Wednesday, February 12, 2014

India: Part IV - Jaipur and fish curry

After Ranthambore and its tiger, off we went to Jaipur. I'd dreamt about this city and its forts, crafts, and food. While living in Trinidad & Tobago, one of my favorite places was House of Jaipur, an oasis where I used to escape to sip a cup of Masala Chai and admire the gorgeous crafts for sale. 

We had the misfortune of having a driver who got lost getting to Jaipur. A 2.5-hour ride turned into a 5 hour nauseating headache. Part of this vehicular catastrophe included an unsolicited and unexpected trip through some of Jaipur's (I'll be honest here) ugliest and dirtiest back streets. Pigs wallowed in putrid water that ran along thin canals at the foot of homes and businesses, trash mounds were everywhere and trash cans were nowhere. People urinated, spat, and blew their noses every which way; and ate in the same ways. I have to admit that my anthropological open-mindedness went out the window and melted away in one of the disgusting canals. I was feeling green and I needed to see something beautiful and forget that I was holding a small bottle of hand sanitizer up to my nose to cover the revolting stench that inundated the car. 

Samode Haveli, Jaipur
We finally arrived at the right place to escape these scenes of some people's reality. We arrived in Samode Haveli, a beautiful hotel that used to be a Maharaja's home, no, palace. I thanked my lucky stars that we could afford to stay in a lovely hotel with a clean bed and a hot shower. After I recovered from the nausea and car sickness, I put my anthropologist hat on again and thought about how interesting that detour through Jaipur had been. I thought about how I saw small children walk arm in arm on their way home from school in an endearing way I haven't seen in many other places. I noticed that so much of Indian daily life takes place outdoors, for the world to see. Haircuts and shaves, a game of cards, fixing a radio, feeding a child, drinking tea, having a conversation, washing a shirt, eating a dosa, and watching the view. These lives take place in a fish bowl and are an absolute contrast to the private lives we live in America behind closed doors. Even though it was an attack on the senses, I'm glad I had the opportunity to see that corner of Indian reality. A fish curry dinner (*see recipe below) and drinks by the pool at the hotel did the trick, and we slept soundly in our privileged four-poster bed.
Samode Haveli, Jaipur

The next day, we visited stunning Amber Fort, Jaipur's Great Wall of China, and Elephant Village, where we painted and rode an elephant in a protected environment where families receive subsidies to care for elephants in exchange for a home. Images of the previous day's nastiness forgotten, we were once again on the way to enjoying the loveliness of India, but still silenced by her contrasts.
Amber Fort, Jaipur


Fish Curry

I was invited to a friend's home to hang out with her personal cook for an afternoon. This is his delicious fish curry recipe, an epitome of Delhi home-cooking.

Grating coconut


2.2 lbs (1kg) fish with firm, white flesh, such as Rohu
3 or 4 curry leaves
vegetable oil
1 tbsp garlic paste
4 tbsp mustard seeds (yellow and black) - ground in water to make mustard seed paste
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground red chili
2 pureed tomatoes
1 cup water
1 spicy green chili
4 small cubes potatoes
1 grated coconut (blended with 1/2 cup water) to create coconut milk

Marinate fish strips in turmeric and sauté in 1 tbsp vegetable oil and set aside. In a separate sauté pan, fry curry leaves in 1 tbsp vegetable oil and add garlic paste. Add 1/2 tbsp of mustard seed paste and 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp red chili, and pureed tomatoes. Sauté until all elements are cooked through, then add 1/2 cup of water. Let cook throughly.
Green chili
Frying curry leaves

Fish curry
Add 1/2 cup water to the curry sauce to liquify, then add fish that was marinating separately. Halve the spicy green chili and remove its seeds. Chop and add the green chili to the mixture, as well as potatoes and the milk of the grated coconut.