Hope? aka The Wedding Review

Should I be professional and dissect the wedding food? Or should I be emotional and put behind me a not-so-great experience? A bit of both I think. The wedding was ok, the wedding food not so much. There was a lack of both variety and innovation, and the unexpected star of the wedding dinner (in my mouth’s opinions) was the humble ‘chila’ – a thin pancake of ground dals stuffed with vegetables and served with chutney. Disappointed as I am with the Agra experience, I cannot help but expect better from my upcoming Baroda trip. While Mom is excited about going back home, I am excited about writing NET. No seriously, I am. Whats not to love about the day-long marathon that ranges from the insane to the impossible? The race that we continue to run twice a year, every year, knowing that we can’t win? It’s a dream come true, of course.

To counterbalance my joy over the exam, however, there is the drag known as Gujarati food which I will be subjected to in some degree. Why would anyone want to eat spongy dhokla or crisp jalebis? Or hot spicy cheesy dabelis and vada pavs? Why, indeed.
Sarcasm apart, one complaint I do have with Gujarati food is about the dhokla. First of all, what I’m used to called dhokla, the savoury yellow steamed cakes, are called khaman there. The harder dryer version is simply called that, but the softer, juicier and sweeter version is called nylon khaman or simply nylon. There is the white dhokla which is actually called dhokla, made out of rice flour. Sorry Gujjus, that tastes like a poor cousin of the idli to me, and I know which one I prefer. Oh and then there is sev khamani which is made by grinding/ crushing cooked khaman and mixing it with some combination of sugar, coriander leaves, mince garlic, pomegranate, green chilli, etc. Thats the khamani, and then you top with a lot of fine sev to make sev khamani!
I’ve already made my list of the things I want to eat when I’m in Baroda. At the top is Dabeli, coz its just not available in Hyderabad and its one of the very very few things that mom can’t cook well. The key to a good Dabeli, IMO, is a very garlicky green chutney. Take a ladi pav (the kind used for pav bhaji), slit it from one side so that you can open it up. Apply the “very garlicky green chutney” on both sides. Stuff in a mixture of boiled mashed potatoes,  masala peanuts, pomegranate. Top with grated cheese. Close the pav. Cook on a tawa with a little oil. Make sure that it does not get crisp. If its crisp, you might as well just throw it away. Serve with super-sweet tamarind and date chutney.
The second item is Bombay Sandwich. in Baroda? yes. There is a small lane off the main commercial area of Baroda which has a lot of carts selling these sandwich monsters. Three slices of bread (BIG ones), butter and green chutney spread, stuffing of thick slices of Onion, Cucumber, Boiled Potato, Tomato and Beetroot. All topped with generous dollops of tomato sauce, grated cheese and chaat masala. I don’t know if this sandwich is actually available in Bombay (or Mumbai, as we must call it for fear of the SS), but I worship the one in Baroda. Served with extremely unhealthy but delicious potato wafers.
Then comes Nylon and Sev Khamani. Unfortunately, the Sev Khamani in Baroda doesn’t taste as good as the one in Ankleshwar, and its not as widely available either. 😦
Pani puri… not because its not available in Hyderabad, but because its so darn cheap there. Just the puris are available for as low as Rs. 12 for a pack of 50. Compared to Rs. 30 here. Plus there is a vendor called Delhi Chaat there which has really good chaat. Especially the matar ki chaat, or chaat made of dried yellow peas, which also happens to be impossible to find in Hyderabad. Unfortunately, I don’t know how its made. I just know what to do with a plate of the finished product. Ask for more chutney and try to wait long enough to not burn your tongue.
Amul Icecream. Yes I know its available in Hyderabad, but somehow it doesn’t taste the same here. And the Amul parlour is a bit far away from home, so we end up getting Kwality Walls. Which is little low on the cream factor. There are 3 main brands of icecream available in Gujarat – Amul, Vadilal and Havmor. Vadilal used to be this dry, too-buttery, too much essence kind of icecream, but in the last few years, it has really reinvented itself. New fancy flavours, improved versions of the classics, and way more creaminess. If you’re beginning to think that I’m obsessed with creaminess, then you are absolutely right. Whats icecream without the cream? Plain old ice! Anyway, these 3 brands are pretty level on my personal rating chart, but I do favour certain flavours from each of those. Ferrero Rocher Icecream, anyone? Or the delightful Kesar Krackle, which is a saffron flavoured icecream with crushed bits of til chikki.
Ooooh, thats made me hungry now.
Quick winding up. I’m leaving for Baroda tomorrow, will be back on 28th. And then it’ll be time to bake a belated Christmas cake! The fruits are all soaking in a rum/whisky/orange juice combo, and should be at their plumpiest by the time I return. And now I’m REALLY hungry. Cake hungry.

