What do vegetarians do when they visit places where people draw a great deal of their sustenance from the sea? This is not really much of a dilemma when there is an abundance of vegetables and fruit, even though sea food is referred to rather appropriately, as fruit from the sea. Goa allowed us to experiment with abundant fresh pineapple, breadfruit and delicious perada, a hardened version of guava jelly cut into barfi like pieces.
There is something about salt water and air that sets up a yearning for pakoras, so the following day after a long bout in the water, while we idled at North Bay island and waited for our boat to come back for us, we were struck by pakora-lust yet again. We wandered into a small enclosure with several stalls selling odds and ends and stopped to order tea at a make shift tea stall. It was late afternoon, so seeing a huge mound of still warm pakoras, we ordered some. Jasmine, who wo-manned the stall, plied us with a newspaper cone full and plenty of hot sweet tea to wash down the pakoras with.
Soaking up the warm tropical December sun, our bellies full of pakoras and tea, we chatted with her. She was from Kerala and kept a stall at North Bay during the tourist season. Her husband worked on North Bay itself, so she could add a little money to the household by selling tea, biscuits, chips, and cool drinks.
The weather is very nice, Jasmine confided, but vegetables are very costly. Most of it seemed to come from the mainland, from Calcutta. Only green and yellow tender coconuts, small local mangoes and spice grew in abundance. On our third day as well we stopped for tea, this time near Chiditop and partook of giant green batter dipped chillies and smaller vegetable pakoras.
We met a lot of people in Port Blair from Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala whose migrant parents had put down roots on the islands. There were plenty of shops run by moms at walking distance from the Megapode where several salt and sweet snacks and groceries and provisions were being sold. The Megapode Nest itself served a selection of meals that spoke of links between the north and the south of India, with the occasional gobhi Manchurian disguised as fritters. Breakfast comprised idlis, chutney, sambaar and oothaapam, and bread, jam, tiny bananas and eggs. Lentils brown or yellow, chappatis, rice, and vegetables were around for lunch and dinner, along with a selection of mutton, chicken or fish. Dessert was custard, gulab jamuns, rasgollas in condensed milk and delicious sevaian and rice kheers.
Also memorable were the kulfis that were sold by solo entrepreneurs at tourist spots all over the islands. These were delicious milk lollies, taken out from the deep recesses of a large earthenware jar. When you ordered one, a stick was inserted into the tiny plastic container in which the lolly was frozen. Effortlessly extricated from its mould and handed over, it filled the mouth with the cool, sweet, cardamom- flavoured secrets of milk and memories of an older time.
The most seamless assimilation of the old and the new, which one member of the scuba diving team brought to my attention was the logo of (AFC) Andaman Fried Chicken, which occupies pride of place in Port Blair. A grinning chicken dominates the logo in red and white atop imposing glass exteriors. The chicken, remarked the young man, was rather upbeat about its place in the food consumption chain, unlike its melancholy cousin from the KFC chain.