Foreign mandi, Indian sabzi
Licking the paneer butter masala off our fingers as we stare at the Acropolis seems the way we Indians like our holiday. But going to foreign land and eating desi food is more like staying at home, argues CATHERINE RHEA ROY
Want to try? No? Awww Indians often miss out on flavours of the land they travel to, because of conservative tastes
Cue–set to the peppy tune of a lyre, close your eyes and picture a Greek isle — a sea that reflects a hundred hues of blue, men that boast of Zeus and look like Adonis, comfortable babushkas, and years and years of accumulated ruins. In your summer dress and leather sandals you are lost in all the magnificence of Delphi and you weave in and out of the pillars of the Acropolis of Athens, after a heavy lunch of biryani and butter chicken….
Cue–sound of cassette tape being rewound and you are jolted out of your summer reverie.
I would like to introduce you dear reader, to what I would like to call the “foreign mandi, Indian sabzi syndrome”, which is best explained as the need to eat Indian food while on holiday in a foreign land. Group tours are a convenient way to travel, with an itinerary and tour guide in tow. But turns out it does not matter how exotic your locale and how appealing the local lifestyle, meal times mean a buffet of Indian favourites complete with sweet dish and saunf.
“I don't want to go on a holiday and eat dal and rice. If I wanted home food I would stay at home. This reluctance to try anything new and stay bubble wrapped in all things familiar is such an incorrigible Indian phenomenon,” says Apoorva Rao, a frequent traveller.
“My first vacation in Bangkok I ate only KFC but on my second time there I made it a point to eat the local food and it does not get better than that. That is what they know how to cook and they do it well.”
We have all heard the story of those who carried their sambar podi and stock up on khakhra when on holiday.
But 23-year-old student Swathi says, “When I went to America on holiday with my family, we made sure we carried a rice cooker, rice, dal and even frozen rotis. The food over there is just not vegetarian-friendly and we were there for about 20 days and after a point you want home food.” On further research it was found that tour companies make sure that there are Indian chefs who are hired especially to keep their Indian clientele well-fed.
“On these tours, food is a major concern for more than 80 percent of our clientele and we are only trying to cater to that. Most of our Indian customers, especially the north Indians, insist on Indian food and the south Indians don't complain when Indian food is served.
“Besides serving Indian food also cuts down the cost of these tours,” says Tino Thomas, the Managing Director of Oasis Holidays.
There is also the flip side of this situation when experimentation has turned sour. Mary Teresa developed an allergic reaction to processed meat on her trip to Singapore. “It was the worst vacationing experience I have ever had. The breakfast buffet had a whole range of processed meat and I developed a terrible reaction and a full body rash. Since then, while I am most keen on eating the local food I am also very wary of what I eat and what goes into it,” she says.
And as it happens, it works the other way round as well. British national Patrick, 24, who was in the country for a friend's wedding, couldn't attend any of the ceremonies as he fell sick after eating Indian food,
“It was most awful. I missed the mehendi and the sangeet and barely made it to the reception because I fell so ill after eating Indian food. I spent the entire week living off lemon barley and rice with curd.”
Chef Manjeet of Herbs & Spices cuts us some slack and says, “The whole idea of travelling to a foreign destination is to get an idea of the local culture and cuisine. But the demand for Indian food is mostly prevalent among the older people in a family.
“They are more conservative and set in their ways and find it difficult to adapt to new cuisine. The younger generation is however more experimental and willing to try out different cuisines.”
“There is a certain degree of risk that is involved with sampling the local cuisine of a country, but I say go with it. All these experiences contribute to your vacation and make great stories to tell when you return. I am an avid traveller, and the culture and food of different countries is what encourages me to globetrot,” says veteran traveller, Vani Naresh.
When I'm in Greece I want to sit in a taverna and eat haloumi and olives and wine and tsipouro; I want an Adonis to feed me local grapes and a grand old babushka to bake me moussaka. Leave the garam masala and haldi at home.
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