I love India. And, as sad as this sounds, I love trains. I love an excuse to sit and read with no distractions and some nice scenery zipping past the window.
Arriving into Mumbai on Boxing Day 2010, me and my travel pal Jeff reached out for some relative tranquility and embarked on a mammoth 33-hour train journey down to the Nilgiri Mountains (also called the Blue Mountains), where the three states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala meet. This brings me to the focus of this post – not so much street food, but “train food.”
Conjuring images inspired by the film The Darjeeling Limited, I was sad to discover that there was no dining car on our state-owned Indian Railways train; rather, three hot (in both senses of the word) meals were brought to our carriage for a charge of approximately 35 rupees (about 50p) per feast. Arriving in a tin foil tray and with a plastic fork (for the benefit or us Westerners only, I presume), it was convenience food at its most delicious.
So, what’s on the menu?
Masala dosa – a very typical south Indian dish of fermented pancake made from rice or lentil batter stuffed with a mildly spicy onion potato filling, served with sambar, coconut chutney and a dry, red chilli chutney. If you can stomach spice in the early hours of the day (which, quite frankly you will have to if you are travelling in India), you’re eating like a local!
Look out for future posts on masala dosa – where to find them in India and London, and how to make them..!
Lunch and dinner
Thali – a choice of veg or “non-veg” curry, served with dahl, rice, a chapatti and pickles. Shovelling curry and chapatti into your mouth, washing it down with sweet cardamom chai and watching the world go by on your ultra-high-definition 103 inch TV screen (also known as the window)… my own personal bliss!
In order to quash any between-meal cravings and thirst, an abundance of chai, coffee, water and snack wallahs (vendors) hopped in and out of carriages when the trains stops at stations.
I will always remember the delight at hearing the sound of “coppeee coppeee coppeee” (that’s coffee to you and me), “cooool drinks” and “vadavadavadavadavada” (that is vadai – lentil snack) echoing down the train corridors….
- Don’t be put off by the long train journeys – you will experience sights, sounds and tastes you just wouldn’t on an aeroplane journey. And, especially at the beginning of a trip, it is a great chance to get acquainted with your Lonely Planet.
- Don’t be worried to buy meals from the Indian Railways pantry car – they are hot and fresh from the cooker; however, caution is required when buying from wallahs – we didn’t have any problems, but be sensible and don’t eat anything luke warm. Regular hand washing is a must, and constantly applying alcohol hand gel is a good idea.
- It is worth noting that alcohol is strictly prohibited on all Indian trains.
- Finally, don’t be too freaked out if someone grabs your ankle in the middle of the night thinking it is the bed post….