Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fruitful India

It’s tough be a vegan in India, I’ll admit it. I’ve been vegan all around the world, and nowhere has the combination of language barrier and prominence of dairy product make it more difficult to find pure vegetarian cooked food.
But raw vegan? Phff, no problem!
The subject has come up a few times now after hanging out with some of the people studying at the yoga shala here in Mysore.  After I’ve hemmed and hawed and finally admitted, yes I’m one of those extremist raw vegans, I’m usually met with one of these two responses: the person explains how they too once tried to be vegan, or raw, or both, and met with failure; or the person looks impressed and says “Wow, that must be really hard! HOW do you do it?”
At that point, it’s hard not to laugh and point to one of the banana stands that occur every 100 meters in this country. Honestly, being raw vegan in India is as easy as peeling a banana.

Random banana stand

Unless you eat absolutely everything, trying to get a meal with any sort of dietary restrictions could be very difficult here. Not to mention sanitation worries and fears of getting the dreaded Delhi Belly. With fruit, I always know exactly what I’m eating. And since I only eat fruit with a peel, I know for certain that no one but me has touched my food.

So here’s a quick rundown on the fruit scene in Mysore, India.
Guru's son Prasad at the family coconut stand
1. Coconuts. The most prominent feature in the Ashtangi Mysore world may be Guru’s Coconut Stand, just around the corner from the KPJAYI yoga shala. In the early morning twilight, the fog of cooking fires blow mistily across the road and a few women make brisk whisking noises as they pile the previous day’s trash and dust into corners. At this time you will find a few western yoga students hanging out after class. There are two types of coconuts: water coconuts, which are immature and have no meat at all, and sweet coconuts, which have varying degrees of maturity. If you like the meat more firm and the coconut very sweet and maybe a little fizzy, ask for hard ganji. Ganji is the word for coconut meat. You can ask for soft ganji too, but they taste almost like the water coconuts. I’m not sure how Guru knows which type of coconut is which, but he does and can almost always find exactly the coconut I’m thirsty for. I usually also get two coconuts “parcel”, in which Guru cuts the coconuts close enough to open that a kitchen knife can do the rest, and take them home to drink at my own leisure. If you get bored of Guru's, there's another coconut stand across the street, next to Zerena's fruit stand.

2. Zerena’s fruit stand. Across the road from Guru’s Coconut stand is Zerena’s fruit stand. Zerena has a great selection of bananas, pineapples, apples, grapes, papaya, custard apples, and melons (melon’s suck in India, don’t bother). She likes people who like fruit, and will often give me a couple extra guava or a ripe custard apple. She knows I like those. A bonus is that she usually has perfectly ripe bananas. Yum!


          3. Bananas  
      Bananas can pretty much be found anywhere, especially the larger type known as the Robusta. They’re not as yummy (in my opinion) as the little ones, but when you’re hungry they’ll do. Expect to pay 5 rupees each.

More Random Bananas

DevaRaju Market
A showcase at the DevaRaju market

The DevaRaju market is in Mysore center. It has every kind of fruit you could hope for in India (except Jackfruit) and people who really want you to buy it.  Expect calls of “what you wanting ma’am (or sir)?”. Most vendors will offer you mango, as if that’s the only fruit a westerner could be interested in. It’s out of season right now, and the most expensive of the fruits. It is also, in my humble opinion, not very good. So I will have to wait until next time to eat Indian mangoes.
 Behind the Deva Raja Market.

Here is where the fun begins. Amid motorcycles and crates of fruit, mud puddles and the reek of sewage and chicken poo, is where an abundance of fruit hides. Piles of pineapples. Buckets of custard apples. Stacks and racks of bananas, it’s all here. 

6.       JACKFRUIT! All right! It’s around, but you’ll have to look for it. Usually found in piles on the sides of major roads. It costs anywhere between 100 rs and 200 rs, depending on the quality and the mood of the guys selling it (it can take anywhere between 2 and 5 men to sell you a jackfruit).  Be careful, I’ve had bad luck with this fruit. Be sure to check the fruit for damage, most jacks have an ugly side. Tell the guy to open it and let you sample. The guy will try to tell you that all the fruits are “chenagidde”, good. Not so. Most of the fruits will be underripe, some will be ill-formed (meaning less fruit inside), and most will have some damage.  Try not to pay more than 150 rs for a large, good looking one. 

For all the price comparison shoppers:
Custard apple: 35 rs/kg =$0.75 US
Small banana: 50 rs/kg= $1.06 US
Papaya: 10 rs/kg = $0.21US
Pineapple: 25 rs each = $0.53 cents


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Fun! Thanks for the insight into the local fruit scene. Looks like shopping is an adventure. And those piles of fruit are impressive, especially the one of top her head! Glad there is so much available for you to eat... with peels :)

  3. sweet write up and pics....brings me back to banana land...hugs, D


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