Eating real food? In India?

After many grueling days of head spinning search, I finally found a house to live in Chennai. The house was perfect for the most part. The location was pretty awesome really. It was super close to the beach and within a 0.5 km (0.3 mile) radius, there were 10+ restaurants (including a bunch of places that sell unbelievably awesome desserts), 2 grocery stores, 1 specialty grocery store, 2 health store, an awesome bookstore, 3 banks with 24 hour ATMs, innumerable tender coconut and sugarcane juice stands and much more! The house, though, was, in my opinion, pretty great. It had 2 bedrooms, 1 living, 1 dining room, 1 study room, 3 full bathrooms, a spacious kitchen which will definitely be overused and a prayer room which will remain unused. Other than that, the bathrooms were fine, the flooring was granite and tile, enough lights and fans and other usual stuff.

So after I finalize the rental and pay the advance to the landlord, I take my then to-be wife to the apartment to check it out. She walks in with me, checks out the space and her face shrinks. You know, the typical ‘Well, I hate it like you hate Justin Bieber. But I’m going to try real hard to make it seem like I just hate it to a normal extent‘ look. It took me a while but I finally understood why she hated it.

All plug no play

She and I lived in the US for a good chunk of time and while she is Indian at heart, she is still (for good reason) used to the US standard of living. The thing in India is that you don’t have many things that you can just plug and play. Everything is available, but nothing is readily available. See the difference? Let me give you an example.

In a place like Chennai, an air-conditioner is pretty much a necessity. So, if you walk in to a store to buy one, the sales dude will tell you the price and features and sell you the unit saying their company will take care of everything. He will promise you that as soon as the payment is made, an engineer will call and schedule an appointment and will very promptly fit the unit for you. All charges included. No hassles.Plug and play right? Wait.

In reality though, the engineer will call and set up an appointment for say Monday 10am and the guy might turn up as early as just 5 hours late or as late as ‘I’m on my way right now, I’ll be there in 3 days’! And only after this are you told that there needs to made a melon sized hole on your wall and that the power source is too far away from where you want the a/c and yada yada. So you battle it out for a few days and finally when you have the a/c installed and working, you feel like you’ve been blessed with the gift of temperature control. And this is just one example.

So in the case of moving into a new house, the house is EMPTY. There is literally not a thing in the house that you can use. You will need to buy and install your own a/c, fridge, washing machine, water filter, microwave and even change switch boards etc in many cases. All these things are available… but not readily available. This is the reason my US-trained wife hated the apartment at first glance and this is also the exact reason why people freak out when they consider moving to India.

The point here is to look a little deeper. What seems like an ugly empty house, could actually end up being your dream home if you spend some time and effort to set it up. The case with nutrition is the same… exactly the same! Pretty much everything you need is available… just not readily available. Let me break it down for you.

Moving on to nutrition

I think we will all agree that good health is a direct result of good nutrition and good nutrition is a direct result of eating real food rich in nutrients and avoiding foods containing anti-nutrients. That being the case, as I mentioned in the previous post, irrespective of whether it is paleo or primal or GAPS or WAPF or the sustainability focused Eat Real Food, the recipe for good nutrition calls for plenty of vegetables & fruit, seafood, meat, eggs, poultry, dairy and safe starches and limited amounts of soaked/sprouted nuts, lentils, beans and legumes.

So, the question then is, if you did move to India or live in India (or any other developing country) can you sustainably eat a diet that is focuses on food quality?

During the last couple of months, I have been on a search for real food. Unlike in the US, where you buy real food in a box or with a label, here I had an opportunity to look for ‘actual’ real food and not just food that is labeled as real food. Thanks to  the folks from the BootCamp and from my FaceBook group, my search moved on from branded grocery chains to local shops to street vendors to seemingly dirty but factually clean farms/home-stores where real food is really available. In other words, I had the chance to actually interact with the people who produce and/or source these foods and discuss specifics about the food.

Vegetables & fruits

Yes the commercially available vegetables in India are loaded with pesticides. But there are places that sell real organic vegetables and fruits (no pesticides) at extremely reasonable prices. One such store is ReStore in Adyar, Chennai. These guys are a not-for-profit organization who sell purely organic produce and groceries. Since it wouldn’t be fair to them if I even tried explaining their passion and service, I recommend you check out their website.

Seafood

Chennai is one of the few big cities in India that has a shoreline… and a big one at that. So finding fresh seafood caught from the ocean (i.e super fresh wild caught seafood) isn’t an issue at all! There seems to be plenty of stores that sell fish that was caught the very same day and if you’re not ready to trust the guys at the store (and you shouldn’t), you always have the option of buying fish from the beach itself!

