Wednesday, July 06, 2011
A friend of mine---Bhabhiji--who also happens to be my neighbour was speaking about the difference in the "Dhabas" of yesterday and today.Being much older than most of us she is in a better position to reminisce about the changes in Indian Food----and being a Punjabi--albeit a Vegetarian one--possesses a very discerning Palate too!!The topic of discussion set of a string of Memories--revolving around---you guessed right--FOOD!!
During my childhood I went trekking very often in the Shivaliks with my father and Jeannert Uncle and one of the highlights of these Treks was the Food!!Those days these tiny roadside eateries called "Dhabas" served scrumptiously delicious but simple Food.These were mainly the haunts of Truck Drivers and had very few Tables and Chairs---but plenty of String Cots woven with ropes called "Manjis" for the Truckers to sleep on.The Dhaba would be on for almost 24 hours---serving piping hot Food and glasses of hot sweet Tea all through the day and night!!I loved the sweet milky Tea they served---a long handled Bronze vessel would be boiling on the Tandoor--the Concoction would be a lip smacking mix of 25% Water,75% Fresh Milk--with generous quantities of Sugar,Tea Leaves,crushed Ginger,Cinnamon Sticks and Cardamoms added to it!!The Tea would boil for a while---the Tea Maker removing the Vessel and setting it back on the Tandoor 4-5 times to boil it well for flavour--then straining it through a clean but Tea stained thin Muslin Cloth into another utensil befor filling it in Glass Glasses---served to the customers piping hot!!The Truckers would hold these in the cloth from the trailing ends of their Turbans---we in the folds of our crisp, clean Handkerchiefs--cupping our fingers around it---for this used to be the best way of warming one's fingers in the cold Winter Air!!
Just imagine the sight---a burning hot "Tandoor" or a Clay Stove would serve both as an Oven and a Stove and every Dhaba had two----one to cook the flat Indian Bread and Vegetarian Stuff while the other was used to grill the Chickens and Kababs as well as to cook the Non-Vegetarian Curries!!The "Tandoor" is a very versatile form of cooking and is very popular in the North specially in the States of Punjab,Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.In the Summer Tandoors mushroom around residential areas and households surrounding these send prepared Whole Wheat Dough to these places and for a small sum take back prepared Rotis----for it is too hot to make these at home!!
Pictured below is a "Tandoor" the famous Stove/Oven of the North which has lent it's name to a host of Foods!!
These "Dhabas" were mostly situated on the Highways and at the edge of lush green Farmland----owned by the Farmers or their kin I suspect .The Food would be cooked in huge Iron Woks called "Karaahis"---as well as very large Bronze Utensils gilded with Tin on the inside called "Handis" and "Degchis".The Menu would be basic and simple would be listed to every Customer orally---consisting of the fresh,organic Vegetables of the day,the famous "Dhaabey di Daal" and the Indian Breads---Tandoori Rotis---very crisp or "karaaraa" as usually ordered, Parathas and melt in the mouth,soft,spongy Naans!!There also would be the choice of Stuffed Parathas---stuffed with Vegetables of your choice and cooked in the Tandoor as well!!The Food would be cooked in liberal quantities of Clarified Butter and Mustard Oil---adding to the finger licking taste!!Remember these were the pre-Cholestrol awareness days--and the misconception was that greater amount of Fat bestowed "Taaqat" or strength on the consumer!!The Non-Vegetarian Food would list yummy items like "Tandoori Chicken","Tikka Kababs","Seekh Kababs"----all grilled in the Tandoor and plates of Goat MeatCurry,Goat Liver ,Kidneys, Goat Minced Meat Curry cooked with fresh,tender Green Peas and of course "Butter Chicken/Tikka Masala" literally drowning in fresh globs of Pure Butter!!The generous helpings would be accompanied by freshly churned "Punjabi" or tall glasses of thick "Lassi--Malaee maarkey"----thick ,fresh Buttermilk with extra thick Cream added just before serving ---a thick layer of it at the top of the Glass!!Thin Buttermilk called "Chhaas" too was available in plenty---and used to be free in those days--since it was the residue of Buttermilk left after the Butter had been removed from it--hence considered a waste product!!!
