Food Tales: Let’s Chaat

If you are a not a lover of chaat (not Chat) then I would request you to stop reading at this point and move on to other blog posts of mine.

I am glad you are a chaat lover. Are you part of an elite crowd that eats chaat anywhere, even in roadside shops?
My affair with the chaat started when I was in school. I would be taken by amma to Ajnabee in Fountain Plaza and I would order the Bhel Puri everytime. It was my favourite chaat. Well I would rather say it was the only chaat that I had ever tasted until then. The Bhel Puri is such an amazing food item. It is not just a snack it can be a meal by itself. It has chopped vegetables, some chutney, puffed rice, and it gives out lot of joy. Have you ever wondered where that sound comes from when they make the bhel puri, it is from the bhel which gives out such happy noises from the vessel. For some reason I did not consider the Pav Bhaji to be part of the Chaat family. Ok I will come back to the Pav Bhaji in a bit.

It was only while I was in college that I discovered the variety that chaat offered. Dahi Papdi, Dahi Balle, Dahi Puri, Sev Puri, Raj Kachori, Katori Chaat, Samosa Channa, Kachori with mint and tamarind chutney and the list goes on… I would save up money and go eat in Gangotree usually on Saturdays with a few friends (Harsh, Pintoo) mostly for the chat but also for the bird-watching opportunities it presented. The other place we frequented usually on Wednesdays after bunking college was Bombay Lassi, off Ellis Road (Behind Devi Theatre). 1 Samosa, 1 Kachori and one glass Lassi and of course this was usually after fighting to get hold of Rs. 10 ticket at Devi.

After College I managed to go to Delhi for higher studies or “Delhi Return MBA boy” as my cousin calls me. It was only in Delhi that I managed to taste Aloo Tikki, Gol Gappas (It is just Pani Pooris but Delhiites swear that the two are different like the sun and the moon) and now entered Channa Batura into my view. The CB in Khan Market and Chandni Chowk are bleddy out of the world and it is not the same stuff we get in New Woodlands Hotel in Chennai. Also in Delhi they have this thing of adding Chaat Masala to everything. Fruits with Chaat masala, Chaat with Chaat Masala, Nimbu Paani with Chaat Masala, Orange juice with chaat masala. They seemed to be in love with the Chaat which made them Chaaty…

With all the weight loss diet available today online, huge misunderstanding and belief popped up about what to eat and what avoind eating, which foods makes you gain weight and which ones actually help in losing weight. Huge 5 foods to never eat conversation popped up among diet community and is pretty much controversial. After reading a few case studies, I believe that there are indeed foods that make you gain fat and one must avoid eating them. Basically they make your blood sugar levels rising and the same problem is one of the many reasons why people can’t lose weight. Simple said, take your time and make a nice online research.

In the mean time I had been tasting Pav Bhaji in Chennai, Delhi and Bangalore to name a few places but nothing appealed to my senses. When I was in Mumbai in 2008 I tried the Pav Bhaji at Chowpatty Beach and it was the most sinful, taste bud tickling, lustful Paav Bhaji that I had ever tasted. No wonder the people of Mumbai are in love with it. I think it has something to do with the speed with which people live the life in Mumbai.

I don’t eat at Gangotree anymore because of the unhygienic way in which the food is kept lying around. Even the roadside Paani Poori guy keeps better hygiene. Shree Mithai is what I am left with in the city and it is not the greatest chaat that I have eaten.

Ofcourse the greatest chaat you get in Chennai is in Mint street. So many roadside vendors and such great taste. What is your favourite chaat and where do you get your chaat fix in your city?

Happy Chaating!!!

Food Tales – Pizza Two (Not The Villa)

pizzakaaran

Pizza Kaaran is a pizza outlet in Sivakasi which reminded me of Karagattakaran.

