Claire Bens is a junior at Ohio University, majoring in political and global studies, focusing on peace and war. Claire is currently studying in Hyderabad, India at the Universidad Hyderabad.
Food in India is an integral part of society. Caste, religion, region, and season are all factors in determining an Indian’s diet. Certain castes, like the Brahmins, an upper class, have traditionally been vegetarians. Muslims follow halal. Hindus do not eat beef because cows are considered holy. You won’t find dosa being served at a home in West Bengal and it is equally unlikely to have momos in Kerala. And fruits and vegetables available during some parts of the year disappear from diets in other times because of their growing season.
I would be lying if I said the food wasn’t a big reason for me coming to India. Indian food is my favorite comfort food. When I arrived home from Chile last semester, my first stop on the way home from the airport was my favorite Indian restaurant. I am lucky enough to live in Hyderabad, a blend between North and South Indian culture and cuisine. Although traditionally Hyderabad is famous for Biryani, it is easy to find every kind of food here. Additionally, our hostel rotates our meals to cover a wide range of popular foods throughout India, and sometimes tries to throw in their own version of traditional western dishes.
The staples of an Indian meal are dal and rice. Dal is a sauce made of lentils with some vegetables and spices. Additionally, in our house we usually have a basic salad of sliced cucumber, tomato, and carrots, papaya or pineapple, homemade yoghurt, and roti. Roti is the common form of wheat flatbread served with meals, occasionally however we will have puri or naan. We also have a variety of different entrees. My favorites include the dishes made of paneer, best described as the Indian version of cheese cubes. We regularly have Tandori paneer and vegetables, palak paneer, which is made in a creamed spinach sauce, and paneer makhani, which is made in a spicy orange sauce. We also have dishes made of potatoes, okra and cauliflower. Occasionally we have a dish made of chicken, but these are rare because of the number of vegetarians in the group. Specialty regional dishes made by the kitchen include dosa, momos, and biryani. A dosa is a piece of fried batter stuffed with a mixture of masala potatoes and vegetables, similar to a very large crepe; this is the traditional food in South India. Momos are a Tibetan food common in regions in the North like Himachal Pradesh and are half-moon shaped dumplings. Biryani, which is a specialty in Hyderabad, is a rice dish containing nuts, vegetables, and meat.
Indian deserts are not my favorite part of these delicious meals, but some different dishes have grown on me since my arrival. Gulab jamun are sweet balls of fried dough soaked in honey. We also eat several variations of bread pudding and fruits for desert. India is a practical heaven for vegetarians. I have never had so many choices of food on every menu. That and the constant supply of chai and cookies at our daily scheduled teatime are enough to keep anyone happy, healthy, and very full!