Banaras!

Many people think they cannot have knowledge or understanding of God without reading books. But hearing is better than reading, and seeing is better than hearing. Hearing about Benares is different from reading about it; but seeing Benares is different from either hearing or reading. – The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Banaras, Kashi or Varanasi, whatever name you might want to call it, was a city I always wanted to visit. For someone who loathes crowds and cities and prefers natural beauty and places bereft of people it is a weird selection. The reason I went there honestly was basically to hog on the street food of Banaras. Fuelled by my friend Sangeeta’s book Culinary Culture of Uttar Pradesh I caught a direct flight from Ahmedabad to Banaras. The agenda was food and nothing else.

The city of Banaras, although I am going to try and describe is not something that can be understood by descriptions, it can only be experienced.

The drive from the airport to the hotel was smooth, apparently upto the city the road is broad and well constucted, once you enter the city though, you realise the sheer number of people around and as you approach the ghats, where we stayed, the roads become narrower and the honking becomes shriller and louder. The hindi in which our driver spoke to us and when he had his girl friends call was a welcome change to listen to from the honking on the streets. Listening to words like “Prachin”, “Vivash” in normal conversation and not in prose and poetry was a novelty for us to listen. To be honest the hindi was so pure and cultured, just listening to it was music to the ears.

The Ghats and the narrow streets around it are like a different world. All streets leading to the Ghars are chaos personified, whilst they are trying to clean Banaras a lot, its still a while to go, I guess. The infinite number of people, the cycle rickshaws, the autos, the incessant honking would make you wonder if everyone would be at verge of losing their composure and yet, when I asked a gentleman rushing past me, “ Bhaisahab, yeh Kachori gully kaha hai?

He paused and immediately helped me with the directions, as we began walking in the direction, he smiled and showed me his pan smeared red teeth, and said,”waise abhi kachori milegi nahi.

It was 1.30pm, lesson number one, all food here is served at a particular time and you cannot get it round the clock no matter how good it is.

Amidst all the chaos, all the rush, all the crowd the city is clear, gol kachori available from 7.30 to 9.30, badi kachori from 9.30 to 12, Malaiyo early mornings, Samosa in the evenings and so on. Do not for a minute think this town works like chaos, its on a schedule and there is order. There is a queue and you will get your Jalebi but only jab tumhara number aayega.

There are barbers shaving heads and beards on the ghats, there are pooja’s happening, Sarees drying, boatmen luring you for a boat ride, green tea being sold, gulls picking up anything that is eatable, kids sliding on the slopes of the ghat, cows flicking their tail which can get into your face, pyres being lit, tears of their loved ones, painters sitting and painting art, jyotish giving you a sneak peak into your future, Baba’s smoking chillum and yet you will also find a corner where you can be alone, bereft of any intrusion and hear bells of a temple, watch Ganga Maiya gliding by, small lamps at dusk flickering with the light waves of the river and feel the vibrations of the place, an unbelievably beautiful dusk sky would ensure you actually feel the vibrations of this magical town.

I am an atheist, a non believer, someone who loathes places of worship, no we didn’t even go and visit the Kashi Vishwanath temple, but we felt the place and its magical aura, it has certain vibrations that are unmistakable, inexplicable, but prominent. You may not be able to explain, but you will totally understand the reason why people are pulled to this place.

Walking the narrow lanes around the Ghats, the various food shops serve the best street food in the world, the city maybe messy but the halwai’s have spic and span shops, especially The Ram Bhandar, whose Kachori’s and Jalebi’s are something you do not want to miss. The Malaiyo by Markandey Sardar available only in winter months is unlike anything you would have ever had. A glass of Bhaang from Badal Coldrink or a Lassi from Blue Lassi will add extra zing and aid your gut to gulp more, for after a noon siesta you would want to gulp the best Chaats in the world, be it the unique Tamatar chaat or the amazing Chooda Matar the food this city has to offer is something for which I shall travel here again.

Not just the food though, Banaras is a place you want to immerse in. Words I aint got enough to describe this place, some pictures will perhaps do a little more justice but nothing will be better than you going there and feeling it.

