Finding good food during travel seems to have become as much of an adventure as deep sea diving , involving research, exploration, and discovery, while risking little else but cash and intestinal well being.
Which is why anyone and everyone, those with taste buds and those without, are on the same adventure trail, exclaiming about every meal on SMS, on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Enthusiasm is generally in direct proportion to the amount paid for such detection. The vada pau rarely gets the same flowery praise as the French croquette especially if said croquette is served in "French owned" restaurant , even though it might be equally deep fried to death.
The question is ...what is so pioneering about "discovering" a fancy restaurant, one which is heavily advertised and has million of reviews to back up claims of excellence? The real taste revelation is more and more to be found in peoples homes ,where food is prepared with care, and sometimes even better, with love.
So how do you find this on your travels? In India where relatives abound, it isn't as difficult as in other countries, though the tradition of asking people over to a meal is slowly fading and becoming a thing of the past. You might be still be lucky. Mostly it is serendipity . You are mysteriously drawn to places and people which promise the palate surprise, comfort and delight.
Such fortunate happenstance occurred when we plumped to stay at the Carlton Plaisance in Mussoorie recently. I say 'plumped' because, with just a little scouting online, I found the site "still under construction".The description of the hotel was intriguing, promising a bit of history, ( A Chateau built in the late 1800's ) a bit of garden, and a good view.
What we found was a rambling old house, eclectically furnished, with a delightfully shabby air. High ceilings , ventilators and dark interiors reminded me of my many childhood homes. A parlour filled with (now very non kosher) stuffed animals and deep sofas, a high table, permanently set with linens, crockery and cutlery in the centre hall from which doors led out to large suites and the kitchens.
The better suites had a pretty gallery which once looked out to the hills in the distance but now looked out to a cement structure, which may have been a water tank. Water shortage is a problem in Mussoorie and we were sparing in our use of it during our stay. The platform on top of this structure ruined the view but closer to our rooms were very pretty flowers, glimpsed through the window panes , hyacinths and daisies which bloomed cheerfully in the sun.
Once in a while monkeys thundered across the tin roofs and were chased off by the staff. For the rest, even though the Company Garden road passed 100 meters away , we remained unassailed by other noise, chiefly the incessant honking of cars, which is a feature on all roads leading to, away and in Mussoorie, reaching high decibel levels near the Mall Road
What made the stay so good was that every day we ordered our meals in consultation with the cook , Kalam Singh, ( what was in season, available , tasty) and and he made it as simple or as elaborate as we wished , fresh and on time , calling us to the table when all was ready. We felt very much at home.
Everything tasted good, with a homely type of tarka, not swimming in oil or smothered in spices. In the course of our stay three preparations stood out. The Nepali Anda Aloo Achari, a mustardy dish with a creamy texture, the Pepper Chicken ,unlike any other chicken I have tasted to date, and the Achar Dal.
In spite of petitioning him thrice, Kalam Singh did not deign to share the recipes , smiling mysteriously and fading into the depths of the kitchens. Usman , the genial, friendly and always helpful Major Domo, kept his secret .
Now the only way for anyone to taste all that good food that is to go spend a pleasurable week at the agreeably laid back Carlton Plaisance while getting a glimpse , albeit dim, of an era long gone, like the promised (pale) view of hills.