The nostalgia of winter foods

Yesterday, while editing a winter foods story for Delhi, I had this sudden craving for sitting wrapped in a blanket and munching on moongfali (peanuts); crisp moongfali encased in warm kernel which is broken with the thumb. Salt and spicy coriander chutney would be standard accompaniments to the peanuts. We would always rummage through the kernels to look for a few stray peanuts, even after finishing quarter kilo of it.

Kali gajar ki kanjiThis and many other food memories that are so typical to winter, zoomed past as I read through the paragraphs about roasted shakarkand, dilli ki aloo chaat and bedmi-aloo; the ones that I am willing to recreate in Mumbai even at the slightest hint of cold. But, it’s never the same; sarson ka saag is never as fresh, the taste of radish is never as sharp and the kanji never gets the same pungency as when kept in the winter sun. Worst of all, there is no kali gajar here to make the kanji.

I remember as a kid there were vegetables that we’d only get in winter and my parents made sure that we ate them all. Mom would get singhada (water chestnut) to make kachri. She would boil the singhadas, peel and crush them and then cook it in desi ghee. This crunchy, buttery kachri would then be garnished with ginger, green chillies, coriander and lime juice. Sadly, the dish is not so common on the streets in north India. However, if you go towards Ramnagar in Uttarakhand you might still find some street vendors making it. Continue reading

A Punjabi food haven in Mumbai

Being anywhere remotely close to Matunga East for me has always meant eating at one of the South Indian joints. A lot of our working saturdays (my office is in Matunga West) are planned around going for a Keralan meal at Mani’s Lunch Home or wolfing down hot rasam-vadas and paniyarams at Arya Bhawan. Two weeks ago when I planned a trip to Shanmukhanand in Sion to attend a concert, my brain was already hatching ideas to eat at either Arya Bhawan or the legendary Mysore Cafe.

On Sunday afternoon we drove to Sion and I suddenly realized that I was a hop, skip and jump away from Sion Koliwada. Which meant that Chawla’s chole-kulche joint mentioned by Gaurav on his blog (Eating Out In Bombay) was somewhere here. I asked around and we paced towards the area which was soon to become a mini Punjabi food paradise for me in Mumbai.

The tandoors (clay ovens) outside every shop took me back to my childhood when every summer holiday was spent eating rotis straight out of these tandoors. My nana-nani’s (maternal grandparents) village in district Udhamsingh Nagar was inhabited by Punjabis and there wasn’t a single house without a large tandoor in its courtyard. After the last game of eye-spy or langdi-kabaddi when we walked back home in the evening, calls of “rotti kha le” (come have food) from every home would entice us; their doors always stood ajar to welcome whoever was passing by.

Back in Sion Koliwada I was walking past counters lined with imartis and mathris and shops filled with jars full of pickles. But the partially downed shutters and cold tandoors made my heart sink. The Gods of food were definitely smiling on us cause we spotted Chawla’s at a corner, tandoor still fired up and people still sitting and eating.

Few rickety tables and wooden benches made the road-side eatery’s sitting area. An old, Punjabi uncle took our order – 1 plate kulche-chole, 1 plate chole-bhature, 2 chaas, 1 plate dahi all for just Rs 90.

Practiced hands of the cook stuffed dough with spicy potato mix, rolled it into a round disk and slapped the disk against the inner wall of tandoor to let it roast. As the kulcha cooked slowly my mind wandered to a similar road-side dhaba in Amritsar where I had eaten the best kulchas of my life almost 10 years ago. The potato stuffed flat-bread with crispy layers, laden with butter and served with spicy chole has been one of my best food memories. Mouth salivating and tummy rumbling in anticipation, we sat down to eat. The mashed, dark brown chole were the exact replica of my Amritsar memories and baloon like puffed bhature were stretchy, like a bhatura should be. The kulcha didn’t have so many layeres and wasn’t so crisp but every inch of it was stuffed with delighful potato masala. We washed this down with thick, cold chaas flavoured with cumin powder and coriander.

Our hearts completely satisfied, our tummies slightly heavier, as we walked back it was the sweet shop distracting us again. The good fortune was still shining on me and I found chhena murki – sweet made of cottage cheese and dipped in sugar syrup, something I was craving for two days ago. Mouth stuffed with chhena murkis and stomach full with kulche-chole, we walked out of the mini Punjab in the heart of Mumbai.

An open letter to Rasna

Dear Rasna,

The other day I was in a supermarket buying summer coolers when I spotted you. At first, I couldn’t recognize you between the packets of Tang and ice teas; you all looked the same to me. I think that clarifies my initial indifference; I wasn’t trying to ignore you, not deliberately at least.

In order to reunite with you I bought a packet. It had a fancy name of a foreign kind of orange; looked like you were trying hard to impress. You were never about real fruit and added vitamins. Those fads are for juice companies. You were always about fun and taste and that’s what all the kids loved about you. You were our one glass of bliss after a game of langdi-kabaddi or kho-kho in hot Sun. You were the stuff all birthday parties were made of. We never had to buy Coca Cola or Pepsi for our friends cause we knew you’ll always be there with your orange, mango, cola, khus khus and tutti frooti flavours (11 flavours in total). You were there to lift our spirits after a tough day at school; you were there to calm us down before a tough exam; you were there to make play times better and to make study times bearable. Every time we lifted a glass of you we said “I love you Rasna” aloud, and that love came straight from the heart.

Rasna, you have changed so much. The small carton you came in is replaced by a packet and you are just a powdered form. What happened to that small bottle of flavour which was always used as a whistle after being emptied? Sugar too is premixed so there’s no family bonding over mixing sugar in water, adding powdered and liquid flavour to it, filling it in bottles and then treating ourselves to that first glass. Our next generation will never know that making Rasna meant quality family time. It was our first lesson of team work; the tasks divided based on experience among the kids, closely supervised by the adults. There won’t be fights over that last bit of concentrate left in the bottle. The side door of the fridge will never look colourful again. 

