Yesterday, Sunday, I had a down day to explore Bangalore. So after 31 hours of travel, what did I do first? Got up early to head to the City Market!
Right after coffee, of course. My hotel, suggested by one of my Indian hosts, mercifully doesn’t serve “American breakfast” (if you’ve ever wondered why non-Americans resent us, look no further than the ubiquitous hotel “American breakfast”). So I had some lovely curries, some savory pastry, and the coffee I had come all this way for: it ultimately was similar to Cafe du Monde. Brewed strong in a moka pot, it was blended with chicory and served with milk. Normally, I must confess, I don’t go for that kind of thing. But my theory on regional foods is that, somehow, they always seem to make sense in context. Sure enough, this coffee was outstanding in this setting. My friend Martin will be pleased, as we will be doing a “Mysore Blend” for Martin’s Curry Rice, his new curry restaurant in Morrisville. I now know exactly what he wants me to do. I just hope it makes sense in North Carolina.
Back to the City Market… my airplane friend had tried to politely warn me off this adventure. And as it turns out, well, I was definitely the only white guy around. But my experience here was similar to my experiences in places like this everywhere – these are just honest, hard working people trying to make a living. Many of them enjoy having their photos taken, want to see it on your display, and expect that you will buy one of whatever they’re selling. It’s simple, really.
The market itself is centered under a bridge, and is populated with lots of food vendors. Moving radially from the center, the surrounding streets are other merchants, with categories of thm kind of grouped together – plumbing supply, machine tools, electronics, etc… everything you could want is available within a few blocks.
I quickly broke the golden rule of safe travel and found me some street food. Lest I come across as reckless, I was particular about which food I would eat on the streets of India. Generally, I avoided fresh fruit (washing water more of a potential problem than the fruit itself), and focused on things that were either unlikely to be washed, served hot, or ideally, both. Corn and beans filled the bill. The NC State Fair roasted corn people could learn a thing or two from Indian street vendors. Or maybe just one thing: charcoal! Corn cooked on coals is just way better than gas roasted. As usual, I found the local food to be exceptionally good, and I do not seem to have suffered any long term damage as a result.
No observations of Bangalore would be complete without a comment on the traffic. It’s more than a huge collection of motorbikes, rickshaws and cars, somehow. It’s kind of, well… a living organism of sorts. It is truly daunting to contemplate as a western driver. Yet, somehow, all these vehicles seems to be in a rhythm that allows them, miraculously, to avoid collision. As you ride in a three wheeled, open rickshaw, the lesson from your kindergarten teacher springs immediately to mind: KEEP YOUR HANDS IN THE BUS. No shit. You could lose one hanging it out of a vehicle.
I met my new friend Raghu for lunch. Raghu is a coffee broker, and works with a variety of exporters, who in turn work with a variety of importers in the US. Knowing guys like Raghu is essential to being able to source good coffee at home; without a connection like this, you are at the mercy of importers looking to push whatever stock they have on hand. The Raghus of the world alert you to quality coffee and who’s stocking it, allowing you to get to the front of the queue, or more likely, get in on the private sale of coffees that never make it to the open market. Raghu generously spent the bulk of his afternoon with me, reviewing my plan for the week, and taking me to see some of the sights in Bangalore.
I spent the remainder of the day wandering Bangalore, marveling at the juxtaposition of rich and poor, modern and historical, tradition and change. I picked up a few souveneirs, and the sandalwood is permeating everything as I type.
If you’re interested in seeing more of my trip photos, click HERE. I’ll add more photos and blog posts as time, and internet access, permit.