Lose your way to find it!

 

On a hot sweltering afternoon, at the end of our trip to Gokarn, my travel weary bones and a near empty growling stomach made me google the nearest food joint. The search coughed up a few names, among which a French sounding “Chez Christophe” showed up as the closest. We put on the GPS and followed the lady obediently only to end up in a small village with a handful of houses. We had lost our way!

Feeling hopeless, but hungry, we got down and walked up to a group of people asking for the restaurant. The “Krishnappanna hotla?, gottu, ille munde hogi, sigatte!” (Oh Krishnappa’s hotel? It’s right beyond here, just keep going) of the skinny man in a lungi made us feel all the more hopeless. Where was the French guy, we wondered. Or had he sold the hotel to an Indian counterpart? Unfortunately, there seemed to be no place around which could serve a near decent meal, so we decided on taking up the man’s offer to go in search of Krishnappa.

We got off the road, and started walking in through the lanes between the thatched roof houses, separated from each other by makeshift bramble walls. On the narrow foot roads where we had to walk single file, we were occasionally mauled by hens and growling dogs who were disturbed out of their afternoon siesta.

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The picture just does not do justice to how it actually looked!

Often in the center of the hustle and the bustle of the cities, the silence of the village in the afternoon seemed eerie at first. But then we began to take in the sights. Of the villagers working their way through their chores, contentedly, house after house.

One backyard had a lady who had set up an outdoor makeshift stove which contained a pot full of bubbling fragrant curry, while she on the other side, was cutting up fresh fish to put into the pot. There were a few cats purring on the side, waiting for any stray morsel coming their way. She stopped, surprised to see us, then waved us on, when we asked her about the hotel.

Another house had a small porch lined up with parrots of a vibrant green, which were being fed by a grandfather and his grandson. The grandfather was explaining something to the child, who was excitedly nodding his head.

A sudden spread of green burst forth, between the houses, where a lone farmer was quietly going about his work. Walking through a stretch of field which was ripe with the produce of sweet potatoes, cowpeas, beans and marigolds made for a great experience for the kids.

A blonde guy was lying peacefully on his hammock humming a small tune, in a hut with graffiti painted walls. But strangely, he did not seem out of place in the middle of a typically Indian village. He blended well with the peace it was emanating.

It was a trek to remember. The peace, the quiet and the sense of zen that prevailed, all but made us forget what we were there for. It felt as though we could go on and on. We felt the “ichigyo zammai” that afternoon. This basically means,(in Japanese) finding happiness in concentrating on the small pleasures of life, one at a time. Without distraction. Without the hurry that we might run out of time.

Our pace slowed, we breathed the air more deeply and even the kids quietly walked down the road. Just experiencing. And assimilating the awesome feeling into our beings. For once, I stopped clicking photographs like a woman on a mission, and just looked around.

At the end of the road was a beautiful beach, unspoiled and clean. And finally Krishnappa’s hotel (which was actually Christophe’s café by the way). And that, was an even more pleasurable experience.

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The place is a shack which is probably frequented more at night, and hence was completely ours at that time. The floor is covered with mattresses and cushions, which serve as seating. You can sit and stare at the endless expanse of the sea and hear the rhythmic sound of the waves. A wooden swing sways for the breeze as you munch on yum French food.

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Borrowed the photograph, but wanted badly to show the swing!

We finally found the right, motorable road to reach the place. But decided to walk back the same way we came. For the pleasure of walking down the road, which taught us the happiness of just being. Sometimes, you have to lose your way to find it!

Thank you Chez Christophe, and thanks GPS lady!

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Six unique indulgences in Delhi

 

Our capital city,has always evoked in me a picture of the mughal grandeur. Of beautiful landscaped gardens, old bungalows, relics of the bygone era sprinkled between the buildings of today and a huge dollop of history to go with it.

That Delhi has got a Nirbhaya side to it, horrible summers, the famous, or rather infamous Delhi belly and reports about being one of the unsafe cities in India, dents the halo a bit. But in my opinion, it still manages to rise above this.

It is said that Delhi is a city which has been rebuilt eight times! Each time it got looted and destroyed, it rose again like a phoenix from the ashes. For someone who has gone through so much gore, the city looked calm and composed when we visited it in the winter.

