Karl Rock's Blog

India Travel Safety & Advice plus the Best of Incredible India

Author: Karl Rock Page 9 of 14

Indian Food. Photo by SteFou!

Auckland: The Authentic Indian Food Guide

Before I moved to India, I spent years discovering the best Indian food at home in Auckland, New Zealand. Now that I’ve spent over a year eating all around India, I can tell you exactly which restaurants serve authentic Indian food and which serve unauthentic but still great food.

Clearly from the list below Sandringham is the place to eat the best Indian food. That’s because Sandringham has become a little India, probably because of the large Hindu temple there. The fragrant incense burning in the shops makes Sandringham smell a bit like India too. Start exploring Indian food in this city fringe suburb!

For Something Authentic

Paradise, Sandringham – Hyderabadi Cuisine

Different types of BBQ'd chicken skewers in India. Photo by Travis Wise.

Different types of BBQ’d chicken skewers in India. Photo by Travis Wise.

If there’s one place you should visit, it’s Paradise. There’s a reason why there are queues outside both their restaurant and takeaway shops most nights. It’s simply the best Indian food at reasonable prices in Auckland. They specialise in Hyderabadi food, but they still serve a great Butter Chicken that’s available in Kiwi or Indian style.

Hyderabad is the capital of the newly formed Telangana state, previously it was part of Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabadi cuisine is influenced by Muslim cooking and therefore famous for its varieties of spicy meat curries, BBQ’d skewers and biryanis. Muslims really know how to cook flavour packed meat!

For an authentic Hyderabadi experience order: Chicken or Mutton Dum Biryani, a BBQ’d chicken dish such as Chicken 65 or the much hotter Harab Hara Chicken, along with the hard to find delicacy, Haleem (a spicy meat stew, available weekends only). If you’re not feeling adventurous enough to try Haleem, go for a Butter Chicken (Indian style) – it’s as close to Butter Chicken in India as I can find.

Other must-try dishes are Tandoori Chicken, Onion Pakora, Lollypop Chicken, Chilly Prawns, and Fried Fish which you’ll see hanging in the kitchen window as you enter.

If fall in love with Haleem as I did, the nearby Hyderabadi Kitchen in Mt Roskill is the only other restaurant in New Zealand which serves it. It’s worth a visit too.

Haleem from Hyderabadi Kitchen. Photo © Karl Rock.

Haleem and Paya from Hyderabadi Kitchen. Photo © Karl Rock.

Jai Jalaram Khaman, Blockhouse Bay – Indian Street Food

My all time favourite, Dahi Puri. Photo © Karl Rock.

My all time favourite, Dahi Puri from JJK. Photo © Karl Rock.

JJK, as it’s known, has been around forever. It’s owner-operated home cooked Indian food. I started going there over 10 years ago when a Parsi friend of mine took me there for Chaat (Indian sweet and spicy street food). Back then I was just after the perfect Dahi Puri which JJK delivers. But then I started eating my way through their menu of Mumbai street foods.

What JJK lacks in atmosphere and decor it makes up for in flavour. They have a minimal menu which I always admire about a restaurant because it usually means they focus on a few things and do them well. Unlike the bulk of Indian restaurants who try to pack every dish from the bottom to the top of India in their menu.

Start with Dahi Puri and Pani Puri then finish off with either a Dabeli (a Gujarati veg burger) or their spicy Pau Bhaji (bread with mashed mixed veg curry). It all tastes just like India.

Mumbai Chaat, Sandringham – Indian Street Food & More

If Blockhouse Bay is too far away for you, then Mumbai Chaat is an OK alternative for a large variety Indian street foods.

Dahi Puri from Mumbai Chaat. Photo © Karl Rock.

Dahi Puri from Mumbai Chaat. Photo © Karl Rock.

Halal Butcher, Sandringham – Butcher with Flavour

If you want the tastiest meat to BBQ at home, then this is the place. Choose your meat then your marinade. My favourite cut here is the massive beef ribs, one rib is enough for the biggest appetite.

