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Giant Masala Dosa

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August 30, 2012 / Indian / By
Tu Sen Tran

I expected danger, excitement and diarrhoea.

My third day in the Subcontinent and I was lacking in all three.  Our Indian friend acting in her capacity as tour guide was cautious and extremely risk averse. While in Mumbai, she told us that our Western and pristine stomachs could not handle a sudden influx of Indian food.  Beware of the Indian restaurant, she warned, where the workers do not wash their hands, and even if they did, they used water that was tantamount to sewerage under the relevant UN health regulations.  And definitely stay away from street food!  That would rot your intestines and you would be oozing pus from your behinds like a slurpee machine.

Even bottled water was unsafe.  People supposedly picked up bottles from the street and filled them with tainted tap water.  They then resealed it with heat so it looked like it was new.  Don’t trust street stalls.  Even boiled water was bad for you.  The Indian government allowed nasty chemicals and hazardous metals to fester in the water supply.  Those pollutants don’t boil away.  They eat you alive.

We expected danger, excitement and diarrhoea but we didn’t want to court it, especially not faecal pus.  So with this in mind, we allowed our protective guide to take us to a safe place to eat.  She wanted to line our stomachs with clean food and to ease our way into our month long journey into the grimy abyss of Indian Food.

That is why our first meal in India, the country of spice, colour and full flavour, was McDonalds.

Some would call it a sin.  Others would call it blatant bad taste.  But our guide said it was the real modern Indian experience.  Although I had questioned her rationale and aggressively asked ‘are you serious?’ I had to ultimately agree with her, albeit with much disdain.

McDonalds in India, she explained, was not what you would expect.  It did not serve beef.  Everything had more spice and vegetarian meals were far beyond token options.  They were legitimate space on the brightly coloured menu.  Being with vegetarians at the time, we ordered all vegetarian meals, ranging from a paneer burger to a vegewrap.  It left the usual unhealthy aftertaste and the sense of guilt after we finished but it was quite a novelty eating vegetarian fast food with no BigMacs in sight. 

I had wanted my first meal to encapsulate India and give me an experience of the unknown.  Strangely a meal at McDonalds, the father of familiar of most countries, actually gave me this.  It was quite the metaphor.  This capitalistic machine that creates fortunes through conformity, had to bow to Indian demand, lest it perish.  Not even the most colonial cuisine could affect the tastebuds of the Subcontinent and their love of spice.

However, by dinner time that day, my thoughts about cultures and Indian metaphors were strained.  Our guide took us to an American style steakhouse and it was pretty much an American style steakhouse with Indians in it.  When she ordered the onion fries, I quipped about how the meal could possibly be Indian cuisine.  She said, ‘Trust me, it tastes different.  They use Indian onions’.  After tasting them, I can report that it is very hard to distinguish the taste of onions from different countries, especially when they are deep fried in a thick batter and smothered with tomato sauce.

So you can imagine my delight when our guide finally took us to her local South Indian restaurant on the third day.  At that point we had had more Indian food in a shopping centre food court than we had in the streets of Mumbai.  We were led to air conditioned room by the waiter/cook/cleaner instinctively as he knew we were foreigners and able to pay the surcharge.  The other locals had to smelter in the rest of the restaurant and endure the Mumbai heat.   

We ordered our first authentic Lassi and it was refreshing and not particularly sweet.  It’s basically yoghurt and stuff but not much stuff, our guide said and it tasted exactly like that.  Next was an assortment of Indian nibbles consisting of bread and curry but I can only remember them vaguely as it was overshadowed by the main course.

Before the meal, our guide promised that we would have an authentic Indian breakfast that we couldn’t get back home.  However, my hopes were not high given the previous day.  But when our dish came, I smiled at her and thanked her for fulfilling her promise.  My mouth muscles were done wasting their effort on speech.  This was what I had travelled across the world for.  This is what I had come to experience.

On our tables were giant paper dosas.  They were huge and I had to stand back to get an adequate photo of its dimensions.  We broke off yellow strips of the dosa and filled our stomachs with the famous South Indian curries that were lighter and more refreshing than the Northern curries.  By the time we finished we were full and contented and as grateful as a child given junk food after a week of steamed greens.  The bill was a tenth of what we would have paid at home and that certainly added to the culinary euphoria.

That night I thought about what ‘authentic’ food was and whether it was a lie.  You could define it as what the locals ate but then the Indian locals ate American steak house food and bastardised pizzas that day.  After a while I realised I didn’t care.  This could have been because I actually didn’t care or because my mind was preoccupied with trying to remember if the water bottle I had bought from a street stall had a proper seal.

As I slowly drifted to sleep I realised that India had managed to curtail efforts from the world to change it and perhaps McDonalds in India is still Indian food. 

But somewhere in my mind I knew that there was never any doubt that the giant paper dosa breakfast was my first authentic Indian meal.

N/A

Country: India

Province/State: Maharashtra

City: Mumbai

Address: N/A

Zip/Post Code: N/A

Location Tips: N/A

Phone: N/A

Website:N/A

Price Guide:$ (What's this?) N/A = home cooked meal,etc
$ = street food, fast food,etc
$$ = bistro, cafe, pub, bar,etc
$$$ = fine dining,etc

Those giant dosas look amazing!
Dinh
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