Monday, March 31, 2008

How parathas can save your life

It's that time of your monthly financial cycle again, or it could be a perpetual state of being, when you are drinking at a bar and feel that the food is too expensive. Problem is that since the realization of hunger was a bit late in coming, and since Delhi is a city that is quite unfriendly to the light wallet once it is eleven pm, there are very few options. Of course you could drive to the Comesum at Nizamuddin Railway Station and have their quite alright food from their vast menu, but then you might as well have eaten the food at the bar because it is just as expensive. Aap Ki Khatir begins to wind up operations at eleven, and so does Al Bake in NFC - and thus cheaper options to the south of the city are scarce.

Now don't get me wrong. The following can apply just as easily to those that do not drink, but are still hungry at midnight, and don't feel like McD's or the strange hot dogs at the 24X7s.

At least in the souther regions of the city, the enterprise known only as the Moolchand Parathawallah is one of the better known domestic food brands. If you are approaching the Moolchand flyover from Central Delhi, do not take it, but move parallel to it. If you are coming from Okhla or Ashram, do not take the underpass at Moolchand, but take the left and move parallel to the flyover. Before the flyover ends, there is a prominent left turn. Take it and look for the crowd. It is unlikely that there is ever more than one crowd around there, but if there is, look for the one with thick black smoke coming out. The parathawallah does not have a permanent spot around here, and the location on a particular day will depend on the vagaries of ongoing Metro construction.

From chaps in BMWs and Mercs, to people who can never dream of private transport, the business has a vast and varied clientele.

They are clear that their strength is the humble paratha, and they don't deviate too far. Regardless of the extremely limited menu of aloo-pyaaz, mooli and egg parathas, satisfaction is guaranteed for the hungry - and not just because you may be light on funds. Within thirty minutes, a friend and I had not only devoured two each of the most delicious aloo-pyaaz (potato-onion) parathas, but had even been able to get more than ten egg parathas packed - a quietly efficient, albeit polluting, food service. And the accompanying chilli pickle and raita taste excellent as well.

At least six people are employed in the business, stationed at various points of the delivery chain for different parathas. All parathas go through the standard "burn" routine which comprises of a quick dip in oil followed by the fire treatment.

For the egg paratha, a single egg is broken on to a pre-burnt paratha and then heated again.

Visit the Moolchand parathawallah - at least once if you're careful about what you put into your mouth, if you're not you will certainly end up going there several times, fitting comfortably on your financial cycle.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Best shawarmas in Delhi

They are quite unlike the shawarmas you may have eaten elsewhere. To begin with, they are much smaller than the ones you will see in most other places. Also, there is a tendency to favour dollops of a mayonnaise-type-thing (just makhan for those that run the place). But the basic tenets are all there - soft, minced lamb, hacked off a skewer and served in a roll.
Welcome to Al-Bake, most certainly the makers of the most popular shawarmas in the capital, and for my money, the best.

New Friends Colony is not without its share of meaty and Muslim cuisine, but Al Bake stands out, and so does its shawarma - demand is so high that there is a brand new Al Bake, barely twenty metres from the old one. Bowing to the demand, Al Bake also sells shawarmas to go in a packet containing four hot ones, selling for hundred rupees. Very often, that is the prudent idea as seating is hard to find once the sun begins its slow descent.

College goers are proud of their shawarma records. I've heard someone brag about seventeen of them at one go. With the lightly spiced chutney to go along, that record cannot have lasted too long.
Very quick with their knives, Al Bake is also a textbook on efficiency. There are two highly skilled knivesmen who hack away at those hunks of meat, and then chop them much finer. In combination with the men who roll the shawarmas and the woman who does the accounts, it is a beautifully oiled machine.
But this efficiency does not come at the cost of taste, or friendly service.
Al Bake's not all about shawarmas. But please, the shawarmas first.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Shark Tale: Or Mahesh Lunch Home Part II

After the sol Kadi, I placed me order for lunch. Gassi, or the Manglori style curry, is thick pasted coconut, with turmeric, red chilies and tamarind, onion and ginger. You can order your gassi with the fish of your choice. My waiter was taken aback with my choice of fish - shark.
I'm not aware of which shark breed is used in Indian cooking. I've seen the shark in the market, and its small and nothing like the Steven Spielberg movies. Shark is a fish with a very strong flavour and almost a meat like quality about it. In Goa, we don't use shark in our everyday fish curry, but rather, we make a xacuti like preparation from it. Interestingly, its referred to as "Morieche mutton" (shark mutton). Shark is also dried and used in dried fish curries, which is what is popular in the monsoon months when fresh fish are hard to come by.