It’s not just the way you look has changed, your colour and taste is different too. You are not bright orange anymore; you look like an orange juice and taste synthetic.

Your ads too were about innocent kids and their birthday plans. That area has been taken by adults; now you have Karishma Kapoor and Virendra Sehwag promoting you. Why did you stop being kids’ friend and grew up? Why did you betray our love?

Rasna, without your old self, life’s not the same. I miss you, Rasna!

A distraught kid of the 80s

Date a girl who likes jalebis

Date a girl who’ll never let you eat another khatti (sour) jalebi in your life. She’ll finish pao kilo of jalebis just to taste if it’s the perfect one before getting another 1 kg packed. She will brighten up at the site of hot jalebis making your world colourful, as colourful as the orange jalebis coming out of the wok of hot oil. The old Dhara (jalebiiii!) ad will be her favourite television memory. Date a girl who knows her jalebis.

Date a girl who’ll soak in the aroma of hot jalebis before gobbling them up. You’ll never have to buy her flowers. The only ring she’ll ever want is the one coming out of the hot oil, sugar syrup glistening on it like a diamond. Date a girl who dreams of jalebis. Buy her more jalebis.

Date a girl who’ll ditch a 5 Star Sunday brunch and will head to a small jalebi shop near Station. She’ll take you to eat jalebi caviar at a high end restaurant and will still go back to that tiny shop every morning. Date a girl who loves jalebis.

Date a girl who will try jalebis on all her trips across India. She’ll take you exploring the hidden corners of the city just to find that perfectly crisp and sweet jalebi. Date a girl who worships jalebis. She would never approve of the comparison between Mallika Sherawat (Jalebi bai) and this food from heaven.

Date a girl who’ll find medicinal value in jalebis. She’ll know the right cure for those head splitting migraines. She’ll help you realize how sweeter the world is, with jalebis in it. Date a girl who admires jalebis.

Date a girl who looks forward to eating jalebis. If you want to see some Sunrises with her, just promise her some early morning jalebis and she’ll be up before the Sun. Date a girl who shines like a jalebi.

Better still, date a girl who wants more jalebis (yes, there’s no alternative).

A weekend in Bhopal

When in Bhopal do what Bhopalis do; eat pohe – jalebi in the morning with rounds of kadak chai and loads of bakar (random conversations about anything right from the weather to politics). The city is sleepy and slow still you will see people getting up early in the morning just to eat pohe, jalebis and kachoris fresh from the wok. That’s exactly what I did on the first day; woke up to watch sunrise from Kaliyasot Dam which is a 15 kms drive from Shahpura lake. The lake is equally beautiful early in the morning and a perfect place for bird watching. Thick fog floating over the lake during winters gives it an almost mysterious look.

After soaking in the early morning sun and the view we took a pit stop at a sweet shop in Nehru Nagar to eat jalebis, pohe and hot cup of Banwari Bhai Ki Nakhrali Chai. Every nook and corner of Bhopal serves this simple yet delicious breakfast early in the morning. On a chilly winter morning when you don’t want to leave the blanket, stepping out for crispy hot jalebis is worth all the trouble.

Another great place to grab some breakfast is the very famous Indian Coffee House in New Market. Although the decor has been changed a lot and the signature green curtains are gone yet the food remains as good as it was years ago. Hot idlis and wadas dunked in sambhar coupled with filter coffee is the perfect comfort food.
The new Bhopal city has plenty to offer; there’s Sair Sapata near Bada Talab, perfect for an evening stroll and a boat ride in the lake. Birla Temple gives a beautiful view of the lake and city in the evening. For the History and Culture buffs there’s Manav Sangrahalaya and the newly opened Tribal Museum.

A part of Bhopal which is not to be missed is the Old City. There’s a beautiful charm in the narrow lanes of the markets around Jama Masjid. The area is always bustling with people and there are small shops making chhole tikiya, phulki (Bhopali version of Pani Puri), kulche, chhole bhature, lassi and much more. Hotel Jameel in Ibrahimpura is a great place to grab some nalli nihari, rumali roti, kebabs and chicken fry for lunch. However, post 7pm all Bhopalis have just one destination, the famous Chatori Galli selling bade ke kebab, haleem, nalli nihari and biryani (my visit to this unparalleled galli is still due and I promise a separate post on that after my visit). 

There are also a couple of bakeries in Ibrahimpura market which sell freshly baked breads like sheermal, bakarkhani etc; a perfect foil to the spicy mutton gravies. If you’re not fond of breads do pick up some nankhatais and rusks from these shops.
One delicacy that you shouldn’t miss is the Barf rasmalai ke done at Ramudada’s stall. At around 4pm a guy comes on a Bajaj scooter near Jama Masjid with his whole stall set on the backseat of the scooter. Apart from the regular ice golas (crushed ice flavoured with syrups) he makes the rasmalai dona. He takes crushed ice in a paper bowl, tops it with sugar syrup, pours a big spoon full of thick rabdi over it, tops it with rose syrup and serves. The grainy rabdi with a layer of ice under it is a perfect combination and I can’t be thankful enough to the blog Bhopale for this recommendation.
10 minutes away from Jama Masjid is Taj ul Masjid, Asia’s largest mosque. The minarets of this mosque can be seen from the Birla Temple which is literally at the other end of the city.
Bhopal has both, an old world charm and a fresh and young vibe in the new city. There’s a lot of development yet the nature has been kept intact. While it’s chaos in the old city, the new city is more planned and clutter free. I wish to explore and share more aspects of this city through words and pictures in my visits to come.