Eating in a Foreign Country
Whenever you travel to a new country, be sure to try as much of the local food as possible. The best way to do this is to sample the street food. India's got a great tradition of food stands. India is also a great place to try out vegetarianism. Cows are sacred, and pigs are unclean animals, so there's no beef or pork anywhere. Furthermore many more people here are "veg," so there are more options for vegetarians here than there are in the US. Because meat is so expensive relative to vegetables and rice, we cook meat once a week or less. The food here is so good that you really don't notice the lack of meat in your diet.
Alu Paratha (8 rupees, about 16 cents) is a lunchtime favorite. You make it by mixing potato and some vegetables in with dough and serving with two sides, usually one spicy and one mild. You rip off a piece of the paratha, dip it in the spice and enjoy.
This is dal bati, which is prepared right in front of you. The proprietor will bring out five or six balls of hardened dough, crush them with his fingers, and add onion and ghee. Tasty!
If anyone ever invites you into their home, say yes. Home cooking is really good. This is dhokla, served with namkeen, a salty snack.
I cry every time I eat this egg curry, which might be because it's so spicy, or because I love Kumar, the cook, so much that I want to bring him home with me to the US. Last time I went I got out a timer and copied down the entire recipe.
If you're headed to Goa or Bangalore, you will find this dosa to be quite popular. Dosa is a potato and vegetable mix wrapped in paper-thin rice dough. This dosa was served from one of twenty food stalls in a food court. The food courts here are actually good.
In India they take "we don't make it till you order it" seriously. Street vendors prepare the food right in front of you. When we cook at home, we purchase the ingredients from a vendor on the street about an hour before we cook, ensuring that it's fresh.
This is thali, a favorite dish in Rajasthan. There's no ordering in a thali restaurant; you sit down and they start bringing you food. A server brings out roti (round flat bread) and/or rice and a number of spices, and you eat until you can eat no more. In nice restaurants the preparation and the number of different dishes can be pretty elaborate.
Here's a list of heuristics you can use when you're trying to figure out where to eat. If I have one piece of advice it's to avoid the touristy areas; they cater to the lowest common denominator (the non-spicy food eating tourist) and charge higher prices than everywhere else. If you're uncertain, pick a place that serves only one item; you can't pick poorly and the quality should be good. Otherwise take a look around and see what everyone else is eating. Following the locals is generally a good strategy.