Jammu enjoys a fair distinctness from the rest of the states as well as its beautiful cousin, Kashmir, in almost all aspects. Essentially a Dogra stronghold, the street food here in Jammu epitomizes it. It seems inspired by the perennial (and delectable) north Indian street food you generally start finding in Delhi and north of it. However, the beauty lies in the originality. And I’ve explored this when I was in Jammu.
Being a foodie at heart (and a traveler too), I generally tend to explore the food in a particular region wherever I go. So a trip to Himachal meant that I would have prying eyes for babru, shidu or chana madra. Going to Rajasthan lead to me devouring pyaaz kachoris, mirchi vada, mawa kachoris, makhaniya lassis. I am all set for my trip again to Rajasthan along with exploring part of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. All I am looking for is Garadu and Jalebi in MP and the awesome kutchi stuff in Bhuj. Guys, please start sending your inputs and girls, you also!
Ideally, being in Jammu during winters automatically opens various options for the street food and the best thing about it is, the weather, which is so conducive that whatever you eat, you are bound to digest it. In my view, the foodie’s den in Jammu is Kachchi Chavani area along with the Parade and Pucca Danga. There are many institutions in other areas but ideally a street food is served best in the busy bazaars where you almost keep on bumping into people.
Exactly two days after I reached Jammu this time (27th November 2012 to be precise), I got an opportunity to visit Kachchi Chavani in Central Jammu under the guise of shopping. Yep, the responsibilities were divided. My wife did the shopping and I did all the eating. J. The first restaurant we entered looked like a swanky street food joint glamorously named as ‘Casino’, bang opposite to the Hanuman Temple. Of course, you are taking all the risk of paying and losing it all if you are disappointed with the taste of food. Something similar happened to me.
We entered with great expectations but somehow we had a very limited choice of aloo tikkis, chole bhature and the ubiquitous chowmein (or Chinese noodles for not so North Indian people). We were hungry so we actually went easy over aloo tikkis (potato patties marinated with spices and deeply fried). It appeared tempting with chole (white chickpea) gravy, curd and red onion but was terribly bland for my palette. Street food should actually bring an explosion of flavours in your oral cavity. This never happened. It was like a star batsman getting out on a first ball of the innings which was a fulltoss. Even the chole bhature at Casino couldn’t save the day. Again a similar chole gravy, onion and a pale pickle. Was not happy paying the bill.
The extra bit of oil in the bhaturas (a deep fried Indian bread made of fine flour) made me conscious and I decided to walk while doing the shopping for wedding of my brother-in-law. My heart was also heavy. I had been waiting for this opportunity to devour street food of Jammu for months and such a disappointment! Anita, my better half, was also feeling bad for me.
And…lo and behold…suddenly we spotted the ‘Kulchawala’ (A ‘Kulcha’ vendor, kulcha is a typical bread baked in an oven). Jammu is famous for it’s kulchas. So when I say Kulchas, it actually points towards the stuffing the kulcha has. So it can have a potato stuffing (Aloo Kulcha), chickpea stuffing (Chole Kulcha), soya chunk stuffing (Nutri Kulcha), paneer kulcha (cottage cheese stuffing) and K…. ahh…wait, good things never come easy! I’ll divulge the details exclusively in the next part of this exquisite and king of street food in Jammu.
Spotting kulchawala was a big relief. We thought we would grab a bite and ordered two chole kulchas. Preparation looked good. The kulcha was stuffed with white chickpeas, finely chopped onions and tomatoes, green chutney made up of mint leaves (pudina) and coariander leaves (dhaniya). The guy handed it over to me and déjà vu.. I was in a similar situation at the swanky Italian/Mexican Restaurant called Quattro in Mumbai, struggling with the huge stuffing in the tacos. The stuffing was oozing out of the kulcha. I took a bite. It was better than the Casino’s spread but again was not upto the expectations. Now, I started to feel uncomfortable. It was 2 o’clock but still the weather was cooler. This is one of the things I love about Jammu. What a fabulous weather (exclusively for winters J)!
We had almost reached in the last phase of our shopping and the possibility of tasting the ‘flavour explosion’ was getting dim. We walked towards the direction of ladies market. Ahh..what a place! So many pretty girls and women beaming with smile as they are there to purchase their favourite stuff. Okay..lets get back to the main subject. J So exactly at the entry of the Fathu Chugan/Laxmi Bazaar, there was a newly opened snack baar and what it serving was only one item on its elaborate menu…The Lachcha Kulfi. (For the uninitiated, Kulfi is the cousin of ice-cream from the Indian subcontinent)
I had earlier heard about the lachcha paratha and even heard somebody talking about lachchedar biryani but never thought of hearing about lachcha kulfis. We have had enough of the tikkis, bhaturas and kulchas… and worse..we didn’t like any of them. Lachcha kulfi was bound to save the grace. And it was fairly good. I was not overjoyed though since the kulfi was not as sweet as it should be and was not flavourful..guess these are the two essential qualities of a kulfi. The noodles dabbled in little amount of rose syrup (or rooh-afza) was a good accompaniment but was still falling short of expectations. I was getting critical about Jammu’s street food…..
And then…. I will divulge the details in the second part which led to finding the gems of Jammu street food and resurrection of my belief in Jammu’s street food. Keep salivating