Indian

At Summer Camp in the Himalayas, Nobody Misses S'mores

by:
July 26, 2016

Growing up in a newly liberalized India, I consumed a steady diet of Hollywood movies and TV shows. I knew that summer camp was a big part of American life, so while I had never tasted a marshmallow, I knew that the best way to eat one was to toast it over a campfire first. Summer camp in India, though, didn’t have marshmallows.

When I went to camp as a teenager in the fiercely beautiful Himalayas, I found that India had its own delicious camping food rituals.

  • Chai: Not your Starbucks “Chai Latte.” This was giant pots of strong, milky tea that were brewed fresh each morning and evening on make-shift gas burners. We drank multiple tin mugfuls, dipping crisp cookies and warming our hands. 

  • A breakfast mashup: Each morning, over plates of toast, spicy scrambled eggs, baked beans, peanut butter, local jam, honey, and bananas, we exchanged gossip and notes on purpling bruises and bug bites. The “toast” was always charred but limp—perfect for folding and dunking in your chai. Chai was the dunking liquid of choice. 


  • Spicy, curried lunches and dinners: Food at base camp was cooked in giant “kitchen” tents over the same gas burners where chai was made in the morning. Stewed vegetables, lentils, and sometimes chicken, with piles of freshly made flatbreads and heaps of rice. These meals were satisfying and soul-warming in a way that meals can only be after hours of hiking or rafting. 


  • River-chilled watermelons: There were no fridges at camp, but at that altitude, there was a freezing cold river. Each day, we spent quite a lot of time in this water: falling overboard by design or accident, body surfing the lighter rapids, sticking a giant watermelon in a jute bag and tethering it to a rock in a calm part of the river to chill for a few hours. Genius. 


  • Squash: Not the vegetable—this was a drink similar to a cordial made from fruit concentrates and water. The flavors rotated at camp, but the most common ones were orange, mango and pineapple. Large dispensers of it would wait for us at base camp as we returned from our morning hikes. We drank our weight in it each day.


  • Condensed milk: Mixed into crushed wafer cookies with instant coffee. Exactly as cloyingly sweet as it sounds and about ten times more delicious. 


Fast forward several years and a handful of camping trips in America, I can confirm that marshmallows are best eaten toasted over a campfire. But I would happily trade all the s’mores in the world for a cup of that campsite chai.

6 Comments

Michele July 27, 2016
What a wonderful, wonderful memory and such great writing. Thank you for sharing this. I always find that tea is so magical when taken outside, from a flask or pot.....something about the air and metal that might make it more flavorful, but not matter it is appreciated. Lovely piece, thank you.
 
Author Comment
Tanya July 27, 2016
Thank you!
 
Ashley C. July 26, 2016
Lovely, but was so hoping for a chai recipe at the end of this! I have one I love that's heavy on fresh ginger with cardamon, cinnamon stick, black pepper and nutmeg... but I am always, always interested in other spice blends.
 
Author Comment
Tanya July 26, 2016
Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment. The chai I make everyday actually has no spices in it at all. "Chai" is the hindi word for "tea". In India, most people drink their tea with milk and sugar, and sometimes add spices to make the tea more fragrant or medicinal (milky tea spiked with ginger is a popular home remedy for a sore throat). The most common spiced chai is "elaichi chai" or cardamom tea. Simply add a few bruised green cardamom pods to cold water, bring this to a boil and add your tea leaves/bags and milk. The recipe you describe is for "masala chai" or "spiced tea" and the mix you list is a typical blend, but can be easily customized to taste. Simply remove or add whatever spices you like till you find the blend you like best. I like to keep mine minimal with cardamom, fresh ginger and cinnamon. (Sorry if this was too long winded a reply!)
 
moop July 26, 2016
So... I almost cried at my desk reading this. I used to go to camp in Kasauli and Manali. The one thing I remember was getting packed lunches for when we went on "hikes" which usually consistent of a boiled egg, a questionable cucumber and tomato sandwich and lovely Himachali apple juice.
 
Author Comment
Tanya July 26, 2016
Yes! That apple juice was liquid gold! Family road-trips to the Himalayas meant coming back with a case to share with friends!