Rasoi, K Road – South Indian

I ate so often at Rasoi during my University years that the owner now calls me Mr India. Truth be told, the people who run Rasoi are not from India. They’re Fijian Indians from Labasa, Fiji. They don’t serve traditional Fiji Indian food either. They serve the best South Indian food and sweets in New Zealand.

Rasoi’s Samosas, Pau Bhaji, Masala Dosa (the longest I’ve ever seen), and Bhel Puri are all to die for.

Long Masala Dosa. Photo by kevix@home.

Long Masala Dosa. Photo by kevix@home.

For Traditional European Indian Curry

While people rave about the below three restaurants, they don’t exactly serve authentic Indian cuisine. Rather they serve Indian food adjusted for European taste buds. That’s why they’re so popular. The flavours are less spicy and more creamy. It’s basically toned down Punjabi food that we love so much. There’s nothing wrong with that either, I enjoy it too.

Satya, Around Auckland – North & South Indian

Butter Chicken, unfortunately, the pinnacle of Indian food in the West. Photo by Calgary Reviews.

Butter Chicken, unfortunately, the pinnacle of Indian food in the West. Photo by Calgary Reviews.

You can’t go wrong at Satya, and that’s probably why it was the most recommended Indian restaurant in Auckland for years until Paradise came along. They do a spectacular Dahi Puri which is different to the Indian type!

Little India, Around Auckland – North Indian

Butter chicken and naan. Nothing more to say.

Punjabi Dhaba, Around Auckland – North Indian

Punjabi Dhaba does one dish better than the rest. That’s Chicken Lollipops. They’re addictive! It’s special chicken drumsticks with the meat all pulled to one end then deep fried with a sweet and spicy chilli sauce. Just try it.

For Something A Little Different

Cassia, Auckland City – Modern Indian

Some kind of abstract paneer? I don't know. But I want to eat it anyway. Photo by Cassia.

Some kind of abstract paneer? I don’t know. But I want to eat it anyway. Photo by Cassia.

Cassia is the only “Modern Indian” restaurant I’ve heard of. It’s ritzy. It’s weird. Its food is abstracted and deconstructed. It’s more like art than cuisine.

The chef at Cassia, Sid Sahrawat, takes Indian cuisine and does all weird and wonderful things with it. It’s a bit of an experience in experimentation. So if you have a few dollars to spare (it ain’t cheap!) and want to experience something different, head to Cassia for something unique.

Monsoon Poon, Auckland City – Thai, Malaysian, Indian

Monsoon Poon is one of my favourite restaurants. Their menu is a mix of the best dishes of Thailand, Malaysia, and India. And they do it well! Their food is incredibly flavourful and rich.

Make sure you have a starters platter, the Button Chicken, and the very hot Firecracker Chicken (not Indian, but amazing anyway).

Firecracker Chicken. Photo by Monsoon Poon.

Firecracker Chicken. Photo by Monsoon Poon.

5 Common Problems Foreign Travellers Face in India. Photo by Miraage.clicks.

5 Common Problems Foreign Travellers Face in India

India is both an incredible and challenging place to travel. Luckily, the incredible blows your mind and the challenging makes you a stronger and more street-smart person. That’s why so many people find India such a rewarding place to travel. You see amazing sights, and you’re put in situations that allow you to learn and grow as a person. This is something we as humans thrive on and enjoy.

Below are 5 of the common problems/challenges you’ll learn to overcome in India.

Bargaining

Always bargain when shopping in India. Photo by Ramnath Bhat.

Always bargain when shopping in India. Photo by Ramnath Bhat.

In India everyone bargains. If you don’t join in and bargain too, you’ll be paying 3 or 4 times more than locals. Fixed priced shops exist but are few and far between and often overpriced. Instead of price tags locals also simply know how much things costs. For example, I paid 100 INR for a kilogram of mangoes and after talking to a friend found out the going rate is 70 INR. The fruit seller expected me to bargain or know the going rate.

