Wednesday, December 12, 2012

food trail:school camps and south indian sapad

I hadn’t planned for this food trail. A school camp to vedasandur hardly had the makings of a foodies paradise and yet we had some ‘fresh from the farm local flavor’ to the place which prompted me to write this post.
love the efficient way the sapad is served,four in one food server

Who knows some day someone might find themselves on the road between Madurai and Dindigul and my blog post makes them stop over at the road side ‘sapad’ joint in Vedasanthur. 

The sign boards are all in Tamil, so did not get the name of the food place, but its close to the government secondary higher secondary girls school and shri mala primary school. Since the school was where we had the eye camp, we headed for the sapad joint , just as the ringing of the school bell announced the lunch break for the children and time for us to close shop for lunch.
a typical roadside south indian sapad

Most of these camps will have the local coordinator taking us to the nearest place to a hot or not so hot meal. Sometimes some non government organization like lions club might pitch in. Since I had been a=on a few camps in the nearby villages I had come to accept the banana leaf meal of sapad which means rice in Tamil. Even though ‘sapad’ means rice, it also means food. So if someone wants to ask ‘have you eaten?’ , they say “sapadingla?” in reply if we have eaten we say “saptache.”
    The guy in the sapad joint announced that they had the vegetarian sapad meal, as well as chicken or mutton biryani.Now I have had sapad at many a roadside stall, and so the newness of having biryani on a banana leaf could not be passed up.

the school laboratory,where we set up eye screening camp

the young nurses laugh while the school girls undergo their PT session
     As I clicked away at the food, we saw the beaming lungi clad server ply us with more food.
The veg sapad had rice (the staple) , sambar, a cabbage sabji, a potato sabji, curd, pickle, papad, extra pinch of salt on the side and since we were privileged customers ;) a cup of sweet dish, kheer.
chicken biryani,chicken dry,kolam and salad..on a banana leaf

The chicken biryani was made of very small, very soft  grains of rice unlike the long basmati grains that one is used to. A side dish of dry chicken and curried chicken soup ‘kolam’ was served along with the biryani. Onions lightly marinated in curd completed the dish. It was sumptuous and we licked the banana leaf clean.

Its customery to fold your banana leaf from up to down if you have enjoyed your meal, and as a regard for the cook I was told and I promptly folded my disposable sapad plate before throwing it away. A few more tips on eating on a banana leaf are that if you ever find yourself with a leaf which has a broad end and a narrow end , always keep the wide end to your right so that more food is put on the right side allowing you to use your right hand without crossing the plate.Always wash your banana leaf thoroughly because it is after all a leaf, and I for one had bird poop on my plate once.
As we drove back 85 kilometers to Madurai, we stopped at a roadside vineyard to pick up farm fresh grapes for our journey back. The grapes were ‘rose grapes’ the lady selling them informed. They were seeded as well as sweet. I am more prone to eat the genetically modified seedless grapes as I suppose most of us city bred types are, but as my professor says “seedless grapes make you seedless” , I enjoyed the “organic food ness “ of the rose grapes.

fresh from the farm
I returned back amazed at what a full day I had had. Tasty, wholesome, spiceful food is waiting to be sampled in all parts of the world as long as you let the trail lead you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

foodie trail- durga puja

Before the advent of savvy advertising, and before the hospitality boom arrived, the original food festivals , were actually the Indian festivals themselves.
The absolute disregard for all diets and health restrictions, with a joyous uninhibited serving of delicious food and equally unabashed gorging on delectable sweets and foods, is what makes Indian festivals some of the happiest moments of our lives, and the best parts of our childhood.

Durga Puja for me is by far the most foodilicious festival of all festivals.
 Durga Puja, which coincides with navrartri is celebrated in many parts of the country.
There are many stories which speak of the significance of Durga Puja, but my favourite story is that Goddess “Durga” has come home to her parents home along with her four children, ‘Saraswati, Lakshmi, Karthik, and Ganesh’. She leaves her husband , Lord Shivas abode in mount Kailash and shall return at the end of 10 days , also called ‘vijaya dashami’ as it coincides with the day that Lord Ram killed Ravana.

Ma Durga in the centre, flanked by her two daughters Saraswati Goddess of knowledge ,and Lakshmi Goddess of wealth, and her two sons Lord Ganesh God of prosperity and auspicious beginnings and Lord karthik God of beauty. A picture of Lord Shiva looks down benignly from above the idols.

