Parle G and why train journeys got a bit longer

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‘When you travel it’s not so much about reaching your destination but enjoying your journey.’

I came across this quote just as I sat to pen this post, and its relevance in the context of today’s post couldn’t be truer. For us in Mumbai, the local trains are more than just a mode of transport. They are a way of life. For all the bad press and media they’ve gathered over the years, there is no truer mirror to the Mumbai life than the train. Inside of it, you will see a number of characters. A motley group discussing how the stock market fell or rose that day, college boys discussing the mushy “you know she smiled at me” stuff, the bespectacled bloke engrossed in sending out his new presentation, and the stories can go on and on. The outside is no less a spectacle either. Just as the train leaves Churchgate, the iconic Wankhede stadium looms up – the venue of many a joyful and dejection-filled cricket matches, then comes the silent and brooding Mahim creek – one look and you can tell she nurses an anger within. And then, you have the distinct aroma of biscuits coming from the Parle G biscuits factory at Vile Parle.

I’ve been traveling to work by train, and over the past month or so, I’ve noticed the aroma missing. Somehow, I couldn’t figure out why. Last week, the newspapers solved the riddle. The iconic Parle G factory had apparently stopped production. Another one of the city’s iconic landmarks had bitten the dust, and I felt a bit of my childhood had been taken away.

I grew up in pre-liberalisation India. The India of Ambassador cars and Bajaj Scooters, the India of HMT watches and of course, the India of Parle G biscuits. Unlike some of the biscuits we get today, there is no ambiguity about Parle G – it is just a simple biscuit, like a biscuit should be. More importantly, they were easier on the pocket.

As a kid, I remember going to the grocer, and there would be the sunlight yellow butter paper covered biscuits peering out at you from the shelves. We’d carry them for the mid-morning lunch at school. My teachers would pull my ears, but I’ve been known to pop a biscuit or two into my mouth when hunger struck before the lunch break. I can’t even remember the number of times mum gave me a pack of Parle G biscuits when going off for a picnic or an outing as Plan B to the lunch she’d packed. That was quite some time ago. Life has rolled on ever since but Parle G remained just what it was; the biscuit of our childhood. In fact, one of the deepest regrets I have is missing out on a school field trip to the iconic Parle G factory due to an illness. Even today, after so many years, the joy of dunking a biscuit into the morning cuppa, to the extent that it softens up and breaks into the same tea cup is akin to winning a gold at the Olympics. Thankfully, the biscuits will continue to roll from other units of the Parle group.

The train journey to work remains the same. The train still stops for a while near the biscuit factory. Just that the familiar aroma is missing. But it remains in our hearts. Like Amitabh Bachchan said of his friend Rajesh Khanna in the movie Anand.

Anand maraa nahi, Anand maarte nahin

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Challah Bread- And why bread means so much to the world.

 

The genesis of this post lies in a very vociferous, yet intriguing discussion my friends and me had over lunch a few days ago. Here is what happened.

A few of us friends decided to catch up for lunch. After the first round of tipple and starters , we ordered the main course, Now that order was to take a while and so the manager courteously brought us a bread basket and some house dips. The basket had a nice selection; slices of baguettes, a focaccia, a nice spunky garlic bread and some herbed bread. And while I immersed myself in the combination of breads and dips, my friends got into a discussion on the virtues of bread; so everything from the evolution of bread to which (bread)goes well with what sort of curries and so on. The discussion was getting intense just to be interrupted by the arrival of the mains.As I made my way home I couldn’t but help reminiscing the breads discussion and ended up getting a bit philosophical about breads.

I have always been a breads person ever since I remember. Bandra, where I spent some part of my childhood, has plenty of bakeries that churn out bread 24/7. Even today, nothing excites me more than that heady, soul fulfilling aroma of freshly baked bread that permeates from a bakery. Its very difficult not to take notice. Personally, I love white breads, and I think that is how breads should be. Buttery, crumbly, chewy and sometimes enhanced with the goodness of eggs. Bread that draws it self to you, speaks to you. Yes, the virtues of wholewheat, multi grain are well chronicled but it would never match up to how soul satisfying a simple white loaf can be.

