Tag Archives: food

A to Z Blogging Challenge : V is for Vadams and summer holidays

 

Summer holidays in South India are or used to be punctuated by the vadam making sessions. Vadam (Sandige in Kannada, Vadiyalu in Telugu) is a condiment typically prepared in summer. The batter is made, the condiments moulded  and sundried and they are then kept away for the rest of the year. As and when needed, they are fried and eaten. They are a great, crunchy side dish to have with any form of rice.

 

Now of course fully fried, properly sundried vadam is great. But the batter and the half sun dried vadam is also great. What is more, it is slightly illegitimate to eat. Grandmothers who make the vadam painstakingly are not particularly happy if you end up eating half of what they prepare even before it has been made properly. Specially javarsi (pearl millet) vadam tastes divine when the top layer is dried, but you can still bit into wet sticky millet below. With the delicate seasoning of cumin and chilies added to the batter, the taste really cannot be described.

 

So there is a guilty pleasure in almost stealing the half dried (arakaachal) vadam. It is almost an apocryphal tale for most of us as children that a kid was asked by his granmother to protect the vadams from the crows as they were drying in the terrace, and the kid ate up most of the vadams and then pretended that the crows had eaten them up. I think most of us have at least uttered this kind of lie once, as we tried to steal some vadam.

 

Vadams making is almost something cultural which seems to be ingrained in our grandmothers. The first thing my grandmother said when she saw my house in Ahmedabad was that with such a big terrace and no shortage of sun in the summer, I wish I could come and make vadams here.

 

These days I dont know if people make vadams at home at all. I have a huge terrace and the Ahmedabad sun is all waiting to be tapped into for vadam making. But I have never had the pateince to make them myself. And now there are plenty of people willing to sell vadams specially for the NRI crowd, so there seems ot be no point in making it at home. But I miss this part of my childhood. Shop vadams are all very well, but how can you taste the vadam atvery step of  preparation if you simplly buy it off a shop. Maybe if for nothing other than to give Migu an experience of stealing vadam, I will start making my own vadams.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : U is for Upma, kozhakattai and other typical South Indian tiffins

 

You really have to be a South Indian to understand the value of upma and tiffins. In the north, tiffin seems to mean anything which is packed to be consumed later, either at school or workplace, and from what I see, it is mostly roti, puris or variations thereof. Of course, with idli and dosa batter being available in most supermarkets now, people are venturing to pack these items too, but largely they stick to what is familiar.

 

When I was growing up my tiffin dabba consisted almost exclusively of a very non-tiffin item : curd rice. I have blogged earlier about how this is comfort food for most South Indians and I must be one of the many who carried this item to school everyday throughout my school life. In fact, during those brief ocassions when I had to carry a tiffin dabba to work, I again ended up carrying this item only. ‘

 

When I explained this to my Delhi raised husband, he was stunned. According to him curd rice was almost never carried to school because the tiffin dabba is kept with the school books and carrying curd rice means you risk ruining your books. The concept of having a separate basket which would carry your dabba, water bottle, napkin and spoon seemed alien to him, whereas almost all of us at school always carried our food separately from our books.

 

Which brings me to upma, a very typical tiffin item.Upma is made with a wide variety of base items :powdered  rice, vermicilli, beaten rice,  wheat, semolina. Basic principles of making it are the same, dry roast the base, and then add it to boiling water and let it cook. Your base items decides the extent of water which is added to ensure it is well cooked. One needs to be careful with the water because cooking in less water makes the upma very hard and unpalatable, and pouring excessive water will make it overcooked and feeling like tasteless  porridge.  With rice, there is also a variation called upma kozhakattai where you cook the rice half way as in upma, then make it into small balls (like dumplings) and then steam it. It is a kind of cross between upma and idlli and being double cooked makes it very soft and is a favorite of my daughter.

 

As a matter of fact, I personally have disliked upma for most of my life. I realized its value onlly when I had to daily pack a tiffin for my daughter and I knew that no matter how much I tried my parathas and puris would never be great and what is more I didnt have the energy to make them everyday. Upma, in its various forms can be alternated for most of the week, and allows me to plan breakfast accordingly.

 

Upma is easy to make, easy to carry and generally not so messy to eat (as long as you have a spoon). It requires little preparation time (no need to soak and grind batter). In fact it is generally regarded as a kind of item you offer to unexpected visitors, because it hardly takes time to make. A point of South Indian protocol : If you are have invited a person to eat and have had plenty of time to prepare for their visit, it is bad form to serve them upma, because upma is almost exclusively made for guests only when they drop in suddenly.

So upma is definitely not a fine dining item. Be that as it may, it is definitely a very quintessential south indian item.  I havent seen variations of this in other parts of India, and although I have not travelled the world so much I doubt if there is any equivalent of upma anywhere.