 This story made a lot of sense to me as a child, first there were the idols of Durga with her 4 children, also homecoming is a moment of joy and so was Durga Puja for us, Third and most important was the great food. It’s a common fact that whenever we return home whether it be from boarding schools or hostels, or from in-laws place, we are pampered and fed our most favourite food items. Thus, it made complete sense to me that some of the most amazing food items would be featured during Durga Puja or the coming home of the Gods.
which indian festival can you expect to be having crab claws with mustard sauce?
chollar dal and luchi

beguni- egg plant fritters

reaching out for phuchka/pani puri

 It was a good thing that Goddess Durga’s parents live in West Bengal, because the tastiest food items are Bengali foods, I used to think. I could literally imagine, the aunts and uncles clucking around ‘Goddess Durga’ “ Poor thing, look how thin you have become, don’t they have food in Mount Kailash? Do you get fish up in the mountains? Poor dear, we must feed you well in the next few days..”
Durga puja is all about happy moments, get togethers with families, new clothes, street food,ice creams, and sweets and all the forbidden pleasures much like a visit to grandparents place.
Even though navratri is for 9 days, Durga Puja essentially starts on shoshti or the sixth day. A day when the pandals generally have home made Bengali delicacies, cooked by the ladies of the community. As a probashi Bengali, “non-resident Bengali” it is a treat to find a mini Bengal in different parts of the city. Ladies from neighbouring homes proudly serve home-made fish curry rice, or chicken chop, or some home made biryani. Yes non veg is served in the pandals, unlike any other God fearing Hindu traditions. 
mughlai paratha, with the pink onions, and crab claws with mustard sauce.

I guess its because it’s a homecoming of Gods. If you are coming home after many days, infact only once a year, it kind of makes sense that the choicest foods be served, and non-vegetarian is no exception.
The variety of food is mind boggling. The stalls serve everything from ‘chineeez chowmeen’ to ‘crab claws’.
If I had to name the top 5 dishes you must have at your next rendexvouz with the Gods on Durga Puja it would be- “chicken roll (vegetarians can have potato, paneer,or egg roll)” “mughlai paratha” “kosha mangsho with luchi” “fish fry with mustard sauce” “beguni”.

chicken roll and fish fry

on a roll spree

chicken lolypop -drums of heaven

ilish fish and rice. the best fish in all the waters.

making of a chicken roll

A roll, is a flat bread made of refined wheat ‘maida’which is then coated on one side with beaten egg, and rolled with a stuffing of choice, along with pink coloured onions, chilly sauce,and mustard sauce.It is the Bengali version hot dog. Infact I am not sur if it is even Bengali, infact as children we were pretty sure that chicken lollipops and momos were Bengali dishes, just because they were ubiquitous at Puja pandals.

Mughlai paratha , is a stuffed bread,stuffed with egg and minced chicken. Kosha mangsho is extremely tender mutton in a thick spicy gravy, best had with puris made of ‘maida’. Thin slivers of fish marinated in green paste and covered in bread crumbs are deep  fried for our culinary delight.all these food items are converted in true blue Bengali street food with a side serving of pink coloured onions, an orange colouredchilly sauce and a yellow mustard sauce.
Cholar dal with pieces of coconut and fritters of brinjal deep fried in batter are perhaps a few of the vegetarian dishes. Pani puri or phuchka is an all time favourite, especially the spicy water it is served with.
Bhog, with the quintessential khichdi, a tomato chatni,a mixed vegetable sabji and sweets.served with pickle, salt and papad.previously on plates made of dried leaves, now in disposable plates.

No durga puja can be deemed complete without bhog. Bhog is always completely vegetarian, and yet it satiates at all levels. Bhog is served for lunch every day of Durga puja, and since Durga puja is generally Sarvajanik, anyone can partake of the meal. People stand in serpentine queues and are served by young and enthusiastic men of the Bengali community. They pour khichudi, and urge an extra papad, and serve you laddles of mixed veg ‘labda’ and sweet tomato chatni. Khichdi made in the large communal kitchens of the puja pandals is inimitable at home. Maybe it is the fact that large quantities of food are cut and cooked and served and eaten in such a harmonious way that it is not just oneness with God, but also oneness with our fellow human beings that one feels.

