Kaka na Khaman

You don’t value things until they go away from you. In retrospect, even a small thing can take a big space in your heart. Having lived in Surat (Gujarat) for more than 20 years, it becomes really difficult, at times, to settle in an another city. And the street food, especially, is one of those things that will always stay in my heart.

Back in 2009, when I went to study in Bengaluru, I liked the city’s cool vibe. From the weather to the relaxed attitude of people, there was almost nothing that I didn’t like about the city. But after a few months, I started craving my Surti farsan (snack items) like crazy. And I promised myself to learn each farsan item when I go back home. After all, who likes to eat burgers and donuts as street food? Not me.

For us, back home, enjoying Surti farsan every Sunday morning is a way of life (read Khaman, mini chana Samosa,  Idada, Khandvi and Fafda). In school days, I and my class group had a plate of khaman with salted onions on the side, every day. That paper-wrapped khaman would cost us 20 bucks and it meant a lot. And I’m not talking about the juicy, sugar syrup-laden khaman-dhokla with tri-colours that the world buys from air-conditioned eatery joints. I loathe them from the bottom of my heart.

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I’m talking about the dry khaman that usually the young boys carry with them on their heads in a huge utensil, with a knife to cut the onions and newspaper cut-outs for serving, kept on the lid. You can easily spot these boys around 4PM in the lanes of Bhagal or Nanpura. And I’m also talking about the fresh khaman that old women sell to kids for 5 bucks per plate, near the school gates in Surat. When we were in school, while going back home, we would usually drop at Neelkanth apartments for this. I would like to call this the original version of khaman that had lots of powdered chunks as well. The food hawker was a jolly fellow. He always smiled at us schoolchildren. And when he saw us smiling back, he would give us a bit of extra khaman. In the picture (below), he’s folding his shirt’s cuffs before serving his famous khaman to the people standing in the line. I’m sure all of them are cheering in their heads: Yes, kaka has arrived!

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Now, when I visit my family in Surat, I make sure to visit this building at 1 o’clock sharp in the afternoon. That’s when kaka arrives here. In the picture, the vessel is filled with khaman. Mind you, I was the first customer that day, and I can’t express my happiness in words. All those school memories (and our endless chat sessions) flashed back in my mind. Those were golden days of our lives. I bought a batch of khaman worth 50 bucks; went home and ate like a pig, and didn’t let anybody in the house touch it. No, I think I did allow each a small bite. I was generous that day.

On a cold January morning

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I was craving for a typical Mahrashtrain street food while shopping at a complex in Gurgaon. It had just been a few months we moved in the city, and my husband was as clueless as me. We were happy to spot a Vada Pav outlet in one of the corners of the complex, which apparently is a popular food chain here in Delhi NCR. But. The first bite itself broke my heart. The sole reason I didn’t like that Vada Pav was that it had a frozen vada inside (I could sense that) that was reheated before serving.

Back in Surat, we used to go to a Vada Pav street seller near Experimental School. The guy at this street stall, dipped the potato balls in the thick gram batter, fried them in oil (in front of us) and served that inside a Pav (a bun). The freshly fried vada is the star of his dish. And here I was, looking at my Vada Pav at a popular Vada Pav chain in Gurgaon. Was I disappointed? You bet. That was the time I decided to learn to make it at home. Yes. Time can teach you a lot of things. Without questions, the homemade Vada Pav turned out heavenly and I promised myself I will never eat one outside in Gurgaon, again.

A few months back, I was in Surat, and one of my neighbours (Pooja Bhabhi) sent me a plate of homemade Dabelis. It is a Kutchi dish, which has the goodness of fried/roasted peanuts and lots of other sweet and sour flavours. I loved it! After coming back to Gurgaon, I checked out a YouTube video of how Dabelis are made. Guess whose video I ended up watching? Tarla Dalal’s! Dear readers, I love Tarla Dalal! Nobody in India can replace her charm. I have a few vintage copies of her cookbooks, and I treasure them like none other. I was extremely happy to see her teach me this street food.