I’ll leave you with some pictures which I hope will inspire you to go visit Kashi, the oldest town in the world!

View from Assi Ghat

Assi Ghat, mandir bhi pizza bhi, take your pick!

Innumerable such pooja’s are being performed.

The evenings are the most magical, before the Ganga aarti begins, the sunset is magical here!

Gulls flock people spilling ashes of their loved ones in the Ganges.

Markandey Sardar ki Malaiyo!

Jalebi!!

Gol Kachori

Chooda Matar

The cows are a part of Banaras lanes

You will also find calm in this chaos!

Bholenath is omnipresent

Pick a corner, grab a bite!

The ghat is lit up in trippy lights in the night!

Sarafa Bazaar – Indore

Caution : Do not read if on empty stomach. This post contains harmful photo’s and details if you are on a diet!

 

There are markets and malls and then there are Sarafa Bazaar sort of markets, the one in Indore tells me just how much I love window shopping as well, just the right products need to be advertised! Cliche’s all I tell you that say only women love window shopping. There is just so much food available in the Sarafa Bazaar in Indore that you cannot imagine the kind of orgy my mind indulges in each time I visit it. I have to concede I have not seen any Sarafa Bazaar of this scale. My mind is unable to make a decision what to eat and what to leave for next time. There is just such a huge variety of food available that even my epic appetite has to select what desires to satiate.

 

Per se, Sarafa Bazaar, means a Bullion Exchange, however, this bazaar for me has nothing to do with Gold. Indore’s Sarafa Bazaar becomes even more throbbing, happening and crowded ones all the Jewellers close shops. This is when the food stalls make their entry, as all the jewellers go home, their shop verandah’s and the whole street is littered by food stalls. Now, I have seen a lot of street markets, indulged in them, yet, this one stands apart. Two things, for me that separate it are one the fact that they are not selling the overly popular dishes, the major dishes here are not easily available everywhere else, you just have to come to Indore for them, like Bhutte ki Kees, Garadu, Sabudana Khichdi(nowhere else you get it like here), Jalebo(imarti) etc and secondly I have not seen any place where so many sweet stalls are put out on road, temporary ones at that!

 

There are a few popular fixed shops that run day and till late in the night like the Mittal Kachori/Samosa wala, Vijay ki Petis and Joshi ke Dahiwade but them apart a majority of them are temporary stalls that come to existence after the goldsmith’s have gone home after minting money. The stalls come to mint money and people make a beeline not seen during the day by the goldsmith’s.

 

Let me just list a few things you never want to miss out on if you are there :

1.) Bhutte Ki Kees (my personal favourite, I prefer it extra nimbu maarke)

2.) In winters never miss out on Garadu

3.) Joshi Ka Dahiwada – The man is a showman, the way he will feed you is completely unique. He is on youtube too if you want to see him . 

4.) Vijay Chaat ki Petis – This is divinity I tell you! hat

5.) Aloo Tikki Chat

6.) Jalebo – A sort of a jalebi/imarti that is as fat as your thumb! One piece does it for 5 people!

7.) Rabdi with Malpua.

After having eaten all these if there is still space in your belly, there is Sabudana Khichdi, Samosa’s, Kachaudi’s, Kulfi’s, Kala Jamun’s(hot), GulabJambun’s (hot), MoongDaal Halwa(hot), Gajar Ka Halwa(hot & seasonal), Pizza, PavBhaji, Cheese Faafda’s, Dosa’s, Fruit Chat, Chinese, Pani Puri and Chats & Bhel Pakodi’s and what not, the list really is never ending!

 

But yes one thing you will need before you do any of this is drink a Jaljeera first! 😛

 

The sheer scale of food that is available in this small market of that you can walk through in a matter of 3 minutes, that is if you can beat the crowd, is surely going to flood the place with your drool!  This place opens at around 8-9 in the night and goes on well till about 2 am in the night. When you are there you cannot comprehend how many people are eating at this ungodly hour! The market is throbbing and bustling with gluttony in the middle of the night! You just have to go there to see and believe what I am talking about.