The Wedding Preview

So I’m off to attend my cousin’s wedding on 10th. He will be the first of my cousins to be sacrificed at the mandap, and the poor guy is actually happy about it. Its an unmissable event and I’m really looking forward to it. The singing and dancing and music and the pretty clothes. Meeting a lot of people I’ve never met before, and might never meet again. Meeting a lot of people who I’ve met before but don’t remember at all. Meeting some people who I’ve met, remember, and know that I will meet again. And the very few people who I know and like and want to meet. Anyway, there’s the shaadi and the baraat and the sangeet and other ceremonies that I don’t know about, and then there’s the FOOD.
So why does food get block letters when nothing else did? Its not just because this is a food blog and I’m obviously a little biased towards the topic (although I admit that is part of the reason), its also because the wedding is in Agra. Having lived my whole life away from my “native state” of Uttar Pradesh, I’m definitely not in a position to get homesick about it. But I do miss the food. More than any particular dish that I crave, its the undefinable something that permeates the food there. That flavour, that whateveritis, is part of what defines ‘home’ for me. And so even though I’ve never lived in Agra, going there is still going home for me. The particular blend of spices, the specifics of the cutting and the cooking of vegetables (and of course the selection of vegetables), the bursting kachoris and the hot badam milk… 
If I were to ask someone what Agra is famous for, you can guess what answer I’m going to get. Yes, the Taj Mahal is its biggest attraction, but there are two others that are pretty famous. There’s the Agra Petha, and the Agra Dalmoth. If you’re familiar with Haldiram’s, you might have across their Agra Taj Dalmoth. Its a mixture of fine sev, fried dal, melon seeds and cashews. Tasty and addictive. As far as memory serves, it is pretty close to the original Agra Dalmoth, albeit with a little extra richness. The Petha, though, has somehow managed to escape national spread. Sure there is petha in other places, but the Agra petha – yellow juicy syrupy melting deliciousness that it is – is a class apart.
In the hierarchy of sweets (I hope you knew there was a hierarchy?), the petha is pretty low down. The particular variant that I’m talking about, called the Angoori Petha, is a little higher than its poor cousin, but not by much. Considering how delicious it is (and that is not just a personal bias… it is a much loved dessert), the only reason I can think of for this is the cost of its ingredients. Petha, unlike dry fruit barfis or ladoos or milk-based sweets, is pretty inexpensive. And maybe that is why it has been relegated to the lower rung of the ladder. There’s a pretty disturbing suggestion of a possible obsession with appearances here. Have we been taken in so completely that our own taste buds are dictated to by others?
I’d love to know what you think about the sweets’ hierarchy and the reason for it. Is a laddoo higher than a burfi or vice versa? And where does halwa figure in this? And the chena-base sweets?  And why? why? why?

