A Culinary Tour through India

Sorry these posts have been so delayed – we haven’t had strong enough internet to upload anything for the past week or so!

The past week or so has been filled to the brim with academic and cultural activities. I knew that we liked to fill the day with different activities, but I forgot just how exhausting it can be to get back to our hotel room at 8 or 9 PM and immediately pass out, only to repeat the exhaustion the next day. That being said, I am so grateful to Professor Ganguly for wanting to fill each day because we really get the absolute best experience in India that we can.

After our extremely full day at Elephanta and Dharavi, it was nice to have a day out of the heat the next day. We started the day with a full academic session with four professors from IIT Bombay lecturing on topics such as monsoons, development and energy, urban planning and compact cities, and solar energy. Even though it turned into a much longer academic session than we had anticipated, all of the topics were interesting and relevant to the course, and the professors are some of the best in their fields. 

After their talks, our original plan was to visit the Mithi River, which runs from Sanjay Gupta National Park through Mumbai before flowing into the Arabian Sea. The river has been neglected by the Indian government and thus, is now extremely polluted. We wanted to visit the source of the river in the national park and see it in its pristine condition before following it through the city to watch how polluted it becomes. Unfortunately, it seems that the Mithi River is not the most popular tourist destination and we had some trouble finding where to enter the park to see the river. Because it was late in the day and the traffic was very heavy, it would have taken us a couple more hours to drive around the park to find the river and we decided to scrap our plans for the afternoon.

On the way back from the park, we stopped at Powai Lake and had a very pleasant evening lakeside, eating corn and searching the waters for a sight of the famed alligators who live in the lake (no such luck though!). The corn that is grilled on the street is one of my favorite street foods, especially when chili salt is rubbed on it (instead of butter like we would do with corn on the cob). The best part? It only costs 10 rupees! (Exchange rate is 65 rupees to 1 US dollar)

Tavish and I enjoying the view at Powai Lake in Mumbai


At the end of our first week, we moved hotels to be more in the center of Powai, which means we are much closer to restaurants and shopping for when we have lunch/dinner breaks and/or some free time. We stayed in this area last year and I will always have a fond memory of it (and a scar on my face from the time I got very sick and accidentally crashed into a wall in the hotel – no sickness yet, fingers crossed we stay healthy!). 

We started off at our new hotel with an incredible cultural and food-filled day. One of Dr. Ganguly’s friends from school is a famous chef in India and put together a culinary experience for us. He also got four up-and-coming Hindustani musicians to come and play for us. They gave us a visual tour through India and described some of the traditional folk music from each region. They played songs from each region and showed us some of the common traditional instruments, and then let us try some of them! The traditional songs they played reminded me a lot of some of the traditional Jewish (especially Sephardic Jewish) songs and prayers that we sing at temple – all were very beautiful!

Our group of Northeastern students and the musicians who joined us


After the musical experience, we began the culinary experience. The chef had prepared a five-course dinner for us that we ate at certain points during his talk. He started the experience with early Indus Valley civilization and described what was going on in history then as well as what kinds of food people ate during that time. We then ate the first course which included grains and paneer (a common type of cheese, like cottage cheese, in India) and a delicious sauce. It was the best course we ate that night! We then traveled through Indian history from then to the present, eating four more courses along the way. The whole experience took about 4 hours, but it was definitely worth it. The food was amazing and the history lesson was very cool – I have never seen the combination of the two in quite the same way before. 

We finished off our time in Mumbai by spending more time discussing the Mithi River with the organization that works to protect and preserve the river. We found out that we would not be able to see the river in its pristine state, like we had tried a few days before, because there has not been much rain this year so far and the river is barely flowing. We were able to see it by Dharavi Slum, where it was very dirty and full of sludge. We were able to spend more time in Colaba, the older part of Mumbai, that day as well, which began with coconuts on the side of the road and ended with a delicious lunch at Leopold Cafe – a great week spent in Mumbai!

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