 

Indore is called the food capital of Central India, I don’t think anyone can contest that, I mean apart from the Sarafa Bazaar there is another such crazy hangout zone called ‘Chappan Dukaan’ (meaning 56shops) obviously of food all lined up. The highlights are just unending you know, be it Laal Balti ki Kachaudi or Johny ka Hot Dog or Daal Baafle, the Indori’s are one crazy foodie bunch I tell you, from morning Poha Jalebi or Poha Ussal’s to the Malpua’s late in the night! The amount of Namkeen, Sweets, food these people consume is stuff of legends. These folks have my respect I tell you!!

 

If ever you happen to be going to the Hindustan Ka Dil, Heart of Incredible India, as MP tourism dept puts it make sure you are spending atleast 2 days in Indore for just indulging a bit. 🙂 😀

 

Here are a few pics of the foodie heaven of Sarafa Bazaar from a couple of days back when I was passing through and I stopped specially for this.

Perhaps start with a Paani Puri

Perhaps start with a Paani Puri

Thodi Bhutte Ki Kees extra Neembu Maarke ;)

Thodi Bhutte Ki Kees extra Neembu Maarke 😉

Aloo Tikki and Bhutte Ki Kees vendor at work

Aloo Tikki and Bhutte Ki Kees vendor at work

DSC_0729

Aaj Kya loge ji? Kalajamun? Gulab Jamun? Ya Rabdi ke Saath Malpua!? 😛 😛

DSC_0736

Jalebi to gareeb log khaate honge.. Indori’s eat Jalebo! 😛

DSC_0692

The sheer amount of Ghee and Tikki’s that are eaten is awe inspiring!

If you want, we are ready with Gola's! Sirf Flavour bataiye!

If you want, we are ready with Gola’s! Sirf Flavour bataiye!

Randomness rules

For a change I have been working hard, avoiding distractions and focussing on work, that though is now a passe, it was the past fortnight, now that I have achieved some success the easy go lucky guy in me is back in action. Sigh… only if I had some more appetite for success, somewhat like the space I can make when I see delicious food coming my way. Its quite amazing how my body can actually take in all those quantities and thankfully not bloat or explode!!

 

The month of December is bad that way, way too many parties and weddings and everywhere you kind of find one or the other food item that gets you drooling and salivating and then you indulge and then err.. geez food just makes me digress, lets stop the food topic for a while.

 

I  came to the blog to write something about the new movie released yesterday which I have not seen so far, Baji Rao Mastani, I am not a Sanjay Leela Bhansali fan, for long I have believed he packs mundane stories in sort of grand gift wrap papers, where in the gift wrapper is more beautiful than the actual gift. I till AIB Roast of Ranveer happened could not even stand him, now am actually looking forward to seeing him. The guy is cool, the guy is actually enviable, perhaps that is why that dislike was there. I am actually wanting to watch a SLB movie that is featuring Ranveer Singh and no, I am not wanting to watch it just for Deepika, mind it! The movie has a story and since I actually googled Baji Rao Peshwa and his story I was feeling kinda ashamed that I knew so little about perhaps one of the greatest warrior’s in India’s history.

 

I wonder why our history books showed so little of him or taught us so little, though I must confess as I live longer I always feel our school history books taught us very little, thank God for Amar Chitra Katha’s which actually in someways helped satiate my fascination for historical characters. I don’t think there is anything more fascinating than reading history or hearing stories about it. Be it the Alan Turing story in The Imitation Games or reading about the Bangladeshi turmoil and their liberation from Pakistan  history in more ways than one makes you wonder about human behaviour and always questions your conclusions about certain things. I am a complete student of history and will keep on reading more and more and hope to learn more and more about this world of ours, in many ways history tells you why we are, how we are!

 

 

Winter meals

 

There is something about winter meals here in Gujarat, I dunno about all the other places but there are so many more options of vegetables available in winters unlike other seasons. If you have to ever visit Gujarat you have to visit it in the winters. The food then is like sigh…. droolworthy, lustworthy and what not!