I have made breads earlier and I thought I must give it a hit again. The heart yearned for something more than just a simple loaf. I wanted to go through the process again and come up with something fancier. I went back and scoured the archives when I came across this recipe for Jewish Challah Bread by my good friend and food blogger Saee Koranne Khandekar. I knew this was the one. Now, I am told Jewish cuisine is sacrosanct and conforms to very strict laws on what can be done and what cant. However, I decided to play around a bit and add some garlic just to up the glam a bit. Saee cautioned me that it may not be Kosher once i added the garlic. But my heart was on it and I went ahead.

The entire process of kneading, proofing went off smooth and when the oven timer went off I almost had tears of joy.The dark tan telling me that it was done well on the outside and the hollow sound signalling that all was well on the inside. I couldn’t have been happier.

Isnt it true that the simplest thing give you the most joy in life.

 

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Before the second proof

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Challah Bread (This recipe will yield one large and one small loaf)

 

Ingredients:

  • 750 grams flour
  • 15-20 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast.
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 25 grams butter
  • approx 500 mls water for kneading and some more for the yeast.
  • black sesame seeds, for garnishing.
  • Salt – to taste

Method:

  • Activate the yeast, by dissolving it in the warm water  along with the sugar. Leave aside for 5-7 minutes till frothy.
  • In a sufficiently large vessel, combine the flour, salt and butter and combine gently
  • Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, 1 whole egg and another yolk and knead till you have dough that is pliable and not sticky. You may need to add flour or water in the kneading process so go by the eye
  • Place this dough in a bowl and cover it with a moist cloth to rise. this should take approximately 40 odd minutes.
  • Once the dough has risen, give it a gentle knock. Add the garlic and knead again for 10 minutes.
  • Make 3 equal parts of the dough and braid them to resemble a plait.
  • Once done, leave it again for the second proofing. Approximately 20 odd minutes.
  • Brush with the egg white and sprinkle the sesame seeds on the loaves and bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  • If you want to indulge, slather a generous amount of butter while the loaf is still warm..

 

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Braided Beauty

Across the ocean- Sri Lanka in a post

Have you ever felt a certain emptiness post a vacation? Particularly when you return and begin unpacking. 

It’s only when you start unpacking that you the realise how wonderful your trip was. Those laughs that make you cry, those boarding passes,the dinner bills and those shoes that have carried back a little sand from the beaches you’ve visited. It’s actually the unpacking that creates those special memories that go on to fill your heart with warmth and love.

I recently went through the same motions on returning from a lovely trip to Sri Lanka. It was going to be my first trip with J and I wanted to make this memorable in every way; and may I add, I wasn’t disappointed. Truth be told, I don’t think anyone who travels there would be. The place has something for everyone, If you love the mountains, trudge up to Sigriya and see yourself almost walking in the clouds, or let your soul soak up the spirituality of Kandy; or simply walk around the beaches of Bentota or Galle face and watch as the sun winds up his day and the blue sky goes off to sleep by  covering itself in a blanket of dark clouds. I could go on and on but I would rather focus on the best part the food. For the adventures and what you need to do bit, scroll down towards the end. FOr the food, read on.

Ohh and yes, Colombo welcomed us with a pleasant little surprise.

A misty aircarft window? No we were welcome with a water canon salute  at the Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo. This was because flight UL122 had just completed a long 13 years of service and was to retire (in other words, this was the last flight for the aircraft). This picture is from inside the aircraft but for a change I fall short of prose to describe the once in a lifetime experience.

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In your trip as you look around, you will see a lot of bakeries. That is because the Sri Lankans love eating small eats through the day. Locals call it short eats. These shorts are either fried or baked and sometimes engulfed in a bread. We did try products from many bakeries in the course of our trip but we particularly grew fond of this place called ‘Perera and sons’; Our driver said it was addressed as ‘P &S’. They had outlets all over the country which ensured we didnt miss them though. I loved the fish rolls from there. Shredded fish and mashed potato which had a lovely spicy masala that thumped your tastebuds. This was one calorific indulgence that we couldn’t have enough off in the entire trip.