Apart from the amazing monuments which I never get bored of seeing repeatedly, this time through, I had the oppurtunity of tasting some of the most mouthwatering food that I have had in recent times.

  1. The famous Moolchand paranthas.

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I have no idea whether the Moolchand metro station got named after the paranthewalla or vice versa, but any which way, it’s a good thing, as it is easy to find. Sometimes, when you keep your expectations high, the actual food can be a big let down. We had heard so much about this joint that somewhere in the corner of my mind, I had expected it to be a let down. Especially when I saw what the size of the joint. The only encouraging sign was the number of people queing up near the counter. By the time I reached the counter to place the order, the aroma of the paranthas and the heat of the tawa was making me really hungry.And what a meal it proved to be! Each parantha we tasted was amazing. The food is served on very simple plates with a satchet of amul butter and a side salad of onions and mint. But each morsel is a bite of heaven! The best among the lot being the paneer onion one, and the weirdest was badam parantha. Do try!

  1. The daulat ka chaat.

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Long long ago, in an old book called “Endless feasts”, which is a collection of food essays, I had read a bit by celebrity chef Madhur Jaffrey about her childhood in Delhi. She reminiscied the taste of daulat ka chaat sold by an old lady in the cold Delhi winters.Years later, I read about it in another book called “Kheer, Korma and Kismet”.The author had traced the people who make this and explained the arduous process of its making.

This chaat is unique for two reasons. One it is sweet, and two, it is only available in the winters. Apparentely, it is made by whisking sweetened milk for long hours on full moon nights and allowing it to ferment on the roof of old houses in Chandni chowk for the dew to settle on it. It is then layered with saffron and silver warq and served with  a topping of pistachhios,kurchan and powdered sugar.

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Armed with loads of roadside shopping(chandni chowk is indeed irresistible, just like it always was for Shahjahan’s daughter, for whom it was built—though horribly crowded), and two kids, I ploughed on trying to find alleys where I could find this treasure.

Right in the center of a crowded intersection, I found it. The morsel was so light and so incredibly fluffy,that it would have given any masterchef a complex. It tastes sweet, light and crunchy at the same time.It is so light, that the afternoon heat is enough to collapse it! And delicious. No. Other. Word.can explain it. So, now you know which season to visit Delhi in!

  1. Chur chur naan.

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The name itself was so funny, that it caught my attention. The naan was anything but chur chur (which means “little” in kannada!).It consists of bread with various stuffings of vegetables, paneer and kheema, fresh out of the tandoor and crushed to serve. Usually, it is served with dal and a salad and dollops of butter on top. A cholesterol attack, no doubt, but worth every penny. You really wouldn’t mind having a heart attack after this!!:)

 

  1. Chole kulche.

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This ever green dish, which seems to be the staple of Delhi, I tasted , on our way to Agra. The kulche are fried and served with a curry of chickpeas. On a cold winter morning, when you are shivering under your warmest clothes, this is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The Taj seems more beautiful on a tummy filled with this breakfast!

  1. The flavoured matka lassis.

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I always associated lassi with the Punjab. But Delhi has special matka lassis.Having cold lassi in cold weather has a charm of its own. Especially when the lassi come in multiple flavours. From plain sugared and strawberry to exotic ones like litchi, blueberry and kiwi, served in mud pots, and topped with a sprig of mint. Forgive me for the horrible pic. It is difficult to concentrate on a good angle when all you can think of is the taste!

  1. Chaat.

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On the road leading to Jamma masjid, there are many shops which sell chaat and actually make you scared of the Delhi belly.The surroundings are so filthy and crowded, that you are left wondering whether you made the right choice. Each and every shop selling chaat seemed to have a huge crowd around it. This bolstered our confidence to wade our way through the crowd and eat! As they say, victory goes to those who persevere.  The dahi ballas, the alu tikki, fruit chaat, the ram laddoo and of course the gol gappa were mouth watering and thankfully safe on the tummy!

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Many of these foods may have had their origin in one of the eight cities that Delhi was before. And been concieved and executed by the khansamas of the royal kitchen. And through the chaos and the destruction, they survived to make Delhi what it is today. Fascinating, steeped in history and amazingly delicious!

Food, glorious food.

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To call myself a foodie would be an understatement. My love affair with food began quite early. Even as a child, I was somehow drawn to food the way sugar draws ants. In a way, my obsession with food and books have a mutually common base and an intensely satisfying connection with each other!

