When I originally planned on taking a trip to India with my mum, I wondered what glorious foods I would be able to try. As with any country I have visited so far, I dove into the many possibilities online, and my mother and I planned forays to Indian restaurants in Montreal before our departure.
Despite all of this due diligence, nothing prepared us for the sheer volume of foods in our midst when we got to Rajasthan. So, instead of covering more traditional curries or meals, I thought I would highlight some of the new snacks we discovered on the trip. Since I have celiac disease, these are gluten free. And they were delicious.
1. Bajra Roti
I grew up familiar with traditional roti, a thin wheat bread served with curries in India, Myanmar and elsewhere. Millet is grown in parts of Rajasthan, and the grain is used to make a thicker, denser version of the wispy roti flatbread. The consistency lends itself to eating less of it, since it is so filling. But it remains just as great to soak up sauces as the original.
Here is a palak paneer, a spinach and soft cheese dish famous in Rajasthan, with this celiac-friendly millet bread.
Palak Paneer. Photo courtesy Jodi Ettenberg.
A tasty, fast and easy alternative to breakfast bread is poha, a dish made from flattened rice that is fried with turmeric, chili powder, onions, mustard seeds and more. Quick to fry up, it is extremely flavorful and goes well with eggs in the morning.
The first thing I did upon my return was to buy these spices and make some for myself. I’ve found it an ideal late afternoon snack as well, when you are hungry enough to eat – but not yet ready for dinner. An added bonus is that it tastes very good at room temperature, as well as fully heated.
I first discovered dosas when I was in Toronto, dining at a South Indian restaurant and marveling at the beauty of these flaky thin crepes, delicately rolled and filled with flavorful masala spiced potatoes. Though my mum and I visited the North of India, we did find quite a few dosa vendors at the markets and on the street, like this boy below. Not only did his dosas taste delicious (and did not get us sick), but he had a very confident and brazen attitude, and was good fun to watch as he skillfully prepared our snacks.
Dosas are a South Indian crepe made from fermented lentil and rice batter and spread thin using the help of a wooden tool, starting from the centre of the dosa and moving outward as it cooks. The dish is served either with filling or without. For those concerned about food sickness, the chutneys that accompany these dosa on the street ought to be avoided as many are uncooked sauces. The dosa itself, however, makes for a great meal.
Dosa. Photo courtesy Jodi Ettenberg.
Note that one type of dosa, rava dosa, is made with wheat flour included in the batter and must be avoided for celiacs. For more on dosas, see this piece in the Wall Street Journal.
4. Dal motth and other chickpea flour snacks
I’ve found that as a celiac the hardest time of day to find food is snack time, in between meals. Regardless of whether I am in a country that has knowledge of my disease, snacks are often quick, breaded and usually off limits. In those that are unfamiliar with it, snack time can be downright stressful.
I was thrilled to find that in Northern India, a few of the snacks were actually just fine. Samosas were not, but pakoras (onions or paneer coated in chickpea flour and fried) and dal motth (below), were safe.
The dal motth, a chickpea batter ball with cumin seed and other spices, was also fried, and was served with a sweet and spicy chutney and fresh raw onions to complement the taste of the snack.
While not the healthiest (nothing deep-fried is), they were nonetheless an easy alternative when we stopped for a snack, or in-between main meals.
Dal motth. Photo courtesy Jodi Ettenberg.
BHUJIA! I was visiting my mum again in Montreal this week, and stopped into an Indian grocery store, aimlessly wandering the aisles and inhaling deeply. The smell of spices brought me back to the trip, and I daydreamed as I wandered. Until I found that they carried bhujia, that is. At that point, I grabbed a few bags, ran over to my mother and exclaimed “THEY HAVE OUR SNACK!”
Bhujia. Photo courtesy Jodi Ettenberg.
We first ate bhujia on the streets of Bikaner, where it originates. This spiced chickpea flour snack was both addictive and filling, and kept my hunger at bay between meals. From mildly spicy to ‘grab the lassi ASAP’ spicy, Bhujia can be found in markets sold by weight (as in the photo), as well as in pre-packaged bags at rest stops throughout Rajasthan. And, of course, at Indian grocery stores around the world.