Then, I ordered Galaji’s Dabeli masala from amazon.in, and cooked it the way Tarla Dalal instructed in her video. Was it delicious? You bet.

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So, today morning, as I was shivering in the kitchen (thanks to the cold) I thought of using the leftover buns and make this recipe again. The dash of red colour from the pomegranate seeds and the white colour from the grated coconut made my dish look way too appealing. Luckily, I also had some tamarind chutney. I had to pound some fresh raw garlic chutney, though. I and my husband were up for a treat!

By the way, we were craving  for a glass of homemade pomegranate and beetroot juice (with a few apple pieces and mint leaves). He chopped the fruits and grind them in a mixer, and I strained it in a muslin cloth. A minute later, we gulped down the fresh juice in utter silence. After a minute, we broke into a hearty laughter. Was it a blessed morning? You bet!

Local hidden gems

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My husband is a huge falooda fan. One of his friends recommended a local street shop called SK in Sadar Bazaar in old Gurgaon, for some lip-smacking falooda. So, we decided to check it out.

When we reached SK, I was totally surprised to see a shop so tiny and yet so popular. There was, however, no falooda; it’s only available in summers. We took a quick look and just when we were about to move towards our car, the shopkeeper offered me a small wooden piece to eat. “Try kijiye, madam,” he said. “Huh? What is this? This will break my teeth!” I laughed a sarcastic laugh, looked at my husband, and asked him to try first. But, he asked the dukaan-wala again, “What is it, bhaiya?” in total bewilderment.

It was crunchy and sweet, and we didn’t want to stop eating it! “Yeh Gud Gatta hai, madam,” the shopkeeper said. Gud means jaggery and gatta means a kind of a knot. Gud Gatta amazed us, and since then, we also love to see the same reactions from our relatives and friends when they see it. Now, a visit to SK is a must in winters. Apart from Gud Gatta, we also make sure to buy some ghee rewadi (groundnut chikki) and gajak (thin jaggery sheets made with sesame seeds, rose petals, etc.)

Local bazaars in every city has something special to offer, it only depends on how willing you are to get lost in the crowd and try something new. It might be new to you, but, the street food that you tried, can be something that’s been sold since decades.

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Another local snack item that I absolutely love to eat is Rasikbhai Chevdawala’s green chutney. Originally from Rajkot, Rasikbhai Chevdawala’s flavoursome snack items are available in many cities in Gujarat and also in Mumbai (Chedda stores in Matunga has it at their payment counters). To me, this green chutney that’s made with peanuts, green chillies and some other ingredients, tastes like a lemon chutney. It’s sour and grainy, and I can’t stop eating it. You’re supposed to have it with potato chips. I make sure to have a box of this green chutney in my fridge. You can add some yogurt or water to a small amount of the green chutney and add it to your bhel. It tastes divine!
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Once, my cousin sister from Chennai came to visit us in Gurgaon. So, we decided to hang out at Galleria market, but before that, we made a quick stopover at Vyapar Kendra in Sushant Lok for some pani-puri (a popular roadside snack item). My cousin gave me a quick shout-out, when she saw a small stall selling Sakthi’s spice mixtures. “I use Sakthi’s rasam and sambhar masala, and it’s amazing! Do try it,” she excitedly said to me. That cousin of mine is an amazing cook, so I had to take notes. I was surprised, as something that’s popular in Chennai, can also be available in Gurgaon. The next time when my rasam and sambhar powders were out of stock, I went to Vyapar Kendra and got these spice mixtures. Today, I must say, I’m fixated to them! They add a great taste to my South-Indian curries, and I can’t stop bragging. I also got some other mixtures, like the one that goes with lemon rice.

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Talking of spices, once my neighbour aunty (in Surat) asked me to get two jars of Roopak’s Puri Aloo Masala from Delhi NCR. She’s someone I look up to, especially when it comes to cooking. When I asked its speciality, she said, “All you have to do, is add a spoon of this masala, and your potato curry is set!” Later on, I also met many other local women, who couldn’t stop praising of Roopak’s spices. I also tried the brand’s mango pickle, and it was great. Many NRI women make sure to buy a huge stock of Roopak spices, before leaving India. A few years back, I was shopping in Karol Bagh, in Delhi, and I found a big store of Roopak. Standing at its door, I could see stacks of spices, pickles, etc. kept inside. I’ll never forget that sight. It was truly a spice mecca. I make sure to use this precious spice mixture sparingly.

