The Making of Sharpe's Peril

Last Update: 19 Oct 2008

If you like the look of it, helping yourself to part of someone else's dinner is not regarded as bad manners in Indian society. As on Sharpe's Challenge, I found that native Indians don't eat curry of a 'volcanic nature'.

Khansamah Kemal and khitmagar Selim of the Agrisen restaurant in Khajuraho - which being opposite my accommodation became our 'local' - encouraged me to try a selection of Indian foods and I sometimes went into the kitchen on 'quiet nights' to watch it being cooked and ask a few questions about culinary expertise.

Having said that, true Indian cooking from past experience doesn't resemble what you will receive in an English 'Indian restaurant' and eating with the fingers without using utensils (a knife, fork or spoon) though thoroughly normal in India (using a torn-up chupatti as a 'shovel' for rice or the more liquid constituents of the meal - and the capacity of the Western stomach) isn't regarded as usual in England.

A four-course meal - split into segments on the same plate or in added dishes and accompanied by several servings of home-baked breads such as nan, chupatti or roti - was regarded as usual in Khajuraho. I never once saw a chicken - having been plucked - with more than two or three mouthfuls of meat on it's bones and regarding 'lamb' I generally expected to eat goat - which is an acceptable alternative - but I did once eat a rarity now in England : mouth-watering mutton.

Pork and beef is obviously off-the-menu for Hindoos and Muslims for religious reasons but it is cooked by 'off-hand' chefs and served at many hotels and restaurants catering for 'westerners' with the menu usually stating 'all our salad and fruit is washed in bottled water'.

Fish I found best left alone in the climate we were operating in as the origin was often in doubt. Vegetarians are common in India due to several non-meat eating castes and don't raise eyebrows in restaurants and first-time visitors to India are often recommended to stick to a 'veggy-diet' to avoid the usual 'Delhi-belly' (though your initial exposure to home-cooked native Dal - boiled beans or peas but usually lentils and the usual associated veggy alternatives such as Saag - spinach - can be both an olfactory and visually harrowing experience.

On one occasion, due to working late at Orchha we had a hot snack brought out to the Armoury by our faithful pani-wallah and the individual portions were wrapped up in large leaves - which the voracious local goats greatly appreciated and after one gang of predatory goats started eating one of my trouser-legs eventually had to be dispersed by gunfire …

 

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