India in pictures

Indian Railways Soup

9:20 AM

Indian railway tomato soup

A lot is said about the food served on board Indian trains. And, let's face it, it is not always good. That said, some of the things they serve you on board in some trains is actually good enough. My favourite has to be the tomato soup.
It is by no mean a gourmet soup, don't get me wrong. But it is warm, has a taste that is neither too spicy nor too bland, it comes with a portion of Amul butter and two big crunchy bread sticks. And, they will give you a refill if you ask.

The soup usually comes after they served you a tea time tray of namkeens, sandwiches, sweet and chaat (already quite substantial). An hour or so after the soup service has been done they start with the dinner service. At this point you are usually too full to really mind the fact that the main course is a fairly standard and non original "dal sabzi roti chawal" (lentils, vegetable, bread and rice) or its non-veg avatar of chewy a bit too spicy chicken, dal, rice and roti.
Each time we take the train and are served food, I wonder if what makes the soup so much tastier than the main course is the fact that it is more "train friendly" than all the other food stuff. After all, you can hold the cup in your hands and sip at will and the potential for mess is quite low.

The main course is always awkward to eat. It's a full Indian meal with food soaking in gravies put on a tray you end up trying to balance on your lap on a moving train. If you put the tray on the berth the potential for spills is huge. If you are on a night train it means you'll be sleeping in your own food spills...not good. On our last train ride earlier this year I ended up silently thanking the inventor of baby wipes because we got a "dal tsunami" a "Dahi disaster" and a "Pickle packet explosion", something that judging by the look of the floor all across the train is not an isolated incident.

10 comments

  1. Aaaah! the Indian Railway Food.

    I used to work in Delhi before getting married, and used to quite often board the Shatabadi to catch up with my family in Chandigarh. I so miss the railway food (I have heard a lot of people complaining, but my experience overall has been not bad actually). The food was the part of that 4 hours journey, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    Okay, I am homesick now :(

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    1. Awww sorry if it made you homesick.

      I don't really understand the bad rap the Indian railway food is getting myself. I have tasted far far far far worse in many an airplane across the world. The only down point is eating the main course on a night train. If there are tables, it's all fine :-)
      The soup is really my favourite though :-)

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    2. Anonymous3:55 PM

      This is Indian Railways 1966, this movie was entirely shot in the train. I was surprised that such luxury trains existed in 1960s. It is a wonderful classic bengali movie. They don't make such movie these days so simple but so fantastic. No songs just classic acting. What most wonderful, it has english subtitles. Hope you enjoy it.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pK5hvo8xws0

      apple

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    3. I completely agree with you. Haven't ever travelled in the national rail for longer than 4-5 hours journey, so can only imagine the plight.

      P.S. - Absolutely love your blog! :)

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    4. Thank you Sameera :-)

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  2. Anonymous3:34 PM

    This must be Rajdhani Express. They do serve a lot of food. There was a time when Rajdhani was the dream train since it was all air conditioned and pricey. It still is slightly more expensive than normal trains.

    Talking of food, we carry old newspapers with us to prevent any spills but yes food spills are a problem in trains. When I was young only tea in clay cups was available in trains. That earthy taste of tea was fantastic, these days what is served in the name of tea is boiled water. We always carried food with us and it still the practice in India. You either take your own food or if you are at a relative's house they pack dinner for you. In my childhood I thought that proper food was probably not available on the trains or railways stations when there was a pantry in trains. Nobody was even aware that Railways served food and it was included in the ticket cost. Ever since they started outsourcing food, it has been quiet good. Now, I have heard that they are planning to serve fast food Macdonald's or Pizzaz Hut in trains. You have to order and in the next stations it is delivered to your coach. Now, trains feels like home with the internet and mobile phones and good food. Not to mention the noise with the vendors selling their stuff.

