One of the best things about my flying job is the variety it provides. New passengers, new crew colleagues, new destinations. For the last two months, though, all I’ve had has been Delhi, Mumbai, Mumbai and Delhi. Still, it has given me a chance to get to know these destinations even better.
The flight to India itself is an experience: instead of the usual shirts and jeans, the women passengers are often wearing brightly-coloured saris and jangly bracelets, and some of the men even sport a turban. We regularly get monks flying with us, too. But when it comes to colours, the streets of India are even brighter with their lemonade stalls, newspaper kiosks and flower stands sitting shoulder to shoulder, and their women in their glittery and lavishly-embroidered pink, cobalt-blue, sun-yellow and green saris waiting for the bus. All this plus the children in their smart school uniforms, running around and laughing.
My favourite way of observing all of this is from a tuk-tuk, the small three-wheeled taxis that thread their way through the dense traffic at breakneck speeds. Time and again you’ll be overtaken as you sit in one by a moped carrying a whole family, or you’ll find yourself overtaking a beautifully-decorated and hand-painted truck. Driving in India is an art in itself. And I’m always relieved to get across the street in one piece, or be delivered to my tuk-tuk destination without suffering an accident on the way.
Summers in India are hot and wet – not the time for seeing the sights. Which is a pity, because India has some highlights here that are difficult to trump. The temples and the tombs are amazing. I even visited the Taj Mahal in winter once: a phenomenal experience. In summer, though, I prefer to spend my time in Mumbai relaxing at the Leela Kempinski, our wonderful crew hotel, enjoying an aroma massage or spoiling myself with a special jet lag treatment. In Delhi, meanwhile, I’ve discovered some new restaurants and fruit markets, and have totally got into Indian cuisine.
I vividly remember my first Delhi nightstop, when I ordered the buffet for dinner to work my way through all the tastes and spices. The different masala mixes for the curries, the paneer cheese (which reminded me of tofu, and was a tasty non-meat option), and of course the wonderful lentil dals, all enjoyed with naan bread… and that’s just a small selection of this incredibly varied cuisine. Indian cooking is still one of my favourites: I even try to concoct the occasional dish at home from time to time.
The country also has the sweetest mangoes in the world. It’s hard to believe if you’ve never tried one, but I’ve converted everybody. And the Alphonso mangoes have proved a particular hit with my parents, flatmates and friends. So buying mangoes has become one of my “must-dos” in India, too.
Fruit can be such a tricky thing to buy, though. Sometimes they’re overripe; sometimes they get squashed in your baggage and soon go off when you get them home. But if they do, I have a solution: I make a mango chutney, which is a great sweet complement to any barbecue, and to curries and cheeses, too. And I’m sure it would taste just as delicious with mangoes from other countries as well.
Just take two to four mangoes, peel them and cut them into small cubes. Then chop an onion, two cloves of garlic and a thumb-sized ginger. Brown the onion, the garlic and about 50 grams of sugar in olive oil. Add some spices (I use a teaspoon of cinnamon, three cloves, two teaspoons of curry powder, a little chili powder, a pinch of aniseed and a pinch of cardamom, two laurel leaves and [though this is optional] some garam masala ) and the ginger, allowing them all to fill the kitchen with their aroma. Then douse the whole thing with 50 millilitres of apple vinegar and four to six tablespoons of water. Add the mango cubes, simmer for 35 to 40 minutes stirring regularly and season to taste. You can enjoy the chutney straight away; or you can pour it into pre-heated jamjars, screw on the lids, turn them upside down and leave them to cool. The chutney will remain good for quite some time if you keep the jars in the fridge.