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Fish rolls. Image: Perera & sons website

Kottu Roti: Sri Lanka’s answer to roti canai. Available everywhere from the upscale starred restaurants to the humble street stalls, it seemed to be a local favorite. Made from a particular type of Sri Lankan roti (i forget the name though), a generous mix of vegetables, and protein (meat or fish of your choice) and huge splash of spice.My suggestion is to have it from the street side stalls; comes with a bit of theater there. You will see your vendor making it on a flat gridle and making a rhythmic sound.  That’s the thrill. This one is a prawn kottu roti from Yalla Restaurant on Galle Road.

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Sri Lankan Fried Rice: I was actually surprised to see this on the menu and i ordered it more out of curiosity than hunger. But what a refreshing change from the sauce drenched Chinese rice we are served here. Infact, this one was a nice mix of spicy and sour which i guess was from tamarind extract. A bit dry i felt if you opt of the sunny side up but otherwise the runny yolk will take care of it. This one was pork from the restaurant at Hotel Ocean where we stayed.

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The Devil: I mean literally. I was told this was a ‘don’t miss’. Now, the dish is named devil because its hot. Stir fried meat or seafood or veggies in tomato base with chillies, chillies and then some more chillies. I personally dont have a high tolerance towards heat but this was washed down with a chilled Lions beer.

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Sri Lankan curries and dhal: The Lankans fetish for curries is seen from the variety that is on offer. Luscious, thick and with generous pieces of fish (usually) finished up with coconut milk. My guide told me that the meats were taken in the morning and seafood in the afternoon. Not sure why. Same with the dhal (like our dal) just like the curries, finished off a nice splash of coconut milk. I was not complaining.

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Mixed Veg rice, Tilapia Curry, Pol Sambol and Appalam at Hotel Hungry Lion Sigiriya.

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We went the full course at this wonderful place. 3 Veggies, Dhal, fish curry and the works.

Appam/ Hoppers: This one slipped out across the Indian ocean. Feremented Rice flour and coconut milk batter in a crisped up in a sizzling wok.Usually used as cutlery to hold up curries or egg or anything you can imagine.  Another version is the string hoppers that are steam. We had one made from white rice and from brown rice. I liked the ones made from brown rice for the nuttier taste it had.

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I am told nature has its way of balancing out. Sri Lankan food is spicier and the tropica climate doesn’t help either. Well the way out is to have King Cocomut. THese huge orange globules filled with the swettest water I’ve ever had. J and I happily ditched the colas for these. Please dont miss these

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Watalappan: Sri Lankan custard. Coconutty, eggy, caradmomy and all things nice.this lovely custard was the highlight of our trip. But i noticed this were only served in small portions where ever we ate. I checked with our guide but there wasnt any conclusive answer.

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That my dear friends is what we ate in Sri Lanka. For the must do’s hop on to this blog post written by dear friend and food blogger Zenia Irani. She’s covered most of the things you need to do and take my word, you will come back and thank her later.

How mai nurtured my love for food.

 

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Like most kids in the ’80s, I grew up with with my grandparents. Everyday, mum would drop me off to their place on her way to work and pick me up on her way back home. In between that, the day would be spent either creating a ruckus around the house or prodding my grandfather to tell me some stories or to take me along for his market trips. But, the one memory  that remains with me is of my grandmother (i called her mai in konkani) lovingly serving me more (than the usual quantity) rice, curry and whatever else coaxing me to eat saying “Samma jov putta, oodlo zaije ne maa” (eat well my son, you’ve got to grow up well). Not that I was a fussy eater, I never was. It was just her way of making sure the apple of her eye was well fed. I was very close to my mai, a woman who was simple, hardworking and caring. The warmth in her demeanor only being superseded by the love in her food. My abba (grandfather) had a slightly more public profile and my mai the more homely, quiter kinds. To her, the house was her kingdom she’d nurtured with her sweat and blood. 

