How did the foodie in me let this series go on for so long without mentioning food. I am going to make up by writing about my favorite form of food – street food.
I have been lucky that I always seem to live in cities which have a vibrant street food culture. Bangalore, briefly Mumbai and Ahmedabad. My favorite memories of eating out in Bangalore are not in some fancy restaurants but the masala vada, aloo bonda and mensinkai (Green chilly) bajji which was prepared by a guy in a food cart in the road right outside our house. And he did have a roaring business, in fact continues to do roaring business. His items havent changed, although the prices have significantly. His ambience, or lack thereof, also remains.
THe area I live in in Bangalore has recently seen many developments, which include a whole lot of upmarket food eateries, but I think most localites still prefer this guy, if I judge by the long time I need to wait, to get my order. Of course, half the fun with him is in waiting in the road, smelling the vadas and bondas frying, and then getting it almost straight off the pan.
Bangalore of course has more organized street food, in the form of an entire street devoted to it in VV Puram. The highlight of this place is the avarekalu mela which happens sometime in December Jan, which is the season for avarekalu (cluster bean seeds, Mochakkai in tamil). Pretty much every shop then sells avarekalu dosa, idli, saaru and what not. Also noteworty in the obattu (puran poli) which is sold in this street. And if you really know the shops well, you may even get obattu saaru.
Regarding Bombay, enough people have written odes to the street food in the place. I doubt if I will add anything to it.
Considering the Gujarati passion for food, is there any doubt that Ahmedabad has such a great street food scene. Manek Chowk is the traditional street food place, but I have hardly had an opportunity to warm up to that place, mainly because there is such great food available everywhere. Ghatias, dhokla, gol gappa, dabeli, vada pav (I know this is a mumbai item, but it has an amazing gujarati variation which I will blog about later).
Ahmedabad is truly the icecream city, and ice creams are great value for money out here. For instance, Naturals is a famous brand of expensive ice cream in most major Indian cities, which focuses on natural flavor. In Ahmedabad, my favorite ice cream place Jay Singh provides home made ice cream with amazing natural flavor at a fraction of the price. I mean it is so natural that I once found an orange seed in my orange ice cream. It lacks the professional finish (smoothness and appearance) of the branded varieties, but it more than makes up in terms of taste and uniqueness.
A lot of people have questioned me about the health hazards of eating street food. I must honestly say that it is no more, nor less than eating out anywhere. I wont say I have never felt weird after eating on the streets, but I have felt equally bad sometimes after eating in big restaurants, and sometimes even in our own house. The risks may be even less, because generally with street food, it is freshly prepared (that is half the fun of the eating) and everything happens in front of you, so you can generally check that it is done well.
It may not be the most healthy form of food, if you are a calorie watcher, but I am not one. Whats more I find street food to be more wholesome than most of the processed foods we get in super markets. It is fresh, and if consumed fresh, does not even soak up too much oil. As Rujuta Diwekar, well known writer on diet observes, ever tried eating any kind of fresh food in Indian airports. You are unlikely to find any, and even if you do, it is seldom fresh. Street food offers you a much safer and healthier option.
In fact, I am adamant that I will not let my daughter eat too much of potato wafers or other processed food which is full of empty calories and artificial flavors. So Ruffles, Kurkure and all that is a strict no no. I dont even encourage her to eat too much of biscuits. But I have no objection to her actually eating street food. She is fond of dhoklas, bhajia, vada pav and the normal salted potato chips which is available out here. She has even attempted to eat gol gappa.
Street food, for both me and the husband is both a passion and a statement. Webeleive strongly that if you are open to the culture of a place you should be open to their food. And street food is a wonderful opportunity to understand the local food preferences. Yet, during our limited travels, sometimes the realization that we are losing the vibrant local food culture, as things are getting increasingly standardized even among street food, is saddening. We had to struggle to find a genuine Maharashtrian food place in Shirdi (there were too many gujarati thalis, andhra messes and of course the ubiquitious supposedly Punjabi hotels). When we were in Hampi, we had to really convince our cab driver that we were interested in going to one of the local Khanavalis and had no interest in the tourist restaurant serving standard food.
It is my fond dream that one day we are able to do a food pilgrimage across the country. We will of course stick with the street food. I hope it retains its diversity and vibrancy till then.