The Shark is fresh, and is soft and slides off the bone easily to melt in my mouth. The Gravy was alive with spices. Unfortunately, the two of them didn't really match. The Shark had been cooked separately and dunked into the standard gassi, which did not have anything fishy about it.

I focused on the shark and occasionally dabbed my appam in the curry. The Appam arrived at my table soft and a little deflated. In case Appams aren't your scene, you can have your gassi with rice, or a neer dosa.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Soul Kadi

Though I prefer my fish the Goan way, practical constraints (the only sources of Goan food which do not involve me cooking are pesky relatives who just want me married off) force me to make friends with similar tastes - malvani and manglori. Manglori curries are spicy and thick, like a chutney, unlike the milky consistency of the Goan "Humon". In Mumbai, though sparsely dotted with Manglori "lunch homes", the Page 3 choice is Mahesh Lunch Home. I am given a few curious glances and even have an argument with a waiter who tried to convince me that I was not a single diner (seriously), but my order and apetite got a smile to the waiter's face.

Sol Kadi is on the beverages menu, and sol kadi it is. Interestingly I never grew up with the concept of sol kadi as a beverage. Ending a meal of hot, spicy fish curry rice with some sheeth-kadi (rice and solkadi) was a Goan Staple. It is kind of like our curd. One coconut is opened up in my house every day - half goes for the curry, 1/4th for sprinkling over vegetables and salad, and 1/4th would be scraped, ground with a little water, and its thick milk would be extracted for sol kadi. Sometimes, a few garlic cloves would be thrown into the mixie along with the coconut for a garlic flavour. Sometimes Ajwain would spice things up. Sometimes a hot green chili would be roasted on an open flame and thrown in for its rather unique taste. The milk would be emptied into a bowl where a few "solas", the fruit of the kokum tree, would soak in a few teaspoons of hot water, salt and sugar. If served as a leftover, the sol kadi would be tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves. The Sol Kadi would be ladled out on the rice kept neatly aside for the purpose. As the Kadi was runny, as children we were taught to pile up our rice into a small mound and make a hole down the middle, kind of like a volcano, and pour the kadi down there. Then quickly, we were told to mix our rice in the kadi so that the kadi would be absorbed by the rice. Kadi should always be in excess though - good GSB women are taught to chastize guests for eating "sukhe sheeth" or dry rice i.e. rice with very little solkadi in it.

Sol kadi is meant to relax the digestive system, but in its new avtaar as an appetizer, it seeks to do the opposite. I sip the beer glass of Sol Kadi which is given to me - the Kadi is thick and creamy and at the outset I note that it has been made using freshly grated coconut. There's most certainly a garlicky presence and as I swallow my sip I note a spicy aftertaste. The Solas played their part well and more importantly made an early exit, ensuring just the right colour .

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Shady Chinese

Shady Chinese is a term that some of us use disparagingly to refer to Indian corruptions of Chinese food. Pretend Chinese and Chindian are also terms used to refer to the genre. Spices and oils which the self-respecting Chinese cook (from South, North, Central, wherever) would never use, find their way into our plates and palates.

In Bangalore, the gobi manchurian is highly popular and you find it in all the darsinis that are otherwise restricted to pure South Indian specialties of the idli-vada-dosa-sambar variety. In Delhi too, in most nooks and just about every cranny, there is a man (usually) selling Singaporean noodles and hawking Hakka noodles. I have devoured these oily delights by the kilo, and are excellent with your evening poison.

Little Dragon is a small red-coloured stall/vehicle in Defence Colony. A range of soups that take their taste positions between the two extremes of sweet corn chicken and hot and sour chicken, and a similar array of oily noodles and rice. It is very cheap for a Defence Colony gaddi and offers you the options of half-plates and half-soups. They have a regular lunch crowd that congregates around it by one from offices located around Defence Colony.

Do you know of any Shady Chinese delights? Feel free to share your experiences.