Monday, August 15, 2016

Indore Food Trip: When in Indore, eat like an Indori!

Three years ago, I made an announcement on my social media platforms regarding a road trip to North India. An important pit stop was Indore in Madhya Pradesh, the very reason being food offered by the city. I specifically mentioned about ‘Garadu’ (a type of yam relished by Indoris, especially during winters) and invited opinions about it from the people who have tried it. Somehow, that jigsaw of road trip never came together and Indore (very surprisingly) remained a distant dream (though the distance to be covered was not more than 700 km from Mumbai)

As the luck would have it, I got an opportunity to visit Indore over a slightly extended weekend. The agenda was to catch up with the family of a close friend, Dr. Dhingra and the hidden agenda was to raid all possible places which are popular for food. ‘Sarafa Bazaar’ is the place included in my most passionate dreams (pun intended!). Do you know my passion for food? J. However, this time, the research quotient didn’t come to play and I simply remembered the dishes but not the places which served them (except ‘Joshi Dahi Bada House’ in Sarafa Bazaar)

The day I landed in Indore, I got to meet with an outdoor adventures enthusiast and a corporate trainer, Mr. Rakesh Jain who like many other Indoris is a foodie at core. As a typical outsider, I had ticked Sarafa Bazaar and Chappan Dukaan as my preferred destinations. But Mr. Jain had some different ideas. And the list he gave out was exhaustive. The description of the places and dishes was making me feel hungry and salivating but I contained my emotions with utmost gentlemanly manner. After an hour long conversation, it was an earthly need to hear my belly who was cringing even though I had a late afternoon lunch.

Rasagulla House, Near Geeta Bhavan, Manorama Ganj

Specialty – Rasagullas, Gulab Jamuns

Taste – 7/10 Ambiance – 5/10 Service – 9/10 VFM – 8/10
Gulab Jamuns..soft, warm and yummy
I started my Indore Serenade on a sweet note by visiting Rasagulla House in Manorama Ganj. Dr. Dhingra was expecting guests at home in the evening and was summoned to get sweets. Rasagulla House in the nearby area was the best choice. Though the banners explicitly advertise ‘Rasagulla, Rasmalai and Rajbhog’, I fell for the yummy, warm and soft Gulab Jamuns. Three gulab jamuns and two rasagullas was somewhere I decided to stop as I had a plan to visit Sarafa Bazaar same evening.  It’s predominantly a take-away place and hence, there’s no place to sit as such. But if your sweet tooth is really pressing you hard then you can get your plate and stand there and clean those rounds of goodies at a go!

Sarafa Bazar (It is the landmark….)

Specialty – Street Food (Dahi  Badas, Bhutte ki kees, Garadu, Sabudana Khichadi, Jalebas, Malpuas, gulab Jamuns, Kulfi, Shikanji)

Taste – 6/10 Ambiance – 4/10 Service – 8/10 VFM – 8/10

‘Sarafa Bazaar’ is a perfect example of a symbiotic system. In the daylight and till the dusk falls, it is a jewellery market and after that, it becomes a foodie’s haven. You can experience a similar transition in Ahmedabad at Manek Chowk. It’s a simple arrangement – the late night dwellings guard the jewellery shops, for the crowd it attracts and in return, get a nice platform to sell their food. We reached the place at around 10.30 p.m. (mind you, the place comes to life only after 10 in the night). It was an eve of Ramzan Eid and there was a sizeable crowd shopping to celebrate eid, on our way to Sarafa Bazar. The brief rains had made the scene little slippery and slushy. Our babies were yawning and lo and behold, there was a huge procession of Lord Balaji making all the way from the main street of Sarafa Bazar. Not the best of the platforms to enjoy your food and for a minute, I honestly thought about making a U turn and try some other place. Patience, my friend, patience! We waited till the procession moved on and we finally entered the Sarafa Bazar.

The samosa shop on the left hand corner gives a little glimpse of what is on the plate (of course, samosas J). The name I remember faintly is ‘Prachin (Old….Prachin is actually older than the old) Samose ki Dukan’ I am always intrigued by the way the food stalls brand themselves, especially in North India. The name could be little confusing as we are not sure if the samosa is PRACHIN, the recipe is prachin or the shop is prachin. Prachin in Sanskrit means Historic. Most of the shops which are located at revered places in India (North?) use this adjective Prachin very frequently to flaunt their authenticity and quality. You would find shops starting with the name ‘Prachin’ at places like Haridwar, Varanasi and Mathura. We have few gems in North India who put an adjective of ‘Asli’ (the original) as plagiarism is rampant across the territory. But we’ll have this discussion in some other post.

