Tag Archives: street scenes

snacks and addictions

If you see red stains on the sidewalk in an Indian city, it’s likely they are selling paan nearby. This snack is the only nasty one I am going to write about, so I’m getting it out of the way first. People use it after the manner of chewing tobacco, after they roll some betel or areca nut (Areca catechu) and perhaps tobacco and some other flavors and ingredients into a paan leaf, which is also called a betel leaf (Piper betle) although the plant it comes from is an entirely different species .

I found lots of information online about how healthy the paan leaf is; it is related to kava, so maybe that’s true. But I’m afraid that doesn’t make the whole concoction any less toxic. “Paan (under a variety of names) is … consumed in many other Asian countries and elsewhere in the world by some Asian emigrants, with or without tobacco. It is an addictive and euphoria-inducing formulation with adverse health effects.”

Kate pointed out these paan preparers to me and that made me curious enough to read more about the whole thing. In some places paan is outlawed because the chewers often spit on the sidewalk and it makes an unsightly red mess. It is possible to find recipes in which the betel nut part is optional, so you could eat a non-toxic version if you’re interested. Let me know and I will ask Kate where she found it. 🙂

So, that’s usually a bad sort of snack to be in the habit of eating, but Indians are great snackers all around, and you are in luck if you are looking for something spicy and crunchy. There must be a hundred snacks in this category that I haven’t tasted, but I’ll tell you about a small sample.

This flaky stuff below, poha chivda, is the first such food I encountered. The main ingredient is rice made into crisp flakes about the size of regular rolled oats, to which other very spicy ingredients are added. I can’t personally eat it tidily other than with a spoon out of a cup, but I think it must commonly be eaten out of hand, too. I found a recipe for it which I am linking to just so you can see a better photo of this snack that I love. The main ingredient would no doubt be hard to find in the U.S.:

Bitter gourd is battered and deep fried to make a food that is even more fiery than the above. Eating a whole 2″ diameter ring of this snack keeps me warm for quite a while:

Outside the famous Mary Mount church at Bandra Fort is a snack stand that caters both to tourists and to church people who might need one thing or another as they go in to worship and/or come out hungry:

We came upon a coconut stand, and Tom bought a fresh coconut that was served with a straw. Then he was given a scoop made from a slice of the fruit, with which to scrape out the creamy pulp that was left after we drank the coconut water.

Another favorite of Tom’s is sev puri, which is sold at the same snack stands as pani puri which I mentioned before. I have eaten it two or three times, when we stop on the street and two or three of us stand at the counter and share one of these savory bowls. I know, it looks a mess, but you get to watch it be assembled from several ingredients that combine to deliver a flavor punch with crunch on top. Highly recommended!

The moong dal snack below was offered in our hotel room last week and I have no idea what it is like because I’m saving it for something or other:

So far, the store pictured below was my favorite food shopping experience, for the large variety of dried fruit, snacks and sweets available there. Here Kate and friend Krishna are trying to get the attention of the busy clerks:

And it was at this store that I was introduced to the amazing dried apricots, no bigger than 1 1/2″, with pits intact. The flavor is sunshine bright, and they make a nice little nibble.

It would be easy to become addicted — but I’m counting them as health food!

Walking in an Indian neighborhood.

When we drive anywhere in the city, I glue my eyes to the window to watch the thousands of people and motorcycles, street vendors and fruit stands, human life and business energies streaming past. But I like best just walking here and there in the neighborhood, where I can stop at least my own motion for a moment and take a picture of the little things  I notice.

On a stretch of road a block away, we passed the man who always sits on the pavement at the corner sorting greens. Passing so close beside him at work, not pausing enough to know for sure if some part of me is encroaching on the airspace above his small piles of spinach, I feel a kind of intimacy that forbids my becoming an outsider and looking on him as a curiosity.

You probably noticed that most of my pictures of women in their lovely saris and kurtas are from behind, because I am too shy to stop everything and everyone and ask to take their pictures. Last week I felt the boldness to ask rise up in me, and then quickly fade, when we passed three middle-aged women sitting and chatting in a row on chairs in front of a shop, facing the street, each in a different and brilliant sari.

Many of the streets and sidewalks are constructed of the same sort of interlocking pavers, which are often broken, but sometimes they all look intact, even if one or another is a little wonky. Twice I walked carefully around a puddle of water on the sidewalk only to step on a dry paver that turned out to have water seeping under it, which squirted out all over my sandal and foot. Who knows where that water came from? This is not the monsoon season, and it hasn’t rained in the month I’ve been here. Ick.

One has to watch out for and walk around dog poop, and the dogs themselves that often sleep in the middle of the sidewalk or street… and the woman collecting trash, whose bag might spill right in front of you.

In the heat of the summer I’m sure more businesses close for a spell midday, but this is winter,  and about noon we all four went walking to the nearby market area where you can buy nearly anything you want from one of the shops tucked in next to each other, often in the tiniest spaces, such as the place where Kate bought eggs, which were packed loose and uncushioned by anything in a packet that might be called a bag, taped together from the newspaper ad page.

When we were having a pani puri snack at a stand on one side of the street, Kate pointed out to me the man sharpening scissors by means of bicycle power on the other side. I caught his picture from a distance, squeezed in between street and sidewalk traffic on his stationary vehicle.

Tom was looking for some charcoal to use in grilling kebabs, and was directed down an alley to “the first place on the right.” So we went down there but there were no shops, and we turned back, only to realize that the charcoal seller had only a very vague and trashy area from which to do his business, but it worked fine. We teased Tom that he bought really a bit more charcoal than he needed just so he could get that most beautiful 5-kilo bag.

Tom was wearing Raj in the sling, and my, my, did he get stared at! Maybe some people didn’t know what bulgy thing he was carrying? But more likely they were disturbed at the example he was setting, in this land where fathers do not generally do child care.

I went shopping with Kate for a sari that she will wear to an Indian wedding in a few weeks. The shop was in the pretty yellow building shown in my last post, with scaffolding around it, also down an alley but not so sketchy looking. So elegant inside, with the beautiful fabrics and dresses and evening bags… But technologically lacking; their credit card machine would not take any of three cards we tried.

This gave me the opportunity to see some sights, as we walked a couple of blocks to an ATM for cash. While we waited for something else, we enjoyed visiting with the soft-spoken and articulate owner of the shop who told us that she would love to visit her relatives in California but her business prevented her. She asked Kate to clarify her response to the offer of a glass of water: “I’m okay.” We Americans are used to this phrase now, that means, “I’m okay as I am, I don’t want _____ that you are offering me.” But ”okay” is an affirmative answer in itself, so it’s confusing to people who aren’t familiar with the current manner of speaking. This led to a discussion of phrases I don’t think I’ve even heard, “Yeah, no,” and “No, yeah.” Really?

School kids in uniforms! We are likely to see lots of handsome children looking sharp in their various styles and colors of uniforms as they leave the school grounds or pile into rickshaws. Khaki, blue, plaid… The girls of one school wear deep purple dresses.

Walking home from church the other night we stopped at a flower stand to buy large white dahlias for about 30 cents each, and as we were standing there I looked up to see something unexpected: the moon! We aren’t often out at night, and the city lights and high-rises hide much of the sky… But there he was, my dear friend.