    The most problemetic part is the Sleeper Class where a majority of people travel. It is full of people, from people with reservations to people without reservations, daily passengers, students going for competitive exams or jobs, not to mention the unsanitary conditons and general lack of security. People just adjust in whatever space they have. Everyone has a favourite railway experience about how they had to travel without ticket because there was not time to buy one and there is always a kind ticket collector to help them out. Now, they are a bit strict but it works out somehow. Indian Railways is not just the train but there is a whole culture around it kind of like a traditon like most other Indian experiences hard to put into words.

    Vast majority of people are labourers who are going to their native towns to attend festivals. They don't have the money of the ticket. They just cram inside whatever place they get. Railways like the world outside perhaps leave them to fend for themselves. I sometime marvel at the patience of an average Indian. God has made them infinately patient. We travel in sleeper class most of the time in those days now it seems quiet impossible. Security and cleaniness is a big issue. In those days of course there was no choice. We were glad that we had the railways with or without facilties. This was the attitude about everything else in life. We have travelled along way but still there is room for improvement.

    Apple

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    1. Yes, this picture was taken in the Rajdhani Express indeed. But I have seen the same abundance of food on Shatabdi express trains. And still food part of the ticket price but in less quantity on other trains.
      I don't mind he boiled water and tea bag :-) I prefer my tea without sugar and without milk in general. Probably has to do with my not being a huge fan of milk more than anything. I think masala chai without the milk still tastes great. My husband is a milk with no sugar tea person. I stock many different teas at home because I am really an avid tea drinker, when I travel I take my flavoured tea bags if I know there will be a way to boil water. Last June I got my MIL super interested in my coconut flavoured green tea :-)

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    2. And I love travelling by train. If time wasn't a constraint I would choose it over planes readily. They always make me feel like moving homes where you have time to relax, read a book, watch a movie and munch on comfort food while taking the landscape out of the window.

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    3. Anonymous9:20 PM

      Shatabdis and Rajdhanis are the cream of Indian railways. I once travelled from delhi to agra on Shatabdi. Not only the train was on time it was quiet spectacular. The coach was filled with foreigners and you could only hear french and german. Food was definately abundant and frankly speaking I never experienced such hospitality from railways. Short but pleasurable journey.

      I remember when we were given bread sticks in Rajdhani we wondered what it was. Then after a bite we realized that it was bread. What to do with soup and this stick we wondered?? oh, you need to to dip it in the soup perhaps. Strange but tasty combination.

      About the tea sold by tea vendors in train, it is either powder or boiled milk with excess of water. I guess that is how tea is these days, powedered milk, sugar cubes, tea bags in offices. The whole thing tastes artificial. I am not a great fan of tea bags. They taste artificial as if some chemical is mixed in it. No matter how much you dip it, it still tastes sour. Powdered milk or real milk the result is still the same. The herbal/lemon tea bags are so sour that I cannot drink it after a few sips. The bitterness churns the stomach. Tea bags actually feel like somebody has sucked the soul out of tea LOL. Milky sweet tea is dangerous but it does feel like tea.

      I heard that intllectual people drink bitter tea/coffee?? There is something very intellectual about bitter tea?? perhaps it stimulates creative thinking.

      Apple

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    4. A lot of the tea bags in the market are made with tea leaf powder, the cheap stuff that is the residual material that fell off when selecting full leaves for more premium teas. These teas usually taste better if flavoured with other herbs and fruit peels. Never drink black plain tea from a tea bag unless it is a full leaf bag, they exist but will cost more.

      Tea if brewed right from the right leaf is rarely bitter though. I am less of a coffee person and I can't have it without heaps of sugar and milk, which doesn't make it tastier to me.
      In Switzerland coffee is the social drink, tea is considered a homely thing. We drink more fruit infusions that contain no actual tea leaves though, often after dinner and before bedtime as a digestive aid and sleeping aid of sort. I belong to that odd tribe of morning tea drinker in my homeland. In India I don't stand out as much, tea in the morning is normal. I just stand out for favouring tea without anything else but tea in it :-)

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