"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 32, Naan in the Morning, Naan in the Evening, Naan at Suppertime

Ch. 32, Naan in the Morning, Naan in the Evening, Naan at Suppertime

We sat at a picnic table on the banks of the lake, just Baba and me, eating boiled eggs with kofta sandwhichs-meatballs [sic] and pickles wrapped in naan." —Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Naan is to India as tortillas are to Mexico.  Somewhat round, akin to a large pita, naan is the ubiquitous bread in India.  I would not be at all surprised if Indian prayers included, “Give us this day, our daily naan.”

Credit:   Ingalls Photography

My introduction to naan came not in India, but in Seattle, Washington, a few years ago.  I was visiting my long-time friend Carlene and we were touring around the Pioneer Square area.   We’d been to the Klondike Museum and the Seattle Underground tour, and were looking for a place to have lunch.

Carlene homed in on an Indian restaurant and  suggested it.   There aren’t any Indian restaurants in Moose Pass where I live and my out-of-Moose-Pass experience with such was nil, so it was not my first option. 

But, there was something in the way she said, “They have naan,” and the slight swoon afterwards, that changed my mind.  I had not a clue what naan was, but I was soon to find out.  And, I approved.

Though India has many flatbreads, both leavened and unleavened, naan is the favored bread for sopping up the many sauces used in Indian cooking, as well as for wrapping food, much like a tortilla.   In fact, naan is often eaten with a variety of dipping sauces as a full meal.  It’s name derives from the Persian word non, which refers to bread.

 The coolest thing about naan is how it’s cooked.   The dough is portioned into balls, flattened, and then plastered to the inside of a cylindrical clay oven, called a tandoor.  It looks much like an ancient water jug.   In the bottom of the tandoor is a charcoal or wood fire, a fire that can reach 900 degrees F.   

I saw bakers slap the dough to the tandoor sides with gloved (protected) and non-gloved (unprotected) hands.   The baker watches the baking dough and when the bubbles start to burn, he flips it out with a long rod.  Most often it is immediately brushed with ghee (akin to clarified butter), but naan can also be flavored with garlic, herbs, and/or various spices.

Lunch at the Spice Court.

Marigolds and rose petals welcome us.

Our group arriving at the Spice Court.


A pudding dessert.

My lunch plate.  Chicken, paneer tikka, rice, fries, and creamed veggies.   And then I went exploring...   And I found an open side door to the kitchen.

I remained outside the open door until the young man in green beckoned me in.

Preparing naan.

Fetching the baking naan from the tandoor.   These guys don't hold still long enough to get an in-focus shot.


 The naan bakers at the Spice Court.   While my friends were eating pudding and ice cream for dessert, I was filming this.

The guides and drivers were eating outside.  There was another group dining in the other side of the restaurant.  Note the large basket of naan on the table.

"What are you eating," I asked.   "Indian food," said Dinesh.   "Ah," I replied, "they left the spices out of our food and gave them all to you?"   "YES!"

Chicken is also roasted in a tandoor.   I have yet to figure out how they get those pieces of chicken to stick to the sides of the tandoor.  (That's a joke.   They use a grill or skewers.  I think.)

Tandoori chicken at the Indiana Restaurant.   Alas, while it tasted good, it was dry.

Nann is the angelic flatbread;  papadum is the evil flatbread.   Papadum is served prior to the main meal, much like Mexican restaurants have chips and salsa on the table.   

 At first glance, papadum appears to be a melted cheese sprinkled with paprika.  It is a deceit.  One bite of this crispy flatbread will leave the unsuspecting diner with cauterized taste buds as one of its main ingredients is red pepper and even more red pepper and add some more red pepper after that.

Papadum, made from any of a variety of flours, and more red pepper than is believable.   As hot as it is, it is irresistible.

Enjoy naan; beware of papadum

More photos of food in Jairpur.