While I was in Amritsar recently, a rickshaw driver approached two local friends and m and asked us where we wanted to go. We were just going 1 km away and we knew that such a short distance should only be around 30 INR. He quoted us 150 INR! 5 times the actual amount. We laughed and didn’t even bother to try bargain with him because often these guys are just targeting unprepared tourists and won’t bargain. We walked a few more metres down the road to the rickshaw stand where the drivers quoted less crazy prices and we bargained them down near enough to the local rate.

Lesson learned: Know how much things cost so you can bargain accordingly. Ask the price of something from a local or hotel staff before going shopping.

Food

The king of Delhi street food, the Raj Kachori. Photo by Sonal.

The king of Delhi street food, the Raj Kachori. Photo by Sonal.

Eating food from the street stalls is like playing Russian roulette. It tastes amazing, but eventually, it lands you with a stomach infection. If you want to eat street food, and you should because it’s a highlight of Indian cuisine, then head over to one of the very clean Bikanervala or Halidrams restaurants that serve it. You can find all of the best Indian food in clean and economical (or not) restaurants. Don’t take risks.

There are some easy to follow rules to avoid contaminated food in India, here are 3 of the less common ones you should know:

  1. Don’t drink drinks you suspect are made with tap water. Avoid Indian tap water like the plague. Always ask if the restaurant uses filtered water.
  2. Check the eating utensils you’re using are clean and if not ask for different ones or clean with a serviette.
  3. India mainly serves meat with bones in. Be very careful to not swallow the bones as the larger and sharper ones will scrape your throat as happened to me with a fish curry in Kolkata. A scraped throat feels like a bone is still stuck in it – not very pleasant.

Hygiene & Pollution

A bad day at the Taj Mahal. Photo by Kathleen.

A bad day at the Taj Mahal. Photo by Kathleen.

When you visit India, you’ll discover there’s a very different hygiene level here. Streets and dirty and you’re overall going to be exposed to a lot more nasties than back home. Here are three things I do everyday to stay clean:

  1. Wash my face every night. You’ll be surprised at what it’s collected that day.
  2. Clean my shoes with a paper towel to stop the dust from building up.
  3. Always sanitize or wash my hands before eating and after getting off public transport or touching items that aren’t clean.

If the pollution levels are high while you’re in a big Indian city, pick up a filter mask. I only use mine if there are warning that levels are going to be bad.

Touts & Scam Artists

Usually what touts look like. Somewhat smartly dressed. Photo by Connie.

Usually what touts look like: smartly dressed young local looking men. Photo by Connie.

Touts are probably the biggest annoyance in India. Coming to India we’re a bit naive and happy to talk to anyone who approaches us. Afterall, it’s nice to talk to inquisitive locals. That’s what touts and scam artists use as their strategy. They open up a conversation with you by saying “Where are you from?” Then eventually after a little chit-chat, they get to their sales pitch, “My friend has a great sari shop/travel agency/taxi/restaurant nearby. I will take you there.” They’re not really inquisitive locals, they’re undercover touts trying to “help you.” Wherever he takes you to will rip you off and he’ll earn a commission. Touts even get paid just for bringing you to a store sometimes.

Lesson learned: As soon as a friendly stranger starts bringing something to do with money into the conversation, they’re a tout or scammer. Say “No thank you,” and walk away. After encountering a few touts you’ll know how to spot them.

Language Barrier

This isn’t a common problem anymore, but I still get asked. I’ve never had a problem using English in India. You’ll always be able to find an English speaker nearby. In fact, I faced more issues with finding English speakers in Europe than I ever have in India.

If you want to find out the secrets of bargaining, all the tips on how to avoid contaminated food in India, how to avoid all different types of scams in India, and much more about staying safe while travelling in India then check out my full but to the point India Quick-Start Safety Guide.

The Golden Temple at night. Photo by Arian Zwegers.

Don’t Leave Amritsar Without Eating These 3 Things

We woke at 4:45 am. It was still dark and boiling in Chandigarh. Today, the three of us had decided to take a road trip across Punjab to visit the world-famous Golden Temple and devour some of the delicious foods found in the India Pakistan border city of Amritsar.

