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SCD & India: From Elephanta Caves to Goa Beaches

March 25, 2014

This winter we spent the end of the year in India. For me, that means that my daughter and wife leave for a week before I do, so that they can prepare for my SCD arrival! (No, not really, they go so they can get some extra time in with the maternal side of the family...)

After negotiating two air flights with a pit-stop to stretch legs in London for a few hours, I arrived in Mumbai rather bedraggled but happy to enter the 75 degree weather difference. I had been accompanied (under my seat) with a packed lunch-bag containing numerous SCD snacks, sandwiches, a chicken entree, some stir-fry vegetables, and of course, fresh fruit and nuts. These items ensured that I made it through each flight with enough to eat.

At my wife's childhood home, the scents of spices and other local vegetables rose up to greet me. Rule #1: Have a home base from which one can launch off to other destinations. Without this, it would be very hard to have someone help me prepare SCD breads or bake some SCD cookies for me to snack on as I traverse Bombay traffic jams or take day trips out of the city.

For this particular visit, we managed to pack almond flour from Trader Joes in our bags and get it through security and baggage screening. This made it easier to bake with, rather than trying to hunt down almond meal in Mumbai, or grind the almond flour from whole almonds (which does not yield the same consistency). We were able to make cinnamon and ginger cookies, and savory breads. While my wife and daughter dug into homemade chapati's, poori's, and other traditional breads, I was able to enjoy fresh local (pomfret) fish, shrimps, roasted chicken with vegetables, and many other vegetarian preparations such as cauliflower with peas, string beans cooked gujurati-style, and other daily delicacies.

One of our day trips out of Bombay involved riding a 1-hour ferry to historical caves called Elephanta caves, that are rock-cut caves dating back many centuries. As we entered this small island off Bombay, we were warned about not taking any food out of our backpacks - as local monkeys would grab them! Since I was carrying SCD lunch and treats for myself, I held on to my bag with force. My wife, however, decided to take a snack out for our daughter, and promptly this male monkey was by her side trying to antagonize her and grab it away. Luckily, some local shop-vendors helped us shoo them off.

In the heat of the sun, all the roadside snacks started to look delicious and appealing. As a foreigner and someone who did not grow up in India, follow Rule #2: do not to eat roadside snacks, especially those that might involve raw foods, or having been cleansed in (unknown sources of) water. The one item I did end up eating was roasted peanuts, which seemed fairly safe as they were on a small charcoal fire and being kept fresh. A decade ago, when we travelled through Rajasthan and Northern India, a rule of thumb was to try and eat items that were cooked as much as possible - egg/omelets were always a safe option, as were fresh meat kebabs or other grilled preparations. The items to stay away from are definitely salads in local dives, or fresh gleaming cukes sprinkled with salt and chili powder. Two years ago, I made the mistake of eating one of these, and definitely paid the price for that roadside snack.

Traveling with one who follows SCD and also a 5-year old can prove challenging, so when we went to Goa for a few days, we decided to go to a kid-friendly family resort. For 4 days we enjoyed swimming, beaching, and I was able to eat fresh seafood every night customized to my SCD needs. They even went so far as to bring me dessert options (mainly fresh fruit) so that I would not feel left out. Rule #3: Try to visit and stay in places where one knows the quality of food is unquestionably high/safe.

Having made it there and back safely and with a secure gut atleast 8 times over the past fifteen years, I can say that in my experience it is an incredible country to travel within and the food and flavors change so much as you go from one end of the country to another (contrary to Indian restaurants peddling the same kind of food in the Western world). Although I gew up with one Indian parent (my dad is from North India) we primarily were in touch with my Italian-American mom's side who we lived close to. Unlike some other first generation children, I did not spend time going to India while growing up, so these later years of travel have made me appreciate the flexibility (IST - indian standard time - 1-2 hour delay of arrival to a dinner party), the warmth (I am married to one of them!), and the willingness of people to participate in anything (a crowd can materialize at a moments notice in event of one car scratching another in very slow moving traffic to proclaim who's right or wrong).

image 1 Elephanta Caves, Goa Beach Dining, Mumbai Family Meal