Yesterday I had a craving for chips & salsa. I went to Modern Stores (that's the biggest grocery in town...about the size of a mini-mart), and found Doritos and some imported salsa - the problem was that it would have cost $12.50!! So, I decided to make my own. Luckily, the ingredients for chips and salsa can be found easily, as they are the same ingredients used in Indian cooking. However, the experience of making chips and salsa in the States and making them in India is quite different. And I probably wouldn't even make them in the States, because I would just go down to El Tenampa and buy them - they're better than homemade!
Well, here is what the experience is like in India. First, you have to pick a day when you have nothing else going on, because it's going to take a long time to get it all prepared. Next, get on the internet (that is if the electricity is on) and find a recipe for tortillas - yep, you're going to have to make the tortillas before you can make the chips. Then take an inventory of your cupboards - flour, hmm... wonder if they have corn flour in India... After this is done, stop for lunch. Undoubtedly these first couple of steps will have taken you all morning to complete!
Now you are ready to head into town. The first stop is Modern Stores to look for corn flour. They don't think they have it, and they don't think they can get it. You don't even bother, because if there was any chance they could get it, then they would have told you to come back next week. You also notice that they have a new little section of fruits and vegetables, but you wonder if you could get a better price down at the market, so you get on your way. Oops, forgot to mention that you ask if they have any rolling pins for making chapatis (that's the Indian equivalent of tortillas), but they don't.
You start your walk down the street, wondering why you decided to do all of this on a Saturday - Indian tourists are everywhere. A nice little shortcut, called Stink Alley, takes you right to the busiest intersection in town which you cross like a local - if you don't make eye contact, then they probably won't hit you with their auto or car or truck or bus, but they sure will honk at you! Too bad for you, the vegetable market closed sometime earlier in the day. Of course you wouldn't really know when, because the posted signs are all in Tamil.
Off you go, towards the main market - pedestrians everywhere, horns honking, beggars singling you out to ask for money. It's all the same as every other time you've gone to the market. On the way you drop into a few shops (like five) to ask about those nifty little rolling pins, but everyone tells you to go to the market. Once in the market, you wander through the labyrinth of booths looking for the little old man with no teeth, yelling, "Bic, bic, bic, bic, bic, bic, bags!" Why didn't you bring some from home, you think. Oh well. You find the man, buy a bag for 5 rupees (about 10 cents), and keep wandering into the depths of the market. You buy garlic from a man who only sells garlic in his stall, and then you get cilantro (only they call it coriander here) from a man who only sells greens. Then you pick out peppers, tomatoes, onions, and limes from another man. All this costs about 50 rupees (a little more than a dollar) - what a deal.
You then wander out of the market - not the way you came in, because you have no idea where you are. You wander past the fish stalls, the chicken crates, and the beef butchers. It's quite an experience trying to breath through your mouth to avoid the odors, and also breathing through your nose as not to inhale any flies. Finally, you reach the end of the market, and you begin your walk back home. Along the way you pass about twenty-five autos, but you don't get one because you figure you should walk the 2 km home since you're going to eat an insane amount of chips and salsa later in the evening. As you pass Modern Stores on the way home, you pick up a few more things for the next day (cheese, yeast, tomato paste - you know the pizza craving will be next), and you notice that the prices for veggies are just as good as in the market. Oh well, you'll know for next time.
When you get home, you still have to mix up and roll out the tortilla dough (you did manage to pick up a rolling pin in the market for 12 rupees), cook the tortillas on the gas stove, wash (in clean drinking water) and cut up the veggies, then cut the tortillas and fry them. It's a very long process, but the end result is so worth it!
So, all of this to say that I hope you will go out to your favorite Mexican Restaurant with some friends or family this week. When they bring your food, I hope that you will pray for us here in India, and know that we wish we could be eating out with you!