Asia Destinations India

Chole Without Piaz and Other Acts of Culinary Sacrilege in India

Delicious Chole Puri. Notice the large onions in the middle.
Delicious Chole. Notice the large chunks of onions.

Delicious Chole. Notice the large chunks of onions.

We ate A LOT of fabulous food in India — from panch paani gol gappe to those fabulous alu ki tikki burgers that the street stall guy served up just outside of the Golden Temple. (And sadly, I can’t get more specific than that — when I asked him what the stall was called, he said, ‘my stall.’ Truly.)

But here and there, now and again, we did run into some trouble. No, not tummy trouble — we managed to make it through our six-month trip relatively unscathed. (Except for that one time I managed to attract a parasite. That was freaky.) Having grown up consuming down-home Punjabi food, Navdeep and I have a very particular take on what Indian cuisine is. That perspective was definitely expanded during our Indian adventure — usually for the better, like the Momos in McCloud Ganj and the mustard-spiced fish in Kolkata, the 18-dish veggie thalis in Veraval and the Goan-spiced pomfret in Panaji.

Occasionally, though, we were in for a surprise — and startlingly unpleasant. A day after we climbed the steep steps of Vaishno Devi, collapsing on our beds, we rejoiced in nabbing a plate of piping hot chole bature from this awesome little joint in Katra, at the base of Vaishno Devi. The puffy bread and chatpata chole were just what we needed the day after our trek. We’d earned the rich, caloric and utterly delicious meal. We’d forgotten, in our ravenous reverie, that Katra was a religious center, so all of the food in the area is what they’ve dubbed “pure vegetarian” — meaning it’s even made without onion and garlic. That’s right, chole bhature without the piaz. Sacrilege! It was utter insanity, and I will never forget it. The horror.

Then there’s the time we were making a mad dash to grab our train from Ahmedabad. I figured it was now or never with the food situation — there were times we slept on empty stomachs as we roared from region into the next. So I ran up to the nearest food stall, looking for something portable and tasty. And lo and behold: kachoris. Our go-to snack – fried and crispy on the outside like a tiny bhatura, usually stuffed with dal and lots of delicious spices. While nothing beats a Punjabi kachori, we’ve come to enjoy the variations of kachoris from Rajasthan with their onion kachoris to Calcutta’s spicy ones stuffed with peas. But we were in for a major surprise with Gujarati kachoris. The handful I quickly picked up at the railway station, the vendor assured me, were dal-stuffed and delicious. I grabbed the paperbag that quickly started soaking through with grease, a joyful sign, and ran through the crowds to get onto the train, where Navdeep was waiting and chatting away.

As we chugga-chuggaed along, I pondered my grease-soaked bag of kachoris, breathing in their savory scent. Then we each took a big bite of one of the little kachoris. Immediately, I grimaced, spitting the bite back into the bag. Like many things in Gujurat, these kachoris — one of the bastions of Punjabi snack foods — had been laced with gur. Brown sugar. Yes, they were sweet. Bah! As famished as we were, we just couldn’t do it. Give us a thali and we’ll happily lick that plate clean, but sweet Kachoris? Inconceivable. Disgusted, I offered the bag to our traveling companion, who happily munched them down with the whiskey he’d brought along, as Navdeep and I sat, empty stomachs, through a long night of travel ahead.

What are some of your on-the-road snack mishaps? 

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