Red meat

I have had very little experience eating red meat in India (cos of the taboo associated with eating the cow) and so I’ll share what one of my well-read readers, Vizeet Srivastava, who is very passionate about good nutrition and consumes mostly high quality real food, had to say.

I think lamb meat you get here is not labeled as grass fed but it is grass fed. Cows may be getting hormones and antibiotics injections to some extent but not large doses as being done in US (as many things are not very commercialized here).

Goat meat is generally safer for two reasons:
1. Goat is mostly domesticated by poor people.
2. Goat milk is not popular and not easily available so most of it will be consumed by the baby goat and will have better immune system and health.
I buy from local shop who keeps smaller breed which means there is lesser chance that it is farmed. Moreover I do not think goat factory farming is profitable given number of people who keep them at home.

Poultry

Free range chicken is definitely not easily available in India, but again there isn’t much nutrition in chicken anyways and hence I don’t see a need to invest any amount of time in finding a source of good quality poultry. That said, free range ducks seems to be available fairly easily.

Eggs

Country eggs (naatu kozhi muttai), quail eggs and duck eggs are available in most places. Since these are not farmed as commercially as regular chicken eggs, chances of finding free range eggs are fairly high. They surely wont be labeled ‘free range’ or ‘cage free’ or ‘blah blah certified’, but if you spend a couple of minutes and talk to the grocer/vendor and ask him where he gets his eggs from, you’ll be able to find good quality eggs.

Dairy

It is true that grass-fed dairy is unheard of in India. But why would I go ask for grass-fed dairy if I can walk into a dairy farm and ask the farmer what he feeds his cows? And will I have anymore questions if he points to green grass and hay and says I need to pick up the milk every day within 2 hours of milking? Granted, the cows feed on a mixture of grains in addition to grass and hay, but the fact that these cows have never been exposed to hormones of any sort and that the milk is ‘as milked’ and unadulterated makes it legit! How awesome is that? And how many skim milk/low fat milk/soy milk chugging ‘health advocates’ actually know how wonderful real milk tastes?

What is my diet like right now?

Still a work in progress but here is what I normally eat these days…

  • Scoop of whey in water while coaching.
  • Shake with 1/2 liter whole milk, 2 big bananas and 1 scoop whey right after working out.
  • 3-4 cups of avial (traditional south Indian dish made with mixed vegetables, coconut, yogurt and spices) or kootu (lentils + vegetables + coconut oil), 3-4 whole eggs, 1 cup cooked white rice and a cup of whole milk or yogurt for lunch.
  • 1 cup of whole milk, a bunch of almonds and a fruit or two in the evening.
  • Some fish, 3-4 cups of vegetables cooked in coconut oil or ghee for dinner.
  • 1 cup of whole milk and a fruit bout an hour before hitting the bed.

So what am I trying to say here?

Simple – If you are ready to go that extra mile and ‘hunt for real food’, you can rest assured that you will get food that is high in quality, exceptional in taste and easy on your wallet! But if you choose to be lazy and just accept what is readily available, I swear to God you will be stuck in a hot and humid room with an uninstalled air conditioner eating pesticide/anti-nutrient filled food!

Go the extra mile just once, do the foundational work well and eat real food for the most part ‘cos life is just better when you’re fit and healthy!

Peace out.

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20 responses to “Eating real food? In India?

  1. Roxana September 28, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Hi. Interesting post this. Figured I could contribute my 2 bits to this.
    1. Free range chicken (naatu kozhi) is fairly easily available. If you went to any of the traditional markets which have a fish/ meat section (not the Suguna chicken/ Ven Cobb chicken places) you will easily find vendors selling them. This type of chicken involves a lot of cleaning, so I would advise you visit these places on a weekday, when the shopkeeper will be happy to clean it for you (Sundays are too crowded and most shopkeepers wouldn’t agree to this).
    2. Free range eggs – this is one of the most adulterated foods in Chennai. Since its hard to procure, a number of shops take small broiler eggs and color them with tea. It would help to find a good supplier (perhaps one of the shops mentioned in point 1) and get him to supply to you regularly.

    I missed the first batch of The Quad, due to location- issues. Please make your second batch announcements soon (you had promised to address us, KK Nagar residents :))

    • RG September 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm

      Excellent points Roxana. I’ll try to figure out a way to filter out tea-eggs. And what do you mean by traditional markets? butcher shops?

      And BootCamp, will let you know as soon as we find a spot close to you guys!

  2. Vizeet September 28, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Again an excellent post and thanks for quoting my text. I agree with Roxana on Free range chicken and free range eggs. In India never trust a label, chickens are fed with turmeric so that they lay eggs with yellow yolk and eggs are colored with different sades of brown to look natural. The only indication that egg is not from factory farmed chicken is if you find blood in the egg. Because factory farming will not produce fertilized eggs.
    One more point, quail is also factory farmed because there is lot of demand for quail eggs and meat in Asian countries. Ducks and local chickens (colored chickens) are mostly not farmed. The reason why duck is not factory farmed is that it requires less maintenance. There are very few farm houses that farm local chicken breed and they are easy to identify — Just select an active chicken.

