That upheaval I was telling you about… was actually a move to India! Mumbai to be exact! Or Bombay as most locals still call it. The move is temporary, but it’s still up in the air in terms of how long we will actually be here. We’re predominantly here for my boyfriend’s work, but I am also teaching undergraduate students a couple of days a week, and will be making the most of not working full time to pursue setting up a food–based business of some kind.
So what the move has meant so far for food has been both good and bad. Good, because I love Indian food (of course!) and have been able to get my fill of dal, pani puri and tal (sesame seed) chikki to name just a few of my favourite things. Bad, because we are still waiting for our shipment of belongings (and food items!) to arrive from London. In the flat we currently have only have one frying pan, one saucepan and not a huge amount else! So although, I have been able to cook, it hasn’t been ideal. I am counting down the days until the shipment arrives, hopefully in three weeks time. I can’t wait to get down to trying to replicate all the tasty stuff I’ve been eating!
In the meantime, I have been visiting the local fruit & vegetable markets (these are amazing!) and doing a lot of research of where we can buy ‘Western’ food such as cheese, olive oil and anchovies here. There seem to be many places, but most of these will empty the pockets – European butter here is three times the price it is at home! Visiting Crawford Market sounds like the best option; it is a huge, sprawling wholesale and retail market in South Mumbai that sells everything from vegetables to fresh meat, flowers, imported foods and pets!
The most interesting food experience I’ve had so far has been at a supper club type lunch event where we got to try cuisine from the North Eastern states (also known as the Seven Sisters). Here, the people, culture and food are far from the stereotypical India most people know. I hope to visit at some point while we are on its doorstep (as huge as that might be)!
The event was hosted by the wonderful Gitika who originates from a tribe in Assam. She treated us to dishes that are typical to the seven North Eastern states along with some that belong to her tribe. She explained how the usual dried coriander/cumin type spices are rarely used in North Eastern cuisine, and that fresh herbs and spices are more common. These are generally native only to the climate of the North East so getting those flavours outside of the region is not easy. Gitika organises a courier a couple of times a month to bring her ingredients from Assam.
The stand out dishes for me at the lunch included a green soup from Arunachal Pradesh called ‘pasa’ made with fish and herbs that tasted refreshing despite the fact it was hot, and ‘akhuni’, a side dish with a hefty spicy kick native to Nagaland made with fermented soya beans, spring onion and tiny pieces of pork.
For dessert, Gitika treated us to some traditional Assamese ‘sweets’, though she explained having dessert is not typical to the region. These were moreish, deep–fried soft and doughy biscuit type sweets, one of which was only very mildly sweet, and the other with no sweetness at all. We ate these with some black Assam tea, which we sweetened by putting a small amount of Assamese jaggery in our mouths before each sip.
According to Gitika, the lunch we attended was pretty mild in terms of adventurousness. Red ant eggs and silkworm grubs are also very commonly eaten in her tribe! We are thinking of braving her next event when she will be serving these.
Hopefully our shipment will arrive very soon and I will have a recipe inspired by Mumbai for you to try for my next post. In the meantime, I will continue to try to eat as many new things as possible!