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Allen's Food Adventures in India
a gallery of photographs from my travels
Here I am eating a Maharashtrian Thali at a restaurant on the road from Nashik to Tryambikeshwara (site of a great Jyotirlinga Shiva temple).
This is the largest thali it has been my pleasure to consume. If you are ever in Jaipur, Rajasthan, I highly recommend the Rajasthani Thali at LMB Hotel (Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar). Don't miss the adjacent sweet shop.
When I first went to India in the 1970s. you could get a decent thali served on a banana leaf for about 25 cents in Tamil Nadu. This upscale South Indian thali is served at Hotel Saravan Bhavan, on Janpath in New Delhi.
My biggest inspiration comes from the food people cook in their homes, but restaurants are also an important part of Indian food culture. When I am in Banares, I always stop at Sunita's on the lane that runs to the Vishwanath temple. The food is simple, good, and inexpensive.
Puris, inflated fried breads, are made and sold by the hundreds in small cafes, like this one in Banares.
One of my favorite breakfasts after a sunrise stroll along the Ganga, or Ganges River: fresh puris with potato curry, some spicy pickle, and a just-made jilebi, filled with sweet, warm syrup. More chai please!
My other favorite breakfast in Banares is South Indian idli, vadai, sambar and coconut chutney. I often stay near Hanuman Ghat where many South Indians encamp when on pilgrimage. This one needs a steaming cup of coffee.
My South Indian breakfast is concocted in this one-car garage sized room which is kitchen and dining room in one. I have eaten here for years. No choices on the menu. A full breakfast runs about 35 cents.
For eight years it has been my privilege to sit with Babuji Maharaj for all or part of the all-night Kali puja that occurs in October-November. The temple, part of the family home, is on the steps to the Ganga at Dashashwamedha Ghat in Banares.
Food is part of almost all Hindu ceremonies. After Kali puja, sweets and kicheree, a blend of rice and lentils, are distributed as prasad (blessed food offered to the goddess), to all who desire them.
Devotees eagerly come to   take prasad of fruit and sugar pellets after the nightly worship of the river goddess Ganga, at Dashashwamedha Ghat in Banares.
Sweetshops line the streets leading to temples, selling delicacies good enough to offer to the gods. Not only delicious, sweets are a treat for the eyes as well.
Sweets are largely made of cooked-down milk fudge (khoya), chenna cheese, ground nuts and sugar. Flavored with cardamom, saffron, rose and kewra, they may be decorated with flower petals or pure silver leaf.
Sweets shaped like beautiful flowers with green and white petals around a center covered with silver leaf and adorned with a green pistachio nut.
Larger sweet shops may include a section devoted to fried salty snacks, or namkeens. This multi-storied sweet shop is in Pune, in Maharashtra state. Sweets pair well with namkeens, especially with a nice cup of chai.
These khandvi rolls are a  Gujarati specialty. A cooked batter of chickpea flour and buttermilk is spread thin and cooled, then rolled with coconut and spices for a savory snack.
A "rocket dosa" is a paper-thin crispy crepe, rolled around a spicy potato filling, and served with the traditional South Indian accompaniments, sambar and coconut chutney.
During Ramadan Muslims fast during daylight hours. But when the sun sets the streets around Jama Masjid in Old Delhi fill with food vendors and hungry people. Here a giant fried parantha is lifted from the frying pan. It will be served with sweet semolina halva, cooked with sugar and ghee.
Also near the great mosque, Delhi's famous old Karim's restaurant offers mughalai specialties, rich meat kormas, pasandas, kababs and biryanis. This cook tends the various pots of simmering curries and dals.
You can't have great food without great markets. In Old Delhi this hingwala weighs out grams of asafetida resin, the precious, pungent flavoring so important to Indian vegetarian cooking (also used in ayurvedic medicine),
Gur, or Jaggery, is Indian raw sugar. Sugarcane juice (or palm sap) is boiled until it will set up when cooled  in a bucket or other mold. It varies in color, sweetness, and flavor intensity. I found this shop in Udaipur, in Rajasthan.
Also in Udaipur, this market shows the astonishing diversity of vegetables available in India. The quality and variety often exceed what we find in most American grocery stores.
I'm the chef at Travelers Thali House, and I love India and Indian food! When I'm there I like to try the specialties of all the different regions. I eat what the locals eat, and sometimes, when I am not too distracted, I take pictures along the way.

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Chef Allen Kornmesser stirs a pot of dal in kitchen at Travelers Thali House.

Photo: Bob Sarver (2013)
Avocados are rare in India. This  dish is said to come from the Mopalahs of the Malabar region of southwestern India.
I adapted it from a recipe by Julie Sahni.
It's like a warm guacamole, redolent of coconut oil and curry leaf, that your family and guests will absolutely love. 
Here's the recipe so you can make it at home.

AVOCADO MASIAL (Malabar region, southwestern India)

1 large ripe avocado
1 squirt lime juice
2 pinches kosher salt (or a big three-finger pinch)
1 big four-finger pinch of chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 pinch black or brown mustard seeds
1 fistful of very thinly sliced onion
8-10 curry leaves
1 tsp. finely minced garlic
1 tsp. Madras curry powder
Lettuce leaf
1 pinch grated fresh coconut

Halve, seed, and scoop out avocado. Chop coarsely with spoonj, douse with lime juice, salt, and cilantro. Stir to mix, set aside.
Heat pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add coconut oil, ‘splutter’ mustard seeds. Add onions, curry leaves, garlic and fry until they just start to brown. Sprinkle curry powder, stir, and fry 1-2 minutes until onions are golden brown. Remove from heat and fold in avocado mix, mashing gently with the back of the spoon (don’t mix or mash too much). Mound masial onto lettuce leaf. Garnish with grated coconut. Serve as an appetizer with warm flatbread or corn chips. Or use as a spread.