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, you will know how big an influence my mom has been on my cooking. But, in retrospect I think I got infatuated with food in my mai’s house. It was there that I fell in love with groaning and grunting of the ‘waan’ (the huge stone mill used in mangalorean homes to grind coconut for curries) as she ground the masala for the curry, the aroma of the curry simmering on the stove made me hungry way before lunch time. And, the rhythmic sizzle of the vegetable being tempered would lead me to the kitchen invariably questioning “Kale randtai mai”(what have you cooked mai)

My grandparents were generous hosts and I am told no one ever went back without being well fed. In fact, the first question, she’d ask as soon you enter the house was “Zovlai gi” (have you eaten). As far as i can remember, my mai would spend most of her day in the kitchen. Her food much like her persona was simple and to the point. But in the simplicity of her food lay its beauty. The spicy pork sorpotel, the amber coloured fish curry where the fish had to be put in just before the curry reached a particular sizzle and that cardamom flavored vorn into which you could almost dive in and remain there for eternity.

In the last days of her life, mai was ill. But that smile never left her face. As she sat on her chair;  fingers devoutly clutching on to the rosary, that reliable Christian intercession of hope. I was about 8 at that time and unable to comprehend her illness. I had always seen her active. And when i would drop by to visit her, she’d smile. With great difficulty, she’d move her hand around my cheeks. She couldn’t speak, but I know she asked me ” Kaso asai putta” (how are you my child)  She left us a few months later. It was difficult for me to come to terms with the reality. The reality that mai is no more there. No one behind whom i can hide incase I’ve made some mischief. I thought she’d always be there.

Truth be told, I hadn’t planned to write this post. But it was mai’s birthday yesterday (July 10) and i felt that needed to mention mai here. After all, wasn’t it her cooking that set the background for my romance with food. 

There are so many memories and stories that I could narrate of mai and abba and one among them is this. In most Christian homes, there is a tradition to ask the elders to bless you when you leave home. When I would leave i too would do the same. Mai would hug me tight and respond “Devache besav puta. Oodlo zaa” (God bless you my child, grow up soon). I know for sure even after she’s long gone, to her I will still be her tiny tot.

Bohri Mohalla- Mumbai’s Annual Meat Pilgrimage.

I begin with  mixed bag of feelings as I write this post. On one hand, I am extremely delighted to be back to doing what i do best; share my love for food. Over the last 6 months personal commitments have kept me away from the blog, but I will now try and be a bit more regular in posting.

This blog post is about a wonderful journey into food so delicious, it made you want more. Not for the gluttony, but for the sheer poetry in its composure.Food that transcended every socio- cultural and socio- economic make up that the print and electronic media have worked so hard to create.

If you have been following Mumbai based bloggers chances are you would have read or seen posts either about Bohri Mohalla or Mohammed Ali Road where almost all of Mumbai meat loving crowd converge during the holy month of Ramzan. I had been meaning to go there for the last two or three years now; however, I some how could never make it. This year I made up my mind to go as soon as Ramzan began. Almost a now-or never mandate. Next step, forming a group. A few watsapp exchanges later the taskforce was ready. Nothing, not even the dreaded Mumbai rains could stop us. You could choose between Mohd. Ali Road and Bohri Mohalla. The atmosphere at the former is more carnival like and festive. And I must admit, there are more food options there. Bohri Mohalla is a bit quiter, like that cute little younger brother who tries to mimic his older brother and creates a niche of his own in doing so. For our trip, we chose the later.

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Carnival like atmosphere at Mohd. Ali Road

So what did we eat there?

Our first stop was Haji Tikka.

I had done some asking before going and I was told to keep this place as a top priority. In any case tikka’s are a weak point for me. Truth be told you need not reach the place, the rustic aroma of meat being roasted on a bed of flames will guide you to it.

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As easy as it seems, its not easy to grill meats; but this guy in the picture somehow managed to do it with the skill and precision of a kamikaze pilot. Giving it the just the right char and just doing enough to cook the meat.,Not more, not less. Precision was his mantra.

