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. 

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