When I came back to New York after spending a few weeks in India, it felt very nostalgic. The climate in India is always mild and mellow. People in India, in spite of going through many serious obstacles, are warm and friendly. And Indian food truly embraces you with its unbelievable taste, diversity, and culinary artistry.

Street vegetable and fruit stand in India

I do not want to undermine the talents of the many young and old chefs that thrive here in America, with their ratings and rewards and numerous followers. But here I am talking about the average American and the food they get at average diners and restaurants. The quality of food that we normally get across America on a day-to-day basis is definitely not that great. And especially, there is not really a street food culture in America. What goes by under the name of street food even in a vibrant city like New York is really those food trucks and vending vans.

So, coming back from India, we went with our daughter and granddaughter to visit our favorite Museum of Natural History. After spending a couple of hours there, we were hungry, and for the first time in many years, we went to get some lunch from one of those vending vans lined up around Central Park. And immediately we knew how poor the quality of the food was: the taste of street food from Kolkata and Delhi was still lingering on our tongues.

In fact, the van food was so bad that my husband threw most of it in the trash.

And this is not just the sub-par food trucks. Even though we cook mostly Indian food at home and prefer to cook and eat at home instead of eating out (and thatโ€™s what I preach to my American students all the time โ€“ โ€œcook and eat at home and be happy and healthyโ€), once in a while we venture out to some Italian or Spanish or yes, even Indian restaurants. And almost always, we end up feeling frustrated that the money was not worth it. Sure, the people are nice and they do their best to please you. But really, even a no-name restaurant in a no-name neighborhood in India can easily surpass the quality of pricey food you get at a three- or four-star Manhattan or Brooklyn joint.

I am not sure what exactly it is that makes the difference. It is not easy to pinpoint a single reason. But looking deeper, it is the chemicals that are normally used to process the meat or fish or even the potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, spinach, or other greens that are built into the finished dish. Or, stuff they put in the sauces that immediately tells you it is not pure and natural. Chemical-free food items and ingredients are almost invisible at an average dining place in America. Even the fruit juices seem bland and artificial.

Indian street food stand

And in India, in most places, it is still the naturalness and purity that makes the difference.

At my home, at my humble, one-person Indian cooking class, I emphasize how to cook with pure masalas and ingredients. And I can see how my students react when they cook and eat their own cooking. I see the total satisfaction on their faces.

It is the quality that matters.

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