India’s little Switzerland

February 6th, 201011:07 am @

Not India, Switzerland. Photo from Simon Aughton

The melting pot that is India can lead to some odd cross-cultural moments.

It’s not every day you find yourself standing in the courtyard of a five-star hotel in New Delhi drinking German wine and eating lamb ragout, duck and lobster while a three-piece Indian band cover ABBA songs and girls in fluffy versions of Swiss national dress – making them look like Santa’s desi elves – wander about greeting people.

In fact, I can safely say I’ve never had a day like that in my life.

The reason I found myself in this Fellini script was because my wife had been invited to the opening night of the Swiss Food Festival at the Hotel InterContinental Eros. Being one to never say no to free food and alcohol I was happy to tag along and enjoy the Swiss ambience next door to one of Asia’s largest electronics markets, Nehru Place.

The chefs, along with the ingredients, had been flown in from Switzerland and I was keen to get a taste of the dishes on offer. Lining up for the tomato and lamb (real lamb, not goat) ragu and the other non-veg options in the buffet I wondered what the Indian audience would think of the food. Stewed meats might be similar in many ways to a lot of Indian dishes, but the absence of spices puts the dishes a world away from cuisine Indian palates are accustomed to. The two young girls next to me were gingerly trying some of the duck and lamb in the same way a cautious Westerner might taste their first spicy Indian curry.

The fondue stand was probably the hit of the night, mostly because of the fun people had twisting and turning their forks to try to get the gluey cheese to stop running. More than a few guests walked away trailing a long string of cheese behind them, still attached to the fondue pot.

Chatting to the hotel’s general manager later in the evening, he told me the Swiss cow bells on the tables were going to be ordered from a supplier in Switzerland. The shipment was all set to go when they showed the staff what they were buying. One girl piped up and said there was no need to order them all the way from Europe. They sold cow bells just like that in her local market here in New Delhi.

They were just the sort of bells you’d find around the necks of cows adorning a pack of Swiss chocolate. Even the decorations looked suitably Swiss, with little drawings of cows around the Swiss flag. Looking closely, however, it was clear the cows weren’t your standard Euro-style bovines, they were Indian Brahmin cattle.

There’s your cross-culture, right there.

Swiss Food Festival
February 5th to February 14th
Hotel InterContinental Eros
S-2 International Trade Tower
Nehru Place, New Delhi
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