I stumbled into the shower and struggled to locate the light switch in the darkness. In India, light switches can be found in the most bizarre of places. I wished I’d slept earlier, but there’s always a party in Punjab. Punjabis love to party, dance, sing, drink and eat. They’re merry people and always fun to be with. A splash of cold water began to wake my sleepy eyes. Fifteen minutes later the three of us piled into the Suzuki Swift (the most popular car in India) and began our journey.

One bad thing about India is that restaurants don’t do breakfast. Indians generally wake up late and start work late at 10 or 10:30 am. So nothing opens until 9 am at the earliest. We were keeping an eye out for somewhere to get a quick bite but alas the rest of India was still sound asleep. It’s so peaceful in India when everyone is asleep, and the dogs aren’t barking.

We eventually found a Burger King on the highway at 8 am that was open, well their drive-through at least. Not exactly Punjabi food, but beggars can’t be choosers. There’s no breakfast menu in India so we scoffed down some whoppers and fries and kept going on our 228 km journey to Amritsar. You might be thinking, “228 km, that’s not far.” In India it is. You’re on average going to be travelling only 50 km per hour because of potholed roads or having to serve around cows.

Langar

Free – Golden Temple Food Hall

Langar in the Golden Temple. Photo by Haresh Patel.

Langar in the Golden Temple. Photo by Haresh Patel.

We started off the day visiting the beautiful Golden Temple. It’s surrounded by a lake with the temple on an island in the middle. Men added to the mystical atmosphere by performed Punjabi folk songs loudly as we sat and took it all in. All Sikh temples such as the Golden Temple are called Gurdwaras. All Gurdwaras provide shelter and food to anyone who wants it. While most people won’t sleep at a Gurdwara, although they’re welcome to, most will eat the food, called Langar. The Golden Temple alone serves tens of thousands of meals a day. Gurdwaras are entirely run by volunteers. You’re welcome to visit the kitchen and washing room and see the masses of people giving their time to serve others – it’s something a lot of religions could learn from.

As you enter the Langar hall, you’ll be handed a plate and spoon. Find a place sit on the mats provided and wait to be served a two-course meal. The meal is usually some sort of lentil or chickpea curry, rice, and roti followed by a sweet dish such an Indian rice pudding (Kheer). It’s always delicious and hygienically produced.

One thing you can do help the Gurdwara sustain their free meal plan is to donate a few rupees or help roll rotis or clean dishes. But it’s in no way compulsory, and you’ll never be asked or hassled to donate like some other religion’s temples shamelessly do.

 

Automatic Roti making machine in the Golden Temple kitchen. Photo by BOMBMAN.

Automatic Roti making machine in the Golden Temple kitchen. Photo by BOMBMAN.

 

Amritsari Kulcha

$ – Kulchaland
$ – Kesar da Dhaba

Amritsari Kulcha. Photo by Prateek Rungta.

Amritsari Kulcha. Photo by Prateek Rungta.

Next up we went on a 1 km walk to Kuchaland. You can’t leave Amritsar without eating one of their famed Amritsari Kulcha. A kulcha looks like a naan bread stuffed with potato, onion, and spices but it’s actually very different. The bread is very light, and the texture is that of multiple layers of wafer thin, buttery bread. To top it off they smother it with melted butter and sometimes seeds and spices too. You then break it like a naan and scoop up the unlimited portions of spicy chickpea curry provided.

You could confuse it for an Aloo Paratha too, but once you taste it and feel the texture of the bread, you’ll see how delicious and superior it really is. It’s the ultimate stuffed bread!

The name Kulchaland inspired thoughts of Disneyland or some other land of epic proportions. But it’s really not the case, unfortunately. Kulchaland has 0 atmosphere and the non-existent and slightly dirty decor may put some people off. If you want somewhere slightly cleaner, then set your GPS to Kesar da Dhaba. Both places are great and serve authentic kulcha.

