New Delhi, India has thousands of restaurants serving local and international food choices, but let me tell you of the day when everything was closed that left me so hungry. I’m usually open to new adventures while traveling, but my taste buds are not as daring and much slower to adapt to new and strange flavors.
A couple of years back, a bus unloaded me and a buddy along with a bus full of passengers on the roadside at the outskirts of Old Delhi in India early one morning. It was still dark and we had to ride a rickshaw to the bus terminal where somebody from our car rental company picked us up.
Fear of the “Delhi belly”
After a 16-hour bus ride through the Himalayan mountain ranges, we were tired and hungry so food was first on our list.
Two days earlier, our driver recommended several restaurants that serve authentic Indian cuisine but my buddy insisted on finding only McDonalds or KFC.
I could tell our driver was getting pissed off because he wanted us to try Indian food. I understand because they operate car rentals and tours and introducing guests to the delights of Indian cuisine is one of their services.
I didn’t want to offend him but we still had a long trip. Having read tons of stories and warnings about the “Delhi belly,” we were both wary and scared to try new flavors.
That particular day New Delhi was celebrating the Holi festival. The streets which are normally congested every day were now totally empty. Business establishments, restaurants, and everything were closed. There was no one in the streets. The whole city was deserted.
We didn’t have much to eat the day before except for a vegetarian pizza and spring rolls. We were so craving for were the crisp crunchy pieces of fried chicken or a big juicy hamburger.
Southern Indian Cuisine
We drove around for a long time before our driver finally found one restaurant that was open serving southern Indian cuisine. I swear I saw the look of satisfaction on our driver’s face as he dropped us off and went home for breakfast. He promised to pick us up in an hour.
Everything on the menu was unfamiliar, so I ordered the Tamilnadu meals for 225 Rupees. The dish is described as sweet, kadappa, koottu (vegetable), poriyal (vegetable), pachadi, sambar, rasam, special rice, special kuzhambu, curd, appalam, pickles—served with one small bowl of rice. It also came with one poori, a deep-fat fried bread. The dish originated from Tamil Nadu, one of the 28 states of India in the southernmost part of the Indian subcontinent.
My buddy played it safe and ordered something familiar to him.
My Tamilnadu meal came in a big round tin platter lined with a banana leaf. A big round tin platter with small tin bowls containing assorted vegetables and sauces arranged around it. Except for the rice, everything else was unfamiliar. I didn’t know how or what to eat first.
I spooned some of the yellow stuff from one of the bowls to my mouth and stopped. Tears suddenly sprung to my eyes and I felt a hot fiery trail starting to burn the roofs of my mouth and down to my throat. My tolerance for spicy flavors is way below sea level. On a scale of 1 to 10 in spiciness, this was a level 8.
Bottled Water Operande
I ate rice quickly and gobbled on the poori in a futile effort to ease the spiciness. The ice cubes in the glass of water the waiter served called out to me but didn’t dare touch it. I bought a big bottle of water earlier at the bus station and twisted the cap to open it. Then I discovered the seal was already broken.
In fact, there was no plastic seal around the mouth. I’ve read from numerous traveler tales that refilling water bottles and selling them off as new ones happen all the time. It was still dark when I bought it and I was too tired and sleepy to notice anything.
I’m open to the idea of eating foreign foods but more like at a time where I’m not on the road.
If you’re a picky eater or scared of developing an upset stomach from eating foods not familiar to you, it won’t hurt to slip in crackers or instant snacks in your purse. They can save your life, ulcer, or sanity.
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