I hate flying; particularly, taking flights from Delhi to Surat. But, because of the recent reduced air fares or inflated train ticket prices, I take the former option more often. I was going for a month-long trip (November-December) to Surat, my parents’ place from Gurugram (where I live with my husband).
After my 7AM flight landed, I was already hungry. Of course, I had better things to eat here than the breakfast served on the flight. You see, I’ve gone on my dad. We share a lot of habits. One of them is, being impatient, when hungry; and to eat whatever you actually want to eat, without shame or guilt. For example, if I have to eat a particular dish that none of the family members want to eat, I will still go ahead, cook it and eat it. I have to; there’s no other option.
And just when my parents came to pick me up at the airport on a beautiful Sunday morning, I wanted to eat Tameta Bhajia (tomato fritters). I had to eat it. Dumas is the near the beach area, from where you can catch a sight of the Arabian Sea from far. And near the beach entrance (which is a rather muddy place), at the crossroads, is the Bhajia shop, where 4 to 6 people at a single stall, sell these mouth-watering fried items.
You get Aaloo Bhajia (potato pakoras or fritters), Tameta Bhajia and I believe, Onion Bhajia; out of which, I love Tameta Bhajia! You know, in this particular fritter version, you dip a slice of tomato with a layer of coriander chutney into a gram flour batter, and fry it till golden in colour. When you bite into the sizzling hot and crunchy Bhajia, you can actually taste the steamed tomato in it. The best part is, you don’t even have to dip your Bhajia into a chutney, as it’s already stuffed inside.
My parents were not even surprised to see the long queue at this tiny food stall. “It’s Surat. Anything is possible! People love to eat! So what, if it’s 7.30AM in the morning? It’s the best way to start your Sunday morning, right?” I thought in my head. After about 25 minutes, my dad returned to the car with a pack of Bhajias. And I knew it was my day. I could see my soul return him a big smile! I and my friends have been coming to this spot since our school and college days and each bite of the Bhajia brought back so many memories and happy faces.
At home, we had preparations going on for my brother’s wedding. One such afternoon, around 12.30PM, I was out to get some craft material that my creative cousin asked for. I was at Sargam Shopping Centre, on my two-wheeler. After buying the craft item, I realised that it was the perfect time to hit the Khaman seller, whom I could view from across the street. He only comes and sets his food cart around 12.30, five to six times a week; and I was more than happy to see Kaka’s face, which brought back fond school memories. This junction was on our way, where we school girls used to take a halt after school, and snack on some soft and flavourful Khaman that was served with chopped onion, nylon sev and tempered green chillies.
I bought a huge pack for myself; but before that, Kaka gave me a handful of Khaman and asked me to have it, before my turn came. None of the people from the queue got it, and I couldn’t stop blushing. He did recognise me, I muttered. For many, this Khaman was their only lunch item.
You know, I sometimes wonder how these things taste the exact same even after decades. I mean, it’s been a decade or even two, us school girls coming here for Kaka’s Khaman. The taste of the Khaman till today is the same, just like Kaka’s innocent smile. Sound memories, these.
Apart from the usual Vrindavan’s Cold Cocoa and Chana Jor Garam chaat (flattened black chick peas) that we get on the roads in the evenings, wintertime in Surat stands out because of a few special delicacies. Ponk (green ripe Jowar seeds) tops it all. I was buying a gift item for my brother and sister-in-law; and after about an hour of strolling from shop to shop, I knew what to go home with. After voicing my order loudly in the middle of the crowded stalls near Rangila Park, I bought a huge batch of steamed Ponk, some Ponk Vadas, smooth green chutney and a small batch of Lemon Sev to go with it all.
I haven’t seen Ponk anywhere in the country but Surat. They say cities like Baroda also have it; but mainly, it’s a Surati food item. A lot of my cousins buy it in bulk and take Ponk to their respective cities for their friends and families. Ponk is very nourishing for health, and the wintertime delicacy that is rejoiced and relished by all Suratis. The basic steamed Ponk is soft in texture, and extremely fresh in taste. And the hot Ponk Vadas have spices and condiments in them, which make it a perfect winter snack item that you can have in mornings or evenings. At social gatherings and parties, people don’t miss adding these Ponk dishes in their menus. It’s a must.
What makes Surat a truly rich city is its food. Be it the poor, the middle-class or the rich, everybody in Surat likes to hit the street food vendors and eat their heart out. No wonder, the city’s food scene is famous. Those who haven’t been here, can only wonder what one attains by eating such delicious and historic food items on the streets, footpaths and in every nook of the city. We don’t crave for restaurants, in Surat! Never. I craved for some homemade Undhiyu, another Surati wintertime dish, but didn’t get a chance to have it.
Having lived in Surat for more than 23 years, I cannot even begin to tell you how much I miss the Surati street food. I left the city seven years ago. Which is why, I can say, it was a special December, indeed.