The food here is wonderful, full stop. I have always been keen on spice, thanks largely to my father. He fed me extra hot salsa before I could even talk—I mimed my satisfaction by excitedly touching my ten fingers together again and again: “More!” A decade later, my dad dared me to enter a hot pepper eating contest where I went on to eat (among other types) two ghost peppers and almost faint. So I felt well prepared.
To my ultimate delight, native Indians seem to think I’m doing okay too! On Saturday, I tried my first biriyani with a day-acquaintance named Santhosh. I’d like to coin this term:
Day-acquaintance (noun): a person with whom you cross paths for a day, you thoroughly enjoy each other's time, and you doubtfully ever meet again.
Santhosh and his friends were gravely concerned about my tolerance. “I’ve been to the US. It’s different here,” he assured me. I told him I wanted to try; no time like the present. When Santhosh ordered, the waiter paused. He pointed at me, eyebrows raised and head cocked. Santhosh insisted on my behalf—he wants to try spice. The waiter began shaking his head and we were all laughing. “Medium,” he proclaimed and walked away.
Whatever spice level did end up on our table, it was divine. The best way I could describe the biriyani we had would be semi-fried pieces of tender, juicy chicken combined with some of the most aromatic and flavorful rice I have eaten. Nothing about the dish was heavy. It was gingery and zesty, but never greasy or too buttery. I’ve since learned that biriyani is something of a culinary sign-post in India, each city or region having their own distinct style. I am now on a quest to find as many as possible.
There is really only one drawback to Bangalore, but it is truly egregious: the traffic. Yesterday, I sat in an Uber for one and half hours to get to the next neighborhood over, not even three miles away. I have now resolved to walk anywhere within a two mile radius of me, but each mind-numbing ride through standstill traffic will likely increase that distance.
Furthering the frustration, most drivers on ride-sharing apps won’t even pick you up during high-traffic hours. I can’t blame them. Ride-sharing is great for people like me, but it has truly bottomed out the market here. I wouldn’t drive through bumper-to-bumper traffic for two hours for $1.50 either.
So getting from place to place has become a highly choreographed dance. It involves hailing drivers on Uber and Ola, the Indian-owned equivalent, and walking around to all the nearest auto drivers. Autos are tiny three-wheeled, covered vehicles; a kind of mix between a compact and a scooter. You may have also heard them called rickshaws or tuk-tuks.
Typically auto drivers won’t take you once you show them the address of your desired destination. “Traffic,” is all they say and shake their heads. Uber and Ola “Fail to find drivers close to you.” It’s a maddening routine that can sometimes take half an hour itself. The worst is when you get paired with an Uber driver 20 or more minutes away. When this happens, they typically call you and start speaking in rapid-fire Kannada, the local language.
I don’t like these moments—I typically listen for 20 or 30 seconds, repeating “sorry” and “thank you”—and then hang up and cancel the ride. I should at least learn how to negotiate an Uber in Kannada. That seems like a common courtesy I can muster.
One US dollar equals approximately 68 Indian Rupees (₹). My Uber home last night cost ₹63. The dosa cooked on the side of the street cost ₹20. The coffee at Third Wave Roasters, the ridiculously artisanal outfit that could give any Echo Park shop a run for its money—well, just ₹110. My point is, I feel like I'm living large. In the US, 10 dollars an hour is barely a livable wage. Here, 10 dollars a day would maybe be enough to get by. I've airdropped in with far far more, and I am not entirely sure how to feel about it.
On a purely practical level, I know I need to save. Four months traveling through Northern Europe could quickly decimate my grant money if I don’t plan accordingly. As such, I need to move on from my current accommodations, where the host only accepts nightly payments. The rooms are only ₹1800, or $26, a night. But frankly, that’s a mere fortune here compared to some of the hostels and “Paying Guest” arrangements—often just eight dollars a night. If I am to be based in Bangalore for another month, it’s going to add up quickly.
People here are very energy conscious, but that is out of necessity. If too many lights are on when I start the electric kettle, the breaker will trip immediately, and the house goes dark. This happens in cafes as well. It’s always funny to see who was plugging in their laptop when the lights go out. This is never a prolonged issues, however. Power resumes moments later, with little disruption. In some ways, it almost provides a prolonged rhythm to the day, a nearly imperceptible meter which reminds me that electricity is not continuous, not infinite—but discrete, with a beginning and, invariably, an end as well.
If you didn't catch my first post—I know the email didn't send—check out my thoughts on week one here! The end of week two is quickly approaching too!