Durga puja has an energy all its own, it can only be experienced and not explained. Having pani puri at 12 at night, or watching a rock show and having a chicken roll, or sitting in your brand new silks having bhog with the masses and drinking your bottled water. This Puja I saw prawns the size of lobsters being served, and crab claws which were better than any restaurant that I have had. Food which derives its flavor from its surrounding festivity, and festivity which derives it’s flavor from the food being served

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Vijaya dashami, the last day of Durga Puja is also the day when we bid adieu to Ma Durga and her children as they return to their heavenly abode. I have often wondered if they came down to earth just to sample our food. This is also the day we wish each other ‘Bijoya’ and give sweets to people at work and our neighbours. Kheer kadam, sandesh, rasagullas, and malai chamchams, remind us that we must wait an entire year for the festivities to return. Aashche bochhor aabar hobe.

malai chamcham

mishti doi in their own earthen pots

the famous bengali sandesh

the evergreen rasagullas

the indian ferraro rochers, kheer kadam.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

octoberfest !

You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.
Frank Zappa

Few months have a festival named after it , few beverages instill the kind of brotherhood and bonhomie as beer. 

October fest celebrated by the world citizens in Bavaria,Munich, Germany is the largest congregation of people. It started out as a mark of celebration in honour of the then princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen   in 1810, and over the years has morphed into a festival steeped in culture, traditional foods, traditions and general happiness and goodwill, not to mention large quantities of October fest beer ( staggering 7 million litres in 2007 !) 

Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.- dave barry . A mosaic of the brews available in Goa.

Which brings me to the second edition of- being Goanese. Being a Goanese does not need you to be born or brought up in Goa, the only criteria is a love for good fooed, the sea, live music, lazing on the beach on a Sunday. An integral part of being goanese is the slight tipsy alcohol induced personality, made popular by bollywood. “My name is Antony Gonsalves excuse me pleeeeze.” 

beauty lies in the eyes of the beer holder.At chapora fort, looking down at vagator beach Goa.

Home to the kingfisher villa- owned by Vijay mallya of the United breweries, Goa is a much loved haunt for beer lovers. Few places in India have more number of ‘wine shops’ on a single street, few places have  families of locals bringing out home made bottles of brew for consumption, few places have the kind of laid back vibe of Goa. 

Time is never wasted, when you are wasted all the time- catherine zandonella. On the white sands of south Goa beaches.

Why is Goa so popular to beer drinkers? Well I could speculate that it must be because it once was a union territory and enjoys some exise exemptions, much like Daman and diu and pondicherry, which incidentally are popular drinking destinations. A large Christian community who are more tolerant to alcohol as compared to the other Indian religions could be another reason. The happy holiday mood of the place as well as the thriving tourism brings out the Goanese in people. 

some of the hard to resist offers in Goan eateries

a rare photo on a dry day. ;) .

Whatever the reason- here is to October, to Goa and being Goanese, and the wonder of Lager and Ale.

black label beers anyone ? :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

food trail- bon appetit pondicherry

"After one taste of French food ... I was hooked. I'd never eaten like that before, I didn't know such food existed. The wonderful attention paid to each detail of the meal was incredible to me. I'd never really drunk good wine before, and knew nothing at all about it. It was simply a whole new life experience." 
                      Julia Child.

My knowledge of french food is limited, I honestly would not be able to diffrentiate between the good and the great of french food ; But I am not a food critique, I am a food enthusiast. 

On this enthusiastic note, we took on a foodie trail through the erstwhile french colony- pondicherry. 

auroville, the matrimandir and the great banyan tree

What and where do you eat when you have 24 hours in pondicherry?!

A mouthwatering challenge, which two food enthusiasts cheerfully accepted.

We arrived at the seaside union territory during the wee hours of the morning, early enough to catch the sunrise over the sea, and cups of coffee at the famous le cafe on the promenade.

espresso and cappucino by the sea

The le cafe boasted of a variety of croissants and other french food. The coffees were not awe inspiring, but they fulfilled the adage that eating is not just about the food. The calm sea, the lilting breeze, a fisherman's boat out at sea, a few bouganvillias lining a quaint cafe added to the charm, and was the perfect entre for an indulgent day at pondicherry.

We moved in search of greener pastures, and found ourselves at the auroville. An international community which believes in The Mothers dream of a place of unified beliefs and religions, where people lived in harmony. The Auroville cafe much like auroville itself is about clean, unpretentious food hailing from different parts of the world. A self help cafe which offers its patrons everything from Idlis to pizzas. It was 8 in the morning by that time and we were craving a chocolate fix.

