I had been traveling in India with colleagues for a week when my real vacation began. My husband, John, had joined me in Delhi and we flew off to Jodhpur and then, after a three-hour drive through the desert in northwestern Rajasthan, arrived at the Serai, in Jaisalmer. It was here, at this magical tented camp near the Pakistan border, that we first heard Sufi music, which immediately became an obsession—one pursued deep into the torchlit dunes the following night, and back in Jodhpur at the Sufi Spirit World Festival the night after.
I had kicked off my India tour with a late meal on arrival at Wasabi, at the Taj Mahal Palace, in Mumbai, where sushi is expertly prepared by Morimoto-trained chefs with fish flown in from the Tsukiji Market, in Tokyo. This proved to be an introduction to all the tantalizing non-Indian food that awaited me, from a memorable Italian meal at Stella at the Leela, in Mumbai, to a wondrously good fettucine with shrimp and fresh tomatoes at Diva Piccola, an Italian trattoria and pizzeria in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village. There were, of course, extravagant Indian feasts as well: Hyderabadi biryani served in the nizam’s monumental dining room at the Taj Falaknuma Palace, and a pan-Indian banquet at the Park Hotel, also in Hyderabad, prepared under the supervision of the Maharaja Vikram Singhji of Sailana, who is deeply engaged in the preservation of the subcontinent’s recipes. Perhaps most prodigiously demanding of all were the multicourse feasts combining Tokyo-sourced sushi and Indian specialties at the buzzy Threesixtyone restaurant in the new Oberoi Gurgaon, outside Delhi, and at the Ista Hyderabad hotel. It fast became clear that breakfast was the only meal where I could hope for some degree of moderation, and I latched on to alternating Southern Indian pancake-like preparations, dosa and idli (based on batter made with fermented black lentils and rice and accompanied by various chutneys and sauces). All this is to say that the pleasures of eating are brilliantly alive in India.
This month, T+L’s focus is on food as an essential part of travel, ranging from tapas in Madrid to farm-to-table in Hawaii, and from Vietnam by way of New Orleans to Japan through the eyes of an all-star team of international chefs. We narrow our focus on a global guide to sandwich favorites, including Martha Stewart’s go-to place for ham and cheese and Homer Simpson’s multitiered masterpiece on a bed of doughnuts. There’s shopping, too, at food experts’ secret sources for the best tools and staples to bring home. I know what that’s like—there is an array of Indian curry powders, cumin seeds, and turmeric laid out on my kitchen counter, in the hope that my efforts will, in some modest way, do justice to the richly flavored dishes of India. But then, the packaging alone is a lovely evocation of meals we won’t soon forget.
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