My personal favourites both then and now are the "Dhabey di Daal" made from a mixture of weel cooked and mashed Red Kidney Beans,whole Black Gram and Split Chick Peas---a hearty combination cooked with only the basic Spices and seasoned with sliced Garlic fried in melted Butter----teamed with the crisp Tandoori Roti----the smooth buttery texture of the Daal contrasting divinely with the crisp dry Roti!!Today however the quantity of Butter is much less---for too much of it could result in the loss of Customers!!I also love the Tandoori Chicken---whole Chicken with Skin removed,marinated in Yoghurt and Spices for a minimum of 10-12 hours and then grilled in the Tandoor to juicy,succulent tenderness---it is perhaps the healthiest way to eat Chicken--for all the Fat in the Chicken melts and drains away into the Fire burning in the pit of the Tandoor--giving the Chicken a wonderful smoky flavour!!
In the old days Daddy and I would sit crosslegged on a "Manji" that always sagged in the middle---making me wobble around as we ate our Lunch---Jeaneret Uncle preferred the rickety Table and Chair combination--but needless to say despite the discomfort all three of us would tuck in with great concentration and gusto--with little or no chit-chat during the Meal---Eating was Serious Business!!Those days we never gave a thought to many things we do today---Hygeine was taken for granted,Water drawn from a neighbouring Well and the Food was drowning in Cholestrol ridden Fats!!But you know something??I'd give anything to return to that World and it's Values for then People respected each other and behaved with a decorous old fashioned Courtesy--which I prefer to the trend of "Plain Speaking and Frankness" of today's World even though it's actually Boorish Rudeness!!
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Reading opening Chapters of "The Great Moghul" took me back to my School days---and a whole Treasure Chest of Memories opened up!!Life those days was so humdrum and unchanging--very rarely did the rhythm of routine change it's pace!!By today's standards we were sticks in the Mud---weighed down by the "Dos and Don'ts" of a very conservative Era.There were only two colours regarding our Code of Conduct---White or Black--no shades of Grey were either pardonned or allowed and we were taught that Honesty was always the best Policy!!Values today have changed and are far more relaxed than those days.
Attending a Convent School meant being constantly bombarded by constant vigilance by the Nuns---our Conduct even outside School was their business---because it seems our Conduct reflected their Values as well as the Schools Reputation!!Being a "Good" girl according to them meant in local parlance being a "Behenji" or a conservative, staid kind of a person.The hang over of my Schooling is evident to this day---I am always well but conservatively dressed,have never been comfortable in Male company outside of Family---I hem and haw---and just don't know what to say!!Not just that I get embarassed shaking hands with Men----preferring the Indian traditional "Namastey" instead each time I'm introduced to any new people!!!I too see things in either Black or White where my own children and extended family is concerned----with the rest of the World I have a "Live and let Live" Policy---very generously allowing people to lead their own lives without passing Judgement on their behaviour!!This then is a result of my Schooling and a part of the norms I have set for myself!!
The Nuns taught me many other things---the most important of which was taking pride in one's Heritage.They also made me into a thinking individual--strong enough to stick to my guns whenever I knew I was right----and gave me the conviction and confidence to partly make a few of my own rules in a highly conservative environment.The huge Variety of Books in our small Town School Library was stupendous---and we were taught to love Books and treat them with the respect they deserved.It is here that we learnt about everything---The Universe and it's Mysteries as well as Geography and History besides a very high standard of English,Hindi and Punjabi Literature!!Sister Patricia Ann was in charge of the Library and though the Librarian was always on duty,Sister made it her business to bond with every bookish student she came across and discuss their reading material---broadening our Literary Horizons was the way she put it!!She could talk on any Subject---and such was her range that she had an answer for every question one asked---this made her one of the most knowlegable and popular Sisters in School.I was a particular favourite--because like her I too enjoyed the written Word--and could read any and every Subject with great interest---and also retain the gist!!
Our Principal Sister Loyola was another favourite of us all.She taught us History and Geography and it is thanks to her that even after 41 years of leaving School my Geography is still strong---even today my grand daughter consults me while doing her Home Work---and usually I'm right!!She recognised my love for History and encouraged me to read books and articles on Historical Events---I have sat down and discussed certain aspects of "Gone with the Wind" with her---for Scarlett O' Hara fascinated me as did the American Civil War!!She tried to teach me to read as a dispassionately neutral observer---but did not succeed--even today I get so caught up in the Tale that I end up getting involved--and taking sides too!!For me Sister Loyola was my Ideal---calm,dignified and soft spoken---unfortunately none of these traits have I been able to copy and inculcate in myself!!
She got me started on various Authors--the genteel Books of Jane Austen and the mystery of Charlotte and Emily Bronte,Daphne du Maurier,the works of Leo Tolstoy and Chekov---somehow these books written by the latter two had an imperciptible undercurrent of sadness and desolation running through them----despite the glittering gaiety of the Romanov Court of that period!!Somerset Maugham on the other hand was a revelation---giving Life a different depth and meaning!!I was an avid fan of Agatha Christie during those days----and very highly appreciative of both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot---and of course Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes!!