These are a few local gems that I love, dear readers. I feel lucky to have discovered them. They complete my pantry. What are your favourite local goodies?

Language note:
Dukaan-wala – Shopkeeper
Bhaiya – Brother
Falooda – A lip-smacking Asian dessert that comes in a glass that has cream, vermicelli, sweet basil seeds, rose syrup, crushed ice pieces, etc.
Bhel – An Indian snack recipe made with puffed rice, onion, tomato, spices, lemon, coriander, etc.

Fear or hope?

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In big cities in India, almost every household has a maid, who does the basic home chores. Maids are crucial for these homeowners. Women, in the metro cities, run their houses successfully because of their maids. And nobody is even shy to accept it. Women can’t function without these women. Which is why, I couldn’t believe my ears, when my maid announced that she is going to discontinue work, from the 1st of January. New Year blues were about to set in. And, that was just the beginning.

It’s been almost five days now, and I have been doing all my work myself. I must admit, I like it now. I wash my dishes the minute the sink becomes half-full, wash all the kitchen linen with my hands (the rest of the clothes go in the washing machine), sweep my floors and mop them too. Doing your own work does make you feel content. I shall see what happens ahead, though.

Last evening, I felt like a perfectionist. Had it all sorted. The hot and sour soup was ready and I was about to make my dinner. And. Suddenly. My hand has a habit of hitting things. I dropped a jar of black pepper seeds onto the floor. And the seeds were spread all over the kitchen and dining space. “Do I have to pick them each up?” I thought. I took a deep breath, and with a long, sad face, started collecting each seed. It required a hell lot of patience. You see, when you try to act like a perfectionist, this is what happens. Life is unpredictable, I thought, and kept picking each seed from the floor. I did wonder, once, if had it been my maid, I might have given a big scream or a big laugh (for I’m unpredictable, too). But I easily forgave myself. Why?

Moving on to this morning. I had a fresh, green ball of cabbage looking at me from one corner of my kitchen counter, and I decided to make a side-dish called Sambharo. I went to my neighbour’s curry tree (yes, it’s that huge) down the stairs, quietly cut a small batch of curry leaves, and placed them on my kitchen counter; it was time to do the important and fun task of tempering the spices!

I loved this cabbage this, and promised to make it more often. This is the quickest cabbage recipe you’ll find and the yummiest as well. I can’t stop eating it! It tastes tangy, and you’ll never get over it. I dislike almost all versions of this veggie, except for this one. And, again, my mum learnt this Gujarati style of cabbage in Surat (Gujarat, India), and I love it to death.

Recipe: Sambharo

Ingredients:

Some chopped cabbage
1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon of asafoetida
A few curry and coriander leaves
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
roughly sliced green chillies
oil for tempering
salt to taste
juice of a lemon

Method:

Heat oil in a kadai or skillet. Once it’s hot, add asafoetida, mustard seeds, turmeric powder and curry leaves. After a few seconds, add the chopped cabbage, green chillies (I chopped them this time, as you can see in the picture) and salt to taste. Toss this mixture and give it a good mix. Now, you don’t want to cook the cabbage, but just toss it and mix the ingredients. I take about 30 seconds to do so, and switch off the flame. We want to keep the cabbage as crunchy as possible. Finish it off with the lemon juice and coriander leaves, and give it all a last mix.

By the way, I read my horoscope for this year, a few days back. And it wasn’t great. It said I had to let go of many things and learn to forgive people. I was excited for this year, but now, I don’t know, what events will unfold ahead. Do you believe in horoscopes? What do they say about your zodiac sign?

PS. I plan to hunt for a maid, soon. Can’t do without one. Wish me luck.