Spicing up an Evening

There are moody evenings, when nothing, right from the hazelnut coffee at Starbucks to the chicken at Thai Palace, seems to set things right. And then there are breezy evenings when all you need to make life beautiful is a plate of spicy panipuri from a roadside vendor. 

The panipuri has several names: golgappas in Delhi, fuchkas in Kolkata and gupchups in Bihar. Be that as it may, the perfect panipuri must have potatoes, onions, chickpea and chillies, and be flavoured with salt, pepper, tamarind and lemon. You absolutely must ask for some additional jaljeera to wash it down.

“Did the vendor have clean hands?” says my health conscious family, fed on 99.9% germ-free advertising on television. “Oh, he wore sterilised gloves.”

I will tell you a secret though – please avoid the places that serve you “mineral water” panipuri. An over-hygienically made panipuri is against the natural scheme of things, and like rainbow-coloured roses, just doesn’t feel right.

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Magic in the Household

Who says magic exists only in Harry Potter books, dreams and imagination? It exists inside our homes, right under our noses. What else can explain the transformation of raw rice into fluffy strands of bhaat, lanky okra into delicious bhujiya and beaten eggs into spicy egg bhurji?

I grant you science has a role to play, but it is only magic that has made me the solemniser of these transformations – yes, me, standing with a stirrer in one hand, the fingers of the other crossed in nervous anticipation. Ten days into my new life in Pune, I have managed to whip up a few meals without raising up a storm, or a fire for that matter.

The fruit and vegetable vendors in Pune, I have found, are highly sensitive about their products. “Will those grapes be fresh?” R ventured to ask one the other evening. The weighing scales also looked biased – or call it our North Indian apprehension.

“Of course they are fresh! I only sell the best.” The vendor replied defensively. “If I had been in government service, I would be earning a hefty pension by now – so long have I been in this business.”

We were regaled with tales of his experiences as a street vendor all the while we hunted for onions, tomatoes and potatoes.

While moving into a new home has its downsides, it is terrific to live in a decluttered house. You know exactly where everything is. This lack of clutter is conducive to the kind of good habits the family advocates: waking up on time, eating a heavy breakfast, drinking milk at night.

Getting the milk the first time proved to be entertaining. “Would you want cow’s or buffalo’s milk? Full cream or half cream?” Where were my close-to-heart red-packet and blue-packet varieties? “Errm, I find cow’s milk suits our systems the best, thank you.” Some customers looked at me in awe – ah, the experienced homemaker.

It is only when we return from one of our evening walks, and find unwashed dishes in the kitchen, that we wish magic pulled up its socks tighter and lent us a hand.

In defence of coffee

I daresay coffee has it only a trifle better than guinea pigs when it comes to scientific study. I have read about coffee being good for your liver, bad for your skin and bad for your liver the next time I checked. The stores boast of rich product portfolios of trillions of types of coffee – decaffeinated, hazel, expresso, everything but the kitchen sink – and I have seen health freaks twist their nose in distaste when offered a brew.

On winter mornings, I downright cherish – what’s a stronger word, treasure – my cup of steaming coffee which I partake of from a seat by the window. These are usually mornings when I do not need to be out in the maddening crowd or spend a divine day trapped in some godforsaken bit of work, but can stare into nothingness, think about the rest of the beautiful day, and watch the cows come home.

When the health freaks make me their object of distaste, and I feel benevolent enough to let them feel good about themselves, I casually replace my coffee with the bitterest concoction of green-tea in my possession.

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The Sharmas in Karol Bagh

Roshan Di Kulfi

It was a white, wintry day. Mr Sharma and his wife stood outside Roshan Di Kulfi – the old, Karol Bagh restaurant – waiting for a table. They looked enviously at a group of college children, busy eating with plates in their hands. There was a time when Mr Sharma too could eat while standing. He would come along to the restaurant with his wife, then girlfriend, and order two plates of papdi chaat. It had come as a pleasant surprise the first time they visited, the fact that the place also served food other than kulfi. Now, however, his hands shook too much. Worse still in Delhi’s biting winter.