Lassi

$ – Gian Chand Lassi Wale

Lassi being made in Amritsar. Photo by Sean Ellis.

Lassi being made in Amritsar. Photo by Sean Ellis.

To wash down the Langar and Kulcha we’d just eaten we headed to the most famous Lassi store for a large 500ml plain yoghurt lassi drink topped with a dollop fresh cream. After a spicy meal, I always have a plain or sweet lassi or just plain milk to neutralise the spices and refresh my mouth.

As we took the car out of the parking lot, we realised most of the streets were completely empty and that Police and Swat teams were swarming around. Turns out the Chief Minister of Punjab was nearby, so that made our ride to Gian Chand Lassi Wale very quick with no traffic!

After eating all the best food that Amritsar has to offer the span of 4-hours our stomachs were stuffed. Make sure you spread these meals out over the day. You’ll want to do it all over again the next day, I know we did.

Lamb Dopiaza and Roti. Photo © Karl Rock.

The Easiest Lamb Dopiaza Curry Recipe Ever!

This is possibly the simplest curry recipe ever – just dump all the ingredients in a pot and simmer! In the end, you have a flavour packed and healthy Bengali mutton curry!

Lamb Dopiaza and Roti. Photo © Karl Rock.

Lamb Dopiaza and Roti. Photo © Karl Rock.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 500g lamb shoulder, cut into 4cm pieces
  • 800g onions, cut into quarters
  • 30g/6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 15g/3cm ginger, finely sliced
  • 500g natural yoghurt
  • 4 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 10cm piece of cinnamon stick
  • 10 dried chillies
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 6 green cardamom pods, bruised
  • 6 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1½ tbsp salt
  • 250ml water

Instructions

Tip all the ingredients into a deep pan, mix together, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring gently to a boil. Simmer over a low heat for 2 hours, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed and the lamb is tender. Serve.

Punjabi Butter Chicken. Photo by stu_spivack.

A Local’s Guide to the Best Food in Chandigarh

I took a train to Chandigarh recently to meet a Punjabi friend and go on a road trip across lush Punjab to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. While I was there we stuffed ourselves with the best food Chandigarh and Mohali (an adjoining city) had to offer. I purposefully avoided TripAdvisor recommendations and told him we would only eat where he and his friends eat.

A Little on Chandigarh

Chandigarh is not a typical Indian city. It’s strangely the capital of 2 states, Haryana and Punjab. But it’s technically not part of either state, it’s its own state or what India calls a union territory. It’s also one of the first planned cities in India, so it’s not an average India city, rather its one of the cleanest and most livable cities in India.

It’s also known as the tri-city because the cities of Chandigarh, Panchkula, and Mohali all neighbour each other and you can barely tell when you leave one and enter the next.

Sethi Dhaba

$$ – Zirakpur – Authentic Punjabi Dhaba (roadside restaurant) experience

Chole Masala at Sethi Dhaba, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

Chole Masala at Sethi Dhaba, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

Sethi Dhaba is a busy place frequented by celebrities and politicians as you’ll see on their photo wall. It’s one of the most famous dhabas in Chandigarh where you can experience traditional Punjabi food. They even have the traditional seats that you’ll see villagers sitting on and eating from, it’s not really a seat though, it’s a large bed that four people can sit on and eat from a table in the centre of it.

They only serve vegetarian, but even for a big meat eater like me, it doesn’t matter because Indian vegetarian food is the tastiest in the world. Make sure you order the Chole Masala, Egg Bhurji, and Dal Makhani along with either Naan or the healthier Missi Roti (made with whole wheat flour, gram flour, and spices).

Yadav Tea Stall

$ – Advocates Area, 1st Foor, District Court Complex, Sector 43) – Special bread rolls

Bread Roll from Yadav Tea Stall, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

Bread Roll from Yadav Tea Stall, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

This is a truly hidden delicacy. It’s not at all healthy, but it’s damn tasty. Yadav serves a unique deep fried bread roll that’s filled with savoury and slightly spiced potato filling. Accompanying it is a spicy sauce made from green chillis. It’s out of this world and only found here at the court. It’s a standard lunch for the lawyers.