By virtue of being a painfully shy kid, I was always happy hiding behind books, which acted as my comfort zone. My earliest memories of reading go back to when I was 7, and when I was given an Enid Blyton book of a circus girl, Carlotta, and her adventures. For someone who had a secret appetite for adventure, her life almost seemed magical. More awe inspiring though, were the different kinds of food described in the book. I must say, Enid Blyton was a master in making the most drab of foods seem so gourmet like, that I grew up on fantasized versions of  Ginger beer, sandwiches, lemonade (which I later discovered was a fancy name for nimbu pani!), boiled eggs, fresh fruits, jam, pickles, midnight feasts and picnics over the hillside. These were the dreams that my childhood was made of. I would almost smell the mountain air, feel the texture of the sandwich and hallucinate the taste of ginger beer. Through Malory towers, Famous five and  Five find outers, unconsciously I became a fan of food.

My make believe games involved getting some food from the bakery, putting it in a basket, laying it out  and having imaginary picnics with myself, and of course my books for company! Over the years, my love for food diversified from street food and chaat to food from north Indian restaurants(which in the 80s were the only alternative cuisine available in Shimoga) and later a fetish for Chinese. Even as my memory for other important things fails me at that most crucial of times, like names of people whom I am definitely supposed to be knowing; food memories never deny me that favor. I still remember the taste of Hakka noodles made by a small Chinese joint in Shimoga which shut shop  a few months later due to lack of regular patrons (other than me, of course!).

Over the years, my love for books and food grew in equal measure, both competing for the first spot. My college days in Mangalore opened new avenues to explore, the best of both worlds. I think I must be the only person who spent all her pocket money on food and the library. I am sure though, that I am the only person in the whole world who read loads of crappy mills and boons only to enjoy the description of food which is described in it rather than the romance! I was introduced to fancy names, french food, Hors d’ oeuvres(which by the way, I still do not know how to pronounce), wine and the mouth watering deserts like Crepe Suzette which I enjoyed by proxy, through these books.

Back then, the only kind of food writing that I knew of were cook books, which describe cooking in a really dull, drab way, measuring each ingredient in great detail, and eventually spoiling the spontaneity of it all! Which is why, I love the way Nigella Lawson cooks. Just by instinct- a handful of this, a sprinkle of that, a bunch of coriander  torn right out of the garden, whisk it all together, and viola! You have a drool worthy dish in front of you! Any ways, I’m digressing, which usually happens when I am talking food.

Coming back to the point, I only got to know that there was a genre’ called food writing  when I discovered a book at a sale. The book called “Endless feasts”, edited by Ruth Reichl, is a collection of articles that various food journalists in Europe and America. The book describes delicious traditional breakfasts of Maine, the grandiose dinners at Ritz in Paris, and stories of how Italian home food is made. Though being a vegetarian meant that I could not even try most of what was described, the descriptions were enough to make my mouth water! From then on, I was hooked! Every book shop I went to, I would scour in the cooking section for hidden gems like these.  They are really difficult to find, and when I did chance upon one, they would be quite harsh on my purse! Nevertheless, over the years I have managed to make up my very own small yet tasty food library! In fact, these are the only books which I return to again and again, when I am in distress. They are my therapists!

For those of you who dig books like these, a list of my favorites:

1. Eating India, by Chitrita Banerjee — which describes the different cuisines of India elaborately along with the history attached to each kind of food. For example, the culinary mastery of chef Pir Ali, who delighted the Nizam of Lucknow’s English guests by presenting a pie which contained tiny live birds which flew away when the crust was opened! Maybe, some connection to the English rhyme, sing a song of six pence….. Such anecdotes makes each dish interesting and each cuisine worth exploring. Different cuisines of India are thoroughly explored and tasted, leaving you slightly full and satiated, by the time you put the book down.

2. Kheer,Korma and Kismet, by Pamela Timms — who is a Scottish Journalist, living in Delhi. This book describes the yummy street food(my favorite kind) of Delhi in vivid detail, down to romantic gully names like Hauz Qazi Chowk,Ballimaran and Chawri Bazaar which elevate the food from the streets to something more exotic and something for which you want to catch the next train to Delhi in a tearing hurry. Daulat ka chaat, phirni, chana bathura,kheer… I’m coming!