Our First order was the Achaari Chicken Tikka.  Boneless Chicken pieces marinated in a pickle like spice. We tasted one bite and smiled. We knew we were off to a wonderful start. Honestly, I would have liked a little more achaari flavoring but then at the back of my mind I realised that the flavoring didnt over power the actual taste of the meat. Isnt that how it should be?AC.jpg

Next up was the Chicken Tangdi Kebab.  They say its easy to get the simpler things wrong. What can you do wrong with a nice plump leg of chicken. A lot, if you dont cook and more importantly season it well. No such worries here. Plump, Juicy meat, grilled just right and that generous sprinkle of aamchur over the top. We smiled in generous approval. Again, very rustic and had a slight chew. No complaints thoughIMG_20160625_205645408.jpg

What followed was orgasm on a plate. The Mutton Seekh kebab. Once again perfect case of cooking made simple and beautiful. Spicy, moist and almost cast spell on you like. We didnt plan for seconds, we called for them.

 

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Seekh Kebab

We must have the baida roti quipped someone in planning phase. So, we proceeded to India hotel. Apparently, run by a very Abraham look alike Haji Saahab. I so wanted to have a tete-a-tete with him but apparently he had left early. The good thing about India Hotel is you can sit in a small setup across the road, if there is some place that is.

You would have guessed the first order by now. The chicken baida roti. Chicken mince encased in a nice, thin almost paper like egg omlette, dunked in flour and fried. If this did get your mouth to water, i doubt anything will.

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No meal is complete without rice, is it? We were recommended the Mutton Pulao, but we unanimously opted for chicken so as to go easy on our gluttonal sins. Dont be deceived by the simple and bland look the pulao takes on. Once you chew on the morsel of rice, the spiciness doesnt burst all in one go. Little by little, you taste the spices, each of them. And then that furious little kick of spice down your throat. Once again, seconds were called for without discussions.

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By now, we could almost hear the warm Malpuas being done across the road crying for our affection and attention. A debate ensued if we needed to have ice creams first or the warmer desserts first. Finally, we headed to much heralded Tawakkal Sweets for our fill of their famous malpuas. Take a look at the minimal menu though

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What followed was perhaps the only sour note in an other great evening of great eats. Kesar Phirni, not overtly sweet but somehow I didn’t like it. Though somehow, the rest of the gang liked the thing. Perhaps, its got to do with my cynicism when it comes to desserts.

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Thakfully, what followed satisfied the soul so much, you could attain moksha and not regret it. It was the double ande ka malpua (Double egg malpua). This  one was huge, greasy and chewy. Warm enough for you to wrap it round you and sleep on a dreary rainy night.

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Our next pit stop was Taj Ice creams. Run by the very amicable Mr. Ice Creamwala. Don’t be mislead, its his actual name and not a moniker. Apparently, Bohris have surnames that match their profession. So then, whats so special about the regular chocolate, strawberry, custard apple flavoured ice creams. Two things actually. Mr. Ice creamwala tells me that this is the same recipe the family has been following for 125 years and secondly, they ice creams were churned by hand. Day after day. Taste them yourselves, you will know the difference.Sadly, some of the flavours were not available, Mr. Ice creamwala humbly apologised saying a few staff were unwell and hadnt reported to work.

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Clockwise: Musk Melon, Strawberry, Custard apple.

 

Among the six of us, the damages were about INR.2000/- so you could do the math.

There was much more on the eating wishlist and the spirit was definately willing, however, the flesh was weak. As  we wound up our food orgy, something caught my eye and attention. A notice by the civic authorities declaring the redevelopment of Bohri Mohalla. That explained the cranes and the bull dozers around there. My heart sank and from a moment of ecstatic highs, I went through depressing lows. I knew it could be another one or at max two years before civilisation takes over and history, tradition are buried under concrete only to make it to text books that the coming generations will not care about.

My earnest recommendation, go and take your kids along. If not for the food, for the atmosphere, the tradition and the memories. Let food live on like it has always done. By way of stories and word of mouth