On Katya's return to Moscow, our Landlady, Zara G. is free to take a holiday... first stop India, then on to Tangiers in Morocco.
It got to the time of the year that I felt that I had to make a snap decision to take a holiday and do some travelling. So since Katya left for Moscow and my last entry, I have covered a few miles. Visiting India was very high on the list; it seems strange that a country that is just across the border from the birthplace of my parents, who often told us that on a clear day the mountains of Himalaya (at least the tip) were visible, and yet I had never set foot on this intriguing land. More about the death of “romanticism” later.
For the moment, I will put aside all my impressions, memories, sensations, smells aside and concentrate on food.
Food is an integral part of most Indian homes. The entire day revolves round discussions about breakfasts, elevenses (a left over from the days of the Raj), lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. All of this manifests itself into instructions to head chef, downwards. Not to forget the daily fix of going out after dinner for an ice cream to an ice cream parlour which by the way also serves kulfis of every flavour you can think of.
Easy to put on at least a stone in a ten-day visit to India!
I would be asked the night before, how I wanted my eggs prepared for breakfast the next morning. No matter how much I protested that I was not used to eating a heavy breakfast, absolutely no notice was taken. It takes some getting used to, to have numerous conversations zig-zagging across to people sometimes not even in the room, but somewhere on the veranda or the terrace. To wake up and be greeted by an elaborately laid table heaving with an assortment of dishes started to take its toll in all sorts of ways.
Eggs – poached, scrambled, Indian style omelette, boiled, just in case, were all carefully displayed on Pyrex dishes - something I could not get my head around, considering the wealth oozing out of the homes, dozens of flat screen plasma televisions, hands free mobiles, blackberries, and every other inconceivable gadget you could think of! Why serve all this wonderfully prepared food in Pyrex dishes?
Savoury halva made with semolina, with crisply fried red onions, chillies, zeera – surprisingly quite delicious.
Bread – how I missed the variety we have in this country especially in London. It reminded me of Pakistan, bread seemed to be unrecognisable and not quite real and with no real taste or substance to it.
Elevenses consisted of all types of tea, massala, green tea, Darjeeling and much more. Simply having tea was not enough; you had to have jalebi (sickeningly sweet pretzel like dessert), burfi, another rich traditional dessert made with koha (condensed milk) almonds, silver paper
As if the breakfast alone was not enough to warrant a cardiac arrest, followed by elevenses, lunch, you could not escape the after noon tea. The hosts would insist that after the much needed siesta, a hot cup of tea was absolutely essential and not tasting the mini cheese twists, croissants, the Hunter’s Beef (salt beef) served on rye bread with mustard, would be losing out on yet another culinary sensation.
Each household would be at great pains to tell one how good the brand of tea they were serving was and how not many servants had the nous about steeping and serving tea. Never mind about the crockery in which it is served. Most Indian homes have a “French Armoire” where they exhibit their best china. This sounds like a contradiction of what I have to say about the crockery for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Elevenses and afternoon tea – was another matter. The best bone china tea sets were proudly laid out.
Next entry will be from Tangiers – what a melting pot, even in terms of languages spoken, never mind the wonderful food, tagines, eggs from the mountain woman in their colourful hats, et al, Maghrabi, French, Spanish and of course English is what you hear everywhere, in the Medina, the souks, the shared taxis in the banks and the RIF cinema – the cinema was an absolute gem!