I lived a very sheltered life,cocooned by my environment.Our routine meant just School and Home---and my friends like Gauri next door,Poonam and Arunima down the lane--and Anita--who lived about a ten minute walk away.Everything I needed was catered for---I would ride to and from School on a Cycle Rickshaw with my friends as all of us attended the same School and shared the same Classroom!!Amma would bring me my Lunch at Lunch time--piping hot and sharing it with my Friends was the ultimate pleasure---for all of us sat in a huge circle under an old "Peepul' Tree in the School Gardens and passed the Tiffin Boxes around.The main excitement would occur whenever we had our School Concerts---taking part in the School Plays was highly enjoyable and gave me a great sense of importance to participate!!What I loved the most however was taking part in Inter School Debates,Essay Writing Competitions and Sports----and always getting the Awards was a very special High!!An occasional visit to the local Cinemas had to be wheedled out from our Parents---and most often these trips were chaperoned by a parent belonging to one of us!!Growing up in the North I was pretty handy with using my slipper as self defense---for it wasn't and still isn't safe being a girl/woman there!!The roadside Romeos had to be dealt with---and though I looked deceptively delicate and skinny in fact I was as strong as a Bull and as ferociously mad as one if need be---I had to be to defend my Virtue!!However along with that I was an extremely gullible, naive and trusting Idiot as well---never suspecting anyone of having sinister motives!!Luckily for me I went through those days without a scratch!!
Today when I remember my childhood and School days I realise the cloistered World we lived in.We were shielded from the sordidness of Life---and were totally innocent about so many things!!When I talk about those days with my grand daughter Meha she listens and at times retorts with superiority"Really Aaji!!How could you have been that naive?"For being a child of today's World even she's far less gullible than me even today despite the forty years that separate us!!
Thursday, June 30, 2011
I am an incorrigible Shopper---practical and mundane things fascinate me but mystify those who know me---they keep asking me "Why??"I'm addicted to Kitchenware---Pressure Cookers,Iron Woks and Ladles,traditional Indian Ceramics---not the ones one keeps as a Decorative piece---but the ones that are used daily.Then there are various types of Umbrellas as well as Ayurvedic Soaps,Gels and Hair Oils---I'm a real sucker for those!!So, I'm the Shopkeeper's delight---the ultimate sucker for any Spiel!!I'm not adding Tupper Ware here---for my addiction of it is famous!!!
These traditional Jars I once owned in plenty!!The beautiful Ceramic glaze sends me into rhapsodies!!I distributed the bulk of these to my Friends and retained about 10 of these in various sizes.Today around 5 of these 10 Jars are in active use still----a huge 10 kg.Jar for storing Sea Salt---I store a lot of Salt because since early childhood it was imprinted on my mind that Salt is an essential Condiment and large quantities of it attracts the Goddess Laxmi,The Deity of Wealth!!So the largest screw topped "Barni" or Jar is used for Sea Salt.Then comes a smaller 5 Kg. Jar with a lift up Lid---used for storing cured and salted Balls of Tamarind earlier but today holds "Kokum" or Dried Mangosteen Peels stored with a handful of Sea Salt as a preservative as this is a healthier alternative and adds the sour flavour rquired to my pungent,spicy Curries. I gave up using Tamarind a long time back as it causes Joint Problems in advancing age according to Ayurveda.Then there are various smaller ones ranging from 2.5 kg. to 250 gms.Two 1 Kg. Jars hold Jaggery and Honey--and the smallest is used for setting Curd or Yogurt---it sets really well with a thick ,firm consistency.
Ayurveda has always fascinated me in all it's forms but most in the form of Soaps and Gels.I have this Ayurveda Store in Dadar called "Bhanu Padma" that I've been frequenting for more than 35 years now.Today the lads that work there call me "Kaki" or Aunt---and make a note of keeping the stuff that I'm addicted to aside!!!Of these the things I really buy a lot of are pure Aloe Vera Gel by Brihans of Pune---this acts as a natural Moisturiser and Sun Screen and is best suited to the hot,steamy ,sultry and sweltering Mumbai Climate---helps in keeping my skin smooth and rash free---no Prickly heat!!!Then there are my favourite Saffron Soaps--The Facia Bar,The Kesar Goti and Safrogel Handmade Soap---all are marvellous for my skin---and keep me fresh and energetic throughout my day!!
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