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.




Chocolate Facial


The day before I was to return to the States was a foodie sort of day. We had kichiri for lunch at the Island Tower. Kichiri is made with broken rice, which is less expensive. It has a good amount of haldi (turmeric), which you can see by the bright yellow color, a little cayenne and some bay leaves. There were also a little bit of diced vegetables, whatever was handy. We had had kichiri for lunch many times. It was tasty and fast to make with the pressure cooker.


Rafiq, me, Pushker and Nirmal. Behind us are Popsa, the Island Tower
cook, and Chotu, the errand runner.

In the evening the guys threw a little party for me, which included a chocolate cake! What a lovely surprise!


Love professed on a chocolate cake from Rafiq, Nirmal and Pushker. Having downed a cosmopolitan or two, I’m lucky I remembered to stop and snap a photo before I cut it!


Aw, how cute! They’re feeding it to me!


Pushker is really into this!


Dinner is served! Daal, rice, chapatti, carrots and chutney.


Last, but not least, tandoori chicken.

We — or rather I — had had only a little cake before dinner, just enough for the photos. After polishing off the daal, chapatti and chicken, the cake was brought back to the table…


and Nirmal proceeded to smear my face with chocolate frosting! Funny, but a waste of good frosting, if you ask me.


This photo is typical of how we are together:  laughing, crazy and most of all, enjoying being together.



We enjoyed ourselves immensely, but there was underneath it all a small twinge of sadness, knowing that the next day I would be leaving.

Meena’s Cooking

Meena is an excellent cook. She prepared a number of tasty dishes during my stay. The Baliyani family is vegetarian. They eat dairy products but no eggs.

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Aloo gobi and roti.

Aloo is potato; gobi is cauliflower. Roti is an  unleavened wheat bread.

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The aloo gobi was delicious!

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Daal (lentil soup) and rice with a lump of butter, which Meena also makes herself. They have a buffalo which produces milk, and Meena has an electric butter churner.

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Channa masala and saag paneer.

My birthday dinner was so good! Channa is Hindi for chickpeas. Masala means spices. Meena knew I couldn’t handle chili peppers, and she spiced everything appropriately. It had many spices in it, just nothing that burned. Saag is spinach, paneer is cheese. Indian cheese typically does not melt easily the way mozzarella does. It’s closer to cottage cheese but has the consistency of tofu.

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Meena’s poori is so good! Poori is a puffed bread with a delicate dusting of sugar so there’s only a hint of sweetness. After the dough is rolled, she drops it directly onto the embers and it puffs up.

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Gobi paranthas, soon to be demolished.

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Biryani, a rice dish with lentils and beans, with melted butter on the side.

Meena’s Kitchen

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Meena’s kitchen, the only room so far on the second floor, is very basic.

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There are no countertops or tables for food prep. She has a two-burner propane stovetop, but it’s hard to get a replacement propane tank to the house so she cooks over a wood fire most of the time. The black pot over the fire is for heating water for bathing and washing dishes.

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There are no cabinets, just shelves. Priya has added her artistic touch to the papers lining the shelves.

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Meena cooks everything from scratch. No canned or frozen food. She has no freezer. Canned food isn’t readily available in this area. Even if it was, it would be too expensive. Here she separates hulls from chickpeas.

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Mincing cauliflower.

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Rolling the dough for paranthas.

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A parantha is similar in appearance to a stuffed tortilla. The minced cauliflower with herbs and spices is added on top of the first layer of dough as a filling. A second layer of dough is rolled to cover the filling, and the edges are pinched to seal it inside. Then it is put on the tawa, an Indian griddle, for cooking.

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Meena flips over the parantha on the tawa without a spatula.

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Meena gets the fire going again by blowing on the embers through a bamboo tube.

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Meena’s food processor.

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There’s no sink in Meena’s kitchen, just a corner of the room with a drainhole. No plumbing, either. They carry in water from the tank just outside.