Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Street Food Gurgaon between Sector 45 and Sector 31

Around the world, the term Street Food has become a catchphrase for trendy places to eat. As with all the lovely things with which the poor are blessed and which bear evidence to God's partiality to the least of creation always, roadside eats are often far superior in taste to the beautifully presented but soulless repasts doled out in Five Star hotels.

I have recorded here a few of the eateries I pass on my way to the gym, Fitness Freak.

This is the first of them

Mostly frequented by workers from nearby places, it serves as tea shop and diner. I have not seen it after dark, but by noon there is a good crowd feasting on hot meals. They also offer snacks like bread pakoras.

The in-between hours are spent in dish washing.

The Second Joint

This lady prepares a daily meal of rotis and a potato curry. As usual with such places, she also provides tea and minor snacks like biscuits. The poor woman has not been keeping well lately. Sometimes her little son helps her and since a few days I notice that they have adopted a stray pup.

Just before the main road, this meals on wheels has a good following at specific times - mostly tea and snacks.

At the cross roads

Another shack provides a slightly wider range of fried snacks. With a cycle repair shop and cobbler in the close neighbourhood, it's a fairly decent location.

 Across the main road

Inaugurating a series of tea "stalls": On a winter morning, hot tea and a spot of sunshine never did anybody any harm.

The second tea "stall"
The man who operates it is courteous and this is probably why he has the better crowd.

Just before the Huda Market, this one opens the series of stuffed roti joints. The rotis are cooked in the tandoor thus making for a healthier version of the North Indian's favourite breakfast parathas.

Hot on its heels is another of the same kind

This one has the better location - more sunshine. To be noted is that, five years on, I find more young men like this running their own eatery rather than working as "chotu" in that of some fat trader type person.

Journey's end for me is a haven of food stops but this one I pass to and fro from my workout: it is an act of great restraint on my part that I have not yet stopped to have a bite for each day there is a big crowd around it paying homage to what must surely be a gastronomic hit.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Roadside Winter Breads-Gurgaon

I have joined a nearby gym to stave off the weight gain that is necessarily incumbent upon a returning Indian eager to make up for lost time but the way to my work out heaven is paved with temptation: at each step a myriad eats shamelessly bandy enticing smells and these two youths start early in the day, impervious to the dipping mercury as they deftly stuff balls of dough, roll them out and shallow fry them before serving them up to the lucky multitudes with sundry garnishes and accompaniments.

When we moved into Gurgaon, somewhere in the late 1990s, eating out was a rare thing, especially in the newer, more urban areas. Our first experience of a take-away was, however, the night we moved in. 

In India, like elsewhere, one mostly cooks on a gas stove but here getting a gas connection was never as easy as, say, in Malaysia where trucks selling gas cylinders slowly roll up and down the streets at least once a day. All you have to do is holler to get them to stop and deliver your fuel. Not so here. In the past, it was a long wait before you were approved for a connection and, in the meantime, you survived on either rationed out kerosene or wood ovens and such. Cooking on electricity existed mainly in colder parts of India, probably, and, most likely, only on campus where it was highly illegal but then students and laws are not famous for their friendship. I write, of course, from memory-of way back in the mid 1980s.

To return to Gurgaon, we had shifted there from another suburb of India's huge capital city and had thus had to "surrender" our gas connection. It would be a while before we got our new connection. 

Tired with a day's worth of unpacking my son and I wandered out of our flat in search of sustenance. It was dark - Gurgaon was far from what it is today and mercifully still very rural. The apartment complexes were at some distance from the old town which would have had its restaurants and such. 

Luckily we found an eatery at the adjacent petrol bunk: a few rope cots served as table and chairs and the clientele were mainly rugged cross country truck drivers.

I'm not sure such places still exist around here, at least not in the bustling urban perimeters.  By the early 2000s change rapidly manifested, largely initiated by the burgeoning call centre culture. My son, who then worked in one of those, would know more about what was what in the night food scene of Gurgaon in those years. 

He speaks of an amazing biryani, for example.

In between we moved to Kuala Lumpur for five years and returned ravenous with nostalgia for Delhi's tongue tingling variety of foods. Not a day went by but we discovered how much had changed:prices had skyrocketed past any normal inflationary margins, all kinds of world cuisines were represented where before all we had was the wonderful Indian Chinese...

We arrived back in Gurgaon late at night in July 2010 and my husband set out with his friends, who had so kindly picked us up from the airport - in search of a bottle of drinking water. However, all he returned with was some delicious aloo ka paranthas, a fine dal and mosambi juice! 

While dal is a staple in any North Indian eatery, the aloo parathas and juice were a new addition for me. Chappatis were common but not as common as the ubiquitous tandoori rotisNaans did grace some posh eateries. Around the time we left for KL, Khameera rotis had begun to make themselves known. Aloo parathas did indeed exist on the roadside but, as they were mainly the prerogative of the housewives to make, they humbly lurked in some odd roadside stall or at railway stations in some remote place. 
As that fine upstanding stalwart, the Indian Housewife, had to part with her sons and daughters who now flew from the nest earlier and further with the new and plentiful job opportunities, Mother India had to provide for the grass orphans. The famous and formidable belna had to be graciously handed over to various Tanvirs, Dharamvirs and Haris. Stuffed rotis, the breakfast staple of North India, now graces every street corner and, as night shifts continue to plague this land, are served at all hours. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sweet, Sour, Spicy Karela Fry

Karelas are bitter. Some more so than others. Normally, in India, at least, things that taste awful, especially bitter things like Neem leaves, supposedly do you a lot of good. With this in mind, every good Indian mother cooks some Karela now and then, if not for the welfare of her family then out of sheer sadism.

By കാക്കര (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Well, my mom felt she had a lot of things to be bitter about, or maybe it was just the way we perceived her but she cooked our karelas in such a way that it was positively wicked rather than “good for you” awful. As a matter of fact, my husband swears he got to love this abomination only after we met and I seduced him with a dish of this ugly green vegetable. My son still refuses to have any but then he is one of those who think that vegetables are merely there to provide fiber.

Anyway, the recipe is fairly simple:
Sweet, Sour, Spicy Karela Fry
3 small karelas
2 medium sized onions

For soaking:
A small lime sized ball of tamarind
Loads of oil
For tempering:
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp red chili powder
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp grated jaggery
Chop the karelas into thin roundels. De-seed, if possible, although a few seeds add a delightful crunch.

Soak the roundels in water to which you have added the tamarind (squeeze the tamarind a bit to make the water sour) for as long or as little as you desire.

Drain the roundels well (to avoid spluttering – both you and the oil - when they hit the hot oil) and deep fry them in hot oil. 

Add a few roundels at a time if you are more patient than I to achieve uniformly browned but not burnt roundels. 

Drain them and keep them aside.

Chop the onions – not too fine. 

Heat a wee bit of oil-maybe a couple of tbsps? 

Add the cumin and when it has spluttered enough, add the onions. What do I mean by enough? That depends - some like them to get almost charred (I know my good man does!) and some, like me, prefer that they just barely cease to splutter. 

Fry the onions well. Again, you might prefer them to just get translucent or, on the other hand, maybe you like them well-browned. 

Add the karela roundels and the chili powder, salt (Don’t tell me I have to tell you how much! Okay, about ½ a tsp?), turmeric, and, finally, the grated jaggery

If all this is too complicated, just add some lime juice for the sour and some sugar for the sweet.

Serve with hot white rice or puris or chapattis.