Friday, December 28, 2012

Part 2 - The Street Food of Jammu - Gastronomical Gallis

The day of resurrection arrived. I had never planned for the feast I was about to experience that day but as the famous Grand Master Oogway from Kung FU Panda quotes, “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it” Mine was not an exact situation but I felt like quoting that line here. J We had shifted our base temporarily to Amphalla for the wedding. Hence, I got ample time to explore the nearby area on my own and once again, I was sifting through the crowd and the busy streets of Parade and Kachhi Chavani. However, I seriously had no intentions to try the street food.
On the way, I met my better half and my sis-in-law who were there to get the henna designs on their hand. (Remember the ladies market). We decided to take a casual walk towards Pucca Danga. I don’t know if it was my destiny that we stumbled upon this guy called Suresh (or Prakash..normally the guys with these two names can cook very good food!) who was dishing out the ‘kulchas’ swiftly, bang opposite to ‘Taj Boutique’ in the ladies market.
My first encounter with Kulchas as I mentioned in the first part was not so good. There was a difference The guy I met earlier was a ‘Kulcha Seller’ and this guy looked like a ‘Kulcha Artist’. So I didn’t waste time and ordered a chole kulcha there. The same old combination – a warmed circular bread split open (kulcha), chopped onion, chopped tomato, the delicious green chutney of mint and coriander and lovely tasty stuffing of chickpeas. My first bite….mmmmmm….this is how kulcha should be made. The first flavor explosion I experienced in Jammu. With my next bite, I had already ordered another chole kulcha. Things start to flow and look amazingly seamless when you are ready to go.
After finishing off four chole kulchas, I spotted an interesting thing on the artist’s pan. A luscious, white stuff but still interestingly elastic. Those three discs getting heat treatment on the sides so that they can become deliciously brown. I wondered what it was and curiously asked. The answer was, “Kaladi” Eureka…..Ohhoy…Yay…I was face to face with the king of street foods of Jammu. I had seen the NDTV Good Times Show, Chakh Le India where the host Aditya Bal while wandering at Patnitop near Jammu caught hold of this amazing cheese.
Kalari is a traditional ripened cheese also known as Maish Krej in Kashmir and prepared from cow’s or goat’s milk. This is an exclusive cheese available in the hilly areas of JK and nowhere else. Extremely soft and yet dense and spellbindingly tasty! I have been mentioning it a lot on almost all my social media platforms that it beats the mozzarella cheese by miles. I really wish that Will Studd (the cheese expert and host of TLC Program ‘Cheese Slices’) must come here and talk about it. I never thought India could provide a contender in the elaborate list of variety of cheeses across the globe.
So, it was a no brainer that I asked for one ‘kalari kulcha’. Rest of the things remaining same, the stuffing is replaced by this lovely block of kalari cheese. And I can’t write about my experience. Don’t have words! I can swear by the kalari kulcha and can fight with anybody for its superiority over other street foods anywhere else in India. J
So actually, even after gorging 4 chole kulchas, the lovely smell and magical taste of kalari prompted me to finish off another kalari kulcha. All I wanted was to keep on eating them but I had a dinner to attend that evening. I promised Suresh that I would be there tomorrow to eat more kalari kulchas. With a beaming smile and a satisfied belly, I proceeded. The kalari kulchas had restored my confidence in the Jammu street food and I saw positively everywhere.
The next stop was a Gol Gappa vendor few meters away from the Kalari Kulcha vendor. The Pani Puris which are known as Gol Gappas in North India are slightly different in taste and I believe shape also. The Gol Gappas are more rotund capable of bearing more amount of the spiced concoction hence being more flavourful than its rest of India counterpart. No wonder I finished 20 Gol Gappas in one go (after eating 4 chole kulchas and 2 kalari kulchas). I was on rampage in the ladies market of Jammu. J
Momos on a cold evening are nothing less than bliss. A cousin of the Chinese dumplings, loved in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and the Hilly States of India. Made of fine flour with finely chopped veggies like cabbage, potato and for non-veggies, meat of course! I have always wondered it’s similarity to modaks in Maharashtra which are made in a similar way but with rice flour and sweet stuffing of coconut, jaggery  and other ingredients like poppy seeds. Interestingly, both the names also start with ‘Mo’. This I must say a healthier option since it is steamed and not fried and has no excessive usage of butter or cheese. Generally, it is served with hot soup to start with. We had the luxury of enjoying them on a cold evening of December when the temperature had dropped to 8 degree Celsius. I remember three of us finishing 120 momos on that evening. J
Since I have mentioned about healthier option, the discussion cannot be finished without the mention of ‘Kachalu’ and ‘Masala Mooli’. So kachalu are colocasia corms (and has got nothing to do with potato J) which are sliced and diced and marinated in spices. Colocasia in local dialect is also known as arbi, arvi, alu. Gujaratis can relate their ‘patra’ where the leaf is used to prepare the savoury dish and Maharashtrians also prepare ‘Alu Wadi’ in a slightly similar fashion. The garadu (yam chunks) available in Indore during the winter look similar to Jammu’s kachalu preparation but I am yet to taste garadu. So no comments!
Masala mooli (spiced radishes) is a simpler and yet a tasty and healthy option. A baby white radish is simply split open and doused with spices but to an optimal level so we don’t lose the actual spiciness of fresh radish.
I have concluded that Jammu’s food is all about the ethnic food. The swanky restaurants are no match for the street food. I had been to Falak, the revolving restaurant set atop the KC Residency in the Raghunath Bazaar. All I can say is the experience was terribly disappointing. Jaw dropping low service standards and zero value for money, I would advise people to stick to kachhi chavani and make most of it. J   Few other tips are – Lassi at Pehalwan di Hatti in Gandhi Nagar and freshly baked breads at any Kashmiri Bakery!
Surely, I had started my Jammu food exploration on a wrong note but what matters is the end. It was fabulous. I am slightly surprised that Kalari hasn’t got its fair share of popularity. Or may be things are expected to remain as they are and taste great! J I don’t know. But I know for sure that at least I have found multiple reasons to come back to Jammu. The street food is just awesome!  

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