IMG_20151218_094635

This was last night’s dinner turned into breakfast today morning, I am born in a family that has ancestors in Kutch and the most common food there is Bajra Ka Rotla (Pearl millet bread) this is made by the hand and no rolling pin is used. My mom makes awesome rotla’s and she is quite generous in applying ghee on it and honestly it is so sweet that it can be eaten plain without anything else. Just the ghee and rotla also tastes wonderful especially when its piping hot and served straight from the pan.

 

But then there was Baigan ka bharta (Brinjal subzi) to go along side with green freshly chopped garlic and coriander along with coriander chutney to spice things up a little more! This was simply divine, satisfying and so delicious I still am drooling typing about this! 😀 😀

 

*The pic was taken by my Redmi Note  and I kinda like how it has come out inspite of not using the SLR.

Agashiye

So I had heard a lot about this place and so I went about to check it out.

 

Agashiye (in gujarati it means on the terrace) the gujarati diner at The House of MG  boasted of being the most talked about food place off late in Ahmedabad. The place is pretty much in the heart of the town, at Laal Darwaja, nicely kept, with a rustic, ancient historical feel to the whole place. I reckon their hotel is also used pretty much as much as their diner and hence the whole place was pretty much kept neat and tidy and readily decorated.

DSC_0499

The lamp at the entrance

 

Pricey is one thing that hits you first, a thali for 850 and a delux thali for 1150 is expensive, no matter what, we have eaten pretty delicious thali’s all around and never have had to shell out more than 300-350 bucks. But then I had to check this place out once.

 

They have a pretty systematic way of taking you to the restaurant, a tad odd thing is that you have to pay before you enter the restaurant, but well thats how things are here, so whilst you are paying, they convey a message to the restaurant about your arrival and when you reach the restaurant by elevator your table is ready and someone will escort and seat you on your table.

 

DSC_0474

The thali as it was ready and waiting for us

 

They had our table for three ready and they have this unique way of making you wash your hand on the table, where a guy comes with utensils and makes sure you wash your hands clean before you indulge in.

 

Their menu’s for each day are pretty much well defined and updated on their website, they serve quite earnestly and the one thing most thali joints falter at is over serving, almost to the end of constantly asking you if you want something and never letting you have a conversation whilst you are eating and almost pushing you out of their restaurant so that their table is empty to serve another round. Thankfully, none of that, whilst they were always a glance away, they never bothered unnecessarily unlike most thali joints.

DSC_0482

The thali once fully served.

 

DSC_0479

The papaya salad that was brilliant!

DSC_0478

Golden fried samosa’s, looked delicious and tasted even better

 

The food is absolutely sumptuous, although I was disappointed with their Sukhi Aloo Subzi, the rest everything was pretty much delicious, their Papdi muthiya nu shaak was the best I have ever had in my life. There were three desserts, Gajar ka Halwa, Rabdi and Ice cream to perk up the mood. The main course had 4 subzi’s and daal and kadhi, the farsaan was samosa and they had 3 types of bread (roti) and also served buttermilk (chhas) and a fruit juice Ganga Jamna (sweet lime and orange) alongside.

 

I loved the juice and took a special liking to it. We did indulge and were full to the brim.

 

The food is great, ambience nice and service is wonderful, I must confess though that when we went not all their tables were full. I wonder if they could maintain the same standards of serving when full.

 

I would say its a bit over priced, perhaps they could add a few more options in Farsaan and some more dessert options to choose from, but then apart from the wonderful food you pay for the service and the ambience, plus their reputation, I wouldn’t mind going there again and shelling out that money as we pretty much enjoyed the meal and the setting.

 

Go there when you want to splurge and also stuff yourself, weight gain after a visit here is a given.

 

DSC_0502

Full to the brim after the lunch

 

Chicken Xacuti!

DSC_0168

Finally, I can claim I have tasted this Goan delicacy and as it is fair to say it lived up to what all it was talked about! We eventually ordered it at the restaurant Mango Grove in Candolim and it lived up to our expectations! We absolutely loved it and scraped the plate so much so as to in the end I dropped all the remaining rice in the Xacuti (pronounced Shakuti) bowl and wiped it clean! 🙂 🙂

 

Many a times I feel I may not be able to appreciate coconut milk gravies as much and I was so happy to learn that my pre-conceived notions were totally wrong and I am hoping to make more journeys in the south Indian food world!! 🙂

 

DSC_0165

 

We downed this wonderful dish with a Watermelon Cooler (cocktail) which was so wonderfully made that even a non drinker like me enjoyed it and even felt mildly delirious after it. 🙂

 

DSC_0162

जेवण on the Highway

Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha

Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha

Whats a road trip good for if it doesn’t include some lip smacking food on the highway??

