Food

The traditional cuisine
Indian cuisine has its regional characteristics with specialities distinct to every state. Overall the Indian cuisine is known for its variety, its legendary wealth of spices and the great importance given to vegetarian food. Hindus, constituting 80% of the population, are traditionally vegetarian. In spite of the fact that not everyone is so strict any more, meat is still an exception on the menu. Beef is taboo since cows are considered sacred in India. Pork is perceived as unclean by Hindus and particularly so by Muslims. The meat of choice is generally chicken, but vegetarian dishes always take prominence. Around half the Hindu population is strictly vegetarian.
Rice, roti/naan (a type of pita bread), lentil soup (dal) are never absent at a midday meal. Along with that come various vegetables, often fried in dough (pakodas). Paneer, a type of cottage cheese, is also very popular. The dishes are well spiced and sometimes too spicy for many Westerners. Typical ingredients are pepper, cardamom, chilli, cumin, cloves, bay leaves, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, curry leaves and black mustard.
Restaurants 
Most restaurants offer vegetarian cuisine. Where meat is served a huge board states: “Non-Vegetarian Restaurant”. Get someone to recommend a good restaurant in line with your standards of hygiene, or take a peek into the kitchen – lack of cleanliness is often a big problem.
Many restaurants serve traditional Indian, Chinese and continental food.? Chinese is very popular in India, but is not authentic Chinese, rather an Indian adaptation of Chinese noodle dishes. Continental food is recommended for Europeans who cannot stomach strongly spiced Indian food. One can have vegetables in butter and French fries.
Here is a small guide to the Indian menu: roti/naan = pita bread, paneer= a type of cottage cheese,? palak=spinach, alu=potato, bhindi=okra, mutter=peas, dosa= a roll of fried dough with potato filling.

Drinks
Normal restaurants are not permitted to serve alcohol. It can be found only in the restaurants of large hotels or in so called ‘Permit Rooms’. Have drinks preferably served to you in the bottle with a straw. Glasses are often not washed or rinsed properly.
“Lassi”, a drink made out of yogurt or buttermilk which is often mixed with fruits such as mangoes is very popular in India. A nimbu-pani – soda with lemon squeezed in it – is very refreshing. However, be careful with juices. The fruits and especially the fruit presses are not sufficiently clean, making it very easy to pick up a gastrointestinal infection.
The most dangerous is sugar cane juice. The juice pressed from the sugar cane and mixed with lemon and ice cubes is a great experience for the taste buds, but for which one would have to pay a huge price under the circumstances. The sugarcane press is a breeding ground for bacteria and the ice used is generally made from tap water and transported under unhygienic conditions. The risk of n stomach upset or of contracting jaundice is very high. An absolute No-No!
You can enjoy fresh coconut water without concern. Coconuts are sold all over and opened in front of your eyes with a knife. One drinks the water with a straw.

Eating habits
Traditionally one eats with the fingers in India although the use of cutlery is now common. Eating with the fingers is done only with the right hand. The left hand is considered unclean in India and is used for washing in the toilette. Never touch food with the yucky hand! Left handers are viewed in India as odd.
One generally eats out of a thali in India – a large round metal plate with a high rim, actually very practical and almost indestructible. Traditionally, especially in South India, one also eats off a banana leaf. The soiled leafs are later fed to the cows, saving on the washing up and on water! A fantastic solution!

Cooking for oneself
If you live in Pune and wish to do your own cooking, you could put together your own menu. There is a wide choice of vegetables and fruit. Zucchini and chicory are hard to come by and are unknown in India. The choice of fruit depends on the season – grapes, melons are to be had in February and March, mangos from May to July, papayas, coconuts and bananas are available the year round. Apples are mostly imported.
In certain stores one can find imported groceries like olives, olive oil, Italian spaghetti, pickled gherkins, sausages and much more. There is hardly anything that one cannot get; one just has to know where to go.
Many middle class Indians have cooks. A cook would not cost more than Euro 50 a month. But it is not always easy to find a suitable person especially for a foreigner who is not familiar with the language. Communication problems are bound to occur.
Cooking in India is done on gas, among the poorer sections kerosene stoves are common. Electric stoves are practically unheard of. Since Pune is prone to regular electricity cuts this is can be counted as a great advantage as you do not have to depend on the erratic supply. Every household owns a gas cylinder which is attached to a gas burner. One cylinder lasts on an average for a month or two depending on how much one cooks. Then the cylinder has to be exchanged which costs around 5 Euro. In order to get a gas cylinder you need to register with one of the large gas suppliers in your neighbourhood – like Bharatgas, for example.

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