  1. Hot tea across India, by engineer turned writer Rishad Saam Mehta. I have always been a lover of coffee, but this book converted me. The book describes the author’s tryst with different types of tea all over India and anecdotes built around it. It describes a journey he took on his bike and how he encountered diverse people, simple meals, different but tasty versions of tea. Definitely my cup of tea!(pun intended)
  2. Choclat, by Joanne Harris . Though this book is about a bigger something, with a moral behind the story and all that, the main attraction remains … yes,the chocolate. Believe me, when you read this book, you can actually smell the warm smells of bread and hot chocolate emanating out of the book. Pralines, marzipans, pastries, hot chocolate and bonbons creep into your dreams and give you a feeling of fuzzy happiness.

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5. Eat, pray love, by Elizabeth Gilbert . Well, to be more specific, the EAT part of the book. That someone could travel to an unknown place, just to experience eating made me feel as if I was reading about a kindred spirit! I would soo do it, if I could just brush my other responsibilities under the carpet! And to go to Italy, would be icing on the cake, but I would be happy just about anywhere! After this book, I don’t feel so weird anymore for being in love with food.

6.The temporary bride by Jennifer Klinec. This book is a non vegetarians delight. It describes the various kinds of food prepared in Iran, and how two people fell in love while exploring food. Some of the food described slightly grossed me out, but nevertheless, I would certainly recommend it for the lovely description of the food given.

There are many more such books which describe food with the love and attention that it deserves on my wish list. With instagram, good reads and tv shows, my ongiong love affair with food has reached new proportions. But, how much ever these tempt me, there is nothing like the comfort you get when you are curled up with a good book, a cup of chai, a plateful of  pakodas, or a bar of dairy milk crackle, or a bag of kurkure, or french fries, or paneer chilli or…hmmmm… the list goes on.

The Great Punjabi food trip!

The tone of the trip was set by our taxi driver ten minutes into the trip. When asked whether there would be places offering palatable and sort of hygienic food (the hygiene part strictly for the sake of my daughter) along the highway and in the countryside of Punjab, he replied, in a typical Punjabi accent ”Madamji, no one ever goes hungry in Punjab. We love our food and make sure our guests are happily stuffed!You will not find anyone going hungry any part of the day or night!”.We spent three days in Punjab, and came back a couple of kgs heavier and very much happier! I have truly seen food heaven!

Punjab was one of those places I dreamed of visiting since when I was a teenager. Being an avid hindi film buff, the portrayal of Punjab in our movies, the countryside with picturesque mustard fields, the concept of Sikhism, the stories of partition, the joie de vivre and hearty laughter characteristic of Punjabis, their accent and the fact that I have had at least one extremely dear Punjabi friend all through my educational career had made the prospect of visiting Punjab very exciting.

After eating multiple varieties of South Indian made Punjabi looking(but most times, non Punjabi tasting) food in our so called “North Indian restaurants”, I was curious as to how the real non adulterated stuff actually tasted. I am a self confessed foodie, and hence names like baingan ka bharta, sarson ka saag, amritsari dal, halwa……always had more potential to induce drool than say a Ryan Gosling or Hrithik Roshan!And therefore, our driver’s words made me very happy.

Punjab by way of being very close to the border and also being very fertile, has been invaded and influenced by many cultures Greeks to Mughals to the British.Through all this, the ethos, the culture and especially the cuisine of Punjab seems to have retained its uniqueness.

Chandigarh, on first sight looks like an upmarket place where you need to mind your Ps and Qs. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when we were exploring the city and happened to find that people love street food, and how! Shastri market,in Sector 22, is a mind blowing place. Mind blowing in all senses and in the sheer idea of the stuff involved. The roads are filled with people who are shopping in such a frenzy that you worry whether there would be anything left for you! The street vendors sell everything from cello tape to sweaters to pajamas to hi fi handbags! And in between all the haggling and screaming, people are tucking into varied varieties of street food with shopping bags dangling in one hand and food in the other. There are ATMs between tiny street shops where you draw money, shop, eat and then repeat the cycle! What fun! Through with our small amount of shopping, we decided to try the eating!

the chana to stuff into the kulcha
the chana to stuff into the kulcha
punjabi burger
punjabi burger
dahi balla
dahi balla