 A Marble cake and a chocolate pudding cake was promptly consumed. The cakes were a bit dry and needed to be washed down by a refreshing masala tea, and a cleansing glass of lime juice. Again I felt that the surroundings added to the food- The different patrons of auroville hailing from so many countries, the interesting architecture of the building incidentally by a french architect, and the over all sense of well being emanating from the place had a lot to do with our enjoying our food.

Indulgence was the definite mood of the day, and after a much gratifying shopping spree, and a soul cleansing session of meditation at the matri mandir, we set out in search for our french cuisine quest. Our quest ended at Satsang- the french and italian eatery. Now satsang is a hindi name for a gathering of god men and preachers, a satsang is what one would expect by the side of river ganges in Varanasi, and not a place of french cuisine. The rikshaw driver who was acting as our food guide was pretty pleased with his choice and inspite of his forehead being smeared with ash proclaiming him to be a devout , we ventured into the satsang.

Pleasantly surprised by the indo-french fusion decor of yellow walls with pictures of God men no less, and black wrought iron chairs reminiscent of french cafes.

 The menu was also printed in french no less, with english translations, giving the whole eating experience an exciting voyage into the unknown feel.

 We ordered ourselves a crepe surprise, which was crepes with a cheese, mushroom and chicken filling, and it was the ultimate in french indulgence.mmmmm....

An interesting contrast was the prawns in honey and ginger, which had me licking my fingers. 

What was definitely the high point of the menu was finding my favourite animated movie namesake RATATOUILLE on the menu. I squeeled in joy at the mere thought of finally getting to taste this enigma. It was similar to the time I was obssessed with wanting to try lasagna simply because garfield loved it. The Ratatoulle was delicious to look at, but it had brinjals and pumpkins in it, which are not my favourite of vegetables. But the whole joy of being a food enthusiast is getting to taste different types of food, and I am always game to try everything atleast once.


 Just when we had finished ordering (over ordering) our lunch, I saw Beef Bouillon on the menu! My only tryst with beef bouillon Bœuf bourguignon   is through the movie Julie and julia, about the famous french cook book writer Julia child. another movie I have watched many times and remember the heart warming scene where Julie is preparing the beef bouillon from Julia childs cook book. 
I vowed to try that the next time I was in pondicherry. I also realised the huge impact that popular media has on our perception of food. French food especially is exalted as one of the finest in the world and for a food enthusiast like me, movies like 'ratatouille, and julie and julia' have made me love the cuisine even before I have tasted them. A sense of grandeur, a sense of mystery and a sense of timelessness, that is the very essence of french cuisine.

Sumptuous lunches deserve to be applauded with a great dessert  and we found ourselves an interesting cafe to indulge our taste buds once more. The baker's street offered a range of sandwiches and french breads (baguettes), but we could only accomadate a delicious fruit tart (tartes aux fruits) and dark chocolate rochers.

sandwiches and baguette breads

tartes aux fruits

dark chocolate rocher

 We were seriously contemplating walking the length and breadth of pondicherry to allow us an appetite for dinner by now.

By dinner we were raring to try more of what pondicherry had to offer and were much pleased to find ourselves at the doors of rendezvoux, a restaurant recommended by many tourists as well as locals of pondicherry. Since morning we had been to places which boasted of a great location, ambience , decor and concept, but rendezvoux was different. A non assuming place decorated with reprints of a few watercolour paintings, and a board telling about the days specials.

sea bass fish steak

shrimp cocktail
The food on the other hand was the true winner of the day. The prawn cocktail was not garnished by the tails of shrimp like many places, but had the sweetest and most tender prawns in a wonderful mayonaisse. The sea bass steak was glistening with butter, golden crust and melt in your mouth fish. The grilled chicken was succulent and served with a generous helping of french fries. We could not have asked for more.

well actually we could ask for one more thing.... more desserts. our last stop for the day was choco-la. A chocolate haven for foodies. 

chocolate gift boxes

Pondicherry has much to offer in terms of a relaxed sea side holiday, a soul searching time at matri mandir and aurobindo ashram, the french architecture of bygone days, some awesome haute couture in the upmarket shops, and the eclectic variety of food. After a single day of sensual overload of great sights, smells, tastes we were ready to head back home with a head full of memories, a mouth full of chocolate, a tummy full of indulgence and a heart full of gratitude and apprecition. 

Here is to the good times- bon Appetit.