Joshi Dahi Bada House, Sarafa Bazar

Specialty – Dahi Badas and Bhutte ki kees

Taste – 8/10 Ambiance – 5/10 Service – 9/10 VFM – 9/10

Dahi Bada
We headed straight towards Joshi Dahi Bada house which is unquestionably can be called as the face of the Sarafa Bazar. The procession of Lord Balaji had robbed us off the opportunity to meet Mr. Joshi who has been covered by many food shows and is famous for his Ghulam-Badshah conversation, ideally ending with Puchiye Kyun? (Ask why?) and his skill to toss the plate in the air and  sprinkle masalas on the dahi bada (I certainly prefer the second skill as the first one is meant for the food shows). I got my first hands on ‘Bhutte ki kees’’instead of Dahi Bada. With my stomach gurgling and asking for some inputs, it was obvious that I fell for it. Made up of finely ground boiled corn, spiced up with lemon and other ingredients, it tastes nice but not an explosion in the oral cavity. It has a subtle taste. Works well with your palate. Dahi Bada ofcourse remains the main attraction. The two water soaked and then squeezed badas with a generous ladle of sweet curd (not yogurt, just to clarify) and sprinkling of the aromatics makes it worth travelling to Sarafa Bazar. You may feel like going for another of dahi badas. You get as much dahi as you want (what generosity..indeed the customer is Badshah!)

Sawaliya Seth Ki Sabudana Khichdi

Specialty – Sabudana Khichdi (Spiced pearl sego)

Taste – 8/10  Ambiance – 5/10 Service – 7/10 VFM – 8/10

Sabudana Khichdi is such a humble snack, comes into highlight especially on the day of religious fasting (I really wonder if it does any good to your guts). But it is a convincingly tasty snack. Being a Maharashtrian, I always fancied about Sabudana Khichdi on so called ‘FASTING’ days and would generally end up overeating. Some people just seem to have nailed the recipe. It’s a tricky preparation and involves lot of hardwork. You have to be patient till the milky white pearl sego starts turning translucent and you can earn well-endowed biceps. So I was pleasantly surprised when I came to know that Indoris also took a great fancy at this humble and yet tasty snack.

Sawaliya Seth’s sabudana khichdi is a typical street food version. A big pot of sabudanan khichdi kept warm in yet another big pot with boiling water. Sabudana tends to get sticky and rubbery as it cools and it is important to maintain the right temperature. As you place an order for a plate, the guy will briskly take out a ladle of sabudana khichdi and sprinkle it with some spice powder and finely chopped coriander. The appearance could be disguising as the dish tastes lot better than it actually looks. We get slightly upmarket version of this snack at a popular eatery in Indore, ‘Apna Sweets’. This is where Rocky went week in his knees even for such a humble vegetarian dish. A must try!


Taste – 5/10 Ambiance – 5/10 Service – 8/10 VFM – 8/10

Mighty Jalebas!!!
Indoris probably have all their 32 teeth made up of ‘sugar tooth’. It is evident from the fact that these guys like to enjoy their morning poha with piping hot, crispy jalebis. But ever heard of Jaleba? Sounds like a masculine version of Jalebi (bai???). It is (oh that patriarch society approach…huh?)! Jaleba weighs almost 350-400 g, flaunts its body for all the deep frying, glistens with extraordinary gloss of the sugar syrup, ravishing orange/yellow in colour and is soft at core. It is indeed a treat to take a bite and take a moment to come to reality. But it is a heavyweight stuff and unlikely to be cleaned by a guy/girl with even above normal appetite. I kept on chomping it till I finished almost 70% of it and then gave up. (Remember that I had 2 rosogullas and 3 gulab jamuns the same evening!)

Nema Falooda
Special mention for Shikanji of Indore! This shikanji is unlike you get in North India, which is a thirst quencher but good god, the Indori Shikanji can take care of your calorific requirements for few days. Made up of milk and rabadi with assortment of dry fruits, it can humble any milkshake. I still remorse at the fact that I reached ‘Nagori Shikanji’ when it was closed and had little place left in my stomach when I approached ‘Rabadi Guru’ in Sarafa Bazar. That was a heartbreak!

