The Quest for Indian Food: What I learnt from the different culinary experiences around the World

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When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.

–Clifton Fadiman

I fully agree to this thought. When you are on a distant land, you must know that you are not going to find all things as they are back home. That also applies to the most basic experience of your journey – food. In fact, when it comes to food, the different culinary experiences you encounter are almost a wild test drive with your taste buds.

There is an unspoken struggle to ‘convince your taste buds’. 

different culinary experiences
Fresh clam and mussel boil with lemon and a side of bread – Picture Credits: Adrien @Via Unsplash

Traveling to a distant land might be a vivid experience for most, but not in all circumstances. You might be allured by a city’s architecture, its culture, art, landscapes, people and history, but wait a moment!

Food! Here comes the real struggle.

I do not completely discourage or reject the idea of trying new cuisines. In fact if you don’t, you are actually denying a vital part of any country’s culture.

The real challenge is – how long you stretch between your food habits and that of the place!

That’s what runs the entire multi-cuisine restaurant industry, globally. 

different culinary experiences
Exploring sea-food at Goa

Not being your real self does not hold for long, at least when you speak about taste. For me, sea food still remains a challenge, despite being a non-vegetarian. It remained so for most of my trip to Goa, despite my best efforts.

It all starts with a struggle at first, experimenting and trying to know what tastes what. Your taste buds constantly conflict against your food habits; trying to come to terms with the change.

I do meet travelers from abroad on a visit to India, and most if not all, do struggle with the spicy food. Yet again, there are many who have really enjoyed savoring the Parathas in Delhi and Samosas‘ and ‘Chicken/Paneer Tikka‘.

Now one may argue that they are only ‘tourists’ not ‘travelers’, but sooner or later, even the most avid travelers are subconsciously picking up their native tastes in other cuisines. The only underlying fact, is, they have not agreed to it yet!

You constantly try to connect your taste with that of the place

At least back home in India, when it comes to even as lame as a Pizza, I am not surprised when I see a ‘Paneer Pizza’ with a mix of Indian and Italian spices.

And somehow the “Indian Chinese Cuisine” tastes way different than the actual Chinese Food.

different culinary experiences
Appetizers at the Grandmas Hotel Restaurant Bali

So essentially, somewhere in the middle of all that experiment, your savoury journey is all about narrowing down to the same Desi Tadka; Until you find it, it’s all an elusive journey.

If you are in Singapore for instance, the food is essentially Chinese with a blend of sea food spices such as Belacan (a shrimp paste), with lots of local herbs and spices (usually tasting sweet). The Malay and Indonesian cuisines are similar, although the tastes do change in their regions.

different culinary experiences
Nasi Goreng

Sitting on the Legian Beach, Bali, I realized that trying one of the local noodle soups was not the right choice as far as my taste would go. I was simply not meant for it. But then, Nasi Goreng, the Balinese version of fried rice, came with a sense of agreement for me. It tasted similar to fried rice I ate back home.

Essentially, I had found a Balinese dish that tasted somewhat Indian!

And no matter how good a traveler you are, at some point, you are looking for a similar sense of agreement with cuisines of different cultures. You are subconsciously searching for your taste in other cuisines.

The Quest for Indian Food – What’s inspiring about the Journey

I do admit here that my gastronomic adventures do not last long; as not soon enough, my belly tries to come to agreement with my taste-buds. As Indian travelers, spices define our sense of taste. Well, that’s what brought the whole world to the Indian lands – spices, fabric and gold.

If I am on the search for Indian food outside the Indian soil, it is not that I have decided to disregard the different tastes of the local culture. Rather, what amazes me is the fact, that as we travel, so too does our Indian cuisines – leaving a distinct impression on people across the globe, wherever they reach.

different culinary experiences

different culinary experiences
An evening at the Queens Tandoor Bali

Take for instance, ‘Queens of India‘ chain of restaurants in the heart of Bali. Started in the 1960’s, this Indian Chain of Restaurants offers every bit of Indian Food you can ever imagine. What interested me more is that most of the customers walking into this restaurant are in fact non-Indians.

The vegetarian food is on high demand, especially the Paneer (cottage cheese) preparations, although, it serves everything from North Indian to South Indian cuisines and from snacks to sumptuous main courses.

different culinary experiences
Asoka Restaurant, Kloof Street
different culinary experiences, Asoka Restaurant and Lounge
Moksha Martini

Escaping to Cape Town, the story wasn’t much different either. Rather, there are more Indian restaurants here than you can walk into in one trip.

If I were to sum it up

I would say, there is always a point of return. In your quest, no matter how far you go, you carry most part of your identity, to the distant land. That identity constantly tries to overcome the habitual barriers, especially, when it comes to the basics.

It is this difference, that makes the purpose more exciting.

No matter how much you adapt to a culture abroad, you will surely leave your imprint on the people, and they will on you.

Eventually, your instincts will find a taste that will define a resemblance between two cultures, in most subtle ways. 

That’s the true essence of an unforgettable gastronomic trail!!

What does your experience say? Share your thoughts!!