Ok, this is embarrassing, but when I went to Southern India I didn’t do my research. I sort of jumped into it and hoped to land on my feet. I knew there would probably not be beef and I figured alcohol would be scarce. And aside from one sketchy club and a back alley liquor salesman, I was partially correct. There was no beef, but really there was no meat at all. I mean every restaurant was vegetarian and that often meant you were lucky to find potatoes or maybe 6 peas in your veggie rice. Now me, daughter of a beef jerky company owner, lover of anything seafood, and who could live on bacon or anything pork really, was quite shaken to say the least.
I like say I was on the India diet. Lots of walking, frequent trips to the toilet, yoga, minimal drinking, eating with only your right hand as a utensil……..I hadn’t been that skinny since high school. My ass thanked me but the foodie in me was pissed, and I felt physically week. That is until I figured out three very important rules for Southern India: learn the word Chana, shop at the markets, and learn how to eat with your hand.
Chana, pronounced more like chaw-na, is the word for chickpeas and are delicious and nutritious. Often they are stuffed inside fried dough, topped with savory tomato curry sauce, or sopped up by flat bread. Besides being very common and easy to order if you know what to say, Chana is high in fiber, protein, antioxidants, and even helps promote stomach and colon health, all very important things when hoping to not wind up with Delhi belly.
Shop at the Markets, they have a huge variety of recognizable and exotic fruits and veggies. If you have access to a kitchen at your hostel you can get anything, just wash it really well or if you are nervous about that stick to the rule of “if it has a peel your are safe.” I often got carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, eggplant, onions and eggs at the market and made stir-fry’s and omelets and was totally safe.
Learn to Eat with your Hand , Yes I said hand, singular, always the right, never the left as that is considered dirty and reserved for bathroom duties. So, although I prefer toilet paper myself, in public it is very important to observe this cultural practice as to not offend anyone. If your meal has bread it, it is much easier to use a piece to pinch and scoop up your food. However do not forget that you cannot rip pieces off using both hands, you must use just your right hand to break off bite sized pieces by holding it down and spreading your fingers to tear it. If you are eating a rice dish, use a V shape to a C shape hand movement, to first pinch then scoop a bit into your fingers. Next by tucking your thumb down by your little finger and moving it up to your pointer finger you can push/flick the bit into your mouth.
Nothing can prepare you for India, but if you embrace it, India can provide a once in a lifetime experience unlike any other, no fork no problem!