We tasted channe ke kulche, which has a soft totally non oily kulcha which is cut into half and stuffed with some concoction made out of chanas. Really tangy and yum! There were huge tavas with ragada patties(small boiled potato patties) to be shallow fried and eaten with masala chaat. The sizzle in the tawa, being the added attraction to stand as close to the cart as possible, so you can ward off the mild chill! There were Punjabi burgers, with huge dollops of amul butter in between!You got full just looking! Even boiled American corn had a special masala on it to make it ‘chatpata’!End of the day,I definitely knew how a stuffed turkey would feel, would it be alive!

yummy breakfast
yummy breakfast

Next day, we traveled to Amritsar after a hearty breakfast of aloo paranta, daal, curd, pickle and you guessed right, amul butter!

multi colored cotton candy
multi colored cotton candy,never seen any other than pink till now

Amritsar is a place which makes you calm despite the chaos around you.The golden temple is located in the old part of Amritsar whose congested lanes contain tiny but awesome smelling tea stalls and saffron jalebis. Once inside the Golden temple, a sense of awe descends on you. Though it is filled with thousands of people, you do not feel the rush, and there is a sense of calmness which prevails. All the sounds of the external  world wash away, and you only get to listen to hymns being sung on the loud speaker.The sparkling white external edifice, the contrast of the gold, the tranquil lake-all make for a wow experience! I have never felt so much at peace before. I can vouch for this, as my usually fidgety daughter was surprisingly quiet for the entire one hour that we stood in line to enter the gurdwara, and meekly agreed to cover her head with the head scarf given(given that on regular days, it’s a battle to even get her dressed for school!).

chiilis in vinegar, given with every meal!
chiilis in vinegar, given with every meal!
road side fresh salad bar
road side fresh salad bar

The prasad in the golden temple consists of a mouth watering halwa made of semolina, sugar and enough ghee almost to drip down your fingers! Any number of times that you ask for the halwa, it is given with equal grace and no zero irritation!The langar of the temple apparently feeds about 30,000 people on any given day! Despite hordes of people sitting and eating their roti, kaali daal and ghee rice, there is no noise or chaos. In a time where we discriminate based on caste, religion and status,it feels good  to see people of all types, colors and faiths sit together and receive their meal with  humility and reverence.

imli lollipop
imli lollipop

Of the two disappointments I had in Punjab, the first was not being able to sit and eat in the langar, because we were short of time to reach the Wagah border and Jallianwallah bagh. Jallianwallah bagh is about 10 minutes distance from the golden temple. The minute you enter, you feel all suffused with a sense of patriotism which you did not know existed in you. One minute sad, and another really thankful for our independence and democracy, however corrupt it may be!

Outside of this place, there are again loads of street shops selling imli lollipops(tamarind and sugar lollipops), fritters of moong daal and channa, boiled sweet potatoes with a dash of lime juice and lashings of imli and chilli chutney and multiple varieties if bhel puri which seem to be popular. What is amusing is that one the one hand if there are people who are thronging to these vendors and eating, in between all this there is Macdonalds, Dominos and Pizza Hut which are eually crowded and thriving despite the only vegetarian menu. I had no trouble believing that punjabis and the visitors to punjab, do really love food!

the chatpata chaat corner
the chatpata chaat corner, a place to sell at least 50 types of saunf to eat after your meal
yummy tummy.. you stole the words right outta  my mouth
yummy tummy.. you stole the words right outta my mouth

The second disappointment was the fact that though we reached the Wagah border to watch the ceremony of “Beating the Retreat”, we were not allowed in to the stadium owing to an enormous crowd of 40,000 who had assembled before us! We hence used the time to have a stroll in the fields of mustard a’ la Kajol in DDLJ and have some popcorn and later had our claim to fame when we clicked snaps with black cat commandos and their AK47s. Seriously, I have never been that close to a real gun before, and it gave me goose flesh!

We finally had a fantastic meal of true Punjabi food in one of our friend’s home on the last day. A fitting finale to our food, oops good holiday!In a way, probably not getting to see the border or eat at the langar was God’s way of letting us know that we would come back to Punjab again…hungry and hopeful!

and bhel..from rags to riches...for everyone ther'es something!
and bhel..from rags to riches…for everyone there’s something!
donuts
donuts in a pattiserrie