I am a total sucker for road trips, stopping where ever I want to, starting at any insanely hour (like 2.30am) not bother how many stops I am making to take a picture and above all the surprises that await on the highway in terms of food, many times you don’t know what and where to eat and yet from time to time you surprise yourself so very pleasantly.

One such occasion, we were passing through Pune and skipping the city, we have heard of the famous Vaishali restaurant in Pune but have not been able to check it out yet, and so about 45kms before Pune we start seeing boards of Vaishali on the highway. Immediately the stomach has made space for some food, I tell my partner in crime we must stop here.

As we ride into the hotel and park we do realise this doesn’t seem like the original, we enter anyway, ask the guy serving if it is the same Vaishali and he smiles and tell us no, this is different and that is different, yet, tempted by the fact that it offered Maharshtrian Food and not the steady South Indian or Punjabi, we decided to check it out.

The one drawback of being just two travellers is that we can order only so much, but, then my appetite helps anyways. So we ordered Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha, Jowar Roti and Chappati and boy was it delicious!!!

In any case I love spicy food and although the food was not as spicy the Thecha pretty much made up for it! It was an awesomely lip smacking and fulfilling lunch! I recommend anyone passing Vaishali to give this local fare a try.

Like the saying was, when in Maharashtra eat like the Maharashtrians 😉

The penchant to try something new

Food Discoveries! 🙂

The penchant to try something new has always lured me, its been like so attractive that I always pick up the bait and sometimes it leads to being caught up on the hook and wriggling like a fish for dear life. Well almost I mean, so one evening when we were strolling in a food republic in a mall checking out various counters for various things that they had to offer. One thing we were sure going to try out was the famous Chicken Rice of Singapore. It came highly recommended from a lot of people I knew who had been to Singapore and also had come across whilst researching before going to Singapore.

So whilst we ordered that which was served with a fiery red chutney (read sauce) which I tried a spoonful as they did not warn how hot it could be. The snooty Indian in me decided to go ahead and take a spoonful, thinking these foreigners can’t eat anything near to how spicy a Sev Ussal I eat normally, well how wrong I was, I was breathing fire in an instant and actually coughed my way to the Coke counter and till I finished drinking the whole bottle I was on fire, perspiring in the air conditioned hall. Eventually after I came back to my senses, we delved in the soup that they served along and carefully mixed the sauce in the Chicken rice which actually spiced it up and made it feel absolutely delicious. This is one dish you must have whenever you travel to Singapore! 🙂

Chicken Rice :
DSC_0097

Having tried this dish which was new for me I had to go and try the Prawn Laksa, however I couldn’t find it in the vicinity and whilst I was browsing for it I saw the word Octopus and Chilli together and I said to myself I just have to try for the heck of it. The word actually read, Hitchy come and consume me!!!! So I ordered, this Korean dish is traditionally called Nakji Bokkeum.

I waited with baited breath as the chef went inside the kitchen to come up with my sizzling plate, he came out and the smell was absolutely fascinating, I thought to myself hell you are gonna love this dish, it smells divine and masaledar actually for a foreign dish. This joy did not last long though, I mean my limited food taste buds could not quite fathom the taste of the Octopus, I took the first bite and it seemed weird for my taste buds but then I thought to myself you have to evolve and develop some taste’s as they are so foreign to us we might not be able to like them right away. I gave it another try, I always thought the octopus might be soft and slushy and kinda juicy, apparently this small octopus was nothing like that and very chewy, by the third bite I was ready to throw up. I said I cannot like this dish, no matter how nice prepared and no matter how many people consume it, I was not meant to eat this dish!!!!

Eventually an ice cream helped me return all sanity to my gut!

But I can atleast produce a photo of the Nakji Bokkeum 😀

DSC_0106