Sunday, October 20, 2019

Posted at: Jun 8, 2019, 12:36 AM; last updated: Jun 8, 2019, 12:36 AM (IST)

Plate up my adventure

Indian travellers are opening up to the exotic flavours that global cuisine offers

Purnima Sharma

Food isn’t something that just fills your stomach but, with its taste and flavours, it is something that can take you places and make you feel on top of the world,” says Shifa Merchant, an avid traveller and photographer. Shifa always ensures that when globetrotting, her itinerary remains full not just with sightseeing and adventure activities like ziplining, seakarting or snorkelling, but also varied food experiences, each more adventurous than the other. A recent US-based survey has, however, claimed that more than 67 per cent of Indian travellers like to play safe and pick their travel destination based on the cuisine and food choices it offers. And sure enough, while the world is waking up to vegetarianism and veganism, many followers of this concept find it difficult to get food options that fall in line with their diktats.  

“One of the major ingredients of a good holiday is splendid food, so I’d rather spend it in London or New York that offers stuff up my street,” says Neha Parashar. But till recently, while many echoed Parashar’s line of thought, they are now willing to change. “There’s always something splendid waiting to be unveiled at each place,” smiles Deepika Sood, who always likes to holiday in lesser-known destinations. “Like the freshly baked bread balls I had in Sanya (China) several years ago. Their taste still remains fresh with me,” says Deepika.

For palate’s sake

Shifa, who calls herself an ‘incorrigible foodie’, agrees with her. “For me, exploring new food experiences is a given at a new place,” she says. 

That is why despite her love for ghar ka khana, Shifa enjoyed the culinary encounters she had recently at an oyster farm in Taiwan. “Raw oysters, fresh off the farm, were on the menu. The way to eat these — as people there told me — was to gulp these down!” Although the idea was initially ‘a wee-bit unpalatable’, the Mumbai-based food lover did give it a shot. “And it turned out to be good,” she laughs. The same was the case with Peking duck. “The way it’s served — as if a real duck is sitting on your place — can put you off. But I thought of giving it a chance. After initial apprehension, I enjoyed the experience.”

Sure enough, most avid travellers agree that if food of the destination they’re travelling to is good, then magic of the holiday gets multiplied manifold. 

“Many people don’t like the idea of experimenting with food,” says Komal Seth, a senior travel executive. “And while they have no complaints about the place, they do crib about the missing ‘X-factor.’ And this translates into food of their choice.”

Food on my mind

Vegetarian or not, food is a big part of the Indian traveller’s holiday plans, says Komal, who has been organising travel trips. She recalls the time when she first started travelling. Being a vegetarian was the biggest bane of her life then, she says.

“Gorging on limited options like potatoes and cheese or butter and then the desserts, would often leave me up by many kilos. So I started experimenting with my food,” laughs the travel aficionado. Since she was travelling as often as twice a month, she also decided on a “more sensible solution” of carry theplas and special masala to add  spicy flavour to her salads, instead of the regular cheese and butter. “Experimenting is fun. It not just expands our global palette but also introduces us to interesting culinary experiences,” she adds. 

Sometimes, the going can be tough for vegetarians, says Delhi-based fashion designer Madhu Jain. Having travelled extensively, she prefers the oft-trodden path that invariably includes Paris for its vegetarian options that she can tuck into with gusto. Remembering the time she first visited the French capital about three decades ago, Madhu laughs, “My meals then comprised a plate of boiled rice with tabasco sauce and coke!”

With vegetarian options “including the to-die-for breads and cheese” available now, there’s no reason for the couturier to feel shortchanged. “And in any case, one request from you, and the chefs, even at the local bistros, will rustle up the most amazing vegetarian dishes for you,” smiles Madhu. 

While travellers across the world have long been open to the idea of a ‘food adventure’, the Indian palate, too, is opening up to the power of food. Every time Abhinav Gupta travels abroad, the first thing he does is book a food tour. “The one I was part of in Lisbon recently unveiled some of the most exotic meals ever, including grilled sardines and mashed potatoes with olive oil dressing, besides Douro Valley’s green wine.” 

From a different world

Unlike many, who might crave for home food, Abhinav says he “doesn’t miss it one bit  because I have enough time to have it once I get back”.

Piyali Dasgupta, a media executive who recently returned from a two-month holiday in Europe, agrees. “Why think of home food when there’s a smorgasbord of incredible foods waiting to be devoured?” 

Be it in Auckland or Assam, Piyali says she has enjoyed “some amazing culinary experiences”. She remembers walking into a roadside dhaba near Guwahati and opting for the only dish readily available. “This was a typical Khasi pork preparation. Despite the pungent smell that had initially repelled us, we relished it immediately after it was served.”

Needless to say, food has been an important part of her travels. “Imagine going to a place and not getting good stuff to eat — I’m sure you’ll not want to go there again,” she says candidly.  Remembering her Spanish sojourn, Piyali says, “Even now, when I think of Barcelona, it’s paella that springs to mind.” And her memory of the Swiss snowscape is not complete without remembering the “heavenly cheese and toast we had one morning. It may sound simple but it’s sure to take me back to Zurich one day”, she smiles.

Spontaneous food choices are always at the heart of great travel experience, says model Jessy Randhawa. A little shop she discovered in Rome has since become the go-to place for her kind of pasta whenever she’s in Italy. “On the one hand, I enjoy subtle flavours of Italian pasta, on the other I relish the strong spicy taste of Rajasthani food,” she adds. 

The Indian palate, according to Jessy, is one that adapts easily to different tastes. Having travelled all across both for travel and leisure, the girl from Punjab says, “Despite being a vegetarian, I have been a non-fussy eater and open to trying out different recipes and tastes,” she adds.   The only time she faced some problems were when in the “Arab world where the vegetarian choices were few. But I would still happily manage with rice and some bit of sauces here and there”. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to indulge your tastebuds!


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