestly say the US needs to up its game! We sampled some delicious food on our Emirates flights to India, and were offered breakfast on our flight to Jaipur. You read that correctly--free breakfast on a 40 minute flight. And it was good. Basic bread with a cold chic pea salad mixture. Delicious and unique way to start the day.

Our first day in Jaipur was during the Holi Festival in India. Holi is a day celebrated in the springtime where citizens spend time coloring each other with powder and water guns. It's pretty cool to see and even more fun to participate in!

We spent the day at a converted palace with other tourists celebrating and eating. It took us about 1 hour to drive to the palace from our hotel. The event itself was quite enjoyable. We met some other great people and had a very fun time. The ride back was a bit scary as our car was surrounded by about 10 boys/men. They pounded on the vehicle demanding money. At one point, my car door was opened and I definitely feared for the worst. But, we made it out safely. Lesson learned, always make sure your door is locked!

For dinner our first night in Jaipur we dined at the Samode Haveli. Once a palace, this hotel is unbelievably beautiful. We arrived after dark and struggled to capture some good photos, and the ones I snapped really don't do the space justice.

For dinner we shared 3 courses. First, the eggplant. Served cold, this is one of my favorite dishes so far in India. Giant pieces of eggplant served in a yogurt broth with coriander and cumin, the flavors were crisp and satisfying. It was also nice to change it up from some of the more typical India dishes.

Next we had the baked cauliflower with peas. I'm generally not a huge lover of this veggie, but the spices - cumin and coriander - successfully overpowered this (in my opinion) strangely flavored food. It was good, but definitely not a dish I would order again.

Last we had the Dal Makahni, or black lentis. Again, the lentils were basically pureed, but I preferred this dish to the yellow lentils we had the night before. The flavor was more subtle and paired well with the garlic naan.

Our first full day in India was both fun and delicious!

Friday, March 6, 2015

worlDCrave: Dum Pukht, New Delhi

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FooDCcrave will be taking a bit of an international twist for the next 6 weeks. For the first several days, Liz and I will both be abroad. She's traveling in Istanbul with her main squeeze and I'm on a southeast Asian vacation with my BFF, Jackie. After our vacation ends, I'll be working in Bangalore for four weeks.

Jackie and I departed the U.S.on Wednesday morning at 6:30 am. We arrived to our hotel in New Delhi at 5 pm local time on Thursday. After over 24 hours of traveling, we weren't really up for exploring the city and opted to dine at one of our hotel's amazing restaurants. 

We stayed at the ITC Maurya. NBD but this is the same hotel President Obama stayed at when he visited India in January. When he stayed there, the hotel was entirely shut down. We didn't receive the same treatment, but it was still a great experience! The most famous restaurant in our hotel is Bukhara but we opted to dine instead at Dum Pukht. 

The restaurant was a great (high end) way to transition into Indian cuisine. We didn't mind shelling out the extra bucks to make sure we had a safe and delicious meal. From the moment we arrived, the staff was very attentive and took the time to help us select a great shared meal. 

We started with the Murgh Tandi Tikka. This dish was my favorite of the entire meal. A traditional kabob style chicken, it was marinated in cumin, grilled and served with a flavorful tikka, or buttery sauce. It was topped with silver leaf, which we were told helps with digestion.  

Next, we sampled the yellow lentils, or Dal Dum Pukht. The lentils were seasoned with yellow chiles and a yogurt sauce. They were very saucy and the lentils had almost a purred appearance. We both loved this dish, especially when topped with the mint sauce accompaniment we were provided with. 

Along with the lentils, we had another chicken dish called Murgh Rizala. This was my least favorite dish of the meal. The flavors were decent, but nowhere near as decadent as the kabob.  Also, I think it was a different cut of the chicken, perhaps darker meat, which I don't love. The sauce was supposed to be almond and yogurt based, but neither of those flavors came through to me. It wasn't a bad dish, just not as exciting the others. 

The last course we ordered was the lamb biryani. Let me preface this by saying I do not like lamb. But, wow. This dish was simply amazing. I am a biryani lover, and have been fortunate enough to sample a co-workers mom's Pakistani goat biryani on numerous occasions. So, I was excited to see how they compared. The dishes were quite similar, although the Pakistani version is somewhat more spicy and herb-flavored. The Indian biryani was cooked in a ceramic pot that was sealed off with what looked like dough. It cooked over a low fire for 25 minutes before being served along with a yogurt sauce. The lamb was outstanding. Truly like no other lamb I've ever tasted before, it fell off the bone and melted in your mouth. 
After all these courses we were stuffed beyond belief. Numerous waiters kept asking us if we wanted dessert, to which we respectfully decline. Well, I am thinking that maybe in India when you are offered dessert, you don't refuse. Because soon enough, we were presented with julienned rose petals in a spiced condensed milk. It was delicious. Aromatic, delicate, and sweet. 
Last, we were offered beetle leaves that were filled with spices to help with digestion. We were a bit confused when we were told not to swallow them, but rather put the whole thing in your mouth, chew it for a while, and spit it out. We took cautious bites, but weren't in love. They tasted like, well, leaves filled with fennel. 

Overall, this meal was a great way to kick off our 4 days in India. It was pricy, at around $75 per person including tip, but well worth it in my opinion. The staff were incredibly attentive and helpful, but were very confused about why I wanted to photograph all the food. Not sure they are as familiar with food bloggers as restaurants in the States are!
See you from Jaipur!