That evening, we were on our own for dinner.   This is a frequent thing on tours.   It leaves the traveler free to explore dining possibilities other than buffets.

The guides said they would take anyone interested to a local restaurant in Jaipur called Indiana.   I kid you not.

The restaurant is named in honor of the owner's alma mater, Perdue University.

The evil papadum was on the table as an appetizer.

The entertainment was especially for us.

Strategically-placed braziers kept the area warm.

Playing the harmonium.

While my friends innocently watched the entertainment and before......

....they were lured into a group dance......I went exploring.

And found the Source of the Naan.

Had to use flash to get this photo because it was quite dark in the baking area, and it washed out the glowing coals.   Or perhaps those were chicken pieces that didn't stick to the walls of the tandoor.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 31, Turbans and Elephants and Amber Fort

Ch. 31, Amber Fort

Go! Go to Naples! Eat more pizza! Go to India, ride an elephant! Do it! Swim in the Indian Ocean. Read those books. Learn a language.—Elizabeth Gilbert

Today is the day we wear the turbans given to us by our guide Dinesh.   We are off to the Amber Fort, pronounced AM-ER, with the B silent.   On the other hand, Amber with the B is acceptable also.  

 We drive through the streets of Jaipur, watching as men and women prepare for the day.

We first see the fort from across Maoto Lake.   The coach drops us off and we join a long line of people waiting their turn to climb aboard an elephant for a ride to the palace gate.  I say “palace” because this is exactly what Amber Fort is—a fortified palace.

The elephants wait their turn for their passengers.   Animal rights activists successfully reduced the number of passengers to two instead of four, and the elephants are allowed to make only five trips a day.   Most have finished their allotted trips by 11 A.M., so they do not work in the heat of the day.   And, the elephants are allowed to walk at their own pace.

By the time the elephants have headed for home, the path up to the palace is well-littered with dung.

My Rajasthan turban makes me look like a washerwoman.  

This is the most uncomfortable ride ever and the reason is the way we're sitting.   As the elephant moves, we are thrown forward and back and it is natural for the body to fight this.   We sat on “chairs” astride elephants in Africa, so our movement was side to side, a more natural way to move.

I think about this for a while, remembering pictures of Indian maharajas sitting cross-legged on platforms on the elephants and wonder why we could not do that here.   Then I realize that many Indians, men and women both wear skirt-like garments which would make that impossible.

So, we lurch forward and backward up the long switchbacks to the palace, those movements making photos-in-focus almost impossible.   Even trying to go-with-the-flow doesn’t help much.  It’s a kick, nonetheless.

And look at that fort up on the mountain top!   There is an underground tunnel leading up there, an escape route for the royal family.

Jaipur, the largest city in the state of Rajasthan, is known as the pink city because in 1875 the Maharaja painted the entire city that color, a color traditionally associated with hospitalily, prior to a visit by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.   Even today the old city is pink—the residents compelled by law to maintain their buildings with pink paint.

Amber Fort takes its name not from its color, but from the town of Amer.  The fort is built of yellow and pink sandstone, and white marble.   It is a combination of Hindi and Muslim architecture and was built in 1592.

Once inside the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate), we are in the Jaleb Chowk (Main Courtyard).   This is where returning armies showed off their war booty, while the women of the palace watched through veiled windows, keeping their faces hidden as was the custom.

And then Dinesh turns us loose to explore.   


I wander into an open-air columned room and start to take a photo of the rows of columns.   Just as I push the shutter, a woman intentionally steps into the photo.  Oh, well, I think, and walk to the edge of the room and photograph the scene below me.

The woman sidles over.   She looks around, obviously making sure no one is watching, and indicates she will pose for photos for money.    She seems to be an employee as she has a broom in her hand.   I agree, not because I want a photo of her, but because she is being sneaky and raising money, probably illegally or against her employment terms.

The photo bomber.

And then I explored some more:

I love this photo!

Fires were built under this to heat water.