But somehow, my palate for sweet is not congruent with most of the towns in India. In these Tier II and III cities of India, there’s a lot emphasis on a dish being sweet and syrupy which according to me destabilizes the taste of a dessert. I prefer subtle sweetness in a sweetmeat/dessert and hence, most of the time left unimpressed with the sweet offerings in many towns in India. There was a similar story of ‘Basant Icecream’ in Ludhiana. I found it too sweet to enjoy. I am a fan of Natural Icecreams (like a Mumbaikar) and believe nothing beats the subtle flavours of fruit in it. So when I was trying the ‘Famous’ Nema Kulfi/Falooda at the Sarafa Bazar, one spoon and I was done.

Bablu Sandwich, Manik Bagh Road

Taste – 8/10 Ambiance – 6/10 Service – 8/10 VFM – 6/10

Masala Paneer Sandwich
My food guide for Indore, Mr. Rakesh Jain insisted that I should not leave Indore before tasting sandwiches at Bablu Sandwich. I obliged and have not stopped thanking Mr. Jain for recommending this place. I am not a fan of the sandwiches they make in Mumbai called as ‘Bombay Sandwich’. The product is horrible for me and the chutneys they give along with those sandwiches are worse than the sandwich itself. So honestly, I had my own reservations going to try sandwiches in Indore but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me.

Italian Club Sandwich..Super Loaded!
When I reached the place, we were the only customers and hence, sheepishly confirmed if this is the only ‘Bablu Sandwich’ in Indore. After clarifying, I started conversation with Mr. Bablu Jain who is the owner and introduced myself.

He was excited to meet a ‘food blogger’ who 
came all the way from ‘Mumbai’. He himself offered to choose sandwiches from his menu for us. We tried three different sandwiches from different categories – Italian Pizza Club (Super Loaded), Masala Paneer Sandwich (Semi Loaded) and Biscuito Choclate Crisp Toast (Dessert). I must say that the first two sandwiches were loaded with flavor (with cheese too) and kinda caused an explosion of flavor bomb in my mouth. The breads used are fresh, generous use of toppings and stuffings make it a joyous gastronomic fair.  However, my conflict continued with sweet category as I found the third sandwich too sweet for my palate. The extra hand of condensed milk drizzled with chocolate syrup was something which I struggled at the end to finish.

Some patrons in Indore still swear by the name of Sapna Sandwiches; but I think Bablu Sandwiches is coming up fast and catching the fancy of Indore’s new generation of foodies. It is certainly not cheap though as it would be in Sarafa Bazar or Chappan Dukan. The Italian PIzza Club costs you INR 220 which is at a fair premium to vegetarian range of Subway Sandwiches. But it’s good that I have made friends with Mr. Bablu Jain. He has promised to guide me on my next food trip to Indore. J
Biscuito Chocolate Sandwich

There are few places which I couldn’t visit due to constraint of time and other obligations. I am listing them here. Please feel free to share your experiences if you happen to visit them.
1.       Lal Balti Kachori (Rambara)
2.       Jalebi Poha at Jain Shree
3.       Head Sahab ke Pohe

4.       Ravi’s Aloo ki Kachori (Anand Bazaar Corner) 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Baking and Breaking The World of Kashmiri Breads

Bread is such an important aspect of survival for a human. After water, if anything a human being craves for, is nothing but bread. Over thousand years of evolution of homo sapiens and a subsequent development of new cultures on this planet, the bread has taken various forms. There’s no other region which has a rich history and variety of breads the way Europe has. As I read somewhere that Germany alone boasts 1300 varieties of breads and pastries (I so vividly remember the strudel Christopher Waltz’s character eats in the movie, Inglorious Basterds). So famous is Italy’s Focaccia, France’s Baguette, Danish Rugbroad or German’s Bauernbrot. Middle East too has its own contribution to this ancient recipe. The famous pita, the supremely tasty lavash, sumptuous taftan or our own hearty naan.

Being a human being (not just Being Human J), I too developed craving for the bread from my childhood. Though Indians are not heavy eaters of leavened bread and generally prefer flat unleavened breads, I loved the freshly baked soft white bread or the tasty buns with my evening tea. The love further blossomed with introduction to pizzas and garlic breads. My curiosity for breads is increasing always. And I was in for a surprise when I married my better half who’s a Kashmiri Pandit. Kashmiri Pandits also share my love for breads. So it is easy for me to write about the Kashmiri breads.

A typical dekko of a Kashmiri Bakery, Nagrota, Jammu
A Kashmiri breakfast would never be complete without breads, that too the baker’s breads. Every Kashmir√≠’s home would be situated in the vicinity of a bakery or vice versa makes more sense J. I think both are inseparable entities. The bakery in Kashmir is known as ‘Kandur’ (pronounced as kaan-duur). The owner of a kaandur is considered to be blessed by the Kashmiri saint, Lal Ded who once took shelter in an oven of a kaandur. This is as per a KP legend. I am not too sure about the legend of Lal Ded  but I am sure that the owner of kaandar/kaandur is blessed by thousands of souls including me.

