thus far, food has been somewhat difficult to describe as i generally am uncertain as to exactly what it is that i am eating. i am nearly certain that i am essentially vegetarian at this point. some of the vegetables are recognizable; peas, carrots, green beans, some sort of potato, chic peas, okra… the rest are generally unknown. one that i now know the “common” name of is drumsticks… some sort of stem which is stewed until the inside is soft. the first time i had it, i clearly had no idea how to eat it… the outer layer is extremely fibrous, not meant to be eaten, and impossible to chew (as i found the hard way). the proper way to eat it is to slice open one side (which comes easily after it’s stewed) and pull the soft inside out with your teeth or a spoon. the second time i had it someone instructed me and it was a relatively generic, soft green thing, slightly like well-cooked green beans.
i occasionally ask what a dish is called, but avoid doing it at every meal because half the time i have to have the person repeat what they have said a couple of times only to remember the name for a few minutes and forget it. just like everything else, the titles of dishes are extremely foreign and therefore quickly leave my brain, just like many of the children’s names.
i have generally eaten breakfast at my homestay which usually is “muesli” which essentially is a granola/cereal grain mix. i usually put milk on it and some of the fresh, raw honey that is always in the kitchen. if i am running late, i can simply eat at the school as breakfast and lunch are always provided to students and teachers. a typical breakfast is these round, white rice cakes, that have a texture similar to white bread, except denser. over this a creamy, slightly spicy, yellow-colored (depending on the day) curry (?). the first day i ate breakfast at the school, i was very weirded out by eating a spicy dish for breakfast. since then, i do mostly try to eat muesli at Gina’s with honey, milk, and possibly some fresh fruit.
lunch at school is usually a bit more interesting. though rice (usually plain white), curd, and chapati are always available, the dishes that go with them change. some type of sambar is always available and usually poured over rice. for true south indians, sambar means you mix with rice into a ball and scoop into your mouth, all without utensils, only fingers. many seem to have mastered this quite skillfully without getting rice everywhere… there is also usually some sort of dhal eaten with the chapati. most of the time i am not completely sure of all of the vegetables i am eating, but these dishes contain plenty of veggies and usually seem relatively healthy.
also, nearly every day one of the dishes will contain curry leaves, so they don’t particularly call one dish “curry” but rather the curry leaf is an integral part of cooking.
most recently, i had fish last night, which was served whole.. here is a picture of my south indian plate prepared at home:
chapati, fish (i later learned was whole mackerel – minus the lower jaw), and some stewed vegetables. i was slightly put off by having a whole fish (not typical when i have fish at home) but happy to see the eye had been removed; until i flipped it over to eat the other side… there was still an eye over there… but i talked myself down and ate it. the fist was really quite good, and, being in south india, it was completely acceptable to eat it with my hands, making picking bones out before they got into my mouth much easier 🙂
recently i have had three interesting fruit experiences; on the school grounds there is a large tree with berries hanging from it. students and teachers pick off the red, ripe ones and eat while waiting to go home, this was a very sweet treat while waiting to go home! on the bus today, after all the other teachers already got off, the kids moved up to sit near me (as they always do; i’m the only foreigner) today they shared a fruit, which i now know is lychee. apparently a girl on the bus has a tree near her home. the 9 year-old boy across from me peeled the hard exterior from it and handed it to me. they all stared as i stared at it, not sure if they were teasing or truly giving me something worth eating. it was white and transparent, with a large seed showing at the bottom. i still looked apprehensive because of the way they all seemed so intent to get my reaction. when a 10th grader walked by and showed me that he had one in my mouth, i conceded and bit some of the white flesh off of the seed. it was much like a grape (minus the skin) in texture and flavor. though i think the one i had was slightly under-ripe. it was good, and even better was seeing the kids react to watching me try something new… another fun bit of bonding with the students that are sometimes very adamant about seeing my reactions to things.
well, i think for now this will round out the post, as i’ve written so much already, but hopefully i’ll be able to get some more pictures up soon for everyone at home to see!
until then… ‘namaskar’
p.s. here are my definitions of s. indian staples
Chapati=essentially a wheat flour tortilla, slightly more chewy texture
curd=yogurt, often homemade because it is easy in the warm climate, yogurt here is much more watery and more refreshing. also a nice side dish if you are eating something spicy
dal=essentially anything you can eat by tearing off a piece of chapati and scooping it up
sambar=looks like a soupy red/yellow mixture with all sorts of vegetables and spices floating