 

And while we are at it, can anyone enlighten me on why this name. It is the same in all south indian languages (upma in Tamil, Uphittu in Kannada and Uppupindi in Telugu). Roughly translated it means salt and flour, but we rarely use fully ground flour in it.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : J is for Junkfood, street food and why I very much prefer the latter

I guess many may regard junk food and street food as one and the same. Or many who prefer junk food over street food because junk food has more impeccable packaging and lets face it, street food, specially in India is not prepared in the most clean of places.

 

One easy way I distinguis the two is the source, junk food is largely branded, prepared in large scale. Street food is local recipes prepared on a limited basis in a place you can see. But there is more to it than the source. Junk food goes through multiple cycles of storing and reheating.  For example compare vada pav from a street vendor and the same item from say an airport shop (if at all any airport in India has sense enough to sell something really nice other than overpriced dosas, horrid panner rolls and couc couc salad, ugh). Airports will serve you stale vada pav heated in a microwave. This affects the taste in a very fundamental way. It is not crisp, the spice balance is disturbed. THe street vendor is going to give you fresh items because for him it makes sense to keep the vada half ready and then fry it when you order.You can feel the aloo inside must have gone for a dip in the oil and tastes much better.

 

I guess the same classification holds no matter what the item is. Pizza or pasta purchased from a roadside vendor is freshly made and hence not junk food but Italian street food. Three day old vadapavs microwaved and served in airports is junk food never mind its very desi origins.

 

I guess it is the freshness which distinguishes street food from junk food. I know the microwave has wrought a revolution in cooking and made life simpler for a lot of us, but I feel the presence of microwave encourages a lot of food reheating. They cycle of cooking excess food, refrigerating and then reheating gets kind of vicious in the end. Maybe that is why I am happy that I come from a traditional brahmanical family where cooked food in refrigerator is a strict no no. I dont like most of the restrictions imposed on me because of this background but this is one I appreciate. It forces me to cook moderate quantities enough for one day, and makes sure I realize the price for overcooking in the most literal way. A friend of mine and her family even made away with the refrigerator completely, because they realized they ate fresh food all the time, without that. I dont mean, an elaborate three course meal prepared fresh everytime, but even a simple single course meal which is made a few minutes before serving is well worth it.

 

Which is why I will eat street food over junk any day. And encourage my child to do the same.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : I is for Icecream and living in Icecream city

Ahmedabad is most certainly THE icecream city. It not only has all kinds of local brands of icecream and all kinds of new flavors, but also the citizens who are all slightly obsessed with ice creams.

 

There are probably many social and economic reasons why icecreams are so available and relatively cheaper in Ahmedabad. For one, this is still the city of largely local ice creams. No fancy ice cream parlour chains here. We have a lot of local dairy selling their wares, and even the popular brands – Vadilal and Havmor- are Amdavadi brands.

 

And then there are the flavors. There are some really good experiemental flavors here (Cinnamon, ginger, green tea!!!), and in local shops, natural means really natural. I know Naturals is a big brand in other metros, and whenever I hear other people mentioning going to Naturals for an overpriced ice cream, I feel proud of the city I live in. Here natural means you will only get the flavors as per the season. Natural means, your orange ice cream will have the orange fruit and sometimes, ocassionally and unintentionally, even the orange seed.

 

Local ice creams do not get the creamy texture of the branded ice creams. Sometimes, there is ice in it. But that sort of makes each ice cream eating experience unique. You never know how this lot of ice cream will taste compared to the previous time you ate it, even if it is the same flavor in the same shop.

 

And then there is of course the experience of eating ice cream. Perhaps that is why Ahmedabad is the ice cream city. Not just because it is one of the foremost milk producing state, not just because it houses Amul, but because here entire families think nothing of coming out in all hours of the day and night to have a couple of ice creams. Every time you step out for a ice cream you are sure to see a family there, where three to four generations are eating ice creams together. Kids of seven to eight are up and bright at 11 in the night and having their ice creams, early school hours and need to be in bed be damned.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : D is for Drive In Cinema and what I love about Ahmedabad

A to Z Blogging Challenge Apr 4 D

Looking back at five years in Ahmedabad, if at all there is one thing which has really set this place apart from any other city in India, it is the drive in cinema here. Its a bit of a archaic wonder actually. A huge space, set right in the middle of one of the hotly growing commercial areas in the city, every time I visit there, I feel a pang. I just want to keep coming often to make the best use of this place for as long as it remains because I am sure sometime in the not too distant future, the land is going to be far too valuable to remain as just a drive in theatre. I have seen too many old cinema halls in Bangalore torn down and converted to malls and multiplexes.