The Baker in The Kaandur (Please check the red hot oven and the divine light from the window in the background !)
A fresh bread with a cup of piping hot tea on a cold winter morning in Kashmir/Jammu is a luxury anyone can afford. That’s where the blessings start to pour in. It’s not an ordinary job to run a kaandur and meet expectations of its various patrons. The oven (that’s tandoor, dude!) is lighted up very early in the morning. The knuckles come hard of leavened or unleavened dough to start the day. Interestingly, the kaandur keeps on changing the breads with almost every passing couple of hours (Please correct me if I am wrong since that’s my experience)

Whenever I am in Jammu, my morning starts with an endearingly refreshing cup of Kahwa. To date, there has been nothing which is able to beat the subtle mixture of various aromas in the simplest forms like the way Kahwa offers. And obviously, it doesn’t need an accompaniment as your all senses are awakened with every sip of this delicately beautiful clear tea (but some people prefer Kulcha, KASHMIRI…SAY…KASHMIRI Kulcha, with it, I think it’s just a function of hunger). Here, kaandur is saved from the early morning raiders as the he silently works his hands on the dough to make the first batch of lavaas and girdas ready.

Kashmiris love their tea the way Punjabis love their whisky. (Ouch, Okay!) Kashmiris love their tea like the way fish loves water (Sounds good…would the first line be chopped?). Tea is an integral part of every Kashmiri household. The day starts with it and most possibly, you may end the day drinking tea if you are willing. I guess half of the cooking fuel consumption should be dedicated to tea in a Kashmiri home (and rest goes for those delicious slow cooked dishes which I relish a lot… I mean gobbling 4-5 dum aloos). Why I am I stressing so much on tea when the write up has to be about bread. Bread is the best accompaniment of tea. J

As I mentioned, the first round of milky tea (mostly the pink nun chai) doesn’t descend through esophagus unless you hold girda or lavasa in other hand. Girda or just czot (pronounced as ‘chot’) is a flatbread similar to the roti we may get in plains in India but is prepared using maida (refined flour). Freshly warm (or warmly fresh) and smeared with table butter, it becomes ‘no one can eat just one’ affair in the morning. My personal capacity can be enhanced to 5-6 girdas on any given morning. Kashmiris generally prefer the nun chai (salty pink tea, ‘nun’ stands for salt in Kashmiri) with girda. Over the time (7 years to be precise), I have developed the taste for ‘nun chai’ but my fundamental structure prefers to enjoy these breads with sweet milky tea (generally labelled as ‘Lipton Chai’, what a brand recall of Hindustan Unilever!) Girdas/czots/rotis, as I call them the first batch of breads are consumed around 9 in the morning.
Girdas... No one can eat just one (Not even two also)

Lavasa is a fairer brother/sister of Girda. Girda is generally baked to golden crispiness while lavasa is kept slightly thin but have numerous blisters on surface. I personally prefer girdas over lavasas as the slightly stretchable texture is not something which I enjoy with my tea. However, I believe (and as I read), lavasas are the perfect breads for kebabs or veg dishes like paneer tikkas and chole. Needless to say, you have to apply butter on the surface of lavasa to enjoy your dishes to impermissible limits J.

Kashmir, as many of you know, is a valley situated between the beautiful Karakoram and Pir Panjaal range of Himalayas making it one of the most beautiful terrains in the world. It is bestowed with a very balmy weather which becomes very cold (Oh..that ‘Chilai Kalan’) in winters. The guts of people here are so suitable to consume butter and refined flour that we poor mortals from plains who complain after eating few pies of a pizza will always be at awe at both, usage and capability of kashmiris to digest these two commodities. The situation is worse especially if you are staying in a city like Mumbai where the weather never helps you build an appetite. It brings me to tears (of course of JOY) to see people enjoying so much of leavened bread and butter in the hills.

