I love food. I like to cook it, look at it, smell it, taste it, savour it, discuss it, negotiate it, experience it, Instagram it, even engage in Mexican stand-offs for it and, of course, travel for it. There’s something spiritually satisfying about constructing your travel plan entirely around food. Believe me, and you would be lying if you disagreed with this, the only thing you genuinely need to care about when travelling is the food you put in your mouth.
So whenever you are travelling, indulge the only baser instinct that matters. The one that will lead you to quintessentially local delicacies, unabashedly rustic street food, affectionately prepared traditional cuisine, midnight coffees in cafés, early morning roadside teas and heart attack-worthy sweets and desserts. Here’s how you can turn your travel into a food escapade.
What’s the brouhaha all about?
If you’re travelling to a popular destination, leave the picturesque landscape, mesmerising monuments and culturally significant locations to the selfie lovers, Facebookers and DSLR owners. What you need is to first find out where they serve the best meat in town. And if you are a vegetarian, find a place to sit and wallow in self-pity. Filter your search to include a place that serves local preparations. It could be a roadside eatery or fine-dine restaurant but make sure it is not a chain. Nothing should put you off more than standardisation of taste.
Food travel is as much about shedding inhibitions as it is about testing your taste buds. Be concerned about hygiene, but don’t fret over it. If you have a sensitive digestive tract, always carry packaged drinking water and some antacids. The last thing you want to upset is your stomach. Make it a rule to experiment beyond your comfort zone and not try the same food item twice. Try to arrange for at least one home meal with a local family. That’s one memory that will permanently stick.
What to look out for?
Let’s assume for a moment you are on an Indian food safari. If you are headed north, your essentials would be incomplete without Kashmiri wazwan, Amritsari kulchhas, Lucknowi tunday, home-made Punjabidal makhani and tandoori rotis and Rajasthani laal maans and dal bati. Down south, make sure your journey includes a sojourn in any city on India’s coastline. Your grub here must not leave out Goa’s prawn curry, xacuti and vindaloo, Kerela’s palappam, fish curries and the sadya meal, Tami Nadu’s Chettinad cuisine, dosas and filter coffee and the Hyderabadi biryani.
If your destination is in central or east India, you cannot miss Kolkata’s incredible range of fish and rice dishes and sweets, Madhya Pradesh’s eye-popping range of desserts and Nagpur’s signature mutton dish, Saoji. And this is just the tip. Probably not even that. Every place you visit prides itself on having a rich tradition of cuisine. The deeper you explore that tradition, the more you sink into a new culture.
What about food cravings?
If I haven’t said enough already, here’s some more. Every city has a popular, evening hangout place for binge-eating. It could be a garden, a park, a beach or just a quaint by-lane. Speak to the locals and get more information on that.
If you are on a train journey in India, snacking on the relentless food options that keep changing as your train chugs from one region to another is a remarkable experience. If you are adventurous, wait for the train to stop at a station at 3 in the morning and have a glass of local tea, coffee or hot milk.
Any other tips?
Our strongest memories are built around food. The nirvana of tasting something exquisite lasts for not more than 15 seconds before it is gulped down and the taste is lost forever. The only way this 15-second nirvana remains eternal and not ephemeral is to keep exploring the epicurean pleasures of newer cuisines. What better way to do this than to turn your travel journeys into food expeditions?