The Udaipur 2015 Burning Mouth Tour

This year I noticed more than ever how difficult it is for me to find restaurants in Udaipur where they understand the phrase “no peppers.” If it burns, I can’t eat it. If you’re a foreigner, be assured when a waiter tells you a dish is “mild,” it means mild by Indian standards. It doesn’t mean it won’t burn. Keep in mind the average Indian is capable of eating red glowing hot coals with no problem whatsoever.

The first place we went to for lunch was Hukam, where I’d never been before. The waiter was told in Hindi by my friends that I couldn’t tolerate peppers. IN HINDI, so there’d be no misunderstanding. I asked about their butter chicken, which in most places I’ve been to is a mild — meaning, non-burning — dish. I was assured it was mild. The first bite was good, but I’ve learned that the spices can sneak up on you. Sometimes it takes 30 or 40 seconds before the burn begins. After the second bite, my mouth was on fire. I ended up having only naan and water for lunch.

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Chicken wajid ali at the Savage Garden.

One place I can rely on is Savage Garden. I’ve eaten there at least four times and haven’t managed to get beyond the chicken wajid ali. It’s that good. The chicken has a crunchy crust, served with a sauce with currants and flavored with cinnamon and possibly cloves and maybe a touch of honey. Rice and carrots on the side. Heaven.

The next new place we tried was Kabab Mistri, the rooftop restaurant at the Jaisingh Garh Hotel. It had gotten rave reviews on Trip Advisor, but I’d failed to notice that all the rave reviews were written by Indians. See remark about being able to eat glowing hot coals in paragraph 1.

Nirmal explained to our waiter in Hindi that I couldn’t tolerate any spicy dishes. The waiter suggested a chicken dish. I ordered that, butter naan and a chicken and almond soup. Bharti ordered a dish which I forgot the name. It was like muttar paneer only without the peas: cheese cubes in a heavy, creamy tomato gravy. It was also supposed to be mild.

A little while later, the waiter put some sauces on the table for dipping the pappadums. Instead of letting me dip the pappadums into the sauces, he put some of the garlic sauce and the green sauce on my plate. The garlic (red) sauce burned immediately. The green sauce was too sour. For an Indian palate, these sauces were fine. Just not fine for me. I also didn’t like having these blobs of sauce on my plate, which would get mixed in with the entree I’d ordered.

The chicken was stealth spicy. At the first bite, I mostly tasted garlic, and it wasn’t the pleasant garlic like a garlic bread garlic. It was so garlicky, it was slightly sour. Then I noticed the burning. I ate a small amount, then had to try something else. The paneer dish had a lovely gravy, but even the so called mild version was also making my mouth burn. The guys passed their portions of butter naan to my plate so I’d have more to eat, since I couldn’t enjoy the entrees.

The soup also wasn’t good. It was described as a chicken and almond soup, but there were only tiny slivers of each at the bottom of the broth. Although there’s no way it was possible, it tasted like a cup of beef broth with a little pepper and not much salt. Blah!

The waiter asked if I wanted something else. I’d eaten enough bread by then, so I wasn’t that hungry. He was trying to please me, so he offered to bring me a couple more pieces of chicken, specially prepared without any spices. I said ok. Unfortunately, even without the chili, the chicken was so overpoweringly garlicky and sour that it just wasn’t good.

One restaurant where the cook understood the phrase “no peppers, no chilies” was Upre. I went for the fabulous view but took a chance and ordered rogan josh. It came with no peppers, as promised! It was very flavorful and had plenty of spices, just nothing that burned. Really delicious.

Even Raj Bagh, a restaurant I like very much at the edge of Fateh Sagar lake, couldn’t make my chicken dish without pepper as instructed. I could only eat naan and French fries.

We went to Paradise, a crappy garden restaurant near Nirmal’s house. He said they had a chicken dish with white sauce I was sure to love. The night we went, the cook had gone to a funeral. The stand-in cook, who was given instructions in Hindi to make my dish without peppers, was confused. What’s so confusing? Make it the way you normally do, just no peppers. He made it with no flavoring of any kind, just salt. The service was terrible, the place was loaded with mosquitos and the food was awful. But it did not burn.

Several times I had to resort to chicken chow mein at my hotel, specially prepared without chilies, and we went to Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s a few times because the Udaipur cooks can’t wrap their heads around not loading up everything with cayenne pepper. Hey, I can’t tolerate the burn. Don’t judge me.