Pal Dhaba

$$ – Sector 28 – Authentic Punjabi food

This is the most famous Dhaba in Chandigarh. While it’s not the traditional motorway roadside eatery, rather it’s part of an outdoor mall, the food is pure Punjabi. Punjabi food is known as rich and creamy, and Pal Dhaba delivers this.

The Butter Chicken is the best you’ll ever have. Punjabi Butter Chicken is very different to the Western version. It’s more flavorful and less sweet. Lap it up with their buttery naan bread. One other dish to try is the Punjabi favourite, Dal Malakani.

Dining outside at Pal Dhaba, Chandigarh. Photo © Karl Rock.

Dining outside at Pal Dhaba, Chandigarh.Yes, that’s an entire bowl of boneless Butter Chicken! Photo © Karl Rock.

Baba Chicken

$$ – Phase 10, Mohali – A Different Butter Chicken

For a slightly different take on Butter Chicken, Baba is a good place to go. It’s yellow and has a slightly different less spice filled flavour. Some people prefer this lighter version.

Acme India Taste Point

$ – Sector 14, Chandigarh – Bhel Puri

The Punjab University campus foodcourt is where you’ll find all the students eating each day. The standout here is the chaat/juice stall that serves great Bhel Puri (a kind of puffed rice salad with spicy sauces).

Bhel Puri from Punnjab University Foodcourt. Photo © Karl Rock.

Bhel Puri from Punnjab University Foodcourt. Photo © Karl Rock.

Backpackers Cafe

$$$ – Sector 9, Chandigarh

If you want something a bit more upmarket, head to the highly rated Backpackers Cafe. You’ll find all sorts of international fare there. Including one of the biggest Lamb Burgers I’ve ever eaten.

Lamb Burger from Backpackers Cafe. Photo © Karl Rock.

Lamb Burger from Backpackers Cafe. Photo © Karl Rock.

Sector 8 Market

The Sector 8 inner market has something for everyone. It’s a pricey market, but the quality and taste of the food in this market is great. Do a loop of the market then decide what you want to try!

Preet Eating Zone

$ – Phase 7, Mohali – Chole (Standing area only)

Preet Eating Zone's Chole on Rice. Photo © Karl Rock.

Preet Eating Zone’s Chole on Rice. Photo © Karl Rock.

Preet is known for their Chole (Chickpeas) on rice topped with coriander and cabbage. It’s a slightly spicy tomato flavoured dish on saffron rice. Perfect for a quick lunch or breakfast. Wash it down with their lassi (yoghurt drink) which surprisingly not very sweet – such a relief as India has a tendency to over sweeten everything.

Dishes available at Preet's Eating Zone, Mohali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Dishes available at Preet’s Eating Zone, Mohali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Amrit Confectionary

$ – Phase 5, Mohali – Indian sweets and bakery

Butter Paneer roll from Amrit Confectionary, Mohali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Butter Paneer roll from Amrit Confectionary, Mohali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Amrit is an Indian sweets (mithai) store with a bakery outside. The Bakery is what you come here for. They do a spicy Indian take on buns, rolls and sandwiches. The most popular item here are their deep fried rolls filled with different flavours including butter paneer or manchurian. It’s going to be hard for you to choose what to try from their beautiful cabinet.

Haandi Dum

$ – Phase 7, Mohali – Kathi Rolls (Standing area only)

Originating from Kolkata, West Bengal, Kathi Rolls are available all over India. Haandi is a local favourite. Try the soft and buttery double egg or paneer rolls.

Sindhi Sweets

$ – Sector 17 – Indian Sweets

Sindhi Sweets is regarded as the best in Chandigarh. Their speciality is Kaju (Cashew Nut) Barfi. It’s a non-spicy Indian sweet made of creamy cashews and sugar. It’s soft and lightly flavoured. Kaju Barfi is one of the most popular sweets in India making it a must try wherever you go.

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