I’m usually open to new adventures while traveling, but my taste buds are not as daring and much slower to adapt to new and strange flavors.
A couple of years back, a bus unloaded me and a buddy along with a bus full of passengers on the roadside at the outskirts of Old Delhi in India early one morning. It was still dark and we had to ride a rickshaw to the bus terminal where somebody from our car rental company picked us up.
After a 16-hour bus ride through the Himalayan mountain ranges, we were tired and hungry so food was first on our list.
Two days earlier, our driver recommended several restaurants that serve authentic Indian cuisine but my buddy insisted on finding only McDonalds or KFC.
I could tell our driver was getting pissed off because he wanted us to try Indian food. I understand because they operate a car rentals and tours and introducing guests to the delights of Indian cuisine is one of their services.
I didn’t want to offend him but we still had a long trip. Having read tons of stories and warnings about the “Delhi belly,” we were both wary and scared to try new flavors.
That particular day New Delhi was celebrating Holi festival and the streets which were congested two days earlier were now totally empty. Business establishments, restaurants and everything else were closed.
We didn’t have much to eat the day before except for a vegetarian pizza and spring rolls and we were so craving for were the crisp crunchy pieces of fried chicken or a big juicy hamburger.
We drove around for a long time, before our driver finally found one restaurant that was open serving southern Indian cuisine. I swear I saw the look of satisfaction in our driver’s face as he dropped us off and went home for breakfast, promising to pick us up in an hour.
I looked for something familiar like chicken tandoori but didn’t see it so I ordered the Tamilnadu meals for 225 Rupees. The dish is described as sweet, kadappa, koottu (vegetable), poriyal (vegetable), pachadi, sambar, rasam, special rice, special kuzhambu, curd, appalam, pickles—served with one small bowl of rice and one poori, a deep-fat fried bread. The dish originated from Tamil Nadu, one of the 28 states of India in the southernmost part of the Indian subcontinent.
My buddy played it safe and ordered something familiar to him.
My tamilnadu meal came in a big round tin platter lined with a banana leaf where small tin bowls containing assorted vegetables and sauces were arranged. Except for the rice, everything else was unfamiliar. I didn’t know how or what to eat first.
I spooned some of the yellow stuff from one of the bowls to my mouth and stopped. I felt tears spring to my eyes as the stuff started a hot fiery trail burning the roofs of my mouth and down to my throat. My tolerance for spicy flavors is way below sea level and this was a level 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
I ate rice quickly and gobbled on the poori in a futile effort to ease the spiciness.
I looked at the ice cubes in the glass of water the waiter served but didn’t dare touch it. I bought a big bottle of water earlier at the bus station and was about to drink when I discovered the seal was broken. In fact, there was no seal at all. I’ve read from traveler tales that refilling water bottles and selling it off as new happens. It was still dark when I bought it and I was too tired and sleepy to notice anything.
I’m open to the idea of eating foreign foods but maybe at a time where I’m not on the road.
If you’re a picky eater, or scared of developing an upset stomach from eating foods not familiar to you, it won’t hurt to slip in crackers or instant snacks in your purse. They can save your life, ulcer or sanity.