    • Kusum Rohra September 28, 2011 at 10:17 am

      Hey Vizeet, husband and I really wondered about this small tiny spot of blood we would find on our yolk, glad you cleared that for us 🙂

      • Vizeet September 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

        Hey Kusum, I am not completely sure what causes blood spot in egg yolk but I have never seen them in factory farmed eggs. I guess it has something to do with fertilization.

      • mssriram September 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm

        Found this online:
        “Can you eat eggs with blood spots?

        Eggs with a visible blood spot on the yolk are safe for consumption. The spot can be removed with the tip of a knife. Blood or “meat” spots are occasionally found on an egg yolk. These tiny spots are not harmful and are caused by the rupture of a blood vessel during formation of the egg. Blood spots do not indicate a fertilized egg. Mass candling methods reveal most blood spots and those eggs are removed, but even with electronic spotters, it is impossible to catch all of them. If desired, the spot can be removed with the tip of a clean knife prior to cooking. These eggs are safe to eat.”

        from http://whatscookingamerica.net/Eggs/FAQ.htm

      • RG September 28, 2011 at 9:32 pm

        Was going to post this. Thank you. Heard from multiple sources that the tiny blood spot is nothing to worry about.

    • Vizeet September 28, 2011 at 10:34 am

      Cows here are farmed to produce more milk and not more meat so their grain consumption is low. They also feed on legumes. In my understanding legumes are part of their natural feed.

    • RG September 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      Irrespective, there is not much nutrition from poultry. So Im still not convinced that I need to look for free range chicken/ducks.

      That said, I’m open to trying out mutton again. Let me give it a shot. There are bunch of restaurants here that sell goat brain and liver dishes. What are your thoughts on goat meat and organs that are used in restaurants?

      • Roxana September 28, 2011 at 9:45 pm

        Really? I always thought chicken was a great source of protein (only after fish, of course).
        As for mutton, you probably already know it, but the thumb-rule is male of the species for animal meat and female of the species for bird-fowl. A number of mutton shops will try and mix up both, so be sure to check and ask, when you buy meat – I know a lot of people who got put off my mutton, thanks to eating the tougher, female meat.
        As for eating liver and goat brains in a restaurant, I would not recommend it. Both these organs need to be cooked fresh and not too many restaurants do that. They also tend to soak liver in water, which leads to it losing taste (as well as nutrients, I would believe) and makes it rubbery. Goat brain is easy to cook – a simple tomato- based masala is all you need. So if you are not too icky about cooking it at home, I would recommend having it home- cooked.

  3. Kusum Rohra September 28, 2011 at 10:10 am

    This is neat Coach! I’ll get this place from where you get milk tomorrow and thanks a bunch for the organic store in Adyar.

    Roxana, I so wish you were part of the bootcamp it’s the best thing to have happened to me and husband in a long time 🙂 and er I haven’t still found a place for naatu Kozhi yet, will surely hunt some more, thanks.

    • RG September 28, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      Thank you for the kind words Kusum. Like I’ve said it before, you and Rajesh are doing an amazing job! Progress is rapid and you’ll be surprised at your results.

  4. praveenthames September 28, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Hey,
    I ‘ve always been having this question Sea fish vs. Fresh water fish? Is’nt fresh water fish as healthy as sea fish ?

    • RG September 28, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      Praveen – farmed fish isnt as healthy as wild caught fish cos they are fed grains and get no exercise resulting in being fat and very low in omega 3s. Stick to fish that is caught in the sea.

      • Arunima September 29, 2011 at 7:33 am

        Would’nt fresh water also mean river fishes ? On the eastern side of India people rely on river fishes a lot – caught from Ganga and other smaller rivers.

      • RG September 29, 2011 at 10:24 am

        possibly. but here in chennai it mostly means ‘thotti meen’ i.e. farmed fish.

  5. varshatiwary September 30, 2011 at 12:28 am

    We are too used to having everything all the year round.I keep hens in my backyard -and they are prolific only during winters,whereas, broiler eggs are available throughout the year.The quality of raw milk also improves after monsoons when the cattle is replete with fresh grass.I did not understand the logic of male vs female in meat as mentioned by Roxxana above.
    We non-coastal folks rely on fresh water fish available in dams and rivers If you buy from vendors sitting by the river you can get free range.Procuring free range food involves a lot of free range exercise:)) you can’t buy it from the store.

    • RG September 30, 2011 at 4:36 am

      spot on – Procuring free range food involves a lot of free range exercise:)) you can’t buy it from the store.

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