Without trying to stereotype a country or culture and its food it’s hard for most people not to associate India with curry and hot spicy sauces.
Very much in the same way as some view the UK as a nation of fish and chip eaters or perhaps the French with their snails and frogs legs or indeed the French view of us Brits as le rosbif!
However when you are asked to travel to a country like India and you can’t or don’t like eating spicy food what can you do to deal with it?
I have never ever subscribed to that macho approach to eating a chilli hot ‘Indian’ here in the UK and not to do so somehow it made you into a lesser man if you did not!
For me its just one of those tastes and flavours that does not agree with me or in fact my colon. My problem may not carry the same medical concerns as that of being a Celiac, lactose intolerant, peanut or indeed shellfish allergic.
However for all of the above for me I could happily plough through a prawn Mafe style dish from West Africa covered in a peanut sauce and go on to nibble bread and cheese to follow without any effect.
But when it comes to curry and chilli laced dishes my culinary journey ends there.
This is where for some reason other food intolerances or dislikes do not seem to gather notice or comment from other diners as this one does? Not wanting to eat curry somehow it does seem to open you up often for quizzing from other puzzled diners.
To miss a trip to India taking in Delhi, Agra and the unique colonial railway to Shimla was a good opportunity to find out a way of enjoying the adventure and still keep body and soul sustained.
NO SPICE MEANS NO SPICE
Getting the message to each restaurant or hotel on the itinerary was easy ‘No Spice’ was the massage on my food listing, however at times there were situations where comments from waiters were such as ‘this is very mild’!
However what is mild to one person in a place like India where a life-time of chilli consumption has dulled their taste senses and therefore blows the top of your mouth off as I found out on a few occasions where my British politeness to at least try came to the fore.
One example travelling by rail from Delhi to Kalka an innocuous looking omelet served for breakfast on the train looked like to best choice, the other being of course a curry dish.
One bite and for the next few minutes I was fully aware and awake as my mouth glowed like a blast furnace. Luckily for me accompanying the meal was a bowl of hot milk with cornflakes which suitably soon eased the effects.
In a land full of top hotels the reality is that many hotels and restaurants have a wide range of international menu options so finding a cuisine choice to suit was most likely and it certainly turned out to be the case.
CEREAL BACK UP
I did have back up just in case, cereal bars a plenty made it into my suitcase. Not wanting to be a burden to my hosts they were in reserve so I could have sneaked away quietly consumed a few bars if required. Acting almost as a person with an eating disorder where I was ducking away to eat rather than the reverse.
In the end and as I suspected I never had any concern and the many places I ate in India they all did come through with excellent alternatives for me.
One hotel did put together when they knew of my preferences a very tasty version of fish and chips, what was I saying about stereotypes?
Another hotel in Agra created a version of Nasi Goreng for my lunch, which is a special style of egg fried rice with vegetables prawn and chicken from Indonesia perfect choice by them for me, thank you!
The hotels, restaurants and especially the chefs did a great job in finding ways to work around the spice situation for me.
What I really want to put across is please do not put off or miss out on the amazing experience that travelling to India will give you! All because like me you just cannot eat or like hot chili style curry dishes.
Did I starve in India? Of course not!
Did I enjoy the trip? Damn right I did!
Have I grown to like curry and chilli? Sorry no!
But would it stop me from going again to India, no way!
Lastly did I get ‘Delhi Belly’? No, maybe some lesson there for others?
This week long brief exploration of India was organised and paid for by Great Rail Journeys (India’s Golden Triangle from £1995pp) with visits to Delhi, then Shimla using narrow gauge ‘Toy Train’ to the former summer capital of India also travelling to Agra and magnificent world heritage site of the Taj Mahal the full tour also includes two other places of interest.