This is Part Two of my Pizza Tale. Go read part one HERE

The first time I really tried Italian food at an italia restaurant in Chennai was at Bella Ciao. Nope not the one in Kottivakkam but the one which was on the top floor of Chotabhai Center. A few friends told me that they even served wine on the sly. So there I was looking for Pizzas and finding a ton of other confusing names staring at me from the menu. Pasta, Fusili, Arrabiatta well so many weird sounding names and the worst was how to pronounce them? I prayed to St. John Bosco and his mother Mamma Margaret and they told me to just ask the person taking my order.

So I pointed to the stuff on the menu and asked them about the pizzas. (I was not a fan of the pastas then). So the guy was explaining to me about the Pizzas and he mentioned Jalapeno which he pronounced as “Halapeno” I had to stop and ask him what it was and he described “JALAPEENOS” to me. He figured that he had to teach me to say it like them Italians and he made me repeat Halapeno atleast 10 times before I think I got the first part of it right. I did ask him about the wine but the poor fellow just shook his head and walked away having failed in his attempts to make me pronounce Jalapenos.

The pizza arrived 20 minutes later and it was one of the best pizzas I have ever had. Bottom of the base was crunchy, top of the base was slightly soft and man there were toppings which I really loved Sun-dried tomatoes, olives, bell pepper, Jalapenos and some cheese. Up until that day I had thought that the pizza was about the cheese. But it was that day that I realized that the Pizza is much more. Grain Base, the Pizza sauce, Vegetables/Meat and cheese for that flavour. Since then I have tried not to eat from the Pizza Huts or the Dominos or the Pizza Corners. These places had just one option for the base and it was chewy and they always over did the cheese. Each time I would eat a pizza from the Pizza chains it would look like a cheese flood on top.

This is precisely how cheese should not be overloaded onto a pizza. 

This is precisely how cheese should not be overloaded on a pizza.

Since then I have been to a bunch of Italian places which serve Pizzas and Pastas and I have learnt to cook the pizza and pasta. But my favourite pizza will always be the first one that I really tasted at Bella Ciao. Tuscana and Darios serve good pizzas too. But nothing like your first love, right? Pizzas were like The Godfather to me. My love for Pastas came much later. But nothing to beat the Godfather right?

If you are a pizza lover or a foodie remember to always ask what ingredients go into making your pizza dough. You would be surprised by the number of ingredients you would have to google for.

Which is the best pizza you have tasted? and if you love to make a pizza, will you make one for me? 🙂

Food Tales – Pizza One

Keep Calm and Eat Pizza

Pizza is wholesome healthy food when done right. It does not mean that you can eat Pizza for every meal.

The first time I had a Pizza was in Cakes’n’Bakes in the late 80’s. My cousins would come visiting from abroad and they would tell me tales of giant frozen pizzas which they would buy and put it in their freezer for weeks together and how each time they felt like a pizza all they had to do was take a slice of pizza from the freezer and put it in the microwave. I would wonder why the folks at home did not eat pizza and why did we always stick to Dosai, Idli, Pongal, Sambar and Chutney. The closest thing I had tasted to a pizza up until that point was the Onion Uthappam and even that was a novelty item which I could order when I went out with my parents to a restaurant.

I don’t remember the pizza from Cakes’n’Bakes but I definitely remember the pizzas we used to eat at McRennett Bakery on Anna Salai. It was these 6 inch affairs which seemed tiny compared to the description of Pizzas I had heard from my cousins. These McRennett pizzas used to sit in their display, the cheese all dried up and crusty and the pizza base near stale. They used tomato ketchup for pizza sauce and some veggies which seemed like they came from the salad leftovers from some restaurant.

