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Comment book - A.

“My Indian experience is a bit of a “lost in translation” one.

I literally stayed at my friend IndianSamourai’s place for two month after 2 and a half years living in South East Asia. Swapping the high 30 floors buildings, luxury brand new shopping malls every 500 meters for dusty looking houses and “markets” (which in Delhi mean shopping districts or put in another way lots of small streets full of shops one next to the other). 

Since I was going to live in Delhi for 2 months I had to organize my life between looking for a job for some time later, exploring the city and taking up the biggest challenge: cooking western dishes. I was already excited by the diversity of fresh veggies and fruits I would possibly find here (I later got very disappointed as getting fresh stuff in Delhi isn’t that easy)!!


My friend told me that...


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...I would find it difficult to find the right ingredients for my spaghetti carbonara, my quiche Lorraine or even a chocolate cake. Well, “challenge accepted”: 14 million inhabitants living in 1483 sq km, I will find whatever I need. I love cooking and nothing resists me. 


I asked my friend to give me some tips, though. She took me to her regular “supermarket” (Nature’s basket) which has plenty of good stuff for expats tastes and which also delivers everything you want at any time (very convenient when you’re craving for some beer or wine for dinner and  realize it only at 6pm – when other little convenience stores are already closed and anyway don’t sell alcohol).


She also took me to the biggest market (I mean here the fresh commodities market) in town next to INA underground station. I thought this was a good start… 


One day I decided to cook one of my favorite recipes by Jamie Oliver of spaghetti with prawns and wild rocket salad. Suddenly, what I thought would be an easy task became a long day in a rickshaw under 42 degrees with my phone/GPS in hand (which becomes totally useless when you’re lost in a tiny street and your GPS give you only your location within 500 meters).


The first thing I did was to google a fish market closer to my place (the other one is not that far but it’s about negotiating really hard with the rickshaw driver to get the local fare – definitively not what I want to do first when I wake up). So I found the address of the only fish market in Delhi, with pictures and everything, hopped in a rickshaw at 8 AM (you never know at what time a fish market is closing), arrived there 40 minutes later (morning traffic jam…) to find empty stalls!! It then occurred to me that fish markets might not be open during the hot season – obviously… 


“Never mind”, I thought “I’ll go the INA market later and get the fish there”. In the meantime, I had to find rocket salad. I’m craving for this variety of salad and had already tried to find some a couple of days before. Which actually brings me to another ingredients quest: the day before I went on the web, I spent a couple of hours trying to find a place that will sell rocket, hopped in a rickshaw, went to the address, wandered about an hour to find the shop, became totally dehydrated, didn’t find the shop, went home, a bit defeated. But the next day I had no choice. My recipe won’t taste the same without rocket. I was therefore determined to find this place, no matter what! GPS in hand, headphones on (so that the constant horning in the rickshaw won’t drive me crazy). I really felt I went on an expedition. This time it worked! Found the shop, all organic products, took the opportunity to buy a big, fat organic chicken and, reenergized, went straight to INA market. 


Don’t get me wrong, it looks like it took me some 2 hours or so but at that point of the day I already spent 4 hours “rickshawing”, exploring, negotiating, avoiding several accidents, trying to understanding what people say, arguing about directions with the rickshaw driver, spending ages in traffic jams, trying to gasp some air from somewhere…nowhere... 


So, when I arrived at INA I was already exhausted, erring in the narrow alleys, smelling spices, veggies, meat, fish. It was already noon, fresh items had started to have a different smell, leftover to rot in the alleys. I found my usual fishmonger. I didn’t even dare to ask him where he was getting his fish and seafood from (probably the west coast, some more than 2000km away from Delhi). I tried not to think about the cold chain and hygiene. But I know how to recognize fresh fish, shrimps and prawns that look fresh and without diseases so this fishmonger got my thumbs up.


I approached him and almost slipped on a dead mouse. Obviously, the white French girl that I am screams which made everybody laugh, and nobody cared about removing the dead mouse from the alley, just in front of fish and next to the meat area. At that point, I just smiled and thought to myself “So what? I’m in India, in a country of more than a billion people where more than 70% of the rural population is classified as poor, where sanitation and access to water is still a luxury. Who then cares about a bloody little dead mouse in a market?” 


I finished buying other stuff like Italian pasta, because again if you look carefully inside the tiny shops within the market you will most probably find exactly what you need. I Went back home, called Nature’s basket because I had obviously forgotten to buy some stuff like tomatoes and wine and got it delivered. 


But I took up my challenge! Yes, indeed it took me a lot of time and patience and I have to admit that unless you’re jobless or want to spend all your Saturday in a warm and traffic-jammed Delhi, IndianSamourai was right “it’s hard to cook western dishes in India”. What a crazy idea, though! Let’s just by a dosa next door…” 


A., 30/04/2013, Travels :

 From June 10th to August 10th 2013 (Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur)






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