If you haven’t noticed, I'm a guy who prides himself on culinary discoveries and willingness to sample everything the globe has to offer. That’s a given. I want to eat everything. I want to know how to make everything. I want to know every ingredient on my plate. Tell me that’s not possible and I’ll book a ticket to Beirut just to prove you wrong.
Even so, I've always been somewhat intimidated by Indian food, to the point where I never even attempted to cook it (save for yellow curry powder and Tyson chicken college experiments).
So many spices! So many colors! So many curries! So many people (1.24 billion and quicky counting). Coriander, ginger, cardamom, mace, star anise, tumeric, cloves, fennel, cumin, cinnamon....
How does an Indian kitchen use all these ingredients? What if I just wanted something simple? Do I need to run down to my neighborhood spice market and drop $60 just to season an omelet?
There was really only one way to find out.
3 gentlemen. 1 month. 0 itinerary.
Meet me in Mumbai.
If I could sum up one of the most common pieces of advice I was given from friends and acquaintances who had traveled through the subcontinent, it would go something like this:
“The food is incredible, you just can’t eat it from the street. If you do, plan on getting violently ill.”
That’s a loaded statement for me to take in. That’s like telling Ron Jeremy he can look but can’t touch. No street food? Are you serious? In my head I’m as cocksure as ever:
‘They don’t have my stomach. Their insides aren’t coated with a protective layer of Vietnamese bacteria. I spent 2 1/2 years building my iron-clad digestive tract, and you’re gonna tell me I gotta eat my Vegetable Pakoras next to these Russians honeymooners?*’
* I have nothing against Russian people. Or marriage. Just soulless tourist fare.
Granted I’ve been in the relatively sanitary state of California for most of the last two years, but I’ll still stand behind my gut in most any gastronomic challenge. Of course I was going to make logical choices, but I wasn’t going to let the fear of the chance of getting sick dictate my trip. One of my travel mates felt the consequences of these streets first hand, as he was infected with a wicked case of giardia on his last trip to India in 2010. Kudos to this kid for diving back in after an 8 month squirt-session filled with a slew of misdiagnoses and explosive, unpredictable trips to the john. If I gave out global medals of courage, he'd receive the first.
So India, perhaps the final frontier of gastrointestinal fortitude?
The black diamond of belly bacteria.
The King Kong of colon cramps.