Our family is the epitome of the American dream. Two immigrant families melded together adding to the wonderful melting pot of America that we lovingly call a masala. In India masala means a mix of spices. That’s what our family is, a spicy mix of eastern European and Asian Indian. Although I am the eastern European in the family I have become a serious “Indophile”. I love Indian music, art, culture and especially Indian food which I have studied and have been cooking for over 20 years.
My husband and I have traveled extensively through India with our children exploring the nooks and villages in far reaching corners of the sub-continent. We often travel with friends and on this occasion we were with Lori, Louis and their daughter on a two and half week journey from Delhi to Agra to Udaipur in Rajastan onto Cochin and Trivandram in Madras and ending in Bombay. We love to travel by rail. Overnight journeys are a big occasion, and every second class sleeper compartment hosts a little party. People travel with their children, grandparents, cousins, in-laws, and spinster aunties. They pack baskets and tiffins and boxes of fantastic home-cooked food: chapattis, biryanis, samosas, and sweets. We on the other hand brave the railway fare. Overnight trains usually make short (15-20 minute) stops a couple of times during the journey. Across from every train station there is the humble all night curry shop. These eateries are nearly identical: an open platform with a corrugated tin roof, a few bare tables and plastic chairs facing the street. In one corner, a neat row of vats bubble next to a smoking tandoor oven. It is there that we eat the ubiquitous Railway Station Potato Curry and fresh Tandoori Naan. I don’t know if it is because we are traveling and very hungry or that this potato curry is just comforting and absolutely delicious but we have talked about that potato curry many times.
It was in Udaipur that we decided to splurge a bit and stay at the Lake Palace Hotel, one of the most exotic Heritage Hotels of India. Maharana Jagat Singh II built this vivacious and irresistible palace in 1754. Situated on an island in the middle of Lake Pichola, this elegant white Palace was the summer residence of the rulers of Mewar, which has now been converted into a luxury hotel. It is a dream of white marble and mosaic glistening in the moonlight, very reminiscent of the most beautiful tourist cliché in the world; the Taj Mahal. The Royal Butlers, descendents of the original palace retainers, look after all contemporary comforts and ensure that all guests are treated like royalty.
Picture a balmy evening just after the sun has set. On the lake the Maharaja’s palace appears to be floating on the water in the red-purple dusk. Lori and I decided to explore this 4 acre property and found ourselves on a roof top illuminated by the full moon. We sat in silence and just marveled at where were, a peak moment in life. After some time we were discovered by one of the Royal Butlers, the roof was not meant for guests. We chatted a bit with him and he agreed to keep our secret and asked if there was anything else he could do for us to make our stay more pleasant, perhaps something to drink and some snacks? He returned with a plate of mixed kabobs, mint and tamarind chutneys and freshly brewed masala chai. Whenever I eat kabobs I am transported to that magical palace rooftop in the middle of Lake Pichola.