With the Howrah-Chennai-Express through Bengal

FIf hunger really is the best cook, then the pandemic lockdown is perhaps the best time to write about travel with joy. Especially since for me there is a dish that is inextricably linked to an unpredictable journey: Dal Makhani – or, literally translated, butter lentils. It is probably the most widespread dish across the entire Indian subcontinent. No matter if Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parse, Jew or Armenian – every family, every restaurant, every cook and every eater: everyone knows and makes Dal Makhani. And each different. I got to know it “Railway Style” on the Indian railroad. It is part of my personal happiness that I now know how to cook it at home.

I prefer to use a colorful mix of lenses. Brown and yellow, so-called Toor Dal, red Adzuki and green mung beans, plus a good portion of black beans, such as those used in a Kali Dal. The black beans originally come from South America, taste nutty and give the food an intense dark color. All legumes come together overnight in the water, at the latest in the early morning, under five, better six hours should not be. While everything is now soaking, there is enough time to tell how I got to know the dish.

Disciplined food intake

It was a few years ago, in the middle of December, which had made the climate in Calcutta very pleasant. If, as a European with jet lag, you are out and about all day in a completely unknown universe, it is a little easier at twenty-seven degrees. Unfortunately, December also had climatic disadvantages, but more on that later.

I had visited Delhi, Jaipur and then Bombay, now I was on the east coast and for a few days I was even a little afraid in Calcutta, the city for which I had previously had the most respect. Even from childhood the name seemed synonymous with Moloch and slum.


Meter by meter we pushed our way across the Tagore Bridge, overtaken by bicycles and motorcycles, nerve-wracking.
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Bild: Picture-Alliance

Since I was not traveling for my pleasure and basically alone and did not want to get sick under any circumstances, I had resolved not to take any risks and not eat anything on the street, from a traveling dealer or in an improvised kitchen, and never to drink open water , no matter in what form (be careful with ice cubes!), but above all prefer to starve than to eat outside of a veritable restaurant. My immune system would never have been able to cope with the various germs of the subcontinent, especially those that the mouth of the Hugli in Calcutta squeezes, that much was clear. Hopefully, if I behaved disciplined in eating and using caution in public toilets, I should get through well.

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