As the day starts crawling towards noon (I really mean it, with so much of butter in your belly, the day actually crawls), we are introduced to another set of amazing breads. This is the time for the famous tilwor and that not so famous but equally delectable ‘Katlam’. Tilwor or Chochwor as it is commonly known in the valley is similar to bagel bread. One of the the most attractive in the Kashmiri section of breads. Traditionally, a good friend of nun chai, tilwor when fresh out of kaandur can give a run to the best bagels anywhere on this planet. Highly recommended on a cold afternoon with the very Kashmiri nun chai (Did I forget to mention ‘lot of butter’, eh?).
Freshly baked Tilwors, make way, you Bagel!
Katlam is my all time favorite bread. It is similar to what we call ‘Khari’ biscuits which we get in different bakeries in Mumbai. The ones from Yazdani Bakery in Fort are probably the best I have come across in Mumbai. So Katlam has that multi layered personality and all the layers are crunchy in peking order as your teeth go on biting the layers. Even the relatively soft core is so so delicious that you may want to skip your lunch over multiple cups of nun chai/ lipton chai along with continuous supply of Katlams. However, unlike the khari biscuits, the katlams tend to lose the crunchiness over hours. The khari biscuits can retain crunch over days. Come what may, that’s my personal favorite bread from the kaandur.

Katlams and Tilwors...Awesome twosome combo for your late morning tea!
Bakirkhani is also an everyday bread. We may call it a big bro of Katlam. Slightly puffed, layered, crunchy (I am tired of saying that they go well with any Kashmiri tea and this time please include Kahwa if you wish to… but I prefer Kahwa as a solitary drink). Bakirkhani itself though is not unique for Kashmir. Available from Bangladesh to Uttar Pradesh to Pakistan, the recipe may vary little for every region. A preparation with clarified butter (ghee) will give you an accompaniment for the savory dishes prepared on special occasions.

And how can I forget to write about Kulcha! No, no, not your typical kulcha. This too is a baker’s bread but little firm and you can’t stuff chhole into it. Again exclusively goes with tea (haa, I give up now, exclusively with ‘nun chai’).

Kashmiri Kulchas...for Rs 3 to Rs 5 per piece is an excellent bargain!
The breads I talked about are integral part of daily life of a Kashmiri. It is difficult for a Kashmiri to survive without tea and bread. So girda, lavasa, tilwor, katlam, kulchas and bakarkhani always come to rescue for him/her. However, there are few breads which are prepared for special occasions like weddings, new arrival (not the movie, man!).

Krippe or Krip is dear to me. My first encounter with it took place at my wedding in Jammu. My relatives and friends who accompanied me for the wedding told me that they were enjoying Krip with their tea. All I could do was to react with a smile as I had to observe a ritualistic fast till the wedding was complete (technically late afternoon around 4 p.m.). This tiny round bread wins your heart (and may clog arteries also) with its flaky structure, goes well with….. (Please fill in the blanks now). We carried loads and loads of krip on our way back to Pune from Jammu and how voraciously we finished it before we reached Pune. JJJ. Another strong contender who accompanied us during the trip and no one dared to mess with it was the roth. Roth is a bulky bread laden with dry fruits and coconut with a sweet tinge. It is an exclusive bread for grand occasions like wedding and child births. I loved it dunking it in warm milk and gobbling it up.  

Roth (Yes, the one that looks like Pizza...sweet and mighty!)
Gyevchot which literally translates as the ghee roti is obviously made using ghee (clarified butter). It has a fluffy, soft texture with surface baked to golden hue. I earlier thought it to be an everyday bread but alas, it has become a rarity. I went on inquiring about Gyevchot last time I was in Jammu and the kaandur man told me that it is made on order.

Gyevchot with Kashmiri Nun Chai as well as sweet milky tea!
Sheermal is one bread I really love to dig my teeth into. And surprise, it need not be accompanied with tea. It is a sweet bread prepared using refined flour, milk, saffron and dates and has its own flavor. I am not too sure if sheermal is an exclusively Kashmiri bread because I find numerous mentions about this bread in northern UP. But since the place of origin for this bread is Iran, Kashmir will obviously be connected. Mildly sweet, prepared using date flavoured milk this one is one of my favourite companions on travel. One can eat them without any accompaniment. It’s like a delicious biscuit. Crisp, crumbly and flavorful.

Rate List outside a Kaandur in Nagrota, Jammu.
The distinctive nature of Kashmiri culture also influences its cuisine. Now-a-days, there’s a lot of curiosity over Kashmiri dishes and I could see many restaurants serving exclusively Kashmiri cuisine in the metropolitan area. The tourist flow is increasing to Kashmir and hopefully, it will keep on getting better and better every year. All I wish is that the beauty would always be perpetual with no more scars. So next time you go to Kashmir, definitely visit a kaandur and raise a Bread (not the toast) to the peace, prosperity and longevity of Kashmir. 

NOTE - All the pics in this post are originally clicked by me. I would be happy to share them with anyone who needs it but request to take my permission please!)