Karol Bagh hustled and bustled as always, with shops selling everything from designer sarees and sherwanis, to dry fruits, bags and pickles. Winter had clearly not dampened trade. In recent years, more contemporary eating joints had sprung up in the market. Nonetheless, thought Mrs Sharma, nothing could match Roshan Di Kulfi’s golgappe, dahi bhalla and of course, kulfi falooda.

Sometimes, Delhi’s chill seemed tailor-made for eating. Wasn’t it bliss to gorge on gajar ka halwa, jalebi and hot coffee when the winds raged outside? Roshan Di Kulfi had on display a vast selection of sweets right in the storefront. It made the Karol Bagh air fragrant, festive and too tempting to resist. If anything held back Mr Sharma from sampling a plateful of everything, it was his old age. It was a pity, he thought, that he had to go and get old. He would love a plateful of steaming chana bhatura. Why couldn’t time reverse itself, if only for a while?

Even at 4 in the evening, odd hours for heavy eating, the place was jam-packed. Mrs Sharma settled on the chair and looked around first at the crowd, then at her husband. They had been married thirty-five years, the first ten of which her husband had spent introducing her to new cuisines. She often regretted how she now had to be watchful of his diet, and stop him from eating much of his favourite food.

“What shall I get you, Ma’am?” the waiter enquired.

“How about two plates of chana bhatura?” Mrs Sharma smiled at her husband, who in turn was delighted enough to give her a wide, toothy grin.

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Dilwaalon Ki Dilli

For all the badmouthing that Delhi receives, there lies herein undying charm. Every Wednesday, find on Saddi Delhi a fresh story from life in the capital. Right from delicious food in Delhi’s alleyways to dreamy winters that paint the skies white.

For a tour through Delhi, from then and now, click here.

The Big-Bong Wedding Larder

Bengali Wedding Food

*Picture from The Hindu

With my housemates gearing up for the wedding in February, there’s ceaseless discussion on food. The talks gather steam after I am back from work. Though delicious in themselves, the talks render bland whatever it is that I am snacking on. You see, how can I be expected to cherish a sandwich when people are deliberating upon chicken kosha, mutter-paneer and daal tadka? I sit drooling and chewing, wishing the day were upon us already. It is another story – quite sad really – that I will not be able to enjoy any of the delicious food that is being planned. The bride and groom will sit atop the stage, smiling beatifically for the shutterbugs, as the guests lick off their plates.

“How many times of fish will we have?” a friend of mine asked cheerfully. “I am expecting at least three. After all, it is a Bengali wedding. Will there be hilsa?” “I suppose so.” I tried to casually remember how hilsa looked but I am afraid I wasn’t discreet enough. “Oh, I had forgotten. You are only a pseudo-Bengali. The no-fish-eating type.” Ha, so much for wearing Mom’s best sarees on Durga Puja and memorizing Bengali hymns as a child of five. My abstinence from fish renders me a pseudo-Bengali among most people I associate with.

On the other hand, a lot of people R knows assume I am a “Bong from Kolkata”. “So R,” they declare loudly, “you will now be off to Kolkata for fuchka and chingree maach every now and then!” (Read panipuri/golgappa and prawns, respectively) “Actually, she is a Delhi-ite.” R ventures. “Oh, all Bongs are Kolkata-ish in their hearts.” I wonder what that implies. Do all Gujaratis live in Ahmedabad or all Punjabis in Punjab? Last I heard, this wasn’t the case. What is worse is that since I have spent very little time in Kolkata, I am not always up to conversation pertaining to localities, landmarks and eating joints. I don’t fancy the chicken-and-egg dishes and prefer coffee to tea. All this again renders me a pseudo-Bengali. Sheesh, this is almost an identity crisis.

Meanwhile, the family keeps the larder stocked “in case friends and relatives hop over”. There’s tonnes of goodies to ensure I need to substantially up my resolve for diet management. Brilliant method to teach a bride-to-be self- control.

“Will you continue to like aloo-luchi next year or will litthi-chokha be your new favourite?” The friend who calls me a pseudo-Bengali pretended to be perturbed.

I too am slightly perturbed. I sincerely hope that the cameramen, the wedding finery and the shehnaayi will succeed in keeping R and my minds off the aroma of food.

*I am willing to discuss in-depth any of the food items mentioned in the post. :D