I’ve spent three days in Jodhpur trying to find a decent meal. I was going to eat in the restaurant of the guest house I’m staying in but the menu showed me that it was all vegetarian. I’m a confirmed meat-eater but I’ve nothing against vegetarians or vegetarianism per se (I lived with one for ten years before it became fashionable) although I think vegans are a bore and I wholeheartedly concur with this quote from the Guardian Newspaper.
The Vegan Society’s formal definition may be that ‘veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose,’ but what we hear is ‘veganism is a way of life that ruthlessly excludes anyone who enjoys milk in their tea and will joylessly judge every element of your life until you give in and start wearing hemp’.
My only experience so far of what is offered in vegetarian restaurants in India, at least the affordable ones, are various pulses and overcooked veg swimming in sauce, nothing al dente about them. In one restaurant in New Delhi I had the ‘special’, a metal tray with five shallow compartments, one filled with brown rice, another with light brown lentil slop, a third of a greenish sludge, a fourth consisting of a dark brown beany mulch, and the fifth, a coagulated something that looked no more appetising than its companions, which is to say, not at all.
For three days I searched the streets around my hotel in Jodphur old city for a basic restaurant, somewhere I could sink my teeth into something. Nothing, not-a-thing, not even vegetarian.
The food offer is split into localities; there were plenty of places selling spicy fried stuff – samosas, onion pakoras and chillies in crisp batter et al – in one area, and in another all that could be had was sweetmeats – jalebi, dough fried in a coil shape dipped in sugar syrup, imarti, a similar confection of sugar syrup and lentil flour, and laddu, balls of coconut, sugar syrup and cardamom seeming to be the favourites. All very nice, I suppose, but I had to cover a fair bit of ground to put a meal together. But in hours of walking I didn’t see a single restaurant I could sit down in and have a good old scoff, other than a small pizzeria that only sold – wait for it – vegetarian pizzas.
Dinner on my first night consisted of two samosas, a small handful of pakoras and a couple of powerful fried chillies. Cheap and tasty at fifty rupees, I admit, but I didn’t want them to become a habit.
The next evening, after a fruitless search for something resembling meat, I decided to eat at my guest house, so waded through a menu of ‘smooth rich sauces’ and ‘carefully spiced’ dishes that didn’t mean a thing to me. I plumped for the hotel’s recommendation, narratan korma, ‘fresh vegetables, cottage cheese and nuts, simmered in a velvet gravy’. What arrived was a small bowl of something that looked like a Russian salad, spooned like a varicoloured porridge and tasted of nothing at all other than a mildly cheesy mush, for which I was charged 300 rupees, plus 50 for a nan bread (about £3.60 all in).
The guest house, The Blue House is run by a Jain family and as such conforms to the strictures of their beliefs. I quote from their publicity material.
A real 550 years-old unique restored haveli. Provide you real fresh delicious real Indian/Rajasthani food in a cozy romantic environments. This place run on the basis of Jain religious. It means we don’t provide any non-veg. egg or alcohol product in our premises, we can only promise you for real fresh healthy breakfast/lunch/candle light dinner our staff will treat you like part of the place our aim to give you real taste of India. Please note outside thing is strictly prohibited.’
Personally, I’d take exception to their idea of ‘cozy romantic environments’ given the clanking of the overhead fan in my room and the single-bed sized sheet for the double bed I’d booked – although I suppose it would have required a certain amount of closeness if a couple had shared the bed.
Despite the guest house’s religious prohibitions, I was offered a can of beer at an extortionately inflated price, possibly to compensate for them having to overlook their strict beliefs, and I saw a trio of French guests devour a bunch of bananas and a half-dozen oranges, all brought to the table in paper bags, and another French trio polish off a half-dozen litre bottles of Kingfisher beer taken from a plastic bag on the floor right under the watchful eyes of the manageress. (But there again, the French are like that.) So much for the ‘outside thing is strictly prohibited’. At least I’d had the decency to smuggle my bottles into my room in a shoulder bag.
Finally, the night before I’m due to leave Jodphur, I found something fit for an omnivore near the railway station, the strangely named Chicken Home, a disgustingly grubby hole-in-the-wall with old oil decorating the walls and red-tiled tables that the waiter, a surely child of about thirteen, wiped over with a cloth that left more streaks than it removed. I ordered mutton curry, deep fried chicken, garlic dahl, pilau rice and a flurry of side dishes to make up for the four days lack of proper sustenance I’d endured – and wallowed in it all, wiping the plates and bowls clean with chunks of garlic paratha. I was prepared for the Delhi Belly to come and didn’t give a monkey’s. I’d gorged myself on proper food and allowed myself a self-satisfied sneer at those vegetarians and vegans who would never know the splendour of lamb fat slithering down the gullet or the sheer delight of sucking the marrowfat from bones. And the stomach gurgles never showed their face.
How I wished my food in India had looked – but didn’t