 

Drive in cinema is unique because it pretty much gurantees that you can hardly understand the movie. Specially in this era when normal theatres provide an amazing viewing and sound experience, drive in provides ordinary viewing and sometimes downright bad audio. There are entire movies I have watched, without following most of the dialogues. Bill Bryson writes an eloquent essay in one of his books (I think it is Notes from a Big Country) about taking his family to the drive in and let me tell you it is in no way exaggerated.

 

But what it does give you, nay return to you, is the fun of watching a movie. In an era when multiplexes are increasingly restrictive of what you may carry into a movie hall, drive in allows you to carry an entire picnic basket, matress, pillows, charis and anything else you can fit into you car.

 

It has a great food court with all kinds of affordable food, not just overpriced pop corn (In fact, from what I remember, it has no pop corn). And since it is in Gujarat, it affords any non-gujarati another opportunity to marvel at the sheer variety of gujarati snacks and their abillity to pack so much food for an outing. (I have blogged earlier about this here). In fact there are times when I feel I go to drive in not so much to watch a movie, but to hog and also gaze (or maybe ogle) at all the families around me and their huge, and I mean really huge tiffin dabbas. And it is also the only cinema hall where I can take my little one, because it gives me the option of watching the movie even as I am playing bat and ball with her in the little park.

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Food, culture and bonding : The joys of Indian food

It is a long cherished dream for me and my husband, to undertake a sort of ‘food tour’ across the country, visiting different places to savor the local foods there. While we may have covered barely one tenth of the country, we make it a point that wherever we go, we seek out the local food there.

This actually is becoming quite difficult in recent years, because there is a kind of pan Indian taste which is taking over. All North Indian food gets subsumed into the Punjabi category (even though it is not even true Punjabi) and if you go by restaurants which sell South Indian food in North, we only seem to be living on only Idli and Dosa. Local people themselves do not advocate the local food, but guide visitor to the places, where there is more common Indian food, which according to them, the visitor will like.

For instance, on a trip to Shirdi, around the shrine, we mostly saw Andhra messes and pale imitations of Gujarati food. When we asked the cab driver to take us to a place selling Maharashtrian food, he looked a bit blank, then replied that we would not like it. When we pushed him, he took us to a small restaurant, slightly far from the shrine. The waiter was again a bit skeptical about us, offering to serve us the conventional Punjabi food, but after a lot of pushing, he finally served us some yummy baakri, thaalipith (maharashtrian breads) pitla (a gram flour based side dish) and techa (ground nut based super spicy chutney).

Similarly, when we were visiting Hampi, in North Karnataka, our cab driver point blank refused to take us to the local Khanavali. Since I have traveled a bit in the region and know about their culture, I insisted on going to one, and his reply was that Khanavali was not a place for people like us, and we should stick to the Tourism department hotels. I had to dip into my limited knowledge of North Karnataka style Kannada, in order to convince him that I knew jolly well what I was asking for.

It is perhaps because of this love to explore regional varieties of food, that around the time of Pongal/Makar Sankranti/Lohri/Uttarayan, I organized a pot luck at home with all the invitees bringing in some kind of food unique to their region. So we had undhiyu from Gujarat, Kothmir Vada from Maharashtra, different kinds of Pongal from the south, Moong Dhal Pakoda from UP, different varieties of puri and thepla, Parippu curry from Kerala and Aloo Poshto from Bengal.

It is the last two items, which revealed some cultural vignettes. When my husband encouraged my Bengali neighbor to sample the Parippu Curry from Kerala, he remarked that the dish was very similar to something made in Bengal. It underlined the fact that these two states share a lot of similarities beyond their love for Marx. Or maybe it was through all the comrade bonding that recipes got exchanged and became localized.

The last item, Aloo Poshto, is seriously something. It is potatoes cooked in Khas Khas (poppy seeds) and seasoned with mustard oil. Khas khas is fairly expensive item, and seldom used in a large scale while cooking (at least by us Tamils), but this item was fairly dripping in it. When I spoke to the provider of the item later, I remarked that this was a really expensive item to cook. To which he explained that it was not the case traditionally. Large parts of Bihar and Bengal used to or were forced to cultivate poppy to feed the needs of the British run opium factories back in the eighteenth century. So Aloo poshto or even plain Poshto in mustard oil was a very logical food for many peasants. They simply ate what they grew. Now that poppy seed production is highly regulated, this item has become practically unattainable for many.

I hope India retains its diverse food and the stories that go with them, at least long enough for me to finish my food tour. And I hope that in places I visit in future, localites are not diffident about their cuisine but push us to eat it with pride.

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Street Food : Value for tongue, value for tummy, value for money

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.

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