Choices, choices everywhere

So the rolls were a success, although once again dad decided to pass on them and stick to curry and paratha. He didn’t get the point of putting the curry inside the paratha, when it could be had in the normal way. Tastes the same whether its in or out. Mom did try pretty hard to explain the difference, but without success. But that got me thinking, Is there really any difference? We (Mom and I) changed the presentation of the same two dishes and felt happy that we were eating something different, something that was not “boring subzi paratha”, as mom said. Yes, it tasted good but wouldn’t it have tasted as good even if eaten in the boring old style?
In my parents’ childhood, every meal every day followed a fixed pattern. Lunch was always dal (generally tur/arhar/pigeon peas or whatever you call it), roti and dry aloo sabzi. Variations would only add rice or another sabzi. Sometimes there would be chutney or papad or salad. And that was that. Dinner would be lauki (bottle gourd) curry (because my great grandfather was under doctor’s orders to eat that everyday), paratha, curd and aloo curry made either with tomatoes or with curd. Too much aloo, I know, but at that time no one was really worried about diabetes or counting calories. Special foods like chole bature, puri, paneer, etc were also made at home, but on special ocassions. And the preparation of these dishes would be all that was required to make an ocassion fancy.
Now? I can’t eat the same dal two days in a week. I have to have paneer at least once a week. Aloo isn’t cooked twice everyday, its more like twice in a week now. Pakoras or samosas are no longer just teatime snacks, we make a dinner of them. Burgers, pizzas and noodles are cooked as often as puri and stuffed parathas – which is to say, very frequently. And that is only the food that has replaced the standard dal-roti-subzi combo of homecooked staples. A completely new dimension of eating out has emerged and has added so many new dishes to what I now consider standard fare… naan, kebabs, manchurian (!!!), biryani etc. And you know what? Despite all the variety that is now available to me, all the options I have when it comes to cooking and/or eating, I’m bored with my food choices half the time.
Not only is the variety not exciting anymore, sometimes it doesn’t even reach the acceptable mark. The problem of what to eat has suddenly taken gigantic proportions. I find myself bewildered, confused, and even desperate, every time I have to decide what I want to eat. Forget having to choose between rice and roti (which wasn’t all that long ago, even I remember those golden days of simplicty) today I have a greater number of options in just the kind of food I want. And of course there is the question of where. I’m not very good at math, but even I know enough to be able to tell you that there are near-endless combinations possible. Should I have pizza from domino’s or biryani from dhaawat or make myself a sandwich at home or a soup or maggi noodles or sambhar and rice from curry point or parathas from home or fried rice from campus or fruit or idly from vindu’s or chaat or kachoris or make pulao or egg curry or stuffed paratha or go to hot rottis for a thali or mcdonald’s for burgers or cook paneer tikka or pasta or maggi oh no I already rejected that or have chinese at wonton or popcorn or bhel or coffee or… or… or… ……………………………………..
I think I’m not hungry anymore. I’ll just stay home and read a book and go to sleep.

Anyway, I’d promised y’all the recipe for the Kathi Roll (even though after all that deconstruction of fancy food I’m not sure even I want to eat it again), so here goes.
Paneer – 200 gms
Onions (sliced) -2 medium
Tomatoes (chopped) – 2
Capsicum (sliced) – 1
Ginger-garlic paste – 1 tsp
Oil – 2 tsp
Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
Tomato Ketchup – 2 tbsp
Garam Masala Powder (preferably Rajwadi) – 1 tsp
Salt and Red Chilli Powder to taste
Rumali Rotis from Siddique’s (or somewhere else if you are not in Hyderabad)

Heat oil in a non-stick pan (if you are not using nonstick, up the amount of oil to 2 tbsp.) Add onions and saute till translucent. Add turmeric, chopped tomatoes and ginger-garlic paste. Cook for 2 minutes. Add salt and 1/ cup water, cook for another two minutes. By now the tomatoes should have cooked and become a little sauce-y. Oh yeah, now is a good time to add the ketchup and the red chilli powder. Hold on to the garam masala a little longer though. First add the paneer, capsicum and another 1/2 cup water. Mix, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes. When the capsicum is no longer bright green and is a boring dirty green, its done. Now add the garam masala, check and adjust seasoning and your stuffing is ready.
Of course, if you’re someone like my mother, it can’t be ready till you put a large handful of chopped coriander leaves into it. So do that, and then its ready. Voila! Roll up in a rumali roti and enjoy.