For many years I’ve been racking up miles on airlines, rental car companies, and hotels. Sometimes, the perks pay off. But, in reality, I’d much rather do without a concierge, maid service, and points, and stay in a real home in a real neighborhood. During two weeks of solo travel in India, I stayed only at homestay and hostels. Beyond the big price savings, I got so much more out of these accommodations.
Homestay as the highlight in Jaipur
As I was planning my trip to India, everyone said that Jaipur had to be on my list. I had no desire to go, as I prefer less touristy places, and smaller cities. However, due to train schedules, I ended up spending three days in Jaipur.
The first day, I didn’t even want to leave my homestay abode. Totally not my MO to be locked inside. But Jaipur wasn’t welcoming on a number of fronts. First, the pollution aggravated my bronchitis and congestion. Second, the intense traffic jams and sounds of the buses, cars, and motorcycles contrasted sharply from the peaceful smaller town I was visiting just prior. Third, the residential neighborhood I was in didn’t appear to be “strollable” to anyplace of interest. Finally, I have to admit, I probably didn’t really want to be in Jaipur anyways.
On my second day, my hosts arranged an inexpensive car service with a trustworthy English-speaking friend of theirs. That was a god-send. He took me to all the top spots and waited for me so I wouldn’t be stranded. He dropped me off at a lunch spot he recommended, and also somewhere to exchange dollars. All in about six hours.
Yes. Everything was lovely. Yes, I’m glad I got out of the house. Yes. I got nice photos. Yes. Now I can put a check mark on all the tops spots. Rajnagar Palace. Albert Hall. Hawa Mahal. Jantar Mantar. The City Palace.
However, that day fared as “normal” for sightseeing. Looking back, I’d say my home stay was not “normal.” It was “special.”
Feeling at Home in Someone Else’s Home
My hosts, Nadya and her husband, Yusuf, were welcome breaks from the tourist holes. Nadya repeatedly referred to the place as “your house.” They were ever so helpful and accommodating. Nadya even packaged me a delicious, nutritious meal to take on my long train ride to the next city.
Plus, both were highly educated, interesting, and used to interacting with people from all over the world.
In fact, if I’d had more time in Jaipur, I could have learned so much more. About so many things. Yusuf is a university professor, actor, documentary filmmaker, and cultural anthropologist. His specialty was Rajasthani gypsies.
High energied-Nadya is a scientist. But I spent more time with her in the kitchen, sharing recipes. I don’t know much about science. However, I have a keen interest in learning how to make vegan, gluten-free Indian food. While it’s the norm for Indian meals to be vegetarian, ghee in particular, is widespread so that vegan meals are not always easy to find. Furthermore, while wheat is commonly used, there are plenty of gluten-free alternatives that make dishes higher in protein. And, tastier.
Nadya’s dishes were wonderful and hard to replicate. Like most good cooks, she has no written recipe, nor does she use measuring cups or measuring spoons. Nonetheless, here are my notes for Nadya’s vegan gluten-free paratha and poha.
Nadya’s Paratha (pan-fried flatbread)
Paratha, spelled many different ways, is normally made out of wheat flour. I will never forget on one of my trips to India, seeing huge mountains of dough, on the street, and a tortilla-like conveyer belt that spitted out fresh, hot paratha that was then stacked about 18 inches high. There are so many different types of “bread” in India, yet in the United States, we seem to only know Nan. Paratha can be made plain or stuffed with veggies like cauliflower, or herbs or spices. In other words, it can be used to accompany your main dish, or this can be your full plate.
1 big bunch of fenugreek leaves
2 scoops each of millet flour, corn meal, and chick pea flour
Pinch of oregano seeds and salt.
Finely chop the fenugreek leaves.
Mix the flours with corn meal.
Add fenugreek, oregano, and salt. Slowly, add water until you get a good consistency of dough.
Oil hands. Form lemon-sized balls with the dough. Pat with both hands, like a pizza into round disks. Can use a rolling pin, if desired.
Place on a hot frying pan. Lightly toast both sides.
Eat warm with cilantro chutney, or with any other dish.
Nadya’s Poha (Rice flake cereal)
As much as I love Indian gluten-free spicy donuts (vada) and lentils (dal), my Ayurvedic doctor doesn’t want me to eat them. Poha, on the other hand, is very easy to digest. According to an article in India Times, poha is the perfect meal for those with digestive issues. Morning, or night time. Plus, poha is high in iron and B1.
There are many different ways to make poha. Almost all are vegan and gluten-free. Poha can be eaten hot, or cold, and is filling. Perhaps what I like most about it is the textures of the different ingredients, together. Following is Nadia’s recipe, followed by suggestions for other ingredients to include.
Plenty of dry poha (dehydrated flattened rice flakes)
Finely chopped purple onion
A few curry leaves
A handful each of peas and pomegranates
1-2 green chiles
A pinch each of mustard seeds, anise, and turmeric
Rinse the poha two times in water, and drain.
Saute the chopped onion, curry leaf, peas, green chile, mustard seeds, anise, and turmeric in the oil.
Add the poha to the frying pan.
Stir and let sit for three minutes.
Top with fresh pomegranate seeds.
(Options: add chopped peanuts or cashews and/or grated coconut)
Note: Read about an interesting off-the-beaten path homestay in Nicaragua.