One of the top reasons to travel to India, is the food.
In my humble opinion at least.
Yet with so many stories of “Delhi Belly” from travellers, it seems that many visitors to India are concerned about getting sick by indulging their would-be-adventurous tastebuds. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to India three times, and not had any cases of Delhi belly yet… here’s hoping I’m not tempting fate by writing this post ;-).
India’s food needs no introduction – it’s as varied as the sub-continent is. From coconut infused Thalis served on banana leaves in the South to the rich Dal Makhani’s of Punjab. There really is something for everyone. And although all kinds of western food can be found in touristed parts of the country, for me there’s nothing that beats sitting down to a traditional, home-cooked Indian meal.
So to get some inside intelligence on how travellers can enjoy home cooked food on their travels (without fears of getting sick), I caught up with Priyanka Deshpande, Co-Founder of Authenticook. Authenticook provide authentic dining experiences in homes across India, for locals and foreigners alike. I first met the founders in Amsterdam, at a startup incubator for Sustainable Travel startups/scaleups and so was delighted when I had the chance to join one of Authenticook’s dining experiences in Delhi this summer.
In south Delhi I savoured a delicious Thali from western Uttar Pradesh. I left with new friends, tips on where to find the best street food in Delhi, and a full and happy stomach!
Priyanka, what would you recommend for first time travellers to India who want to enjoy the local food? What are your tips for avoiding the famous “Delhi belly”?
India is a beautiful country that has a varied landscape from east to west and north to south, hence India provides a gamut of choices when it comes to food. From Vegetarian to Non-vegetarian, spicy to plain flavourful, celebratory dishes to simple street food and even our ‘desi’ (colloquial term for local) take on Western cuisines. My best tip for travellers is to keep an open mind. Many restaurants in India can be looked up online, so do check out reviews and ratings. Of course, the best way to avoid Delhi belly would be to have a simple home-cooked meal with a local 🙂
What’s the best way for travellers to get an true taste of Indian culture, in your opinion?
India is a diverse country with 29 states, 22 official languages and 1,652 dialects. That means we are talking about at least 707 different cuisines! We believe the best way to experience Indian culture is through an interaction with local people. But how do you go about striking a conversation with a total stranger? Just get invited to their home for a meal! It could be the simplest of meals, but the opportunity to interact with a local family and understanding their way of life, traditions and customs will provide a great insight into the local fabric of the place.
Food may well be one of the few elements of culture that has survived the test of time. Where other aspects of culture have faded, food has been passed on since generations in the form of cultural nuances or heirloom recipes, and through it, one can understand the history and journey of a place.
Tell us more about Authenticook – what is your aim and what inspired you to start the company?
Authenticook is a website connecting hosts and diners over social dining experiences, promoting traditional Indian regional cuisines made with love and passion by local home- chefs. It is a simple platform connecting hosts (local home-chefs) and diners (travellers and locals alike) over immersive dining experiences.
Most of the cuisines and dishes prepared by the hosts are not available in restaurants and are getting lost with time. Authenticook aims to preserve Indian culture and culinary heritage and re-introduce one of the oldest forms of networking.
It all started on our trip to Ladakh, in the beautiful Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. While we were in the capital city of Leh, we realised the effects of globalisation, where the western cuisine (such as Pizza!) was abundantly available and there were very few places to try out local Ladakhi food. Our most memorable experiences have always been those where we had an opportunity to interact with a local and understand a lot more about the place.
Want more on India? Check out my Ethical Travel Guide to Rajasthan here!
The same is applicable as a resident in a city where you have people from across the world and communities living together, there are few ways to experience this diversity and meet like minded people beyond ones social circle. That’s when we thought of creating an avenue for people to have an opportunity to dine with a local family to experience the true essence of a place.
We believe that food is a religion that transcends boundaries, regions and prejudices.
Our dream is to impact more than 1 million women, enabling them to feel empowered and have a source of income. Through the meal experiences provided by them, Authenticook can be the first port of call for travellers and locals alike who are looking for enriching, social dining experiences.
Where are Authenticook experiences now available?
We operate across India – Authenticook is present across Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Delhi, Gurgaon, Goa, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Fort Kochi. We are in the process of on-boarding hosts in Chennai, Kolkata, Agra and some more cities in Kerala, so we should be live with the experiences in these cities soon – check back for updates!
Tell us about your favourite Authenticook experience – do you have a favourite meal?
One of my personal favourites is the Bohri Thaal experience. It represents a true community dining experience, 7-8 people can sit around a large, round platter known as the thaal and eat food from the same large platter. The platter is kept on a stand known as a tarakti and people are seated around the platter on the floor.
The meal includes various traditional rituals and nuances. As a sign of respect for the food being served, the thaal (round platter) is kept on the stand only once all the diners are seated. No one leaves the thaal till everyone is done with their meal. One of the reasons for eating from the same platter is to ensure no wastage of food. The meal starts with salt being offered by the youngest member on the thaal to the eldest member and is then passed around; it’s believed that starting and ending the meal with salt keeps a number of illnesses at bay. Another interesting characteristic of the meal is that it starts with a sweet dish followed by a savoury dish and there can be multiple alternating courses of sweet and savoury items, it is then followed by a main course, some fresh fruits and paan (betel leaf mouth freshner).
The Bohri community loves their food and has various mouth-watering meat preparations and sweet preparations including soufflés, ice-creams, etc. We have multiple Bohri Thaal experiences listed on our website that diners can choose from based on their city and location.
These are experiences which you cannot get at any restaurant.
What about street food? Are the delights of Indian Streetfood recommended for foreign visitors?
Street food is an integral part of India’s culinary heritage. Every city or region in India has its own identity and favourites when it comes to street food. I personally love our street food 🙂 Having said that I believe people who have lived in India have developed an immunity for our environment and obviously the street food.
Visitors should be selective as to which street food vendor they to eat from. There are many street food vendors that use fresh ingredients, bottled water and wear gloves while handling the food, look for those who are practising good hygiene, and are popular. A crowd around a stall is often a good indication! If feeling unsure, another excellent way to sample street food would be to visit one of our home-chefs, as most of the famous street food dishes can also be prepared at home!
Last but not least: what’s your favourite food?
I love seafood! Currently my favourite is Pathare Prabhu Prawn Pickle, it is a fresh pickle made with little oil, a pinch of asafoetida, fenugreek seeds along with prawns marinated in red chilli powder, salt, turmeric and lots of garlic, topped with a generous squeeze of lime and… voila!!
Thank you Priyanka! Do you love Indian food? Do you have tips for how to enjoy the best of India’s local cuisines? Let me know in the comments below!
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A Londoner by birth Ellie has lived in the UK, Netherlands, India and now Canada. Prior to blogging, she worked for 12 years in hospitality and online travel. Ellie started this blog during a sabbatical trip in 2015 around South Asia, to help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. When not travelling, she is happiest with wine, pasta and a good (travel) book. Ellie is also Founder of Soul Travel Consulting which helps travel brands communicate their sustainability initiatives.