Pizza Corner started their first outlet in Chennai sometime in 1996. I had just finished my 12th board exams and had joined Khan’s entrance coaching classes in Nungambakkam. The first reasons why I chose Khan’s classes is immaterial to the post but the second reason was because it was at a walkable distance from Pizza Corner. But I hardly had any money to spend on a Pizza whose prices were in triple digits. But the occasional chance when I could save some money I would somehow get my friends along too (so we could share, not the pizza). I still remember asking a friend if he wanted to join the gang for pizzas and he said “dei, ennaku indha bun, roti ellam set agadhu.” (I don’t like this bun and roti stuff) I was appalled when he uttered those words bun and roti. I used to call him “Panroti” after that. My Pizza Corner visits got a huge lift when they offered unlimited Coke at the price of one. But sadly I could either drink lots of coke or eat lots of pizzas but never both together. Tricksters those fellows were preying on young people like me. 🙂

Then the biggies finally set shop in good old Madras. Dominos, Pizza Hut and now in the recent years Papa John’s and California Pizza Kitchen. There were also some local ones which I preferred for the price and also for their taste. I think it was Chef Express who ran an ad in local papers saying that their Pizzas would be home-delivered on a bicycle there was something about them being eco-friendly and stuff. There was our very own Pizza Republic which tasted good to my Indian Tongue. Every other Pizza joint was hell bent on reducing the consumption of rice based food in Chennai. Buy one Get one Free offers or the no cook Wednesday and No Cook Friday offers that Pizza hut keeps bombarding my phone with:) But I will tell you what never NEVER screw around with rice in this part of the country. A few months back Pizza Hut introduced Birizza which is nothing but Biriyani stuffed inside a crust, wonder what those guys were upto when they came up with that one. Each pizza joint wants to give a twist to the humble pizza. Now each time I go to an italian place I have finally figured out that Pizzas in India are as good as the Dosas in Italy. To be continued… Read more on RetroKjokken.com.

Food Tales – From The Past

Food tales is a chronicle of my experiences with food. I love what I eat but do I write about food with equal passion. These tales are an attempt to explore that and of course share my love for food.

I am a proud product of Don Bosco, Egmore. I spent 14 years of my life studying there and recently at DB Converge our alumni meet I had a chance to interact with a few of my teachers. I realized that the only people other than your parents who still get to hit you hard (even if you are old and have a huge belly to prove that you are old) are your teachers. Teachers definitely hold a much higher position than the Gods. So Mrs. Sarojini Govindan who was my Hindi teacher in primary school saw me and recognized me in a split second (even though I have lost all my hair and grown a huge paunch) and whacks me on my shoulder and says “You don’t have what you should have and have something you definitely should not have, lose your paunch Aravind.” That was indeed an eye opener for me.

I still remember amma asking me to study but I simply hated school work though I loved reading everything other than my school books. At one point my mother even locked me up in my grandfathers office room asking me to study a few chapters and when she opened the door a few hours later I was found reading the telephone directory. So amma figured that the best way to get me to study was not to use the stick but to use the carrot. I was not a bunny to go eat carrots so what did I love the most?

We simply called it “Urundai” at home. It was besan (Chickpea flour) mixed with powdered sugar and ghee and formed into the shape of a ladoo. Sometimes cashewnuts roasted in ghee would also be added.

So the deal amma made with me was, I had to finish a chapter then she would ask me questions and if I answered it to her satisfaction I got one Urundai. I would finish chapters which I didn’t have to so I could get lots of bonus urundais. So things were fine at home because of the urundais. Back in school it did not look too good. My teachers would keep complaining to my mom that I was a brilliant student but my lack of effort made my brilliance very dull. My teachers would not give me urundais when I did well in class.

So life went on with me studying well at home in the company of Urundais but only scrapping through in exams. My maternal grandfather would keep telling me that I should not have exam fear. Little did he know about my love for Urundais.

And then in 1991 Narasimha Rao became the prime Minister of India. He along with Finance Minister Manmohan Singh opened up the Indian Economy and in came food pouring in. Food that earlier could only be brought in select stores in Madras or you had to ask people who went abroad on trips.

Recipe for Urundai

1200 gms – Chickpea flour
200 gms – Powdered Sugar
200 gms – Hot Ghee
Cashewnuts

Mix the chickpea flour and powdered sugar with the hot ghee and mix well.
Make them into the shape of ladoos. I am sure you will get a lot of urundais with so much kadalai maavu.

Simple recipe, right.

We now do a healthy version of the Urundai. No Ghee, No Sugar and no Kadalai Maavu (Chickpea flour). But I will keep that for another post.