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India food experience and some restaurant thoughts.

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India food experience and some restaurant thoughts.

dostrovs | Mar 4, 2016 04:46 PM

This post will have 2 parts. I will post first my general impression. Later I will review specific places.

Some general comments first:
We very much enjoyed our trip to India. It was a standart Delhi-Rajastan-Agra-Varanasi rout. We managed to try some interesting food. We had no gastrointestinal issues following some basic precautions. Despite that I can see how India may be very intimidating for an unprepared traveller.
India is not a food paradise. Because the most of the population has rather low standards of living, eating out for average Indian individual is something very unusual. The restaurants mostly cater to local tourists or foreigners and usually do not exist as a concept outside of bigger cities and common tourist routs. Since most of the Indians have very limited understanding of what "westerners" like to eat, the food in establishments geared towards them is somewhat bizarre. It is neither Indian or "western" and is, as a rule, not what you are looking for.
Another reason to avoid "safe" food places is a common culture of deception which will certainly irritate you through the time of traveling in this fascinating country. For the delicious masala chai, which can cost 10-30 rupees for Indian, you will be charged 70 rupees. In one case for a cup of tea the Indian person in front of me was charged 40 rupees. I was next and was charged 180(!?!?!) rupees. To my comment about such a differential, my guide commented: "Isn't it how it is elsewhere in the world?". To be honest, none of numerous people I met in India ever travelled outside of their country. On multiple occasions we were given larger portions or more expensive items than we actually ordered. When the problem was acknowledged the response was usually shoulder shrug or some senseless explanation about how it was "done for our own good". In no case there was an assumption of responsibility or attempt to rectify the situation on the part of the restaurant. I recommend to express you feelings about it with tipping practices, which appear to be a cornerstone of the industry.
You can try to state your interests in food and wish to try something specific to your guide/driver. But you should have no doubts that you will be brought to the "tourist joint" with very disappointing food because it will have some underlying benefit for your guides or drivers. This is how they make their living. You should be ready for that and to develop a strategy of dealing with it. In many cases because of time constrictions we just went along without argument. Stumbling onto the great place by chance in India is an impossibility.
Some of the hotels you will stay in will have a very good food. Usually there will be a correlate with how fancy your hotel is, but not necessarily. One of the most disgusting meals we had was in grossly overpriced Surayaday Haveli in Varanasi.
This is my humble advice:
1. Do your research in advance.
2. Know what you want precisely.
3. Give a very direct instruction with the name and address of the place to your guide/ driver. In many cases they will try dissuade you. Keep your course!
4. Please be aware that many places deserving your attention are only open for the part of the day - please investigate it before going there.
5. Forget "American" green salads - danger! Avoid uncooked vegetables, fruits, ice in the restaurants. You can always buy some fruits and vegetables on the numerous street markets. Please clean them yourself and eat in your hotel. We found them to be very good in quality and strictly seasonal.
6. While in restaurants, enjoy delicious breads and curries. If it does not look safe - please do not eat it!
7. Eat meat at your own risk. We tried to avoid it, unless in high end restarts. In any case it is only chicken or goat (deceivingly called "mutton") with occasional lamb.
8. Carry napkins and fork (You will thank me for this advice).
9. Few words on Indian alcohol: most of the locally distilled spirits have a strange aftertaste likely because it is made with rectified spirits. As well it is inappropriately expensive and usually coasts more than the meal. Neither Hindu or Muslim people do not drink, so government has a field day with foreigners and drinking Indians applying multiple taxes. Please do the smart thing and get a bottle or two of your preferred alcohol in duty free shop before boarding you plane to India.

Specific reviews to come next.

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